This excerpt, after a gap of pages and years, finishes the story begun in the story
French Poets - 2nd excerpt from Ciphers and Symbols
French Poets II
(a second excerpt from Ciphers and Symbols -
WAR STORIES FOR MY GRANDCHILDREN)
by Jansen Estrup
Philip's journey did not cover as much ground, geographically. It was restricted largely to Ethiopia, a storied, rugged country.
Few realized it, but Ethiopia had been the first Christian nation. For that matter, it had been the first Hebrew nation, too, (what we think of as ‘the holy land' was never more than a subordinate extension of Egypt or Anatolia, later Greece and Rome) reason enough to attract those with fey knowledge, wild notions and great ambitions.
It came to be Hebrew in a round-about, millennium long epic beginning around 970 BCE, when Saul was Akhenaton's military governor on Egypt's deep frontier. Rebellion broke out, leaving Saul doomed and Akhenaton's heirs in turmoil, a mythic biblical time when mythical ‘Kings' David and Solomon married ‘Sheban queens' (the daughters of Egyptian generals) to legitimize their thrones and used Egyptian authority to rule as minor governors of a minor land. That fell apart, too, and young king Shi-shi (who later took the name Ramses II) took his armies north to restore order in the year 910 or so.
Among the Egyptian princes of the previous dynasty was Menelik, son of Solomon and Sheba, who governed Tyre and the surrounding region. Along with the rest of Solomon's rebellious children, Menelik was stripped of his holdings and escorted into exile at Elephantine. With him, according to the scripture Kebra Nagast (Glory of Kings), he brought the Ark of the Covenant and a contingent of priests to protect it. For three long centuries the Ark resided in Egypt, and when Assyrian (Babylonian) armies conquered the Nile many of the priests were repatriated to Israel and Judea where they, and others coming from Babylon, began re-writing the ‘J' version of Genesis into a text which eventually became the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
But other Elephantine exiles decided to journey south and they took the Ark of the Covenant with them. In due time they entered Ethiopia and made a country with its capital centered on Axum. They were true Hebrew Kings and half of the Ethiopian populace followed ‘First Temple' law, the other half the cult of a dragon named Sando. Some were called troglodytes because they lived in intricate, often lavish man-made caves. Around Axum they erected forests of the tallest obelisks ever made and lived in both peace and obscurity for centuries.
For two thousand years the ancient kingdom of Ava, on Ethiopia's Red Sea coast, had been allied with Sheban Queens, and now Axum joined them briefly to annihilate Caesar's legions which sought to include them in the early Roman Empire. The region was forgotten again and returned to peace and trade from Indonesia to southern Africa.
And then, in the early years of the Fourth Century, CE, a Christian bishop from Greece made his way into the remote kingdom. He spoke of strange things, of Moses, a Second Temple, of Mary and the Redeemer, who promised eternal life. The impact he made was immediate and earth-shaking, for his garb was white, the color of death, and his body smell, most natives believed, was that of death, too (Egyptian and Greco-Roman custom was to preserve meat, and living flesh, too, by massaging it with a mixture of coriander, cumin and vinegar. Coriander, especially, is pungent and repellent to those who do not have a taste for it. The smell attracts meat bees and flies much as carrion). The bishop seemed himself part of the cult of the living dead, and therefore the sermons he preached must be true . As many half of the Ethiopian people became Christian virtually overnight and war quickly broke out.
It lasted, off and on, for nearly a thousand years, mostly in utter obscurity.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries contingents of Christian knights left Israel following the trail of the Ark, which was now being touted as a companion to the Holy Grail, and they lent modern warfare skills to the struggle against the Falashas (Black Jews). Christendom, once and for all, was victorious. But the Templar Knights quickly installed themselves as masters in Ethiopia and, greedy for gold and power, turned their new allies into slaves. Master builders, the churches and shrines they carved out of living mountains rivaled the obelisks of earlier artisans.
Naturally the Christian Ethiopian royal family resented Europeans and their ways and wanted to be rid of them. The subjugated king composed a letter to his ‘brothers' at the Vatican and on the French throne. In this letter he accused the Knights Templar of every sort of blasphemous activity and demanded they be recalled and disciplined. The Pope and French King had never heard of the Ethiopian Kingdom, but both had been looking for ways to uproot the Order, the French King because he owed them huge sums of money which he could not repay, the Pope because he feared their growing power and influence. Assured of Vatican support, Ethiopians quickly slaughtered the knights in their hundreds, and from the Middle East to Britain, authorities moved against Templar castles and treasuries. So began the Great Inquisition, which lasted more than three hundred years and spread to much of the world.
Ethiopia slid back into obscurity, lost until Portuguese explorers found them, but their cannon and cruelty could not conquer the land. They did manage some trade, granted only after they helped turn away a Muslim invasion out of the Sudan.
More centuries passed.
