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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MERSHA Alehegne, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
WUHIBEGEZER Ferede, Blue Nile Water Institute, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia

Paper presenters:

TADDELE Gedlie; TILAHUN Telila; ABONEH Ashagrie Zeiyesus; AHMED Hassen; WOUBE Kassaye;
TIGAB Bezie; MULUSEW Asratie; ASSEFA Alemu; JEMAL Mohammed; KINDENEH Endeg Mihretie;
Joachim Gregor PERSOON; TEMESGEN Baye; MULUKEN Andualem; TILAHUN Bejitoal; TAYE Assefa;
MERSHA Alehegne; WUHIBEGEZER Ferede; HAILU Belay; TEFERI Mekonnen; WONDWOSEN Michago Seide;

  1. Description and Rationale

    Abbay is a river that springs from the northwest part of Ethiopia and shared by eleven countries, namely, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. This makes it to be a heterogeneous entity, a poly system of cultures, interpretations, representations, and dialogues. It is a very important river that captured the human imagination since the earliest civilizations have resided along its banks. The enigma of its sources, the life it gave to barren areas, and the capricious nature of its vital flow have produced endless speculation and legends in its basin countries. The realities and myths of the river personified have been retold and reproduced from early ancient times to the present.

    The orature and literature on the Nile is vast and varied. It is a world of varied symbolism with different, often competing modes of memory, rituals, ceremonies, artistic expressions, all describing the supposedly same Nile but creating different portraits, reflecting human diversity in continuous change.

    The significance of the Abbay/Nile River is well known from the context of the conflicting claims to the waters of the River by the different riparian states. Thus the media tends to depict the river as a source of conflict and discord, this being the image which is reflected in the popular imagination. Yet from a historical and cultural perspective this is misleading, the river was often represented as an artery of communication, something which bound the different countries together and represented their common aspirations and hopes for the future, rather than as a cause of conflict. This “binding discourse” is reflected through ancient documented histories, texts, relics, oral narratives, rituals of the countries of East and North Africa which are sewed together by the river. Thus the Nile River is something which unites peoples rather than dividing them.

    Currently, Ethiopia has put its grand initiative to make the deserved use of the river which has long been its source of “pride yet in part failure”. Despite being seasonally eroded by the river, little attempt has been made to benefit from its positive potential over the centuries, Consequently a decision was made and is now being implemented that Ethiopia should build an almost 80 Billion Birr mega-dam project on the Nile River. Since the day of the announcement, there has been a popular mobilization of all age groups and ethnicities of Ethiopia to handful support for the successful accomplishment of the dam project. The construction of the dam has proved controversial, with Egypt and to a lesser extent Sudan, fearing that it will reduce the amount of water passing through their countries. The view of other Abay basin countries too has not been well demonstrated. Diplomatic means are required to reduce this tension, while Ethiopia continues her efforts to achieve her goal of successfully accomplishing the largest engineering project ever attempted - the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Hydropower Dam Project (GERHDP) over the River Abay (Blue Nile). Apart from the political diplomacy furiously carried by the government and visible discussions on the engineering aspects of the river among natural scientists, academic dialogue on the cultural aspect of the river should be started among social scientists in different higher institutes of the Nile Basin countries and beyond.

    Therefore, this panel is proposed aiming at cultivating and amassing indigenous views, reflections of the popular imagination, explanations and conceptions about Abay in the culture, traditional scholarship and popular imaginations of the so called the Nile Basin countries.

  2. Panel Objectives

    The panel is intended to cultivate and amass indigenous views, reflections of the popular imagination, explanations and conceptions about Abay in the culture, traditional scholarship and popular imaginations of the so called the Nile Basin countries. It also aims at meeting the following specific objectives:

    1. How Abay is preserved in the people’s popular oral narratives and songs;
    2. The significance of the Abay/Nile River as reflected in its use in ideological discourses reflected in different art forms;
    3. The place of Abay in the history of Ethiopian Imperial Court;
    4. How Abay is viewed in Ethiopian traditional scholarship (Qene, Zema, Medrasa schooling tradition and commentaries of books);
    5. How Abay is documented in Ethiopian textual scholarship including hagiographies, homilies, etc.

