The Original Black Arabs of Arabia – Part 2
Ogu Eji-Ofo Annu
Arabia the Daughter of Kush
The classical Greek and Roman writers commonly accepted the division of Arabia into Deserta (desert), Felix (happy), and Petraea (stony). Not much is known today about the exact configuration of those divisions. Later day Islamic Arabic geographers know nothing of this division, and this is not surprising since many of those later day Arabs are actually immigrants that later acculturated and assimilated into the culture of the original Black Arabs.
Arab geographers of the Islamic period divided Arabia generally into five provinces: The first is Yemen, embracing the whole south of the peninsula and including Hadramaut, Mahra, Oman, Shehr, and Nejran. The second is Hijaz, on the west coast and including Mecca and Medina, the two famous centres of Islam. The third is Tehama, along the same coast between Yemen and Hijaz. The fourth is Nejd, which includes most of the central table-land, and the fifth is Yamama, extending all the wide way between Yemen and Nejd. This division is also inadequate, for it omits the greater part of North and East Arabia.
A more recent division of Arabia, according to politico-geographical principles, is into seven provinces: Hijaz, Yemen, Hadramaut, Oman, Hasa, Irak, and Nejd. It has always been the assertion of experts that certain tribes that lived on the coast of Yemen and on the coast of Ethiopia and Eriteria were almost identical. The linkages between Ethiopia Kush and Arabia must be considered in the context of any discourse on Arab people, or more precisely stated the Black Africans of Arabia.
As stated in the preceding paragraph, the key to understanding the origin and culture of the Arabs is through African Kushitic Ethiopia.
Contacts between eastern Africa and Arabia have existed since the time immemorial. Archeological evidence has demonstrated that Africans of the Caspian culture probably moved across the Strait of Bab El Mandel and implanted the same Caspian culture in Arabia on the other side of the strait. See Leaky, L.S.B., Stone Age Africa pp 38-78.
The Strait of Bab-El-Mandel, which separates Africa from Arabia, is quite narrow at some points averaging a couple of days journey on a sea raft or small canoe. Communication and travel have consequently been possible since pre-historic times.
It will thus not be a surprising claim to the well informed that East African people (being the first aboriginals of the earth) have long settled in Arabia as the original inhabitants. For instance, besides the Caspian culture, African people also founded the so-called Afro-Arabian Tihama cultural complex in the mid-2nd millennium.
In addition to the coastal site of Adulis in Eritrea and sites farther inland in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan, vestiges of the Tihama cultural complex are represented on the Saudi coastal plains and the western and southern coasts of Yemen. (Fattovich 1997).
Moreover, African settlements were further stimulated by the growth of the Egyptian state from the 4th millennium onward, with more extensive migration of African population in Arabia around the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C. Semitic speaking settlers from Ethiopia-Kush settled in Arabia built complex cultures and civilizations ofÂ which the later Assyrians, Greeks, Romans and Jews wouldÂ document for coming generations. See Josephus Book 1.
Long before Yemen had become a politically articulated entity, the Ethiopian-Axumites had built many powerful states along the coast of Red Sea and the hilly countries of Ethiopia such as ancient Adulis, Coloe, Yeha Tokanda, and the so called Ethio-Sabean state of Daamat (circa 800-600 B.C.) etc. Ethiopia-Axum, the ancient dominant power in the region, gradually incorporated the African-Yemenites into its political sway.
By 12th century B.C. Southern Arabia fell under the complete control of the Ethiopian-Axumites through their long domination of the Red Sea trade routes. The first kingdom built by the Ethiopian-Axumites in Arabia was Saba just across the straits in Yemen in 800 B.C. See Ephraim Isaac and Cain Felder, “Reflections on the Origins of the Ethiopian Civilization”, Eight International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, November 1984. Successive civilisations of Mineans, Sabaeans and Himyarites interacted closely with their counterparts in Ethiopia.
For a while the Ethiopian-Kushitic Arabs focussed their energies on the Yemeni side of the coast in states like Saba and Daamat. Products were shipped into Yemen from Ethiopia and exported all over the world through the Red Sea.
Following the decline of Saba and Daamat, the international trade hub moved to the kingdom of Axum on the opposite side of the Red Sea coast.Â FromÂ its seaports such as Adulis, Ethiopian-Kushites, Axum’s trade network extended from Egypt as far as India.
AxumÂ survived for more than 2500 years as a great state dominating the Red Sea regions although western historians would grudgingly concede 800 years. It occupied and ruled southern Arabia for part of this period. Utilitarian Aksumite pottery has been found in large quantities in deposits from the 5th and 6th centuries in the Yemen Hadramawt, suggesting that there may have been substantial immigration during that period. Axumites descended groups such as the Habashahs, still live in southern Yemen today fully cognizant of their African origins and connections.
Indeed, interaction between Yemen and Ethiopia in ancient times is sometimes compared with the historical relationship between Europe and America, with the Red Sea as substitute for the Atlantic Ocean.