About 1850 Britain began sending explorers everywhere. James Bruce and Richard Burton traveled there. Arthur Rimbaud showed up a generation later, trading French guns, customs and friendship with young Ras Tafari (later called Halle Selassie), heir to the ancient throne and, according to millions of followers, Jesus Christ, Reborn.
One of Axum's largest obelisks was crated up and shipped to Paris. France, Britain and Italy began claiming sections along the Red Sea for themselves. The Selassie family solidified its power and began forging Ethiopia into a modern state. In 1935 Rome sent armies again and this time, using poison gas and tanks, they were mostly successful. The exiled young emperor became a darling of the western world, especially Britain. In 1941 the British came and kicked the Italians out. Haile Sellasie returned to power and resumed national modernization, now frantically.
After World War II the United States set up listening posts to help monitor the spread of communism into Arabia, Sudan, Egypt and the Horn of Africa. Americans supported Ethiopian modernism and thought to make it a capitalist bastion against world socialism. They gave millions in military training and modern arms, medical teams, geologists, engineers, and sent diplomats to steer the ageing emperor on a steady course. And they sent cultural exchange missions to help westernize the land.
In 1964 Philip arrived in Addis Ababa at the head of such a mission, a theater group.
He began slowly, perhaps taking in the sights first; a tour of Axum's fallen monuments, the solitary white towers of Ava and the grand circular parkways of Addis Ababa, the new capital. With his sharp dark eyes, Philip could not but notice the oddities of Ethiopian customs. In most Christian states it was forbidden, at least blasphemous, to mention the name of God. Here, in the oldest of Judeo/Christian lands, it was Mary's name which none may speak. The red cross, symbol of Christ all over the western world, in this place, advertised houses of sexual pleasure. And in the nation's most prominent park stood a stylized statue, a massive lion which honored Halle Selassie, the Emperor, calling him Lion of Judah, Elect of God and King of Kings.
Phillip was impressed, but sight-seeing and pleasure were not his purpose. Before long he set up shop in one of the Empire's prominent European-style theaters and auditions, sets and rehearsals began. Philip also spoke to classes at the Theological College and Ethio-Swedish Building Institute, selecting many promising students to work in his productions.
His days were full and productive, and where Arthur Rimbaud had cried out about his ‘nights alone and the day on fire', Philip put the nights to good use, too. They became his main focus, his passion. Every evening he met openly with student leaders and they spoke of many things, things which seemed, on the surface, important to the Empire's growth and prosperity. But after these evening meetings Philip met secretly with students he had identified as religious, idealistic or just plain disgruntled. These young natives spoke of rebellion, independence and the old ways and Philip encouraged them.
"How long," they asked themselves, "would Mother Earth obey the West's insatiable, often suicidal demands? How long can we endure the rape of our beloved Ava (Eve)?"
During these clandestine encounters Philip's dark eyes were at their most mesmerizing, his energy pulsing like the stars. And his students, be they sons of the Amhara or Hamites, or fierce Kamba, who still filed their teeth to points and drove arrows through the thick war shields of the Masai, or Falasha, or the children of the fringes, of Somalia and Eritrea, all fell under his spell. They began to call him Kahen, a derivative of cohn, meaning priest in First Temple times, and, in other places, kahn, or king. They saw his message as one of liberation.
The title amused Philip, but he welcomed the acclaim and loyalty of the bright-eyed youngsters. He fed on their energy as well as his own, using the momentum to create security detachments, planning cells and others which would spread dissent and recruit the malnourished and ignored. To them were brought hope for the future and the opportunity for action in the present.
By day he directed art, Broadway and Hollywood attractions. Who cared that the productions frequently portrayed the rich as silly, foppish or even evil. Did anyone notice how often the hero might be a poor, but righteous man struggling against great odds and a megalithic, insensitive system? Or abused, starving women with futureless children? Or farmers made destitute and desperate by drought and government corruption. The performances became more popular as Ethiopia's rich became richer and its poor became poorer.
At night he fanned ideas which saw humankind as pure, innocent in its natural state, salved by brotherhood and harmony with its surroundings. Only avarice threatened this Eden. Every religion concerns itself with purity and calls it holiness. Soon Christians, Black Jews, Muslims, even Animists had seen the need to reject the modern world, to embrace the world God had made. And it was not seen as wrong to use the world's modern weapons against the ‘Satan' who threatened it.
"True kings," the Kahen said, "shoulder the pain and misery of their people. They don't hide behind carefully crafted words, crypto-medicine and missiles." In a spiritual world none would argue this truth. "Let the materialists drown in their own cesspool." Paul Claudell would have been proud. Wouldn't he?
Within a few months graffiti began appearing in public places, not the sort American servicemen had left, not ‘Kilroy was here', but slogans and taunts which ridiculed the Emperor and his great plan.
The first stunned the Emperor, his policemen and priests. Overnight, in several prominent places, public buildings and the giant Lion of Judah statue had been painted with blood red crosses.
