The Twice-Told Tale: Ethiopia, Race, and the Veil of Signs
This paper examines the retelling of the story of Ethiopia in the Ethiopianist and pan-Africanist movements of the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. In this story, the trope of Ethiopia, which had been deployed in ancient history to signify Africa as racial other, is appropriated by Africans living on the continent and in the diaspora to signify the liberation of African people from both colonial rule and cultural alienation. Nevertheless, while Ethiopia is deployed as a trope of racial difference and race-based cultural aspirations, the demarcation it marks between self and other is indeterminate and ambiguous. This demarcation is unstable insofar as the trope of Ethiopia, and what it signifies in the world of the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, is defined not only by the cultural or religious meanings accrued over a period of almost thirty centuries, but also by the imperial politics of modern Ethiopia in the period under consideration. This politics crystallises around the coronation of Haile Selassie as emperor of Ethiopia in 1930, and marks both the culmination of the historical deployment of the Ethiopian trope and its moment of deconstruction.
Keywords: Race, colonialism, Ethiopianism, pan-Africanism