A book Review of Cultures that We must Preserve and Reject by Ghelawdewos Araia (Institute of Development and Education for Africa, Inc, 2008 By Teodros Kiros

June 8th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

In the heat of the Nazi era, when brilliant Jewish scholars feared for their

lives, they moved to New York and settled at the world famous New School and developed what they appropriately called Critical Theory, and there they developed an interdisciplinary study of the human condition and originated a critical theory of society. From then on, the tradition is popularly known as the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory.

In no small measure has Ethiopia’ s foremost educational theorist, trained at the prestigious Columbia University, a pioneer of his generation, successfully written a compact but powerful book, that has in its own way given us, Ethiopians, a critical theory of society that is simultaneously transcendence and appropriation. This work is a product of an exilic mind, forced to leave his homeland and seeking to examine the inner architectonic of its rich culture and political tradition with an enviable judiciousness and a measured criticality. Indeed, this work will be appropriated by the future generation as a foundational critical theory of an Ethiopian society, in the grand tradition of the Frankfurt school of critical theory of society.

In a wave of tantalizing chapters, Dr. Ghelawdewos sublates the best insights of European literature and situates the Ethiopian contribution in the defining moments of world cultural traditions, political histories and sociological insights.

There are twenty three chapters in the book which painstakingly analyze the Ethiopian cultural situation, beginning with an analytic examination of
culture, moves on to a discussion of continuing and discontinuing cultural
traditions, blackness and Africanity, peasant and urban cultures, the
intellectuals, pretensions, rights, religious orientations, human rights,
women’s condition, marriages and responsibility, acceptance of our mortality, hymns to nature, attention and respect of the environment, history, political culture, Ethiopian traditions, and finally, languages.

Each of these facets of culture is studied, assessed with a remarkable judicious temperament and critical precision by drawing from a wide interdisciplinary reading, and display a very intelligent mind at work.

The book is a manual which the young, the old, the middle-aged, and most
particularly women, could consult as they are struggling to take care of
themselves as cultural beings. He instructs all of us, in the manners of the
great oriental sages, that culture is not static, and that culture is nothing
more than the moral organization of the self, ones the self knows that its
condition is disordered. Culture then is a moral intervention as the
self-correction of the disordered soul. (P, 5).

The core thesis, which bears the title of the book, is that cultures are
historical givens, which can and must be changed when they outlive themselves, and disorder the soul (p,8). We must respect our cultures, the foundations of identities, but not when they deform our souls and become decadent (pp, 9-26).

In a penetrating and courageous chapter he advises women not to deny their sexual rights by allowing themselves to be circumcised but he also warns them to marry for love and not subject themselves to be treated as objects. Many women could become enlightened by reading chapters 11 and 12 and participate in a project of cultural healing. Chapter 4 is a truly brilliant discussion of death and mortality that every Ethiopian should read with particular care.

The book ends with substantive presentation of Ethiopian cultural matters
beginning with our history, a moving description of the Ethiopian landscape and detailed analyses of our languages.

Cultures that we must preserve and Reject is a monumental achievement in our very own melodic language, Amharic, in a lucid, clear and engaging style.

Every Ethiopian must read this book and make their children read this book so that they can root their Ethiopianity in a masterful understanding of their own culture.

For constructive feedback, you can email to Kiros@fas.harvard.edu

Teodros Kiros
Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts)
Berklee College of Music

  1. tewbel
    | #1

    Where could the book be puchased. Would be grsteful for the informstion

  2. Damere
    | #2

    There is no doubt we need such books. I plan to read the book and I hope to find it as interesting as Prof. Kiros said.
    I like to point out that one culture we need to drop is that culture of not wanting to be surreptitiously identified as who we really are. A good example would be Prof. Kiros, a Professor at Berklee College of Music, as he himself claims wanting people to associate him with a more prestigious learning institution, Harvard University. What is wrong with giving us his Berklee school e mail address? For an Ethiopian like him, just being an English college professor is a great achievement that one should be proud of.

  3. Alem
    | #3

    Dr. Teodros,
    1. Thanks for the review [really more a promo for a friend than a serious review].
    2. I only wish you had done the review in Amharic since the book was NOT written in English.
    3. It is the first time for me to hear Dr. Ghelawdewos is “Ethiopia’ s foremost educational theorist.” It just goes to show how unfamiliar you are with the world of education and education in Ethiopia, specifically.
    4. Your analogy of “brilliant Jewish scholars” fleeing Nazis to settle in America and compare that with Dr. Ghelawdewos is silly. Dr. G, unlike “Jewish scholars”, got his undergrad and graduate degrees in the States; he was a member of a political opposition [the EPRP] and there were no Nazis in Ethiopia – just a group [similar to current rulers] who would not share political space unless one complied to its ground rules. The comparison is simply umwarranted.
    5. This is in no way to minimize the effort on the part of Dr. G to immigrate to the US and enroll at a prestigious U to collect several degrees. He should be emulated for that alone. Your review however, dear Dr. Teodros, is a bit overboard.

  4. Zeleke
    | #4

    I thank the reviewer for introducing a new book on Ethiopia.

    I agree with Alem’s comment about the review by Teodros. From a person who claims to be an intellectual and a Professor in a ‘world-class’ college, more critical-thinking and truthfulness is expected. Otherwise, it looks like setting a new lower standard for the claims made. This can put ones’ own credibility in jeopardy. Let me present a few questions to the reviewer. You have told us all the good aspects of the book. That is fine. Are there no flaws in the book you should have told us and given us the opportunity for better informed decision to buy or not buy the book? Among other things, the material in the book may depend on the number of pages and size of each page. Could you please provide information on this too? Price also matter. If the author has not yet decided on the price of the book, I suggest he should put the minimum possible price given the relatively low interest of Ethiopians in reading books. In that way, more people are likely to be interested to buy. I may make a decision to buy the book after getting responses to these questions and comments.

    Thank you

  5. Sahle
    | #5

    Dear Alem,

    You really hit the nail on the head above because as you rightly said, this is just propaganda by a close friend or relative rather than a professional review by a professional viewer or neutral reader. It is as our forefathers said, “Ye-AyiT Misikir DinbiT” kind of review. As I know them well, they are close friends and also both are disguised TPLF sympathisers and supporters. Especially, Teodros Kiros has been a staunch supporter of the TPLF for over 35 years while Dr Ghelawdewos was and a renowned pro-Tigrians as himself is a Tigrian and anti-other Ethiopian tribes. He has been criticised for his biased and racist remarks too in the past? Teodros has no knowledge of today’s Ethiopia and has no boundaries and shame when it comes to falsely praising his Tigrian friends.

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