Beja Language History and Prehistory
Beja Language History and Prehistory
Andrzej Zaborski
University of Cracow and University of Vienna


††††† †I discovered Beja people, its history and language in 1962 as an undergraduate student at the Cracow University, Poland. I wrote my MA thesis on Beja history according to medieval Arabic sources finishing it in 1964. It appeared in 1966 (as Zaborski 1965) after I got my MA degree in 1965. Working at the Cracow University for many years I was not allowed to travel abroad officially and for the first time I could go to Egypt in October 1974. At the very beginning of January 1975 I could visit Assuan and to meet the Beja people for the first time. I was greatly impressed when upon my arrival to the Beja camps in Assuan the Beja nazir welcoming me said: "We, the: Beja are here since the times of Ancient Egyptians and Romans. After this very short visit I could come to Assuan again in March 1975 for a week which I spent working on the Bishari dialect with Ahmad who was a native speaker of Bishari working at the Combonian Mission. 1 could visit Sudan in January 1988 but due to my very limited financial means I could spend only some two weeks in Khartoum, Port Sudan, Suakin and Kassala. In this way I had a glimpse of the fascinating Beja country and of even more fascinating Beja people. I kept working on Beja language in Europe concentrating on the only aspect that I could study having no direct contact with the Beja i.e. on comparative and internal reconstruction of Beja language prehistory. At several international congresses I used to appeal to my colleagues who were in a better position to get grants and other necessary support to undertake the study of the Beja language which is one of the most important languages from the scientific point of view. I was happy to see my colleague and good friend Dr. Didier Morin go to Egypt and the Sudan to study the Beja language, literature and culture. In 1985- 1988 I was trying to organize a group of scholars to write the first scientific history of the Beja People since the existing "History" by Paul (1954, reprinted in 1979) is a shame since it ignores the sources, misses most of the facts and offers wrong interpretations. Unfortunately my colleagues were too busy to start the project although it cannot be excluded that indirectly my initiative facilitated the publication of the part of Updegraff's doctoral thesis on the history of Blemmyes. All of this taken together explains why 1 am especially happy not only that I am here meeting illustrious representatives of the Beja people, but also witnessing the historical moment of the beginning Beja writing and being able to present a paper myself.

The beginning of Beja history
††††† †Although there is no doubt that the Beja have a history going back to very ancient times which means that they belong to the peoples with the longest history in the world, it is difficult to say when exactly the history of the Beja begins. But this is not unusual at all- actually the beginning of the history of many peoples and states cannot be dated with precision. Just like in case of many other peoples, at the beginning of the history of Beja we find names. Most Egyptologists following Schäfer (1901, 136, 38, 41- 42; cf. H. AltenmŁller's article on "Jäger" viz. "Hunters" in Lexicon der Ägyptologie as well as St. Wenig in the article on "Harsijotef" in the same Lexikon) identify the Beja with the inhabitants of Md3 (in Egyptological transcription d is usually pronounced as ğ = English j ) land south and south east of Egypt (!) so that there is a plural nisba form Md3-y-w and simple plural Md3-w, that can be reconstructed as *Meja'-y-aw/u/ *Meja'-aw/u < **Beja'-y-aw/u/**Beja'-aw/u, alternation of labial /m/ and /b/ being highly probable. Md3-y-w/Md3-w mentioned in Ancient Egyptian sources (cf. Säve-Sōderbergh 1941, 18) were active in Egypt as mercenaries, elite troops (Bietak 1987, 123), policemen, trackers and hunters which corresponds well to their nomad background. Some Egyptologists, however, do not express their opinion on the problem of identification of Md3-y-w/Md3-w with Beja, e.g. Gardiner 1947, part 1, 73-89, Zibelius 1972, 133, 139, 108, W. Helck in his article on "Police" in Lexikon der Ägyptologie as well as K.W. Butzer in his article on "OstwŁste" viz. "Eastern desert" or even M. Bietak writing on "Pfannengräber" (although he seems to have changed his opinion in later publications, see Bibliography), all of them in the same Lexikon. This reluctance reflects only cautiousness but should not be interpreted as a rejection of the identification of Md3-y-w/Md3-w with Beja. This cautiousness is to some extent justifiable since, as a matter of fact, ethnic names as well as professional names derived from them are sometimes transferred and sometimes they have a larger and sometimes a more narrow range so that different peoples can be called by the same name, cf. the Greek name "Ethiopians" which was used for all African peoples with more or less dark skin, the name "Nubians" used also sometimes by classical authors for dark skinned peoples south of Egypt in general, not to mention names like Rūm used in the Middle East not for Romans but for the Byzantines or European peoples in general just like Afranğ i.e. "Franks". It is remarkable that in the Blemmyan documents the name "Romans" is used for Egyptians. Therefore when we have only ethnic names we have to remember that these names could be ambiguous and their semantic range could change. Personally I am convinced that Md3-y-w/Md3-w can be reasonably identified with Beja but the term could be applied sometimes also for other mainly nomad peoples of the region who looked "the same" for Egyptians.

††††† †There is a chance, although a limited one, that the name Md3 can be found in the first part of the name of Megabari mentioned by the Greek geographer Eratosthenes (middle of the 3rd century B.C., he mentions also the Blemmyes) so that the Greek version could be only a pliancy Greek reinterpretation of the name Med3. I must also mention a hypothesis proposed by I. Hofmann (1969, 1124-1127) that the Beja should be identified with a very enigmatic people mentioned in the Ancient Egyptian sources as Bwgm which has been ignored by Zibelius (1972).

††††† †Nothing is known about the language of the Md3-yw and about their use of foreign languages although there is no doubt that at least some of them must have been fluent in Egyptian and most of those in Egyptian service must have had some knowledge of the language of their employers. Already then i.e. in the second millennium B.C. some Egyptian loan words could have been taken over although very few have survived in the contemporary Beja language (cf. Vycichl. 1960, Roquet 1972-73). We have to remember that some of them could have simply fallen into disuse or could have been eliminated by new rival loans e.g. from Arabic.

