Ethiopia Explicated: Waugh and Wakanda

In an article posted on the news website Taki’s Magazine, journalist and blogger Steve Sailer offers what seems a good summary history of Ethiopia. Perhaps central to his explanation of why an ancient Christian civilization and monarchy survived in the midst of an area that was conquered by alien Moslem and European nations is its geography. According to Sailer:

Ethiopia is at a pleasant altitude. The current capital, Addis Ababa, is at 7,700 feet elevation. It’s average high temperature ranges from 69 degrees during the July rainy season to merely 77 in March. While most of hot sub-Saharan Africa was beset by infectious diseases that kept the population low and widely dispersed, Ethiopia’s climate allowed more intensive settlement, more like a Middle Eastern land. It attracted Arab settlers from climatically similar Yemen across the Red Sea. Ethiopia had an ancient written Semitic language and impressive churches hewn from solid rock. In 1896, Emperor Menelik II defeated the invading Italians, the only long-term defeat Africans imposed on Europeans in a test of arms in the 19th century.

Sailer also quotes Evelyn Waugh on the unique qualities of Ethiopia that Waugh uncovered in his informal researches prior to his 1930 trip as a correspondent covering the coronation of Haile Selassie:

Like some other isolated high-altitude nations such as Tibet, Yemen, and Bolivia, Ethiopia remains a land of a certain eccentric charm, most famously depicted in the writings of Evelyn Waugh. He recounted his first discussion of visiting Abyssinia in 1930:

“Further information was contributed from less reliable sources; that the Abyssinian Church had canonized Pontius Pilate, and consecrated their bishops by spitting on their heads; the real heir to the throne was hidden in the mountains, fettered with chains of solid gold;… [We] looked up the royal family in the Almanack de Gotha and traced their descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; we found a history which began: ‘The first certain knowledge which we have of Ethiopian history is when Cush the son of Ham [sic] ascended the throne immediately after the Deluge.’… Everything I heard added to the glamour of this astonishing country.”

Sailer’s article is entitled “The Real Wakanda” which is the name of the mythical kingdom described in the Marvel comic book and recent film Black Panther. The Waugh quote is from the opening chapter of Waugh’s 1931 travel book Remote People. The quoted conclusions are based not on Waugh’s actual findings but rather on the fanciful understandings of Ethiopia he collected from his own countrymen before he departed from England. In the original version the name of Cush’s father is left blank, and in the excerpted 1946 version (When the Going Was Good) the phrase relating to his lineage is wholly deleted. What source Mr Sailer may be quoting is a mystery.

Another blogger picks up from Sailer’s article and posts one of his own that traces in more detail the historic or mythical links between the fictional Wakanda and the actual Ethiopia. This is James J O’Meara on the weblog His article opens with a portion of Sailer’s Waugh quotation and is entitled “From Barbados to Black Panther: Will Afrofuturism Beat Archeofuturism?”

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post carries a story by Adam Nebbs about the reopening of the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway line to regular passenger service. This line was described by Waugh in both his fiction and nonfiction accounts of Abyssinia in the 1930s:

The new Chinese-built railway linking the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, with Djibouti, on Africa’s eastern coast, has been moving cargo since 2016, but started carrying passengers only last month. Train travel website The Man in Seat 61 already carries several first-hand passenger reports in place, with detailed and sometimes quite alarming feedback, which makes for interesting reading even if you have no plans or desire to make the trip. The new railway line follows the same route as the old Ethio-Djibouti Railways, which was built by the French in the early 20th century. British journalist Evelyn Waugh used it a number of times in the 1930s during his travel-writing period, and his experiences are recorded both in Remote People (1931) – described with some justification by publisher Penguin as “perhaps the funniest travel book ever written” – and Waugh in Abyssinia (1936), and fictionalised in Black Mischief (1932) and Scoop(1938).


This entry was posted in Black Mischief, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers, Remote People, Scoop, Waugh in Abyssinia, When the Going Was Good and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.