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The Ethiopic Calendar

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By Dr. Aberra Molla
Ethiopia has its own ancient calendar. According to the beliefs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, God created the world 5500 years before the birth of Christ and it is 1994 years since Jesus was born. Based on this timeline, we are in the year 7494 of the eighth millennium (or smnTow vh). These are referred to as Amete Alem (]MT ]Lm) in Amharic or “the years of the world”. Era of the world dates from 5493 B.C.

Ethiopic is not the only calendar in Ethiopia either. The works of Enoch (hnk) had been in Ethiopia and Egypt before the times of Moses and on through the times of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. As has been the case for Israel, Egypt and Ethiopia have had important roles in Biblical History. An Enochian year is completed in 364 days, Enoch 82:4-7 and Jubilees 6:23-28. More precisely, a 365-day-solar-year and the 365-year-solar-cycle appear as a 365-days-and-years single term. From the three books of Enoch, a curious 364-day length of calendar year lends new insight by reserving the last day of the solar year. Ethiopians followed the Old Testament before the introduction of Christianity (1 Kings 10:1-9). The Arc of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia long before Christianity accepted the Old Testament and offered worship to God. The Oromo people have their own calendar. Bete Israel (bT asr]l) believe in the Jewish faith. 

The Ethiopic Enochian Calendar had 364 days per year. The Book of Enoch, whose Ethiopic version in its entirety survived only in Ethiopia and was taken  to Europe by James Bruce was publicized around 1790 A.D. The Book of Enoch has been part of the Ethiopian Bible and Enoch 28:11 mentions the completion  of the year in 364 days. (In view of the Ethiopian Orthodox, Enoch wrote his Ethiopic Bible as the first and oldest author in any human language.)

The earliest known date is 4236 B.C.E., the founding of the Egyptian calendar. The ancient Egyptian calendar was lunar. The solar Coptic (ግብጽ) calendar, oldest in history, originated three millennia before the birth of Christ. The exact date of its Egyptian origin is unknown. It is believed that Imhotep, the supreme official of King Djoser C.2670 B.C. had a great impact on the construction of the calendar. Historically, ancient Egyptians initially used a civil calendar based on a solar year that consisted of 365 days only, without making any adjustment for the additional quarter of a day each year. Each year had 12 months. The heliacal rising of Sirius coincides with the arrival of the highest point of river Nile flood at Memphis marking the first day of the year. The new year of the ancient Egyptians started on Meskerem 1 (መስከረም ፩). This date is an Ethiopian new year signaling the end of Noah’s flood. (The Hebrew new years also start in Meskerem. The Egyptian solar calendar consisted of 12 30-day months with five extra festival days at the end of the year. It should be noted that the chronology of 3,000 years of Ancient Egyptian history, by modern Egyptologists, was made possible only because the Ancient Egyptians followed the Sothic Year of slightly over 365¼ days, i.e. 365.25636 days.)

The connection between Egypt and Ethiopia from at least as early as the Twenty-second Dynasty was very intimate and occasionally the two countries were under the same ruler, so that the arts and civilization of the one naturally found their way into the other.

The Ethiopian Calendar has more in common with the Coptic Egyptian Calendar. The Ethiopic and Coptic calendars have 13 months, 12 of 30 days each and an intercalary month at the end of the year of 5 or 6 days depending whether the year is a leap year or not. The year starts on 11 September in the Gregorian Calendar (G.C.) or on the 12th in (Gregorian) Leap Years. The Coptic Leap Year follows the same rules as the Gregorian so that the extra month always has 6 days in a Gregorian Leap Year.

Following his conquest of Egypt, Julius Caesar consulted the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes about calendar reform. The calendar that Julius Caesar adopted in the Roman year 709 A.U.C. (Ab Urbe Condita, i.e. since the founding of Rome or 46 B.C.) was identical to the Alexandrian Aristarchus’ calendar of 239 B.C., and consisted of a solar year of twelve months and of 365 days with an extra day every fourth year. This calendar that replaced the Roman calendar became the Julian calendar. The lunar Roman calendar had only ten months with December (the Latin decem for ten) as the tenth month until January and February were inserted.  Quintilis, the fifth month, was changed to July in honor of Julius Caesar and Sextilis was renamed August for Augustus Caesar. 

When the Roman papal chancellor, Bonifacius, asked a monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus to implement the rules from the Nicaean Council for general use and to prepare calculations of the dates of Easter, Dionysius fixed Jesus’ birth in such a manner that it falls on 25 December 753 A.U.C., thus making the current era start with A.D. 1 on 1 January 754 A.U.C. It was about 525 A.D. that Dionysius Exiguus, started his count (instead of the Diocletian of 284 A.D.) with the year 1 A.D., considered to be the year of the birth of Christ. It is likely that Jesus was actually born around 7 B.C. or before King Herod’s death in 750 A.U.C. 

The Venerable Bede wrote the history of the early centuries of England in 731 A.D. He adopted the system of Dionysius and its use spread. Unfortunately, Bede made a blunder when he invented the B.C. system and stuck it immediately before A.D. 1. A year and a day were lost because of this error and the controversy on the start of new millennium has even run into 2000 G.C. though 2001 is assumed to be the new beginning. The Julian Calendar was modified to the Gregorian calendar in 1582 A.D. Pope Gregory authorized that ten days be excised from October 5 through October 14 in the year 1582. Christians celebrated Easter on the same date, using the algorithm from A.D. 325 until 1582. In 1583 G.C. Joseph Scaliger introduced the Julian day and began counting time from 4713 B.C. taking it day by day. In 1740 G.C. Jacques Cassini used +1 to designate A.D. 1 so that +1 is preceded by year 0, which is preceded by year -1.

In the Gregorian Calendar, the tropical year is approximated as 365+97/400 days = 365.2425 days. Thus it takes approximately 3300 years for the tropical year to shift one day with respect to the Gregorian calendar. The approximation 365+97/400 is achieved by having 97 leap years every 400 years. Some claim that the Gregorian calendar took care of the extra 11 minutes and 14 seconds of the tropical solar year with 365.242199 days instead of the 365.25 days. Yet, in the Eastern Orthodox system a century year is a leap year only if division of the century number by 900 leaves a remainder of 200 or 600 with 365+218/900 days = 365.242222 days, which is certainly more accurate than the official Gregorian number of 365.2425 days. Furthermore, due to the gravitational dynamics of the Sun-Earth-Moon system the length of the tropical year is not constant. In the Ethiopian calendar leap years come every four years. The Julian year is equal in length to the Coptic or Ethiopic year. In the Gregorian calendar every year that is exactly divisible by 4 is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100; these centurial years are leap years only if they are exactly divisible by 400. In other word, Ethiopic has 100 Leap years every 400 years while Gregorian has 97.

(With the proper intercalation the Ethiopic Enochian calendar can be made more accurate. For instance an intercalation of a year every 293 years (107016 days) gives 365.2423 days, a fraction very close to the real time of 365.2422 days (20926 divided by 86000 seconds equals 0.2422 of a day). An unexpected feature of the 364-day year of Enoch is that it results in an average year length even more accurate than the modern Gregorian calendar. The actual length of the year is now 365.2422 days. The Gregorian calendar averages 365.2425 days. But if 52 weeks are intercalated every 293 years into the calendar of Enoch, then it averages 365.2423 days which is extremely accurate. It is very surprising that such accuracy can be obtained by intercalating an entire week at a time over so short a time period. In contrast, the Gregorian calendar intercalates one day at a time over a 400-year cycle and achieves less long-term accuracy.)

The Ethiopic calendar differs from both the Coptic and the Julian calendars. The current 1994 Ethiopian Calendar (E.C.) year is equivalent to the 1718 Coptic Calendar (C.C.), the 2001 Julian Calendar (J.C.) and the 2001 Gregorian Calendar (G.C.) years. After the massive killing by the Romans that was so severe and traumatic the Egyptians began a new calendar called “The Martyr’s Calendar” in A.D. 284. The difference between the Ethiopic and Coptic is 276 years. In spite of this, the Ethiopic Calendar is closely associated with the rules and the different calculations influenced by the Coptic Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. (According to Aymro and Motovu, the Calendar of the Ethiopian Church came from Egypt and as to methods and dates agrees with the Calendar of the Coptic Church. But  the two calendars differ with regards to the saints’ days and the time of observing them.) According to Ethiopian scholars such as Aleqa Kidane Wold Kiflie (ኣለቃ ኪዳነ ወልድ ክፍሌ), the Ethiopic Calendar A.D. differs from other Christian calendars because of the continuity to these years after completion of the 5500 years and the former is religious while the latter is based on history. The Ethiopic years are seven years behind the Western and Eastern Church calendars. The seven years difference by Meskerem 1 becomes eight on January 1. Ethiopic uses the 5500 E.B.C. years in proleptic as well as modern calendrical calculations.

According to Asrat Gebre Mariam and Gebre Hiwot Mehari, the Romans endorsed an inaccurate figure by the time they started from counting the birth year of Jesus Christ. Exiguus suggested that the Romans (drop the A.U.C. calendar and) start with the Christian Calendar in 532 A.M. (and 19 lunar cycles times 28 solar cycles equals 532).  Many churches accepted the A.D. 1 (or 753 A.U.C.) calculation of Exiguus, which was off by four years, only because of the difficulty associated with changing calendar rules and regulations established on it. The authors point out to evidence presented by Flavius Josephus and other which include Matthew 2:1. Also Tiberius Caesar became the king of Rome in the Roman 765 year and Jesus started teaching fifteen years into his reign, at the age of thirty, in 780 A.U.C.- see Luke 3:1-23.  

The starting point of the Jewish calendar is 3761 B.C., the date for the creation of the world according to their religion. The Aztecs believed that the creation of the world occurred 3113 B.C. The Greek epoch correlates to 776 B.C.E. Olympiad. The Islamic Calendar started from A.D. 622 after the flight of Mohammed to Medina.

