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Posts Tagged ‘Abyssinia’

The Real Middle-earth: Ethiopian Origin of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on January 12, 2014

Rohan = Roha

Gondor = Gondar

Harad = Harar

My Note: this is a re-blogged book review of Michael Muhling’s “The Real Middle-earth – a new book on J. R. R.Tolkien’s inspiration for ‘Middle-earth.’ According to the author striking similarities are to be found between the real historical world of Ethiopia and the major elements that form the backbone of Tolkien’s novel. I’m very curios to find out from the book why we were not able to know about these similarities up until now. Let’s be serious here, we’re not talking about some no-name novel or book, rather about the most popular book of the current era that has changed the world of fantasy, having sold more than 100 million copies and given birth to countless fans over multiple generations. The movie adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” became a massive fan and critical hit, earning altogether nearly $3 billion, more than 250 film awards (including 17 Oscars) and being hailed as the greatest film trilogy of this generation.


Back to the great review:

real-middle-earthI was privileged enough to be approached by author Michael Muhling and asked to do a review of his new book on Tolkien’s inspiration for Middle-earth. I jumped at the opportunity and after having read the work, I can now share my thoughts on it here.

The Real Middle-earth: Discovering the Origin of The Lord of the Rings, by Michael Muhling is an in-depth analysis into the history and central figures of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia); reflecting on these aspects as being a possible source of inspiration for the major locations, cultures (and characters) in The Lord of the Rings.

At first glance, the topic may strike an unaware reader as odd or out of context. Indeed, after so many years of research and analyses on one of the most famous and important works of the 20th Century, a completely new insight might seem daunting to tackle at first – or even to accept.

We’ve already been exposed to a wealth of other works, going over in detail every nut and bolt of Tolkien’s massive narrative – but finally, something fresh and new emerges from the rest.

Once you delve into the book and begin to see striking connections and similarities, Mr.Muhling’s “Abyssinia Theory” will make its way to being amongst the other Tolkien-centric reflective works.

Mr. Muhling introduces his book by laying out all the known sources (confirmed or speculated) that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create his Secondary World.

You may all have read or heard about Tolkien’s encounter with a tarantula as being a possible influence for creating Shelob; or the strong impact of Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon world in bringing to life the culture of Rohan …

The Real Middle-earth explores all these sources of inspiration in its introduction, paving the way towards the primary goal of the book: how Abyissinia may have inspired Tolkien in writing The Lord of the Rings.

Readers are also introduced to some of the issues concerning news-reporting of the African Continent to Europe – during the first half of the 20th Century. Mr.Muhling cleverly places the central events surrounding Abyssinia during the 1930s, and how Tolkien (at that time already a professor at Oxford University), would easily have had access to the evolving situations of this country.

As it progresses, the main bulk of the book concentrates on some of the most important Middle-earth habitats: Númenor/Gondor, Rohan, Mordor, Isengard, Harad & Rhûn. Carefully dissecting each of these locations – their histories, way of life, conflicts – and examining the historical events (and major figures) of Abyssinia, Michael Muhling provides us with a fascinating journey into the striking similarities to be found between the real historical world of Ethiopia and the major elements that form the backbone of Tolkien’s novel.

TsadeqeMariyamBut the author is quick to note, before embarking on his analyses, that nothing has been (or can be) confirmed as fact when it comes to Tolkien’s sources of inspiration.

Rather, he suggests that these influences may have been part of the author’s own unconscious – his recollections of the events happening at that time in Ethiopia, which may have “seeped through” and provided the basis for many important aspects in The Lord of the Rings.

That said, it would be good for a reader to give this book a broad-minded approach – not expecting to find every possible intricacy from Middle-earth to be an exact copy of Abyssinia’s past. Indeed, as much as Mr. Muhling’s arguments are remarkable in their close connection to Tolkien’s writings, certain aspects of these comparisons naturally pass as a ‘possible speculation’ – rather than a definitive argument.

