His motives to write and his contributions
to Ethiopian Literature
By Zewge Abate (A.A.U)
(First appeared in "The
Reporter" on August 22, 2001)
Ethiopia, as a country of ancient history, has a long tradition of
literature. Much of its pre-twentieth century literature is dominantly
characterized by translation with a taste of originality. Moreover,
Ethiopian literature took much time before dealing with the
socio-politico-economic conditions that had been prevalent in the country.
The country embraced Christianity during the fourth century A.D. since when
Christian morality hasbeen dominating the literary scene.
For ages, therefore, our literature had to embark on a smooth, unbroken
move. In fact, the static nature of Ethiopian literature still seems to
stand out against this world of dynamism. However, the twentieth century may
justifiably be said to have made a move up-ward with the coming into view of
some creative writers, among them
The change he has brought forth to the realm of the country's literature is
believed to be more significant than that of many writers of his time, and
perhaps his contribution still remains to be unprecedented.
Worku was born in 1944 near Debre Sina in North Shoa. Molvaer (1997)
attributes Dagnachew's drive to writing his earliest poems to his mother's
folk tales that he enjoyed listening to. Besides, the artist was lucky
enough to have a father exposed to western influences. As a result, he was
sent to school early in his life. In school,
Dagnachew read the works of the then prominent writers like Kebede
Mikael and Makonnen Endalkachew. With the pressure put by his mother, he
also went to church school and learned Geez. He attended high school at
Kotebe in Addis. Then he obtained his diploma in teaching from a
Dagnachew was not only "…born a writer…" describes himself to
Molvaer (1997'292) but he was also born so lucky that, after acquiring his
B.A. from University College of Addis Ababa, he received a three-year
scholarship and studied creative writing at Iowa University in the U.S.
Dagnachew picked up literary courage as early as when he was thirteen
by staging his own play at Debre Sina. His early publication is a play
entitled "Sew alle biyye" (1966). When he was a teacher in Harar, he staged
another un-published play: "Seqeqenish isat". Later, when he was a lecturer
at the Addis Ababa University, he came up with a play of better techniques
entitled "Tibelch" staged at the Creative Arts Centre and Haile-Selassie I
Theatre in 1964. The author got more sophisticated and technically elevated
with his novels "Adefres" (Amharic) and The Thirteenth Sun (English)
published in 1978 and 1981 respectively.
Dagnachew wrote a lot more than the aforementioned ones, including,
according to Teklu (1983), more than a hundred unpublished short stories, we
find his name well established through his pioneer work, "Adefres" to which
this piece of writing gives more emphasis.
When we come to what affects
Dagnachew as a writer, we may once again consider his personal fate.
He had been, as mentioned earlier, a man of remarkable opportunities. He had
parents devoted to his educational and artistic life. His literary
adventures might have not come only from the fact that he was "…born a
writer..". Unlike many of his predecessors, his exposure to education worked
in harmony with his natural gift. Teklu (1983) describes the case as
"The vital role that education plays in the development of the mind and
Worku is noticeable when one considers his early works as distinct
from his later ones. Perhaps it is fair to conclude that training in
literature is one of the major factors in
Dagnachew Worku's success as a creative writer."
Among the plays, for example, scholars testify that he became better
known for the one he staged when he was a university lecturer in 1975/76 (Tibelch).
Dagnachew achieves a profound name with his later accounts, namely "Adefres"
and "The Thirteenth Sun". He also has produced a wonderful collection of
poems entitled "Embua bellu Sewoch". The more educated he be came, he may
say, the more artistic he appeared.
Molvaer (1997) reports that
Dagnachew called himself "a one-work author" attaching great
importance to his Amharic novel. Adefres". When he was reading for his
Master of Creative Arts, he minored in creative photography. This seems to
be the main reason why
Dagnachew succeeded in giving splendid backgrounds to his
descriptions and dialogues in the novel. The novel begins with a unique
description of the setting in which the whole story takes place. The scenery
of the setting with full of ups and downs, the complex feature of the
intermingled society there, and the cultural values, etc. are well depicted
through listing down of details. Immediately after such a picture a long
dialogue between a symbolic landlady of intricate character and a tenant who
comes to her to borrow some grain is presented. This technique of magnifying
a character in the background of relevant (but unique) description is argued
to be original to
The description is made in a manner so that we harmoniously see the area
and the people living in it. It may not be surprising here if a society with
a "once-upon-a- time" sort of narrative culture finds Dagnachew's depiction
difficult. Many agree, however, that the author has shown magnificent
technical and stylistic excellence. By listing down the names of many kings
who reigned from Ezana to Menelik II, he shows the historical significance
of the setting. By listing down names of churches, he indirectly reveals
that the area (Yifat) is highly Christian dominated. All in all, in "
Dagnachew sometimes communicates more things through new techniques
than he does through words. In "Journal of Ethiopian Languages and
Literature" (1990) whose volume I don't exactly remember, Fekade stresses
that the ideas
Dagnachew communicated by way of techniques are numerous and the
technique as a whole should be recorded as a new appearance to the culture
of writing Amharic novel.
