Kiya and Arkamani: Clues or Coincidences?

Moses may be one of the most popular names in the Judeo-Christian-Islam history. That may soon be paralleled if not exceeded by the name Pharaoh Akhenaton (also spelled Akhenaten or Akneten). It is because some scholars argue that Moses would have never existed without Akhenaton. That is not all. A note from one webpage (accessed on 12/30/2004) has the following to say: “Akenaten has been called the first Monotheist and for that reason is generally seen as a ‘good guy’. He’s even considered to be predecessor to Judeo-Christian type monotheism. The psychologist Sigmund Freud argued (in Moses and Monotheism) that Moses was an Egyptian who got his beliefs from Akenaten.  Even the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley considered that he was Akenaten in a previous life.

Sigmund Freud also notes that after the fall of Akhenaton, Moses, held to the faith, left to govern a new people and introduced the Aton to them. 

Apparently, the above notes are good enough reasons to ask the role of Pharaoh Akhenaton in the history of monotheism.

Some sources inform us that Amenhotep IV was the tenth or eleventh pharaoh of Dynasty XVIII (1379 BC to 1362 BC). He later changed his name to Akhenaton. A note on another webpage (accessed on 12/30/2004) indicates that a dramatic revolution took place in Egypt with the accession of Amenhotep IV in the year 1379 BC. The website goes on to write that “this pharaoh was the son of Amenhotep III … and his queen Tiy was apparently not of royal blood and may even have been a foreigner, possibly Negroid. The features in her portraits are of a different cast from those of the portraits of native Egyptians. … Some of her physical peculiarities reappear in portraits of her son and his children, and even his wife, the famous and beautiful Nefertiti. It has been suggested that, for whatever reason, Amenhotep IV was of peculiar physique ….

Tiy (Tiye), click here for source

The above webpage goes on further to write that “With these physical peculiarities, real or invented, went an equally remarkable personality and policy. He tried to replace the traditional, official Egyptian religion of Amarna by a new concept of god. Although still embodied in the sun, this concept, called Aton, was understood more abstractly and monotheistically. This meant that he had to make a revolution. He had to attack and destroy the traditional patterns of religion, which were thoroughly woven into every aspect of Egyptian life. He had to change the theology, ritual and ecclesiastical structure. To begin with he changed the capital from Thebes to a new place in middle Egypt called Amarna. He also changed his name to Akhenaton, which means ‘Aton is satisfied.’ He reversed the entire foreign policy of Egypt by abandoning efforts to extend or even maintain Egyptian power outside the Nile valley. Egypt stopped being imperialistic and aggressive…” 

The above information is tempting to ask about possible factors that may have contributed to Akhenaton’s new vision of monotheism. That is because this revolutionary vision must have been preceded by other significant events. Some information found on another webpage suggests the source of this factor: “There was a tribe from either the west of Egypt or from just above the red sea,  who during a period of famine moved to Egypt at the invitation of one of their own who was kidnapped and taken to Egypt. In the old Testament we have Joseph, and in another Arabic legend we have Ran, who through his interpretation of dreams gained power and may have imported the notion of a single god (his local god) into Egyptian consciousness (from the 13th Dynasty, Semitic races invaded Egypt and by 1663 BC they are the Hyksos or Desert Princes). Some hundreds of years later Akhenaton on his ascension to the throne of Egypt developed his beliefs in a one god and enforced worship of the single deity as revealed in the Sun disk Aton.” 

This information clearly suggests that the notion of a single God consciousness may have been imported to Egypt even though it doesn't tell us conclusively from which direction it was imported. However, we can fairly guess that it may be from the south of Egypt or from the Middle East. The following note is taken from a long Hymn reportedly written by Akhenaton. This long hymn has strikingly similar themes in the Psalms of King David written some centuries later.

The countries of Syria and Nubia

The land of Egypt;

Their tongues are diverse in speech,

Their form likewise and their skins,

For Thou, divider, hast divided the peoples.

Obviously, as can be inferred from this note, Akhenaton was able to see in the directions of Syria and Nubia and was aware of the differences in the physical features and languages of the peoples in the two different directions. It also appears that monotheism was introduced to the Middle East by Moses and later established in that region through the two prophets Jesus and Mohammed. Therefore, if it was introduced to Egypt and traveled to the Middle East, it leaves a big room for its source.