Nevertheless, the contents of the book are as worthy as any other researched book – on par with other, more famous works written by renowned Tolkien scholars. The Real Middle-earth promises to become another piece of the puzzle in unlocking one of the primary mysteries for the author’s inspirations. The book taps into a source of knowledge yet to be fully embraced by the Tolkien fandom and accepted as another piece of accompanying literature to the novel itself.

Mr. Muhling also delves into the striking linguistic similarities between place names: Rohan/Roha, Gondor/Gondar, Harad/Harar – among others. Furthermore, readers are informed of the complex and detailed history of Abyssinia and its major historical figures which may have been an inspiration for primary characters in The Lord of the Rings, such as a possible figure for Gandalf or the Nine Saints of Abyssinia as the Five Istari Wizards.

The book goes so far in fleshing out the remarkable connections of the Númenórean/Gondorian lineage and its close associations to those of Abyssinia itself.

Suffice to say, many of the connections and similarities are astonishing – making us wonder why no one has ever brought these ideas to light before (to which the author also dedicates the last chapter of his book in an attempt to answer this question: “Why Didn’t We Know About It?”).

The book is very easily accessible, flowing cohesively from one subject to the next; at the same time, Mr. Muhling provides, when required, the necessary background information on Abyssinia before tackling another comparison.

If, like me, you’re deeply interested in anything by and about Tolkien, I strongly recommend you read this book. Apart from exposing yourself to a new, fascinating theory on Middle-earth’s source of inspiration, you will also gain access to a country’s rich history – which has, as of yet, remained undiscovered by many people around the world.



Posted in Ethiopia | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Emperor Menelek Wasn’t Barbarian

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on October 17, 2009

The following amazing article was written and published by the World’s best Newspaper, by the New York Times, 113 years ago, on May 4, 1896


Origin of Monastic Live – Africa. Not so Dark After All – Emperor Menelek’s Descent from Sheba—Priests Can Divorce—The Problem in the Soudan—Many of the Monasteries Said to Possess Valuable Documents and Manuscripts.

Christendom has a deeper interest in Abyssinia and its remarkable monarch, Emperor Menelek, than the world at large has stopped to consider. It is not the fate of the Italian Army nor the march of the British toward the Soudan that attracts thinking people. It is the general focusing of the world’s lenses upon that part of the globe which was literally the cradle of culture and of Christianity.

It has been the vogue to speak of Africa as a “dark continent.” a God-forsaken and debauched region. There has been some foundation—nay, one had almost said positive justification—for this practice because among the wild and untamed tribes of Central Africa and the inhabitants of the South and West all the excesses of debased carnalism prevailed.

Not so, however, in Abyssinia has this been the case, despite the habitudes of sensational correspondents and those who were part of or accompanied besieging and invading European armies. Abyssinia/Ethiopia and Egypt have been and still continue to be the repositories of the relics and treasures of a wondrous civilization, a grandeur, learning, and culture to which modern historians referentially defer and point with reverential awe.

If the wars which have begun in Africa, particularly in that region of which Ethiopia is part, reveal the treasures hidden in the monasteries of the Coptic monks and the monophysite priests, they will be a blessing to Christianity, science, and progressive civilization.

Emperor Menelek has been regarded as a “barbarian” by Europeans, who seem to have adopted the term with even less justification for it than had the Roman people when they applied it to all other races on earth. But when this “barbarian” is investigated he turns out to be by birth and possibilities very much of a gentleman of lofty lineage and invaluable possessions. He rules to-day a country of about 100,000 square miles, inhabited by 5,000,000 persons, whose forefathers were believed to be the oldest and greatest people known to history. They are divided into three great subdivisions of the whole: First, the Ethiopians of Tigré, who speak the ancient Geez language; second the Amharic tribes, living in Amhara and Shoa, and, third, the Agows of Wag Lasta, said to be of Phoenician origin. There are also the Gallas, who settled in Amhara and Shoa.

