History Section

Report and Photos: ‘Lion of Judah Dinner’ Held in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The writer of the following article, Professor Ted Vestal, is pictured at the dinner in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 18th, 2014. He is the author of the book: "The Lion of Judah in the New World." (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Ted Vestal, PhD | OP-ED

Published: Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Tulsa, Oklahoma (TADIAS) – On June 18th, Oklahoma University (OU), Tulsa’s Center for Democracy and culture and the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Office of International Studies and Outreach sponsored a very special “Lion of Judah Dinner” celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first visit to Oklahoma by a reigning foreign head of state, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. A sold-out audience of 54 enthusiastic attendees, a cross-section of the local populace, gathered at Harwelden Mansion overlooking the Arkansas River in Tulsa to view artifacts from the land of Prester John, eat traditional Ethiopian food, and learn about the close and historic ties of Ethiopia with Oklahoma. Dr. David Henneberry, OSU’s Associate Vice President, Division of International Studies and Outreach, joined Prof. Rodger Randle, Director of OU’s Center for Democracy and Culture and former Mayor of Tulsa and former Peace Corps Volunteer, in welcoming the guests and providing background about the Emperor’s visit and its significance to the state. The dinner was the city’s first public ceremony honoring an African country and its people.

During the Emperor’s first state visit to the United States in 1954, he made a singular stop in his 7,000 mile tour of the country to thank the people of Oklahoma for assisting in modernizing agriculture and education in his nation. Haile Selassie was an iconic figure of the 20th Century, a defender of the principle of collective security before the League of Nations, military commander of the first Allied victory in World War II, champion of the United Nations whose troops fought for the UN in Korea and the Congo, Cold-war ally of the United States, staunch anti-colonialist, and a noted Pan-Africanist and founding father of the Organization of African Unity. The Emperor was honored with a reception and dinner in Stillwater that was described as “the social event of the century” in Oklahoma. The timing of the visit and its venue were auspicious. Only one month before the U.S. Supreme Court had handed down its landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, ending racial segregation in public schools. The Emperor and his entourage were honored at a racially integrated event in an officially segregated state.

Haile Selassie held a special audience for the family of the late Dr. Harry Bennett, the president of Oklahoma A&M who established Oklahoma’s connections with Ethiopia through President Truman’s Point Four program. At the Tulsa celebration, Thomas E. Bennett, Jr., grandson of President Bennett spoke about his family’s memories of meetings with the Emperor. Tulsans Judy Burton, whose father was chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines (EA) from 1955-1960, and David Duke, who instructed EA mechanics the finer points of airplane engine maintenance in 1964 talked about their time in Addis Ababa. Patricia Vestal, who taught art at the Creative Arts Center of Haile Selassie I University from 1965-1966, reminisced about attending a reception at Jubilee Palace and having Halie Selassie attend her students’ art show. Ethiopianist Ted Vestal spoke about the Emperor’s state visit and gave details about the Oklahoma segment of the journey.

Before the program, photographer Hoyt Smith, a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher at Tafari Makonnen School in Addis Ababa from 1962-1965, showed slides from his collection while guests dined with a traditional Ethiopian meal of injera and wat. For a departing gift, filmmaker Mel Tawahade presented all attendees with a copy of his video “Point Four Ethiopia.”



Related:
Reflection: The 60th Anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Visit to OSU

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Ethiopia’s Lalibela Among 19 Most Stunning Sacred Places in the World

Bete Giyorgis, one of the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. (Photograph: UNESCO World Heritage Centre)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, May 26th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) — It has been over 800 years since Emperor Lalibela of Ethiopia oversaw the construction of the world-famous monolithic rock churches that bear his name, but to this day the buildings’ unique architecture continue to inspire awe far beyond the country’s borders.

In a recent article entitled The 19 Most Stunning Sacred Places Around the World, the Huffington Post highlights Lalibela as one of the globe’s jaw-dropping and revered places to visit – a list that also includes the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel in France, the Golden Pagoda in Myanmar (Burma) perched above the former capital Rangoon, as well as the flower-shaped Lotus Temple in India.

Lalibela was built in the late 12th and early 13th Century and legend has it that it stands as a symbolic representation of old Jerusalem that had fallen into the hands of the Muslim leader Saladin in autumn of 1187. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Lalibela a World Heritage Site in 1978 stating “Lalibela is a high place of Ethiopian Christianity, still today a place of devotion.”

The Huffington Post focuses on Bete Giyorgis (House of St. George), the most photographed of Lalibela’s 11 churches. “Bete Giyorgis is a 12th-century church carved directly into the rock around Lalibela, Ethiopia,” the publication notes. “Bete Giyorgis, though, is just the most famous of 11 churches carved into the bedrock originally designed to emulate Jerusalem. Travelers can explore this most unique of holy sites via winding tunnels and passageways dozens of feet below surface level.”

UNESCO adds: “The King of Lalibela set out to build a symbol of the holy land, when pilgrimages to it were rendered impossible by the historical situation. In the Church of Bete Golgotha, are replicas of the tomb of Christ, and of Adam, and the crib of the Nativity. The holy city of Lalibela became a substitute for the holy places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and as such has had considerable influence on Ethiopian Christianity. The Jerusalem theme is important. The rock churches, although connected to one another by maze-like tunnels, are physically separated by a small river which the Ethiopians named the Jordan. Churches on one side of the Jordan represent the earthly Jerusalem; whereas those on the other side represent the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of jewels and golden sidewalks alluded to in the Bible.”

Click here to read The 19 Most Stunning Sacred Places Around the World at Huffington Post.



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Reflection on 118th Anniversary of Ethiopia’s Victory at Adwa

2014 marks the 118th anniversary of Ethiopia's victory at the Battle of Adwa on March 1st, 1896 and the following is a commemoration piece by historian Ayele Bekerie. (Courtesy Photograph: Adwa reenactment)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

ayele_author.jpg

Published: Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Adwa, Ethiopia (TADIAS) — When historians recorded major world events of 1896 they included several headlines about the Battle of Adwa such as ‘Abyssinia (Ethiopia) Defeats Invading Italians’; ’80,000 Ethiopians Destroy 20,000 Italians at the Battle of Adwa’; ‘Italian Premier Crispi Resigns’; and ‘Abyssinia and Italy Sign Peace Treaty.’ In other words, Adwa was placed on the world map and remained a historic story because of Ethiopia’s decisive victory against the Italian army on March 1st 1896 (Yekatit 23, 1888 according to the Ethiopian calendar).

Adwa has generated a significant amount of discourse and prose from writers across the globe. To Raymond Jonas, Adwa is “the story of a world turned upside down.” As he further aptly puts it, “Ethiopia stunned the world.” Many writers made note of the fact that an African army defeated a European army. Donald Levine, the great Ethiopianist scholar, marked the historical event by highlighting its racial implications in reverse order: “a non-white nation has defeated a European power.” Levine’s perspective makes a whole lot of sense when one notices that it was also in 1896 that the US Supreme Court by seven-to-one majority vote affirmed racial segregation. And it took 58 years to overturn racial segregation in the United States.

Encyclopedia Britannica narrated the following about the event of Adwa for posterity: “ The decisive Ethiopian victory checked Italy’s attempt to build an empire in Africa.” British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill penned the event in these words: “On the 1st of March 1896, the Battle of Adwa was fought and Italy, at the hands of Abyssinia, sustained a crushing defeat. Two results followed which affected other nations. First, a great blow had been struck at European prestige in north [east] Africa. Second, the value of Italy as a factor in European politics was depreciated.”

In the context of world history, “the Battle of Adwa marked the largest military triumph of an African state over a European army in the nineteenth century and helped Ethiopia retain its independence during Europe’s Scramble for Africa,” writes Stanford University Historical Education Group. Ethiopia’s retention of its independence paved the way for global anti-colonial movements. Paul Henze describes it best when he states “the defeat at the Battle of Adwa as the beginning of the decline of Europe at the center of world politics.”

Film Director and Producer Haile Gerima, framed the event as follows: “The victory ignited a lasting flame of hope, of freedom and of independence in the hearts of Africans throughout the world.” Bahru Zewde, a distinguished historian, understood Adwa’s global historical significance, for it “brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world.” The leading Afrocentrist, Molefi Kete Asante, further reiterates: “After the victory over Italy in 1896, Ethiopia acquired a special importance in the eyes of Africans as the only surviving African state. After Adwa, Ethiopia became emblematic of African valor and resistance, the bastion of prestige and hope to thousands of Africans who were experiencing the full shock of European conquest and were beginning to search for an answer to the myth of African inferiority.”

In fact, in 1896, outside of Adwa, there was no good news from the continent of Africa. European colonizers were almost on the verge completing their colonial agenda everywhere. In 1896, France dismissed Queen Ranvalona and later annexed Madagascar to its vast colonial empire. British troops defeated Zanzibar in a 38-minute war — A battle that started at 9:02am and ended at 9:40am, the record shows. It is equally important to note the resistance against colonialism in 1896 as evidenced by the uprising of the Matebeles in what is now the nation of Zimbabwe.

When Adwa is studied and understood in the context of world history, we find Adwa as one of the most significant beacons of hope for all oppressed and colonized people of the world. It is a victory that shattered the myth of European supremacy. It is a global historic moment that should be remembered and its bigger story should be shared by young and old in the world. Adwa, we call again, for its inclusion in the World Heritage List.



Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Heritage Management at Mekelle University.

Related:
The Significance of the 1896 Battle of Adwa
Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site

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A Memoir of First US Diplomat’s Meetings With Emperor Menelik

Portraits of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia and American Ambassador Robert P. Skinner. (Photos: PD-US)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, January 16th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) – When Robert P. Skinner, the first American Ambassador to Ethiopia, arrived in Addis Ababa on December 18th, 1903, the Ethiopian capital was a brand new city with a permanent population of no more than 50,000. The Djibouti-Ethiopia railway was still under construction and partially finished up to Dire Dawa. The post office had just opened, and the telephone was the latest technology creating a buzz in town. “After Adwa Menelik’s political independence was a recognized fact,” Skinner noted in his memoir initially published by Longmans, Green and Company in 1906. “The new railroad, the highways, the bridges, the telephones – all these things he probably cares very little for in themselves, but he realizes that nations must advance or they must fall.” Ambassador Skinner pointed out “if independent Abbyssinia falls, that contingency is most likely to result from dissensions from the Abyssinians themselves.”

Addis Ababa was already taking shape as the diplomatic capital of Africa with the presence of several embassies representing all the major powers of the day — including the British, French, Russians and the Italians. Ambassador Skinner had arrived in Ethiopia carrying draft copies of the very first U.S.-Ethiopia commercial treaty (both English and Amharic versions), that Menelik would later approve setting in motion more than a century of U.S.-Ethiopia relations. “What our diplomatic friends may have thought of the American mission considered politically may have been favorable or unfavorable, in any event they certainly contributed memorably to the personal pleasure of our visit by boundless hospitality, which ceased only when we went away, and after having assembled as guests under the flag of every nation represented officially in Ethiopia,” penned Skinner, who was accompanied by twenty four marines, a medical team and other assistants. “It filled us with new respect for diplomacy as a profession and fine art.”

The American Ambassador had quickly struck up a friendship with Menelik through a series of private meetings to iron out the details of the inaugural agreement between the two nations. According to Skinner, all prior business between the United States and Ethiopia had been conducted through a third party, often involving England, France or Italy.

“[Menelik's] thirst for information is phenomenal,” added Skinner. “I once suggested to the Emperor that he send some of his young men to our American schools and colleges. ‘Yes, that will come,’” said he. “‘Our young men must be educated. We have much to do.’” At the moment, however, both were focused on securing a bilateral accord that would guarantee a market for each country’s products. Skinner emphasized that in those years the total amount of Ethiopia’s foreign trade (import and export) was valued at no more than $2,316,000, of which the American share amounted to $1,389,600. Of this, Skinner recorded, American cotton goods generated $579,000 while Ethiopian exports of skins and hides earned $675,000 and coffee fetched $135,100.

“The practical question of whether it has been worthwhile to establish friendly relations with Ethiopia has been answered,” Skinner declared. “We naturally look to the future to develop the now non-existent commerce of really important volume.”

During a celebratory dinner, Skinner described how Menelik would send spicy Ethiopian food for them to taste. “These dishes were invariably seasoned with some sort of concentrated fire which seem to race through the system and scarify the whole alimentary tract,” Ambassador Skinner noted. “The Emperor nodded cheerfully over our difficulties and recommended Tej to relieve the situation.”

In regards to the country’s growing bureaucracy, Skinner noticed that “much stress has been laid by all returning travelers upon the presumed fact that nothing can be accomplished in Ethiopia of an official character without a judicious distribution of presents,” adding that “it would be untrue to say small gifts of money are not extremely necessary at times in Addis Ababa.”

His only regret, Ambassador Skinner admitted, is that he did not get a chance to meet with the popular First Lady, Empress Taitu. “Nothing in a way of public ceremonial occurred during our stay in which her presence was involved, and we departed too soon to have the pleasure of seeing her in private,” he recalled. “She is said to be a woman of great force of character, and in her youth, one of striking beauty.” He added: “She is now forty-seven years of age. She has been several times married and became the wife of the present Emperor in 1883. They have no children. This fact raises the question of succession in the mind of everyone visiting the empire.”

Back in the States, the treaty was passed by congress in less than three months, without any filibuster. It was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in the Spring of 1904. Robert Skinner, who was born in Ohio in 1866, spent most of his life as a career diplomat serving in France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Turkey. He eventually moved to Maine where he died at the age of ninety-four. Ambassador Skinner remains the chief architect of United States-Ethiopia relations.

Emperor Menelik II passed away on December 12, 1913, and a century later he still inspires books, movies, music, and political debates. But there could be no doubt of his epic role in preserving Ethiopia’s independence.

Below are photos of Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu:



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Photographer Gediyon Kifle’s Tribute to Nelson Mandela

(Photo © Gediyon Kifle)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) — The above photo of Nelson Mandela was captured by photographer Gediyon Kifle during the iconic leader’s last visit to the United States in 2005 at a meeting hosted by The Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C.

For Gediyon the gathering at a Georgetown hotel eight years ago was a personal and professional opportunity of a lifetime that he can’t forget. He said it was a moment that he had been eyeing ever since Mandela was released from prison on February 11th, 1990 — an event etched in his memory as if it was yesterday.

“I vividly remember that it was a Sunday morning because we were headed to the chapel on campus,” Gediyon recalled in an interview with Tadias Magazine shortly after news broke on December 5th, 2013 that the iconic anti-apartheid leader had passed away. At the time when Mandela was released from prison Gediyon was a senior attending boarding school in Virginia. Like Mandela, Gediyon’s father was also a prisoner during the Derg regime in Ethiopia, but he never made it out alive.

“My teacher knew what Mandela had meant to me, so he allowed me to stay behind and watch the live broadcast of his release,” Gediyon said. “It was as if my own father was coming out of prison. Here I was by myself, full of pure excitement and gratification, very emotional and it gave me a sense of closure about my own dad.”

Since then in his career as a photojournalist Gediyon has photographed several personalities around the world, including all the living U.S. presidents as well as athletes like Haile Gebrselassie and Muhammad Ali. But, he said, nothing compares to how he felt in the presence of Nelson Mandela. “To just give you an example,” he added, “I documented post genocide Rwanda, which was a display of the worst side of human beings. For me Mandela represents the exact opposite. He epitomizes the best of humanity. He is a force for peace, justice, fairness, reconciliation and forgiveness. He embodies what’s good about humans. His achievements speak for themselves.”

Gediyon was only one of two photographers invited to cover the 2005 meeting at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington, D.C. That was the first and last time that he saw Mandela in person. Prior to that, he said, he had made several arrangements to meet with the legend in private, including traveling to Johannesburg. “It was doable, but our timing never worked out. My only regret is that I did not pose to take a picture with him when I had a chance.” Gediyon reflected on this decision noting that at the time he wanted to maintain his “professionalism as a photographer.” And yet he admitted “inside me I had this desire to reach-out and touch him.”



Related:
Capitan Guta Dinka: The man who saved Nelson Mandela’s life (Video)
Touching Moments From Mandela’s Memorial Service (Video)
The Ethiopian man who taught Mandela to be a soldier (BBC News)
Nelson Mandela In Ethiopia: A Peacemaker’s Beginnings As Guerrilla Fighter (IBT)
World Reflects on the Life of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela: 1918 – 2013

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Muslims of Multicultural Ethiopia

An old man enjoys tea in the ancient city of Harar, Ethiopia, the fourth holy city of Islam and a World Heritage site with 82 mosques and 102 shrines dating back to the 10th century A.D. (Photo: Flickr)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, September 9, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Recently, according to the Ethiopian government, there is a real concern about the rise of a small, imported and militant sect that is spreading a foreign brand of radical Islam in the country. The new phenomenon of “religious extremism” has become a rally-poster issue in Ethiopia. State-sponsored media has also attempted to link the two-year old Friday protests demanding the release of jailed religious leaders as efforts supported by these same sects.

What seems to be missing from the public view, however, are independent voices that can add to the state sponsored interfaith council that is pushing only a one-size-fits-all slogan rather than seeking long term solutions.

It begs the question: How about the majority of Ethiopian Muslims? What do they want? There is a need for the government to open up the space for an all inclusive dialogue without political bias. In fact, Article 27 of Ethiopia’s constitution bars the state from meddling in religious affairs. If anything the recent show of force by police against demonstrators would not bring permanent closure to this festering crisis. So far the interfaith committee has produced no viable solutions either, except to repeat and amplify selected speeches of minority religious fanatics that authorities say are becoming a major threat. Straightforward answers are hard to come by; queries by journalists remain without response.

Ethiopian religious history is an intricate recording of Christian, Jewish and Muslim citizens who have lived side by side enjoying relative freedom to worship freely. To the west of the country, the gated city of Harar is considered the 4th holiest city for Muslims and is listed as a World Heritage site. While the Kebre Negest book cites the introduction of Judaism to ancient Ethiopia through the line of King Solomon, it is an Ethiopian Christian king who saw it fit to grant asylum to the relatives of the Muslim prophet Mohammed who were fleeing religious persecution. The prophet is recorded to have said “Abyssinia is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed,” and forbidding “holy war” against Ethiopia. Today the Al Nejashi mosque in the northern region of Tigray still stands as one of Islam’s oldest mosques.

Given the current heated politicization of religion in the country, it may seem almost an afterthought that Ethiopia’s heritage actually includes the beginning of the world’s three major Abrahamic faiths. A quick scan of the last millennium by itself reveals that many empires and leaders have come and gone, but the spiritual and multicultural fabric of the Ethiopian people have remained intact.

Additional highlights are included in the following timeline, which we hope will serve as an independent and interactive historical data visualization, and as a starting point for the development of a more well-rounded backdrop to the current issue of religious freedom and its implications.


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Italy’s Racism Is Embedded

Soldiers of the Italian army beside a bust of Mussolini in Ethiopia, in 1934. (Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)

The Guardian

By Maaza Mengiste

Last week in Rome three mannequins doused in fake blood were discovered in front of a municipal building ahead of a visit from Italy’s first black minister, Cécile Kyenge. Flyers scattered around the area declared: “Immigration is the genocide of peoples. Kyenge resign!” This is only the latest in a succession of shocking attacks and threats since Kyenge took office in April. She’s been compared to an orangutan by a former government minister; likened to a prostitute by a deputy mayor; and had bananas thrown at her while making a speech.

Her appointment has not only shed light on the country’s problems with racial tolerance, it has begun to strip away at the Italian stereotype: Italians are friendly and kind, love to laugh, and enjoy the good life. They are, after all, more Mediterranean than European, a bit disorganised, but more likely to welcome you with open arms than insult or threaten you. It is a concept that goes by the term Italiani brava gente: “Italians are decent people”. It was this idea that drew me to Italy as the subject for my new book. It ran counter to the experiences of my grandfather and his generation, who fought against the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia and endured a five-year Italian occupation. That contradiction took me to Rome, where I lived for an extended time, and where I researched Italy’s colonial-era archives.

Read more at The Guardian.

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Donald Edward Crummey (1941-2013)

Professor Donald Edward Crummey died on Friday, August 16th, 2013 at age 72. He began his research and teaching career in Ethiopia where he worked at Addis Ababa University from 1967 to 1973.

Obituary

By Bahru Zewde

Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013

“There is one fewer of us now, and we were never many to start with!”

That was how Don conveyed to me the passing away of Taddesse only last May. A loaded sentence which had a premonition of his own frail condition, as he was battling the cancer that eventually claimed his life. But, few of us thought that his departure would be so imminent, following fast on the heel of Taddesse’s. Donald Crummey passed away in Urbana, Illinois, on Friday 16 August, 2013.

The sentence also highlights the merciless assault that Death has chosen to inflict on those who have dedicated their lives to the study of Ethiopian history – beleaguered as it is in many other respects as well. In the past decade alone, we have lost so many of our professional colleagues – Harold Marcus, Berhanou Abebe, Zewde Gebre Sellassie, Merid Wolde Aregay, Hussein Ahmed, Taddesse Tamrat – and now Don Crummey.

Taddesse’s and Don’s lives were intertwined in so many ways. They were more or less contemporary doctoral students at the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University in the mid-1960s – the golden age of African studies. They both did their research on the interplay of religion and politics – as can be seen from their dissertations, which were both published in the same year (1972) by Oxford University Press, Taddesse’s as Church and State, Don’s as Priests and Politicians. They also had a common daughter – Hiwote Taddesse Tamrat, biological daughter of Taddesse and Almaz and adoptive daughter of Don and Lorraine. Both Taddesse and Don were adoring husbands and loving fathers, blessed with three children each and with a number of grandchildren.

My memory of Don takes me nearly five decades back – to 1967, when he joined the Department of History of Haile Sellassie I University, as Addis Ababa University was then known. I was then a third year student. He had come fresh from his doctoral studies at SOAS. He was preceded by Richard Caulk, who had joined the Department in 1966. Both of them were members of that generation of African and Africanist historians who were to transform the teaching and research of African history all over the continent. As it happened, both had as their supervisor at SOAS the great and amiable scholar of Southern Sudan, Richard Gray.

Richard and Don left – in different ways – lasting imprint on my generation of Ethiopian historians . On the surface, one could not think of more contrasting personalities – Richard tempestuous and unsparing, Don more sedate and understanding; Richard clean-shaven and Don with his trademark patriarchal beard. This last feature could hardly escape the notice of the traditional painter who was commissioned to paint the staff members of the Department in the early 1970s; the painting still hangs in the Department chairperson’s office.

The Senior Essay – the mandatory thesis that students had to write for their BA – was the medium through which they imparted their methodological skills to their students. The result was a crop of outstanding BA theses, many of them on the thitherto ignored southern part of the country, mostly written by systematically tapping oral sources. Quite a few of them were comparable to MA theses in many other universities. This breakthrough in Ethiopian historiography – a veritable methodological revolution – was to continue into the early 1970s.

It was also during his stay at Haile Sellassie I University that Don was to turn his attention, from the vantage point of his doctoral research, to understanding the enigmatic figure of Emperor Tewodros. The result was two influential articles on his policy and personality – his modernizing zeal and his violence – which appeared, respectively, in the Journal of African History and the Journal of Ethiopian Studies.

Don and Lorraine were generous hosts during their stay in Addis Ababa, inviting students and colleagues to sumptuous meals at their homes. For some reason, the thing that always sticks in my mind is the Renault 4 that Don used to drive – an intrepid machine that traversed long distances throughout the country without a hitch. It became as much his trademark as his beard. Long after he left Addis, Don also recalled on so many occasions the scary mid-night drive down what was popularly known as “the question mark” – the tortuous road going down from Fit Bar (the man gate of the Menilek Palace) to where Sheraton Addis is standing today – as he was rushing to Princess Tsehay Hospital while Lorraine was in labour to give birth to their third child, Naomi.

In 1973, Don left Haile Sellassie I University for the institution that was destined to be his permanent academic home – the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). For four decades thereafter, he was to use that base to lead a fruitful and successful academic career, rising to full professorship at the Department of History in 1983 and serving as Director of the Centre for African Studies from 1984 to 1994. Indeed, it was under his directorship that the Centre, after graduating from a program to a centre status, attained a pre-eminent position in the league of such establishments in the United States.

His teaching and research at UIUC left an even more enduring impact. His undergraduate teaching, where he created and developed six of the over twenty courses that he taught, earned him the Distinguished Teaching Award of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1987 and the Humanities Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2006 of the same college. But it was through his supervision of doctoral theses, which continued after he became Emeritus Professor in 2006, that his legacy would remain with us. He supervised fourteen PhD dissertations between 1986 and 2011, eight of them on Ethiopian topics and six of these by Ethiopian students. As it happened, both his first and his last student were Ethiopian (Abudssamad H. Ahmad and Habtamu Mengiste, respectively).

He also broadened his African links by developing a collaborative research and training arrangement with Egerton University in Kenya. While Director of the Centre for African Studies, he created a study abroad program for undergraduate and graduate students of that university. Indeed, three of the PhD dissertations he supervised were to be on Kenya, two of them by Kenyans.

But it was Ethiopia, where he conducted two seminal research projects, which remained the primary focus of his research. The first was the land tenure project in Gondar and Gojjam. Apart from helping to uncover a corpus of rich documents that throw new light on the land tenure systems of the concerned regions, the project helped to train two of his PhD students – Shumet Sishagne and Daniel Ayana. The project was rounded off with a magisterial work on the history of Ethiopia’s land tenure, Land and Society in the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia: From the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century (2000).

The second project, done in collaboration with the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, was a reassessment of the environmental history of northern Ethiopia, focusing on Wollo. Don was able to set up an impressive multi-disciplinary team, involving a geographer, two historians, a development analyst and a botanist. In addition, the project benefited from short-term visits of experts in ancillary disciplines. The preliminary findings of the research were published in 1998 in a special issue of the Journal of Ethiopian Studies. While the other members of the team then went on to pursue other projects, Don continued to broaden those findings into yet another seminal study of the environmental history of Ethiopia. Alas, he succumbed to the illness that had been diverting his attention of late before that book could see the light of day.

Donald Crummey was the winner of many awards and research grants, including an NEH research grant for his land tenure project, grants from the Macarthur Foundation for the planning and execution of his environmental history project, as well as Fellowships from Fulbright and the National Humanities Center. He has authored two major books on Ethiopian history, co-edited five works on African history, in addition to publishing over fifty articles and dozens of contributions to the Hamurg-based Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, of whose editorial committee he was also a member. A dedicated reviewer of books for many journals, particularly the Journal of African History, he has some sixty-five reviews to his credit. He was also a regular and active participant of the International Conference of Ethiopian Studies series, serving as the North American representative of its International Organizing Committee from 1882 to 1888.

At the onset of his illness, Don used to keep his friends and colleagues updated with a regular health bulletin. But, apparently as his condition assumed a serious turn, he gave up that habit. So, his departure must come as a shock to many.

Donald Crummey is survived by his wife, Lorraine, his three children Rebecca, Matthew and Naomi as well as his five grandchildren Zoey, Siobhan, Valentin, Willa and Inigo. He is going to be sorely missed not only by his immediate family but also by his former students and colleagues as well as the Ethiopianist community at large.

May his soul rest in peace.

Related:
Donald Crummey (The News Gazette)

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Google Honores Abebe Bikila

(Image credit: Abebe Bikila Google Doodle)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, August 8, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Athletic legend Abebe Bikila was honored on Wednesday with an artistic version of the Google logo. The double Olympic marathon champion who is most remembered for winning a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics while running barefoot was featured with the Google Doodle on August 7th, 2013 on what would have been his 81st birthday.

“I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism,” Abebe is famously quoted as saying shortly following his memorable victory in Rome.

Abebe Bikila died on October 25, 1973 at the age of 41. He remains a national Ethiopian hero and an international sports legend.

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Poet-Playwright Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin

Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. (Cover Illustration: Ezra Wube/Tsehai Publishers)

Tadias Magazine
By Dagnachew Teklu

Updated: Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Washington D.C (TADIAS) – The life and accomplishments of Ethiopian poet and playwright, Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, was celebrated last Friday in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. The event highlighted Fasil Yitbarek’s book entitled Soaring on Winged Verse, which is the official biography of Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin — one of Africa’s most important literary figures. The gathering, which was hosted by Taitu Cultural Center during its popular monthly poetry night YeWeru Gitm Mishit on July 26th, was attended by a large number of people from the Ethiopian community including families and friends of the late Poet Laureate who would have marked his 77th birthday this August.

The biography was printed by Tsehai Publishers in 2011 and is dedicated “to those whose creative inspirations springs from their love of Ethiopia.” In his book, Fasil chronicles the remarkable story of Mr. Tsegaye’s humble beginnings in rural Ethiopia from the town of Boda, near Ambo, to become one of the most recognized men of letters in the country as well as one of the most prolific and acclaimed writers of his generation. The poet’s distinguished resume spans luminary works of more than 45 plays and an influential collection of Amharic poetry entitled Isat Woy Abeba (Blaze or Bloom).

Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin passed away in February 2006 at the age of 69 while receiving medical treatment in New York. His body was flown back to Ethiopia and buried at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.

In a Q&A with Tadias Magazine, Fasil said Soaring on Winged Verse is based on several interviews, which he conducted in New York with the late Tsegaye some ten years ago at the poet-playwright’s request.

“We used to meet once a week for a couple of hours and I was able to record about 30 cassettes on various occasions,” Fasil said. However, Tsegaye passed away before they completed the interviews for the book, and he fondly recalled their weekly sessions as “unforgettable moments in my life.” Fasil said he was able to fill the gap through further research of both published and unpublished sources.

“I was lucky to be chosen by Tsegaye to write this book.” Fasil added.

Yodit Tsegaye, one of Tsegaye’s daughters agreed, “We really appreciate Fasil’s determination to finish the memoir,” she said. “This book tells us what we didn’t know about our father.”

Below are photos from the event.



You can learn more about the book and order your own copy at www.tsehipublihers.com. “Soaring on Winged Verse” is also in the process of being translated into Amharic.

Related:
Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, Ethiopian Poet Laureate, Dies at 69 (The New York Times)
Tadias Interview: Samuel Wolde-Yohannes on his Book ‘Ethiopia: Culture of Progress

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Ethiopian Domestic Help Abuse Headlines From the Middle East

Below is an interactive timeline highlighting media reports of Ethiopian migrant worker abuse in the Middle East. (Photos: YouTube)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Ever since Alem Dechasa killed herself in Lebanon following her widely publicized videotaped beating last year, Jomo Tariku, who resides in a suburb of Washington, D.C., has been compiling news reports going as far back as the 1990s documenting Ethiopian migrant worker abuse in the Middle East.

The crowdsourcing website, dedicated to Alem who was the mother of two children, keeps track of employer abuse in the region that often leads to suicide, kidnapping, enforced servitude, murder, defacement, mutilation, scarification by sharp objects, boiling water or chemicals, rape, torture, burning, beating, hot ironing, and starvation.

The following is an interactive timeline organized and filtered using the reports that has so far been collected. We hope the visual data would assist policymakers in Ethiopia and elsewhere to better assess the gravity and the long history of the issue.



Related:
Changing Ethiopia’s Media Image: The Case of People-Trafficking (TADIAS)
Video: Ethiopian migrants tell of torture and rape in Yemen (BBC)
Video: Inside Yemen’s ‘torture camps’ (BBC News)
BBC Uncovers Untold People-Trafficking, Torture of Ethiopians in Yemen (TADIAS)
Meskerem Assefa Advocates for Ethiopian Women in the Middle East (TADIAS)

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Photos: United Nations Marks OAU-AU 50th Anniversary

At the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013. (Photo: Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Thursday, June 27th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – The African Union Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations in New York hosted a “High level Panel Discussion and Workshop” on Wednesday June 26th inside the UN building marking the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU), headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The event opened with a remark by Ambassador Tete Antonio of the Permanent Observer of the AU to the UN, who delivered an introductory message from Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission and the first woman to lead the organization. Statements were also made by the head of the African Group for the month of June 2013, Mr. Roble Olhaye, Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Ali A. Mazrui, the famed academic and political writer on African and Islamic studies as well as North-South relations. During his speech Professor Mazrui, who turned 80 last year, proposed that the AU, which currently has no real authority to make binding decisions for all of Africa’s 54 states, perhaps should establish a permanent member council similar to the U.N. with a rotating chairmanship. He suggested the body should be made up of 4 or five countries, one from each region based on size of population: “Nigeria from the West, Egypt from the North, Ethiopia from the East and South Africa from the South.”

Mazuri also recalled Nelson Mandela’s memorable interview with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline on February 15th, 1990, soon after he was released from his 27-year imprisonment. “Most people would look at the last 27 years of your life or at the life of someone who has spent the last 27 years in prison and say to themselves “what a waste.” What about you?,” the ABC host had asked. “That is true, to spend 27 years at the prime of your life is a tragedy and I regret those years that I have wasted in prison,” Mandela had responded. “But there are very positive aspects too because I had the opportunity to think about problems and to reflect on my mistakes.” Mandela added: “I also had the opportunity of reading very widely and especially biographies and I could see what men sometimes from very humble beginnings were able to lift themselves with boot strings and become international figures and men that are useful to society in their own community and to the world.”

The gathering also included screenings of a short documentary focusing on the history of the founding of the OAU in Addis Ababa on May 25th, 1963 as well as a trailer of a film highlighting the organization’s 50th anniversary celebrations .

Below is a slideshow of images from the panel discussion:

Watch: Feb. 15, 1990: Nelson Mandela Interview with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nighline


Related:
Yadesa Bojia Reflects on African Union Flag on 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)
The African Union Turns 50: Voices From Ethiopia — Past and Present (TADIAS)

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Hydropolitics Between Ethiopia and Egypt: A Historical Timeline

From top left: Emperor Haile Selassie, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Hosni Mubarak, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Mohamed Morsi. (Photos: Creative commons)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) — Hydropolitics flare up is not new to Africa’s Nile Basin region. The world’s longest river, which flows northwards and criss-crosses eleven countries, has been a particular point of tension between Egypt and Ethiopia for a long time; especially when it comes to the equitable sharing of the water resource for economic development.

In 1959, the colonial-era Waters Agreement between Egypt and Sudan was signed before all the upriver countries had achieved independence — namely Tanzania (1961), Uganda (1962), Rwanda (1962), Burundi (1962), and Kenya (1963) — excluding Ethiopia from the deal. Emperor Haile Selassie who was incensed by the snub, responded by ending the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s 1,600 year relationship with the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria.

According to a newly launched historical data visualization web site, TimeLine Ethiopia, the colonial era agreement had allocated 55.5 billion cubic meters of water annually to Egypt while Sudan was given 18.5 billion cubic meters, which represented 99% of the average annual flow of the Nile river.

That same year Haile Selassie decided to commission a $10 million American-led study entitled “Land and Water Resources of the Blue Nile Basin: Ethiopia.” The seventeen volume report finalized in 1964 served as the blueprint and beginning of Ethiopia’s mission to build multiple dams on the Blue Nile and its tributaries.

Egypt, under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, retaliated against Haile Selassie’s initiative by clandestinely supporting armed insurrections in the northern parts of Ethiopia in order to foment civil war and unrest in the country. According to Wikipedia Nasser was also simultaneously busy overseeing the construction of a high dam in Egypt to satisfy his country’s “ability to control floods, provide water for irrigation, and generate hydroelectricity seen as pivotal to Egypt’s industrialization.”

Fast forwarding to current times, when Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi re-initiated the project to accomplish unrealized ambitions for Ethiopia, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, did not welcome the effort.

In 2013 Ethiopia’s diverting of waters to complete the Grand Renaissance Dam project has been met by high-level Egyptian agitation including discussions of sabotage on live television.

Below is an interactive timeline of the Nile dispute courtesy of TimeLine Ethiopia.



Related:
Tom Campbell: America Would Be Wrong to Favor Egypt in Water Rift (OC Register)
Egypt’s Nile Threats Weaken Case to Secure Water: Shinn (Bloomberg)

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Ketema Yifru: The Architect Behind the OAU

Emperor Haile-Selassie conferring with his foreign minister, Ketema Yifru. (The Ethiopian Reporter)

The Ethiopian Reporter

By YONAS ABIYE

A country is best represented by its people or leadership and leaders are the ones who are of the people by the people and for the people.

As a result, leadership shapes the character, behavior and culture of its people and the country.

A country’s good or bad image is determined by the good or bad image of its leader.

In this regard, it is the right time for Ethiopia to talk about the demonstration of the above facts.

Ethiopia is hosting one of the biggest continental events. As a seat of the continent’s grandest institution, Addis Ababa is colorfully celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Organization of African Unity/African Union (OAU/AU). Because of this all eyes are focused here.

Fifty-four African countries are represented and have convened here to celebrate the union.

This historical advantage has lifted the country’s image to the highest stage. So who to be praised? No doubt, its brightest leaders. Certainly, Emperor Haile-Selassie I. He is considered by many to be the Father of Africa. In the last half of the 20th century, Haile-Selassie’s name has never been omitted whenever the OAU is mentioned. It seems that His Majesty had amassed all the credit for the country’s success in the formation of OAU.

However, little attention is given to those who were doing the work behind the scenes. Sometimes, the success of these individuals goes unnoticed.

Obviously, one Ethiopian has been overshadowed by Emperor Haile-Selassie’s grace and reputation regarding the OAU. The man who looks to be left under the surface is the architect and the master whose role was instrumental. Also he is the person who was able to make Addis Ababa the home of the OAU.

He is the late Ketema Yifru, Haile-Selassie’s Foreign Minister He is rarely heard of and that is why some call him the “unsung hero” while others describe him as the “Amed Afash” (a person who is negatively rewarded).

After serving as a foreign minister for ten years from (1961 to 1971) he spent eight years in prison when the Derg was in power.

Ketema Yifru was also recognized by the media as having played a prominent role in the creation of Africa’s regional organization.

In a recently published article on his personal blog, Ketema Yifru’s son, Mekonnen Ketema quoted that his father as saying:

“Based on the discussions I had with my father as well as his taped and written interviews, I now clearly understand what he meant when he said, ‘Only a few are aware of the hard work and all the effort that brought about the creation of the OAU.’ Most of the public is not aware of the shuttle diplomacy, the closed door negotiations, and all the tireless effort, in general, that paved the way towards creating the OAU. In addition, the majority of the public are not aware of the fierce diplomatic battle that was fought by a number of states to have the OAU headquartered in their respective capital cities.

Read the full article at: www.thereporterethiopia.com.

Related:
AU Celebrates 50-Year Anniversary At Landmark Summit in Ethiopia (Video)
African Union leaders mark 50th anniversary in Ethiopia (BBC)
The African Union Turns 50: Voices From Ethiopia (TADIAS)
The OAU: Fifty years on (BBC News)
African Union Celebrates 50th Year (AP)
Watch: AU anniversary video spotlight (Economist)
Yadesa Bojia Reflects on African Union Flag on 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

The African Union Turns 50: Voices From Ethiopia — Past and Present

The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy AU Commission)

Tadias Magazine
By Nuhamin Daniel and Benno Muechler

Updated: Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Addis Ababa (TADIAS) – It must have been some time around 1970. Solomon Kurabachew doesn’t remember exactly when he met his future wife, but at the time he was employed as an accountant at the OAU, where Lakatch, now his wife of 40 years, also worked as a secretary. In a recent interview at their home here in Addis Ababa, the couple shared with us their memories of how they met each other because of their work at the Organization of African Unity, which is the predecessor to the African Union (AU). On Saturday, May 25th the AU celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Each day after work, Solomon said, he drove home with two colleagues past the Emperor’s palace. And on the way once he spotted Lakatch and two of her friends waiting for a taxi. “So, one day when the three of us saw them again, we thought: ‘Oh, these girls are always standing here,’” Solomon recalled. “Why not give them a lift?” At first, Mr. Solomon said, the connection started out as “Selam and ciao.”

“Then lastly, me and one of my friends decided to talk to them so my friend and I stepped out of the car –one of the guys stayed in the car –and we said hello to the women and offered to give them a lift,” he remembered. “They said ‘No.’” But that was before Lakatch relented in giving him her phone number.

When Solomon began working at OAU in 1968, Mobutu Sese Seko was the chairman and the OAU’s nickname was the ‘Dictators’ Club.’ The heavily criticized institution is still a work in progress, but over the past five decades it has also been source of job security for many professionals like Solomon and Lakatch. And in recent years the newly inaugurated state-of-the-art conference center and office complex — a $200 million gift from the government of China — has added to the local economic boom.

For Fantahun Haile Michael, AU’s current project coordinator, the entity is not perfect, but “It’s the the only continental forum we do have.”

In an interview at his office inside the new building, Mr. Fantahun, who previously served as Ethiopia’s ambassador to North Korea and Zimbabwe, said the AU has no power to make binding decisions for all of Africa’s 54 states, but it does its best given all the constraints.

“Ultimately we’re trying to change the continent in order to better, for good, the lives of African citizens,” he said. As to his own employment at the AU: “It’s not about thinking about our own life, our well-being because we’re paid well,” he said. “That’s not something that should give us ultimate happiness. Ultimate happiness is how much we’re trying to change Africa.”

There sat another gentleman under a tree in the morning sun, dressed in a worn-out gray sweater, outside the AU compound, away from the basketball court, where from Mr. Fantahun’s office window view a few women played dribble. Teshome Kinfe Woldegiorgis, 24, is waiting for customers. Teshome washes cars and makes about 100 Birr a day, that’s before he quit his job at the AU that paid less.

“When I started at the AU, I was really excited,” said Teshome who made 400 Birr a month. “But that changed when I saw how conditions were.

Teshome grew up in the neighborhood around AU. After finishing grade 10 at school, he tried to make ends meet as a shoe shiner. One of his customers worked at the AU and got him a job as a waiter. Teshome served top officials like UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. After two years, he left his job.

“I remember that my feet were bleeding one day because I had to walk so much. And all that for only 400 Birr a month. I applied for other jobs that were better paid, but I never got a reply. You spend the whole day with top officials like the AU chairperson, Jean Ping. But you can’t even afford a new pair of pants with the money you earn every month.“

Kebede Assefa is one of those city residents who had to move to make way for the construction of the new AU building. He works as a barber some hundred meters down the street in a district of huts made of mud and iron sheet. A smelly river with yellow foam on the surface meanders under a bridge. The area will be demolished soon. Fortunately, this time, the city gave those losing their properties at least new housing. It was different when his old dwelling was demolished some years ago, he said. He is still waiting for compensation. Nevertheless, Mr. Kebede, who has only one leg since his car accident and now cuts hair while leaning on a crutch, thinks positively of the AU. “What can you say if the area here is to be developed?” he asked. “This district is really ugly. We need to grow. Why should it remain like this?”

At Solomon and Lakatch’s living room, “It was love at first sight,” Lakatch said, after Solomon noted that she had given him her phone number on his second try. Like the AU, the family of Solomon and Lakatch has grown since the early 1970s. The pictures of their four married children and five grandchildren hang on the walls of their living room. Also, just like the AU, the couple moved to a new home. While this one is much smaller and was not built by the Chinese, the old house next door accommodates a Taiwanese and a German who would probably have never come to Addis if the AU had not made the city become a regional center for aid agencies and the international media.

Mr. Solomon left the OAU in 1986 and worked at the delegation of the European Union in Addis until his retirement age. Maybe the AU will become an EU one day, he said. “Yes, working at the EU was more comfortable, but having double the number of EU member states makes life also more difficult for the AU.”

“At the African Union, on the other hand, there are so many different characters,” Mr. Solomon said while Lakatch boiled coffee in a pot placed on charcoal in the background. “It’s not a small organization. There are the French, the English-speaking, the Arabs. There are a lot of communication gaps between us. But at the EU, there are only two languages — French and English. You can communicate, you can understand each other.”

Nuhamin Daniel is a journalist based in Addis Ababa. Benno Muechler is a freelance correspondent for German Public Radio (Deutschlandfunk) from Ethiopia.

Related:
Photos: United Nations Marks OAU-AU 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)
AU Celebrates At Landmark Summit in Ethiopia (Video)
Ketema Yifru: The Architect Behind the OAU (The Ethiopian Reporter)
The OAU: Fifty years on (BBC News)
African Union Celebrates 50th Year (AP)
Watch: AU anniversary video spotlight (Economist)
Yadesa Bojia Reflects on African Union Flag on 50th Anniversary (TADIAS)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

Letter From Harar: Dr. Clyde Kindell’s ‘Fond Memories of Ethiopia’ — Photos

In these photos taken in the 1960s, Dr. Clyde Kindell, President of Alemaya College, hosts Emperor Haile Selassie and Jomo Kenyatta at the agricultural school in Harar. (Courtesy photographs)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, May 9th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – In the summer of 1966 when Dr. Clyde R. Kindell, the last American President of Alemaya College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Ethiopia, was preparing to return home to the United States, he received a letter from the Governor of Harar whom he had befriended during his eight-year stay in the country, which he kept as a memento.

The document, shared with Tadias, was written on June 11th, 1966 and signed by Fitwarai Tewahade Woldeyes. “Dear respected friend, I am very sorry to hear from your letter of 30th Ginbot 1958 EC [Ethiopian Calendar] that you are completing your term as the president of the Agriculture College of Alemaya and going back to your country,” it said. “I consider your departure as losing one of those highly esteemed Ethiopians not as a foreigner going back to his country.”

