It is a trite to say that racism was the underpinning of the colonial enterprise. Nonetheless, in order to have a clear grasp of the underlying ideology of colonial treaties, a few words about its history and its relationship with our identity is in order. One can start by saying that western and in particular germanophone social sciences were so much obsessed with racism that raciology became a "scientific" field study in the 19th century. The superiority of German social sciences over European social sciences led the latter to accept the epistemological foundations of raciology laid down by German speaking scholars. Even if the germ of racism dates back to the time of Aristotle, it was at the beginning of the 19th century that it became a full-fledged "scientific" subject matter. The pioneer in this regard seems to have been Georg William Hegel who, in his work of universal history, described Africa and Africans as people without history. My argument is that Hegel's work which was published around 1820 constituted an ideological basis for colonisation of mother Africa. I don't mean by this that there were no colonies before that. In fact, if one examines the European attitude towards blacks starting the 16th century, we realise that the Black people were considered to be the descendants of the cursed son of Noah or descendants of Cain. As a result European missionaries and travellers who visited Africa starting the end of the 15th century had a deep prejudice against Africans in that they were led to believe that the African had a soul as black as his skin, that he was physically degraded, intellectually inferior. The black man was a barbarian with no ideas, with no knowledge. He could speak but he had only the external appearance of a human being.
The Berlin conference was a culmination of racist theory which hierarchised the human race into Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid races. Underlying such a racial classification was an ideology which considered the Caucasian race as "super race" whereas the Negroid race was considered to be a kind of "untermensch". Such a theory had its paternity in Manichaeism which appeared around the third century AD in Persia and was based on a dualistic dichotomy of black versus white, dark versus light. Accordingly, the Manichaenism conception of congenital conflict between Black and white led Persians to make white a representation of righteousness and black a symbol of wickedness. We know how much our culture is pervaded by Manichaen ideas and its adverse effect in alienating us from our African brothers.
One can argue that the word Abyssinia, which is a wrong Arabic and European appellation of Ethiopia, is a by-product of Manichaeism. Many foreign historians believe that the word Abyssinia is derived from the word Habeshat which is translated as half caste. In this regard, many Orientalists maintain that Abyssinians are a mixture of Negroid Africans and Habeshat Middle Easterners who immigrated to Ethiopia. For example, Albert Krammer argued in 1928 that when the habeshat arrived in Ethiopia circa 5th century BC, they found a very backward and savage people which they conquered, intermarried with, taught writing and civilised. He adds that not only the intermarriage gave rise to half caste but also the Habashat became more and more black with the passage of time.
According to other historians it is maintained that even if the Habesshat colonised Ethiopia, they were dependent on their parent country, Arabia, until such time that they declared their independence when they built their capital at Axum circa 3rd century BC. Doctor Berhanu Abebe contests the validity of the theory of the South Arabian colonisation of Ethiopia. However, he admits that South Arabians did of course come to Ethiopia not as colonisers but with the permission of Ethiopians themselves for commercial reasons. He maintains also that the tigrigna and amharigna speaking Ethiopians are the result of the intermarriage between the Agaw and Sabians. In addition, he argues that the writing system that we have now and the Ethiopic language are "gifts" of a tribe named Agazian. In a similar vein, Edward Ullendroff argues that the intermarriage between Habeshats and Agaw gave rise to a half caste race the descendants of which are the modern Ethiopians who, according to him, are beautiful, nervous exceptionally intelligent but not fond of deep learning.
What is however interesting to know is that these "scientific" conceptions of Ethiopians and their history do not accord with the solomonic ideology in which case the ruling dynasty of Ethiopia was supposed to be the direct descendants of the King Solomon of Jerusalem and queen Sheba of Ethiopia. The interesting point when we examine the theory advanced by historians, anthropologists on the one hand and the traditional ideology as is enshrined in the Ethiopian national epic, the Kibrenagest is that the Africanness of Ethiopians is completely obliterated. We are presented as belonging to Middle Eastern people despite the colour of our skin and our geographical presence in Africa. For most people, our situation would be comparable to that of the Arabs of North Africa who are supposed to be of Middle East origin.