THE BEJA PEOPLE: HABITAT AND HISTORY
Another important group of Black African groups who contributed genetically, and culturally to the formation of the Arabs are the Bejas otherwise called the Blemmyes. It appears that the Blemmyes as encountered in classical literature provided the foundation for the ethnic group known today as Bedouins.
The indigenous Beja people are nomads who have inhabited the semi-desert area in the Red Sea coast of Sudan and the hilly country behind it for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians referred to them as the people of Buka or Medju (Medjay), the Romans dubbed them Blemmyes and in the Odessa they were described as Erembes. They are a Kushitic-Khemitic people who spoke a mixed dialect of semitic and Cushitic language. They identify themselves today as the most original and ancient of the Arab tribes.
Kemitic Pharaohs called them Absha, meaning the desert dwellers that is, the Bedouins in Arabic language – and Ramses II called them Beja, purporting fighters. Thus one can reasonably see the Bejas as fulfilling the Arab Bedouin archetype of the fearsome, nomadic owners of the Sahara, highly temperamental but compassionate. Throughout history, they have been regarded as very efficient fighting machines. It is important to note that besides the Nubians, it is well documented that the Beja were employed in the Egyptian army and were credited for their courage and fortitude during the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt.
The Roman Historian Ammianus Marcellinus inspite of his odious ethno-centrism provides us more clues on the racial and ethnic identity of the earliest Arabs. In his book The Roman History, Book XIV.iv.1-7. (380 A.D.)) the Saracens a named that was used to describe the Arabs in both ancient and modern times (stems most likely from the Arabic Sarqiyyun, meaning ‘easterners’) were described as the Blemmys tribes who lived along the banks of the Nile beyond the cataracts. According to Ammianus Marcellinus:
At this time also the Saracens, a race whom it is never desirable to have either for friends or enemies, ranging up and down the country, if ever they found anything, plundered it in a moment, like rapacious hawks who, if from on high they behold any prey, carry it off with a rapid swoop, or, if they fail in their attempt, do not tarry. And although, in recounting the career of the Prince Marcus, and once or twice subsequently, I remember having discussed the manners of this people, nevertheless I will now briefly enumerate a few more particulars concerning them.
Among these tribes, whose primary origin is derived from the cataracts of the Nile and the borders of the Blemmyae, all the men are warriors of equal rank; half naked, clad in colored cloaks down to the waist, overrunning different countries, with the aid of swift and active horses and speedy camels, alike in times of peace and war. Nor does any member of their tribe ever take plow in hand or cultivate a tree, or seek food by the tillage of the land; but they are perpetually wandering over various and extensive districts, having no home, no fixed abode or laws; nor can they endure to remain long in the same climate, no one district or country pleasing them for a continuance.
Their life is one continued wandering; their wives are hired, on special covenant, for a fixed time; and that there may be some appearance of marriage in the business, the intended wife, under the name of a dowry, offers a spear and a tent to her husband, with a right to quit him after a fixed day, if she should choose to do so. And it is inconceivable with what eagerness the individuals of both sexes give themselves up to matrimonial pleasures.
But as long as they live they wander about with such extensive and perpetual migrations, that the woman is married in one place, brings forth her children in another, and rears them at a distance from either place, no opportunity of remaining quiet being ever granted to her. They all live on venison, and are further supported on a great abundance of milk, and on many kinds of herbs, and on whatever birds they can catch by fowling. And we have seen a great many of them wholly ignorant of the use of either corn or wine.”
The Black African Bejas/Saracens also called the Blemmys gave to the Arabs of today (blacks and pales) the knowledge to live in the Sahara as well as the most basic cultural elements that define the Bedouin culture including nomadic identity, marital culture and martial arts. For instance, the war-like Blemmyes (Beja) had normally fought with curiously shaped bows, and it was from them that the tribes of Hijaz and Yemen (in Arabia) and the other Arab tribes adopted the use of the bow. Historically, the Beja ruled the vast territory of theirs (laying between Northern Nigeria and Sudan) in five kingdoms namely, the Naqis, Baqlin (Taflin), Bazin, Jarin and Qata (Qita, also perhaps Qasa).
Arabia Petra spread between African Kushitic Egypt and Mesopotamia (another African kushitic area in the ancient times) (Josephus). It was originally settled by an early branch of the Cushitic Ethiopian people who spoke a proto-type semitic dialect.
The Beja’s known as the ancient Blemmyes one of the earliest known nomadic tribes to dwell in the deserts of Africa and Arabia probably provided the founding population of Arabia Petra.
Other sections of the African population from the early Caspian culture and other culture complex centered on Ethiopia Axum and Ethiopia Kush may have equally contributed to the early settlement of Arabia Petra.
