Our stories are often told by others. The significance of Ethiopia, the profound aspects of our history and the contributions that we have made to civilization are frequently conveyed through the eyes and pens of outsiders. Though we do a great job of passing down our narratives from generation to generation and there have been authors who have in fact documented our history, most of the time these stories are passed down either orally or written in Amharic intended for Ethiopian audiences.
Where we lack is telling our stories to wider audiences. The dearth of Ethiopian authors publishing books for external consumption has many ramifications; people are owned not only through the imposition of chains but by appropriation of their history. There is a reason why most of the world doesn’t really grasp the true depth of heritage, we vacate the field and let others—some with nefarious agendas—trivialize our existence. There are many examples of chicanery that is passed on by “historians”, the river we rightly call Abay Ghion has been rebranded to the Nile River, a calculated step meant to erase our connection to the book of Genesis in the bible. As people name you and tell your story, they own you. Unless we shape our own narratives, we will be prisoners of those who document our narratives on our behalf.
This is where Maaza Mengiste steps in; rather than sit on the sidelines and wait for others to convey the horror’s Ethiopia endured during the time of war in the 1930’s, she decided to write a book herself and in the process laid down a marker for other Ethiopians to follow. Her newest book, titled “the Shadow King”, is one that tells the story of a remarkable Ethiopian woman who came of age during Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. In gripping fashion, Maaza at once shows the brutality of war and the resiliency of Ethiopians as they go about life under the boot of fascism. She also captures the perplexity of a country that was at once at war within itself as it fought a war against invaders from the north.
Though “the Shadow King” is a fictional novel, the stories that Maaza recounts are very much based on real life events that took place in Ethiopia. Most Ethiopians are byproducts of arbegnoch, everyday Ethiopians who were forced to become resistance fighters in order to defend their country from Italian aggression. This book opens a pathway for our generation to understand the struggle of Ethiopia’s greatest generation that kept our country free from colonization. Just as important, “the Shadow King” lets the world know about the plight that Ethiopians endured during WWII as nearly a million men, women and children were annihilated by Mussolini’s chemical holocaust.
The stories of Ethiopia and Africa as a whole are truly amazing and ones that should be documented through endless books and movies. We don’t need Marvel comics to make up stories about magical kingdoms that made advancements due to extraterrestrial interventions, the Kingdom of Axum parallels that of any empire in the scope of human history. But we cannot be bystanders and complain about the lack of acknowledgement, we need to either be the ones who tell our stories or we need to support wonderful authors and curators of our stories like Maaza.
It is imperative that everyone reading this article buys a copy of Maaza’s book, we have no financial interest in the book but we have a very real interest in seeing that Maaza succeeds beyond her wildest expectations. We have to encourage more Ethiopians to follow in her footsteps and in the process we have to make it a point to start taking ownership and be gatekeepers of our heritage.Colonization in the 21st century is not through bullets and cannons but by way of pens and paper, we must own our narratives or else will be owned by others who tell our stories for us. #Ethiopia cc @MaazaMengiste Click To Tweet