Fikre-Kidus (a story of the Ethiopian people and their struggles for their freedom), written in the Ethiopian language, is a mammoth task that culminated in an 1800 pages originally, but was trimmed down to four-hundred-forty pages when it was finally published on limited publication.
It’s a war story. And like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and other war narratives, it went on and on, never ending, never wanting to end. The book is also a tribute to Emperor Haile Selassie, a magnificent figure whose courage and resolve unnerved Mussolini and finally delivered the liberation of his country from the Fascist oppression.
The 1985 famine that devastated Ethiopia and galvanized millions of Americans and citizens of the world to show their solidarity in their unfathomable compassion to help the starving Ethiopians became the catalyst for the writing of this book.
Many experts at the time told that famine in Africa and other parts of the world would remain a constant problem for as long as the people of that continent remain illiterate. Illiteracy, of course, is rampant. Reading habits in Africa still remain pitiful. The inability of the Third World people to read about and understand their environment, even connect with their history will in the end curtail their efforts to extricate themselves from the abject poverty they face year in and year out. The treatments to curb disasters caused by AIDS, famine, or civil wars, by pumping massive food aid, medicine, and ignoring the root causes of the problem will in the long run be futile if people remain uninformed. In Africa, up until very recently, many tribes didn’t know what to do with chicken, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes (in Ethiopia, the tomato was introduced by the Italians in the 1940s), rice, carrots, celeries, and bananas. To change behavior and to educate people, the first and foremost task, according to experts, is to inculcate a reading habit in every community and every village. Forming book clubs and forums to discuss their histories, their culture and their political and economic developments and activities, and by extension to teach them to read about the food products available to them (The Tana lake abundant with fish could have averted the massive hunger of the 1980s), will eventually make a difference just as significantly as meting out food aid programs. For almost a trillion dollars spent on food aid alone in the past century (where the problem still exists today (with nearly fifteen million people starving in Africa every year), not a single dime was targeted to encourage the formation of a reading culture.
In fact, Africa is losing her educated people, mostly writers and doctors, at an alarming speed, due to lack of incentives. Africa’s writers and poets are fleeing their nations, leaving the important task of storytelling to a puzzling and obscure place called Darkness. To say that that has an indirect impact on the crisis looming over Africa today is an understatement.
By writing Fikre-Kidus, a novel about the struggles of Ethiopia for her independence, the author hopes to infuse into the culture a love of reading. Although this may not by itself solve the problems as a whole, it will, however, be a step in the right direction to help us understand who we are as a people.
Here, briefly, allow me to tell you what Fikre-Kidus (ፍቅረ-ቅዱስ) means. In a simple language Fikre-Kidus (ፍቅረ-ቅዱስ) or “Holy-Love”, is another name for God. Just as we say the “Omnipotent”, “The Almighty”, “The Deity”, in Ethiopia we too have multiple names for the Lord. We call Him Medhani-Alem (“መድሃኒ-ዓለም”); we call Him Andiye (“አንድዬ”); we call Him Cher-Amelak (“ቸር ዓምላክ”); we call Him Fetari (“ፈጣሪ”) and we also call Him Fikre-Kidus (“ፍቅረ-ቅዱስ”).
And now the story…
In 1935, an arrogant dictator smelling blood and itching for destruction invaded a peaceful nation. It was unprovoked. It was unwarranted. It was unscrupulous. And it was brutal. General De Bono had repeatedly mentioned to Mussolini that massive war was unnecessary, that if Italy wanted to take Ethiopia, the latter’s resistance was minimal.
Mussolini, in his customary hubris scoffed at De Bono, telling him that he wouldn’t take Ethiopia even if she were offered to him on a silver platter. Forty years earlier his forefathers had been terribly smashed by the Ethiopian army under Emperor Menelik, and so, the dictator had an old score to settle.
At last an invasion force came roaring. Mussolini who had boasted that he could blot out the sunlight with his air force sent thousands of airplanes and killed countless people. At the beginning (long before he wrote a letter to Hitler saying that Judaism was ‘a disease to be cured by fire and sword’) he had incubated a much deeper hatred toward blacks, as he was now ready to eradicate the Ethiopians from the face of the earth.
When he banned the popular book Amore Nero (Black Love), he made it clear to the Chief of his Cabinet, Baron Pompeo Aloisi that entertaining any kind of intimacy with any person of dark skin was unacceptable.
And so when he landed in Abyssinia, the principal aim was to eradicate the people. And so he did.
