Eritrea and Ethiopia: Debunking the Myths
"Eritrea has always been an integral part of Ethiopia, so much so that the Northern region has been one of the cradles of Ethiopian history and culture" (1978, Strategic review, Volume 6, p.36). This imperial version of the historical argument presupposes the continuity of an Ethiopian state over a definite geographical area and common peoples. In fact, it denotes an unequivocal claim to boundaries fixed by an a priori ordinance immune to the vicissitudes of history. This sentence echoed by Mengistu Haile Mariam, the former leader of Ethiopia, sums up a large percentage of Ethiopians' sentiment towards Eritrea. In this paper, we'll see why this extreme view among some Ethiopians is flawed.
When dealing with the horn of African region's history, a common misconception about the term Abyssinia arises. It is important to note, that before the Portuegese arrival in the horn region, the word Abyssinia never existed. Despite this fact, many contemporary writers have used this word to describe this region's past. The word "Abyssinia" comes from the word Habesha. The word Abesha (with out an "H" beginning) is a word that represents Habesha as well, but this altered version is exclusively used by Amharic speakers. When the Portugugese landed in the horn region in the early 16th century AD, they took the already altered word of Abesha, and Latinized it. The Portuguese subsequently Latinized Abesha into "Abassia", "Abassinos", "Abessina" and finally into "Abyssinia" (The New Englander, Volume 9, p.462 — 1902 Encyclopedia, David Kay )
Another reoccurring problematic issue is the Greek word of "Ethiopia". The word Ethiopia — meaning the land of the people with the burnt faces — was applied with the vagueness of geographical ignorance to the region immediately beyond the Egyptian frontiers which was for long the frontiers of civilization (1948, Margery Perham, p.13). For the early Greek writers Ethiopia was less a geographical location than a state of mind. For the Greeks and Romans generally, Ethiopians meant dark-skinned peoples who lived south of Egypt (2000, Donald Nathan Levine, p.1). At times the reference was so vague as to include peoples from West Africa, Arabia, and India. At times it was more localized, referring to the Nubian kingdom of Kush, with its capital first at Napata and later at Meroe (2000, Donald Nathan Levine, p.1). What was constant was that the name Ethiopian denoted a person of dark color — literally, of burnt face — and that it connoted, above all else, remoteness.(2000, Donald Nathan Levine, p.1). Sir E. A. Wallis Budge notes that "Homer and Herodotus call all the peoples of the Sudan, Egypt, Arabia, Palestine and western Asia and India Ethiopians.(1985, John G. Jackson, p.8)"
At times, the ancient Greeks were very precise as to where Ethiopia was located. An example of this is when the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century BC refers to the lands of Egypt south of Elephantine (Southern Egypt, near Aswan) as being Ethiopia, and to Meroe in the Sudan as "the capital of Ethiopia" (2005, Michael Wood, p.172).
In 523 AD, a Greek speaking traveler from Alexandria, Egypt by the name of Cosmas Indicopleustesa wrote down two ancient inscriptions he found at Adulis, Eritrea in his Christian Topography. On one of the inscription that's thought to date to the third century AD and is believed to be made by the Aksumite King named Aphilas (1986, Fage, Oliver, p.264), which the Aksumite King stated: "I have subdued all the peoples that border upon my empire, to the east as far as the land of perfumes (Yemen), to the west as far as the land of Ethiopia (Northern Sudan)" (2003, Jones, Monroe, p.24-5). From this 3rd century Aksumite quote, we know that Aksumite king regards Ethiopia as a nation bordering upon his empire and makes it clear from his military expedition that the Aksumites regarded Ethiopia as a foreign country that's found in present day northern Sudan (2003, Jones, Monroe, p.25).
A century later, the word Ethiopia would yet again be mentioned by another Aksumite King named Ezana of the 4th century AD. However, this time, the word Ethiopia will represent not the Sudan as it did in previous quote of the Aksumite king, but a Yemeni Kingdom of the Habashat. This mention of "Ethiopia" in Ezana's Greek inscription has also been a source for modern Ethiopians to claim the Aksumite kingdom as being a continuity state of modern Ethiopia, despite the fact that in the previous quote, the Aksumite Kings regarded Ethiopia with the Sudan. King Ezana made three inscriptions in three different languages: Ge'ez, Sabaean and in Greek. The difference between the following three inscriptions he made is that in the Greek inscription, he replaces the Kingdom of Habashat with Ethiopia, while in the Ge'ez and in the Sabaean, he uses the word Habashat. According to the historian Joseph Michels, "the mention of Habashat (or Ethiopia) is contained only in Ezana I's bilingual inscription, intended first of all for the foreign reader (1979, Joseph W. Michels, p. 94). In their entirety, here are the following three quotes of the inscriptions, starting with Ge'ez, then Sabaean, and ending with the Greek.
