An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

The Ethiopic Calendar

with 4 comments

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

Tagged with ,


with 6 comments


Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire
by Drusilla Dunjee Houston [1926, no renewal]


Because of the great lapse. of time, it seems almost impossible to locate the original seat of the old Ethiopian empire. Bochart thought it was “Happy Araby,” that from this central point the Cushite race spread eastward and westward. Some authorities like Gesenius thought it was Africa. The Greeks looked to old Ethiopia and called the Upper Nile the common cradle of mankind. Toward the rich luxurience of this region they looked for the “Garden of Eden.” From these people of the Upper Nile arose the oldest traditions and rites and from them sprang the first colonies and arts of antiquity. The Greeks also said that Egyptians derived their civilization and religion from Ethiopia. “Egyptian religion was not an original conception, for three thousand years ago she had lost all true sense of its real meaning among even the priesthood.” (Budge, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection–Preface.) Yet Egyptian forms of worship are understood and practiced among the Ethiopians of Nubia today. The common people of Egypt never truly understood their religion, this was why it so easily became debased.

Ptolemaic writers said that Egypt was formed of the mud carried down, from Ethiopia, that Ethiopians were the first men that ever lived, the only truly autochthonous race and the first to institute the worship of the gods and the rites of sacrifice. Egypt itself was a colony of Ethiopia and the laws and script of both lands were naturally the same; but the hieroglyphic script was more widely known to the vulgar in Ethiopia than in Egypt. (Diodorus Siculus, bk. iii, ch. 3.) This knowledge of writing was universal in Ethiopia but was confined to the priestly classes alone in Egypt. This was because the Egyptian priesthood was Ethiopian. The highly developed Merodic inscriptions are not found in Egypt north of the first cataract or in Nubia south of Soba. These are differences we would expect to find between a colony and a parent body. Herodotus (bk. ii, p. 29) says that Meroe was a great city and metropolis, most of its buildings were of red brick. 800 B. C. at Napata, the buildings were of hard stone. (Meroe–Crowfoot, pp. 6, 30.)

The Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says, “There is every reason to conclude that the separate colonies of priestcraft spread from Meroe into Egypt; and the primeval monuments in Ethiopia strongly confirm the native traditions, reported by Diodorus Siculus, that the worship of Zeus-Ammon originated in Meroe, also the worship of Osiris. This would render highly probable the opinion that commerce, science and art descended into Egypt from the Upper Nile. Herodotus called the Ethiopians “Wisemen occupying the Upper Nile, men of long life, whose manners and customs pertain to the Golden Age,those virtuous mortals, whose feasts and banquets are honored by Jupiter himself.” In Greek times, the Egyptians depicted Ethiopia as an ideal state. The Puranas, the ancient historical books of India, speak of the civilization of Ethiopia as being older than that of Egypt. These Sanskrit books mention the names of old Cushite kings that were worshipped in India and who were adopted and changed to suit the fancy of the later people of Greece and Rome.

The Hindu Puranas speak of the Cushites going to India before they went to Egypt, proving Hindu civilization coeval with that of Chaldea and the country of the Nile. These ancients record that the Egyptians were a colony drawn out from Cusha-Dwipa and that the Palli, another colony that made the Phoenicians followed them from the land of Cush. In those primitive days, the central seat of Ethiopia was not the Meroe of our day, which is very ancient, but a kingdom that preceeded it by many ages; that was called Meru. Lenormant spoke of the first men of the ancient world as “Men of Meru.” Sanskrit writers called Indra, chief god of the Hindu, king of Meru. He was deified and became the chief representative of the supreme being. Thus was primitive India settled by colonists from Ethiopia. Early writers said there was very little difference in the color or features of the people of the two countries.

Ancient traditions told of the deeds of Deva Nahusha, another sovereign of Meru, who extended his empire over three worlds. The lost literature of Asia Minor dealt with this extension of the Ethiopian domain. An old poem “Phrygia,” was a history of Dionysus, one of the most celebrated of the old Ethiopians. It was written in a very old language and character. He preceeded Menes by many ages. Baldwin says that the authentic books that would have given us the true history concerning him, perished long before the Hellenes. The Greeks of historical times distorted the story of Dionysus and converted him into their drunken god of wine. “They misconstrued and misused the old Cushite mythology, wherever they failed to understand it, and sought to appropriate it entirely to themselves.” One of the poetical versions of the taking of Troy, on the coast of Asia Minor, was entitled “The Æthiops,” because the inhabitants of Troy, as we shall prove later, who fought so valiantly in the Trojan war, were Cushite Ethiopians. This version presented the conflict as an Egyptian war.

