Saturday, June 26, 2010

Arabs and Persians in Africa

If there be any reliable truth-telling society that can shed light on historical African social life prior to European incursion of Africa, a glimpse at past Arab and Persian chroniclers would without an iota of doubt prove remarkably useful. The Arabs have in their libraries vast array of materials of historical significance that has either been out-rightly rejected by the Europeans because of the profound impact they incur on African historical perspectives or said other way, because these materials continue to rot in libraries devoid of translations.

Arab proximity to African coastlines enabled Arab philosophers, historians, adventurers, religious scholars, traders, and seafarers to crisscross the Indian Ocean on dhows aided by the Indian Ocean seasonal monsoon winds. Likewise, Persians were the very people who preserved and translated the vast knowledge of Greek philosophy we cherish today so much so that the philosophical foundations we inherited from Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, Aristophanes, Thucydides, Anaximander, Plato and others serve actors in the governing of world democracies; they also remain the nerves behind the continuation of the much-admired theatrical performances seen the world over, and subjects of profound solace in global academia. Despite coming to Africa way after the Arabs and Persians had bonded with the mighty continent through concrete reciprocal friendship, later European travelers to Africa drew gloomy pictures about the people they interacted with and the lands they traversed regardless of being accorded outstanding reception.

Long before the birth of Christianity and long before the rise of the succession of Roman empires that came to wreck havoc in Asia Minor, Arabia, and northern Africa, a dedicated Greek mariner produced the useful historical document we know today as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. This internationally-acknowledged historical magnum opus details the existence of thriving cities and societies straddling the eastern and southern Africa coastlines with mention of commerce and trade and ocean mercantilism in the year 1 B.C. Similarly, in the 14th century, a Chinese navigator by the name Admiral Hwang Ho or Huang He, sailing on behalf of the king of imperial China, paid a courtesy call to Somalia’s coastline presumably landing either in Mogadishu, Berbera, or Zeila where he was given on his return voyage a giraffe as a gift by the sultan of Somalia at that time. The history of Arabs, Persians and other Asian societies most notably Polynesians plying the African coast long before Europeans mastered the art of sail-making, may not be taken lightly because the footprints these people left behind are quite visible to this day from further up north in Zeila in Somalia to further south in Sofala in Mozambique.

The Axumite Kingdom of Abyssinia
The current state of Ethiopia has seen dramatic historical experiences that stretch back to three-thousand years corresponding to the era of the Biblical Queen of Sheba who ruled ancient Yemen and King and Prophet Solomon whose reign encompassed a greater part of the Arabia landscape, the Levant, and parts of Asia Minor. Abyssinia (currently Ethiopia) enjoys historical significance such that its majesty in ancient architectural engineering is the envy of many past civilizations. With the ancient city of Axum or Aksum as the capital city of the Kingdom of Axum-a civilization that flourished in the current Tigrey region of Ethiopia from ca. 400 B.C. up until the 10th century-the eponymous kingdom of Axum had a strong naval and trading power that stretched to as far as modern-day Yemen in the Middle East right across the Gulf of Aden. Ancient Abyssinia was home to the renowned “Lucy”-a presumed hominid fossil who is a Gracile Australopithecines represented by bones from single skeleton-specimens discovered in Ethiopia’s Afar region. Ethiopia’s Afar region has long been an area famous for volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and blanketing lake sediments and slow accumulation of sediments.

The recent discovery of another skeleton thought to have died 4.4 million years ago-a fossil named Ardipithecus ramidus or in short “Ardi”-is estimated to be a million years older than the famous Lucy find of the 70s. Pioneered by the Middle Awash research project and co-directed by Tim White, a paleo-Anthropologist from the University of California at Berkeley and assisted by his Ethiopian colleagues Berhane Asfaw and Giday WoldeGabriel, the team believes that the Afar region of Ethiopia holds paleo-anthropological treasures.

With a long historical journey and many ruins comprising churches carved-out of mountains and steel structures dotting the countryside, undoubtedly, ancient Abyssinia was once a seat for mighty emperors who carried the ceremonial title “Ras” until the last ruling dynasty, Emperor Haile Selassie, was overthrown and murdered in cold blood in 1974 by a military committee known as the Derg that was led by Lieutenant Mengistu Haile Miriam. Colonel Mengistu, having himself been removed from power in 1991, is purportedly hiding in obscurity in Zimbabwe at the behest of authoritarian ruler Robert Mugabe. Among the most striking ancient structures remaining in modern-day Ethiopia include the monolithic obelisk that in the course of time collapsed and subsequently broke into three parts.

Ethiopia survived foreign manipulation for over 3,000 years especially the so-called Scramble for Africa until the Second World War when Italy’s fascist ruler Benito Mussolini occupied it for a few years despite bitter resistance that culminated in the defeat of the invading forces by Ethiopia’s combined local gallantry. Mussolini’s war with Ethiopia was to avenge the Battle of Adowa which took place in Abyssinia on March 1, 1896. It was Mussolini’s desire to revive an empire reminiscent of the Roman

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