This defect is not exclusive to Coptic priests, but it is extra-pernicious in such a remote land, where a pathetic national superiority complex tends to run wild for lack of sobering comparisons with other nations. In the first half of the fourth century Meropius, a philosopher of Tyre, was voyaging in search of knowledge with two young relatives, Aedesius and Frumentius, who were being educated by him.
Their ship put in for water at a port Adulis? These tribesmen massacred Meropius and his companions, but spared the boys — who were found on shore, studying under a tree — and brought them to the court of Ella Amida at Aksum. The King became very fond of both boys, and made Aedesius his cupbearer and Frumentius, who was already learned and wise, his secretary and treasurer; but before long Ella Amida died, leaving an infant son, Aeizaras, as heir. The Queen begged the young men to help her bear the burden of the regency and, during the years when he was virtual ruler of the country, Frumentius encouraged Christian Roman merchant settlers to spread their faith.
When Aeizaras had been crowned Aedesius and Frumentius handed over their trust and returned to the Roman Empire, though both the King and his mother implored them to stay. Aedesius hurried back to visit his family in Tyre, where he later became a priest, but Frumentius went direct to Alexandria and urged Athanasius to send a bishop to foster Christianity in Ethiopia.
Athanasius decided to consecrate Frumentius himself and sent him back to his mission-field — where he converted countless pagans, ordained priests and after many years converted Aeizaras himself, thereby firmly establishing the Coptic Church in Ethiopia. From the appointment of Frumentius by Athanasius until the Abuna head of the Ethiopian Church has always been an Egyptian monk, chosen by the Patriarch of Alexandria from the monastery of St Antonius.
Many animist strands still run through Ethiopian Christianity, which also reveals a considerable Jewish influence.
The conversion of the royal house to Christianity These aboriginal Agau converts are called Falashas exiles by the Coptic highlanders, and some of them still speak an Hamitic language as well as Amharic. Their traditional stronghold was in the Semien mountains and, though they now number only about 30,, they were sufficiently powerful in the seventh century for Professor Simoons to suspect that they aided the collapse of the Aksumite Empire by blocking the southward spread of Christianity.
Among the Falashas, as among their Christian neighbours, isolation has led to various eccentric beliefs and practices, and a number of Coptic traditions — including a monastic system — eventually merged with their own archaic form of Judaism. According to Wolf Leslau most of their laws and precepts are based on the apocryphal Book of Jubilees.
This, then, was the background to my journey — a country not quite of Africa nor of Asia, with a civilisation that became completely introverted as time passed. During many centuries the currents of new thought merely lapped the Red Sea coast, reaching the interior as disturbing rumours to be at once rejected for seeming far less credible than the legends of the saints in the monastery manuscripts. The preparations for a walking-tour are simple. I only had to buy a large rucksack, a strong pair of boots, a one-gallon plastic water-bottle, a Husky outfit of jacket, pants and socks that was light to carry but warm to wear, a few basic medical supplies, half-a-dozen notebooks and a dozen ballpoint pens.
Unfortunately other books inexplicably accumulated in my rucksack between London and Massawah and when climbing to the 8, foot Eritrean plateau I found myself carrying a weight of fifty pounds. I had been warned — by people who knew people who knew people who had been to Ethiopia — that the Ethiopian authorities distrust foreigners and would only give me a thirty-day tourist visa. Happily this proved to be nonsense. I came at The real difficulty concerned maps. Accompanied only by her trusty mule, Jock, she tells of their adventures Dervla Murphy was born in Co.
Waterford, Ireland, of Dublin parents and still lives there.
Dymocks - In Ethiopia with a Mule by Dervla Murphy, , PaperBack book.
Since she has been regularly publishing descriptions of her journeys - by bicycle or on foot - in the remoter areas of four continents. She has also written about the problems of Northern Ireland, the hazards of the nuclear power industry and race relations in Britain.
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