Exploring The Ethiopic Narratives

When I was studying towards a Diploma in Marketing Management at the Durban University of Technology, I would spend many nights devouring the wealth of Afrika- centered literature. In the hours wherein I should have been drawing graphs and learning about market segmentation and consumer behavior, I was delving into Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Ayi Kwei Armah, Wole Soyinka, Mafika Gwala and Kwame Nkrumah publications. The Steve Biko campus library was replete with information that seems rather neglected by the general  student population, perhaps it was due to the fact that as the name suggest, the college was and still is a space for technocratic and engineering scholarship, with a very small part of the syllabus focusing on Humanities and the Arts.

During this time I came across a book by the Ethiopian scholar Ayele Bekerie. As I was then ‘rising’ as a young Rastafari devotee, I went in deep into this book. For the first time in my life I was even tempted to steal this book, after making so many copies which I ultimately shared with my sisters and brothers who were as serious about Afrikan scholarship, Ethiopian studies to be specific, but could not afford attend tertiary education. While the Bekerie’s book had interested me due to its detailed analysis of the Ethiopian ancient and modern script, it also dealt with various subjects which interested me a lot – astronomy, calendar’s, Afrikan culture, literature as well as a unique view of the Ethiopic book of the prophet Enoch/Henok. I will deal with this later, but here is an interesting excerpt from an Ethiopian scholars review of Bekerie’s book:

“So crucial to his scholarship, Bekerie locates himself in the Africologist framework, namely the Locational Model of history of philosophy (pp.12-18). The tenet of this
Model is that African people are subjects of their own as well as the whole world’s historical and social experience rather than, as Eurocentrists insist, objects in the margin
of European experience (Asante, 1992). With this framework, Bekerie’s ultimate goal is to locate the socialhistorical origin of Ethiopic system in an African context.
This is his response to the mainstream Indo-Europeanist “persistent interjection of the Semitic Paradigm” (p.18) that thrives to dislocate “Ethiopic system” to South
Arabia.  Nevertheless, he himself could not successfully break with the same paradigm which veiled truth about the history and agents of the Ethiopic system.

The purpose of this paper is to explicate some of Bekerie’s groundbreaking perspectives as well as unveil some of the mystifications he still perpetuates quite not unwittingly. Firstly, his style, both in the traditional and critical sense (Fairclough 2003), shall be discussed. Secondly, how the author braved challenging the commonsense about Ethiopic shall be pointed out. Next, an explication of how the author leaves intact a ‘history’ abounded in mysteries shall be made, chiefly focusing on alternative perspectives that he neglected. Finally, conclusion and implications for future action shall be presented.” ( Review by: Dereje Tadesse Birbirso; Assistant Professor, College of Social Science and Humanities, Haramaya University, P.O.BOX 138, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.
Accepted 19 February, 2013 )

After further reading, I am deciding to paste the whole book review here. I shall write my own review of this book I read a long time ago much later, once I have re-read it.