  3. Papers

    Scholars in the field of history, folklore, philology, anthropology, etc. will be invited to submit their paper proposals for consideration by the scientific committee which will determine whether the abstract will be accepted for presentation at the panel. The presented papers will be published in a proceedings.



TADDELE Gedlie, Independent researcher

This presentation of Gǝʾǝz Qǝneyat (Poems and Puns) were collected during a field study using personal interviews. The Qǝneyat which were collected under the supervision of “ The Quest of Nile (Abay ) in the Ethiopian Popular Imagination and Ecclesiastical Scholarship and Art ” reflect and laud the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the midwifery role of the late Prime minister Meles to GERD. While paying homage to GERD, artists, journalists, poets and Qǝne scholars had sung, painted, wrote essays, prepared articles, authored books and penned poetry and composed Gǝʾǝz Qǝneyat lauding the ongoing work, the former Prime Minister, Engineer Simegnew Bekele and others. One of the Qǝne scholars, Adugna Abebe (Liqe heruyan),who was the administrator of West Gojjam diocese, composed 4 Gǝʾǝz Qǝneyat on June 2003 E.C. The Qǝneyat were collected during a field study. This writer conducted them in 2006 E.C. Asteraye Henok, a Qǝne teacher of Gunde Wein Maryam (East Gojjam) composed a Mewedes (praise) to express his condolence when Ato Meles passed away. Similarly the writer of this article had declaimed five Gǝʾǝz Qǝneyat (no 6,7,8,9,10 ) when he visited the GERD, from January 23 to 24 2007 E.C.The orally composed Qǝneyat and their written sources are analyzed.



TILAHUN Telila, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

The objective of this article is to shed light on some Oromo texts which touch upon Abay river from different perspectives.

For this purpose folklore data collected in 2009 and 2010 Ec. from field, and in inter- textual manner a Novel entitled Gurracha Abbaya mainly analyzed to meet the set objective. At the end of analysis it is expected to be knowledge gap so far exist in relation to Oromoo and Abay would be vividly seen.



ABONEH Ashagrie Zeiyesus, School of Theatre Arts,Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Abbay / Gion, a river’s name inextricablly linked with the Ethiopian socio-economic and political reality since the formation of rational society three millennia ago had been the source of spiritual and material culture for the Classical Greek, Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East . It had been a prized source for the oral and written literatures of pre-Christian, Christian, Islam and Jew religions. More than 2500 years ago, Olympians believed that Ethiopia, where the Nile sprouts is the sacred land of Zeus-chief of Greek Gods. Abbay Gion assumes a sacrosanct stature in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Holy Quran; and has also attracted the attention of Ethiopian writers and performing artists in the last few decades with the launch of the Grand Abbay Gion Dam. Of all the arts, performing arts especially drama/theater takes the lion share. A preliminary investigation indicates Abbay Gion, as a theme has attracted the attention of many dramatists, particularly those teaching at university theatre schools. Dramas related to Abbay Gion have been produced in Addis Ababa University, Jima University, Wolqite University, Mekele University, Aksum University, Wollo University, Bahir Dar Cultural Center and public playhouses in Addis Ababa. This research thus attempts to portray the form and contents of the performances from socio-economic and political perspective. The study hopefully would contribute materials to those scholars who would pursue academic endeavor in the area of Abbay Gion and the arts.



AHMED Hassen, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University

Much has been said, written and debated about the River Abbay, the longest river in the world. It takes its sources from the Northwestern Ethiopian mountains and Lake Tana, the biggest lake in Ethiopia. However, the existing literature largely ignores discussion of its length. Because the river is a very strategic water body that crosses international boundaries, various riparian countries and stakeholders can claim ownership and different levels of water contribution to it. The international nature of the river yields a corpus of literature in different idioms. Of that very literary corpus we do have a rich French literature of several origins such as in the form of travelers accounts, official correspondences, journals, monographs, unpublished or published Doctoral dissertations and published books and articles. Our research questions are as follows: What can we learn from such bodies of diverse documents and literature? How has such source materials contributed to the total body of our knowledge about the Abbay? What is the significance of such materials both for academia and policy makers? The methodology to be employed will mostly qualitative, and include some quantitative methods. The overall objective will be to determine what literature is available in French that focuses on Abbay, what lessons can be drawn from their content, and to document the subject in the mainstream of research on this topic.