Later, Coca-cola signs were run up flag poles. The dollar sign was splattered in gold paint on the capital's wide boulevards. The umbrella, a symbol of religious significance at every national celebration, began to show up as litter, crushed and discarded.
No culprits could be found. Underground newspapers appeared and vanished overnight, each sounding the anti-American, anti-Selassie drumbeat of revolution. Students began refusing to attend classes.
The emperor's secret police cracked down. Tensions mounted.
A border war broke out with Somalia. Resistence grew in Eritrea and the next year the Emperor went to war with Sudan. Two years later his troops were fighting in Eritrea and Sudan, again. The Empire's facade cracked.
Few of the world's influential people paid much attention to Ethiopia for the next ten years. The United States had gone to war in Southeast Asia, a hot battle in the Cold War, and ignored its commitment to the Emperor. They sent weapons, food and money, of course, but so did the Soviets, who sent AK-47s and anti-aircraft missiles to his enemies.
Unrest spread to Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, even the United States. Everywhere arose doctrines of purity - racial purity and religious fundamentalism, also primitive goodness and nature's beauty, a longing for anything but the inevitable New World Order, the Global Strip-mine. Capitalists pointed the ‘godless communism' finger at these movements and poured ever more money into ever more oppressive regimes from Central America to Indonesia.
For ten long years the world's attention was on Vietnam and so it came as a rude shock when Ethiopia's westernized army revolted and toppled their ‘King of Kings'. But that did not bring stability, either. Before long the new people's government needed massive Soviet military aid and Cuban troops, the new Knights Templar, all to no avail. Drought and famine and despair cannot be fought with tanks.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the wildness of mountain Ethiopia and Yemen developed a splitting. Fundamentalist religion, Hebrew, Christian and Muslim rekindled their respective heritages - rebellion and suffering, greed and righteousness, jihad and stagnation. They came away conjoined in a familiar struggle. Something separate from history, perhaps more in line with Phillip's original ideas, grew up and away from the caldron, too. Some call it the environmental movement, Greens and Greenpeace, conservationists and clean air and water champions, those who would read poetry to trees and call up the old pagan beliefs and mix them with new ideas for healing the Earth. It is powerful, too, and very much a part of the confusing clamor which demands ever more of our attention.
What ever happened to Philip the man, Paul Claudell's prophet, the Kahen, during so much upheaval? Had Americans made the Eisenhower/Kennedy mistake again, supporting a Catholic Christian in the misunderstood belief that Christianity is a natural, superior enemy of Communism? It had failed so explosively in Asia, so why did Washington think it would succeed in Africa? And why send a man who worshiped the French style of brutality, Phillip (through Claudell)? Only rumors remain, and those so hazy they are scarcely credible. Philip was captured by the Emperor's secret service and tortured to death, it was whispered. Another ending was just as believable. He'd been clubbed to death during a freedom march, years later, by the LAPD. There are no records of either. Odd.
Even more strange is that L Eschange is nowhere listed among Paul Claudell's works and that leaves one wondering how Philip came to possess a copy. Had he stolen a draft of it? If so, Claudell does not seem to have objected. Did he make it all up himself? Then why attribute it to Claudell at all? What was he doing?
Maybe Philip is still out there among the uncompromising deserts, impassable mountains and old growth forests, fighting the insatiable monster which consumes so much and leaves behind derelict T-54s, radio-active dumps and starving, fatherless families. Who knows.
In a supernatural world all that is needed is a spirit, a holy ghost to ride periodically upon the winds of change. Scriptures of many faiths call this a mystery.
L Eschange, which I understood Philip to describe as a complete work, is probably the final act of L' Annonce, or Paul Claudell's later, most famous work, Le Soultier de satin (The Satin Shoe). Perhaps a play on words, soul meaning drunk with pleasure, and a twisting of Artur Rimbaud's renowned epic poem, The Drunken Boat, which greatly influenced Claudell as a young man.
Site: Estrup Books
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|Reviewed by Ronald Hull
|Once again, very interesting and well written. I have not read the first installment, so Philip was a mystery to me when he first appeared in the middle of your fascinating rendition of Ethiopian history. Will have to go back and read French Poets I.
Around 1960 or 61, Haile Selassie sent a student to my technical University, Stout State, in northwestern Wisconsin. His studies there were so successful, several more Ethiopian men (I don't recall any women) came during the time I was a student. One night in 1965, I was headed out to Pete's Pine Point Lodge on a lake about 10 miles from town, a place that had been boycotted in 1961 for rejecting entry to black football players from the school. I don't recall exactly how it happened, but I picked up six over 6 foot tall handsome Ethiopians in my 57 Desoto, and took them with me. It seemed they liked dancing to rock 'n roll with the university coeds. When the bar closed at 1 am, not all of them returned with me to town. Some had hooked up with girls for the ride back.
That was my only experience with the Ethiopians on campus. I didn't even know any of their names.