Home > Uncategorized > Sahele Sellasie Berhane Mariam on Sebhat

Sahele Sellasie Berhane Mariam on Sebhat

Portrait of a friend

An unassuming, or perhaps better to say, a self-effacing personality. Simple in dress; simple in manners.When he opens his mouth to speak, his voice seems to come from a far distance, deep down from the bottom of his throat. He dislikes arguments, but he doesn’t fail to state his points in discussion. I pop into his office one afternoon, with no particular business. I find him munching ‘tchat‘ sitting upright behind his modest, wooden desk: the desk is littered with papers. Two light novels peep out of the piles of sheets. You rarely see him without one, either on his desk or on in his coat pocket, or in his hand. He greets me the way he has always done all the years we have known each other, using the one word he knows in my mother tongue, “Befeya”. He must have picked it up from some shoeshine boys or some humble flock he has contact with, man of the peoples as he is.

“Fine,” I respond, “and you?”

“Comme ciComme ca,” he replies, an expression he uses more often than its English equivalent,” It could be worse.”

He offers me tchat, I decline the offer, and light a cigarette instead. I have never tried the stimulant although it is munched city-wide in Addis Ababa, and elsewhere in the country. He pushes more green leaves into his mouth and chews gaily. He then reaches for the decanter beside him. It is long-necked with a bulging bottom. He takes a gulp from it. Nothing but plain, pipe water. I ask him about the effect of tchat. He tells me it sets him in a jolly mood.” You are not afraid of being addicted to it?”

“Why, no!” he remonstrates, “I take it only once in a while.”

“And your books. When are they to come out?”

I shift to another topic. “They are unpublishable,” he replies.

“Why not?”

“Because of their language.” “You mean…..?”

“I call a spade a spade. Our society doesn’t like that, you know, especially in matter related to man/woman affairs. I call each part of the human body by its proper name.”

This conversation took place between us well over fifteen years ago. His books have been published since then, with heavy editing, I heard. One of them is set in Aix-en-Provence, France, while the other in Woube Bereha, right at the heart of Addis Ababa. I wish they were less pornographic than they are. But then they were written in his early manhood, days of intense passion and reckless debauchery. I am talking of his “Tekousat” and “Letoum Ainegalgne.” His literary language is so simple that I, quite often feel he is talking down to his readers, which arouses some resentment in me. But, his style is lucid; I should even say transparent; you almost see through it. Personally, I recognize his piece of writing even when he writes under a pen mane, as I suspect he does once in a while for good reasons of his own.

Sebhat Gebre Igziabher is a man of the people. If you want proof, read his short stories under the Amharic title, “Amest Sidit Sebat.”The charaters are all humble people-“An Old Woman“. “Mattress Mender,” “Mother,” etc. Of course, his masterpiece is “Motena Agafari Endeshaw.“(The story of a man who is constantly trying to run away from death) Flabbergasted by it I asked him once how he got this funny idea.” I got it from my second wife in the course of a causal conversation,” he told me.

If his short stories are his best literary works, as I believe they are, his best journalistic works are his “Profiles of people,” especially artists I read in one publication or another, particularly that of Afewerk Tekle, our maestro of the painting world.


Ethiopian journal

July 26, 2003

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Adigrat
    October 10, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    nebs yimar! belenal

  2. Almaz
    October 11, 2008 at 11:51 am

    what do you mean nebs yimar? They are both alive and kicking.

  3. hafedh
    November 23, 2008 at 4:12 pm


  4. Girmay
    February 22, 2012 at 10:55 am

    RIP, sebhat.

  5. shewit
    February 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    nice portrait of Sebhat.

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