Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ethiopia – A Brief History

Ethiopia – A Brief History

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. What are believed to be the oldest remains of a human ancestor ever found, which have been dated as being some five million years old, were discovered in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia. This beats the discovery of "Lucy", a 3.2 million year old skeleton, who was unearthed in the same area in 1974.

The Greek historian Herodotus, of the fifth century BC, describes ancient Ethiopia in his writings, while the Bible's Old Testament records the Queen of Sheba's visit to Jerusalem where "she proved Solomon with hard questions". Matters clearly went further than that because legend asserts that King Menelik - the founder of the Ethiopian Empire - was the son of the Queen and Solomon.

Remains of the Queen of Sheba’s palace can still be seen today in Axum, in the province of Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Axum is also home to many other extensive historical sites, including the home of the Ark of the Covenant, brought there from Jerusalem by Menelik.

Missionaries from Egypt and Syria reached Ethiopia in the fourth century and introduced Christianity. In the seventh century, the rise of Islam meant Ethiopia was then isolated from European Christianity. The Portuguese re-established contact with Ethiopia in the 1500s primarily to strengthen their control over the Indian Ocean and to convert Ethiopia to Roman Catholicism. A century of religious conflict followed resulting in the expulsion of all foreign missionaries in the 1630s.

This period of bitter conflict contributed to Ethiopian hostility towards foreign Christians and Europeans which persisted until the twentieth century and was a factor in Ethiopia's isolation until the middle of the nineteenth century.

From the 1700s, for roughly 100 years, there was no central power in Ethiopia. This "Era of the Princes" was characterized by the turmoil caused by local rulers competing against each other. In 1869, however, Emperor Tewodros brought many of the princes together, and was a significant unifying force. He was succeeded by Emperor Yohannes, who built upon the efforts made by Tewodros, as well as beating off invasion attempts by the Dervish and the Sudanese.

Emperor Menelik II reigned from 1889 to 1913, fending off the encroachment of European powers. Italy posed the greatest threat, having begun to colonize part of what would become its future colony of Eritrea in the mid 1880s. In 1896 Ethiopia defeated Italy at the Battle of Adwa, which remains famous today as the first victory of an African nation over a colonial power.

In 1916, the Christian nobility deposed the sitting king, Lij Iyassu because of his Muslim sympathies and made his predecessor's, (King Menelik 11 1889 - 1913), daughter, Zewditu, Empress. Her cousin, Ras Tafari Makonnen (1892-1975) was appointed regent and successor to the throne.

Zewditu died in 1930, after which the regent - adopting the name Haileselassie - became Emperor. His reign was interrupted in 1936 when Italian forces briefly invaded and occupied Ethiopia. Haileselassie then appealed to the League of Nations, but that appeal fell on deaf ears and he fled to exile in the UK, where he spent five years until the Ethiopian patriotic resistance forces with the help of the British defeated the Italians and he returned to his throne.

Haileselassie then reigned until 1974 when he was deposed and a provisional council of soldiers (the Derg, meaning committee) seized power and installed a government which was socialist in name and military in style. Fifty nine members of the Royal Family and ministers and generals from the Imperial Government were summarily executed. HaileSelassie himself was strangled in the basement of his palace in August 1975.

Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as head of state and Derg chairman after having his two predecessors killed. His years in office were marked by a totalitarian style government and the country's massive militarization financed and supplied by the Soviet Union and assisted by Cuba.
The brutality of the regime over a period of 17 years - aided by droughts and famine - hastened the Derg's collapse.

Insurrections occurred throughout Ethiopia, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea. In 1989, the Tigrayan People's Liberation front (TPLF) merged with the Amhara and Oromo liberation front’s (EPDM & OPDO) to form the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In May 1991, the EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa forcing Mengistu to flee to Zimbabwe.

In 1991, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) was set up from the EPRDF and other political parties in the country with an 87 strong Council of Representatives and a transitional constitution.
Meanwhile, in May 1991, The Eritrean People's Liberation front (EPLF), led by Isaias Afworki assumed control of Eritrea after 30 years of struggle and established a provisional government. This ran Eritrea until April 1993 when Eritreans voted for independence in a UN monitored referendum.