The Blemmyan Beja and the begining of Beja writing:
††††† †A country called Brh' is mentioned already in the time of Ramses 1X (1137-1119) but its identification is uncertain. In Demotic texts (Erichsen 1954, 120) there is a mention of a woman called T-Brhmt who might be the first Beja woman mentioned in history (cf. Černy 1958 quoting Macadam, Leclant and Yoyotte and Černy 1976, 23) and since the time of Darius I i.e. from the period between 521 and 486 B.C. we find the name Blhm-w (-w/ū being the ending of plural; cf. Černy 1958) which is is spelled later in Sahidic Coptic as Blhmū, in plural Blhm-ōwe (cf. Crum 1939, 38 listing also Belehmū, Blehmū, Belehmowe, Blehmowe, Belhmowe, Blhmawe; Westendorf 1965-1977, 24, Černy 1958, Vycichl 1983, 28; Vycichl 1958, 179) or, in the Bohairic dialect of Coptic, as plural Balenhm-ow, Balhm-ow, Balnem-owi. Blemmyes appear in Greek sources only since the time of Theocritus i.e. 3rd century B.C. (Černy 1958) The disappearance of -h- in Greek is probably a secondary (Greek?) development so that -ehm > -emm, thus B(a)lehmū> *Balemmū resulting in Greek Βλέμμυες / Βλέμυες viz. Blemmyes/ Blemyes, (cf. also Vantini 1975, 185; 315 Syriac Biamãyē ?), in Latin Blemmyae. What has been said about the hypothetical although rather probable identification of Md3yw pertains also to the problem of the identification (going back to the pioneer historian of Beja i.e. the French Orientalist Quatremere 1811) of Beja with Blemmyes. The reasons for the change of the name are unknown. The name Blemmyes/ Blemyes must have been used in Egypt for the Beja people or at least the northern tribes but it could be used sometimes also for some other nomad people or peoples who disappeared later. It is not clear whether the name "Blemmyes" probably meaning "nomads" was really the name with which the Blemmyes identified themselves i.e. used as self-designation even if they used it in the international documents and it is rather improbable that it could be used by all the tribes since even the name Beja was not used by many of them in modern times, cf. Almkvist 1881, 9 quoting Heuglin who mentioned a tribe using the name Beja in the 19th c. A.D.7.

††††††† According to an old hypothesis going back to HalŤvy (1869) which I discussed in my paper presented at first at the Conference on Greek and Arabic Studies in Delphi in 1985 and finally published in 1989, the name Blemmy-es is most probably derived from the Beja word balami/ balemi which means "a nomad, an inhabitant of the desert" which Leo Reinisch (1895, 47) quotes in the sentence hanīn balemī-b-a "we are inhabitants of the desert". There is one obstacle - in the Coptic versions we find -h-. Perhaps some naitive speakers of Beja who are present at this Conference could tell us whether the word balami/ balemi is still known and used among the Beja people. Already HalŤvy connected this noun with Beja verb bal-am "to be dry" while Reinisch added also the noun bal "desert" which, according to him, should be a plural of bāl "drought". Whether there is a connection between "nomad, inhabitant of desert" and "to be dry" is a question but such a connection cannot be ruled out. In any case I do not think that there is a safe ground for accepting a connection between the Blemmyes and the enigmatic people called Baliyyūn (the form of the name is uncertain !) mentioned by al-ldrīsī as done for the first time by Stern 1881, cf. Sethe, 568. The dating of the information transmitted by al-ldrīsī is uncertain and is quite unclear whether there is any relation between al-ldrīsī's "Baliyyūn" (?) and the name Belāwi (most probably going back to *Bā'lawi and being of Ethiopic origin) used for one of the noble clans of the Hadandiwa tribe (cf. Reinisch 1895, 49).

††††† †What is most important, the Blemmyes have left a series of texts, the first of which might be an inscription from Memphis (Vycichl 1978, 370-371). The first text in Beja language may be extant in the form of an undeciphered ostracon in an unknown language which might be a text in Blemyan language written in Coptic characters. In the first line we find wōxara. in which initial wō- might be Beja masculine article and there are three other words which may be verbs with the third person masculine prefix yu-/yē (for transcription cf. Satzinger 1990, 314, first publication by Griffith in Quibell 1909, 109, Table XLII.3; cf. also Vycichl 1978, 370-371). Meroitic graffiti from Philae might also be Blemmyan although it is impossible to prove it.

††††† †The existing corpus of Blemmyan texts consists of inscriptions from Philae and Dodekaschoinos in Demotic Egyptian and Greek, an inscription in Greek from Talmis (cf. Wilcken 1901, Hägg 1984), a letter from the Blemyan king Phōnēn to the Nubian king Aburni in Greek (cf. Skeat 1977 and Rea 1979) as well as thriteen legal documents written down by local notaries from Gebelēn on leather and paleographically dated late 6th century A.D., including four texts in Coptic and nine in Greek (cf. Hide, Hägg, Pierce 1984, Satzinger 1968, 1985 and 1990). There are also documents from Qasr al-Ibrīm. All of this shows that normally Blemmyan Beja being analphabets used official notaries and scribes but it is probable that some, probably very few Blemmyes might have had a knowledge of writing since official letters and documents could be accepted only if there was at least a chance of checking them by a Blemmyan knowing how to read them. In any case some Blemmyes must have known Coptic and some of them even some Greek although the knowledge of the letter could be very rudimentary especially since we know that even the Gebelēn documents written by professionals who were Copts, are in rather poor Greek. Since the Greek language of the Phonen's letter is quite corrupted (although the term "Pidgin Greek" suggested by Hägg 1981, 1986 is rather an exaggeration), nevertheless this fact might suggest that the scribe could have been rather Blemmyan than foreign. It is quite natural that for more or less "international" documents the Blemmyes i.e. the Northern Beja used Greek and Coptic.

