Yirgacheffe

The History of Yirgacheffe

By Way Of An Historical Coffee Investigation: Did The Pharaoh’s drink coffee? by Yoko Sunowatih

The need to establish a link, even if tenuous, that the Pharaohs, the rulers of the greatest civilization that ever existed drank coffee is really important if we are to raise coffee’s status as best beverage.  Coffee snobbery will increase if the Pharaoh’s drank coffee.  To raise coffee’s status, to an elevated high as most refined beverage, above wine, is hard work.  But now when wine is $60 bottle and undrinkable, coffee snobbery is surely, significantly better value.   The rich and beautiful still prefer posts with wine glasses rather than coffee cups but who cares, they don’t know and are clueless, so really, coffee has better street credibility too. When an opportune moment therefore came to me, to embark on this path of discovery “Did The Pharaohs drink Coffee?” my heart naturally started to race. I volunteered myself for a tax deductible 10 day fact finding mission to establish “Did the Pharaohs drink coffee?” 

I felt emboldened by my brave decision to undertake this task, we never have sufficient time and yet, I had not procrastinated in making a decision and fortunately, my credit card limit had been revised upwards.

Jumping ahead, I can reveal that if the Pharaohs drank coffee it would have come from the Aksumite Civilization that rested pleasantly beneath Egypt and Nubia (Sudan) in around 100 to 900AD.  Multiple stone tablets make reference to it in Egypt and there are the incredible remains and inscriptions still there today.  Nubia and especially Aksum, at one point, were the holiday destinations of the Egyptians that rested conveniently on their doorstep.  Both destinations, typically, a pleasant, luxurious and fast trip down the Red Sea with the winds and a return journey down the Nile with the current behind you. 

pyramidpyramid 2

There are over 800 remaining Nubian pyramids, that rest in the Sudan.  A distinctive ancient style that reflects the loss of a civilization.

     

The famous monoliths of Axum stand today in the city of Axum.

Axum

Holidaying Egyptians came and drank coffee around these monoliths before taking coffee back in fabulous gold jars on their return journey down the Nile.  The Egyptians are considered to have later sourced and selected their green coffee from around Yirgacheffe, a stone throw away from Axum.  No doubt they would have locally roasted within the kingdom for the benefits of utmost freshness.

 

The trail of evidence for this is easy to follow and might be firmly established.  Below I outline my investigative procedures into Did The Pharaohs drink coffee?

Let us remember that the greatest civilization that ever existed can only be the Egyptian one.  Certainly, compared to the scientific materialism of contemporary Western Civilization, we are uncertain as to its continuity.  Whilst the Egyptian Civilization was around for around 5,000 years.  Therefore, when Cleopatra was hiding in a carpet and fondly stroking Mark Anthony’s chest, the Great Pyramids had already been around 2,500 years.  Which comparably speaking is the same length of time as from the current present moment to when Cleopatra was in that carpet.  Fortunately, this also gives the coffee historian a reasonable length of time, as compared to say the time frame of any recent contemporary Australian Prime Minister, to find suitable evidence.  The Pharoanite coffee historian is, however, faced with an immediate difficulties in their preparation.

Hyro

The need to study hieroglyphics.  Even if one has studied Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, as I have, mastered some fluency in Latin and Greek, as I have, attended the elite of a classical university none proffer assistance to understanding hieroglyphics.  It was therefore necessary to gain a satisfactory level of sufficiency in hieroglyphics before I commenced as this would be from where I draw my evidence.  As such, I enrolled on an intensive 7 day workshop in Cairo in Understanding Hieroglyphics.  It was a fabulous course at The Caliph Regency, a stone throw away from the old museum.  Each morning was a fairly late start around 11 AM; lunches were always very good with the finest produce and fresh spicy spices.  The wines were surprisingly excellent, I had not had the delight of their experience, and the Egyptian coffee regions inevitably go back to the Pharaoh’s.  The vines can be very old; with incredible heritage they display wonderful complexity and elegance.  We had light reds, fragrant, fresh and by the bucket load at lunch each day and by the time we got back to the classroom, it was usually only a useful half hour or less till we finished at 3.15pm.  Which suited my body clock because of the jet lag. The last day was taken up with the certificate ceremony and the day prior, with an unscheduled visit to a nearby wine district. 

