The scholars who studied and observed Haddis Alemayehu’s life and works point that the kind of attention given to our literary giants leaves a lot to be desired, let alone cherish the hope to value and encourage the smaller talents.

By Fitsum Getachew (The Ethiopian Herald) |

Evaluated from the point of view of the person’s exceptionally long life and his precious contribution in the spheres of Ethiopian politics, literature, culture and education, as a whole, Haddis Alemayehu would deserve to be celebrated every year either on the occasion of his birthday or on that of his death.

To the well-educated, Haddis Alemayehu is certainly a household name because his works have long been incorporated in the teaching of Amharic language up to university level. There have been several study and research papers published on his works at even doctoral level and the research continues unabated. But his name is also well known among those who even without having had the chance to go to school, had nevertheless got the occasion to listen to the radio narrations of his famous masterpiece: Fikir Eske Mekabir (Love Until the Grave). (This classic tragedy has been narrated on Radio Ethiopia at least three times to my knowledge). The first time it was narrated, it was during the Derg regime, when it was recorded for the popular radio programme called “Kemetsahifit Alem”, (The World of Books) by the renowned Artist Wegayehu Nigatu. (I remember the author’s admiration for Wegayehu, the narrator, for ‘giving life to the characters in the story’. Haddis payed tribute to the exceptional artistic skills of the narrator in an interview he gave shortly before his death.) The novel was again on air when the author celebrated his 85th birthday, while the third one was done as a tribute to the author’s passing away some ten years later. A deserved tribute to a deserving personality!

Although ‘Fikir Eske Mekabir’ is the most celebrated of the books written by Dr. Haddis, he has written two other long novels after this, as part of a trilogy covering different generations of Ethiopian life. ‘Yelmizhat’, (Nightmare) and ‘Wonjelegnaw Dagna’, (The Criminal Judge) also reflect Ethiopian society, witnessing to the exceptional pen of the author, not only as a creator and narrator of stories with vivid and palatable language, but also intensity, lucidity and honesty that you rarely encounter in Amharic books. They testify to the author’s exceptional qualities as a keen observer of Ethiopian mores and costumes, with extraordinary skills of externalizing and interpreting them, placed in a certain Ethiopian time frame, and context.

Beside these novels, Haddis has also written plays and essays based on Ethiopian socio-political realities, mirroring Ethiopian life with pondered suggestions of how to effect changes even though they have not been well-known or advertised as have been the famous trilogy. That is where Haddis poses as a real thinker, a political animal. In these dissertations, the writer has tried to share with his compatriots his vision of a new and developed Ethiopia. These rotated around how to transform Ethiopian society, based on a valid and compatible educational policy and an updated system of government, (two specific areas in which he was closely involved in his public service). Haddis has also written a sort of autobiographical essay (Tizita) recollecting the ordeal he underwent while surviving in exile in Fascist Italy, describing the hardship his generation had to pass through during the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascists. Incidentally, the celebrations of the Marty’s Day will celebrated on Yekatit 12 Eth. Calendar.

Be that as it may, in all Haddis’ works, his patriotic personality and experience emerge markedly. Haddis begins writing at an early age, while still at school, showing talent, imagination and skills. His creation has always been critical of the system in vigour, and dreams of changes. Expressing his mind not only with sincerity, but also great courage, he seems not to bother about whom he could irritate, (most importantly the powerful advocates of the system, the beneficiaries of the system, the aristocracy), and perhaps fall into trouble. Even if the then monarch did not feel involved in the problems raised, (as he too considered himself as an agent of advancement, with a clear vision, trying to change the retrograde society then in vogue), there were nevertheless others in the Imperial Court or close by who might have misunderstood the ideas of Haddis and worked to efface him, along with his ideas. His works constituted a threat to their power and authority, to their privileges that they enjoyed at the expense of the vast majority of peasants and soldiers. In fact, many were surprised to see that the emperor himself acknowledged the excellence of his work, by awarding him with his maximum award for literature ‘The Haile-Selassie I Prize’ for ‘Fikir Eske Mekabir’. Haddis was also awarded the ‘Golden Mercury’ for literature, beside a lifetime achievement doctorate degree from the Addis Ababa University (along with Dr. Kebede Michael, the other celebrated Ethiopian literary giant everybody recalls with fondness).