††††† †A rather long series of personal names of the Blemmyes is known but so far it has been possible to find in them only few elements which could be explained with the help of limited data that we have on the Beja language in the modern times (Satzinger 1990 and Zyhlarz 1941). Some of them might contain the word kena/ kina "owner", tak "man", perhaps also some animal names like kurib "elephant", hadda/ hada "lion", yās "dog" as parts of compound personal names (cf. Zyhlarz, 1940-1941) which is not surprising especially since even in modern times some names of such a type (i.e. totemistic names containing names of animals) survive, e.g. Tankwira as a name of a Beja tribe (cf. Reinisch 1895 p. 145_ which contains kwire "ostrich".

††††† †There have been attempts (cf. Millet 1973, Hofmann 1979) to explain the name of the king *Kharamadoye of a Meroitic inscription as Blemmyan (preposed *hara- found also elsewhere, cf. Satzinger 1990) but this hypothesis is rather weak. It is even less probable that prefixed y-e- and t-e- found in Meroitic inscriptions could have anything in common with Beja verbal prefixes i- (masc.) and t- (fem.) as hypothetically suggested by Hofmann (1969, 29; 1989/90). Moreover we have to remember that personal names are sometimes borrowed and our knowledge of genuine Beja personal names is extremely limited since the Beja introduced Islamic viz. mainly Arabic names a long time ago. Compound names may be explained in future research work.

The first appearance of the name Buğa/ Bega
††††† †The situation in the south of the Beja country must have been different. In the inscriptions from ancient Ethiopia since the beginning of the 4th century A.D. we find the name Buga (Greek Bovryou cf. Bernand, Drewes, Schneider 1991, vol. 1, 364, 368, 371; Bernand 1982) and then Bega (Greek Bεyá, cf. Bernand, Drewes, Schneider 1991, vol 1, 379, line 12), also in unvocalized Ethiopic and South Arabian versions B.g. (ibid., 242, 243, 246) and finally in Ethiopic vocalized version (ibid., 255, 260) for the first time. The version bygt (cf. Drewes 1962, 102, cf. G. Ryckmans in Le Musēon 71, 1958, 147-148) is uncertain. Why the name Blemmyes does not appear there apart from an uncertain variant in the inscription from Adulis (cf. Bernand, Drewes, Schneider 1991, vol. 1, 381) ? Most probably it was not accepted by all the Beğa i.e. by all the tribes and for some of them it could even have a derogatory meaning. 'Ēzānā- the king of Axum calls himself also the "king" of Bega/ Beğa which, no doubt, means that he had some control over the southern Beja tribes, nevertheless this control was probably only limited if not only nominal since the most important inscription which was even executed twice in three versions and which gives details of an alleged "victory" over the Beja actually must be interpreted as a kind of compromise treaty (cf. Zaborski 1968 and 1999) which offered the Beja a considerable supply of food and cattle and a land endowment: Offering food and other things was an old method of "peaceful pacification" or a kind of bribe used e.g. also by Romans with Blemmyes (cf. Drewes 1962, 104 for Nubians). The text of the treaty has a clearly propaganda character emphasizing only an alleged generosity of the king of Axum but saying nothing about successful Beja resistance, which resulted in a sense, rather in a Beja, not Axumite, victory. This Axumite propaganda version may be, perhaps, explained partially as due to the lack of knowledge of Ethiopian/ Ge'ez and Greek writing (rather than languages) among the Southern Beja who could be unable to read and thus to control the one-sided version recorded by the Axumites although it is notable that the inscription has been written in three versions which clearly shows that it was internationally important and that so many versions might have been demanded by the Beja. It is interesting that no name of a Beja chief is mentioned (cf. the name of the Beja chief mentioned in the treaty imposed by Arabs in 831) which suggests that the Beja had little influence on the wording of the texts. The beginning of language contact between the Southern Beja speakers of Ethiosemitic i.e. at first Ge'ez (Ethiopic) as long as it was a spoken language and later mainly Tigre, much less Tigrinya goes back most probably to the beginning of the Ethiosemitic expansion in today's Eritrea and Ethiopia in the first millennium B.C. Beja loans in Ge'ez and in Tigre as well as Tigre and Ge'ez loanwords in Beja started appearing already then.

Christianity among some Beja
††††† †Prolonging the cult of Isis in Philae by the Blemmyan Beja till the 6th century AD must have been politically motivated. But Christianity was accepted by some Bejas, there was even "Barnaba" (?) the bishop of 'Aydab (Le synaxaire arabe Jacobite, 1907, III, 500-501; Gabra 1983; Cuoq 1986, 51-53) although that post was rather for travelers than for the Beja. It is interesting that the Beja chief *Muha(?) was killed in a church in Qift. Yāqūt writing at the beginning of the13th century A.D. says that Sawākin is inhabited by Christian Beja but this information comes from a much earlier source most probably. On other sources cf. Zaborski 1965, 365-366. Ibn Ğubayr (1907, 72) traveling through 'Aydab in 1183 mentioned that the local Beja knew only the formula of montheism (tawhīd) which they pronounce only to be acknowledged as Muslims but otherwise the famous traveler did not want to consider as having a religion which was certainly exaggerated. It is interesting that in spite of islamisation Beja name of "God" has survived apart from Arabic Álla, Állah; it is ankuāna "lord, master" wū-ankuāna "the God"" which Reinisch (1895, 25) derives from Ge'ez makannn" ruler, judge, prince etc." (Leslau 1987, 287) and which occurs also in 'Afar-Saho as makawán "big, chief, ruler" and in Bilin as kwänan "judge" Cf. the example quoted by Reinisch: Bilal wō-ankuána silēlya ēfi "Bilal prays to the Lord".. Cf. also Reinisch 1895,148: kuāsi/ kuassāna "creator", ū-kuasanāyūn "our creator, God".