In Ethiopia, President Meles Zenawi and members of the TGE pledged to oversee the formation of a multi-party democracy. The election for a 548 member constituent assembly was held in June 1994. This assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December 1994. Elections for the first parliament were held in 1995 and the government was installed in August of that year.

Major Tourist attractions in Ethiopia

Major Tourist attractions in Ethiopia

Legend has it that Emperor Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and king Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum, where he settled and established one of the world’s longest known, uninterrupted monarchical dynasties.

This is only one example of Ethiopia’s magnificent history, which encompasses legend and tradition, mystery and fact, from a powerful and religious ancient civilization. The well -trodden path through Ethiopia’s famous and fascinating historic places takes you through a scenically magnificent world of fairy -tale names, such as 
LalibelaGondar, Deber Damo and Bahar Dar.

Several of Ethiopia's more remote areas are excellent for walking safaris, which are offered by several good tour operators in the country. Walking tours, best planned for the dry season, offer the traveler the opportunity for awe-inspiring vantage points from which to view many of Ethiopia's natural wonders, cultural riches and architectural heritage. In Gondar, there are fairy tale castles dating back to the 17th century. In Harar, the visitor can enjoy the incense-flavored mysteries of narrow alleyways and towering minarets.

And Axum, Ethiopia’s most ancient city and the capital of the historic Axumite state, is the site of many remarkable monolithic stone stelae, or obelisks, the three most important being decorated to represent multi-storied buildings, complete with doors and windows.

The largest  obelisk, which was 35 meters long and weighed 500 tons, is the biggest piece of  stone ever cut by humanity anywhere in the world but today it lies broken on the ground. Near it stands a smaller but nevertheless most impressive 24-metre-high obelisk - the pride of Ethiopia. A somewhat larger obelisk was taken to Rome, on the orders of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, in 1937, but its return to Axum is expected. Plans are also under consideration for the re-erection of the fallen obelisk.

Axum, in its day, was a great commercial center, issuing its own currency and trading with Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India and even Ceylon. The settlement was also the site of Ethiopia’s oldest church, which dated back to the coming of Christianity as the state religion, early in the 4th Century. The original building has long since disappeared but a structure erected on its site by Emperor Fasiladas in the early 17th Century is still there.

A nearby outhouse is the reputed repository of the biblical Ark of the Covenant. This historic relic cannot be seen but visitors there can see and photograph a number of the remarkable crowns that belonged to several notable Ethiopian monarchs of the past.

Just out of the town, the remains of an early Axumite palace, popularly thought to have belonged to the Queen of Sheba, are well worth a visit. The remains are located at Dangur, near the mountain from which the obelisks were originally excavated. The beautifully worked tombs of several ancient Axumite rulers and the local archaeological museum are also worth a visit.

Lalibela, a medieval settlement in the Lasta area of Wallo, lies at the centre of an extensive complex of rock churches. Some can be reached by one or two hours' drive; others are a full day's journey.
Lalibela has 11 remarkable rock-hewn monolithic churches, believed to have been built by King Lalibela in the late 12th or early 13th Century. These notable structures are carved, inside and out, into the solid rock, and are considered to be among the wonders of the world.  Each building is architecturally unique but each reflects beautifully executed craftsmanship, and several are decorated with fascinating paintings. These astonishing edifices remain places of living worship to this day.

Sof Omar, a tiny Muslim village in Bale, is the site of an amazing complex of natural caves, cut by the Wab River as it found its way from the nearby mountains. The settlement, which is a religious site, is named after a local Sheikh.

Armed with torches and official map, visitors to Sof Omar make their way underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream, and there can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high eroded ceilings and deep echoing chambers.

With a population of more than two million people, Addis Ababa is not only the political capital but also the economic and social nerve-center of Ethiopia. Founded by Emperor Menelik in 1887, this big, sprawling, hospitable city still bears the stamp of his exuberant personality. More than 21,000 hectares in area, Addis Ababa is situated in the foothills of the 3,000-meter Entoto Mountains and rambles pleasantly across many wooded hillsides and gullies cut with fast-flowing streams.

Wide, tree-lined streets, fine architecture, glorious weather and the incongruity of donkey trains along the boulevards make Addis Ababa a city of surprises and a delightful place to explore. The clear mountain air gives the city the bracing atmosphere of a summer highland resort. It enjoys a mild climate, with an average temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Addis Ababa stands at the very heart of Ethiopia and there is much to do and to see. The city has a flourishing cultural life, with regular exhibitions and lectures. There are many opportunities to experience Ethiopian music, song and dance, to visit museums and to see the city sights.