Some of these early African Black Arabs crossed the Red Sea whilst others migrated overland through the Nile valley into Arabia. Arabia Petrea thus became an early blending pot of African cultures. Due to this cultural ferment many nomads soon abandoned their wandering lives to establish sophisticated towns and cities together with the more sedentary population. These melange later became known as the Nabateans and their capital was Petra. (Drussilla Houstons) See also http://nabataea.net/arabia.html.
During the Roman period, the word Arab was a synonymy for Nabatean and vice versa. When the Romans incorporated Nabatea into their Empire, it was officially designated as the Province of Arabia. Numerous sculptures found in Arabia Petra clearly depict its population as African through their physical features. One classical example is that of Emperor Philip of Arabia one of the later Emperors of Rome, who was indigenous to Arabia Petra. His sculptures demonstrate that physically speaking, Emperor Philip of Arabia was a Black man of African descent. Here is a picture of a statue of the Black African Roman Emperor Philip “the Arab”.
Emperor Philip the Arab
Arabia Felix laid further south of Petra. Arabia Felix was bounded by the Shiraz region of the Persian Gulf, the Eritrean or Red sea (Africa) as well as the Indian Ocean.Â This country was rich in spices and in it was situated the famous cities of Mecca and Medina.
Here was the country of the Yemenis, the Habashas, the Sabas, the Hadramautians and the Mineans. All these were sections of the Ethiopian-Axumite tribes similar to the Amharas, the Oromos and the Tigriyeans, who had expanded the ancient lucrative spice trade to Arabia.
It should be noted that in addition to coffee, Ethiopia is the original homeland of incenses such as frankincense, myrrh, and spices like cinnamon. The traditional African planters of these cash crops and the African maritime operators of this most lucrative of ancient trades extended their operations from Ethiopia across the straits of Bab-el-Mandel to take advantage of the fertile land and the natural habours of Arabia Felix, which subsequently became export hubs of the ancient trade. (See Strabo,geography Book XVI.iv.19). Produce was shipped routinely from the highlands of Ethiopia into Ethiopian owned- Arabia Felix for exports to the rest of the world.
Given the historical, genetic, physical and geographical proximity between Ethiopia and Arabia Felix and the similarity of the cultural expression of both land, it is not a wonder why the ancient Greek writers swore that the Ethiopians ruled the whole of Arabia. It was clear to the sophisticated Greeks and the worldly Romans that Black Africans settled and developed this portion of Arabia!
Arabia Deserta was originally people by the Bejas and kindred groups from Africa. These are the original owners of the Sahara and its extension known as the Arabia Desert. The Bejas as we have seen from preceeding paragraphs were the first to be called Bedouins due to their nomadic culture and their preference for Desert habitats.
In the beginning of Holocene period, a group of landless, barbarian, starving, pale-skinned Central Asian refugees now known as the pale-skin Arabs (i.e. the so-called Semites) began living side by side with the nomadic African Cushitic Bejas who owned the entire Sahara desert between the Nile and the Arabian peninsula. Over the course of time these two peoples have intermingled culturally and genetically that there is barely any pale skin (Arabized) Arabs alive today that does not carry extensive Africa genes in his blood. The descendants of this intermingling are the so-called modern Semitic Arabs (more precisely known as the Arabized Arabs) who trace their roots through Abraham.
The Central Asian barbarians did not develop any states, high culture or language in Arabia. They were destitues, mostly ignorant, unread and illiterate. The Koran takes great pain to dissociate this group from the high cultural attainment of ancient Arabia. It is clearly stated that until the advent of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed, these so-called Semites lived in a state of perpetual brutality, savagery, warfare and robbery. The Koran also takes pain to identify the original Black Arabs who had lived in Ad, Thamud, Imru etc, as the originators and builders of Arab civilization and culture.
These Arabized Arabs have sublimated stories of their origin in the legend of Abraham, which narrates of his journey from somewhere proximate to central Asia into the Black African territory of Arabia. He was said to have married a Black Egyptian-born wife, Hagar/Hajir, and their son was named, Ishmael/Ismail. In this legend one immediately becomes aware of the central Asian origin of its heros and the resultant miscegenation which gave rise to the Arabised Arabs.
These so-called descendants of Abraham (actually mix breed from Black African Bejas and pale central Asian-stanis like the Turkmenistanis) settled in Mecca which was then under the overlordship of the Kushitic-Ethiopic owners of Arabia-Felix. This category of Arabs normally called themselves Adnaniyun that is, after one of their great tribal ancestors Adnan.
Despite the mythical origin of this peculiar historical source, it is clear that conscious effort has been made by Arabized Arabs to associate their tribes to African Royal pedigree.
Since it is generally known that Kushitic citizenship was matrilineal, and only children born by Kemitic Kushite mothers could aspire to be Kings in Egypt and Ethiopia, it does not take a lot of imagination to understand the role of the black Egyptian (Kemitic Kushite) Hagar in the Abraham story. The Arabized Arabs actually claim a Black African historical and archetypal mother!
No wonder “Aswad” (Black) is such an attractive concept in Arabic language.
To be continued