Although the sources about Christianity among some northern Beja are scanty, nevertheless some additional data are found in Beja lexicon. Beja silel "to pray" and sille, plur. silel "prayer" has been connected by Reinisch (1895, 199-200) with Arabic salla "to pray" but it should be connected rather with Nubian silel "to pray" (Browne 1996, 158-159) which is a loan from Coptic šlel "to pray" (cf. Vycichl 1983, 260; Černy 1976 240). This could be a hint that Christianity might have reached some Beja from Christian Nubia. There has been only a secondary association with Arabic sallā which is, by the way, also a loan (cf. Leslau 1987, 557). Another Beja word: baski "fast; Ramadan" (Reinisch 1895, 52-53) is also a trace of Christianity although a connection with Pesach i.e. "Passover" (cf. Vycichl and Zyhlarz) may be less certain than a hypothetical connection with Coptic sok, sek, sk "to spend the fast" (Westendorf 1965/1977, 180). Nubian loanwords in Beja are not very numerous at all and Beja loans in Nubian are even less numerous (cf. Zaborski, forthcoming) but there can be no doubt that the relations between the two peoples are quite ancient.

The contacts with Arabs
††††† †It is remarkable that since the first contact with Beja in Upper Egypt the Arabs used the name Buğa instead of the name Blemmyes which is witnessed by the documents from Qasr Ibrīm. Is it possible to suppose that the Arabs had already had some knowledge of the Beğa from Ethiopia? This cannot be excluded- they could have known that the Beja were northern neighbours of Ethiopia and that their state reached as far as Egypt, there must have been some maritime contacts between Arabia and the Beja coast. But in the existing sources there is little that may give support for this hypothesis. Arab conquest of Egypt was an event which offered a chance and might have even imposed a need of reevaluating and changing the political situation and an official change of the name from Blemmyes to Beğa could have been somehow politically profitable. The main Arabic version is, Buğa which corresponds perfectly to the Greek form Boúyai, while there are also variants Bāğa (used e.g. by the author of the best medieval description of Beja written in the second half of the 10th c. A.D. by Ibn Salīm al-Aswānī who travelled to Nubia and knew also the Beja directly) and Biğa which indicates the pronunciation *Beğa corresponding to Bega of the Axumite inscriptions.

The historian and geographer al-YaĎqūbī mentions several Beja tribes and says that their "kingdom" or "state" is called *N.qīs and their capital is H.ğ.r. The "name" of the "capital" most probably goes back to Ethiopic hagar "town" (cf. Marquart 1913, CCCXIII; Zaborski 1965, 291, n. 10; cf. Vantini 1975, 619, 625, 627) and therefore there is a chance that the name of the "kingdom" is also Ethiopic, i.e. derived from the root n-g-ś "to rule, to be king" although there is a philological problem since no form with long -ī- i.e. *nagīs is recorded in Ge'ez where we find e.g. ngś. But there is a possibility that *Nagīs reflects an unrecorded Semitic dialect form or that the root had been borrowed (it occurs as a loan in Beja, Saho, Afar and Bilin not to mention other languages) and then the form was changed in Beja.

I should like to emphasize that although in his "History" al-YaĎqūbī mentions three (not five as alleged by some scholars !) "Beja kingdoms", only the first of them was really Beja while the second was Tigre and the third one i.e. Bāzīn/ Bazen was Baria. This shows that Arab geographers used the name "Buğa" sometimes as a general term for different neighbouring peoples just like the names Nūba i.e. Nubians and Habaša i.e. Ethiopians.

What is more important, Hadarab are mentioned for the first time in history by al-YaĎqūbī both in his "History" as *al-Hadārab (spelled, due to a copyist's error as al-Hadarāt) and in his "Geography" as al-Hadāriba. This is a genuine Beja name which has nothing to do with Hadramaut as alleged already in the 19th century (cf. also Paul 1959) although this folk etymology has been accepted by some Bejas willing to boost their prestige after the islamisation. There is another etymology deriving the name Hadarab from hedāri (cf. Tigre and Ge'ez, Leslau 1987, 259) "to be settled, to live, to dwell" (Reinisch 1895, 112 giving as example: ani ō-Sōk-i hedārību "I live in Suakin") but it is derived rather from hadā' "to be a sheikh, a chief" plus ar "sons", so that the name means "sons of a chief" or "overlord tribe". What is important, the Beja case ending -ab (probably occuring also in the second name of a Beja tribe mentioned by al-YaĎqūbī but which lacks diacritical points), later adopted also by Arab and Nubian clans (it is not Nubian as suggested e.g. by Hohenwart-Gerlachstein), appears here for the first time in history apart from its occurence in the name of the sea port 'Aydab and later in the name of Kassala which occurs in an-Nuwayrī's (died 1332) text as *Kassalab (Zaborski 1983, 410; cf. Reinisch 1895, 148; Vantini 1975, 491) as well as another place name- *Arbībāb(?).

Unfortunately other tribal names mentioned by al-YaĎqūbī cannot be identified not only because diacritic points are lacking in their Arabic versions which have been, most probably, more or less corrupted. Perhaps one of them could be identified with the Tigre tribe of Mensa' (in Arabic spelled erroneously as m.nāsa ?) but this is not clear at all, especially since final 'ayn is lacking. But there can be no doubt that Southern Beja tribes were intermingled with Tigre who are mentioned by al-YaĎqūbī as Zanāfiğ with the main center in Baqulīn which was still known in the 19th century (cf. Reinisch 1895, Zaborski 1984; Vantini 1975, 624). In two names the three final Arabic letters are probably the same i.e. a letter without diacritic points which can be amended to *y, *t, *n or *b, then ' or g (Arabic 'ayn or gayn) and finally -h which may be a symbol for -a. Whether this means that there is a common postposed morpheme in these names is a big question.. In two names there is a final r (or *z ?) which might be interpreted as *-ar "sons" like in Amar'ar but it is quite unclear whether this is possible.