In the Ge'ez text of the first inscription of Ezana we find he styles himself "Ezana, king of Aksum, and of Himyar, and Kasu, and Saba, and Habashat, and Raidan, and Salhen and Tsiamo, and Beja, the King of Kings" (1955, Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst, p. 49).
The Sabaean text runs as follows: "King of Aksum, and of Himyar, and of Raidan, and of Habashat, and of Saba, and of Salhen, and of Tsiamo, and of Kasu, and of Beja, the King of Kings (1955, Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst, p. 49)".
In the Greek Ezana calls himself: "King of Aksum, and of Himyar, and of Raidan, and of Ethiopia, and of Saba, and of Salhen, and of Tsiamo, and of Beja, and of Kasu, the King of Kings"(1955, Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst, p. 49).
According to professor Joseph W. Michels in his book titled "Axum", he states: "In the Ethiopian texts of Ezana I's bilingual inscription, 'Habashat' is mentioned among the Arabian countries. This name is given as 'Ethiopia' in the Greek text (1979, Joseph W. Michels, p. 64). Michels goes on to add, "However, in the case under consideration the region of the Red Sea coast of South Arabia named Habashat (a foothold of Axum's authority) is meant (1979, Joseph W. Michels, p. 194)". Referring to the name "Habashat" in the Ezana Greek inscription, Professor Miiller states: "Now, in the other text, the word which represents the Ethiopians is Habashat, and since their name has, both before and after it, the names of Arabian races, it is clear that they also belonged to Arabia. (1896, Royal Scottish Geographical Society, p.143)" Miiller recalled that this name had already been found in several Sabaean-Himyartic inscriptions. That the King of the Habashat had not common property with the King of Aksum and the two kingdoms were separate appeared evident to Professor Miiller (1955, Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst, p.37).
In fact, in the 2nd century, an Aksumite king by the name of GDR (Gedara or Gedarat) had invaded present day Yemen and as a result, subjegated the kingdom of Habeshat to his rule. In inscriptions found in Marib Yemen, it states: The Habashat were ruled by a King named GDR who lived beyond the sea (i.e., modern day Ethiopia**) in a place by the name of Zar'aran (1979, Joseph W. Michels, p. 51). In Still other inscriptions found in Yemen, Gedara is called "the king of the Axumites." (1979, Joseph W. Michels, p. 51). So with out a doubt, the Habeshats mentioned as Ethiopian in the Greek text were referring to a Yemeni kingdom.
**The book was written when Eritrea was under Ethiopian annexation.
During this period, therefore the word Ethiopia, was neither applied to the Aksumite Kingdom, nor did the Aksumites describe themselves as Ethiopians or even Habeshas. So it raises a question as to when and why modern Ethiopians adopted the Greek word Ethiopia to themselves. According to the late historian Margery Perham, it was not till the Kingdoms that came much after the Aksumite kingdom, who had converted to Christianity, and after observing that the Bible contained references to Ethiopia, did they begun to apply the word Ethiopia to themselves as a form of bestowing Biblical and historical prestige:
“It was easy for the successors of Aksum, to whose country it was already sometimes applied, to appropriate exclusively for themselves the word which they had begun to use sometimes after their conversion. It was probably the immigrant Syrian monks, who translated the Bible from Greek into Geez, who first applied Ethiopia to Aksum. The rulers and their clerks were naturally quick to seize upon such references to Ethiopia as they could find in ancient and holy writings which knew nothing of Aksum or Habashat, and their appropriations were duly entered the cannons and chronicles which they begun to write about in the fourteenth century” (1948, Margery Perham, p.15).
The Portuguese word of Abyssinia and the Greek word of Ethiopia were often used as a geographical expression by the earliest European and Arabian travelers into the horn region. These foreign created names were not used to denote a political entity or a kingdom, the same way the horn of Africa was also once collectively refereed to as "Azania", but this isn't how it's been interpreted by subsequent writers as professor Richard Reid points out in the following quote:
A further, and connected, problematic issue in contemporary sources lies in the usage of the terms ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘Abyssinia’, something which has continued to influence the perception of the region up to our own time in quite dramatic fashion. In this context, we need to consider the influences brought to bear on the production of the ‘knowledge’ that appears in contemporary European texts, and what certain knowledge actually meant in the local context. ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘Abyssinia’ were frequently used in their broadest, most generic sense, as mere geographical expressions in much the same way as the entire eastern African littoral, including much of the Horn, was once encompassed within the term ‘Azania’. As geographical expressions, they were at once convenient and representative of deep-seated ignorance of the region as a whole, although they may also have been informed by local indigenous ‘knowledge’. (For example, such expressions were often used on the approach to the central Ethiopian highlands, and may have been picked up from local informants whose geographical gestures were fairly generalised.) Certainly, the expressions were not always used to denote a recognizable political territorial state, but this is how they have usually been interpreted by subsequent writers and scholars, wishing to support the concept of a continuous and ancient regional imperium with all the romantic connotations such a concept implies.ched an agreement. (2007, Richard Ried, p.242)"
In dealing with the pre-colonial era, the terms 'Eritrea' and 'Ethiopia' are clearly used for convenience only, as no state prior to the 1890s resembled the polities called by those names today. In the next few paragraphs, the information being presented will highlight pre-colonial historical events that demonstrate information that shows why Ethiopia's claims to Eritrea is flawed for various reasons presented below.