WOUBE Kassaye, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

The contribution of music has been mentioned since the early days. It is used as accompaniment to or part of almost every human activity, can and shape, strengthen and channel social, political, economic, linguistic, religious and other kinds of behaviours. It is an inseparable part of culture. It yields crucial information in various aspects of culture such as in education, social and political spheres, in constructing culture history. Ethiopians have had a great concern for Abbay river (known as Blue Nile) to be exploited for development. This has been expressed in different ways where Music (sacred and secular music) is among them. Various efforts to utilize this huge resource have been undergoing since recently, where the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is among them. However, there hardly exists a thorough study made on Music in connection with Abay. Hence, this study focuses on the analysis of Abbay reflected in the Ethiopian Music. The method employed for this study is both qualitative and quantitative analysis. Available sampling was considered to collect the data from songs, singers and music instructors. Accordingly, for this study first songs (thirty one) released in Amharic language wereselected. Second, research participants that include Azmaris (six traditional singers) and music instructors (seven) were preferred. Questionnaires for research participants and a checklist for analyzing the contents of songs were employed. The analysis both in the songs and in the responses made by research participants indicates that Abay is a huge resource to be utilized for development. Neither a single song nor a respondent was against the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). It is recommended that such songs are useful cultural heritages and need to be preserved and promoted.



TIGAB Bezie, Bahir dar University

The issue of environmental degradation has become very pressing in our present world. It is closely associated with most of the social and economic problems of any society. So, giving due attention and finding a solution to the issue is very vital. Although many studies have been conducted on the problem by scholars of diverse disciplines very few studies have been made based on the environmental history of Ethiopia. Lake Tana is one of those areas that is being seriously affected by environmental degradation. Therefore, the main purpose of this thesis is to undertake a historical survey of environmental degradation of the southern shores of Lake Tana in the twentieth century. The study focuses on the causes and impacts of environmental degradation and people’s efforts in protecting the environment of the target area. This research is undertaken through document analysis of the existing materials, observation, GIS interpretation and extracting information through interviews. The main causes of Environmental degradation in the study area were of population overgrowth, deforestation, land degradation, the land tenure system, and urbanization. Due to these factors, environmental degradation of the area is a very serious problem. Existing forests and wild life were seriously affected, the land was degraded, there was contamination of water bodies, agricultural products declined, and the volume of Lake Tana water and its wet lands shrunk. Though attempts were made to reduce the problem of environmental degradation, the intensity of environmental resource degradation was not equivalent to the efforts for rehabilitating the environment. Because of lack of people’s awareness about environmental degradation and inefficient policy and management on the part of responsible bodies, the challenge of environmental degradation still remains a serious problem and requires continuous and unreserved effort.



MULUSEW Asratie, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

In addition to its long journey through wide lands, the Nile is also a river with many names. The names Abbay (with the modifiers Gish, gilgil / bikolo, Ch’is, wӓtӓt etc.) (Oestigaard & Gedef Abawa 2013 / Kidaneweld Kifle 1948 E.C.), Nile (with modifiers nӓč’ “white” and t’ɨk’ur “black/blue”), Ar/Aur, Al-Nil, Bahr Al-Nil, Nahr Al-Nil (Enyclopedia Britannica online), Giyon (Gen. 2:13), Shihor (Chron. 13:5), Hapi, Piyaro/Fiyaro (Ibrahim Damtew 2016) all refer to the same river. Some of the names are still in use, while others are found only in documents. Moreover, some of the names are also used as names of institutions and of persons. This study examines the etymology of the words used to name the river and tries to investigate what concepts are denoted by these names and why. Secondly, the study tries to analyze the areal distribution of use of the names of Abbay in naming institutions so as to understand how the people living near the course of the river interact with it.