Book Review
Ayele Bekerie. Ethiopic: An African Writing System–Its
history and principles. Lawrenceville, N.J., and Asmara,
Eritrea: Red Sea Press, 1997. xiv + 176 pp. $18.95
(paper), ISBN 978-1-56902-021-0; $59.95 (cloth), ISBN
Review by: Dereje Tadesse Birbirso
Assistant Professor, College of Social Science and Humanities, Haramaya University, P.O.BOX 138, Dire Dawa,
Accepted 19 February, 2013
Ethiopian history is notoriously a history abounded in mystifications, phantasms and deAfricanizations. A key aspect of these mystifying narratives is about the social origin of the so-called Ethiopic writing system. However, Ayele Bekerie’s Ethiopic is the first break with reproduction of flaw.
In his book about the history and principles of Ethiopic system, Bekerie exploits his ideographical, syllographical, astronomical, grammatological and theological knowledge and argues that Ethiopic is part of the Ancient African societies’ philosophy. For the conservative Abyssinianists, Bekerie’s work is disconcerting, while for the few relatively liberal Ethiopianists it is disillusioning. Yet, for a critical Africologist, it is a step in the right direction. Yet, for non-Semitic scholars and peoples in the Horn of
Africa it is a swerve between the former two, Abyssinianism and Ethiopianism. In other words, it is deification—a history book without human agents. Using theories in historical linguistics, discourse analysis, social semiosis and history of philosophy, this paper attempts to unveil these anomalies in Bekerie’s Ethiopic. Directions for future research are also pointed out.
Key words: Ayele, Bekerie, Ethiopic, Ge’ez, Oromo, Cush, writing, system.
Though the central theme as in the title suggests it is a
book on a ‘Writing System’, Ayele Bekeries work
(Ethiopic) can be approached as a critical philologicalhistorical analysis of the narratives of non-African (IndoSemitic) civilization built into Africa, particularly NorthEast and Horn of Africa. The first time I run through
Bekerie’s book, I felt that it was Ethiopianized version of
Martin Bernal’s semiticized Black Athena (1987), critical
works yet perpetuating the usual gulf between Ancient
African and Arabian landmasses. The moment I began
to read it the second time, I found him, just in the early
few pages, transgressing this artificial boarder. Note that
Bekerie’s book comprises six chapters. The introduction (chapter) is a bit lengthy (pp.1-30).