Building on the hypothetical Habesha origin of Ethiopians, many historians argue that the proper name of Ethiopia should have been Abyssinia. In fact, when you look up the word Abyssinia in European dictionaries, you will find the word Abyssinia defined as the former name of Ethiopia. Despite the absence of scientific proof that the word Abyssinia has ever been used by Ethiopians as a name of their country, many historians wrongly believe that if 20th century Ethiopians don't want to use the word Abyssiania it is because of its Arabic derogatory connotation. They add that the word habesha being derived from the word habs which means in Arabic a collector, Ethiopians avoided deliberately the use of Abyssinia.
In his treatise of the Amharic language written in 1936, the French linguist Marcel Cohen for example argued that if Ethiopians didn't use the term Habesha, it was because they were ignorant of their history and that they believed wrongly that the word Habesha was pejorative. All the same Cohen remarked that in the Ethiopian languages the word Ethiopia had always been used. One may wonder however that if the official name of Ethiopia had always been Ethiopia( in fact Ethiopia has been known officially only by the name of Ethiopia since the translation of the Bible in the 6th century AD), then why was it that Cohen thought that the proper name of Ethiopia should have been Abyssinia? Cohen seemed to forget that the word Ethiopia had above all scriptural overtones. One needs only to give a cursory reading at the Holy Bible to realise this. He seemed also to have forgotten that the whole ideology of the Kibre nagast was based on the several Biblical references to Ethiopia. Besides, Cohen had overlooked the fact that the word Abyssinia did not have any equivalent in Ethiopian languages. Habeshat is the name of a hypothetical tribe and not the name of a country. The word Abyssinia is derived from the word Abassaia which seems to have been used for the first time by a Portuguese historians by deformation of the word habesha. Again the word Abassia was deformed to become finally Abyssinia.
For Jean Doresse too the right name of Ethiopia should have been Abyssiania because, he argues it is a word which corresponds most to the remote origin of the country's history. He says that when the Egyptian queen sent its expeditionary army to the south of the Red sea at about 1500 BC, she was told by her army that they met people looking like habeshat which Doresse believes looked like modern Ethiopians.
The problem with all these theories is that they are simple hypotheses not susceptible of verification. The theory advanced by Jean Doresse that ancient Egyptians spoke of people whom they considered to be habashat cannot be dismissed easily. Jean Doresse, Ethiopisant, Egyptologist, member of a French expert team sent to Ethiopia in 1955 to conduct archaeological research following King Haileselasie's request of the French government, and onetime head of the Imperial Department of Antiquity is of course an expert on the question. The difficulty is that a part from what the Egyptian expedition force is reported to have seen, there is nothing to prove that they were Habeshat. Besides, it is not clear if the people that expeditionary force saw were really habeshat, on the African side of the sea or on the other side.
The theory advanced by Albert Krammer concerning the presence of savage people in Northern Ethiopia before the arrival of the habeshat does not seem to have any scientific value except that it reflects the supremacy of racist ideology at the time Albert Krammer wrote his voluminous work. Racism as a "science" posited that an inferior race couldn't have an advanced civilisation except by copying from a superior race. This was a well established theory in the 19th and a good part of 20th centuries. Therefore when Western travellers visited Ethiopia and the Sudan, they found a very advanced ancient civilisation. Their difficulty was how to account for such civilisation which ruined the theory that an inferior race could not have an advanced civilisation. As regards the Sudan, it was not difficult to attribute the paternity of Sudanese civilisation to neighbouring Egypt all the more so since the Sudan and Egypt had alternatively dominated one another in the past. In the case of Ethiopia, it was difficult because although they had tried to find an Egyptian connection of Ethiopian civilisation, they could not find any thing plausible. They had therefore to look for an explanation on the other side of the Red sea, viz., in Yemen and the physical resemblance of people, topography and ancient monuments in both Ethiopia and Yemen led earlier visitors of Ethiopia and the French team to conclude that Ethiopia and its civilisation were an offshoot of South Arabian civilisation.
