Pedro Páez's History of Ethiopia: On exploration, refutation and censorship

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THE HAKLUYT SOCIETY ANNUAL LECTURE 2011
PEDRO PÁEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA: ON EXPLORATION,
REFUTATION AND CENSORSHIP
Manuel Ramos
Delivered at the Annual General Meeting of the Hakluyt Society
29 June 2011
Mr President of the Hakluyt Society, Ladies and Gentlemen, I sincerely wish to
thank the generous and honouring invitation that the Hakluyt Society has
addressed me to present its 2011 annual lecture.
Given that the long awaited publication in the Hakluyt Society’s ird Series
of the work of the Spanish Jesuit missionary Pedro Páez, History of Ethiopia, is
now imminent,1I have chosen to share with you some brief thoughts on his life,
on his achievements, and also on the convoluted fate of his opus.
In truth, this edition of Páez’s History will add to an already important body
of knowledge published by the Society relating to the geographical and
sociological exploration of the Horn of Africa and particularly of Ethiopia in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, namely the writings of Alessandro
Zorzi, Francisco Álvares, Manuel de Almeida, Jerónimo Lobo and Remedius
Prutky.2For the editors, Hervé Pennec, Isabel Boavida and myself, as well as for
the translator, Christopher Tribe, the joy of seeing through the publication of
the English version of this book is immense, not least because Pedro Páez’s work
will nally be available to many scholars and interested public unfamiliar with
early seventeenth century Portuguese, the language adopted by the author, a
Spaniard by birth.
I mention this because we set out working in 2000 on the project of studying
and comparing the original manuscripts, annotating and revising the text, with
a major consideration in mind: that the History of Ethiopia written by Pedro
Páez is an essential cornerstone to the understanding of a rich ow of sources
1
1The present lecture took place on 29 June 2011, at the Royal Geographical Society in London;
in the following November, the Hakluyt Society published the two volumes of Pedro Páez’s History
of Ethiopia, 1622, eds I. Boavida, H. Pennec, M. J. Ramos; transl. C. Tribe; the translated and revised
edition of the História da Etiópia de Pedro Paez, that the same editors have published for the
collection Obras Primas da Literatura Portuguesa of the Direcção-Geral do Livro e das Bibliotecas,
Lisbon, 2008, itself a critical edition, in modern Portuguese, of the original work by Pedro Paez.
2C. F. Beckingham and G. W. B. Huntingford, eds, Some Records of Ethiopia, 1593–1646; O. G.
S. Crawford, ed., Ethiopian Itineraries circa 1400–1524; C. F. Beckingham and G. W. B.
Huntingford, eds, A True Relation of the Lands of the Prester John; M. G. Da Costa, ed., and C. E.
Beckingham, introduction and notes, The Itinerario of Jerónimo Lobo; H. Arrowsmith-Brown, ed.,
Prutky’s Travels to Ethiopia and Other Countries.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 1
both for a particularly poignant period in the social, political and religious history
of Ethiopia, and for the construction of the geographical setting of this region.3
ere are other contemporary Western writers on Ethiopian matters that would
undoubtedly also merit scholarly publication – Manuel Barradas, Afonso
Mendes and António Fernandes, to name but a few.4Our choice fell on Pedro
Páez because of the systematic and innovative nature of his work, its founding
characteristics in respect to Ethiopian studies, and generally the special insight
he brings to our knowledge of Ethiopian civilization – one must not forget that
his are the rst ever Western translations of essential Ethiopian religious and
historical texts.
I hope I shall be able to convey to you in the following minutes at least a
fraction of our enthusiasm and dedication to this project and the relevance of
the topic in as far as it touches on the preoccupations of this Society.
* * *
Pedro Páez was born in 1564, in Olmeda de las Cebollas (today Olmeda de las
Fuentes), in Spain.5He joined the Society of Jesus in 1582, and in 1588, not
having nished his studies in Belmonte (under Tomas de Ituren), he sailed to
Goa. In 1589, he was appointed to accompany the very experienced Father
Antonio de Monserrat in a mission destined for Ethiopia. e decision to send
new missionaries to Ethiopia, aer the asco of the mission led by Andrés de
Oviedo sent in 1557, came from King Filipe I of Portugal (and II of Spain).
Filipe’s motives were both strategic and diplomatic, but also religious: the
missionaries sent in 1557 were presumably either dead or very old, and the
descendants of the Portuguese community in Ethiopia were believed to be
lacking spiritual guidance.
Páez and Montserrat le Goa and set sail for Ethiopia, but their ship sank
o Dhofar, Southern Arabia, and they were taken as prisoners to Yemen. ey
were kept in San’a, and later served as rowers in a Turkish galley. Almost seven
years later, Goa agreed to pay a large ransom to liberate them. In 1603, Páez
managed to reach Ethiopia, arriving alone at Massawa, disguised as an Armenian
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
2
3For a comprehensive review of the period and the issues in question, see: H. Pennec, Des jésuites
au royaume du prêtre Jean; L. Cohen, The missionary strategies of the Jesuits in Ethiopia (1555–1632).
