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Ethiopia: Ancient Churches, Semitic Culture, and the Amharic Language
Paradise Lost  (Ethiopia)

Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country (after the independence of Eritrea in 1993) situated in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea on the north, Sudan in the west, Kenya in the south, Djibouti in the northeast, and Somalia in the east. The second-most populous African nation, Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in the world, and the only African nation to have enjoyed continuous sovereignty throughout and beyond the Scramble for Africa, excepting a brief occupation in World War II.  Often regarded as the "Cradle of Humanity" for the peerlessly ancient traces of humanity unearthed there, Ethiopia is also the second oldest Christian nation, having maintained its Christian character since the 4th century AD.

Historically an intersection of African and Middle Eastern civilizations[citation needed], Ethiopia has more recently become a crossroads of global international cooperation: it was a charter member of the League of Nations in 1923 and the Declaration by United Nations in 1942, founded the UN headquarters in Africa, was one of the 51 original members of the United Nations, and is currently the headquarters for and the main founder of the former Organisation of African Unity and current African Union.
Interesting Reading on Ethiopia



Paradise Lost   by Susan Scharfman

Travel to an African country that borders Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Eritrea can be dangerous to your health in more ways than one. But, if you're a skydiving, snowboarding, tomb raiding Indiana Jones kind 'a trekker, you might find Ethiopia just your cup of strong coffee.
Since the murder in 1975 of the emperor, strangled in the basement of his palace, Ethiopia has seesawed from absolute rule by a God-King, to Marxist/Military totalitarianism to the present Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia with a Constitution. Though tribal blood feuds do exist in parts of the country, the U.S. has an embassy in Addis Ababa, and you can check the State Department's travel alerts.

The Last Emperor
Now that you've packed and done your homework, you're ready to go. You've read that Ethiopia's history goes back to the dawn of man. Archaeologists have unearthed human remains that carbon-date 3.2 million years ago. I worked in the capital, Addis Ababa during the reign of Ethiopia's last emperor. 

A tiny man with a title larger than himself, "Emperor Haile Selassi I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, King of Kings of Ethiopia" proclaimed himself the direct descendant of Menilek I, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Girl Wearing Traditional Beads, Omo National Park, Ethiopia
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Each Christmas Day, the emperor opened his palace to foreign embassy bigwigs for tea and sweets while his pet lions strolled around the gardens. I got to go only because I was taking photos for an official brochure. Can you imagine tea with Haile Selassi? I lived near the palace and went to bed each night to the screech of peacocks and the roar of those noisy cats.
Mursi Woman with Lip-Plate, Mago National Park, South Omo, Ethiopia
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To experience the geological diversity of the land you only have to fly into the 8,000-foot high capital. The mountains and plateaus seem to rise up to meet you. Eucalyptus forests, high canyons, steep gorges, scrub desert and ice-cold lakes are secret untamed places for hikers, climbers and happy campers. You'll find yourself eating Injera and Wat with your fingers. Injera is baked from a sourdough batter and placed on your tabletop like a gigantic pancake. Wat is the stew that's served in the middle of the Injera. You tear off a piece of Injera and use it to scoop up the fiery stew (chicken, meat or vegetables). You don't want to find yourself on the other end of a meal. At the Sudanese border, the Baro River teems with crocodiles. Sadly, I lost a friend there. See

Hyena Man
Addis Ababa is home to Ethiopian Orthodox Churches, U.N. Economic Commission For Africa, museums and some modern hotels that did not exist when I rubbed elbows with the little king! Back then there were no streetlamps. After dark, hyenas skulked into the city scavenging for anything they could get their jaws around, garbage or human. There was a man, a prowler of shadows himself, who had a way with the nasty predators. 

Wandering the back alleys, he mysteriously lured the beasts to him and then out of town, kind of like a Pied Piper. We called him "the hyena man," and that is all we knew about him. Present day "entrepreneurs" have made the former event into a thriving business performed for tourists.
The Blue Nile Falls
We took off in a single engine Cessna T-210 from the ancient capital of Gondar heading for Bahir Dar and Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. In Ethiopia, everything was ancient, including the Cessna. A former Korean War Ace, Walt had been spraying malaria-infected areas for years. The Blue Nile, as opposed to the brownish White Nile in Egypt, gets its name from the waters of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, from whence the river flows to Khartoum and on into Egypt. Walt didn't fly over the falls; he practically flew into them. Swooping low on the first run, I nearly lost my breakfast, but I asked him to do it again for a closer shot. Staring up at me through the tree branches of the surrounding rainforest was the white-fringed face of a silky black and white long-tailed monkey. Hunted to near extinction for its beautiful coat, the Colobus Monkey, the only kind of its species without a thumb, is an endangered acrobatic marvel of grace and elegance.
Blue Nile Falls, Near Bahar Dar, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia
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Mist from the thundering waters creates a rainbow bridge to the sun. I was snapping photos when bullets began tearing through the fuselage, zapping Walt in his bottom. We couldn't see the shooters but we knew they wanted the Cessna. Despite terrible pain, the seasoned pilot wasn't going to let them have it. Shouting obscenities over my prayers, he managed to hold on to the faltering plane while the floorboards soaked up his blood. We arrived in Bahir Dar with Walt's pride as wounded as his anatomy. After medical attention and a few belts of Jack Daniels, the bush pilot was on cloud nine.

