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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Book review and synopsis by Historian Angelo del Boca

Memorie di una principessa etiope
by Martha Nassibou


"A marvelous book that takes us into a world that is completely unknown to us westerners, the complex world of the Ethiopian aristocracy of the 20s and 30s."

In the beginning of the 1930’s, in the last century, the sumptuous palace (Guebi) of the noble Nassibou Zamanuel stood in the centre of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. It was surrounded by a fifty-thousand square meter park, adorned with tall trees and ornamental plants imported from all over the world. The Guebi consisted of dozens of room elegantly furnish with Louis XVI and Chippendale furniture, Sevres china and immense tapestries from Beauvais. There were some eighty butlers, domestics, cooks and gardeners assigned to the care of the palace, working under the watchful eye of Dejazmatch Nassibou, who was divinely handsome in his dazzling general’s uniform - six feet tall, with an athletic figure, attractive and serene features.

In the life of the Dejatch, all seemed exceptional and like a fairy-tale: from the time he conquered the heart of the young Atzede Mariam Babitcheff in the presence of the Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen, following a breath-taking race at the Imperial Race Course; to the time he took her on a pilgrimage to the top of Mount Menagesha, where the hermit-saint, Wolde Mariam, foresaw the birth of five children to the bride.

On October day in 1935, however, the lovely fairy tale came to an abrupt end. By order of Benito Mussolini, the Italian forces began the invasion of Ethiopia from North to South, without a declaration of war. Dejatch Nassibou fought with valour to defend his culture, the ancient Coptic-orthodox civilization which made of Ethiopia a Christian land in the heart of Africa. The forces however are far too disparate, and the conflict will spell the end of the Ethiopian Empire and of the splendour of the Nassibous.

On 21 June 1936, Ivan Babitcheff, father-in-law of Dejatch Nassibou, was arrested. On 19 October, the Dejatch dies in a clinic in Davos, Switzerland. In the months that follow, all the Nassibou family are forced into exile.

More than sixty years after these events, Martha Nassibou, daughter of the Dejazmatch, tells the tale of the incredible journey of her family, exiled in Italy from the end of 1936 until August 1944. Eight years of exile in the “vacation resorts” of Mussolini, only for being the wife and children of Dejatch Nassibou Zamanuel, who had conducted himself with extreme correctness in war, an attitude certainly not reciprocated by Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani.

A valuable historic testimony, the book sheds light on the world of that Ethiopian aristocracy, “juggling between the wish to preserve their feudal heritage and a powerful longing for modernity”

4 comments:

Claudia Barberis said...

Egr. Sign.ra Martha Nasibù,
dopo aver letto con interesse, nel volume "La quarta sponda", l'intervista da Lei rilasciata a Daniele Comberiati, ho acquistato e letto il suo libro di memorie. E' stato per me una meravigliosa scoperta, benchè conoscessi già, almeno a grandi linee, sia l'antica civiltà del Suo Paese, sia le malvagità e i torti che l'Italia fascista ha commesso contro di voi nella sciagurata guerra coloniale. Ne ho apprezzato non solo gli aspetti, sconosciuti, di una vita quotidiana dal sapore di favola, ma soprattutto l'atmosfera di profonda dignità che circonda sempre la Sua famiglia nei momenti più bui e che traspare anche dall'assoluta mancanza di odio e di rancore, che pure sarebbero giustificati, nei confronti dei persecutori.
La scrittrice italo - etiope Gabriella Ghermandi (citata in "La quarta sponda", pag. 144) afferma che "è mancato anche un successivo processo di decolonizzazione nella cultura e nella società italiana": ciò è perfettamente vero. Una manifestazione di ciò è il risorgere e il diffondersi del razzismo, una manifestazione del quale è la ripresa del vecchio luogo comune "abbiamo fatto le strade, le ferrovie, le scuole...", malgrado le testimonianze contrarie di illustri studiosi, in primis Angelo Del Boca.Per cercare di contrastare questa deriva servono anche le testimonianze dirette, che costituiscono una lettura affascinante
Ho letto che Lei ha intenzione di scrivere un secondo volume, sulla storia e la letteratura del suo Paese, dalle origini ai giorni nostri: lo faccia, Signora, poichè abbiamo molto bisogno di acquisire conoscenze o di aggiornare quelle che possediamo. La Sua opera sarebbe un contributo prezioso, come preziose sono state per me le "Memorie di una principessa etiope" delle quali ringrazio vivamente.
Claudia Barberis

Ellene Mocria said...

Dear Ms Martha
It was with great pride and pleasure that I sow you had a book about your life printed. I wish we could find it in Addis. At present I am here in LA but will be back home next week. I have treasured a copy of your painting which I found in Ethiopian Mirror magazine (no longer in existence) framed in my office. Always been your admirer! thanks God for Ethiopian women like you. A role model!

Ellene Mocria said...

Dear Ms Martha
It was with great pride and pleasure that I sow you had a book about your life printed. I wish we could find it in Addis. At present I am here in LA but will be back home next week. I have treasured a copy of your painting which I found in Ethiopian Mirror magazine (no longer in existence) framed in my office. Always been your admirer! thanks God for Ethiopian women like you. A role model!

Ryszard Antolak said...

Dear Martha,

I am a writer from UK. I love the atmosphere and colours in your paintings.
At the end of December this year, I am going to visit Ethiopia for the very first time. Is there one book, or article you would suggest I read before I go there?
I would be very grateful

Best Wishes,
Ryszard Antolak