In those early ages Egypt was under Ethiopian domination. In proof of this fact, the Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says, “Isaiah often mentions Ethiopia and Egypt in close political relations. In fine the name of Ethiopia chiefly stood as the name of the national and royal family of Egypt. In the beginning Egypt was ruled from Ethiopia. Ethiopia was ruined by her wars with Egypt, which she sometimes subdued and sometimes served.” Modern books contain but little information about the country of the Upper Nile, but archaic books were full of the story of the wonderful Ethiopians. The ancients said that they settled Egypt. Is it possible that we could know more about the origin of this nation than they? Reclus says, “The people occupying the plateau of the Blue Nile, are conscious of a glorious past and proudly call themselves Ethiopians.” He calls the whole triangular space between the Nile and the Red Sea, Ethiopia proper. This vast highland constituted a world apart. From it went forth the inspiration and light now bearing its fruit in the life of younger nations.

Heeren thought, that excepting the Egyptians, no aboriginal people of Africa so claim our attention as the Ethiopians. He asks, “To what shall we attribute the renown of this one of the most distant nations of the earth? How did the fame of her name permeate the terrible deserts that surrounded her: and even yet form an insuperable bar to all who approach. A great many nations distant and different from one another are called Ethiopians. Africa contains the greater number of them and a considerable tract in Asia was occupied by this race. The Ethiopians were distinguished from the other races by a very dark or completely black skin. ” (Heeren’s Historical Researches–Ethiopian Nations. Ch. 1, p. 46) Existing monuments confirm the high antiquity of Meroe. In the Persian period Ethiopia was an important and independent state, which Cambyses vainly attempted to subdue. Rosellini thinks that the right of Sabaco and Tirhakah, Ethiopian kings, who sat upon the throne of Egypt in the latter days, must have been more by right of descent than by usurpation or force of arms. “This may be judged,” he says, “by the respect paid to their monuments by their successors.”

The pictures on the Egyptian monuments reveal that Ethiopians were the builders. They, not the Egyptians, were the master-craftsmen of the earlier ages. The first courses of the pyramids were built of Ethiopian stone. The Cushites were a sacerdotal or priestly race. There was a religious and astronomical significance in the position and shape of the pyramids. Dubois points to the fact that in Upper Egypt there were pictured black priests who were conferring upon red Egyptians, the instruments and symbols of priesthood. Ethiopians in very early ages had an original and astounding religion, which included the rite of human sacrifice. It lingered on in the early life of Greece and Home. Dowd explains this rite in this way: “The African offered his nearest and dearest, not from depravity but from a greater love for the supreme being.” The priestly caste was more influencial upon the Upper Nile than in Egypt. With the withdrawal of the Ethiopian priesthood from Egypt to Napata, the people of the Lower Nile lost the sense of the real meaning of their religion, which steadily deteriorated with their language after their separation from Ethiopia.

If we visit Nubia, modern Ethiopia today, we can plainly see in the inhabitants their superiority to the common Egyptian type. The Barabra or Nile Nubians are on a footing of perfect equality in Egypt because that was their plane in ancient days. Baedecker describes them as strong, muscular, agricultural and more warlike and energetic than Egyptians. Keane says the Nubians excel in moral qualities. They are by his description obviously Negroid, very dark with full lips and dreamy eyes. They have the narrow heads which are the cranial formation of Ethiopia. Race may be told by shape of the skull far better than by color or feature, which are modified by climate. The members of the Tartar race have perfectly rounded skulls. The head of the Ethiopian races is very elongated. Europeans have an intermediate skull. The cranial formation of unmixed races never changes. Keane concludes by saying, “All Barbara have wooly hair with scant beards like the figures of Negroes on the walls of the Egyptian temples.” The race of the Old Empire approached closely to this type.

Strabo mentions the Nubians as a great race west of the Nile. They came originally from Kordofan, whence they emigrated two thousand years ago. They have rejected the name Nubas as it has become synonymous with slave. They call themselves Barabra, their ancient race name. Sanskrit historians call the Old Race of the Upper Nile Barabra. These Nubians have become slightly modified but are still plainly Negroid. They look like the Wawa on the Egyptian monuments. The Retu type number one was the ancient Egyptian, the Retu type number two was in feature an intermingling of the Ethiopian and Egyptian types. The Wawa were Cushites and the name occurs in the mural inscriptions five thousands years ago. Both people were much intermingled six thousand years ago. The faces of the Egyptians of the Old Monarchy are Ethiopian but as the ages went on they altered from the constant intermingling with Asiatic types. Also the intense furnace-like heat of Upper Egypt tended to change the features and darken the skin.

In the inscriptions relative to the campaigns of Pepi I, Negroes are represented as immediately adjoining the Egyptian frontier. This seems to perplex some authors. They had always been there. This was the Old Race of predynastic Egypt–the primitive Cushite type. This was the aboriginal race of Abyssinia. It was symbolized by the Great Sphinx and the marvelous face of Cheops. Take any book of Egyptian history containing authentic cuts and examine the faces of the first pharaohs, they are distinctively Ethiopian. The “Agu” of the monuments represented this aboriginal race. They were the ancestors of the Nubians. and were the ruling race of Egypt. Petrie in 1892 exhibited before the British Association, some skulls of the Third and Fourth Dynasties, showing distinct Negroid characteristics. They were dolichocephalic or long skulled. The findings of archaeology more and more reveal that Egypt was Cushite in her beginning and that Ethiopians were not a branch of the Japheth race in the sense that they are so represented in the average ethnological classifications of today.