The Geez Calendar (QLnts) is divided into old and new. The old era which is equivalent to the B.C. is Zemene Bluy (Z.B.) or (ZMN bly). Zemene Haddis (Z.H.) or (ZMN ‘ds) is Anno Domini (A.D.), though it is commonly referred to as Amete Mihret (A.M.) which means “years of mercy”. Amete Mihret (]MT m’Rt) is abbreviated as ]!m! Coptic Years are Amete Semaetat (]MT Sm]tt or  ]!S!). The Gregorian Calendar years are followed by anD awr[ a(uUr, which means according to the “European” calendar and is abbreviated as a!a!a!  In Amharic Julius is ylys, Gregory is grgrys and B.C. is Kkrsts Bft (k!B!).The current Ethiopic year can be written as 19094 ]!m!, 1994 A.M., 1994 Z.H., 7494 A.A. and even 1994 ]!m!

The Ethiopians, like all their contemporaries, probably did not know about the zero between the B.C. and the A.D. years. In spite of this, 5500 + Amete Mihret years divided by 4 is an Ethiopic Leap year if the remainder is 3. Leap (>gr) years by the Ethiopian Calendar are those that end in a Gregorian calendar year preceding a Gregorian calendar leap year. The Ethiopic Leap day is Phagumien 6 ([gmn 6).

Calendar raises the issue of the types of counting glyphs used for documentation. The ancient people might have used the “Aebegede” (ABGD) digits. The numerals of the Heleheme (HL”M) Ethiopic are not alphabetic (fDlw a;z) to Ethiopic. Some Ethiopians claim that the resemblance of most Ethiopic numbers to the Greek or Coptic numerals do not necessarily mean they were copied from them. Recent research shows that the Greek alphabetic numerals were borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic system. The modern Ethiopian calendar is tabulated with Ethiopic and Latin alphanumeric characters to make it bi-alphabetic and includes the G.C. dates. Many incorporate national, Christian and Muslim holidays. (The week tables start with Sundays.) It has continued to play important roles in agriculture, genealogy, astronomy, history, astrology, commerce, science, etc. and in calculating movable holidays such as Ethiopian Easter. Many other movable Christian holidays change with the Easter (that also uses the Hebrew Calendar).

Ethiopian calendar tables are usually annual, though one spans 532 years. The calendar cycles repeat and thus the charts are re-usable. Dr. Getatchew has published examples and describes how the 532-year cycle table with the movable holidays (B]lt) and fast (aiwmt) days was created for the first time by Annianus (anyns), an Egyptian monk, who lived around 400 A.M. The table was for the 12th cycle or years 5853 to 6384 A.A.

Groups of years like those associated with lunar and solar cycles have Amharic names (qemer / QMr^ awde chereka / ]wD XRq^ terefe tsehay / TRF ?’y^ etc.). The Ethiopic years have four-year cycles. The years are named after the evangelists Matthew (mtws), Luke (lqs), Mark (mrqs) and John (y’ns). Each year has four seasons, similar to autumn (fall or ?Dy), winter (kRmt), spring (MIw) and summer (Bg). An Ethiopian week has seven days. Each day has a numeric value for use in calendarical calculations. For instance, Pope Demetrios (ptryrk dmurs) of the Church of Alexandria (seat of St. Mark see) utilized Mitonic cycles, the calculations of Ptolemy and the Egyptian calendar to establish the rules for calculating Easter and the day of a particular new year. Asrat and Gebre Hiwot have published the arithmetic of similar Ethiopic old methods.

Apart from hours, minutes, seconds, etc. Ethiopic also has a time frame known as kekros (kkrs). A kekros is 1/60th of a day. An Ethiopian solar year has 365 days and 15 kekroses while a lunar year has 354 days and 22 kerkoses. (A 1987 E.C. Amharic book by Asrat  (].rt) and Gebre Hiwot (GbR ‘yWt) is recommended for more information on the calendar or calculations of the holidays in accordance with a book called Bahre Hassab (b’R ‘sb). For example, the 1994 A.M. Meskerem 1 day can be calculated by adding 7494 A.A.+1873 and dividing the sum by 7. If the remainder is one it is on a Tuesday. (1873 is 5500 Z.B.+1994 A.M. divided by 4.)

Bahera Haszab - This Ethiopian manuscript, in the languages of Amharic and Geez, is open to a page explaining the mathematical system for fixing the movable feasts and fasts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Bahera Haszab - This Ethiopian manuscript, in the languages of Amharic and Geez, is open to a page explaining the mathematical system for fixing the movable feasts and fasts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

One of the reasons behind the controversy between the Ethiopian and the Gregorian calendars is because Pope Gregory abandoned the rules for calculating Easter and introduced new rules in 1582 without consulting the Alexandrian Church. Gregorian also changed the beginning of Julian new years from Mgbt (March) to ur (January) and reduced Leap years. It also involves the minutes that add up to one day (about every 128 years) and the relative positions of these days within the year numbers, while the days have constantly remained the same.


The Ethiopian calendar lacks the historical numerical discontinuity and inflation of the other Christian calendars and may be one of the oldest, even if it is another inaccurate calendar. As a result, it is not affected by the absence of the zero digit and it is reasonable to conclude that the new millennium will begin on Meskerem 1, 2001 E.C. (MsKRm 1 Qn 2001 ]!m!). Considering that all calendars are not really accurate and we continue to worry about leap seconds to improve on them while ignoring years, the reluctance of Ethiopians in accepting the Gregorian calendar is understandable. However, the four years gap introduced by Exiguus does not account for the seven years difference between the Ethiopic and the Christian calendars. If Jesus was born in 7 B.C. and nobody made the effort to correct the error, the A.D. years should have remained the same. The Ethiopians imply that Exiguus used 532 in the wrong year without mentioning the A.D. year, though he was working on his Easter calculations in (the proleptic) A.D. 525. Further research is justified for historical, chronological, computational and other reasons and to find out how the Ethiopians stayed younger in spite of hanging onto the calendar for millennia. The Ethiopian calendar is neither Julian nor Gregorian. (The  difference between the Ethiopian and Julian calendars most likely appeared only after Exiguus came up with Anno Domini.) For instance, Ethiopic days could be references. In a new book in Amharic, b’R “sb (Bahra Hassab), Getatchew Haile (gtCw ;yl) used 365.25 days per year starting with Tuesday, Meskerem 1, 5500 years before the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, if the birth of Christ is a new era for Christians we might as well get ready to celebrate the new millennium with Ethiopians in the year 2001 E.C. on September 11, 2008 G.C.

Written by Tseday

September 14, 2008 at 4:57 am

Posted in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization

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A Critical Review of the Evidence of Archaeology, Anthropology, History and Comparative Religion: According to the Most Reliable Sources and Authorities

By John G. Jackson (1939)



Much more could be said on this subject, but since this essay is addressed mainly to readers who have little time for the study of history, it must be made as concise as possible. The numerous citations from standard scientific and historical works, it is hoped, will be of some benefit to students who are out of reach of large public libraries, or who lack the leisure time necessary for reading and research along these lines.


“It is pretty well settled that the city is the Negro’s great contribution to civilization, for it was in Africa where the first cities grew up.” E. Haldeman-Julius

“Those piles of ruins which you see in that narrow valley watered by the Nile, are the remains of opulent cities, the pride of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. … There a people, now forgotten, discovered while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men now rejected from society for their sable skin and frizzled hair, founded on the study of the laws of nature, those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe.” Count Volney

“The accident of the predominance of white men in modern times should not give us supercilious ideas about color or persuade us to listen to superficial theories about the innate superiority of the white-skinned man. Four thousand years ago, when civilization was already one or two thousand years old, white men were just a bunch of semi-savages on the outskirts of the civilized world. If there had been anthropologists in Crete, Egypt, and Babylonia, they would have pronounced the white race obviously inferior, and might have discoursed learnedly on the superior germ-plasm or glands of colored folk.” Joseph McCabe


The late Professor George A. Dorsey noted that “H. G. Wells’ heart beats faster in nearly every chapter of his Outline of History, because he cannot forget that he is Nordic, Aryan,
English British, white, civilized.” (Why We Behave Like Human Beings, p. 40.) This patriotic zeal of Mr. Wells’ has, in truth, caused him to suppress certain facts that do not
fit into his pet theories. In the latest edition of his Outline of History, Mr. Wells ends his
chapter on The Early Empires with the following remarks: “No less an authority than Sir
Flinders Petrie gives countenance to the idea that there was some very early connection
between Colchis (the country to the south of the Caucasus) and prehistoric Egypt. Herodotus remarked upon a series of resemblances between the Colchians and the
Egyptians.” (Wells’ New and Revised Outline of History, p. 184, Garden City, 1931.) It
would have been proper for Wells to have quoted the remarks of Herodotus, so as to give
us precise information on the series of resemblances between the Cholchians and the
Egyptians. Why he did not do so we shall now see. In Book II, Section- 104, of his
celebrated History, Herodotus states: “For my part I believe the Colchi to be a colony of
Egyptians, because like them they have black skins and frizzled hair.” (See any English
translation of The History of Herodotus. The translation by Professor George Rawlinson
is the best. See also W.E.B. DuBois, The Negro, p. 31, and Count Volney’s Travels in
Egypt and Syria, Vol. I. pp. 80-81.) After discussing the civilizations of Egypt, Babylonia and India, Wells had already referred to them as a “triple system of white man
civilizations.” (Outline of History, Chap. XIII, Sect. 5, p. 175) On concluding that the
civilization of Egypt was a white man civilization, he naturally would be careful not to
quote the above passage from Herodotus.

Most history texts, especially the ones on ancient history, start off by telling us that there
are either three, four or five races of man, but that of those races only one has been
responsible for civilization, culture, progress and all other good things. The one race is of
course the white race, and particularly that branch of said race known as the Nordic or
Aryan. The reason for this is obvious; the writers of these textbooks are as a rule Nordics,
or so consider themselves. However, prejudice alone will not account for this sort of
thing. There is a confusion among historians and anthropologists concerning the proper
classification of races, and this confusion is used by biased writers to bolster up their
preconceptions. It is therefore necessary that we discuss the subject of race classification
in a rational manner before proceeding further.

