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March 3, 2019
Isenberg and Krapf.PNG

The two German missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, Charles William Isenberg (1808 – 1864) and Johann Ludwig Krapf (1810 – 1881)

Recently, while studying the topic of the Copts and Ethiopia, I came across a book, published in 1843, and containing journals dispatched in the years 1839 – 1842 of two German missionaries who worked for the Church Missionary Society (CMS), and went to Ethiopia to spread Anglican Protestantism in it: Charles William Isenberg (1806 – 1864) and Johann Ludwig Krapf (1810 – 1881). The book is called, Journals of the Rev. Messrs. Isenberg and Krapf, Missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, Detailing their Proceedings in the Kingdom of Shoa[1], and Journeys in Other Parts of Abyssinia, in the Years 1839, 1840, 1841, and 1842.[2]

Isenberg and Krapf went to Ethiopia at a time when the Ethiopian emperors[3] were nominal and the real power was in the hands of the Oromo prince, Ras Ali II. Ethiopia was weak and unstable with several wars erupting in different places. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, supported by the Coptic bishop of Ethiopia, Abuna Salama III (1841 – 1867), resisted their efforts of attempting to convert Ethiopians into Anglicanism. Although the two missionaries visited Ethiopia during the patriarchate of Peter VII (1809 – 1852), the conflict between the Coptic Church and the Anglican Church will witness its peak drama during the patriarchate of the great Coptic Patriarch Cyril IV (1854 – 1861). But, this is not what I am setting myself here about to discuss. My interest is raised by a paragraph which I read in the two missionaries’ Journals.

The Journals, in page 81, talks about the greatness of Ethiopia in olden times, with “one of its queens (Queen of Sheba) placing herself in power and knowledge as an equal to Solomon;”and then with the power of the Ethiopian Empire extending to Arabia and commanding trade in the Red Sea. During the highest of its power, Christianity spread, through its agency, beyond its borders to its west and south, to the kingdoms of Enarea[4] and Kaffa[5], which lied adjacent to it. But with the rise of Islam, a series of attacks from that “restless and fanatic people” limited the power of Ethiopia, occupying first Assab[6], its port on the Red Sea, and then the whole coastal area, thereby isolating Ethiopia from, the rest of Christendom.

“Abyssinia must have undergone many, and strange, and distressing vicissitudes of fortune. At a very early period of history it was a powerful and enlightened empire.

We find one of its Queens placing herself in power and knowledge as an equal to Solomon. It was most certainly a Queen of that country which visited Jerusalem during the reign of that Prince. Our Saviour calls her by way of eminence, the Queen of the South. He who made the world, must know correctly the position of every part of it; and it may be remarked, that the centre of Abyssinia is due south from Jerusalem.

Subsequent to that period the Abyssinians had conquered a great part of Arabia. At an early period they were converted to the Christian faith, which they have continued to hold ever since, under the most trying and disadvantageous circumstances. They commanded the Red Sea, and with it the trade between Eastern Africa and the East Indies; with Egypt, Asia Minor, and Europe, around the shores of the Mediterranean. This commerce was chiefly carried on by the port of Zeilah[7], but more especially by the port of Assab, within the Straits of Babelmandeb[8], at which place the ruins of large buildings are yet to be found. From this port the road into Abyssinia was direct by Manadelli[9], which Alvaraez[10] still found in his day a great rendezvous for merchants from the quarters mentioned.

On the rise of the Mahomedan power in Arabia, Assab was wrested from Abyssinia, and from that period her power began to decline; but the impenetrable nature of her country rendered her long safe from any serious and overwhelming attack from that restless and fanatic people.

How far Christianity penetrated into Africa during the height of Abyssinian power, it is difficult to say; but we are certain it was to a great extent; for the remains of it, and that too in considerable strength, are to this day found in Enarea, Kaffa, and places adjacent. The rise and progress of Mahomedan power, while it gradually circumscribed the dominion of Abyssinia in the south, the east, and the north, cut her off at the same time, during a period of many centuries, from the rest of the Christian world.”

The Journals then goes on to talk about Nubia, and tell us how it collapsed under Muslim attacks, ending Christianity in it. The Christian Nubians fled first southwards into Ethiopia and then into the “deepest recesses of the African continent.” But, their Muslim enemies chased them up, and in time conquered them.

“Still, as late as the thirteenth century, we find the Christian Kings of Nubia contending and negotiating with the proudest Mahomedan Sovereigns, till at last they were finally and completely overthrown, and Christianity extinguished in Nubia, the wretched inhabitants flying south to Abyssinia, and into the deepest recesses of the African continent; in which, however, they were not long hidden from their restless enemies, who followed, found them out, and conquered them.”