The governor goes on to inform Dr. Kindell that had he been younger he too would have chosen to enroll at Alemaya College. Nonetheless, “I am very grateful to learn from your diligence, honesty, and tact of making others work through cooperation,” he wrote. “Please, therefore, accept my heartfelt thanks and I wish you a bright future in all your endeavors.”

Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Kindell became president of Murray State College in Oklahoma, where he worked for 27 years until he retired in 1994.

In a recent phone conversation with Tadias Magazine from his current home in Denison, Texas, Dr. Kindell, now 86-years-old, shared his recollections of Ethiopia.

“To this day I am still in touch with the children of Fitwarai Tewahade, including Mel,” he said, referring to filmmaker and businessman Mel Tewahade, producer of the documentary Point Four, which explores the history of America’s “Point Four” foreign policy and its impact in Africa and Asia.

“I have fond memories of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people,” said Dr. Kindell, who traveled to Ethiopia under Oklahoma State University’s Point Four agricultural program in the late 1950s. “My daughter was born in Jimma.”

Mel Tewahade told Tadias the letter was penned by his late father as a farewell and thank you to Dr. Kindell. “Since my father was the Mayor of the city of Harer and governor of surrounding region, he had frequent interaction with the American staff at Alemaya and that’s how the two developed their friendship,” he said.

Mel said that part of his father’s job was “to ensure that Americans were safe and any misunderstanding between them and the residents living around Alemaya was quickly and peacefully resolved, as well as security matters, such as attempting to reduce the use of Khat (Chat) in and around the school and developing a market for Alemaya grown potato.”

Dr. Kindell, who was 31-years-old when he first arrived in Ethiopia, served for two years as the Director of Instruction and Research at the Jimma Agriculture Technical School before taking the helm at Alemaya in Harar. He noted that he reported directly to Emperor Haile Selassie, who was the Chancellor of the nation’s university system.

“The Emperor was like a father figure to me,” Dr. Kindell said. “He would scold me from time to time, mostly for not learning Amharic fast enough.”

Dr. Kindell shared his “vivid memory” of an encounter he had with Emperor Haile Selassie in November 1963 as the Emperor prepared to leave for Washington, D.C. to attend President Kennedy’s funeral. “The Emperor had great respect and admiration for John F. Kennedy because they had met and Kennedy had sought his advice,” he said. “He was very saddened by his death.”

Speaking of Kennedy, Mel added that he has released another movie called Peace Corps in Ethiopia highlighting one of Kennedy’s legacies. “It was screened at Kotebe Teacher Training College in September 2012,” he said. “It was shown at the 50th year reunion of returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

“The film is the history of Peace Corps involvement in Ethiopia from 1962 to 1976″ Mel said. “We interviewed several volunteers and asked them to share their experience. Senator Harris Wafford of Pennsylvania and former director of Peace Corps in Ethiopia, outlines the contribution that Emperor Haile Sellasie made to the success of the program, and the support that Peace Corps got from President Kennedy and the director of Peace Corps Sargent Shriver.”

As to his own reminiscence of growning up near the school, Mel pointed out that the view from his father’s car window still remain fresh in his mind. “My most favorite of this time was the drive I used to make with my dad to Alemaya,” he said. “The lake was beautiful and there were plenty of fruit stands around the town of Alemaya. It was breathtaking.”

And back on the phone Dr. Kindell recalled, “So one day my wife and I had the Emperor over for dinner and all his family and other dignitaries were present,” he said. “I finally manged the courage to say, ‘Your Majesty, Ene bizu amarigna memar alchalkum.’”

Dr Kindell continued: “He sort of chuckled, and never bothered me about my language skills again.”

Below is a digital copy of the letter courtesy of Mel Tewahade:

Photos: Dr kindell hosting Emperor Haile Selassie and Jomo Kenyatta at Alemaya College


To learn more about Mel Tewahade’s film “Point Four,” please visit the website www.pointfourethiopia.com.

Related:
Filmmaker Interview About the Movie ‘Point Four
Haile Selassie in America: Q & A with Professor Ted Vestal

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The Significance of the 1896 Battle of Adwa

March 1st, 2013 marked the 117th year anniversary of the Battle of Adwa and historian Ayele Bekerie shares an essay on the historic victory. (Photo: Mountains of Adwa/File)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

ayele_author.jpg

Published: Friday, March 1st, 2013

Mekelle, Ethiopia (TADIAS) – In 1896, eleven years after the Berlin Conference, the Ethiopian army decisively defeated the Italian military at the Battle of Adwa. It was a resounding victory because it aborted Italia’s ambition to establish a colonial foothold in Ethiopia. On March 2, 1896, The New York Times reported with a headline: “Abyssinians Defeat Italians; Both Wings of [General] Baratieri’s Army Enveloped in an Energetic Attack.” On March 4, 1896, The New York Times featured another story about “Italy’s Terrible Defeat.” NYT also stated “three thousand men killed, sixty guns and all provisions lost.” It further indicated how high the defeat’s impact has reached by referring to the Pope who “is greatly disturbed by the news.” “The terrible defeat” sent shock waves throughout Europe and the colonized world. It was the first time that a non-white people had defeated a European power. According to Teshale Tibebu, the victory the Ethiopians had achieved over Italy was different than other battles won by African forces. This was permanent.

While Europeans saw the defeat as a real threat to their vast colonial empires in Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Caribbean, the colonized subjects in these territories understood the event as the beginning of the end of colonialism. Adwa as Davidson aptly puts it has become a prelude to decolonization in Africa. Clearly the victory at the Battle of Adwa lends itself to multiple meanings and interpretations, depending upon perspectives and stances in relation to colonialism. The purpose of this piece is to look into the interpretations of the event from the perspectives of the colonized and how the victory brought about the idea of global Ethiopia. It can be argued that the Battle has further enhanced the symbolic significance of Ethiopia in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. Ethiopia has become a symbol of the anti-colonial movements throughout the world. The Battle may have also given geographical and historical certitude to Ethiopia. The Battle of Adwa is another significant symbol in the imaginary of the idea of Ethiopia. This paper looks into the symbolic importance of Adwa in the conception and development of pan-African solidarity and identity.

Ethiopia at the time of the Battle was a highly traditional empire-state where kings and nobilities ruled over a predominantly agrarian people. Modes of rules were not only dictated by customs and personal whims, they were also exploitative. Adwa then ushered a new paradigm to alter or reform the tradition, to replace it with a modern system of centralized and unified government. While the symbolic significance of the Battle successfully echoed the call for freedom and independence and an end to colonial domination abroad, the full meanings of Adwa have yet to be fully realized within Ethiopia. Adwa suggests the power of indigenous multiple voices voluntarily cooperating to defeat and challenge the European colonial order.

Virtually all the regions, religions, linguistic groups, aristocrats and peasants pulled their resources together to formulate and execute a strategy of victory. By their actions the Ethiopians were not only affirming the power and immense possibilities of unity in diversity, but they were placing issues of freedom and internal reform at the top of the national agenda. Adwa necessitates a new set of directions interspersed with broader definition and application of freedom so that all those who participated in the Battle would be able to participate in the affairs of their country. As Maimre puts it, “from the perspectives of the thousands who participated in the campaign of Adwa, the resistance to the Italian invasion embodies the aspiration for freedom, equality and unity as well as the rejection of colonialism.”

Adwa reminds the Shoan nobility to let freedom ring from northern highlands to the rift valleys, the river basins, the plain lush fields of Arussi and the salty Danakil depressions. Adwa presents a unique opportunity to reconfigure the empire-state. Unfortunately, absolutism and imperial glory overshadowed and undermined the emancipatory route suggested by the historic event of Adwa. Adwa presses on the monarchy to modernize and to let the people involve in the political process through constitutional means. Unfortunately, the leaders resisted internal reform or introduced ineffective and nominal elements of modernity. Absolute monarchy, imitative and nominal modernization and detached and non-transformative tradition were pursued and, to this date, insist on clinging to the status quo. The status quo is the cause of immense poverty and disenfranchisement for the vast majority of the people in the country.

Adwa’s magnificent victory is a model in as far as people of various cultures, religions and languages willingness to assemble for a purpose. 100,000 Ethiopian troops took positions on the fields and mountains of Adwa to encircle and defeat the enemy. The multi-cultural army paid the ultimate sacrifice when about nine thousand of its soldiers died at the Battle. With their sacrifice, they set the stage for the birth of a new Ethiopia where the reach of freedom, politically and economically, would be more egalitarian. The model, unfortunately, was not pursued in post-Adwa Ethiopia. The model of voluntary cooperation and coexistence has yet to be implemented in the twenty first century Ethiopia. The model has yet to break the cycle of poverty and endless violent conflicts in the Horn of Africa.

While the victory is certainly a major milestone in Ethiopian history, Menelik and his successors failed to fully appreciate and adopt the new reality that emerged (locally and internationally) as a consequence of the victory. The meaning and reach of freedom hampered by intolerance to internal criticism and resistance to reform the monarchy. Internationally, most historians agree that Adwa opened the way for the ultimate demise of colonialism in Africa and elsewhere.

Adwa is significant because it disturbed the colonial order in the world. Colonial subjects interpreted Adwa as a call to resist and defeat colonialism and racial oppressions through out the world. With Adwa, they have a permanent symbol and a constant reminder that colonialism was wrong and it ought to be defeated. No system is just in as long as it treats human beings as objects and fodders to exploitative and profitable economic systems. Citizen subject is a right that cannot be denied and that should be exercised if at all freedom is a universal right of peoples and communities. Adwa, to most historians, is an African victory. The 1884-85 Berlin Conference was convened to divide up the entire continent of Africa and assign colonial territories to European powers. The Europeans allocated the Horn of Africa to Italy. Italy’s unsuccessful military push in Ethiopia was a part of the European colonial order in Africa.

In preparation for this essay, I conducted field and library research in Ethiopia and abroad. I visited the town of Adwa in September 2006 and March 2012. Adwa is only 25 miles west of the ancient city of Aksum. I made the journey to Adwa in search of memorial markings, to participate in the 116th Battle of Adwa Anniversary, to pay tribute to the war heroes and heroines, to converse with residents and to visit relevant institutions and museums. The Battle of Adwa is known locally as 1886, the Ethiopian calendar year for 1896.

I also had a chance to examine archival documents in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University and the National Archive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The National Archive has, among other books, manuscripts and papers written in local languages and scripts, a rich collection of documents encompassing the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries of the Common Era in Ethiopian history. I particularly read and copied relevant documents from the archival collections of Belata Mersea Hazen Wolde Qirqos, Doctor Dejazemach Zewde Gebre Selassie, Dejazemach Kebede Tessema, and Aleqa Taye Gebre Mariam. Recent publications of memoirs in Amharic by former palace officials or associates, such as Fitawrari Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariam and Dejazemach Zewde Retta, have also helped a great deal to elucidate historic events. Tsehafe Tezaz Gebre Selassie’s Tarike Zemen Ze Dagmawi Menelik Neguse Negest Ze Ethiopia (Historical Period of Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia) is a useful source of the Battle. Gebre Selassie served as a personal chronicler of the Emperor.

The collection donated to the National Archive by Belata Merse Hazen Wolde Qirqos includes a critical essay entitled Atse Menelikena Ethiopia (Emperor Menelik and Ethiopia) written by a great Ethiopian scholar, Gebre Hiwot Baykedagn. His essay criticizes Ethiopian historians for failing to engage in critical interpretations of the past. He also points out the achievements and failures of Emperor Menelik II. Another scholar who was trained in Europe, Afeworq Gebreyesus wrote the biography of Emperor Menelik. The work is regarded as serious and fruitful. Gebre Hiwot Baykedagn criticizes the book for lack of balance in the appraisal of the leadership of Emperor Yohannes II in comparison to Emperor Menelik. In addition, almost ten years ago, I participated in a book project to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Adwa. The book, One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years, edited by Pamela S, Brown and Fasil Yirgu, has contributors, such as the Late Laureate Tsegaye Gebre Medhin, Richard Pankhurst, and Teshale Tibebu. My contribution is entitled “How Africa Defeated Europe.”

Menelik’s (Abba Dagnew) success at the Battle of Adwa may be attributed to the following factors: One, he surrounded himself with great advisors, such as Empress Taitu Bitul, Fitawarari Habte Giorgis Dinegde (Abba Mechal) and Ras Mekonnen, a nephew and father of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Menelik was a popular leader, skillful diplomat, and good listener. Menelik believed in reconciliation. Those who revolted against him once defeated they were immediately pardoned and allowed, unfortunately, to retain their original privileged position. Menelik was keenly aware of the colonial expansionist ambition of the French, British and Italians in the region. As a result, he actively sought and acquired modern weapons from Europe. He even bought a large quantity of weapons from the Italians. He also fully exploited the rivalries among the three colonizers. More importantly, out of a long war experience, together with his ministers, regional kings, he developed a winning war plan.

Menelik’s war declaration was widely heeded and welcomed throughout the country, a clear affirmation of his popularity. Menelik’s declaration is an important literary document in the context of preparation, the will to fight and become victorious at the Battle of Adwa. Menelik appealed to love of family, religion and country. He reminded Ethiopians that the intention of the enemy is to take away the core values and traditions cherished by the people. Menelik declared (translation mine):

“Up until now, through the grace of God, who permitted me to live by destroying my enemies and expanding the territorial boundaries of our country. It is also through the grace of God that I am ruling. Therefore, I have no fear of death. More importantly, God has never let me down and I am confident that he will let me be victorious again.”

“At this time, another enemy has entered our territory by crossing our God given sea. His objective is to destroy the country and to change the religion. As a result of a major cattle disease that devastated a large number of our livestock and brought great sufferings to our farmers and pastoralists in the last few years, I remained quiet and patient to numerous hostile provocations. And yet the enemy continued to dig dipper in the ground like a hog.”

“Now God willing or with God’s help, I will not surrender my country. My fellow country folks, I do not believe that I disappointed you in the past. You have not also disappointed me. If you are strong, then help me with your strength to fight the enemy. If you are not strong, I seek your moral support for the sake of your children, wife and religion. If, on the other hand, you seek lame excuse not to join the national campaign against our enemy, I will be upset and I will not have mercy on you, I will punish you. My campaign begins in October, and I expect volunteers from Shoa to gather in Woreilu by mid October.”

This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University.

Related:
The 1896 Battle of Adwa: Empress Taitu Bitul, The Visionary Co-Leader
Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site (Tadias)


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Women’s History Month: Empress Taitu Bitul

The following article highlights Empress Taitu Bitul, one of the key leaders at the decisive Battle of Adwa on March 1st, 1896. It is an excerpt from a recent historical research paper by Profesor Ayele Bekerie that will be published here in three parts in conjunction with and celebration of the 117th anniversary of the battle and Women's History Month. (Tadias)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

ayele_author.jpg

Updated: Friday, March 1st, 2013

Mekelle, Ethiopia (TADIAS) – Empress Taitu Bitul was actively involved in Menelik’s government. She exemplified the possibility of reform and transformation from within. She was a persistent critic of the nobilities and ministers of Menelik. Born in Wollo from a Christian and Muslim family, Taitu had a comprehensive early training in traditional education. She was fluent in Ge’ez, the classical Ethiopian language. Mastering Ge’ez was a rare achievement for a woman at that time. Education is often the privy of male children, who continue their traditional schooling in the churches and monasteries for an extended period of time. Those who passed the arduous levels of scholarship would be allowed to serve as deacons and later priests in the thousands of churches and monasteries throughout the country. Their studies include Ge’ez literature, chant, choreography and translation. Besides, Taitu was a great benefactor of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. She contributed land and building materials to several important monasteries. She also supported the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem, Israel.

Taitu was married to Menelik at the age of forty-three and she was four years older than him. Apparently Menelik’s reverence for Taitu was in part dictated by custom. He was being respectful to an elder. On the other hand, the deference might have been earned as a result of the loyalty Taitu brought to the marriage from important northern regions of Begemedir, Lasta and Yeju. Clearly the marriage was more than romance; it was in fact, a political marriage intended to calm the competing Rases of the northern region. According to Qegnazematch Tadesse Zewelde, Taitu was co-equal with Menelik, who consulted her prior to making important decisions.

Taitu was known for her courage and uprightness. She urged the Emperor to reject the now infamous Wuchale Treaty of 1889 as soon as the discrepancies between the Italian and the Amharic versions were discovered by Aleqa Atsme Giorgis, a historian and a councilor to the Emperor. Taitu led her own battalion at the Battle of Adwa. At the Battle of Mekelle, she advised Ras Mekonen to cut off the water supply to the Italians in order to disgorge them from their entrenched and heavily fortified positions at Endeyesus Hill on the eastern part of Mekelle City. Tadesse also identifies Taitu as the receiver and analyzer of intelligence information collected by spies, such as Basha Awalom Haregot and Gebre Igziabher. Historians characterize the intelligence data obtained by Awalom and Gebre Igzabher as crucial importance to the Ethiopian victory at the battle. The information enabled Menelik to attack the Italians, at a site of his choosing, at Adwa instead of Adigrat, near the Eritrean border where the Italians expected to have a relative logistical advantage. The Italians were hoping that he would meet them in Adigrat, close to where they had a well-protected military base.

Because of the many absences of the Emperor from the capital city, Taitu virtually managed the affairs of the government in consultation with key ministers. Menelik conducted several campaigns both in the north and southern part of the country against his old and new rivals.

From the royal residence in Addis Ababa, a city that she founded, Taitu made a concerted effort to break the monopoly of political power by Shoan nobility. She used every opportunity to diversify the power base through marriage and other means. Through weddings, she weaved a complex web of partnerships between the Shaon nobilities and those of the northern highlands. It is true that she favored her relatives to be close to power. She presided over many arranged marriages favorable to her cousins whom she anticipated to take over from Menelik. And yet she spoke her mind and consistently defended national interests. Regardless, her removal from power at the end of Menelik’s reign and his prolonged illness soon after the battle, the opportunity to further pursue the full meaning of Adwa was not seized.

Following the war Taitu and Menelik shared the enormous task of building a newly reconstituted country with diverse population and cultures. Differing qualities of two great Ethiopians crystallized into an effective and successful leadership. Independence and cooperation defined Taitu’s relationship with Emperor Menelik II. Their marriage was that of equals characterized by trust, respect and reciprocity.

Taitu Bitul was an authentic Ethiopian leader. Her deeds at a critical moment in Ethiopian history not only saved Ethiopia from European colonization, but it also paved the way to decolonize Africa. Her advice and action resulted in the defeat of the Italian army at the 1896 Battle of Adwa. Taitu epitomized Ethiopian leaders at their best. She consistently fought hard for the public good. She knew and defended national interests by overcoming challenges both from within and from without. Her leadership immensely contributed to the process of nation building and modernization at the beginning of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, Taitu was forced out of power unceremoniously during Menelik’s long illness and later death. Lij Iyasu, the heir to the throne, failed to cooperate with her or at least to seek her counsel. Iyasu was overthrown by anti-Taitu group of Shoan nobility, three years after he assumed power at the age of fourteen. To her credit, Empress Zewditu who succeeded Iyasu maintained good relations with Taitu, but power had shifted to Ras Taferi, the regent who became Emperor Haile Selassie.

Taitu’s pioneering and enduring work in politics, economics, culture, social welfare, military have added to the definition and implementation of a national agenda. She pushed for common issues that united Ethiopians. The founding of Addis Ababa as a new capital city allowed people to migrate and settle in this new town from all regions of the country.

While the two books made an effort to document the biography of Taitu, Ambassador Mengiste Desta offers a more detailed chronology and contextual explanation than Tadesse Zewelde. Tadesse, on the other hand, utilizes primary sources and eyewitness accounts in his readable narrative.

Mengiste also turns his publication into a campaign to build a memorial for Taitu in Addis Ababa. He is urging committees organized to carry out the project to bring it to fruition. In an attempt to highlight the importance of a public tribute, the forward of Mengiste’s book is written by the Coalition of the Ethiopian Women Association that was established in 1996.

Menelik’s skills of military strategy and diplomacy are combined with Taitu’s good judgment, loyalty and vision of seeking and maintaining cohesive national interests. Taitu, unlike Baafina (the ex-wife who sought to undermine the king), consulted, caucused, shared and reinforced strong leadership with the Emperor. The married couple and partners became formidable leaders to face and resolve many challenges both in times of war and peace. They made Ethiopia’s transition to modernization an irreversible march of time.

It is also important to remember that Taitu brought to the union her northern experience and knowledge given her link to Gondar, Semen, Begemedir and Yeju nobilities. In addition to her insight of the inner workings of Atse Yohannes and Atse Tewodros’s palaces. In other words, the marriage can be characterized both as political and as the saying goes yacha gabecha.

Taitu insisted on remaining a respected person (not a dependent) by seeking ways to improve her life through education, a rare and groundbreaking approach given our entrenched and backward notion and praxis on gender. She studied Ge’ez in Gojam at Debre Mewe monastery. She also composed poetic verses both in Ge’ez and Amharic. Taitu, who is known as the light of Ethiopia, also played harp and kirar (a remarkable combination of spiritual and secular musical instruments) and designed decorative curtains for churches and monasteries.

What is more impressive is Taitu’s contribution to governance and nation building. She fully engaged herself in activities that significantly contributed to national interests. She named Addis Ababa (New Flower) as a permanent seat of the central government. She ran the administration during the frequent absences of Menelik from the Capital, originally located at Addis Alem before it was moved to nearby Entoto. She built a house in a land fenced to mark holding by the Shoan king, Negus Sahle Selassie, who is Menelik’s grandfather. The building commenced while Menelik was in Harar in a military campaign for an extended period of time. Upon his return, he approved the initiative and moved with her into the new house in Addis Ababa. (Negus Sahle Selassie shares credits with Taitu in regards to the founding of the city)

Taitu opened Addis Ababa’s first modern hotel, now known as Itege Hotel, a little more than a century ago and she also became its first manager. The restaurant serves local and international cuisines. Again Atse Menelik supported her entrepreneurship by becoming a regular customer of the establishment and by encouraging the nobilities and government officials to patronize the business. Besides inaugurating yengeda bet, she has launched and encouraged both local and international tourism.

In an attempt to modernize the Ethiopian economy and to counter the heavy handedness of the Abyssinan Bank, a foreign firm, Taitu started a domestic financial institution where indebted traders were able to obtain loans and continue commerce.

She set up the first wool factory in collaboration with experts from Turkey and India thereby paving the way for possible Ethiopian industrial age. Taitu also used local raw materials to manufacture candles. Church costumes were designed and made by tailors in an organized fashion thanks to her innovative efforts.

On a religious front, Taitu established the historic Menbere Tsehay Entoto Mariam church. She also commissioned the construction of a multi-storied home in Jerusalem to be used by priests and pilgrims from Ethiopia.

These are some of the accomplishments of Taitu. By any measurement, she is a treasure that deserves a national monument and her legacy continues to inspire the young generation to know, build and defend the country.

This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University.

Related:
Today in History: 117 Years Ago Colonial Ambitions Were Put in Check
Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site (Tadias)

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Update: ‘Lucy’ Fossil Returns Home in Ethiopia – Video

The famous fossil Lucy returned home to Ethiopia on Wednesday May 1st, 2013 after a six-year tour in the United States. (Photo: Tadias file)

Watch: ‘Lucy’ fossil returns home in Ethiopia (CBS Video)


Lucy Makes Last Stop in California, Then Off to Ethiopia
Tadias Magazine

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Los Angeles (TADIAS) – The famous Ethiopian fossil Lucy (Dinkenesh) will soon end her controversial six-year tour of the United States, making her last public stop at The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California where she is on display through April 28th before heading back to Ethiopia later this Spring.

“Recently, Ethiopia expressed a desire to bring Lucy back, particularly so an exhibit at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa could coincide with the African Union’s next meeting in May,” reports the Orange County Register in southern California where the last exhibition is being held. “So the Bowers show will be the last chance for people outside of Africa to see the famous and important fossil.”

The 3.2 million years old Lucy was rushed out of Ethiopia in the summer of 2007 under a cloud of controversy over the ancient fossil’s safety and the financial motive behind Ethiopia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s decision to approve the tour in exchange for millions of dollars despite reservations by experts. The famous bones were shunned among others by The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., which refused to display the fossil citing concerns that the remains were too fragile for touring and travel.

At the time authorities had hoped the exhibition would enhance the country’s image abroad. “Ethiopia has an image problem,” Gezahgen Kebede, the honorary consul general at the Ethiopian Consulate in Houston and one of the leading proponents of bringing Lucy to the United States had told The New York Times. “The bigger thing in my opinion is to teach people about Ethiopia,” he said.

The show entitled Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia and sponsored by the Houston Museum of Natural Science eventually appeared in New York and Seattle in 2008 and 2009. However, media reports at the time estimated that attendance in Seattle was less than half of what was projected. “The Seattle people, they just flunked it because they really didn’t do their homework in terms of solid advertising and how to penetrate the demographics,” Mr. Kebede, who had not seen the exhibition in Seattle, told NYT. “There are people in Seattle who didn’t know this exhibit was there.”

“Lucy is our ambassador of good will,” Amin Abdulkadir, Ethiopia’s minister of culture and tourism told the OC Register regarding the current California exhibition. “Lucy is our icon. She helps build the image of our country. It’s very good in terms of trade, investment and tourism.”

In between the controversy, Lucy was electronically scanned by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government, and the first digital image of the world’s most famous human ancestor was created in the University’s High-resolution X-ray CT Facility.

The fossilized remains were discovered by American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson in 1974 in the Afar region of Ethiopia. According to Johanson, an official at the Ministry of Culture, Bekele Negussie, gave Lucy her Ethiopian name Dinkenesh shortly after the landmark discovery. As to the inspiration for Lucy, Johanson shared its origins with Tadias Magazine a few years ago: “I was there with my girlfriend Pamela, and the Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ was playing on a small radio…that’s how she was named.”

Click here for a closer look at the California exhibit.

If You Go:
Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasure of Ethiopia
Where: Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana
When: Through April 28
Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
How much: $13-$15 adults,
$10-$12 for seniors and students,
free for children under 12
Call: 714-567-3600
Online: bowers.org

Related:
Famous fossil Lucy leaves Ethiopia for controversial U.S. tour (AP)
Famous Fossil Lucy Scanned at The University of Texas (UT)
In Seattle, They Didn’t Love Lucy (The New York Times)
Lucy at the Discovery Times Square Exposition in New York (TADIAS)

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Mississippi to Ethiopia: Understanding ‘Brown Condor’

Col. John Charles Robinson poses for New York cameras on May 18, 1936, after his return from the Ethiopian War. The Gulfport, Mississippi native is wearing the insignia of the commander of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force. (Photo: Courtesy Potomac Books/The Sidney Rushing Collection)

By KAT BERGERON — Special to the Sun Herald

One more thread to unravel the mystery of the “Brown Condor” is now on national bookshelves.

This forgotten Mississippi Coast hero, a daring aviator who survived a dog fight with the son of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, encouraged other blacks to fly when it was taboo in Jim Crow America.

He helped change a ragtag Ethiopian military into a force against fascism, itself a form of the racism the Brown Condor faced in his own country.

Before the latest biography, enough was known of Col. John C. Robinson, born in Gulfport’s Big Quarter in 1905, to pique the interest of Mississippi writers and researchers who produced a book and newspaper articles and conducted an academic symposium.

Yet, to most Americans, even those enthralled by military and black history, the Mississippian who was once the best known black pilot in the world is an unknown.

Phillip Thomas Tucker hopes his “Father of the Tuskegee Airmen: John C. Robinson” will bring more awareness. The 329-page biography was published earlier this year by Potomac Books.

“The catch-22 with the Robinson story is that nobody knows about it,” Tucker said in a recent phone interview. “You mention the name and it doesn’t ring any bells. This book was written to shed light on what really happened. The Brown Condor was an early aviation pioneer and a war hero.”

Click here to read more at sunherald.com.

BBC on Capt Mamo Habtewold : An Ethiopian Hero of the Korean War

Sixty years ago, Ethiopia was at war. Not in Africa, but thousands of miles away in Korea. This is the story of [Capt Mamo Habtewold] one Ethiopian officer who won a US gallantry award. (BBC)

BBC News Magazine

By Alex Last

In 1951, the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, decided to send thousands of troops to fight as part of the American-led UN force supporting South Korea against the communist North and its ally, China.

They were called the Kagnew battalions and were drawn from Haile Selassie’s Imperial Bodyguard – Ethiopia’s elite troops.

Capt Mamo Habtewold, now 81 years old, was then a young lieutenant in the 3rd Kagnew Battalion. He clearly remembers a send-off from the Emperor himself, as he was about to leave for the other side of the world.

Continue reading at BBC.

Haile Selassie in America: Q & A with Professor Ted Vestal

Emperor Haile Selassie was the only African leader who attended President John F. Kennedy’s funeral on November 25, 1963. (Photograph credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – In the end, Emperor Haile Selassie died in prison, officially of natural causes but widely rumored to have been killed without trial by a military junta, apparently suffocated to death and buried under a toilet for more than seventeen years. Prior to that, however, the late emperor whose remains has since been moved to its current resting place at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, was a long-reigning ruler of Ethiopia for more than four decades. He had been fiercely criticized as oppressive and brutal for his reluctance to share power, and praised as visionary for his single-minded policy of modernization. According to a new book by Theodore M. Vestal, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Oklahoma State University — who has done an extensive research about the emperor’s foreign visits, particularly to the United states — Haile Selassie was a world-class globe trotter as well, traveling the world on behalf of Ethiopia, forging diplomatic, military and commercial relationships from Africa to North America, and along the way subtly promoting the country’s brand as a mysterious and mystical land, as well as an attractive tourism and investment destination.

Haile Selassie was indeed the first Ethiopian leader that ventured out for extended travels throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and to North and South America. In a recent interview with Tadias Magazine, Professor Vestal said, the emperor’s relentless pursuit of international diplomacy had big impact on how the rest of the world viewed Ethiopians.

“The Emperor was a fast learner, and I think his travels abroad in 1922 and 1924 were important milestones in his education,” Professor Vestal said, referring to his trip abroad as a young man before his coronation. “He took in all the tourist sites, met royal and not-so royal leaders, and assuaged his passion to know more about the latest mechanical wonders of Europe.” He added: “Haile Selassie also discerned how Ethiopia and Africa were viewed by foreigners.”

“His trip was a public relations triumph of the first magnitude, and he made a positive impression on many who had little if any contact with Africans, much less a ruler with an extraordinary entourage,” Professor Vestal continued. “His warm reception and demonstrative press coverage provided an appropriate gloss on the image of Ethiopia as a nation of note that had been earned on the field of battle at Adwa.”

Vestal noted that the Emperor’s travels inspired some of his domestic “agenda of modernization” that he pursued “as best he could” in the face of “conservative” critics at home.

“He beheld how other monarchs ruled and tried to follow their best practices in his own reign and for his own purposes,” Vestal noted.

Below is the rest of our interview with Professor Ted Vestal about his most recent book: The Lion of Judah in the New World, which explores Emperor Haile Selassie’s travels to the United States and shaping of Americans’ attitude towards Africa.


Dr. Ted Vestal (Courtesy photo)

TADIAS: In the chapter entitled A Lion in the Streets you noted that Emperor Haile Selassie’s first visit to America coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education. Given the Emperor’s travels to racially segregated states at the time please tell us a bit more about this unique moment in history.

Ted Vestal: At the time of the Emperor’s first state visit to the United States in 1954, racial discrimination was still practiced and enforced by law in the southern states of the old Confederacy and in some of the border states. In 1896 (the same year as the Battle of Adwa), a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court had given approval to the “separate but equal” doctrine that became the legal basis of segregation practices and Jim Crow laws under which African-Americans were “second-class citizens” lacking equal opportunities in education and employment. During the post-World War II era, however, the ideas of “humane democracy” of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal were having an important effect in bettering the position of the African-American in American life. Growing numbers of African-Americans began to improve their economic status by entering professions, businesses, and higher paying occupations. During the war, the color line was abolished by many employers and labor unions, while the man-power shortage, the government’s hiring of African-Americans for federal positions and requiring “no discrimination” clauses in federal contracts all contributed to this development.

Except for certain areas in the “deep” South, segregation was being brought to an end in public places such as hotels, theaters, restaurants, and recreational facilities. African-Americans all over the country were voting in larger numbers–sometimes requiring the aid of the Supreme Court to accomplish this. The lot of the African-American in transportation, education, and housing was likewise improved by the Court’s decisions. The ideas of the New Deal became a force creating a deep-seated change in American mores, with many people convinced that the maintenance of a caste system was inconsistent with the twentieth century idea of America as a constitutional democracy. Despite these changes, Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal wrote in 1944 that “the status accorded the Negro in America represents nothing more and nothing less than a century-long lag of public morals.”

This changed on 17 May 1954, when the Supreme Court rendered perhaps the most fateful judicial decision of the twentieth century—Brown v. Board of Education. For the first time, the Court met head-on the moral challenge of the separate but equal doctrine in public schools and in a unanimous decision declared that doctrine unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion of the Court declaring that separate facilities were inherently unequal and violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. In the years that followed, segregation on the basis of race slowly came to an end, and African-Americans were more fully integrated into American life. At the time of Haile Selassie’s 1954 visits to Oklahoma and Louisiana, however, segregation was still in full sway in those states, and the Emperor’s acclaim broke down the color bar and tossed the moral question of racial biases squarely into the forum of American public opinion. Hence, the Emperor’s state visit played a role in hastening integration in the United States.

TADIAS: You cited Henry Morton Stanley as “probably one of the first Americans to visit Ethiopia” in the 1800s. Please tell us a bit more about him and his work as a correspondent for the New York Herald.

Ted Vestal: Stanley was an intriguing character who was an adventurer and explorer and who might have been responsible for the spread of sleeping sickness in Central Africa. A Welsh immigrant, he came to the United States at the age of eighteen in 1859. He had the distinction of serving in both the Confederate and Union armies and the Union navy during the Civil War. Stanley subsequently became a journalist and covered international events for U.S. newspapers, going to, among others, such “exotic” locales as the Ottoman Empire in 1860, the American frontier West in 1867 (where he reported on the work of the Indian Peace Commission), Abyssinia and the Napier expedition of 1868, present day Tanzania where in 1871 he searched for and “found” the “lost” Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, the Congo River whose source he found in 1874, and Equatoria in the southern Sudan where he led the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition in 1886. The New York Herald and Britain’s Daily Telegraph were Stanley’s most important newspaper employers, and Belgium’s King Leopold II was his patron in some of his expeditions of discovery in Africa. Stanley wrote about his adventures and explorations in a series of books, the most popular of which were Through the Dark Continent (1878) and In Darkest Africa (1890). In the 1890s he returned to Britain where he was knighted and served in Parliament from 1895-1900. He died in London in 1904.

TADIAS: Your book states that it was during the era of Emperor Menelik that formal diplomatic ties were forged between Ethiopia and the United States. Robert Skinner was the American diplomat sent to Ethiopia with the task of negotiating the first commercial treaty between the two nations. What were some of the main negotiation points of this first treaty?

Ted Vestal: In 1903, Skinner made it clear that commercial interests were the sole basis for contact between the two nations. Emperor Menelik appreciated the fact that the United States had no colonial or political ambitions in Africa and might serve as buffer against imperialist European powers in the region. The United States sought to expand trade with Ethiopia, the only non-colonized country in the region, in ways that were not available in the colonized nations of Africa. Skinner hoped to promote U.S. exports, which he thought would have “the power to transform Ethiopia.” His attitude has been called “free-trade imperialism” or “informal empire” by historians. Ethiopia, having successfully defended its independence at the Battle of Adwa, was a prime target for the American mission. The country did not need the blessings of European colonialism for it to move into a new stage of social and economic development. The Americans wanted Ethiopians to develop their acquisitive faculties to give them a taste for more wants and hence more consumerism. Peasants would have to be the driving force in such a change because the manufacturing sector was in its infancy. The purchasing power of the Ethiopians was small, but if their desire for foreign manufactured goods could be increased, they might respond by harvesting larger crops and raising more livestock to increase their dollar holdings. The increased trade that Skinner dreamed of would require a social and economic revolution in which largely self-sufficient farmers would be more driven by the profit motive. Although the Skinner treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1910 and was valid for ten years, trade between the two countries was limited until after World War II. Emperor Menelik was still more interested in the purchase of arms during the remaining years of his reign.

For the most recent writing on the subject, see Amanda Kay McVety, “Enlightened Aid: U.S. Development as Foreign Policy in Ethiopia,” Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2012.

TADIAS: Haile Selassie’s visit to America also jump-started President Truman’s famous “Point Four Program,” which you point out “emphasized the distribution of knowledge rather than money.” Can you elaborate on some of the developments that arose from this program?

Ted Vestal: The purpose of the Point Four Program was to share American “know-how” with developing nations. In Ethiopia, the greatest legacy of Point Four was the establishment of modern agricultural instruction, research, and extension in the country. The Imperial College of Agriculture at Alemaya and the Jimma Agricultural High School were major U.S.-inspired initiatives in Ethiopian education that have endured and grown into significant centers of learning today. The multi-million dollar Point Four Program went through a series of name changes and morphed into the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that, under whatever moniker, was responsible for many programs that benefited Ethiopia, including crop and livestock protection, teacher training, vocational trade schools, health programs, nurse education, malaria eradication, the creation of mapping and national archives, a Blue Nile basin survey, regional development, national airlines training, public administration, and the provision of university faculty and administration. The ties established between Ethiopia and Oklahoma State University under the country’s very first Point Four contract have been maintained to the present day as the longest continual relationship between an American university and a Sub-Saharan African nation. The good will initiated by the Point Four Program doubtlessly influenced the choices of many Ethiopians to pursue further education in the United States and even to immigrate to the New World when government oppressions at home forced them to leave.

TADIAS: Haile Selassie’s tour of America also included going to visit the Boeing Aircraft Plant. Ethiopian Airlines remains one of Boeing’s loyal customers to date and recently became the only African airline to acquire the Dreamliner. What can you tell us about the development of this historic relationship?

Ted Vestal: Although Ethiopian Airlines had been established in 1946 as a joint venture with the U.S. airline TWA (Trans World Airlines) with the acquisition of five U.S. Government surplus C-47 aircraft and had developed into the backbone of Ethiopia’s infrastructure, it was not until 1960 that Ethiopian was to purchase Boeing planes (720-Bs) to usher in the jet age. I do not know the story behind the Emperor’s tour of the Boeing factory in Seattle during his 1954 state visit. His advisor, John Spencer, who accompanied Haile Selassie on the trip, had been instrumental in setting up the agreement with TWA and served on the corporation’s board. Perhaps Spencer as well as the Ethiopian/TWA executives in Ethiopia had foreseen Boeing’s becoming a leader in commercial jet air craft and had arranged for the factory visit. It was a prophetic event, for Boeing was to enjoy great success in designing and building both military and commercial jet aircraft in the years following. Indeed, Boeing planes have been in service at Ethiopian Airlines continuously since 1962 when the first two Boeing 720-B aircraft landed at the newly constructed Bole Airport. As U.S. Ambassador Ed Korry explained to me, the Emperor was wily in requesting American aid to purchase state of the art jets for Ethiopian so that the airline could maintain its status as Africa’s finest airline. Having purchased the aircraft, Haile Selassie then had to have funds to build airports large enough for them to land and take off—funds that the United States was willing to provide. That was how Ethiopia’s first four modern airports were constructed. In September, the Ethiopian Airlines-Boeing tie will be part of a poignant reunion when one hundred Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who began teaching in Ethiopia fifty years ago will journey back to the land of their service on a new, top-of-the-line Ethiopian Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

TADIAS: Can you summarize how the historical diplomatic ties between America and Ethiopia has shaped each country?

Ted Vestal: The diplomatic ties between the two nations were not very dynamic until the mid-1930s and the Italo-Ethiopian war. Although Ethiopians had encouraged American businesses to consider trade and investment in Ethiopia ever since the Skinner mission in 1903, other than occasional official visitors, Ethiopia did not develop a diplomatic presence in the United States until 1935, and even then there was no embassy in Washington.

During the Italian-Ethiopian crisis of 1934-1935, the United States took a neutral stance on the grounds of “non-interference in European conflicts” and because the matter had been given to the League of Nations. Shortly after Italian forces occupied Addis Ababa in 1936, the United States, which did not recognize Rome’s annexation of Ethiopia, shut down its legation. U.S. diplomacy during the Italian crisis reflected the American policy goal of staying out of international entanglements and avoiding war.

Following the liberation of Ethiopia and America’s declaration of war on the Axis powers in 1941, the two nations became allies. The United States sent military assistance under a Lend Lease agreement, and Emperor Haile Selassie sought additional American aid to replace British influence in his country. Ethiopia and the United States reestablished diplomatic relations in 1943 with the United States opening a new legation along Entoto Road and Ethiopia sending its first resident minister to Washington. The Emperor sought American support for Ethiopian access to the Red Sea and the return of Eritrea—aspirations which eventually were realized with help from the United States. The U.S. Air Force subsequently flew an Ethiopian delegation to San Francisco to attend the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945. Thus U.S. diplomatic ties paid a role in assisting Ethiopia’s becoming a leading advocate of collective security in the fledgling UN. During the Korean conflict in 1950-1953, Ethiopia sent an armed battalion that fought alongside other United Nations forces. Ethiopia’s Kagnew battalion was transported to Korea on American ships and worked closely with U.S. forces in combat. Ethiopian forces later served with UN troops in the Congo in the 1960s. These contributions were greatly admired in the United States.

In the immediate post-World War II era, Ethiopian-American diplomatic relationships were shaped by the developing Cold War. Containment of the Soviet Union and its allies became America’s primary foreign policy after 1947. The United States and Ethiopia signed a treaty of amity and economic relations in 1951 and a Point Four technical assistance agreement the following year. This was the beginning of a U.S. foreign aid program that was to become the largest in Africa. The United States continues to be a strong financial supporter of Ethiopia today.

In the 1950s U.S. diplomacy focused on acquiring military access and communications facilities in Ethiopia, keeping communist influence out of the country, and maintaining a government that reflected pro-Western positions in international and regional arenas. Ethiopia wanted American assistance in expanding and modernizing its military, help with modernization of the economy, and political support for the incorporation of Eritrea, control over the Ogaden, and U.S. aid should there be any threats to its sovereignty. To the present time, Ethiopia and the U.S. military continue to have close connections.

In 1962, the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), a majority of whom served as secondary school teachers, came to Ethiopia. In the mid-1960s, about half of the secondary school teachers in the country were PCVs. During the next eleven years, more than 2,500 PCVs were to serve in Ethiopia in diverse capacities with various ministries and agencies (in the 1990s, PCVs again were assigned to Ethiopia and operate there today). With the large increase in military assistance, Point Four aid, and the Peace Corps, many Americans worked in Ethiopia in the 1960s and early 1970s. At the same time, more Ethiopians were sent to the U.S. for higher education or military training.

In 1963 following the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia became even more important to U.S. diplomacy. The U.S. hoped Haile Selassie would serve as a moderating influence within the OAU and in contacts with African leaders.

Ethiopian-U.S. diplomatic ties enabled Haile Selassie to modernize and increase the size of his military forces to be one of the largest and best equipped in Africa. From the 1950s until the end of Haile Selassie’s reign, Ethiopia received about 80 percent of all U.S. military aid for Africa and one-fifth of American economic assistance. This financial support probably had extended the longevity of the Emperor’s rule. The Ethiopian-U.S. military agreements, however, resulted in Arab hostility and, as the Cold War escalated, gave the Soviets a base for intervention in Somalia. This eventually led to the Soviets becoming dominant in Ethiopia during the Derg era and to the U.S. switching its support to Somalia in the 1970s and 1980s.

Through diplomacy, the United States maintained a military listening post in an area strategic to protecting shipping lanes from Arab oil-exporting countries. In a way, diplomatic ties with Ethiopia were a learning experience for the United States during the years that led to the end of colonialism throughout the continent and the 1960s, “the decade of Africa.” Over a long period, Ethiopia was a stable, moderate friend of America that by trial and error supported its best ally in Africa. Ethiopia benefitted in many ways from the military and economic development funds that were the equivalent of rent for Kagnew Station. The greatest legacy of the diplomatic ties of the two countries, however, has been the friendship between the people of Ethiopia and the United States which has persisted regardless of what paths were taken by the governments of the two nations.

TADIAS: And last but not least, please tell us about your personal and academic interest in Ethiopia and how it began?


