The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Lecture - Wednesday 16th March 2011
Ethiopian Folktales Online: Creating a Resource
Given by - Elizabeth Laird and Michael Sargent
Reviewed by - Tony Diggle
Over a five-year period during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the British Council in Ethiopia, working with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education and the Regional Governments, set up and funded the collection of a large body of stories from the regions of Ethiopia. The purpose of the project was to produce readers in simplified English for use in Ethiopian schools in such a way that students in each region could work with culturally familiar materials.
The stories were collected by Elizabeth Laird with the help of various translators and in close collaboration with the Regional Educational and Cultural Bureaux.
The reader project had mixed success. Eighteen small books were written, illustrated and prepared for printing, but only eight were finally published, as funding for the project ran out.
Thanks to a grant from the Christensen Fund, a project was set up by Elizabeth Laird and Michael Sargent (former Director of the British Council in Ethiopia) to preserve and digitise the huge body of stories (nearly 300) which were held in tapes and handwritten notebooks, and vulnerable to decay. This has now been achieved, and a website containing all the stories has been created. At present it is only available in English, but an Amharic translation for the whole website is in production (see www.ethiopianfolktales.com).
The storytellers came from many different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds. They included farmers, teachers, health workers, government officials, students, shopkeepers, old soldiers, an Ethiopian Orthodox nun, a priest and a retired diplomat, among many others.
The stories have been transcribed in the exact words of the translators, and preserve their idiosyncrasies. It is possible to listen to the original recordings of the narrators (made in the field under imperfect conditions). Most stories are narrated in Amharic, but a variety of other languages are represented, including those of Harar, Oromia, Gumuz, Bena, Anuak, Somali and Afar.
It is hoped that the website will be freely visited by a wide number of people as well as friends of Ethiopia: folklorists, ethnographers, professional storytellers, teachers, writers of educational material etc.
These wonderful stories deserve to be known to a greater audience, and Ethiopia deserves to be recognised as the possessor of a remarkable oral heritage.