There is a sort of consensus that the romantic novel Fikir Eske Mekabir is more than just a novel. Seriously critical of the whole socio-political, legal and customary system of traditional Ethiopia, the book meticulously goes through all the various social mores (family, marriage, mourning, duels, tenancy, celebrations, feasts, religion, superstitions…) in a clear perspective of change, then entirely inconceivable let alone practicable. Haddis highlights the sort of injustice that reigned in the land tenure system, the hierarchies that thrived with the philosophy and social background behind them. The book even dwells on tax imposition, the ‘corvee’ etc by the various landlords and chieftains on the poor tenants, all part and parcel of a firmly established system that hailed from ancestors.

What is even more alarming was his daring criticism of the Ethiopian clergy, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church hierarchy, a taboo. He calls on such venerated establishment as the Church to expose the negative facets at various junctures in the narration. And for such courage and lucidity, along with a truly fascinating suspense-filled love story, between a member of the nobility and one of the wretched lowly part of the society, the novel received acclamation as the best ever in its particular genre. It filled with emotion its readers across the country and has set a huge standard to follow for others.

Haddis Alemayehu and Fikir Eske Mekabir are hence, in many ways, inseparable and unforgettable. If any one wants to talk about Haddis, one cannot avoid mentioning Fikir Eske Mekabir and vice-versa. But as Haddis has written seven other books as well, it is astonishing that the impact of this adored tragic love story has ended up diminishing the importance and validity of the others. However, given the timing and originality of the other works, they should have had more attention, like for instance the book on ‘education’, on ‘why is Ethiopia not liberated from dire poverty’, or ‘what kind of government does Ethiopia need?’

In these works, a number of visionary proposals have been made, while going deep in the analysis of the facts on the ground, supported by the author’s rich experience and exposure to other cultures and systems. His exposure to the education sector, his high position in government and his posting as a diplomatic envoy had enriched his intellect, creating the occasions to ponder at length on all those various issues.

When one thinks of describing his life and thoughts, career and achievements, the modest personality Haddis was endowed with is always inevitably raised. Throughout his long life, Haddis Alemayehu lived a very active and productive life. Born in the former Governerate-General of Gojjiam, (today the Amhara State) in a small village called Endodam Kidane Mihret in 1909, the young Haddis was brought up in a relatively well off family, blessed with all the attention a child of his age would need, including the exceptional attention of a grand father, (as his father was away in the far south on a mission). He was conferred with high level traditional education, (in Ge’ez, the origin of Amharic language, and clerical education, kenie, poetry, zemarie, hymns, etc) that was to be the background and launching pad to an outstanding literary personality and consequent career. Until his early adolescence, he learned everything that was available at that level in that area, and growing bigger, his educational ambition grew correspondingly, eventually leading him to Addis. Here, he was fortunate enough to attend a Swedish Mission and then the illustrious Tafari Makonnen School.

In these two modern institutions, much of his early mind was shaped. His passion for literature was evident. In fact, it was here that he wrote his first play where the Emperor himself, along with his entire entourage came to watch, showering him with admiration. He later served as a teacher, and when the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia disrupted every beginning of the positive activities in the country, Haddis’s educational life and career likewise suffered an abrupt halt. Like many of his friends and colleagues, he as well joined the then Resistance Movement, symbol of Ethiopians’ fight for independence and sovereignty. Every one had to combat against the Fascist occupation of Ethiopia by Mussolini’s troops. It was in this struggle that the young Haddis was subjected to cruel deportation into an island in southern Italy, along with two of his peers, Ras Imiru Haile-Selassie and Lij Yilma Deressa, both of whom were close relatives of the Emperor, and destined to be important protagonists in the post-occupation Ethiopian political scenario.