The early scientific classifications of the varieties of the human species were geographical in nature. The celebrated naturalist, Linneaus (1708-1778), for instance, listed four races, according to continent, namely: (1) European (white), (2) African (black), (3) Asiatic (yellow), and (4) American (red). Blumenback, in 1775, added a fifth type, the Ocieanic or brown race. This classification is still used in some grammar school Geographies, where the races of man are tabulated as: Ethiopian (black), Caucasian (white), American (red), Mongolian (yellow) and Malayan (brown). During the year 1 800, the French naturalist, Cuvier, announced the hypothesis that all ethnic types were traceable to Ham, Chem and Japhet, the three sons of Noah. After that date race classification developed into an amazing contest; a struggle which still rages. By 1873, Haeckel had found no less than twelve distinct races of mankind; and to show the indefatigable nature of his researches, he annexed twenty-two more races a few years later, bringing the grand total of human types up to thirty-four. Deniker, in 1900, presented to the world a very imposing system of race classification. He conceived of the human species existing in the form of six grand divisions, seventeen divisions and twenty-nine races. And despite all this industry among anthropologists, ethnologists and the like, there is yet no agreement on the classification of races. Where one anthropologist finds three racial types, another can spot thirty-three without the least difficulty.

The Classifiers of race, however, regardless of how abundantly they disagreed with each
other as to the correct groupings of human types, were of unanimous accord in the belief
that the white peoples of the world were far superior to the darker races. This opinion in
still very popular, but modern science is making it hard for intelligent people to accept
the fallacy. Many years ago the German philosopher, Schopenhauer, remarked that,
“there is no such thing as a white race, much as this is talked of, but every white man is a
faded or bleached one.” Schopenhauer possessed keen and sagacious foresight on this
point. For example, the English scholar, Joseph McCabe, expresses the following view as
the consensus of opinion among modern anthropologists: “There is strong reason to think
that man was at first very dark of skin, woolly-haired and flat-nosed, and, as he wandered into different climates, the branches of the race diverged and developed their characteristics.” (Key to Culture, No. 11, p. 10.)

Professor Franz Boas, the nestor of American anthropologists, has divided the whole
human race into only two divisions. This classification of Boas’ is admirably explained
by Professor George A. Dorsey:

Open your atlas to a map of the world. Look at the Indian Ocean: on the west, Africa; on the north, the three great southern peninsulas of Asia: on the east, a chain of great islands terminating in Australia. Wherever that Indian Ocean touches land, it finds dark-skinned people with strongly
developed jaws, relatively long arms and kinky or frizzly hair. Call that the Indian Ocean or Negroid division of the human race.

Now look at the Pacific Ocean: on one side, the two Americas; on the other, Asia. (Geographically, Europe is a tail to the Asiatic kite.) The aboriginal population of the Americas and of Asia north of its southern peninsula was a light-skinned people with straight hair, relatively short arms, and a face without prominent jaws. Call that the Pacific Ocean or Mongoloid division. (Why We Behave Like Human Beings, pp. 44-45.)

Professors A. L. Kroeber and Fay-Cooper Cole are of the opinion that the peoples of
Europe have (been) bleached out enough to merit classification as a distinct race. This
would add a European or Caucasoid division to the Negroid and Mongoloid races of the
classification proposed by Professor Boas. If we accept this three-fold division of the
human species, our classification ought to read as follows: the races of man are three in
number; (1) the Negroid, or Ethiopian or black race; (2) the Mongoloid, or Mongolian or
yellow race; and (3) the Caucasoid or European or white race. This is the very latest
scheme of race classification.

Now that we have straightened out ourselves on the issue of the classification of races,
we may property turn to the main subject matter of this essay, i.e., the ancient Ethiopians
and their widespread influence on the early history of civilization. In discussing the origin
of civilization in the ancient Near East, Professor Charles Seignobos in his History of
Ancient Civilization, notes that the first civilized inhabitants of the Nile and Tigris-
Euphrates valleys, were a dark-skinned people with short hair and prominent lips; and
that they are referred to by some scholars as Cushites (Ethiopians), and as Hamites by
others. This ancient civilization of the Cushites, out of which the earliest cultures of
Egypt and Mesopotamia grew, was not confined to the Near East. Traces of it have been
found all over the world. Dr. W. J. Perry refers to it as the Archaic Civilization. Sir
Grafton Elliot Smith terms it the Neolithic Heliolithic Culture of the Brunet-Browns. Mr.
Wells alludes to this early civilization in his Outline of History, and dates its beginnings
as far back as 15,000 years B.C. “This peculiar development of the Neolithic culture,”
says Mr. Wells, “which Elliot Smith called the Heliolithic (sun-stone) culture, included
many or all of the following odd practices: (1) Circumcision, (2) the queer custom of
sending the father to bed when a child is born, known as Couvade, (3) the practice of Massage, (4) the making of Mummies, (5) Megalithic monuments (i.e. Stonehenge), (6)
artificial deformation of the heads of the young by bandages, (7) Tattooing, (8) religious
association of the Sun and the Serpent, and (9) the use of the symbol known as the
Swastika for good luck. . . . Elliot Smith traces these associated practices in a sort of
constellation all over this great Mediterranean / Indian Ocean-Pacific area. Where one
occurs, most of the others occur. They link Brittany with Borneo and Peru. But this
constellation of practices does not crop up in the primitive home of Nordic or Mongolian
peoples, nor does it extend southward much beyond equatorial Africa. … The first
civilizations in Egypt and the Euphrates-Tigris valley probably developed directly out of
this widespread culture.” (Outline of History, pp. 141-143).

This ancient civilization is called NEOLITHIC by Wells. This is a mistake; for we have
overwhelming evidence that these ancient peoples had long passed out of the New Stone
Age stage of culture, and were erecting edifices which could only have been constructed
by means of hard metal tools. Iron is the very backbone of civilization, and the Iron Age
began very anciently in Africa. The researches of scholars like Boas, Torday and DuBois
would lead us to believe that the art of mining iron was first developed in the interior of
Africa, and that the knowledge of it passed through Egypt to the rest of the world. (See
W.E.B. DuBois, The Negro, pp. 114-116, Home University Library, New York and
London, 1915.)

In modern geography the name Ethiopia is confined to the country known as Abyssinia,
an extensive territory in East Africa. In ancient times Ethiopia extended over vast
domains in both Africa and Asia. “It seems certain,” declares Sir E. A. Wallis Budge,
“that classical historians and geographers called the whole region from India to Egypt,
both countries inclusive, by the name of Ethiopia, and in consequence they regarded all
the dark-skinned and black peoples who inhabited it as Ethiopians. Mention is made of
Eastern and Western Ethiopians and it is probable that the Easterners were Asiatics and
the Westerners Africans.” (History of Ethiopia, Vol. I., Preface, by Sir E. A. Wallis
Budge.) In addition Budge notes that, “Homer and Herodotus call all the peoples of the
Sudan, Egypt, Arabia, Palestine and Western Asia and India Ethiopians.” (Ibid., p. 2.)
Herodotus wrote in his celebrated History that both the Western Ethiopians, who lived in
Africa, and the Eastern Ethiopians who dwelled in India, were black in complexion, but
that the Africans had curly hair, while the Indians were straight-haired. (The aboriginal
black inhabitants of India are generally referred to as the Dravidians, of whom more will
be said as we proceed.) Another classical historian who wrote about the Ethiopians was
Strabo, from whom we quote the following: “I assert that the ancient Greeks, in the same
way as they classed all the northern nations with which they were familiar as Scythians,
etc., so, I affirm, they designated as Ethiopia the whole of the southern countries toward
the ocean.” Strabo adds that “if the moderns have confined the appellation Ethiopians to
those only who dwell near Egypt, this must not be allowed to interfere with the meaning
of the ancients.” Ephorus says that: “The Ethiopians were considered as occupying all the
south coasts of both Asia and Africa,” and adds that “this is an ancient opinion of the of
the Greeks.” Then we have the view of Stephanus of Byzantium, that: “Ethiopia was the
first established country on earth; and the Ethiopians were the first who introduced the
worship of the gods, and who established laws.” The vestiges of this early civilization have been found in Nubia, the Egyptian Sudan, West Africa, Egypt, Mashonaland, India,
Persia, Mesopotamia, Arabia, South America, Central America, Mexico, and the United
States. Any student who doubts this will find ample evidence in such works as The Voice
of Africa, by Dr. Leo Froebenius; Prehistoric Nations, and Ancient America, by John D.
Baldwin; Rivers of Life, by Major-General J. G. R. Forlong; A Book of the Beginnings by
Gerald Massey; Children of the Sun and The Growth of Civilization, by W. J. Perry; The
Negro by Professor W.E.B. DuBois; The Anacalypsis, by Sir Godfrey Higgins; Isis
Unveiled by Madam H. P. Blavatsky; The Diffusion of Culture, by Sir Grafton Elliot
Smith; The Mediterranean Race, by Professor Sergi; The Ruins of Empires, by Count
Volney; The Races of Europe, by Professor William Z. Ripley; and last but not least, the
brilliant monographs of Mr. Maynard Shipley: New Light on Prehistoric Cultures and
Americans of a Million Years Age. (See also Shipley’s Sex and the Garden of Eden Myth,
a collection of essays, the best of the lot being one entitled: Christian Doctrines In Pre-
Christian America.) These productions of Mr. Shipley, have been issued in pamphlet
form in the Little Blue Book Series, published by Mr. E. Haldeman- Julius, of Girard,

The efforts of certain historians to classify these ancient Cushites as Caucasoids does not
deceive honest historical students any longer. This may well be illustrated by a passage
from the pen of our scholarly friend Bishop William Montgomery Brown: “For the first
two or three thousand years of civilization, there was not a civilized white man on the
earth. Civilization was founded and developed by the swarthy races of Mesopotamia,
Syria and Egypt, and the white race remained so barbaric that in those days an Egyptian
or a Babylonian priest would have said that the riffraff of white tribes a few hundred
miles to the north of their civilization were hopelessly incapable of acquiring the
knowledge requisite to progress. It was southern colored peoples everywhere, in China,
in Central America, in India, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and Crete who gave the
northern white peoples civilization.” (The Bankruptcy of Christian Supernaturalism, Vol.,
p. 192.)