It must be admitted that the frequent civil wars brutalized and depraved these people by engendering evils and vices and by destroying the literature that once belonged to Abyssinia and which tradition tells us was important and extensive. Abyssinia is situated between latitudes 8 degrees 30 minutes and 16 degrees 80 minutes north, and between longitudes 34 degrees 20 minutes and 43 degrees 20 minutes east. It is bounded north and northwest by Nubia and south and east by Galla and Somali and Adal. Its topography may be described as elevated table land and extensive valleys, and it has many thriving cities. So much for the geographical summary of Emperor Menelek’s dominions. Of its relations to Christianity and the world’s early greatness a few words of description will be interesting.

Menelek claims to be a direct descendant from the Queen of Sheba and her son Menelek, whose father was said to be Solomon, and the legendary lore of this part of Africa says that the first Menelek was a Jew and was educated by the wise King himself. Be this as it may, the present Menelek is a wise man, and is bent on being classified by his European cousins as their peer—a potentate of common sense and progressive, of longer descent and loftier lineage—prepared to take his place among them for the benefit of his people and humanity. He wishes to belong to the Geneva Convention, and it is asserted that he stands ready to throw open the innermost recesses of his kingdom and its monasteries to the properly accredited explorer.

There should be plenty to repay research of this character in a land so wealthy in Biblical tradition, and where stands the oldest temples and religious edifices. In Axum, the city of the Queen of Sheba, there stands a cathedral to-day as old as Christianity itself. If historians are to be believed.

Coptic Christianity was and is the religion of the people. There are, of course, many Mohammedans and Jews. The first apostle of Christianity in Abyssinia chroniclers claim to have been the Chamberlain of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, whose baptism is recorded in Acts Vll., 27. But Frementius and Adesius of Tyre were slaves to the King of Abyssinia, and on his death the former became tutor to the hereditary Princes, and Adesius went back to Tyre. This was in A.D. 320, and Frementius formed a Christian Church among the Greek and Roman merchants in Axum. He then went to Alexandria and was consecrated by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. The King was baptized and Axum became the See of a Metropolitan, with seven suffragans. In the fifth and sixth centuries the monophysites controlled the patriarchal See of Alexandria.

Subsequent to this Christianity spread over Nubia and Abyssinia and continued to spread until the Mohammedans overran the country and planted the faith of Moslem wherever they appeared. Through the frightful days of the seventeenth century Abyssinia remained faithful in a large sense to Christianity, and Rome, through the Portuguese, made vigorous efforts to bring the Abyssinian Christians beneath the Papal rule. The effort was not successful for any length of time any more than was the effort to establish the Anglican Church there when Andraos was consecrated Abuna, or Metropolitan, of Abyssinia by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, in 1841.

The Church has always been monophysitic and has many peculiar features in its ritual; the Jewish Sabbath was observed as well as the Christian; circumcision preceded baptism; dancing was in the services just as it was in the Jewish Temple; baptism among the Coptic Christians was by immersion, and communion was administered daily to the laity.

The Church is a monastic Church. The beginning of the monastic life was in the deserts of Egypt, and the Coptic Christians gave the impulse to the development of Christian asceticism, which later resulted in monasteries and convents. The most celebrated convents in Abyssinia are Debra Libanos, in Sliso; St. Stephen, on Lake Haik; Debra Denus and Axum Thion, in Tigré, and Lahbela, in Lasta.

Each Church has a Tabot, or ark of the Covenant, behind the curtain of is own holy of holies, which may have lent some color to the tradition that the Ark of the Covenant from the Temple had been transferred for safety to Axum by the early Menelik when it was imperiled. But, as Mr. Kipling points out, “that is another story.”

At present this article’s purpose is to show that this “barbarian” Menelek is not such a barbarian after all, and that he really may be, and very likely is, the custodian of the archives and secrets of the earliest Christians and the orthodox Jews. One thing is quite certain. It is that the Coptic Christians were the first of great Christians, and that Africa was not so dark a continent then as people imagine. The Copts were the principal sect of Christians in the Valley of the Nile, and were and still are descendants of the inhabitants of Egypt in the days of the Ptolemies. There is ancestral greatness.