What we can observe from this is that no scholar had ever tried to study the monuments from an African angle. Because, that was not in conformity with what they had learned in their school days. African intellectuals did not escape either from being victims of such ideology. For example, the famous historian from Burkina Joseph Zi-Kerbo, argues like some Western historians and archaeologists of the 1960's and 1970's that Ethiopians are the result of the mixture between Agaw and habeshat. As an evidence of his theory he cites the case of some peripheral tribes in Ethiopia which considers to be real black Africans different from other Ethiopians. Despite this belief wide spread even today, there is no proof to show that Northern Ethiopians are really half caste different from other Ethiopians.
The theory presented by Berhanu Abebe does not seem either to be satisfactory. Because, first Berhanu does not show why it was necessary for the Agazians or sabeans to ask for permission from Ethiopians to come to Ethiopia. It is not at all plausible to think that a whole tribe can come through a royal permission. If we talk about permission, that presupposes the existence frontiers guards which is difficult to imagine in view of the fact that Ethiopia has always been open to immigration. Even if we were to give credence to his hypothesis, it is difficult to believe that Amharas and Tigreans could be the result of an intermarriage between Agaw and Sabians. Because, if Amhara and Tigreans were half caste, then they should have been different from their Agau ancestors. Besides, it is difficult to imagine that a half caste could have a language which does not belong to either of its parents for tigrigna and amharic are neither Middle eastern languages nor derived from agawigna. Given that all Ethiopians have the same physiognomy, Berhanu's theory cannot either account for the physical appearances of other Ethiopians. Second, Berhanu's theory is implicitly based on the idea that the habeshat came to Ethiopia between the 6th and 5th centuries before Christ. However, research in the field of linguistics shows that Ethiopic used to be spoken by ancient Ethiopians between 3000 and 2500 BC.
Harold Marcos contests the wide spread theory that Ethiopic was derived from south arabian languages. He argues that it was not Middle Easterners who gave language to Ethiopia but it was the opposite in the sense that the so-called Semitic languages were born and developed in Ethiopia some time around 3000 BC before they were spread to the Middle East. If this is the case, then the Semitic language could have only been spread by human agents which means that there was emigration to Middle East from Ethiopia, and it may be for this reason that the minority theory argues that what the dominant theory calls a South Arabian Sabian immigration to Ethiopia was in actual fact the coming back of Ethiopians. When Harold Marcos argues that Semitic language spread to Arabia from Ethiopia before it came back to Ethiopia in a written form, he seems to contend that what Orientalists considered to be the South Arabian colonisation of Ethiopia was in actual fact a repatriation of former Ethiopians. That said, Donald Levine observes that more than half of the world Semitic languages are found in Ethiopia, a fact which led him to argue that Ethiopia is perhaps the home of Afroasiatic languages. Levine concludes therefore that the migration was not from Middle East to Ethiopia but from Ethiopia to western Asia. In view this convincing argument, I propose that the so-called Semitic languages be renamed Ethiopic languages because there is a compelling evidence to believe that they originated in Ethiopia. One should know that the expression Semitic languages was coined in the mid 18th century.
The difficulty with the habesha colonisation of Ethiopia or in its recent revised version habesha immigration to Ethiopia is that no scientific evidence exists to show that a tribe called habesha had ever existed and that it came to Ethiopia. No trace of Habesha is found either in Ethiopia itself or in any Middle Eastern country. It is true that there was a migration from Arabia to Ethiopia and from Ethiopia to Arabia. Conti Rossini argued that South Arabians came to Ethiopia around the 5th century BC, but he could not tell whether or not those people were Ethiopians who went to Arabia and came back home. Be that as it may historians have found no trace of Habesha in Yemen whence they are believed to come.
