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Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Kushitic (Cushitic) peoples of North East Africa are the indigenous peoples of the present day Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya since at least 5000 BC. The equivalent name of the indigenous Kushitic peoples of North East Africa was Ethiopid, from which the name of the present day Ethiopia was derived. Due to the dynamics of conflicts, migration, assimilation and other politico-demographic influences over the past seven millennia, the Kushitic population dwindled to a small minority in the Sudan, Eritrea and Kenya while they are still majorities in Ethiopia and Somalia. In Ethiopia over 52% of the current population of 80 million are Kushitic peoples while almost the entire population in Somalia is Kushitic. 

The only Kushitic group living in the Sudan at present is the Beja people of the Southern Sudan while in Eritrea the Saho and the Afar form a significant proportion of the total population. The majority of the Afar people live in Ethiopia. Other Kushitic peoples living in Ethiopia at present are: Oromo (the largest Kushitic people in the continent with the total population of over 26 million); the Sidamas: Sidama, Alaba, Xamabaro, and Qewena (also known formerly as the Sidama Kingdom with the total population of over 8 million form the second largest Kushitic group in Ethiopia); and Ogadeni Somalis with the total population of over 5 million, represent the third largest group. Other smaller Kushitic groups in Ethiopia include Hadiya, Agaw, Burji, Maraqo and so on. In Kenya the Kushitic Rendille and Sakuye together with the Borena Oromo and Samalis occupy about 25 percent of land area but only about 3% of the total population. 

The Kushitic civilization in the Upper Nile Valley of North East Africa reached its height during the second millennium BC. In the second millennium BC, the Kushitic Kingdom located in Nubia in the present day Sudan, was a major rival of Egypt while its influence extended well into sub-Saharan Africa. The Kingdom surivived well into the first millennium BC when it was finally defeated by the Nubian people [1]. However, other historians argue that the Kushitic Kingdom flourished in Meroe, South of its Nubia based former capital Napata for six more centuries until the third century AD. 

However, the Kushitic civilization of the second and first millennium BC was overshadowed by the Egyptian influence and the most recent Axumite civilization. As a result little research has been done regarding the Kushitic kingdom and little is known about the great history of the Kushitic peoples of North East Africa. In particular, little is known about the Kushitic Pharaohs. 

North East Africa is often cited as the center of some of the oldest civilizations in the world. As a matter of fact, there are scientific indications that East Africa is a cradle of humanity whereas some prominent historians point out that North East African civilization predates Greek Classical Civilization [2]. 

The rest of the article is organized as follows: section 2 presents an overview of the rise and decline of the Kushitic kingdom. Section 3 reviews the linguistic connectivity of Kushitic peoples while section 4 concludes. 

The Rise and the Decline of the Kushitic Kingdom

When we talk about the great Pharaohs and the pyramids what often come to our mind are Egypt and the Egyptian civilization. There is nothing wrong with that. However, what is wrong is our continued ignorance about the great Kushitic Pharaohs who ruled Egypt and who built more pyramids in the present day Sudan than in Egypt itself. 

The Kush kingdom was a great civilization in the Northern Valley of the Nile River. The kingdom began to rise at the end of the New Kingdom of Egypt which during the Pharaoh Tuthmoses III marched as far south as the fifth cataract of the Nile river. Historians have universally agreed that the Kushitic King Alara unified Upper Nubia around 780 BC declaring Napata (Northern Sudan), the capital while his successor King Kashata unified both the Upper and Lower Nubia and claimed for himself the title Pharaoh [3]. Other Kushitic Pharaohs include Pharaoh Piye or Piankhy who conquered Thebes and founded Egypt´s 25th Dynasty. 

Lasting for a little less than 100 years, the 25th Dynasty had five Kushitic Pharaohs claiming the throne, the most famous being Pharaoh Taharqa. Leaving numerous monuments both in Egypt and Sudan, one of his most famous deeds was the restoration and building efforts in Karnak Temple, notes the First Court of Amun. Taharqa was a heroic war veteran and under his reign the Kushite Kingdom expanded as far as the borders of Libya and Palestine. Unfortunately for him, the Assyrians were rising exponentially and in no time they stormed Egypt, forcing Taharqa to flee Thebes and seek shelter in Napata [3].

Other historians describe the Kushitic rule in Egypt in the following manner. According to [4] eager to show his devotion to Egyptian deities, the Kushitic king Shabaka devoted particular attention to the ancient site of Memphis. From a document known as the Memphite Theology, which dates to the Old Kingdom, we are well informed on Memphite and Heliopolitan beliefs. Other indications of piety include the Kushite cap worn by these kings. It was similar to a cap worn by the god Ptah and stresses the special attention paid to Egyptian gods. Kushitic kings were also responsible for much expansion and renovation of existing temples in both Egypt and Nubia. Managing the God's Wife in Thebes also guaranteed their control of Thebes. It was also during the 25th Dynasty that important changes in Egyptian art appear. These include more realistic depiction of the human body as well as return to classical forms of the Old and Middle Kingdom. Nonetheless, once again the threat from abroad, in the form of the Assyrians, proved too much for the rulers of Egypt. Tantamani fled to Nubia, thus ending Kushitic rule in Egypt.