A few additional peculiarities in Abyssinian Christianity are worthy of note. Priests have power to divorce, and a married man can cast his matrimonial gyves and throw the support of his children on to his wife’s shoulders by becoming a monk. The Bible is in eighty-one books and is written in the ancient language of Axum, and contains the Roman Catholic canon and many other books.

Thus it will be seen that Christendom, through these wars and strifes now raging in the Valley of the Nile, may acquire information hitherto hidden from all but Abyssinian and Coptic fanatics’ eyes for centuries.

It is asserted that in many of the monasteries valuable documents and manuscripts have been saved for ages, just as were manuscripts in the Middle Ages in Europe. It has even been suggested and published that tomes, parchments, and volumes believed to have perished with the library at Alexandria were in reality secreted in Coptic convents and sanctuaries throughout Ethiopia, Abyssinia and Nubia to be resurrected shortly by means of these bitter conflicts and annihilation of armies.

Abyssinia and Ethiopia – once the Ethiopian Empire – are repositories of secrets vital to history and to progress. Shall they be revealed by force of arms or by moral suasion and courtesy to a monarch who has hitherto been proclaimed a “barbarian”?


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The Antiquity, Origin, and Religion of the Abyssinian Race

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on May 17, 2009

Children of God


According to an Ethiopian legend, God molded the first humans from clay. He put the first batch in an oven to bake, but left them there too long, and they emerged burned and black, so he threw them away to the southern part of Africa. He took the second batch from the oven too soon, and they were pasty and white, so he threw them northward, where they became the Arab and European populations. The third and final batch was just right, and God put them in Ethiopia.

May be, may be not – but certain is: Ethiopians could trace back their genealogy to all the three Biblical Fathers – Shem, Ham & Japhet. That means, populations that belong to the so-called, Black, White and Yellow human races are all children of the Ethiopians.

The following amazing article was written 113 years ago…

The Most Gifted of Africans The New York Times  Published: April 19, 1896

The experience of the Italians during the past few years with the Abyssinians has shown beyond doubt that these mountaineers of “the Switzerland of Africa” are decidedly a superior race to the other peoples of the Dark Continent with whom the Europeans have come in contact in their colonization and partition schemes. To a great extent this superiority is the result of their origin and pedigree. Although the modern representatives of the Ethiopians of myth and history, they are in reality not Ethiopians at all. They are not black, but are of Caucasian descent as pure as the Anglo-Saxon or the Celt. Language and physiology stamp them as members of the Semitic race, and, consequently, as kindred peoples to the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Arabs, the Syrians, the Jews and other history-making nations of antiquity. To call them Ethiopians in the sense of blacks is a singular misnomer, originating probably in the fact that, being the only African people except the Egyptians known at an early date to the Greek-Latin literature, the term “Ethiopian” gradually was used to designate all Africans, and is now the national name for that very people who, almost alone on the entire continent of Africa, do not belong to the Negro race.

In truth, the Abyssinians are not originally an African race at all. Their earliest traditions point to Southern Arabia as their original seat, and by a singular piece of good fortune, the German traveler, Edward Glaser, who has made four scientific journeys to Southern Arabia, hitherto never explored, has found there the indubitable evidences of the existence of the Abyssinian people in those districts before the days of Christ. In close connection with this is the other discovery that at that time there existed in Southern Arabia a mighty Sabaean Kingdom, and Prof, Sayce declares that on the basis of these finds the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon in Jerusalem was, historically considered, “the most natural thing in the world.” Of this the Abyssinians have retained a very clear tradition. The present line of Kings claims to be descended from King Solomon by a son born to him by the Queen of Sheba, which son bore the same name. Menelik, as that in which the present ruler of Abyssinia glories. The royal house of Abyssinia can trace its lineage through a long list of generations without any break to Menelik, the son of Solomon. To doubt this descent of an Abyssinian King is equivalent to treason, and the literature on the subject is abundant.

