issue 223 - September 1991
...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.
Why was Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, known as ‘The Lion of Judah?’
• This refers to his status as God in the Afro-Caribbean religion of Rastafarianism, in which the mention of his name was often accompanied by the formula ‘King of kings, Lord of lords, Lion of Judah’. It derives from the legend that Menelik, the first ruler of the ancient empire of Axum in northern Ethiopia in the tenth century BC, was the son of the Biblical Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (or Sahea, in modern Yemen). Another connection which adds to this myth is that many Jews fled to Ethiopia from Christian persecution from the fifth century AD onwards – ancestors of the modern Falashas whom Israel has been so keen to rescue. In practice Haile Selassie, like the European monarchs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, used his divine right to back up a feudal dictatorship. After he was deposed in 1974, amid a series of popular protests, the military seized power – and eventually a new emperor, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, emerged. He himself is rumoured to derive from the illegitimate line of an Emperor.
Where do chickens come from?
• The Gallus gallus - or Red Jungle Fowl – which comes from the forests of northern India, Thailand, Kampuchea and Sumatra was identified by Charles Darwin as the originator of the modern domestic chicken. Although other jungle fowl are thought to have contributed to the gene stock, the Red Jungle Fowl looks very much like a small and streamlined version of our own farm poultry. It has a fleshy crest, reddish brown back and tail feathers, and a distinctive, unnerving cackle and scream. The people of the Indus Valley had domesticated jungle fowl by 2000 BC.
Are there any matriarchal societies in the world today? How do they work?
• What do you mean by matriarchal? There are many matrilineal societies where property is inherited through women, mainly in West Africa and Polynesia. In such societies women may have greater prestige than in patrilineal societies – but they do not necessarily have more power. The Ashanti people of Ghana, for example, are matrilineal. But what this means in effect is that a man’s heir is his sister’s son – rather than his own son. In some places the monarch is always a woman as on the island of Tongo in the South Pacific. But I do not know of any societies that are matriarchal in the sense of women having primary power over property and decision-making in the way men do in patriarchal societies.
How did developing countries come to be called ‘The Third World’?
• There seems to be no agreed derivation. It is sometimes taken to mean the ‘non-aligned’ countries – that is the countries that were not connected to the East or the West during the Cold War era. Another explanation is that the term originated as the French Tiers Monde because of a suggested parallel between the poor countries of the world and the Tiers Etat – the Third Estate, or Commons, in the French Revolution. A drawback of the term is that it may leave the thought in people’s minds that the ‘Third World’ is a third of the world, when in fact it accounts for three-quarters of the world’s population. And there are some who argue that due to the emergence of newly industrialized countries, like Brazil and South Korea, and the demise of the Eastern bloc the term is now redundant and should be abandoned.
Who invented the bicycle?
• The first bicycle as we know it – that is a bicycle with transmission and front wheel steering – was produced by a Scottish blacksmith called Kirk-patrick Macmillan in the village of Thornhill near Dumfries, Scotland. There is controversy over whether he invented it in 1838 or 1840. But last year the Kirkpatrick MacMillan Festival was held in Drumlamrig Castle near Dumfries. Today there are 800 million bicycles in the world – of which 300 million are in China. Worldwide, bicycles outnumber cars by three to one.
Why have so many developing countries adopted the dollar as their unit of currency?
How did the 'Shining Path' get its name?
What is globalization?
What is a ‘dong bang’?
Where is the ‘parrot’s beak’?
Who – or what – was Bretton Woods?
If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).