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Roba, Ayele Kebede (2022) Against the 'Great Tradition': Marginalization and resistance in Ethiopian novels in Afan Oromo and Amharic. PhD thesis. SOAS, University of London. DOI:

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This thesis ‘reads together’ (Laachir) four novels written in two widely-spoken Ethiopian languages, Afan Oromo and Amharic—Yoomi Laataa? [When Shall It Be?] (2010) by Isayas Hordofa and Gurraacha Abbayaa [The Black Man from Abbaya] (1996) by Dhaba Wayessa in Afan Oromo, and Yeburqa Zimita [Burqa’s Silence] (2000) by Tesfaye Gebreab and Evangadi (1998) by Fiqremarqos Desta. The novels were published in the two decades following Ethiopia’s adoption of ethno-linguistic federalism in 1991, a period of profound political change that saw strong critiques of Ethiopian nationalism but also the emergence of written literatures in many Ethiopian languages, including Afan Oromo. Indeed, the novels both reflect and reflect on these developments. My approach is contextual and multilingual, i.e., it is fully cognizant of the plurilingual practices embedded in the literary texts as well as the contexts in which they were produced, and it advocates a contextualized and comparative reading that resists the separate and monolingual reading practices that have characterized mainstream Ethiopian literary studies. I view these novels as mediating between different languages, between oral and written traditions, and between narratives of the Great Tradition and that of the counter hegemonic histories, and as such I see them as resisting hegemonic narratives within Ethiopian nationalism and literature. Reading them together involves an entangled reading that seeks illuminate their interwoven politics and is attentive to any echo, if not dialogue, across language boundaries. Drawing on the genres of historical and village novels, the thesis contests the Amhara-centred Ethiopianist meta-narrative from three perspectives. First, it pits counter-hegemonic historical narratives against the history of the Great Tradition by reworking and reinterpreting Ethiopian political history in ways that foreground the perspectives of politically marginalized people. Second, it argues that these novels critically engage with language ideology and politics, and thereby interprets textual multilingualism as a recognition of the reality of ‘multilingual locals’ in Ethiopia and a critique of official monolingual policies and Amharic monolingualism (part of the Great Tradition). Third, by analysing the strategies that the novels employ to represent orature and the interplay between orature and written literature, the thesis shows how these novels broaden the remit of what constitutes Ethiopian literature and show orature to be an important resource for counter-hegemonic narratives. Fourth, by reading together Afan Oromo and Amharic novels along these lines, the thesis puts forward a more inclusive approach to Ethiopian literature that crosses linguistic and script boundaries. Finally, through a comparative and contextual methodological approach that seeks to refute Ethiopianist meta-narratives and exclusionary approaches to literature, the study contributes to the debates about centre-periphery and orature-literature dichotomies in the study of world literature, African literature and to comparative Ethiopian literature (particularly to Oromo literature).

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Francesca Orsini
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 30 May 2022 13:47
Funders: European Union

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