ASSEFA Alemu, University of Gondar

Rivers in the world command the attention of hosts of poets. Some, especially, get more attention than the others. The River Abbay (The Blue Nile) is one of those foremost rivers that captures the imagination and fascination of not only the local poets, but also the international ones. The Abbay has also been at the heart of the country’s politics and economy. This study aspires to analyze the dominate images attributed to this river and the underlying motives behind such metaphoric conceptualizations as reflected in the selected Amharic poems by relating it to major water resource related events of the Nile. The study, thus, incorporates poems written before and after the commencement of GERD, for this Dam is believed to have significant implications on how the Ethiopian societies view the Abbay. Poetry is a socio-cultural product, and as such, it can be taken as an important repository of background material providing context for understanding major historical, political and economic developments of a given country. To this end, the study employs the Cognitive Metaphor Theory (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) and Critical Metaphor Analysis (Charteris-Black, 2004). Consequently, the study identifies three dominant conceptual metaphors depicting the Abbay. These are: 1. metaphors that apotheosize the Abbay; 2. Metaphors that anthropomorphize the Abbay in which it is conceptualized as a friendly and villainous person in different times in its history; and 3. Metaphors that romanticize the Abbay which depicted it as one drawing its beauty from the Land of Ethiopia. The overarching findings that the study draw are that the Abbay in Ethiopia constitutes the fabric of society and the local poets felt a deep connection to it and associated it with their countries' national interest.



JEMAL Mohammed, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia

It is not as such arguable that religion influences the way people perceive the social world. The purpose of this study was to examine if there is any significant narration and discourse about Nile River in the Islamic religion which might influence the way Ethiopian Muslims perceive the River. Qualitative methodology has been employed to make document analysis. Hadith and the Qur’an are used as the sole sources of the research data. The findings of the study show that though the Nile River was far away from the place –Mecca and Medina - where Islam was preached, amazingly there are various Islamic narrations and discourses that overwhelmingly show the position of the River in the ancient history and development of Islamic world. In almost all of such stories and discourses, it is true that Nile has taken the central position in the formation of the subject matter and agenda of the stories and discourse. In other words, Nile River is not mentioned incidentally or as a side issue. The analysis of the data also discloses that Nile River and its basin are directly mentioned in several Hadith portraying the River as one of the miracles of Allah where its source is in heaven. There are also hadith that depict significant events that are related to Nile River which occurred at time of one of the great caliphates of Prophet Mohammed. When it comes to the data from the Quran, the document analysis shows that there is no any direct mention of the Nile River. But when the Quran interpretation of almost all distinguished scholars is assessed, there are various verses of Quran that indirectly refer to Nile River. Some of such verses depict the significant roles played by the River at time of Moses and Joseph. The findings of the study of the relationship of the River with Muslims and Islamic religion in general offer insights in the understanding of the place of Nile River in human civilization across religion, race and geographical location.



KINDENEH Endeg Mihretie, Addis Ababa University/ Institute of Ethiopian Studies

In connection to Ethiopia’s recent move to assert its fare share of the Nile waters, the role of Abay/the Nile in shaping Ethiopia’s relationship with the Nile riparian states in general and Egypt in particular has come to the fore. The history of the role of Abay/the Nile in shaping the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt is however a long standing one. This has to do with the fact that while Abay, that is the Blue Nile, which is the source of more than a three quarters of the waters of the Nile has its origin in Ethiopia, Egypt almost totally depends on it for its survival. Using mostly ancient and medieval sources written on European languages this paper will explore various views, both mythical and real, that were circulating from ancient times to the middle ages, regarding the role of the Abay in shaping the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt. In doing so, the paper will also explore the implication of such role of Abay/the Nile in shaping western perceptions about Ethiopia.



Joachim Gregor PERSOON, Associate Professor ASFAD Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Egyptians say; he who drinks of the Nile cannot avoid returning. The Nile is the essential artery, the source of life which links Ethiopia
and Egypt. However, more than being a source of physical sustenance, the Nile is the source of mythology, spirituality, time reckoning and identity of the two countries. One Ethiopian reporter when describing the sacrificial customs which are carried out on the banks of the Nile, said that ancient Egypt lives on in a unique way in Ethiopia. Like-wise with the traditions of the Orthodox Christianity, narratives about the Nile abound in both countries. Coptic sources describe in detail the trajectory of the Holy Family visiting Egypt following the route of the Nile. The Ethiopian Dirsane Uriel likewise continues the narrative, describing the visit of the Holy family to Ethiopia miraculously transported on a silver cloud accompanied by lions, also following the course of the Nile. Cosmological ideas constitute primary inspiration for works of art, especially the visual arts. They also inform the way people relate to their environment, and thus their ecological ideas. This presentation seeks to pursue different trajectories to explore the inter-relatedness of themes connecting Ethiopia (Sudan) and Egypt associated with the Nile River.



