The Weeknd’s gift of CAD50,000 to the University of Toronto has allowed the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez to come to life again.

By Carmel Kilkenny (Radio Canada International) |

The Weeknd will be entertaining millions tomorrow night when he makes his appearance on the American Grammy Awards in a performance with some other artists in what is sure to be a memorable mash-up of styles and sounds.

He is much loved and appreciated in his home-town of Toronto where the Ethiopian-Canadian community he grew up in, is very grateful.

His gift of $50,000 (Cdn) last summer to the University of Toronto’s department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, has allowed the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez to come to life again.

Professor Robert Holmstedt began teaching the new course this past January. He says they’re five weeks into it now, and five very dedicated students just completed the assignment of writing a paragraph, something that would be akin to writing a paragraph in Latin.

“The study of this is important, it’s important for history, it’s important for a people, it’s important to understand the meeting of cultures.”

The Weeknd’s gift to the university came out of a challenge by another professor, Michael Gervers, who was donating $50,000 of his own money to expand Ethiopian Studies. He challenged the local Ethiopian community in Toronto to match it, and The Weeknd came through.

The donation was announced at the first Bikila Award’s fundraising event, the Bikila Barefoot Challenge, which took place at the university’s new track at Varsity Stadium. This event is in memory of one Ethiopia’s first global superstars, Abebe Bikila, the famed long-distance runner who won Gold at both the 1960 and 1964 Olympics.

At the 1960 Olympics Bikila was given a pair of running shoes that were too small. He started out in them and endured the pain for 17 kilometers. Then he took them off and completed the race barefoot, and winning that first Gold medal.

This is recent history.

Professor Holmstedt says the study of ancient Ethiopia, its language and culture are so important. In this month of Black History, many people are unaware of the position of Ethiopia as one of the great civilizations of the past.

ALSO READ: The Weeknd Welcomed Back by Toronto’s Ethiopian Community in Homecoming Concert

They were trading with the Romans and as far as India. “This was a fabulous civilization… one of the four great empires of the world at that time in the first half of the first millennium, so they developed their own architecture, obviously they have this language Ge’ez and Emperor Izana converted to Christianity in the fourth century and they started translating biblical texts into this language but they developed their own literature then, their own styles… I mean besides the trade relations and these incredible illustrated manuscripts that come from the medieval period that show their artistic abilities, they developed a whole set of literature and liturgies in their church contexts that you really don’t see anywhere else,” Holmstedt says.

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