Accepted paper:

The Evolving Social Role Of Amharic Oral Poetry In Contemporary Ethiopia: Azmari, Fukkära And Qärärto In The 21st Century


Sara Marzagora (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

The paper maps out the status of Amharic oral literature research, and analyses the challenges and opportunities faced by Amharic oral literature in 21st century Ethiopia. The focus will be on two genres of praise poetry (fukkära and qärärto) and on the figure of Ethiopian professional singers (azmari).

Paper long abstract:

Throughout the continent, debates around the fate of oral literature are extensive; pessimistic positions coexist with more optimistic ones. The paper relates these pan-continental debates on the future of African oral traditions to the case study of Amharic oral literature. Most genres of oral poetry in Amharic have non-professional performers alongside professional ones, azmaris. Azmaris are specialised singers, experts in various types of songs (work songs, funeral songs, wedding songs) and able to immediately “apply gə’təm [poetic verses] to a melody and sing or recite a song on a given subject” (Lykowska, 2005:778). Azmaris are commonly described as the main repositories of the Amharic oral heritage and they are generally recognized to have played a significant role in the history of the country. Among the genres performed by azmaris, two appear to be the most prestigious, popular and liked by the public: fukkära (heroic recitals) and qärärto (war songs). They are two forms of praise poetry, which the azmari usually performed in times of political or military conflict. Both the genres of fukkära and qärärto and the figure of the azmari have underwent significal changes in the last decades. The paper will assess these changes, mapping out sociological aspects of Amharic oral literature and their evolution in history.

panel P031
The evolving social role of oral literatures in 21st century African communities