January 21st, 2010

never there

Lost Kingdoms of Africa

For TV night last night we watched 2 episodes of the Lost Kingdoms of Africa. J had seen the first one while it aired, but I'd mostly been hunting zombies rather than paying attention then, so we watched it again. First one was about Nubia - which I mostly know about from the perspective of being a neighbour of Egypt. So interesting to see more about Nubia itself. The programme made quite a big deal out of how the land of Nubia was actually more fertile than Egypt - so they could have large cattle herds and would be a tempting target for Egypt to attempt to control. And cattle motifs seem to've been important through the Nubia civilisation - there were ancient rock paintings of cattle, there was an incredibly impressive tomb of an ancient leader of Nubia with 300 human sacrifices buried round him plus 5000 cattle heads (you CAN take it with you, in Nubia), and even once the Nubian culture was becoming more Egyptian cattle were still very prominent in their carvings. The presenter got a little carried away about Nubian pharaohs (yes, there were, but I think the Persians spoilt their party a little bit quicker than the programme implied). It finished up by looking for the descendents of the Nubians - once the desert spread the traditional Nubian way of life had to change & die. The people who still live there have camels now, not cattle, and are mostly nomadic. And there's a tribe further south in Sudan who think they may be descended from Nubians, who live in a very similar way to the ancient depictions of Nubian life.

The second programme was about Ethiopia, which I'm ashamed to say I knew nothing about before. Except that it had had an appalling famine years ago when I was a kid. So I didn't even know it had been a Christian country long before the European missionaries got there - infact they drove out the Jesuit missionaries because they preferred their own Orthodox ritual, thanks very much. Their legends are that they have had a continuous kingdom of Ethiopia for 3000 years, started by the son of Solomon & the Queen of Sheba who apparently brought the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia when he set up his kingdom. So first they were Jewish for a thousand years or so, then they became Christian. This programme worked its way back into the past looking at sites from various bits of history - including some awesome churches carved from solid rock, a monastery that still follows old traditions and worships in a 6thC AD church, and the ruins of a temple from ~500BC. There definitely seems to've been a continuous culture there, although the programme didn't seem to me to show enough evidence for the Jewish past (and none at all for the Solomon & Queen of Sheba). But certainly I now know significantly more about Ethiopia!

Overall I liked the programmes. My only quibble really is that there seemed to be a fair chunk of padding for each one, I'd rather've seen more things or learnt more about the things, rather than watch the presenter wrestle with a modern day "Nubian" or try his hand at plowing with an ox drawn plow. And he didn't half get carried away with the "ooooh it could really be true that ...", but the wild speculation was always clearly indicated so that's OK, and it's probably just my tastes that wanted more detail in the evidence for things rather than just the spectacle ;) And I definitely learnt stuff :)
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