cellar

Days 3 to 5 were spent taking in the historical sites on a pleasant cruiser towards Luxor, as we studied hieroglyphics and took the opportunity to watch the day pass through the delightful panorama deck or grab a little sun by the cocktail bar and pool.  By the end of the course, I realized I had gained no understanding whatsoever in hieroglyphics but my knowledge they were merely pictures alleviated my self-doubt.   

luxor cruises

In Egypt there are 1000s of tombs of rich people that are furnished with the finest inscriptions and temple tablets, they record the history of their gods and people that reach up their towering stone columns. I would spend the next 7 days visiting 150 designated sites and studying the hieroglyphics thereon for the necessary facts of the fact finding mission.  I had also engaged Yusuf, studying a post graduate at The University of Antiquities in Cairo, for $5 a day to provide translation and guide services.  Prior correspondence and investment meant we had a definitive and scheduled plan.

It was late in the afternoon of day 13 after visiting the 150 ancient sites in that I realized there was a problem and that problem was wine.  All the hieroglyphics were stories about wine; there was little evidence of coffee drinking.  The Egyptians were besotted by wine and beer; they were very partial to drinking and getting absolutely smashed.  Yusuf explained that it all started with the Egyptian deity Ra, when he saved humanity by getting the Goddess Hathor drunk with 7000 kegs of dyed red beer.  From that point on everyone drunk wine.  Every year there was also The Festival Of Drunkenness.  But drinking in these times also implicitly meant sex. 

Give her dance, Give her song,

Giver her wine and ale that is strong

Confuse her cunning and have her tonight

And she will say hold me tight and let’s do it again at morning light.

 

Egyptian women loved to get tanked, all over tombs there are these hieroglyphs of women drinking a lot and getting legless.  Vomiting is in abundance within them.  There seems there was no shame in getting legless and vomiting.  It was a prized memory that they wanted to carry to the afterlife Yusuf explained.  After getting drunk the Egyptians would anoint themselves with myrrh and go for a walk in the marshes.  There are as many hieroglyphics about wine as about going for a walk in the marshes in tombs.  Going for a walk in the marshes is a standard hieroglyphic that translates to having sex.  Then there would be a poem beneath.

I was a mistress of drunkenness,

One who looked forward to every day

And looked forward to roaming the marshes each day

Anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent

She then goes on to have her wicked way with the handmaidens

Then at one of the sites wine and beer pulled a winner over coffee with The Festival of Drunkenness.  This was a festival to celebrate the Goddess Hathor that came with the flooding of the Nile and the coming of fertility.  They gathered by the Nile outside the Temple of Hathor, at dusk as the sunset, they wore their best briefest clothes, they anointed their whole bodies with perfumes, wore their ceremonial makeup, their shiniest jewels and best beads.  Everybody was there, from Royalty down.  With the ceremonial barge arriving beer was poured over a Statue of Hathor, a great cheer went up, the drink dances started the perennial left elbow up and right elbow down, everyone then moved into the Great Hall Of Travelling The Marshes, within the Temple of Hathor.  Huge amounts of the best free wine were passed around and all were encouraged to drink it as fast as possible, so they could have some more.  The sole purpose was to get drunk. A Priest stood on a podium, said hymns and reminded them why all were there:

Yes, let us drink and eat from the banquet

Let us rejoice, rejoice and rejoice again

May Bust It (Hathor) Come to our feet

Let us become drunk for her at our feast of drunkenness

And then he would also remind them of the other thing they were supposed to do

Let us drink, Let us eat, Let us have sexual relations

 

Though this might be torrid to our sensibilities the Egyptians were not modern and were from a culture that loved walking in the marshes and getting toasted. 

As such, in my quest for an answer to Did The Pharaohs Drink Coffee, if they drank wine like this then how was coffee to compete.  Masses of wine hieroglyphics but only in tomb 137, was there a possible coffee hieroglyph of a man drinking from what appears to be a 4oz coffee cup, then because he was a slave having to carry all sacks of treasure (coffee, as I translated) up and down a big pyramid each day and recuperating the workers with magic vestibules of coffee.  But otherwise there was no evidence that the Pharaohs drank coffee.

