BY WHAT right does Ethiopia call herself an empire? How can a country where illiteracy is almost universal, where there are virtually no roads, and whose annual foreign trade is worth less than $25,000,000 -- how can such a land presume to arrogate to itself the most exalted of all titles? One attribute of an empire is that it holds alien peoples in subjection. It might be objected that according to this definition we could speak of Zulu or Cherokee imperialism. This would perhaps be stretching the point. We nevertheless use the expressions "Turkish imperialism" and "Arabian imperialism" without much difficulty, and accept the custom by which the crowned heads of Morocco and Annam call themselves emperors.
In the case of Ethiopia there can be no question that a single people rules over various subject peoples. Probably not more than one-third of the inhabitants belong to the ancient Ethiopian stock. The rest neither profess Christianity nor speak the Amharic tongue and are consequently regarded by the ruling race as its inferiors. The true Ethiopian resides on the central plateau, while the subject races inhabit the peripheral lowlands. Even the approximate number of total inhabitants is much in doubt. Estimates vary from five million to twenty million. Those who have traveled extensively in the country and have made careful observations usually place the figure at seven or eight million. But statistics of any sort in regard to Ethiopia are few and thoroughly unreliable.
There are various criteria for classifying the heterogeneous population of the Ethiopian Empire. That of physical characteristics is probably the least satisfactory. The true Ethiopian of the highlands regards himself as of the white race, for he quite rightly traces his racial ancestry to the Hamitic invaders of North Africa. But thousands of years of contact with the negro peoples of Central and East Africa have darkened his complexion to a café au lait or even to a dark chocolate.
Language provides a much surer gauge. The third of the
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