Observing the World from Africa: Italy and Japan in two Ethiopian Travelogues

A presentation by Hailu Habtu, Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa University

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
10th Floor
UCLA campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

It is rarely that researchers come across accounts by Africans of their travels to or sojourns in foreign countries. The presentation will focus on two rare travel accounts by African visitors. The narratives written by two Ethiopians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to Japan and Italy expose the ways in which Africa became for them a subject of representation. This is a major departure from the scholarship on travel narratives that usually regard Africa as an object of representation. One is Fisseha Giyorgis who published a brief account of his voyage to Italy in Tigrinya in 1895 in Rome; Heruy Wolde Selassie published his much longer account of his visit to Japan in Amharic in 1932 in Addis Ababa. Fisseha dwells more on the sea voyage and ends with a glowing account of Napoli and Rome; he had left behind an Ethiopia struck by The Great Famine (1889-92). Heruy has less on the voyage. The bulk of the account is a description of places, palaces, shrines, etc., reproductions of speeches and responses, and occasional portraits of personalities. He draws constant, almost compulsive and favorable comparisons between Japan and Ethiopia. Ethiopia had joined the League of Nations and Ethiopians were optimistic about the future.

Hailu Habtu studied philosophy at Indiana University, and received a PhD in African Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. He taught in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and at City College of New York. He served as Head of Culture Bureau of the Tigrai Regional State. He then served as Publications Manager and consultant in the Centre Français des Études Éthiopiennes, Addis Ababa and as an Amharic language expert for Microsoft. He is currently the project director of Encyclopedia Ethiopiana (in Amharic). He has published several essays in Ethiopian Christianity, language, and culture.


Cost : Free and open to the public

African Studies Center


Sponsor(s): African Studies Center, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, Globalization Research Center - Africa