Quite a few Egyptologists have defended the idea that the ancient Egyptians
originally came from Asia. There never was any evidence to back up this view; and the
only reason it was adopted, was because it was fashionable to believe that no African
people was capable of developing a great civilization. Geoffrey Parsons refers to
Egyptian civilization in his Stream of History, p. 154, New York & London, 1932, as
“genuinely African in its origin and development.” Herodotus came to the same
conclusion over 2,000 years ago, but he is not taken seriously by the majority of modern
historians, except where his facts agree with certain theories of said historians. Theories
are more precious to some scholars than facts, even when the facts flatly contradict their
theories. Dr. Froebenious, the great German anthropologist, has examined the ruins of
ancient cultures in southern, eastern and western Africa, of an antiquity rivaling those of
Egypt and Sumer. Sir John Marshall and Dr. E. Mackay have uncovered the remains of a
great Dravidian civilization in India, which rose to its peak over 5,000 years ago. The
newspaper generally report these discoveries as startling and unexpected. They tell us
that nobody ever dreamed that these ancient nations ever existed. This novelty, however,
does not exist for real students. Anyone familiar with the works of G. Elliot Smith, W. J. Perry, Sir Godfrey Higgins, Dr. H.R. Hall, Sir Henry Rawlinson, John D. Baldwin,
Gerald Massey and General Forlong, will not be surprised at the very novel
archaeological discoveries announced by the press. Since we are dealing with historical
sources and authorities, a study of the researches of Sir Henry Rawlinson, the Father of
Assyriology, on the Ethiopians in the ancient East, is in order. The following extract is
condensed from an essay entitled: On the Early History of Babylonia:

1 . The system of writing which they brought with them has the closest
affinity with that of Egypt — in many cases indeed, there is an absolute
identity between the two alphabets.

2. In the Biblical genealogies, Cush (Ethiopia) and Mizraim (Egypt) are
brothers, while from the former sprang Nimrod (Babylonia.)

3. In regard to the language of the primitive Babylonians, the vocabulary is
undoubtedly Cushite or Ethiopian, belonging to that stock of tongues
which in the sequel were everywhere more or less mixed up with the
Semitic languages, but of which we have probably the purest modern
specimens in the Mahra of Southern Arabia and the Galla of Abyssinia.

4. All the traditions of Babylonia and Assyria point to a connection in very
early times between Ethiopia, Southern Arabia and the cities on the lower

5. In further proof of the connection between Ethiopia and Chaldea, we must
remember the Greek tradition both of Cepheus and Memnon, which
sometimes applied to Africa, and sometimes to the countries at the mouth
of the Euphrates; and we must also consider the geographical names of
Cush and Phut, which, although of African origin, are applied to races
bordering on Chaldea, both in the Bible and in the Inscriptions of Darius.

(Essay- VI, Appendix, Book-I, History of Herodotus, translated by
Professor George Rawlinson, with essays and notes by Sir Henry
Rawlinson and Sir J. G. Wilkinson.)

The opinions of Sir Henry Rawlinson are reinforced by the researches of his equally
distinguished brother, Professor George Rawlinson, in his essay On the Ethnic Affinities
of the Races of Western Asia, which directs our attention to: “the uniform voice of
primitive antiquity, which spoke of the Ethiopians as a single race, dwelling along the
shores of the Southern Ocean from India to the Pillars of Hercules.” {Herodotus, Vol. I.,
Book. I., Appendix, Essay XL, Section-5.) Rawlinson adds an explanatory note to this
section of his essay, which we here reproduce: “Recent linguistic discovery tends to show
that a Cushite or Ethiopian race did in the earliest times extend itself along the shores of
the Southern Ocean from Abyssinia to India. The whole peninsula of India was peopled
by a race of their character before the influx of the Aryans; it extended from the Indus
along the seacoast through the modern Beluchistan and Kerman, which was the proper
country of the Asiatic Ethiopians; the cities on the northern shores of the Persian Gulf are
shown by the brick inscriptions found among their ruins to have belonged to this race; it
was dominant in Susiana and Babylonia, until overpowered in the one country by Aryan,
in the other by Semitic intrusion; it can be traced both by dialect and tradition throughout
the whole south coast of the Arabian peninsula.”

In the study of ancient affairs, folklore and tradition throw an invaluable light on
historical records. In Greek mythology we read of the great Ethiopian king, Cepheus,
whose fame was so great that he and his family were immortalized in the stars. The wife
of King Cepheus was Queen Cassiopeia, and his daughter, Princess Andromeda. The star
groups of the celestial sphere, which are named after them are called the ROYAL
family — (the constellations: cepheus, CASSIOPEIA and ANDROMEDA.) It may seem
strange that legendary rulers of ancient Ethiopia should still have their names graven on
our star maps, but the voice of history gives us a clue. A book on astrology attributed to
Lucian declares that: “The Ethiopians were the first who invented the science of stars,
and gave names to the planets, not at random and without meaning, but descriptive of the
qualities which they conceived them to possess; and it was from them that this art passed,
still in an imperfect state, to the Egyptians.” The Ethiopian origin of astronomy is
beautifully explained by Count Volney in a passage in his Ruins of Empires, which is one
of the glories of modern literature, and his argument is not based on guesses. He invokes
the weighty authority of Charles F. Dupuis, whose three monumental works, The Origin
of Constellations, The Origin of Worship and The Chronological Zodiac, are marvels of
meticulous research. Dupuis placed the origin of the zodiac as far back as 15,000 B.C.,
which would give the world’s oldest picture book an antiquity of 17,000 years. (This
estimate is not as excessive as it might at first appear, since the American ast5ronomer
and mathematician, Professor Arthur M. Harding, traces back the origin of the zodiac to
about 26,000 B.C) In discussing star worship and idolatry, Volney gives the following
glowing description of the scientific achievements of the ancient Ethiopians, and of how
they mapped out the signs of the zodiac on the star-spangled dome of the heavens:

Should it be asked at what epoch this system took its birth, we shall answer on the testimony of the monuments of astronomy itself, that its principles appear with certainty to have been established about seventeen thousand years ago, and if it be asked to what people it is to be attributed, we shall answer that the same monuments, supported by unanimous traditions, attribute it to the first tribes of Egypt; and reason finds in that country all the circumstances which could lead to such a system; when it finds there a zone of sky, bordering on the tropic, equally free from the rains of the equator and the fogs of the north; when it finds there a central point of the sphere of the ancients, a salubrious climate, a great but manageable river, a soil fertile without art or labor, inundated without morbid exhalations, and placed between two seas which communicate with the richest countries; it conceives that the inhabitant of the Nile, addicted to agriculture from the facility of communications, to astronomy from the state of his sky, always open to observation, must have been the first to pass from the savage to the social state; and consequently to attain the physical and moral sciences necessary to civilized life.

It was, then, on the borders of the upper Nile, among a black race of men, that was organized the complicated system of the worship of the stars, considered in relation to the productions of the earth and the labors of agriculture. … Thus the Ethiopian of Thebes named stars of inundation, or Aquarius, those stars under which the Nile began to overflow; stars of the ox or bull, those under which they began to plow, stars of the lion, those under which that animal, driven from the desert by thirst, appeared on the banks of the Nile; stars of the sheaf, or of the harvest virgin, those of the
reaping season; stars of the lamb, stars of the two kids, those under which these precious animals were brought forth. … Thus the same Ethiopian having observed that the return of the inundation always corresponded with the rising of a beautiful star which appeared towards the source of the
Nile, and seemed to warn the husbandman against the coming waters, he compared this action to that of the animal who, by his barking, gives notice of danger, and he called this star the dog, the barker (Sirius). In the same manner he named the stars of the crab, those where the sun, having
arrived at the tropic, retreated by a slow retrograde motion like the crab of Cancer. He named stars of the wild goat, or Capricorn, those where the sun, having reached the highest point in his annuary tract, . . . imitates the goat, who delights to climb to the summit of the rocks. He named stars of the balance, or Libra, those where the days and nights being equal, seemed in equilibrium, like that instrument; and stars of the scorpion, those where certain periodical winds bring vapors, burning like the venom of the scorpion. (Volney’s Ruins of Empires, pp. 120-122, New York, 1926)

The traditions concerning Memnon are interesting as well as instructive. He was claimed
as a king by the Ethiopians, and identified with the Pharaoh Amunoph or Amenhotep, by
the Egyptians. A fine statue of him is located in the British Museum, in London. Charles
Darwin makes a reference to this statue on his Descent of Man which is well worth
reproducing: “When I looked at the statue of Amunoph III, I agreed with two officers of
the establishment, both competent judges, that he had a strongly marked Negro type of
features.” The features of Akhnaton (Amennhotep IV), are even more Negroid than those
of his illustrious predecessor. That the earliest Egyptians were African Ethiopians
(Nilotic Negroes), is obvious to all unbiased students of oriental history. Breasted’s claim
that the early civilized inhabitants of the Nile Valley and Western Asia were members of
a Great White Race, is utterly false, and is supported by no facts whatsoever. A similar
racial bias is shown by Elliot Smith in his work, The Ancient Egyptians and Their
Influence Upon the Civilization of Europe, p. 30, New York & London, 1911. “Not a few
writers,” says he, “like the traveler Volney in the 18 th century, have expressed the belief
that the ancient Egyptians were Negroes, or at any rate strongly Negroid. In recent times
even a writer so discriminating as Ripley usually is has given his adhesion to this view.”
(The writers referred to here, are Count Volney, the French Orientalist and Professor
William Z. Ripley, of Harvard University, an eminent American Anthropologist.)
Professor Smith is convinced that these men are wrong, because he holds that there is a
“profound gap that separates the Negro from the rest of mankind, including the
Egyptian.” (Ancient Egyptians, p. 74.) Another English scholar, Philip Smith, is far more
rational in discussing this point:

No people have bequeathed to us so many memorials of its form complexion and physiognomy as the Egyptians. … If we were left to form  an opinion on the subject by the description of the Egyptians left by the Greek writers we should conclude that they were, if not Negroes, at least
closely akin to the Negro race. That they were much darker in coloring than the neighboring Asiatics; that they had their frizzled either by nature or art; that their lips were thick and projecting, and their limbs slender, rests upon the authority of eye-witnesses who had traveled in the country and who could have had no motive to deceive. . . . The fullness of the lips seen in the Sphinx of the Pyramids and in the portraits of the kings is characteristic of the Negro. (The Ancient History of the East, pp. 25-26, London, 1881.)

