More about the response on ‘Abyssinia’ [Archives:2004/755/Opinion]

July 15 2004

By Zeru Isaac
[email protected]

This letter of mine is about the response by Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis printed on Thurday July 1 in your newspaper.
Thank you for your interesting articles about our region. It has been a pleasure to witness such an original point of view. I would like to share my own thoughts about the topic with you and would greatly appreciate your comments.
'Ethiopia', 'Sudan' and 'Abyssinia', are they not terms and definitions coined by Greeks and Arabs?
If I am not mistaken, 'Ethiopia' stems from the Greek term Ethi-Opus meaning 'burnt face', hence Ethiopia means land of burnt faces.
Perhaps the Greeks thought that all black people constituted one nation, or just coined this term to refer to 'Black People', or it might be a muddle of both things, that has come about over time.
Doesn't 'Sudan' similarly mean 'the blacks' in Arabic?
Doesn't 'Abyssinia' also stem from the Arabic term 'Habasha' which is supposed to mean 'mixed' or something?
Perhaps the Arabs also coined these terms in a muddle of trying to define races and nations.
Peoples and rulers of the region have adopted these terms to define themselves.
In my opinion, neither “Sudan”, “Abyssinia” nor “Ethiopia” are useful terms when discussing the history of any country in the Horn of Africa.
There were no ancient kingdoms or Empires with those names.
As you yourself stated, there was an Axum, a Nubia (Meroe) and also a Punt. Why continue to confuse these real entities with the mythical “Abyssinia”, “Sudan” or “Ethiopia”?
The port of Adulis was indeed an Axumite port, not an 'Abyssinian' port.
But the Axumite Empire ceased to exist when the coast (of present day Eritrea) was occupied by Muslims in the 8th century, and the inland broke apart into several disputing Christian 'Kingdoms' and territories.
The fall of Axum resulted in much the same thing as the fall of Meroe (Nubia) that you mentioned.
Yet the history after the fall of the Axumite Empire is something bitterly disputed between Ethiopian and Eritrean scholars.
From an Eritrean point of view, that is where the historical separation between what is currently known as Eritrea and Ethiopia, begins. It does not just go back to the creation of Eritrea as a colony. The people of Eritrea weren't Ethiopian or Abyssinian before their creation as a colony.
The western lowlands (Barka, Bogos) and the coastline (various sultanates) was under Arabic influence while the Christian highlands (Medri Bahri or Mereb Mellash) resisted the rule of all others but their own village council of elders.
Despite our cultural similarities, we are in fact two separate nations with deep-seated differences that go beyond colonialism.