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Series: Book Review
Now at long last they are heard
Ethiopia, as is generally known, has a long history of drought, famine and epidemics. Such calamities, thanks to the Ethiopian Synaxarium, or Book of Saints, can be traced back to early medieval times, and can be identified for many centuries, through the Ethiopian royal chronicles, Lives of Saints and foreign travel literature. Detailed studies of recent famines can also be found in the recent classic “Rural Vulnerability to Famine in Ethiopia”, by Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam.
For a real understanding of Ethiopian famine, through the eyes of the famine victims, we have had, however, to wait for this most important new book: “Unheard Voices, Drought, Famine and God in Ethiopian Oral Poetry”, by Dr Fekade Azeze. It is published by Addis Ababa University Press, in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, Norway.
This valuable work, which does much to set famine in its cultural as well as its linguistic context – has two major sections: one on the Ethiopian Famine-harvest Cycle; the other on Ethiopian Perceptions of God. These, and many subsidiary themes, are illustrated by 221 pieces of verse, a large number of them couplets.
To give the flavour of “Unheard Voices”, let me quote three very different poems:
1. Were harvests gathered from the clouds,
I would outlive the ordeals of “Seventy-Seven” (i.e. the bad famine year 1984-5).
2. Clouds faded from the sky,
Rain vanished from the earth,
As if angered by the braying of committees.
3. The people are moving from Wallo by the busload,
It is the sentence of God; there is no appeal beyond.
This book makes instructive reading, and contributes much to the understanding of Ethiopia, as well as of famine.