Animals as Ambassadors

« Ethiopian twentieth century history revisitedPersonal recollections of the Aksum obelisk issue: Early days »
Animals as ambassadors: An essay in Afro-Asian history
June 16, 2008 by aheavens
If you by any chance have ever been to Djibouti seen and the huge numbers of Ethiopian cattle and other animals herded on to ships for export, do not be surprised. Over the centuries and further back in time this land of bountiful and richly diverse flora and fauna by way of trade and diplomacy, has amazed far off lands with fabulous creatures from exotic Abysiniya. A few species did mange to enter Ethiopia – including a parrot which apparently was not taught to cry for help in any of the four languages it spoke…..

Contacts between Africa and Asia, and more particularly between Ethiopia and India, led to the spectacular, and well-documented, movement between the two regions of a number of animals, which, on their arrival, were regarded with great fascination.


This development may be traced at least to the early 14th century, when a giraffe from Malindi on the East African coast arrived in China. A painting of the animal, known as a ki-lin, was duly produced, and a China-centric poem was composed in 1416. Duvyandak translates it as declaring:

In the corner of the Western Sea
Truly was produced a ki-lin
With the body of a deer and the tail of an ox, and a fleshy boneless horn
With luminous spots like a red cloud or a purple mist….
It walks in a stately fashion, and in its every motion it observes a motion
Gentle is this animal that in all antiquity has been seen but once.


Animal contacts between Ethiopia and India seem to have begun a little later – in the early 17th century when an African elephant of uncertain origin was reported to have arrived in Gujarat, the area of north-western India known for its close relations with Ethiopia – and the home, we may add, of lions.


The relationship between Ethiopia and India, in respect of...