We owe more tribal names to the geographer Ibn Hawqal. Although full forms of some compound names cannot be identified, nevertheless two postposed morphemes are found: -tika meaning "people" (Reinisch 1895, 224) in *Bīwā-tīka, *'Arī-tīka. *Ganī-tīka, perhaps also in *Wāh-ika (<**Wāh-tīka ?). There are also names with -endowa/*andiwa meaning "people" (actually a compound enda-dawa where dawa/dawa means "tribe, settlement", cf. Reinisch 1895 21, 71 and 74; cf. Tigre enda "strangers" Littmann, Hofner 1956-1962, 373-374), i.e. *Sūt-andāwā (misspelled as Sūtabārwā), *'Akn-andīwā (misspelled as 'Aknibīrā), Nağr-andīwā (misspelled Nağrīrwā). It has to be emphasized that apart from the reconstructed -tika and -andiwa the spelling of the initial parts of the names is quite unclear due to the imperfections of the Arab writing and several conjectures are possible. By the way, the tribal name Hadandiwa goes back to *Hada'-andiwa i.e. "people/tribe of the lord(s)" in spite of the folk etymology occuring in Beja folk literature which derives the name from Hadat "lioness" (cf. the store published by Roper 1928, 123 where the alternative name of the Hadandiwa is given as Hadāt'ar "Sons of Hadat").

Later we find the name of Halenga mentioned by an-Nuwayrī (Mus'ad 1960, 276; Vantini 1975, 693 and 490-491,cf. Zaborski 1983, 410) but there is a hope that some new names will be found in Arabic manuscripts which have not been published or even discovered so far.

We know also some Beja personal names. A Beja chief is called Kan(n)ūn Ibn 'Abd al-'Azīz (al-Maqrizi 1927, t. 3, 272-274; QuatremŤre 1811, t. 2, 46). It is interesting that this paramount (?) Beja chief had a lengthy treaty signed in 831 "translated" by two Arabs (Vantini 1975, 628) and registered in Assuan.

Another Beja chief is called in Tabari's and Ibn Hawqal's (1938, 53-54), Ibn al-Atlr ( 1851-1876, VII, 51-52) and some other versions "Alī Bãbã" which is probably distorted and it is not certain whether it should be interpreted as Olbãb (cf. Sanders 1933, 124). It is interesting that a kind of letter is mentioned in a not quite clear report of the battle fought by the Beja with the Arabs in 856 A.D. Ali Bãbã was allegedly taken prisoner of war but he visited the calipha al-Mutawakkil from whom he received generous presents and returned to his homeland which means that his surrender was not quite unconditional and that his political position was strong enough even though he was still pagan (cf al-Balãdurī 1866, 238-239 and for a different version cf. Ibn Hawqal 1938, 54, cf. also Cuoq 1986, 43, n. 125). Also uncertain is the name of the Beja chief's transmitted as La'is by at-Tabarī (ser. III, 1431) but Ibn al-Atīr quotes the name as "Fīas which either shows that '"Alī Bābā" had two sons or that the spelling has been hopelessly distorted.

Three other names of Beja chiefs are mentioned by Ibn Hawqal: *Muhā/*Muhī- a Beja chieftain as well as *'Abdak and *Kūk (all the vocalisation and even some consonants are quite uncertain !) who are mentioned as two chiefs of the Hadāreb/Hadārab overlord tribe. The spelling and pronunciation of these three names is quite unclear but it is important that these names are not Arabic although both *'Abdak (?) and *Kūk/Kawk (?) were already interrelated with Arabs of the Bišr clan from whom the name Bishari(n) which is perhaps mentioned by al-Mutahhar al-Maqdisi in 966 must have been derived. The "accusative" case ending -ab does not occur here which probably means that the Beja chiefs already knew Arabic and used their names in Arabic without the Beja ending.

A Beja camelman's name is given as Kilār/ Kilāz (?) by al-Maqrīzī probably following al-Aswānī (cf. Vantini 1975, 618).

What is more important, Ibn Hawqal (1938, t.1, 10) speaks about the Beja language saying that they have a common language which is quite incomprehensible to the Arabs but some Beja have a language of their own. Most probably this is a reference to the Ethiosemitic language of Tigre people whose northern tribes must have been under "protection" of the Hadārab already then. There is a much later reference to Beja language by christianized Arab geographer Leo Africanus who lived between c. 1492- 1552 but might have used much earlier sources and who said (we have a French translation): "The Beja speak a language that is mixed, in my view, with Chaldean and which is quite similar to the language spoken in Suakin and in Upper Ethiopia where Priester John has his residence" (1956, vol. II, 484). Since Ethiopic viz. Ge'ez was called "Chaldean" in Europe in the first half of the 15th century A.D., it is possible to assume that the author (or his editor ?) referred to Tigre spoken by some Beja (cf. Zaborski 1965, 302- 303). It is remarkable that Leo Africanus (vol. 2, 537) mentioned a people living south of Assuan, being dominated by Beja and speaking a language being "a mixture of Arabic, Coptic and Ethiopian". It is not clear whether this might be a contamination of imprecise information on complicated language situation or a reference to Tigre.

Some northern Beja must have learnt Arabic as interpreters rather soon after the Arab conquest of Egypt and especially after the penetration of emerald and gold mines by Arabs but the real spread of Arabic began when Arab nomadic tribes started penetrating the Beja land and intermarriage began among the Beja and Mudar and Rabī'a Arabs already in the 9th century A.D.

When Ibn Hawqal visited Beja land in the 10th century, the number of northern Beja speaking some Arabic must have already been considerable but he says emphasizing Beja hospitality that they speak a language which is difficult to understand (or "full of barbarisms", Arabic 'agtām)- this pertains rather to Arabic as spoken by some Beja rather than to the Beja language since the latter was certainly quite incomprehensible to Ibn Hawqal (see above).

