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Ethiopia-a historic construct ? July 1, 2008

Posted by habeshaviews in Art Reviews, Ethiopia.

I am writing something on racism to support a statement that the first instance of racism most Ethiopians would come across is when they travel outside of the country. The issue requires establishing an argument on the habesha sense of pride. I am going through documents written on the topic or anything related to it.  As you might have guessed, there are very few. A great anthropological analysis of Ethiopian society is Donald Levine’s ‘Wax and Gold’. But no where to be seen or reached. I don’t even know if there is a latest edition.  While searching , an interesting journals I came across  on Jstore was written about 12 years ago entitled  ” Ethiopia : the ‘Anomaly’ and ‘Paradox’ of Africa”.



The journal article talks about how Ethiopia is a construct at different times in history. It brings a different perspective (at least for me) on how the image of Ethiopia is constructed as an isolated barbaric nation before Adwa and afterwards how it was painted white in-order to legitimize the defeat of a European power by a black king. The article further quotes a, Murphy D. ,a publication from 1960’s as saying ”Ethiopians have a pathetic national superiority complex  that tends to run wild for lack of sobering comparison with other nations”. Another similar study from the same time is also quoted as saying ”Ethiopians exaggerate their own and their county’s importance, dealing arrogantly with neighbours, westerners, or Asians”.

This last issue has been a topic I have debated with so many people. Especially, with other African colleagues. From these discussions I have learned that these debates won’t be wrapped up any time soon. Of course, there is also the habesha attitude which might not fall farther than some of the claims. It´s just great to see some researches done in the area





1. arefe - July 4, 2008

I would say a great anthropological analysis of Ethiopian society is Donald Levine’s “Greater Ethiopia” whic I think was re-published last year.(I have to conform)
‘Wax and Gold’ might fit that picture too but it is more about Amhara society ( Particularly the Menze) than the whole of Ethiopia.

2. habeshaviews - July 4, 2008

Hey , thanks for the tip ..will see if I can get a copy.

I understand what you mean about ‘Wax and Gold’ and Of course ,thought about the implications to Ethnic federalism 🙂 when I wrote that phrase ‘ ethiopian society’.

In wax and Gold also Levine makes a great analysis of how children are socialized in ‘Ethiopian society’ . He shows how militaristic the society is in teaching children about obidience to authority through religon, schools .family …etc.

I think that’s why its so easier to take Ethiopians to war.

thanks 🙂

3. tpeace - December 7, 2008

hey…just now stumbled on this post. 🙂 i’d been fascinated by this topic for a little bit and actually ended up writing about it somewhat too…u’re so right when u say this is one of the biggest questions u are faced outside of the comfort zone which is Ethiopia. you might find some of my posts on senduq on this interesting. i wonder what kind of conclusions you have come to on this topic? my humble opinion– whoever said nations are social constructs is right on point.

cheers 🙂

habeshaviews - December 9, 2008

Yeah , the thing is the research was not specifically on the topic. It was an argument I had to build up while working on a research on international migration of Ethiopian Women. i.e as for the research no specific conclusion on the topic but My personal thoughts ,Ethiopians are one of the most ethnocentric people I have come across. I think, at times ,we think we are so perfect it blocks us from seeing the good in other cultures. When we have to go through situations such as racisim for various reasons like poverty it becomes harder to deal with things. This , I think, is obvious amongst many Ethiopian Migrant workers.

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