The Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon’s court is recorded in numerous ancient texts, from the Bible to the Qu’rān. Makeda, as she is known in Ethiopia, traveled to Jerusalem to test Solomon’s wisdom. One of the riddles she asked was how to distinguish girls from boys:
Various boys and girls, all of a tender age, of the same height and dressed identically were placed before him, whereupon she said, “Distinguish the males from the females.” At Solomon’s command, nuts and roasted corns were distributed before them. The boys, without any sense of embarrassment, gathered them and placed them in their garments; the girls, who are more modest, placed them in their headdresses. Thus, Solomon was able to distinguish between them.
in a quest for wisdom, Makeda was compelled to travel to visit Solomon, and her story demonstrates a life of meaning making and principle that is not as simple as seeking perfection. her travel involves her seeking knowledge and learning about wisdom through a journey that was a 3-7 year voyage. Makeda was compelled to visit Solomon because she valued wisdom and heard of Solomons kingdom and rule. it has been recorded that they had a love affair and she bore Solomon a son on her return trip back to Ethiopia, Menelik I. in The Kebra Nagast (Glory of Kings), a cornerstone of Ethiopian history and knowledge, records indicate that Makeda’s proclamation of wisdom’s worth with the following:
I am smitten with the love of wisdom. Wisdom is far better than the treasure of silver and gold. It is sweeter than honey and finer than wine, brighter than the sun, and to be loved more than precious stones. What is stored within is greater than oil, and it satisfies one’s craving more than meat. It is joy to the heart, light to the eye, speed to the foot, and a shield to the breast. Wisdom is the best of all treasures. He who stores gold has no profit without wisdom, and he who stores wisdom — no man can steal it away.
in seeking wisdom in my own life, i read about Makeda thinking about how i have come to learn what little wisdom i have, it seems i am also on a never ending quest. within that, i have come to learn that maturity has nothing to do with age. i know people who are much younger than i am and model it accordingly. i also know some people who are much older that exhibit and display behaviors that indicate they lack wisdom.
i am learning wisdom comes to a person through life learning experiences and similarly, wisdom is an ever evolving process that is not automatically bestowed upon “elders” or learned in a vacuum. wisdom is often gained and learned through hard knocks and life experiences that can knock one down a notch or two, and can sometimes take ten years to learn one gem. wisdom is also learned through humility. it is humble pie and tastes a lot like crow in some instances and some people would defy and deny that truth.
wisdom, according to my mentor, is passed down from one generation to the next and not always “given” or taught to people. as it relates to Indigenous people, wisdom is something we learn through observance and listening, with our eyes. it is speaking from our hearts. often times, age is not a guarantee that wisdom will be gained or learned. listening to an individual recently state and proclaim that they were an elder was quite the spectacle for me.
as i witnessed the individual behave in such an egotistical adolescent manner, i was reminded yet again, individuals do not get to decide when they are wise or if they are elders. if we follow the U.N. or Wikipedia’s definition of elderly, through age, all an individual needs to be considered elderly is to turn 60+ or more specifically, be 65. that is not a definitive factor, that is ageism.
for Indigenous people, our social constructs of wisdom and elder hood is something witnessed and observed by others. wisdom is community based and also defined by the elders who are recognized and deemed as such. becoming an elder is not something we determine for ourselves because state sanctioned policies state and define elder age. if anything, it is ancestral knowledge over a time span of more than ten thousand years which has determined that age is most definitely no guarantee that one has achieved or learned wisdom.
in both my cultures, i have relatives who are 70+ who will not claim they are elders and refuse to be defined as elder because they still live a “painted life” or do not have the knowledge or know the songs. in their minds and innerstanding, one who knows the old ways and ceremonies (and behaves as such) is how one earns that role and responsibility. so it’s quite interesting when i hear someone demand that they are to be revered as an elder and demands respect.
as i write and breathe, i am blogging about wisdom because it is through guidance and mentoring that i learned wisdom is a journey that leads to a more balanced, or as my Diné culture would define as “hozho” way of living. in Nimiipuu, it involves knowing the language of our first foods, of participating in cultural doings. wisdom by and large is an ongoing occurrence that also includes significant amounts of peace, forgiveness, compassion, temperance, kindness, patience, humility, empathy, and with critical conscientiousness.
wisdom is also a constant flux of change and requires fluidity. the ability to shift and move from a spiritual place. wisdom is a guiding light that rests on the basis of unconditional love and acceptance. the very concepts are not so easily achieved when one follows ego and narcissism, especially in this digital age when social media is an immediate outlet. learning to navigate this has been challenging at times.
today, i am thankful for the mentors and people who took the time to show me how not to be (whether they realized or not.) if it was intentional (or not), everyone we cross paths in life is a teacher. sometimes we learn directly how not to be, what not to say, or when to speak and what we ought to say. the tightly woven wisdom of my grandmothers and aunties and sisters and our first mother remind me, somedays, it is best to not utter a word and to sit and observe in silence. in other instances, it is necessary to speak up and against certain behaviors.
as Keith Basso (1996) named in “Wisdom Sits in Places” it the Indigenous Western Apache relationship with the land and their language that defined their wisdom making. considering ancient biblical testaments, virtue is also the basis of wisdom. as the story of the Queen of Sheba goes, she concerned herself with seeking wisdom, and sought both individual growth and social justice. from what i could find and read, she sought another level of innerstanding and Basso expressed how certain forms of wisdom are gained and learned directly from the land.
in closing, i recognize that finding peace and balance within my own life is important. it is directly related to my healing journey and how i have also been making meaning and taking steps towards learning about wisdom. it has indeed been a process. on this journey of life, wisdom, much like the eagle feathers i dreamed of so long ago, also guides me.
i release the hurt that stems from the projection of individuals who have yet to achieve wisdom of elders and the inherited knowledge of ancestors past. the projection as i have come to learn is a sign of unhealed pain and unresolved grief or loss that are not my burden to carry.
i proclaim inner peace knowing full well, it is the strongest warriors who are silent and caress the petals of loves embrace, with their stillness.
Basson, K. (1996). Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Hausman, G. (1997). The Kebra Nagast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith from Ethiopia and Jamaica. New York: St. Martins Press.