By Paulos Milkias
In my book review of Dr. Fikre Tolosa’s published work, I asked proof for 13 questions regarding its conclusions but not a single proof of scientific nature was presented in his last posting. Instead of taking responsibility for the sources he uses, Dr. Fikre strangely tries to pass the buck. After all, isn’t it his duty to render iron-clad proofs for what he claims to be historical facts?
All I asked for is present plausible proofs. Dr. Fikre points to the 45 references he has listed at the end of his books as researched proofs. He says: “I didn’t make up the Ethiopian history I enshrined in my book. I used literature available on the book market, which can be easily verified, as I have listed them as bibliography.” Unfortunately, far from being reliable proofs many of the sources in the bibliography are suspect. Actually, I will add five more statements of his and ask if he can provide reliable proofs for them too. One concerns the statement he makes that “God ordered Melchizedek to send his son Ethel who was named …Ethiop later on by God, to go and settle in Ethiopia at the islands of Lake Tana.” Second he says “the Amara and the Oromo are the descendants of one man – Melchizedek, King of Salem the highest priest of God on Earth, founder of Jerusalem to whom Abraham and other kings bowed and paid tithes to receive his blessings.” Third he says: “The Agazi, tribe [those who spoke Ge’ez] who were brought from Gaaza (here enter the Palestinians!) by Menelik I fought for him when Ethiopian tribes warred against him, treating him as a Jewish “keles” [Interesting that they would use such Amharic pejoratives 3,000 years ago!] And fourth, he says: “Ethel went to Ethiopia and settled in what is today known as Gojam; God changed his name from Ethel to “Ethiop” meaning ‘the gift of yellow gold to God’; thus, not only Ethel became Ethiop, but the land in which he settled also started to be called “Ethiopia”; He mentions 9 children born to him by name one of them being Tola and adds the comment, “by the way, the name of my uncle, the brother of my father Tolossa, was Tola.)” Dr. Fikre: Congrats for finding a name sake for your uncle but do you really consider what are quoted above as historical facts? Or are these passages from the scriptures or other religious works? You see, your work is not history at all; it is a melange of religion and mythology. If not, prove otherwise.
Regarding the manuscript, Metsehafe Djan Shewa, you wrote “as for bequeathing the ancient manuscripts found at Jebel Nuba to the Ethiopian National Museum, their discoverer is willing to do so, if Dr. Paulos can guarantee their safety.” Please note that I shall make sure that the Ethiopian National Museum would give it the same protection it gives to the fossil of Dinkinesh (aka Lucy.) I shall also make sure that a specialist scholar examine the integrity of the manuscript and the whole story behind it because my enquiry to the Nubian antiquities has yielded a negative response. They say that they have never heard of the discovery of a manuscript called Metsehafe Djan Shewa in Gebel Nuba (Nuba Mountains) or any other locality in Sudan or the Aswan region of Egypt.
I am far from suggesting that Meriras’ manuscript is fake. Far from it. In fact I would be the first person to root for it if passes the specialists’ tests with regard to the time and place it was discovered, that its dating is ascertained to be of the said time by the characters used in the Ge’ez syllabary it was written in, that the materials used in the manuscript date to the period it is said to have been inscribed, and that UNESCO has a record of this major finding and its location at present.
Why worry about the integrity of the manuscript? Consider the following example: In 1983, it was announced that “Hitler’s Diary” covering the years from 1932 to 1945 was discovered and was subsequently hailed by major world media as the most important historical find of the time. But in less than 15 days, it was announced that specialists had proved it to be fake. It was found that some of the materials used to make them were not invented until after the demise of Hitler, and that modern optical brighteners were noticed in the paper when the pages were examined under ultraviolet light. Furthermore, when samples of the binding of the diaries were inspected under polarized light microscope, it was determined that they contained modern synthetic substances. Therefore, I only want this manuscript to pass the scrutiny of other manuscripts of similar importance to merit quoting as a reliable source.