The main *Corresponding author. E-mail: dttadesse@yahoo.com. Tel: (+251) 9-10-95-28-18
28 Afr. J. Hist. Cult. body comprises five chapters: “The Arabian Peninsula in
Ethiopian Historiography” (pp. 31-60); “The History and
Principles of the Ethiopic Writing System” (pp. 61-103);
“The Book of Hénok and African Historiography” (pp.105-
18); “Se’en: Aesthetics and Literary Traditions of
Ethiopia” (pp.119-39); and, Conclusion (pp.141-49). Each
chapter comprises bibliographic endnotes, in addition to
presentation of a comprehensive Bibliographic notes
(pp.151-64) and Index (pp.165-76).
So crucial to his scholarship, Bekerie locates himself in
the Africologist framework, namely the Locational Model
of history of philosophy (pp.12-18). The tenet of this
Model is that African people are subjects of their own as
well as the whole world’s historical and social experience
rather than, as Eurocentrists insist, objects in the margin
of European experience (Asante, 1992). With this framework, Bekerie’s ultimate goal is to locate the socialhistorical origin of Ethiopic system in an African context.
This is his response to the mainstream Indo-Europeanist
“persistent interjection of the Semitic Paradigm” (p.18)
that thrives to dislocate “Ethiopic system” to South
Arabia. Nevertheless, he himself could not successfully
break with the same paradigm which veiled truth about
the history and agents of the Ethiopic system. The
purpose of this paper is to explicate some of Bekerie’s
groundbreaking perspectives as well as unveil some of
the mystifications he still perpetuates quite not unwittingly. Firstly, his style, both in the traditional and
critical sense (Fairclough 2003), shall be discussed.
Secondly, how the author braved challenging the
commonsense about Ethiopic shall be pointed out. Next,
an explication of how the author leaves intact a ‘history’
abounded in mysteries shall be made, chiefly focusing on
alternative perspectives that he neglected. Finally,
conclusion and implications for future action shall be
Primarily, in the traditional sense of style–the distinctive
choice of language–Bekerie needs to be appreciated. He
writes in simple, clear English in African nuance which
makes any graduate student not only appreciate but also
understand what he wants to mean. Overall, he skillfully
avoids the usual colorful, bombastic and non-lively
vocabulary which by contrast is the favorite of some
African writers. Short and precise sentences and
paragraphs are styles which good writers employ and so
does Bekerie. Nevertheless, especially in Chapter 1,
lengthy and numerous quotations and dotted and
numbered lists, with insignificant level of his own voices,
are among Bekerie’s stylistical drawbacks. This crippled
not only illumination of alternative perspectives but also
renders the book to appear a graduate student’s notebook taken, however, in a critical historian’s classroom
lecture. Moreover, strange transcriptions unknown to IPA
are widely employed. This repulses ‘appetite’ of an
international reader.
In Faircloughnean (Fairclough, 2003) critical linguistics
sense, an author’s style also textures identification. As
such, the lion share of Bekerie’s book is ascribed to
Abyssinian Orthodox Church identity crisis: the dogmatic
hymn and celebratory music to Eurocentrists’ Virgin
Mary, Angels and Kings. Still, his too liturgical language,
a manifestation of his infatuation with the Abyssinian
Orthodox Church history, at least offends readers from
different background: Islam, Waaqeeffanna (the preChristian Oromo religion, worshiping Waaqaa ‘Black God;
Sky, Heaven’), Protestantism or Atheism. At worst, they
categorize him under ‘(Orthodox) Christian terrorists.’
The ultimate goal of the book seems to advance “our
contention that” the “Latin script currently in use among
some Oromo circle” is made “without a thorough
knowledge of the [Ge’ez] system” (pp. 94-95; emphasis
original); that the system can address the “explosive
[ejectives?] sounds” found both in “Orominya and
Amarinya” and the choice of Latin “limit or compromise
the rich and varied polyrythmic sounds of the Oromo
language” (p. 95). At the end of his book Bekerie reiterates, “Whatever the distress other parts of the system,
priests and monks had support, facilities, and protection
that enabled them to keep alive the central ideas of their
tradition” (p. 148). This suggests that he is also open to
critique or criticism.
In Chapter 1, Bekerie explicates and explains away the
“Semitic Paradigm” or “Indo-Semitic” mindset responsible
for “external paradigm”. He also adds to this group the
students of the latter, namely “the miseducated
Ethiopians” (p. 35). In Chapter 2, he treats on “the history
and principles of the Ethiopic writing system”. In the last
two chapters he chiefly analyzes, Ethiopic Book of Hénok
and the Ge’ez ‘philosophy’ especially Se’en, which he
defined as at several places as “aesthetic and literary
tradition of Ethiopia”. His key argumentation is that Ge’ez
or Ethiopic, as a language, and the texts i are African text
and philosophy.
Bekerie adopts multidisciplinary approach–history,
