Blaten Geta Heruy W-Sellasie Remebered
(written for the Sub-Saharan Informer)
On May 20, 2007, a meeting was held at the Addis Ababa University to commemorate the life and legacy of Blaten geta Heruy Wold-Sellasie, a prominent literary figure, diplomat and educator who lived from 1878-1938.
Sometimes called the father of Amharic literature, Heruy is credited with being the first author to demonstrate the artistic legitimacy of the amharic language in contrast to the then literary chuch languge, Geez.
The event organized by the Addis Ababa University and a reading called Yonah brought together close relatives, friends, admirers and enthusiasts.Organizers said the time was chosen considering the fact that May was a siginificant month on the author’s life as it marked his birth and death.
On the occasion, it was said that not so much is left in memory of this great historic figure except a room in the National Llibrary named after him and a small road in Addis Ababa passing his house in Gulele which bears his name.
From the biographical note presented on the occassion and other sources one can learn that Heruy was a prolific writer who produced around twenty-six books, served at various higher political offices including inthe Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For a man of humble beginnings and with no formal education, this was considered as unprecedented level of achievement.
At early age, Heruy showed an exceptional brightness with his church education that he started at seven in his home town, Menz.He learned to read andrecite the Psalms in Geez in two years and he could sing, Wudase Mariam, a small prayer-book much used in Ethiopia by the time he was ten.In his teen years, he studied qine (poetry) and the 27 books of the New Testament with thier interpretaions.
Later, Heruy began learning English at the Swedish Mission School in Addis Ababa.He was later forced to stop in the face of strong rumors that he had converted to Islam.He also learned some French and consequently worked with a French veternary team.
In 1909, Heruy was appointed Director General of the Municipality.He went to Europe on June 22, 1911 in connection with the coronation of George V in London where he also visited Oxford, Paris, Rome, Alexandiaria, Cairo and Jerusalem.
In 1919, he was a member of the official mission sent to england and the United States to congratualte the allied powers on their victory.
Bahru Zewde, professor of History at the Addis Ababa University in his book, Pioneers of change in Ethiopia (2002) wrote that the career of Heruy stands out as the great success story in the saga of twenty century intellectuals.”His prolific literary record, his influence with Teferi Hayle-Sellassie and his ascent to the bureaucratic hierarchy were all characterized by an unchequred progression”, Prof Bahru noted.his years of distinguished service as well as his literary works won him international recognition when he was made honorary member of the German Oriental society.
Ruidelf Molvaer, the Norwegian scholar in his book Black lions:The Creative Lives of Modern Ethiopia’s literary Giants and Pioneers recorded that Hiruy worked hard to make Amharic a literary medium and he has with considerable justification beeen called “the father of Amharic Literature”.
Molvaer says although a few had written in amharic before him, it is with Hiruy that “Amharic literature” is probably established.It was with the intetion of “imroving” his country that Heruy did most of his wrtings and he beleved that his lasting fame would be on the books he wrote.”He seems to have written and published on an average one book per year for many years.In addition; he wrote books that have nver been printed”
One of his books, Haddis Alem (New World) criticizes abuses in the church and earned him the hatred of many of the clergy, might not have been printed in later years were censors, says Molvaer.
One of the attendants of the meeting, Emiyu Tekle Mariam, Heruy’s grand- daughter who resides in England talked on the famiy’s effort to revive the legacy by republishing his books and building a smal library built in his cemetry to benefit church students.
Dejazmach Zewede Retta, a veteran historian spoke about heruy’s dedication and sense of patriotism and how the latter got the inspiration for one of his books “Mahidere-Birhan hagere Japan”(Japan, Country of light) especially after he made his memorable trip to Japan and came up with an impressionof the coutry’s civilization that kept its culture and history intact.