Professor Ted Vestal

Ted Vestal: Like many Americans who were in colleges and universities during the 1950s, I knew little about Africa, much less about Ethiopia during my student days. There were few opportunities, even in major graduate programs such as Stanford’s, to study “the developing world.” African nations were a part of political science courses on colonial systems or “British Empire studies.” Emperor Haile Selassie was well known to my generation because of his memorable speech before the League of Nations in 1936 that was included in Allied propaganda films and shorts during World War II. His speech, in its entirety, also was published in many international relations or international organization texts. Other than newsreels of the Italo-Ethiopian War and liberation, there was sparse information about Ethiopia. By the time I was in college, I had heard of Oklahoma State University’s work in agriculture in Ethiopia, work that enjoyed an excellent reputation. I also knew of the Emperor’s visit to Oklahoma in 1954. A few years later, in 1960, I had become intrigued with President Kennedy’s idea of a Peace Corps. By that time, I had a wife and two children and didn’t think there was any way I could be a part of the new organization that JFK started shortly after his inauguration. Then I heard of something called the Peace Corps staff that worked with PCVs overseas, and I applied immediately. Through the good offices of my friend and college classmate, Bill Moyers, I was invited to go to Washington and eventually was interviewed by Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver. He offered me a staff position in Ethiopia, and I began to seriously study that nation while working in Peace Corps/Washington. In DC, My wife and I were most fortunate to study Amharic with one of Ethiopia’s greatest linguists, Tadesse Beyene, who was a graduate student at Georgetown University at the time. He taught us much in a short time—and much more about Ethiopia than just the spoken language. When the Emperor came on his second state visit to the U.S. in 1963, I was on Pennsylvania Avenue cheering as he and Kennedy drove by in an open convertible. A short time later, I observed Haile Selassie marching in the procession of world leaders at Kennedy’s funeral.

When we arrived in Addis Ababa in 1964, my education went into high gear. Living and working in Ethiopia for over two years was the best learning experience one could have about the country and its people. I was privileged to visit all the nation’s provinces and to meet Ethiopians from all walks of life. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know—a situation that has continued throughout my life.

After my Peace Corps service, I maintained an interest in Ethiopia but did not want to return there during the time of the repressive dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Derg. During the horrendous famine in Ethiopia in 1984, I suffered from what Conner Cruise O’Brien called “the shock of non-recognition” when reading about conditions there, and I decided to write my version of what was happening. I wrote an article, “Ethiopia’s Famine: A Crises of Many Dimensions,” that was immediately published by the Royal Institute for International Relations in London in its journal The World Today. Thereafter, I was in demand to write and speak about Ethiopia and its problems. After the Derg fell in 1991, I was a consultant to the Transitional Government of Ethiopia and served as an international election observer in the 1992 national elections. I became involved in the process of writing a new constitution for the country and was asked to testify before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, on “Ethiopia: The Challenges Ahead.” I was active in International Conferences of Ethiopian Studies, and I was able to get back to Ethiopia every few years to interview a host of Ethiopians. Starting in 1995, I wrote expert witness affidavits or testified in some 120 political asylum cases of Ethiopians and Eritreans seeking to escape tyranny and human rights abuses. This experience was a significant part of my education and informed my writing on Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State published by Praeger in 1999 and other works. Now as an emeritus professor, I continue to think about and to write about Ethiopia and its fascinating people and to enjoy the friendship of some of their best and brightest folk.
—-
Click here to learn more and get a copy of Professor Ted Vestal’s book.

Cover photo: At President Kennedy’s burial service at Arlington National Cemetery on November 25, 1963. Among the world leaders pictured with Haile Selassie include General Charles de Gaulle of France; Ludwig Erhard of Germany; Queen Frederica of Greece; King Baudoin of Belgium; and other mourners. (Photo credit: Cecil Stoughton, White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston).

Related:
Rarely Seen White House Photos Featuring Emperor Haile Selassie

Emperor Haile Selassie is greeted by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his arrival at Union Station in Washington, D.C on October 1st, 1963. (Kennedy Library and Museum)


President John F. Kennedy and Emperor Haile Selassie meeting at the White House, October 1963.

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Photo Journal From Addis Ababa: Nation Bids Farewell to Meles

Addis Ababa's ubiquitous Taxi - mini buses - all over the city could be seen displaying posters of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on the day of his state funeral on September 2nd, 2012. (Photo by Marie Claire Andrea for Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012

Addis Ababa (TADIAS) – Thousands of mourners made their way to Meskel Square in Addis Ababa on Sunday to pay their final respects to late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The state funeral was attended by several African heads of state and hundreds of diplomats from around the world. The U.S. delegation was led by Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

The official ceremony mourning the death of a sitting head of government was the first for the country in more than 80 years.

The PM’s body was laid to rest at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where other prominent Ethiopian political and cultural figures are buried, including former Emperor Haile Selassie. A 21-gun salute marked the end of the official ceremony for Meles’ funeral.

Below are photos by Marie Claire Andrea for Tadias Magazine.

In Pictures: Nation pays final respect to late PM Meles Zenawi (TADIAS)

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In Pictures: Ethiopian Airlines’ First Dreamliner Touch Down in D.C.

Ethiopian Airlines' new Dreamliner landed at Dulles International Airport on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. (Photo by Gediyon Kifle for TADIAS)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Thursday, August 16, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopian Airlines’ first Dreamliner touched down at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. today where it was greeted with a welcoming ceremony and a diplomatic reception.

Ethiopian became the only airlines outside of Asia to own and operate Boeing’s most advanced plane.

The new plane landed in D.C. in route to Ethiopia where it is expected to be met by a much bigger celebration at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa on Aug. 17th.

Here are photos from the D.C. welcoming ceremony.

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At the 1960 Olympics in Rome an Ethiopian Athlete Stunned the World

Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon in Tokyo in 1964. Four years earlier he won the marathon at the Rome Olympics, breaking the world record–and he did it barefoot. (AP)

Click here to listen: BBC Remembers Abebe Bikila

VIDEO: 5 Athletes From History Who Have Overcome The Odds (The Huffington Post)



The Huffington Post

By Hunter Stuart

Abebe Bikila: Unknown Ethiopian Runner Wins Marathon Barefoot (Rome, 1960)

Abebe Bikila, an unknown Ethiopian runner, won the marathon at the Rome Olympics, breaking the world record–and he did it barefoot.

Bikila was from a tiny village in rural Ethiopia and didn’t even start running until he was 24 years old. At the time, he was working for the Emperor’s Guard and had been noticed by a Swedish coach who was hired by the Ethiopian government to spot potential athletes.

Although Bikila had won multiple marathons in Ethiopia, his finishing times weren’t good enough to get him noticed. He wasn’t even slotted to go to the Rome Olympics in 1960, but he was sent in place of a teammate who had injured himself.

Bikila was completely unknown when the marathon began. Commentators couldn’t even pronounce his name. What got him noticed was his bare feet, which many in the audience and the media found funny. The marathon route in Rome was drawn to showcase the city’s splendor, and therefore the runners passed dozens of references to colonialism, hegemony, and fascism. At one point, Bikila passed a 1,700 year old monument that Mussolini had plundered from his native country during World War II.

When Bikila won the race, although he ran it barefoot, he beat the world record, and became the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. At a time when Africa was beginning to emerge from colonial rule, Bikila became the symbol of an entire continent’s resurgence.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

Related:
Abebe Bikila: Athletic Legend Honored With Google Doodle (TADIAS)

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New Research Finds Evidence that Supports Queen of Sheba Legend

Ethiopians long-ago genetic mixing with populations from Israel and Egypt is a legacy of the Queen of Sheba and her companions, say researchers. (Photo: Painting of the Queen of Sheba - The National Museum, Addis Ababa)

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience

The Queen of Sheba’s genetic legacy may live on in Ethiopia, according to new research that finds evidence of long-ago genetic mixing between Ethiopian populations and Syrian and Israeli people.

The Queen of Sheba, known in Ethiopia as Makeda, is mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran. The Bible discusses diplomatic relations between this monarch and King Solomon of Israel, but Ethiopian tradition holds that their relationship went deeper: Makeda’s son, Menelik I, the first emperor of Ethiopia, is said to be Solomon’s offspring.

Read more.

Ethiopia’s Konso Hometown Join UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Ethiopia's Konso tribe are celebrating their hometown joining the UN's list of World Heritage Sites. (AFP, Aaron Maasho)

By Jenny Vaughan (AFP)

KONSO, Ethiopia — The booming drums and lusty singing of Ethiopia’s Konso tribe, celebrating their hometown joining the UN’s list of World Heritage Sites, echoed down the road that winds through lush green hills.

When the revellers came into sight, there was an explosion of colour — women in bright orange skirts and men in striped neon yellow and red shorts, heads topped with decorative feathers and cowhide masks. Under the blazing midday sun, Konso residents brandishing animal skin shields chanted as they streamed through the streets, followed by a full marching band. Hundreds of Konso people turned out in their famed town, 600 kilometres (375 miles) southwest of Addis Ababa, for the recent formal inauguration of their inclusion in UNESCO’s heritage list.

Read more at AFP.

Call for the Registry of Adwa as UNESCO World Heritage Site

This year marks the 116th year anniversary of Adwa and historian Ayele Bekerie offers a call for the registry of the Battle of Adwa as World Heritage. (Photo: Mountains of Adwa by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
History | Opinion

By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

ayele_author.jpg

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ethiopia was brought to the world’s attention in 1896 when an African country with no industry of weaponry and with mostly bare-footed soldiers, defeated Italy, a modern European country, at the battle of Adwa. The 116th Year anniversary of the victory is being celebrated on March 1st in Ethiopia. This year I am fortunate enough to celebrate the victory in Adwa by attending the fifth annual conference on the history and meaning of the Battle of Adwa. It is also celebrated throughout the world, for Adwa stands for human dignity, freedom and independence. As such its significance is universal and its story should be told repeatedly. Its narrative ought to be embraced by young and old, men and women. The Battle Adwa should be listed as a World Heritage.

To Teshale Tibebu, “the Battle of Adwa was the largest battle between European imperialism and African resistance.” According to Donald Levine, “the Battle of Adwa qualifies as a historic event which represented the first time since the beginning of European imperial expansion that a nonwhite nation had defeated a European power.” The historic event has brought or signaled the beginning of the end of colonial world order, and a movement to an anti-colonial world order.

It was a victory of an African army in the true sense of the word. The Battle was planned and executed by African generals and intelligence officers led by Emperor Menelik II, who was born, brought up, and educated in Ethiopia. It was a brilliant and indigenous strategy that put a check to the colonial aims and objectives, which were originally conceived and agreed upon at the Berlin Conference of 1885. European strategy to carve Africa into external and exclusive spheres of influence was halted by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu Betul at the Battle of Adwa. The Europeans had no choice but to recognize this African (not European) power.

Universality of the Victory at the Battle of Adwa

The African world celebrated and embraced this historic victory. In the preface to the book An Introduction to African Civilizations With Main Currents in Ethiopian History, Huggins and Jackson write: “In Ethiopia, the military genius of Menelik II was in the best tradition of Piankhi, the great ruler of ancient Egypt and Nubia or ancient Ethiopia, who drove out the Italians in 1896 and maintained the liberties of that ancient free empire of Black men.” Huggins and Jackson analyzed the victory not only in terms of its significance to the postcolonial African world, but also in terms of its linkage to the tradition of ancient African glories and victories.

Emperor Menelik II used his “magic wand” to draw all, the diverse and voluntary patriots from virtually the entire parts of the country, into a battlefield called Adwa. And in less than six hours, the enemy is decisively defeated. The overconfident and never to be defeated European army fell under the great military strategy of an African army. The strategy was what the Ethiopians call afena, an Ethiopian version of blitzkrieg that encircles the enemy and cuts its head. Italians failed to match the British and the French in establishing a colonial empire in Africa. In fact, by their humiliating defeat, the Italians made the British and the French colonizers jittery. The colonial subjects became reenergized to resist the colonial empire builders.

Adwa and Ethiopia’s Nationhood

Adwa irreversibly broadened the true boundaries of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. People of the south and the north and the east and the west fought and defeated the Italian army. In the process, a new Ethiopia is born.

Adwa shows what can be achieved when united forces work for a common goal. Adwa brought the best out of so many forces that were accustomed to waging battles against each other. Forces of destruction and division ceased their endless squabbles and redirect their united campaign against the common enemy. They chose to redefine themselves as one and unequivocally expressed their rejection of colonialism. They came together in search of freedom or the preservation and expansion of the freedom at hand. In other words, Adwa offers the most dramatic instance of trans-ethnic cooperation.

Leadership

Emperor Menelik II could have kept the momentum by reforming his government and by allowing the many forces to continue participating in the making of a modern and good for all state. Emperor Menelik II, however, chose to return back to the status quo, a status of exploitative relationship between the few who controlled the land and the vast majority of the agrarian farmers. It took another almost eighty years to dismantle the yoke of feudalism from the backs of the vast majority of the Ethiopian farmers.

As far as Emperor Menelik’s challenge to and reversal of colonialism in Ethiopia is concerned, his accomplishment was historic and an indisputable fact. It is precisely this brilliant and decisive victory against the European colonial army that has inspired the colonized and the oppressed throughout the world to forge ahead and fight against their colonial masters.

Menelik’s rapprochement, on the other hand, with the three colonial powers in the region may have saved his monarchial power, but the policy ended up hurting the whole region. The seeds of division sown by the colonizers, in part, continue to wreck the region apart.

Realizing the need to completely remove all the colonizers as an effective and lasting way to bring peace and prosperity in the region, the grandson of the Emperor, Lij Iyassu attempted to carve anti-colonial policy. He began to send arms to freedom fighters in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. He entered into a treaty of peace and cooperation with the Austrians, the Germans and the Turks against the British, Italians and the French. Unfortunately, the rule of Lij Iyassu was short-lived. The tri-partite powers colluded with the then Tafari Makonnen to successfully remove him from power.

Adwa symbolizes the aspirations and hopes of all oppressed people. Adwa catapulted Pan-Africanism into the realm of the possible by reigniting the imaginations of Africans in their quest for freedom throughout the world. Adwa foreshadowed the outcome of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa and elsewhere. Adwa is about cultural resistance; it is about reaffirmation of African ways. Adwa was possible not simply because of brilliant and courageous leadership, but also because of the people’s willingness to defend their motherland, regardless of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences.

Call for the Registry of the Battle of Adwa as World Heritage

A World Heritage Site is a site of ‘cultural and/or natural significance.’ It is also a site so exceptional, according to UNESCO, as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. The 1896 final Battle of Adwa and the successive preceding battles at sites, such as Mekelle between Ethiopia and Italy qualify, we argue, as a World Heritage Site. The victory achieved at the Battle of Adwa set the stage for international relations among nations on the basis of mutuality, reciprocity and transparency. Decolonization in Africa began with a victory against Italian colonial aggression in the Horn of Africa.

The Battle of Adwa was a global historic event, for it was a battle heroically and victoriously fought against colonialism and for freedom. It was a battle that stopped the colonial aggressions of Europeans in Africa. It was a battle that taught an unforgettable lesson to Europeans. They were reminded that they may co-exist or work with Africans, Asians or the Americans, but they cannot dominate them or exploit their resources indefinitely. Domination gives rise to resistance and the Battle of Adwa made it clear that domination or aggression can be decisively be defeated.

The mountains of Adwa, the mountains of Abi Adi Worq Amba and the hills of Mekelle ought to be marked as natural historic sites and, therefore, together with the battlefield, they should be protected, conserved and promoted in the context of its historic importance and ecological tourism.

Background on UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

At present, 900 sites are on World Heritage list. Only 9% of the World Heritage sites are in Africa, while 50% of them are in Europe and North America. While Ethiopia succeeded to have only 9 World Heritage sites, Italy has registered so far 43 sites! In Africa, the Battlefields of South Africa have registered as a World Heritage. Several Battles are registered throughout the world and throughout history and it is time that the Battle of Adwa is included in the list.

Adwa was a story of common purpose and common destiny. The principles established on the battlefield of Adwa must be understood and embraced for Africa to remain centered in its own histories, cultures and socioeconomic development. We should always remember that Adwa was won for Africans. Adwa indeed is an African model of victory and resistance. As Levine puts it: “Adwa remains the most outstanding symbol of the ‘mysterious magnetism’ that holds Ethiopia together.”

It is our contention that the Battle of Adwa was a battle that paved the way for a world of justice, mutual respect and co-existence. The Battle of Adwa was a battle for human dignity and therefore its story should be universally recognized and be told again and again. Registering the Battle will ensure the dynamic dispersion of its narrative in all the discourses of the world.

The lessons of the Battle of Adwa ought to be inculcated in the minds of young people so that they would be able to appreciate humanity as one without hierarchy. The Battle of Adwa reminds the young people that no force is powerful enough to impose its will against another people. Ethiopians, despite their disadvantage in modern weaponry, decisively defeated the Italian Army at the Battle of Adwa.

The Battle of Adwa and its cluster, as a great source of timeless inspiration for freedom and independence, should be registered as a World Heritage. This is because that event fulfills the following criterion: the Battle of Adwa is “an important interchange of human values.” Adwa enshrines freedom to everyone.

This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University. He was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Bekerie is a contributing author in the acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.

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Ethiopia: What’s Missing in African Union’s New Building?

The new towering complex that opened in Addis Ababa on January 28, 2012 overlooks a vast conference centre where African heads of state will meet for years to come.

Tadias Magazine
History | Editorial

Updated: Saturday, February 11, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – The forecourt of the recently inaugurated African Union building in Addis Ababa – a $200m complex funded by China as a gift to the AU – features a beautiful statue of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, one of the founders of the OAU. It is fitting that Dr. Nkrumah is honored for the role he played in African liberation struggles and the Pan African movement. It is also equally deserving and historically accurate to extend the recognition to other leaders who were involved in the formation of the organization.

On May 25, 1963, less than 22 years after Ethiopia fought and retained her independence from military occupation and annexation into the colony of Italian East Africa, several Heads of State from 32 newly independent African countries gathered in Addis Ababa. The meeting brought together various factions from across the continent that held differing views on how to achieve union among the emerging, decolonized African countries – an issue that also preoccupied the continent’s press and academics at the time.

(Photograph: The statue of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in Addis Ababa. Photo credit: us-africarelations updates)

One such promiment group, “The Casablanca bloc,” led by President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, argued for the federation of all African states. A second group of countries called “The “Monrovian bloc”, led by Léopold Senghor of Senegal, preferred a more gradual economic cooperation. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia offered a diplomatic solution and brokered the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now renamed the African Union (AU). The assembly settled its headquarters in Addis Ababa and entrusted Haile Selassie with the very first of its rotating chairmanships. Gamal Abdul Nassar of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana served as subsequent OAU leaders.

Today, however, we should not only remember the founders of the AU, but also embrace our modern day heros like Nelson Mandela who continue to give us renewed hope that ‘African union’ can be more than a name on a brick tower. By acknowledging our past legacy and embracing current inspiring leaders we can begin to set our sights on a new morning in Africa.

Related:
A Chinese gift, an Ethiopian omission and a screaming Shame (The Africa Report)
Ethiopians give lacklustre welcome to Kwame Nkrumah statue (The Independent)
AU’s lavish new home hit by statue row (Reuters)
Ethiopia’s Conundrum : A statue for Nkrumah or Selassie? (The Africa Report)
African Union opens Chinese-funded HQ in Ethiopia (BBC)

Video: President John Evans Atta Mills of Ghana Unveils Nkrumah’s Statue In Addis Ababa

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Photographer Gediyon Kifle

The crowd at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C on Sunday, January 15, 2012. (Photo by Gediyon Kifle)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, January 16, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – This year marks the first MLK day celebration since the unveiling of the new memorial at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

We followed up with photographer Gediyon Kifle who has been documenting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial project for over a decade.

“I have worked on the project for 12 years photographing everything from the design competition to the dedication by President Obama,” Gediyon told TADIAS in a recent interview. “I was initially hired to document the submitted design competitions — that’s how my relationship with the foundation started.” Gediyon added: “It has been a great privilege to witness the process with my own eyes through three presidents including President Clinton and President Bush.”

The MLK memorial features a 30-foot granite sculpture, located near Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. It includes a crescent-shaped inscription wall containing 14 excerpts from some of Dr King’s most memorable speeches.

According to the park’s web site: “The memorial is envisioned as a quiet and receptive space, yet at the same time, powerful and emotionally evocative, reflecting the spirit of the message Dr. King delivered and the role he played in society.”

The monument has also been a point of controversy with conflict topics ranging from the memorial’s location at the National Mall and giving a Chinese sculptor the contract, to Dr. King’s facial expression as depicted on the statue. The most recent criticism came from author Maya Angelou who protested an inclusion of an incorrectly paraphrased quote, which the poet said makes the civil rights leader sound ‘arrogant.’ Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a change will be made regarding the latter complaint shortly.

(Photo of Gediyon Kifle by David Sharp)

For Gediyon the most memorable moments were photographing the people who had either known Dr. King or were inspired by him. “Congressman John Lewis specifically,” he said, referring to the civil rights legend from Atlanta, Georgia. “Every time he speaks it feels like you are in that zone, at that moment, he has a way of expressing and talking about it and it feels like he is speaking about an incident that happened yesterday.” He added other figures: “People like Jesse Jackson who was there with him, and Ambassador Andrew Young. And there is the family, his children, his sister, and his wife before she passed away, hearing them speak and photographing them gives you a sense of closeness to his legacy.”

“I have tremendous respect and admiration for the people who made this happen,” Gediyon said. “A small group of them, they raised 120 million dollars, and built a memorial for a peacemaker placed near presidents and military heroes. That’s a big accomplishment that some thought would never materialize.”

Gediyon was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States with his family when he was 10 years old. “Ever since then I have pretty much lived on the East Coast. I attended East Tennnessee State University and studied Mass communication. I did not study photography,” he said. “But I paid my way by doing photography work. It all began with my mother giving me a Canon camera when I was ten years old. I give my mother credit for giving me my first toy. There has never been a dull moment since then.”

Regarding his experience with the MLK project, Gediyon said: “When you take a break and think about it, the historical magnitude of the work kind of jolts you. I mean an ordinary man being honored with a memorial between Lincoln and Jefferson. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being in his skin, a person who was being poked from every side. And he was saying ‘be patient.’ He was 39 years old when he died. He was ahead of his time!”

Below is a slideshow of recent photos of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial courtesy of Gediyon Kifle.

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Related:
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King: Photographer captures the memorial (The Washington Times)

New Film: Rarely Seen White House Photos

A new film entitled "Point Four" highlights several seldom-seen White House images. (Photos: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, December 16, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – Some rarely-seen historical images from the Kennedy White House years, showing the President and First Lady hosting Emperor Haile Selassie, are part of an upcoming documentary about Haramaya University, an agricultural technical college that was established in 1956 in Ethiopia as a joint project between the two nations.

The film entitled Point Four borrows its name from President Harry Truman’s 1949 inaugural address in which he announced a technical assistance program for developing countries that later became known as “The Point Four Program.” It was so named because it was the fourth foreign policy objective outlined in the speech. The Point Four program resulted in America’s close partnership with Ethiopia in helping to establish some of the country’s technical higher-education institutions.

Mel Tewahade, Denver-based producer of the film, said he discovered the photographs while conducting research for the Point Four documentary. “I ran into some amazing stuff, both stills and films,” Mr. Tewahade said. “We are using less than five percent of what we have collected. He added: “Some of the photos came from presidential libraries, others from the Library of Congress, and the rest from individuals and private collections. All of the Kennedy photos are included in the film.”

Here are some of the images:


Emperor Haile Selassie is greeted by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his arrival at Union Station in Washington, D.C on October 1st, 1963. (Photo: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)


President John F. Kennedy and Emperor Haile Selassie meeting at the White House, October 1963. (Photo: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Click here to View more photos.
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Related:
An Interview With Documentary Filmmaker Mel Tewahade (Curve Wire)
Point Four: A Film About Haramaya University (TADIAS)

Point Four: A Film About Haramaya University

Mel Tewahade (center) working on his new documentary “Point Four” about Haramaya University - formerly Alemaya College. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – A new documentary entitled Point Four highlights the history of Haramaya University, an agricultural technical campus in Ethiopia established in 1956 in collaboration with the U.S. government and with assistance from Oklahoma State University. Formerly known as Alemaya College, the institution was officially inaugurated by Emperor Haile Selassie on January 16, 1958.

The film borrows its name from President Harry Truman’s 1949 inaugural address in which he announced a technical assistance program for developing countries that later became known as “The Point Four Program.” It was so named because it was the fourth foreign policy objective outlined in the speech. The Point Four program resulted in America’s close partnership with Ethiopia in helping to establish some of the country’s technical higher-education institutions.

“The documentary is about a US foreign policy that was successfully implemented in Ethiopia,” said Mel Tewahade, the film’s Denver-based producer. He noted: “The Alemaya College was established with the help of Oklahoma State University. Oklahoma State provided the expertise and Ethiopia provided the funds.”

The film is narrated by the director and features interviews with Americans who were involved with the program in Ethiopia as well as Ethiopian graduates from the school. “My inspiration to make the movie is to honor all the great people including my own father who worked hard to establish this agricultural college,” Mr. Tewahade said. “As a kid I traveled to Alemaya from our house in Harar and I have a pleasant memory of the place.”

You can learn more about the film at www.pointfourethiopia.com.

Related:
An Interview With Documentary Filmmaker Mel Tewahade (curve Wire)

Watch the trailer:

‘Point Four’ Trailer from Aashish Mayur Shah on Vimeo.

The Moving Story of an Ethiopian Teacher in South Africa

Bisho Jarsa, trained as a domestic servant, went to South Africa to become a teacher.

BBC News
Sandra Rowoldt Shell
University of Cape Town

When Neville Alexander used to visit his maternal grandmother Bisho Jarsa as a boy, he never suspected the extraordinary story of how she had come from Ethiopia to the South African city of Port Elizabeth.

Bisho was one of a group of Ethiopian slaves freed by a British warship in 1888 off the coast of Yemen, then taken round the African coast and placed in the care of missionaries in South Africa.

“We were overawed in her presence and by the way she would mumble to herself in this language none of us understood,” recalls Mr Alexander, now 74.

This was Ethiopia’s Oromo language, Bisho’s mother tongue, which she reverted to as she grew older.

Mr Alexander, who was a political prisoner in the 1960s, sharing Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, is today one of South Africa’s most eminent educationists.

He remembers his younger siblings asking their mother, Dimbiti: “What’s Ma talking about… what’s the matter with her? What’s she saying?”

Their mother would respond: “Don’t worry about Ma… she’s just talking to God.”

When he was in his late teens, his mother told him about his Ethiopian origins but Mr Alexander thinks even she may not have known all the details, which he only discovered when he was in his fifties.

He found out that the freed Ethiopians had all been interviewed on their arrival in South Africa.

The story began on 16 September 1888, when Commander Charles E Gissing, aboard the British gunship HMS Osprey, intercepted three dhows carrying Ethiopians to the slave markets in the Arabian port of Jeddah.

Read more at BBC News.

Interview: Yemane Demissie Talks About His Latest Film on Haile Selassie

Above: Episodes in the Life & Times of Emperor Haile Selassie was screened at the Schomburg on Thursday, May 26, 2011.

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Updated: Friday, May 27, 2011

New York (Tadias) – The 8th Annual Sheba Film Festival featured the New York premiere of Yemane Demissie’s film Twilight Revelations: Episodes in the Life & Times of Emperor Haile Selassie. The screening took place at the Schomburg Center on Thursday, May 26th.

The documentary, which features rare archival footage coupled with exclusive interviews and firsthand accounts, takes a fresh look at the mixed legacy of one of the most controversial African monarchs in modern history. Emperor Haile Selassie is widely admired abroad for his memorable appeal at the League of Nations in 1936 during the second Italian invasion of Ethiopia, as well as for his continental leadership role in the 1950′s and 1960′s during the decolonization of most African countries. History also remembers him for his administrative failures at home and for presiding over one of the most archaic land tenure systems in the world. Although credited for his commitment to establishing modern institutions and nurturing a new class of academics and professionals in Ethiopia, he is also criticized for his prolonged neglect of reform voices and the unsustainable poverty of the vast majority of his people – which would eventually bring about the abrupt and unceremonious end to his rule.

Below is our recent interview with Filmmaker Yemane Demissie who is also an Assistant Professor at the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at NYU.


Yemane Demissie. (Photo via NYU)

Tadias: It is clear that you’ve made a conscious effort to tell a balanced story. The film documents the highs and lows of the Emperor’s reign. Why do you think people remain fascinated by Haile Selassie almost four decades after he was deposed by a popular revolt?

YD: Apart from the five-year intermission during the Italo-Ethiopian War, the Emperor was in power from 1916 until 1974. That is long enough to make it possible for two generations of Ethiopians to be born and come of age during his reign. But in addition to the length of his sovereignty, his significant national and international contributions, his personality, and his leadership style contribute to the fascination. In the end, however, charisma is never the sum of the parts.

Tadias: The documentary also touches upon the more human side of the person. We hear from some of his family members about his role as a father, other interviewees discuss his daily routine, such as his regular early morning physical exercise, etc. You also incorporate some fascinating images that capture the Emperor in private moments. What do you most want people to take away from this film?

YD: That nearly six decades of leadership cannot be reduced to a triumph, [such as] the 1963 establishment of the OAU in Addis Ababa, or a fiasco, the 1973 famine. That a lot more research is wanting since there is so much we don’t know about the Emperor and his era. I also need not point out that it’s impossible to convey six decades of leadership in 58 minutes, the length of the documentary. That empathy is crucial if one wants to learn.

Tadias: One of the most dramatic moments in the film comes during the 1960 coup attempt against the emperor while he was traveling abroad. We know that you have dedicated a whole movie exploring this subject. Can you tell us a bit about the coup, its leaders, and why the revolt was a significant historical event?

YD: In December 1960, General Mengistu Neway, the head of the Imperial Bodyguard, his younger brother, Ato Girmame Neway, the intelligence tsar, Colonel Workeneh Gebeyehu, and a circle of their supporters attempted to overthrow the Emperor while he was on a state visit to Brazil. When the coup d’état failed, the leaders executed most of the government officials they had detained — including the acclaimed patriot leader, Ras Abebe Aregay — and fled. Ato Girmame Neway and Colonel Workeneh Gebeyehu died before they were captured and their corpses were hung publicly. General Mengistu Neway was taken captive. He was given a trial in which he expressed himself openly. A copy of the trial transcriptions can be found at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. At the end of the trial, he was found guilty and condemned to death.

For a number of years before the coup, a not insignificant number of the intelligentsia had began to express its discontent and frustration, albeit it discretely, with and about the imperial administration. These young people believed that the Emperor and his administration were, at best, dithering, or at worst, blocking the political, social, economic and cultural changes that they deemed were essential and overdue.

The coup was a significant event for many reasons. I can think of two at the moment: First, the lack of significant civic bodies or institutions, such as independent press, political parties, professional associations, labor unions, in which differing views and proposals could be discussed openly and seriously and then implemented or rejected, encouraged the belief in force as the only path to change. Second, for many of the educated young men and women who came of age immediately following the coup d’état the leaders of the putsch became champions of change.

Tadias: Even though the film consists of several interviews, we do not see the face of the interviewer, and except on two occasions we don’t hear the interviewers voice either. How would the film be different if the audience had heard the questions? How did most of the interviewed individuals react off-camera to the questions?

YD: I used “chapter headings” before each “episode” to make sure that the topic at hand was not confusing. The only time you heard the interviewer’s, my voice, was when its absence would have caused confusion. Had I included my voice, the chain-like flow of the narratives would have been shattered. Many of the responses were selections from much longer explanations and anecdotes. Part of my job as the editor was to distill and synthesize. This approach is not unusual in documentary filmmaking.

Tadias: In the last scene you actively interject and ask a follow-up question. What spurred this break in style?

YD: I decided to use that section because it was moving and powerful. Since Ato Mamo Haile, the interviewee, asked me a question directly, breaking the fourth wall, I had to reply. If I had technically muted my response the segment would not have worked. After experiencing a film in which the subjects addressed an invisible person off camera for about 56 minutes, the shift, with Ato Mamo addressing the camera directly, becomes noticeable and affective. By breaking the fourth wall, Ato Mamo poses a question not only to me but to the viewer. That was why I switched styles.

Tadias: Were there any rules you set for yourself about what you would or wouldn’t discuss on camera?

YD: I wouldn’t say rule but approach. There is vast amount of literature about the Emperor and his era written primarily by journalists or scholars who specialize in that time period. Since that information was readily available, I targeted primary sources or first hand accounts from individuals whose observations were not as readily available.

Tadias: What were some of the biggest challenges in making this film?

YD: One of many [challenges] was constructing a narrative when so many of the key participants were killed by the military junta or have died of old age or poor health without leaving any record of their work or observations.

Tadias: Why did you name the film “Twilight Revelations”?

YD: I hope the answer to that question becomes evident after a viewing of the film.

Tadias: Thank you Yemane and see you on Thursday at the Schomburg Center!

If You Go: (This event has passed)
The 8th Annual Sheba Film Festival
The New York premiere of “Twilight Revelations”
Episodes in the Life & Times of Emperor Haile Selassie
Thursday, May 26th, 2011 7PM (Admission: $12)
The Schomburg Center (515 Malcolm X Boulevard, 135th St)
Director Yemane Demissie will be present for the Q&A session following the screening.
Click here to watch the trailer.

A Polishman among Ethiopians – Haaretz.com

Above: Not that many people outside the Ethiopian Jewish community knew who Jacques Faitlovitch was. (Moti Milrod)

Haaretz.com
By Ofer Aderet
Published: May 20, 2011

An odd sculpture recently appeared on the Tel Aviv University campus, following a complex, transcontinental, logistical operation. It was designed in London, assembled in Italy and shipped by sea to Israel. The artwork consists of metal pipes emerging upward from the ground, splitting, and winding around two palm trees. “This expresses continuity and departure,” said the sculpture’s designer, Israeli-born architect Ron Arad, in a phone call from London.

The sculpture is a memorial to Ethiopian Jews who left their homes between 1977 and 1985 for the exhausting, traumatic journey to Israel. The trek took them from Ethiopia to Sudan, and across mountains, deserts, rivers and forests; they faced hunger, thirst, illness, harassment and arrest before winding up in refugee camps…The statue was commissioned and financed by Michael Benabou, a French-Jewish businessman and a member of the French Friends of Tel Aviv University, which provides scholarships to Ethiopian-Israeli students. Two years ago he decided it was time to dedicate a memorial to these students’ community. “It is a tribute to the operation that brought them to Israel, commemorates their suffering, and expresses hope for their future,” he said by phone from Paris…The relationship between the Jews of France and Ethiopia began a century ago, with one man who devoted his life to the latter community. The new sculpture stands opposite Tel Aviv University’s central library, where a small, crowded room on the second floor stores the archives of that man, researcher Dr. Jacques Faitlovitch, who died in 1955.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

The Battle of Adwa 115 Years Later

Above: The battle of Adwa, depicted in this painting, was an African victory that put a check to the colonial aims and objectives against the continent, which were originally conceived and agreed upon at the Berlin Conference of 1885.

Opinion/History
Adwa Rhymes with Pan-Africanism and Addistu Ethiopia
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD
ayele_author.jpg

Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mekelle, Ethiopia – As much as ancient Ethiopia inspired the development of Pan-Africanist movements and organizations throughout the African world, contemporary Ethiopia’s history has also its symbolic significance with respect to the establishment of the African Union. Pan-Africanism refers to intellectual movements dedicated to a complete liberation of the people of Africa and the African Diaspora from all forms of colonialism. They have been movements of self-definition, political and cultural emancipations. I am arguing that the movements, in part, were inspired by the historic and permanent victory at the Battle of Adwa one hundred and fifteen years ago.

Ethiopia was brought to the African world’s attention in 1896 when Ethiopia, an African country, defeated Italy, a European country, at the battle of Adwa. According to Donald Levine, “the Battle of Adwa qualifies as a historic event which represented the first time since the beginning of European imperial expansion that a non-white nation had defeated a European power.”

It was a victory of an African army in the true sense of the word. The Battle was planned and executed by African generals and spies led by Emperor Menelik II, who was born, brought up, and educated in Ethiopia. It was a brilliant and indigenous strategy that put a check to the colonial aims and objectives, which were originally conceived and agreed upon at the Berlin Conference of 1885. European strategy to carve Africa into external and exclusive spheres of influence was halted by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu Betul at the Battle of Adwa. The Europeans had no choice but to recognize this African (not European) power.

The African World celebrated and embraced this historic victory. In the preface to the book An Introduction to African Civilizations With Main Currents in Ethiopian History, Huggins and Jackson write: “In Ethiopia, the military genius of Menelik II was in the best tradition of Piankhi, the great ruler of ancient Egypt and Nubia or ancient Ethiopia, who drove out the Italians in 1896 and maintained the liberties of that ancient free empire of Black men.” Huggins and Jackson analyzed the victory not only in terms of its significance to the postcolonial African world, but also in terms of its linkage to the tradition of ancient African glories and victories.

Emperor Menelik II used his “magic wand” to draw all, the diverse and voluntary patriots from virtually the entire parts of the country, into a battlefield called Adwa. And in less than six hours, the enemy is decisively defeated. The overconfident and never to be defeated European army fell under the great military strategy of an African army. The strategy was what the Ethiopians call afena, an Ethiopian version of blitzkrieg that encircles the enemy and cuts its head. Italians failed to match the British and the French in establishing a colonial empire in Africa. In fact, by their humiliating defeat, the Italians made the British and the French colonizers jittery. The colonial subjects became reenergized to resist the colonial empire builders.

Adwa irreversibly broadened the true boundaries of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. People of the south and the north and the east and the west fought and defeated the Italian army. In the process, a new Ethiopia is born.

Adwa shows what can be achieved when united forces work for a common goal. Adwa brought the best out of so many forces that were accustomed to waging battles against each other. Forces of destruction and division ceased their endless squabbles and redirect their united campaign against the common enemy. They chose to redefine themselves as one and unequivocally expressed their rejection of colonialism. They came together in search of freedom or the preservation and expansion of the freedom at hand.

Emperor Menelik II could have kept the momentum by reforming his government and by allowing the many forces to continue participating in the making of a modern and good for all state. Emperor Menelik II, however, chose to return back to the status quo, a status of exploitative relationship between the few who controlled the land and the vast majority of the agrarian farmers. It took another almost eighty years to dismantle the yoke of feudalism from the backs of the vast majority of the Ethiopian farmers.

As long as Emperor Menelik’s challenge to and reversal of colonialism in Ethiopia is concerned, his accomplishment was historic and an indisputable fact. It is precisely this brilliant and decisive victory against the European colonial army that has inspired the colonized and the oppressed through out the world to forge ahead and fight against their colonial masters.

Menelik’s rapprochement, on the other hand, with the three colonial powers in the region may have saved his monarchial power, but the policy ended up hurting the whole region. The seeds of division sown by the colonizers, in part, continue to wreck the region apart.

Realizing the need to completely remove all the colonizers as an effective and lasting way to bring peace and prosperity in the region, the grandson of the Emperor, Lij Iyassu attempted to carve anti-colonial policy. He began to send arms to freedom fighters in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. He entered into a treaty of peace and cooperation with the Austrians, the Germans and the Turks against the British, Italians and the French. Unfortunately, the rule of Lij Iyassu was short-lived. The tri-partite powers colluded with the then Tafari Makonnen to successfully remove him from power.

Adwa symbolizes the aspirations and hopes of all oppressed people. Adwa catapulted Pan-Africanism into the realm of the possible by reigniting the imaginations of Africans in their quest for freedom throughout the world. Adwa foreshadowed the outcome of the anti-colonial struggle in Africa and elsewhere. Adwa is about cultural resistance; it is about reaffirmation of African ways. Adwa was possible not simply because of brilliant and courageous leadership, but also because of the people’s willingness to defend their motherland, regardless of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences.

Adwa was a story of common purpose and common destiny. The principles established on the battlefield of Adwa must be understood and embraced for Africa to remain centered in its own histories, cultures and socioeconomic development. We should always remember that Adwa was won for Africans. Adwa indeed is an African model of victory and resistance.

Publisher’s Note:
This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: abekerie@gmail.com.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University. He was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Bekerie is a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.

What Do Ronald Reagan and Haile Selassie Have in Common?

Above: The men governed two different worlds in separate era, but their mark on global politics have stood the test of time.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Sunday, Febraury 6, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – In remembrance of President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday (Sunday, Febraury 6), TIME Magazine lists 25 other political icons from around the world that match Regan’s charisma or share similar historical status for having left enduring impressions on global affairs.

The list is an eclectic collection of inspirational leaders, freedom fighters, reformers as well as dictators and monarchs. Among those highlighted include The Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mohandas Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Abraham Lincoln, Charles de Gaulle, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Simón Bolívar, Kim Il-Sung, Vladimir Lenin, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Franklin Roosevelt, and last but not least Haile Selassie.

Regarding the Ethiopian Emperor, TIME stated: “That he was ultimately deposed by a military discontented with his regime should not eclipse his contribution to African solidarity. Selassie gave Ethiopia its first constitution and convened the earliest meeting of the Organization of African Unity.” Historians also agree that while celebrated abroad as the father of modern Africa, the Emperor’s aloofness towards the impoverished majority in his own country, coupled with his prolonged neglect of reform voices, would eventually bring about the abrupt, unceremonious end to his rule.

Like President Reagan, Haile Selassie exhibited a commanding presence on the world stage. TIME magazine noted that “he is perhaps most widely remembered for the speech he gave before the League of Nations in 1933 as the legions of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini stormed his ill-equipped nation. The League did little to prevent Ethiopia’s defeat, but Selassie’s appeal, uttered movingly in his native Amharic, would serve as a pillar in the struggles against colonialism and fascism. With a firm internationalist bent, the last Ethiopian monarch eventually saw his country become a charter member of the United Nations. A TIME “Man of the Year” who claimed descendance from the biblical King Solomon, he ushered the continent he had unified into a distinctly African modernity.”

Click here to view the full list at TIME.com

Video: Reflecting on Ronald Reagan’s Legacy (PBS)

Ethiopian Christ icon found 500 years on

A 15th century Ethiopian icon of the infant Christ child sitting on his mother's knee can be revealed after it was cleaned by a British charity (Photo: BNPS)

Telegraph

9:35AM GMT 23 Dec 2010

The central panel of the triptych had over the centuries become blackened with the sprinkling of perfume that the monks use as they worship.

The hugely important and stunning painted wood panel is now visible in its original coloured glory, showing a pale-faced Jesus with black curly hair and rosy cheeks.

His hand has three digits raised and two down as if blessing the person looking at him.

He has a halo and is wearing a gown and is perched on his mother’s knee and she too has a halo.

The monks at the Monastery of St Stephen on an island in Lake Hayq in the north of the African country believe the icon, known as The One Who Listens, to be miraculous. Read more.

Ethiopian Airlines Appoints First Female Captain

Above: Captain Amsale Gualu Endegnanew (right) who made history by becoming the first female captain at Ethiopian Airlines. (ET)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, October 15, 2010

New York (Tadias) – She may not be the first Ethiopian woman pilot, but Captain Amsale Gualu Endegnanew is just as pioneering. She is the first female to become captain in the history of Ethiopian Airlines.

According to the company, the pilot was at controls of a next generation Bombardier airplane for her historic flight, which she performed over domestic routes on October 14, 2010. “Captain Amsale proudly took off her first flight from the left hand seat of the flight deck of a Q-400 aircraft from Addis Ababa to Gondar then to Axum and finally returned back to Addis Ababa after a total of 3.6 flight hours,” the airline announced in a press release.

“Captain Amsale joined Ethiopian Airlines Pilot Training School on July 10, 2000 and started her career as first officer on November 26, 2002. Since then, she has trained and worked on Fokker-50, 757 and 767 aircraft as first officer. Captain Amsale has been able to complete successfully all the necessary training requirements and passed through rigorous checks to gain her four stripes. She has a total of 4475 flight hours under her belt when she becomes the commander-in-chief of her flight.”

In a brief statement following her groundbreaking flight, Captain Amsale said this moment has been a long time coming. “It is a great privilege to become the first female captain of the national carrier,” she said. “I have been trained and passed through various ladders at Ethiopian Airlines.”

“The company has been very supportive of my efforts to realize my vision of becoming a captain,” she added.

Congratulating her on the occasion, Weyzero Elizabeth Getachew, a Senior Vice President for Human Resource Management and the highest ranking female executive in the airline said, “Captain Amsale’s success is a great achievement on her part and it is also an achievement for the airline. It is my hope that other females will be inspired by her success and Ethiopian will see more female candidates in the near future.” The country’s flag-career currently has four female pilots working as first officers.

Who is Ethiopia’s first female pilot?

Some say Weyzero Asegedech Asefa, who became a pilot post World War II, is the first Ethiopian female pilot. While others argue that Weyzero Mulumebet Emeru, whose flight training was interrupted when the Italians envaded Ethiopia in 1936, holds the title of first Ethiopian female pilot.

More photos courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines via Nazret.com

Learn more about Ethiopian airlines at ethiopianairlines.com.

Related:
Interview with Girma Wake: Former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines (Capital Ethiopia)
Video: Ethiopian TV on the First Female Captain at Ethiopian Airlines

World’s first illustrated Christian bible discovered at Ethiopian monastery

A page from the Garima Gospels - the world's oldest Christian book found in remote monastery in Ethiopia - BNPS

By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
Last updated 5th July 2010

The world’s earliest illustrated Christian book has been saved by a British charity which located it at a remote Ethiopian monastery.

The incredible Garima Gospels are named after a monk who arrived in the African country in the fifth century and is said to have copied them out in just one day.

Beautifully illustrated, the colours are still vivid and thanks to the Ethiopian Heritage Fund have been conserved.

Abba Garima arrived from Constantinople in 494 AD and legend has it that he was able to copy the gospels in a day because God delayed the sun from setting.

Read more at the Daily Mail.