That brings us to the search for the people who introduced the concept to Egypt and Pharaoh Akhenaton. One thing that is clear is that Akhenaton had a Cushitic looking mother named Tiy or Tiye. In addition, another webpage (accessed 12/31/2004) suggests that Kiya was the name of one of Akhenaten's wives. She was often known as 'The Favourite' and also 'Greatly Beloved Wife'. In Oromo language kiya means my or mine and it is a commonplace name among the Oromo people up to this date. The above webpage goes on to write that Kiya is thought to have been a foreign princess, known originally as Tadukhipa sent from Mitanni to be married to Amenhotep III. One would suppose that Amenhotep III and IV, the father and the son, had positive discussions in saying the 'foreign princess' is kiya.   

   Images: Oromo youth in Bale, Oromia, Ethiopia, at a health club (left, click here for source, picture edited for content); and one of Kiya's drawings (right, click here for source)                                                                      

Her name and physical appearance can by no means rule out her possible historical connection with the Oromo people. Actually, there may be a more important possible connection between the Oromo people, who are the largest in number of the Cushitic group of people in East Africa, and Akhenaton’s notion of one God. Oromos believe in Waaqa, often qualified in usage by Tokkicha, which means one. Hence Waaqa Tokkicha means one God, which is believed to be the creator of all and present in the sky. The places of worship used to be on hilltops until Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christianity churches took over these places of worship. The choice of hilltops or mountain tops is perceived to be due to the belief that hilltops are closer to the sky and hence to Waaqa. In addition, two important spiritual and political symbols of the Oromo people, Kalacha and Bokku, are similar to Moses' Rod, as observed by John Graham, a former NGO worker in Ethiopia who has traveled extensively in that country.   

Some scholars have also suggested that Oromo religion is similar to Christianity and Islam. In fact, others have suggested that Oromos who accepted Christianity or Islam have practiced their faith side by side with Oromo religion. Careful observers have even suggested that Oromos have never truly become Christians or Muslims. When Islam spread to as far as Indonesia, and Christianity to as far as Europe, Oromos have remained reluctant practitioners of the two religions right under the nose of the Middle East, which is the center of these two religions. This may be probably because what Oromos are preached to as only one God is not any news to them. Indeed, when the fact of one God that has been in their known memory came back to them in the form of Christianity or Islam, it may not have attracted them as having any new concept. How can people who have known monotheism all along be preached to so that they may come to monotheism from polytheism? In addition, both Jesus and Mohammed have expressed their appreciation of the rich culture of the people of Cush in their teachings, as noted in the Bible and the Quran.   

As a matter of fact, the sacrifices that Jesus and Mohammed paid to teach people who may have been practicing polytheism to come to monotheism is very poorly understood by the Oromo people, including those who consider themselves to be devote Christians or Muslims. This is because the concept of polytheism or gods and goddesses is absent among the Oromo people. This writer himself had little clue of the concept of polytheism until he read earlier this year the beliefs of the Middle East before Prophet Mohammed. Another point these practitioners fail to understand is the difference between the concept of the relationship between Oromo religious leaders called Qallus, all of whom believe in one Waaqa, and the concept of polytheism. What has been confusing some Oromo practitioners of the other two religions is the variety in the place of worship of one Waaqa, which is far-fetched by some subconscious Oromo preachers and equated to the concept of polytheism.  

Based on these points, one might ask what advantage the Oromo people have had to practice monotheism since their known memory. In his book Manifestations of Thoughts, Molana Shah Maghsoud Sadegh Angha, a Sufi scholar, suggests that “throughout most of human history, people have felt helpless facing the forces of nature. The powerful forces of storms, earthquakes, darkness, oceans and the sun are clearly so great that early humans associated them with gods and began to worship them.” In other words, early humans may have interpreted God that is thought to manifest itself through different natural forces and thus may have thought of multiple gods instead of one God. The benefit the Oromos had in understanding only one God may have to do with the geography of their home. Clearly, the temperate zone of highland East Africa that is detached from any large body of water such as Oceans, as compared to any of the areas of Egypt and the Middle East, has far less powerful natural forces that might not have led to equate God manifesting itself in different natural forces, thus leading to the concept of polytheism. The National Tourism Organization (NTO) of Ethiopia calls Ethiopia in which the Oromo people are found the land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine (according to Ethiopian calendar, a year has twelve months of 30 days each and a thirteenth month of five days that becomes six days during a leap year).