When the Fascist forces were finally driven out of Ethiopia, after five years, Haddis was still in prison in Panza and Lipari islands, in Italy, and it was with the efforts of the Emperor that he and his two friends were freed before joining the new Ethiopian establishment. Soon, Haddis was to be recruited in the Ministry of Information and later on in the Foreign Ministry, serving at progressively higher and higher positions. In the diplomatic world, Haddis is recalled for his remarkable contributions, including the bringing about the seat of the Economic Commission for Africa to Addis, (despite the resistance of several hierarchies of the Ethiopian government who hated the closeness of foreigners in their land). He also served as the Ethiopian ambassador to the US and Britain, served as Consul and First Secretary in Jerusalem , Israel (where he met and married his spouse – Kibebe-Tsehai Belay), and Washington DC, as a long time Ethiopian envoy and representative (where he conceived Fikir Eske Mekabir). Back in Ethiopia, among others, he served as Governor of his original home region, Gojjam, and Minister of Posts, and State Minister of Foreign Affairs in Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wolde’s cabinet, before retiring later on as Senator.

During his decades long service, Haddis was always praised for his humbleness, integrity and sincerity, posing as an epitome for others. Overall, his modesty and far sight were unsurpassed. And he always longed for better administration, for changes, improvements that could bring Ethiopia into the modern era. But he did not opt for the total uprooting of the Ethiopian traditional culture, because he envisioned a system that could accommodate both, the modern and traditional with a balance of the positive from each. He thought Ethiopians should not be thought only Western culture, but first and foremost theirs, and then proceed to the modern one, to the extent compatible. Ethiopians should not see themselves from the stand point of the West, he argued. That was a mistake. They should rather prospect internal solutions for their problems without negating the advances of science and technology. Education, he wrote in “Education and the Significance of Schools”, should be imparted to children very carefully, especially at the earliest stages, with compatibility of our values by stages: the family, schools, and the society at large. And in all his works, speeches and interviews, Haddis advocated openly innovative thoughts. He was a FITSUM GETACHEW

Evaluated from the point of view of the person’s exceptionally long life and his precious contribution in the spheres of Ethiopian politics, literature, culture and education, as a whole, Haddis Alemayehu would deserve to be celebrated every year either on the occasion of his birthday or on that of his death.

To the well educated, Haddis Alemayehu is certainly a household name because his works have long been incorporated in the teaching of Amharic language up to university level. There have been several study and research papers published on his works at even doctoral level and the research continues unabated. But his name is also well known among those who even without having had the chance to go to school, had nevertheless got the occasion to listen to the radio narrations of his famous masterpiece: Fikir Eske Mekabir (Love Until the Grave). (This classic tragedy has been narrated on Radio Ethiopia at least three times to my knowledge). The first time it was narrated, it was during the Derg regime, when it was recorded for the popular radio program called “Kemetsahifit Alem”, (The World of Books) by the renowned Artist Wegayehu Nigatu. (I remember the author’s admiration for Wegayehu, the narrator, for ‘giving life to the characters in the story’. Haddis payed tribute to the exceptional artistic skills of the narrator in an interview he gave shortly before his death.) The novel was again on air when the author celebrated his 85th birthday, while the third one was done as a tribute to the author’s passing away some ten years later. A deserved tribute to a deserving personality!

Although ‘Fikir Eske Mekabir’ is the most celebrated of the books written by Dr. Haddis, he has written two other long novels after this, as part of a trilogy covering different generations of Ethiopian life. ‘Yelmizhat’, (Nightmare) and ‘Wonjelegnaw Dagna’, (The Criminal Judge) also reflect Ethiopian society, witnessing to the exceptional pen of the author, not only as a creator and narrator of stories with vivid and palatable language, but also intensity, lucidity and honesty that you rarely encounter in Amharic books. They testify to the author’s exceptional qualities as a keen observer of Ethiopian mores and costumes, with extraordinary skills of externalizing and interpreting them, placed in a certain Ethiopian time frame, and context.

Beside these novels, Haddis has also written plays and essays based on Ethiopian socio-political realities, mirroring Ethiopian life with pondered suggestions of how to effect changes even though they have not been well-known or advertised as have been the famous trilogy. That is where Haddis poses as a real thinker, a political animal. In these dissertations, the writer has tried to share with his compatriots his vision of a new and developed Ethiopia. These rotated around how to transform Ethiopian society, based on a valid and compatible educational policy and an updated system of government, (two specific areas in which he was closely involved in his public service). Haddis has also written a sort of autobiographical essay (Tizita) recollecting the ordeal he underwent while surviving in exile in Fascist Italy, describing the hardship his generation had to pass through during the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascists. Incidentally, the celebrations of the Marty’s Day will celebrated on Yekatit 12 EthiopianCalendar.