Related News:
Replica of the Axum obelisk to be installed at City of Axum Park in Denver
The Denver Daily News
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Ato Hagos Gebrewahid of Axum, Ethiopia, and others will meet at 9 a.m. in the City of Axum Park, located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Birch Street, to break ground on more than $620,000 in improvements, funded through the Better Denver Bond Program, Capital Improvement Funding and a Park Hill Thriving Communities Grant. The park is named for Denver’s ninth sister city. These renovations include a new playground, picnic shelter, new basketball court, benches, a concrete promenade and a new irrigation system for the park. Hickenlooper also will present Hagos with a scale replica of the obelisk that will be installed at the park as part of Denver’s One Percent for the Arts.

Axum: Denver’s Sister City Park

Axum, Ethiopia is a city over 2,500 years old which is located in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. It is reported to have been the capital city of the legendary Queen of Sheba. Recently unearthed ruins of a complex and sophisticated palace are claimed to be that of the queen. Archaeological expeditions currently underway in the area are discovering more artifacts attesting to very high levels of engineering and architectural achievements, including a number of obelisks dating back almost 2,500 years which are still standing in the city. It is said that Ethiopia is the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, and that, in fact, the Ark is kept at the holy church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum. It is interesting to note that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian institutions in the world, is perhaps the only ohne to use replicas of the Ark in its prayer rituals for centuries. As the center of ancient Ethiopia, Axum has a rich historical, cultural, and religious heritage which remains to be fully discovered through future research.

In November of 1995, an official delegation, including Mayor Wellington Webb, Mrs. Webb, and other prominent Denver personalities visited Axum. As a result of this visit, Axum named a street in their city, “Denver Street.”

Axum became a sister city in 1993.

Axum Park is located at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Cherry Street.

Source: Denvergov.org

Assumptions and Interpretations of Ethiopian History (Part II)

Figure 3: Hatse Bazin’s Stela at Aksum (Photo: Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie
ayele_author.jpg

Published: Monday, March 15, 2010

Click here to read part one of this article.

Who are the authors of the external paradigm?

New York (Tadias)- Sergew (1972) represents the Ethiopian scholars who look at the Ethiopian history from outside in, one of the most ardent proponents of the external origin of Ethiopian history and civilization is Edward Ullendorff. In the preface to his book The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, Ullendorff (1960) wrote:

This book is principally concerned with historic Abyssinia and the cultural manifestations of its Semitized inhabitants – not with all the peoples and regions now within the political boundaries of the Ethiopian Empire.

The constituent elements of the external paradigm are thus “historic Abyssinia” and “Semitized inhabitants.” Regarding the name Abyssinia, Martin Bernal (1987), in his book Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol 1, wrote: “It should be made clear that the name ‘Abyssynia’ was used precisely to avoid ‘Ethiopia,’ with its indelible association with Blackness. The first American edition of Samuel Johnson’s translation of the 17th-century travels of Father Lobo in Ethiopia and his novel Rasselas, published in Philadelphia in 1768, was entitled The History of Rasselas, prince of Abissinia: An Asiatic Tale! Baron Cuvier equated Ethiopian with Negro, but categorized the Abyssinians – as Arabian colonies – as Caucasians.”

On the question of “Semitized inhabitants, Bernal (1987) appears to agree with Ullendorff. Bernal stated, “The dominant Ethiopian languages are Semitic.” I must add, however, Bernal now claims the origin of what is generally accepted as Afro-Asiatic or “Semitic” languages is Ethiopia. The possible diffusion of the Afro-Asiatic languages from Ethiopia to the Near East since Late Paleolithic times have also been emphasized by Grover Hudson (1977; 1978). This claim by itself is a major challenge to the South Arabian or external paradigm. Ullendorff’s claim that “the Semitized inhabitants of historic Ethiopia” had South Arabian origin has become difficult to sustain. It is, however, exemplary to look into the writings of Ullendorff in order to bring to light the process of linking the Ethiopian history to an external paradigm.

According to Ullendorff, “no student of Ethiopia can afford to neglect the connection between that country and South Arabia. Among those who have recognized this vital link are Eugen Mitwoch, while leo Reinsch is the undisputed master of the Semitic connection with the Hamitic (Kushitic) languages of Ethiopia.” Hamitic/Semitic divide, of course, was nothing but a means to keep the Ethiopian people divided.

His divisiveness even became clearer in the following statement: “The Abyssinians proper, the carriers of the historical civilization of Semitized Ethiopia, live in the central and northern highlands. From the mountain of Eritrea in the north to the Awash valley in the south we find this clearly distinguishable Abyssinian type who for many centuries has maintained his identity against the influx of Negroid peoples of the Nile Valley, the equatorial lakes, or the Indian Ocean littoral.” What is surprising is this outdated argument of physical anthropology that remained unchallenged until very recently. It is also unfortunate that a significant portion of the Ethiopian elite would buy such erroneous assertion.

The outline of Ethiopian history constructed by Ullendorff begins with “South Arabia and Aksum.” And the outline has been duplicated and replicated by a significant number of Ethiopian historians. For instance, Sergew used similar “external” approach in his otherwise very important book entitled Ancient and medieval Ethiopian History to 1270. Sergew (1972) wrote, “Ethiopia is separated from Southern Arabia by the Red Sea. As is well known, the inhabitants of South Arabia are of Semitic stock, which most probably came from Mesopotamia long before our era and settled in this region. … For demographic and economic reasons, the people of South Arabia started to migrate to Ethiopia. It is hard to fix the date of these migrations, but it can be said that the first immigration took place before 1000 B.C.11 Sergew essentially echoed the proposition advanced by Ethiopianits, such as E. Littmann (1913), D. Nielson (1927), J Doresse (1957), H.V. Wissman (1953), C. Conti Rossini (1928), M. Hoffner (1960), A. Caquot and J. Leclant (1955), A. Jamme (1962), and Ullendorff (1960).12 The Ethiopianists almost categorically laid down the external or South Arabian paradigmatical foundation for Ethiopian history.

Challenges of the External Paradigm from Without

In Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity, Stuart Munro-Hay (1991) writes: “The precise nature of the contacts between the two areas [South Arabia and Ethiopia], their range in commercial, linguistic or cultural terms, and their chronology, is still a major question, and discussion of this fascinating problem continues.”13 What is notable in Munro-Hay’s interpretation is the very labeling of the Aksumite civilization as an African civilization. Its impact may be equivalent to Placid Temples’ Bantu Philosophy. At a time when Africans are labeled people without history and philosophy, the Belgian missionary in the Congo inadvertently overturned the Hegelian reduction of the so-called Bantu. Temples elevated the Bantu (African) by wanting to observe him in the context of reason and logic, that is, philosophy.

By the same token, Aksum: An African Civilisation dares to place or locate Aksum in Africa. That by itself is a clear shift of paradigm, from external to internal. It is an attempt to see Ethiopians as agents of their history. It is an attempt to question the validity of the south Arabian origin of the Ethiopian history and civilization.

Jacqueline Pirenne’s proposal has also convincingly challenged the validity of the external paradigm as the source of Ethiopian history. Pirenne suggests that the influence is in reverse, i.e., the Ethiopians influenced the civilization of the South Arabians. She reached her ‘ingenious’ conclusion after “weighing up the evidence from all sides, particularly aspects of material culture and linguistic/paleographic information.” Pirenne is essentially confirming the proposal made by scholars such as DuBois and Drusilla Dungee Houston, two African American vindicationist historians, who, in the early 1900s, wrote arguing that South Arabia was a part of ancient Ethiopia.

Another landmark in the refutation of the South Arabian paradigm comes from the Italian archaeologist, Rodolofo Fattovitch, who linked the pre-Aksumite culture to Nubia, “especially to Kerma influences, and later on to Meroe.” After more than three decades of extensive research and publications, Fattovitch in 1996 made the following conclusion: “The present evidence does not support the hypothesis of migration from Arabia to Africa in late prehistoric times. On the contrary, it suggests that Afro-Arabian cultures developed in both regions as a consequence of a strong and continuous interaction among the local populations.” Recent archaeological evidence from Asmara region also appeared to support the conclusion reached by Fattovitch. “Archaeologists from Asmara University and University of Florida, based on preliminary excavations in the vicinity of the Asmara, seemed to have found an agricultural settlement dated to be 3,000 years old.”

Challenges of the External Paradigm from Within

Among the Ethiopian scholars, Hailu Habtu (1987) presents a very strong case against the external paradigm. As far as Hailu is concerned, “the formulation of Ethiopian and other African historiography by European scholars at times suffers from Afro-phobia and Eurocentrism.” Hailu utilizes linguistic and historical linguistics evidence to challenge the external paradigm. Most importantly, Hailu suggested a new approach in the reading of the Ethiopian past by declaring the absence of “Semito/Hamitic dichotomy in Ethiopian tradition.” Hailu cites the works of Murtonen (1967) to question any significant linguistic connection between Ge’ez and the languages of South Arabia. According to Murtonen, “Ancient South Arabic is more closely related to northern Arabic and north-west Semitic rather than Ethiopic.” He also cites Ethiopian sources, such as Kibra Nagast or the Glory of Kings and Anqatsa Haimanot or the Gate of Faith.

Another Ethiopian historian who challenged the external paradigm is Teshale Tibebu. Teshale (1992) poignantly summarizes the argument as follows: “That Ethiopians are Semitic, and not Negroid; civilized, and not barbaric; are all images of orientalist semiticism in Western Social Science. Ethiopia is considered as the southwestern end of the Semitic world in Africa. The Ethiopian is explained in superlative terms because the ‘Negro’ is considered sub-human. That the heavy cloud of racism had been deeply embedded in the triplicate4 intellectual division among Social Sciences, orientalism, and anthropology – corresponding to Whites, ‘orientals’ (who included, Semitic people, who in turn included Ethiopians), and Negro and native American ‘savages,’ respectively – is common knowledge nowadays. … Ethiopians have always been treated as superior to the Negro but inferior to the White in Ethiopianist Studies because of the racist nature of the classification of the intellectual disciplines. It is quite revealing to see that more is written on Ethiopia in the Journal of Semitic Studies than in the Journal of African History.”

Perhaps the most persistent critique of the external paradigm was the great Ethiopian Ge’ez scholar, Aleqa Asras Yenesaw. Aleqa Asras categorically rejected the external paradigm as follows:

The notion that a Semitic fringe from South Arabia brought the writing system to Ethiopia is a myth.

1. South Arabia as a source of Ethiopian civilization is a political invention;

2. South Arabia was Ethiopian emperors inscribed a part of Ethiopia and the inscriptions in South Arabia.

3. There is no such thing as Sabaen script; it was a political invention designed to undermine Ethiopia’s place in world history.

Paleontological Evidence Places the Origin in Africa

Of course, Ethiopia in terms of place and time emerged much earlier than the name itself. The formation of a geographical feature called the Rift Valley predates in millions of years the word Ethiopia. It was in the Rift Valley of northeast Africa, thanks to the openings and cracks, that paleontologists have been able to unearth the earliest human-like species. At least 5 million years of human evolution has taken place before the naming of Ethiopia. Dinqnesh, Italdu, Garhi, ramidus or afarensis are names assigned within the last thirty years, even if they predate Ethiopia by a much longer time periods.

Ethiopia’s beginning, in paleontological terms, was in what we now know as southern Ethiopia. The Afar region is primal, for it is the cradle of human beings. The people of this region may have experimented with the oldest stone technology to develop our initial knowledge about plants and animals. They may have also experimented with languages and cultures so as to create groups and communities. They may have also been the first to map varying residential sites by moving from one locality to another.

In other words, the history of human beings begins in Africa, more specifically in the Rift Valley regions of northeast and southern Africa. As a result, African history is central to the early development of human beings. As the oldest continent on earth, it has been particularly valuable in the study of life. To many, Africa has made one of the most important, if not the most important contributions: the emergence of the earliest human ancestors about five million years ago. Evidence has shown that all present humans originated in Africa before migrating to other parts of the world. Paleontology is providing an incredible array of information on human origin. Furthermore, gene mapping and blood test are useful methods in the understanding of human beginnings in Africa.


Figure 4: Paleontological Site at Melka Kunture, central Ethiopia (Photo by
Ayele Bekerie)

Ethiopia has become one of the most important sites in the world in the unearthing and understanding of our earliest ancestors. Among the earliest human-like species found in Ethiopia are: Aridepithecus ramidus (4.4 – 4.5 myo), Australopithecus afarensis also known as Dinqnesh (3.18 myo), and Australopithecus garhi (2.5 – 2.9 myo). A. ramidus (an Afar word for root) is one of the earliest hominid species found in Aramis, Afar region by a team including Tim White and Berhane Asfaw. A. afarensis is widely considered to be the basal stalk from which other hominids evolved. Dinqnesh was found in Hadar, Afar region by Donald Johanson and his team in 1974. In addition, the oldest stone tools or the earliest stone technology, which is dated 2.5 million years old, was found in the Afar region by an Ethiopian paleontologist, Seleshi Semaw and his team in 1998.

Furthermore, Ethiopia has also provided us with a concrete fossil evidence for the emergence of modern human species, Homo sapiens, about 160, 000 years ago, again from the Afar region of Ethiopia. The fossil evidence supports the DNA evidence that traced our common ancestor to a 200,000-year-old African woman.23 “Geneticists traced her identity by analyzing DNA passed exclusively from mother to daughter in the mitochondria, energy-producing organelles in the cell.”24 Likewise, scientists from Stanford University and the University of Arizona have conducted a study to find the genetic trail leading to the earliest African man or Adam. According to this Y chromosome study, the earliest male ancestors of the modern human species include some Ethiopians, whose descendants populated the entire world.

According to Berhane Asfaw, an Ethiopian paleontologist, Edaltu, the probable immediate ancestor of anatomically modern humans and the 160,000-year-old fossilized hominid crania from Herto, Middle awash, Ethiopia, “fill the gap and provide crucial evidence on the location, timing and contextual circumstances of the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa.”

In other words, as Lapiso Dilebo puts it, “Ethiopia is the primordial home of primal human beings and that ancient Ethiopian civilization ipso facto and by recent archaeological findings precedes chronologically and causally all civilizations of the ancients, especially that of Egyptian and Greco-Roman civilizations.”

I am also devoting more space to the paleontological aspect of Ethiopian history to show the way toward a paradigm shift in the reading of the Ethiopian past. It is very clear that humanity has gone through a set of dynamic evolutionary processes in Africa. What we now know as Ethiopia is central to part of an evolutionary transformation, which is attested by the presence of more than 87 linguistic groups that eventually emerged in it.

I think it will be fascinating to look into the historical convergence and divergence of all these linguistic/cultural groups, of course, from inside out.

Towards the People-Centered History of Ethiopia

A people-centered Ethiopian history will have at least the following foundations of material cultures. I would like to identify them as pastoral, inset and teff civilizations. Distinct communities and ways of lives have been established and perpetuated on the bases of these three civilizations in three major ecological zones. Moreover, we observe the emergence of national traditions and identity through the interactions of these civilizations.

Pastoral civilizations tend to concentrate in the lowlands or dry or semi dry lands of Ethiopia. The civilization is also conducive to coexist with the traditions and practices of both inset and teff civilizations. The inset civilization covers a wide region in the south and southwest, in an area known as woina dega or an ecological zone between the lowland and the highlands of Ethiopia. It is a tradition that is deeply rooted among the peoples of Wolaita, Gurage Betoch, Keffa and numerous other nationalities of the south. Teff civilization is the civilization encompassing central and northern Ethiopia that is the mountainous region of Ethiopia. It is important to note that I use the term civilization to denote the social, economic and cultural institutions that are established and sustained by the people. Pastoral, inset and teff are primary occupations of the people, but the essence of their lives is not entirely dominated by them.


Figure 5: Bete Giorgis Church at Lalibela, northern Ethiopia
(Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

What are the main characteristics of these civilizations? The civilizations are home grown and deeply rooted. In other words, the people have succeeded in mastering ways of life that can be passed on from generations to generations. Furthermore, the civilizations are allowed to flourish in a pluralistic environment. In other words, they are civilizations that embrace or tolerate multilingual and multi-religious expressions. In all the three cases, we witness the presence of monotheistic or indigenous religious traditions, multiple linguistic expressions and patterns of social structures and functions under the umbrellas of these civilizations.

It is my contention that such inward approach may help us to fully understand, for instance the Gada age-grade system of the Oromos. The Gada system is regarded as one of the most egalitarian democratic system invented by the Oromos. The system allows the entire community to fully participate in its own affairs. All age groups have roles to play, events to chronicle and responsibilities to assume. I just can’t imagine how we can achieve modernity, or for that matter post-modernity in governance and development, without seriously considering such a relevant practice.

The inset civilization tends to allow its male members to venture to other professions far from home. A case in point would be the Gurages and the Dorzes. The Gurages are active in trading and business through out the country. The Dorzes are the weavers and cloth makers from homegrown resources for the larger population. Inset does not take a lot of space. A well-fertilized acreage at the back of the residential home may have enough inset plants, which are capable of meeting the carbohydrate needs of the entire household throughout the year.

Teff is part of the plow culture of the highlands. Just like inset, teff culture is unique to Ethiopia. No traces of teff or inset cultures are found in South Arabia. It is indeed in these significant material cultures that we begin collecting data in order to construct the long and diverse history of Ethiopia.
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Slideshow: Photos used in this article

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Publisher’s Note: We hope this article will spark a healthy discussion on the subject. The piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu.

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007.

Assumptions and Interpretations of Ethiopian History (Part I)

Figure 1: A Close view of a stela from Tiya, central Ethiopia. The carvings on the stela symbolize the Inset (False Banana) Civilization. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie
ayele_author.jpg

Published: Monday, March 8, 2010

New York (Tadias) – The purpose of this essay is to interrogate assumptions in the reading of our past and to suggest new approaches in the construction of Ethiopian history.

I contend that the long history and its resultant diversity have not been taken into consideration to document and interpret a history of Ethiopia. In fact, what we regard as a history of Ethiopia is mostly a history of northern Ethiopia and their links to the Arabian Peninsula. This is because historical narratives have been shaped by external paradigms. The assumptions and interpretive schemes used to construct Ethiopian history are extracted from experiences and traditions other than our own. Almost all history texts begin from the premises that the history and civilization of Ethiopia have had an external origin. It is also my contention that the centrality of the external paradigms in the interpretations of Ethiopian history has created a hierarchy of national identity (the civilized north vs. the pre-historic south) and culture (written vs. oral traditions) among the polity.

The history of northern Ethiopia is regarded by several writers as “superior” to the history of the rest of Ethiopia. The history of the north, not only has been constructed to have a non-African orientation, but also the historical values of its two major institutions: the monarchy and the church are allowed to dominate. I argue that a history that is constructed on the basis of external paradigms is divisive, neglects the South, too monarcho-tewahedo centric, and privileges the North. Furthermore, the external based history cannot even guarantee the unity among the northerners. What are these external paradigms? Who are there authors? Why did they remain so prevalent in our construction of Ethiopian history? What prevents from pursuing an Ethiopia-centered (people-centered) interpretations and construction of Ethiopian history?

It took a revolution to fundamentally change our assumptions and interpretations. Languages, religions and cultures are no longer presented in hierarchical forms. There are no superior or inferior religious or linguistic traditions within the country. This is not to suggest that equity in diversity has been achieved in the country. But it is safe to say that the country is moving towards plurality and unity in diversity.

In this paper, I will also attempt to address these and related questions with the intent of searching and developing internal paradigms rooted in the observed and narrated traditions of the diverse and yet remarkably intertwined communities of cultures and languages in the place we call Ethiopia.

One of the most persistent and most pervasive themes in the Ethiopian history and historiography until very recently was the theme of “the South Arabian or the South Semitic origin of the major part of the Ethiopian civilization and culture, including its writing system, its religion, its languages, agricultural practices and dynasties.” According to this external paradigm, the history of the Ethiopian people begins with the arrival and settlements of the “culturally superior” people from South Arabia, the Greater Middle East, including Jerusalem, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Lebanon. These ‘Semitic’ people supposedly brought with them to the highlands of Ethiopia their languages and, most importantly, their writing system and agricultural practices, such as terracing and ploughing. The external paradigms are still pervasive and, despite the facts to the contrary, they continue to distort the Ethiopian history.

In fact, the South Arabian origin of Ethiopian history and civilization is so pervasive, almost all accountings of Ethiopia are prefaced or began their introductory chapters by highlighting the external factors. It is as if Ethiopia is fathered and mothered or at worst adopted by guardians who came from elsewhere. It is a strategy that places Ethiopia in a permanent state of dependency, from its emergence to the present.

As I argued before, what is the logic of beginning a history of a people or a country from an external source? It is my contention that a history of a people that begins with an external source is quite problematic. It would not be the history of the Ethiopian people, but the history of south Arabians in Ethiopia. Since history narrates or records the material and cultures of all peoples, it is important that we seek conceptions, construction and narration of the Ethiopian history from the inside.

Ever since its conception by the “father” of Ethiopian Studies, Hiob Ludolf (1624-1704CE) of Germany, in the 17th and 18th centuries of our era, the external paradigms became a kind of scholarly tradition among both the Ethiopianists and the Ethiopian scholars. Very few scholars have raised questions regarding the external origin of the Ethiopian polity. Before I explore this assertion further, let me provide some background information on the history of the term Ethiopia.

What is Ethiopia?

Ethiopia is a term by far the most thoroughly referenced and widely recognized both in the ancient and the contemporary world. It is a term associated with people, place, religions and cultures unarguably from the continent of Africa, and to some extent Asia. In fact, at one time, Ethiopia was almost synonymous with continental Africa. Only Ancient Libya and Ancient Egypt were known or recognized as much as Ethiopia in Africa. It is a term deeply explored by both ancient and contemporary writers, theologians, historians, philosophers and poets. Ethiopia is known since antiquity and, as a result, has been a source of legends and mythologies. All the great books of antiquity made probing references to Ethiopia. The term, etymologically speaking, has its origin in multiple sources.


Figure 2: Stelae Park at Tiya, central Ethiopia. Statues of Inset Culture. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Ethiopians insist that the term originated from the word Ethiopis, who was one of the earlier kings of Ethiopia. Ethiopians also point out that the term is a combination of Eth and Yop, terms attributed to a king of Ethiopia who resided by the source of the Blue Nile. There are also others who link the term with incense, thereby tracing it to the land of incense.

Given these suppositions that are primarily presented based on oral traditions, it is incumbent upon us to dig deeper into our past, in order to come to terms with our Ethiopian identity. It is interesting to note that the ancient historians had a better understanding of the Ethiopian past and wrote profusely, from Homer to Herodotus, from Siculus to Origen.

According to Snowden, “Aeschylus is the first Greek to locate Ethiopians definitely in Africa.” ‘Io, according to the prophecy of Prometheus, was to visit a distant country, and a black people, who lived by the waters of the sun, where the Ethiopian river flowed, and was to go to the cataract where the Nile sent forth its stream from the mountains.”

Snowden identifies Xenophanes as the first to apply to Ethiopian physical characteristics that include flat-nosed black-faced features. “Fifth-century dramatists wrote plays involving Ethiopian myths, made references to Ethiopians, and included intriguing geographical details such as snows in the Upper Nile which fed the waters of the Nile.”
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Slideshow: Photos used in this article

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Publisher’s Note: Part two of this article will be published on Monday, March 15, 2010. It will explore the following points: Who are the authors of the external paradigm?; Challenges of the External Paradigm from Without; Challenges of the External Paradigm from Within; Paleontological Evidence Places the Origin in Africa; and Towards the People-Centered History of Ethiopia. This piece is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie, is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007.

The Not-So-Lost Ark of the Covenant

A fallen Stela facing the Saint Zion Maryam Church in Aksum, Ethiopia. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie, PhD

ayele_author.jpg

Published: Monday, December 21, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – “We don’t have to prove it to anyone. [If] you want to believe, it’s your privilege. If you don’t want to believe, it’s your own privilege again.”

The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), offered the above response to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University when asked to provide ‘a piece of evidence’ for the Ark of the Covenant during an interview for a PBS documentary film in 2003 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Patriarch, in perhaps most memorable moment of the interview, reminded the learned professor from Harvard that the Ark and its meaning to Ethiopians, is a matter of faith and not proof.

The Ark of the Covenant, which registers close to three thousand years (one thousand years of amete alem or zemene bluei (Old Testament) and two thousand years of amete mehret or zemene hadis (New Testament)) of history, beginning with the period of Queen Makeda (also known as Queen of Sheba) of Aksum. The Ark has been established as a central tenet of Christianity in Ethiopia. It captures the true essence of faith to at least 40 million believers in the ancient-centered Ethiopia and the EOTC’s dioceses all over the world. Its people’s communication to Igziabher is mediated through this sacred prescribed relic. The purpose of this essay is to narrate a history of the Ark and its relevance from a perspective of Ethiopian history and culture.

The EOTC, according to Abuna Yesehaq teaches, “Igziahaber is one Creator, one Savior, and redeemer for all humankind.” It also teaches, based on the ecumenical council’s confessions that Jesus Christ was not in two natures but rather one. The two natures were one nature united without any degree of separation, thus, making Christ both perfect God and perfect person simultaneously.

According to Abba Gorgorios, the Ark or what Ethiopians call tabot is linked to the Old Testament and the freedom of the Hebrew Israelites. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt; he was accompanied by two tablets that were inscribed with asertu qalat which were given to him by the Amlak of Abraham, Yisahq and Yacob on Mount Sinai (debre sina). Moses was further instructed by Amlak to build a container (tabot) for the tablets or what Ethiopians call tsilat and a temple.

Abba Gorgorios described the tabot not only as a safe and secret station for the tsilat, but it is also a site of spiritual revelation, the revelation of Amlak’s limitless mercy. The tabot is like a throne and at the time of its coronation (negse), it is revealed spiritually to the faithful. Among the various Old Testament traditions Ethiopia decided to incorporate to its form of Christianity is the tradition of the Ark.

The Ark, which is brought out of its inner sanctum during important church festivals, is not a physical representation of Igziabher (God). The Ark is believed to carry the presence of God and Ethiopia is perhaps the first country in the world to accept the Old Testament faith. The Ark is an accepted tradition among the Oriental Churches. For instance, the Copts referred to it as Luhe. The Eastern Churches, on the other hand, do not embrace the Ark in their faith.

According to Sergew Hable Selassie, Abu Salih, the Armenian traveler and author, was the first foreigner who made a reference to the existence of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia. He described the Ark in which are the two tables of stone, “inscribed by the finger of God with the Ten Commandments.”

The Ark of the Covenant may have been a source of mystery and curiosity for people like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., but for Ethiopian Christians, it is the rock of their faith. There have been countless conjectures regarding the Ark’s fate and final resting place, but the Ethiopian Christians locate the Ark or what they call Tabot at the center of their faith. While the rest of the world sees it, at best, as a source of inspiration to write mystery novels, construct countless theories or make adventurous films, “the Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia from Jerusalem with the return of Menelik I after his famous visit with his father, the King Solomon.”

Writers such as Graham Hancock at present or James Bruce in the eighteenth century make their fortunes or earn their fame by dedicating or investing their lives to ‘discover’ the not-so-lost Ark of the Covenant or other ancient relics. To Ethiopians, Menelik I also brought the Kahinat of the Old Testament and many Old Testament books.

The EOTC is a member of the family of Orthodox churches, such as the Coptic, Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Indian, Russian and Serbian churches. “Together with the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Churches were a single church for four centuries until they split apart at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE.” The EOTC has 32 dioceses in Ethiopia. It has also dioceses in Jerusalem, the Caribbean, South America, the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and several sites in the rest of Africa. The EOTC has 40 archbishops, 400 thousand clergy and 30, 000 parish churches.


Figure 2: The Faithful praying and waiting for tsebel (holy water) by the fence of the
Chapel where the Ark is kept. Across is another view of Saint Zion Maryam Church.
(Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

The story of the not-so-lost Ark of the Covenant is widely known, but only Ethiopians claim that they are its keepers. Legend has it that the Ark is endowed with enough power, if approached too closely or touched, to strike mortal beings dead. These aspects of the Ark has been extrapolated and exploited in movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark. Its power may have also encouraged the Ethiopians to always keep it under wrap. Not only that, at the core of the ecclesiastical, liturgical and doctrinal teachings and practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahado Church, the centrality of the Ark becomes quite evident.

The Ark is, in fact, the most sacred and defining symbol of the Church, which is one of the oldest churches in the world. Ethiopians wholeheartedly believe that the original Ark was brought to Ethiopia from Jerusalem by Menelik I, a creation of royal affairs between the Queen of Sheba of the Aksumites and King Solomon of the Israelites. Menelik I, according to Ethiopian tradition, was a consolidator of a new dynasty found by his mother, approximately 3,000 years ago.


Figure 3: The Chapel for the Ark of the Covenant. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

It is important to note that organized and orderly system of government did not begin with Queen of Sheba in Ethiopia. There were a series of rulers prior to the rise of the Queen. The Queen succeeded in elevating her empire to a global status by wisely adopting Judaism. The extent of her wisdom even becomes clearer when the rule of her son became irreversibly and forever linked to the great symbol: the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, in the Ethiopian context, is a great source of tradition and continuity. With established rituals, the faithful maintain a sense of connection to Igziabher and through religious pilgrimage; they ensure the vitality of their religion.

I concede that the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon has several versions both within and without Ethiopia. For instance, the origination of the Queen’s Arabian name, Bilqis, is a derivative of a “vast and confused skein of traditions and tales.” The Queen is cited by some Arabian sources as having been born in Mareb, the capital of the Sabean Empire, and as being the successor of her father. The grand temple of the Mahram Bilqis in Mareb still bears her name, and according to local folklore, her spirit surrounds the temple and nearby dam.

In Hebrew traditions, the Old Testament refers to the Queen as “Queen of Sheba” and in the New Testament she is the “Queen of the South” or Azeb. The Ethiopians, on the other hand, not only they use these biblical names, but they have also added their own name, Negest Makeda.

In the Ethiopian text of the Kebra Nagast, an elaborate version that places the Queen at the center of the tale is rendered. The Ethiopian source distinguishes itself by devoting its focus on Makeda’s son Menelik I. In fact, the tradition of Menelik I belongs more to ancient Ethiopia than the Arabian Peninsula.

The Ark’s holy pedestal is in a chapel next to Saint Maryam Zion Church in Aksum, the holy city of Orthodox Christianity. Georgelas observes, “If most places draw guests inside for a transformative experience, Aksum’s unassuming chapel does the opposite. By shrouding itself and its holy treasure in mystery, it gains its power by remaining unseen – a sacred place that can’t be entered or directly experienced, only imagined and believed.” Georgelas is expressing the views of those who see the Ark and its ‘discovery’ as their potential source of glory. The Ethiopians never entertain such a view. However, keenly recognizing the undying interest of adventurers or enemies to wrest the Ark from them, they came up with a strategy of keeping it safe and secure.

The Ark is replicated thousands of times so that its presence within the faith and history of Ethiopia remains uninterrupted from one generation to another. The replication is also a strategy to secure the ever presence of the Ark by making it next to impossible to remove the Ark from the chapel. In addition, the Ark is guarded by a succession of monks who, once anointed, remained in the Chapel or the chapel grounds until they die. Their sole duties are to protect the Ark.


Figure 4: Celebrating the day of Saint Maryam in the month of September at Saint
Zion Maryam Church. (Photo by Ayele Bekerie)

Munro-Hay’s The Quest for the Ark of the Covenant documents and narrates the medieval history of Ethiopia, particularly the history of the monarchy, the church and the contending forces against these two major institutions both from within and without. Among the well-documented medieval history, a reader finds the attempt by the Catholic Church to destroy the Ethiopian Church during the rule of Emperor Susenyos quite fascinating. “On 11 December 1625, at Danquaz, an Emperor of Ethiopia, Susenyos, knelt before a Catholic Patriarch to offer obedience to the Roman Pontiff, Urban VII.” His short-lived conversion triggered a bloody civil war where millions of Ethiopians died. It is important to note, however, “In a dramatic and successful effort to preserve their most sacred relic, some priests fled with the Holy Tabot of Aksum, as the Catholic faith grew stronger.” Ethiopians also succeeded in restoring their faith thanks to the martyrdom of Takla Giorgis, the son-in-law of Susenyos and many others. In 1628, Takla Giorgis smashed the sacred ornaments of the Catholics placed in the Holy of Holies of the Aksum Church. After 11 years and six months stay in Digsa, the eastern highlands of Eritrea, the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Aksum.

Menelik I also began, as a result of his successful transfer of a holy relic and royal blood, the Solomonic line of dynastic rulers, who ruled Ethiopia until 1974. Emperor Haile Selassie was the last ruler to claim a line of this mythologized and enduring dynasty in Ethiopian history. The Ark is, therefore, at the center of both church and state formations and consolidations in Ethiopia. The two institutions not only functioned in tandem, but they have also played defining roles by delineating some of the cultural, political, social and economic parameters of Ethiopia.

The Ark became the basis for establishing the divine lineage of Ethiopian monarchy in addition to centering the faithful to a unique form of Christianity. The Ark as a central symbol of Christianity is exclusively an Ethiopian phenomena. The Ark is called Tabot in the Ethiopian languages and its sacredness is maintained by always keeping it wrapped and placed in the inner most circle or citadel, Qidist, of the Church. As a matter of faith, Ethiopians always insist that they possess the original Ark. The holy relic, however, has had a tremendous impact on both Judaism and Christianity. Despite intense controversies associated with the relic, particularly with regard to its existence, the established and regularly observed religious rituals of the Ark in Ethiopia, has assured undying interest in it throughout the world.

The remarkable marriage between the Old Testament and the construction of Ethiopian Orthodoxy is perhaps captured with the picture below. The fallen largest obelisk is shown together with Tsion Maryam Church in Aksum. According to oral traditions, the Ark of the Covenant’s supreme power sliced the obelisk out of the rock and set it into place.


Photo by Ayele Bekerie.

The Ethiopians’ assured insistence in possessing the Ark ought to be seen in the context of Biblical history and in their desire to see themselves within it. The Ark is tied to the histories of the Israelites and Ethiopians. While the tradition of the Israelites, as amply described in the Old Testament, settled with the story of the lost Ark, the Ethiopian tradition is constituted on the belief that the not-so-lost Ark is in Aksum.

According to Hoberman, The Ark suddenly disappeared in the sixth century BCE, perhaps at the time of the Babylonian invasion and destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army. The Ark was originally housed in a temple built by King Solomon in Jerusalem circa 970 – 930 BCE. Most biblical scholars also acknowledge that the Ark was originally built by Israelites. It was Moses, the prophetic leader of the Israelites, who placed the original stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which he obtained from God atop Mount Sinai. The Ethiopians call the Ten Commandments asertu qalat.

The Ethiopian source for the Ark of the Covenant is the authoritative and the scared book, Kebra Nagast (Glory of Kings). This ancient book, in the main, narrates how the Ark was transferred from Jerusalem to Aksum and proclaimed as the most important symbol of the Church. Kebra Nagast vividly describes the journey of Makeda (Negesta Saba or the Queen of Sheba) to Jerusalem to ascertain King Solomon’s greatness and wisdom and in the process how Menelik was begotten. When the son came of age, “he went to visit his father, and on his return journey was accompanied by the first born sons of some Israelite nobles, who, unbeknown to Menelik, stole the Ark and carried it with them to Ethiopia.” Geogelas claims that the son of the high priest of Jerusalem, Azariah stole the Ark and Menelik only learned that the Ark had been stolen on his journey back to Ethiopia. Menelik still continued on his journey after hearing of the theft, and brought the Ark to Aksum.

The Ark, Hoberman writes, became the source of much elation, for it is the outward symbol of God’s holy presence. Ethiopians also see the relic’s ‘safe and secure’ presence in Aksum as legitimate heirs to the kings of Israel and Judah. The Ark marks the decision to switch from an indigenous religion to Judaism, which later became transformed, voluntarily and peacefully, into Ethiopian Christianity.

It is important to note that the switch from traditional religion to Judaism or the addition of Christianity to the belief system was voluntary. This method of religious adoption is instrumental in the creation and maintenance of indigenous traditions. There were no religious wars or invasions in the process. In fact, the conscious decision to incorporate these two monotheistic religions may have paved the way for creative adaptation and for the proliferation of literary and artistic traditions in Aksum and beyond. To the faithful, the Ark made Ethiopia “the second Zion; Aksum, the new Jerusalem.”

The continuity of a remarkable tradition becomes apparent nationally four times a year during Gena (the Feast of Nativity), Timqat (the Feast of the Glorious Baptism), Tinsaé (the Feast of the Holy Resurrection), and Mesqel (the Feast of the Illuminating Cross). The event that the Ark is magnified the most is on January 18th in conjunction with the celebration of Timkat or Epiphany. The replicas of the Ark or tabotat are brought out of the Churches and paraded through the streets in the presence of a sea of colorfully costumed and purely joyous believers throughout the country. An observer describes the ceremony as follows:

“On their heads the priests carried the tabotat, wrapped in ebony velvet embroidered in gold. Catching the sight of the scared bundle, hundreds of women in the crowd began ululating – making a singsong wail with their tongues – as many Ethiopian women do at moments of intense emotion.”

There are also special annual celebrations of the coronation of tabotat in revered sites, such as Geshen Mariam on September 21, Tsion Mariam on November 21, Qulubi Gabriel on December 19 (As an undergraduate student at the then Alemaya College and now Horemaya University, I affirmed my faith, which was passed on from my parents, by walking from Alemaya to Qulubi for the annual festival and spiritual ecstasy by attending yequlubi Gabriel tabot neges.), Abo Gebre Menfus Qedus on October 5, Gena or Christmas in Lalibela on December 29, Timkat or Epiphany in Gondar on January 11. It is very common for the faithful to make pilgrims at least once to all these sites.

I trust Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., will be willing to reconsider to revise his mode of thinking regarding the not-so-lost Ark. I am sure, if he makes another ‘wandering’ trip to what he correctly calls the holy land, he will not ask the Patriarch for a ‘piece of evidence.’ Rather he may deploy his creative talent to narrate the extraordinary achievement of Ethiopians who succeeded in weaving an ancient tradition of the Ark and its unseen power to their sense of identity, continuity and inter-nationality.

The Monarchy may have gone, but tabot is negus in Ethiopia. The Ethiopians, without a doubt, believe the original Ark is located in a chapel of St Mary of Zion Church in Aksum. The replica of the Arc is found in over 30, 000 churches throughout the country as well as in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Ark is central to the religious belief of the Christian Ethiopians. The Ark’s centrality in Ethiopian Christianity is bound to persist for generations to come.

Hymns to not-so-lost of the Ark, hymns to the majestic shrine, hymns to the visible embodiment of the presence of Igziabher, for it signifies the hybridity of our expressive and visual signposts drawn from the ancestral past to integrate into our much diverse and broader present Ethiopian culture.

—–
Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007.

An Exquisite Pocket Watch And The Emperor Who Owned It

A pocket watch made for Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II, dating back to 1893, was recently sold at an auction in Geneva.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, November 23, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – An exquisite pocket watch, made for Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, dating back to 1893, was recently sold at Sotheby’s auction block in Geneva at price of 52,500 Swiss Franc, the equivalent of 51,595.95 U.S. dollars.

According to a catalogue issued by Sotheby’s, the historical watch, featuring white enamel dial with Ethiopian numerals as the hour indicator, “was a gift to Léon Chefneux in recognition of his contribution to the implementation of Ethiopia’s first railway line, as inscribed on the inside of the case ‘Don de Sa Majesté Menelik II Empereur d’Ethiopie’.”

This pocket watch, however, is also a symbol of the larger-than-life personality of one of the most celebrated monarchs in Ethiopia’s modern history. Emperor Menelik’s first claim to international reputation occurred in 1896 when his army scored a decisive victory against invading Italian forces, marking the first time that an African country had defeated a European colonial power.

As the Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde noted, “Few events in the modern period have brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world as has the victory at Adwa.” News reports describing Italian soldiers fleeing in panic sent shockwaves throughout Europe. In Italy, riots broke out and the government of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi was forced to resign. Italy eventually signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa – recognizing the independence of Ethiopia.

Elsewhere in the world, shouts of “Viva Menelik” would emerge as a battle cry for anti-colonial movements. For those who still lived under the yoke of racial discrimination, Ethiopia’s victory “would become a cause célèbre,” writes Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance.” Soon, inspired by the Emperor, African Americans and Blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Ethiopia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became the Emperor’s trusted personal physician.

King Menelik’s era is also characterized by his attempts to modernize his empire. Menelik introduced the country’s first telephone and telegraph lines and presided over the inaugurations of the nation’s first bank and post office.

The Emperor’s colorful personality has been described by generations of writers, but none more vividly than the one offered by 37-year-old American diplomat named Robert P. Skinner. In 1906, Mr. Skinner, who had been appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate a commercial treaty with the African kingdom, published a memoir detailing his encounter with the charismatic head of state.

“The emperor was amazed when I handed him a project of treaty written in his own language by Professor Littmann, of Princeton University,” writes Mr. Skinner. “He said that it was remarkable that a man who had had only the opportunities for study afforded by books should have such a command of the language as Professor Littmann.”

Skinner goes on to describe Menelik’s intellectual curiosity and his affinity for technological advances. He highlights that the Emperor kept abreast of international affairs via Reuter news service, which used the telegraph line to provide news. The Emperor also received weekly dispatches through the Ethiopian postal service, which were then translated into Amharic for his review.


Emperor Menelik II.

“He knew of our war with Spain, he knew something of our war with Great Britain, and he had a realization, though vague, of our might and power,” says Ambassador Skinner. “His thirst for information is phenomenal.” When Skinner presented Menelik with a signed copy of President Roosevelt’s photo, he carefully studied the image with an expression of familiarity with the subject. The American writes: “He had heard, evidently, a good deal about the President, whose personality interested him much. He knew him to be sportsman, and hoped that he would one day visit Ethiopia. He wanted to know his age, and how he had come to be President.”

Skinner described the Emperor’s sense of humor and adventurous spirit as in a scene during a gift exchange at the palace luncheon hosted by Menelik in honor of the American delegation. No sooner had the visitors finished demonstrating the latest model American rifle, the Emperor grabbed the gun and proceeded to aim it at the dining room doorway without leaving his seat, causing the invited Ethiopian dignitaries to run for cover. “There was immediately a wild stampede for cover on the part of the satellites while the imperial hand pulled the trigger,” muses Skinner. “The Emperor’s eyes showed that he appreciated the humor of the situation.” And Menelik later intimates his love of joking to Skinner: “I am going to my country place in Addis Alem next week,” he said, “and I shall be accompanied by many officers. I expect to amuse myself with these cartridges. I shall be able to teach some of my officers to show courage under fire.”

However, the tone was decidedly serious when the Americans unveiled a ‘writing-machine.’ “The practical mind of the Emperor developed the question immediately,” writes Ambassador Skinner. “Why can’t we have an Amharic typewriter?” Skinner quotes a French gentleman, Mr. Léon Chefneux, who was present at the occasion as having replied to the Emperor as follows: “whereas we had only 26 letters in our alphabet, it would require 251 characters for the Amharic language, and the construction of a machine containing so many figures presented practical difficulties.”

Mr. Chefneux was the gentleman whose family until recently had owned Emperor Menelik’s pocket watch that was auctioned in Geneva.
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Related:
Picture of the Week: Emperor Menelik’s Pocket Watch

The Africans who fought in WWII

Above: Jagamo Kello, middle, left home at just 15 to fight
Italian invaders.

BBC
By Martin Plaut
The 70th anniversary of World War II is being commemorated around the world, but the contribution of one group of soldiers is almost universally ignored. How many now recall the role of more than one million African troops? Yet they fought in the deserts of North Africa, the jungles of Burma and over the skies of Germany. A shrinking band of veterans, many now living in poverty, bitterly resent being written out of history. For Africa, World War II began not in 1939, but in 1935. Italian Fascist troops, backed by thousands of Eritrean colonial forces, invaded Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie was forced to flee to the UK, but others, known as Patriots, fought on. Among them was Jagama Kello. Fifteen years old at the time, he left home and raised a guerrilla force that struck at the Italian invaders. Read more.

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The Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the black response

A Conversation with Haile Gerima

Above: We spoke with the internationally acclaimed director
Haile Gerima about his latest film Teza. (Gezaw Tesfaye)

Tadias Magazine
By: Martha Z. Tegegn

Last Updated: Friday, April 2, 2010

New York (Tadias) – For filmmaker Haile Gerima the travails of life are much like moving images – “a constant journey of restlessness and complexity, until the final rest.”

Haile’s latest film, the critically acclaimed Teza, focuses on the tumultuous years of the Mengistu era, as told by an idealistic Ethiopian doctor who recounts dreams and nightmares.

We spoke with Haile at his Sankofa bookstore, conveniently located across from Howard University where he has been teaching film since 1975.

But first, here is a sneak preview of Teza:


Haile Gerima (Photo by Gezaw Tesfaye)

Teza’s main character, Anberber, experiences nightmares reflecting back to the chaotic years in Ethiopia following the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Do you think this painful memory is also collectively shared by Anberber’s generation in the Diaspora?