TEMESGEN Baye, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia

The present pattern of settlements and religion in Gojjam is the result of a long socio-economic and political process and developments that mainly happened between thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. The coming and settlement of Christian Amhara in particular had reconfigured the settlement pattern of the former settlers: the Gummuz and the Agew. The process of incorporation of Gojjam was preceded and coincided with the settlement of monks. During the sixteenth century, a new wave of migration and settlement had radically changed the composition and number of the population. During this period, Damot, Gafat and Oromo had made important settlements. The cumulative effect of the process has made Gojjam to look like small Ethiopia. This paper, based on published and unpublished sources, attempted to fill this gap as it has tried to identify the basic patterns of habitation, evangelization, interaction, integration and a variety of institutional features and linkages focusing on the period between fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. Further, the essay has tried to discuss and show how Christianization and settlement of migrants speaking many different languages from different areas had transformed the population composition of the province.



MULUKEN Andualem, Bahir Dar University in Humanity'faculity, Ethiopia
TILAHUN Bejitoal, Bahir Dar University in Humanity'faculity, Ethiopia

This article describes the place of river Abbay in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church‘s highest ecclesial teaching order, the qene poetry. Abbay has captured not only the imagination of the educated but also the imagination of headers, farmers, soldiers, and swimmers of all societies living along the river. Since time immemorial, great civilizations have flourished along rivers and water bodies. The life and habit of humans is strongly attached to water. This is true to rural Ethiopia where most people still are strongly attached to rivers. Ethiopia as a land of Christianity uses rivers and water bodies for religious celebrations such as for baptism. Small streams are used for baptism in rural Ethiopia and these rivers make up Abbay. For this reason, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church music and qene experts rejoice Abbay. The qenes are produced as human interact with the reviver. Using explanatory methods, this research aims to explain and analyze and explore the place of Abbay in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church qene. It is hoped that this will shed light not only on Ethiopia’s political and religious life but also the social and political consciousness in Sudan and Egypt.



TAYE Assefa, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

River Nile is one of the greatest rivers in the world and the longest river in Africa. The river has not only been the base of Egyptian civilization but is still the backbone for millions of Egyptians. The river is used for drinking, irrigation, transportation and tourism in Sudan and Egypt to a greater extent. In Ethiopia however, the river has not been used to the level of satisfaction. It has been few decades since strategy to use the river for the development of Ethiopia is put in place. When Ethiopia announced its engagement on river Nile, the reaction and interest of other countries particularly Sudan and Egypt shows how interconnected the three countries are. In recent years, literary works on the river from the side of Ethiopia shows the level of consciousness of the people and how the country is linked to the river. This article assesses contemporary literary works on Nile written in Amharic language since Emperor Haile Selassie era. By doing so, the author tries to assess how Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are portrayed and explore the role the river played in socio-political and artistic life of Sudan and Egypt in general and that of Ethiopia in particular.



MERSHA Alehegne, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

The Abbay wänz (known as the “Blue Nile” on the Ethiopian highlands) is the longest river in Africa that has long been enjoying nationwide popularity in Ethiopia for millennia. This popularity of the river is highly connected with the socio-cultural, economic and political aspects of the nation. It has captured Ethiopians’ imagination with different, often competing modes of memory, rituals, ceremonies and artistic expressions. They also produced and documented their understanding of the river through lore (legends, music, anonymous poems, proverbs, and anecdotes) and literature. The study is to identify, discuss and analyze Abbay related passages found in different medieval Ethiopian texts. Passages about the river to be explored in the study are strictly limited to the socio-cultural, spiritual, political, ideological, etc. explanations and interpretations of the river as a concrete physical phenomenon in the Christian highland of Ethiopia. Hagiographies, chronicles, exegetical and liturgical texts will be explored to collect adequate data which will be listed, organized thematically and thoroughly analyzed in the study.