Egyptians said that they and their religion had come from the land of Punt. Punt is generally accepted today to have been Somaliland south of Nubia. On the pictured plates at Deir-el-Baheri, the huts of the people of Punt were like the Toquls of the modern Sudanese, being built on piles approached by ladders. The birds were like a species common among the Somali. The fishes were not like those of Egypt. The wife of the king of Punt appears with a form like the Bongo women with exaggerated organs of maternity. This was a distinctive Ethiopian form. The king had the Cushite profile. The products carried by the wooly haired porters were ebony, piles of elephant tusks, all African products and trays of massive gold rings. Punt is mentioned in the inscriptions as a land of wonders. We find marvelous ruins in southeastern Africa that substantiate these reports. The inscription in the rocky valley of Hammat tells how 2000 B. C. a force gathered in the Thebaid to go on an expedition to Punt to bring back the products that made the costly incense of the ancients. The Stage Temple at Thebes showed in gorgeous pictures another expedition in 1600 B. C. We now know that Somaliland yielded the frankincense of ancient commerce, which was used in the ceremonials of all ancient kingdoms. Punt was called the “Holy Land” by the Egyptians.

In Egypt today, the most effective battalions are those commanded by black Nubians. In ancient ages the Egyptians followed the lead of the Ethiopian to battle and it is instinctive in them to do so today. Cushites were the backbone of the armies in the earliest ages. The Egyptian has no warlike qualities. It was the Cushite who was the head and brains of the foreign conquests. It was the Cushite element of the Old Empire that extended itself in foreign colonization eastward and westward around the world. Across Arabia and southwestern Asia, even to the central highlands, inscriptions and massive images in stone stand as voiceless witnesses that they were the commanders of the Egyptian armies and that the Ethiopian masses accompanied the soldiers as trusted allies and not as driven slaves. We must remember that in the early ages they were not a subject race but that their power as a great empire was at its zenith.

The Egyptian of today much changed from the ancient whom Herodotus called black, is content to live in a mud hut beside his beloved Nile. He is despised by the prouder Nubian, who saves his earnings to buy a home and piece of ground in his native Ethiopia. Reclus tells us that the dislike between Egyptians and Nubians is carried to such a great extent that the Nubians even in Egypt will not marry an Egyptian woman and that he refuses his daughter in marriage to the Egyptian and Arab. This could have come down alone front an age-old consciousness of superiority. He knows the proud traditions of his race. In books careless of ethnography, we find the Nubian classed with Semitic stock. They have no affinities at all with this race. Nubians are never able to speak the Arabic tongues gramatically. Nubian women are seldom seen in Egypt. They are the most faithful to the manners and customs of the Old Race. The Egyptian of today makes
little showings of ambition or the spirit for great deeds. He squanders his earnings upon trinkets and seems content in the same mud hovel in which the masses of Egyptians primitively lived.

Prichard recognizes two branches of the Nubians, the Nubians of the Nile and those of the Red Sea. In the age of Herodotus, the countries known as Nubia and Senaar were occupied by two different races, one of which he includes under the name Ethiopian; the other was a pastorial race of Semitic decent which led a migratory life. This distinction continues to the present day. The Red Sea nomadic tribes are extremely savage and inhospitable. The Nile Nubas or Barabra are the original Ethiopians. They are agricultural and have the old Hamitic traits. They plant date trees and set up wheels for irrigation. These are the Ethiopians mentioned in chronicles as possessing war chariots. Their allies were the Libyans. Semites at that age of the world had no possession of iron vehicles. Heeren says “that the ancestors of these Ethiopians had long lived in cities and had erected magnificent temples and edifices, that they possessed law and government, and that the fame of their progress in knowledge and the social arts had spread in the earliest ages to a considerable part of the world.”

Maurice, that reliable authority on ancient remains, declares, “The ancient Ethiopians were the architectural giants of the past. When the daring Cushite genius was in the full career of its glory, it was the peculiar delight of this enterprising race to erect stupendous edifices, excavate long subterranean passages in the living rock, form vast lakes and extend over the hollows of adjoining mountains magnificent arches for aqueducts and bridges. It was they who built the tower of Babel or Belus and raised the pyramids or Egypt; it was they who formed the grottoes near the Nile and scooped the caverns of Salsette end Elephante. (These latter are wonders of Hindu architecture.) Their skill in mechanical powers astonishes posterity, who are unable to conceive by what means stones thirty, forty and even sixty feet in length from twelve to twenty in depth could ever be raised to the point of elevation at which they are seen in the ruined temples of Belbec and Thebais. Those comprising the pagodas of India are scarcely less wonderful in point of elevation and magnitude.” (Maurice’s Ancient History of Hindustan.)