See also the Introduction of the Hakluyt Society’s edition of Pedro Páez’s History of Ethiopia, 1622.
4C. Beccari has published most of the Jesuit Ethiopian mission’s documents in his Rerum
Æthiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales Inediti, in fifteen volumes, published between 1903 to 1915,
in the original language (mainly Portuguese and Latin). Though the quality and rigour of his
RASOI is not in doubt, there is sufficient ground to argue for scholarly, critical, English editions
of some of more outstanding works included in that collection, or those left out because they had
been already published in the 17th century; furthermore, a number of manuscripts relating to the
mission still remains unpublished, namely, a few letters in the MS 778 BPB of the Braga Municipal
Archives.
5For the following notes on Pedro Páez’ biography, see the Introduction of Pedro Páez’s History
of Ethiopia, and H. Pennec and M. J. Ramos, ‘Páez, Pedro (1564–1622)’.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 2
merchant. is was the starting point of the second phase of the Jesuit mission
in Ethiopia. In the next two years, four other missionaries would join him. From
1603 to his death in 1622, Páez led a mission that seemed destined for success.
e priests had been initially limited to oering teaching in Catholic doctrine
to Luso-Ethiopian children and tried to guarantee that the adults kept their
Catholic faith and identity. But the character of the mission changed from 1607
onwards.6When King Susényos acceded to the throne, Páez oen stayed at the
royal camp. He acted as the king’s special councillor and followed him on his
many journeys. It was largely due to the Jesuit’s insistence that Susényos
converted to the Catholic faith, in 1621.7
From 1613/14 onwards, Páez was requested by his superiors in Rome and
India to refute the Historia … de los grandes y remotos Reynos de la Etiopía, a
polemic book published in 1610 by the Valencian Friar Luis de Urreta, where
the author claimed that Ethiopia had been converted to Catholicism by
Dominican missionaries in the eenth century, thus implying that the Jesuit
presence there was unnecessary (I shall come back to this issue later). Pedro Páez
duly began compiling material and writing his History of Ethiopia. e work,
nished during 1622 on his deathbed, was written in Portuguese and was based
on unusually comprehensive ethnographic and historical research. To refute
Urreta and to write his complex esco of Ethiopian Christianity he gathered oral
testimonies from courtiers and ecclesiastics, consulted manuscripts on political
and religious history and visited important religious sites. e History thus
marked a decisive step in the development of sound empirical knowledge about
Ethiopia. Aer his death, the original manuscript was sent to India in 1624 but
did not reach Europe immediately. Instead, the appointed Patriarch Afonso
Mendes took it again to Ethiopia in 1625, since it contained precious
information to be read by the new missionaries sent there aer the king’s
conversion to Catholicism.
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
3
6H. Pennec, Des jésuites au royame du Prêtre Jean, pp. 220 seq.; L. Cohen, The Missionary
Strategies of the Jesuits in Ethiopia, pp. 55 seq. Both authors offer a view of events that departs from
the traditional ecumenist reading; by dealing with the Ethiopian sovereign’s strategic opposition
against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, they place the Jesuit mission in a new light.
7The traditional historical views relating to Páez’s role in the conversion of the Ethiopian king
to Catholicism, propounded by Jesuit scholars and generally accepted by most researchers, portray
the missionary as a tolerant multiculturalist, contrasting him to a supposedly intolerant and forceful
Afonso Mendes, the appointed Catholic patriarch who arrived in Ethiopia a few years afters Páez’s
death to ensure that the conversion of the king and court obeyed the letter of the tridentine doctrine.
But Merid Wolde Aregay, in his ‘The Legacy of Jesuit Missionary Activity in Ethiopia’, alerts us to
the risk of anachronism in such psychological interpretation of texts that need careful critical reading.
Páez and his surviving companions (and above all M. de Almeida) self-indulgently give themselves
an aggrandizing role in the texts they direct to the Jesuit hierarchy, in line with what they saw then
as a successful mission. A. Mendes’ role, in due conformance with the directives he had received in
Goa, is depicted against the backdrop of the expulsion of the Jesuits from Ethiopia in 1633, during
a political and religious turmoil whose complex contours are shrouded with doubt and ideological
misreading.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 3
Four years aer Páez’s death, the text of the History of Ethiopia was used by
his successor Manuel de Almeida, who modied and extended it, by including
references to the events that occurred under the patriarchate of Afonso Mendes.
Both Páez’s and Almeida’s manuscripts remained unpublished until the
twentieth century, when they appeared in the collection prepared by the Jesuit
Camillo Beccari.8Baltazar Telles, the Superior of the Portuguese Province of
the Society of Jesus, published a much-reworked version of Almeida’s History
in 1660. Almeida, in his re-written History, lays the ground for Páez’s
posthumous legendary image, referring to him as a theologian, although he never
obtained that grade, and as an architect, although the monumental stone
churches were all built aer his death.