Be that as it may, in all Haddis’ works, his patriotic personality and experience emerge markedly. Haddis begins writing at an early age, while still at school, showing talent, imagination and skills. His creation has always been critical of the system in vigor, and dreams of changes. Expressing his mind not only with sincerity, but also great courage, he seems not to bother about whom he could irritate, (most importantly the powerful advocates of the system, the beneficiaries of the system, the aristocracy), and perhaps fall into trouble. Even if the then monarch did not feel involved in the problems raised, (as he too considered himself as an agent of advancement, with a clear vision, trying to change the retrograde society then in vogue), there were nevertheless others in the Imperial Court or close by who might have misunderstood the ideas of Haddis and worked to efface him, along with his ideas. His works constituted a threat to their power and authority, to their privileges that they enjoyed at the expense of the vast majority of peasants and soldiers. In fact, many were surprised to see that the emperor himself acknowledged the excellence of his work, by awarding him with his maximum award for literature ‘The Haile-Selassie I Prize’ for ‘Fikir Eske Mekabir‘. Haddis was also awarded the ‘Golden Mercury’ for literature, beside a lifetime achievement doctorate degree from the Addis Ababa University (along with Dr. Kebede Michael, the other celebrated Ethiopian literary giant everybody recalls with fondness).

There is a sort of consensus that the romantic novel Fikir Eske Mekabir is more than just a novel. Seriously critical of the whole socio-political, legal and customary system of traditional Ethiopia, the book meticulously goes through all the various social mores (family, marriage, mourning, duels, tenancy, celebrations, feasts, religion, superstitions…) in a clear perspective of change, then entirely inconceivable let alone practicable. Haddis highlights the sort of injustice that reigned in the land tenure system, the hierarchies that thrived with the philosophy and social background behind them. The book even dwells on tax imposition, the ‘corvee’ etc by the various landlords and chieftains on the poor tenants, all part and parcel of a firmly established system that hailed from ancestors.

What is even more alarming was his daring criticism of the Ethiopian clergy, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church hierarchy, a taboo. He calls on such venerated establishment as the Church to expose the negative facets at various junctures in the narration. And for such courage and lucidity, along with a truly fascinating suspense-filled love story, between a member of the nobility and one of the wretched lowly part of the society, the novel received acclamation as the best ever in its particular genre. It filled with emotion its readers across the country and has set a huge standard to follow for others.

Haddis Alemayehu and Fikir Eske Mekabir are hence, in many ways, inseparable and unforgettable. If any one wants to talk about Haddis, one cannot avoid mentioning Fikir Eske Mekabir and vice-versa. But as Haddis Alemayehu has written seven other books as well, it is astonishing that the impact of this adored tragic love story has ended up diminishing the importance and validity of the others. However, given the timing and originality of the other works, they should have had more attention, like for instance the book on ‘education’, on ‘why is Ethiopia not liberated from dire poverty’, or ‘what kind of government does Ethiopia need?’

In these works, a number of visionary proposals have been made, while going deep in the analysis of the facts on the ground, supported by the author’s rich experience and exposure to other cultures and systems. His exposure to the education sector, his high position in government and his posting as a diplomatic envoy had enriched his intellect, creating the occasions to ponder at length on all those various issues.

When one thinks of describing his life and thoughts, career and achievements, the modest personality Haddis was endowed with is always inevitably raised. Throughout his long life, Haddis Alemayehu lived a very active and productive life. Born in the former Governerate-General of Gojjiam, (today the Amhara State) in a small village called Endodam Kidane Mihret in 1909, the young Haddis Alemayehu was brought up in a relatively well off family, blessed with all the attention a child of his age would need, including the exceptional attention of a grand father, (as his father was away in the far south on a mission). He was conferred with high level traditional education, (in Ge’ez, the origin of Amharic language, and clerical education, kenie, poetry, zemarie, hymns, etc) that was to be the background and launching pad to an outstanding literary personality and consequent career. Until his early adolescence, he learned everything that was available at that level in that area, and growing bigger, his educational ambition grew correspondingly, eventually leading him to Addis. Here, he was fortunate enough to attend a Swedish Mission and then the illustrious Tafari Makonnen School.