1) Ethiopians often mention that their country hasn't been colonized. This claim of not being colonized has become a source of pride for many Ethiopians. Yet many of these Ethiopians who claim Ethiopia hasn't been colonized, also claim Eritrea has always been integral part of their country, despite Eritrea being colonized (to various degrees) by not only the Italians (1890-1941), but also by the British (1942-1952), Ottomans (1517 -1866), Umayyad Caliphate (702-750 AD), the Romans, and ancient Greeks. By claiming Eritrea, they're selectively ignoring Eritrea's separate colonized past. Each time Eritrea was colonized, it unequivocally demonstrates a separate history. Such contradictions in Ethiopian historical views often leads to heated exchanges of words
2) Another issue with Ethiopians claiming Eritrea today is the fact that civilization in Eritrea predates those that are found in Ethiopia. In fact, civilization in the horn of Africa started in Eritrea and worked its way to Ethiopia much later in history.
He and his colleagues revealed that between 800 BC and 400 BC, the highlands around Asmara supported the earliest settled pastoral and agricultural community known in the Horn of Africa: an indigenous culture.
Permanent villages and towns around Asmara predate, and were also contemporaneous with, even the pre-Aksumite settlements in the highland of Southern Eritrea and northern Ethiopia.
Dating from 800 BC, it is they -- not sites in Arabia -- that were the vital precursors to urban developments in the southern highlands of Eritrea and northern Ethiopia later in the first millennium BC
--Prof. Richard Greenfield
3) In addition to being the source of civilization in the horn of Africa, Eritreans have had a distinct historical experience from Ethiopians. One such distinct past are the Beja Kingdoms of Eritrea. From 750 AD to the early 14th century AD (1988, Cliffe, Davidson, P.12), the Bejas ruled supreme in most of Eritrea; including the Eritrean highlands. This period in Eritrean history is regarded as the Beja Kingdoms.
"The Zenafidj people, under pressure from a more northerly Hedareb Beja tribe and the early Arab settlements, began the expansion into Eritrea. It appears, according to Muslim historian and geographer Al Ya'qubi's account of this period, and other sources, to have encompassed the whole coast north of Arkiko, Sahel, the Barka and Anseba valleys, and most of the highlands. They established five kingdoms: Nagic, Baklin, Bazen, Kata'a, and Giarin. There are still traces of this migration in the local traditions, eg: the Begathay of Bilen, the Dina Fana of Hamasien highlands, and certain Sahelian traditions. (2007, Denison, Paice, p. 9)"
4) State formation and independences between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
After signing the Treaty of Wuchale (Italian: Ucciali), signed between Italy and Ethiopia on 2 May 1889, Italy declared Ethiopia an Italian protectorate, and this declaration was recongnized by the other European powers. To support this claim, Italy moved troops into northern Ethiopia and occupied Adowa in January 1890. (1989, A. Adu Boahen, p. 54) After importing large quantities of firearms, mainly from France and Russia (By 1893 Ethiopia had acquired 82,000 rifles and 28 canons), Menelik formally and finally repudiated the Wuchale treaty on 12 February 1893. (1989, A. Adu Boahen, p. 54) Two weeks later, he announced this repudiation to the other European powers. However, Ethiopia was recognized as a nation-state by the European powers only after winning the battle of Adwa and signing of the Peace treaty Addis Ababa on October 26, 1896 (1989, A. Adu Boahen, p. 55); six years after Eritrea had been recocgnized as nation-state, albeit under Italian rule. Essentially Ethiopia was an Italian protectorate between 1889 and 1896.
Eritrea regained its de-facto independence after a bloody 30 years of war in 1991 and gained international recognition in 1993, while Ethiopia gained its independence from the British in January 1942 (1991, Edmond J. Keller, p. 74).
5) In 1660, the Portuguese published a map of the country Medri Bahri (Eritrean highlands) as being a separate country from not only Tigray, but the many kingdoms that made up what was vaguely labeled Abyssinia.