What is most notable in the later part of Páez’s life is his symbiotic and
mutually manipulative relationship with King Susényos. By giving lands and
privileges to the Jesuits and accepting conversion to Catholicism, he was
involving them in his internal power struggle with Ethiopian Orthodoxy.9
Páez died as a result of a violent fever on his way to Gorgora, on 20 May 1622.
Days before, he had heard King Susényos publicly confess the Catholic faith and
impose limits on the authority of the Orthodox Church.
* * *
Given the circumstances and the setting of this lecture,10 it is only proper that I
focus some attention on the issues Pedro Páez discusses in Chapter 16 of Book
1 of the History of Ethiopia. I am referring specically to the section of the book
where he introduces the reader to the long sought aer River Nile and to his
own empirical explorations of its source and course. is is the river Ethiopians
call the Abbay, which was once identied with the biblical Ghion and is now
commonly designated the Blue Nile. What we now know about the complex
history of its exploration, and the millennial polemics surrounding the
establishment of its sources and the expanse of its network, must neither belittle
nor overestimate the actions and interpretations of the man who, as he very self-
consciously puts it, claimed to be the rst European to reach the remote double
spring from which the Blue Nile waters rst come over ground.
According to his own description, Pedro Páez reached the source on 21 April
1618, when accompanying King Susenyos’s court and army to the Western
shores of the great lake T’ana in Gojjam, a then rebellious area where the
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
4
8Volumes 2 and 3 of C. Beccari’s, Rerum Aethiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales Inediti.
9H. Pennec, Des Jésuites au royaume …, pp. 185 seq.
10 While preparing the present lecture I could not fail to be impressed by the fact that its
setting was that same one where in 1859 John Hanning Speke and Richard Burton presented
the results of their explorations of the White Nile basin, Speke’s discovery of Lake Nyanza, and his
(disputed) claim to having found its source; see: R. Burton and J. Speke ‘Explorations in Eastern
Africa’.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 4
Christian kingdom confronted the local Agaw.11 He seems to have reached the
place with a small party of Ethiopians and so-called ‘Portuguese’ (i.e., the
descendants of the military that had landed in the country in 1541 to battle the
invading Muslim Addalis led by Emir Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, best known
as Amhad Gragn).
He conveys to the reader the thrill of his discovery, and goes on to describe
the location of the sources, and his experimental attitude towards conrming
their depth, measuring the holes by dropping lances inside them. He refers to
having found the bottom in one of them, 11 spans below (i.e., 99 inches or 2.5
metres), but not in the other:
When I came to see it, it appeared to be no more than two round
pools four spans in width. I confess I was overjoyed to see that which in
ancient times King Cyrus and his son Cambyses, the great Alexander and
the famous Julius Caesar had so longed to see. (History of Ethiopia, p.
244.)
He then followed the brook downstream to near the Zagwe Penninsula of that
lake, and conrmed that with calm waters a weak but constant stream was
perceptible in the lake coming from that area to the point where the waters ow
to the River Abbay. Although he did not visit the exit point, he referred to having
been informed by local inhabitants that:
… When it leaves the lake, it takes with it much more water than it
brought when it entered and, even though it is a very large river, in
summer it can still be crossed on foot in some places where it spreads
out. (Ibid., p. 246.)
Pedro Páez is evidently aware of the importance of his discovery, in view of
the historical depth of the quest for that river’s sources. He also advances an
empirical explanation of the no less enigmatic ooding of the Nile, which
preoccupied as he says – Lucan, Saint Irineus, eodoret of Cyrus, Alonso
Tostado, and Aristotle:
Lake Dambiâ [T’ana] too, through which this river passes, lls up
by mid-August, more or less, with all the waters that ow into it.
ereaer, the waters empty into it more ferociously without being
diverted elsewhere, because no other river or even a stream runs out of
it, while those that ow in are numerous and very large, particularly in
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
5
11 The people the Jesuits referred as the Agaw populated Gojjam and Gonder (namely the region
previously known as Agawmeder). The name is taken in different ways by different authors: by
linguists as a specific language family (Agaw or Central Cushitic), and by historians as the ancient
populations of the northern parts of the Ethiopian highlands who suffered a process of
‘Abyssinisation’, i.e., who were by different measures brought in to the fold of the mainly Christian
kingdom that dominated most of the highlands from the fourth century AD.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 5
winter. is, then, is the real cause of the annual ooding of the River
Nile: the many waters that join it, because it is winter here at that time
and it rains a great deal. All the other causes that are given are fables
and mere imagination. (Ibid., p. 247.)
