The discovery of the source of the African river Blue Nile is being commemorated this year on the occasion of its 400th anniversary in Olmeda de las Fuentes, in an effort to promote the life and deeds of its discoverer, Pedro Páez Jaramillo, born in this town

400th anniversary of the discovery of the Blue Nile source

Spain is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Blue Nile source by Spanish Jesuit missionary Pedro Páez Jaramillo en 1618.
04/27/2018

The discovery of the source of the African river Blue Nile is being commemorated this year on the occasion of its 400th anniversary in Olmeda de las Fuentes, in an effort to promote the life and deeds of its discoverer, Pedro Páez Jaramillo, born in this town.

On the date of the discovery, 21 April, the Olmeda de las Fuentes Town Council held an event to celebrate the occasion, and a number of related activities will take place throughout the year.

The event was attended by a number of figures from Ethiopia, a country where Pedro Páez is regarded with respect and admiration. In it, Olmeda de las Fuentes and Gorgora, the Ethiopian town where Páez Jaramillo is buried, were named twin towns.

Also, a presentation was made of the project Pedro Páez at the University, developed by Francisco García del Junco from the University of Córdoba (UCO) and Yolanda Cabrero Ortega from the National Distance Education University (UNED). In addition, the people who attended the event had the chance to taste Ethiopian and Spanish food and enjoy traditional dance performances and a coffee ceremony typical of Ethiopia.

Pedro Páez Jaramillo’s long journey

Pedro Páez Jaramillo (1564-1622) was the first European to see the source of the river Blue Nile and to travel alongside Antonio Monserrate across Hadramaut, a former sultanate on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula.

At the time of the dynastic union of the Crown of Portugal and the Crown of Spain, young Pedro was admitted at the University of Coimbra. He travelled back to Spain two years later to study with the Jesuits at Belmonte, Cuenca. Later on, he was admitted to the Society of Jesus.

While he was there, the Society of Jesus embarked on an ambitious missionary enterprise in Africa and Asia supported by King Philip II of Spain.

Captured by the Turks

At 24, Páez travelled to Goa, in India, where the Jesuits had established a major centre for the Asian continent. Shortly afterwards, he and Father Monserrate headed for Ethiopia for the first time.

The two priests travelled along the coast of India and the Strait of Hormuz. After a number of pirate attacks and tempests, they were captured by the Turks and taken to Dhofar, in Oman. They travelled across the desert, facing hunger, thirst and sandstorms until they reached Sana’a, the capital de Yemen, where they became the first Europeans to drink coffee. They spent seven years in prison, where Páez learned Persian and Arabic.

King Philip II paid the ransom and the two Jesuits were released and returned to Goa. But Páez went back to Ethiopia, crossing the Red Sea disguised as an Armenian. In 1603, he arrived in Fremona, where he set out to convert Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia. He devoted himself entirely to his religious mission but also found time to learn the local languages and traditions.

Counsellor to Emperor Susenyos I

In 1604, he was summoned by Emperor Za Dengel and persuaded the latter to embrace Catholicism. However, the conversion triggered a revolt and the Emperor was overthrown. Za Dengel was succeeded by Emperor Susenyos I.

On 21 April 1618, Páez travelled some 100km south of Lake Tana to stumble upon the source of the Blue Nile, 152 years before Scottish traveller James Bruce.

Páez wrote a book titled Historia de Etiopía (A History of Ethiopia), which includes studies of ancient texts and royal chronicles. He died in 1622 and was buried in a small church he himself had built on the shore of Lake Tana.