linguistics, theology, calligraphy–which makes the book
so interesting and, indeed, proves that he has read
widely to present his point. More interesting, Bekerie
appears from outset so progressive and transgressive
that he lends to negative critique those traditional extremist Ethiopian ‘historians’, whom he calls ‘Ethiopianists’,
albeit, he avoids the term ‘Abyssinianists’, a term that
other critical social scientists like Asmarom Legesse
(Legesse, 2000, 1973), to mention a few, prefer. Bekerie’s
critical stance unfolds especially when he articulates that
the “Hamitic/Semitic divide” (p.44) that “Ullendorff the
teacher and Sergew the student” are fancy of is “but a
means to keep the Ethiopian people divided” (p. 44). That
Ullendorff “the teacher” drew parallelism between “South
Arabia”, the origin of Ethio-Semites, and “Aksum”, on the
one hand, and “Wales” and “New South Wales” or “New
York”, on the other, is one of his skillful disentanglement
of a good stuff of ridicule. Yet, Bekerie’s main effort is to
falsificate the God-Selected, Orthodox-Semite Ethiopia,
fabricated through the window of Eurocentric scholars.
His double-face sword pointed also at the local Semitists,
who, in their joint anti-aboriginals, built a pile of myths as
‘history’ over the past two centuries. The author then, in
his critical lashes proceeds to listing critical questions that
the “external paradigms” and “the miseducated
Ethiopians” should collectively take as their homework:
What is south Arabia? What is the evidence for South
Arabian origin of the Ethiopian Civilization? What is South
Semitic?—a language? a group of languages? writing
system? ethnographic or linguistic category? Why was
there no internal source for the Ethiopian civilization? (pp.
Bekerie’s big caveat in his masterpiece seems that he
continues to point to unexplained Proto-Ethiopic and/or
Ethiopic society which had had age-level based social
philosophy and advanced curricula: linguistics, grammar,
theology, astronomy, mathematics, military, medicine,
literature and so forth. In this respect Bekerie seems to
suggest ‘(Proto)-Ethiopic’, ‘Geez’ speakers or ‘Sabaean’,
‘Axumite’ people, preemptively and pervasively, if these
were unblemished. It is so striking that he never touched
the ancient-to-contemporary advanced age-/generationbased theologico-political Gada System of Oromo-Cush
founded upon the supreme creator, Waaqaa ‘Black-God’
(De Salviac, 2005[1901]). Indeed, in his later work,
Bekerie unveils the discovery of “ancient Egyptian
documents and artifacts” in which “significant Oromo
conceptual terms” are found: Egyptian Auqas “a name of
the divine ferryman” and what “Oromos call their God
Waqaa [Waaqaa]”; Greek “term Sirius, the beautiful star
that rises once a year towards the source of the Nile”,
which corresponds “ both in meaning and pronunciation
with the Oromo term for a dog, Sarre” and the “star warns
the Egyptian farmer against the coming water” (Bekerie,
2004:116). Bekerie’s reference to Oromo language,
which the speakers significate as Afan Oromo for
themselves, as “Oromiyna” /oromiñña/ speaks directly to
his continuation of the Abyssinianist hegemony, while,
he, on the other hand, accuses the Western for their
“hegemonic epistemology”.
At some point (pp. 65-66) he implicitly agrees with
many who believe the present day Ethiopia does,
historically and geographically, never stand for the
Ancient Ethiopia. He also appears to deconstruct the idea
Birbirso 29
of ‘Hametic’ as a quite racist term fabricated by extreme
Indo-Semitist scholars to legitimize the false impressions
of ‘white Ancient Ethiopians’ or what Chiekh Anta Diop
(Diop, 1975) says ‘white-pharaohs of Ancient Egyptian’,
with the intention to muddy the African origin of
civilization. But he distances himself from the great
scholars like Houston (1926). Given his critical stance
that classical Aksumite people are Black Africans and
their civilization is non-imported, his ambiguous, unclear
position from the outset not only leaves the reader wade
in the traditional wisdom but also makes him exposed to
what the critical linguist Fairclough (2003: 10) says a
“managerial style”, a style that inculcates big claims in
“business-like ways.” This ambiguous and positivistic
attitude demeans the author’s commitment with respect
to truth, obligation, values and evaluative sense. For
instance, why could not he add to his critical questions
the “external paradigms” and “the miseducated Ethiopians”: How come that powerful language called Ge’ez
died after few centuries of its emergence? According to
Ullendorff (1960) it emerged in the A.D. 3rd century and
substituted the Classical Greek serving as a lingua
franca, documentary, official and communicative language
of Axumite, only in A.D. 8th century evolved into two
different languages, Amhariña and Tigiriña, in A.D. 10th or
11th century.
Bekerie rarely uses etymology-cum-history for his arguementations. For instances a large portion of his book is
devoted to what he calls Geez siwasiw, ‘grammar’, which
he acknow-ledged as originally meaning ‘ladder’. This is
in actuality an anagram of Oromo word waʑaʑa ‘a bier
