Is reading Hama Tuma reading Ethiopia?

By Andinet Melaku

I have come to know the Ethiopian writer and poet Hama Tuma with time.  I don’t know if Hama Tuma is his real name or his pen name but knowing the person in his works is far more important than that . This writer who is known as the great satirist in Ethiopian literary history, is indeed worth reading. It was a friend of mine who first introduced me to the works of Hama Tuma. I did actually heard about the writer’s name and a bit about his political writings from one of my theater professor in Ethiopia but it was my friend here in America who encouraged me to check one of his book. At first I was a little reluctant, I don’t know what actually was in my mind. May be it was a part of my Ethiopian paranoia that the writer himself deeply addressed and for that matter philosophized in one of his essay .

It is true that his name sounds a little unfamiliar in Ethiopia. By that I don’t mean his popularity but just the uniqueness of his name by itself somehow made me two think two times before reading any of his book.On one hand I would like to think this sort of causation or my fear if you say,has much to do with my Ethiopian background , on the other hand when I think of my Ethiopian friend first reaction to the name Hama Tuma, I would rather like to differentiate my exaggerated reaction . The writer’s unique name for my friend served in positive way . It ignited his curiosity to know who the write really is. My friend is even thankful for the writer’s name. As he sometimes says without the name Hama Tuma , he wouldn’t know the man Hama Tuma. It was the writers name that first got his attention. I seemed rather puzzled by the writers name for some time .I may not able to point out the reason quite well as Hama Tuma did in one of his essay entitled “Of paranoia and the Ethiopian psyche”. In this remarkable essay, the Hama Tuma touches my unconscious being and in doing so he transcend it to a conscious one.

As a student of theater , I had the privilege to study about the Ethiopian literature to some extent. However I found Hama’s writing style a little different . I don’t claim he is the best among Ethiopian writes both in the past and some of the contemporary writers both in Ethiopian and in diaspora . However I can tell that his approach of the Ethiopian literary trend is original and no doubt one of the best.  Here is one of the fascinating theme that I find in Hama’s writing. He tries to understand what the whole Ethiopian social and cultural mentality looks like.I believe the writer has a respect for the Ethiopian and the Eastern point of view in general but he would like to integrate it with the western individual identity.However his ironic and somehow sarcastic perspective of these two worlds in his satire writing sometimes contradicts the vision he has . The good thing is he makes you laugh whenever he does that. No matter how it looks and sounds at first it can be said that Hama Tuma’s pen is a painting in the making of an Ethiopian state of mind. Until recently I thought of Hama tuma point of view both politically and literary very pessimistic.It took me to read and to reread one of his book to see the reason behind his pessimistic point of view. That I did and within the realm of that I baptized my self under the blessing of a new Ethiopian literary Genius.

Published in: on June 14, 2008 at 10:17 am  Comments (11)  
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  1. I 1st read Hama’s book in French, a translation of one of his trilogy on Politically Incorrect africa. What had captivated me was the preface written by Antoine Glazer, a famous French journalist specialized in african political reality. Antoine says that Hama tuma has the unbearable freedom of those who have nothing to lose…etc and amny more wonderful appreciations. At the end he says “May you live in exile forever”..i am still looking for his amharic novel “Kedada Cherekka” which is based on fantasy. The second book I read was “The Socialist Witch Doctor and other stories” about the Derg’s absurd and repressive years. Thank you for sharing your literary interest

  2. Few years back and while I was still in Ethiopia I went one Saturday morning to the second hand book dealers behind the National Theater. In one of the cubicles (aka Arkebes’ shops) one chubby boy was reading a photostated booklet with a bottle of coke on his side and a bunch of Chat in his front. Reminded of my young days, I watched him from a distance while he was nibbling the tip of the freshly cut leaves. While browsing through the bookshops, I slowly narrowed my distance toward him. I thought for the moment that he was reading “Ye Kidus Markos Wongel”. I remember during my childhood reading the amharic version of “Kidus Markos Wongel” with eagles on its front cover. I thought I saw the same picture on the book. Curious I asked him what book he was reading.
    “ is a wonderful book by Hama, it is called Habesheigna” he said slowly un planting his eyes from the book.
    “Who is Hama?” I said out of curiosity.
    “ I have no idea but some people said he is a political leader” he said with a ball of Chat in his cheeks. Then he continued…’you must read it” and handed me over the Photostat copy. I went through one of the poems ..”Firhat” and asked him then and there to sell it to me.
    “No Gashe this one is not for sale” he said with a funny grin on his face. This was quite odd for me. He was there to sell books and now he was telling me that this was not for sale. I want the book and if I pushed it hard he would soon pile a good price on it. So with an intent that expressed lack of interest on the booklet I kept on looking other books and left him. I was expecting a call ..”Gashe…Yewesedut”. But none came.

    I have that un finished business of childhood. I won’t let things go if I want them badly. So reluctantly I retracted my steps, this time to plod him hard to sell me by offering him good money. The boy was not impressed much by the money I offered as he was by my interest. We finally reached agreement to make a photocopy of the Photostat booklet. Since then many photocopies have come to go from that original photocopy….this was my first introduction to the writings of Hama and I owe it to the chubby boy.. God works in a mysterious ways… While driving home tears comes to my eyes and I remembered many of my friends who were martyred. They have the same zeal and tenacity….the image of that boy reading the poem ..reminded me of the many faces of young Ethiopian who have sacrificed their life to their country…They were sitting like him with a bunch of chat…and discussing their dreams for their country….

    Few months back I went back to Ethiopia and visited my plump bookseller. Surprisingly I found him in the same pose. He greeted me with warm affection and then I asked him if he has the copy…and to my surprise…he produced the ‘original’ Photostat copy and gave me one of his big banana smile. He kept his word…the booklet was not ‘meant’ for sale….

    It is all my wish for somebody to come up with an academic critique on Hama’s writings. His anti-formalism, his free style, his free blending of the Ethiopian poetic writing with that of the western are points that could trigger the interests of academicians. His passion for his country and his philosophical underpinnings are points of interest for literary treatises. His focus on sex and politics as in “The case of the criminal walk and other stories” is a good substantive work for the psychoanalytically oriented critique….

    Ke Akberot Gar

  3. Hama Tuma has written many books that are of interest to many.My favorite is Kedada Chereka in Amharic,a fantasy political genre that should be analyzed by capable critics.

  4. Fekerte GH

    I am one of the admirers of Hama Tuma;but I have not read any of his books. I know him just here online.

    Would you please contact me at to send me a copy of the original photocopy that you got from this enigmatic chubby boy? I promise to cover the full cost including some bonus in gratitude!

  5. I know about Hama Tumma but I only read one book can someone list all his books.

  6. BeleteM14: Just log in to the following website:

  7. I don’t know what “reading Ethiopia” is supposed to be like [I try to read the writer most of the time, see the world “according to him”, so to say; coz that’s the only original thing anybody can bring into anything). But I like Hama Tuma from what i read in his blog & in various newspapers in addis.

  8. The case of the socialist witch doctor and other short stories is, in my opinion, one of the best works of literature by an Ethiopian writer.

  9. hamas 1 of my best writers.i hv an unsatiable crave 4 his al startd with da case of da prsn monger in my highscls days.frm den on i read anytin in his nam.though books bit rare here in kenya.anyway,who cares 4 da new milenium?

  10. It is a good idea . I like the way Andinet writes

  11. I am doing research on Tuma at the moment. I too would be glad to receive a copy of the photocopy.

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