Hiruy diplomat and literary genius

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Blatengeta Hiruy Welde-Sellase

Hiruy Welde-Sellase was a leading intellectual and prominent politician of the Haile Sellase era. He managed to draw attention as his personality was shaped by both traditional and modern education. Hiruy, who is considered as a father of Amharic literature, baleqene, poet ,historian, diplomat, politician and linguist, novelist, among others, was born on 9 May 1879 (1st Ginbot 1871 E.C) in Merhabete,Denn Abbo Gedam( monastery) and died on September 1939 (Meskerem 9,1931 E.C) while in exile in Bath England. His talented father Welde-Sellase was appointed by Weyzero Bafena, a wife of Emperor Menilk II, to be the administrator of Denn Abbo Gedam. Ato Welde-Sellase too was born at Agerite in Merhabete and grew up in Menz. According to Molvaer ,Welde-Sellase ’s family came from Amhara-Saynt area in Wello.

Hiruy’s mother Weyzero Amet-Mariyam Zena was said to be related to Weyzero Zenebe-Werk, the mother of King Sahile- Sellase of Shewa. After birth, Hiruy had acquired baptismal or Christian name Gebre- Mesqel. At the age of seven, his illiterate father Welde-Sellase sent him to priest school. Because, he wanted his son to get the kind of education, that he was not able to get for himself.

His first teacher was Debtera Sine-Giyorgis. He learned to read and recite the Psalms in Geez in two years’ time. When Hiruy was 10 years old, his father took him to another Church school of Sire Medhane- Alem. In two months, Hiruy learned to sing Wuddase Mariyam, a small prayer book , which is used in Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. Hiruy showed rapid progress in his studies. He thought himself to write by copying the letters from manuscripts. His father, who wanted to find honor through the achievement of his son stayed with his son Gebre-Mesqel, to guide and supervise him.

However, Gebre-Mesqel and his father, Welde-Sellase suffered a lot from food scarcity during their stay at Sire Medhane Alem. Then Weyzero Tsehaye –Werq Darge, who was head of patron of Sire Medhane- Alem gave them regular supply of food. Then his father Welde-Sellase went to the famous monastery of Debre-Libanos and became a monk. But during this time, his health was failing. When Gebre-Mesqel became13 years, his father passed away. He was buried at Debre-Libanos. In 1881 E.C, following the perishing of much cattle hunger surfaced in the country. By this sad unfolding, Weyzero Tsehaye –Werq stopped supporting Gebre-Mesqel, who was studying to become a deacon.

Thanks to his writing skills, he wrote for others for payment and earned some money. Eventually, he was supported by a farmer, who had received some church land at a place called Yaya. He was also tilling a piece of land himself. When his income took a positive turn, he was able to buy a horse. Through this opportunity his fame spread throughout Selale. The governor of Selale ,Dejjazmach Beshah Wured was badly in need of a secretary. He found out that Gebre- Mesqel could write. He employed Gebre- Mesqel in that position. But Gebre-Mesqel did not stay long with Beshah Wured. Soon he became the follower (servant) of Qegnazmach Mequrech, who was the noble of Ras Mekonen.

Qegnazmach Mequrech,who lived at a place called Sino, near Ada Berga found Hiruy a very useful person who could handle registration when taxes and tributes were paid. When Hiruy discharged his duties efficiently, Qegnazmach Mequrech appreciated him and gave him the nickname of Yehonew Fire It literary meant a seed that has sprouted fruits, a smart son or an outstanding gentleman. While Hiruy was handling his tasks, the conflict between Ethiopia and Italy flared up. So, in June 1895( Sene 1887 E.C.) In preparation for the battle of Adwa, Emperor Menilek II proclaimed a general mobilization , advising the soldiers and their leaders to stand united as Ethiopians brushing aside their trivial differences.

Then, Qegnazmach Mequrech joined the campaign in Ras Mekonnen in 1896( 1888 E.C.) Hiruy accompanied him part of the way- from Metta near Beccho to the Awash River , then, returning to his master’s house. Hiruy continued to serve the church. After mastering traditional church education in Menz, and Selale , he joined the then famous school of Entotto Raguel Church. There, he meet with his teacher Memhir Welde- Giyorgis, who gave him the name Hiruy , by which he was referred to in history. Hiruy, who recently earned fundamental church knowledge from Debtera Sine-Giyorgis had acquired additional deep talent from Gebre –

 Giyorgis of Entoto Raguel church. There he learned Qene ( poetry ) aqua-quam, studied the interpretation of Wuddase Maryam and the 27 books of the New Testament with their interpretation.

