Review: Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization

Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization
By John G. Jackson (1939)

Reviewed by Fetsum Berhane

When I came across this essay I expected the writing to be a contemporary historical account from an Afrocentric perspective. I was taken aback when I found out the author, John G. Jackson, is European and the essay to be dated 1939. Jackson starts the essay by quoting Count Volney:

“Those piles of ruins which you see in that narrow valley watered by the Nile, are the remains of opulent cities, the pride of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. … There a people, now forgotten, discovered while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men now rejected from society for their sable skin and frizzled hair, founded on the study of the laws of nature, those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe.”

Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization is a brief but captivating essay that debunks the established Eurocentric historical narrative that relegates the central role of “The Black Man” in human civilization.

“Most history texts, especially the ones on ancient history, start off by telling us that there are either three, four or five races of man, but that of those races only one has been responsible for civilization, culture, progress and all other good things. The one race is of course the white race, and particularly that branch of said race known as the Nordic or Aryan.”

The reason for this, Jackson says, is obvious. The writers are as a rule Nordic or so consider themselves. Apart from prejudice, confusion among historians and anthropologists concerning the proper classification of races plays a role. In discussing the subject of race classification the author reaches the conclusion that the races of man are three in number; (1) the Negroid, or Ethiopian or black race; (2) the Mongoloid, or Mongolian or yellow race; and (3) the Caucasoid or European or white race.

In discussing the main subject matter, the author cites Prof. Seignobos’ note that the first civilized inhabitants of the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates valleys were a dark-skinned people with short hair and prominent lips; and that they are referred to by some scholars as Cushites (Ethiopians), and as Hamites by others. This ancient civilization of the Cushites, was not confined to the Near East and traces of it have been found all over the world. Mr. Wells alludes to this early civilization in his Outline of History, and dates its beginnings as far back as 15,000 years B.C.

In ancient times the name Ethiopia was not confined to represent the east African country but extended over vast domains in both Africa and Asia. Sir E. A. Wallis Budge concurs with this in his book “History of Ethiopia”:

“It seems certain that classical historians and geographers called the whole region from India to Egypt, both countries inclusive, by the name of Ethiopia, and in consequence they regarded all the dark-skinned and black peoples who inhabited it as Ethiopians. Mention is made of Eastern and Western Ethiopians and it is probable that the Easterners were Asiatics and the Westerners Africans.”  In addition Budge notes that, “Homer and Herodotus call all the peoples of the Sudan, Egypt, Arabia, Palestine and Western Asia and India Ethiopians.”

In support his argument the author quotes another classical historian Strabo:

“I assert that the ancient Greeks, in the same  way as they classed all the northern nations with which they were familiar as Scythians,  etc., so, I affirm, they designated as Ethiopia the whole of the southern countries toward  the ocean.” (Strabo)

The author rebuts the idea that the ancient Egyptians originally came from Asia. According to Jackson, the only reason it was adopted despite lack of evidence was because it was fashionable to believe that no African people was capable of developing a great civilization.

Geoffrey Parsons refers to Egyptian civilization as “genuinely African in its origin and development.” Herodotus came to the same conclusion over 2,000 years ago, but he is not taken seriously by the majority of modern historians, except where his facts agree with certain theories of said historians.

The essay gives a detailed elaboration of the early nations and inhabitants of “Ethiopia” which stretched along the shores of the Southern Ocean from Abyssinia to India, from South Africa to West Africa and south coasts of both Asia and Africa.
What makes this a good read is that it presents a version of history that is marginalized by the dominant Eurocentric narrative. The author uses historical records, anthropology, archaeological discoveries, linguistic studies and evidences of comparative religion to support of his argument.

Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization is well written and researched essay. The author has the ability to present complex issues in a compelling and outlined manner.
For a subject of this scope, the essay is extremely brief, a fact he recognizes as “an essay addressed mainly to readers who have little time for the study of history”. This essay is rich in citations and is indeed a reference guide for someone who intends to delve into an in depth study of history.

You can download the essay here.

For those who would like to read more on this, I recommend these related books.

Graham Hancock, Fingerprints Of the Gods
Harold Marcus, A History of Ethiopia
Count Volney, The Ruins
Drusilla Houston, Wonderful Ethiopians

Fetsum Berhane is an Ethiopian resident, economist researcher and a blogger on HornAffairs.

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