Home > Books, City Journal, Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin > Tsegay’s historical plays published

Tsegay’s historical plays published

Four historical plays of the acclaimed playwright and poet Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin were published in book form. Prepared and edited by Dr. Heran Serke-Berhan, and published by the Addis Ababa University Press, the book was launched at the Addis Ababa’s National Theatre on Monday in an occasion to mark Tsegaye’s 75th birthday anniversary. Poet, dramatist, translator, anthropologist, activist and social critic, Tsegaye is regarded by many as a major figure in Ethiopian letters. His plays, Tewdros, Petros yachin Seat (Petros at the Hour), Zeray Be Rome Adebabay (Zeray in Rome Square), though never published, are among the foremost representative of country’s drama. One play, Menelik, which was written towards the latter days of the playwright’s life, has never been staged.
‘They (they plays) are not stuck on longing for yesterdays, they aren’t disheartened by today, they just attempt to translate today’s world,’ said the Addis Ababa University’s Tewdros Gebre who wrote a preface for the book and one of the speakers at the ceremony.
One of the plays which have been popular with spectators, Tewdros, commemorates the life of the Ethiopian emperor who took on the world’s great power, and was martyred for it. Tewdros rose from humble origins: his mother was street vendor. But he re-established much of the dissipated power of the Ethiopian Crown.
“Menelik was also from the modest origin as his mother was a servant. The plays are unified by the theme that they have characters who stand out by deed than by blood. They could also be agents for other past kings and warlords,’ the young scholar Tewdros explained. Tewdros made analyses of the plays, commenting the extent to which Tsegaye took liberties with the facts for the sake of dramatic effect.
As history, the plays paint a panorama of the 19th and 20th century Ethiopia, embracing a wide social range, as the action moves from court to tavern, chamber to battlefield, city to country, patriarchs to traitors, it was said.
Another speaker, actor and radio personality, Teferi Alemu applauded the playwright for doing on the whole manage to stay faithful to the facts and still deliver exciting dramas. Teferi said that Atse Menelik, which Tsegaye wrote towards the end of his life, is different from his earlier plays as it is written in a less measured verse and is full of long narration which could make difficult for stage realization. He said Tsegaye wrote the play at a time when a new political atmosphere prevailed, derailing the king as “colonizer” and “criminal”.
Hence, Tsegaye’s intention was to try clarify the king’s motives and action and highlight his achievement, which include the mammoth task of uniting the country and introducing innovation, according to Teferi.
Professor Masresha Fetene, the departing head of the Addis Ababa University Press, thanked Dr. Heran (who was not present at the ceremony) for her hard work to put the scattered plays in a single book. He also thanked the artists, and performers who provided information, insight, ideas, and impressions about Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin.
“This is magnificent,” said the 66-year veteran actor, Debebe Eshetu, who was master of the ceremony. “I am exhilarated because the University Press is now turning its attention to theatre, “he said. Debebe also invited others to submit their stories for publication to the university press. Debebe who was once imprisoned for his anti-government political stance led the ceremony in front of audiences which included big-wigs personalities of the government such as Sebhat Nega.
The event consisted of excerpts from Tsegay’s writings by nearly seven actors, including Fekadu Tekele Mariam, Getnet Enyewe, Feleke Abebe, directed by Getnet himself. Tsegay’s widow, Woizero Laketch also attended the program and presented awards to actors and producers.
Although most made favorable comments about the event, some participants were heard saying there was not time dedicated for discussion and interaction with audience.
Tsegaye’s contribution to drama was immense. He had a poet’s ear for language, an almost flawless sense of dramatic rhythm and the ability to distil the conflicts of daily life. Even the most hard-core haters would have to concede that his plays were strong, he had a determination to experiment, he had high regard for Ethiopian heroes, and he brought new heights to production in the country’s drama history.

