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Unheard Voices

Drought, Famine and God in Ethiopian Oral Poetry

by Fekade Azeze

The author states his intention in writing this book:

‘The major aim of this book is to highlight an important lacuna in our understanding of peasant conditions during periods of drought and famine. It is the peasant who suffers most from these persistent disasters; but we almost always fail to look at these events from his point of view. ... During the moments of deep crises the cultural and religious fabric as well as the established value systems of society break down almost completely. ... What actually happens during these tragic moments? ...researchers on drought and famine have failed so far to have direct access to many of these and other vital processes of change in peasant society. It is not that the peasant has not meticulously recorded his experiences during these trying moments of human tragedy! It is only that we, the researchers in various fields of study, had all failed to look at the right place for these authentic records. This book is...a preliminary attempt to show that these unheard voices of the peasant are to be found in the thousands of beautiful verses creatively composed by his fellow suffering poets and transmitted orally from generation to generation.’

The research that forms the basis of this book was conducted in various regions of Northern Shäwa in Ethiopia. It focused on the collection, organisation and analysis of famine-inspired oral poetry in indigenous languages. On the premise that the history, culture, beliefs and practices of a people are found in folktales and various forms of oral literature, the special objective was to examine aspects of the famine of 1984/5, and work up an indigenous conception of the peasants’ response to famine.

The research that forms the basis of this book was conducted in various regions of Northern Shäwa in Ethiopia. It focused on the collection, organisation and analysis of famine-inspired oral poetry in indigenous languages. On the premise that the history, culture, beliefs and practices of a people are found in folktales and various forms of oral literature, the special objective was to examine aspects of the famine of 1984/5, and work up an indigenous conception of the peasants’ response to famine.

ISBN 9788290817140 | 240 pages | 203 x 127 mm | 1998 | Addis Ababa University Press, Ethiopia | Paperback

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