In Entoto Raguel Hiruy has got the support of , Tsehafe-tiezaze Gebre sellase who was attracted by his liturgical service and aqua-quam skills and administrative tasks. Later, according to Kaplan ( 2007.21) Hiruy learned English at the Swedish mission school of Addis Ababa .Even he started taking some lessons in Arabic. But he had to abandon it in fear of rumors that he had turned to the Muslim faith.

He was also able to acquire fluency in French. Thus, his personality was shaped by both traditional and modern educations. During his study at Entoto, Hiruy was receiving 5 kg of grain plus 5 birr from the government each month. Also, he served as scribe and secretary to various people and earned about 7 birr a month for such services. What he earned was considered a« good income »at that time.

After he completed his education, he immediately began to work and earn regular salary, Hiruy wanted to marry the daughter of Tsehafe-tiezaze Gebre Sellase, but he was treated with a cold shoulder because of his poverty. Then he went to his village Denn Aboo Monastery and Agerit to find a wife. There, the 24 years old Hiruy found his would-be wife— a suitable girl Hamere, who was the daughter of qegnazmach Eshete.So the 16 years old Hamere and Hiruy got married on(May 25) 17 Ginbot 1995 E.C.

( Blatengeta Hiruy Welde-Sellase and his wife Weyzero Hamere Eshete )

When Hiruy was able to read a little English, he started dreaming of going to Europe .His chance to go to Europe came in connection with the coronation of George V,the kimg of England. As a secretary, Hiruy went to England with Ethiopian delegation that was led by Ras Kasa of Selale .After the coronation in London, they went to Oxford University, Paris, Rome, Alexandria, Cairo and Jerusalem. Then they returned to Ethiopia.

In 1909 E.C. Hiruy was appointed Director General of the Municipality and he performed many useful things. For example a map of Addis Ababa was prepared and a municipal tax was instituted during his time. When Ras Teferi went to Europe in Miazia 1996 E.C. Blata Hiruy Welde- Sellase went with him and again visited England, Egypt. Jerusalem,Paris,Belgium,Italy,Stockholm,Geneva and other countries and cities of Europe. Back to Addis Ababa ,he was appointed in1927( 1919 E.C). Special Advisor to his Highness the crown Prince ,Teferi Mekonen. After a year he was made Blatengeta , a title given to great scholars , who also had close connection to the palace. In (1927) 1920 E.C. he was appointed Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hiruy’s service and achievements were recognized and appreciated and registered in the Ministry of the Pen. In 1939(1931 EC) he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. During the Italian invasion of 1928E.C.Hiruy condemned the aggressive acts of Mussolini .He had also opposed the Emperor’s decision to go into exile, Anyways, he accompanied the emperor to England, where he died. After the end of the first world war, Hiruy visited the United States and England again under the leadership of Dejjazmach( later Ras) Nadew. Hiruy has left his mark on national life not only attentive civil servant, but also as a fruitful writer. Beyond his restless governmental tasks, Hiruy wrote and published different books which are based on history, travel ,diplomacy, geography.dictionary,linguistics,grammar,religion,novels,poetry,«advice » such as a secretary Tegsatsina mikir and so on.

Hiruy (1918 E.C) was a pioneer to collect and publish about 1100 pieces of Qene. In his collections, he included 57 Qene pieces which are found in the edition of I. Guidi. But he did nothing about translation. Blaten Geta Hiruy in his edition of Metshafe Qene(‘A book of Qene’) limited the verses of Geez Qene to 14 and gave explanations for each. However; the number of verses of Qene is not only 14, but 22.Hiruy wrote almost 42 books and booklets From these, Ethiopianna Metemma yeatse Yohannes tarik (1910 E.C.), Lelij mikire leabbat mettasebia (1910 E.C.) Wedaje Libbe ( 1904 E.C.).Destanna kibr( ( 1916E.C), Addis alem ( 1925E.C.) Yeatse Hayle Sellase achir tarike, Sile auropa menged ( 1916 E.C.),Tiru minch (1923E.C.), are mentioned.

Hiruy thus seems to have on an average one book per year for many years. In addition, he wrote books that have not published yet. He worked hard to make Amharic a better literary medium. His literally accomplishments won him international recognition , including honorary membership of the German Oriental Society in 1929 and during his exile in England following the Italian invention served as teacher of Amharic and Geez at the School of Oriental Studies.

The Ethiopian Herald Sunday edition October 20/2019

BY TADDELE GDLIE TSEGAYE ( PHD)