Wonderful Likely Continuity of North East Africa’s Long History - Part I
North East Africa is often cited as the center of some of the oldest civilizations in the world. As a matter of fact, there are scientific indications that East Africa is a cradle of humanity whereas some prominent historians point out that North East African civilizations predate Greek Classical Civilization.
In his American Book Award winning book titled Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Martin Bernal argues 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.
In an interview a few years ago with an Ethiopian newspaper, Jean Doresse, the famous French historian, noted that he couldn’t understand Plato’s work until he visited Ethiopia. He suggested that North East African civilization predates Classical Civilization.
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.”
Such observations from these prominent scholars provide us reason to contemplate the validity of the thesis that European civilization may have its roots in African civilization in North East Africa.
The definition of North East African civilization is yet to come to clear light. We might ask if North East African civilization before the Greek Classical civilization is a single civilization or a cascade of civilizations.
Prominent recorded civilizations in the region include Kushite civilization in the Upper Nile Valley as well as Egyptian civilization. Whether Egyptian civilization is Kushitic or Semitic in nature is subject to debate. However, it is clear that Egypt is in close geographic proximity to both the Kushites in Africa and Semitic Phoenicians in the Middle East.
Our interest now is to have a better understanding of the parallels between Egyptian civilization and Kushitic civilization farther south along the Nile Valley.
We have learned from various sources the early Egyptian civilization of the Pharaonic Dynasties. There are also ample accounts of the Kushitic civilization although it seems that it is yet to be studied in much more detail.
The study of the Kushitic civilizations may best be approached through the study of the history of the Oromo people who constitute the main stock of the Kushitic people currently inhabiting a large swath of area from northern Ethiopia all the way down to northern Kenya.
The early history of the Oromo people is one of the least documented partly because of the clashes of various civilizations in East Africa. It is only recently that some striking revelations of the early history of the Oromo people are coming to light.
In the interview noted above, Jean Doresse also noted: “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.”
Jean Doresse went on to make another critical revelation as follows: “there is a word ‘Oromo’ in Ethiopia which appeared in ancient Egypt referring to the same subject...”
By observing Astronomy in East Africa using the calendar of the Borana, a subgroup of the Oromo people who inhabit southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, Laurance R. Doyle at Space Sciences Division of NASA has the following to say: “While Western thought has always prided itself on scientific objectivity, it has often been found unprepared for such surprises as an intellectually advanced yet seemingly illiterate society.” He concurs with earlier findings by Dr. Asmerom Legesse that the Borana people use a sophisticated calendar system based on the conjunction of seven stars with certain lunar phases, which is “similar to those of the Mayans, the Chinese and the Hindu, but unique in that it seemed to ignore the sun completely...”
Doyle further notes that other two scientists, Drs. B. M. Lynch and L.H. Hobbins, have also found in 1977 in northeastern Kenya what they believed was the first archeoastrological site ever found in sub-Saharan Africa. This observation site at a place called Namoratunga is suggested to date around 300 BC, which would correspond to the time of the extensive kingdom of Kush that left for Doyle “… astronomical colleagues of long ago.”
Other marks of Kushitic civilization are to be found in present day Sudan, notably around Meroe. The Discovery Channel just recently produced a documentary titled Nubia: The Forgotten Kingdom. The documentary has given ample account of the highly civilized Kushitic people at Meroe.
There are further concrete evidences that Kushitic influence in North East Africa stretches back into ancient times. 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.
Figure 1. Top row: Black Granite Sphinx (left) from Tanis, El Kab? compared with a picture of an Oromo lady (right). Bottom row: Head of statute from Bubastis in Cairo Museum (left) compared with an Oromo man (right). Reported source: The Making of Egypt, W.M. Flinders Petrie, 1939, page 132.
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 reappropriated. 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.”
Some accounts indicate that there was a long continuous Kushitic political establishment since the 25th Dynasty in Egypt, which is reported to be a black dynasty according to Egyptian sources. Although the 25th Dynasty reigned in Egypt, subsequent Kushitic kings ruled around locations south of Egypt. Many of the kings had names suffixed or prefixed by the term amani.
Whether by coincidence or as a reminder of potential Oromo vocabulary that may have been used by the Kushites of the time, the term amani literally means believe, in Oromo language.
There are indications that the Kushitic civilization was founded on deeply spiritual footing so much so that their leader would commit suicide when ordered to do so by the spiritual leaders whenever it was determined by these spiritual leaders that the community leader may have committed mistakes in his leadership. That was true until the time of Arkamani-qo who went against the norm as the following note from Dig Nubia website indicates.
“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!”
Again, whether by coincidence or as a reminder of potential Oromo vocabularies that may have been used by the Kushite of the time, argi amani literally means seeing is believing. That is the title of one of Stephen Hawking’s multipart documentary about the Universe. Needless to mention that argi amani is a concept deeply rooted in Oromo culture.