A closer look into the novel seems to be an essential requirement to see
the background he gives to depict characters and the situation they are in.
Weizero Assegash, for instance, is sort of filmed behind a background of
complex scenery. By the same taken, the lovely, simply flowing conversation
between Gorfu and Roman is made colourful with the beautiful sounds that
cock-roaches, houseflies, frogs and bees make.
Socio-political forces also influenced
Dagnachew as a writer. Most post-war (post-Italian aggression)
writers of Ethiopia are said to be widely exposed to world literature
Dagnachew was not an exception in this respect. As a result, he makes
significantly spirited effort, a long leap from' Araya, by Girmachew T.
Hawariat to Dagnachew's Adefres attributing a new literary trend to the
"Twenty-one years after the publication of Girmachew's "Araya", there
appeared a writer of another generation with a novel entitled "Adefres"
(1970) on the scene of Amharic literature."
Adefres, according to Fikre, "comes to the fore in an atmosphere of
Ethiopian students, unrest." However, he argues that the heroic character,
Adefres, and the progressive students, adhering to Marxism, are
characterized by fighting against feudalism. Adefres, on the other hand,
"...is not against a monarch." In addition, unlike the progressive student,
"...Adefres thinks that the fact that the people of Ethiopia "love" their
Emperor is a positive quality in them." With this, somehow, agrees
Dagnachew's notes that he made in an interview with Molvaer (1997: 298).
"Adefres" is progressive - but he should be progressive with other
people. He rationalizes too much. He is not a practical person.
Rationalization is good but with limitations. He is like people we have to
day. The revolution [he means the 1974 revolution tries to awaken people
overnight, but that cannot be done although I wish it could be done. There
was no other way (out) for Adefres than death. He was too superficial. He
could not see reality around him he speaks one language) and people around
him another. That is why we fail this revolution. We are like Adefres.
It should be noted here that
Dagnachew was highly taken up by the politics of the time.
Nevertheless, he said he was not a Marxist. He tried, in his way, to suggest
a reform rather than a revolution. Who knows if it would have been better
Dagnachew opens his eyes wide to see social values. One of his
marvellous contributions comes from his conscious and deliberate employment
of proverbs, tales, legends ("gadles") and lyrical poems for their technical
significance. Studies cite that proverbs are effectively used in depicting
characters, tensioning conflicts and developing techniques and contents. The
tales are said to be symbolic manifestations of what comes against the love
affair between unequal caricatures, namely Gorfu and Siwome, The legends (gadles)
tighten the conflict between forces of tradition and modernity. The lyrical
poems (in the love letter of Belay to Firewa) give relief to the reader as
they are read amidst a goring address by a certain monk (Abba Yohannes).
Symbolically. Firewa throws the letter into the water to foreshadow that
their love won't be sustainable. In short,
Dagnachew is believed to have developed his techniques through a
conscious use of folklore. He may be regarded as the Ethiopian Chinua Achebe.
Dagnachew is also admired for his originality of language. Assefa
(1981), for instance, agrees that the onomatopoetic words used in. Adefres"
are quite original and indicate the author's creative effort in his diction.
Instead of telling us in his own words about the sounds created by the
cock-roaches, houseflies, frogs and bees, he makes us listen to them.
To do all this, to describe nature, feelings, to reproduce the
conversation, the author has attempted to overcome the limitations of
present-day Amharic lexical resources by creating a vocabulary original to
himself in which meanings of words have been stretched, adaptations freely
made of roots often into quinquilateral forms unattested elsewhere
Let us finally wind up this piece by noticing how
Worku emphasises society and its values in the interview mentioned
earlier. We have created certain values and certain society where are contributed.
This (culture) is what makes me tick. Without this life does not make sense
to me… We are still backward and developing and we must change but what we
have achieved in 3000 years cannot be replaced easily. Spiritually we have
developed but not otherwise. Artistically and aesthetically we have not yet
opened our eyes (Molvaer, 1997:298).
Back to MESKOT Main Page
The views reflected in the above
article are solely of the author and are not necessarily shared by Meskot.
article first appeared in the Ethiopian Newspaper "The Reporter" and was
taken from their website