Written by Tseday

September 14, 2008 at 3:41 am

The Royal Tombs of Aksum – Ethiopia

with 4 comments

A Tour of the Ethiopian Iron Age Site
SOURCE: From K. Kris Hirst,

Text copyright Stuart Munro-Hay (1998)

Dr Stuart Munro-Hay

Dr Stuart Munro-Hay

Dr Stuart Christopher Munro-Hay is internationally-respected Ethiopian specialist, archaeologist and historian of Thailand. First known as an Egyptologist who, after excavating at the ancient city of Aksum, turned his attention to Ethiopian studies instead.

He studied for his doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and was a Research Associate at the Centre for African Studies, University of Cambridge. Later he taught archaeology and ancient African history in many universities including Khartoum and Nairobi.

In 1998, the now-late archaeologist Stuart Munro-Hay contacted me and asked if I would move his wonderful website on the history of excavations at Axum to my website. I was happy to be able to do so. The following is an update of Munro-Hay’s project, in that it is in a new format, with with some additional figures. I hope he would approve.

During his formative years, archaeologist Stuart Munro-Hay had the good fortune to work with the esteemed scholar Neville Chittick of the British Institute of Eastern Africa, as he excavated the Iron Age site of Aksum in what is now Ethiopia. The 1974 excavation proved a thrilling experience, as is clear from the glimpse Stuart provides us with, into what the excavation was like and what he learned from it.

Christopher T. Snow - Passageway Beneath Tomb Entrance, Axum - Archaeologists don't recognise themselves in Indiana Jones; his methods and results raise a shudder of horror in a profession dedicated to precision, care and the slow, meticulous uncovering of the past. Nevertheless, there are true moments of drama in archaeology that can compare with even the most extravagant of Indiana's sets.Imagine a small hole leading down a narrow shaft into the earth. A rough wooden ladder is inserted; down you go. At the bottom, darkness and the heavy, moist air of an ancient tomb. A ball of string to guide your return, a candle to light you, and you set out into the gloom. The candle barely illuminates a large rock-cut chamber. On through a rough doorway---room after room. You concentrate on what the flame dimly reveals---a floor covered with shiny dry mud---walls and roof imperfectly seen. Here a skull, gleaming white suddenly in the light, guards an entrance, or the greenish tint of some ancient bronze object is fitfully illuminated; there pots still lie intact where the servants of the dead---or later robbers---left them. Then, at the end, a huge dressed stone forbids further exploration. Suddenly you realise the candle is dimming. There is no oxygen. You find yourself gasping for breath....Text copyright Stuart Munro-Hay 1998

Archaeologists don’t recognise themselves in Indiana Jones; his methods and results raise a shudder of horror in a profession dedicated to precision, care and the slow, meticulous uncovering of the past. Nevertheless, there are true moments of drama in archaeology that can compare with even the most extravagant of Indiana’s sets.

Imagine a small hole leading down a narrow shaft into the earth. A rough wooden ladder is inserted; down you go. At the bottom, darkness and the heavy, moist air of an ancient tomb. A ball of string to guide your return, a candle to light you, and you set out into the gloom. The candle barely illuminates a large rock-cut chamber. On through a rough doorway—room after room. You concentrate on what the flame dimly reveals—a floor covered with shiny dry mud—walls and roof imperfectly seen. Here a skull, gleaming white suddenly in the light, guards an entrance, or the greenish tint of some ancient bronze object is fitfully illuminated; there pots still lie intact where the servants of the dead—or later robbers—left them. Then, at the end, a huge dressed stone forbids further exploration. Suddenly you realise the candle is dimming. There is no oxygen. You find yourself gasping for breath….

(Niall Crotty) - Axumite Architecture at Gondar -

Or again, wedged into a gap between giant granite roof beams and the earth fill of the corridor in an immense newly-discovered tomb. Scribbling notes as the expedition leader crawls along under those tremendous stones, calling out what he sees… “another chamber.. ten in all… enormous… seems to be plaster on the wall… another shaft coming down here… roots between the stones… ouch!… at the end, the top of a brick arch… it’s blocked…” This was Dr. Neville Chittick, leader of the 1974 British Institute in Eastern Africa’s expedition to Aksum in Ethiopia, recorded in my notebook as we entered for the first time the great tomb dubbed ‘the Mausoleum’ for its unexpected size and architectural impressiveness. The slow unfolding of my own particular discovery as part of Dr. Chittick’s team, the Tomb of the Brick Arches, also had moments of suspense. First, a staircase going down. A granite lintel appeared. Then, totally unexpected, a brick. The diggers clear the top of an arch; I recalled the received dictum; ‘the arch was unknown in Aksum’. More clearing. The arch was horseshoe shaped—a new page to be written in the history of architecture. Then the blocking… broken or still intact…? These were some of my experiences a quarter of a century ago when we discovered the royal tombs at Aksum.