WUHIBEGEZER Ferede, Blue Nile Water Institute

The purpose of this paper was to unveil the strategies and tactics perused by Egypt to assume and project its hegemonic position in the Nile Eastern Nile Basin. In this respect, largely qualitative data was collected from archives, inscriptions, ancient coins, diplomatic correspondences, travel accounts, treaties, informants, public workshops, research reviews, conference papers, and magazine articles. After analyzing the data, the researcher identified that Egypt has perused proto-colonial ideational power projection through construction of pseudo history, control of patriarchal authority and educational system, politicization of religious authority, ritualization of water myths and codification inefficacious water treaties as main strategies for creating, consolidating and sustaining hegemony in the Eastern Nile Basin. Thus, the democratization of the benefits of the Nile River needs the demystification of ingrained misperceptions to ensure social equity, economic efficiency and ecological integrity. Therefore, the recent optimistic head starts of the Nile Basin Initiative should foster these tenets.



HAILU Belay, College of Development Studies, AAU

Who owns the Nile’s water? Egypt and Sudan claim to have the law on their side by going back to colonial times' treaties. On the other side, the nine riparian countries including Ethiopia in the Nile Basin (established in 1999), have been negotiating for a decade on how best to share and protect the River Nile without Egypt’s agreement. Ethiopia claims 86% of the water reaching Egypt comes from the Blue Nile which originates in Ethiopia. On the Blue Nile, Ethiopia is using its sovereignty and mobilizing its domestic resources, and has started constructing The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam(GERD) since May 2013 G. C., located in its territory about 40 kilometers from the border with Sudan. This mega dam and multi billion Euro project will create a reservoir of 65 billion cubic meters and generate 6450 megawatts of hydro electricity. So far 60% of the project is completed. However, Egypt has feared the GERD would decrease its water supply and is raising concerns with Ethiopia over this. This paper will explore and try to answer questions like what does the UN International Water Courses Convention say? Is there any grey area to negotiate through diplomacy and international relations to avoid any conflict; or will Egypt go to a military confrontation with Ethiopia?



TEFERI Mekonnen, Institute of Ethiopian Studies., Addis Ababa University

This paper is a modest attempt to reconstruct and document the history of the Abbay within the broad context of Ethiopian history. It has the aim of filling an existing lacunae in Ethiopian history by studying the Abbay issue based on a systematic collection and analysis of primary and secondary sources. Abbay has been the most significant factor in determining the diplomatic posture of the powers in control of the lower basin for Ethiopia since time immemorial. Particularly, the Abbay has been a primordial factor of interaction and interdependence in the symbiotic relationship between Egypt and Ethiopia. The paper insists that the geographical reality that the source of the Abbay is located outside Egyptian territory has been Egyptians’ major headache. The river’s vital flow, therefore, produced endless speculations and legends. This paper analyses the works of medieval and modern writers who have produced quite an immense and varied literature that blended reality with myth about hydropolitics of the Abbay. It also argues that the question of the source of the Abbay River remained unanswered until the seventeenth century. Although the explorations for the source of the Abbay could not follow the Nile up from Egypt via the Sudan to Ethiopia, eventually Europeans were able to visit the source coming from the direction of the Red Sea. Despite the fact that the written accounts of European travelers blended reality with myth, they served to bring to an end the mysteries surrounding the source of the Abbay and to introduce the little-known Ethiopia to the outside world.



