A thousand years before Christ the Queen of Sheba, we are told, traveled to Jerusalem where she met King Solomon, married him and had a son, Menelik. When Menelik reached maturity, it’s said that he returned to Ethiopia taking with him the Ark of the Covenant containing the original 10 commandments. The Ethiopian Christian Orthodox Church says it still has the ark in its possession. No one else makes such a claim…
Two centuries after the birth of Menelik, Homer the first Greek writer wrote the epic poem, the Odyssey. On the first page of the Odyssey we read that on one festive occasion all the gods gathered in Olympus, except for Poseidon. “Poseidon had gone to visit the Ethiopians…”
A few years ago a Harvard professor, camera crew in tow, had an audience with the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church. During the course of their discussion, the professor said, “Your Holiness this is not a rude question. I want the Ark of the Covenant to be in Ethiopia without a doubt. (However) has it ever occurred to anyone to have a little piece of the ark dated to disprove all the skeptics?”
Some of the oldest human fossils have been found in Ethiopia, and some of the oldest cultures. The Nile, the longest river in the world, begins in Ethiopia. Along its 4,000 mile length, in ancient times, was one huge civilization.
“No.” said the Ethiopian patriarch to the American professor. “Faith doesn’t go with the scientific proof. We don’t have to prove it to anyone. If you want to believe, that is your privilege. If you don’t want to believe, that is your privilege. It is only because you want to fame yourself… Many people have failed to show that kind of a proof. It doesn’t bother us. It is here, and we believe it.” These two Black men were from two different worlds. The Emperor Haile Selassie lived in both their worlds. He was Emperor of Ethiopia (1930 – 1974) when all of the rest of the Motherland was in foreign hands.
Marcus Garvey reportedly told his followers, “Look to the East. A king shall be crowned!” At the time young prince Ras Tafari was about to assume the throne of Ethiopia as Haile Selassie I, the 111th of Emperor in a line believed to have begun around 1000 BC with the marriage of Solomon and Sheba. At Selassie I’s coronation, in 1930, the European royal houses all sent representatives. After all, if the measure of royalty is the ability to trace one’s lineage, Selassie’s claim to a 3000 year heritage was far older than anyone else on earth.
Ethiopia is an old, old land. Its official religion is the 1700 year old Ethiopian Christian Orthodox Church. The Jews of Ethiopia, Beta Israel, are said to have been there for 3000 years. And Ethiopia’s Muslim adherents have practiced Islam for 1300 years. During the Crusades one of the goals of the Christian knights was to link up with the ancient, half-remembered Christian kingdom of Ethiopia beyond the vast expanse of Muslim control.
The Ethiopian faithful have produced great wonders.
Magnificent houses of worship like their vast, nearly inaccessible mountain monasteries, the dozen churches cut from solid stone built by King Lallibella 800 years ago, and the Ark of the Covenant reportedly taken from Jerusalem and kept in Ethiopia for the past 3000 years.
It’s said that in 1898, during the first Italian invasion of Ethiopia, it was the power of the Ark that inspired the army of Menelik II, Selassie I’s uncle, to soundly defeat a large Italian force at the Battle of Adowa. Thirty-seven years later, in 1935, however, the Italians would return with Hitler’s active backing, and Selassie would turn to the League of Nations, forerunner of the UN, for assistance.
The League, however, looked the other way even though Ethiopia was a member in good standing, and the Italians were using chemical weapons against the Ethiopians. The Emperor Haile Selassie I, after directing his forces in fierce battle for seven months, left the country and went into exile. He then made his famous address to the League of Nations in which he predicted that if they failed to come to his aid, the nations of Europe would soon see the day when they too would fall.
And fall they did, one-by-one, as Hitler’s armies began to roll and World War II overspread the globe. The Italian invaders, however, never really controlled Ethiopia. There was a stubborn resistance movement, and finally, with British help, in 1942, Selassie I lead a victorious army into his capital city, Addis Ababa, and returned to his throne.
After the war, the Emperor continued his attempts to modernize the country. And in the 1960s, as the nations of Africa were gaining their independence, Selassie I, as the head of Ethiopia, the only African nation never to have been colonized, assumed a central role in the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
Selassie I would go on to help end the civil war in Nigeria and arbitrate a number of other African conflicts. In 1968, he made a famous address to the United Nations regarding the European occupation of Southern Africa. Bob Marley would later put an excerpt from that landmark address to music in the hit record, “War!”
In 1974, after a 44 year reign, Haile Selassie I was deposed in a coup by the leaders of Ethiopia’s armed forces. They would also usher in a series of civil wars and external conflicts that have only recently subsided. The problem that Selassie I, and Ethiopia, faced was that they were caught between two worlds, the ancient, royal world that stretched back to Egypt under the Pharaohs, and the world of Africa in the modern, Western-dominated, 20th century.
Nonetheless, Ethiopia has still maintained its unique African record of never having been colonized. And its leaders are now active in the new African Union (AU), successor to the OAU. Ethiopia still has its cultures, its peoples and its religious traditions. Surely it shall rise again, and Africa too. That is why today so many still, “Look to the East.”