"A Portuguese map of 1660 shows Medri Bahri as covering most of the three highland provinces of Eritrea and distinct from Ethiopia." (1998, Roy Pateman, p. 36)
6)James Bruce also reported Medri Bahri and Abyssinia were two “distinctly separate political entities who were constantly at war with each other” . This shows us without a doubt that the Eritrean highlands were a seperate country, with their own political process.
"In 1770 the Scottish traveler James Bruce also reported that Medri-Bahri and Abyssinia were two distinctly separate political entities constantly at war with each other." (1991, Okbazghi Yohannes, P. 31)
7) In 1830, the Swiss mercenary by the name of Dr. Samuel Gobat described the Eritrean highlands as being ruled by a Bahri-Negassi (sea king), who leads “a life entirely independent of the Ras (chief) of Tigray". Dr. Gobat makes a clear distinction between “baharnagash” (Medri-Bahri/Eritrean highlands) and “Tigray” and further regions in what was labeled Abyssinia - He also shows us that the Eritrean people of “Baharnagash” were ruled by their own rulers and these rulers were independent of Tigray and other independent kingdoms further south, which were all collectively and vaguely labeled by the geographical term of "Abyssinia".
"The whole of this north-east coast, which is called Barharnagash,* and which is under the dominion of a chief of the same name, is divided into fifteen petty districts, each of which is governed by a perfect, or rather, a chief of brigands, who leads, in his own district, a life entirely independent of the Ras (chief) of Tigre (Tigray). The traveler who wishes to penetrate the interior regions of the country, must obtain, and usually by the payment of an unreasonable sum, the consent, as well as the protection of this last-mentioned prince. By this means, he will be able to traverse successively the territories of these petty chiefs with more or less security. (Dr. Samuel Gobat, P. 37-8)"
8) Ethiopian leaders also made it clear that the lands north of the Mereb river (modern Eritrea) was not part of their territory. By the late 19th century, Eritrea was often used as a political tool to gain leverage with the Italian colonialist when it was convenient for their survival. In the following two quotes, Ethiopian leaders such as Ras Alula and Menelik II are both quoted as offering lands north of the Mareb river to the Italians in order for Italian political support. Although it must be noted, at the time of their offers, neither Ethiopian leaders had any control over the Eritrean region, as Egypt and the Italians had occupied much of Eritrea by this time.
“You want the country to the Mareb (Eritrean highlands/Medri Bahri) to cultivate your gardens, to build your houses, to construct your churches....? We can give it to you. [And not menilek.] Let the Italian soldiers come to Adwa, I shall come to meet them like a friend." (1996, Ḥagai Erlikh, P. 164)
9) Here's Menelik II, the founding father of present Ethiopia telling the King of Italy to occupy Eritrean territory.
"Via Antonelli's courier, Menelik informed the King of Italy that he would like the Italian soldiers to occupy Asmara, in order to discourage the imperial pretensions of Mengesha Yohannes (the son of Emperor Yohannes)." "There after," added Menelik, "God will give me the throne that for many years I have had the right to have. (1986, Chris Prouty, p.61)"
10) Lastly, here's professor Richard Ried clarifying how Eritrea became a victim of 'romantic interpretations' of Ethiopia's historical past at the expense of Eritrea's history, sovereignty and independence.
A number of travellers' accounts, then, dating from the Zemene Mesafint, depict to varying degrees the Eritrean highlands and both western and coastal lowlands as separate from what they understood as 'Abyssinia'. Only later in the nineteenth century did some observers, apparently struck by the success of Tewodros and, more significantly, Yohannes and Menelik, begin to invest in the idea which all three of these rulers had articulated so forcefully, namely that of the great and timeless Christian empire which deserved some considerable respect, particularly after the defeat of the Italians at Adwa. The 'right' of this great empire to stretch to the coast was at times acknowledged, even if not agreed to in practice. These ideas would gather strength and momentum through the twentieth century. It is clear, however, that the one theme unifying the entire era of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is that of the use of force and of recurrent cycles of violence in the attempt to forge new states and identities, backed up by creative and romantic interpretations of the region's history. The reign of Tewodros, for example, poignantly noted as the ruler who 'reunified' Ethiopia, seems to have foreshadowed much of the region's twentieth-century history, in terms of the rhetoric of unity and the violence used to support that rhetoric. He and his immediate successors laid the foundations of the modern Ethiopian claim for the right of access to the sea, in the process of which Ethiopian governments have frequently laid claim to Eritrea in its entirety. At the same time, the attempt by modern Eritrea and Eritrean nationalist writers and scholars to backdate their newly found sovereignty to include the pre-colonial era may be seen as intellectually unsatisfying, not to mention unwarranted, as any critical examination of pre-colonial relations between these regions need hardly weaken Eritrea's modern case for independence. (2007, Richard Ried, p.246)
Eritrea and Ethiopia: Debunking the Myths Reviewed by Admin on 11:10 AM Rating: