ETHIOPIA by Barbara Nolen


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Ethiopia's enormously varied topography, ethnic and cultural heterogeneity, long tangled history -- all are clarified via selectivity and emphasis here; and Miss Nolen (editor of Africa Is People, 1967) extends herself to absorb and project life on Ethiopian terms, eschewing extraneous comparisons in most cases. Thus the pervasiveness of the Orthodox Church, its institutions and observances, whether collective or individual; parental arrangement of status-suitable marriages; the ubiquitous shamma, a national dress that meets national needs, and the similarly expedient bare feet (when much was made of a marathon-runner's barefoot Olympic victory, the Ethiopians were bemused). Moreover, ""in a climate suitable for outdoor living, only the simplest houses are needed"" -- and this is the rare book that does not call a hut a shack. Also well developed are agriculture and marketing: we learn, on the one hand, that markets are deliberately located 10 to 15 miles apart ""so that a farmer will always be able to reach one of several open on different days of the week,"" and on the other hand that the Ethiopian economy, dependent on coffee export, goes up and down with U.S. prices. The small and the large but chiefly the positive and the apolitical -- for the one serious deficiency is the neglect not so much of problems as of issues: altogether ignored are the retardataire pattern of land ownership, the restiveness of the educated young, the active rebellion in Eritrea, and Hailie Selassie's absolutism (cloaked under ""constitutional monarchy""). The requisite topics are handled sensibly, even sensitively, and interestingly (much more so all 'round than in the Land and People entry); what rankles and chafes is hardly touched.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1971
Publisher: Watts