"Sigelwara Land" is the title of an essay in two parts by J. R. R. Tolkien, appeared in Medium Aevum Vol. 1, No. 3. December 1932 and Medium Aevum Vol. 3, No. 2. June 1934. It treats the etymology of the Old English word for the ancient Aethiopians, Sigelhearwan. Tolkien concluded that, while the meaning of the first element was evidently sigel "Sun", the meaning of the second element hearwan was not recoverable:
- "a symbol ... of that large part of ancient English language and lore which has now vanished beyond recall, swa hit no wære."
The phrase Sigelwara land appears in a free translation of the Book of Exodus (Codex Junius 11):
- .. be suðan Sigelwara land, forbærned burhhleoðu, brune leode, hatum heofoncolum.
- "... southward lay the Ethiop's land, parched hill-slopes and a race burned brown by the heat of the sun ..."
The main thrust of Tolkien's argument in this two-part paper seems to have been that "Sigelwara" was a corruption of "Sigelhearwa", and had come to mean something different in its later form than it had in its original. He begins by pointing out that Ethiopians in the earliest writings are presented in a very positive light, but by the time they written of as "Sigelwarans", the perception has become the opposite. He does not speculate why, but instead demonstrates a clear relationship between "sigelwara" and "sigelhearwa" and shows how discovering the original meaning of the word "Sigelhearwa" is almost impossible; that trying to do so must be "for the joy of the hunt rather than the hope of a final kill".
The word sigel as a conflation of two words, the inherited word for Sun, the feminine sigel and an Old English neuter sigle or sygle for "jewel, necklace", loaned from Latin sigilla.
Suggesting a connection of hearwa with Gothic hauri "coal", Old Norse hyr-r "fire", Old English heorþ "to roast", heorð "hearth", Tolkien tentatively concludes that in the Sigelhearwan we may be looking at "rather the sons of Muspell than of Ham", an ancient class of demons "with red-hot eyes that emitted sparks and faces black as soot", English equivalent of the Norse fire giants ruled by Surtr, that had been forgotten even before the composition of this version of Exodus.
Influence on Tolkien's fiction
The mysterious hearwan, adapted to modern English phonology, may be an inspiration of some placenames in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, viz. Dunharrow, and, less prominently, Underharrow, a placename in Rohan. However, harrow is less mysterious and originally appeared as hearg "place for sacrifice"; see its cognate, hörgr.
One of the many peoples encountered in The Lord of the Rings are "black men like half-trolls". This description recalls the Sigelwara as black demons; furthermore their homeland of Far Harad, the great southern region of Middle-earth, recalls Africa, sometimes referred to as Aethiopia in pre-modern times. In drafts of The Lord of the Rings Tolkien toyed with names such as Harwan and Sunharrowland for the Haradrim generally and their land; Christopher Tolkien notes these names are derived from the Old English Sigelwara, and refers to Tolkien's essay Sigelwara Land.
- Tom Shippey (2003), The Road to Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, ch. 3 'Philological Inquiries', p. 42; ISBN 0-618-25760-8
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 5 ch. 6 p. 121; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1989), ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Treason of Isengard, Unwin Hyman, ch. XXV p. 435 & p. 439 note 4