You ask how history can be science. Yes, it is science for it lends itself like all other social science disciplines to rigorous human effort to comprehend the history of the natural world and the way in which the natural world functioned in the past with reliable evidence as the basis of that understanding. Science varies from religion or mythical lore in that it has an exit clause for its propositions. If evidence or a set of data cannot support their postulate or if they do not correspond closely with the conjectures that they have come up with, scientists alter their views completely. It is this methodological commitment to accepting the implications of evidence that is consistent with the suppositions or to rejecting one that is contradictory to it that forms the foundation of social science enquiry.
Indeed, there is a striking contrast to verifiable history on the one hand which, in Aristotelian syllogism can be arrived at through inductive logic and religion or mythical lore which are based on blind belief or faith which lend themselves only to deductive logic – the kind that Dr. Fikre presently expounds? Simply put, one may be forced to ask where one can find comparable methodology that scientists depend on in religious dogma or mythological tales like that of Dr. Fire’s? The obvious answer is that there is none whatsoever. So, Dr. Fikre is wallowing like Alice in wonderland where reality is distorted and nothing can be proved to be trustworthy deductively. In a major twist of logic, Dr. Fikre says: it is absurd to characterize historical evidences as “scientific” and then claims he has presented a scientific proof. His statements hare are clearly self-contradictory and paradoxical.
One should keep in mind that researching the past is not just a blind pursuit of forgotten people and events surrounding them. Researching the past should withstand the tests of rigour and an iron clad backing of reason, a rebuttal of myth, a way of looking at the past with the same exactitude that we require when we analyze present political figures and events. A scholarly book is only as good as the sources used. It must be based on trustworthy, academic sources. A scholar’s major responsibility in eliciting scientific results is to fathom the variance between fact and fiction as well as differentiating reliable from unreliable sources. Far from being scientific, D. Fikre sources are terribly weak (among the 45 references he proudly quotes as his scientific proofs, for example, there is Wikipedia that anybody can write and anybody else can edit.) So, the burden of proof still lies with him.
Instead of scientifically proving a point and building a rigorous argument, Dr. Fikre uses an appeal to popular assent through the mechanism of arousing positive feelings and enthusiasm of a multitude. This however is committing the fallacy of Argumentum ad Populum. In the author’s view, as long as the majority of people do not question the proposition and are happy with it no matter its validity, the points paraded as fact must be accepted as a truism; fatal error in reasoning. For example, prior to Copernicus and Galileo Galilei, religious leaders taught people to accept the idea that the Earth which is flat is stationary and is at the centre of the universe and that the Sun goes around it as it seems to our senses that is why in religious parables, Joshua was said to have succeeded to supplicate and get the permission of God to stop the sun and when on the orders of God, the sun stood still, the people of Israel had revenge that they wanted on their enemies. One can easily assume that over 90% of the people at that time believed in this theory and were happy with it. But that majority belief didn’t mean the earth really was flat or the sun went around the earth. So, people being happy with Dr. Fikre’s propositions does not make the fabricated explanation in his book valid.
Dr. Fikre says that scholars have considered the appearance of his book as a milestone. In fact he has the audacity to claim that “genuine scholars” have reacted to his book as “a paradigm shift in Ethiopian history.” Are you serious? If indeed anybody has called it a paradigm shift, then it is a “paradigm shift from history to fiction.” I challenge him to find any support for his ideas from well-known Ethiopian historians including Profs. Bahru Zewde, Messay Kebede, Getachew Haile, Tesema Taa, Mohamed Hassan, and Bahru Tafla among others. I, at the same time, invite them to break their silence and comment on the matter at hand. It is their responsibility too.
*Dr. Fikre revels at what he says is the success of his book, in achieving its goal that the Oromo and Amara in particular “demonstrate a stronger sense of understanding, peace and love towards each other ever since the release of my book.” He claims that the book has a mission of “healing their soul” which he asserts it did. He claims that his monograph rectifies the ills of identity crises and dispels misunderstanding. In that sense then, over all, Dr. Fikre’s book is not a book of history but rather a book in the genre of Ethiopian Debteras’ ልሳነ ሰብ and ሐፁረ መስቀል that are supposed to protect people against malevolence and provide them with peace and love towards one another and ልፋፈ ጽድቅ that is supposed to have the power to protect their soul. In fact I would not be surprised if he entertains the ambition to get the present book or its planned sequel inscribed on Debtera magic scrolls so that the Ethiopian people can hang them on their necks like ጠልሰም for protection against all adverse episodes. One way or another that is where the genre of Dr. Fikre’s book belongs not in the genre of Ethiopian historical scholarship.
