THE AFRICAN PRESENCE HISTORICALLY IN GEORGIA AND ABKHAZIA
By Runoko Rashidi
August 13, 2008
There has always a presence, albeit a small one, of African people in the areas of Georgia and Abkhazia. This has been brought to my attention again through the media coverage of the current Russia-Georgia conflict. Here is a bit of information excerpted from my upcoming book on the history of the African presence in this volatile area.
Colchis, a land located along the western slope of the Caucasus mountains near the eastern shores of the Black Sea in the area known now as Georgia and Abkhazia, is at the dividing point or frontier between Europe and Asia. The Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 450 B.C.E.) regarded Colchis, considered the home of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology, as a Nile Valley colony established in the nineteenth century B.C.E. during the reign of one of the Senusret¢s of Kamite Dynasty XII. Herodotus not only pointed to the Colchians' black skin and woolly hair, but also to their oral traditions, language, methods of weaving, and practice of circumcision.
Regarding the African presence in ancient Georgia and Abkhazia Herodotus noted that:
"It is undoubtedly a fact that the Colchians are of Egyptian descent. I noticed this myself before I heard anyone else mention it, and when it occurred to me I asked some questions both in Colchis and in Egypt, and found that the Colchians remembered the Egyptians more distinctly than the Egyptians remembered them. The Egyptians did, however, say that they thought the original Colchians were men from Sesser¢s¢ [Senusret] army. My own idea on the subject was based first on the fact that they have black skins and woolly hair (not that that amounts to much, as other nations have the same), and secondly, and more especially, on the fact that the Colchians, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians are the only races which from ancient times have practiced circumcision. ... There is a further point of resemblance between the Colchians and the Egyptians: they share a method of weaving linen different from that of any other people."
Saint Jerome, writing during the fourth century, called Colchis the "Second Ethiopia." Two hundred years later, Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem, described an "Ethiopian" presence in the same region. Even today, in the same district about which Herodotus wrote, exists a minute, black-skinned and woolly-haired community, although the argument is waged that the Africans currently occupying the region are there solely as the result of enslavement. Obviously, like many aspects of the Global African Community, there is much more research that needs to be done.