North East Africa’s Ancient Civilizations

A. Jean Doresse’s Observation

In 2002, The Reporter, a private Ethiopian newspaper, published an interview with Jean Doresse, a famous French historian who specialized in Egyptian and Ethiopian history. In that interview, Doresse is reported to have said: “I am very much fond of reading Plato and some of his dialogues but I could not understand those dialogues until I visited Ethiopia.” He suggested that when he visited Ethiopia, he “found the life, the ancient culture which was at the origin of ancient Greece.” By visiting Ethiopia, he added “I found ways of thinking and ideas that made me very clear with my Plato’s readings.”

When asked about ancient Greece, Egyptian and Ethiopian civilizations, he said the following: “Ethiopia is older than pharaonic Egypt. We have some proofs for this. People working on Ethiopia did not find  the language of ancient Egypt in Ethiopia. But in ancient Egyptian we found many words which are in Ethiopia, both in Amharic and even more in Oromiffa. So, the conclusion is that Ethiopia is  the birthplace of ancient civilization which developed later in Egypt and much later on in Greece and other countries.”

When asked about how to justify his above statements, he has the following to say: “Formerly I was an Egyptologist with knowledge of the hieroglyphics system. But when I was in Ethiopia I found that there are the same names, the same appel[l]ations for so many things that appeared at the beginning of pharaonic language. For instance, there is a word “Oromo” in Ethiopia which appeared in ancient Egypt referring to the same subject, with consonants only, without using vowels. It would have been good for a person who is an Egyptologist to study Amharic and Oromiffa and try to list out words that were in use in both countries.”

B. Martin Bernal’s Observation

In his American Book Award winning book called Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Martin Bernal argued that Classical (Greek) Civilization borrowed rational thought, humanistic philosophy, mathematics and other sciences from Ancient Egypt. The argument suggests that European civilization may have its roots in an African civilization. He also suggested that ancient Egyptians were black Africans.

C. Kathryn Chew’s Observation

In her review of the Aithiopika, an ancient novel written by Heliodorus from Greece, Kathryn Chew of California State University at Long Beach observed “… Greek culture takes a back seat to the cultures of Egypt and Ethiopia.”

Part II. Oromos in Ancient Egypt

A. W. M. Flinders Petrie’s Observations

In his 1939 book titled The Making of Ancient Egypt, W. M. Flinders Petrie is reported to have noted that the 7th – 10th and the 12th Dynasties of Pharaonic Egypt have Oromo characteristics, based on comparisons of features of contemporary Oromos and some sphinxes and statues from ancient Egypt.

In his 1896 (the year Italy was defeated at Adwa) book titled A History of Egypt – Part One, Pertie is reported to have written “[the Oromo] people do not appear in any records, and all their monuments have been re-appropriated. They left, however, a most striking style of sculpture, in the sphinxes which were later removed to Tanis, but seem originally to have come from El Kab, where a piece of such a sphinx has been found. The type is closely like that of the Galla [Oromo]. The evidence that all the earlier sculptures of Tanis were collected there by Ramessu II seems clear; and that these sphinxes are earlier than the Hyksos is certain by those kings having appropriated them. No period seems so likely for them as the 7th to the 10th dynasties. The type was heavily bearded, with bushy hair.”

B. Some Evidences in Recent Publications

Much more tantalizing evidences of Oromos in Ancient Egypt are emerging. A youngish statue of Tutankhamun certainly shows Kushitic features. In addition, one would be curious about his name which can be approximated to a composite Tutan-kh-amanu of unique Oromo words. It roughly means one who believes in the mass. That may sound far-fetched to some at first glance. However, when one studies the fact that his predecessor, Pharaoh Akhenaton, met a rebellion from the mass he ruled because of his attempt to change Egypt’s polytheistic belief to monotheism, and Tutankhamun becomes a Pharaoh only few years later after Akhenaton was deposed from power makes this subject extremely interesting. Add to that the Oromo Gada system of government, which Professor Donald L. Levine calls “one of the most complex systems of social organization ever devised by the human imagination,” and you would most probably get even more curious. Tutankhamun is believed to have changed the belief system from Akhenaton’s belief in the sun to belief in “amun”, which may be a misinterpretation of the very word amani in Afan Oromo whose approximate translation is believing.

Other extremely interesting pictures of old statues from Egypt show what appear to be Oromo social symbol worn on the forehead.

Part III. Meroitic Civilization

A. Heliodorus’ Account

A review of a book by Heliodorus titled Aithiopika, a clear interaction between the Meroe and ancient Greece was made very clear. A review of this book has a tale of romance involving a Meroitic and a Greek with the romance starting and ending in Meroe.

B. Discovery Channel’s Recent Documentary

A documentary produced by the discovery channel a few years ago, which is titled Nubia: The Forgotten Kingdom, notes the civilization of the Meroitic kingdom as well as how it was destroyed. This documentary gives an important link between ancient Oromo civilization and the present state of Oromo nation in East Africa.

Part IV. Clash of Two Civilizations

As the Meroitic civilization was flourishing, another civilization was sprouting in Aksum. There are conflicting evidences about whether the Aksumite civilization is predominantly Kushitic or Semitic civilization. What is for sure, however, is that Meroitic and Axumite Abyssinian civilizations had separate writing systems. The former civilization used Meroitic hieroglyphic and demotic writing systems whereas the latter civilization used the Sabean writing system that evolved in Yemen and crossed to the African side of the Red Sea with members of the Abashat tribe in Yemen.

Had these two civilizations co-existed, East Africa’s history for nearly two millennia would probably be far different from what we know now. However, what happened in the second half of the fourth century is a clash of these two civilizations that devastated the Meroitic civilization. King Ezana of Aksum led the invasion of the Meroitic kingdom around 370 A.D. after accepting Christianity and in the process of expanding it.

After the fall of Akhenaton and the tumultuous times in Egypt that may have set in motion the decline of Egyptian civilization, the invasion of Meroe by King Ezana appears to be the second in a series of events that started Kush’s Dark Age in East Africa.

Aksumite civilization was in turn devastated by Islam’s expansion in East Africa, which, according to Professor Donald N. Levine, was the cause for surviving Aksumites to flee to central Ethiopia of Menz and Gurage areas. This may have been the cause for not only intermingling of the fleeing survivors and the local Kushitic people, but also for the creation of the Amharic language and the founding of the so called Solominid Dynasty around Menz in 1270 A.D.

This dynasty may have served as a spring board for Amharization of other Kushitic peoples in adjacent areas of Shawa, as well as in Wallo, Gojam and Gondar.

On the other hand, Islamic expansion in East Africa not only destroyed Aksumite civilization, but also got a significant grip in various parts of this region at different times since then. In effect, the expansions of both Christianity and Islam and their aftermath have made this part of the world a battleground between various interest groups and took the various peoples in the region captives of destitution.

In particular, because of the lack of deeper knowledge of the teachings of these two faith institutions, the people practicing them appear to have given away one of their most vital body parts, the human mind, to captivity. In fact, in some cases, the captors appear to torture this vital human body part so much so that tears run down cheeks of adult males.

Note to readers: This piece is an attempt to reconstruct nearly five to six thousand years of the history of Kushitic peoples in East Africa with emphasis on the Oromo. This piece will be updated from time to time to make this reconstruction more complete. 

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