The enigma of Beia writing
††††† †The famous bibliographer Ibn an-Nadīm writing in the 10th century contradicts himself when he mentions Beja among other peoples of Africa who have no writing and then mentions a traveller, who told him that Beja had writing and written literature (Ibn an-Nadīm 1871-1872, 19) but Ibn an-Nadīm emphasizes that he has seen nothing of it. In the 19th century this unverified mention was used by Lepsius (1880, CXXXVI) as a basis for a hypothesis that the undeciphered language of the Meroitic inscriptions could be Beja and later on Marcel Cohen listed the undeciphered Meroitic among Cushitic languages in the major reference book entitled "Les langues du monde" first published in 1924 and then reedited in 1952. As is well known, nothing has been found in still enigmatic Meroitic that could be interpreted either as Beja or as Cushitic but still in some encyclopedias Meroitic is listed erreoneously as "Cushitic".
In modern Beja Arabic loanword ketib (Reinisch 1895, 151; Roper 1928, 206: kitib; Almkvist 1881, 39: kiteb) is used and it belongs to the prefix conjugation which indicates that it is rather an old loan from Arabic and not from Ge'ez in which kataba is also a loan from Arabic and the normal word for "to write" is sahafa.

The relevance of comparative linguistics
††††† †It is comparative linguistics than can provide insights into the past of the Beja language through internal reconstruction and comparison with other genetically related languages as well as with other languages which were in contact with Beja. The results of the comparative studies elucidate prehistory of the language.
History of the study of the Beja language begings with European travellers Salt, Burckhardt and with Seetzen's data published by Adelung-Vater (cf. Almkvist 1881, 21- 34). The great Egyptologist and linguist R. Lepsius was the first professional to study the language and to acknowledge its relationship with other Hamitosemitic languages but unfortunately his Beja texts and his grammar have never appeared (cf. Lepsius 1844 and 1863, Almkvist 1881, Zaborski 1987, 125). Leo Reinisch- the great pioneer of Cushitic linguistics was the second although his "Grammar" (1893, originally appeared in Sitzungsberichte der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Vienna) and his "Dictionary" (1895) appeared after the Swedish Orientalist Almkvist had published his still remarkable and basic grammar of the Bisharin dialect in 1881 followed by the dictionary in 1885. It was the British colonial officer Roper who was probably the first European really fluent in Beja language although the Comboni missionary O. Huber who left a simple, unpublished grammar (cf. Cifoletti 1994) had probably been the first European with some speaking skill in Beja. Roper's concise grammar, collection of texts and dictionary are still invaluable. Unfortunately the interest in the Beja language in the second half of the twentieth century was rather limited and R.A. Hudson unpublished Ph.D. thesis and articles, some more experimental than verifying and bringing new facts, must be considered as the most important contribution. There was also G. Cifoletti who worked in Egypt and in the Sudan publishing some data and finally D. Morin that I mentioned at the beginning.
The existing descriptive studies have been used in comparative research which elucidates prehistory. What do we know about prehistory of the Beja language so far ?

Genealogy of the Beja Language
††††† †Beja language belongs to the Cushitic family of languages (together with Oromo, Somali, 'Afar-Saho, languages of the Agaw branch and with many other languages, some of which are spoken even in kenya and Tanzaniya) and thus via Proto-Cushitic dialects it belongs to the bigger macro-family of languages called usually Hamitosemitic, Afroasiatic or Afrasian. This Hamitosemitic/ Afroasiatic genealogy of Beja is based first of all on the fact that most grammatical morphemes including independent as well suffixed and prefixed pronouns, case morphemes (e.g. genitive -i), number morphemes (e.g. internal -a-), derivational morphemes (s, of causative, m/ n of pasive and reciprocal on which cf. Berber, t pf passive) etc. have direct cognates in Semitic (this means that Beja is related to Arabic but only indirectly and not closely at all, i.e. through Proto- Semitic), Berber, Egyptian and Chadic languages. It is not necessary to be a linguist in order to recognize the genetic relationship between e.g. possessive suffixed pronouns -i, -ūk, -ū, -ūn, -ūkna, -ū and the forms in other Hamitosemitic languages.. This genetic relationship of grammatical morphemes is based not only on function but also on regular sound correspondences viz. sound laws although the discovery of these sound laws is still going mainly to the most comptetent and inventive comparatist and etymologist V. Blazek, since it was rather neglected in the past and it is quite time- consuming.

Relations between Cushitic and other subfamilies
††††† †The position of Cushitic within Hamitosemitic/ Afroasiatic is together with Semitic and Berber although most probably Semitic and Berber are a bit closer.. As indicated already by Werner Vycichl (1960), in spite of territorial proximity there is no special relationship of Beja (and Cushitic, we may add) with Egyptian which, due to its peculiar verbal system, stands apart from Semitic, Berber and Cushitic which share a lot of common features in the verbal systems which must have been inherited from the common Proto-Hamitosemitic dialects. Chadic branch of Hamitosemitic/ Afroasiatic also stands apart in spite of some opinions about a special relation between Chadic and Cushitic expressed by Lukas and Diakonoff but without any factual basis. Beja has some features which link it with Berber (first of all the prefixed and inflected definite article going back to demonstrative pronouns which can be reconstructed for Beja as masc. sing. *wūn, fem. sing. *tūn etc., cf. Zaborski 1986, 324, cf. Berber masc. sing, u-, a-, fem. sing, ta-; cf. Zaborski 1997) while it is possible that the oldest East Cushitic languages i.e. 'Afar-Saho , Rendille-Boni-Somali- Baiso have some features that link them rather with the Semitic languages but the problem needs much further research although there is a possibility that in the Proto-Hamitosemitic/A froasiatic dialect continuum some Cushitic dialects viz. Beja were closer to Berber and some other, e.g. 'Afar-Saho, were closer to Semitic which would not be surprising if we take the geographical situation into consideration.

Futility of separating Beja from Cushitic
††††† †At least since Reinisch Beja has been considered to be a member of the Cushitic subfamily. As I maintained already in 1982 (actually since the first Conference on Cushitic Languages in Paris in 1975, cf. Zaborski 1988), the hypotesis going back to Andrzejewski who was a great specialist on Somali language but not a great comparatist at all, that Beja was not a Cushitic language but somehow an independent member of the Hamitosemitic/ Afroasiatic family was based on extremely weak foundations (if any at all in 1975!) and was actually simply wrong. It is a pity that a classical mechanism of rumour resulted in some spread of the idea that Beja language should be somehow separated from Cushitic. This rumour, naturally enough, has been repeated mainly by people who had no knowledge of the Beja language at all.

