The Legacies of Sebhat Gebre-egziabher

Sebhat Gebere-egziabher is one of the literary figures in the history of Ethiopian literature who introduced a hitherto not-so-openly dealt with theme. He is also one of the literary writers who pursued their studies at some level in the West and got back to Ethiopia. The pieces he had written were only published as books before few years for he was just keeping a diary and never thought that they would assume the form of a book. Undeniably his works have grabbed the attention of his readership and fans.

Among other things, Sebhat is widely criticized for not writing as many books as he read. He is said to occupy the foremost position when compared to other literary writers who were known to have read a lot of books on an assortment of subjects. Simply, he was one hell of a bookworm. It makes one wonder, though, if Sebhat felt the responsibility to write in order to hand down the knowledge he garnered from books to the younger generations. Even the publication of the books that bear his name today was made possible by the pressure from others. All of his works mainly highlight sexual hedonism. This appears to be a deviation from the Ethiopian literature per se. However it doesn’t mean that sexual scenes and accounts are not found in other works authored by Ethiopian writers other than him-only not in such a straightforward fashion as in Sebhat’s narratives.

Apart from his works, his world outlook and modus vivendi has seized the attention of his fans and followers in particular and the Ethiopian public in general. Today sebhat has more fans, followers, and critics than any other literary writer in the country. Have you ever wondered how he came to be an individual of such a persona at the moment and has become the persona grata that he is at the present?

In his biography written by Zenebe Wela, Sebhat said, “I got hold of liquor, and counted it without savoring it.” Apparently Sebhat’s life had detoured when he broke up with his first wife, Hanna. Prior to this mishap, he had been a total teetotal, non-smoker, non-Khat chewer dandy. A chap you would, by Ethiopian standards of the day, refer to as a ‘demure journalist’. The termination of his wedlock with Hanna put him on an absolute u-turn. He was perplexed, so to speak, lost grip on life, and embarked on a way of life contrary to the one he had previously pursued. He didn’t see this coming at all and thus couldn’t figure the state of affairs that befell him. Eventually Sebhat became less of a journalist and more of a philosopher. For he was no more required to tally with standards set by Hanna, he adopted the principle of being ‘oneself’ in life.

The majority of his followers and fans don’t seem to be aware of this turning point in his life. Had he not lost his beloved Hanna, he would not have had the personality he has today. In any event, Sebhat didn’t join this path out of his own volition but he was compelled by circumstances he happened to stumble upon in his journey of life.

Do the yoof have to follow his example then? Should we take him as a model? It is pretty questionable. He has made clear on several occasions that he hasn’t ever done anything with the intension of setting an example of any sort whatsoever for the young generations.

Maybe compared to his own friend and colleague, Bealu Girma, who departed this life at a rather early age, Sebhat has not produced as much in more than half a century in the sphere of literature. He knows his literary pieces are not that historically, politically or even epistemologically enlightening and has kept on warning the younger generations not to follow his example. All the same, there is no denying that fact that he has had a great influence on his admirers. “I have never asked anyone to follow me but if anyone wants to, it is absolutely their right,” says Sebhat. “If anyone out there thinks the youth have done wrong and are going astray by following my example, why don’t they do better things and win the youth over to their side?” It makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet anyone as popular as him cannot avoid being looked up to in one way or another.

The reality, however, is that Sebhat’s works are full of sex scenes and accounts and whenever his name is mentioned anywhere, I am sure, sex pops up in minds of whoever happen to around. People have soft spot for sex and sex sells. Apart from that most people argue that his works don’t have much to offer than being mere erotica.
By Gubae Gundarta


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