Orality, Power and Rural Politics in Ethiopia: A Study of Resistance Poetry in Amharic

Seminar date: 
18 March 2008
Speaker(s): Dr. Getie Gelaye (Asia-Africa-Institute, Hamburg University, Germany)

This paper is on two largely undocumented poetic genres in Ethiopia known as qererto (warriors' chants or songs) and fukkera (pronounced 'fookkera'; heroic recitals or patriotic songs). They are the favourite poetic forms used by the rural people of Gojjam in northwestern Ethiopia. Qererto and fukkera are performed exclusively by men and express masculine values in the form of praise, individual bravery, strength, determination, hard work, power, heroism, violence, vilification or aggressiveness. They are performed mostly in a domestic setting in front of a gathering, after plenty of food and local alcoholic drinks (t'ella and areqi) have been consumed. In the past, qererto and fukkera were recited mainly by those who had participated in war or battle after achieving victory, and by hunters returning from expeditions. The two genres are considered as the most important forms of oral expression for peasants and are employed as a major media of protest against invaders or enemies. They have been used to increase male courage during war campaigns and local conflicts. In rural society, these poetic genres have also been used as a medium of protest and self-expression in cases of social tension and to debate political issues. In my presentation, I will look at the social, cultural, historical and linguistic background of the performance and function of qererto and fukkera. Some examples of qererto and fukkera will be presented, together with transliteration, translation and analysis based on sound recordings of six performances (e.g. at harvests, weddings, annual religious celebrations) and recorded during field research done between 1992 and 2000. Some pictures of poets and singers, audiences and performances will also be shown.

The website of my published papers, sample recordings and photos of poets and singers:

You are all very welcome. Please bring your own lunch.