By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
On Thursday, September 11, Ethiopians and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church will celebrate “Enkutatash” (New Year). Ethiopians and members of the Church celebrated the new Millennium (2000) in 2007 so according to the Ethiopian calendar, this year (2014) is 2007.
Ethiopians use the calendar of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which reportedly did not change “when the rest of Christendom revised its estimate of the date of the birth of Christ” in the 16th century. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church was administratively part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria until July 13, 1948. On that date, the Coptic Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church reached an agreement.
In 1950, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church was granted “autocephaly” (self-government/independence) by Pope Joseph II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Five bishops were consecrated by the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa, empowered to elect a new Patriarch for their church and the successor to the last Coptic Bishop/Abuna Qerellos IV, who would have the power to consecrate new bishops. This process was completed on January 14, 1951 when the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Joseph II, consecrated the first Ethiopian Archbishop, 60-year-old Abuna Basilios (born Gebre Giyorgis Wolde Tsadik on April 23, 189).
“Enkutatash” is the Ethiopian New Year and means “gift of jewels” in the Amharic language, which is the main Ethiopian language. The celebration of “Enkutatash” is both religious and secular. The word comes from an event that happened approximately 3,000 years ago when the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia returned home after visiting King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem. The visit is chronicled in the Bible in I Kings, Chapter 10 and II Chronicles, Chapter 9.
There are several versions of the Bible, including the “English Standard Version” where the visit is described: “She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones.”
Another version of the Bible, “The New Living Translation”, further describes the gifts: “Then she gave the king a gift of 9,000 pounds of gold, great quantities of spices and precious jewels. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.”
Whatever version of the Bible is read, the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Jerusalem describes that she gifted Solomon enormous amounts of gold, spices and precious stone; so much that it is noteworthy that such an amount had not been seen before or after her visit. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with “enku”, or jewels, to replenish her treasury.
Ethiopia has captured the imagination of Africans in the Diaspora in various ways. The country is one of two African nations mentioned in the Bible. Since enslaved Africans were coerced into abandoning their indigenous beliefs and were “Christianized” by their enslavers, the Bible became an important part of their acculturation. The mention of an African nation in this very important book probably brought some sense of pride (definitely hidden) to a people who were brutalized daily by their enslavers.
Ethiopia also captured the imagination of Africans worldwide when the Ethiopian army defeated the covetous Italians at the battle of Adwa in 1896. This historic battle raged at the height of the European “Scramble for Africa” when White men and women were stampeding through the African continent, greedily grabbing and exploiting the land and the Africans.
From November 15, 1884 to February 26, 1885, a group of White men representing 14 nations made decisions that continue to affect the lives of Africans into the 21st century. These men sat around a table and carved up the African continent on paper, parcelling off portions among themselves. There were no African voices or African presence at these meetings. Such was the arrogance of these White men whose ancestors had already caused untold damage to the African continent for more than 400 years through the slave trade.
After carving up the continent on paper, these people set about colonizing the continent by force, murdering, torturing, imprisoning and/or exiling any African who resisted, including the royal family of the Ashanti of Ghana. Ethiopia was the beacon of hope that all was not lost since it remained the sole African nation to have escaped the ravening White men and women from Europe.
In the 2005 book, The Battle of Adwa: Reflections on Ethiopia’s Historic Victory against European Colonialism, White American professor of political science and international studies, Theodore M. Vestal, writes: “In 1896, Italy, a latecomer to the family of nations and a slow-footed scrambler for colonial spoils in Africa, made her move to conquer Ethiopia, the only remaining prize on the continent unclaimed by Europeans. Expansionist leaders of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy dreamed of a second Roman Empire, stretching from the Alps to the Equator, and it was assumed that a show of military would quickly bring ‘barbarian’ lands and riches into an African Orientale Italiana. The Italian dream was turned into a nightmare, however, in the mountain passes and valleys near the northern Ethiopian city of Adwa by the knockout punch by the mailed fist by a unified Greater Ethiopia. The Italians retreated, humiliated.”
Writing about “The Significance of Adwa”, Ethiopian professor of International Studies at Morgan State University and co-editor of The Battle of Adwa, Dr. Getachew Metaferia, explains: “The battle of Adwa sent two messages, one to the European colonialists and the second to Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. To the European colonialists, it signalled that Africans could effectively challenge their power. To Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, it conveyed a message of hope that subjugation, be it in the form of colonialism, slavery, or other forms of social, political and economic exploitation, can be overcome through effective organization, consensus-building leadership, and concerted effort.”
On the back cover of The Battle of Adwa, a description sums up the importance of this battle and helps to explain why my grandparents had large framed photographs of the Ethiopian royal family displayed in their living room 100 years after the battle of Adwa:
“In the 19th-century ‘Scramble for Africa,’ when the Europeans carved up an entire continent for exploitation, Africans won a solitary, shocking, glorious victory at Adwa (Ethiopia). The most celebrated military operation involving the Africans and the Europeans since the time of Hannibal, this emblematic victory still resounds in the minds of Africans and the African diaspora as promise of potential and an illustration of the dictum, ‘strength in unity.’ For the victors it was decisive; for the vanquished, catastrophic. The Italian colonialist soldiers were crushed. Their casualty figure was 70 per cent; all their artillery pieces were captured, one out of four of their generals was taken prisoner and two of the remaining as well as almost half of their staff officers were killed on the battlefield.
The Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa has remained a very important event in the shared recollection of the entire African people. It is the only secular episode in the whole history of Africa that has been celebrated for more than a century with unabated popular enthusiasm.”
Ethiopia, as the sole African country to defeat a European colonizing army, caused such shock and trauma to the European White supremacist psyche that some news reports tried to make the Ethiopians White. Writing of this “about face”, White American professor, Harold Golden Marcus, commented: “Now, Europeans had to rationalize Menelik’s victory, and they turned inevitably to the alternate discourse without abandoning notions of racism, since such an admission would conflict with the teleology of modern European imperialism. Instead they characterized Ethiopians as White, and they found several convenient observations upon which to build a new Ethiopian typology.”
The history of Ethiopia as the proven cradle of the human race has also captured the imagination in more modern times. Although some of his writing about Ethiopia is not very flattering, in his 2002 book Ethiopia, the Unknown Land: A Cultural and Historical Guide, White British author, Stuart Christopher Munro-Hay, conceded that: “Ethiopia can claim to be the cradle of the human race, after the discovery at several sites there of the earliest hominid remains yet to be revealed by archaeology.”
In 1974, the more than three-million-year-old skeleton of Dinqinesh (Lucy) was found at Hadar, nearly 200 miles northeast of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. In 1996, about five miles from where the skeleton of Dinqinesh was found, the earliest known stone tools were found (approximately 2.5 million years old).
The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, considered the father of the modern Pan-African Movement and a prophet of Rastafari, is said to have prophesied the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie I and given rise to Rastafari.
In The Rastafarians, published in 1988, African Jamaican historian, Leonard E. Barrett Sr., wrote of the effect on Garvey’s followers in Jamaica when Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia with the titles King of King, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah and Elect of God on November 2, 1930: “In Jamaica an almost forgotten statement of Garvey, who on the eve of his departure to the United States was supposed to have said ‘Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the redeemer,’ came echoing like the voice of God.”
“Melkam Addis Amet” (Happy New Year) to Ethiopians and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church celebrating Enkutatash.