1906 Excavation Plan of Axum (Ethiopia)

1906 Excavation Plan of Axum (Ethiopia)

Dictionaries or atlases of the ancient world, or exhibitions in the great museums, barely mention Aksum. The British Museum exhibits a coin, a few pots and beads; nothing in the bookshop informs further. Ethiopia, often in the news for political, social and economic events, is little known for its splendid past, when the north (Tigray and Eritrea) was ruled by the kings of Aksum. Britannia was only the most distant Roman province then, when Aksum, with its capital over a mile above sea level on the ‘roof of Africa’, was listed by the Persian prophet Mani as the third kingdom of the world, with Rome, Persia and China. Later a Byzantine diplomat described his audience with Kaleb of Aksum, conqueror of the Jewish king of Yemen. The embassy proposed that Aksum join the silk trade, buying from Indian merchants to exclude Rome’s inveterate enemy, Persia. The ambassador witnessed King Kaleb’s arrival, standing high on a dais bound with golden leaves, set on a wheeled platform drawn by four elephants. From his gold and linen headdress fluttered golden streamers. His collar, armlets, and many bracelets and rings were of gold. His kilt was also gold on linen, his chest covered with straps embroidered with pearls. He held a gilded shield and lances. Around him musicians played flutes and his nobles formed an armed guard.

Around 500BC or perhaps even a little earlier we begin to get hints of something exceptional in Ethiopia. Inscriptions written in the language of Saba in Yemen appear on the Ethiopian plateau. With them were found stone altars, elegant limestone female statues dressed in pleated robes, canopied thrones decorated with carved ibex, and those lesser ‘small finds’ that allow the archaeologist to piece together the unknown past. At Yeha near Aksum a fine masonry temple, still almost intact, was built.

The inscriptions reveal the creators of all this—Sabaeans, perhaps a trading community from overseas, associated with Ethiopians who employed the same script as these overseas trading partners. The kingdom they established, called Dia`mat, mysteriously disappeared by perhaps the 3rd century BC. It gave birth in an indirect way to what may be called, after Egypt and Meroe in the Sudan, the greatest of all Africa’s civilisations: the kingdom of Aksum.

Red Sea off Sinai Peninsula

We know all too little of early Aksum, hence the great importance of Dr. Chittick’s excavations. A Greek document of the mid-1st century AD mentions King Zoskales, ruler of upland and coastal Ethiopia from its ‘metropolis’, Aksum. Adding a human touch, the document notes that Zoskales was greedy for gain, though well versed in Greek literature, before returning to its real interest, commerce in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. During the early centuries AD towns were founded or succeeded Dia`mat precursors. Palaces in a distinctive architectural style dominated lesser streets with houses built haphazardly. Ranking after the capital, granite-built, splendid beyond the possibilities of provincial centres, came several substantial towns. At Matara archaeologists found impressive limestone architecture and innumerable objects relating to the inhabitant’s daily life. On the coast, Adulis, its palaces and churches built of local basalt, became Aksum’s chief port, though still ruled by its hereditary rulers, the kings of Gabaz. From here, the treasures of Africa, gold, emeralds, obsidian, ivory, costly animal skins, gums and aromatic incense, and slaves were shipped away to Egypt, Rome, India, and Sri Lanka. In return came valuable metalwork, iron weaponry, wine, olive oil, fabrics, glassware….

The 17th-18th century church of Mary of Zion, successor to the earliest Christian church in Ethiopia's ancient capital

Building on their trading wealth, Aksum’s rulers became ever more powerful. Their titles (in Greek, Arabian, and Ge`ez or Ethiopic inscriptions) grow more elaborate. Ezana, second ruler, after the king of Armenia, to adopt Christianity as state religion c. AD 330, calls himself ‘King of Kings, King of Aksum, Saba, Salhen, Himyar, Raydan, Habashat, Tiamo, Kasu, and the Beja tribes’.

The four names after Aksum represent Yemeni kingdoms and the palaces in their capital cities; Habashat is ‘Abyssinia’, Tiamo perhaps a memory of old Diamat; Kasu is Meroe, biblical Kush, in modern Sudan, where the Beja people, too, still live. Two centuries later Kaleb, King and Saint, added Hadramaut (SE Yemen) and ‘all the Arabs on the coastal plain and the highlands’. His empire embraced, in modern terms, all northern Ethiopia, the Sudan to the Nile, and Yemen with part of Saudi Arabia.

Arab royal inscriptions of the 3rd century tell us—first hand evidence, written by the enemy—how Aksumite kings sent their sons with fleets and armies to ally with rival Yemeni tribes, slowly carving out a great Afro-Asiatic empire that bridged the Red Sea, and allowed the kings of Aksum to impose kings on the Yemeni Arabs. When, around 570AD, the Persians conquered Yemen, the blaze of all this magnificence, fuelled by commercial riches, faded away. The Red Sea trade with Rome and India slipped from Aksum’s control. With the rise of Islam around 640 a new world map was drawn, excluding Aksum.

