Ethiopia Literature

By | December 17, 2021

There is Ethiopian literature in the Ge‛èz language, written, whose origins date back to the first centuries of the Common Era: it consists for the most part of translations and is almost entirely Christian. From the 5th-6th century around 7th AD there were translations of the Bible from Greek and of other works with a religious or parareligious content. After the 7th century, for five centuries there is no trace of literary activity. The handwritten documentation dates back to the 13th century. roughly, with frequent versions from Arabic. Between 1314 and 1322 was composed the Kebra Nagast, a novel about the queen of Sheba and her son Menelik, considered by the Christian Ethiopians to be their heraldic book. From Arabic were translated lives of saints and martyrs, homilies, the Book of the vision of Habakkuk, prayers; many lives of indigenous saints, royal chronicles, liturgical and doctrinal texts etc. were written. Metropolitan Salamà (d. 1388) had numerous writings of a religious and theological nature translated or translated. The reign of Tsar’à Yā‛qòb marks a period of particular flowering in literature. The king himself wrote books: the Book of the Nativity, the Book on the custody of the Mystery, the Book of Light, God reigns, consisting of hymns to the saints. We have also received literary works from his successors. At the 15th century probably belongs the translation of the Miracles of Mary and the composition of the Book of the mysteries of heaven and earth. At the 16th or 17th century (the Ethiopian tradition speaks of the time of King Zar’à Yā‛qòb) the Arabic version of a collection of canonical and civil law, called Fetḥa Nagast in Ethiopian (“Law of the kings”); other versions of notable religious writings also belong to the same centuries. Alongside the versions, there is no lack of original works; For this reason, the controversies raised by the Jesuit missionaries (16th-17th century) had particular importance. The compilation of various hagiographic writings (gadl) and of the annals of the sovereigns and therefore of the events of the country continues. For Ethiopia 2005, please check

With the 17th century. the Amharic language, whose first literary documents date back to the 14th century, begins to be used (as an incentive from the Jesuit missionaries) in religious writings; then, starting from the 19th century, following the major contacts with Europe, it becomes more and more a language of correspondence and chancellery, then of historiography, and finally, with the appearance of the press in Ethiopia, a literary language. It had a particular impulse after 1950, involving all literary fields: from the more strictly religious doctrinal to the historical and fictional narrative, including the theatrical one; Above all, there is an abundant production in verse, both of dramatic and fictional works, the latter often with moralizing and satirical intentions with a political-social background. The most representative writers were Gabre J. Afevork and H. Walda Sellāsē (both disappeared in 1945). Alongside this literature, journalistic literature has found considerable expansion, which has undergone the stylistic and conceptual influence, as well as lexical, of the so-called Western literature. Censorship weighed on all production for a long time, both under the monarchical regime and under the subsequent socialist-Marxist government. After the advent of the latter, following the revolution that began in 1974, a doctrinal literature has developed, with translations of foreign works (starting with those of K. Marx and F. Engels) and also with original local writings, which appeared especially in periodicals of political streak. Under the ideological thrust of the regime, a literature inspired by socialist realism was born, both in prose and in verse, with an accentuation of the dramatic production. In this sense, the translation or, better still, the adaptation of literary works of Russian literature has met with widespread diffusion. However, with the passing of the years a certain independence from the dominant political environment has become established, both in non-fiction and fictional literature. Furthermore, a powerful indirect stimulus to literary activity came from radio, and later from television, which favored verse, sung and theatrical composition.

Tigrinya-language literature, whose beginnings were favored above all by the Protestant (Swedish) and Catholic missions in Eritrea, from the end of the 19th century, being overwhelmed by the pre-eminence of literature in the official Amharic language, has few writings, although worthy of known, including those of inventive literature. They have been published, as a rule, in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea since 1993. In the context of the Tigrinya language, there is a highly innovative development, largely in the lexicon and phraseology, impressed with authority by the secessionist political groups of Eritrea, which have created with decisive commitment a literature of a socialist orientation, above all by means of periodicals of doctrinal content.

It is also worth noting the first formation of a literature written in the Oromo language, which painstakingly seeks its way, due to the unfavorable political situation. On the initiative of the government, a weekly periodical in Oromo and in Ethiopian characters has begun to be published, to produce a small number of didactic operettas, always in Ethiopian characters, while writings of greater breadth come to light. The production of the first theatrical work in Oromo and in Ethiopian script also dates back to 1974, but in almost clandestine circulation. The groups of Oromo dissident and exiting intellectuals reject the use of the Ethiopian script, replacing it with a Latin spelling adapted to the language.

The political-economic situation and the continuing conflicts have forced exile or emigration to many Ethiopian writers. Among these we note, for the attention raised by some of her novels, the writer M. Nassibou, forced into exile in Italy in childhood (1937-45) and, after returning to Ethiopia, moved to France from 1964.

Ethiopia Literature