The above accounts put the civilization of the Kushitic people in East Africa over two millennia ago on a firm ground. The fact that the Oromo people may have been the major players or descendants of the major players is a foregone conclusion.
Then what would be most interesting to study is if the Kushitic and Egyptian civilizations flourished in parallel or if one inherited certain aspects from the other and if so, which from which and exactly what aspects of it.
While we can’t reach any conclusive thoughts about the direction of influences in the interactions of the two civilizations during ancient times, we can focus on certain perspectives about these relationships by referring to different sources.
What the present day Oromo and Egyptians have in common is the tricolor flag of black, red and white. The interpretation of these tricolor flag by Oromo traditional historians is so deep in explaining nature itself in these three colors. That may tempt us to believe that an adoption of it is most probably based on the highest level of human consciousness. The study of the interpretation of Egyptian flag may or may not link the ancient consciousness of the two peoples, but the understanding from both sides would be a worthy effort. For that, we need authentic interpretation from Egypt's side.
As documented in a book by the French Egyptologist Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, one of the early interactions between Egyptian Pharaohs and Kushitic land farther south was undertaken by Queen Maatkare Hatshepsout, daughter to Thutmosis I, wife to Thutmosis II, and aunt to Thutmosis III. Interestingly, some of the names of Egyptian Pharaoh’s can easily be linked to not only Oromo vocabularies but with Oromo vocabularies that are at the core of Oromo culture. For instance, Thutmosis can be broken down into thut and mosis, which roughly mean mass and empower, respectively. The combination of the two words roughly means empower the mass. Such overture may be viewed as pure speculation at face value. Yet, in light of Jean Doresse’s assertion that “there is a word ‘Oromo’ in Ethiopia which appeared in ancient Egypt referring to the same subject...”, and in light of deeply rooted Oromo egalitarian culture that developed one of the most sophisticated social system called Gada, as well as deeply spiritual system called Amanti, no sentimental word that appeared in North East Africa which focuses on the power of the mass as well as spirituality should be rejected at face value. After all, the Gada system is what the Ethiopianist scholar Donald N. Levine notes in passant as “one of the most complex systems of social organization ever devised by the human imagination.”
Dr. Laphiso G. Delebo, a very knowledgeable historian in Ethiopia is reported to have said (translated from Amharic): “…the Oromo people’s great contribution through popular Gada system and movement has not been done by the Aksum Dynasty and civilization in 1000 years, by Christianity in 1670 years, by Islam in 1300 years, as well as by the Amhara Dynasty in 700 (1270 – 1974) years.”
What we are left with regarding ancient Oromo history is more of its social structure than remains of physical structures. Arguably, sophisticated social structures and cultural wisdoms have a lot to say what its society had to go through in its history. In this sense, the study of the rich wisdom in Oromo language will tell a lot about ancient Oromo history. For instance, the term “freedom of speech” in America may be argued to be much taller than the Washington Monument or more books can be written about “freedom of speech” than the monument. A concept similar to freedom of speech has been interwoven into Oromo culture long time ago. In Oromo language, dubbii gala dhoowwu malee baha hin dhoowwan, which roughly means speech is to be avoided from entry not from exit, may have a lot of histories to tell about the social experiences that led its formation as a deep social wisdom.
Such wisdom and sophisticated social system that have won the admiration of learned scholars of the 20th century must have a very strong foundation to stand on. Therefore, they demand vast and systematic research. Each piece of social wisdom is a living monument of the society.
In short, what we know for now as far as the direction of interactions between the two civilizations is that there are documented interactions. One of these is between Queen Hatshepsout, who reigned according to Desroches-Noblecourt, from 1479 – 1457 BC, and the Puntite leader when the Queen took an expedition to Pount. The natural resources of the land they called God’s land seem to be the reason for the Queen’s expedition.
Nearly a century later after the reign of Queen Hatshepsout, we read another interaction between an Egyptian Pharaoh and a possibly Kushite lady in the name of Tiye (also known as Tiy or Teje). This interaction is marked by Tiye’s becoming Pharaoh Amenhotep’s beloved Queen, which may have changed the course of history of the world.
Figure 2. Queen Tiye’s statue stored in Egyptian Museum in Berlin
According to some accounts, the rise to power by Amenhotep IV, the son of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, in 1379 BC, may be what led to a revolution in Egypt that would mark the beginning of the end of the Pharaonic rule and a course that would set in motion a dramatic change in the history of the world at large.
The reign of Amenhotep IV is marked by two important developments in the history of Egypt. The first one is the shift from polytheistic belief to monotheistic belief in which Amenhotep IV would change his name to Akhenaton (Akhen-Aton roughly translates to belief in Aton, the sun). Akhenaton is believed to have attacked and destroyed the traditional patterns of religion in Egypt to replace it with the concept of monotheism, which may have come to Egypt from outside.