Debre Damo
Some 76 Kilometers from Axum is the monastery of Debre Damo (closed to Women), which is said to have the oldest existing intact church in Ethiopia. Local tradition says that Abune Aregawi, one of the nine Saints, built the church in the 16th Century. The Monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley.

Some 55 km east of Axum is the 5th Century BC temple of Yeha. Its massive walls house Judaic relics and historic artifact.

Bahar Dar
Bahar Dar is a small town set on the south - eastern shore of lake Tana, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats, and just 30 km from the spectacular Tissisat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates “Smoking Water" an awe-inspiring sight as it plunges into the gorge below.

From Bahar Dar one must explore some of the ancient monasteries that have been built around Lake Tana, or on the many Islands. These include Dek Stephanos with its priceless collections of icons, as well as the remains of several medieval emperors, Kebran Gabriel and Ura Kidane Mehret with its famous frescoes. The colorful local market at Bahir Dar is renowned for its weavers and wood workers.

Gonder was the 17th Century capital of Ethiopia, and is notable for its medieval Castles and churches. The City's unique imperial compound contains a number of Castles built between 1632 and 1855 by the various Emperors who reigned during this period. These dramatic castles, unlike any other African, display richness in architecture that reveals the Axumite traditions as well as the influence of Arabia.

Other treasure of Gonder includes the 18th Century palace of Ras Beit, the bath of Fasilades, the ruined palace of Kusquam, and the church of Debre Berhane Selassie with its unique murals.

Although Lalibela is unique, it is not the sole site of Ethiopia's famous rock-hewn churches. In Tigray near Makale, over 200 fine examples of these monuments to man's devotion to God as well as his building skills, may be seen and visited.

The Capital of the emperor Yohannnes IV (1871 - 1889), Makale is now the main town of Tigray, the most northern Ethiopian region. The emperor's palace has been turned into a particular interesting museum, with many exhibits of his time and subsequent history.
The town is also well known as a transit point for the Camel Caravans bringing salt up from the arid lands of the Danakil Depression. This makes the market palace a particular interesting place to visit. Intrepid visitors can also make excursions into the Danakil to visit some of the Afar nomads that trek across the region.

The city of Harar is an ancient (1520) and holy city. Always an important trading center  the city is famous for its ancient buildings, its great city walls and as a center of learning Muslim scholarship (the town has 99 mosques). The city is well known for its superb handicrafts that include woven textiles, basket ware, silverware and handsomely bound books, Harar has been a place of pilgrimage from all over the world for many years.

Cultural Diversity

Cultural Diversity
The meaning of ‘race’ has changed over many centuries, but it is now generally accepted as something created by society. The American Anthropological Association’s statement on race states, “Physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them.” 

While we may not be different biologically, the color of our skin is the most visible difference among us, and it affects the way we interact with each other. Racial encounters carry a long history of abuse from colonization, which saw the establishment of a major group and a minor group. This situation still thrives today but ethnicity, gender, and economic status further inform the experience of the minority. Ethnicity is best defined as the practices and traditions of a racial group such as language, religion, behaviors, and culture.

Our current understanding of racism can be traced back to the period of industrialization of Europe and the colonization of non-European peoples in the 18th century, when there were rapid scientific and technological development. The ways and cultures of indigenous peoples and people of color were seen as inferior to the white explorers and colonizers, and were therefore exploitable.

Today many countries are culturally diverse due to generations of immigration resettlement (refugees who have been selected to establish themselves in a country), Diasporas (a dispersion of people from their original homeland), and forced displacement; however, race relations within a country remain tense and unstable. Racial and ethnic minority identities are shaped by the dominant culture, which controls the institutions of power (the legal and education system, media, etc.) that produce and maintain representations and stereotypes. In spite of this, ethnic and racial minorities are defining and creating their own identities.

Multicultural societies help promote cultural acceptance and pluralism (the state of having more than one culture in one geographic area), but they should be careful not focus on the simple aspects of culture such as food, dance, music, and clothing, as they do not represent a culture in its complexity and do not disturb the organization and power of the dominant culture.