Jacqueline Pirenne, a Belgian historian internationally recognised authority on the history of ancient Arabia could not either find any trace of habeshat in Yemen. She argues that some south Arabians indeed came to Ethiopia in the wake of the Persian invasion of South Arabia but she adds also that after learning architectural techniques in Ethiopia they went back to Arabia circa 3rd century BC. The present writer has made extensive research on secondary sources regarding ancient history of the Yemen in the hope of finding something about Habesha among the ancient ethnies of South Arabia. I have not yet found any evidence as to the existence any tribe called Habesha or Agazian. Conversely for Arabs and particularly for Yemenites, the spasmodic Ethiopian colonisation of Arabia for about 150 years between the second century to six century AD was known as habesha rule in which case habesha means a coloniser or invader. For Arabs habesha are no other than those Ethiopians who colonised them during the above mentioned period. It is perhaps for this reason that the Holy Koran renames Ethiopia the land of Habesha and the prophet Mohammed exhorts his followers to avoid involving themselves in a fight against habesha (he meant Ethiopia), for, he says, nine tenth of humanity's bravery belongs to Ethiopians.
Nevertheless, in the stone inscriptions of King Ezana we read Ezana being described as a king of Axum, Himyar, Raydan, Saba, Sahlen and Habashat. With the exception of Axum, the other places are found in Yemen. In view of this, one could have argued that Habeshat too was located in Yemen for there is no place known by the name Habeshat in Ethiopia. The problem is that no one has yet found any trace of Habeshat in Yemen. The Yemenite do not know of any south Arabian tribe called Habeshat.
The other problem is the widespread use of habesha in Ethiopia itself. Basing himself on such popular expressions as ye abessha libs or ye abessha megib, Donald Crummey, argues that Ethiopia is a term used by few Ethiopian elite, the popular name of Ethiopia being Abyssinia. While admitting that he has never made a research on the issue, Crummey utilises, in his article entitled Abyssianian feudalism, the term Abyssinia to indicate a geographical area which he says would include areas inhabited by amharigna-tigrigna speaking Ethiopians. Like wise, the historian Gebru Tareke devised the repugnant word of abyssinianisation to describe what he calls the "colonisation" of southern Ethiopia. Another Marxist author with a pseudonym, Addis Hiwet argues that the name Ethiopia and its present day geography were created in 1900's. The three Marxist authors' utilisation of Abyssinia is in fact a an ideological one. Crummey has to be praised for having honestly acknowledged that he used the word Abyssinia in an arbitrary fashion. As for Gebru the word Abyssinia was so clear that he did not even see any need of examining it. Addis Hiwet's ridiculous attempt to show that there was no country called Ethiopia before 1900 is nothing other than a trahison de clercs.
There are many Ethiopian historians and ideologists who use the word Abyssinia to refer to Northern Ethiopia. For most of them, the word Abyssinia is linked with a "supra ethnic" category of Amhara and tigray. They do not even ask themselves if such northern population as the Beta Israel, kimant, agaw, oromo , kunama, Afar et cetera are "Abyssinians" or not. They do not take into account that many tigreans and Amharas have oromo, agaw, afar, et cetera origin. They forget that except the language no one can argue safely that all tigreans, all amharas are pure tigreans or amharas. That is why I argued in my previous article that there was no such thing as tigrean or amhara objective ethnicity although a subjective amhara and tigrean identity exists. I say this because the provinces of Gondar and Godjam were ruled for many centuries by oromo aristocracy with Arabic names. From Ras Ali the elder to Ras Ali the younger were all , if you want to retroactively give them an ethnic label, oromo. So are they Abyssinians or not if one were to assume that the name Abyssinia was correct? Some people also talk of "Abyssinian arrogance" after the fashion of the Italian fascists. It seems that this people think the word Abyssinia is a common name of tigrai-amhara. It is with this in mind that Doctor Berhanu Abebe quotes an amhara-oromo professor of the Addis Ababa university who said "I am an Ethiopian not Abyssinian". How about if he were to be a "full blooded" Amhara? I wonder why people consider Menelik, Haileselassie and Mengistu to be "Abyssinians" simply because they speak amharic.