Let us take a moment to explore the motives behind his action of measuring
the river’s sources and his observations on the swelling of the T’ana’s waters
during the July-August rainy season. As is the case for most of Book 1 and
sections of other Books of his History, Páez is here directly refuting the views
put forward by Luis de Urreta, an erudite (and apparently somewhat exotic)
Dominican Friar from Valencia, in his Ecclesiastical, Natural, Ethical and
Political History of Ethiopia, published in 1610. It is Urreta who mentions and
quotes Aristotle and the other aforesaid ancient and medieval scholars, and Páez
does not seem to have read other sources than Urreta – aer all, he was a eld
missionary, not an intellectual.
Why would he deem it important to measure the sources and to search for
their bottom? e explicit answer is found in his own text:
Friar Luis de Urreta also, in his Book 1, p. 305, philosophises in his
own manner. He attributes these oods to the waters of the ocean sea
which, pounded at that time by furious winds, enter along secret
aquifers and veins as far as the lake where the Nile rises, and make it
swell. And hence the river swells too. (Ibid., p. 247.)
Clearly, Páez was not familiar with Aristotle’s discussion on meteorology and
the variable porosity of the earthly element, which frames his discussion on the
Nile’s oods, since he attributes the idea to Urreta himself. But in fact Aristotle’s
source on this matter is ales of Milet and, before him, Herodotus.12 e Greek
geographer is the oldest known writer who mentions the enigma of the Nile’s
summer oods. In chapters 19–31 of Book 2 of his Histories, Herodotus lists
three current erroneous opinions about the summer ooding of the Nile:
1. e river’s estuary waters would recede due to stormy Etesian winds
blowing from the Mediterranean,
2. e river’s waters ow from the Ocean, to which it is linked through
underground channels,
3. e Nile’s waters derive from the melting of southern snows in the
summer.
Aer contradicting these notions, Herodotus oers his own explanation based
on the inuence of the sun’s variable seasonal position, a view that points to
probable knowledge of the hemispheric inversion of seasons. In this respect, it
is most curious that the second of the opinions that he lists, the one he outright
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
6
12 Herodotus, Histories, book 2, caps. 2–19.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 6
declares the most ‘mythical’,13 was the one that was retained for more than two
millennia as the one worth discussing and revisiting. e later association
between the Nile and the Biblical Ghion, on the one hand, and the Aristotelian
inuence in Medieval science would in fact ensure that a continuous ow of
European cosmographic and cartographic constructions would support the view
of the underground connection to the Indian Ocean, thus matching knowledge
of the monsoons with the doctrinal concept of the four rivers owing from Eden,
situated in the Far East.14
ough not a scholar, Páez felt that what he had found out from empirical
experience could revolutionize the way Europeans envisaged the position of
Ethiopia in Africa, as the extent of that country was related with the location of
the Nile’s sources.15 ough not conclusive as to its possible underground
network, since he could not nd the bottom in one of the pools, Páez’s
measurements are a clear indication that a) such underground networks were
an accepted hypothesis in early seventeenth century; b) empirical observation
and exploration were the proper tools for the advancement of knowledge,
geographical and otherwise.
Important as the episode of the discovery of the (Blue) Nile sources may seem
to us today, we must stress that it is but a minute footnote in both the economy
of the 536 densely written folios that compose Páez’s manuscript and the larger
context of the almost one century-long Jesuit mission in Ethiopia, from 1557
to their expulsion in 1633. And yet it aptly captures the spirit that moved him
to write his History, and indeed to live and work in Ethiopia. roughout his
work, Páez wholeheartedly takes the standpoint of the empirical refuter of
antiquated and erroneous notions lingering in Europe both about the River Nile
and the country that he embraced for 18 long years, until his sudden death of
violent fevers in 1622, near the shores of the Lake T’ana. I shall not deal here
with later polemics concerning the discovery of Blue Nile’s sources (namely the
James Bruce / Samuel Johnson discussion) and the reasons behind the British
search for the river’s ‘true sources’ in the mid-nineteenth century, except to
mention that John Hanning Speke’s obsession with nding the source of the
White Nile below the line of the Equator is still a distant echo of the discussion
sparked by Herodotus on the causes of the river’s oods.
