movement among sub-Saharan Africans that embodied the earliest
stirrings toward religious and political freedom in the modern
colonial period. The movement was initiated in the 1880s when
South African mission workers began forming independent
all-African churches, such as the Tembu tribal church (1884) and
the Church of Africa (1889). An ex-Wesleyan minister, Mangena
Mokone, was the first to use the term when he founded the
Ethiopian Church (1892). Among the main causes of the movement
were the frustrations felt by South Africans who were denied
advancement in the hierarchy of the mission churches and racial
discontent encouraged by the colour bar. Other contributing
factors were the desire for a more African and relevant
Christianity, for the restoration of tribal life, and for
political and cultural autonomy expressed in the slogan
"Africa for the Africans" and also in the word
The mystique of the term Ethiopianism derived from its occurrence in the Bible (where Ethiopia is also referred to as Kush or Cush) and was enhanced when the ancient independent Christian kingdom of Ethiopia defeated the Italians at Adowa in 1896. The word therefore represented Africa's dignity and place in the divine dispensation and provided a charter for free African churches and nations of the future.
Parallel developments occurred elsewhere and for similar reasons. In Nigeria the so-called African churches - the Native Baptist Church (1888), the formerly Anglican United Native African Church (1891) and its later divisions, and the United African Methodist Church (1917) were important. Other Ethiopian-related movements were represented by the Cameroun Native Baptist Church (1887); the Native Baptist Church (1898), in Ghana; in Rhodesia, by a branch (1906) of the American Negro denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Nemapare's African Methodist Church (1947); and the Kenyan Church of Christ in Africa (1957), formerly Anglican.
Early Ethiopianism included tribalist, nationalist, and Pan-African dimensions, which were encouraged by association with independent U.S. black churches and radical leaders with "back to Africa" ideas and an Ethiopianist ideology. This ideology was explicit in the thought of such pioneers of African cultural, religious, and political independence as E. W. Blyden (1832-1912), and J. E. Casely-Hayford of Ghana (e.g., his Ethiopia Unbound, 1911).
Ethiopian movements played some part in the Zulu rebellion of 1906 and especially in the Nyasaland rising of 1915 led by John Chilembwe, founder of the independent Providence Industrial Mission. From about 1920, political activities were channelled into secular political parties and trades unions, and the use of the term Ethiopian then narrowed to one section of African independent religious movements (see Zionist church). These Ethiopian-type churches originated by secession (and further subsecessions) from a mission-connected church, which they resemble in beliefs, polity, and worship and from which they differ in certain cultural and ethnic practices.
By the early 1970s the term Ethiopianism was not in popular use outside southern Africa and, when employed for this form of religious movement elsewhere in Africa, is used by many but not all scholars as a historical or classificatory term.
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 4 (15th ed. 1986).