From Slave to Demon: Barya in the Ethiopian Prayer Scrolls

December 12, 2020 1PM ET/ 8PM EET

(Registration form located at the bottom of this page)

Speaker: Dr. Solange Ashby

Lecture One of the Nubian Lecture Series 

Info about the Lecture: 

In Ethiopia today, nominally Christian prayer scrolls are worn as a form of protection against diseases believed to be the result from negative actions of demons. The scrolls are written in the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Coptic Church, Ge’ez (Ethiopic). 

This lecture will focus on one particular type of demon called Barya, which is aid to cause epilepsy. Interestingly and not coincidentally, this term is also a racist slur used for members of a specific ethnic group who call themselves Nara. The Nara reside along the western border of Ethiopia and Eritrea and into eastern Sudan. Their people were heavily raided for slaves by Ethiopia’s dominant ethnic group, the Amhara. 

Embedded in a 20th century prayer scroll created for a young woman, among the ritual protection meant to safeguard against illness and misfortune, is an “execration text” against several kings, whom I suggest were enemy rulers of the Ethiopian Aksumite empire in the fourth century CE. 

Through a close examination of references to state enemies of the Kingdom of Aksum embedded in a modern prayer scroll, this lecture will explore the numerous ethnicities (Nara, Noba, Meroitic- all Northeast Sudanic speakers) that lived in East Africa during the 4th century CE, a period of profound change from traditional religious practices to the early adoption of Christianity. 

About Solange Ashby:

Dr. Solange Ashby

Solange Ashby received her Ph.D. in Egyptology with a specialization in ancient Egyptian language and Nubian religion from the University of Chicago. She has researched in Egypt at the temple of Philae and participated in an archaeological excavation in El-Kurru, Sudan (royal Kushite cemetery). Her first book, “Calling Out to Isis: The Enduring Nubian Presence at Philae”, is published by Gorgias Press. Her current research explores the roles of women in traditional Nubian religious practices. Dr. Ashby is working on the first monograph dedicated to the history, religious symbolism, and political power of the queens of Kush. 

Dr. Ashby currently teaches in the Black Studies Department at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In January 2021, she will begin teaching at Barnard College’s Department of Classics and Ancient Studies. 

Registration will close 24 hours before the lecture starts. Registration does not include any future lectures in this series.