We read of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, in Greek mythology, to be exact in Homer’s Iliad,
where he leads an army of Elamites and Ethiopians to the assistance of King Priam in the
Trojan War. His expedition is said to have started from the African Ethiopia and to have
passed through Egypt on the way to Troy. According to Herodotus, Memnon was the
founder of Susa, the chief city of the Elamites. “There were places called Memnonia,”
asserts Professor Rawlinson, “supposed to have been built by him both in Egypt and at
Susa; and there was a tribe called Memnones at Moroe. Memnon thus unites the eastern
with the western Ethiopians, and the less we regard him as an historical personage the
more must we view him as personifying the ethnic identity of the two races.” (Ancient
Monarchies, Vol. I, Chap. 3.) The ancient peoples of Mesopotamia are sometimes called
the Chaldeans, but this is inaccurate and confusing. Before the Chaldean rule in
Mesopotamia, there were the empires of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and
Assyrians. The earliest civilization of Mesopotamia was that of the Sumerians. They are
designated in the Assyrio-Babylonian inscriptions as the black-heads or black-faced
people, and they are shown on the monuments as beardless and with shaven heads. This
easily distinguishes them from the Semitic Babylonians, who are shown with beards and
long hair. From the myths and traditions of the Babylonians we learn that their culture
came originally from the south. Sir Henry Rawlinson concluded from this and other
evidence that the first civilized inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad were immigrants from
the African Ethiopia. John D. Baldwin, the American Orientalist, on the other hand,
claims that since ancient Arabia was also known as Ethiopia, they could have just as well
come from that country. These theories are rejected by Dr. II. R. Hall, of the Dept. Of
Egyptian & Assyrian Antiquities of the British Museum, who contends that Mesopotamia
was civilized by a migration from India. “The ethnic type of the Sumerians, so strongly
marked in their statues and reliefs,” says Dr. Hall, “was as different from those of the
races which surrounded them as was their language from those of the Semites, Aryans, or
others; they were decidedly Indian in type. The face-type of the average Indian of today
is no doubt much the same as that of his Dravidian race ancestors thousands of years ago.
. . . And it is to this Dravidian ethnic type of India that the ancient Sumerian bears most
resemblance, so far as we can judge from his monuments. … And it is by no means
improbable that the Sumerians were an Indian race which passed, certainly by land,
perhaps also by sea, through Persia to the valley of the Two Rivers. It was in the Indian
home (perhaps the Indus valley) that we suppose for them that their culture developed. . . On the way they left the seeds of their culture in Elam. . . . There is little doubt that India
must have been one of the earliest centers of human civilization, and it seems natural to suppose that the strange un-Semitic, un-Aryan people who came from the East to civilize
the West were of Indian origin, especially when we see with our own eyes how very
Indian the Sumerians were in type.” {The Ancient History of the Near East, pp. 173-174,
London, 1916.) Hall is opposed in his theory of Sumerian origins by Dr. W. J. Perry, the
great anthropologist, of the University of London. “The Sumerian stories or origins
themselves tell a very different tale,” Perry points out, “for from their beginnings the
Sumerians seem to have been in touch with Egypt. Some of their early texts mention
Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha. . . . Dilmun was the first settlement that was made by the
god Enki, who was the founder of Sumerian civilization. … Magan was famous among
the Sumerians as a place whence they got diorite and copper, Meluhha as a place whence
they got gold. Dilmun has been identified with some place or other in the Persian Gulf,
perhaps the Bahrein Islands, perhaps a land on the eastern shore of the Gulf. … In a late
inscription of the Assyrians it is said that Magan and Meluhha were the archaic names for
Egypt and Ethiopia, the latter being the south-western part of Somaliand that lay
opposite.” {The Growth of Civilization, pp. 60-61, 2 nd Edition, Harmondsworth,
Middlesex, England, 1937, Published by Penguin Books, Ltd.)

Another great nation of Ethiopian origin was Elam, a country which stretched from the
Tigris River to the Zagros Mountains of Persia. Its capital was the famous city of Susa,
which was founded about 4,000 B.C., and flourished from that date to its destruction by
Moslem invaders about the year 650 C.E. (Christian Era). In speaking of the Elamites, H.
G. Wells H. H. Johnston, to have been Negroid in type. There is a strong Negroid strain
in the modern people of Elam.” {Outline of History, p. 166.) Archaeological evidence
favors this view. Reginald S. Poole, the English Egyptologist noted that: “There is one
portrait of an Elamite (Cushite) king on a vase found at Susa; he is painted black and thus
belongs to the Cushite race.” (Quoted by Professor Alfred C. Haddon, in his History of
Anthropology, p. 6, London, 1934. Thinker’s Library Edition, published by Watts & Co.,
5 & 6 Johnson’s Court, Fleet St., London, E. c-4, England.)

We cannot devote much space to the early inhabitants of India, though they were beyond
all doubt an Ethiopic ethnic type. They are described by Professor Lynn Thorndike as
“short black men with almost Negro noses.” {Short History of Civilization, p. 227, New
York, 1936.) Dr. Will Durant pictures these early Hindus as “a dark-skinned, broad-nosed
people whom, without knowing the origin or the word, we call Dravidians.” {Short
History of Civilization, Part I, p. 396, New York, 1935.) The student is advised to consult
pp. 650-666, of the new edition of Sir John A. Hammerton’s Wonders of the Past, in
which there is an instructive article, with fine illustrations, by S. G. Blaxland Stubbs,
entitled: Wonder Cities of Most Ancient India. That Mr. Stubbs is a candid writer may be
seen from the following excerpt:

The early Aryan literature of India, the Hymns of the Rigveda, which, it is commonly agreed, date from about 1,000 B.C., speak of the people whom the proud Aryan invaders found in India as black-skinned barbarians, Dasas or slaves. But Aryan pride of race has received something of a shock from archaeological investigations carried out by Sir John Marshall and, more recently, by Dr. E. Mackay in the valley of the Indus. Here ample evidence has been found of a race whose complex civilization and high culture were equal, and in some respects superior to those of early Mesopotamia and Egypt.

These Asiatic black men were not confined to the mainland, for we are informed by no less an authority than Sir Harry H. Johnston, that:

In former times this Asiatic Negro spread, we can scarcely explain how, unless the land connections of those days were more extended, through Eastern Australia to Tasmania, and from the Solomon Island to New Caledonia and even New Zealand, to Fiji and Hawaii. The Negroid element in Burma and Annam is, therefore, easily to be explained by supposing that in ancient times Southern Asia had a Negro population ranging from the Persian Gulf to Indo-China and the Malay Archipelago.
(See An Introduction to African Civilizations, by Willis N. Huggins. Ph.D. and John G. Jackson, pp. 188-190, New York, 1937.)

Most readers of history know about the Celts, ancient inhabitants of Europe, whose
priests were known as the Druids. It is generally thought that these Celts were
Caucasoids, but Sir Godfrey Higgins, after much study came to the conclusion that they
were a Negroid people. Higgins wrote a ponderous volume entitled The Celtic Druids. In
the following passage from his Anacalypsis he modestly refers to it as an essay: “In my
essay on the Celtic Druids, I have shown that a great nation called Celtae, of whom the
Druids were the priests, spread themselves almost over the whole earth, and are to be
traced in their rude gigantic monuments from India to the extremity of Britain. The
religion of Buddha of India is well known to have been very ancient.” (Higgins is here
referring to the first Buddha, who is supposed to have lived between 5,000 and 6,000
years ago, and not to Gautama Buddha who lived about 600 years B.C. There were at
least ten Buddhas mentioned in the sacred books of India.) “Who these can have been but
the early individuals of the black nation of whom we have been treating I know not, and
in this opinion I am not singular. The learned Maurice says Cuthies (Cushites), i.e. Celts,
built the great temples in India and Britain, and excavated the caves of the former; and
the learned mathematician, Reuben Burrow, has no hesitation in pronouncing Stonehenge
to be a temple of the black curly-headed Buddha.” {Anacalypsis, Vol. I, Book I, Chap.
IV, New York, 1927.)

Though it is generally believed that Columbus discovered America, it is now definitely
known to students of American archaeology that Columbus came late. Professor Leo
Weiner has written a three volume work, Africa and the Discovery of America, in which
he argues that the New World was discovered by Africans long before the time of
Columbus. Professor Weiner was led to this conclusion partly from the following

1. African works in American Indian languages.

2. Vases and pipe-bowls found in the ruins of the Mound-Builders, showing
Negro faces on their surfaces.

3. The presence of African foods in America, such the peanut and the yam.

4. The totemic organization of the Amerindians tribes, very similar to
African totemism. (Totemism is a sort of primitive theory of evolution.
For instance, certain tribes are divided into clans, and each clan is, as a
rule named after some species of animal. Let us suppose a tribe is divided
into four clans, bearing the following names: (1) eagle, (2) Bear, (3) Crow
and (4) Wolf. A member of the Bear Clan will consider himself as
descended from bears, a member of the Wolf Clan will tell you that he is a
wolf and that all of his ancestors were wolves, and so on; this clan
ancestor being known as the Totem. There are numerous definitions of
totemism, the best I have come across being the following one by
Professor A. VB. Haddon: “Totemism, as Dr. Frazer and I understand it in
its fully developed condition, implies the division of a people into several
totem kins, or as they are usually termed, totem clans, each of which has
one or sometimes more that one totem. The totem is usually a species of
animal, sometimes a species of plant, occasionally a natural object or
phenomenon, very rarely a manufactured article. . . . The totems are
regarded as kinsfolk or protectors of the kinsmen, who respect them and
refrain from killing and eating them. There is thus a recognition of mutual
rights and obligations between the members of the kin and their totem.
The totem is the crest of symbol of the Kin.” We see vestiges of totemism
in our political organizations; for example, the Democratic DONKEY and
the republican ELEPHANT. Baseball clubs present an even better example
of totemistic atavism; for instance, who has not heard of baseball teams
bearing such names as: tigers, cardinals, bears, bees, bisons, etc.)
Weiner’s theories have not been kindly received by his colleagues.
Professor H. J. Spinden sneers sarcastically in the following condensed
extract from Culture, the Diffusion Controversy, pp. 53-54, New York,

“Professor Weiner solves the riddle of old American civilizations with an Arabico-Mandingo lexicon and derives everything of importance in the New World from the highly civilized coast of
Gambia and Sierra Leone. From brightest Africa came the principal American food plants, the Mayan calendar and the Mexican religion. It may be added that Professor Weiner swarms
his Negroes across the Atlantic in no less than fifty voyages before Columbus.”