In fact, in his Journal of the Discoery of the Source of the Nile, Speke is
adamant in that the ‘true Nile’ should be the White, not the Blue Nile or Abbay,
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
7
13 On Herodotus’s meaning of ‘myth’, see M. Detienne, L’invention de la mythologie, pp. 99–100.
14 See O. G. S. Crawford’s ‘Some Medieval Theories about the Nile’.
15 Similarly, M. de Almeida’s map, included in the SOAS manuscript of his own Historia, later
published in B. Teles’s book, offers a surprisingly accurate perspective of the Blue Nile and of
Ethiopian territory, which had little or no impact in the European cartography of the day (B. Hirsch,
Connaissances et figures de l’Éthiopie dans la cartographie occidentale; H. Pennec, ‘Savoirs
missionnaires en contexts’, pp. 202–3). Ethiopia would only be reduced to a realistic dimension in
European maps in the course of the 19th century.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 7
since, as he puts it, in the dry season the later is but a trickle of water.16 His view
had an enduring inuence in the geographical categorization of the Nile. Speke
also rejoices at the fact that the river’s source was 3 degrees south of the Equator,
thus swelling during the Southern rainy season. We should read his elation as
late evidence that the Herodotian hypothesis was only partly retained by
European cosmographers until the nineteenth century explorations of Central
Africa. For centuries cosmographers and cartographers played with the idea that
the Nile originated south of the Equator and that its sources were common to
other main African rivers (deriving from an imagined African central lake), but
failed to give due importance to the hemispherical inversion of seasons implied
in Herodotus’ words, as mentioned earlier.17
ere is, in the historical polemics surrounding the Nile, sucient room
to speculate as to why the Royal Geographical Society so readily accepted
Speke’s views on the ‘true Nile’. As the ‘scramble for Africa’ rushed on,
geographical exploration of the continent went hand in hand with European
decision-makers considering the establishment of areas of colonial inuence.
Abyssinia being closed to European land grabbing (though I feel that the reasons
for this are yet in need of further analysis), it seemed only tting that the triple
goal of searching for the Nile’s sources, the Central Lake and the Mountains of
the Moon should be retained as a geographical imperative. In noting this, I am
not claiming that Páez’s actions and descriptions regarding the discovery of the
sources of the (Blue) Nile should deserve more credit than they have been given
until the present date. My interest is rather to underline the fact that wider
knowledge of his geographical discoveries, and more generally of his
ethnographical ndings in Ethiopia, was hindered by the specic circumstances
of the Jesuit mission in Ethiopia, the political and monastic convolutions in the
Iberian Peninsula at the time, and the censorship to which his uncharacteristic
writing was subjected. In this regard, the following point should be mentioned:
that Pedro Páez’s History of Ethiopia was le unpublished until the beginning
of the twentieth century, when the Jesuit Camilo Beccari edited most of the
Ethiopian mission’s materials in the Rerum Aethiopicarum Scriptores
Occidentales.
Manuel de Almeida, who was appointed by the Society of Jesus in 1626 to
revise and rewrite Páez’s manuscript, acknowledged Páez as the discoverer of the
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
8
16 Though the White Nile is evidently longer, we know today that 86% of the Nile’s waters come
from the Blue Nile basin system. See: A. Melesse, ‘Hydrological Variability and Climate of the Upper
Blue Nile …’, p. 3.
17 In a footnote to his What Led to the Discoery of the Nile, a reworked version of his initial
Journal, Speke writes on the discovery of the Nile’s source: ‘Had the ancient kings and sages known
that a rainy zone existed on the equator, they would not have puzzled their brains so long, and have
wondered where those waters came from …’ (p. 298, note). And then, in a further note on the
position of the Nile in the African hydrographical system, where he argues against Burton’s thesis
that the river’s source should lie behind the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ (p. 369, note), he claims that
it lies at 3 degrees south of the Equator.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 8
Nile’s sources but his History of High Ethiopia or Abassia was not published
either. Although he used most of the information Páez provided on Ethiopia,
on such diverse aspects as geography, zoology, theology and politics, and on the
role of the Jesuits in Ethiopia, he strongly reduced the weight and character of
the refutation of Urreta’s book. Baltazar Teles, Superior of the Portuguese
Province of the Society of Jesus, who had never set foot in Ethiopia, eventually
published a much-reworked version of Almeida’s manuscript in 1660 as the
History of High Ethiopia or Prester John, where he attributed the discovery of
the sources to ‘our Portuguese missionaries’, and simultaneously erased all traces
of the Dominican-Jesuit controversy.
So, just as Páez was being falsely promoted as an architect and theologian by
his peers (and particularly by Almeida),18 his authorship was being denied and
his role in the geographical exploration of the Nile was being censored, in the
embittered context following the expulsion of the Jesuits from Ethiopia and the
no less problematic religious and political convulsions in the Iberian Peninsula
during which the Society of Jesus became prominent in Portugal, aer the so-
called restoration of its independence in 1640, which they wholeheartedly
supported and ideologically fathered, unlike their Dominican rivals.
* * *
I would like briey to deal with this specic act of censorship, inasmuch as it
illustrates a broader attitude within the Goa Province of the Society of Jesus
towards the nature of Pedro Páez’s inquiring and writing method, which is, as
already mentioned, an argumentative refutation of the views expounded by the
Dominican friar Luis de Urreta regarding the political, religious and cultural
characteristics of the Ethiopian kingdom. Refutation is in fact the explicit key
to his enquiry into the various aspects of Christian Ethiopian life and history,
an endeavour in which he immersed himself from at least 1614. For a better
understanding of his procedure, let us make a quick step back in time to the
period when the Jesuits made their entrance in Portugal. Much has been written
about the noxious inuences of the Catholic Inquisition in Portugal and its
eect on the early decapitation of the early sixteenth-century humanist mindset.
e end of the freethinking school (the so-called estrangeirados) created a
vacuum that was to be lled by the rise of the Jesuit higher education system, a
rened but obedient artefact of the counter-reformation. Some of the ner
anthropological investigative production of the later sixteenth century and
seventeenth century, be it in India, Africa or South America, is to be found in
the Relations, Annual Letters, Histories and Treaties of the Padroado missionaries
of the Society of Jesus.
