A-!m!ro Ethiopia

A discussion forum for Ethiopian thought, History, philosophy, biography etc.

Vol. 1 Number 1 ---- Edited by Araya Amsalu ----- January 21,1993

Beahak!mu weageanoCe ! sealam L'hulaC!n !

Here is the first issue of A-!m!ro. I hope you will enjoy it. All comments, critical reviews, diproofs, and challenges are welcome.

In this issue

Column ** Ethiopian Philosophy - Part 1.

Pointers-> Black Athena & our scholars.


Ethiopian Philosophy -Part 1

Ethiopian philosophy is a wide subject. I am not planning to cover the subject in detail here. Instead, an overview to inform Ethiopians about their heritage is presented. Most Ethiopians, even those with traditional backgrounds, are not aware of their philosophical heritage. Professor Claude Sumner (Sumner hereafter) has faced the reality of this situation while he was inquiring information on Ethiopian philosophy for his book "Philosophy of Man" in 1962. In his words;

"..the answers to my questions were most frustrating. Some one said to me, '...We have no philosophy in Ethiopia; religion has absorbed it all.' Others replied, 'Tradition and dogmatism are too strong here. The development of critical sense is discouraged; it is even punished. How can philosophy grow in such an atmosphere?"[1]

It is believed these scanty presentations on this column will whet the reader's appetite of Ethiopian philosophy, to initiate reading. The core of Ethiopian philosophy is contained in four works that Sumner calls "the pearls of Ethiopian Sapiential & philosophical literature", i.e., "The Physiologue", "The Book of the Philosophers", "The Life and Maxims of Skendes" and "The Treatise of ZeraYacob and Walda Heywat".

The first three works did not originate in Ethiopia, rather they are translations & adaptations of foreign texts. "One may query to what extent a work translated from a foreign text could be labeled Ethiopian. The answer is it is Ethiopian, not by the originality of its invention but by the originality of its style and presentation. The Ethiopians never translate literally: they adapt, modify, add and subtract....although the nucleus of what is translated is foreign to Ethiopia, the way it is assimilated and transformed into an indigenous reality is typically Ethiopian."[2]

The fourth work, "The Treatise of ZeraYacob and Waldaheywet" is an original work of philosophy in the strictest sense. It is composed of two separate treatise, by the master Zerayacob and his disciple, WaldaHeywet, written in the 17th century.

The works mentioned here span about 12 centuries (The Phisiologue translated in the 5th century AD is the oldest piece). "They show a double evolution: from translation...to originality; from wisdom to rationalism. Even the works of translation manifest evolution: from frequent misunderstandings in the Phisiologue to the deep intuitions of the Book of the Philosophers and the sensitive, reflective perceptions of the Life and Maxims of Skendes."[3]

We will be discussing the first three "pearls of Ethiopian Philosophy" and Sumner's view of Ethiopian Philosophy next time. In closing part 1:

"The Greek takes as starting point the world of external reality, which is distinct and measurable. The Ethiopian does not disengage himself from it, he does not stand out; he is part of it. His starting point is within himself, in his own personal experience. He does not try to express what is in his mind; he rather attempts to evoke it." [4]


[1] Sumner, Claude , The Source of African Philosophy: The Ethiopian Philosophy of Man, Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH, Stuttgart 1986, p 15 ISBN no. 3-515-04438-8

[2] Ibid pp. 29

[3] Ibid pp. 43-44

[4] Ibid pp. 16-17

________end of part 1________


--> Black Athena

I was introduced to these works (three volumes) of Martin Bernal, by a Somali friend of mine (who always teases me I am a Darot stolen from my home by the evil Amhar) some 4 months ago. Though the first volume has been with me since then I have not quite finished reading it. The very detailed and too technical text is not really the type that you will enjoy reading. From my little reading I have gathered some thing that may be of interest to Ethiopians.

Bernal asserts the source of the Afro-Asiatic language family (that includes Semitic, Cushitic, Chadic, Berber, Beja, Omotic among others) is in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia not somewhere in the middle east as was told by the existing convention. Martin Bernal I learnt, was the man who shook the scholarly world by claiming black Egypt is the source of Greek civilization hence classical civilization as a whole has black Africa as its source.

The argument of Bernal about the Afro-Asiatic language family agrees with the assertion of two Ethiopian scholars, Dr. Hailu Habtu & Dr. LaPiso G. Dilebo. Dr. Hailu argued in his 'Preliminary Notes on Ethiopian History' Geez can not be derived from Arabic or any other Semitic language. Actually Dr. Hailu's Notes predates Black Athena. Similarly Dr. LaPiso argued the Ethiopic (Geez) alphabet is not derived from Sabean. Rather it is derived from another much older indigenous alphabet (used for the stone inscriptions of Yeaha, MeaTara, Haw!l!ti etc along with Sabean), that of the Dea-amatts. Dr. LaPiso credits the similarity between the alphabets to a common origin or Ethiopian origin, borrowed by the Sabeans. Dr. LaPiso argues linguistic evidence indicates Semitic languages existed in Ethiopia 2000 (two thousand) years before Arabia. Dr. LaPiso presented his arguments in an Amharic book "Yea Et!yoP!ya h!z!b !na mean!g!s!t yea reajim zeamean tarik" published in 1990 (1982E.C).

Those of you who can afford the time, Black Athena is a book to read. Dr. Hailu's Notes is an excellent piece as is Dr. LaPiso's book. Even if you can not read the whole Black Athena, reading the preface and introduction is an eye-opener. We will be discussing "Dea-amatt the Source of Ethiopian civilization" other issues raised by Dr. LaPiso and Dr. Hailu in the future.

cer yegTemen !

selam leItyoPya !!