The Indian was not the original American. Professor Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian Institution, as authority on the Amerinds, contends that the ancestors of the Indians came from Asia via Bering Strait 10,000 years ago. American civilization is older than that. The ruins of Tiahuanaco, in Bolivia, according to Dr. Rudolph Muller, a noted German astronomer, are between 10,000 and 14,000 years old. The remains of this ancient city show that it was inhabited by a highly civilized people. (See an article entitled “The
Oldest City in the World,” by A. H. Verrill, in the N. Y. Herald-Tribune Magazine, July 31, 1932.) Excavations in Mexico have produced equally startling results. Dr. Maximus Neumayer, a distinguished Brazilian archaeologist, in cooperation with a group of Mexican archaeologists, has made a very thorough study of the pyramids and monuments in the vicinity of Mexico City. He estimates the monument of Cuicuilco to be about 13,000 years old. An interesting feature of this structure is that it resembles the Assyrio-Babylonian type of architecture, bearing a striking resemblance to the Tower of Babel as it has been restored by the Assyriologists. Dr. Neumayer also examined the pyramids of Teotihuacan, which he estimates to be 4,500 years of age. He thinks that these pyramids were built by a people akin to the Egyptians; and from their arrangement, suggests that they form a sort of model of the solar system, with a pedestal in the center, representing the sun. We must also mention the discoveries of Professor Ramon Mena, Curator of the Department of Archaeology of the Mexican Government. This scientist explored the ruins of the great city of Palenque, and concluded that the ancient metropolis was built over 10,000 years ago. He also found that the inhabitants of the city were familiar with the manufacture and use of Stucco. The celebrated French archaeologist, Desiree Charnay, unearthed statues around Mexico City, more than fifty years ago, with faces showing Negroid features. Pictures of some of them may be seen in Ignatius Donelley’s Atlantis, pp. 174-175. Donnelly also has illustrations of two similar statues, one from Palenque and the other from Vera Cruz. Finding that the Indians show both Mongoloid and Negroid ethnic traces, Charnay justly concluded that the Amerinds were a mixed race of both Asiatic and African ancestry. (See The Ancient Cities of the New World, by Desiree Charnay.) We have perfectly reliable proof of the presence of men of the Ethiopian race in pre-Columbian America. Father Roman, one of he first Catholic missionaries to arrive in the New World, records that a tribe of black men came from the south and landed in Haiti, and that they were armed with darts of guanin (a composition of gold, silver and copper), and were known as the black Guaninis. “These might have been the Negroes of Quareca, mentioned by Peter Martyr d Angleria, or some other American Negro nation,” asserts De Roo, “the like of which there were many, as we may see in Rafinesque’s Account of the Ancient Black Nations of America. Such are the Charruas of Brazil, the black Carabees of St. Vincent in the Gulf of Mexico, the Jamassi of Florida, the dark complexioned Californians who are perhaps the dark men mentioned in the Quiche traditions and by some old Spanish adventures. Such, again, is the tribe of which Balboa saw some representatives in his passage of the Isthmus of Darien in the year 1513. It would seem from the expressions made use of by Gomara, that these were Negroes.” {History of America Before Columbus, pp. 306-307, by P. De Roo, Philadelphia and London, 1900.) Spanish and Portugese explorers found colonies of black men on the eastern coasts of South and Central America, and in Yucatan and Nicaragua. De Roo quotes John T. Short, author of The North Americans of Antiquity, New York, 1880, on the similarity of African and American languages, as follows — “It is worthy of note that several eminent scholars have observed the remarkable similarity of grammatical structure between the Central American and certain transatlantic languages, especially the Basque and some of the languages of Western Africa.” {History of America Before Columbus, pp. 164-165.)

Most of us are familiar with the Mayan civilization of Yucatan and Central America, since American archaeologists have devoted many years of intensive research to these territories. Among the speculations concerning the origin of this culture, those of LePlongeon and Raquena are the most valuable. Professor Rafael Requena, a Venezuelan archaeologist, holds that there was once an island in the Atlantic Ocean, of continental dimensions, known to the ancients as Atlantis, that this island was settled by Egyptians, who in turn established colonies in America before the submergence of Atlantis. The findings of Professor Augustus LePlongeon are of great interest. This Franco-American archaeologist discovered the ruins of a palace in Chichen Itza in 1 874. He found in this structure, known as Prince Coh’s Palace, pictographs and inscriptions which he was able
to decipher. The story, as unraveled by LePlongeon, may be read by the student in Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx, where the professor gives his interpretation of the inscriptions and reproductions of the pictographs. Mrs. LePlongeon’s work, Queen Moo’s Talisman, might also be consulted. The story runs roughly as follows:

About 1 1,000 years ago, two brothers Princes of Yucatan, sought the hand of the ruling monarch of the land, Queen Moo, in marriage. The brothers were named Coh and Aac, respectively. Prince Coh was the successful suitor; which so enraged Prince Aac that he stabbed his brother through the heart with a stone knife, which, needless to say, caused his death. Then Aac attempted to force Queen Moo to wed him. The Queen, rather than submit, decided to flee to Atlantis. On reaching the coast she learned that great earthquakes had submerged Atlantis beneath the sea; so she sailed for Africa instead, and ended her journey in Egypt. There she was hailed as Queen, and erected the Sphinx as a memorial to her slain husband.

The foregoing story sounds like a fable, but there is probably a core of fact in it. If the Sphinx, with its Ethiopian face, is a memorial to an ancient Mayan prince, it shows that the Mayas were of African origin.

Where flows the river Nile,
The queen found rest;

There once again her days
With peace were blessed.

Did Moo a giant Sphinx from
Out of the ground

Cause to arise, and
Thus Coh’s fame renew?

Did she immortalize
Her consort true?”
{Queen Moo’s Talisman, p. 65, by Alice D. LePlongeon.)

That Atlantis was connected with the history of ancient Ethiopia there can be little doubt. The Greek philosopher, Proclus, stated in his works that he could present evidence that Atlantis at one time actually existed. He cited as his authority The Ethiopian History of Marcellus. In referring to Ethiopian history to prove the existence of Atlantis, Proclus plainly infers that Atlantis was a part of Ethiopia. (See Cory’s Ancient Fragments of the Phoenician, Carthaginian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Other Authors, London, 1876. See also, Maynard Shipley’s New Light on Prehistoric Cultures and Bramwell’s Lost
Atlantis.) Although there is scientific evidence that an island of continental dimensions once existed in what is now the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, many students of the problem of Atlantis have located it in other parts of the globe, particularly in Central America and Africa. Count deProrok ways that Atlantis, in the dimness of antiquity, covered the region now occupied by the Sahara Desert. Kirchmaier placed it in South Africa and Froebenius in West Africa. In reviewing James Bramwell’s Lost Atlantis, Mr. Lewis Gannett states that: “The German anthropologist Frobenius definitely locates it in Nigeria, whose ancient civilization he relates to that of the Etruscans and the Assyrians.” {New York Herald-Tribune, Mar. 3, 1938.) Doctor Froebenius found ruins of palaces, terra cotta fragments and beautiful statuary in Jorubaland, a district in Nigeria between the Niger River and the Atlantic Ocean; and he heard among the Jorubians legends of an ancient royal city and its palace with walls of gold, which in the long ago had sunk beneath the waves. The German scholar, Eugen Georg, is a keen student of the Atlantis question, and the following remarks of his are worthy of our attention:

The new age that began after the disappearance of Atlantis was marked at first by the world-wide dominance of Ethiopian representatives of the black race. They were supreme in Africa and Asia . . . and they even infiltrated through Southern Europe. . . . During the present era — that is the last 10,000 years — the white race… has come to possess the world. According to the occult tradition, Semitic peoples developed wherever the immigrating white colonists from the north were subjugated by the black ruling class, and inter-mixture occurred, as in oldest Egypt, Chaldea,
Arabia and Phoenicia.” {The Adventure of Mankind, by Eugen Georg, pp.
121-122, New York, 1931.)

So far we have given little or no attention to the evidence of comparative religion. The study of ancient religious history is important, for religion, like philosophy, changes but slowly. Institutional religion, being conservative and static in its outlook, has preserved much ancient lore that would have otherwise been lost to the modern student. The Greek philosopher Xenophanes (572-480 B.C.), pointed out a profound truth when he observed that the gods men worship very closely resemble the worshippers. In the words of this ancient sage: “Each man represents the gods as he himself is. The Ethiopian as black and
flat-nosed the Thracian as red-haired and blue-eyed; and if horses and oxen could paint, they would no doubt depict the gods as horses and oxen.” This being the case; when we find the great nations of the world, both past and present, worshipping black gods, then we logically conclude that these peoples are either members of the black race, or that they originally received their religion in toto or in part from black people. The proofs are abundant. The ancient gods of India are shown with Ethiopian crowns on their heads. According to the Old Testament, Moses first met Jehovah during his sojourn among the Midianites, who were an Ethiopian tribe. We learn from Hellenic tradition that Zeus, king
of the Grecian gods, so cherished the friendship of the Ethiopians that he traveled to their country twice a year to attend banquets. “All the gods and goddesses of Greece were black,” asserts Sir Godfrey Higgins, “at least this was the case with Jupiter, Baccus, Hercules, Apollo, Ammon. The goddesses Benum, Isis, Hecate, Diana, Juno, Metis, Ceres, Cybele were black.” (Anacalypsis, Vol. I, Book IV, Chap. I.) Even the Romans, who received their religion mainly from the Greeks, admitted their debt to Egypt and Ethiopia. This may be well illustrated by the following passage from The Golden Ass or Metamorphosis, by Apuleius. The author, as an initiate of the Isis cult is represented as being addressed by that goddess: “I am present; I who am Nature, the parent of things, queen of all the elements . . . the primitive Phrygians called me Press imunitica, the mother or the gods; the native Athenians, Ceropian Minerva; the floating Cyprians, Paphian Venus … the inhabitants of Eleusis, the ancient goddess Ceres. Some again have invoked me as Juno, others as Bellona, others as Hecate, and others Rhamnusia; and those who are enlightened by the emerging rays of the rising sun, the Ethiopians, Ariians and Egyptians, powerful in ancient learning, who reverence by divinity with ceremonies perfectly proper, call me by my true appellation, Queen Isis.” (Doane’s Bible Myths, Note, p. 478.)

