As the Depth of East Africa's Rich History Comes to Light, Sectarian Claims Emerge

August 16, 2009

There are many who lived before their time in terms of researching and understanding the past. This is especially true about those who dealt with East Africa's yet to be more meaningfully explored rich history, particularly that part of history before unchecked Christianization, Islamization, and Colonization (CIC) efforts made or tried to make inroads to shape its destiny.

One of such great thinkers from East Africa who lived before his time is the late Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedhin who had the following to say in an interview he gave to Wendy Belcher in 1998:

"The cradle of man is here, the beginning of man is here, there is no refuting that. Archaeologists, geologists have dug everywhere and they have come up with the bones to prove that man started here. And that man was not sleeping, from the moment he was created he started creating. The heritage of that man, of the ancestor, is the heritage of the world."

In his interview with the Ethiopian Reporter in 2002, Jean Doresse, a renowned French historian and Egyptologist, also made similar remarks as follows:

"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."

In her review of Cambridge Studies in Heliodorus in 1998, Kathryn Chew, a Professor at California State University at Long Beach, notes that "The dominance of Greek mainstream culture is undermined as the story's trajectory leads away from Greece to the far side of the world and as Greek culture takes a back seat to the cultures of Egypt and Ethiopia."

In its March 2006 issue, the National Geographic magazine reported the results of its Genographic project. Titled "The Greatest Journey Ever Told The Trail of our DNA," it noted that "genetic trails left by our ancestors are leading scientists back across time in an epic discovery of human migration." According to this report, Homo sapiens, which lived in East Africa nearly 200,000 years ago, left the region as long as 70,000 years ago.

Today's Ethiopian history is mired in confusions, anexiety, and hope for a better future. After having fought in the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and leading it to free the northern region of Tigray from Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, the President and then Prime Minister of Ethiopia for the last eighteen years, stated at the celebration of Ethiopia's third Millennium in Finfinne (Addis Ababa) that this Millennium's beginning ended Ethiopia's Dark Age and ushered in its Renaissance.

A recent documentary posted on the internet confidently claims that Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia that recently broke away from it, is the original home of humanity from where it immigrated to all over the world. A strip land sandwiched between Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Red Sea, Eritrea is less than 118,000 square kilometers in area with a population of about 5 million, which consist of about nine ethnic groups.

A latest addition to the search into our regions ancient history and bold claim came through a newsflash under the title "Secrets of the Hieroglyphs Revealed in Tigrigna and Amharigna" by Ethiopian Review, an online newspaper based in the U.S. This newsflash reported the publication of a new book titled "Amharigna and Tigrigna Qal Hieroglyphs for Beginners," which goes to the extent of suggesting that "Amara and Akele-Gezai merchants, from today's regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea ... founded ancient Gebts [Egypt] 5100 years ago."

As more lights are being shed from different directions on our collective rich history of the ancient past, the search, understanding, and development of local wisdom traditions continues, which is epitomized by the successful conferences on the same subject in 2008 and 2009 in the U.S. The recent unchecked Christianization in its western corner is being checked by its own former adherents or camaraderie who now seem to have discovered their "mentally grafted-African" in their midst. Unchecked Islamization in Somalia seems to be in a battle of its own making. And unchecked Colonization in Eritrea by the Italians appears to have, at long last, sent many Eritreans to soul searching exercises, as demonstrated by the documentary mentioned above that was produced amid its quintessential political turmoil in its less than two decades of existence as a country.

As what great thinkers who made deeper observations into our rich past gets a firm foothold at home, sectarian claims not only miss the truth about such rich history but also invite a laborious work at a later time to show the full picture. Obviously, such a long history that has been at a distance from many of our historians, which is now coming to light for all to see in a convincing way, cannot be limited to a strip of land or a language that has been acknowledged to have not existed at the time the history that is now claimed was written. This is especially true when the Oromo people, acknowledged by scholars to be a very ancient race on which most other peoples in our region have been grafted, who have been spearheading the search into our past and its maintenance but without an exclusive claim to it, whose footprints are to be found in most places in our region, including in the strip land that now claims to be the home of human origin, and whose vocabularies dominate in the language that emerged more recently, may be watching these emerging sectarian claims in pleasant surprise.

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