In what relates to the Christian Ethiopian kingdom – a country that had
been identied as the ‘Land of Prester John’ in eenth-century Southern
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
9
18 See the Introduction of Páez’s History of Ethiopia, pp. 36–40.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 9
European cartography and cosmography19 it is important to note that the
production of geographical and sociological knowledge on that region was
intimately connected with the rare privilege given to the Jesuits by the papacy
and the Portuguese kings to promote missionary work in exclusivity there – a
privilege that was to raise envy among other orders, and particularly among the
Dominicans.
e Dominican João dos Santos, in his extraordinary book Oriental Ethiopia
(1609), attempts to tie in Ethiopia proper with the coastal regions of Eastern
Africa and the Western Indian Ocean. Such endeavour is a reection of the
uneasiness the Predicators felt towards the above-mentioned privilege of the
Jesuit Ethiopic mission. But the most clear case of this rivalry is the publication,
in 1610, in Valencia, of Luis de Urreta’s Ecclesiastical, Natural, Ethical and
Political History of Ethiopia.20 e book is explicitly a late example of a stream
of European geographical fantasies where Ethiopia was presented as the
wondrous and utopian-like kingdom of Prester John. But more importantly, it
was a rhetorical fantasizing about a supposed ancient Dominican missionary
presence in Ethiopia with the view of arguing that this monastic order should
thus be given precedence over the Jesuits as Catholic missionaries in that
country.21 Urreta validated his information by presenting it as coming directly
from the mouth of an imaginary native informant (Juan Baltazar), a device that
was to be used frequently aerwards, from Iob Ludolf to Samuel Johnson.22
e Jesuit hierarchy duly responded by asking Fernão Guerreiro and Nicolau
Godinho23 to write and publish harsh refutations of the Dominican’s views,
based on information forwarded in the letters and reports written by Jesuit
missionaries in Ethiopia. But, since these writers did not have rst-hand
experience of the Ethiopian kingdom, the Jesuit superiors further required an
on-the-ground refutation of Urreta’s thesis. Wary of a possible denigration of
the Jesuit’s stance on Ethiopia, the Provincial of Goa ordered Páez, then the
Superior of the mission, to produce the work.
Le on his own, over the years Páez produced much more than a simple
refutation. His is a long and vivid account of Ethiopia, the Jesuit Mission,
his own personal adventures in, and explorations of, the country. e 536
densely written folios reect his strenuous eort at observing, interviewing,
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
10
19 See F. Medeiros, L’Occident et l’Afrique, pp. 198–203; M. J. Ramos, Essays in Christian
Mythology, pp. 110–13; F. Relaño, The Shaping of Africa, pp. 55–8.
20 L. de Urreta would in 1611 return to the same subject in a new book, the History of the Sacred
Order of the Preachers.
21 I. Boavida, ‘História e Fábula …’, p. 183.
22 The device of the native informant, as developed by M. de Montaigne in his Essai sur les canibals,
would in the 18th century become an important topos in French social criticism: Voltaire’s l’Ingénu;
Diderot’s Bougainville; Sade’s Aline et Valcour, to name but a few authors, turn the native informant
into a vehicle of criticism of Western society.
23 Fernão Guerreiro, Addition to the Relation of Ethiopia, 1611; Nicolau Godinho, Of Abyssinian
Matters, 1615.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 10
collecting, confronting, translating and interpreting the Ethiopian sociological
and cultural reality of his day. But still, refutation is the catalyst of his method
and mood.24
Now, why would the Jesuits decide not to publish a work that they had
explicitly ordered? e pretext laid out by Páez’s superiors, aer his death, was
that his grasp of Portuguese was tainted by his mother tongue, this being the
ostensible reason for having Almeida revise the manuscript. e argument holds
little water though: the Braga manuscript of Páez’s text is already a revision
of the autograph preserved in Rome. In fact, what had been seen in 1612 as
an advantage, turned posthumously against Páez: by designating a Spanish
refuter to Urreta, the Portuguese Jesuits wanted to avoid discredit on the
grounds of nationalism. But when the book was evaluated for publication, in
the 1630s, the degrading relations between the Portuguese and Spanish during
the last years of the Philippine dynasty weighed in the nal decision. Still, the
issues of language and nationality were secondary to what was really at the heart
of the matter. What in the end was to be extricated from Páez’s manuscript was
his intellectual procedure whereby refutation was to be achieved through ethno-
graphic inquiry. Again, possibly for fear of friction with the Dominicans
Portuguese, this time – who still held sway over the Portuguese Inquisition,
Almeida’s revised text was not published because it still contained traces of the
Páez-Urreta dispute. Telles’s later book, published twenty years aer Portugal’s
separation from Spain, is the result of an enduring series of censorship acts that
made the History of Ethiopia an edible but decidedly insipid, dull and by then
somewhat irrelevant book.