upon which the dead bodies are carried to the grave’
(Tutschek, 1844:153), a symbol of waɗaa ‘alliance, oath’
with the deceased. The Oromo and Classical Greek
concept of grammar correspond both in form and
meaning. In Oromo, the polysemous word qaraa means,
among others, ‘read, sharpen; inquire, be wise, civilized’
from which the metaphorical qoro ‘wise, aristocrat, hawk’
comes. The same concept must be at work in Meroitic
kerma, qore ‘chief, king’ (Aubin 2003: 31) and Egyptian
‘hawk’ and its symbolic representations. It is not by
chance but by influence of Africans that in Classical
Greek χάrα means ‘pierce, sharpen, engrave,’ the
embryonic stage of grammar and grammatology.
Bekerie uses sometimes so ecclesiastic etymology,
which does not connect to reality. For instance, he draws
our attention to “the great book”, namely, “Mäzmura
Dawit”, one of “the only” Abyssinians gospels, that B’alu,
a counterpart of Baal, which the Middle East Semites
claim patent right for and Bekerie seems to refute, is,
according to him, Ge’ez, on one hand, and is the
invention of the Abyssinian Orthodox Church, on the
30 Afr. J. Hist. Cult.
other, as observed in the banner “Ba’ala Igzia’bher or
God is Lord” (p.71). He has to defend himself because,
since time immemorial, the Oromo (Cush) peoples have
been instituting and practicing social praxis whose names
are very much connected to the radicals b-l- (or b-r-, w-lwith rhotacization and ablauting). Few examples can be
mentioned: the cosmogony (ßala, Wala-bú) and genesis
of Man (Ba), the cradle land of origin (Baaɭí, Baalee), the
genealogical lineage-formation (balbala), the solemnest
ritual of adoption of infants (baallii), the Gada ceremony
of power-handover after every 8-year (baalli) holding the
sacred, symbolic ostrich feather (baallii) or leaves of
sacred plants (baallii), and so forth (Hassen, 1990).
Beyond dogmatically and circularly defining “Ba’al is a
crucified God” (p.72), the author never explains the sociocultural meaning, generative mechanisms or the human
Somewhere in his book (pp. 97-98), Bekerie lists five
“principles of writing systems”, each of which he used to
justify the emergence and grandioseness of Ethiopic
system. Among them is that “writing is philosophy” and,
hence, a philosophical book was first written in “Ethiopian
classical writings.” According to him this book was
translated from Geez or Ethiopic into English by Willis
Budge, the London Museum guard, under the title “The
Life and Exploits of Alexander the Great.” Here comes
the argument. This writing is philosophical because
“Alexander the Great, the conqueror of Egypt and the
founder of Alexandria…and his deeds were glorified” by
church “scholars” and “philosophers” of “Ethiopia”.
This statement contains a very injurious sense, because, among the discourse community of African
scholars, the deadliest insult one can do to a (African)
person is to glorify Alexander of Macedonia as
“conqueror”, “great”, “founder”. On the one hand, this
amounts to thrashing ‘philosophy’. Philosophy is, rather,
a practice of advancing human “pulse of freedom”, to a
system where the flourish of each is (considered as) a
precondition for flourishment of all of us and all of us are
never free inasmuch as a single woman is enslaved for
freedom is, as Martin Luther King would say, indivisible.
On the other hand, Bekerie fails to understand that for
millions, Alexandar came as perpetrator of genocide and
looter of African documents of science and philosophy.
Did he conquer Egyptian to advance freedom? Perhaps,
it is him that not only interrupted African civilization ahead
of Europe, but also the one who reduced Africans to
today’s Third World. Simple questions for Bekerie: What
exactly is the meaning and purpose of philosophy? Who
are the Ethiopian “philosophers” or “scholars” who
accomplished Luther-King-like philosophy? History of
Ethiopia tells us that never in history was an Abyssinian
Orthodox priest preached love, equality, respect but hatred, ethnocentric stereotypes against ‘pagans’. In the
name of church and state, his ‘scholars’ and ‘philosophers’ only committed genocide alongside Abyssinian
“kings” like Minilik, Theodros and Yohannes.
Bekerieis is rather one-sided in selecting resources for
his argumentations. He could have been more sensitive
and inclusive to ‘non-Ethiosemitic’ texts for competing
theoretical concepts and arguments. He is totally fixated
on the spatiotemporally and epistemologically narrow,
monastic ‘scholarship’ which Legesse (2000), one of the
most respected and objective social scientists on East
and Horn of Africa, treated under “The Barriers in
Ethiopian Studies”. As a reader reads through and
through, it becomes clear that the ultimate goal of
Bekerie is to revitalize the dominance of “Amharic
Language” and the often repeated nonsense of “EthioSemitic” grand narratives (p.136). To disentangle it more,
Bekerie’s Ethiopic appears to be the last battle to save
the dominant mythocracy of the Abyssinian Orthodox
Christianity, the champion of “Ethiopic” and the Ethiopian
State, but a worldview that, in fact, disapproved
