Traditional proverbs and riddles are an oral art form studied by a variety of scholars, and even more narrowly by proverbs scholars (not just Proverbs from the Bible, but proverbs from cultures around the world). A modern Amharic riddle is, “In every office, there is a crocodile on the desk.” The answer? Stapler.
Recently, three books containing thousands of Amharic proverbs and riddles were published. One of the books contains over 16,000 proverbs, which is the largest ever published. While these books are significant for understanding a part of Ethiopian culture, the books were not published with a traditional, academic publisher, and therefore have not attracted much academic notice.
DIU alumna Bitania Ze’amanuel, a native speaker of Amharic, and Professor of Applied Anthropology Pete Unseth, a proverb scholar, teamed up to remedy that lack of attention. Together, they reviewed the three books in a review article published in the journal Aethiopica, a journal about Ethiopian topics, published in Germany. Two of these books were written by a former student of Dr. Unseth’s at Addis Ababa University.
Each of these three books is notable. The first is by far the largest collection of proverbs from any language of Ethiopia. The second is the only available book that translates Amharic proverbs into English. The third is not only the largest collection of proverbs from any language in Ethiopia, it also presents a new form of indexing to make the riddles and their answers more useful to readers.
Studying Cultures at DIU
DIU offers graduate programs for those interested in proverbs, cultures, societies, language-in-society, and more.