Above are but two of a series of words that originated in the Nile Valley. The reasons for these survivals is perhaps not such a surprise, as discussed below.
‘Ebony’ as named and used in ancient Egypt, was the species Dalbergia melanoxylon (African Blackwood, Grenadilla, or Mpingo). This is a slow-growing leguminous hardwood, originally found in southern Ethiopia and areas south and west, but now endangered and no longer found in many regions.
Ebony was – and continues to be – an elite wood, used in the past by pharaoh and perhaps also by the very wealthy. In fact, one of the earliest discovered artifacts made of this wood is a piece on which is inscribed, in pictures, key events of the life of Den, the third pharaoh of ancient Egypt, approximately mid-thirty-first century BC.
Evidence of ebony at this early period attests to what must have been an active, long-distance trade between areas of greater Nile valley and possibly sub-Saharan Africa that would have been controlled by pharaoh and his representatives.
.The fact that it is not a species indigenous to Egypt or North Africa, and that it was (and continues to be) of high economic value, helps to explain the continued use of the word ‘ebony’ for over 3000 years – and (although not included in the first picture, above) – a variant is also used in the Arabic language: خشب الأبنوس (khashab ‘ibnuus‘ – literally, ‘ebony wood’)
Prospects for African hardwood as an agroforestry crop for smallholders:
Known is kiswahili as ‘mpingo,’ the tree is leguminous and therefore helps to replenish soils. As well, leaves and pods provide fodder for wildlife and livestock, and the roots are used “…in traditional medicines to treat abdominal pain, diarrhoea and syphilis; the wood smoke is inhaled to treat headaches and bronchitis..” (World Agroforestry Centre).
Being extremely dense, the wood can burn at such a high heat as to melt metal pots, and mature trees are tolerant of brush fires. The wood is valuable in handicraft production and also is considered by many the best for making of woodwind instruments.
The bad news, however, is that the tree takes several decades to reach full maturity – not a good bet for the majority of smallholders who are looking to grow fast turn-around agroforestry species in their farms.
Here are several interesting links about African Blackwood:
The Second Word – Adobe:
The origin and continued use of the word ‘adobe’ – together with the related technology of mud brick making in Egypt – and then its transference across North Africa and into Spain with the early Islamic conquests, attests to the power of a simple, cost-effective, and universally valuable product in arid regions: mud bricks – plebeian in nature; cosmopolitan in use.
Since the building of the Aswan High Dam, controls have been enacted on the making of mud bricks in the Nile Valley, because the tons of silt that were in the past deposited by the annual Nile floods are now trapped behind the Dam, thus no longer replenishing the mud.
Mud bricks have been historically important in the building of defenses in arid regions of North and West (Sahelian) Africa and the Middle East. An example of which I am fond is that of the Oasis of Jupiter Ammon, known as Siwa, located in the Libyan Desert, N.W. Egypt.
The oasis was situated on the West-East caravan route to the Nile Valley that originated in West Africa:
Siwa produced some of the best dates in the Middle East, which continue to be exported to Egypt and beyond. In order to protect themselves, their dates and the visiting merchants and caravaneers from brigands, a huge fortress – constructed of houses and store rooms and forming a wall on the outside – was built and maintained over the centuries:
Shali today. Source: minamar
Ebony – an elite product that lubricated trade and continues to please those who can afford products made of it, and Adobe – an essentially free product, the use of which helps to bind together families and civilizations. Words that, largely because they represent products of great economic or social value, continued to be used for millenia and to be transferred into other languages
- Bread-Baking in Egypt, Then and Now. Mudbrick ovens (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Botanical Studies – Ancient Egypt (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Frédéric Cailliaud: Eighteenth Century French Scientist and Explorer in Egypt (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- The Sweet Dates and Bitter Olives of Siwa Oasis (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Dictionary completed on language used everyday in ancient Egypt (eurekalert.org)
- Demotic Dictionary Translates Life in Ancient Egypt (theepochtimes.com)