  1. Tefera
    September 13, 2011 at 9:49 am

    The elevation of Tsegaye Gebre Medhin to literary icon status is one of the strangest events in the country’s history. What makes a great writer? Philosophical depth, quality of writing, range, and the power to influence other writers. As far as I can tell, Tsegaye was a man who translated some famous English plays to Amharic (but not extraordinarily), wrote good poems and theatres (but not great). He’s a lot like a lot of other poets and playwrights, except for that close association and involvement with those in authority. He has none of the depth, quality and has not had much of influence over others. Greatness lies in saying something that nobody has said before, or saying it in a way that no one has said it. You need to be able to do something with the language that no one else does. A great writer tells you something that appears to you to be new, but then you realise that you always knew it. Now we are told that Tsegaye is and should be the premier man of letters and only he should be a national hero whose birthday and death anniversary celebrated. As if other literary figures such Kebede Michael, Haddis Alemayehu, Belau Girma, Mensgistu Lemma, Gebre kirstos Desta, Yohannes Admasu, Debebe Seifu do not merit such status. But those same people could also take time to enlighten us on the true character and nature of the greatest poets of all time, Tsegaye. They might help us to figure out what he represents – what he says about us. Had it not been in Ethiopia where true heroes are largely ignored and bad heroes are put on the pedestal, this man would never merit his current standing. He was more of a man to be condemned that to be praised. Among other things, Tsegaye called himself Poet Laureate, though he was never given this honor by any institution. When he was asked who has given him this title, he said it was given to him by the Ethiopian people. In his self-given ‘official’ name he was often shamelessly nasty to the people he was working with and even when he was manager of the Ethiopian National Theatre, he asked the Derg government to fire at workers of the National Theatre who was demonstrating against his authoritarian and cruel management. He was a man for all seasons and he was a supporter of both the feudal and military regime, he received a literary prize from Emperor Haile Selassie yet with the coming of the Derg, he wrote the play “Hahu be sididt wer” (ABC in six months) that criminalizes those people whom he praised when they were in power. With the dawning of the revolution, he espoused a new philosophy Marxism that he ached to reflect in his plays and poems. Both he and the Derg started the discourse small revolutionary elite must seize power and impose its vision on an imbecilic mass. Tsegaye openly declared that that the rich and the landlords were parasites that should have been stomped long ago. His plays were not meant and had not made a space for Ethiopians to honestly address political and social challenges in their society, rather a ladder for him to win the favor of those in palace. There were also many flaws in the many of the plays he translated from English to Amharic. This was pointed out by many literary figures like Mengistu Lemma. Sometimes his translation was direct and word-for-word that he has failed to capture the essence of the original writer. He also skipped events with no justifications. The language tended to be repetitive and monotonous and he never cared to make clear to his audiences certain original historical references. So much so that, Debebe Siefu had later to translate ‘Macbeth” for his own stage production. Fantahun Engida wrote in Historical Dictionary, the story and conflict in Tsegay’s are hard to identify , the characters are no ascribed any special behaviors that would separate them from one another, they rather are given roles that persistently complain and grumble about everything. However hard some try to put them in positive lights, many of Tsegaye’s poetrys were mechanical, uninspired, and dully long and I can’t think of any that would stand the test of time. What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see his writing not as average but as great literary merit, and urge us to follow him. Why? Unfortunately, neither of the people who lavishly praise him can offer much of an answer to this. For more than anything, I think, Tsegaye’s very blankness and place in the canons of Ethiopian literary tradition provides a reflection of our own thoughts and desires. We can write his story any way we want but the truth he is anything but great.

    • Alem
      June 30, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      Dear Tefera: You are entitled to the opinion you sketched above. Please follow it up with an expanded and grounded essay. What you have here is no more than gripe in large part. I don’t want to respond line by line but here are two that I fear show you may not be up to the task.
      1. You say “Greatness lies in saying something that nobody has said before, or saying it in a way that no one has said it.” How about saying it in your own inimitable way!
      2. You say “You need to be able to do something with the language that no one else does.” I am afraid you have not even remotely familiar with his poems. Go ahead and read and re-read and we’ll see if you do not change your mind and heart!

      In the meantime, don’t forget to begin the essay I suggested. I am serious. If you come up with a valid evidence what that does is enhance our knowledge of Tsegaye as well as our literary heritage.

      By the way, I am not of the opinion that Tsegaye was a saint. All I am saying is that he is/was a literary giant and a cultural icon for nearly half a century. Just consider his body of work.

  2. Tulu Forza
    October 14, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    “Tsegaye wrote good poems and theatres (but not great)”!!!!! “I can’t think of any that would stand the test of time”!!!!! Are you joking?????????? or insulting the intelligence of readers who can tell greatness from crap??? Not only did he write immortal poems, but he did so in HIS own much-imitated style– “Ye Tsegaye Bet” .

    Please don’t be silly! Trust me when I say that there is nothing you can do or say to diminish his work. Many have tried for nigh on 50 years…..