* * *
It is a sad fact that the scientic impact of Pedro Páez’s History of Ethiopia, before
and aer its publication in 1906, has been undermined by two important factors,
notwithstanding the diculties arising from the lack of modernization and
translation of this early seventeenth-century work:
1. e scope of corporative interests within the Society of Jesus that led
to the development of a quasi-hagiographic legend around his gure
(as has been the case of various biographers, from Almeida onwards),25
that overshadowed the relevance of his scientic procedures;
2. e weight of nationalist appropriation of the historiography of the
Ethiopian mission - in Portugal, from the late nineteenth century
onwards but more evidently since the palaeographic edition of the
Braga manuscript of the History in 1947, and more recently in Spain,
in the historical and literary productions directly or indirectly related
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
11
24 Introduction of Páez’s History of Ethiopia, pp. 16–19. See also I. Boavida, ‘História e Fábula’,
pp. 187–8.
25 See Cohen, The Missionary Strategies, pp. 4–5.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 11
with contemporary Spanish governmental diplomacy in Ethiopia.26
Such projects have generally concentrated on aggrandizing the
Portuguese, Spanish or simply Jesuit, presence in Ethiopia, instead of
focusing on cross-checking the knowledge the mission produced with
local written and even oral sources, and favouring a comparative stance
in a general history of Catholic missions of that period.
It is the hope of the editors of Pedro Páez’s History of Ethiopia, and surely
also the hope of the Hakluyt Society, that the publication of its English
translation, annotated as it is with an inter-textual outreach, may help give the
work a new, brighter life as a relevant source in the elds of religious and literary
comparative history, of Ethiopian ethnographic production and of geographical
exploration of the Horn of Africa.
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
12
26 For the team of editors of Páez’s History of Ethiopia, the analysis of these historiographic
conundrums is still a work in progress.
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 12
References
[Note: Ethiopian names do not have the paternal name placed rst in lists.]
Almeida, Manuel, ‘Historia de Ethiopia a alta, ou Abassia : Imperio do Abexim,
cujo Rey vulgarmente he chamado Preste Joam Composta pelo Padre
Manoel de Almeida da Companhia de Iesus, natural de Viseu’, MS London,
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), MS 11966.
Arrowsmith-Brown, H., ed., Prutky’s Travels to Ethiopia and Other Countries,
London, Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser. 174, 1991.
Assefa M. Melesse, Wossenu Abtew, Shimelis G. Setegn, and Tibebe Dessalegne,
‘Hydrological Variability and Climate of the Upper Blue Nile River Basin’
in Assefa Melesse, ed., Nile River Basin: Hydrology, climate and water use,
Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London and New York, c. 2011, pp. 3–38.
Beccari, Camilo, ed., Rerum Aethiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales Inediti a
saeculo XVI ad XIX. 15 vols, Rome, 1903–17.
Beckingham, Charles F. and Huntingford, George W. B., eds, A True Relation
of the Lands of the Prester John, being the narrative of the Portuguese Embassy
to Ethiopia in 1520, written by Father Francisco Alares. 2 vols, London,
Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser. 114, 1961.
Beckingham, Charles F. and Huntingford, George W. B., eds, Some Records of
Ethiopia, 1593-1646, Being Extracts om e History of High Ethiopia or
Abassia by Manoel de Almeida Together with Bahrey’s History of the Galla,
London, Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser. 107, 1954.
Boavida, Isabel, ‘História e fábula: a discussão em torno das “histórias” de Fr.
Luís de Urreta no século XVII’ in Colóquio Literatura e História, Para uma
prática interdisciplinary: Actas, Lisbon, 2005, pp. 181–96.
Boavida, Isabel, Pennec, Hervé, Ramos Manuel João, eds. and Tribe,
Christopher, trans., Pedro Páez’s History of Ethiopia, 1622, 2 vols, London,
Hakluyt Society, 3rd ser. 23–4, 2011.
Burton, Richard and Speke, John Hanning, ‘Explorations in Eastern Africa’,
Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, 3, 6, 1858–9, pp.
348–58.
Cohen, Leonardo, e missionary strategies of the Jesuits in Ethiopia (1555–
1632), Wiesbaden, 2009.
Crawford, Osbert G. S. ‘Some Medieval eories about the Nile’, e
Geographical Journal, 114, 1/3, July-September 1949, pp. 6–23.
Crawford, Osbert G. S., ed, Ethiopian Itineraries circa 1400–1524, Including
those Collected by Alessandro Zorzi at Venice in the Years 1519–24, London,
Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser. 109, 1958.