The city, for 600 years a great capital, was left with an exhausted environment. For centuries trees were felled for charcoal and agricultural expansion, the topsoil had washed away. Even the weather changed, according to recorded Nile flood-levels in Egypt, which depend on Ethiopian rains. Its hinterland incapable of supporting it, Aksum became a backwater, notable only for its ruins and Mary of Zion cathedral—still today the holiest shrine in Ethiopia, the reputed resting place of Indiana’s Ark of the Covenant.

King Ezanas

Exceptionally for an ancient sub-Saharan African state, Aksum struck coinage. The importance of this move for Aksum was confirmed for me in 1987, when the Ethiopian Department of Antiquities invited me to catalogue a hoard of gold Aksumite coins found at a place called al-Madhariba in Yemen. I arrived at Aden Museum expecting to see a dozen or so pieces, since these coins were exceptionally rare. I can never forget my astonishment when the museum director poured out a stream of coins from a bag onto the table in front of me. Altogether there were 1194 gold coins, including 858 struck by the kings of Aksum. The find tripled at one stroke the known total of Aksumite gold coins.

King Aphilas

Few contemporary rulers could issue in gold, a statement of absolute sovereignty. On the coins (the silver and bronze, uniquely, overlaid with gold on important symbols like the cross or crown) we read the names of over twenty otherwise unknown kings, from the 3rd-7th century AD. We see the monarchs wearing the high Aksumite tiara, dressed in fringed robes, with necklaces, bracelets, armlets and probably finger-rings, and holding sword, spear, or hand-cross. Wheat-stalks appear too, a vital crop for Aksum’s continued prosperity. A characteristic motif is the cross; the Aksumites were the first to depict it on coins. Ethiopian art later exploited cross-forms to a high degree, but on coins some early developments—cross-crosslets, diamond centred crosses inlaid with gold—can be seen. Only in Aksum was the coinage decorated with gold inlay in this fashion.

King Kaleb

The coin-legends of the earlier kings were in Greek, changing later to Ethiopic, though Greek is retained for the gold—an indication of the international commercial status of the greek language in the trade of the region. The coins made excellent propaganda media; early Christian examples show a cross surrounded by the phrase ‘May this please the People’, a form of conversion-manifesto. Others declare ‘By the Grace of God’, or ‘By this Cross he will conquer’, or, later, ‘Joy and Peace to the People’, ‘Christ is with us’, ‘Mercy and Peace’.

Engraving of an excavated Aksumite style palace at Lalibela.

In Aksum itself impressive structures were built. The great ‘palaces’ or elite residences of the rich apparently consisted—only foundations now survive—of towered pavilions mounted on high basements (an anti-flood measure?) approached by monumental granite staircases. A 6th century Greek visitor to Aksum mentioned the king’s ‘four-towered palace’. Such buildings were enclosed by flanking wings of domestic structures, ensuring them both privacy and defence—if that were necessary in a land that was itself a mountain fortress. Inside, there were carved granite pedestals and capitals adorning the columns, brick ovens, underfloor-drainage systems, marble flooring and paneling. We may imagine, almost certainly, carved wooden columns and other decorative work.

The Aksumite kings dedicated granite thrones to their Gods—Astar, Beder, Meder, Mahrem—inscribing them with accounts of military campaigns. Such thrones still stand, broken and desolate, around the city. Statues of gold, silver and bronze were erected to Mahrem, the dynastic god, paralleled with the Greek war-god Mars. One statue-base discovered earlier this century still bore fixing holes and the outline of the feet of a statue, each 99 cm long. All this represents the elite of the Aksumite world.

Archaeology is not all royal monuments, but the perishable nature of humbler dwellings means that often enough little remains to indicate how the ordinary people lived. This is the case at Aksum as elsewhere, but sometimes one can be lucky and find some hints about the lives of lesser people. In one modest tomb on the outskirts of the town of Aksum were found sets of glass stem goblets and beakers, iron tools, weapons and about seventy exquisitely-finished earthenware pots. Even this signifies a certain wealth, but the style of the tomb—little more than a hole dug into the ground—and the contrast between the contents and those from more imposing tombs, hints at very different strata of society.

(Niall Crotty) - Obelisk at Axum, Ethiopia -

Without doubt, Aksum’s most impressive remains are the royal tombs and their fabulous markers, the ‘stelae’ or obelisks. Even the plain examples are impressive, cut from hard local granite. But truly staggering is a series of six carved examples. These seem to depict the dead rulers’ palaces—their tombs lay beneath, and it was our good fortune to be the discoverers of this underground world. The stelae—or so we may conjecture—were the stairways to heaven for the kings of Aksum. At the base are granite plates with carved wine-cups for offerings to the spirit of the deceased. The largest stela is certainly among the biggest single stones ever quarried by human labour. It testifies to the magnificent self-esteem of the unknown ruler who had it extracted and dragged several kilometres to its final site, and to the skill and artistry of those who prepared and decorated it. Over thirty-three metres tall, the stele represents a thirteen storey tower, with elaborate window-tracery, frames, lintels, beam-ends, even a door with a bolt. This monstrous stone soon fell—perhaps a few seconds after being levered upright—smashing onto the roof block of a tomb nearby. This block (some 17 x 7 x 1.5 metres), was not broken, though the tomb underneath it was crushed, but the great stele separated into three pieces. The top was completely smashed by the impact. Nearby is its largest still-standing neighbour, twenty-seven metres tall. Underneath this ‘stele field’ is an extraordinary series of tombs, the underground maze which we began in 1973-4 to explore and clear. On all sides tunnels open out—some dug by robbers. The ground here contains fallen stelae, or their base-plates, that have slipped down from above, buried staircases, walls and walled platforms, shafts and other structures, as well as tomb chambers and their contents—skulls and bones, pottery, metal, and piles of other grave-goods.