The early connection of the Abyssinians with their kindred people of the Semitic family is also indicated by the presence in their midst of a unique semi-Helot race, numbering perhaps 500,000, and commonly known as the “Falashas” or Black Jews. They are Jewish in descent and religion, adhering only to the tenets and teachings of the Old Testament, while the Ethiopians or Abyssinians themselves are Christians. It is an old tradition, sustained and supported by some remarkable facts, that the Abyssinians were themselves first converted to Judaism and then to Christianity, and that the Falashas constitute that portion of the race which refused to accept the teachings of the Christian Church. Certain it is that the Abyssinian faith presents a somewhat odd conglomeration of Jewish and Christian elements. Thus, they still practice circumcision, although they have accepted baptism: they observe the seventh day as well as the first; the number and manner of their fasts are decidedly Jewish, and in many other ways they show traits peculiar to the Jewish faith.

They themselves, by their very name, indicate how strong a feeling of their origin is still present with them. The name “Abyssinians” they utterly despise as a term, meaning in the Arabic, a mixed or mongrel people, which has been given by their enemies. They themselves adopt the historic name of “Ethiopians,” or, still better, the native name of “Geez”. The term, “Geez”, while originally meaning almost the same as the word “Hebrews” – those who crossed over-is generally employed in a later sense of “Freedmen.” By this term the people designate themselves, as did the “Franks” of the Middle Ages, as “a people of freedmen.”

In more than one respect the Abyssinians are a unique people. Their physical and mental peculiarities, chiefly their language, mark them as a purely Semitic people, the only people of that family which, as a nation, settled and worked out its historical mission on the Dark Continent. In their history, religion, and literature they have been practically uninfluenced by the Hamitic people around them, including the oldest representatives of civilization on the African continent, the Egyptian. To all intents and purposes the history of the Abyssinian people, as far as this can be traced in their literature, is a chapter in church history, and that, too, an interesting chapter.

The civilization and culture of Abyssinia is practically a product of the Greek Church life of the fifth century. Converted to Christianity in that period of great theological and christological controversies, the Abyssinians took part in the discussions of the day, and with the decision of the Synod of Chalcedon in 451 A. D., condening Monophysitism, or the doctrine that Christ had but one will and not two, severed its connection with the Church at large, and voluntarily entered upon a period of isolation that lasted for an entire millennium, as Abyssinia did not come into touch and tone with the civilization of the world again until rediscovered by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. Only in undefined story as the country of the “Presbyter John” was an uncertain report of the existence of an African Christian nation spread in the Europe of the Middle Ages. For to the voluntary isolation came enforced separation, when in the seventh and eighth centuries the Mohammedan hosts conquered Egypt and vainly tried to overpower the Abyssinians. It is ever to the historic credit of these sturdy mountaineers that for a thousand years they hve been able to maintain their own independence and national individuality against the fanatical hordes that overran Southeastern Europe to the very walls of Vienna and Southwestern Europe almost to the Rhine. But he Califs and the Weziri, by the conquest of Egypt, drove in a wedge between Abyssinia and the rest of Christianity that separated them as though they belonged to different worlds.

From historic factors and forces like these only one result could come, and that was the petrification of thought and life in the Abyssinian people and Church. Substantially in their faith, services, liturgies, thought, and life, with the native conservative tendency so pronounced in the Semitic peoples, in Abyssinians we have a petrification and stereotyped formalism of the Greek Christian culture of the fifth century. But during this time this “hermit nation of Africa” has preserved a treasury of Christian works,lost largely to Greco-Latin literature, and which is now invaluable.

Ethiopic literature is comparatively large, but also either directly Christian or written under the spell of Christianity. It is almost entirely a literature of translations, first from the Greek, and then later from the Arabic and Coptic. Whether the Christianity or the civilization of Menelik’s people could be rejuvenated is something that only a prophet or a prophet’s son could foretell. The efforts of Protestant and of Roman Catholic missionaries in this direction have been carried on for half a century without tangible results, except among the Falashas. Possibly if other methods or agencies were applied, better success could be reported. Certain it is that of all the nations of Africa, the Ethiopians or Abyssinians are by descent and natural endowments the most gifted on the continent.


Posted in Ethiopia | Tagged: , , , | 23 Comments »

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