Gebre-Igziabiher Elyas / Reidulf K. Molvaer: Prowess, Piety and Politics – The Chronicle of Abeto Iyasu and Empress Zewditu of Ethiopia (1909–1930) [PDF]


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598 pp.
(256 pp. facsimile reproductions of Amharic script), 1 b/w photo

Text languages: English, Amharic

Ethiopia’s tradition of writing royal chronicles goes back almost to the Solomonic Restoration of 1270 and lasted until the end of the imperial era in 1974. It has been assumed that this tradition ended with the Chronicle of Emperor Menilek II, who died in 1913. Haile Sillasie, the last emperor, did not want to entrust the writing of his history to anyone else, therefore he wrote part of it himself, with the help of loyal followers. His autobiography did not, however, extend to the end of his reign. As for the years between Menilek and Haile Sillasie, when Iyasu and Zewditu ruled, it was long assumed that no chronicle had been written. However, this was done, first on the wish of Empress Zewditu (1916–1930).

When this chronicle was destroyed after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935–1941), the same author rewrote a revised chronicle upon the request of Haile Sillasie. The period of Ethiopian history covered by this chronicle is obscure and distorted due to the lack of published documentation. Instead, rumours – fabricated by opponents of Iyasu and henchmen of Haile Sillasie – have been accepted as history. Hopefully, the publication of this chronicle will help to restore a more truthful picture of these years of Ethiopian history and society.

“This edition […] is a valuable historical source on a remarkable though brief period in modern Ethiopian history written by an Ethiopian insider. It is also an impressive piece of text-critical and historical editing by Dr. R. K. Molvaer, earlier known from his work on Ethiopian literature and society.”
(Jan Abbink in Anthropos 90/1995, 606-608)

Prowess, Piety, and Politics is an excellent piece not only as a work of history, but also as a reminder of early twentieth-century Amharic writing. […] If there is any ‘weakness’ at all in the book, it is the difficulty of rendering the Amharic qene genre of Gebre-Igziabiher into English. On this, one can hardly do a better job than Molvaer’s. Qene is untranslatable; all one can do is render an approximation of it in other languages. Molvaer has done a superb job by bringing to light a hitherto-unknown document of modern Ethiopian history. Congratulations.”
(Teshale Tibetu in International Journal of African Historical Studies 30/1, 1998, 228-229)

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