  3. merso
    October 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    ተፈራ የጻፈው ደንቆሮ ሃተታ የሚመስክረው የራሱን የካድሬ አስተያየት ነው ፡
    ማን እንደ ጻፈዉ ማን ማን እንደሚሸት የታዎቀ ነው፡ አቶ ጸጋዬ በርሱ ላይ ያመጹትን
    አርቲስቶች ከስራ እንዲባረሩ ጠየቀ ብሎ የጸፈው ፈጽሞ መስረተ ቢስ ብቻ ሳይሆን
    ከኪሱ ያዎጣው ተራ ቅጥፈት ነው፡ እንደ አይኑ ብሌን የሚያዬውን ዎጋየሁን ነው ከስራ
    አባሩልኝ የሚለው? የሚያከብራትን አስንቀች ዎርቁን? ዎይዘር አስካለን? እኔ በዛ ጊዜ
    በቦታው ነበርኩ፡ አራት ዎር ገደማ እስር ላይ እያለን በወር 150 ብር የቀለብ ይሰጠን
    ነበር እንዲሁም ከተፈታን በኅዋላ የአራት ዎር ደሞዛቺን ተጠራቅሞ ተሰጠን፡ ከዛም በተረፈ
    አቶ ጸጋዬን ከተፈታን ጥቂት ቀናት በኅላ አግኝተነው ነበር፡የተለመደ ስድቡን ካዉረድ በኅላ
    በደርሰው አደጋ ማዘኑን አምሮ ገለጸ፡ እስከዚህ እንዳረሳለን ብዬ አልጠበኩም ነብር አለ፡
    አንገቱ አቀርቅሮ፡ ህላቺንም አዘን ለርጂም ጊዜ ዝም ብለን ተቀመጥን፡ ሆኖም የሆነው ሆንዋል
    ለዎደፊቱ አጠገባቺሁም አልደርስም ፡ ከዛ ዉይይቱ ለርጂም ሰአት ቀጠለ፡ በመጨረሻ እኛም
    እሱም ስንለያይ በምሃከላቺን እርቅ ዎርዶ ነበር፡ አርቲስት የመንግስት ቅጥር አይሁን የሚለውን
    አስተያየቱን እኔም አምንበታለሁ ግን በዛን ጊዜ በኢትዮጵያ የ ነበርው ሁኔታ ለዚህ ሃሳብ አይስማማም ነበር፡

    ስለ አቶ ጸጋዬ ስራ ተፈር የተባል አጠራጣሪ ፕሮቶቲዩፕ የጻፈው ወይ በስማ
    በለው ሰዎች ሲናገሩ የሰማዉን ውይ ደሞ ጀማሪ የሊትሬቸር ተማሪ የሚሰጠዉን አስተያየት ነው፡
    እዚህ ጋ ኮንፍሊቅት ገጸባህሪ ኩልሚናሲዮን እዚህጋ ጡዘት ቅብጥርሶ እያሉ ዠብራራ የሊትሬቸር ቲዮሪ እየደረደሩ የአቶ ጸጋዬን ስራ መተንተን ተንታኙ የተማረ ለመሆኑ የሚያሳይ
    ፊት ማስዎጊያ ብቻ ነው ሌላ ትርጉም የለዉም ፡ይህ ከላይ የጠቀስኩት የድራምቱርጂ ቲዮሪ
    እፈልቀብት አውሮፓ አህጉር የዛሬ መቶ አመት በላይ ጥያቄ ዉስጥ ገብቶ የነበረ ጉዳይ ነው
    ከዚህ ቲዮሪ ዉጭ በዛ ያሉ ስመጥር ደራሲዎች ብዙ ትልቅ የሆነ ስራ ሰርተዋል፡በተጨማሪም
    በተለይ አሁን የሚጻፉት የትያትር ድርሰት ከዚህ ቲዮሪ ያፈነገጡ ናቸው፡ ሆኖም ይህ ቲዮሪ
    አንዱ አይነት የትያትር አጻጻፍ ዘዴ ነው፡ አቶ ጸጋዬ በራሱ መንገድ በራሱ ስታይል ህይዎትን
    መድረክ ላይ አቅርቦዋል፡ አንድ አይነትን ህይውት ይዎክላሉ አንድ አይነትን ኑሩ ያሳያሉ፡አብዛኛው የአቶ ጸጋዬ ድርሰቶች ፖኤትካዊ ድራማ ውይም ሊሪካዊ ድራማ ናቸው፡፡የራሱን
    ያአቶ ጸጋዬን ስቲል ወይም ስታይል ተመራምሮ ማግኘት ያስፈልጋል ተመራምረው የሚይገኙትም
    የማስብ ስንፍና የሌላቸው በረበሬ የበሉ ሰውች እንጂ ጥራዝ ነጥቆቹ አቆሻሾች ተፈራዎች አይደሉም።

