Re-discovery of Abyssinia
- :S. T. H. Khwarazmi
When we say that the Christian world knew nothing about a place called Abyssinia, it is due to the fact that it is so recorded in a document that in 1520 A.D. John II, 64 Emperor of Portugal, heard that on the other side of the world there existed a country with Christian religion and a wealthy emperor. The Portuguese emperor was overcome with a desire to find out who this Christian emperor was on the other side of the world, without being aware of his geographical whereabouts. He ordered a number of adventurers and seafarers to proceed to discover that land for him. Eventually two navigators departed for that country, and found it and sent a report to the emperor. In Abyssinia the ruler welcomed these envoys of Portugal and told them about his helplessness in confronting the Muslims there, and asked the king of Portugal to dispatch some troops to aid him against the Muslims.
Thus the first military negotiations took place between the two countries, and the emperor of Portugal sent a fleet in aid of the Abyssinians. This fleet reached Abyssinia and remained there for six years. Another present from the Portuguese emperor was a religious mission that organised a base in Abyssinia and engaged in religious propagation. The head of this mission was a priest and a writer who wrote a long book about Abyssinia which, according to current European writers, is the most valuable source of information. 65 This mission returned, and once again after some years the Abyssinian emperor asked for further military assistance. A large Portuguese fleet based in India was dispatched to help the Abyssinians. This fleet had 450 riflemen, a significant force at that time. It also had several old guns. With their aid, the Abyssinians attacked their Muslim neighbours and vanquished them in battle then drove them back to the waste lands near the seashores.
From this time on other European countries, too, began to regard Abyssinia with interest thus the way was opened for relations between England and Abyssinia, and then between Italy and Abyssinia. An agreement was reached first that a port on the Red Sea coast should be given by Abyssinia to England to be used as a base like Aden in latter years, for dispatching naval forces to India. 66 By the beginning of the 19th century colonialism found its way into Abyssinia, and during 19th century several wars occurred between Abyssinia and England and sometimes with Portugal. Later, Italy, formally declared Abyssinia its own colony, and this condition lasted until recent times when Abyssinia found its independence.
The Abyssinian language has a Sabaean root which is mingled with local dialects. Today seventy languages are spoken in Abyssinia, and this number reaches 200 if local dialects are included. But the official state language which is the tongue of the family of the emperors, is Amharic. 67
64. In 1487 A.D. John II sent two men named Alfonso de Paiva and Petroda Covilha in search for Yuhenna, a priest and muythical ruler. In their travel to the east these two obtained informuation to the effect that Yuhenna is the eruperor of Abyssinia. They also gathered information in Aden about the naval route to India.
Paiva died in this journey, but Covilha managed after much trouble to reach the court of Eskander, Emperor of Abyssinia (1478-1494) who died soon after. Lebna Dengeh, successor of Eskandar (1508-1540) prevented Covilha's return, and this led to an exchange of letters between him and Queen Helena, the next ruler of Portugal. In this correspondence the Abyssinian emuperor asked the aid of the Portuguese for confronting the Muslirmms. As during this time Vasco da Gama had gone round Africa and had reached India, the king of Portugal sent a new mission via this route to Abyssinia in 1520 A.D. Fischer Weltgechichte, Vol. 32, (Afrika), 1983.
65 The name of this priest was Francisco Alvarez who was sent as a member of the Portuguese military mission to Abyssinia in 1520 A.D. He wrote a detailed book about this period of Abyssinian history.
66. At the time of this discussion Britain still held Aden as a naval base in southern Yemen.
67. In ancient Abyssinia the most important language was Ge'ez which is now used as a literary language by the clergy of Ethiopian church. This language together with Arabic and at least seventy other living tongues (such as Tigre', Tigrinia, Amharic etc.) are prevalent in Ethiopia, and they are regarded as Semitic tongues. The most important of these since seven hundred years ago when it was a national language, is Amharic which is spoken by many millions. Das noderne Laenderlexikon, Vol. 1.
Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"
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