How do we know that Beja belongs to the Cushitic subfamily ? As rightly emphasized by Robert Hetzron who was the only linguist to develope the hypothesis about a separation of Beja from Cushitic, common innovations belong to the most important proofs of genetic relationship of languages. It is commonly taken for granted since Reinisch that a new suffix conjugation in which suffixes go back to prefix-conjugated auxiliary "to speak/ to be" reduced to the final vowel (e.g. tam-ta "you ate" goes back to verbal noun tam plus suffixed second person masc. t-a of the auxiliary verb "to be" in which t- is the prefix of the second person and -a is the stem) is the innovation of the Cushitic languages which is not shared with other Hamitosemitic/ Afroasiatic languages. Cf. Beja and Afar:


Past but still used as Present in negative sentences,†††††††† †Past Perfect/ Conditional
ka-tam-an "I do not eat"
2m.††††††††tam-ta††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††tá m-tia
3.††††††††††tam-yān†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††tám-īna

††††††††††††††††'Afar††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††Saho "to be"
Sing.†††† ††"to open, begin"
1.††† †††fak-a††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††fak-e†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††a†††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††e
2.m†††††fak-ta††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††fak-te†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††ta†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††te
2.f†††††††††''†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††''††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††''††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††' '
3.m†††† fak-a†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††fak-e†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††ya†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††ye
3.f†††††† fak-ta†††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††fak-te†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††''††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††''
1.††††††††fak-na††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††fak-ne†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††na††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††ne
3.†††††††fak-āna††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††fakēni†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††yan(i)††††††††††††††† ††††††††††yen(i)

††††There is -a in the Present and -i/-e in the Past of the Cushitic suffix conjugation. Beja does have this Cushitic innovation which cannot be ascribed to borrowing and thus definitely Beja belongs to Cushitic.

††††Contrary to some premature and inexact lexicostatistic results, Beja has also quite a lot of common vocabulary with other Cushitic languages (cf. Zaborski 1989c and later studies by Blazek, especially 1997).

Some Beja-'Afar-Saho isoglosses:
New Present with suffixed -nv- "to say/ to be" (cf. Roper 1928, 78; Conti Rossini 1913, 17):

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††Beja †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††'Afar
††††††††††††††††††††Sing,††††††††††††††††"to eat" †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††"to say/ be"
††††††††††††††††††††1.††††††††††††††††††††††tam-áne †††††††á-ne †††††††††††††††††††fak-a an
†††††††††††††††††††2m.††††††††††††††††††††tam-t ťnea†††††tť-nea†††††††††††††††††fak-ta tan
†††††††††††††††††††2f.††††††††††††††††††† †tam-tťni ††††††††tť-ni††††††††††††††††††††††††' '
†††††††††††††††††††3m.†††††††††††††††††† †tam-īni ††††††††ť- ne †††††††††††††††††††fak-a yan
†††††††††††††††††††3f.††††††††††††††††††† †tam-tťne †††††††tť-ne ††††††††††††††††††fak-ta tan
†††††††††††††††††††Plur. (originally intensive in Beja !)
†††††††††††††††††††1.†††††††††††††††††††† †tám-nēi†††††††††n-ēn ††††††††††††††††††††fak-na nan
†††††††††††††††††††2.†††††††††††††††††††† †tám-tē na †††††tē-na†††††††††††††††††††††fak-tāna †††††††tanin
†††††††††††††††††††3.†††††††††††††††††††††tám-ēn†††††††††††ē-na††††††††††††††††††††††fak-āna ††††††††yanin

††††Jussive with -ay (cf. Roper's alyternative transc. p. 52), in 'Afar -ay, e.g. in Beja negative 1st sing, b-ā-tam-ay "that I may not eat", 1st plur. bi-ntam-ay "that we may not eat" etc. and 'Afar 1st Sing, fak-ay "that I may open/ let me open", 1st plur. fak-nay etc., also with prefix conjugated verbs: adūr-ay "let me return", 1st plur. nadūr-ay etc.

††††Conditional with -ek: Beja (Roper 1928, 61) a-dif-ek, ti-dif-ek, i-dif-ek, ni-dif-ek etc., tama-an-ťk, tam-tān-ťk etc., 'Afar -k: u-dūr-e-k "if I return", tu-dūr-e-k, yu-dūr-e-k etc., fak-e-k "if I open", fak-t-e-k, fak-n-ek etc.

Archaic features of Beja
††††† †Beja has preserved a big number of very old elements which justifies calling Beja "the Akkadian (or Assyro-Babilonian) of the Cushitic subfamily". Some archaic features of Beja : in negative "optative" or rather jussive/ subjunctive even 'weak" i.e. suffix conjugated verbs are still conjugated with prefixes (Roper 1928, 52) e.g. positive bā-tam-i, bā-tam-tia, bā-tam-tī, bā-tam-ni, bā-tam-tīna etc. but in negative: b-ā-tám-ei, bi-t-tam-aya, bi-n-tam-ei, bi-t-tam-ēna etc.

††††Some verbs make the past tense with t-, which corresponds to Akkadian Perfect iptaras and to the cognate form in Berber (cf. Zaborski 1975, 16; Zaborski 1997).

††††Intensive with long -ā- after the first root consonant, e.g. kitim "to arrive" and kātim (cf. also kātatim !) "to arrive repeatedly at the same place", inflected a-kātim, te-kātim-a etc., dibil "to collect" and dābil (and dābabil !) "to collect a lot". This has a correspondent in the third class of derived verbs in Arabic (qātala) and in Ethiopic (with traces e.g. in Hebrew) -these class of verbs with -ā- was originally intensive and actually a variant of qattala; it occurs also in Modern South Arabian Present.

