Sunday, December 19, 2010

Being Habesha

I am not this or that. I am Habesha. You ask me where I'm from or what I am, I will tell you, I am Habesha, from Ethiopia. I laugh while I type this because years ago, as a young girl, I would have never been able to proudly state this. My parents with their thick accents would always shove Ethiopian facts into my ears, while insisting that I speak only Amharic. Sure, before starting school, I only spoke Amharic. I was then enrolled into ESL (english as a second language) while in elementary school. My friends made up the diverse group of kids I grew to love and the one thing we had in common was the accents of our tongues. We spoke in English with each other because obviously, Farsi could not be understood by an Italian and Arabic could not be understood by a Korean. As I got older, I became more and more interested in other cultures, but never my own. I was trying to learn different languages, try the foods of other cultures, you know- the whole shibang. It wasn't until my parents frequented our visits to Ethiopia over the past summers that i began to appreciate my culture. I read every single book in my elementary school's library that was about Ethiopia. I knew more about this one country than I knew about basic arithmetic at this point.

I wasn't innocent for long.

Once I entered middle school, I was a confused kid. I mean, I knew I was Ethiopian but that was basically it. What were my great grand parents like? Why don't I look like either of my parents? Was I white? Was I black? What's the difference between an Amhara Ethiopian and a Gurage, Tigraye, or Oromo Ethiopian? What did it mean to be an Ethiopian? And most importantly, what does it mean to be Habesha?
These questions hovered in my head constantly until i took matters (or research) into my own hands. Middle school really sparked this interest for me. The question of my race came up. The question of my family's history came up. You see, most people in the world aren't well acquainted with the history of Ethiopia- I wasn't even acquainted with the history of Ethiopia. Through my research, I gradually instilled within myself, this sense of pride. Why? Well, did you know Ethiopia was the only African country to not have been colonized? Did you know that the Ethiopian kingdoms of the past were the most powerful of the whole world? Did you know that many cultures of the world, mot notably the middle east, were heavily influenced by that of Ethiopia's? Di you know that Ethiopia was the first official Christian kingdom at the time of the Bible and after? Did you know that Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of humanity, giving different ethnicities their characteristics due to Ethiopian DNA? Did you know that at the time of religious persecutions during the founding of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) sent his followers and family to Ethiopia for safety, knowing that Ethiopia was one of the most tolerant and safest kingdoms of the time? The facts could go on and on but the problem was that with these facts, came more and more questions about my own family and heritage. I kept on reading about how there was this connection between olden Israel and Ethiopia and the stories of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba... I was never not baffled. Through my research, not only did I become proud of my country, I also became suspicious of globally known facts. Let me break it down.

#1: Language
Why was my language always related to Arabic and Hebrew? Historians kept on commenting on how Amharic is a cyrillic language and was possibly used by Jesus Christ but that doesn't mean much when comparing the languages. It's just a matter of geography, in my opinion, what with the close proximity of Arabia and Jerusalem to Ethiopia. Look at the latin languages of English, Spanish, and Italian for example. Some vocabulary just spread, that's all. Same with the languages of Ethiopia (although some Ethiopians do make their accents a bit stronger on the Arabic side...).

#2: Races
It really isn't a big deal, but as I did my research, I came across studies that have proven that Ethiopians are neither black nor white. They're just... brown? You see, scientists have confirmed that the Ethiopian- Habesha DNA is identical to that of Europeans (ie. Norwegians, Armenians, and Ashkenazi Jews). The only ethiopians who MIGHT actually be black are those of the south, such as those of the Gambella regions. Living in America, It was hard to explain my own race, especially if people didn't believe a thing that would come out of my mouth about my own heritage. Even if scientists and historians have been calling Habeshas the 'whites of Africa', there obviously would be no way we could call ourselves white. But we couldn't be black either. Race is more than just the tan of your skin, it's your DNA build up as well. Here's an easy explanation: Look at those who are dark skinned who aren't African. Their facial and bodily structures are different yet their skin color is dark. Dark skin is not equivalent to the race [of Africa]. Africa is a diverse continent, and for the last time, Africa is NOT a country.

#3: Culture
The culture of the Habesha people of Ethiopia is an ancient one. When I say ancient, I mean ANCIENT. As in, the beginning of time ancient. Anyone who says Ethiopia is influenced by other countries is wrong. Ethiopia is the country of cultures that influenced and still influences OTHERS. Our coffee/tea ceremonies? Yeah, it wasn't a middle eastern ritual to have those small cups and unique kettles of a unique shape, with which we pour the hot beverages out from a high distance- that was all Habesha. Men wearing tight white pants with tunics worn over them and a dagger held under a sash and genie-like curved shoes is also an Habesha thing- not Aladdin's. This list can also go on and on but for the sake of my time and yours, I'll cut that off now. The Habesha culture is something I love to flaunt. A lot. Our culture is like none other and it's about time for people to know. While in South Africa, at a crafts market in Cape Town, a Zulu man selling paintings asked where me nad my cousins were from. I said Ethiopia. He smiled a wide smile and literally did the "Aaaaah" thing. "You are from Addis Ababa, then! I can tell, Ethiopians are beautiful. You know, all of Africa admires Ethiopia and it's people- it's is the heart of Africa!" I did not exaggerate a thing of that and I did not mean for it to sound conceited that I am restating what this well informed man had said, but this is proof. A detail that is universally known (minus America) about the misinterpreted Ethiopia.

So this all is just a fourth of my knowledge regarding Ethiopia and my Habeshaness and there still are many other facts unknown, but till then, i will try to see if my parents, the thickly accented Ethiopians, can match up to my level of Ethio-Pride... seriously, when my dad comes home with an attempt to use different american accents, it truly makes me question his pride.


  1. Queen of sheba is yemeni though, Sabean from Mar'ib to be specific. And there is undoubtly archeological prove for it.