* Dr. Fikre claims that I have lived outside Ethiopia for ages and am far removed from the present reality in Ethiopia. To put the record straight even though, I have been away from my country for many years, as I think he did, I have taught and done research there since 1998 when I was sent by the United Nations to teach at Addis Ababa University as visiting professor. I have also been assigned under the auspices of the Swedish government to teach at the same university as visiting professor in 2011. Furthermore, I have been invited by Addis Ababa university to participate in the development of its graduate programme with many gifted Ethiopian scholars at home and from around the world. And there were times when the university paid my expenses to travel to Addis Ababa to evaluate Ph.D. graduates in political science. For the last 20 years, I have conducted a lot of research funded by my university in Ethiopia. To fulfil the purpose, I have gone to Ethiopia for a minimum of 3 months every year and in 2016, I was in Addis for four months where I presented a paper at Western Michigan University sponsored conference at Addis Ababa University and was actually discussing research work at the Forum for Social Studies with Prof. Bahru Zewde, the time Dr. Fikre was conducting his book signing. So, I am not as far away from the reality in my country any more than he does.
As for my advice to our young and burgeoning scholars not to quote from your book, yes, I have decided to be paternalistic by choice in order to protect them against being victims of false information. I have not been a teacher for so many decades to shirk my pedagogical responsibilities at this stage. When I speak of teaching mark that I am talking of teaching in any area. Let us say, for example that you are a driving teacher. As a driving teacher, don’t you train your students to guard against road hazards? If you don’t, then you do not only harm your clients who might get into trouble, you also harm your reputation as driving instructor. Another example of responsibility: my late Somali friend, Prof. Said Samatar of Rutgers University used to insist that we, Ethiopian educators should try hard to stop our youth from chewing qat which, he used to say, has already destroyed the brains of many Somali men and women. In Ethiopia because such precaution was not taken by educators, there are already multitudes of people whose brain wiring has been damaged and have slowly degenerated into schizophrenics and are wreaking havoc. Such people do not realize this because they live in an entirely different world, a world of illusions where they hear voices. Scientific studies also show that chewing qat may also lead to brain cancer as happened in one celebrity case in Ethiopia whom I would leave the readers to figure out. We, as educators should work hard go guard our youth against such dangers as well as against false information. It is our duty to do so.
Indeed, one has to give warnings regarding you book. No sane learned scholar will pass a student in a history class who quotes the countless false information you provide in your book. Let me give you just a few examples as to why as a pedagogue, I would rather be labeled paternalistic than leave young Ethiopians eager to learn their country’s history confused and in limbo after reading your monograph. Would one expect any Ethiopian historian pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that “Humans originated in Gojam near Lake Tana” while scientific enquiry has proven unequivocally that based on the theory of the Eve Hypothesis and mitochondrial DNA (See Alison Jolly, Lucy’s Legacy, Harvard University press – Jun 30 2001) as well as the lesson from the fossil of the first human: Homo sapiens Idaltu (see Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Random House, 2014.) homo sapiens sapiens evolved in Afar 200,000 years ago strengthening the theory that modern humans came into being in the Afar depression and then spread across the rest of the planet?
Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that “The Jamaicans of the West Indies were captured by Ahmed Gragn as they fought the invader fiercely in the 16th century, and were sold as slaves in the Western Hemisphere” confounding the well documented history of the transatlantic slave trade that traces the roots of all Jamaican slaves to West Africa? (See Klein, Herbert. The Atlantic Slave Trade. USA: Cambridge University Press, 1999; Audra A. Diptee From Africa to Jamaica: The Making of an Atlantic Slave Society, 1775-1807 University of Florida Press – Jul 18 2010.}
Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that your so called “Deshet” designated as the forefather of the Amharas and the Oromos also doubled as “a major prophet who designed the Zodiac which was taken out of Ethiopia and spread around the world” when all specialists in the field agree that the zodiac which derived from the Greek words “circle of animals” was originally conceived of as an idea in ancient Egypt and was then later embraced by the Babylonians who calculated that it took 12 months (i.e. 12 lunar cycles) for the sun to appear as if it turned to its original position and then identified 12 constellations that they observed were linked to the progression of the seasons thus assigning them names of certain animals with the belief that heavenly bodies can indicate a plan of the future of a person in helping him make important decisions in life. The Greeks expounded on this theory and popularized it during the heyday of their influential vast empire. When you speak of Deshet as a prophet who according to your book developed the zodiac, you are actually jumping into the field of astrology. What does astrology have to do with history? You may believe in the zodiac, I don’t. Nevertheless, if you are interested for all that it is worth, there is a rich literature that gives you the roots of the Zodiac. (See Rupert Gleadow’s The Origin of the Zodiac, Dover Publications Nov. 2 2011.)
Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that “when Axumite of Ethiopia was a little boy he was crowned as Ramzes in Egypt” when all historian agree that Ramses, son of Seti I and Queen Tuya of Egypt known for constructing the famous Abu Simbel temple complex in Nubia was the third pharaoh of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty – 1292-1186 BCE- (See Zahi Hawass, The Mysteries of Abu Simbel: Ramesses II and the Temples of the Rising Sun, Oxford University Press, Feb 15 2001.)
*Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that it was the Amaras who accompanied Axumite (later to become the king of Egypt as Rasmzes) all the way from Ethiopia to Egypt about 2,850 years ago to protect his throne and that about 350,000 Amaras went with him some returning to Ethiopia “only” after 1,850 years of stay in Egypt and accompanying King Lalibela” when the history of Ramses who died at the ripe old age of 95 as written in Egyptian hieroglyphics does not at all raise this issue in any shape or form? If one were to follow your story, what can one attribute to the Tigrés of Axum and the Agaws of Roha in the meantime? (See Wilfred C. Griggs, Ramses II: The Great Pharaoh and His Time, Denver Museum of Natural History, 1985,
*Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that when Axumite founded the city of Axum and became Emperor of Ethiopia, he gave his daughter Ribla in marriage to King Nabukadenesor of Babylon (today’s Iraq} and that the Amara soldiers who accompanied Ribla to Iraq founded a city called “Amara” in Iraq after their own name? Research shows no Ethiopian connection to the founding of Amara in Iraq. In fact the city of Amara was founded in the 1860’s as an outpost of Ottoman military forces from where the Turkish Sultanate enforced its suzerainty on the warring tribes of Al Bu Muhammad and Banu Lam. (See Nikolas Gardner The Siege of Kut-al-Amara: At War in Mesopotamia, 1915-1916 Indiana University Press, Sept. 16 2014) Side comment: Simply because one finds the same name in another place, one cannot latch historical references to it to boot with a distance in dating of some 3,000 years! There is also a town called Amara in the State of Arizona in the United States. May be you will now claim that the Amharas invaded the country of the first nations and founded a city in their name during antiquity. I have observed that when you see a proper noun such as Ophir you jump to tie it to Afar. A proper noun, Meqdish for you, is presto Mogadishu. You mention that “ancient towns in Egypt carry Amharic names and give the example of Amarna which you translate to be ‘konjo honin’ and Delta which you say means ‘“we are comfortable, we are doing fine.’ [Don’t tell us that the U.S. State of Aizona is also derived from Amharic Aryizona!
* Dr. Fikre’s work is in league with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865.) and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (1997.) He has already vowed to reserve [his ] time and energy to write [his] next book. The sequel to Dr. Fikre’s book on the origin of the Amharas and the Oromos would I surmise be akin to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871). Both are sequels to fairy tales though written 145 years apart.
Dr. Fikre in this book has surrendered a dispassionate search for truth to the cause of fantasy. But to present fantasy as history no matter how many people get resolution for their confusion and alienation, and however enjoyable and soothing they are, is to embed a dangerous and misleading historical precedent. And as far as rigorous historical treatment is concerned, Dr. Fikre’s book is completely outside that realm: it is fantasy, pure and simple. How do I know it is fantasy? Because the assertions made in the book have not been supported by valid evidence and as the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck. All I can say to Ethiopian compatriots regarding Dr. Fikre’s published historical fable and its promised sequel is that if you are looking for plausible history in them, caveat emptor!
Professor Paulos Milkias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org