††††Alternation h/s in third person pronouns is preserved: bar-ū-s "he", bat-ū-s "she" etc., -hos- "him/ her", -hos-na "them", -ū-s, -ā-s, -ū-s-na, -ā-s-na for 'his", "her", "their", and independent possessive pronouns bar-i-ū-s, bat-i-ū-s "his", "hers" etc. in Halenga but in Hadandiwa dialect -hi-na (both sing, and plur.), -ū-h-na, -ā-h-na and bár-ih-i-yi, bāt-ih-i-yi etc. As is well known, Semitic languages are divided into a group having -s/š (Akkadian) and a group having -h (Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopian etc.) while within Epigraphic South Arabian and Modern South Arabian there is a cleavage into -s and -h dialects.

††††In nominal morhology there is nominative ending -u, genitive -i and accusative -a, there are also internal plurals (cf. Zaborski 1986).

Innovations separating Beja from East Cushitic languages
††††Independent personal pronouns are one of the main innovations of Beja. They are compound forms containing rather enigmatic bar- (fern. *bar-t- > bat- ) plus suffixed pronouns. The original meaning must have been "yourself", himself" herself", "ouerselves etc. rather than "your possession" as suggested by Bechhaus-Gerst (1985). Since we find typologically similar innovations in Egyptian and in Tigrinya (not in Tigre as mistakenly suggested by Vycichl in 1953a although in 1988 Vycichl quotes both "Tigray" and "Tigrinya" with difference only in one form !), it cannot be excluded that this is an area! feature. It has to be emphasized that there may be some differences within the Beni Amer speakers of Tigre since Beaton and Paul (1954, 13) speak about "emphatic" nominative i.e. subject pronouns composed of nos-(Nakano has long -ō-, i.e. nōs-) "soul, self" (Tigrinya nss, Arabic nafs) and suffixed possessives apart from reflexives like ana nosye "I myself" ("emphatic" form spelled nosŽ with -Ž not explained phonetically):
†††††††††††††††††††††††††Beja††††††††††††††††Beni Amer††††††††††††††††††Tigre††††††††††††††††††††††††Tigrinya††††††††††††††††Egyptian
†††††††††1.††††††††††††††ane ††††††††††††††††††nos-Ž, nōs-ye†††††††††††††††ana ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††ane †††††††††††††††††††*anak
††††††††2m.††††††††††††bar-ūk††††††††††††††nōs-ka, noska††††††††††††††anta†††††††††††††††††††††††nss-ha†††††††††††††††††††(y)nt-k
††††††††2f.††††††††††††††bat-ūk††††††††††††††nos-ki, nōs-ki††††††††††††††inti†††††††††††††††††††††††nss-hi†††††††††††††††††††(y)nt-c (<-*ki)
††††††††3m.††††††††††††bar-ū(-s)†††††††††††nos-o, nōs-u†††††††††††††heito, hitū††††††††††††††††nss-u††††††††††††††††††††††(y)nt-f (<-*h)
††††††††3f.††††††††††††††bat-ū(-s)†††††††††††nos-a, nōs-a†††††††††††††heita, hitā†††††††††††††††††nss-a††††††††††††††††††††††(y)nt-s
††††††††1.†††††††††††††††henen††††††††††††††††nos-na††††††††††††††††††††† hŽna†††††††††††††††††††††††††nhna††††††††††††††††††††††*yn-n
††††††††2m.††††††††††††bar-āk-na††††††††††nos-kum†††††††††††††††††††intum†††††††††††††††††††††††nssat-kum †††††††††††††(y)nt-čn
††††††††2f.††††††††††††††bat-āk-na††††††††††nos-kin††††††††††††††††††††intin,intino†††††††††††††††nssat-kn†††††††††††††††††††††' '
††††††††3m.††††††††††††bar-ā(-s)†††††††††††nos-om†††††††††††††††††††††hitan, hitōm††††††††††††††nssat-om††††††††††††††††(y)nt-sn
††††††††3f.††††††††††††††bat-ā(-s) ††††††††††nos-on †††††††††††††††††††††heitan, hitan †††††††††††††nssat-än††††††††††††††††††††††' '

It is remarkable that Beja pronouns with bar- have been borrowed into at least some Sudanese Arabic dialects (Reichmuth 1983, 10), e.g. in Shukriyya Arabic there is even the first person ana barāy "I alone/ myself", barāna "we alone/ ourselves" apart from barāk "you alone/ yourself" etc. and there is also adverbial baray.

Numerals "one", "three" and "five" (old "five" survives as asa- < *hamsa in 6-9) as well as the system of "five" to "nine" viz. "five plus one", "five plus two" etc. are Beja innovations while "hundred" še is a loan from Egyptian (cf. Coptic še). Only the numerals male (*lama) "two" which occurs also in asarāma <*asa-lama "seven" (cf. Somali lama), "four" fadig (cf. 'Afar ferey) and "ten" tamin (cf. 'Afar taban) go back to Proto- Cushitic (cf. Zaborski 1987, Blazek, forthcoming a). Although some linguists may claim that compound numerals 6-9 are primitive since their etymologies as compounds are clear, nevertheless I think that they are rather later innovations.

The loss of East Cushitic subjunctive/ jussive with final -u/-o is also a Beja innovation.

Closing statement

††††† †In spite of the very scanty sources Beja language which belongs to the Cushitic branch of Hamitosemitic/Afroasiatic as the oldest member of this branch and which is also one of the oldest viz. archaic Hamitosemitic languages in general has not only a very long prehistory but also a very long history. Beja language being a part of the ancient Beja culture and one of the major languages must be put into writing and certainly it has a long and great future both as spoken and written language.

«Š—∆Ū”Ū…††† ŕš «ŠŐ„ŕŪ… †††† Ō—«”«  ś»Õśň††† Ň’Ō«—… »Ō«śŪ ††† řś«„Ū”††† ’ś— „š «Šňř«›…††† √Ř«šŪ ††† ‘ŕ—†††  řśŪ„††† śķ √řķ‹Ūů.. Ōů»ůŠűśÝ«»ķ

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