In these two modern institutions, much of his early mind was shaped. His passion for literature was evident. In fact, it was here that he wrote his first play where the Emperor himself, along with his entire entourage came to watch, showering him with admiration. He later served as a teacher, and when the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia disrupted every beginning of the positive activities in the country, Haddis’s educational life and career likewise suffered an abrupt halt. Like many of his friends and colleagues, he as well joined the then Resistance Movement, symbol of Ethiopians’ fight for independence and sovereignty. Every one had to combat against the Fascist occupation of Ethiopia by Mussolini’s troops. It was in this struggle that the young Haddis was subjected to cruel deportation into an island in southern Italy, along with two of his peers, Ras Imiru Haile-Selassie and Lij Yilma Deressa, both of whom were close relatives of the Emperor, and destined to be important protagonists in the post-occupation Ethiopian political scenario.

When the Fascist forces were finally driven out of Ethiopia, after five years, Haddis was still in prison in Panza and Lipari islands, in Italy, and it was with the efforts of the Emperor that he and his two friends were freed before joining the new Ethiopian establishment. Soon, Haddis was to be recruited in the Ministry of Information and later on in the Foreign Ministry, serving at progressively higher and higher positions. In the diplomatic world, Haddis is recalled for his remarkable contributions, including the bringing about the seat of the Economic Commission for Africa to Addis, (despite the resistance of several hierarchies of the Ethiopian government who hated the closeness of foreigners in their land). He also served as the Ethiopian ambassador to the US and Britain, served as Consul and First Secretary in Jerusalem , Israel (where he met and married his spouse – Kibebe-Tsehai Belay), and Washington DC, as a long time Ethiopian envoy and representative (where he conceived Fikir Eske Mekabir). Back in Ethiopia, among others, he served as Governor of his original home region, Gojjam, and Minister of Posts, and State Minister of Foreign Affairs in Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wold’s cabinet, before retiring later on as Senator.

During his decades long service, Haddis Alemayehu was always praised for his humbleness, integrity and sincerity, posing as an epitome for others. Overall, his modesty and far sight were unsurpassed. And he always longed for better administration, for changes, improvements that could bring Ethiopia into the modern era. But he did not opt for the total uprooting of the Ethiopian traditional culture, because he envisioned a system that could accommodate both, the modern and traditional with a balance of the positive from each. He thought Ethiopians should not be thought only Western culture, but first and foremost theirs, and then proceed to the modern one, to the extent compatible. Ethiopians should not see themselves from the stand point of the West, he argued. That was a mistake. They should rather prospect internal solutions for their problems without negating the advances of science and technology. Education, he wrote in “Education and the Significance of Schools”, should be imparted to children very carefully, especially at the earliest stages, with compatibility of our values by stages: the family, schools, and the society at large. And in all his works, speeches and interviews, Haddis Alemayehu advocated openly innovative thoughts. He was a thinker, first and foremost. He cherished a free and united Ethiopia for eternity. Certainly, his works will remain a valid testimony of his mind, and Ethiopians will always be grateful for that and remember him.

The scholars who studied and observed Haddis Alemayehu’s life and works point that the kind of attention given to our literary giants leaves a lot to be desired, let alone cherish the hope to value and encourage the smaller talents. We need to recognize and support our authors and writers, valuing our stories, our plays, and our dramas. We need to give them the deserved place in our life, in our society, because they are not creations out of the blue, but a reflection of our society. They serve us as a mirror to observe and assess ourselves. As echo, as reflections, they measure our society, our growth, our development, shortcomings and strengths, level of education, and maturity. Hence, they need focus and encouragement, support.