It is what The Journals says next that caught my eye, and set me in a journey to find more about what it had to say. It adds:

“The ruins of Gambarou, on the Yeou, are well known to be the remains of a city of considerable importance, formerly belonging to Christians, till it was ruined and laid desolate by the Fallatah; and to this day there are in Goober the offspring of Copts expatriated from Egypt, in order to escape the ferocity and intolerance of the early Arabian conquerors. These people are very fair, as much so as the ancient Egyptians.”

What are Gambarou and the Yeo? What did the Fellatah do to them? And, more importantly to me, who are the “offspring of Copts” in Goober who were “expatriated from Egypt, in order to escape the ferocity and intolerance of the early Arabian conquerors”? Where is, for God’s sake, this Goober? It is in Africa, no doubt, but where exactly? Has it got anything to do with the Fellatah?

What The Journals says is entirely new to me. I have never heard about the Copts escaping to “Goober” and surviving there. None of the Coptic sources ever talked about this.

This was the beginning of a search about the Copts of Goober that took me some time to explore. I shall talk more about that in the next part.


[1] Shewa was an autonomous region within the Ethiopian Empire, and is now a region that falls in the central part of modern Ethiopia.

[2] The full title of the book is Journals of the Rev. Messrs. Isenberg and Krapf, Missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, Detailing their Proceedings in the Kingdom of Shoa, and Journeys in Other Parts of Abyssinia, in the Years 1839, 1840, 1841, and 1842 to which is prefixed, a geographical memoir of Abyssinia and south-eastern Africa, by James M’queen, esq. grounded on the missionaries’ journals, and the expedition of the Pacha of Egypt up the Nile. The whole Illustrated by two maps, engraved by Arrowsmith. (Skeley, Burnside, and Seeley, Fleet Street, London, 1843).

[3] Yohannes III and Sahle Dengel.

[4] The Kingdom of Enarea was a separate state from Ethiopia but now its lands are incorporated into it (in its south western region). Though separate from Medieval Ethiopia, it was tributary to it. For centuries the kingdom was experiencing tremendous pressure from the Oromo people, and finally was conquered by them in 1710. The kingdom remained pagan until the 16th century, when the Ethiopia Empire during the reign of Sarsa Dengel (1563 – 1597) managed to convert its ruling house and elite to Christianity.

[5] The Kingdom of Kaffa was also a separate kingdom though a tributary of the Ethiopian Empire. It is now part of modern Ethiopia, in its southwestern region. It, too, like the Kingdom of Enarea, was converted by Ethiopia in the 16th century to Christianity during the reign of Sarsa Dengel.

[6] Assab, or Aseb (عصب), a port town on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea now.

[7] Zeila (زيلع), port town on the Red Sea coast of the Somaliland now.

[8] Bab-el-Mendeb (باب المندب), the strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. It lies between Yemen and Djibouti/Eritrea.

[9] Manadelli [Manadeli, Manadel, Manadelei, Manadeley] was a populous town on the lower Red Sea coast (previously known as the Coast of Abex), in upper Ethiopia. See: The Gazetteer’s, Or, News-man’s Interpreter. Being a Geographical Index of All the Empires … in Asia, Africa, and America … The Second Part, with Large Additions … The Tenth Edition, Corrected and Enlarged (S.&E. Ballard, 1751); Thomas Salmon, Modern History: Or, the Present State of All Nations: Describing Their Respective Situations, Persons, Habits, Buildings, Manners, Laws … Being the Most Complete and Correct System of Geography and Modern History Extant in Any Language, Volume 3 (Bettesworth and Hitch, 1739), page 9. Also, see map of the Coast of Abex by Johann Hübner in Nubia Egypt and the Coast of Abex (England, 1767).

[10] Francisco Alvares (c. 1465 – 1563). Some put his death in 1541. He was a missionary sent by King Manuel I of Portugal to Ethiopia. He reached the court of the Ethiopian King Lebna Dengel in 1520, and remained in Ethiopia until 1526/7. In 1540, his book ‘A True Relation of the Lands of Prester John of the Indies’ was published in Portuguese.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Yosra Elgendi (el masria) permalink
    March 4, 2019 9:24 am

    Hi Discorus, Hope all is well. I am trying to reach you on Facebook, it’s not working for some reason. Can you please get in touch with me via my email, or send me yours.

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