    የአቶ ጸጋዬ ገጸ ባህሪዎች ከቶም የሚዘነጉ አይደሉም ። አብዬ ዘርፉ ህይዎት ብዙ ያስተማረችው
    ገበሬ ጥቃት የማይዎድ ለቤተስብ ሃሊፊነት ራሱን አሳልፎ የሚሰጥ፡ ሃይማኖተኛ ቅን
    ሰላምተኛ ታታሪ ስራ ዎዳድ. በጅ አፍርታችሁ ተመገቡ የሚል የህይዎት መመሪያ ያለው
    ቁሻሻ ግርግር የማይዎድ. ያጎቱን ልጆች እላያቸው ላይ ከሚያንዣብበው የመጥፋት አደጋ
    ለመከላከል ራሱን አሳልፎ የሚሰጥ ገጸ-ባህሪ ነው። በትቃራኒውደሞ የአጎቱ ልጆች እነ ሞገስ
    ተኮላ እጣ ፋንታቸውን እንዲሁ እንዳላዩ አይቶ የሚያልፉት አይደለም፡
    ደሞስ በልግ ዉስጥ እነ ልጅ ግዛው እነ አላዋቂዋ መስዋእት ጌራ ዎርቅ አወናብጁ
    ጠበቃ ፈይሳ ወፈፈኤው ሰአሊ ህሩይ፡ እንዚህን እና ሌሎቺንም የመሳሰሉት የማይዘነጉ ገጸ-ባ ናቸው፡በዚህች አጭር ሃተታ በአቶ ጸጋዬ ድርሰት ዉስጥ ስለ አሉት ገጸባህርዮች መግለጽ
    አስቸጋሪ ነው ውቅያኖስን በጭልፋ ይሆናል ነገሩ፡ ሆኖም ተጽፎ የጠቀመጠ ትንታኔ አለ፡

    ስለ ግጥሙ ምንም አልል አይነልቡናው የታዎረ መሃይም ትቺት ሲያቀርብ
    ይገርማል ዘምናዊት አትዮጵያ ማህይሞች አውቂዎቺን የሚንቅፉብት ድንቁርና
    ተቅበሉ የሚባልባት አገር ነች ማለት ዪቻላል.።

    አቶ ጸጋዬ ሃብታሞቺን አይጠላም፡ እሱ የሚጠላው ሃብታም ስነምግባር የሌለውን
    ብልሹ በልግ ዉስጥ እንዳለው ግዛው አይነት ነው። በዚህ ቴማ ላይ ብዙ እውቅ
    ደራሲዎች ጽፈውላ ግን አንድቸም በጸረ ሃብታምነት አልተጠረጠሩም።

  4. Abebaw
    October 26, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Tulu Forza and Merso

    You guys said it all. Other than the incredibly beautiful plays and poems, Tsgaye, who we all fondly call ‘ gashe Tsegaye ‘ ( even those of us who have never met him ) will forever be remembered as the man who introduced us Ethiopians to the works of Shakespeare. Yes Kebede Michael translated Romeo & Juliet and did an amazing job, but gashe Tsegaye’s translations into amharic of Othello,Macbeth and Hamlet are awe-inspiring. I’ve often wondered how it was possible for those works of translation to be as beautiful if not more beautiful than the originals. Pure genious. May the soul of this great man rest in peace.

  5. Hayyu Alake
    November 29, 2011 at 9:07 am


    I know I saw this website long after the debate, but having read your audacious comments about Tsegaye, I could not resist responding to you. Who is asking you to acknowledge his ‘greatness’? You clearly cannot see greatness after reading his works without any prior presumptions about him. Your aim is not to call attention to the ‘other’ writers which you feel are currently ignored but to shoot down what to you is the biggest star (Tsegaye) so that the smaller stars of Ethiopian literary galaxy can be noticed. Leave the verdict to the ‘common readers’ whose judgment is usually on the mark. The genius of Tsegaye (I don’t use genius lightly by the way) intimidates and overpowers you and you react not by raising your understanding to him but by dragging him in the mud. Let me leave you with an Oromo proverb, which I do not translate because it is lost in translation:

    “Harreetti Kello haa funfattu jedhanii yoo funyanitti qabani, Marga seetee cuffatte”.

    Leave the readers alone. By the way, some people have rued the fact that Tsegaye did not get the recognition he deserves in the international arena because most of his greatest works are in Amharic, but I would even argue that Tsegaye did not get the attention he deserves because he sprinkles Oromo words in his many poems. Some of his poems may sound ‘abracadabra’ to those not familiar with Oromo language.

  1. September 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: