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other side of the debate, I daresay that the charge of the taint of subjectivity on anthropological reports might be withdrawn if this method of sifting qua anthropological writings of author’s emotion is always achieved through the use of other grammatological devices.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,*
I sing to you the song due only to the brave,
The sage, a heroine—
The name of our hope!
Ojike* sang your epic
Akweke* wore your name like his skin
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*
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!*



Midi à minuit: French for noon to midnight.

Mbonu Ojike (1914–1956), a polymath and Nigerian economist with deep historical insight and one of its nationalists during the anticolonial agitations.

Akweke Nwafor-Orizu (1914–1999) was also a notable Nigerian pro-Independence activist. He took for his name, Abyssinia, the former name of Ethiopia.

Tenena tene: Gikuyu for “forever.”

Na ku penda: Kiswahili for “I love you.”