When enslaved 18th century African-American preachers began praising Ethiopia's wondrous ancient civilisation, they could not have imagined that their fledgling ideology would inspire an intriguing array of influential black consciousness movements. As Ethiopia crosses into the new millennium, it continues to be revered as a symbol of black accomplishment and the "promised land" for uprooted Africans
Pan-Africanism, Rastafarianism, La Negritude, Black Power, Black Arts Movement and Afrocentrism are just some of the revolutionary cultural, spiritual and political offshoots of Ethiopianist philosophy. These seminal movements which have spread worldwide have spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry, ranging from roots reggae music and Afrocentric book publishing to African heritage tourism, fashion and beauty products.
Ethiopianists proudly assert and celebrate classical Africa's advanced but largely unacknowledged civilisations, which they believe influenced other classical civilisations, including Greece. They insist that Africa will rise again with the help of its scattered diaspora like the Jews have done for Israel. It is no wonder, therefore, that early black church leaders like Bishop Richard Allen of Philadelphia looked to Ethiopia for salvation. Having mastered the art of reading and writing (which was forbidden to slaves), they would have cherished Biblical texts mentioning Ethiopia (the Biblical name for the continent of Africa).
Ethiopia is noted 51 times in the Old Testament alone. Texts like Psalms 68:31, which states "princes shall come out of Egypt [founded and ruled by black people at the time]" and "Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God", have become the most quoted in the United States.
By promoting black pride from the pulpit, pioneering Ethiopianists were using the ideology as a psychological tool to help their exploited brethren survive the inhumanity of slavery. They were also boldly challenging the racist propaganda of the day which promoted Africans as inferior to whites to justify Europe's highly profitable slave trade and colonial expansion.
Richard Allen, who was born into slavery in 1760, co-founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He spread his Ethiopianist message to both blacks and whites across the east coast of America.
Like their modern-day counterparts, early Ethiopianists were celebrating Abyssinia's classical civilisations especially its long-lived Aksumite kingdom, a naval and trading power which ruled from around 400 BC to the 10th century AD.
Located in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Aksumite kingdom stretched to Nubia, Yemen, the Red Sea coast and Southern Arabia, and monopolised the spice, incense and ivory trade which it exported all over the ancient world. It was minting its own currency by the 3rd century BC. In the 4th century, its king, Ezana, converted the kingdom to Christianity.
Ethiopianists claimed its intriguing historical figures as their kindred own--such as the mysterious Queen of Sheba, a woman of power who has cast her spell far and wide from the Bible, the Koran and Turkish paintings to Hollywood films and Afrocentric enterprise, although her exact origins are often disputed.
But, according to the Kebra Nagast or The Book of the Glory of Kings--the Ethiopian literary national epic composed between the 6th and 12th centuries AD--the Queen of Sheba was a beautiful Aksumite queen called Makeda. She went to Jerusalem to visit the great Jewish king, Solomon, who made her pregnant.
She gave birth to a son, Menelik I, and therefore divinely established Ethiopia's Solomonic dynasty. Menelik is said to have brought back the Jewish sacred Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God after visiting his father in Jerusalem.
Its transfer, according to believers, means …