My conclusion with respect to this is that despite the widespread popular use of habesha, Ethiopia has always been called Ethiopia. That the word habesha has been used since the Prophet Mohamed only by Arabs and Islamic countries and that the Europeans started to use the word Abyssiania following Arab writers from whom they got information regarding Ethiopian history between the 8th century to the 16th century does not change the fundamental point that Ethiopia has always been called Ethiopia by its leaders and its inhabitants.
Besides one should bear in mind that the word Ethiopia has been used to indicate some times the whole black Africa but most of the time the area which covers present day Ethiopia and the Sudan. For instance when the Greek historian Herodotus who lived during the 4th century BC expressed his admiration for Ethiopians the reference can be to present day Ethiopia. He described Ethiopia in the following terms " more to the West extends , in the direction of the sun set, the last inhabited territory, called Ethiopia; which is full of gold, huge elephants, numerous species of wild trees, ebony, men of big stature and of exceptional beauty".
Historical research shows also that Ethiopia used to have a commercial relationship with India in the 7th century BC, that India and Ethiopia fought several times in the Indian ocean. It may be surmised that it was this close relationship between the two countries which led Europeans to confuse Ethiopia with India there by calling India by the name of Ethiopia. It would have been indeed very interesting for Ethiopian historians and specialists of international law to make a field research both in India and Ethiopia to determine when the relationship between countries exactly commenced and how it came to an end for it enables to show that Ethiopia, a developed mercantile and a maritime nation in the 7th BC could not be a territory inhabited by savage people as Albert Krammer once argued. It can show also that Ethiopia civilisation is not copy of south Arabian civilisation but that Ethiopia and South Arabia had influenced each other. The ancient relationship between India and Ethiopia is something which is intriguing all the more so because there exists a striking physical resemblance between black Indians and Ethiopians. Furthermore, there are some evidence which suggest the existence of slave trade between Ethiopia and India. Could the similarity between the Hindu word pariah and the Amharic word Baria be a mere coincidence?
So, in the light of the foregoing, it is not clear at all why Orientalists insist on the utilisation of the name Abyssinia unless they want to deny the Africanness of Ethiopia. This is of course understandable for the fundamentals of racism continued to dominate the academic world until the 1970's. What is surprising is that Ethiopia is seen even today as being different from the rest of Africa. Its unique writing system, its world religions, and its ancient highly advanced architectural technology are believed to be absent in other parts of Africa. As Donald Levine shows in a masterly manner, Orientalists wrongly believed that these were signs of developed civilisation which could only be the attributes of the superior race. And the black race being supposed to be at the lowest level of the "human hierarchy", Ethiopia could not be part of it. So, they renamed Ethiopia Abyssinia to differentiate her from the rest of Africa whereas Ethiopians have never named their country Abyssinia. The problem of Orientalists is that in trying to separate us from Africa, they deny not only our Africanness but also our Ethiopian identity because they argue that Ethiopian uniqueness in Africa is due to the mixture of original black Africans with white Middle Easterners the result being that Middle Easterners brought to Ethiopia writing system, architectural techniques. If we follow their reasoning, Ethiopian civilisation would be nothing other than a copy of an advanced South Arabian culture. The conclusion would be that the black race is not capable producing an advanced level of civilisation by itself.