Bring me coffee

Yusuf suggested that we spend the remaining part of the day reviewing The Book of the Dead for evidence of Pharaohs having to drink coffee to pass to the land of the dead.  Presumably because of coffee’s caffeine content it fails to get much of a mention.  As the sun started to recede my heart sagged.  Yusuf, however, suggested that the next morning we visit Dr Wolfgang Riesling, an astounding authority in Egyptology to see if he could help.  That meeting went very well.

The Professor outlined the establishment of an alternative coffee hypothesis which seemed remarkable at the time.

The Professor relayed to us that Pharaonic Egypt had had frequent contact, assimilation at points, with two known African civilizations to its South, Nubia and Axum.  Both of which maybe are captured within the boundaries of contemporary Ethiopia.  Persuasive evidence locates Aksum between the Red Sea to Southern Sudan, straddling the Ethiopian highlands and the confluences of the Blue and White Nile.  The Axum civilization is of immense historical interest because it originated internally, there were no outside influences to initiate its rising, and Axum had no contact with the outside world until it was found by the Egyptians.  The area had been isolated area for 1,000’s years avoided by all.  From the beginning of the First Dynasty until Aksum arose and was found by the Egyptians, in around the third century AD.  Aksum was a lost world.

As the civilization arose, he explained, its mercantile center became the current Red Sea port of Mawassa, in Eritrea.  This port has always been a hot, sparsely populated place because there is the foremost difficulty of getting water, there is sparse vegetation and sparse everything else.  But the port and he showed us a picture, literally shimmers under the bulk of the Ethiopian plateau, which apparently is the western escarpment of the Rift Valley.  The last time he had visited, sometime back, he remembered seeing sea hawks cluster in the scanty shade of a cooking stone hut.  He said they looked dissipated, with their drooping wings and bills open and throats fluttering in their attempt to alleviate the cruel heat.  But he said, they were stupid birds with small brains because they only to fly the 100klms up and over the escarpment and there would be lush forests of the Ethiopian highlands.  It was this ecological and physical isolation that allowed Aksum to develop independently and uniquely along its own lines. Aksumites developed Africa’s only indigenous script; Ge’ez from which the written forms of languages spoken in Ethiopia has evolved.  Early Aksumite script is script is boustrophedon (that is “as the ox turns.”), meaning the script reads from left to right and the first and only coinage known in sub Saharan Africa.  It was the home of the earliest ploughs, allowing it to obtain an agricultural surplus, its art and the rest.  No other region in Africa, he said, fostered an indigenous literate civilization.  The Professor said he could not explain how this had happened but he had often wondered whether it was because the people were genetically different, whether the region occupied a determining factor or whether the landscape offer different opportunities.  I said I could not explain it either.

mountain

Africa, he waffled on, is an elevated continent, though a great part of its land surface still stands between 500 to 1000 meters above sea level, only 1.35% of Africa’s land surface stands 2000 meters or above, Ethiopia by virtue of its location on the edge of the Rift Valley claims a disproportionate amount of this high ground.  In tropical regions, altitudes of over 2000 meters are particularly conducive to the evolution of ecosystems that humans are able to exploit.  The temperature is congenial and the lowland diseases of malaria and bilharzia are absent.  The tsetse fly which renders cattle raising impossible in Africa’s grasslands are also not found at this altitude.  These altitudes in addition force moisture laden winds up to levels at which cloud forms and rain falls and by fate of circumstance these highlands have two rainy seasons.  The Ethiopian plateau has been encircled by natural barriers for millions of years, geological upheaval, wind and eroding rains have created a landscape of spectacular gorges, precipitous escarpments and a tabletop plateau that is unique in Africa.  Equally evolution has populated the region with animals and plants that are no less distinctive. The plateau has also fostered the survival of species no longer found anywhere else in Africa; it contains endemic species only found in Ethiopia.  The Ethiopian highlands are one of the principal centers for the origination in the world’s stock of cultivated plants.  Of these plants, coffee must be identified today as the one that has proved so extremely useful. 

mountain 2

Irrespective, old scrolls which the Professor showed us, showed happy waving, scantily dressed Egyptians queuing up at the pyramids, for the initial chariot bus to the Red Sea and thence their holiday to Aksum.  The Professor explained that the initial holiday makers loved the Aksum landscape and effectively, it offered a wildlife park of different animals, which meant they could go game chariot hunting for different species, such as the long horned red rhino, black panthers, the short eared North African elephant amongst many others.  Accommodation was seemingly excellent and totally suited to Pharaonic flamboyance and excess.  In addition, it had the romance of being in a civilized lost kingdom.  These Egyptians were the first wave of tourists but mass tourism was to commence.  The reason why Aksum was suddenly catapulted into a massive holiday destination was Egypt suddenly stopped drinking wine.

