post The Eunuch and the King’s Daughter

January 22nd, 2008

Filed under: Literature Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 22:14

The Eunuch and the King’s Daughter

By Waltenegus Dargie
Preface by: Richard Pankhurst, Professor



Waltenegus Dargie was born in Neghelle Borana, southern Ethiopia, in 1969. He is by profession an engineer. He is, however, also an already accomplished Ethiopian man of letters. His poem Miscarriage won him the Ethiopian Best Poem of the Year award in 1990.

His current work, the setting of which is perhaps influenced by his knowledge of the south of his country, is an exciting historical novel. In his opening chapter he transports us, as if by magic, into the conflicts, statesmanship and intrigues of the little-known petty states of nineteenth century south-western Ethiopia — states whose wealth was based on gold, ivory and slaves.

We find ourselves in the imaginary kingdom of Mathi, whose neighbours are the historic polities of Kaffa, Hadiya, Gimira and Magi. We are introduced to the proud but ineffectual King Badar of Mathi, his three rival wives, and his beautiful young daughter Mersabel (the heroine of the story). We also meet an unfortunate English scholar whom the king has purchased as a slave, and who is unable to manufacture the rifles and cannons required by his master. A no less important figure in the story is the noble eunuch Marebath, who is the Head of the Guards.

As the plot unravels we see Mathi at war with its neighbours. King Badar and his advisers are, however, aware of the potentially greater challenge from the reforming Emperor Tewodros, whom Waltenegus presents in a sympathetic light. Tewodros’s kingdom, to their manifest relief, is, however, located too far away to the north to pose any immediate threat to the local status quo.

The king and his family have at the same time to take account of another potential source of trouble: the underlying struggle between adherents of the traditional gods - and goddesses, and believers in the Virgin Mary. Her creed has recently been introduced by Temari, a wily Christian monk from the North, whose ambition is to uproot Mithi’s sacred old Oak Tree…

Waltenegus’s plot keeps the attention of the reader throughout, and leads on to a dramatic dénouement.

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