H. Neville Chittick and Stuart Munro-Hay, during excavation

Only in the Tomb of the Brick Arches was there time to carry out proper clearing, and even this was only the tip of the iceberg. I found that the arches all had broken blocking. Robbers had been there before. Work was difficult. I had to wear a hat continuously, despite the unpleasantly hot and stuffy atmosphere, as the heat from my lamp—we had no electricity in those days—dried out the rough rock-cut roof. Jagged stones would occasionally fall on me. But I was well rewarded. In the tomb many grave-goods still remained. There were fragments of gold and silver jewellery, beads, bronze objects, including plaques inlaid with glass in floral or geometric patterns that had once adorned now-collapsed wooden chests, iron weapons, exquisite glassware goblets and flasks, beautifully-decorated pots, even wood and leather preserved by the damp. Much of Aksum’s domestic production was peculiar to itself, individual, just as is the coinage I noted above.

Only part of the tomb’s contents could be was cleared at the time. Further in were small loculi where the dead were laid to rest. These, though planned, were never touched. In 1974 we left Ethiopia on the eve of revolution, and the work was never resumed. It was frustrating to leave things unfinished—information half assembled. For example, I found two pieces of a broken glass bowl, with Greek or Latin letters; twenty years later I still wonder what the rest of the inscription, undoubtedly there among the piles of broken objects, read.

Though, sadly, events made it impossible for me to rejoin the team, the British Institute’s work, under Dr. David Phillipson, at last resumed after nearly two decades in 1993. The Tomb of the Brick Arches was reopened, and more treasures revealed, this time including finely carved ivory, panels perhaps from some splendid chair or throne. The work continued until 1997, and Dr. Phillipson published his report in two volumes in 2001.

Written by Tseday

September 13, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Compare Mayan and Egyptian Mythology

leave a comment »

Comparing Mayan mythology to Egyptian, one finds uncanny similarities.

In Egyptian mythology, Osiris was creator and first ruler of Egypt. He was popular with his subjects, but his brother, Seth, was jealous of his popularity, plotted against him, deceived Osiris and killed him. Seth then cut the body into 14 pieces and spread the pieces throughout Egypt.

When Isis (wife of Osiris) learned her husband was killed, she searched Egypt looking for his body parts. She found all but one part, and using magic she put his body back together and wrapped him in bandages. During the process of putting him back together, Isis breathed life back into Osiris’ body and became impregnated, conceiving their son Horus.

The young Horus went out to battle his uncle Seth and avenge his father’s death.

After a series of contests and battles, neither god was able to secure an overall victory. Ultimately Osiris was declared king of the underworld, Horus king of the living, and Seth ruler of the deserts as the god of chaos and evil.

Horus eventually avenged his father’s death by killing his uncle Seth.

Horus became the god of the sky. One of his eyes is the sun and the other is the moon. Both are seen each day and night when, as a falcon, Horus flies across the sky.

One fascinating notion is that both the Egyptian and Mayan account described in this video could possibly have been derived from a more ancient source.

Even more remarkable parallels have been found between Mayan mythology and the biblical account of creation in the book of Genesis.

Written by Tseday

September 13, 2008 at 8:23 pm

This is what we need for Ethiopia: a blue nile revolution

with one comment

The Blue Nile is our foremost natural resource…we can use it for various development projects…that is our way out. Check out the following video… interesting huh

Written by Tseday

September 13, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Ethiopia

Tagged with ,

TEZA – a film by Haile Gerima

with 3 comments

I was fortunate enough to attend the opening screening for Teza @ the Toronto International Film Festival last monday. I also had the chance to say a few words to Haile Gerima!

I admire and love this guy!!! He is such an inspiration and I love the fact that he is a true Ethiopian. His movies are always full of Ethiopian/African wisdom, anecdotes, music, philosophy.

Teza is a brilliant movie in my opinion because Haile was able to express the challenges that current Ethiopia faces: a bitter political past-ridden mentality that is disconnecting us from a unified progressive agenda. He shows the shameful disposition of a great Emperor, the rigid/blind rule of the Derg, the Diaspora challenges, and last but not least, he ends the movie with hope: Hope that Ethiopians will put their bitter past behind and move forward for the sake of the future generation. Young Ethiopians need direction, love and support. They are the future of Ethiopia. They need to learn the wisdom of their ancestors.