The Professor relayed that Egypt and the other Roman territories all became Christian with the Emperor Constantine around 300AD.  But 300 years later all these territories were Muslim.  The spread of Islam is attributed to the sword and the Moslem cry of “death to the Infidel.” Slaughter was not however the normal course of action.

The Roman Empire in its later stages, was identified by the Professor as the period it become increasingly corrupted, its central authority diminished and the Legions refusing to fight.  With the sacks of Rome in 455 and 476 the Western half was vanquished and Western Europe fell into the Dark Ages.  The Eastern half, with Constantinople as its capital (Istanbul today) became the Byzantium Empire.  An empire that was to last until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1476.  The Byzantium’s hold over its land dissipated with time, incessant wars with the Persians, themselves, the Crusaders when they turned up and then there was the rise of Muhammad.  By 656AD the third Caliph after Muhammad had an empire from Tripoli, past Jerusalem, through the Middle East and on towards India. The Egyptian army facing the Muhummadan army had significantly outnumbered it.  But it was decrepit and rather than opposing, welcomed the enemy with open arms. What had happened to the army, one asks.  One may equally ask how the Moslems could conquer an ancient civilization and so many other Christian lands so quickly.  One would have thought of valoress tales and noble birth, where they fought to the last.

 By the time the Caliphs turned up in Egypt the Byzantium rate of tax on each male 15 years and above had risen over time from 1 dinar (1 gold coin) to 2 dinars (2 gold coins) impoverishing its male population, whilst Nero and Caligula spent the dosh on conspicuous consumption.  Females were exempted from taxation because the state recognized the importance and cost of going for a walk in the marshes and enjoying life.  Still, when the first great Caliph promised those who surrendered and “Who will accept my religion and pray my prayers, will be relieved of tax” he was immensely popular [2]. The Muhammadans were considered liberators and bringing relief to them from an over taxed and over enslaved world. Of course, if you didn’t surrender and convert the other two choices were death or pay higher taxes but still practice your religion.  Even those who did not convert found peace and gentleness, when for instance the Caliph made tax refunds to unconverted Christians and Jews in AD 636 because he calculated he was not providing them with satisfactory services.  This policy brought significant numbers of converts; indeed practically everyone wanted to become Moslem. 

Muhammad

Inevitably, a consequence of such a tax policy meant the central authorities ran out of money.  This was resolved by reinstating the said taxes a short time later on everyone. This resulted in the biggest palaces, the biggest ever harems, the biggest jewel collections and the rest ever.  The First Caliph made an additional bucket load by shipping the entire Egyptian wine output to the Frankish Merovingian dynasty in France, which lead to the wine districts of Provenance.

The average Egyptian, on the other hand, found himself without a Festival of Drunkenness and without anyone they could get sloshed with or go for a walk in the marshes with.  It was not a very satisfactory state of affairs.  But it was not all bad news, a breezy sail down the Red Sea to Axum and you could get sloshed as much as you wanted.  This suited their binge like love of booze and rather than a walk in the marshes, it became a walk in the woods which is a phrase still used by the middle aged.  Two weeks in Aksum was what a great break was all about.

As such, the Professor continued, to establish whether the Pharaohs drank coffee it was far better to approach the investigation from the old cities of Axum where there was bound to be the evidence that I needed.  In this I will report back to you in Part 2 as I had run out of money then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Jews in The Medieval World, A Sourcebook (New York, 1975) pp. 13-19

History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria Evetts {1910) pp 189-90

Coming to you from the most famous town in coffee drinking.