WONDWOSEN Michago Seide, Lund University

Dam collects both water and memory. Dams are the ‘lieux de memoire’ (sites of Memory). The Nile River does not respect boundaries. Yet, dams force it to respect boundaries. Dams animate the waterscape into national space. Nilescape, just like landscape, can easily be transferred into a site of collective memories. In the Nile Basin, the Egyptian Aswan High Dam, AHD and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, GERD have been defining water structures. Both dams were and still are the iconic image of nation building and symbolic of ‘psychological modernism.’ It is surprisingly interesting to note that there are astounding similarities and stark differences between the GERD and AHD. The Egyptian Revolutions had preceded the construction of the two dams. It was only four months after the July 1952 Egyptian Revolution, that the then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser initiated the AHD project in October 1952. Similarly, it was only four months after the January 2011 Egyptian Revolution erupted that the construction of GERD was launched by the then Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in April 2011. AHD immortalized Nasser, as the GERD does for Meles. Though in different context, the two Dams are the result of revolutions- they are ‘revolutions’ within the revolutions. Both dams collect not only Nile waters, but also collective memories. But, Egypt and Ethiopia have different, if not divergent, collective memories over the Nile. Memory, just like power, is contestable. As Foucault (1977) put it, ‘memory is actually a very important factor in struggle, if one controls people's memory, one controls their dynamism” and hence there is ”counter-memory…that differ from, and often challenge, dominant discourses” (cited in Ibid.:126). Hodgkin and Radstone (2003) succinctly put that “to contest the past is also, of course, to pose questions about the present, and what the past means in the present. Our understanding of the past has strategic, political, and ethical consequences. Contests over the meaning of the past are also contests over the meaning of the present and over ways of taking the past forward.” (ibid. 4). In similar vein, Edward Wadie Said (1979) once said that appeals to the past are among the commonest of strategies in interpretations of the present. In the Nile Basin both power and memory have been countered and contested. The Nile politics of memory is full of fierce struggles and misperceptions. There are contesting perceptions of the Nile and that they may reflect divergent memories about the Nile and “the other”. These conflicting memories that Egypt and Ethiopia accumulated over hundreds of years impinge on the past water agreements, the present dams (AHD and GERD) and future water security. Put differently, Egypt romanticizes the past and wants to sustain the status-quo, while Ethiopia regrets the past and imagines a different Nile-scape. This paper, therefore, tries to respond to the following questions: What do the Basin people remember and forget about Aswan High Dam and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam? What role does collective memory play in transboundary water analysis? What is the role of collective memory and the dominant ways in which the Nile River in Ethiopia and Egypt were imagined at a popular “national” level? How do such memories and imageries shape the ‘Nile Nationalism’ and the politics of the Nile, its ‘cooperation’ and ‘conflict narrative?



SIRGIW Gelaw, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

The river Gihon is well documented in Ge’ez literature.. That is the case for those who believe the Ge’ez literature is part of the Bible and Gihon and the Nile are synonymous (Gen.2,13). And in a number of Ge’e Books like Matshafa Tefut and the Hagiography of St. Merqoreos, various attempts to build dam on the river Nile by various Ethiopian emperors including Emperor Seyfa Ared (1327-1355) and Emperor Dawit II (1365-1395) is also well chronicled. During the reigns of these emperors, Egypt, the neighboring was engaged in massive Islamization Agenda the whole Egypt. To that end, the regime levied heavy tax on the Coptic Christians even jailed religious leader the Coptic patriarch of Alexanderia, who was also the religious leader of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church. It was disappointed with this move that Emperor Seyfa Ared and Emperor Dawit II intended build to a dam on the river Nile. While Ethiopia was threatening to build the dam, Egypt on its part was entertaining not send its assign Abuna to Ethiopian Orthodox church. It could thus be said that the move to build the dam had more of political implication than an economic one. In addition to Matshafa Tefut and the Hagiography of St. Merqoreos the river Nile well cited in some other Ge’ez books. St Yared, for example, in his book Digua says as follows. “ Holy and blessed land (Ethiopia), the land of God, where holy people and children of peace reside and land in which springs Gihon and Hiddekel part right and left. Pison is wine and Euphrates is oil. They are inheritance of martyr”. Unlike Ge’ez literature in which the attempt to build is well documented, we have no Ge’ez Qene about efforts to construct Nile dam . That is probably because, by its nature Qene poetry is oral. Otherwise it is very unlikely for knowledgeable clergy not to praise which are probably composed the attempts made by Emperor Seyfa Ared and Emperor Dawit to build the Nile Dam. As saying goes `የቅኔ ቋንጣ የለውም” (which roughly means Qene should always be fresh and impromptu). Cognizant of this gap (i.e. absence of Ge’ez Quene), the present study has encouraged some well versed poets to express their feelings on the Renaissance Dam on the river Nile. To that end, over a hundred Ge’ez Qene (poems) composed on the Renaissance Dam have been collected, analyzed and interpreted. From these Ge’ez Quene we will try to understand what the present Ge’ez Qene poets feel about the Renaissance Dam.