HG: Oh, Certainly. In fact, a lot of people would ask me, “Is it biographical?” I say, no it is a collective experience. It’s a stolen story of a whole lot of people. So the generation that this film speaks to is an idealistic generation, who were sent abroad by governments or by personal ambition, to bring the tonic that would transform their society. Therefore, you have a generation that was leaving the country as if they were sent to go and bring the medicine and cross the river and comeback. Yet, the journey is more complex. When you cross the Atlantic and the threshold of the so-called modern society, you enter in to a new orbit and your journey becomes more complicated. For me, and especially my generation of Ethiopians of the 1970’s and late 60’s, this is the dilemma that dramatized even their well-intended political dream into a nightmare. So it is a generational, I would say, biography.

What memories do you have of that time? Are they reflected in your film?

HG: Well I would say, how genuine young Ethiopian men and women were about changing Ethiopia. How much they cared, how much they loved their country was unquestionable, but at the same time you know you can destroy the object of love if it is possessively displaced. In other words, the dogmatic nature of that generation was such that they arrogantly thought they had the formula for transforming Ethiopia. It left them a confused generation.

The film was shot in Ethiopia and Germany but the story was based here in America. It was first written for America. I remember long ago weekend meetings (of Ethiopians) at the international student center near UCLA or at UCLA. We left all the priorities of our personal life to meet on the issue of country. That is the most amazing experience, but at the same time, we were also feeding a very dangerous dogma to each other. A dogma that swallowed the very generation in its prime age. I was in these meetings. Of course, I got out at a certain point because I couldn’t digest my own tendencies of disappearing in this generational political culture. When we shot the film in Germany we shot in the actual place where Ethiopian students were meeting. It doesn’t matter where we were, Ethiopian men and women of my generation in Paris, in Rome, in Cologne or Frankfurt or Seattle, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. They were doing the same activity and basically reading almost the same books, and these books were taken as Biblical prophecies to transform Ethiopia. And, in the end, we lost so many powerful Ethiopian young men. Brilliant young men and women were lost in this confusion, in this chaotic period. So I know vividly these people that I dedicate the film to. I remember their eyes and how genuine they were. These are not bad people. They were not selfish. They just disappeared in the chaos.

Do you think the current generation is lost in the chaos of individualistic attitude?

HG: Well, you know I think it is a very different generation. Completely different generation. And I don’t know the historical circumstances. I don’t know what would become of them. But it is a generation that is so disillusioned it has no internal strength. Most Ethiopians are not strong inside, that is why they need external jackets and hair-dos, lipsticks, earrings, cars and TV to say “I am somebody.”

Some people would say well it is that political confusion that created this alienated generation, but I always say every generation has a responsibility to be compassionate to be collective-minded and fair and just. You see it in America – young people marching for poor people or against racism etc..so young Ethiopians at this point, they might have personal experiences to use as explanations, but in my view if I have to say it, I find them very confused and very external-oriented, materialistic-oriented. And to me I am not against hair change or lipstick or earrings, but I think inner strength is more important to say “I believe this and I am somebody inside.”

On the other hand you can see a lot of Ethiopians are very successfully involved in the economic foundation of America — they have restaurants. We never thought about restaurants, we never thought about businesses. We all thought we were sent to bring medicine from abroad and cure our people. There was so much trachoma in my village. When you come from those circumstances you don’t have time for personal ambitions. Instead you start thinking “There must be something I could do before I die” or “what is the purpose of living?”

What is purpose of living? Let me put it this way…what is life in the eyes of a cinematographer?

HG: Life is a cinema, constant journey of restlessness complexity, until the final rest. Life for me is constant struggle to have your say in this world to have your story be presented as a valid story.

What is the main message that you want the audience to take away from this film?

HG:The purpose of Teza is really like childhood morning dew. When I was growing up, I would sense the morning from the water caressing my legs while walking through the grass – the morning dew (English for Teza). This type of childhood experience is being lost, and so I am trying to preserve my childhood and I am trying to preserve my generation. And I am trying to remember the mistakes we made especially when we became brutal toward each other – shooting each other, killing each other. I don’t like killing, I never liked killing I don’t know how my generation made its cultural trademark to kill each other because of political differences. These are the reasons I try to work for myself first. People have to take it and see what it does for them, but for me, I am processing the whole confusion that I was part of.

Is Teza historical fiction or is it based on a true story? What in particular inspired you to make the film?

HG: Let me tell you, every time I go to Ethiopia I find mothers asking me to return their sons from the war. A war between two ‘families’ – Eritrea and Ethiopia. A woman who has ‘clogged’ her eyes crying for the past two or three years will lament “bring back my son to me. Can you give me my son? I don’t want your money, I want you to give me my son.” How does one deliver this woman’s request? You are only a filmmaker, you are not an army. How would you fulfill her request? This is the challenge that I face every time I go to Ethiopia. I am faced by the reality of peasants, working people, servants in homes – they all confront me. And so for me the film is like vomiting toxic. In doing so you exorcise your own.

I don’t have the power to make people see my movie, I have no other agenda. If they see it I am grateful. To me, the primary task of this movie is to vomit it, now the inspiration is really my helplessness. Teza’s main character, Amberber, felt completely helpless in one scene when soldiers come to take a son, and the mother was saying give me back my son, he is not armed, he is just confused scholar who got back to his country to his mother, to his umbilical cord in search of his childhood. He is always walking in the landscape because that is where he grew up but the reality kept coming in front of him like a stage play. So, my inspiration is my inability to do something about what the Ethiopian people are going through, then and now. This is what my helplessness is. Other people have a more dramatic source of inspiration. My inspiration is me being helpless, powerless, not having enough resources.

Teza said to have taken 14 years to make, why did it take so long? And what were the challenges in executing it?

HG: Many Ethiopians in my view do not understand the power of culture. When Westerners make film they know it is about their collective culture. We, on the other hand, don’t see how significant it is to preserve our people’s culture, from day one, as it is invoked by descendents. As it resonates through the younger generation. We don’t invest on culture. For instance, Ethiopians in America, if they put twenty dollars a month aside for the transformation of Ethiopian art, for the preservation of Ethiopian culture and tradition, Ethiopia would also have a population that is mentally restructured and confident and capable of making its own history. To create a critically brilliant society you have to have a dramatic cultural transaction.

Can you say a bit more about the leading actors in the film? How you found them and cast them?

HG: None of the characters had acted before. Most of them came to me raw, but they had amazing potential and gift that I was able to say ‘Oh! This person will give me what I want.’ Some of the actors in the village, like the woman who plays Amberber’s mother, has never acted. She doesn’t even know what acting is, but she knocked people out because she was so genuine, truthful, and most of all she understood and felt the story. She lived in the era and I was able to work with her to get what I wanted. So, for me there is what you call ‘gift,’ and in filmmaking half of it is luck. You know, you try and sometimes you mis-cast. I am proud of the cast in Teza, and I didn’t care if they didn’t know acting because I was very confident of making sure that I don’t paralyze them by mystifying acting. I know how to demystify acting, that is part of my education my orientation. I practiced a lot even during Sankofa, Bush Mama, I made movies with non-actors and actors too. The non-actors have done amazing work, so for me when auditioning people I am looking untangle a range of talent, and get the best out of what I want rather than cast corrupted actors who will not be genuine.


Actresses Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, Veronika Avraham, director Haile Gerima
and actors Abeye Tedla and Aaron Arefe attend the ‘Teza’ photocall at the Piazzale
del Casino during the 65th Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2008 in Venice.
(September 2, 2008 – Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe)

What is your favorite film? Why?

HG: The problem with this question is that it is flawed. Favorite film doesn’t exist but what happens is, films inspire me. One of them is ‘The Hour of the Furnaces‘ from Argentina, but the most powerful film that resonates with my childhood experience is a Japanese film called The Island and another Swedish film called My Life as a Dog, and an Italian film called The Bicycle Thief. So it is a range of films – kind of like puzzle work. There are a lot of films that animated my life and resonated with me.

You talk about the influence your parents had on you growing up and how it inspired you to become a storyteller, can you talk about that?

HG: You know, when I was growing up we sat around the fire and my grandmother would always tell a story. And to me that is the foundation of film – storytelling. My father was a playwright and he wrote plays and I participated in different capacities in my father’s plays. And my mother was always full of stories and most nights we had no television, no film to go to. Our TV and TV dinner was fireside chats. Hearing stories from the elders played a major role in my development, as well as kept alive my continued quest to connect to their lifestyle, their aesthetics. I didn’t know it was important to do so then, but now I go out of my way to preserve it. To me, Ethiopia has a lot to offer to an artist. It is a country that has the audacity to invent without imitation. The storytelling is the kind of orientation that I am very blessed and grateful about.

What advice do you have for young aspiring Ethiopian filmmakers? Or anyone that wants to prosper in the artistic world of cinematography?

HG: One is to give your heart fully — to jump and get into it all the way. Not to apologize, not to be inhibited by going to school or not going to school. Or by ‘knowing’ film or not. If you have the urge to tell a story just jump with everything within you. But once you jump in, it is not enough to jump in, now you have to kick if you don’t want to drown, and so the hard work is the process of learning more by yourself through your work.

Every film that I make is my university. I learn so much from my mistakes and I consider my films the most imperfect films because I am always learning to do better from film to film. The kind of filmmakers that young people should aspire to be is to consistently learn from their own films. Watch movies, study paintings and color. Color as simple as it sounds is complex. Understand culture that is fundamental. Film in the end is built in this powerful development of your sensory organs to light, to shadows. This doesn’t come just by wanting to be a filmmaker. You have to go out of your way. Young people should know that one doesn’t become a filmmaker individually but, rather from a collective view. Don’t forget not only to learn what to do but also learn what not to do as well.

Many of your films are financed by independent sources outside the U.S or the community….what makes it easy for you to find funding outside but challenging in the U.S?

HG: I got tired of asking people who don’t value my story to fund my films. In Europe, I found individuals who said ‘Let me join this guy.’ Yes, it takes me years to convince people. that is why it took fourteen years to find the money I needed to start filming in 2004. The first shooting took place in Ethiopia for eight weeks. Then it took me two more years to find the German part – six day shoot. In the end it is luck that I found intellectuals who were predisposed to my right to tell my story and that they want to be part of the storytelling. Mostly because I prefer low budget, I have more freedom to control my film. Even by American standards, I am the freest independent filmmaker who owns his own films. And if I enter into a relationship I never relinquish the power of the filmmaker where other people come to decide for me. I would rather have less money and more freedom.

Where do you find the time and energy to do all this?

HG: From the story, the story keeps me charged.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?

HG: Thank you to Tadias. I know how you guys insist to exist. And I know how difficult it is for magazines to exist. I hope you guys continue to sustain, to struggle to be innovative, to find an alternative way of making sure that you don’t disintegrate and close and collapse. I am impressed that you are at least here in the cyber world – you exist. I am very impressed with that.

Thank you so much Prof. Gerima and we wish you continued success!

HG: Thank you!


Related:
Lacking Shelter at Home and Abroad (NYT Movie Review)
For Filmmaker, Ethiopia’s Struggle Is His Own (The New York Times)
Teza, Portrait of an Ethiopian Exile (The Village Voice)

History of Ethiopian Church Presence in Jerusalem

Above photo: Ethiopian monks on the roof of Christianity’s
holiest shrine in Jerusalem
(Creative Commons Attribution).

Tadias Magazine
Editor’s Note:
Updated: Saturday, April 25, 2009

New York (Tadias) – The following piece was first published on the print issue of Tadias Magazine in the context of the July 2002 brawl that erupted on the roof of Christianity’s most holy place between Ethiopian and Egyptian monks.

“Eleven monks were treated in hospital after a fight broke out for control of the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection”, wrote Alan Philps, a Jerusalem based reporter for the Daily Telegraph.

“The fracas involved monks from the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the Coptic church of Egypt, who have been vying for control of the rooftop for centuries.”

We have republished here part of the original article from our archives with a hope that it may generate a healthy discussion on the subject.

Deir Sultan, Ethiopia and the Black World
By Negussay Ayele for Tadias Magazine

holy_sepulchre_exterior_new.jpg
Above: Main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (27/03/2005),
Easter Sunday. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Unknown by much of the world, monks and nuns of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, have for centuries quietly maintained the only presence by black people in one of Christianity’s holiest sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of millennial history and landlord changes in Jerusalem and the Middle East region, Ethiopian monks have retained their monastic convent in what has come to be known as Deir Sultan or the Monastery of the Sultan for more than a thousand years.

Likewise, others that have their respective presences in the area at different periods include Armenian, Russian, Syrian, Egyptian and Greek Orthodox/Coptic Churches as well as the Holy See.

As one writer put it recently, “For more than 1500 years, the Church of Ethiopia survived in Jerusalem. Its survival has not, in the last resort, been dependent on politics, but on the faith of individual monks that we should look for the vindication of the Church’s presence in Jerusalem…. They are attracted in Jerusalem not by a hope for material gain or comfort, but by faith.”

It is hoped that public discussion on this all-important subject will be joined by individuals and groups from all over the world. We hope that others with more detailed and/or first hand knowledge about the subject will join in the discussion.

roof2new.jpg
Above: Painting on the wall of the Ethiopian part of the church of the Holy
Sepulcher. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Accounts of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem invoke the Bible to establish the origin of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem.

Accordingly, some Ethiopians refer to the story of the encounter in Jerusalem between Queen of Sheba–believed to have been a ruler in Ethiopia and environs–and King Solomon, cited, for instance, in I Kings 10: 1-13.

According to this version, Ethiopia’s presence in the region was already established about 1000 B.C. possibly through land grant to the visiting Queen, and that later transformation into Ethiopian Orthodox Christian monastery is an extension of that same property.

Others refer to the New Testament account of Acts 8: 26-40 which relates the conversion to Christianity of the envoy of Ethiopia’s Queen Candace (Hendeke) to Jerusalem in the first century A.D., thereby signaling the early phase of Ethiopia’s adoption of Christianity. This event may have led to the probable establishment of a center of worship in Jerusalem for Ethiopian pilgrims, priests, monks and nuns.

Keeping these renditions as a backdrop, what can be said for certain is the following: Ethiopian monastic activities in Jerusalem were observed and reported by contemporary residents and sojourners during the early years of the Christian era.

By the time of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the region (634-644 A.D.) khalif Omar is said to have confirmed Ethiopian physical presence in Jerusalem’s Christian holy places, including the Church of St. Helena, which encompasses the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His firman or directive of 636 declared “the Iberian and Abyssinian communities remain there” while also recognizing the rights of other Christian communities to make pilgrimages in the Christian holy places of Jerusalem.

Because Jerusalem and the region around it, has been subjected to frequent invasions and changing landlords, stakes in the holy places were often part of the political whims of respective powers that be.

Subsequently, upon their conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders had kicked out Orthodox/Coptic monks from the monasteries and installed Augustine monks instead. However, when in 1187 Salaheddin wrested Jerusalem from the Crusaders, he restored the presence of the Ethiopian and other Orthodox/Coptic monks in the holy places.

When political powers were not playing havoc with their claims to the holy places, the different Christian sects would often carry on their own internecine conflicts among themselves, at times with violent results.

Contemporary records and reports indicate that the Ethiopian presence in the holy places in Jerusalem was rather much more substantial throughout much of the period up to the 18th and 19th centuries.

For example, an Italian pilgrim, Barbore Morsini, is cited as having written in 1614 that “the Chapels of St. Mary of Golgotha and of St. Paul…the grotto of David on Mount Sion and an altar at Bethlehem…” among others were in the possession of the Ethiopians.

From the 16th to the middle of the 19th centuries, virtually the whole of the Middle East was under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. When one of the Zagwe kings in Ethiopia, King Lalibela (1190-1225), had trouble maintaining unhampered contacts with the monks in Jerusalem, he decided to build a new Jerusalem in his land. In the process he left behind one of the true architectural wonders known as the Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela.

lalibela5.jpg
Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution.

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Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

lalibela6.jpg
Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

The Ottomans also controlled Egypt and much of the Red Sea littoral and thereby circumscribed Christian Ethiopia’s communication with the outside world, including Jerusalem.

Besides, they had also tried but failed to subdue Ethiopia altogether. Though Ethiopia’s independent existence was continuously under duress not only from the Ottomans but also their colonial surrogate, Egypt as well as from the dervishes in the Sudan, the Ethiopian monastery somehow survived during this period. Whenever they could, Ethiopian rulers and other personages as well as church establishments sent subsidies and even bought plots of land where in time churches and residential buildings for Ethiopian pilgrims were built in and around Jerusalem. Church leaders in Jerusalem often represented the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in ecumenical councils and meetings in Florence and other fora.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Ottoman rulers of the region including Palestine and, of course, Jerusalem, tried to stabilize the continuing clamor and bickering among the Christian sects claiming sites in the Christian holy places. To that effect, Ottoman rulers including Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) and Suleiman “the Magnificent” (1520-1566) as well as later ones in the 19th century, issued edicts or firmans regulating and detailing by name which group of monks would be housed where and the protocol governing their respective religious ceremonies. These edicts are called firmans of the Status Quo for all Christian claimants in Jerusalem’s holy places including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which came to be called Deir Sultan or the monastery (place) of the Sultan.

Ethiopians referred to it endearingly as Debre Sultan. Most observers of the scene in the latter part of the 19th Century as well as honest spokesmen for some of the sects attest to the fact that from time immemorial the Ethiopian monks had pride of place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan). Despite their meager existence and pressures from fellow monks from other countries, the Ethiopian monks survived through the difficult periods their country was going through such as the period of feudal autarchy (1769-1855).

Still, in every document or reference since the opening of the Christian era, Ethiopia and Ethiopian monks have been mentioned in connection with Christian holy places in Jerusalem, by all alternating landlords and powers that be in the region.

As surrogates of the weakening Ottomans, the Egyptians were temporarily in control of Jerusalem (1831-1840). It was at this time, in 1838, that a plague is said to have occurred in the holy places, which in some mysterious ways of Byzantine proportions, claimed the lives of all Ethiopian monks.

The Ethiopians at this time were ensconced in a chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan) as well as in other locales nearby. Immediately thereafter, the Egyptian authorities gave the keys of the Church to the Egyptian Coptic monks.

The Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha, then ordered that all thousands of very precious Ethiopian holy books and documents, including historical and ecclesiastical materials related to property deeds and rights, be burned—alleging conveniently that the plague was spawned by the Ethiopian parchments.

Monasteries are traditionally important hubs of learning and, given its location and its opportunity for interaction with the wider family of Christendom, the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem was even more so than others. That is how Ethiopians lost their choice possession in Deir Sultan.

By the time other monks arrived in Jerusalem, the Copts claimed their squatter’s rights, the new Ethiopian arrivals were eventually pushed off onto the open rooftop of the church, thanks largely to the machinations of the Egyptian Coptic church.

church-with-monks_new.jpg
Above: The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in
Jerusalem, where Ethiopians maintain the only presence
by black people in Christianity’s holiest shrine. This image
is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Although efforts on behalf of Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem started in mid-19th Century with Ras Ali and Dejach Wube, it was the rise of Emperor Tewodros in 1855 in Ethiopia that put the Jerusalem monastery issue back onto international focus.

When Ethiopian monks numbering a hundred or so congregated in Jerusalem at the time, the Armenians had assumed superiority in the holy places. The Anglican bishop in Jerusalem then, Bishop Samuel Gobat witnessed the unholy attitude and behavior of the Armenians and the Copts towards their fellow Christian Ethiopians who were trying to reclaim their rights to the holy places in Jerusalem.

He wrote that the Ethiopian monks, nuns and pilgrims “were both intelligent and respectable, yet they were treated like slaves, or rather like beasts by the Copts and the Armenians combined…(the Ethiopians) could never enter their own chapel but when it pleased the Armenians to open it. …On one occasion, they could not get their chapel opened to perform funeral service for one of their members. The key to their convent being in the hands of their oppressors, they were locked up in their convent in the evening until it pleased their Coptic jailer to open it in the morning, so that in any severe attacks of illness, which are frequent there, they had no means of going out to call a physician.’’

It was awareness of such indignities suffered by Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem that is said to have impelled Emperor Tewodros to have visions of clearing the path between his domain and Jerusalem from Turkish/Egyptian control, and establishing something more than monastic presence there. In the event, one of the issues that contributed to the clash with British colonialists that consumed his life 1868, was the quest for adequate protection of the Ethiopian monks and their monastery in Jerusalem.

Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889), the priestly warrior king, used his relatively cordial relations with the British who were holding sway in the region then, to make representations on behalf of the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

He carried on regular pen-pal communications with the monks even before he became Emperor. He sent them money, he counseled them and he always asked them to pray for him and the country, saying, “For the prayers of the righteous help and serve in all matters. By the prayers of the righteous a country is saved.”

He used some war booty from his battles with Ottomans and their Egyptian surrogates, to buy land and started to build a church in Jerusalem. As he died fighting Sudanese/Dervish expansionists in 1889, his successor, Emperor Menelik completed the construction of the Church named Debre Gennet located on what was called “Ethiopian Street.”

During this period more monasteries, churches and residences were also built by Empresses Tayitu, Zewditu, Menen as well as by several other personages including Afe Negus Nessibu, Dejazmach Balcha, Woizeros Amarech Walelu, Beyenech Gebru, Altayeworq.

As of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century the numbers of Ethiopian monks and nuns increased and so did overall Ethiopian pilgrimage and presence in Jerusalem.

In 1903, Emperor Menelik put $200, 000 thalers in a (Credileone) Bank in the region and ordained that interests from that savings be used exclusively as subsidy for the sustenance of the Ethiopian monks and nuns and the upkeep of Deir Sultan. Emperor Menelik’s 6-point edict also ordained that no one be allowed to draw from the capital in whole or in part.

Land was also purchased at various localities and a number of personalities including Empress Tayitu, and later Empress Menen, built churches there. British authorities supported a study on the history of the issue since at least the time of kalifa (Calif) Omar ((636) and correspondences and firmans and reaffirmations of Ethiopian rights in 1852, in an effort to resolve the chronic problems of conflicting claims to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

The 1925 study concluded that ”the Abyssinian (Ethiopian ) community in Palestine ought to be considered the only possessor of the convent Deir Es Sultan at Jerusalem with the Chapels which are there and the free and exclusive use of the doors which give entrance to the convent, the free use of the keys being understood.”

Until the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930’s when Mussolini confiscated Ethiopian accounts and possessions everywhere, including in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem had shown some semblance of stability and security, despite continuing intrigues by Copts, Armenians and their overlords in the region.

This was a most difficult and trying time for the Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem who were confronted with a situation never experienced in the country’s history, namely its occupation by a foreign power. And, just like some of their compatriots including Church leaders at home, some paid allegiance to the Fascist rulers albeit for the brief (1936-1941) interregnum.

Emperor Haile Sellassie was also a notable patron of the monastery cause, and the only monarch to have made several trips to Jerusalem, including en route to his self-exile to London in May, 1936.

Since at least the 1950s there was an Ethiopian Association for Jerusalem in Addis Ababa that coordinated annual Easter pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Hundreds of Ethiopians and other persons from Ethiopia and the Diaspora took advantage of its good offices to go there for absolution, supplication or felicitation, and the practice continues today.

Against all odds, historical, ecclesiastical and cultural bonding between Ethiopia and Jerusalem waxed over the years. The Ethiopian presence expanded beyond Deir Sultan including also numerous Ethiopian Churches, chapels, convents and properties. This condition required that the Patriarchate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church designate Jerusalem as a major diocese to be administered under its own Archbishop.

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Above: Timket (epiphany) celebration by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo
Church on the Jordan River, considered to be the place where Jesus was
baptized. Jan. 1999. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Ethiopia and Black Heritage In Jerusalem

For hundreds of years, the name or concept of Ethiopia has been a beacon for black/African identity liberty and dignity throughout the diaspora. The Biblical (Psalm 68:31) verse , “…Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” has been universally taken to mean African people, black people at large, stretch out their hands to God (and only to God) in supplication, in felicitation or in absolution.

As Daniel Thwaite put it, for the Black man Ethiopia was always “…an incarnation of African independence.”

And today, Ethiopian monastic presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Deir Sultan in Jerusalem, is the only Black presence in the holiest place on earth for Christians. For much of its history, Ethiopian Christianity was largely hemmed in by alternating powers in the region. Likewise, Ethiopia used its own indigenous Ethiopic languages for liturgical and other purposes within its own territorial confines, instead of colonial or other lingua franca used in extended geographical spaces of the globe.

For these and other reasons, Ethiopia was not able to communicate effectively with the wider Black world in the past. Given the fact that until recently, most of the Black world within Africa and in the diaspora was also under colonial tutelage or under slavery, it was not easy to appreciate the significance of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem. Consequently, even though Ethiopian/Black presence in Jerusalem has been maintained through untold sacrifices for centuries, the rest of the Black world outside of Ethiopia has not taken part in its blessings through pilgrimages to the holy sites and thereby develop concomitant bonding with the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

For nearly two millennia now, the Ethiopian Church and its adherent monks and priests have miraculously maintained custodianship of Deir Sultan, suffering through and surviving all the struggles we have glanced at in these pages. In fact, the survival of Ethiopian/Black presence in Christianity’s holy places in Jerusalem is matched only by the “Survival Ethiopian Independence” itself.

Indeed, Ethiopian presence in Deir Sultan represents not just Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity but all African/black Christians of all denominations who value the sacred legacy that the holy places of Jerusalem represent for Christians everywhere. It represents also the affirmation of the fact that Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity, just as adherents of Judaism and Islam claim it also.

The Ethiopian foothold at the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the only form of Black presence in Christianity’s holy places of Jerusalem. It ought to be secure, hallowed and sanctified ground by and for all Black folks everywhere who value it. The saga of Deir Sultan also represents part of Ethiopian history and culture. And that too is part of African/black history and culture regardless of religious orientation.

When a few years ago, an Ethiopian monk was asked by a writer why he had come to Jerusalem to face all the daily vicissitudes and indignities, he answered, “because it is Jerusalem.”


About the Author:
Dr. Negussay Ayele is a noted Ethiopian scholar. He is the author of the book Ethiopia and the United States, Volume I, the Season of Courtship, among many other publications. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Royal Monuments Recall the Lost Glory of an African Empire

Source: Archaeology:
A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Of Obelisks and Empire
By Mark Rose
Photographs by Chester Higgins, Jr.

Royal monuments and ancient accounts recall the lost
glory of an African kingdom

In the first century A.D., an unknown merchant recorded details of the Red Sea trade, and mentioned Adulis, the harbor of “the city of the people called Aksumites” to which “all the ivory is brought from the country beyond the Nile.” The ruler of Aksum, he wrote, was Zoskales, who was “miserly in his ways and always striving for more, but otherwise upright, and acquainted with Greek literature.” Just two centuries later, the philosopher Mani (ca. A.D. 210-276) included Aksum as one of the four great empires, along with Rome, Persia, and Sileos (possibly China). And in 274, envoys from Aksum took part in the triumphal procession staged by the emperor Aurelian when he paraded the captured Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, fettered with gold chains, through Rome.

Today, Aksum is a dusty, regional market town of about 50,000 in northern Ethiopia. If people have heard of it, perhaps it is on account of another queen: the Biblical Sheba. According to the Kebra Nagast (Book of the Glory of the Kings), an early-14th-century compilation that chronicles Ethiopia’s rulers, Solomon and Sheba had a son, Menelik, who brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Aksum. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church maintains that the Ark is still kept within the precinct walls of the Church of Tsion (Mary of Zion) in Aksum. Read more.

Related: Embracing Ethiopia By CHESTER HIGGINS

Chester Higgins, Jr.

Tadias Magazine
By Chester Higgins, Jr.
Photo Updated: April 21st, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Long before I set foot in Ethiopia, the name itself summoned images of Biblical proportion for me and, I believe, for many other African Americans as well. In the Bible, ‘Ethiopia’ is a place of refuge, an amazing mystical land.

Then with the advent of Marcus Garvey and African nationalists, who rallied against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during the Second World War, Ethiopia became a symbol of resistance to Colonialism. In the 1960s, when Emperor Haile Selassie appeared on national TV during a state visit to the US, millions more African American imaginations burned with the knowledge of an independent African people.

Not until the 1970s did the image and concept of Ethiopia, inspired by the reggae music of Bob Marley, gain extraordinary prominence in the minds of a young generation of African Americans. The Rastafarian Movement’s efforts to re-define the sanctity of Ethiopia and re-cast Emperor Selassie in a sacred light caught the imagination of young people as they swayed to reggae music. A new light had come out of Africa, but the beam started in the diaspora, this time in Jamaica.

In 1969 I had the good fortune to make a portrait of the renowned Harlem historian and teacher Dr. John Henrik Clarke. He was deeply committed to Africa and African people. My young mind was a parched field, and the many hours I spent with him, asking questions and hearing his answers, fertilized and watered that dry soil. Through him, my knowledge and understanding of Ethiopia grew. Dr. Clarke had this effect on thousands of Harlem residents and on students at Hunter College and Cornell University.

In 1973, on my first journey to Ethiopia, I attended the tenth anniversary conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now called the African Union (AU). That year the conference was held in Addis Ababa. I came to photograph African heads of state; I wanted to share with African Americans my view of rulers responsible for African people.

him.jpg
Above: Emperor Haile Selassie (1973).
Photo by Chester Higgins.

For me the most significant ruler, the most interesting leader, turned out to be Emperor Haile Selassie. In my new book, Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey (Doubleday 2004), I write: “…As I waited at the Addis Ababa airport for a glimpse of arriving dignitaries, my attention was pulled from the action around the arriving airplanes to a group of men making their way across the tarmac. I could sense the power of one man in particular before I could even see him.” Although he was of such small stature that he was dwarfed by the others alongside him, something about his aura so profoundly moved me that I lowered the camera so I could see him with both eyes. Only after he passed me did I learn that I had been in the presence of His Majesty Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia.

Returning from that trip, I began to seek out Ethiopian students at Ethiopian restaurants and conferences to discuss my experience, encountering a mixed reception and political discontent. The students were receptive to my interest in their country, although none shared my enthusiasm for the emperor. Through the many students I have met over the years, I have discovered informative books and begun attending the Horn of Africa Conference, held annually at the City College of New York.

In July 1992, I returned to Ethiopia with my son Damani as my photography assistant. As I wrote in my book Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa (1994), “The memory of being in his [Emperor Haile Selassie I] presence has remained an inspiration in my personal life. Damani, who has locked his hair, shares my love of His Majesty and reggae, the music of the Rastafarians who worship Selassie.”

So far I have been to Ethiopia about a dozen times. On each visit, I use my camera to make a record of contemporary and ancient Ethiopia. Spending weeks at a time, I have traveled in the North to the cities of Mekele, Gondar, Lalibela, Aksum, Bahir Dar, Dessie and Yeha. In the South, I have recorded sites and ceremonies in Nazareth, Debra Ziet, Awassa, Tiya and Tutafella.

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Above: Fasilides Castle. Photo by Chester Higgins.

Ethiopia is indeed home to the earliest humans. In the National Museum in Addis are the bones of Dinquinesh, or Lucy, dating back almost 4 million years. In Aksum, I have seen the monumental mains of tombs and obelisks from earliest kingdoms. Also in Aksum, in 1000 BCE, Makeda, Queen of Sheba, turned away from the old faith of the Nile River cultures — the worship of the Sun that climaxed as the ancient Egyptian religion — and embraced the faith of the Hebrews. Here, too, Emperor Ezana converted to Christianity in 324 CE. The richness of the historic and photographic appeal of Ethiopia is revealed for me especially in the ancient monolithic stone churches of Lalibela and the more ancient Moon Temple in Yeha.

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Above: Yeha Temple. Photo by Chester Higgins.

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Above: Axum Tomb. Photo by Chester Higgins.

Today, Ethiopian people stand tall and proud, their feet planted securely on the land of their fathers and under the sky of their mothers. Ethiopians work hard, believe hard, and are driven hard to persevere by the vicissitudes of nature and life.

It has been a pleasure getting to know Ethiopia and her people.


Learn more about Chester Higgins at:chesterhiggins.com

Out of Ethiopia, Educated in Israel, and Back to Africa to Help

Above: Israeli navy soldiers walk towards a prayer ceremony
held on the Ethiopian Jews’ Sigd holiday on a hill overlooking
Jerusalem. The prayer is performed by Ethiopian Jews every
year to celebrate their community’s connection and
commitment to Israel. About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews live in
Israel, many of them came in massive Israeli airlifts during
times of crisis in Ethiopia in 1984 and 1991. (AP)

Tadias Magazine
By Howard M. Lenhoff and Nathan Shapiro,
(Former Presidents of the American Association for
Ethiopian Jews)

Updated: Monday, April 6, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Today Ethiopian Jews who were rescued from Africa during Operation Moses in 1984 and subsequently educated in Israel, are returning to Africa to help educate orphans who survived the genocide in Rwanda. Is this the start of a unique new stage in the history of the Jews of Ethiopia?

Just 35 years ago fewer than 200 Ethiopian Jews were residents of Israel. Then, in 1974, the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) began its grassroots efforts to rescue and bring to Israel those who were suffering in Africa. Could we ever imagine that by 2009 over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews would become Israeli citizens?

It is good to know that we helped fulfill Hillel’s proverb of “To save a soul, is to save a nation.” AAEJ and Isreali rescues from the Sudan refugee camps between 1979 and 1984-5 began the saga; then Operations Solomon and Sheba brought close to 10,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The year 1991 saw the culmination of these heroic rescue campaigns in the dramatic airlift of Operation Solomon when 14,235 Ethiopian Jews were brought to safety. Thus, Israel in partnership with the AAEJ and other activists, and the U.S.A., did actually save a nation. (See Black Jews, Jews and other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews, by Howard Lenhoff, Gefen, Jerusalem, 2007.)

As presidents of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews between 1978 and 1993, when we disbanded, we continue to take pride in the fruits of that mission today. Not only are the Ethiopian Jews living as free people in Israel, but their successes have continuously inspired and enriched the lives of tens of thousands of Israeli and American Jews who supported their rescue and adjustment in Israel.

Now we are thrilled to see the Ethiopian Jews bringing something else quite special to further enrich the multi-cultural nature of Israeli society and the status of Israel among the nations of the world: The Beta Yisrael are becoming an essential link in giving hope for a new life to orphans in Rwanda!

The JTA has already reported news of the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village presently being constructed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Rwamagana, Rwanda. The village is modeled after the Youth Aliyah Village of Yemin Orde, which was started to assist orphans from the Holocaust, and which played a major role in assisting the Ethiopian orphans, especially those who had lost their parents in the refugee camps of Sudan just before Operation Moses twenty-five years ago.

Why are we excited? Because nearly a dozen Ethiopian Israeli volunteers will be participating in the training of the Rwandans as resident teachers and staff of the orphans at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. All of these volunteers are Ethiopian Jews who escaped the poverty and wars of Ethiopia to become Israelis. Now they are returning to offer humanitarian assistance on behalf of Israel to save another nation in Africa.

The Israeli staff person serving as Deputy Director of Informal Education is the well-educated Ethiopian Jew, Shimon Solomon. He is assisted by a former Ethiopian paratrooper and animal husbandry expert, Dror Neguissi, who will serve as coordinator for the Ethiopian Israelis who will be volunteering at the village over the course of the next year.

The idea for the project was conceived in November 2005 and by January of this year 18 housing units had been built, each of them home for 16 Rwandan orphans. In March, during a field visit by the JDC, a remarkable episode took place. Will Recant, former Executive Director of the AAEJ, and now an Assistant Executive Vice President at JDC and the acting JDC Director on this project, observed a most beautiful and engaging exchange when Dror Neguissi went from house to house with his laptop to share with for the Rwanda orphans a PowerPoint illustrating his personal journey from Ethiopia to Israel. First there were photographs illustrating life as an Ethiopian Jew growing up in a typical village in rural Africa. Next he showed photographs of the trek through the Sudan and the refugee camps where thousands of Ethiopian Jews lost their lives. He concluded with photos of the Beta Yisrael orphans at Yemin Orde and in Israel.

The Rwandan students were surprised and moved by the presentation. They identified with Dror, who like them, had suffered and lost family in Africa, and like them, was African. The story gave them hope; maybe they too could go on to prosper.

Just think: What if Israel were to train many more of the Ethiopian Jews, to form an Israeli Peace Corps to educate orphans of Rwanda and of other African countries who are trying to survive the bloodshed, disease, and famines which plague them?

The journey of these Ethiopian volunteers is iconic; they’ve traveled out of Ethiopia, became educated in Israel, and returned back to Africa to help their African brethren. Thirty five years ago American Jews were campaigning for the rescue from the squalid refugee camps of the Sudan of the Ethiopian Jews including those who are now volunteers in Rwanda. Today we pray for Israel to train and send more of its Ethiopian Jews to help the destitute orphans of Africa.

For more information, contact H. M. Lenhoff, Prof. Emeritus, University of California, at 662-801-6406.

Remembering Adwa: Ethiopia’s Victory in 1896 Halted Italy’s Ambitions in Africa

Above: The Battle of Adwa, painting by an unknown
Ethiopian artist. The painting depicts the Battle of Adwa,
fought between Italy and Abyssinia on March 1, 1896.
(Photo – © The British Museum – 2007)


Tadias Magazine

By Ayele Bekerie

Published: Monday, March 2, 2009

New York (Tadias) – On March 1, 1896, eleven years after the Berlin Conference or what historians call ‘the Scramble for Africa’, the Ethiopian army led by Emperor Menelik II decisively defeated the Italian army at the Battle of Adwa. Adwa is a town located in the northern part of Ethiopia, near the Ethiopian and Eritrean border. Virtually all the regions, religions, linguistic groups, aristocrats and peasants pulled their resources together to formulate and execute a strategy of victory. By their actions the Ethiopians were not only affirming the power and immense possibilities of unity in diversity, but they were placing issues of freedom and internal reform at the top of the national agenda.

Adwa necessitates a new set of directions interspersed with broader definition and application of freedom so that all those who participated in the Battle would be able to have a say in the affairs of their country. As Maimre Mennesemay puts it, “from the perspectives of the thousands who participated in the campaign of Adwa, the resistance to the Italian invasion embodies the aspiration for freedom, equality and unity as well as the rejection of colonialism.”

With regard to the African World, as much as ancient Ethiopia inspired Pan-Africanist movements and organizations, contemporary Ethiopia’s history also has its significance in the struggle against colonialism and racial oppression. Contemporary Ethiopia was particularly brought to the African world’s attention on March 1, 1896 when Ethiopia, an African country, defeated Italy, a European country, at the battle of Adwa. It has been 113 years since the Ethiopians decisively defeated the Italians. As we celebrate the victory, it is important to revisit the meaning and significance of the historic victory, for Adwa is an indelible mark of freedom.

According to Donald Levine, “the Battle of Adwa qualifies as a historic event which represented the first time since the beginning of European imperial expansion that a nonwhite nation had defeated a European power.” The Berlin Conference of 1885, a conference of European colonial powers that was called to carve up Africa into colonial territories, found its most important challenge in this famous battle. European strategy to divide Africa into their spheres of influence was halted by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu Betul at the Battle of Adwa. The Europeans had no choice but to recognize this African (not European) power.

The African World celebrated and embraced this historic victory. In the preface to the book An Introduction to African Civilizations With Main Currents in Ethiopian History, Huggins and Jackson wrote: “In Ethiopia, the military genius of Menelik II was in the best tradition of Piankhi and Sheshonk, rulers of ancient Egypt and Nubia or Ethiopia, when he drove out the Italians in 1896 and maintained the liberties of that ancient free empire of Black men.” Huggins and Jackson analyzed the victory not only in terms of its significance to the postcolonial African world, but also in terms of its linkage to the tradition of ancient African glories and victories.

Menelik used his remarkable leadership skill to draw all (highlanders and lowlanders, Christians and Muslims, northerners and southerners) into a battlefield called Adwa. And in less than six hours, the enemy is decisively defeated. The overconfident and never to be defeated European army fell under the great military strategy of an African army. The strategy was what the Ethiopians call afena, an Ethiopian version of blitzkrieg that encircles the enemy and cuts its head. Italians failed to match the British and the French in establishing a colonial empire in Africa. In fact, by their humiliating defeat, the Italians made the British and the French colonizers jittery. The colonial subjects became reenergized to resist the colonial empire builders.

Adwa irreversibly broadened the true boundaries of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. People of the south and the north, the east and the west fought and defeated the Italian army. In the process, a new Ethiopia is born. Adwa solved once and for all the question of Ethiopiawinet. The Ethiopian army crossed many rivers to reach the battlefield. In the process, it managed to establish trust and andenet. Adwa affirms that there is no Habesha or Abyssinia, but one Ethiopia. Adwa is a blueprint for multiethnic and multireligous Ethiopia.

Adwa shows what can be achieved when united forces work for a common goal. Adwa brought the best out of so many forces that were accustomed to waging battles against each other. Forces of destruction and division ceased their endless squabbles and redirect their united campaign against the common enemy. They chose to redefine themselves as one and unequivocally expressed their rejection of colonialism. They came together in search of freedom or the preservation and expansion of the freedom at hand.

Menelik could have kept the momentum by reforming his government and by allowing the many forces to continue participating in the making of a modern and good for all state. Unfortunately Menelik chose to return back to the status quo, a status of exploitative relationship between the few who controlled the land and the vast majority of the agrarian farmers. And yet, Adwa is a constant reminder of a movement for the establishment of a democratic and just society.

As long as Menelik’s challenge to and reversal of colonialism in Ethiopia is concerned, his accomplishment was historic and an indisputable event. It is precisely this brilliant and decisive victory against the European colonial army that has inspired the colonized and the oppressed through out the world to forge ahead against their colonial masters.

Menelik’s rapprochement with the three colonial powers in the region, namely Italy, France and Britain, may have saved his monarchial power, but the policy ended up hurting the whole region. The seeds of division sown by the colonizers, in part, continue to wreck the region apart. Realizing the need to completely remove all the colonizers as an effective and lasting way to bring peace and prosperity in the region, the grandson of the Emperor, Lij Iyassu attempted to carve anti-colonial policy. He began to send arms to freedom fighters in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. He entered into a treaty of peace and cooperation with the Austrians, the Germans and the Turks. Unfortunately, the rule of Lij Iyassu was short-lived.

Adwa symbolizes the aspirations and hopes of all oppressed people. Adwa catapulted Pan-Africanism into the realm of the possible by reigniting the imaginations of Africans in their quest for freedom throughout the world. Adwa foreshadowed the outcome of the anti-colonial struggle. Adwa is about cultural resistance; it is about reaffirmation of African ways. Adwa was possible not simply because of brilliant and courageous leadership, but also because of the people’s willingness to defend their motherland, regardless of ethnic, linguistic and religious differences. Adwa was a story of common purpose and common destiny. The principles established on the battlefield of Adwa must be understood and embraced for Africa to remain centered in its own histories, cultures and socioeconomic development. We should always remember that Adwa was won for Africans. Adwa indeed is an African model of victory and resistance.

—–
Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
ayele_author.jpg
Ayele Bekerie, an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University, is the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” (The Red Sea Press, 1997). Bekerie’s papers have been published in scholarly journals, such as ANKH: Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations, Journal of the Horn of Africa, Journal of Black Studies, the International Journal of Africana Studies, and the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies. Bekerie is also the creator of the African Writing System web site and a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “ONE HOUSE: The Battle of Adwa 1896-100 Years.” Bekerie’s most recent published work includes “The Idea of Ethiopia: Ancient Roots, Modern African Diaspora Thoughts,” in Power and Nationalism in Modern Africa, published by Carolina Academic Press in 2008 and “The Ancient African Past and Africana Studies” in the Journal of Black Studies in 2007. Bekerie appears frequently on the Amharic Service of Voice of America and Radio Germany. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine and other Ethiopian American electronic publications. His current book project is on the “Idea of Ethiopia.”

Leo Hansberry, Founder of Ethiopian Research Council

Historian and anthropologist William Leo Hansberry's research was posthumously edited by Joseph E. Harris and printed in two volumes by Howard University Press: "Pillars in Ethiopian History" (1974), and "Africa and Africans as Seen by Classical Writers" (1977).

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie

Published: Monday, February 23, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – William Leo Hansberry (1894-1965) was the first academician to introduce a course on African history in a university setting in the United States in 1922. He taught a History of Africa, both ancient and contemporary, for 42 years at Howard University. He gave lectures on African history both in the classrooms and in public squares here at home and in Africa. Thousands of students and ordinary people took his history lessons and some followed his footsteps to study and write extensively about historical issues. Among the seminal contribution of Hansberry is the academic reconstruction and teaching of Ancient African History. His proposal to develop an Africana Studies as an interdisciplinary field not only visualized the centrality of African History, but also laid down the groundwork for eventual establishment of Africana Studies institutions in the United States and Africa.

Hansberry, who studied at Harvard, Oxford and University of Chicago, was an exemplary scholar-activist. He firmly and persistently engaged in disseminating historical knowledge on Africa beyond the classroom. Even though he was not able to complete his PhD dissertation, he evidently demonstrated a remarkable research and writing skills. It is time for Howard University to recognize the immense contributions of Hansberry by organizing a major conference and by naming the Department of African Studies, William Leo Hansberry Department of African Studies. He served as a research associate to the great African American scholar, W.E.B. DuBois. Among his former students were Chancellor Williams (The Destruction of Black Civilization (1987) , and John Henrik Clarke (the author of several books, author of the blueprint for Africana Studies at Cornell University, the distinguished professor of African History at Hunter College, a leading theorist and the founder of the African Heritage Studies Association).