Da Costa, M. G., ed., and Beckingham, Charles F., introduction and notes, e
Itinerario of Jerónimo Lobo, London, Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser. 162, 1983.
Detienne, Marcel, Linention de la mythologie, Paris, 1981.
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
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Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 13
Godinho, Nicolau, De Abassinorum rebus, Deque Aethiopiae Patriarchis Ioanne
Nonio Barreto, et Andrea Oviedo, libri tres, Lugduni, 1615.
Guerreiro, Fernão, ‘Adição à relação das coisas de Etiópia com mais larga
informação delas, mui certa e mui diferente das que seguiu o Padre Frei Luis
de Urreta no livro que imprimiu da história daquele império do Preste-João’,
in Relação anual das coisas que zeram os Padres da Companhia de Jesus nas
suas missões dos anos 1600 a 1609, vol. 3, Coimbra and Lisbon, 1942 (1st edn,
Lisbon, 1611), pp. 287–380.
Herodotus, e Histories, trans. Robin Watereld, introduction by Carolyn
Dewald, Oxford, 1998.
Hirsch, Bertrand, Connaissances et gures de lÉthiopie dans la cartographie
occidentale du XIVe siècle au XVIe siècle, doctoral thesis, Paris (CRA), 1990.
Medeiros, François de, LOccident et lAique (XIIIe-XVe siècle): Images et
representations, Paris, 1985.
Merid Wolde Aregay, ‘e Legacy of Jesuit Missionary Activities in Ethiopia
from 1555 to 1632’, in Getatchew Haile, Aasulv Lande and Samuel
Rubenson, eds, e Missionary Factor in Ethiopia: Papers om a Symposium
on the Impact of European Missions on Ethiopian Society, Lund University,
August 1996, Frankfurt am Main, 1998, pp. 53–5.
Pennec, H., ‘Savoirs missionnaires en contextes. Savoirs en dialogue (Éthiopie,
XVIIe siècle)’ in Charlotte de Castelnau-LEstoile, Marie-Lucie Copete,
Aliocha Maldavsky, Ines G. Zupanov, eds, Missions dévangélisation et
circulation des savoirs, XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, Madrid, 2011, pp. 191–207.
Pennec, H., Des jésuites au royaume du prêtre Jean: Éthiopie. Stratégies, rencontres
et tentatives dimplantation 1495–1633, Paris, 2003.
Pennec, H., and Ramos, M. J., ‘Páez, Pedro (1564–1622)’ in Jennifer Speake,
ed., Literature of Travel and Exploration. An Encyclopedia, 3 vols, New York
and London, 2003, pp. 908–10.
Ramos, Manuel João, Essays in Christian Mythology: e metamorphosis of Prester
John, Langhan, 2006.
Relaño, Francesc, e Shaping of Aica. Cosmographic Discourse and
Cartographic Science in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Aldershot,
2002.
Santos, João dos, Etiópia Oriental e vária história de coisas notáveis do Oriente,
ed. Manuel Lobato and Eduardo Medeiros, Lisbon, 1999. (1st edn, Lisbon,
1609).
Speke, John Hanning, Journal of the Discoery of the Source of the Nile, Edinburgh
and London, 1863.
Speke, John Hanning, What Led to the Discoery of the Source of the Nile.
Edinburgh and London, 1864.
Teles, Baltazar, Historia geral de Ethiopia a Alta, ou Preste Ioam, e do que nella
obraram os padres da Companhia de Iesus: composta na mesma Ethiopia, pelo
Padre Manoel dAlmeyda, natural de Vizeu, Proincial, e Visitador, que foy
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
14
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 14
na India. Abreviada com noa releyçam, e methodo, pelo Padre Balthezar
Tellez, natural de Lisboa, Proincial da Proincia Lusitana: ambos da mesma
Companhia, Coimbra, 1660.
Urreta, Luis de, Historia Eclesiastica, Politica, Natural, y Moral, de los Grandes,
Remotos Reynos de la Etiopia, Monarchia del Emperador, llamado Preste Iuan
de las Indias. Muy util y proechosa para todos estados, principalmente para
Predicadores. A la Sacratissima y sempre Virgen Maria del Rosario, València,
1610.
Urreta, Luis de, Historia de la Sagrada Orden de Predicadores, en los Remotos
Reynos de la Etiopia. Trata de los prodigiosos Sãtos, Martyres, y Cõfessores,
Inquisidores Apostolicos, de los Cõentos de Plurimanos, dõde viuen nueue mil
ayles: del Alleluya con siete mil; y de Bedenagli, de cinco mil monjas: con otras
grandezas de la Religion del Padre santo Domingo, València, 1611.
PEDRO PAEZ’S HISTORY OF ETHIOPIA
15
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 15
Lecture 2011_Annual Lecture 2011 26/02/2012 20:10 Page 16

Supplementary resource

ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
  • Book
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