iconographic engravings and signs such as of Ethiopic as
“satanic” and “pagan” since its very inception in the A.D.
th century. Indeed, Bekerie (p.116), a subaltern scholar,
has speculated:
Western scholars’ consistent intent to exclude, without
any evidence, the [ancient] Ethiopic language as one of
the possible languages of [the ancient documents],
perhaps, suggests that the Ethiopic language is not part
of the Indo-Semitic languages…[rather it] is an African
language and thus it is not suitable within the hegemonic
paradigm of the western scholarship.
Nevertheless, without explicitly stating the owners his
statements like “the Ethiopic writing system [is linked] to
the material and historical reality or experience of the
people” (p.136) becomes an empty word display. If
Bekerie braves truth more, as he has begun it well, then,
he should agree with Houston (1926:17-18):
Stephanus of Byzantium, voicing the universal testi-mony
of antiquity wrote, ‘Ethiopia was the first esta-blished
country on earth and the Ethiopians were the first to set
up the worship of the gods and to establish laws.’ The
later ages gained from this ancient empire, the
fundamental principles upon which republican governments are founded. The basic stones of that wonderful
dominion were equality, temperance, industry, intelligence and justice…. The gods and goddesses of the
Greeks and Romans were but the borrowed kings and
queens of this Cushite Empire of Ethiopians.
The general aim of this paper is to critically analyze Dr.
Ayele Bekerie’s Ethiopic, an unusual book in the
historiography of Ethiopia, a historiography notoriously
known for fabricating and perpetuating fairy tales and
legends as “true history”. No question Bekerie is perhaps
the first historian to destabilize the myths built up for over
a century about the current Ethiopia. He sheds new light
on where to look for in our inquiry into socialphilosophical history of Ethiopia and especially for
students of (evolutionary) social semiotics mainly
because the Horn of Africa is, indeed, the epicenter of
origin of not just humanity but also civilization. Yet, if
Bekerie would have re-written or edited his book and
came up with ‘Ethiopic: Another stolen legacy of
Cushites’, modeling himself on the critical philosopher
George James (James, 1954), his book would have been
read as a truly Locational Model book. In only doing so—
that is, putting the transformative power of humans at the
centre–will his work be read as true ‘history’ instead of
the reified, peopleless ‘history’.
Further research would reveal whether Ethiopic is
different or just a gradual development out of its
precedents. Nonetheless, scholars are concordant on not
only African origin of social semiosis as social praxis
(representation, storage and reproduction of social
knowledge, including writing system, grammatology,
rhetoric, logic and mythology), but also origin of this in
African mythical metaphors as well. Therefore, how
different is Ethiopic system from the Ancient Black
Meroitic, Nubian, Egyptian, Zimbabwean social semiosis?
How different is the Ethiopic system from, to mention only
few: The prehistoric Konso, Tʔ
iya stone slab cultures of
storing their mythological, ancestral knowledge (Jensen,
1942)?; The pre-Egyptian Laga Oda, Laga Gafra on-rock
rhetorics (Červíček and Braukämper, 1975)?; The
ancient, paradigmatic and sophisticated (Oromo-Cush)
Gada system—cosmogonal, theological, genealogicalgenerational, sociopolitical, lunar-stellar calendrical
systems (Tablino, 1994; Legesse, 1973; Doyle, 1986;
Bassi, 1988)? Unfortunately, the vast majority of
documents on these civilizations have been written by
Eurocentric, colonial-mentality scholars who either saw
them from spatiotemporally narrow perspective or deAfricanized them or just ascribed them to imaginary
agents such as “Gudit”, “Harla”, “Belu”, etc (Červíček and
Braukämper, 1975:49). Apparently, these strange names
are the usual linguistic play through alchemy (deforming
Gada to “Gudit”) and rhotacization of the liquids /l/ and /r/
(hence, changing Bora and Harar, or related, to “Belu”
and “Harla”), for the principle of consonantal compatibility
restrictions in Afroasiatic phylum does not allow these
liquids to co-occur in base-words (Rowan, 2006).
Birbirso 31
Asante K (1992). ‘African American Studies: The Future of the
Discipline’. Black Scholar 22:20-29.
Aubin P (2003). ‘Evidence for an Early Nubian Dialect in Meroitic
Inscriptions’. Meroitic Newsletter, 30:15-39.
Bassi M (1988). ‘On the Borana Calendrical System: A Preliminary
Field Report’. Curr. Anthrop. 29/4:619-624.
Bekerie A (2004). ‘Ethiopica’. Int. J. Ethiopian Stud. 1(2):110-121.
Bernal M (1986). Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical
Civilization. Vol.1. London: Free Association Books.
Červíček P &Braukämper U (1975). ‘Rock Paintings of Laga Gafra
(Ethiopia)’. Paideuma 21:47-60.
De Salviac M (2005 [1901]). The Oromo: An ancient people of great
African nation. Paris: © Ayalew Kanno.
Diop AC (1975). The African Origin of Civilization. New Lawrence Hill &
Doyle L (1986).’The Borana Calendar Reinterpreted’. C

