HERUY'S YA-HEYWAT TARIK AND MAHTAMA-SELLASE'S CHE BALAW: TWO PERCEPTIONS OF A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY

ዋና ገጽ | የኢትዮጵያ ታሪክና ሥነጽሑፍ የምርምር ሥራዎች /Researches on Ethiopian History and Literature/
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HERUY'S YA-HEYWAT TARIK AND MAHTAMA-SELLASE'S CHE BALAW: TWO PERCEPTIONS OF A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY


Bahru Zewde -Addis Ababa University-
  


Explicitly or implicitly, biographies have dominated Ethiopian historiography. Until very recently, Ethiopian history has been almost exclusively the history of the elite. As such, the reconstruction of historical events has revolved around the careers of prominent individuals. The chronicles, which go back to the fourteenth century, illustrate this to a very high degree. They were conceived to document the reigns of kings and most of them adhered strictly to this rule, giving the reader a detailed and faithfully chronological account-often day by day--of the deeds of the protagonist.

This is not of course to say that other, non-biographical, information is not to be found in these documents. On the contrary, in as much as the chronicler takes it as his sacred duty to record whatever had taken place during the reign of a king, he is bound to give us a lot of useful information on such, strictly speaking, non-political issues as famine, pestilence, earthquakes, trade,and-invariably-religious affairs. But such information remains essentially incidental to the main objective, which is to document the life and career of the king. Interestingly such digressions from the main story are often prefaced by the phrase, "bazihem zaman" ("During this reign", i.e., incidentally).

The biographical approach has continued to exercise its influence on more recent and professional historical reconstructions as well. This is particularly true of the history of the nineteenth century, but it is not altogether absent in the twentieth century. One can cite in this regard Sven Rubenson's King of Kings Tewodros of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, 1966), Zewde Gabre-Sellassie's Yohannes IV of Ethiopia: A Political Biography (Oxford, 1975), KofiDarkwah's Shewa, Menilek and the Ethiopian Empire, 1813-1889 (London, 1975), Haggai Erlich's Ethiopia and Eritrea during the Scramble for Africa. A Political Biography of Ras Alula, 1875-1897 (East Lansing, 1982), Harold Marcus' The Life and Times of Menilek II. Ethiopia, 1844-1913 (Oxford,1975), and the trilogy on Emperor Hayla-Sellase I that Marcus is currently undertaking. Another historian one can cite in this connection is Bairu Tafla,who devoted the earlier part of his career to writing biographical sketches of some important personalities of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on the basis of oral information,a s well as written sources. These pieces appeared in the Journal of Ethiopian Studies (JES), initially under the more modest category of "Source Material, "but eventually as a full-fledged article


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Bahru Zewde -Addis Ababa University-
 
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nava [724 days ago.]
 Very nice enjoyable educational reading. I found the author comparison of the work of the two giants of Ethiopian literature whom he called "industrious scholars" professionally fair as he put it at the end "Discussion of the limitations of these two works is merely meant to help us arrive at a critical evaluation rather than to detract from the remarkable achievements of these two industrious scholars.

 
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