Ethiopian Innovations

Golden dome on blue mosaic circular building

This introduces the Ethiopia Blog category of Ethiopian Innovations and Culture.

Queen Saba

Queen Saba’s 3,000 Year Old Gift

The golden, domed roof of El Aqs Mosque in Jerusalem dates from before 1,000 BC. Queen Saba built it for King Salamon (Solomon) – El Aqs was originally his. In ancient Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Queen Sheba was Saba, also known as the Engineering Queen. Saba was from Lake Tana, which is the source of Abay or Blue Nile River. She transported a gift of gold from her mines in Ethiopia to Salamon, for the roof of El Aqs. Then she taught the king how to add a gyprock ceiling to conserve the building. 3,000 years on, the dome is intact. Source: Kebra Nagast [1]

Why Ethiopia Blog?

How intact is your roof? In Perth, Western Australia, I had a re-roof, warranted to last 25 years (not 3,000 years). This was in 2012. Before 2016, it leaked; both labour and materials were what Aussies call ‘shonky’: I’d been cheated. I called the English company that I had foolishly engaged. They came with a fancy utility truck (a pricey Aussie ute), lolling about with mobile phones. Eventually, a so-called tradesman borrowed a ladder to investigate the roof. The pork-pie eater trod heavily, breaking clay roof-tiles. His manager then refused to honour his written guarantee of quality. Was this civilised behaviour?

I phoned my Ethiopian friend. The yerada lij restored my whole roof; light on his feet, he broke no tiles. He was 1 of Saba’s people; Lucy’s too. Next, he quietly created a kitchen mosaic. Self-taught Mesfin had inherited the skill. After all, it was Queen Saba’s workmen that did the famous interior mosaic of El Aqs. Did you read that in a school history book? I did not.

Misinformation about Ethiopia abounds. I asked my grandmother where roses came from. ‘China,’ she replied. In fact, they are endemic to Ethiopia and bloom several times per year. Everywhere I went, they peeked over mountain-monastery walls. Her cultivated-blooms industry is huge. In 2020, Ethiopians managed coronavirus in an exemplary fashion. However, flower farms lost European customers. Employers tried desperately to retain employees. Later that year, well-dressed and beautifully mannered families begged on the streets.

Ethiopian rose bouquet
Roses endemic to Ethiopia

Ethiopian Innovation List

How about human innovations that benefit the world? Much is not attributed to the genius of Ethiopians. Here is a taste.

Innovation History

  • In Abyssinia’s monasteries, astronomy began thousands of years before the Christian era. [2] The Three Wise Men (Magi) were astronomers from the Maji River in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley. Was this how they got their name? In 2022, Orit Orthodox (Ethiopian Jewish) monasteries warned the West about a meteor heading this way.
  • The name of the Ethiopian-born scientist who invented the global positioning system was Kitaw Ejigu. [3]
  • The Ethiopian-made formula for aspirin was written in an ancient Orit Orthodox monastery goat-skin book or birana. [4] The book’s title was Audenegiste. In that was another formula: for anaesthesia. Ethiopian monks used it for millennia; they also knew about germs way back when my Caucasian forebears were barely grunting. Today, Ethiopian traditional medicine treats the untreatable. [5]
  • In 2021 in Addis Ababa, a lecturer told me how a young yerada lij IT scholar had developed a device for people who are blind or have low vision. The device was used with special reading glasses, to read without braille. When walking in the streets, the mobile device alerted them to obstacles ahead. Once a person’s details were recorded, the device advised when that person approached. The ingenious girl’s technology will enable people who are blind to be independent.
  • 7th-century St Yared invented the pentatonic music scale; bird song inspired him. [6] Visit Ethiopia’s lakes and national parks to hear avian rhapsodies. Jazz and classical Spanish music would not exist without the pentatonic scale. Classical ballet would be boring without another African musical innovation: the hemiola rhythmic device. [7] The explanation does not mention Africa or Ethiopia. Dig deep for that! Here is a scholarly article. [8]
  • Can you find Aussie news coverage of Africa Cup of Nations 2022? Why not? Soccer originates from that continent.

Ethiopian Water Preservation Technology

Today, Ethiopian water-preservation technology incorporates construction of vaska (reservoirs) and underground pyramids. This involves advanced stonemasonry. It dates from 5,000 BC, according to Kebra Nagast [1]. Water-supply systems using gravity were also developed in ancient Abyssinia. Enormous Ethiopian scientific and engineering skill benefitted Egyptian pharaohs and ancient Romans.

During the fascist invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini 1936-41, the League of Nations disregarded unconventional warfare used against Ethiopians. Nationwide, Italians inflicted massive augmented-mustard gas and nerve-gas attacks upon defenceless civilians. Ethiopia’s water-preservation and water-purification technologies enabled her to recover without help. The technologies were developed in antiquity and maintained today. This is how Ethiopians preserved their motherland, beautiful children and exquisite animals. (In 1945, United Nations replaced the League.)

Colonial Misappropriation of Traditional Technology

In Western Australia’s parched Gascoyne, water-development engineer Mesfin installed a water pipeline. Local indigenous Australians asked him, ‘Eh, cuzzy (cousin)… In your country, do black people do this work?’

In Australia 200 years previously, their ancestors had skilfully built irrigation and water-capture systems. Nobody in school taught me that, let alone First Nations children. Worldwide, colonised people have been similarly discredited. European invaders stole or smashed their useful structures. They misappropriated impressive tradition technology – declared it their own! Post-colonialists retained the myth. View a TEDtalk on this by Australian indigenous elder Bruce Pascoe: click or tap here. [9]

I recommend his book: Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the birth of agriculture, Magabala Books, Broome, WA, 2014. Dark Emu is being made into a documentary film.

What about innovations and inventions in your own country? Is intellectual or creative property attributed to the real creators? Who are the rightful owners of copyright? Publicising this makes cultural heritage theft less lucrative.

The late great Getachew Mekuria on all-Ethiopian ‘Ato Sax’ [10]

Naming Ethiopia

Habesha

Habesha refers to Ethiopians and Eritreans; one sense is ‘people soup’. In antiquity, Ethiopia was also known as Abyssinia. That meant ‘land of the fathers’. Here’s a joke:

Question: How do the English pronounce ‘Ethiopia’?

Answer: E … E …. EAST AFRICA!!

Never Colonised

Ethiopia was never colonised; her patriots resisted invaders. Chapters 4 & 5 of our book Lucy’s People tell how. This still enrages aggressors. Such people misappropriate African, Asian and Middle Eastern cultural heritage. The last thing they will do is attribute intellectual property to indigenous people, including Ethiopians. Let us change that.

‘East Africa’ is left over from 19th- and 20th-century Caucasian colonisation. Neo-colonialists are allergic to the name ‘Ethiopia’ in connection with her wonders. Yet she was the cradle of civilisation.

Resources

Notes: [1] Kebra Negast [2] Jackson, John G. [3] Kitaw Ejigu [4] Ethiopia Gebta [5] Admasu Moges [6] St Yared [7] Study.com [8] Brandel, Rose [9] Pascoe, Bruce [10] Terp Records

Featured image: El Aqs Mosque, Jerusalem © Mesfin Tadesse 2016; photo: Addis Ababa Roses © Ianet Bastyan 2020

Ethiopia Blog

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