Qunna le-Simie Metteria – A Philosophical Book by Amha Asfaw | by Getatchew Haile

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It is only when I came to know Ato Amha Asfaw, the author of Qunna le-Simie Metteria, that I realized the true meaning of the Ethiopian, and partly biblical, saying, “Philosophers and prophets are not recognized in their own country and time.” In these troubled times, in our troubled country, it seems we Ethiopians are feverishly searching our history in hopes of discovering among our ancestors men and women of ideas who can inspire us and of whom we can feel proud. We look to the past, not the present, and the sentiment expressed in the saying blinds us to the treasure that exists all around us. My friend Amha once mentioned that after his first book, Yilalla Denebo, a collection poems, did not sell well, he could not find enough people to whom to give copies away for free. Indeed, “philosophers and prophets are not recognized in their own country and time.” It is quite clear to me that there will come a time when his books are highly sought-after collectors’ items.
I sincerely hope that this generation will break this tradition of postponing recognition and recognize Ato Amha Asfaw now. I have known Amha for over four decades, and can say, quite simply, that he is one of the great thinkers of our time and our world. My admiration of Amha is such that I titled one of my books, a collection of articles (awaiting publication), Ethiopian Studies in Honor of Amha Asfaw, a one man Festschrift. I chose to do this, rather than to take the more customary route of just dedicating the book to him, because I wanted Amha’s name to be a part of the title. That is, I did not want his name to simply (dis)appear inside the cover of the book. Rather, I want his name to be mentioned each and every time an article in the collection is quoted, because that is the level of recognition a man of his ability and significance deserves.
Amha is a poet with his own distinct style. His short lines are rhythmic but they do not always rhyme. It is not clear to me how he developed this style, which deviates from the tradition of Amharic poetry in which lines always rhyme. But knowing Amha, I can assuredly say, this is a style of his own creation. As a traditionalist, at first I had difficulty recognizing his work as poetry. So, I chose to concentrate on the messages they convey rather than their format. And the messages are wonderful: they contain philosophical observations which I have found deeply illuminating. The poems invite readers to open their eyes and hearts to ideas and truths that are often overlooked.
Qunna le-Simie Metteria, Amha’s present book, contains all the poems he has composed over the years, as well as a number of philosophical treatises that deal with social problems, again written over the years.
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In addition, there are also scholarly articles on Amharic grammar and Ge’ez numerals, originally published in academic journals. There are also some translations, notable among these his translation of Langston Hughes’ poems which read as if they were originally composed in Amharic. Amha is a brilliant writer, and his writing is enhanced by characteristics and assets that make him truly extraordinary: modesty and pride, honesty and the integrity to say what he thinks has to be said, and a rare ability to admit mistakes. He cherishes his freedom, never allowing himself to be indebted to anyone, not even to God. It is worth noting that the title of the book, Qunna le-Simie Metteria, is an expression of his modesty. As the oral tradition has it, once upon a time, a wretched woman wove a small grass basket (qunna, in Amharic), and said “I wove a basket for the memory of my name.” Amha did not want to proclaim to the world, here is “A Philosophical Book, by Amha Asfaw”; he preferred instead to present it to us, his readers, as a small offering that just happens to carry his name as its author.
I conclude this note with the poem from which Amha took an excerpt for the back cover of his book:
“ሃይለኛ እየሄደ ያስገብራል የትም፣
መሬት የሁሉም ነች ባለቤት የላትም” (“እሮሮ”፣ ከበደ ሚካኤል፣ 1944 ኣም)
ይህ መሰረታዊ እውነት ነው፣
ኣለም ከተጀመረ ያልተጣሰ፣
የፍጡር መተዳደሪታ፣ ወደደም ኣልወደደ።
እንዲህ ተፋልሶ የማያውቅ ህግ፣ በጊዜ የተፈተነ፣
የስነ-ፍጥረት ሁሉ መሰረት ነው፣ የተከበረ የታመነ።
፩ እና ፩ ሁለት መሆኑ፣
ኣለመጣሱ እንጂ፣ ኣለመፋለሱ፣ ከዚህ የጠለቀ እውነትነት የለውም፣
ሁለንተናዊ የሆነ፣ ኣለም ስታልፍ የማያልፍ፣
የበቃ የተፈፀመ።
ስለዚህ ላለንበት ኣለም፣
የ እውነት መለኪያችን፣
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ኣለመፋለስ ኣለመጣስ ነው፣ የይግባኝ ማቆሚያችን።
ላለማችን፣ ለምናውቀው፣ ጉልበት፣ መሰረቱ ነው የእውነት፣
ስለወደድን የማናነግሰው፣
ስለጠላን የማናረክሰው፣ ጥንትም የነበር፣ ኣሁንም ያለ፣
ያልተጣሰ ነው፣ ያልተገሰሰ። ውብ ነገር ምንድን ነው? የሚወስነው መመሪያ፣
ጉልበተኛ በኣምሳሉ፣ ውብ ይባላል፣ ውብ ይሆናል፣
ከዚያም ኣያልፍ ነገሩ። ዴሞክራሲስ?
የሚፈራሩ ሰዎች፣
የሚያደርጉት ስምምነት፣
የሚፋቅ ነው፣ የሚሰረዝ፣ ሚዛኑ ያጋደለ ለት።
የጉልበት መስፈሪያው ሲያደላ፣ ሲያዘነብል ወዳንዱ፣
ተፈጥሮም እኩልታውን ይቀይራል፣ መከበር ኣለበትና ህጉ፣ የሚዛኑ።
ጥሩ መጥሮ፣ ክፉ በጎ፣ የሚባል ነገር የለም፣
የማይሽረው ጉልበት ከቶ። ስለዚህ፣
ጉልበት የናንተ ስትሆን፣ እውነትን ስትፅፉ፣
ስታሸንፉ ብቻ ሳይሆን፣ ስታስገብሩ ስትግዙ፣
ጭቆናው ሲከብዳችሁ፣ ስታነቡ ስታለቅሱ፣
ያኔም ይህንን ህግ ኣስታውሱ፣ ይህንን ህግ እንዳትረሱ። ____________________________
“The powerful roams the earth and subjugates others
The earth belongs to all; it does not have a master.” (From Erorro by Kebed Michael, 1944 EC)
This is a fundamental truth that has not been violated since the beginning of time Creatures live accordingly, whether they like it or not
Such a law that has never been contradicted and a law that stood the test of time Is the bases of all science, held with respect and trust
1 and 1 is two
For it has never been otherwise
The deeper truth we seek is neither universal nor exists
Its purity is not absolute that does not end with time and space.
Therefore, our measure of truth for the world we live in
Is the absence of contradiction, beyond which we cannot appeal. For this world we know,
Power is the pedestal on which truth stands
That we cannot crown out of love
Or desecrate out of hate
It was always true, now and then Violation or contradiction never occurred.
What is beauty?
Directions set by the powerful in his image
Would be called beautiful and nothing more or nothing less
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What about democracy?
It is an agreement made by people who are afraid of each other That will be dismantled when the scale favors one of them
When the balance of power slides and tilts to one side,
Nature will revise its equation, for the law of the scale has to be obeyed.
Good and bad moral and immoral
Are ideas that do not exist outside of power
When power enables you to define truth
When you are victorious and subjugate people under your rule
Not only then, but when oppression descends, forcing you to cry and sob
Then too, Remember this law And forget it, not.