Racing The Jew: A Brief Exploration of the Zion concept and Black Jewishness

If racial differences are the effects of geography and isolation, civilization, on the other hand, seems to be a product of contact and communication. Every civilization, in extending the area of human intercourse, has invariably brought about new concentrations of population and a new intermingling of races.” – Race Relations and World Economy, pp 144 Race and Culture: Essays in the Sociology of Contemporary Man, Robert Ezra Park

I recently met a Black Jew of the Lemba ‘tribe’, while having a drink at Harare Rainbow Towers hotel. I had been there to purchase a ticket to watch a music concert show featuring Jamaican-American artists Morgan Heritage, Lutan Fyah and a plethora of local acts. After trying to secure a media-pass so that I would be able to secure good parking and a ‘good’ seat come the Saturday of the concert, I decided to go and relax at the foyer-cafe’. My phone was running out of battery and so ran out to my car to fetch a charger and adapter. Back in the cafe’ while looking for a table wherein I could sit and charge the phone nearby, I met a very tall, dark and corporate suited man who was also looking to charge his phone, we decided to sit together. I thought I would just continue reading my book while he also did his thing, afterall we were perfect strangers. It only took us a few minutes to ask each others names and as I usually do with Zimbabweans, I asked for his surname and his Totem. After he said his surname was Zhou, and his name was Paul. Now as an Afrikologist, I am always looking out for connections or interrelations between the large and diverse Afrikan family. Mr Zhou told me his totem and proceeded to explain that he is a member of the Black Jews and that the totem of the Elephant ( which also happens to be the clan-name and totem of both my paternal and maternal grandparents ) …is the originator of all the Tribes of Abantu as well as what is today known as Israelites.  Before our robust conversation was interrupted by his uncle who called him aside to speak to him until I left, Mr Zhou explained to me whence his people migrated from, he mentioned the so called Middle East, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Great Lakes region down to Mozambique, Malawi and a specific area in Zimbabwe. We spoke briefly about the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, the colour and racial mixtures of the people who occupy the land of Israel today. He spoke about a particular geneticist who has apparently proven that it is indeed the Jews of Afrikan descent who are the original stock or the ones who carry more than 65% of the DNA that is considered Judaic or Israelite. He also explained how and where his ancestors settled in Zimbabwe, in an area called Mberengwa, and how the head-chief or Mposi is anointed.