This great man of antiquity, founder of the Ethiopian Research Council, the forerunner of Ethiopian Studies, and genuine friends of African students, died without getting his due recognition from Howard or elsewhere. In fact, it was close to his time of death that he got a few recognitions in his country. His great accomplishments were duly recognized in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia and Nigeria. To this date, no building or sections of building has been named after him at Howard. This is in contrast to former prominent professors of Howard, such as Alain Locke.

Conceptualizing, writing and teaching what Leo Hansberry calls pre-European History of Africa and Africana Studies at a time of open denial and advancement of notion of African inferiority will always remain as his great legacy. In fact, I like to argue that William Leo Hansberry might have been the person who coined the word Africana. One of the most comprehensive outlines he prepared is entitled “Africana and Africa’s Past” and published by John Doe and Company of New York in 1960.

(Photo of William Leo Hansberry)

The term eventually became a useful conceptual word for interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies in the field of Africana Studies, that is, the study of the peoples and experiences of Africa, African America, the Caribbean as well as the Black Atlantic by gathering and interpreting data obtained from a range of disciplines, such as History, Political Science, Archaeology, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Literature and Biology. My department is named Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University with interdisciplinary focus on Africa, African America and the Caribbean. Until very recently, Africana Center was the only center that has used the term Africana. Now institutions like Harvard and others have adopted the conceptual word. The purpose of this paper is to revisit the approaches and writings of William Leo Hansberry on History of Africa as well as Africana Studies in light of the findings of the last forty years.

Claims made by Leo Hansberry, such as the African origin of human beings, the migrations of human beings out of Africa to populate the world, the link between the peoples and civilizations of Egypt, Nubia and Alpine Ethiopia, the civilizations of Western Sudan in medieval times, are no longer in dispute. Several archaeological and archival findings have confirmed his claims. Lucy or Dinqnesh, the 3.1 million years old human-like species, currently touring the major cities of the United States, is major evidence affirming Africa’s place as a cradle of human beings.

The intervention of enslavement and massive economic activities associated with it suppressed, distorted or destroyed much of the facts and histories of Africa. Hansberry and his associates argued tirelessly and fearlessly, in spite of academic ostracism and harassment, to research, construct and teach African history. The publication of UNESCO History of Africa in 8 volumes and the establishment of Departments of History and Africana Studies in the United States, Europe and Africa, particularly in the 1960s, are clear evidence of the correctness and rightness of Hansberry’s approach to history. Hansberry’s diligent and determined search for Africana Antiqua is rooted in his now famous proposition: “It was, in the main, the ruin which followed in the wake of Arab and Berber slave trade in the late Middle Ages and the havoc was wrought by the European slave trade in more recent times that brought about the decline and fall of civilization in most of these early African states.”

He then framed his argument for persuasion in the following manner: “On the strength of the now available information about ancient and medieval Africa, together with the published reports relating to the continent in Stone Age times, it is now certain that Africa has been, throughout the ages, the seat of a great succession of cultures and civilizations which were comparable in most respects and superior in some aspects to the cultures and civilizations in other parts of the world during the same period.” In fact, it is time for Oxford, Harvard and University of Chicago to posthumously award him an honorary doctorate degree.

Leo Hansberry did graduate work at Oxford, Harvard and Chicago Universities and yet none of them were prepared to award him with a PhD degree. His intellectual strategy to dismantle the lingering impact of enslavement by researching and teaching about ancient African civilizations was challenged aggressively, both from within and from without throughout his academic career at Howard University. He taught for over forty years at Howard University in the history department. Thousands of students took his African history courses, and yet his title did not go beyond an instructor.

In the absence of promotion and grants, he persisted in teaching and researching Africa in antiquity. He was denied a grant from the Rosenwald Fund and his Rockefeller grant was terminated while he was studying at Oxford University. He did manage to get a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to visit sites of antiquities in Africa. Throughout his ordeals, his source of great strength was his wife, Myrtle Kalso Hansberry, who not only supported him, but she also collaborated in his research by serving as “his research assistant, translator, grammarian, and counselor.” In addition, she taught for many years in the Public School System of the District of Columbia. At present, his two daughters are the custodians of his writings and manuscripts. It is my hope that they will be able to find an appropriate institution to house his works.

Leo Hansberry was born in 1894 in Mississippi. His father taught history at Alcorn College, a historically Black Institution of Higher Learning. No information is provided on his mother. His early years (1894-1916) coincided with era of Jim Crow, Negrophobia, and constitutional disenfranchisement of the vast majority of African Americans. He was also exposed at the same time to a tradition of resistance and Black Nationalism. Leo Hansberry, however, came from a family with rich intellectual tradition, including his niece, Loraine Hansberry, the great playwright and author of a Broadway play A Raising in the Sun. His parents, both educators, nurtured him with self-pride and self-worth so as to instill in him a desire to pursue a pioneering academic field with a persistent focus on Africana Studies and history of Africa, particularly ancient Africa.

(Photo of Playwright and author Loraine Hansberry, Leo Hansberry’s niece)

Leo Hansberry inherited his father’s library, for his father died while he was young. Home schooling (long before it became a common practice in the United States) might have been the reason behind his confidence and determination to pursue “Africana Antiqua” in his own terms. His father’s library served him as a source what John Henrik Clarke, his former student, calls ‘more and more information’ on Africa. According to Kwame Wes Alford, a major breakthrough in his search for Africa took place after he read W.E.B.DuBois’s book The Negro (1915). The book provided him with ‘more information’ on African long history, cultures and civilizations. The book freed him from a state of psychological bondage. Later in his academic career, he became an important source of information on African history to W.E.B. Dubois.

Leo Hansberry studied at Harvard University from 1916 to 1920. It was during this period that he read all the books suggested by DuBois’s reading list. He got his masters at Harvard, but left Harvard before earning a PhD degree.

By 1920, Hansberry recognized the conceptual importance of interdisciplinarity, the cross-discipline approach to a field of study, and, in fact, became the first African American scholar to establish African Studies in the United States. In 1922, he actually became the first scholar to develop and teach courses in African history at Howard University. African history was not offered in any of the American universities at that time.

Hansberry had meaningful relationships with WEB DuBois, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, James Weldon Johnson, the author of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ Carter G. Woodson, the author of The Miseducation of the Negro and Frank Snowden, the author of Blacks in Antiquity.

“Hansberry led the African American and Diaspora contingent in support of Ethiopia as president of the Ethiopian Research Council (ERC) during the Italo-Ethiopian War.” ERC is a forerunner of Ethiopian Studies. His vision of broader conception of the field, however, was not pursued when the field is established in Ethiopia. The field is defined by focusing on not only alpine Ethiopia, but also on the history and cultures of northern Ethiopia. Southern Ethiopia and the histories and cultures of the vast majority of the people of Ethiopia did not get immediate attention. Furthermore, the idea of Ethiopia is a global idea informed by histories and mythologies of ancient Africa. In other words, the idea and practice of Ethiopia should be broadened in order to integrate the multiple dimensions of Ethiopia in time and place.

Leo Hansberry writes with such simplicity and clarity, it is indeed a treat to read his treatises. The renowned Egyptologist W.F. Albright of Johns Hopkins University noted the considerable writing skill of Hansberry. He acknowledged the “vivid style and clearness and cogency” of Hansberry’s writing.

Leo Hansberry counseled and assisted African students for 13 years at Howard University. Among the students who took his class was Nnamide Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria. He was also a good friend of Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister of Ghana. Hansberry was instrumental “in founding the All African Students Union of the Americas in the mid-1950s.” “With William Steen and the late Henrietta Van Noy, he co-founded in 1953 the Institute of African-American Relations, now the African-American Institute” with its headquarter in New York City. According to Smyke, Hansberry was also the “prime mover in the establishment of an Africa House for students in Washington.”

(Photo: Nnamide Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, was one of Leo Hansberry’s African students)

In 1960 his former student Dr. Azikiwe, the first elected president of Nigeria, conferred on him the University of Nigeria’s second honorary degree, and at the same time inaugurated the Hansberry School of Africana Studies at the University. In 1964 Hansberry was selected by the Emperor Haile Selassie Trust to receive their first prize for original work in African History, Archaeology, and Anthropology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In 1963, Hansberry gave a series of lectures in the University of Nigeria at Hansberry College of African Studies, Nsukka Campus. His main topic was “Ancient Kush and Old Ethiopia.” He described it as “a synoptic and pictorial survey of some notable peoples, cultures, kingdom and empires which flourished in the tropical areas of Nilotic Africa in historical antiquity.”

With regard to his sources, he used the English translations of Egyptian, Assyrian, Nubian and Ethiopian manuscript documents and inscriptions. He cited Breasted’s Records of Ancient Egypt; Luckenbill’s Assyrian Records; Budge’s Annals of Nubian Kings; and Budge’s History of Nubia, Ethiopia and Abyssinia. The Classical references are to be found in various modern editions of the authors mentioned. Access to archaeological reports may be found in the great national and larger university libraries. For the introduction to the history of ancient Nubia, A.J. Arkell’s History of the Ancient Sudan may be read with considerable profit.

His subtopics were Cultural and Political Entities (The peoples and cultures of Lower Nubia, 3000 -1600 BCE ; Kerma Kushites of Middle Nubia, 2500 – 1500 BCE; Kushite kingdoms of Napata and Meroe in Lower Middle and Upper Nubia, 1400 BCE – 350 CE; Peoples and cultures of the Land of Punt (Eritrea and the Somalilands), 3000 BCE – 350 CE; The Ethiopian (‘Abyssinian’) kingdom of Sheba (according to the Kebra Nagast), 1400 to 100 BCE; and the Ethiopian Empire of Aksum, 100 BCE to 600 CE. These geographical and historical designations have been conformed by a series of archeological studies in the last fifty years. It is also clear from this important chronology that Ethiopia is a term used by both Nubia and present-day Ethiopia.

In his sub-topic II, he outlined, in greater detail, some notable primary sources of information.

1. Egyptian traditions concerning Punt or Ethiopia as the original homeland of Egypt’s most ancient peoples and their culture.

2. Kushite traditions (as recorded by Diodorus Siculus) to the effect that Egypt was ‘at the beginning of the world’ nothing but a vast swamp and remained such until it was transformed into dry land by alluvium brought down from the land of Kush by the River Nile.

3. Kushite traditions (as recorded by Diodorus Siculus) to the effect that earliest ‘civilized’ inhabitants of Egypt and the basic elements of their civilization were derived from a common ancestral stock.

4. Genesaical traditions (Genesis X) to the effect that the Ancient Kushites and the Ancient Egyptians were derived from a common ancestral stock.

5. Egyptian historical records detailing numerous peaceful commercial missions from Egypt to Kushite countries and the Land of Punt for the purpose of procuring many valuable and useful products which were lacking in Egypt but abundant in ‘the good lands of the south.’

6. Egyptian inscriptions on stone and other types of written records commemorating defensive and offensive efforts of various pharaohs to the safeguard Egypt from military attacks and invasions by Kushites pushing up from the South.

7. Biblical and Rabbinical traditions, and the testimony of Flavius Josephus concerning the relationships of Moses, the great Hebrew lawgiver, with the Ancient Kushites.

8. The surviving annals of Nubian kings on the Kushite conquest of and relationships with, Egypt in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE; notably: -

a. Piankhy’s Conquest Stele
b. The inscriptions of king Taharka
c. The Memphite stele of King Shabaka
d. Tanutamen’s reconquest stele

9. Biblical, Assyrian and Classical (Greek and Roman) historical references and traditions concerning the national and international activities of Kushites kings of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE.

10. Surviving Nubian Annals on the careers of Kushite kings who flourished between the 7th century BCE and the 6th century CE, notably: -

a. Inscriptions of Aspalta – 6th century BCE
b. Stele of Harsiotef – 4th century BCE
c. Stele of Nastasen – 4th century BCE
d. Inscriptions of Netekaman and Amantere – 1st century BCE
e. Stele of Amenrenas – 1st century BCE
f. Stele of Teqerizemani – 2nd century CE
g. Stele of Silko – 6th century CE

11. Myths, legends, traditions and historical reference relating to peoples and cultures of Ancient Kush and Old Ethiopia which are preserved in the surviving writings of Classical (Greek and Roman) poets, geographers and historians; notably: -

a. Homeric and Hesiodic traditions concerning the ‘blameless Ethiopians.’
b. Arctinus of Miletus and Quintus of Smyrna on the exploits of ‘Memnon Prince of Ethiopia’ in the Trojan War.
c. Classical traditions (as preserved in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) concerning the unusual misfortunes of Cephus, the king, and Cassiopeia, the queen, of Old Ethiopia, and the extraordinary experiences of their daughter, the princes Andromeda.
d. Herodotus, ‘the father of history’, on the ill-fated attempt of Cambyses, king of Persia, to invade the homeland of the Ancient Kushites.
e. Stories of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus concerning the mutiny of the mercenaries in the Egyptian army and their enrollment in the military service of the King of Kush.
f. Heliodorous’s Aethiopica on the disastrous attempt of a Persian governor of Egypt to seize emerald mines belonging to the Kushite domain.
g. The alleged visit of Alexander of Macedon to ‘Candace, Queen of Kush’ according to the remarkable (but no doubt apocryphal) story preserved in the Romance of Alexander the Great, which is attributed, perhaps without foundation, to Callisthenes of Olynthus.
h. Diodorus Siculus’ account of the attempted religious and political reforms of Ergamenes, king of Kush in circa 225 BCE.
i. Plutarch and Dion Cassius on the friendly relationships between Cleopatra and the Queen of Kush.
j. Strabo, Pliny the Elder, etc., on a. the invasion and defeat of the Romans in Upper Egypt by the queen of Kush; and b. the subsequent defeat of the Kushite queen and the invasion of her country by a Roman Army.
k. Numerous Greek and Latin references to the unstable political and military relationships between the Kushites and the Roman and Byzantine overlords of Egypt during the period between the 1st and 6th century CE.
l. John of Ephesus on the circumstances under which Christianity became the State religion of Nubia towards the middle of the 6th century CE.

12. The Kebra Nagast and the Book of Aksum on the traditional history of Ethiopia from the 14th century BCE until the 4th century CE.

13. Ethiopian traditions concerning Queen Makeda (c. 1005 – c.955 BCE) who is generally believed by the Ethiopians, and by many others, to have been ‘the Queen of Sheba’ of Biblical renown.

14. The text of a long historical inscription – commemorating the military exploits of a powerful, but unnamed Ethiopian warrior king – which was anciently inscribed on a great stele set up in the Ethiopian seaport –city of Adulis where it was seen and copied by Cosmas Indicopleustes in c. 530 CE but which has since disappeared, and is now known to us only through Cosmas’ copy.

15. Four long inscriptions on stone set up by the Aksumite king Ezana (c. 319 – c. 345 CE); the texts of three of these commemorate Ezana’s achievements while he was still a devotee of the ancestral religion, while the text of the fourth and last is an account of events which occurred after his acceptance of Christianity as the State religion of his empire.

Here are some excerpts taken from Hansberry’s article on a history of Aksumite Ethiopia:

“The ancient kingdom of Aksum, according to its own annals and other reliable testimony, transformed itself into a Christian state about the year A.D. 333, which was, it will be remembered, only about a decade after Christianity had been made the state religion of the Roman Empire.” (p. 3-4)

“The present kingdom of Ethiopia is history’s second oldest Christian state. For several centuries after it became a Christian nation, the kingdom of Axum shared with the Byzantine Empire universal renown as one of the two most powerful Christian states of the age; and, of the Christian sovereigns of that period, none deserved and enjoyed more than certain Axumite kings, a wider reputation as Defenders of the Faith.” (p. 4)

Although relationships between the Byzantine Empire and the Christian kingdoms of Ethiopian lands were rather close during the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, the continued decline of European Civilization, as an aftermath of the barbarian invasions and the rise and expansion of Islam, put an end to such relationships for several hundred years.” (p. 4)

“In the time of the Crusades, relationships between the Ethiopian Christians and the European brothers of the same faith were, however, revived, and considering the great distance which separated them – remained exceptionally close until well down into early modern times.” (p. 4)

“During these centuries, the old kingdom of Aksum was more commonly known in European lands as the Empire of Prester John; and mutual intercourse between those widely separated parts of Christendom exercised a profoundly significant influence upon the course of world affairs that period. For it was out of European efforts, first, to re-establish, and then, to maintain, relationships with the Empire of Prester John, that arose those international developments which ultimately resulted in the discovery of America and the establishment of the ocean-route to Indies.” (p.4-5)

“Toward the end of the 18th Century, Edward Gibbon declared that Ethiopia in the Middle Ages was ‘a hermit empire’ which ‘slept for a thousand years, forgetful of the world by which it was forgot.’ As the proceeding review indicates, it is now known that this point of view is widely at variance with the historical facts; but is it quite true that, despite the significant part that Ethiopia long has played in mankind’s stirring and storied past, the world at large, at least in our own times, is singularly unfamiliar with the history of that ancient land.” (p. 5)

William Leo Hansberry’s life is a reflection of the struggle of African Americans to recover and reclaim their past. It is also an integral part of the rich intellectual tradition of the African Diaspora. It is a persistent attempt, in spite of the enormous difficulties, to construct and own one’s own historical memory. It is after all history that guides the present and the future. Hansberry charted a great tradition of intellectual discourse and community activism, which are still important attributes for the 21st century.

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Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie is an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Cultural Studies at Mekelle University. He was an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. Bekerie is a contributing author in the highly acclaimed book, “One House: The Battle of Adwa 1896 -100 Years.” He is also the author of the award-winning book “Ethiopic, An African Writing System: Its History and Principles” — among many other published works.

Historians See Parallels Between Lincoln and Obama

Above: Left: President Obama speaks during Lincoln
Bicentennial Celebration in Rotunda of US Capitol in Washington,
DC, 12 Feb 2009 (AFP Photo). Right: Abraham Lincoln, 1865
Alexander Gardner, Albumen silver print (National Portrait Gallery)

VOA
By Cindy Saine
Washington
12 February 2009

President Barack Obama has often said that one of his heroes is America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

President Obama has made no secret of his admiration for Abraham Lincoln, often invoking his name and his memory. Mr. Obama kicked off his presidential campaign two years ago at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois where Mr. Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office last month, he put his hand on the same Bible Abraham Lincoln used to swear his oath.

Wednesday, Mr. Obama attended a performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He told the crowd that even in the middle of the American Civil War, Lincoln insisted on finishing the U.S. Capitol building as a symbol of unity.

“It is this sense of unity that is so much a part of Lincoln’s legacy,” Mr. Obama said. “For despite all that divided us – north and south, black and white – he had an unyielding belief that we were, at heart, one nation, and one people.”

Acclaimed presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says she believes Mr. Obama feels a genuine connection to Abraham Lincoln. Read More.

Ethiopia & Black America: The Forgotten Story of Melaku & Robinson

Ethiopian & African American Relations
The Case of Melaku E. Bayen and John Robinson

By Ayele Bekerie

Updated: Sunday, August 24, 2008

New York (Tadias) – In 1935, African Americans of all classes, regions, genders, and beliefs expressed their opposition to and outrage over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in various forms and various means. The invasion aroused African Americans – from intellectuals to common people in the street – more than any other Pan-African-oriented historical events or movements had. It fired the imagination of African Americans and brought to the surface the organic link to their ancestral land and peoples.

The time was indeed a turning point in the relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. Harris calls 1935 a watershed in the history of African peoples. It was a year when the relations substantively shifted from symbolic to actual interactions. The massive expression of support for the Ethiopian cause by African Americans has also contributed, in my opinion, to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. This article attempts to examine the history of the relations between Ethiopians and African Americans by focusing on brief biographies of two great leaders, one from Ethiopia and another one from African America, who made extraordinary contributions to these relations.

It is fair to argue that the Italo-Ethiopian War in the 1930s was instrumental in the rebirth of the Pan-African movement. The African Diaspora was mobilized in support of the Ethiopian cause during both the war and the subsequent Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Italy’s brutal attempt to wipe out the symbol of freedom and hope to the African world ultimately became a powerful catalyst in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. The Italo-Ethiopian War brought about an extraordinary unification of African people’s political awareness and heightened level of political consciousness. Africans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbean’s, and other Diaspora and continental Africans from every social stratum were in union in their support of Ethiopia, bringing the establishment of “global Pan-Africanism.” The brutal aggression against Ethiopia made it clear to African people in the United States that the Europeans’ intent and purpose was to conquer, dominate, and exploit all African people. Mussolini’s disregard and outright contempt for the sovereignty of Ethiopia angered and reawakened the African world.

Response went beyond mere condemnation by demanding self-determination and independence for all colonized African people throughout the world. For instance, the 1900-1945 Pan-African Congresses regularly issued statements that emphasized a sense of solidarity with Haiti, Ethiopia, and Liberia, thereby affirming the importance of defending the sovereignty and independence of African and Afro-Caribbean states. A new generation of militant Pan-Africanists emerged who called for decolonization, elimination of racial discrimination in the United States, African unity, and political empowerment of African people.

One of the most significant Pan-Africanist Conferences took place in 1945, immediately after the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia and the end of World War II. This conference passed resolutions clearly demanding the end of colonization in Africa, and the question of self-determination emerged as the most important issue of the time. As Mazrui and Tidy put it: “To a considerable extent the 1945 Congress was a natural outgrowth of Pan-African activity in Britain since the outbreak of the Italo-Ethiopian War.”

Another of the most remarkable outcomes of the reawakening of the African Diaspora was the emergence of so many outstanding leaders, among them the Ethiopian Melaku E. Bayen and the African American John Robinson. Other outstanding leaders were Willis N. Huggins, Arnold Josiah Ford, and Mignon Innis Ford, who were active against the war in both the United States and Ethiopia. Mignon Ford, the founder of Princess Zenebe Work School, did not even leave Ethiopia during the war. The Fords and other followers of Marcus Garvey settled in Ethiopia in the 1920s. Mignon Ford raised her family among Ethiopians as Ethiopians. Her children, fluent speakers of Amharic, have been at home both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen: Pan-Africanists in Thoughts & Practice
beyan12.jpg
Melaku E. Bayen

Melaku E. Bayen, an Ethiopian, significantly contributed to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. His noble dedication to the Pan-African cause and his activities in the United States helped to dispel the notion of “racial fog” that surrounded the Ethiopians. William R. Scott expounded on this: “Melaku Bayen was the first Ethiopian seriously and steadfastly to commit himself to achieving spiritual and physical bonds of fellowship between his people and peoples of African descent in the Americas. Melaku exerted himself to the fullest in attempting to bring about some kind of formal and continuing relationship designed to benefit both the Ethiopian and Afro-American.” To Scott, Bayen’s activities stand out as “the most prominent example of Ethiopian identification with African Americans and seriously challenges the multitude of claims which have been made now for a long time about the negative nature of Ethiopian attitudes toward African Americans.”

The issues raised by Scott and the exemplary Pan-Africanism of Melaku Bayen are useful in establishing respectful and meaningful relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. They dedicated their entire lives in order to lay down the foundation for relations rooted in mutual understanding and historical facts, free of stereotypes and false perceptions. African American scholars, such as William Scott, Joseph E. Harris, and Leo Hansberry contributed immensely by documenting the thoughts and activities of Bayen, both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen was raised and educated in the compound of Ras Mekonnen, then the Governor of Harar and the father of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was sent to India to study medicine in 1920 at the age of 21 with permission from Emperor Haile Selassie. Saddened by the untimely death of a young Ethiopian woman friend, who was also studying in India, he decided to leave India and continue his studies in the United States. In 1922, he enrolled at Marietta College, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He is believed to be the first Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the United Sates.

Melaku started his medical studies at Ohio State University in 1928, then, a year later, decided to transfer to Howard University in Washington D.C. in order to be close to Ethiopians who lived there. Melaku formally annulled his engagement to a daughter of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and later married Dorothy Hadley, an African American and a great activist in her own right for the Ethiopian and pan-Africanist causes. Both in his married and intellectual life, Melaku wanted to create a new bond between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora.

Melaku obtained his medical degree from Howard University in 1936, at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian War. He immediately returned to Ethiopia with his wife and their son, Melaku E. Bayen, Jr. There, he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross and assisted the wounded on the Eastern Front. When the Italian Army captured Addis Ababa, Melaku’s family went to England and later to the United States to fully campaign for Ethiopia.

Schooled in Pan-African solidarity from a young age, Melaku co-founded the Ethiopian Research Council with the late Leo Hansberry in 1930, while he was student at Howard. According to Joseph Harris, the Council was regarded as the principal link between Ethiopians and African Americans in the early years of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The Council’s papers are housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. At present, Professor Aster Mengesha of Arizona State University heads the Ethiopian Research Council. Leo Hansberry was the recipient of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Trust Foundation Prize in the 1960s.

Melaku founded and published the Voice of Ethiopia, the media organ of the Ethiopian World Federation and a pro-African newspaper that urged the “millions of the sons and daughters of Ethiopia, scattered throughout the world, to join hands with Ethiopians to save Ethiopia from the wolves of Europe.” Melaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation in 1937, and it eventually became one of the most important international organizations, with branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Caribbean branch helped to further solidify the ideological foundation for the Rasta Movement.

Melaku died at the age of forty from pneumonia he contracted while campaigning door-to-door for the Ethiopian cause in the United States. Melaku died in 1940, just a year before the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia. His tireless and vigorous campaign, however, contributed to the demise of Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia. Melaku strove to bring Ethiopia back into the African world. Melaku sewed the seeds for a “re-Africanization” of Ethiopia. Furthermore, Melaku was a model Pan-Africanist who brought the Ethiopian and African American people together through his exemplary work and his remarkable love and dedication to the African people.

Colonel John Robinson
colonerobinson1_inside1.jpg
Colonel John C. Robinson arrives in Chicago after heroically
leading the Ethiopian Air Force against the invading Mussolini’s
Italian forces.
(Ethiopiancrown.org)

Another heroic figure produced by the anti-war campaign was Colonel John Robinson. It is interesting to note that while Melaku conducted his campaign and died in the United States, the Chicago-born Robinson fought, lived, and died in Ethiopia.

When the Italo-Ethiopian War erupted, he left his family and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. According to William R. Scott, who conducted thorough research in documenting the life and accomplishments of John Robinson, wrote about Robinson’s ability to overcome racial barriers to go to an aviation school in the United States. In Ethiopia, Robinson served as a courier between Haile Selassie and his army commanders in the war zone. According to Scott, Robinson was the founder of the Ethiopian Air Force. He died in a plane crash in 1954.

Scott makes the following critical assessment of Robinson’s historical role in building ties between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. I quote him in length: “Rarely, if ever, is there any mention of John Robinson’s role as Haile Selassie’s special courier during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. He has been but all forgotten in Ethiopia as well as in Afro-America. [Former Ambassodor Brazeal mentioned his name at the planting of a tree to honor the African Diaspora in Addis Ababa.] Nonetheless, it is important to remember John Robinson, as one of the two Afro-Americans to serve in the Ethiopia campaign and the only one to be consistently exposed to the dangers of the war front.

Colonel Robinson stands out in Afro-America as perhaps the very first of the minute number of Black Americans to have ever taken up arms to defend the African homeland against the forces of imperialism.”

John Robinson set the standard in terms of goals and accomplishments that could be attained by Pan-Africanists. Through his activities, Robinson earned the trust and affection of both Ethiopians and African Americans. Like Melaku, he made concrete contributions to bring the two peoples together. He truly built a bridge of Pan African unity.

It is our hope that the youth of today learn from the examples set by Melaku and Robinson, and strive to build lasting and mutually beneficial relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. The Ethiopian American community ought to empower itself by forging alliances with African Americans in places such as Washington D.C. We also urge the Ethiopian Government to, for now, at least name streets in Addis Ababa after Bayen and Robinson.

I would like to conclude with Melaku’s profound statement: “The philosophy of the Ethiopian World Federation is to instill in the minds of the Black people of the world that the word Black is not to be considered in any way dishonorable but rather an honor and dignity because of the past history of the race.”
—-

About the Author:
ayele_author.jpg
Ayele Bekerie was born in Ethiopia, and earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies at Temple University in 1994. He has written and published in scholarly journals, such as , ANKH: Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations, Journal of Black Studies, The International Journal of Africana Studies, and Imhotep. He is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine.

To further explore the history of Ethiopian & African American relations, consult the following texts:

• Joseph E. Harris’s African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941(1994).

• William R. Scott’s The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo- Ethiopian War, 1935-1941. (2005 reprint).

• Ayele Bekerie’s “African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War,” in Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture (1997).

• Melaku E. Bayen’s The March of Black Men (1939).

• David Talbot’s Contemporary Ethiopia (1952).



A Visitor from Ethiopia Discovers Harlem in 1931

By Jody Benjamin

Updated: Saturday, August 23, 2008

New York (Tadias) – ON A WINTER NIGHT IN 1931, as many Depression-era New Yorkers prepared for a lean Chanukah or Christmas, a room inside a residential building at 29 W. 131st Street, was filled with an expectant crowd.

Those gathered in the modest sanctuary of Harlem’s Commandment Keepers congregation were anticipating a special visitor from Ethiopia.

Just before 9 p.m., Taamrat Emmanuel walked into the room. A thin, bearded man in his early 40s, with eyes like deep wells, Emmanuel was a European-educated Beta Israel originally from Jenda, near Gondar Ethiopia. He had traveled far and wide advocating on behalf of his ethnic minority, which had maintained their Judaic beliefs for centuries in remote mountain areas. Now he found himself in the most important black cultural center, and the largest city, of the United States. The African-American and African-Caribbean congregation, led by rabbi Wentworth A Matthew, rose to its feet. A cornetist played the solemn anthem: Ethiopia, thou Land of Our Fathers. Its lyrics included lines like:

Ethiopia, thou land of our fathers
Thou land where the gods loved to be
As storm cloud at night suddenly gathers
Our armies come rushing to thee!

Although the song may have been unfamiliar to Emmanuel, it would have had special resonance for those who had come to see him. It was the anthem of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and was sung at the start of each meeting. Many of Matthew’s congregation had also been members of the UNIA and held fast to its principles. Also, the song was written by Arnold Ford, a rabbi and musician well-known to the Hebrews, and Benjamin E. Burrell. Ford was a mentor to Matthew, who in turn would go on to be an eminent leader and institution-builder among black Hebrews, descendants of American and Caribbean slaves who believed Judaism to be their true faith.

cks_harlemnew.JPG
Above: Harlem’s Commandment Keepers congregation building.
Photo/Tadias

Emmanuel was escorted to a seat as Matthew extended him the warmest of fraternal greetings.

It may be difficult to imagine, from the perspective of the 21st century internet age, the magnitude of that moment to those present. In today’s multi-culti United States, black people from scattered parts of the world tend to wear their national or ethnic identities as shields, like protective armor designed to keep away “strangers” while scuffling toward the ever-elusive goal of the “American Dream.” Many regard the concept of Pan-Africanism as hopeless, even misguided, idealism.

Back then, however, steadfast Garveyites believed they were watching their dreams morph into reality before their very eyes. Each week seemed to bring ever more hopeful news.

The coronation of Haile Selassie had been widely covered in the United States, not only in publications such as Time Magazine, where Selassie was pictured on the cover, but in newsreels that were screened in movie houses nationwide as well as extensively in the black press.

For many blacks in this country, it was the first time they had ever heard an African country and leader spoken of reverentially or seen such pageantry associated with a free black nation. And because it was Ethiopia, a land with such a storied ancient past, they could glimpse the evidence that the propaganda which had been drummed into them for centuries – that Africa had no history worthy of respect – was simply not true.

The historian Rayford Logan described the impact the coronation was having on Americans unaccustomed to such images of Africa:

“When the pictures of the coronation…of Ras Tafari as joint leader with his aunt, Empress Zawditu of Abyssinia, flashed on the screen of a northern theater, one could distinctly sense the shock that disoriented the audience,’’ Logan wrote in the The Southern Workman.(1)

“These coronation pictures…did not conform to the usual behavior pattern. First of all, no white man was anywhere in evidence. Then, the new emperor was brown; his aunt was Negroid; their chiefs were Negroes; the army of 40,000 was black.”

At the very moment Emmanuel was in Harlem, rabbi Ford was in Ethiopia. He had traveled there a year before, in order to perform at the coronation of Haile Selassie. He also hoped to spot out the possibility of his followers to emigrate to the African country, then one of only two on the Continent not in the grasp of European colonial powers. After a series of setbacks and delays, he had finally managed to secure an offer of land and had sent back word for others from the Harlem community should join him.

Leaving Ethiopia at a Young Age
AS A TEENAGER, TAAMRAT EMMANUEL HAD BEEN PLUCKED FROM ETHIOPIA TO EUROPE by the Polish-born rabbi and scholar Jacques Faitlovich. In the late 19th century, British missionaries had converted Emmanuel’s parents from Judaism to Christianity. Faitlovich met the family in Asmara in 1905, after he had been traveling in Ethiopia to investigate the fate of Ethiopian Jews, or “Falasha” as they were then called. Faitlovich wanted to return so-called “lost” Ethiopian Jews into the larger Jewish fold, and so he reconverted the family back to Judaism.

Later, Faitlovich took two teenaged Ethiopians back with him to Europe: one was Getie Jeremias, the other was Emmanuel. Faitlovich’s aim was to educate the boys so that they might become leaders among their people back home. Their presence in Europe would also help to convince Western Jews to support their African brethren who had maintained a very ancient form of the religion.

Emmanuel stood out as the more promising of the two students.(2) He spent about two years in Marseilles, France before being sent to study a number of years in Florence, Italy, where he lived during the First World War.

After the war, Emmanuel returned to Addis Ababa where Faitlovich appointed him headmaster of a school set up to educate so-called “Falashas,” or Beta Israel. Emmanuel ran the school for a few years, despite a number of difficulties. Facilities were poor and students had to travel great distances to come to board there since most Beta Israel lived in rural areas far from the capital. Emmanuel hoped to build a school closer to a Beta Israel community near Gondar in northwestern Ethiopia. He was frustrated by the meager funds he received from Westerners to support his aims.

By the late 1920s, Faitlovich had begun to focus on getting help from Jews in the United States. He and Taamrat came to New York with the help of the American Jewish Pro-Falasha Committee, which had been arranging speaking engagements for them around town.

In New York, however, it was a time of great cultural ferment. Among other issues, two agendas were competing at the same time. Just as Faitlovich was trying to drum up interest among Jews to help return so-called “lost” Ethiopian Jews into the larger Jewish fold, many African descendants in this country were looking to the homeland of their ancestors as a possible refuge from the entrenched racism and severely limited opportunities they faced in the United States.

Once in New York, Emmanuel journeyed to Harlem where he met rabbi Ford in 1928 or 1929.(3) It is not clear whether Ford contributed financially to Emmanuel’s cause, but the encounter proved timely for Ford, solidifying his apparently growing desire to build concrete ties with Ethiopia.

That is because Emmanuel was but the latest of a number of Ethiopians who had been traveling to the US to get African descendants – especially skilled professionals — interested to help modernize Ethiopia. Others included Malaku Bayen, a medical student at Howard University, Kantiba Gabrou, a former mayor of Gondar and Warqnneh Martin, the distinguished physician and diplomat. It is believed that Ford first met Gabrou in Harlem in 1919, while Gabrou was visiting the US as part of an official friendship diplomatic delegation sent by Selassie after the First World War.

A decade later, not long after his encounter with Emmanuel, the Harlemite left for Africa.

beyan11.jpg
Above: Malaku Bayen, a medical student at Howard
University in the 1930′s. He is believed to be the first
Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the U.S.

Taamrat Emmanuel Addressed the Audience in French and West Africans Assisted as Interpreters.

All of this would have been known to many who came to listen to Emmanuel at the Commandment Keepers Congregation the night of December 23, 1931. A press statement written after the event notes that several native-born Africans, including some from French colonies, were in the audience. They were needed, it turned out, as translators because Emmanuel did not speak English. A bilingual man from French Guinea gave a short talk to the congregation about Africa, then translated for Emmanuel who addressed the audience in French.

“He assured [the audience] that he was the same as they and was very proud to be,’’ according to the statement, which is archived at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.

Whether the Ethiopians and the black New Yorkers actually shared a common heritage had been a point of considerable controversy. This was true not only with regard to the Jewish question, but also among the larger community. So much so that popular black historian J.A. Rogers addressed the topic in his 1930 book, The Real Facts About Ethiopia, by attempting to reassure his American readers, “Ethiopia has always shown her friendliness to such Aframericans as have visited her.”

Among Matthew’s congregation, the controversy heated up considerably in the weeks just before Emmanuel’s talk. On December 2, The Amsterdam News ran a brief story that the local chairman of the American Pro-Falasha committee had publicly “denounced for the second time Harlem’s Negro adherents of the [Jewish] faith as fakes in a Jamaica [Long Island] meeting.”

In the article, Rabbi Matthew responded to the charge by Dr. Norman Salit with a challenge of his own saying that he was willing to debate the matter publicly.

“His statement that Harlem’s temples are a grotesque phenomena rising out of the mystic sensitivity of the Afro American played upon by charlatans is absolutely false,” Matthew said.

After his talk, an audience member asked Emmanuel about the issue. The controversy may have seemed strange to Emmanuel, unaccustomed as he must have been to the intricacies of American racial politics.

Under Faitlovich’s tutelage, he had been counseled against the development of any race consciousness or nationalist sentiment other than the brand of religious Zionism favored by Faitlovich, according to Shlomo Levy, Assistant Professor of History at Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania.

Yet Emmanuel, and Faitlovich’s other Ethiopian students, had their own ideas on the matter.

“As they traveled and read, they became aware of how the Western world viewed them and how their own leaders treated them,” said Levy.

Striking a balance between his identity as an Ethiopian and a Jew was an issue that would follow the Emmanuel throughout his life.

According to Levy, “Emmanuel’s struggle to find a balance between preserving a healthy respect for the traditions of the Beta Israel, while at the same time trying to forge a meaningful relationship with European Jewry, proved to be illusory.”

That night in 1931, however, the prospect of expanding ties between two disparate, far flung branches of Africa’s family might have seemed not only hopeful, but tangible. Emmanuel tried to play peacemaker.

“Mr. Salit is a friend,” Emmanuel said in response to the question, according to the press statement.

“But when [Salit] made the statement [I] was indeed surprised because he is sufficiently educated to know that he has neither historical nor biblical proof for his statement.”

The statement concluded by noting that Emmanuel: “begged that we drop the matter and forget about it.”


About the Author:
Jody Benjamin is an Associate Editor of the African American National Biography, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2008. He is working on a non-fiction book about the black Hebrews.

Sources:
1. Logan, Rayford W., Abyssinia Breaks into the Movies, The Southern Workman, August, 1929

2. Trevisan Semi, Emanuela, La correspondance de Taamrat Emmanuel: Intellectuel juif d’Ethiopie dans la premiere moitie du XX siecle, Torino : Editrice L’Harmattan Italia, 2000

3. Scott, William Randolph. The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1941, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1993

Cover photo: Trevisan Semi, Emanuela, La correspondance de Taamrat Emmanuel: Intellectuel juif d’Ethiopie dans la premiere moitie du XX siecle, Torino: Editrice L’Harmattan Italia, 2000



Queens, Spies, and Servants: A History of Ethiopian Women in Military Affairs

Above: These female war veterans are pictured in Addis
Ababa’s Menelik Square in 1973 at a ceremony to commemorate
an early victory against the Italians. Photo by Shemelis Desta
(BBC)

By Tseday Alehegn

Chronicles of war and military prowess are plentiful in Ethiopia’s historical literature. Growing up we are effortlessly taught the virtues of honor and duty, which have bestowed sovereignty to generation after generation of Ethiopians. Countless retelling of tales depicting the early and decisive victory at the battle of Adwa remain ever fresh in our proud minds and hearts; the feeling only to be outdone by the resoluteness of heroes who ended the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during the Second World War. Indeed, it is as the 17th century writer Almeida wrote of us: “In war they are reared as children, in war they grow old, or the life of all who are not farmers is war.”

The emphasis on military virtues becomes more palpable when we recognize the unique manner in which Ethiopians chose to fight off their external enemies. From earliest times, both women and men were encouraged to participate in mobilization and preparation efforts. Depicting the atmosphere during the battle of Adwa in 1896, historian G.F. Berkeley observes how the Ethiopian army was not merely organized as a segment of the population, but rather as an entire collective that had integrated the occurrence of war into its normal day-to-day activities. He points out, “It’s not an army [it is] an invasion, the transplanting of the whole people.” No one was left behind. While men served as soldiers they brought along with them their wives who in turn became involved either as civilian participants or as military combatants. What rights, titles, honors men claimed for their valor women were able to do the same.

Females were traditionally not allowed to inherit land unless the father died before the daughter married or there were no sons in the family. However, women would be able to claim property after serving in military mobilization efforts. In an uncommon way, the ability of women to participate on the warfront initiated change to their otherwise lower societal status. Not all participation in war, however, was voluntary as is clearly depicted in the following 19th century edict by the leader Ras Gugsa: “One who does not join the army of Gugsa, man and woman, will lose his genital and her breast respectively.”

Historians have estimated that an average of 20,000 to 30,000 women have participated in the campaign of Adwa alone. While the majority served in non-violent chores such as food preparation and nursing of the wounded, a significant portion served as soldiers, strategists, advisors, translators, and intelligence officers. Women from the aristocracy worked alongside maids and servants thereby breaking norms in class separation.

Female Military Strategists & Combatants:

At a time when women in most parts of the world were relegated to household chores, the number of Ethiopian women in the late 17th century participating in war expeditions against foreign aggressors was on the rise. Whereas most war decrees at this time encouraged all Ethiopians to fight occupation attempts, in 1691 Emperor Iyasu issued one of the first proclamations to curtail the rapid growth of women soldiers. The chronicles report:

“The king had the herald proclaim that the girls of the country must not ride
astride mules, because at this time these girls had adopted the practice of doing
so, tightening the belts of their shirts, covering their heads with their shammas and holding a long spear in their hand..marching in expeditions like men.”

Queen Yodit is one of the earliest-mentioned Ethiopian female leaders who fought spiritedly in battles. She successfully overthrew the powerful Aksumite kingdom, but because many churches and historically important sites were destroyed in the process her reign is infamously described as the dark era. Between 1464 and 1468, under the leadership of King Zere Yaqob, women’s expansion into political positions became more evident. Historian Richard Pankhurst notes how Zere Yaqob “established a women’s administration by appointing his daughters and relatives to key provinces.”

King Zere Yaqob’s wife, Queen Eleni, was an equally formidable and astute military strategist, and was largely responsible for the arrival in 1520 of the Portuguese as one of the first diplomatic missions. Predicting the appetite of Turks in invading Ethiopia’s coastline she proposed a joint attack strategy to the Portuguese leadership against the Egyptians and the Ottoman Turks. Sylvia Pankhurst records her letter to the Portuguese summoning a coalition. Queen Eleni is to have written:

“We have heard that the Sultan of Cairo assembles a great army to attack
your forces…against the assault of such enemies we are prepared to send
a good number of men-at-arms who will give assistance in the sea bound
areas…If you wish to arm a thousand warship we will provide the necessary
food and furnish you with everything for such a force in very great abundance.”

The Turks were soundly defeated. Years later Queen Seble Wongel was able to draw on the help of the Portuguese in defeating Ahmed Gragn’s muslim expansion into Ethiopia. In February 1543 her army fought at the battle of Woina Dega where Gragn succumbed to his death.

Harold Marcus documents Queen Worqitu’s history as the warrior queen who helped Menelik gain his crown. In 1865 Queen Worqitu of Wollo granted Menelik a safe route through her territory as the future monarch successfully escaped from King Tewodros’ prison.

The effect of her support in aiding Menelik to power is recorded in Ethiopia’s ensuing transformation from a ‘land of kings’ to a nation ruled by a ‘king of kings.’

Perhaps the most famous queen involved in military affairs is Empress Taitu, wife of Emperor Menelik II. In the battle of Adwa Empress Taitu is said to have commanded an infantry of no less than 5,000 along with 600 cavalry men and accompanied by thousands of Ethiopian women. Her strategy to cut off the invading Italian army’s water supply led to the weakening of the enemies warfront.

Following her example, Itege Menen avidly participated in battles taking places during the ‘Era of the Princes.’ Fighting against the incursion of the Egyptians, she is said to have had 20,000 soldiers under her command. Likewise, during the Italo-Ethiopian occupation, Princess Romanworq Haile Selassie upheld the tradition of women going to the battlefront and she fought alongside her husband.

Intelligence Officers, Advisors, and Translators:

Intelligence work was key in Ethiopia’s gaining the upper hand against fascist Italy and here too women played a significant role in information gathering. Through the establishment of the Central Committee of ‘Wust Arbegnoch’ (Inner Patriots) women members helped provide soldiers with intelligence information as well as arms, ammunition, food, clothing, and medicine. Sylvia Pankhurst also records how the female patriot Shewa Regged had organized an elite Ethiopian intelligence service to gather more arms while leading the Ethiopian guerilla fighters to the locale of Addis Alem to defeat an Italian fortification. Pankhurst recounts Shewa Regged’s resilience in her biography as follows:

“She was captured by the Italians and tortured by them with electricity to compel her to disclose her accomplices; despite all their cruelties, she preserved silence.”