Rock Churches of Lalibela
Ethiopian Airways' hotshot pilots take off and land on postage stamp plateaus. A short flight from Addis is the tiny town of Lalibela whose airport terminal, in my time, was a tin roofed hut. Never mind. Hidden under ground are eleven monolithic churches carved from rock. Built in the thirteenth century, the churches are holy places of Ethiopian Christian pilgrimage. I had to crawl down into the subterranean spaces on my hands and knees. Once inside, I was in the Middle Ages. A priest with a torch stood in the darkness guarding an altar and religious wall paintings. He looked like he'd been standing there for 500 years! Monks tell you the Ark of the Covenant is similarly hidden in a monastery in the ancient city of Axum, where Queen Sheba stayed in the 10th century B.C. Someone should tell Steven Spielberg.



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Ethiopia: Ancient Churches, Semitic Culture, and the Amharic Language  by Jacob Lumbroso
In the 1980s Ethiopia was largely known in the international press for two reasons. The first was the tragic famine that occurred in 1984-1985. The second,  was the first exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1984 and subsequently followed by a second exodus in 1991.

Ethiopia however, is probably known for its historic place in early Christianity. The town of Lalibela, for example,  is among Ethiopia's holy cities and is renown for a series of beautifully constructed rock-hewn churches. As a sacred site, Lalibela is second only to the city of Askum.  The most famous of these churches is Bete Giryorgis.
Debre Birhan Sellassie Church, Gondar, Amhara, Ethiopia
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The overwhelming majority of the population are members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and of Amhara ethnicity. The layout of Lalibela is argued to reflect that of buildings in Jerusalem. This is partly attributable to the residence of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela in Jerusalem in his youth.  Gebre eventually rose to rule Ethiopia in the late 12th and 13th centuries CE.

The fall of Jerusalem to Muslims in 1187, is the second reason that Lalibela reflects patterns of Jerusalem. Biblical names are found throughout the region. The first European to see these churches was the Portuguese explorer Pêro da Covilhã  followed by the explorer Franscisco Alvares in the 1520s. Roughly three hundred years passed until Gerhard Rohlfs, another European explorer visited Lalibela somewhere between 1865 and 1870.

Lalibela is home to 12 rock-hewn churches. They include Bete Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross,  Bete Maryam, Bete Golgotha (known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela), the Selassie Chapel, the Tomb of Adam, Bete Giyorgis, arguably the best preserved church, Bete Amanuel, Bete Merkorios, Bete Abba Libanos and Bete Gabriel-Rufael.

The Ethiopian connections with Jerusalem and Semitic culture are further highlighted when remembering that Semitic languages, of which Amharic is one, represent a family of languages spoken by more than 300 million people across the Middle East, North Africa, and the horn of Africa. After Arabic, Amharic is the second most spoken Semitic language in the world.

The Amharic language is spoken by the Amhara, an ethnic group in the central highlands of Ethiopia. The Amhara comprise approximately 30 percent of the population, with about 27 million speakers. An additional 7-15 million people speak it as a second language. It has been the working language of government institutions, the military, and of the Ethiopic Orthodox church.

In addition to Ethiopia, Amharic is also the language of some 2.7 million emigrants. The largest population of émigrés live in Egypt, Israel, and Sweden.

Increasing numbers of Ethiopians and Eritreans have also emigrated to the United States. The Amharic language is also spoken in Eritrea by some Eritreans as a vestige of past years when Eritrea was part of the Ethiopia.


About the Author:- Jacob Lumbroso is a world traveler and an enthusiast for foreign languages, history, and foreign cultures. He writes articles on history and languages for and has used Pimsleur courses to learn various languages.

Angola - Botswana - Burkina Faso - Cameroon - Congo - Eritrea - Ethiopia - Gabon - Gambia
Ghana - Ivory Coast - Kenya - Lesotho - Madagascar - Malawi - Mauritius - Mozambique
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