This thesis wouldn’t be complete without suggesting the potential historical significance of the Oromo people in East Africa. To begin with, both the Nubians and the Oromos are two branches of the Cushitic people of East Africa to which the Greeks gave the name Ethiopia. The relationship between these peoples needs to be studied extensively in the future. However, there is an emerging thesis that the Oromo people may be the descendants of Meroe in the present day Sudan. The thesis theorizes that after King Ezana of Axum invaded Meroe, they were dispersed. Recent archeological studies have found evidence of the Meroitic language, which is yet to be deciphered, as the following note from Dig Nubia website (accessed on 12/27/04) indicates. “To this day, no one has been able to decipher this ancient language. Meroitic will remain a mystery to us until we find an African language similar enough to Meroitic to help us to understand its vocabulary or until we find an ancient object or document with the same passage written in both Meroitic and a language that we can understand.

The same website notes that “Arkamani-qo is one of the rare kings of Kush mentioned by name in Greek histories. The Greek author Agatharcides of Cnidus, writing in the second century BCE, stated that Arkamani-qo, whom he called ‘Ergamenes,’ lived at the same time as King Ptolemy II of Egypt (285-246 BCE). Agatharcides explains that before Ergamenes became king, the priests of Amun always had the power to end a king’s reign. All they had to do was send a letter to him ordering him to commit suicide. These letters were written as if they came directly from the god. Ergamenes received one of these letters, but instead of committing suicide, he marched to the temple with his troops and killed the priests!

Another note on the same website suggests that Arkamani-qo seems to mean “Arkamani King”, and further indicates that scholars believe he was the founder of a new dynasty during which the reign of the Meroitic period is thought to begin. Other sources suggest that Arkamani-qo is a short form of Arkamani Qore. To the present day, Qoro is a title given to a local administrative leader among the Oromo people. In addition, argi amani, which literally means see to believe, is a concept deeply rooted in Oromo culture. As a matter of fact, a school called Arga-Dhagetti Gada Oromo has been reportedly opened several years ago in Kenya by some Oromos. Dhaga’u, the root word for Dhagetti, literally means to hear, and the name Arga-Dhagetti signifies a deep Oromo wisdom that teaches that believing should be based on seeing as well as hearing. Gada is a highly rich Oromo social institution that is practiced up to this day.  

So, who were the people that King Ezana of Axum defeated at Meroe? Could they be the people that Kiya and Tiye belonged to? Could they be the people who introduced the concept of monotheism to Egypt before or during the era of Akhenaton?

One thing is seems to be certain. The people who were living there were a Cushitic speaking group of people that stretch from south of Egypt to Kenya, as shown in the following partial language map of the world. The people who were called the Ethiopians by the Greeks are believed to be Cushitic. King Ezana was a leader of Semitic immigrants from Yemen. The central location of these peoples is shown on the map and consists of the Tigre, Tigrinya and Amharic speaking peoples known historically as the Abyssinians who live in parts of present day Ethiopia as well as Eritrea. This region clearly shows the Abyssinian language speaking peoples flanked almost in all directions by the Cushitic speaking peoples. In addition, there are ample place names in both Abyssinian regions in Ethiopia and Eritrea that bear Oromo footprint. For instance, Barentu, one of the major battle fields in the recent war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, is believed to be the name of one of Oromo's sons, the other one being Borana. In fact, if the Abyssinian language area enclosed by the red line is shaded with the color of the Cushitic language, we find a natural looking stretch of Cushitic language map in East Africa. That doesn’t seem to disprove the stories of the Abyssinian immigration to East Africa from Yemen as well as King Ezana's destruction in the first century of previously established East African peoples social institutions. In fact, it seems to have left a visible footprint of what may have happened back then.


In conclusion, this writing perhaps raises more questions than gives answers. That is what it is intended to be. It is meant to be thought provoking. Historians need to prove if all these are clues of some broken links of history or mere coincidences. Therefore, the call is to all historians interested in world history in general and Oromo historians in particular to help us understand better our past history.

What we know for sure is that the highly developed Gada, Guma and Guddifacha cultures of the Oromo people, their so large population size, their extremely rich wisdom and the survival of all these after the influence of centuries of Abyssinian dictatorial cultures wouldn’t be so real and strong without some solid foundation of pre-Abyssinian era. A proof of any of the above multiple and interrelated thesis is poised to change the history of East Africa as we know it as well as its future political dynamics. It might render the long and protracted fight between the Abyssinians in Eritrea and Ethiopia meaningless and the conflict between the Cushitic peoples and the Abyssinians much more important than may have been thought before. If King Ezana destroyed Oromo institutions in the first century, Abyssinian stories that the Oromo people came from all possible places of imagination including water and Madagascar may not be surprising. That effort may well be an attempt to totally erase the identity of the people whose social institutions one has destroyed.