ዋና ገጽ | የኢትዮጵያ ታሪክና ሥነጽሑፍ የምርምር ሥራዎች /Researches on Ethiopian History and Literature/
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By BAIRU TAFLA - Cambridge University Press


The elders of North-East Africa have long been renowned for their powers of memory on which their compatriots relied for genealogical lineages, rights of ownership, procedures of law, marriage customs and the like. Literate or otherwise, they all for the most part imparted their accumulated knowledge by word of mouth. Unlike the griots of West Africa, however, quite a few made use of written documents, at least in the form of notes.' These documents are different from and independent of the royal and ecclesiastical records which are well known to scholars. These are private papers intended for personal use and as such contain valuable, uncensored, historical information. I realized how ubiquitous the practice was during my research travels in the various regions of the Ethiopian Empire during the years 1965-75. Whenever such an informant failed to recall a particular name, date or fact during an interview, or doubted the accuracy of the sequence of his narrative, he would quickly pull out his mnemonic aid from a box under his bed or would call for a family member to hand him the desired item. The mnemonic aid often consisted of scribbled scraps of paper, letters, photographs, invitation cards to weddings or commemorative feasts. Some possessed thin school notebooks 2 comprising sketches in Amarefia, Tegreina or Arabic, sufficient to prompt the memory to produce a fluent narrative. The contents of such a notebook, and indeed a typical one of its kind, constitute the body of the present article.

 These sketches were contained in a 32-page notebook measuring approximately 200 by 160 mm in the handwriting of the author himself with whose kind permission and in whose presence I had them copied.3 The additional notes jotted down on small pieces of paper and inserted between the pages were incorporated in the course of copying. All the notes were adopted without change except in a few cases where the author insisted on dictating corrections due reference is made to these in the footnotes.

This compilation of notes is characteristically different, at least in intent and presentation, from the royal annals or the well considered autobiographies of leading personalities which flourished after the liberation of 1941. 

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By BAIRU TAFLA - Cambridge University Press
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