Needless to say, I have read plenty regarding this subject, but meeting a person who has a lived experience and extensive knowledge of self is rare. This historical reflection caused me to reconsider my present theories and beliefs regarding the matter of Jews, Judaism as well as some Christological and prophetic traditions in Afrika. My attitude towards Jews, although not antagonistic has been dismissive ever-since I began delving into what is called Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Afrikan Traditional Religion/Spirituality and my own inner journey through ancestry, AmaHubo and transcendental meditation. We cannot deny that we a complex lot as Black people, with much of our lives hidden in plain sight in our totems, gradually fading customs and transforming traditions. When Mr Zhou insists that the 12 Tribes of Israel emerged from the Great Elephant, I could not help thinking about my own ancestors, the Maseko, whose migrations from the central and northern parts of Afrika are not as well documented. I could not help thinking about the identity of the one ancestor called Ndlovu who is known as the progenitor of all the Ngcamane clans as well as many more others. While Afrikans are not a homogenous group, there are several studies and traces that confirm that we are a family that emerged from one Great Tree. Now, there is no denying that each clan, tribe and ‘nation’ practices different cultural rites and rituals but there are also many similarities and common archetypes. What has made the Israelite story so pervasive? One may offer that much of the proselytization and transfusion of the Abrahamic lore was effected through guileful and unjust means. This may be more true of Islam and Christianity, but the older of these is Judaism, the Zion philosophy. The Hebrew speaking people have been nomadic and migratory for many thousands of years. There are many contradictory and controversial theories regarding what the original home of the Jews is. Many would simply say, but that’s a no-brainer – Jerusalem in Palestine/Israel  is the homeland of the Israelite folk. But a clear and unbiased reading of even the Torah, the Bible or any other of those religious texts from that part of the world, reveals that the land that these people call home, was not truly theirs to begin with. But this is a subject for another day. We shall explore how both Jews, Egyptians, Babylonians/Iraqis and Iranians became Eurocentricised and Arabianised. We will also explore how certain parts of Northern and East Afrika are occupied by peoples who have a confused racial identity. This will not be just a discussion about race, but also about the persuasive power of words, images and propaganda.

To many Afrikans today, the God of the Hebrews, the Arabs and the Europeans is the primary source of all life. Very few Afrikans are left who remember how we worshipped the Creator during our days in Kemet, Kush-Meroe, Pre-Christian Ethiopia, Uganda, The Congo, Ile Ife, Cameroon and along our journeys along the Nile and the Zambezi. Most of us take it for-granted that our cultural institutions and practices were more Earth based and cosmically connected to the daily cycles of the heavenly bodies, rather than bookwise. Even though in Egypt/Kemet we had written works or books of instruction such as the Instruction of Ptahotep and many others, these were more like practical and proverbial moral admonitions rather than dogma. There was no one holy place but several sacred sites where everything was identified to its requisite spiritual power or Neter. These reflections caused me to question the efficacy of monotheism for Afrikans and the whole concept of Zion.

As a person who has practiced Rastafari livity for almost two decades, I too have been chanting about Zion, about the JAH or the Jews and the Yahweh and other religious artifacts of the Christian and Jewish kingdom. My whole family is into what they call “Kingdom Culture”, and the author of this is supposedly the God who is he creator of all the universe. But there are certain deep contradictions to this whole story of the Heavenly Father. We who are Afrocentric in our approach to divinity, cosmic harmony and social justice have serious misgivings about this monolithic heritage which although we have professed it for centuries, still find it rather contrived in many ways.

I will explain in part two.


Such and Suchness

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In his new book, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, Louis Chude-Sokei samples freely from history, music, literature and science, conjuring new meanings from dead texts, to build an echo chamber where the discourses of race and technology collide. At a time when automation threatens jobs and pits humans against machine and Artificial Intelligence systems manage financial markets, Chude-Sokei’s arkeological excavations reverberate through the future-present. In this conversation, he joins Kodwo Eshun and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom on a journey into science fiction and Afrofuturism that engages the intimate relations between black peoples and technology within the wider imperial histories of industrialisation and slavery.


“What then comes up for me in this conversation about the limits of the human is what constitutes the human, right? Because whenever you ask whether or not this is human or that is human, you’re actually asking “what is the human?” in the first place. Which is a question that we still don’t really know. The same thing when we talk about artificial intelligence. What artificial intelligence has taught us is that we don’t know what intelligence is. Whenever we encounter a machine, can it think? Does it have a soul? And then the question becomes: well, what is thinking? What is a soul? Are they human? Do they merely mimic us? Will they take over from us? Will they revolt? These same exact questions that were asked about slaves during slavery. This is not an accident. Things that seem accidental are not accidental at all. It’s a shared logic around a restrictive understanding of what constitutes the human. And that’s where blacks and robots and machines really come together – not just in a clever, theoretical formulation. It’s there in history. It’s why Robert Johnson wants to have sex with his phonograph.”

Read more from an edited transcript in The Chronic: The Invention of Zimbabwe.