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Book Reviews The Ethiopian Borderlands: Essays in Regional Historyfrom Ancient Times to the End of the 18th Century Richard Pankhurst. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Red Sea Press, 1997. Pp. xii, 489; illustrations, tables, bibliography , index. Paper, $24.95. This volume of history on the Ethiopian "borderlands" is a study covering the areas outside the historical core of the Christian highland state. It is based on a large array of historical texts of Ethiopia, like reports of antique inscriptions, royal and eye-witness-chronicles and the rich travel literature on Ethiopia and the Horn. The narrative is derived from the author's unsurpassed knowledge of this corpus, especially of the travelers' literature. Due to this emphasis, it is also a study of premodern perceptions and interpretations of Ethiopia and its surrounding regions by these (mainly European) visitors and observers, although it is not always clear what exactly is the opinion or interpretation of the author and that of the sources used. This book may serve as an essential introduction for the general reader, for historians and other scholars interested in Ethiopian society and history. The chronicles and literature of travelers on which it is largely based are still fascinating and in many respects historically valuable. They have had a considerable influence in shaping the themes and interests of Ethiopian historiography, and remains an inevitable source to consult or check in any historical study Professor Pankhurst has provided yet another contribution to the opening up and putting to good use of this vast body of early testimonies. As the author states in the Introduction, the coverage of the borderlands is unbalanced due to the "unequal availability" of sources, and the text thus ". . . reflects the historical records at our disposal," not the ". . . actual importance"©Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 5, No. 2 (New Series) 1998, pp. 135-143 135 136 Book Reviews of the various places (ix). Considering the size of this book and the nature of the information presented, the borderlands are, however, not an uncharted or unknown area. The author has used several classic texts, like the chronicles of the great emperors, the chronicle of Chihab ed-Din on the Gran period and the text of Bahrey on the Oromo (both 16th century). It certainly cannot be said that the subject of the "borderlands" has hitherto been neglected in Ethiopian historiography. In the work of many Ethiopian historians (both in M.A. theses and in several Ph.D. theses and books), the borderlands and their relation to the state-forming political "core" have been addressed in rich detail.1 Furthermore, in modern social anthropological studies, of course, these areas and their cultures have also been analyzed in depth, partly on the basis of previously unrecorded oral traditions.2 The material surveyed is arranged in six parts, on ancient times, on the early medieval period, on the era of emperors Zär'a Ya'eqob and Libne Dingil, then one long part on the era ofAhmed Gran and on the time of emperor Galawdewos and Sers'e Dingil, to end with a part on the Oromo migrations and the Gondarine monarchy, taking the story up to ca. 1800. These periods are surveyed in (often too much) detail, largely by region and hence with partiy overlapping chronological sequence, and closely following the sources. Each part is concluded with a summarizing chapter caded "The borderlands and the interior." Throughout the text, interesting illustrations are provided, from old maps to portraits and landscapes . The account has an emphasis on matters of war, as the author underlines (ix), but also on economic relations. Economic factors were of course closely intertwined with the perennial fight for power and dominance pursued by all parties in the Horn, from the Christian state to the Afar and Somali sultanates and other state-forming peoples (Oromo, Kafa, Hinnario, etc.) in the east and south. One of the conclusions of the author is that the borderlands "... were far from isolated from the central Ethiopian core" (443). We might indeed say that in many respects they were one of its essential preconditions. Already early in recorded history, the peoples and policies on the Ethiopian highland massif were partly economically dependent on products...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 135-139
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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