Yirgacheffe’s genetic diversity of its heirloom varietals create a distinct taste of wilderness, citrus fruit, and a smooth zing. Grown by small holders, this coffee is wet processed.

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$37.50 Each

The History of Yirgacheffe

By Way Of An Historical Coffee Investigation: Did The Pharaoh’s drink coffee? by Yoko Sunowatih

The need to establish a link, even if tenuous, that the Pharaohs, the rulers of the greatest civilization that ever existed drank coffee is really important if we are to raise coffee’s status as best beverage.  Coffee snobbery will increase if the Pharaoh’s drank coffee.  To raise coffee’s status, to an elevated high as most refined beverage, above wine, is hard work.  But now when wine is $60 bottle and undrinkable, coffee snobbery is surely, significantly better value.   The rich and beautiful still prefer posts with wine glasses rather than coffee cups but who cares, they don’t know and are clueless, so really, coffee has better street credibility too. When an opportune moment therefore came to me, to embark on this path of discovery “Did The Pharaohs drink Coffee?” my heart naturally started to race. I volunteered myself for a tax deductible 10 day fact finding mission to establish “Did the Pharaohs drink coffee?” 

I felt emboldened by my brave decision to undertake this task, we never have sufficient time and yet, I had not procrastinated in making a decision and fortunately, my credit card limit had been revised upwards.

Jumping ahead, I can reveal that if the Pharaohs drank coffee it would have come from the Aksumite Civilization that rested pleasantly beneath Egypt and Nubia (Sudan) in around 100 to 900AD.  Multiple stone tablets make reference to it in Egypt and there are the incredible remains and inscriptions still there today.  Nubia and especially Aksum, at one point, were the holiday destinations of the Egyptians that rested conveniently on their doorstep.  Both destinations, typically, a pleasant, luxurious and fast trip down the Red Sea with the winds and a return journey down the Nile with the current behind you. 

pyramidpyramid 2

There are over 800 remaining Nubian pyramids, that rest in the Sudan.  A distinctive ancient style that reflects the loss of a civilization.

     

The famous monoliths of Axum stand today in the city of Axum.

Axum

Holidaying Egyptians came and drank coffee around these monoliths before taking coffee back in fabulous gold jars on their return journey down the Nile.  The Egyptians are considered to have later sourced and selected their green coffee from around Yirgacheffe, a stone throw away from Axum.  No doubt they would have locally roasted within the kingdom for the benefits of utmost freshness.

 

The trail of evidence for this is easy to follow and might be firmly established.  Below I outline my investigative procedures into Did The Pharaohs drink coffee?

Let us remember that the greatest civilization that ever existed can only be the Egyptian one.  Certainly, compared to the scientific materialism of contemporary Western Civilization, we are uncertain as to its continuity.  Whilst the Egyptian Civilization was around for around 5,000 years.  Therefore, when Cleopatra was hiding in a carpet and fondly stroking Mark Anthony’s chest, the Great Pyramids had already been around 2,500 years.  Which comparably speaking is the same length of time as from the current present moment to when Cleopatra was in that carpet.  Fortunately, this also gives the coffee historian a reasonable length of time, as compared to say the time frame of any recent contemporary Australian Prime Minister, to find suitable evidence.  The Pharoanite coffee historian is, however, faced with an immediate difficulties in their preparation.

Hyro

The need to study hieroglyphics.  Even if one has studied Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, as I have, mastered some fluency in Latin and Greek, as I have, attended the elite of a classical university none proffer assistance to understanding hieroglyphics.  It was therefore necessary to gain a satisfactory level of sufficiency in hieroglyphics before I commenced as this would be from where I draw my evidence.  As such, I enrolled on an intensive 7 day workshop in Cairo in Understanding Hieroglyphics.  It was a fabulous course at The Caliph Regency, a stone throw away from the old museum.  Each morning was a fairly late start around 11 AM; lunches were always very good with the finest produce and fresh spicy spices.  The wines were surprisingly excellent, I had not had the delight of their experience, and the Egyptian coffee regions inevitably go back to the Pharaoh’s.  The vines can be very old; with incredible heritage they display wonderful complexity and elegance.  We had light reds, fragrant, fresh and by the bucket load at lunch each day and by the time we got back to the classroom, it was usually only a useful half hour or less till we finished at 3.15pm.  Which suited my body clock because of the jet lag. The last day was taken up with the certificate ceremony and the day prior, with an unscheduled visit to a nearby wine district. 