Queen Taitu’s role as advisor is also well known. In depicting the wariness and foresight of Queen Taitu, historian R. Greenfield records her advise to Emperor Menelik and his cabinet regarding the Italian encroachment. She warns:

“Yield nothing. What you give away today will be a future ladder against your
fortress and tomorrow the Italians will come up it into your domains. If you
must lose lands lose them at least with your strong right arms.”

Her dedication and subsequent victory in preserving Ethiopia’s sovereignty won her the title “Berhane ZeEthiopia” (Light of Ethiopia). Her official seal bore this distinguished title.

In the role of translator, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie served her country by accompanying the Emperor to the League of Nations and aiding in Ethiopia’s call for support from the International Community. The Plea falling on deaf ears the League soon dissolved as the Italians persisted on invading the last free African stronghold. Plunged into war, Empress Menen is to have asserted “Women of the world unite. Demand with one voice that we may be spared the honor of this useless bloodshed!”

Non-Combatant Efforts:

The role of women in Ethiopian military history will remain largely untold if their work as non-combatants is not recalled. It is in this position that the majority of women of the lower class contributed in strengthening Ethiopia’s defense. While some uplifted the morale of the fighting contingent through popular battle songs and poetry, others labored for the daily nourishment and overall well-being of the soldiers. The record of Ethiopia’s long-standing independence will be incomplete without the recognition of thousands of women servants who accompanied women and menfolk of the aristocracy in battle after battle. Maids and servants were responsible for the gathering and preparation of food and other administrative roles. The traveler and writer James Bruce stresses the diligence of these women during war expeditions. He writes in earnest:

“I know of no country where the female works so hard… seldom resting
till late at night, even at midnight grinding, and frequently up before
cockcrow. Tired from the march, no matter how late, water must be brought,
fuel collected, supper prepared by the soldiers’ wife…and before daylight, with
a huge load, she must march again.”

When not involved in presiding over day-to-day affairs women helped out in the clearing of roads, digging of trenches, and nursing of the wounded. In the same spirit, during the Italo-Ethiopian war, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie helped mobilize women of all classes in efforts to provide gas masks, clothes, rations and bandages to the civilian population to protect against frequent Italian air raids and mustard gas attacks.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, it is appropriate to recognize the achievements of Ethiopia’s women who helped in the creation of a one-of-a-kind defense system, which has successfully deterred foreign aggression not for a few years, but for thousands.

Publisher’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Tseday Alehegn directly at: tseday@tadias.com

About the Author:
tseday_author.JPG
Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

African American and Ethiopian Relations

Jazz great Duke Ellington toasts with Emperor Haile Selassie after receiving Ethiopia's Medal of Honor in 1973. (Photo: Ethiopiancrown.org)

Tadias Magazine

By Tseday Alehegn

New York (Tadias) – Ethiopia, also called Yaltopya, Cush, and Abyssinia, stands as the oldest, continuous, black civilization on earth, and the second oldest civilization in history after China. This home of mine has been immortalized in fables, legends, and epics. Homer’s Illiad, Aristotle’s A Treatise on Government, Miguel Cervante’s Don Quixote, the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah are but a few potent examples of Ethiopia’s popularity in literature. But it is in studying the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians that I came to understand ‘ Ethiopia’ as a ray of light. Like the sun, Ethiopia has spread its beams on black nations across the globe. Her history is carefully preserved in dust-ridden books, in library corners and research centers. Her beauty is caught by a photographer’s discerning eye, her spirituality revived by priests and preachers. Ultimately, however, it is the oral journals of our elders that helped me capture glitters of wisdom that would palliate my thirst for a panoptic and definitive knowledge.

The term ‘Ethiopian’ has been used in a myriad of ways; it is attributed to the indigenous inhabitants of the land located in the Eastern Horn of Africa, as well as more generally denotive of individuals of African descent. Indeed, at one time, the body of water now known as the Atlantic Ocean was known as the Ethiopian Ocean. And it was across this very ocean that the ancestors of African Americans were brought to America and the ‘ New World.’

Early African American Writers

Although physically separated from their ancestral homeland and amidst the opprobrious shackles of slavery, African American poets, writers, abolitionists, and politicians persisted in forging a collective identity, seeking to link themselves figuratively if not literally to the African continent. One of the first published African American writers, Phillis Wheatly, sought refuge in referring to herself as an “Ethiop”. Wheatley, an outspoken poet, was also one of the earliest voices of the anti-slavery movement, and often wrote to newspapers of her passion for freedom. She eloquently asserted, “In every human breast God has implanted a principle, it is impatient of oppression.” In 1834 another anti-slavery poet, William Stanley Roscoe, published his poem “The Ethiop” recounting the tale of an African fighter ending the reign of slavery in the Caribbean. Paul Dunbar’s notable “Ode to Ethiopia,” published in 1896, was eventually put to music by William Grant Still and performed in 1930 by the Afro-American Symphony. In his fiery anti-slavery speech entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” prominent black leader Frederick Douglas blazed at his opponents, “Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”

First Ethiopians Travel to America

As African Americans fixed their gaze on Ethiopia, Ethiopians also traveled to the ‘New World’ and learned of the African presence in the Americas. In 1808 merchants from Ethiopia arrived at New York’s famous Wall Street. While attempting to attend church services at the First Baptist Church of New York, the Ethiopian merchants, along with their African American colleagues, experienced the ongoing routine of racial discrimination. As an act of defiance against segregation in a house of worship, African Americans and Ethiopians organized their own church on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan and named it Abyssinia Baptist Church. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. served as the first preacher, and new building was later purchased on Waverly Place in the West Village before the church was moved to its current location in Harlem. Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan likewise notes that, along with such literal acts of rebellion, anti slavery leaders Robert Alexander Young and David Walker published pamphlets entitled Ethiopian Manifesto and Appeal in 1829 in an effort to galvanize blacks to rise against their slave masters.

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Above: Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, current head of the Abyssinia
Baptist Church in Harlem, led a delegation of 150 to Ethiopia in 2007 as
part of the church’s bicentennial celebration and in honor of the Ethiopian
Millennium. Photo: At Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Sunday,
November 4, 2007. (Tadias)

Adwa Victory &‘Back to Africa’ Movement

When Italian colonialists encroached on Ethiopian territory and were soundly defeated in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, it became the first African victory over a European colonial power, and the victory resounded loud and clear among compatriots of the black diaspora. “For the oppressed masses Adwa…would become a cause célèbre,” writes Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance, living proof that skin color or hair texture bore no significance on intellect and character.” Soon, African Americans and blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Abyssinia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Emperor Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became the Emperor’ trusted personal physician.

For black America, the early 1900s was a time consumed with the notion of “returning to Africa,” to the source. With physical proof of the beginnings of colonial demise, a charismatic and savvy Jamaican immigrant and businessman named Marcus Garvey established his grassroots organization in 1917 under the title United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with branches in various states. Using the success of Ethiopia’s independence as a beacon of freedom for blacks residing in the Americas, Garvey envisioned a shipping business that would raise enough money and register members to volunteer to be repatriated to Africa. In a few years time, Garvey’s UNIA raised approximately ten million dollars and boasted an impressive membership of half a million individuals.

Notable civil rights leader Malcolm X began his autobiography by mentioning his father, Reverend Earl Little, as a staunch supporter of the UNIA. “It was only me that he sometimes took with him to the Garvey U.N.I.A. meetings which he held quietly in different people’s homes,” says Malcolm. “I can remember hearing of ‘ Africa for the Africans,’ ‘Ethiopians, Awake!’” Malcolm’s early association with Garvey’s pan-African message resonated with him as he schooled himself in reading, writing, and history. “I can remember accurately the very first set of books that really impressed me,” Malcolm professes, “J.A. Rogers’ three volumes told about Aesop being a black man who told fables; about the great Coptic Christian Empires; about Ethiopia, the earth’s oldest continuous black civilization.”

By the time the Ethiopian government had decided to send its first official diplomatic mission to the United States, Marcus Garvey had already emblazoned an image of Ethiopia into the minds and hearts of his African American supporters. “I see a great ray of light and the bursting of a mighty political cloud which will bring you complete freedom,” he promised them, and they in turn eagerly propagated his message.

The Harlem Renaissance & Emigrating to Ethiopia
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Above: A headline by the Chicago Defender announcing the
arrival of the first Abyssinian diplomatic delegation to the United
States on July 11, 1919.

In 1919 an official Ethiopian goodwill mission was sent to the United States, the first African delegation of diplomats, in hopes of creating amicable ties with the American people and government. The four-person delegation included Dadjazmatch Nadou, Ato Belanghetta Herouy Wolde Selassie, Kantiba Gabrou, and Ato Sinkas. Having been acquainted with African Americans such as businessman William Ellis, Kantiba Gabrou, the mayor of Gondar, made a formal appeal during his trip for African Americans to emigrate to Ethiopia. Arnold Josiah Ford, a Harlem resident from Barbados, had an opportunity to meet the 1919 Ethiopian delegation. Having already heard of the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia, Ford established his own synagogue for the black community soon after meeting the Ethiopian delegation. Along with a Nigerian-born bishop named Arthur Wentworth Matthews, Ford created the Commandment Keepers Church on 123rd Street in Harlem and taught the congregation about the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, in the international spotlight, 1919 was the year the League of Nations was created, of which Ethiopia became the first member from the African continent. The mid 1900s gave birth to the Harlem Renaissance. With many African Americans migrating to the north in search of a segregation-free life, and a large contention of black writers, actors, artists and singers gathering in places like Harlem, a new culture of black artistic expression thrived. Even so, the Harlem Renaissance was more than just a time of literary discussions and hot jazz; it represented a confluence of creativity summoning forth the humanity and pride of blacks in America – a counterculture subverting the grain of thought ‘separate and unequal.’

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Above: Commandment Keepers Synagogue.. Photography by Chester Higgins.
©chesterhiggins.com

As in earlier times, the terms ‘Ethiopian’ and ‘Ethiop’ continued to be utilized by Harlem writers and poets to instill black pride. In other U.S. cities like Chicago, actors calling themselves the ‘National Ethiopian Art Players’ performed The Chip Woman’s Fortune by Willis Richardson, the first serious play by a black writer to hit Broadway.

In 1927, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to London, Azaj Workneh Martin, arrived in New York and appealed once again for African American professionals to emigrate and work in Ethiopia. In return they were promised free land and high wages. In 1931 the Emperor granted eight hundred acres for settlement by African Americans, and Arnold Josiah Ford, bishop of the Commandment Keepers Church, became one of the first to accept the invitation. Along with sixty-six other individuals, Ford emigrated and started life anew in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Students in America: Mobilizing Support

In November 1930, Taffari Makonnen was coronated as Emperor of Ethiopia. The event blared on radios, and Harlemites heard and marveled at the ceremonies of a black king. The emperor’s face glossed the cover of Time Magazine, which remarked on “negro newsorgans” in America hailing the king “as their own.” African American pilot Hubert Julian, dubbed “The Black Eagle of Harlem,” had visited Ethiopia and attended the coronation. Describing the momentous occasion to Time Magazine, Hubert rhapsodized:

“When I arrived in Ethiopia the King was glad to see me… I took off with a French pilot… We climbed to 5,000 ft. as 50,000 people cheered, and then I jumped out and tugged open my parachute… I floated down to within 40 ft. of the King, who incidentally is the greatest of all modern rulers… He rushed up and pinned the highest medal given in that country on my breast, made me a colonel and the leader of his air force — and here I am!”

Joel Augustus Rogers, famed author and correspondent for New York’s black newspaper Amsterdam News, also covered the Coronation of Haile Selassie and was likewise presented with a coronation medal.

After his official coronation, Emperor Haile Selassie sent forth the first wave of Ethiopian students to continue their education abroad. Melaku Beyan was a member of the primary batch of students sent to America in the 1930s. He attended Ohio State University and later received his medical degree at Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C. During his schooling years at Howard, he forged lasting friendships with members of the black community and, at Emperor Haile Selassie’s request, he endeavored to enlist African American professionals to work in Ethiopia. Beyan was successful in recruiting several individuals, including teachers Joseph Hall and William Jackson, as well as physicians Dr. John West and Dr. Reuben S. Young, the latter of whom began a private practice in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, prior to his official assignment as a municipal health officer in Dire Dawa, Harar.

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African American professionals in Addis Ababa – 1942. Kneeling, left to right: Andrew
Howard Hester, Edward Eugene Jones, Edgar E. Love. Standing, left to right: David Talbot, Thurlow
Evan Tibbs, James William Cheeks, the Reverend Mr. Hamilton, John Robinson, Edgar D. Draper

(Ethiopiancrown.org)

Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1941
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Melaku Beyan

By the mid 1930s the Emperor had sent a second diplomatic mission to the U.S. Vexed at Italy’s consistently aggressive behavior towards his nation, Haile Selassie attempted to forge stronger ties with America. Despite being a member of the League of Nations, Italy disregarded international law and invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Ethiopian government appealed for support at the League of Nations and elsewhere, through representatives such as the young, charismatic speaker Melaku Beyan in the United States. Beyan had married an African American activist, Dorothy Hadley, and together they created a newspaper called Voice of Ethiopia to simultaneously denounce Jim Crow in America and fascist invasion in Ethiopia. Joel Rogers, the correspondent who had previously attended the Emperor’s coronation, returned to Ethiopia as a war correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier, then America’s most widely-circulated black newspaper. Upon returning to the United States a year later, he published a pamphlet entitled The Real Facts About Ethiopia, a scathing and uncompromising report on the destruction caused by Italian troops in Ethiopia. Melaku Beyan used the pamphlet in his speaking tours, while his wife Dorothy designed and passed out pins that read “Save Ethiopia.”

In Harlem, Chicago, and various other cities African American churches urged their members to speak out against the invasion. Beyan established at least 28 branches of the newly-formed Ethiopian World Federation, an organ of resistance calling on Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia throughout the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. News of Ethiopia’s plight fueled indignation and furious debates among African Americans. Touched by the Emperor’s speech at the League of Nations, Roger’s accounts, and Melaku’s impassioned message, blacks vowed to support Ethiopia. Still others wrote letters to Haile Selassie, some giving advice, others support and commentary. “I pray that you will deliver yourself from crucifixion,” wrote one black woman from Los Angeles, “and show the whites that they are not as civilized as they loudly assert themselves to be.”

Although the United States was not officially in support of Ethiopia, scores of African Americans attempted to enlist to fight in Ethiopia. Unable to legally succeed on this front, several individuals traveled to Ethiopia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Author Gail Lumet Buckley cites two African American pilots, John Robinson and the ‘Black Eagle of Harlem’ Hubert Julian, who joined the Ethiopian Air Corps, then made up of only three non-combat planes. John Robinson, a member of the first group of black students that entered Curtis Wright Flight School, flew his plane delivering medical supplies to different towns across the country. Blacks in America continued to stand behind the Emperor and organized medical supply drives from New York’s Harlem Hospital. Melaku Beyan and his African American counterparts remained undeterred for the remainder of Ethiopia’s struggle against colonization. In 1940, a year before Ethiopia’s victory against Italy, Melaku Beyan succumbed to pneumonia, which he had caught while walking door-to-door in the peak of winter, speaking boldly about the war for freedom in Ethiopia.

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Above: Colonel John C. Robinson arrives in Chicago after heroically
leading the Ethiopian Air Force against the invading Mussolini’s
Italian forces.
(Ethiopiancrown.org)

Lasting Legacies: Ties That Bind

Traveling through Harlem in my mind’s eye, I see the mighty organs of resistance that played such a pivotal role in “keeping aloft” the banner of Ethiopia and fostering deep friendships among blacks in Africa and America. I envision the doors Melaku Beyan knocked on as he passed out pamphlets; the pulpits on street corners where Malcolm X stood preaching about the strength and beauty of black people, fired up by the history he read. The Abyssinia Baptist Church stands today bigger and bolder, and inside you find the most exquisite Ethiopian cross, a gift from the late Emperor to the people of Harlem and a symbol of love and gratitude for their support and friendship.

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Above: Emperor Haile Selassie
presenting the cross to Reverened
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., on May 27,
1954. Photography by Marvin Smith.

Several Coptic churches line the streets of Harlem, and the ancient synagogue of the Commandment Keepers established by Arnold Ford continues to have Sabbath services. The offices of the Amsterdam News are still as busy as ever, recording and recounting the past and present state of black struggles. Over the years, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has carefully preserved the photographic proofs of the ties that bind African Americans and Ethiopians, just in case the stories told are too magical to grasp.The name ‘Ethiopia’ conjures a kaleidoscope of images and verbs. In researching the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians, I learned that Ethiopia is synonymous with ‘freedom,’ ‘black dignity’ and ‘self-worth.’ In the process, I looked to my elders and heeded the wisdom they have to share. In his message to the grassroots of Detroit, Michigan, Malcolm X once asserted, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” It is this kernel of truth that propelled me to share this rich history in celebration of Black History Month and the victory of Adwa.

In attempting to understand what Ethiopia really means, I turn to Ethiopia’s Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. “The Ethiopia of rich history is the heart of Africa’s civilization,” he said. “She is the greatest example of Africa’s pride. Ethiopia means peace. The word ‘ Ethiopia’ emanates from a connection of three old black Egyptian words, Et, Op and Bia, meaning truth and peace, up and upper, country and land. Et-Op-Bia is land of upper truth or land of higher peace.”

This is my all-time, favorite definition of Ethiopia, because it brings us back to our indigenous African roots: The same roots that African Americans and black people in the diaspora have searched for; the same roots from which we have sprung and grown into individuals rich in confidence. Welcome to blackness. Welcome to Ethiopia!

About the Author:
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Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

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Harlem rekindles old friendship (Tadias)

The Case of Melaku E. Bayen & John Robinson (Tadias)

Schomburg Center Hosts Discussion on Ethiopia’s Religious History

At NYC's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Sunday, June 22, 2008. (Photo: Tadias )

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Published: Monday, June 23, 2008

New York (TADIAS) – This past Sunday, at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a panel discussion entitled “Ethiopia: The Three Faiths” attracted a diverse and large audience. The event hosted by Beta Israel of North America foundation began with cultural dances from the Indian subcontinent and an Ethiopian dance troupe called Keremela.

The panel included Dr. Ephraim Isaac, Director of the Institute of Semitic Studies at Princeton University; Dr. Ayele Bekerie, Professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University, Dr. Said Samatar, Professor of African History at Rutgers University; and Dr. Yohannes Zeleke, an archaeologist, anthropologist, and historian as well as the former curator of the National Museum of Ethiopia.

Dr. Zeleke shared information regarding the recent archaeological findings in Axum including the unearthing of the Queen of Sheba’s palace and an alter for the Arc of the Covenant by the University of Hamburg.

“These findings were already made 26 years ago, but they are being verified now” he said. He also discussed the Jewish culture and heritage of the pre-Aksumite empire, until 330 A.D. when Christianity took over as the official state religion.

“The only place in the world, when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, where Jewish rulers still reigned was in Ethiopia,” he told the audience. “Ethiopian Jews were not foreigners, they are part of the ancient culture of Ethiopia.”

Dr. Said Samatar described Ethiopia’s historic role in providing sanctuary for the earliest Muslims. He shared the story of King Armah (Negash) and his decision to grant refuge to the family of the Prophet Mohammad, who arrived at Aksum while fleeing from their pagan persecutors.

“Negash held court and asked both the Quraish tribal members and the family of Mohammad to state their case” he notes. Sharing the exchange of words between the Ethiopian Christian King and those in the court, Samatar described how a Christian King refused bribes and granted sanctuary to the fleeing Muslims in Aksum.

“Mohammad didn’t forget the generosity of the Negash,” he said, “and in the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet that have been recorded and passed on for generations, it is noted that ‘Abyssinia is a land of justice in which no one is oppressed.’”

“In effect,” Samatar said “that meant that no jihad could be waged against the Kingdom of Abyssinia.”

Samatar also pointed to the presence of Islam’s oldest mosque, located in Aksum. “Islam may well have come to Ethiopia before the new religion flourished in Mecca” he said. Samatar mentioned that Ethiopia’s King had read the Prophet’s letter himself, and turning to the Schomburg’s audience, he asked the question:

“Did the King read Arabic?”

Dr. Ayele Bekerie then expounded on the relations between King Armah and his Meccan counterparts, noting new findings that King Armah, who provided sanctuary to the Prophet Mohammed’s followers, had been born in Mecca after his father, Wosen Seged, one of the sons of Atse (Emperor) Gebre Mesqel, the son of Atse Caleb, had been taken to Arabia as a military commander and had been captured as a slave by Persians and sold in Mecca. Armah was born to a Meccan woman and he later bought his freedom, returned to Ethiopia, and replaced his brother as King of Aksum.

“So it is likely that he was familiar with the Prophet Mohammad as well as being able to speak Arabic” Bekerie points out.

As to the king’s forefathers, Bekerie says: “Emperor Gebre Mesqel (King Armah’s grandfather), like his father Emperor Caleb, conducted military campaign in defense of the Christians, but he returned to Ethiopia safe.”

Bekerie provided the audience with a summary of Christianity in Ethiopia and the Tewahedo Orthodox church in particular. He noted its separation from the Chalcedonian council in 5th century A.D. and the translation of the earliest bibles from Greek to Ge’ez as well as the establishment of monasteries by the nine saints of Syria who arrived in Abyssinia while fleeing from Byzantine persecution.

Noting the depths of religious convictions in Ethiopia Bekerie noted that leaders come and go but faith remains a constant in the lives of the Ethiopian people. One good way to celebrate the millennium therefore, would be to celebrate the depths of Ethiopia’s interfaith history and culture.

“Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world guided by religious tolerance for more than a millennium” he said. “Ethiopia can serve as a model for interfaith space.”

Samatar and Zeleke equally stressed the need to recover the goodwill between the three faiths in their closing commentaries.

“In the fourth millennium we need to work towards the building of a federation that is worthy of the children of the Queen of Sheba”, Samatar concluded to an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.



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St. Yared – the great Ethiopian composer

An artist rendering of St Yared, the great Ethiopian composer, who lived in Aksum almost 1500 years ago.

Tadias Magazine
By Ayele Bekerie
ayele_author.jpg

Updated: Nov 29, 2007

New York (Tadias) – In his latest song dedicated to the Ethiopian Millennium and entitled Musika Heiwete (Music is My Life), the renowned Ethiopian popular singer, Teddy Afro (Theodros Kassahun) traces the geneaology of his music to classical Zema or chant compositions of St. Yared, the great Ethiopian composer, choreographer and poet, who lived in Aksum almost 1500 years ago.

Teddy, who is widely known for his songs mixed with reggae rhythms and local sounds, heart warming and enlightening lyrics, shoulder shaking and foot stomping beats, blends his latest offering with sacred musical terms, such as Ge’ez, Izil, and Ararary, terms coined by St. Yared to represent the three main Zema compositions.

In so doing, he is echoing the time tested and universalized tradition of modernity that has been pioneered and institutionalized by Yared. Teddy seems to realize the importance of seeking a new direction in Ethiopian popular music by consciously establishing links to the classical and indigenous tradition of modernity of St. Yared. In other words, Teddy Afro is setting an extraordinary example of reconfiguring and contributing to contemporary musical tradition based on Yared’s Zema.

An excellent example of what I call tradition of modernity, a tradition that contains elements of modernity or the perpetuation of modernity informed by originative tradition, is the annual celebration of St. Yared’s birthday in Debre Selam Qidist Mariam Church in Washington D.C. in the presence of a large number of Ethiopian Americans.

The Debteras regaled in fine Ethiopian costume that highlights the tri-colors of the Ethiopian flag, accompanied by tau-cross staff, sistra and drum, have chanted the appropriate Zema and danced the Aquaquam or sacred dance at the end of a special mass – all in honor of the great composer.

The purpose of this article is to narrate and discuss the life history and artistic accomplishments of the great St. Yared. We argue that St Yared was a great scholar who charted a modernist path to Ethiopian sense of identity and culture. His musical invention, in particular, established a tradition of cultural dynamism and continuity.


Figure 1: An artist rendering of St Yared while chanting Zema accompanied by sistrum, tau-cross staff. The three main zema chants of Ge’ez, Izil, and Araray which are represented by three birds. Digua, a book of chant, atronse (book holder), a drum, and a processional cross are also seen here. Source: Methafe Diggua Zeqidus Yared. Addis Ababa: Tensae Printing Press, 1996.

Zema or the chant tradition of Ethiopia, particularly the chants of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, is attributed to St. Yared, a composer and a choreographer who lived in Aksum in the 6th century AD. He is credited for inventing the zema of the Church; the chant that has been in use continuously for the last almost 1500 years.

It is indeed a classical tradition both musically and culturally. St Yared’s chants are characterized as subtle, spiritually uplifting, and euphonic. St Yared’s composition draws its fame both in its endurance and institutionalization of a tradition to mark the rhythm of life, the life of the faithful.

By composing chants for all natural and spiritual occasions, St. Yared has also laid down the foundation for common purpose and plurality among various ethnic, linguistic and regional groupings of the Ethiopian people. Elaborate visual representation of chants, the introduction of additional musical instruments, movements and performances by Ethiopian scholars have further enriched and secured the continuity and dynamism of the tradition to the present.

Furthermore, the music has become the central defining ritualistic feature of all the major fasts and feasts, appropriately expressing and performing joys and sorrows with the faithful in the or outside of the Church.

Saint Yared, the great Ethiopian scholar, was born on April 5, 501 A.D. in the ancient city of Aksum. His father’s name was Adam, whereas his mother’s name was Tawkelia. He descended from a line of prominent church scholars. At the age of six, a priest named Yeshaq was assigned as his teacher. However, he turned out to be a poor learner and, as a result, he was sent back to his parents. While he was staying at home, his father passed away and his mother asked her brother, Aba Gedeon, a well known priest-scholar in the church of Aksum Zion, to adopt her son and to take over the responsibility regarding his education.

Aba Gedeon taught The Old and New Testaments. He also translated these and other sacred texts to Ge’ez from Greek, Hebrew and Arabic sources. Even if Aba Gedeon allowed St. Yared to live and study with him, it took him a long time to complete the study of the Book of David. He could not compete with the other children, despite the constant advice he was receiving from his uncle. In fact, he was so poor in his education, kids used to make fun of him. His uncle was so impatient with him and he gave him several lashes for his inability not to compete with his peers.

Realizing that he was not going to be successful with his education, Yared left school and went to Medebay, a town where his another uncle resided. On his way to Medebay, not far from Aksum, he was forced to seek shelter under a tree from a heavy rain, in a place called Maikrah. While he was standing by leaning to the tree, he was immersed in thoughts about his poor performance in his education and his inability to compete with his peers. Suddenly, he noticed an ant, which tried to climb the tree with a load of a seed. The ant carrying a piece of food item made six attempts to climb the tree without success. However, at the seventh trial, the ant was able to successfully climb the tree and unloaded the food item at its destination. Yared watched the whole incident very closely and attentively; he was touched by the determined acts of the ant. He then thought about the accomplishment of this little creature and then pondered why he lacked patience to succeed in his own schooling.

He got a valuable lesson from the ant. In fact, he cried hard and then underwent self-criticism. The ant became his source of inspiration and he decided to return back to school. He realized the advice he received from his uncle was a useful advice to guide him in life. He begged Aba Gedeon to forgive him for his past carelessness. He also asked him to give him one more chance. He wants all the lessons and he is ready to learn.

His teacher, Aba Gedeon then began to teach him the Book of David. Yared not only was taking the lessons, but every day he would stop at Aksum Zion church to pray and to beg his God to show him the light. His prayer was answered and he turned out to be a good student. Within a short period of time, he showed a remarkable progress and his friends noticed the change in him. They were impressed and started to admire him. He completed the Old and New Testaments lessons at a much faster pace. He also finished the rest of lessons ahead of schedule and graduated to become a Deacon. He was fluent in Hebrew and Greek, apart from Ge’ez. Yared became as educated as his uncle and by the young age of fourteen, he was forced to assume the position of his uncle when he died.

Yared’s Zema is mythologized and sacralized to the extent that the composition is seen as a special gift from heaven. One version of the mythology is presented in Ethiopian book Sinkisar, a philosophical treatise, as follows: “When God sought praise on earth, he sent down birds from heaven in the images of angels so that they would teach Yared the music of the heavens in Ge’ez language. The birds sang melodious and heart warming songs to Yared. The birds noticed that Yared was immersed in their singing and then they voiced in Ge’ez:

“O Yared, you are the blessed and respected one; the womb that carried you is praised; the breasts that fed you the food of life are praised.”

Yared was then ascended to the heavens of the heaven, Jerusalem, where twenty-four scholars of the heaven conduct heavenly choruses. St Yared listened to the choruses by standing in the sacred chamber and he committed the music to memory. He then started to sing all the songs that he heard in the sacred chambers of the heaven to the gathered scholars. He then descended back to Aksum and at 9 a.m. (selestu saat) in the morning, inside the Aksum Zion church, he stood by the side of the Tabot (The Arc of the Covenant), raised his hands to heaven, and in high notes, which later labeled Mahlete Aryam (the highest), he sang the following:

“hale luya laab, hale luya lewold, hale luya wolemenfes qidus qidameha letsion semaye sarere wedagem arayo lemusse zekeme yegeber gibra ledebtera.”

With his song, he praised the natural world, the heavens and the Zion. He called the song Mahlete Aryam, which means the highest, referring to the seventh gates of heaven, where God resides. Yared, guided by the Holy Spirit, he saw the angels using drums, horns, sistra, Masinko and harp and tau-cross staff instruments to accompany their songs of praise to God, he decided to adopt these instruments to all the church music and chants.

The chants are usually chanted in conjunction with aquaquam or sacred dance. The following instruments are used for Zema and aquaquam combination: Tau-cross staff, sistra and drum. St Yared pioneered an enduring tradition of Zema. Aquaquam and Qene. These are musical, dance and literary traditions that continue to inform the spiritual and material well being of a significant segment of the Ethiopian population.

It is important to note that, as Sergew Hable Selassie noted “most of Yared’s books have been written for religious purposes.” As a result, historical facts are interspersed with religious sentiments and allegorical renderings.

According to Ethiopian legend, St.Yared obtained the three main Zema scores from three birds. These scores that Yared named Ge’ez, Izil, and Araray were revealed to him as a distraction from a path of destruction. According to oral tradition, Yared was set to ambush a person who repeatedly tried to cheat on his wife. In an attempt to resolve such vexing issue, he decided to kill the intruder. At a place where he camped out for ambush, three birds were singing different melodies. He swiftly lent his ears to the singing. He became too attracted to the singing birds. As a result, he abandoned his plan of ambush. Instead, he began to ponder how he could become a singer like the birds. Persistent practice guided by the echo of the melodies of the birds, fresh in his memory, ultimately paid off. Yared transformed himself to a great singer and composer as well as choreographer. Yared prepared his Zema composition from 548 to 568 AD. He had taught for over eleven years as an ordained priest.

Yared’s zema chants have established a classic Zema Mahlet tradition, which is usually performed in the outer section of the Church’s interior. The interior has three parts. The Arc of the Covenant is kept in Meqdes or the holiest section.

EMPEROR GEBRE MESQEL, THE CULTURAL PHILANTHROPIST

The Ethiopian emperor of the time was Emperor Gebre Mesqel (515-529), the son of the famous Emperor Kaleb, who in successfully, though briefly, reunited western and eastern Ethiopia on both sides of the Red Sea in 525 AD.

Emperor Gabra Masqal was a great supporter of the arts; he particularly established a special relationship with St. Yared, who was given unconditional and unlimited backing from him. The Emperor would go to church to listen to the splendid chants of St. Yared.

The Emperor was ruling at the peak of Aksumite civilization. He consolidated the gains made by his father and consciously promoted good governance and church scholarship. Furthermore, he presided over a large international trade both from within and without Africa.

According to Ethiopian history, Emperor Gabra Mesqel built the monastery of Debre Damo in Tigray, northern Ethiopia in the sixth century AD. It is the site where one of the nine saints from Syria, Abuna Aregawi settled. St Yared visited and performed his Zema at the monastery. The chants and dance introduced by Yared at the time of Gebra Mesqel are still being used in all the churches of Ethiopia, thereby establishing for eternity a classical and enduring tradition.

ST YARED’S MUSICAL COMPOSITION

St Yared created five volumes of chants for major church related festivals, lents and other services and these volumes are:

The Book of Digua and Tsome Digua, the book of chants for major church holidays and Sundays, whereas the book of Tsome Digua contain chants for the major lent (fasting) season (Abiy Tsom), holidays and daily prayer, praise and chant procedures.

Digua is derived from the word Digua, which means to write chants of sorrow and tearful songs. Digua sometimes is also called Mahelete Yared or the songs of Yared, acknowledging the authorship of the chants to Yared. Regarding Digua’s significance Sergew Hable Selassie writes, “Although it was presented in the general form of poetry, there are passages relating to theology, philosophy, history and ethics.”

The Book of Meraf, chants of Sabat, important holidays, daily prayers and praises; also chants for the month of fasting.

The Book of Zimare, contain chants to be sang after Qurban (offerings) that is performed after Mass. Zemare was composed at Zur Amba monastery.

The Book of Mewasit, chants to the dead. Yared composed Mewasit alongside with Zimare.

The Book of Qidasse, chants to bless the Qurban (offerings).


Figure 2. An illustrated Zema chant text and notes from the Book of Digua (Metshafe Digua Zeqidus Yared), p. 3.

Yared completed these compositions in nine years. All his compositions follow the three musical scales (kegnit), which he used to praise, according to Ethiopian tradition, his creator, who revealed to him the heavenly chants of the twenty-four heavenly scholars.


Figure 3. The front cover of Metshafe Digua Zeqidus Yared (Book of Digua). The cover shows the five volumes of Yared’s Zema composition: Digua, Tsome Digua, Miraf, Zimare, and Mewasit. Processional Ethiopian cross, drum, sistrum, and tau-cross staff are also illustrated in the cover.

Each of these categories are further classified with three musical scales (Kegnitoch) that are reported to contain all the possible musical scales:

Ge’ez, first and straight note. It is described in its musical style as hard and imposing. Scholars often refer to it as dry and devoid of sweet melody.

Izel, melodic, gentle and sweet note, which is often chanted after Ge’ez. It is also described as affective tone suggesting intimation and tenderness.

Ararai, third and melodious and melancholic note often chanted on somber moments, such as fasting and funeral mass.

Musical scholars regard these scales as sufficient to encompass all the musical scores of the world. These scales are sources of chants or songs of praise, tragedy or happiness. These scales are symbolized as the father, the son and the Holy Spirit in the tradition.

The composer Yared wrote the notes of the Digua on parchment and he also composed ten musical notations. The notations were fully developed as musical written charts in the 17th century AD. This took place much earlier than the composition of the musical note using seven alphabetic letters within the Western tradition. St Yared named the ten musical notations as follows: Yizet, Deret, Rikrik, Difat, Cheret, Qenat, Hidet, Qurt, Dirs, and, Anbir.

The ten notations have their own styles of arrangement and they are collectively called Sirey, which means lead notations or roots to chants. The notations are depicted with lines or chiretoch (marks).


Names and signs of St. Yared zema chant. The names are written in Ge’ez in the second column. The signs are in the third column.

According to Lisane Worq Gebre Giorgis, Zema notes for Digua were fully developed in the 16th century AD by the order of Atse Gelawedos. The composers were assembled in the Church of Tedbabe Mariam, which was led by Memhir Gera and Memhir Raguel. The chants, prior to the composition of notations, learned and studied orally. In other words, the chants were sang and passed on without visual guidance. Oral training used to take up to 70 years to master all the chants, such as Digua (40 years), Meraf (10 years), Mewasit (5 years), Qidasse (10 years), and Zimare (15 years). The chant appeared in the written form made it easier for priests to study and master the various chants within a short period of time.

The ten Zemawi notations are designed to correspond with the ten commandments of Genesis and the ten strings of harp. The notes, however, were not restricted to them. In addition, they have developed notations known as aganin, seyaf, akfa, difa, gifa, fiz, ayayez, chenger, mewgat, goshmet, zentil, aqematil, anqetqit, netiq, techan, and nesey.

The composition of the Digua Zema chant with notations took seven years, whereas mewasit’s chants were completed in one year, zemare’s in two years, qidasse in two years, and meraf remained oral (without notations) for a long time until it also got its own notations.

The two leading scholars were fully recognized and promoted by the King for their accomplishments. They were given the title of azaze and homes were built for them near Tedbabe Mariam Church. While their contributions are quite significant, St Yared remains as the key composer of all the Zemas of the chants. He literally transformed the verses and texts of the Bible into musical utterances.


Figure 4. A sample page from St Yared’s zema or chant composition from Metsafe Digua Zeqidus Yared.

The ten chants are assigned names that fully described the range, scale and depth of Zema. Difat is a method of chanting where the voice is suppressed down in the throat and inhaling air. Hidet is a chant by stretching one’s voice; it is resembled to a major highway or a continuous water flow in a creek. Qinat is the highlighted last letter of a chant; it is chanted loud and upward in a dramatic manner and ends abruptly. Yizet is when letters or words are emphasized with louder chant in another wise regular reading form of chant. Qurt is a break from an extended chant that is achieved by withholding breathing. Chiret also highlights with louder notes letters or words in between regular readings of the text. The highlighted chant is conducted for a longer period of time. Rikrik is a layered and multiple chants conducted to prolong the chant. Diret is a form of chant that comes out of the chest. These eight chant forms have non-alphabetic signs. The remaining two are dirs and anber which are represented by Ethiopic or Ge’ez letters.

Yared’s composition also includes modes of chant and performance. There are four main modes. Qum Zema is exclusively vocal and the chant is not accompanied by body movement or swinging of the tau-cross staff. The chant is usually performed at the time of lent. Zimame chants are accompanied by body movements and choreographed swinging of the staff. Merged, which is further divided into Neus Merged and Abiy Merged are chanted accompanied by sistrum, drums, and shebsheba or sacred dance. The movements are fast, faster and fastest in merged, Neus Merged, and abiy merged respectively. Abiy Merged is further enhanced by rhythmic hand clappings. Tsifat chant highlights the drummers who move back and forth and around the Debteras. They also jump up and down, particularly with joyous occasions like Easter and Christmas.

St. Yared’s sacred music is truly classical, for it has been in use for over a thousand years and it has also established a tradition that continues to inform the spiritual and material lives of the people. It is in fact the realization of the contribution of St.Yared that earned him sainthood. Churches are built in his name and the first school of music that was established in the mid twentieth century in Addis Ababa is named after him. By the remarkable contribution of St. Yared, Ethiopia has achieved a tradition of modernity. It is the responsibility of the young generation to build upon it and to advance social, economic, and cultural development in the new millennium.

—–
Editor’s Note: This article is well-referenced and those who seek the references should contact Professor Ayele Bekerie directly at: ab67@cornell.edu

About the Author:
Ayele Bekerie was born and raised in Ethiopia. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies at Temple University in 1994. He has written and published in scholarly journals, such as, Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations (ANKH), Journal of Black Studies, The International Journal of Africana Studies, and Imhotep. He is also the author of Ethiopic: an African Writing System, a book about the history and principles of Ethiopic (Ge’ez). He is a Professor at Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine.

Queens, Spies, and Servants: A History of Ethiopian Women in Military Affairs

Above: These female war veterans are pictured in Addis
Ababa’s Menelik Square in 1973 at a ceremony to commemorate
an early victory against the Italians. Photo by Shemelis Desta
(BBC)

By Tseday Alehegn

Chronicles of war and military prowess are plentiful in Ethiopia’s historical literature. Growing up we are effortlessly taught the virtues of honor and duty, which have bestowed sovereignty to generation after generation of Ethiopians. Countless retelling of tales depicting the early and decisive victory at the battle of Adwa remain ever fresh in our proud minds and hearts; the feeling only to be outdone by the resoluteness of heroes who ended the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during the Second World War. Indeed, it is as the 17th century writer Almeida wrote of us: “In war they are reared as children, in war they grow old, or the life of all who are not farmers is war.”

The emphasis on military virtues becomes more palpable when we recognize the unique manner in which Ethiopians chose to fight off their external enemies. From earliest times, both women and men were encouraged to participate in mobilization and preparation efforts. Depicting the atmosphere during the battle of Adwa in 1896, historian G.F. Berkeley observes how the Ethiopian army was not merely organized as a segment of the population, but rather as an entire collective that had integrated the occurrence of war into its normal day-to-day activities. He points out, “It’s not an army [it is] an invasion, the transplanting of the whole people.” No one was left behind. While men served as soldiers they brought along with them their wives who in turn became involved either as civilian participants or as military combatants. What rights, titles, honors men claimed for their valor women were able to do the same.

Females were traditionally not allowed to inherit land unless the father died before the daughter married or there were no sons in the family. However, women would be able to claim property after serving in military mobilization efforts. In an uncommon way, the ability of women to participate on the warfront initiated change to their otherwise lower societal status. Not all participation in war, however, was voluntary as is clearly depicted in the following 19th century edict by the leader Ras Gugsa: “One who does not join the army of Gugsa, man and woman, will lose his genital and her breast respectively.”

Historians have estimated that an average of 20,000 to 30,000 women have participated in the campaign of Adwa alone. While the majority served in non-violent chores such as food preparation and nursing of the wounded, a significant portion served as soldiers, strategists, advisors, translators, and intelligence officers. Women from the aristocracy worked alongside maids and servants thereby breaking norms in class separation.

Female Military Strategists & Combatants:

At a time when women in most parts of the world were relegated to household chores, the number of Ethiopian women in the late 17th century participating in war expeditions against foreign aggressors was on the rise. Whereas most war decrees at this time encouraged all Ethiopians to fight occupation attempts, in 1691 Emperor Iyasu issued one of the first proclamations to curtail the rapid growth of women soldiers. The chronicles report:

“The king had the herald proclaim that the girls of the country must not ride
astride mules, because at this time these girls had adopted the practice of doing
so, tightening the belts of their shirts, covering their heads with their shammas and holding a long spear in their hand..marching in expeditions like men.”

Queen Yodit is one of the earliest-mentioned Ethiopian female leaders who fought spiritedly in battles. She successfully overthrew the powerful Aksumite kingdom, but because many churches and historically important sites were destroyed in the process her reign is infamously described as the dark era. Between 1464 and 1468, under the leadership of King Zere Yaqob, women’s expansion into political positions became more evident. Historian Richard Pankhurst notes how Zere Yaqob “established a women’s administration by appointing his daughters and relatives to key provinces.”

King Zere Yaqob’s wife, Queen Eleni, was an equally formidable and astute military strategist, and was largely responsible for the arrival in 1520 of the Portuguese as one of the first diplomatic missions. Predicting the appetite of Turks in invading Ethiopia’s coastline she proposed a joint attack strategy to the Portuguese leadership against the Egyptians and the Ottoman Turks. Sylvia Pankhurst records her letter to the Portuguese summoning a coalition. Queen Eleni is to have written:

“We have heard that the Sultan of Cairo assembles a great army to attack
your forces…against the assault of such enemies we are prepared to send
a good number of men-at-arms who will give assistance in the sea bound
areas…If you wish to arm a thousand warship we will provide the necessary
food and furnish you with everything for such a force in very great abundance.”

The Turks were soundly defeated. Years later Queen Seble Wongel was able to draw on the help of the Portuguese in defeating Ahmed Gragn’s muslim expansion into Ethiopia. In February 1543 her army fought at the battle of Woina Dega where Gragn succumbed to his death.

Harold Marcus documents Queen Worqitu’s history as the warrior queen who helped Menelik gain his crown. In 1865 Queen Worqitu of Wollo granted Menelik a safe route through her territory as the future monarch successfully escaped from King Tewodros’ prison.

The effect of her support in aiding Menelik to power is recorded in Ethiopia’s ensuing transformation from a ‘land of kings’ to a nation ruled by a ‘king of kings.’

Perhaps the most famous queen involved in military affairs is Empress Taitu, wife of Emperor Menelik II. In the battle of Adwa Empress Taitu is said to have commanded an infantry of no less than 5,000 along with 600 cavalry men and accompanied by thousands of Ethiopian women. Her strategy to cut off the invading Italian army’s water supply led to the weakening of the enemies warfront.

Following her example, Itege Menen avidly participated in battles taking places during the ‘Era of the Princes.’ Fighting against the incursion of the Egyptians, she is said to have had 20,000 soldiers under her command. Likewise, during the Italo-Ethiopian occupation, Princess Romanworq Haile Selassie upheld the tradition of women going to the battlefront and she fought alongside her husband.

Intelligence Officers, Advisors, and Translators:

Intelligence work was key in Ethiopia’s gaining the upper hand against fascist Italy and here too women played a significant role in information gathering. Through the establishment of the Central Committee of ‘Wust Arbegnoch’ (Inner Patriots) women members helped provide soldiers with intelligence information as well as arms, ammunition, food, clothing, and medicine. Sylvia Pankhurst also records how the female patriot Shewa Regged had organized an elite Ethiopian intelligence service to gather more arms while leading the Ethiopian guerilla fighters to the locale of Addis Alem to defeat an Italian fortification. Pankhurst recounts Shewa Regged’s resilience in her biography as follows:

“She was captured by the Italians and tortured by them with electricity to compel her to disclose her accomplices; despite all their cruelties, she preserved silence.”