Thank you Haile Gerima for your movies. They heal African people. You are an African hero. You are an Ethiopian role model.     Tseday M


A powerful new film chronicles the life of an Ethiopian intellectual who flees his country during the Marxist “red terror” in the 1980s, only to be viciously attacked in Germany by racist youths.

Anberber, the central character, returns to his homeland longing for peace, but life with his mother in a small village is disrupted by armed factions dragging boys away to fight and by prying locals wary of a man they consider to be an outsider.

The story jumps between multiple timelines, but in each Anberber struggles to fit in, be it in his native Ethiopia or in exile in Germany.

Gerima said “Teza” reflected his own experiences, and was based on a recurring dream.

“The dream is basically about intellectual displacement,…When I translated my dream it was about being displaced, unable to live up to your peasant life, your peasant family and at the same time reconcile (that) with your modern world.”

Anberber seeks refuge in memories of his happy childhood, something U.S.-based Gerima said he also did whenever he returned to Ethiopia which he described as “a nightmare for me.”

“Like Anberber in the film I like to drown (in) the past.”

“I go to Ethiopia and I dream my past but the present is so powerful it continues to hijack my sentimental journey to my childhood. I think it’s the idea that you want your childhood world to come back, I think that is universal.”

“In Africa the luxury to remember memory is hijacked by daily violence, either silent violence or obvious violence.”

Written by Tseday

September 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Ethiopia

Tagged with , ,

India’s Flood victims face caste discrimination

with 2 comments


Hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless after floods hit the Indian state of Bihar last month. Some of the victims face the additional hardships that come from being members of the low caste dalit community. Rajan Khosla of the charity Christian Aid has been meeting some of them in the village of Mirzawaa, where 500 families live in temporary shelters.

“Let me be born again as an animal rather than as a harijan (dalit). We face more humiliation than they,” says Tetar Rishidev, a dalit from Mirzawaa village, in the district of Supaul.

After the floods in Bihar millions of people lost their homes, belongings and even family members. But for the dalits of Bihar there is further misery: the caste system.

In Mirzawaa village, Sakal Sadah is a dalit.

Today – unusually – he is happy. There is a food distribution and his family will get food. His children have been surviving on some leftover rice once in a day.

Sakal Sadah is a landless agriculture labourer and earns about 40 rupees (80 cents) for a 12-hour day.

Now he’s worried: “Where will I get work now? Everywhere is water. No one is going to employ me, I am a harijan.”

Hundreds of dalit families are in the same situation as Sakal: they have been hardest hit by the Bihar floods.

In this emergency, when everyone should be provided with food, certain groups are denied access.

The plight of these communities in remote, rural areas is very serious – especially in the feudal state of Bihar.

They cling to the little they have. Many families have left behind one male member to keep an eye on their house and belongings.

Segregated society

Asdev Sadah, an elderly dalit, stayed behind to guard the house of his upper caste employer.

“I used to work in their fields,” he said.

“They wanted me to watch their house and belongings. I have to listen to them. They will provide my family food and work once they come back.

 “I have nothing left in my house – because it was made of mud it has already collapsed. My malik’s (employer’s) house is strong and they have stuff kept inside.”

It seems a strange sort of society where an old man stays back, without food or shelter, taking numerous risks to guard the house of his feudal lord.

But Asdev no doubt knows full well that in this segregated society, there is no other support system for him and his family.

The relief camp in Sabela School in Madhepura is run by one of Christian Aid’s partner organisations who are doing all they can to help.

It was set up because organisers knew there were many dalit villages in the area.

I met Jamuna Devi and Puliya Musamaar here.

 They told me that they were not allowed to use the hand pump to get water as it belonged to upper caste people.

The same upper caste people also asked the camp organisers to move displaced people away because as dalits they would contaminate the entire place. Their request was refused.

“When will people understand we are also human beings?” Puliya asked. “We need food and water, our children also feel hungry.”

I asked one of the aid agencies running another relief camp whether they would have a dalit cook.

Their response was negative. They felt that not everyone would eat food cooked by dalits.

Christian Aid and its partner organisations are including two dalits in the cooking teams in the relief camps they run – thus ensuring that they are not excluded.

Everyone needs food in this crisis situation, so why should people like Sakal Sadah, Jamuna Devi and Puliya Musamaar be so discriminated against?

And if Asdev Sadah can work in the fields and loyally guard the house of his higher-caste employee, then why people should refuse to eat food cooked by them?

We have to challenge the system. I know the problem is gigantic. But efforts need to be made. Each one of us has to make a step forward.

Another aid agency working in this area assured me that they tried to treat displaced people equally.

The critical point is that while equality may be an accepted philosophy it can only happen once people also agree in practice to be equals.

Equality means that all people should get food and their rights and dignity are respected.

But flooding and discrimination seem to have taken those rights away.

Written by Tseday

September 12, 2008 at 11:28 pm