Ethiopia Modern and Amharic Literature
Of the languages currently spoken in Abyssinia and in the dependent regions, Amharic has almost exclusively assumed some literary importance. The hárari has its own small literature (especially poetic and juridical), which has not yet been illustrated. The tigrai was written only occasionally (for example, Statuto dei Loggo Sarda), other than what could have been written by the work or influence of Europeans. The other languages have nothing but oral literature, and what has been collected in writing (tigray, bileno, saho, dncali, somàli, galla, caffa) was all through the work of Europeans.
Modern literature. – As we have seen, Ethiopian (ge ‛ ez) has only succumbed to Amharic in written literature in the last century. The last real chronicle written in ge ‛ ez is the one that dates back to 1840; and the first in Amharic is that of the negus Teodoro II (1855-1868). At present the clergy and scholars who have come out of ecclesiastical schools use Ethiopian almost only in poetry; and the events of the last fifty years have also given rise to a small modern Ethiopian literature.
To remember the writings on grammatical and lexical topics, etc., by Abbā Takla Māryām Walda Samhārāy; the poems to which the exploits of Menelik II gave their argument (for example the poem published by the Duchesne Fournet mission); the Psalter of Christ of the alaq ā Tāyya; the boast of the faithful of a Walda Iyasus (both religious subjects). Greater use was then made of the hymns (qen ē ; v. below: The Church of Ethiopia) that have still served the Ethiopian clergy in recent years to manifest in the traditional form their attachment to the ancient culture and, sometimes (as, for example, in the very recent controversy over the succession of Metropolitan Matthew), his ideas on church ordering or other current subjects. These Ethiopian hymns are regularly published in the newspapers of Addis Ababa and recently the well-known writer Ḥeruy Walda Sellāsēne has compiled a voluminous collection which, combining examples of the oldest Ethiopian poetry with these hymns of our day, wants to attest to the continuity of these literary manifestations in Ethiopian (ge ‛ ez).
The Amharic literature. – According to indexdotcom, the first literary documents in the Amharic language date back to the 10th century. XIV (see Amharic, language and literature). But only in recent years has the progressive politics of Empress Zauditu and her successor Ḫāila Sellāsē given some impetus to literary production in the Amharic language.
Before the advent of the new dynasty some publications, mostly of a scholastic or religious content, had already come out of the printing presses of the Catholic and Protestant missionaries; the Capuchins also made a journalistic attempt, publishing part of one of their newspapers in Amharic. A booklet, The Mystery of the Trinity, published by the Abyssinian metropolitan at the Ethiopian printing house in Addis Abeba (1903 Abyssinian ) wanted to oppose publications of missionaries. From 1909 (1917), it is an attack on the pro-Islamic politics of liǵǵ Iyāsu. And the prof. Afework (Afawarq) former teacher in the oriental institute of Naples (now an official at home) published in Italy a life of Menelik II (1909), and a novel, the first in Amharic literature (1908).
The very new Amharic literature, the one that came out of the printing presses of Ethiopia and Ras Tafari, respectively founded by Zauditu and Tafari, includes only a few publications (some of which are simple pamphlets) but very interesting, as an index of the cultural aspects of the country. Notable are, in addition to publications of sacred texts in ge‛ez with Amharic version and in addition to a rich collection of religious hymns (qen ē, v. below: The Church of Ethiopia), some textbooks for schools (including a biographical dictionary, a grammar, a text for the study of arithmetic, etc.) and others of historical content (such as the Abyssinian history of the Alaqā Tāyya, 1922). But even more interesting for getting to know the dominant ideas in the new Abyssinia are various publications of political-social content, which apologize for Ras Tafari’s modernizing politics, or describe his travels (with curious impressions of Abyssinian leaders on Europe), or they give advice to the Abyssinians who go to Europe, and collect “Memories for fathers and advice for children”, etc.; always pointing to the Westernizing culture and the politics of Ras Tafari as the only means to give freedom and power to the homeland. There is no shortage of poems,
The best known authors are the aforementioned Afework, and Ḫeruy Walda Sellāsē. As we can see, this literature, certainly very interesting because it faithfully reflects the new Abyssinian mentality and shows all the difficulties of the fusion of the old ideas with the new ones, is however a modest thing; but the emperor’s zeal for culture, contacts with the West, and the missions of young people sent abroad suggest that the progress of the Amharic letters will not stop.
The foreign missions continue their publishing activity; the publications of religious and historical-geographical readings edited for schools by the Swedish Protestant Mission are noteworthy.