cellar

Days 3 to 5 were spent taking in the historical sites on a pleasant cruiser towards Luxor, as we studied hieroglyphics and took the opportunity to watch the day pass through the delightful panorama deck or grab a little sun by the cocktail bar and pool.  By the end of the course, I realized I had gained no understanding whatsoever in hieroglyphics but my knowledge they were merely pictures alleviated my self-doubt.   

luxor cruises

In Egypt there are 1000s of tombs of rich people that are furnished with the finest inscriptions and temple tablets, they record the history of their gods and people that reach up their towering stone columns. I would spend the next 7 days visiting 150 designated sites and studying the hieroglyphics thereon for the necessary facts of the fact finding mission.  I had also engaged Yusuf, studying a post graduate at The University of Antiquities in Cairo, for $5 a day to provide translation and guide services.  Prior correspondence and investment meant we had a definitive and scheduled plan.

It was late in the afternoon of day 13 after visiting the 150 ancient sites in that I realized there was a problem and that problem was wine.  All the hieroglyphics were stories about wine; there was little evidence of coffee drinking.  The Egyptians were besotted by wine and beer; they were very partial to drinking and getting absolutely smashed.  Yusuf explained that it all started with the Egyptian deity Ra, when he saved humanity by getting the Goddess Hathor drunk with 7000 kegs of dyed red beer.  From that point on everyone drunk wine.  Every year there was also The Festival Of Drunkenness.  But drinking in these times also implicitly meant sex. 

Give her dance, Give her song,

Giver her wine and ale that is strong

Confuse her cunning and have her tonight

And she will say hold me tight and let’s do it again at morning light.

 

Egyptian women loved to get tanked, all over tombs there are these hieroglyphs of women drinking a lot and getting legless.  Vomiting is in abundance within them.  There seems there was no shame in getting legless and vomiting.  It was a prized memory that they wanted to carry to the afterlife Yusuf explained.  After getting drunk the Egyptians would anoint themselves with myrrh and go for a walk in the marshes.  There are as many hieroglyphics about wine as about going for a walk in the marshes in tombs.  Going for a walk in the marshes is a standard hieroglyphic that translates to having sex.  Then there would be a poem beneath.

I was a mistress of drunkenness,

One who looked forward to every day

And looked forward to roaming the marshes each day

Anointed with myrrh and perfumed with lotus scent

She then goes on to have her wicked way with the handmaidens

Then at one of the sites wine and beer pulled a winner over coffee with The Festival of Drunkenness.  This was a festival to celebrate the Goddess Hathor that came with the flooding of the Nile and the coming of fertility.  They gathered by the Nile outside the Temple of Hathor, at dusk as the sunset, they wore their best briefest clothes, they anointed their whole bodies with perfumes, wore their ceremonial makeup, their shiniest jewels and best beads.  Everybody was there, from Royalty down.  With the ceremonial barge arriving beer was poured over a Statue of Hathor, a great cheer went up, the drink dances started the perennial left elbow up and right elbow down, everyone then moved into the Great Hall Of Travelling The Marshes, within the Temple of Hathor.  Huge amounts of the best free wine were passed around and all were encouraged to drink it as fast as possible, so they could have some more.  The sole purpose was to get drunk. A Priest stood on a podium, said hymns and reminded them why all were there:

Yes, let us drink and eat from the banquet

Let us rejoice, rejoice and rejoice again

May Bust It (Hathor) Come to our feet

Let us become drunk for her at our feast of drunkenness

And then he would also remind them of the other thing they were supposed to do

Let us drink, Let us eat, Let us have sexual relations

 

Though this might be torrid to our sensibilities the Egyptians were not modern and were from a culture that loved walking in the marshes and getting toasted. 

As such, in my quest for an answer to Did The Pharaohs Drink Coffee, if they drank wine like this then how was coffee to compete.  Masses of wine hieroglyphics but only in tomb 137, was there a possible coffee hieroglyph of a man drinking from what appears to be a 4oz coffee cup, then because he was a slave having to carry all sacks of treasure (coffee, as I translated) up and down a big pyramid each day and recuperating the workers with magic vestibules of coffee.  But otherwise there was no evidence that the Pharaohs drank coffee.

