Anthropology Magazine
Poem / Reflections


A poet-anthropologist from Nigeria recollects the symbolic power of Ethiopia in the time before his country’s independence from Britain in 1960.

In the poem of the same name, Ethiopia’s special place among African groups is put in high relief. Ethiopia symbolized hope of independence for Nigerian nationalists in their struggles for independence from Britain in the years before 1960. The basis for such an attitude was the fact that Ethiopia had never been successfully colonized.

My poem is a recollection of my first visit in 2006 to Ethiopia as a member of a team that debated new cultural policy for Africa when the African Union replaced the former Organisation of African Unity as the continental political body. While Ethiopia today is struggling with inter-ethnic wrangling and political instability, the difference between the condition of Ethiopia and that of my native Nigeria is only in degree, not in kind.

I use poetry to sift sentiments from my anthropology. I laugh, cry, love, hate, et cetera, using my poems. The professional value of such a tactic is that it helps me to be as detached as one can possibly be in my anthropological writings because those writings then become strained of sentiments. I do not consider the poems as anthropological products. I look at them as poems that are written by someone who happens to be an anthropologist.

Pace my friends on the other side of the debate, I daresay that the charge of the taint of subjectivity on anthropological reports might be withdrawn if this method of sifting qua anthropological writings of author’s emotion is always achieved through the use of other grammatological devices.



You whose seat is a crescent
Of a million pieces of diamonds;
The Moon below
In a night of dark sky;
Midi à minuit, [1] French for noon to midnight.
I sing to you the song due only to the brave,
The sage, a heroine—
The name of our hope!
Ojike sang your epic [2] Mbonu Ojike (1914–1956), a polymath and Nigerian economist with deep historical insight and one of its nationalists during the anticolonial agitations.
Akweke wore your name like his skin [3] Akweke Nwafor-Orizu (1914–1999) was also a notable Nigerian pro-Independence activist. He took for his name, Abyssinia, the former name of Ethiopia.
Now I join the blessed that have met and hugged your ebony skin;
Your elegant frame straight and strong like the iroko.
All hail her that lives in the cradle of the sun;
She whose days will shine tenena tene [4] Gikuyu for “forever.”
As the middle of the African day;
She will rise and rise …
She has no evening;
She that can conquer but cannot be conquered—
The name of our panther;
Take my compliments
Na ku penda! [5] Kiswahili for “I love you.”

Peter-Jazzy Ezeh is a professor of anthropology and the head of the sociology and anthropology department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He has published widely and has a passion for qualitative fieldwork. With archaeologist Pat Uche Okpoko, he published the book Methods in Qualitative Research (University of Nigeria Press), which is now in its third edition. Follow him on Twitter @phyphenj.

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