  1. I find Professor Getachew’s praises of Amha too personal and a bit excessive. The focus should have been on the literary merits of Amha’s works. I do like the Amharic poem but the rendering into English isn’t there yet.

  2. Professor Getatchew
    Philosopher cannot be borne by marketing as you are trying to deliver a “philosopher” because of your personal relationship. I thought you at least know this. His work should speak, not you. Tel us which line in his Amharic you post has philosophical concept.
    Unless we stop adulation based on personal relationships, we cannot move an inch.
    Baseless adulation harms, not benefit.
    Thank you.

    • Brother Teshome,
      What are you trying to convey here? Are you saying that people should not say good words about persons with whom they have “personal relationship?” Why do you call it marketing? Are you suggesting that the book by Amha is not worthy of praise? Have you read it? I believe others who have the opportunity to read the book will critically review the book. Yet, I prefer to give much weight and importance to Prof. Getachew’s introduction of the book.
      My humble advice: Let’s be positive!!

  3. Teshome, you are a typical member of an illiterate society, in which gossip, jealousy, anger, defamation, and ridiculing achievements of others are rampant. I assume you are living here in America. Haven’t you tried to learn and emulate how people give credit to achievers? What is wrong with Prof Getachew’s admiration? What harm does it cause to the development of literary or philosophical work among Ethiopian intellectuals?
    You see how your anger or jealousy has blinded you when you write, ” Tel[l] us which line in his Amharic you post[ed] has philosophical concept.” If you had attended at least a first year courses in a third level education plus some good reading, you would have found out that the Amharic poem quoted by the professor conveys a great piece of philosophy. I guess, in all probability, it is far beyond your level of comprehension. My other assumption is that you may be one of those who have for years tried to put themselves in the list of the good names of Ethiopian intellectuals, but have failed miserably.

  4. stupidity at its best. Now this so-called professor is praising a “genius” for figuring out that democracy is for the cowards. I am not surprised though, Debtra! Why is this country is suffering. The elites like getachew live fancy life while the mass is living a dehumanizing life. Do you see the connection between praising stupidity and our people still living the medieval type cruel and brutal lives???

  5. @Girma, In your understanding people who are afraid of each other are cowards. When the bible say Fear God , in your English it means God is telling people to be coward. First learn and then you may able to criticize others. And your comment “stupidity at its best” gives more meaning if you apply it for yourself.

    • @ Behailu the other Debtra: what do you understand by this: “What about democracy?
      It is an agreement made by people who are afraid of each other That will be dismantled when the scale favors one of them”
      I don’t think that you have read what your Debtra budy wrote. you just support as long as he wrote it —

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