It is therefore essential to know that the word Abyssinia has racist connotations behind it for it intends to present us as half caste of a marriage between Africa and Arabia. On the archaeological plane, we find the word Ethiopia used before the advent of Christianity although King Ezana does not speak of Ethiopia in the Sabean inscriptions. But in the Greek and Geez inscriptions, we find the term Ethiopia instead of the name habesha. Despite this, the conclusion that I have arrived at for the moment is that the word habessha is a fabrication all the more so because there is no scientific proof that any population or any tribe by the name of habessha had ever existed. I would have liked to be enlightened on this point by Ethiopian or foreign historians. Therefore, as to the identity of Ethiopians, the conclusion is that we are Africans. The ancient Ethiopian civilisation is also African. Jean Doresse who, like his French compatriots had argued in the 1960's that Ethiopian civilisation was an offshoot Arabian civilisation was obliged, in the face of compelling evidence, to argue in 1970 that Ethiopian civilisation was essentially African.
The latest comparative study of monuments both in Yemen and Ethiopia has shown that despite the similarities, there are also fundamental differences in addition to the fact that South Arabia has not ever produced monuments of high architectural quality comparable to those we find in Ethiopia. The theory of the South Arabian colonisation of Ethiopia is now passť and has been replaced by the theory of simple immigration. Archaeologists have found evidence dating to the 5th century BC, in which case King Waren-Haywat whose capital was Daamat described himself as a king of Ethiopians and Sabians, it being said that the Sabians were very few in number(Anfray, 1990, 60-61). I ask the reader not to confuse Habesha with Sabians who came to Ethiopia although one could argue that they were Ethiopians who emigrated from Ethiopia. Accordingly, the similarity between the ancient monuments of Yemen and Ethiopia has led some historians to conclude rightly that Ethiopia and Yemen belong to a common Red sea cultural area with out one being superior to the other.
Despite this, many historians continue to believe that Ethiopians are not negroid and they are of white extraction. Jean Doresse even went as far as saying that "Semitic Ethiopians" belong to a causcasian race. Cathrine Coquery Vidrovitch argued as recently as 1999 that when Europeans learned of the defeat of Italy by Ethiopians they discovered that the Ethiopians were a white race like them but that their skin was darkened by the intensity of the tropical climate. This ben trovato seems to be based on the climatic theory of the 19th century in which case black people were presented as being originally white but darkened by the intensity of the hot climate of the tropics. However, one cannot accept such a facile explanation for as Doctor Berhanu Abebe observes that if it is true that Ethiopia is geographically located in the tropics its topography makes that she enjoys a Mediterranean type of climate in which case the theory of white Ethiopians became darkened by the intensity of the tropical climate is false.
With this back ground, let us see how much Manichaeanism based conception and classification of human race led to the suffering of the black people through white colonisation which is nothing other than a cultural and identity extermination (therefore a great crime against humanity) contrary to what is believed by the Eritrean leadership and some of its supporters when they bizarrely pride themselves on being privileged to have undergone a "colonial revolution". The racist ideology which viewed black people as inferior race led the theorists of racism to advocate the white race's "responsibility" to civilise the "savage" black race. The black race's humanity not being recognised, it was not conceivable that they could enter into a an agreement on equal terms. The so-called treaties were nothing other than a means to control the Africans. The Wuchale treaty of 1889 and the ensuing 1896 Italo-ethiopian war attested to the fact that for the Europeans any treaty with Africans was binding only on the Africans and among the European powers in accordance with the principles of the scramble for Africa as was expounded by the Berlin conference of 1884-1885.
As I said above, the Berlin Conference was predicated on the racist ideology that Africa and its people were terra nullius which could be owned by Europeans. The problem was that considering Africa as a territory with out owner was not sufficient for the Europeans. They had to set rules of acquiring the ownership of the African continent "without owner". Before we proceed to determine what were the means of acquiring the ownership of an African people and territory, it is necessary to start by the discussing the historical genesis and the mutations of the concept of the terra nullius.
FAIR USE NOTICE:
This site may at times contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml