Writing Ethiopia: Identity and the Literary Imagination


6:00 PM – 8:00 PM (UAE Time)
Session 6



Moderator & Discussant
Elizabeth W. Giorgis – Associate Professor of Theory and Criticism, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Beyond the Pilgrimage: The Social and Political Dynamics of Kulubi’s (1973) Contemporary Ethiopia
Ithaca, USA

Luleadey Tadesse Worku – Senior Writing Specialist, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar

The overall goal of this study is to examine the portrayal of contemporary Ethiopia in the historical novel, Kulubi (1973) by Edmond P. Murray. Undoubtedly, the genesis of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution and its aftermath is one of the most frequently evoked historical phenomena in the history of modern Ethiopia. The constituents of the revolution – its political, social, and cultural milieu seem to hold a continuing fascination for both historical studies and fictional representations. The ongoing use of the period as a source of inspiration for the plethora of writings in various genres is hence indicative of its particular relevance for the present day socio-political discourse. To adduce fictional writings as invaluable sources that provide critical insights into the period they depict is thus to emancipate literature from the restrictive theoretical boundaries of ‘art for art’s sake’ and endow it with archival vitality.

Accordingly, the primary significance of this study rests in drawing conclusions about the dominant attributes of Ethiopians and the socio-political realities of the time, as depicted in Kulubi. Especially relevant to this study is the spatiotemporal significance of the celebration of St. Gabriel at Kulubi is given in revealing the social and political facets of Ethiopia and in forming an Ethiopian microcosm. The novel’s attempt to bring together its rather socially incompatible characters in one space, most of whom are modeled after prominent Ethiopian personalities, not only makes it veritably peculiar but also interesting. Overall, as the analysis showed, long-held prejudices of one ethnic group against the other, a repressive political culture, and discordant faith practices emerge as dominant features of Ethiopians in general. At the same time, the strong female agency is emphasized as a significantly positive attribute of Ethiopian women in that particular era.

The Sensible Death of ‘Gudu’ Kassa
Girma Tesfaw Fantaye – Journalist and Writer

Ethiopia has a long history of writing traditions. From the earliest periods of the Sabean, Geez, and Greek stone inscriptions to the present-day vernacular texts, it cultivates a remarkable history of writings.  The main attributes of Ethiopian writings were ecclesiastical in contents. Ethiopian writers of the 20 th century were very burdened with the yoke of modernizing and re-imaging their ‘old’ country.

Of the literary works of the 20th century of Ethiopia, there is one book, by Haddis Alemayehu, that epitomizes the aspiration of the few vocal and powerful members of the intelligentsia. It is the modern Ethiopian classic, Fiker Eske Mekabir (Love unto Crypt), and its leading protagonist ‘Gudu’ Kassa (‘Gudu’ is translated as The Weird). One metaphorically can declare the past century is the era of ‘Gudu Kassa.’

Fiker Eske Mekabir portrayed a decaying social and political order of traditional Ethiopia, tacitly called upon the destruction of the old order through its protagonist ‘Gudu’  Kassa (The Weird). ‘Gudu’  Kassa lived in self-imposed isolation among the traditional polity he abhorred while enjoying all the privileges. As Mesay Kebede observed, “…nowhere do we see him creating wealth by his work.” He talked of lofty ideals and of new (alien) knowledge and insights, overlooking the complexity of the society and its experiences he was living in.

Figuratively speaking, there is a resemblance between ‘Gudu Kassa’ and the so-called early modernizers of the 20s, the revolutionaries of the 60s and 70s of Ethiopia, of their diagnosis of the problems of the country, and their prescriptions for the chronic.

Music and Conflict Transformation: The Ethiopian Experience
Ezra Abate Yimam – Dean of the College of Performing and Visual Arts, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Music is a primarily molding system of human life. Music-making is a special kind of social action, which can have significant consequences for other actions. Music is not only reflexive; it is also generative, both as a cultural system and as human capability, the creation of new music should contain values and power structures that are representative of a newly formed social group. Moreover, it is an effective means of propagating and reinforcing these new shared values through the performing and teaching of the new music. Music did seem to have some traceable reflexive influence on group cultural identities that could theoretically be included in a conflict transformation scenario, a majority of conflict transformation authors claim that long-term successful conflict transformation requires an acceptance of divergent cultural identities or the creation of a new shared cultural identity. Music traditionally in Ethiopia is used for different occasions, warriors used songs of Azmaries to encourage their fighters in the war front, and it brings diverse groups of people into one. The paper explores the use of music in transforming conflicts. Different music materials were analyzed by implying qualitative data analysis. The findings of this study reveal that music could be used as a conflict transformation instrument, especially to reach the grass-root level, and it is a practical resource to build shared cultural identity; because it represents the values and power structures of the societies from which it originated.

The Wife’s Tale
Aida Edemariam - Author and Journalist

First published in 2018, Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale is an extraordinary book that will help in opening up new narratives about women's histories. The book is based on Aida’s  60-hour long conversation with her grandmother, Yetemegnu Mekonnen (Nannye), that spans 20 years. By situating her grandmother as a central agent, Aida tells a story that transcends the authority of the official archive, and its assumption to singular and credible knowledge.

 Edemariam will talk about The Wife’s Tale and how Ethiopia is written in this extraordinary story.


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