The excessive attention being given to foreign culture, music, films, books, art, paintings etc and our consuming, inhaling of these diminishes, if not denigrate, in the long run, our own values. It finally ends up by creating a sort of vacuum in our identity, engulfing us, overwhelming us. Identifying ourselves totally with alien cultures and mores, kills our own, swamping it. This is obviously something absolutely unacceptable. A people without identity, without culture would not be people at all, and there can be no corresponding country without people. That is why the words of Professor Haile Gerima, director and producer of films are unforgettable: “We need to make our own films, we need to narrate our own stories, we need to value our own culture and identity, without denigrating that of others. Every one can live glorifying one’s identity, but without impacting negatively on others. There could be a spirit of interchangeability of culture, mutual tolerance and understanding, and not imposition of one on others. And in a society such as ours, where there are a plethora of ethnicities, cultures, languages and creeds, such mutual exchange and acceptance is fundamental for our need to build a common and solid country.” Prof. Haile’s words are indeed true.

Furthermore, Haddis was a true Ethiopianist, and advocated for positive, forward-looking change. He had lived long enough outside Ethiopia, especially in the advanced world, but was never tempted to barter his fundamental identity for an alien one. He just longed for the betterment of his land without denying his fundamental local culture and values. That is what can be considered as the legacy of Haddis Alemayehu, a true teacher, a thinker, a patriot, diplomat, administrator and literary giant all in one. Celebrating the works and ideas of Haddis Alemayehu, we need to look with one eye at the future of our current generation of writers, authors and literary talents, while with the other, work and try to change for the advancement of Ethiopian values, culture and tradition. Building monuments or just observing yearly anniversaries can not suffice to contribute to the growth of our home-made authors or literature. To add to such efforts and contributions, as has done Haddis Alemayehu, to capitalize on them, can pave one extra step towards our cherished goal of societal development. thinker, first and foremost. He cherished a free and united Ethiopia for eternity. Certainly, his works will remain a valid testimony of his mind, and Ethiopians will always be grateful for that and remember him.

The scholars who studied and observed Haddis Alemayehu’s life and works point that the kind of attention given to our literary giants leaves a lot to be desired, let alone cherish the hope to value and encourage the smaller talents. We need to recognize and support our authors and writers, valuing our stories, our plays, and our dramas. We need to give them the deserved place in our life, in our society, because they are not creations out of the blue, but a reflection of our society. They serve us as a mirror to observe and assess ourselves. As echo, as reflections, they measure our society, our growth, our development, shortcomings and strengths, level of education, and maturity. Hence, they need focus and encouragement, support.

The excessive attention being given to foreign culture, music, films, books, art, paintings etc and our consuming, inhaling of these diminishes, if not denigrate, in the long run, our own values. It finally ends up by creating a sort of vacuum in our identity, engulfing us, overwhelming us. Identifying ourselves totally with alien cultures and mores, kills our own, swamping it. This is obviously something absolutely unacceptable. A people without identity, without culture would not be people at all, and there can be no corresponding country without people. That is why the words of Professor Haile Gerima, director and producer of films are unforgettable: “We need to make our own films, we need to narrate our own stories, we need to value our own culture and identity, without denigrating that of others. Every one can live glorifying one’s identity, but without impacting negatively on others. There could be a spirit of interchangeability of culture, mutual tolerance and understanding, and not imposition of one on others. And in a society such as ours, where there are a plethora of ethnicities, cultures, languages and creeds, such mutual exchange and acceptance is fundamental for our need to build a common and solid country.” Prof. Haile’s words are indeed true.

Furthermore, Haddis Alemayehu was a true Ethiopianist, and advocated for positive, forward-looking change. He had lived long enough outside Ethiopia, especially in the advanced world, but was never tempted to barter his fundamental identity for an alien one. He just longed for the betterment of his land without denying his fundamental local culture and values. That is what can be considered as the legacy of Haddis Alemayehu, a true teacher, a thinker, a patriot, diplomat, administrator and literary giant all in one. Celebrating the works and ideas of Haddis, we need to look with one eye at the future of our current generation of writers, authors and literary talents, while with the other, work and try to change for the advancement of Ethiopian values, culture and tradition. Building monuments or just observing yearly anniversaries can not suffice to contribute to the growth of our home-made authors or literature. To add to such efforts and contributions, as has done Haddis Alemayehu, to capitalize on them, can pave one extra step towards our cherished goal of societal development.

Source: The Ethiopian Herald
——
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