Interview with Ethiopian philosopher G.E. Gorfu

Ethiopian Liqawoont
Poems, G.E Gorfu

Senamirmir:   We would like to congratulate you on your landmark work: "Gorfu Contra Nietzsche," and thank you for this interview. Can you briefly share with us about yourself, your family, and your occupation?

G.E. Gorfu:   I did my elementary schooling in Adwa and Asmara and attended High school in Evangelical College, Debre Zeit. After that I was trained as a technician on radio and telephony with the then Ethiopian Board of Telecommunications. In June 1974, I left for England and studied electrical and electronics engineering at NELP, (North-East-London Polytechnic University). Ever since, I have been active in Post Secondary Vocational Training, teaching and administering in various Electronics and Computer Technology field. I live in Los Angeles, California, with my wife, and my two children.

Senamirmir:   Did you ever get to attend the traditional church schooling (kess timhirt bet)? If you did, what influence did it have on your life?

G.E. Gorfu:   At the insistence of my father, Zemenfes Kidus Abraha, (Gorfu) I was sent to a traditional 'kess timihert bet' for two or three summers between school years. This was at about the time I was in the 4th and 5th grades. There, I was made to start at the very bottom with Ha, Hu, Hi... and had to re-learn the alphabet. I continued up to Melikte Yohannes, Dawit, and Wengel. That gave me a good foundation to build on and study the ancient language, Geez. When I grew up, I continued to study it on my own. Now, I am happy to say that I am able to read, understand, and even translate Geez. But, I don't, by any means, consider myself proficient, as a Geez scholar ought to be. My knowledge of Geez quene, for example, leaves much to be desired.

Senamirmir:   We will ask more about him under the "Ethiopian Liqawoont" thread later, but for now would you tell us a little about your father, Zemenfes Kidus Abraha (Gorfu), and what you have inherited from him?

G.E. Gorfu:   My father was a very interesting mix of a revolutionary/modernist, and a strict conservative/traditionalist. He was a self made man, who never had the benefit of a formal or modern education. His father had died when he was only thirteen, leaving him the responsibility of taking care of the family. But he studied all his life. I used to see him every night, and every opportunity he found, reading all types of books in Tigrinia, in Amharic, and in Geez, of course. He was also proficient in speaking Arabic, and Italian. He even taught himself to draw architectural drawings and blue prints of houses, which the professional architects would later use as the basis to refine on.

Senamirmir:   Your great grandfather, Haleka Tewolde Medhin Gebru, was a writer who authored theological books. Can you tell us about him?

G.E. Gorfu:   There is so much that can be said about this towering Tigrean intellectual giant, that I don't even know where to start. In his youth, he went to Asmara for some medical treatment and came in contact with Swedish Missionaries there. He was already a well known scholar and priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Much has been written about him, and can be found in the annals of the Swedish Mission records in Stockholm, but suffice it to say that he was sent to Sweden for a few years, where he studied Hebrew and Swedish. On his return to Asmara, he was commissioned by the Swedish Mission to translate the Bible into Tigrinia. Soon, he gathered a staff of about a dozen scholars, and he led and directed them in the first translation of the Tigrinia Bible by comparing from several original bibles in Geez, Hebrew, Amharic and Swedish.

Shortly after that, Haleka Tewolde Medhin returned to Tigray and started the very first 'modern' school in Ethiopia, where he opened a school, gathered some children and started to teach them reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Bible, of course. Before that time, all education was the sole task of the Church, and this new venture put him in direct conflict, and competition with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. For this 'crime,' and for associating with the Swedish Protestants, he was accused of being a heretic, arrested, tortured, and all his property confiscated on three consecutive times.

At the third time, for refusing to comply with the wishes of the authorities, Haleka Tewolde Medhin was sentenced to death. Twice, they took him to an infamous old warka tree in Adwa to be hanged, (a very common spot for hanging bandits, murderers, and criminals of similar caliber,) and twice he narrowly escaped death by miraculous coincidences. This was during the era when Lij Eyassu was being deposed and Negest Zewditu being crowned Empress, before Haileselassie consolidated his grip on the government. Tigray was being governed by Dejazmach Gebreselassie at that time, and his son, Dejazmach Tekle-Haimanot, was the ruler of Adwa. Once Haileselassie's position as the Crown Regent was secured, he passed a proclamation that no death sentence could be carried out without his knowledge and express permission.

That proclamation saved the neck of my great grandfather, Haleka Tewolde Medhin Gebru, from a certain death by hanging. The execution was stayed. Some five years later, Haileselassie reviewed, and dismissed the case. He also gave his permission for my great grandfather to continue teaching kids. Soon, my great grandfather was transferred with his students into the newly opened Queen Sheba Elementary School. He lived into his mid nineties. When I was a child, I used to sleep on an agoza on the floor in his bedroom, and because of his weak eyesight, I used to read him sections from various books and from the Tigrinia Bible of his own translation. He died some forty years ago, and I must have been twelve years old at the time, but I remember everything as if it was yesterday.

Senamirmir:   Adwa, your birthplace, has a unique place in our history. It was in Adwa, that Ethiopia defeated the invading Italian army in 1896. It is also the birth- place for some of the leaders in the current government. What is so mystic about this town?

G.E. Gorfu:   Adwa has a unique place in our history, in that our emperor, Menelik II, defeated the Italians there. The reason for that could be geographic in that it is a very strategic town well surrounded by many towering mountains, enclosing many wide and expansive plains, making it very suitable for many battlegrounds. As for your question about many in the present government being born there or anything 'mystic' about Adwa, I really don't know... Perhaps... could it have something to do with the fact that it is very close to the abode of the Arc of the Covenant, - Axum... Who knows?

Senamirmir:   You have published books and written articles and poems in more than one language. Would you tell us about them?

G.E. Gorfu:   In Amharic, I published a collection of poems, Gitim Alichebetim, and the first of a four-part novel, Nuro Zelzala. In Tigrinia, I published Gitmitat Hagerey, a collection of poems, four of which are of epic and mini-epic lengths. In English, I published two collections of youthful poems: Poems of Thoughts and Solitude and Wild Oats, my philosophical treatize: Gorfu Contra Nietzsche, and a dozen or so articles, in various magazines. I have some manuscripts including three booklets, "Ethiopian Fables" that were produced in cooperation with my kids, all-waiting to be published.

Senamirmir:   What is your favorite poem from your work? Would you grant Senamirmir permission to publish the poem with this interview?

G.E. Gorfu:   Becareful what you ask for, Senamirimir! I could grant you your wish, and you might not be able to carry it out. You see, my favourite poem happens to be one in Tigrinia. It is of epic length, and your website is mostly intended for English readers... Short of that, feel free to pick any poem you like. In fact, why don't you pick three short poems: one in English, one in Amharic, and one in Tigrinia, to grace your web-site?

Introduction   /   Close-Up  /   Philosophy   /   Ethiopian Liqawoont   /   Us   /   Resources   /   Home
© Senamirmir Project, 2002