Ethiopian movement

  (Redirected from Ethiopianism)

The Ethiopian movement is a religious movement that began in southern Africa towards the end of the 19th century, when two groups broke away from the Anglican and Methodist churches. One of the main reasons for breaking away was that the parent denominations were perceived to be too much under white control, with not enough scope being given to African leadership.

The Ethiopian movement was based on their interpretation of a Biblical passage (Psalm 68:31): "Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth its hands unto God" (in the original Hebrew, actually כוש Cush).

The term was later given a much wider interpretation by Bengt Sundkler, whose book Bantu Prophets in South Africa was the first comprehensive study of African Independent Churches (AICs).


In about 1888, an evangelist, Joseph Mathunye Kanyane Napo, seceded from the Anglican Church to form the Africa Church or African Church, which was composed mostly of black Anglicans who were dissatisfied with white control of the Anglican Church. Kanyane Napo's Church was established in Marabastad, Pretoria and was the first intertribal church formed and led by Africans in South Africa. Napo was dissatisfied with racism inside the Anglican Church in Pretoria which was at that time led Bishop Bousefield (the first Anglican Bishop of Pretoria).

In 1892, a minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Mangena Maake Mokone, broke away from that denomination and formed the Ethiopian Church, mainly because of dissatisfaction with segregation in the church and the lack of fellowship between black and white ministers. His preachings included the theme of "Africa for the Africans", which was later a pillar of the UNIA-ACL.

A group of black former Anglican and Methodist leaders gathered around Mokone, including Kanyane Napo, Samuel James Brander, James Mata Dwane and several others. Two relatives of Mokone, Kate and Charlotte Maneye were studying at Wilberforce University in America, and Kate wrote to Mokone to tell him about the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which her sister Charlotte had joined. This led the Ethiopian Church to decide to join the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME Church) in 1896, and James Mata Dwane was sent to the USA to negotiate the union.

There were conflicting views of Dwane's mandate, however, and Dwane (who had originally been a Methodist), through conversations with Anglicans, came to believe that the AME Church did not have bishops in the apostolic succession, whereas the Anglicans did. Dwane and his followers thereupon left the AME Church and formed the Order of Ethiopia, in association with the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (now Anglican Church of Southern Africa). Most of them were in the Eastern Cape.

Charlotte Maneye married the Revd Marshall Maxeke, and they did missionary work for the AME Church in South Africa, and in 1908 they founded the Wilberforce Institute in the Transvaal, modelled on her American alma mater.

Many of the original Ethiopianist leaders, however, became dissatisfied with the AME Church, and found black American domination of the church leadership as irksome as white British domination.1 In 1904 Samuel James Brander formed the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion, which combined the Anglican and Methodist strands of the Ethiopian tradition. It initially included Kanyane Napo and Daniel William Alexander among its leaders, but both of them appear to have later broken away to revive Napo's African Church. During the period 1900-1920 many different Ethiopian denominations were formed, which were heirs of the Ethiopian tradition.


Ethiopianism was not really an ideology, a theological school, or a political programme. It was rather a cluster of ideas and traditions and assumptions about being Christian in Africa that were shared by a group of Christian leaders in the period from 1890–1920. There was no sharp boundary to the movement, but it shaded off into other groups.

Most of the features of the Ethiopian movement have already been mentioned:

  1. the use of the name Ethiopia, Ethiopian, Cush or Cushite in the names of churches
  2. the aim of a united African Christianity, based on the idea that "Ethiopia shall stretch out its hands to God"
  3. Anglican-Methodist ecclesiastical polity and theology
  4. In spite of many schisms, the Ethiopianist leaders formed a network, and interacted with each other more than they did with leaders of other traditions.

Wider meaning of EthiopianEdit

The description above is of the Ethiopian movement itself, but writers like Bengt Sundkler used Ethiopian in a wider sense to include all African independent church denominations that had broken away from Western-initiated Protestant groups like the Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists, as well as the Anglicans and Methodists.

Sundkler therefore classified bodies like the African Congregational Church and Zulu Congregational Church as "Ethiopian", though they did not really participate in the Ethiopian movement itself. The independent churches of the Congregational tradition formed a separate network from the Ethiopian one, with less contact between the networks.

See alsoEdit


  1. Ethiopianist refers to those who adhered to the ideas of Ethiopianism, to distinguish them from those who live in Ethiopia, or who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
  1. Ethiopianism is considered by scholars to be the origin of the Rastafari movement, and William David Spencer (author of Dread Jesus) suggests that its theological goal, popularized by Marcus Garvey, was that God is black.[1]


  1. ^ Spencer, William (October 28, 1999). Dread Jesus. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. 11. ISBN 0-281-05101-1.


  • "AFRICANS SEEKING BASIS FOR BELIEFS", New York Times (1857-Current file); Apr 30, 1970; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851–2001), pg. 65
  • Hayes, Stephen. 2003. "Issues of 'Catholic' ecclesiology in Ethiopian-type AICs", in Frontiers of African Christianity edited by Greg Cuthbertson, Hennie Pretorius and Dana Robert. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, pp 137–152. ISBN 1-86888-193-8
  • Sundkler, Bengt G. M. 1961. Bantu Prophets in South Africa. London: International African Institute.

Further readingEdit

  • Morrison, Doreen. Slavery's Heroes: George Liele and the Ethiopian Baptists of Jamaica 1783 - 1865. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1500657574

External linksEdit