Queen Taitu’s role as advisor is also well known. In depicting the wariness and foresight of Queen Taitu, historian R. Greenfield records her advise to Emperor Menelik and his cabinet regarding the Italian encroachment. She warns:

“Yield nothing. What you give away today will be a future ladder against your
fortress and tomorrow the Italians will come up it into your domains. If you
must lose lands lose them at least with your strong right arms.”

Her dedication and subsequent victory in preserving Ethiopia’s sovereignty won her the title “Berhane ZeEthiopia” (Light of Ethiopia). Her official seal bore this distinguished title.

In the role of translator, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie served her country by accompanying the Emperor to the League of Nations and aiding in Ethiopia’s call for support from the International Community. The Plea falling on deaf ears the League soon dissolved as the Italians persisted on invading the last free African stronghold. Plunged into war, Empress Menen is to have asserted “Women of the world unite. Demand with one voice that we may be spared the honor of this useless bloodshed!”

Non-Combatant Efforts:

The role of women in Ethiopian military history will remain largely untold if their work as non-combatants is not recalled. It is in this position that the majority of women of the lower class contributed in strengthening Ethiopia’s defense. While some uplifted the morale of the fighting contingent through popular battle songs and poetry, others labored for the daily nourishment and overall well-being of the soldiers. The record of Ethiopia’s long-standing independence will be incomplete without the recognition of thousands of women servants who accompanied women and menfolk of the aristocracy in battle after battle. Maids and servants were responsible for the gathering and preparation of food and other administrative roles. The traveler and writer James Bruce stresses the diligence of these women during war expeditions. He writes in earnest:

“I know of no country where the female works so hard… seldom resting
till late at night, even at midnight grinding, and frequently up before
cockcrow. Tired from the march, no matter how late, water must be brought,
fuel collected, supper prepared by the soldiers’ wife…and before daylight, with
a huge load, she must march again.”

When not involved in presiding over day-to-day affairs women helped out in the clearing of roads, digging of trenches, and nursing of the wounded. In the same spirit, during the Italo-Ethiopian war, Princess Tsehay Haile Selassie helped mobilize women of all classes in efforts to provide gas masks, clothes, rations and bandages to the civilian population to protect against frequent Italian air raids and mustard gas attacks.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, it is appropriate to recognize the achievements of Ethiopia’s women who helped in the creation of a one-of-a-kind defense system, which has successfully deterred foreign aggression not for a few years, but for thousands.

For original referenced-version of this article please click here

About the Author:
tseday_author.JPG
Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

Ethiopian Monks maintain the only presence by black people in Jerusalem

Above: The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Christianity’s most holy place, where Ethiopians monks have lived for a very, very long time. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Publisher’s Note:

This article was first published in January 2003. The piece appeared in the context of the July 2002 brawl that erupted on the roof of Christianity’s most holy place between Ethiopian and Egyptian monks.

“Eleven monks were treated in hospital after a fight broke out for control of the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection”, wrote Alan Philps, a Jerusalem based reporter for the Daily Telegraph.

“The fracas involved monks from the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the Coptic church of Egypt, who have been vying for control of the rooftop for centuries.”

As part of our Millennium series on the relationship between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora, we have selected part of the original article from our archives with a hope that it may generate a healthy discussion on the subject.

Deir Sultan, Ethiopia and the Black World
By NEGUSSAY AYELE

holy_sepulchre_exterior_new.jpg
Above: Main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Date: 27/03/2005, Easter Sunday. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Unknown by much of the world, monks and nuns of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, have for centuries quietly maintained the only presence by black people in one of Christianity’s holiest sites—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Through the vagaries and vicissitudes of millennial history and landlord changes in Jerusalem and the Middle East region, Ethiopian monks have retained their monastic convent in what has come to be known as Deir Sultan or the Monastery of the Sultan for more than a thousand years.

Likewise, others that have their respective presences in the area at different periods include Armenian, Russian, Syrian, Egyptian and Greek Orthodox/Coptic Churches as well as the Holy See.

As one writer put it recently, “For more than 1500 years, the Church of Ethiopia survived in Jerusalem. Its survival has not, in the last resort, been dependent on politics, but on the faith of individual monks that we should look for the vindication of the Church’s presence in Jerusalem…. They are attracted in Jerusalem not by a hope for material gain or comfort, but by faith.”

It is hoped that public discussion on this all-important subject will be joined by individuals and groups from all over the world. We hope that others with more detailed and/or first hand knowledge about the subject will join in the discussion.

roof2new.jpg
Above: Painting on the wall of the Ethiopian part of the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Accounts of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem invoke the Bible to establish the origin of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem.

Accordingly, some Ethiopians refer to the story of the encounter in Jerusalem between Queen of Sheba–believed to have been a ruler in Ethiopia and environs–and King Solomon, cited, for instance, in I Kings 10: 1-13.

According to this version, Ethiopia’s presence in the region was already established about 1000 B.C. possibly through land grant to the visiting Queen, and that later transformation into Ethiopian Orthodox Christian monastery is an extension of that same property.

Others refer to the New Testament account of Acts 8: 26-40 which relates the conversion to Christianity of the envoy of Ethiopia’s Queen Candace (Hendeke) to Jerusalem in the first century A.D., thereby signaling the early phase of Ethiopia’s adoption of Christianity. This event may have led to the probable establishment of a center of worship in Jerusalem for Ethiopian pilgrims, priests, monks and nuns.

Keeping these renditions as a backdrop, what can be said for certain is the following: Ethiopian monastic activities in Jerusalem were observed and reported by contemporary residents and sojourners during the early years of the Christian era.

By the time of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the region (634-644 A.D.) khalif Omar is said to have confirmed Ethiopian physical presence in Jerusalem’s Christian holy places, including the Church of St. Helena, which encompasses the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His firman or directive of 636 declared “the Iberian and Abyssinian communities remain there” while also recognizing the rights of other Christian communities to make pilgrimages in the Christian holy places of Jerusalem.

Because Jerusalem and the region around it, has been subjected to frequent invasions and changing landlords, stakes in the holy places were often part of the political whims of respective powers that be.

Subsequently, upon their conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders had kicked out Orthodox/Coptic monks from the monasteries and installed Augustine monks instead. However, when in 1187 Salaheddin wrested Jerusalem from the Crusaders, he restored the presence of the Ethiopian and other Orthodox/Coptic monks in the holy places.

When political powers were not playing havoc with their claims to the holy places, the different Christian sects would often carry on their own internecine conflicts among themselves, at times with violent results.

Contemporary records and reports indicate that the Ethiopian presence in the holy places in Jerusalem was rather much more substantial throughout much of the period up to the 18th and 19th centuries.

For example, an Italian pilgrim, Barbore Morsini, is cited as having written in 1614 that “the Chapels of St. Mary of Golgotha and of St. Paul…the grotto of David on Mount Sion and an altar at Bethlehem…” among others were in the possession of the Ethiopians.

From the 16th to the middle of the 19th centuries, virtually the whole of the Middle East was under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. When one of the Zagwe kings in Ethiopia, King Lalibela (1190-1225), had trouble maintaining unhampered contacts with the monks in Jerusalem, he decided to build a new Jerusalem in his land. In the process he left behind one of the true architectural wonders known as the Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela.

lalibela5.jpg
Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

lalibela7.jpg
Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

lalibela6.jpg
Above: Lalibela. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

The Ottomans also controlled Egypt and much of the Red Sea littoral and thereby circumscribed Christian Ethiopia’s communication with the outside world, including Jerusalem.

Besides, they had also tried but failed to subdue Ethiopia altogether. Though Ethiopia’s independent existence was continuously under duress not only from the Ottomans but also their colonial surrogate, Egypt as well as from the dervishes in the Sudan, the Ethiopian monastery somehow survived during this period. Whenever they could, Ethiopian rulers and other personages as well as church establishments sent subsidies and even bought plots of land where in time churches and residential buildings for Ethiopian pilgrims were built in and around Jerusalem. Church leaders in Jerusalem often represented the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in ecumenical councils and meetings in Florence and other fora.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Ottoman rulers of the region including Palestine and, of course, Jerusalem, tried to stabilize the continuing clamor and bickering among the Christian sects claiming sites in the Christian holy places. To that effect, Ottoman rulers including Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) and Suleiman “the Magnificent” (1520-1566) as well as later ones in the 19th century, issued edicts or firmans regulating and detailing by name which group of monks would be housed where and the protocol governing their respective religious ceremonies. These edicts are called firmans of the Status Quo for all Christian claimants in Jerusalem’s holy places including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which came to be called Deir Sultan or the monastery (place) of the Sultan.

Ethiopians referred to it endearingly as Debre Sultan. Most observers of the scene in the latter part of the 19th Century as well as honest spokesmen for some of the sects attest to the fact that from time immemorial the Ethiopian monks had pride of place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan). Despite their meager existence and pressures from fellow monks from other countries, the Ethiopian monks survived through the difficult periods their country was going through such as the period of feudal autarchy (1769-1855).

Still, in every document or reference since the opening of the Christian era, Ethiopia and Ethiopian monks have been mentioned in connection with Christian holy places in Jerusalem, by all alternating landlords and powers that be in the region.

As surrogates of the weakening Ottomans, the Egyptians were temporarily in control of Jerusalem (1831-1840). It was at this time, in 1838, that a plague is said to have occurred in the holy places, which in some mysterious ways of Byzantine proportions, claimed the lives of all Ethiopian monks.

The Ethiopians at this time were ensconced in a chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Deir Sultan) as well as in other locales nearby. Immediately thereafter, the Egyptian authorities gave the keys of the Church to the Egyptian Coptic monks.

The Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha, then ordered that all thousands of very precious Ethiopian holy books and documents, including historical and ecclesiastical materials related to property deeds and rights, be burned—alleging conveniently that the plague was spawned by the Ethiopian parchments.

Monasteries are traditionally important hubs of learning and, given its location and its opportunity for interaction with the wider family of Christendom, the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem was even more so than others. That is how Ethiopians lost their choice possession in Deir Sultan.

By the time other monks arrived in Jerusalem, the Copts claimed their squatter’s rights, the new Ethiopian arrivals were eventually pushed off onto the open rooftop of the church, thanks largely to the machinations of the Egyptian Coptic church.

church-with-monks_new.jpg
Above: The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Ethiopians maintain the only presence by black people in Christianity’s holiest shrine. This image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Although efforts on behalf of Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem started in mid-19th Century with Ras Ali and Dejach Wube, it was the rise of Emperor Tewodros in 1855 in Ethiopia that put the Jerusalem monastery issue back onto international focus.

When Ethiopian monks numbering a hundred or so congregated in Jerusalem at the time, the Armenians had assumed superiority in the holy places. The Anglican bishop in Jerusalem then, Bishop Samuel Gobat witnessed the unholy attitude and behavior of the Armenians and the Copts towards their fellow Christian Ethiopians who were trying to reclaim their rights to the holy places in Jerusalem.

He wrote that the Ethiopian monks, nuns and pilgrims “were both intelligent and respectable, yet they were treated like slaves, or rather like beasts by the Copts and the Armenians combined…(the Ethiopians) could never enter their own chapel but when it pleased the Armenians to open it. …On one occasion, they could not get their chapel opened to perform funeral service for one of their members. The key to their convent being in the hands of their oppressors, they were locked up in their convent in the evening until it pleased their Coptic jailer to open it in the morning, so that in any severe attacks of illness, which are frequent there, they had no means of going out to call a physician.’’

It was awareness of such indignities suffered by Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem that is said to have impelled Emperor Tewodros to have visions of clearing the path between his domain and Jerusalem from Turkish/Egyptian control, and establishing something more than monastic presence there. In the event, one of the issues that contributed to the clash with British colonialists that consumed his life 1868, was the quest for adequate protection of the Ethiopian monks and their monastery in Jerusalem.

Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889), the priestly warrior king, used his relatively cordial relations with the British who were holding sway in the region then, to make representations on behalf of the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

He carried on regular pen-pal communications with the monks even before he became Emperor. He sent them money, he counseled them and he always asked them to pray for him and the country, saying, “For the prayers of the righteous help and serve in all matters. By the prayers of the righteous a country is saved.”

He used some war booty from his battles with Ottomans and their Egyptian surrogates, to buy land and started to build a church in Jerusalem. As he died fighting Sudanese/Dervish expansionists in 1889, his successor, Emperor Menelik completed the construction of the Church named Debre Gennet located on what was called “Ethiopian Street.”

During this period more monasteries, churches and residences were also built by Empresses Tayitu, Zewditu, Menen as well as by several other personages including Afe Negus Nessibu, Dejazmach Balcha, Woizeros Amarech Walelu, Beyenech Gebru, Altayeworq.

As of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century the numbers of Ethiopian monks and nuns increased and so did overall Ethiopian pilgrimage and presence in Jerusalem.

In 1903, Emperor Menelik put $200, 000 thalers in a (Credileone) Bank in the region and ordained that interests from that savings be used exclusively as subsidy for the sustenance of the Ethiopian monks and nuns and the upkeep of Deir Sultan. Emperor Menelik’s 6-point edict also ordained that no one be allowed to draw from the capital in whole or in part.

Land was also purchased at various localities and a number of personalities including Empress Tayitu, and later Empress Menen, built churches there. British authorities supported a study on the history of the issue since at least the time of kalifa (Calif) Omar ((636) and correspondences and firmans and reaffirmations of Ethiopian rights in 1852, in an effort to resolve the chronic problems of conflicting claims to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

The 1925 study concluded that ”the Abyssinian (Ethiopian ) community in Palestine ought to be considered the only possessor of the convent Deir Es Sultan at Jerusalem with the Chapels which are there and the free and exclusive use of the doors which give entrance to the convent, the free use of the keys being understood.”

Until the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930’s when Mussolini confiscated Ethiopian accounts and possessions everywhere, including in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem had shown some semblance of stability and security, despite continuing intrigues by Copts, Armenians and their overlords in the region.

This was a most difficult and trying time for the Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem who were confronted with a situation never experienced in the country’s history, namely its occupation by a foreign power. And, just like some of their compatriots including Church leaders at home, some paid allegiance to the Fascist rulers albeit for the brief (1936-1941) interregnum.

Emperor Haile Sellassie was also a notable patron of the monastery cause, and the only monarch to have made several trips to Jerusalem, including en route to his self-exile to London in May, 1936.

Since at least the 1950s there was an Ethiopian Association for Jerusalem in Addis Ababa that coordinated annual Easter pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Hundreds of Ethiopians and other persons from Ethiopia and the Diaspora took advantage of its good offices to go there for absolution, supplication or felicitation, and the practice continues today.

Against all odds, historical, ecclesiastical and cultural bonding between Ethiopia and Jerusalem waxed over the years. The Ethiopian presence expanded beyond Deir Sultan including also numerous Ethiopian Churches, chapels, convents and properties. This condition required that the Patriarchate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church designate Jerusalem as a major diocese to be administered under its own Archbishop.

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Above: Timket (epiphany) celebration by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church on the Jordan River, considered to be the place where Jesus was baptized. Jan. 1999. Photo by Iweze Davidson.

Ethiopia and Black Heritage In Jerusalem

For hundreds of years, the name or concept of Ethiopia has been a beacon for black/African identity liberty and dignity throughout the diaspora. The Biblical (Psalm 68:31) verse , “…Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” has been universally taken to mean African people, black people at large, stretch out their hands to God (and only to God) in supplication, in felicitation or in absolution.

As Daniel Thwaite put it, for the Black man Ethiopia was always “…an incarnation of African independence.”

And today, Ethiopian monastic presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Deir Sultan in Jerusalem, is the only Black presence in the holiest place on earth for Christians. For much of its history, Ethiopian Christianity was largely hemmed in by alternating powers in the region. Likewise, Ethiopia used its own indigenous Ethiopic languages for liturgical and other purposes within its own territorial confines, instead of colonial or other lingua franca used in extended geographical spaces of the globe.

For these and other reasons, Ethiopia was not able to communicate effectively with the wider Black world in the past. Given the fact that until recently, most of the Black world within Africa and in the diaspora was also under colonial tutelage or under slavery, it was not easy to appreciate the significance of Ethiopian presence in Jerusalem. Consequently, even though Ethiopian/Black presence in Jerusalem has been maintained through untold sacrifices for centuries, the rest of the Black world outside of Ethiopia has not taken part in its blessings through pilgrimages to the holy sites and thereby develop concomitant bonding with the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

For nearly two millennia now, the Ethiopian Church and its adherent monks and priests have miraculously maintained custodianship of Deir Sultan, suffering through and surviving all the struggles we have glanced at in these pages. In fact, the survival of Ethiopian/Black presence in Christianity’s holy places in Jerusalem is matched only by the “Survival Ethiopian Independence” itself.

Indeed, Ethiopian presence in Deir Sultan represents not just Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity but all African/black Christians of all denominations who value the sacred legacy that the holy places of Jerusalem represent for Christians everywhere. It represents also the affirmation of the fact that Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity, just as adherents of Judaism and Islam claim it also.

The Ethiopian foothold at the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the only form of Black presence in Christianity’s holy places of Jerusalem. It ought to be secure, hallowed and sanctified ground by and for all Black folks everywhere who value it. The saga of Deir Sultan also represents part of Ethiopian history and culture. And that too is part of African/black history and culture regardless of religious orientation.

When a few years ago, an Ethiopian monk was asked by a writer why he had come to Jerusalem to face all the daily vicissitudes and indignities, he answered, “because it is Jerusalem.”


About the Author:
Dr. Negussay Ayele is a noted Ethiopian scholar. He is the author of the book Ethiopia and the United States, Volume I, the Season of Courtship, among many other publications. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

First Ethiopian Delegation to the U.S. in 1919 Made Headlines

By LIBEN EABISA

New York (Tadias) – The arrival of the first Ethiopian diplomatic delegation to the United States on July 11, 1919 made headlines in Chicago, where journalists eagerly awaited their opportunity to meet and interview the delegation.

At the time Woodrow Wilson was serving as the 28th President of the United States. In Ethiopia, Empress Zawditu, the eldest daughter of Emperor Menelik, was the reigning monarch.

Dejasmatch Nadew, Empress Zawdituís nephew and Commander of the Imperial Army, along with Ato Belaten-ghetta Hiruy Wolde Sellassie, Mayor of Addis Ababa, Kentiba Gebru, Mayor of Gonder, and Ato Sinkas, Dejamatch Nadew’s secretary, comprised the first official Ethiopian delegation to the United States in the summer of 1919.

The main purpose of their trip was to renew the 1904 Treaty of Amity (Friendship) between the United States and Ethiopia (brokered when President Theodore Roosevelt authorized 37-year-old Robert P. Skinner to negotiate a commercial treaty with Emperor Menelik).

The treaty had expired in 1917. This four-man delegation to the United States became known as the Abyssinian mission.

The distinguished delegation headed to the White House in Washington D.C. after staying at the elegant Waldorf-Astoria in Chicago.

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Above: Left, Empress Zawditu (In office: 1916 to 1930),
Right, President Woodrow Wilson (In office: March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921).

The group visited the U.S. at a time when blacks were by law second-class citizens and the most common crime against American blacks was lynching. Before leaving Chicago, a reporter for the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, asked the delegation what they thought about lynching in the U.S. The representatives responded “[We] dislike brutality… lynching of any nature, and other outrages heaped upon your people.”

African-Americans were inspired to see a proud African delegation being treated with so much respect by U.S. officials. Newspapers reported that in honor of the delegation’s visit “the flag of Abyssinia, which is of green, yellow, and red horizontal stripes, flew over the national capitol.”

The Chicago Defender reported that the delegation expressed their support for the struggle of American blacks and gave them words of encouragement. A member of the press had inquired if the group had advice to African-Americans. Ato Hiruy Wolde Sellassie, who spoke fluent English, replied: “Fight on. Don’t Stop.”

The Ethiopian presence at the Waldorf Astoria, dressed in their traditional white robe and pant attire attracted large attention.

Upon arriving in Washington D.C. they took up residence at Hotel Lafayette and awaited their formal presentation at the White House.

“It perhaps is of much interest to know that the Abyssinian religion is the oldest Christian religion in the world”, Captain Morris, the delegation’s chaperon, told reporters. “The queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon was once their queen, and the present ruler is descended from the queen of Sheba.”

The Abyssinian Mission enjoyed an overall warm welcome and before returning to Ethiopia, they toured the cities of New York and San Francisco. They also visited an Irish Catholic cathedral, a Jewish synagogue, the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Harlem, and Yellowstone National Park.
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About the Author:

Liben Eabisa is the Founder & Publisher of Tadias Magazine. He is also the publisher of the book: Abyssinia of Today – Reissue of Robert P. Skinner’s memoir, a narrative of the first American diplomatic mission to black Africa. Liben Eabisa lives in New York City.

The Case of Melaku E. Bayen & John Robinson

Above: Melaku E. Beyan

By Ayele Bekerie

Ethiopian & African American Relations: The Case of Melaku E. Bayen and John Robinson

Seventy two years ago, African Americans of all classes, regions, genders, and beliefs expressed their opposition to and outrage over the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in various forms and various means. The invasion aroused African Americans – from intellectuals to common people in the street – more than any other Pan-African-oriented historical events or movements had. It fired the imagination of African Americans and brought to the surface the organic link to their ancestral land and peoples.

1935 was indeed a turning point in the relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. Harris calls 1935 a watershed in the history of African peoples. It was a year when the relations substantively shifted from symbolic to actual interactions. The massive expression of support for the Ethiopian cause by African Americans has also contributed, in my opinion, to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. This article attempts to examine the history of the relations between Ethiopians and African Americans by focusing on brief biographies of two great leaders, one from Ethiopia and another one from African America, who made extraordinary contributions to these relations.

It is fair to argue that the Italo-Ethiopian War in the 1930s was instrumental in the rebirth of the Pan-African movement. The African Diaspora was mobilized in support of the Ethiopian cause during both the war and the subsequent Italian occupation of Ethiopia. Italy’s brutal attempt to wipe out the symbol of freedom and hope to the African world ultimately became a powerful catalyst in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. The Italo-Ethiopian War brought about an extraordinary unification of African people’s political awareness and heightened level of political consciousness. Africans, African Americans, Afro-Caribbean’s, and other Diaspora and continental Africans from every social stratum were in union in their support of Ethiopia, bringing the establishment of “global Pan-Africanism.” The brutal aggression against Ethiopia made it clear to African people in the United States that the Europeans’ intent and purpose was to conquer, dominate, and exploit all African people. Mussolini’s disregard and outright contempt for the sovereignty of Ethiopia angered and reawakened the African world.

Response went beyond mere condemnation by demanding self-determination and independence for all colonized African people throughout the world. For instance, the 1900-1945 Pan-African Congresses regularly issued statements that emphasized a sense of solidarity with Haiti, Ethiopia, and Liberia, thereby affirming the importance of defending the sovereignty and independence of African and Afro-Caribbean states. A new generation of militant Pan-Africanists emerged who called for decolonization, elimination of racial discrimination in the United States, African unity, and political empowerment of African people.

One of the most significant Pan-Africanist Conferences took place in 1945, immediately after the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia and the end of World War II. This conference passed resolutions clearly demanding the end of colonization in Africa, and the question of self-determination emerged as the most important issue of the time. As Mazrui and Tidy put it: “To a considerable extent the 1945 Congress was a natural outgrowth of Pan-African activity in Britain since the outbreak of the Italo-Ethiopian War.”

Another of the most remarkable outcomes of the reawakening of the African Diaspora was the emergence of so many outstanding leaders, among them the Ethiopian Melaku E. Bayen and the African American John Robinson. Other outstanding leaders were Willis N. Huggins, Arnold Josiah Ford, and Mignon Innis Ford, who were active against the war in both the United States and Ethiopia. Mignon Ford, the founder of Princess Zenebe Work School, did not even leave Ethiopia during the war. The Fords and other followers of Marcus Garvey settled in Ethiopia in the 1920s. Mignon Ford raised her family among Ethiopians as Ethiopians. Her children, fluent speakers of Amharic, have been at home both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Pan-Africanists in Thoughts & Practice

Melaku E. Bayen, an Ethiopian, significantly contributed to the re-Africanization of Ethiopia. His noble dedication to the Pan-African cause and his activities in the United States helped to dispel the notion of “racial fog” that surrounded the Ethiopians. William R. Scott expounded on this: “Melaku Bayen was the first Ethiopian seriously and steadfastly to commit himself to achieving spiritual and physical bonds of fellowship between his people and peoples of African descent in the Americas. Melaku exerted himself to the fullest in attempting to bring about some kind of formal and continuing relationship designed to benefit both the Ethiopian and Afro-American.” To Scott, Bayen’s activities stand out as “the most prominent example of Ethiopian identification with African Americans and seriously challenges the multitude of claims which have been made now for a long time about the negative nature of Ethiopian attitudes toward African Americans.”

The issues raised by Scott and the exemplary Pan-Africanism of Melaku Bayen are useful in establishing respectful and meaningful relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. They dedicated their entire lives in order to lay down the foundation for relations rooted in mutual understanding and historical facts, free of stereotypes and false perceptions. African American scholars, such as William Scott, Joseph E. Harris, and Leo Hansberry contributed immensely by documenting the thoughts and activities of Bayen, both in Ethiopia and the United States.

Melaku E. Bayen was raised and educated in the compound of Ras Mekonnen, then the Governor of Harar and the father of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was sent to India to study medicine in 1920 at the age of 21 with permission from Emperor Haile Selassie. Saddened by the untimely death of a young Ethiopian woman friend, who was also studying in India, he decided to leave India and continue his studies in the United States. In 1922, he enrolled at Marietta College, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He is believed to be the first Ethiopian to receive a college degree from the United Sates.

Melaku started his medical studies at Ohio State University in 1928, then, a year later, decided to transfer to Howard University in Washington D.C. in order to be close to Ethiopians who lived there. Melaku formally annulled his engagement to a daughter of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and later married Dorothy Hadley, an African American and a great activist in her own right for the Ethiopian and pan-Africanist causes. Both in his married and intellectual life, Melaku wanted to create a new bond between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora.

Melaku obtained his medical degree from Howard University in 1936, at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian War. He immediately returned to Ethiopia with his wife and their son, Melaku E. Bayen, Jr. There, he joined the Ethiopian Red Cross and assisted the wounded on the Eastern Front. When the Italian Army captured Addis Ababa, Melaku’s family went to England and later to the United States to fully campaign for Ethiopia.

Schooled in Pan-African solidarity from a young age, Melaku co-founded the Ethiopian Research Council with the late Leo Hansberry in 1930, while he was student at Howard. According to Joseph Harris, the Council was regarded as the principal link between Ethiopians and African Americans in the early years of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The Council’s papers are housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. At present, Professor Aster Mengesha of Arizona State University heads the Ethiopian Research Council. Leo Hansberry was the recipient of Emperor Haile Selassie’s Trust Foundation Prize in the 1960s.

Melaku founded and published the Voice of Ethiopia, the media organ of the Ethiopian World Federation and a pro-African newspaper that urged the “millions of the sons and daughters of Ethiopia, scattered throughout the world, to join hands with Ethiopians to save Ethiopia from the wolves of Europe.” Melaku founded the Ethiopian World Federation in 1937, and it eventually became one of the most important international organizations, with branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Caribbean branch helped to further solidify the ideological foundation for the Rasta Movement.

Melaku died at the age of forty from pneumonia he contracted while campaigning door-to-door for the Ethiopian cause in the United States. Melaku died in 1940, just a year before the defeat of the Italians in Ethiopia. His tireless and vigorous campaign, however, contributed to the demise of Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia. Melaku strove to bring Ethiopia back into the African world. Melaku sewed the seeds for a “re-Africanization” of Ethiopia. Furthermore, Melaku was a model Pan-Africanist who brought the Ethiopian and African American people together through his exemplary work and his remarkable love and dedication to the African people.

Another heroic figure produced by the anti-war campaign was Colonel John Robinson. It is interesting to note that while Melaku conducted his campaign and died in the United States, the Chicago-born Robinson fought, lived, and died in Ethiopia.

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Above: John Robinson

When the Italo-Ethiopian War erupted, he left his family and went to Ethiopia to fight alongside the Ethiopians. According to William R. Scott, who conducted thorough research in documenting the life and accomplishments of John Robinson, wrote about Robinson’s ability to overcome racial barriers to go to an aviation school in the United States. In Ethiopia, Robinson served as a courier between Haile Selassie and his army commanders in the war zone. According to Scott, Robinson was the founder of the Ethiopian Air Force. He died in a plane crash in 1954.

Scott makes the following critical assessment of Robinson’s historical role in building ties between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. I quote him in length: “Rarely, if ever, is there any mention of John Robinson’s role as Haile Selassie’s special courier during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. He has been but all forgotten in Ethiopia as well as in Afro-America. [Ambassodor Brazeal mentioned his name at the planting of a tree to honor the African Diaspora in Addis Ababa recently.] Nonetheless, it is important to remember John Robinson, as one of the two Afro-Americans to serve in the Ethiopia campaign and the only one to be consistently exposed to the dangers of the war front.

Colonel Robinson stands out in Afro-America as perhaps the very first of the minute number of Black Americans to have ever taken up arms to defend the African homeland against the forces of imperialism.”

John Robinson set the standard in terms of goals and accomplishments that could be attained by Pan-Africanists. Through his activities, Robinson earned the trust and affection of both Ethiopians and African Americans. Like Melaku, he made concrete contributions to bring the two peoples together. He truly built a bridge of Pan African unity.

It is our hope that the youth of today learn from the examples set by Melaku and Robinson, and strive to build lasting and mutually beneficial relations between Ethiopia and the African Diaspora. As we celebrate Black History Month in the United States, let us recommit ourselves to Pan-African principles and practices with the sole purpose of empowering African people. The Ethiopian American community ought to empower itself by forging alliances with African Americans in places such as Washington D.C. We also urge the Ethiopian Government to, for now, at least name streets in Addis Ababa after Bayen and Robinson.

I would like to conclude with Melaku’s profound statement: “The philosophy of the Ethiopian World Federation is to instill in the minds of the Black people of the world that the word Black is not to be considered in any way dishonorable but rather an honor and dignity because of the past history of the race.”
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About the Author:
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Ayele Bekerie was born in Ethiopia, and earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies at Temple University in 1994. He has written and published in scholarly journals, such as , ANKH: Journal of Egyptology and African Civilizations, Journal of Black Studies, The International Journal of Africana Studies, and Imhotep. He is an Assistant Professor at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University. He is a regular contributor to Tadias Magazine.
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To further explore the history of Ethiopian & African American relations, consult the following texts:

• Joseph E. Harris’s African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia 1936-1941(1994).

• William R. Scott’s The Sons of Sheba’s Race: African-Americans and the Italo- Ethiopian War, 1935-1941. (2005 reprint).

• Ayele Bekerie’s “African Americans and the Italo-Ethiopian War,” in Revisioning Italy: National Identity and Global Culture (1997).

• Melaku E. Bayen’s The March of Black Men (1939).

• David Talbot’s Contemporary Ethiopia (1952).

African American & Ethiopian Relations

Above: Commandment Keepers Synagogue in Harlem, NYC.
Photography by Chester Higgins. ©chesterhiggins.com

By Tseday Alehegn

Ethiopia, also called Yaltopya, Cush, and Abyssinia, stands as the oldest, continuous, black civilization on earth, and the second oldest civilization in history after China. This home of mine has been immortalized in fables, legends, and epics. Homer’s Illiad, Aristotle’s A Treatise on Government, Miguel Cervante’s Don Quixote, the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah are but a few potent examples of Ethiopia’s popularity in literature. But it is in studying the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians that I came to understand ‘ Ethiopia’ as a ray of light. Like the sun, Ethiopia has spread its beams on black nations across the globe. Her history is carefully preserved in dust-ridden books, in library corners and research centers. Her beauty is caught by a photographer’s discerning eye, her spirituality revived by priests and preachers. Ultimately, however, it is the oral journals of our elders that helped me capture glitters of wisdom that would palliate my thirst for a panoptic and definitive knowledge.

The term ‘Ethiopian’ has been used in a myriad of ways; it is attributed to the indigenous inhabitants of the land located in the Eastern Horn of Africa, as well as more generally denotive of individuals of African descent. Indeed, at one time, the body of water now known as the Atlantic Ocean was known as the Ethiopian Ocean. And it was across this very ocean that the ancestors of African Americans were brought to America and the ‘ New World.’

Early African American Writers

Although physically separated from their ancestral homeland and amidst the opprobrious shackles of slavery, African American poets, writers, abolitionists, and politicians persisted in forging a collective identity, seeking to link themselves figuratively if not literally to the African continent. One of the first published African American writers, Phillis Wheatly, sought refuge in referring to herself as an “Ethiop”. Wheatley, an outspoken poet, was also one of the earliest voices of the anti-slavery movement, and often wrote to newspapers of her passion for freedom. She eloquently asserted, “In every human breast God has implanted a principle, it is impatient of oppression.” In 1834 another anti-slavery poet, William Stanley Roscoe, published his poem “The Ethiop” recounting the tale of an African fighter ending the reign of slavery in the Caribbean. Paul Dunbar’s notable “Ode to Ethiopia,” published in 1896, was eventually put to music by William Grant Still and performed in 1930 by the Afro-American Symphony. In his fiery anti-slavery speech entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” prominent black leader Frederick Douglas blazed at his opponents, “Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”

First Ethiopians Travel to America

As African Americans fixed their gaze on Ethiopia, Ethiopians also traveled to the ‘New World’ and learned of the African presence in the Americas. In 1808 merchants from Ethiopia arrived at New York’s famous Wall Street. While attempting to attend church services at the First Baptist Church of New York, the Ethiopian merchants, along with their African American colleagues, experienced the ongoing routine of racial discrimination. As an act of defiance against segregation in a house of worship, African Americans and Ethiopians organized their own church on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan and named it Abyssinia Baptist Church. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. served as the first preacher, and new building was later purchased on Waverly Place in the West Village before the church was moved to its current location in Harlem. Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan likewise notes that, along with such literal acts of rebellion, anti slavery leaders Robert Alexander Young and David Walker published pamphlets entitled Ethiopian Manifesto and Appeal in 1829 in an effort to galvanize blacks to rise against their slave masters.

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Above: Reverend Calvin Butts.
©chesterhiggins.com

Adwa Victory &‘Back to Africa’ Movement

When Italian colonialists encroached on Ethiopian territory and were soundly defeated in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, it became the first African victory over a European colonial power, and the victory resounded loud and clear among compatriots of the black diaspora. “For the oppressed masses Adwa…would become a cause célèbre,” writes Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance, living proof that skin color or hair texture bore no significance on intellect and character.” Soon, African Americans and blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Abyssinia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Emperor Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became the Emperor’ trusted personal physician.

For black America, the early 1900s was a time consumed with the notion of “returning to Africa,” to the source. With physical proof of the beginnings of colonial demise, a charismatic and savvy Jamaican immigrant and businessman named Marcus Garvey established his grassroots organization in 1917 under the title United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with branches in various states. Using the success of Ethiopia’s independence as a beacon of freedom for blacks residing in the Americas, Garvey envisioned a shipping business that would raise enough money and register members to volunteer to be repatriated to Africa. In a few years time, Garvey’s UNIA raised approximately ten million dollars and boasted an impressive membership of half a million individuals.

Notable civil rights leader Malcolm X began his autobiography by mentioning his father, Reverend Earl Little, as a staunch supporter of the UNIA. “It was only me that he sometimes took with him to the Garvey U.N.I.A. meetings which he held quietly in different people’s homes,” says Malcolm. “I can remember hearing of ‘ Africa for the Africans,’ ‘Ethiopians, Awake!’” Malcolm’s early association with Garvey’s pan-African message resonated with him as he schooled himself in reading, writing, and history. “I can remember accurately the very first set of books that really impressed me,” Malcolm professes, “J.A. Rogers’ three volumes told about Aesop being a black man who told fables; about the great Coptic Christian Empires; about Ethiopia, the earth’s oldest continuous black civilization.”

By the time the Ethiopian government had decided to send its first official diplomatic mission to the United States, Marcus Garvey had already emblazoned an image of Ethiopia into the minds and hearts of his African American supporters. “I see a great ray of light and the bursting of a mighty political cloud which will bring you complete freedom,” he promised them, and they in turn eagerly propagated his message.

The Harlem Renaissance & Emigrating to Ethiopia

In 1919 an official Ethiopian goodwill mission was sent to the United States, the first African delegation of diplomats, in hopes of creating amicable ties with the American people and government. The four-person delegation included Dadjazmatch Nadou, Ato Belanghetta Herouy Wolde Selassie, Kantiba Gabrou, and Ato Sinkas. Having been acquainted with African Americans such as businessman William Ellis, Kantiba Gabrou, the mayor of Gondar, made a formal appeal during his trip for African Americans to emigrate to Ethiopia. Arnold Josiah Ford, a Harlem resident from Barbados, had an opportunity to meet the 1919 Ethiopian delegation. Having already heard of the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia, Ford established his own synagogue for the black community soon after meeting the Ethiopian delegation. Along with a Nigerian-born bishop named Arthur Wentworth Matthews, Ford created the Commandment Keepers Church on 123rd Street in Harlem and taught the congregation about the existence of black Jews in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, in the international spotlight, 1919 was the year the League of Nations was created, of which Ethiopia became the first member from the African continent.The mid 1900s gave birth to the Harlem Renaissance. With many African Americans migrating to the north in search of a segregation-free life, and a large contention of black writers, actors, artists and singers gathering in places like Harlem, a new culture of black artistic expression thrived. Even so, the Harlem Renaissance was more than just a time of literary discussions and hot jazz; it represented a confluence of creativity summoning forth the humanity and pride of blacks in America – a counterculture subverting the grain of thought ‘separate and unequal.’

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Above: Commandment Keepers Synagogue. ©chesterhiggins.com

As in earlier times, the terms ‘Ethiopian’ and ‘Ethiop’ continued to be utilized by Harlem writers and poets to instill black pride. In other U.S. cities like Chicago, actors calling themselves the ‘National Ethiopian Art Players’ performed The Chip Woman’s Fortune by Willis Richardson, the first serious play by a black writer to hit Broadway.

In 1927, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to London, Azaj Workneh Martin, arrived in New York and appealed once again for African American professionals to emigrate and work in Ethiopia. In return they were promised free land and high wages. In 1931 the Emperor granted eight hundred acres for settlement by African Americans, and Arnold Josiah Ford, bishop of the Commandment Keepers Church, became one of the first to accept the invitation. Along with sixty-six other individuals, Ford emigrated and started life anew in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Students in America: Mobilizing Support

In November 1930, Taffari Makonnen was coronated as Emperor of Ethiopia. The event blared on radios, and Harlemites heard and marveled at the ceremonies of a black king. The emperor’s face glossed the cover of Time Magazine, which remarked on “negro newsorgans” in America hailing the king “as their own.” African American pilot Hubert Julian, dubbed “The Black Eagle of Harlem,” had visited Ethiopia and attended the coronation. Describing the momentous occasion to Time Magazine, Hubert rhapsodized:

“When I arrived in Ethiopia the King was glad to see me… I took off with a French pilot… We climbed to 5,000 ft. as 50,000 people cheered, and then I jumped out and tugged open my parachute… I floated down to within 40 ft. of the King, who incidentally is the greatest of all modern rulers… He rushed up and pinned the highest medal given in that country on my breast, made me a colonel and the leader of his air force — and here I am!”

Joel Augustus Rogers, famed author and correspondent for New York’s black newspaper Amsterdam News, also covered the Coronation of Haile Selassie and was likewise presented with a coronation medal.

After his official coronation, Emperor Haile Selassie sent forth the first wave of Ethiopian students to continue their education abroad. Melaku Beyan was a member of the primary batch of students sent to America in the 1930s. He attended Ohio State University and later received his medical degree at Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C. During his schooling years at Howard, he forged lasting friendships with members of the black community and, at Emperor Haile Selassie’s request, he endeavored to enlist African American professionals to work in Ethiopia. Beyan was successful in recruiting several individuals, including teachers Joseph Hall and William Jackson, as well as physicians Dr. John West and Dr. Reuben S. Young, the latter of whom began a private practice in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, prior to his official assignment as a municipal health officer in Dire Dawa, Harar.

Italo-Ethiopian War 1935-1941

By the mid 1930s the Emperor had sent a second diplomatic mission to the U.S. Vexed at Italy’s consistently aggressive behavior towards his nation, Haile Selassie attempted to forge stronger ties with America. Despite being a member of the League of Nations, Italy disregarded international law and invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Ethiopian government appealed for support at the League of Nations and elsewhere, through representatives such as the young, charismatic speaker Melaku Beyan in the United States. Beyan had married an African American activist, Dorothy Hadley, and together they created a newspaper called Voice of Ethiopia to simultaneously denounce Jim Crow in America and fascist invasion in Ethiopia. Joel Rogers, the correspondent who had previously attended the Emperor’s coronation, returned to Ethiopia as a war correspondent for The Pittsburgh Courier, then America’s most widely-circulated black newspaper. Upon returning to the United States a year later, he published a pamphlet entitled The Real Facts About Ethiopia, a scathing and uncompromising report on the destruction caused by Italian troops in Ethiopia. Melaku Beyan used the pamphlet in his speaking tours, while his wife Dorothy designed and passed out pins that read “Save Ethiopia.”

In Harlem, Chicago, and various other cities African American churches urged their members to speak out against the invasion. Beyan established at least 28 branches of the newly-formed Ethiopian World Federation, an organ of resistance calling on Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia throughout the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. News of Ethiopia’s plight fueled indignation and furious debates among African Americans. Touched by the Emperor’s speech at the League of Nations, Roger’s accounts, and Melaku’s impassioned message, blacks vowed to support Ethiopia. Still others wrote letters to Haile Selassie, some giving advice, others support and commentary. “I pray that you will deliver yourself from crucifixion,” wrote one black woman from Los Angeles, “and show the whites that they are not as civilized as they loudly assert themselves to be.”

Although the United States was not officially in support of Ethiopia, scores of African Americans attempted to enlist to fight in Ethiopia. Unable to legally succeed on this front, several individuals traveled to Ethiopia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Author Gail Lumet Buckley cites two African American pilots, John Robinson and the ‘Black Eagle of Harlem’ Hubert Julian, who joined the Ethiopian Air Corps, then made up of only three non-combat planes. John Robinson, a member of the first group of black students that entered Curtis Wright Flight School, flew his plane delivering medical supplies to different towns across the country. Blacks in America continued to stand behind the Emperor and organized medical supply drives from New York’s Harlem Hospital. Melaku Beyan and his African American counterparts remained undeterred for the remainder of Ethiopia’s struggle against colonization. In 1940, a year before Ethiopia’s victory against Italy, Melaku Beyan succumbed to pneumonia, which he had caught while walking door-to-door in the peak of winter, speaking boldly about the war for freedom in Ethiopia.

Lasting Legacies: Ties That Bind

Traveling through Harlem in my mind’s eye, I see the mighty organs of resistance that played such a pivotal role in “keeping aloft” the banner of Ethiopia and fostering deep friendships among blacks in Africa and America. I envision the doors Melaku Beyan knocked on as he passed out pamphlets; the pulpits on street corners where Malcolm X stood preaching about the strength and beauty of black people, fired up by the history he read. The Abyssinia Baptist Church stands today bigger and bolder, and inside you find the most exquisite Ethiopian cross, a gift from the late Emperor to the people of Harlem and a symbol of love and gratitude for their support and friendship.

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Above: Emperor Haile Selassie,
Reverened Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.,
on May 27, 1954.

Several Coptic churches line the streets of Harlem, and the ancient synagogue of the Commandment Keepers established by Arnold Ford continues to have Sabbath services. The offices of the Amsterdam News are still as busy as ever, recording and recounting the past and present state of black struggles. Over the years, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has carefully preserved the photographic proofs of the ties that bind African Americans and Ethiopians, just in case the stories told are too magical to grasp.The name ‘Ethiopia’ conjures a kaleidoscope of images and verbs. In researching the historical relations between African Americans and Ethiopians, I learned that Ethiopia is synonymous with ‘freedom,’ ‘black dignity’ and ‘self-worth.’ In the process, I looked to my elders and heeded the wisdom they have to share. In his message to the grassroots of Detroit, Michigan, Malcolm X once asserted, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” It is this kernel of truth that propelled me to share this rich history in celebration of Black History Month and the victory of Adwa.

In attempting to understand what Ethiopia really means, I turn to Ethiopia’s Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin. “The Ethiopia of rich history is the heart of Africa’s civilization,” he said. “She is the greatest example of Africa’s pride. Ethiopia means peace. The word ‘ Ethiopia’ emanates from a connection of three old black Egyptian words, Et, Op and Bia, meaning truth and peace, up and upper, country and land. Et-Op-Bia is land of upper truth or land of higher peace.”

This is my all-time, favorite definition of Ethiopia, because it brings us back to our indigenous African roots: The same roots that African Americans and black people in the diaspora have searched for; the same roots from which we have sprung and grown into individuals rich in confidence. Welcome to blackness. Welcome to Ethiopia!

About the Author:
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Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

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