Now read the book to see what more had happened.
On December 23, 1935, from the top of Worq-Amba mountain (The Golden-Hamlet) flew eighty bomber airplanes, loaded with mustard gas, yiprite poison and a countless number of bombs.
That day the Italians were ready to annihilate the Ethiopians.
On the ground, forty-five thousand Ethiopian troops, led by Ras Imiru (General Imiru) were marching toward Makale, to free their countrymen from the occupying force and to drive the Italians out of Axum, Adowa, Tembien, Makale and Enda-Selassie.
Then, at noon, to be exact, the bomber airplanes started dropping bombs by the thousands. Releasing mustard gas and throwing breakable cylinders that contained the yiprite poison went on for hours. Ras Imiru’s soldiers were burning alive. Eyes were instantly blinded. Bodies were incinerated.
Disintegrated arms and legs were strewn all over the ground. The Italians, flying their airplanes and doing acrobatic maneuvers in the air, were amused as if enjoying the scene below.
Galeazzo Ciao, Mussolini’s son-in-law said, “I fight sitting!”
Now Ras Imiru’s followers started to flee. As blood streamed in a gushing current, zigzagging through the plains the sky then turned black. Suddenly the field at the bottom of Worq-Amba became a bloodbath. A mammoth proportion of red fluid made its journey through the valleys. Out of the forty-five thousand troops only one thousand survived. The rest, including all the forty-four thousand innocent souls, perished in oblivion.
From the above, Mussolini’s son, Vittorio, flying his bomber plane looked down at the streaming tide of blood and said, “This looks like a budding rose!”
Dear Readers: you figure out this imponderable absurdity of the human mind, the grotesque nature of Vittorio’s mentality, the shame!
The cover of Fikre-Kidus is based on that historical premise, with the Ethiopian flag on the ground absorbing that blood.
Fikre-Kidus, is a story of love and war. These are the prominent features of the book, but other fascinating tributaries fill in the pages. Love of family, love of country, love of friend, love of religion, love of ones offspring, love of ones leader, love of ones people become the overriding force that shapes the width and breadth of Fikre-Kidus. The book reports the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia in its dimensionality, looking at it through different lens. I wanted to show Ethiopia’s unique features. Not merely the AIDS stricken Ethiopia. Not the famine languishing Ethiopia. Not the misery inundated nation unable to feed itself. Not the backwardness (I am not saying these vicissitudes do not exist, but that part has been overstated, almost connoting a racial tone) and the illiteracy of the people. So here I am about the story of Ethiopia in her full, spectacular regalia: her fortitude, her morale, her faith, her history, her values, her essence, her virtue, and her dogged determination to obtain her freedom!
That’s is Fikre-Kidus.
“The images of your book take on a metaphorical dimension, addressing the heart – not the head, and unfolding organically like a blossoming flower. This is a must read book for all Ethiopians. No Feker-Eskemekaber, no Aliwoledim, no Ke-Admas Bashager; nothing can come close to this book.
You have keenly explained in this book that, “Ethiopians have heard enough about their country being a land of famine, poverty, destruction, civil wars and AIDS.” You didn’t deny the existence of these evils, but you also showed us that our country is a country of heroes, a country of love, character, spirituality and joy.
Oh, what a day for Ethiopia!” said Dr. Atnafu.
Following are statements from leaders and scholars about Fikre-Kidus.
“This book holds the knowledge our country requires for her unity, harmony and progress. No book has the power in Ethiopian literature that unifies the diverse Ethiopian people as this book does. Had it not been for the lack of our economy, the book should be on the bookshelves of our universities, colleges and high school libraries. I enjoyed it immensely.”
President Girma W/ Giorgis
President of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia.
“A great book! Peerless in Ethiopian literature…”
Ambassador Ahadu Sabure, Author.
“For its style in Amharic writing, use of vocabulary and sentence structure, it is superlative…you will cry your heart out, you will be spellbound!”
Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, Author and Educator
“Must stand on the same row with all the classics: War and Peace, The Great Gatsby and Harper Lee’s immortal book, To Kill A Mockingbird. A thrilling and electrifying book.”
Professor Samuel H. Michael, Retired
“King Menelik defended our freedom in Adowa.
Ato Daniel defended our history in Fikre-Kidus…”
Ato Hailu Tessema, Author
“A wonderful love story…magnificent tale.”
Dr. Amelsa H. Seyoum