The second development during Amenhotep IV’s or Akhenaton’s reign is the transformation of art in Egypt from artistic carving to naturalistic ones. Because of this development, we are able to get Egyptian art since Akhenaton in their more naturalistic form.
Nonetheless, it appears that Akhenaton had not marked these milestones without paying a sacrifice.
In his book titled Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud argued that Moses was an Egyptian Pharaoh. In his book titled Moses and Akhenaton, Ahmed Osman argues that Moses was, interestingly enough, Akhenaton himself.
Figure 3. Front cover of Ahmed Osman’s book that shows Moses and Akhenaton’s statues side by side
According to Ahmed Osman, Akhenaton may have fled south to Ethiopia, became their king for a short while, and after some negation by the Queen of Ethiopia (Kush) against Akhenaton, he went on exodus by changing his name to Moses. It is no wonder then that the name Ethiopia (Kush) is mentioned so many times in the Bible.
If this is proven to be true, Akhenaton may have paid immense price for his conviction to the concept of monotheism. He not only changed the course of history in Egypt, but also taught the world, or at least a large part of it, the same concept. It is no wonder then that, as recorded in the Old Testament, he had to spend his energy in preaching to his followers to reject polytheism and practice monotheism. It is no wonder then that both Jesus and Mohammed had to sacrifice so much to teach their followers about monotheism. By referring to the history of both prophets, it is obvious that both have spent so much energy in trying to convince their followers to believe in only one god. In general, it can be postulated that changing a mass from the practice of polytheism to that of monotheism was achieved at huge cost. For Egypt, the cost may have been its contribution to put Egypt on tumultuous course since there are subsequent recorded social conflicts.
After Akhenaton’s fall and after his Queen, Nefertiti, ruled for about three years, another young Pharaoh named Tutankhamun, one of the most studied of them, would come to the scene for a short while. Whether by coincidence or if it is any indication, this name too can be broken down into tutan, kh, amun (which is sometimes written as amani). The breakdown can roughly mean who believes in the mass, in Oromo language. Of course, it is true that Tutankhamun is reported to have changed his belief from Aton to Amun, hence the name Tutankhamun. He is also believed to be black in complexion, perhaps similar to Tiye. In fact, when his CT scan was completed recently, it became controversial enough that there were protesters in Los Angeles several weeks ago opposing the opening of his exhibition.
He is believed to have died at a young age, and there was a book written about a possible murder. What ever the case may be, there appears to be a social crisis at that time: change in belief system twice in a short period, a possible exile of Akhenaton and a possible murder of Tutankhamun.
Figure 4. CT scan of King Tutankhamun
The cost to the world at large of Akhenaton’s coming to power may well be the emergence of racism. As Akhenaton, he is reported to have written the following lines in a long hymn, which is recorded in Psalms of King David that was written at a latter date.
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.
In the Old Testament, it was written that “by the will of God the whole of the kingdom of the world was given to the seed of Shem, and slavery to the seed of Ham.”
If Akhenaton wrote the hymn and Moses wrote the account in the Old Testament, common sense suggests a conflict in one personality. What makes it very interesting is the first one, which is more neutral to the relationship between the Semitic and Kushitic peoples, predates the latter that was written after a seemingly serious crisis in the life of the writer, which would make this latter one appear revenge through the condemnation to the status of slaves. It may have been a difficult task for him to choose between the Kushitic people he was once king for who later sent him into exile and the Semitic people who gave him hospitality. Therefore, he might have been in a position to choose to get his chosen people. That would be a difficult position to be in, which makes him Africa’s most wanted because he is its lost boy of a very long time ago.
Be that as it may, the unanswered question is if monotheism was introduced to Pharaonic Egypt, from where did it come? This is what needs to be studied extensively by historians. Suffice to say for now that it may have been from Kushitic world outlook or other sources.
What we know for sure is that the Oromo people believe in Waaqa Tokkicha, which is equivalent to One God, and therefore, it is a monotheistic world outlook. We also know that there is no recorded history that shows a shift from polytheistic to monotheistic belief system among the Oromo people. In fact, anthropologists have observed that Oromo world outlook is so resilient that neither the preaching of Christianity nor Islam has managed to weaken it as has been done in other places. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy for the Oromo people to differentiate between either Christianity’s or Islam’s preach about Waaqa Tokkicha, the concept the Oromo people have known all along in their entire memory. How do people who have known monotheistic world outlook all along can be preached to become monotheistic?
Therefore, what should be studied is a possibility of Oromo belief system being monotheistic from the outset of their spiritual consciousness. That would, of course, generate a curiosity about the reason for it.
In his book titled 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 this context, the advantage 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 has far less powerful natural forces that might not have led to equate God manifesting itself through different natural forces, which would have led to the concept of polytheism. The National Tourism Organization (NTO) of Ethiopia calls it 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).
What may have happened next will be discussed in Part II of this article.