Prof. Fikre Tolossa’s book – a Cutting Rejoinder (By Prof. Paulos Milkias ,PhD)

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 the 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 was originally conceived of as an idea in ancient Egypt and was then embraced by the Babylonians and the Greeks who designated specific animal names to each lunar cycle and suggested that heavenly bodies can indicate a plan of the future of a person in helping him make important decisions in life. 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? 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 Ramses 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 Rasmses) 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? While it is the history of their place of birth that is being discussed how come their names have faded into oblivion? (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, Mali which in AfanOromo means “why” shows that the Oromos migrated to the African country of Mali, Nagran, a city in South Arabia that you consider the old name of Yemen is according to your book derived from the Amharic “Na-gra” (come left), the country of Yemen was named by the Amhara designation Ye-man (whose,) 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!

Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that “a nun and prophetess named Shemshel conceived Deshet the father of the Oromos and the Amhars while she was taking a bath in the river Ghion, (Blue Nile) from a sperm in the river that made its way into her uterus?” The notion that a woman can be impregnated by a sperm floating free in a river fits the bill of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Just ask any fertility doctor today and you will find out that even with advanced scientific techniques, it is extremely difficult to incubate a child in-vitro from a petro dish let alone from an accidental sperm drifting freely in a river. For the formidable hurdles faced by scientists in conducting genetic engineering in humans and achieving success with impregnating a woman in-vitro, see Kay Elder, Brian Dale and Yves Ménézo In-Vitro Fertilization, Cambridge University Press, Dec 2, 2010.)

Do you expect any Ethiopian historian to pass a student in his class who quotes from your book and claims that “an ancient Ethiopian monarch by the name Isiael “lived for 480 years” and during his reign doubled as an engineering scientist who experimented with the process of recombinant DNA and evolved Ethiopians by intermarrying Arab and Middle Eastern prisoners of war to evolve our distinct skin colours and body types. Not only is it a long shot for anybody in ancient times to isolate, characterize, and manipulate genes to evolve specific characteristics of humans, the science of genetics was not even conceived of until the works of Gregor Mendel appeared in the mid-19th century. (see Evelyn Fox Keller, The Century of the Gene, Harvard University Press, April 2002.)

A human being living for 480 years! Are you out of your mind? Even with the advance in reproductive science today, since there is no verified instance of a person having lived 150 years, scientists for purposes of illustration, have arbitrarily accepted 150 as the maximum limit of the span of human life. You may try to quote the Old Testament life of Methuselah (969 years) but that is religion not science! Re. human lifespan, see Robert V. Kail and John C. Cavanaugh Human Development: A Life-Span View Wadsworth Publishing, January 1, 2015.

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.

In all of the assertions enumerated above, Dr. Fikre Tolossa has attempted to replace fact with fiction, history with religion, and reality with fantasy leaving a bitter pill to swallow for any serious Ethiopian scholar; he has also tried to bequeath a legacy of one of the most difficult conundrums for our youth to cope with. With just a stroke of a pen, the Dr. has surrendered a dispassionate search for truth with a fool’s paradise. To do this, 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 that one has to make a stop to before it spreads like a plague throughout Ethiopia and the Ethiopian diaspora.

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 contends 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 ሐጹረ 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 an amulet (ጠልሰም) for protection against all adverse episodes.

In fact Dr. Fikre is not very far off the mark in his observation the popularity of his book, because I have recently encountered Ethiopians from all walks of life – Oromos and Amharas included – commenting: “if you filter out the drivel, Dr. Fikre’s message in the book is benevolent.” He clearly has a strong following and a Neo-Pentecost may be on the horizon. Due to the alienation that has permeated the Ethiopian society in the last few decades, the author may succeed to be a cult guru like Jim Johns, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh and Sun Myung Moon, with laymen to Ivy League educated intellectuals acting like zombies and following their maharishi’s orders without question. Do not consider this possibility far-fetched. In fact there is a precedent from Ethiopian history. In the 17th century, there was an unhinged Gondaré ecclesiast named Ze-Christos who claimed divine origin, established a church separate from Tewahedo Christianity’s and appointed his own bishops, priests and deacons. When upon the orders of Emperor Susneyos, Ze-Christos was thrown into a dich and stoned to fulfill the imperial orders of capital punishment, he defiantly went to his death crying at the top of his voice: ምንአለ ጋሼንም ሰቀላችሁት!

To return back to the main point, as far as rigorous historical treatment is concerned, Dr. Fikre’s book is completely outside the realm of objectivity: 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 allegory and its promised sequel is that if you are looking for plausible history in them, caveat emptor!

Professor Paulos Milkias can be reached at pmilkias@gmail.com

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