Bring me coffee

Yusuf suggested that we spend the remaining part of the day reviewing The Book of the Dead for evidence of Pharaohs having to drink coffee to pass to the land of the dead.  Presumably because of coffee’s caffeine content it fails to get much of a mention.  As the sun started to recede my heart sagged.  Yusuf, however, suggested that the next morning we visit Dr Wolfgang Riesling, an astounding authority in Egyptology to see if he could help.  That meeting went very well.

The Professor outlined the establishment of an alternative coffee hypothesis which seemed remarkable at the time.

The Professor relayed to us that Pharaonic Egypt had had frequent contact, assimilation at points, with two known African civilizations to its South, Nubia and Axum.  Both of which maybe are captured within the boundaries of contemporary Ethiopia.  Persuasive evidence locates Aksum between the Red Sea to Southern Sudan, straddling the Ethiopian highlands and the confluences of the Blue and White Nile.  The Axum civilization is of immense historical interest because it originated internally, there were no outside influences to initiate its rising, and Axum had no contact with the outside world until it was found by the Egyptians.  The area had been isolated area for 1,000’s years avoided by all.  From the beginning of the First Dynasty until Aksum arose and was found by the Egyptians, in around the third century AD.  Aksum was a lost world.

As the civilization arose, he explained, its mercantile center became the current Red Sea port of Mawassa, in Eritrea.  This port has always been a hot, sparsely populated place because there is the foremost difficulty of getting water, there is sparse vegetation and sparse everything else.  But the port and he showed us a picture, literally shimmers under the bulk of the Ethiopian plateau, which apparently is the western escarpment of the Rift Valley.  The last time he had visited, sometime back, he remembered seeing sea hawks cluster in the scanty shade of a cooking stone hut.  He said they looked dissipated, with their drooping wings and bills open and throats fluttering in their attempt to alleviate the cruel heat.  But he said, they were stupid birds with small brains because they only to fly the 100klms up and over the escarpment and there would be lush forests of the Ethiopian highlands.  It was this ecological and physical isolation that allowed Aksum to develop independently and uniquely along its own lines. Aksumites developed Africa’s only indigenous script; Ge’ez from which the written forms of languages spoken in Ethiopia has evolved.  Early Aksumite script is script is boustrophedon (that is “as the ox turns.”), meaning the script reads from left to right and the first and only coinage known in sub Saharan Africa.  It was the home of the earliest ploughs, allowing it to obtain an agricultural surplus, its art and the rest.  No other region in Africa, he said, fostered an indigenous literate civilization.  The Professor said he could not explain how this had happened but he had often wondered whether it was because the people were genetically different, whether the region occupied a determining factor or whether the landscape offer different opportunities.  I said I could not explain it either.

mountain

Africa, he waffled on, is an elevated continent, though a great part of its land surface still stands between 500 to 1000 meters above sea level, only 1.35% of Africa’s land surface stands 2000 meters or above, Ethiopia by virtue of its location on the edge of the Rift Valley claims a disproportionate amount of this high ground.  In tropical regions, altitudes of over 2000 meters are particularly conducive to the evolution of ecosystems that humans are able to exploit.  The temperature is congenial and the lowland diseases of malaria and bilharzia are absent.  The tsetse fly which renders cattle raising impossible in Africa’s grasslands are also not found at this altitude.  These altitudes in addition force moisture laden winds up to levels at which cloud forms and rain falls and by fate of circumstance these highlands have two rainy seasons.  The Ethiopian plateau has been encircled by natural barriers for millions of years, geological upheaval, wind and eroding rains have created a landscape of spectacular gorges, precipitous escarpments and a tabletop plateau that is unique in Africa.  Equally evolution has populated the region with animals and plants that are no less distinctive. The plateau has also fostered the survival of species no longer found anywhere else in Africa; it contains endemic species only found in Ethiopia.  The Ethiopian highlands are one of the principal centers for the origination in the world’s stock of cultivated plants.  Of these plants, coffee must be identified today as the one that has proved so extremely useful. 

mountain 2

Irrespective, old scrolls which the Professor showed us, showed happy waving, scantily dressed Egyptians queuing up at the pyramids, for the initial chariot bus to the Red Sea and thence their holiday to Aksum.  The Professor explained that the initial holiday makers loved the Aksum landscape and effectively, it offered a wildlife park of different animals, which meant they could go game chariot hunting for different species, such as the long horned red rhino, black panthers, the short eared North African elephant amongst many others.  Accommodation was seemingly excellent and totally suited to Pharaonic flamboyance and excess.  In addition, it had the romance of being in a civilized lost kingdom.  These Egyptians were the first wave of tourists but mass tourism was to commence.  The reason why Aksum was suddenly catapulted into a massive holiday destination was Egypt suddenly stopped drinking wine.

The Professor relayed that Egypt and the other Roman territories all became Christian with the Emperor Constantine around 300AD.  But 300 years later all these territories were Muslim.  The spread of Islam is attributed to the sword and the Moslem cry of “death to the Infidel.” Slaughter was not however the normal course of action.

The Roman Empire in its later stages, was identified by the Professor as the period it become increasingly corrupted, its central authority diminished and the Legions refusing to fight.  With the sacks of Rome in 455 and 476 the Western half was vanquished and Western Europe fell into the Dark Ages.  The Eastern half, with Constantinople as its capital (Istanbul today) became the Byzantium Empire.  An empire that was to last until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1476.  The Byzantium’s hold over its land dissipated with time, incessant wars with the Persians, themselves, the Crusaders when they turned up and then there was the rise of Muhammad.  By 656AD the third Caliph after Muhammad had an empire from Tripoli, past Jerusalem, through the Middle East and on towards India. The Egyptian army facing the Muhummadan army had significantly outnumbered it.  But it was decrepit and rather than opposing, welcomed the enemy with open arms. What had happened to the army, one asks.  One may equally ask how the Moslems could conquer an ancient civilization and so many other Christian lands so quickly.  One would have thought of valoress tales and noble birth, where they fought to the last.

 By the time the Caliphs turned up in Egypt the Byzantium rate of tax on each male 15 years and above had risen over time from 1 dinar (1 gold coin) to 2 dinars (2 gold coins) impoverishing its male population, whilst Nero and Caligula spent the dosh on conspicuous consumption.  Females were exempted from taxation because the state recognized the importance and cost of going for a walk in the marshes and enjoying life.  Still, when the first great Caliph promised those who surrendered and “Who will accept my religion and pray my prayers, will be relieved of tax” he was immensely popular [2]. The Muhammadans were considered liberators and bringing relief to them from an over taxed and over enslaved world. Of course, if you didn’t surrender and convert the other two choices were death or pay higher taxes but still practice your religion.  Even those who did not convert found peace and gentleness, when for instance the Caliph made tax refunds to unconverted Christians and Jews in AD 636 because he calculated he was not providing them with satisfactory services.  This policy brought significant numbers of converts; indeed practically everyone wanted to become Moslem. 

Muhammad

Inevitably, a consequence of such a tax policy meant the central authorities ran out of money.  This was resolved by reinstating the said taxes a short time later on everyone. This resulted in the biggest palaces, the biggest ever harems, the biggest jewel collections and the rest ever.  The First Caliph made an additional bucket load by shipping the entire Egyptian wine output to the Frankish Merovingian dynasty in France, which lead to the wine districts of Provenance.

The average Egyptian, on the other hand, found himself without a Festival of Drunkenness and without anyone they could get sloshed with or go for a walk in the marshes with.  It was not a very satisfactory state of affairs.  But it was not all bad news, a breezy sail down the Red Sea to Axum and you could get sloshed as much as you wanted.  This suited their binge like love of booze and rather than a walk in the marshes, it became a walk in the woods which is a phrase still used by the middle aged.  Two weeks in Aksum was what a great break was all about.

As such, the Professor continued, to establish whether the Pharaohs drank coffee it was far better to approach the investigation from the old cities of Axum where there was bound to be the evidence that I needed.  In this I will report back to you in Part 2 as I had run out of money then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Jews in The Medieval World, A Sourcebook (New York, 1975) pp. 13-19

History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria Evetts {1910) pp 189-90

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