Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Beata NOWACKA, University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland

Ryszard Kapuściński's "The Emperor" - a world famous reportage concerning the reign and fall of the emperor Hajle Syllasje - is considered a controversial account of the last days of the Ethiopian king of kings. Examining the factual content of Kapuscinski's book, I will take into account the very personal biography of Hajle Syllasje written by John Spencer (the Ethiopian ruler's longtime collaborator), Harold G. Marcus, whose opinion of Kapuscinski's work is very critical, the Italian ethiopist Angelo Del Boca, who cites the Polish reporter’s opinions in positive terms, and other famous experts on Ethiopia, for example J. Mantel-Niecko, A. Bartnicki, J. Milewski and H. Rubinkowska. As Kapuscinski was a Polish correspondent sent by the Polish Press Agency to cover the most important historical events in Ethiopia in the '60s and '70s, he wrote many accounts which were published in the Polish press. However he also wrote many secret accounts, which were sent to his agency and never published. I examined all the dispatches sent by him in 1963 and 1975-77 (including the restricted ones). I will compare his two ways of writing about Ethiopia - the artistic and factual descriptions of the same historical events. Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote and published his book exactly 40 years ago (1978) and since then it has functioned almost exclusively as a parable of authoritarian power (starting from Edward Gierek's Poland in the '70s). Reportage as a literary genre has changed since that time and its authors have become more and more attentive towards The Other. "The Emperor" written today would be definitely a completely different account.