A study of the images of ancient deities of both the Old and New Worlds reveal their Ethiopic origin. This is noted by Kenneth R. H. Mackezie in T. A. Buckley’s Cities of the Ancient World, p. 180: “From the wooly texture of the hair, I am inclined to assign to the Buddha of India, the Fuhi of China, the Sommonacom of the Siamese, the Zaha of the Japanese, and the Quetzalcoatl of the Mexicans, the same, and indeed an African, or rather Nubian, origin.” Most of these black gods were regarded as crucified saviors who died to save mankind by being nailed to a cross, or tied to a tree with arms outstretched as if on a cross, or slain violently in some other manner. Of these crucified saviors, the most prominent were Osiris and Horus of Egypt, Krishna of India, Mithra of Persia, Quetazlcoatl of Mexico, Adonis of Babylonia and Attis of Phrygia. Nearly all of these slain savior-gods have the following stories related about them: They are born of a virgin, on or near Dec. 25 th (Christmas); their births are heralded by a star; they are born either in a cave or stable; they are slain, commonly by crucifixion; they descend into hell, and rise from the dead at the beginning of Spring (Easter), and finally ascend into heaven. The parallels between the legendary lives of these pagan messiahs and the life of Jesus Christ
as recorded in the Bible are so similar that progressive Bible scholars now admit that stories of these heathen Christs have been woven into the life-story of Jesus. (These remarkable parallels are discussed and interpreted in a pamphlet, Christianity Before Christ, by John G. Jackson, New York, 1938.)

The late Mr. Maynard Shipley, President of The Science League of America, made a very scholarly study of the various mythologies and religions of the world, and in the concluding passage of a brilliant essay, Christian Doctrines in Pre-Christian America, he offers a profoundly thought-provoking statement:

That the ancient pagan creeds, legends and myths — part of the universal mythos — should be found embodied in the religion of the ancient Mexicans, and that all these again are found to be but the original sources of the modern orthodox Christian religion, is by no means inexplicable, and need not be attribute to the subtlety of the Ubiquitous Devil. The explanation is that all religions and all languages of the civilized races of men had a common origin in an older seat of civilization.

Where that original center of culture was is another story.

The evidence seems to show that the “original center of culture,” referred to by Mr. Shipley, was that vast domain known to the classical geographers and historians as Ethiopia. A study of religious images throws much light on this early civilization. The tau (T-shaped) cross is thought by many Christians to be a unique emblem of their faith. The fact is that this cross is of ancient Ethiopian origin. In the words of an outstanding student of symbolism: “The Ethiopic form of the tau is an exact prototype of the conventional Christian cross; or, to state the fact in its chronological relation, the Christian cross is made in the exact image of the Ethiopian tau.” (Sex Symbolism. P. 9, by William J, Fielding, Little Blue Book No. 904.) The cross was known to all the great ancient nations, and was sometimes shown with the image of a man upon it. The Church Father, Minucius Felix, writing in the early part of the third century, severely rebukes the Pagans for their adoration of crosses: “I must tell you that we neither adore crosses nor desire them; you it is ye Pagans … for what else are your ensigns, flags and standards, but crosses gilt and beautiful. Your victorious trophies not only represent a cross, but a cross
with a man upon it.” Commenting on the preceding extract, the American scholar, T. W. Doane, notes that:

It is very evident that this celebrated Christian Father alludes to some Gentle mystery, of which the prudence of his successors has deprived us. When we compare this with the fact that for centuries after the time assigned for the birth of Jesus Christ, he was not represented as a man on a cross, and that the Christians did not have such a thing as a crucifix, we are inclined to think that the effigies of a black or dark-skinned crucified man, which were to be seen in many places in Italy even during the last century, may have had something to do with it. (Bible Myths, p. 197, 7 th

The same writer also refers to “the Mexican crucified god being sometimes represented as black,” and that “crosses were also found in Yucatan, as well as Mexico, with a man upon them.” (Ibid., p. 201.)

The numerous black madonnas and infants in European cathedrals are discussed in detail by Sir Godfrey Higgins in The Anacalypsis, Vol. I, Book JV, Chap. I, to which the interested student is referred. However, the remarks of Mr. Shipley on this point are worthy of our attention:

Very suggestive is the fact that representations of the virgin mother and infant savior are often black. This is true in the case of the paintings and images of Isis and Horus, of Devaki and Krishna, and in many cases of Mary and Jesus. The most ancient pictures and statues in Italy and other
parts of Europe, which are adored by the faithful as representations of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus, reveal the infant draped in white, but with face black and in the arms of a black mother. . . . How does it happen that the Virgin Mother of the Mexican Savior-God so closely resembled the Black Virgins of Egypt and Europe? Had they not all a common origin?” (Sex and The Garden of Eden Myth, pp. 50-51, by Maynard Shipley, Little Blue Book No. 1 188.)

Mr. A. H. Verrill, an American archaeologist, visited an Indian shrine in a small town in Guatemala a few years ago, and found that on a special festival day Indians traveled to this
little church to bow down to the image of a Black Christ. From the attendant ceremonies, Verrill judged the rite to be of Mayan origin, (see Verrill’s Old Civilizations of the New World, New York, 1938.) The Mayas possessed knowledge of the arts and sciences equivalent to that of the ancients of the Old World, but upon that we cannot dwell, since
limitations of space forbid it. The reader is referred to Professor Paul Radin’s fine book on the American Indians, where after surveying the marvelous scientific achievements of the Mayas of Yucatan and Central America , Dr. Radin admits that: “No excavations have ever revealed to us any civilization of a simpler nature from which this very elaborate culture
could possibly have been developed.” (The Story of the American Indian, p. 77, Garden City, 1937.) Egypt and Western Asia tell the same story. “In each case we have a standard or measuring-rod of authentic historical record,” declares Samuel Laing, “of certainly not less than 8,000 and more probably 9,000 or 10,000 years, from the present time; and in each case we find ourselves at this remote date, in the presence, not of rude beginnings, but of a civilization already ancient and far advanced. We have populous cities, celebrated temples, an organized priesthood, an advanced state of agriculture and of the industrial and fine arts; writing and books so long known that their origin is lost in myth; religions in which advanced philosophical and moral ideas are already developed; astronomical systems which imply a long course of accurate observations. How long this prehistoric age may have lasted, and how many centuries it may have taken to develop such a civilization, from the primitive beginnings of Neolithic and Paleolithic origins, is a matter of conjecture. All we can infer is, that it must have required an immense time, much longer than that embraced by the subsequent period of historical record.”
(Human Origins, by Samuel Laing, p. 30, London, 1913.)

Much more could be said on this subject, but since this essay is addressed mainly to readers who have little time for the study of history, it must be made as concise as possible. The numerous citations from standard scientific and historical works, it is hoped, will be of some benefit to students who are out of reach of large public libraries, or who lack the leisure time necessary for reading and research along these lines.

Ephraim Isaac’s Presentation on The Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahido Church

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The Library of Congress presented Ephraim Isaac, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University discussing his newly published book: THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TӒWAHΪDO CHURCH

“Not only are there strong Biblical Hebraic elements in the theology, political theory, and liturgical calendar of the Ethiopian Church but there is also a strong influence from Beta Israel and Ethiopian Jews. Besides these Ethiopian Jews and of course, the Orthodox Ethiopians and a few Protestant and roman Catholic Ethiopian Christians, there are in Ethiopia also very large numbers of Moslems and various native beliefs.”

Written by Tseday

March 3, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Ethiopia’s wealth of surprises

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February 27th 2014, By Cheong Kamei

The East African country may not be on everyone’s must-visit travel list, but it has a lot to offer

The first time I learnt about Ethiopia was when I watched the video to We Are The World, as images of starving African children with distended bellies flashed across the television screen. And it seems that Ethiopia is still haunted by those powerful images of famine and poverty. The country isn’t exactly on everyone’s must-visit vacation list. To top it off, the costly cocktail of vaccinations I needed — it’s compulsory to be vaccinated against yellow fever, and my doctor advised me to get the meningococcal vaccine and malaria pills — didn’t help put my mind at ease. At first.

As I later found out, giving the country a miss would be a huge pity. Ethiopia is eager to exorcise the ghosts of its past. It wants to show off its beautiful scenery, otherworldly architecture and gracious people. All you need to do is be there.


After a 13-hour red-eye flight from Singapore to capital city Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, it took another two hours by car to get to resort town and popular day-trip destination Debre Zeit, but it was worth the squeeze through the morning traffic.

Sitting at the restaurant of the Kuriftu Resort And Spa, overlooking Lake Kuriftu, watching people kayak and pelicans swim by, I couldn’t help but feel that Debre Zeit is every bit as gorgeous as vacation hot spots anywhere else in the world. The lush greenery, crater lakes and abundant bird-life are testament to the country’s natural beauty, while the luxurious resort I was at reflected Ethiopia’s current tourist boom.

The temperature at Debre Zeit hovers around the mid-20s (that’s Celsius) throughout the year and the tranquil scene was lulling me to sleep when I caught a whiff of a uniquely heady spice. It was berbere, an indigenous and bright red chilli and spice mix that’s traditionally used in dishes, from steak tartar to lentils and wats (slow-cooked stews). Sweet, fiery and addictively aromatic, it’s easy to see Singaporeans falling in love with it. The ubiquitous staple of Ethiopia, injera, on the other hand, takes some getting used to. This flatbread, made from a grain called teff, is light grey in colour and has a slightly spongy texture — similar to a peanut pancake — and a distinctly sour taste.


