The hardships of life in Ethiopia and Eritrea, which split off from Ethiopia as a separate nation in 1993, are known around the world. This bleak land and its people carry a long history and rich mythology.

Menelik I

The ancient Aksumite kingdom flourished in northern Ethiopia from approximately 100 to 600 C.E. The city of Aksum is believed to be where Menelik I, the supposed son of the queen of Sheba, or Balkis, and King Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem. For the people of Ethiopia, the city, which is now in ruins, is still regarded as the ancient residence and capital city of Balkis.

The Emperor Haile Selassie, who reigned until 1963, was believed to have descended directly from King Solomon and Balkis. The story of Menelik I is likely pure myth. There probably was a queen of Sheba, but she would have ruled over the land of Saba in southern Arabia. She and King Solomon probably never met, let alone had the love affair that produced this son.

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Illalei

Ethiopia is primarily an Islamic nation, but traces of the region’s mythology still remain. Some people continue to follow the older religions, and their lore is worth pursuing by those interested in stories.

Illalei is the Supreme Being and creator among the Burji-Konso tribes of Ethiopia. He is elsewhere called Wak. He lives in the clouds and keeps the heavens at a distance from the earth. A kindhearted god, it is Illalei who put stars in the heavens to keep the night alive.
When the world was first made, Illalei saw that it was too flat. He told the first man to build a coffin, shut Illalei in it, and bury the coffin. The first man did this. Illalei drew down a rain of fire for seven years, which formed the mountains. Then Illalei sprang back to life.

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The first man grew lonely, so Illalei formed a woman out of his own blood. The first manand woman had thirty children but hid half ofthem from Illalei. The god was so angry atthis deception that he changed the fifteen hidden children into the animals and the demons.

Other Mythical Figures

The three chief gods, in their order of rank, are Beher, the god of the sea, Mahrem, the warriorgod, who was supreme god in the Axumite Empire, and Astar, the sky god. The earth spirit is called Medr, and Ekera, in the religion of the Oromo of Ethiopia, is the afterworld.

Current events show continuing problems in Ethiopia and its neighboring countries. Yet in spite of this adversity, the mythology of this land survives.