Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Excerpt From Kapuscinski’s ‘The Emperor’: On a Feudal Africa Kingdom and a Philosophy of Class Oppression

Extract taken from The Emperor, Downfall of an Autocrat, Ryszard Kapuscinski, 1983, Vintage International (English Translation).

Part III: The Collapse 

How, then, is one to confront this threatening creature that man seems to be, that we all are? How to tame him and daunt him? How to know that beast, how to master it? There is only one way my friend: by weakening him. Yes, by depriving him of his vitality, because without it he will be incapable of wrong. And to weaken is exactly what fasting does. Such is our Amharic philosophy, and this is what our fathers teach us. Experience confirms it. A man starved all his life will never rebel. Up north there was no rebellion. No one raised his voice or his hand there. But just start to let the subject eat his fill and then try to take the bowl away, and immediately he rises in rebellion. The usefulness in going hungry is that a hungry man thinks only of bread. He’s all wrapped up in the thought of food. He loses the remains of his vitality in that thought, and he no longer has either the desire or the will to seek pleasure through the temptation of disobedience. Just think: Who destroyed our Empire? Who reduced it to ruin? Neither those who had too much, nor those who had too much, nor those who had nothing, but those who had a bit. Yes, one should always beware of those who have a bit, because they are the worst, they are the greediest, it is they who push upward.

The EmperorThe Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say this wasn’t an easy read but it was certainly a worthwhile one. Other GR members have written very comprehensive reviews so won’t repeat what has been adequately said. In summary Kapuściński’s journalistic nose is definitely attuned to the investigative.
Goodness knows how far he went in his efforts to interview such a wide selection of people, many intimately connected with the palace of emperor (Haile Selassie). Probably the best passage for me is his account of a feast for dignitaries, of how the plates pass out of the palace banquet along a chain of waiters to a distant kitchen and the sighing of the hungry masses who feed on the scraps passed to them. This description of the collective is possibly one of the most evocative I can ever recall.
Credit must also be given to the nameless interviewees who he denotes simply by initials. The book would not have been possible without them. I suspect Kapuściński infused the interviews with his own writing style. One gets the sense after reading a number of consecutive chapters. This is not to detract from the readability or authenticity of the tale in any way.
In conclusion a very interesting read of a medieval kingdom and it’s omnipotent demagogue that withstood the tide of the 20th century for 8 miraculous decades before it’s (and his) inevitable demise.
For another great excerpt read this post: https://leopassi.wordpress.com/2016/0…

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