My next stop was the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lalibela. “Awe-inspiring” does not come close to describing how impressive Lalibela’s 11 cave churches from the 13th-century are. Built by King Lalibela to be Africa’s alternative to Jerusalem, the churches were not erected from the ground up. Instead, the main structure of each church — complete with windows, door and drainage systems — were painstakingly carved out of living rock.

Nobody knows how exactly it was done, although some scholars speculate it took about 24 years to complete. Seeing the churches, in particular Bete Giyorgis, which is built in the shape of a cross, or Bet Medhane Alem, the world’s largest monolithic church that’s 11.5m deep and almost 34m long, you can understand why the legend goes that angels helped complete this architectural marvel.

It was close to Christmas when I was at Lalibela (in the Ethiopian calendar, it falls on Jan 7), and tens of thousands were making their pilgrimage to this spot. Some perched on rocks to read their Bibles, while others prayed, kissed the crosses that were held by priests or broke down at the sight of the churches. At one church, I witnessed dozens of people tirelessly swaying to the beat of the drummers in their company and chanting hymns in an almost trance-like manner. At every corner were people who had walked for miles — sometimes barefoot — to Lalibela to renew, restore or celebrate their faith. The air of reverence was so intense, it felt intrusive to take photos — it was hard not to feel moved.


A 30-minute flight away from Lalibela is Gondar, Africa’s Camelot, and Ethiopia’s royal and ancient historical city. Our first stop was Fasil Ghebbi, a complex of 17th- and 18th-century castles that marked Ethiopia’s first permanent imperial residence. Earthquakes and bombings during World War II damaged some of the buildings, but the Fasilides Castle is by far the best preserved. It was fascinating to hear about Ethiopia’s rich history, but what I really appreciated was how glaringly tourist-free this UNESCO World Heritage Site was. With plenty of space and time to leisurely stroll through the complex, and blue, open skies, Fasil Ghebbi felt almost romantic.

Separate from the complex of castles is Fasilides Bath. The original use of the 50m-long and 30m-wide bath is not known for sure, but it’s now filled with water every Jan 19 to celebrate Timkat, the Orthodox Christian celebration of the baptism of Jesus.

From Gondar, it is a three-hour bus ride to the Simien Mountains, 3,000m above sea level. Its stirring skyline of jagged mountain peaks, sharp gorges and the undulating plateau have drawn comparisons with the Grand Canyon in the United States. Unlike the Grand Canyon though, the only activities offered at Simien Mountain National Park are trekking and cycling. As I was feeling lethargic from the high altitude, trekking seemed like an ideal way to start the day. The pace and trail were manageable and the guide showed us the best spots to take in — and get great photos of — the mountain scenery and rare animals such as Gelada baboons.

It’s amazing how much Ethiopia has to offer tourism-wise. In a week, I’d received a five-star spa treatment at Debre Zeit, experienced a spiritual awakening at Lalibela and marvelled at Ethiopia’s regal past at Gondar. And I’d only seen a teeny part of this country — it’s five times the size of Britain, by the way. And I’m already thinking of returning. I’d love to see national parks such as the Omo National Park (one of the most underrated wildlife sanctuaries in East Africa) or take in the surreal beauty of Sof Omar Cave. Now all I need to do is to get used to eating injera.

Written by Tseday

March 16, 2014 at 11:07 am

Ethiopia, an Astonishing Christianity on African Soil

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By Sandro Magister


An exhibition in Venice sheds light on a Church that is almost unknown in the rest of the world, and yet is numerous and flourishing, with extremely ancient origins and strong Jewish traits.

ROMA (Chiesa) – On the eve of Benedict XVI’s trip to Cameroon and Angola, in Italy for the first time a major exhibition has been opened on another region of Christian Africa, Ethiopia, with icons, illustrated manuscripts, crosses, sculptures, paintings of evocative beauty, never before shown to the public. 

The title of the exhibition is: “Nigra sum sed formosa,” I am dark but lovely. These words from the Song of Songs are traditionally seen in reference to the queen of Sheba, the progenitor of Ethiopia in the national epic poem “Kebra Negast,” the glory of kings.In the poem, which in part coincides with the biblical book of Kings, the queen of Sheba visits King Solomon in Jerusalem, and conceives a child with him. With her, Judaism set down roots in Ethiopia. 

But the queen of Sheba also has a prominent place in Christian art and tradition. It is told how during her visit to Jerusalem, seized by prophetic intuition, she knelt in front of the wood of the bridge in the pool of Siloam, the wood destined one day to become the cross of Jesus. 

The exhibition is being hosted in Venice, the city that especially in the 15th century had a close relationship with that faraway African kingdom.This nation and its Christianity are still remote today. Most people are unaware of them. Ethiopia is one of the very few countries in the world in which not even a traveling pope like John Paul II ever set foot.The exhibition therefore marks an end of isolation. Finally, attention is turning to this astonishing Christianity on African soil. 

According to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, the first pagan converted to the Christian faith was an Ethiopian follower of Judaism, a high official in the kingdom, baptized by the apostle Philip along the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. 

In any case, Ethiopia was already Christian by the first half of the fourth century. Its closest connection was to Alexandria in Egypt, the patriarch of which appointed the metropolitan archbishop of the kingdom’s capital. The two Churches, Coptic Egyptian and Ethiopian, have also been bound together since then by their Monophysite faith, which recognizes only the divine nature of Christ. They accept the first three councils, of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus, but not the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which established the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, divine and human. For this reason, the Coptic and Ethiopian churches are also called “pre-Chalcedonian.” 

The isolation of Christian Egypt was reinforced by the expansion of Islam, which surrounded the kingdom and repeatedly tried to conquer it, but was always pushed back by a tenacious resistance.The greatest danger came in the 16th century. Ethiopia asked for help from Portugal, which sent an armada and defeated the Muslims. At that time, an attempt was also made to bring the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia back into union with the Church of Rome. St. Ignatius of Loyola worked on it personally. Jesuit missionaries arrived in two waves. At the beginning of the 1700’s, Ethiopian kings embraced Catholicism. But immediately afterward, this attempt at union foundered. 

In the 20th century – after the bloody interlude of the Italian colonial war – efforts were made to reinvigorate the Ethiopian Church by the emperor at the time, Haile Selassié. Until then, the sole bishop of that Church had been appointed and sent by the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt. Haile Selassié first obtained an autonomous ecclesiastical hierarchy, and then, in 1959, autonomy in appointing the metropolitan, who was elevated to the dignity of patriarch. 

In 1974, the Marxist-Leninist regime of Colonel Menghistu seized power. Patriarch Teofilos was arrested and later strangled in prison. His successor, Paulos, was also imprisoned and tortured, for seven years, and then sent into exile in the United States. He returned to his country in 1992, after the fall of the Menghistu regime, and is still in office. In 1993, he met at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II, who offered him a church in Rome for the celebration of liturgies for Ethiopian rite immigrants. 

Patriarch Paulos described the Church of Ethiopia in interview published in this year’s January issue of the Italian monthly “Jesus”: 

“At the moment, we have more than 50,000 churches in the entire country. Our young people go to Mass regularly, with participation of about 70 percent; overall, therefore, considering the regularity with which the adult and elderly age groups attend the liturgy, we reach 80 percent participation at Mass each Sunday. But there is another aspect that I would like to highlight, and that is monastic life: more and more young people are asking to become monks. We have 1,200 monasteries in the whole country, and about 50,000 monks and nuns. Overall, we can say that we have 45 million faithful if we consider the many Ethiopian Christians living abroad, to whom we have dedicated 17 archbishops. Inside the country, there are 45 bishops. In short, we are very proud of our history and our presence.” 

To this it can be added that the clergy, who are extremely numerous, are for the most part married, but only before they are ordained, while the bishops are chosen from among the celibate monks. In the rural areas, the priests work as farmers, and are viewed favorably by the population. Many widowers and widows also retire to the the monasteries, groups of huts where an austere and penitential life is lived. The formation of the clergy is mostly limited to liturgical arts. The language of the sacred texts and rituals is ancient Ge’ez, but today Amharic is also used, the language of an ethnicity in the highlands north of the Blue Nile, the cradle of Ethiopian civilization. 

The churches have a unique structure. The altar is inside a closed space called “the holy of holies,” where only the priests (and, in the past, the kings) can enter. Around it is a circular area for the deacons and cantors, who belong to a lay confraternity. Then there is a space for the ordinary faithful, many of whom follow the ceremony outside of the church not only because of the crowd, but also because they are catechumens or penitents. 

Ethiopian Christians always wear around their necks a cord called a “mateb,” which they receive with baptism. Boys are circumcised eight days after birth, and presented at church forty days later, just as Jesus was. They enter church barefoot, as God ordered Moses from the burning bush. They do not eat unclean foods, such as pork, as prescribed by Leviticus. They claim to have the Ark of the Covenant and the Tablets of the Law, entrusted to them by King Solomon. In other words, they have preserved some features of Judaism. 

Almsgiving and help for the poor are widely practiced.The same is true of fasting from meat and dairy products, which is observed about 180 days per year. There are frequent pilgrimages to shrines, especially in Axum, the historical and religious capital, and to Lalibelà, with its ten churches carved into the rock in the 12th century, symbolically representing the topography of Jerusalem. 

The calendar is of twelve months with thirtty days each, plus a thirteenth month of five days, or, every four years, six days. The leap year is called the year of Luke, while the other three years take their names from the other three evangelists, in the order John, Matthew, and Mark. The rhythm of life is heavily influenced by the liturgical seasons. Christmas corresponds to January 7 for us. Lent lasts seven weeks, and each Sunday takes its name from its respective gospel passage: of the Sabbath, of the Temple, of the Paralytic, of the Mount of Olives, of the Good Servant, of Nicodemus. 

Ethiopian sacred art also has original features. And all it takes to enjoy its extraordinary beauty is to go to Venice, to the magnificent exhibition “Nigra sum sed formosa”.

Written by Tseday

March 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Ethiopia