Little was known about the period between the retreat of Pharaoh Taharqa from Egypt to Napata (North Sudan) and the third century BC when Kushitic King Arkamani moved the capital from Napata further South to Meroe (midway between Khartoum and Atbara). [By the way, the names of Kushitc kings of the time had a suffix "amani" while the names of the Queens had the same word "amani" as a prefix. Today "amani" means "believe" in major Kushitic languages such as Sidama and Oromo]. The transfer of the Kushite Kingdom´s capital indicates a move from the dependency on Egypt as a base for culture and a step towards being a more indigenous civilization [3]. The move which involved limiting the excessive power of the Kushitic holy priests, also paved the way for the introduction of worshiping the local deities as opposed to adapting Egyptian ones, in particular the Egyptian Amun. Accordingly, the local god Apedemark was moved up the scale to an equal level with Amun and the use of hieroglyphics as a functional language was abandoned, to be replaced with Meroitic (Kushitic) script [3]. 

The Meroitic period of Kushitic civilization flourished for six centuries from third century BC to third century AD. However, the third century marked the beginning of the decline of the Kushitic civilization. The main reason for the decline in Kushitic civilization in Meroe was the decline in trade with Egypt which was then ruled by Romans who were themselves declining. Trade was the backbone of the Kushite economy and the declining trade between the two kingdoms weakened the kingdoms economy. 

On the other side, South East of Meroe, the Kingdom of Aksum was growing in power around the third century AD. In 350 AD, Axumite King Ezana was able to capture Meroe and undermined the Kushitic civilization until the Agaw (Zagwe), Highland Kush, Dynasty recaptured it in 922 AD.

The Zagwe dynasty ruled in North east Africa between 922 AD (some argue that the period was earlier than this) when Aksum declined, until 1270 AD. The area under the Zagwe (Agaw) Dynasty probably included: the highlands of modern Eritrea, the whole of Tigray region of Ethiopia, and Wollo and Gonder provinces of the present Amhara region of Ethiopia. The most famous king of the Zagwe Kushitic Dynasty was King Lalibela who boosted Christianity in the country by building a cluster of miraculous rock hewn churches that are one of the UNESCO´s World heritage sites today.

After 1270 the Kushitic Civilization was generally weakened permanently. The Sidama Kingdom under the Sidama´s famous Queen Furra (in whose name a memorial College was built in 1996 in Yirgalem, Sidama) revived in much smaller scale in the present day Southern Ethiopia until the medieval era. However, since the late 1880s the majority Kushitic Ethiopians have been completely annexed by the northern Abyssinian settlers and have been subjected to wanton economic exploitation and political subjugation which resulted in the present day poverty and economic malaise. 

The Linguistic Connectivity of the Kushitic Peoples 

The history of over 4000 years of Kushitic civilization is preserved through the interconnections of Kushitic culture and languages. The Kushitic languages are a sub group of Afro-Asiatic languages. A prominent linguist Joseph Greenberg [5] divides Kushitic languages into 4 major subgroups. These include: 

(a) Beja language (often placed outside Kushitic proper)

(b) Central Kushitic or Agaw language 

(c) East Kushitic languages (Oromo, Sidama, Somali and Afar)

(d) South Kushitic or Rift valley languages (Iraqwe-Alagwa, Burunge and arguably Dahalo in Kenya and Tanzania)

The Beja language is spoken today by the nomads in parts of Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea while the Agaw language is spoken by small groups in Eritrea and Ethiopia including Agaw and Bilen. The East Kushitic languages are more diverse and comprise more than thirty languages belonging to Kushitic languages with in Afro-Asiatic Phylum [5]. Dahalo lanaguge spoken in Kenya is endangered as only 400 people spoke the language in 1997. Another linguist Richard Hayward [5] breaks up East Kushitic languages into further three well supported families. These are:

a) Sidamic or Highlands 

b) A diverse low land Kush family (with Afar, Somli, and Oromo subgroups) and 

c) Dullay which he believes should be treated separately when attempting to work out the internal relationships of the Kushitic languages. 

The linguistic connectivity is the great heritage of the Kushitic peoples of North East Africa. Their common history and culture reflected in their common language provides an ample opportunity to revive their lost civilization. Together with other Africans in the region, the Kushitic peoples of North East Africa should work hand in hand for greater sub regional unification, economic development and poverty eradication. 


The indigenous North East African Ethioipid (Kushitic peoples) belonged to a great civilization along the Upper Nile Valley during the second and first Millennium BC. The Kushites were the founders and the rulers of the 25th Dynasty in Egypt. During this period, the Kushitic Kingdom extended as far as Libya and Palestine. The rise and the decline of the various Kushite kingdoms continued in various parts of North East Africa until the late 1880s. 

However, the 4000 years of great Kushitic civilization came to an end since the late 1880s when the various Kushitic kingdoms lost their sovereignty to Abyssinian colonizers in the case of the present day Ethiopia and European colonizers in other parts of the sub region. At present the majority Kushitic peoples in Ethiopia languish under poverty, hunger, unemployment and severe economic underdevelopment. 

They have never meaningfully participated in the Ethiopian political leadership for over 120 years. These great peoples of North East Africa should therefore rise once again peacefully and work hand in hand with other Ethiopians to promote democracy, freedom, and eradicate poverty hunger and famine from the country and the sub region once and for all. 


1] Katzner, K. 2002. The Languages of the World. Third edition. Routledge. 

2] Wonderful Likely Continuity of North East Africa´s Long History - Part I: http://www.voicefinfinne.org/English/Co ... _Part1.htm

3] In the reign of the black Pharaohs. See (http://www.afrochat.net/forums/thinktan ... raohs.html)

4] Karol Mysliwiec, 2000. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt First Millenium BCE. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Reviewed by Monica Bontty, UCLA, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001 (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2001/2001-08-13.html)

Source: mereja.com