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A book Review of Cultures that We must Preserve and Reject by Ghelawdewos Araia (Institute of Development and Education for Africa, Inc, 2008 

By Teodros Kiros

In the heat of the Nazi era, when brilliant Jewish scholars  feared for their lives, they moved to New York and settled at the world famous New School and developed what they appropriately called Critical Theory, and there they  developed an interdisciplinary study of the human condition and originated a critical theory of society. From then on, the tradition is popularly known as  the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory.

 In no small measure has Ethiopia’ s foremost educational theorist, trained at the prestigious Columbia University, a pioneer of his generation, successfully written a compact but powerful book, that has in its own way given us, Ethiopians, a critical theory of society that is simultaneously transcendence and appropriation. This work is a product of an exilic mind, forced to leave his homeland and seeking to examine the inner architectonic of its rich culture and political tradition with an enviable judiciousness and a measured criticality. Indeed, this work will be appropriated by the future generation as a foundational critical theory of an Ethiopian society, in the grand tradition of the Frankfurt school of critical theory of society.

 In a wave of tantalizing chapters, Dr. Ghelawdewos sublates the best insights of European literature and situates the Ethiopian contribution in the defining moments of world cultural traditions, political histories and sociological insights. There are twenty three chapters in the book which painstakingly analyze the Ethiopian cultural situation, beginning with an analytic examination of culture, moves on to a discussion of continuing and discontinuing cultural traditions, blackness and Africanity, peasant and urban cultures, the intellectuals, pretensions, rights, religious orientations, human rights, women’s condition, marriages and responsibility, acceptance of our mortality, hymns to nature, attention and respect of the environment, history, political culture, Ethiopian traditions, and finally, languages.

 Each of these facets of culture is studied, assessed with a remarkable judicious temperament and critical precision by drawing from a wide interdisciplinary reading, and display a very intelligent mind at work. The book is a manual which the young, the old, the middle-aged, and most particularly women, could consult as they are struggling to take care of themselves as cultural beings. He instructs all of us, in the manners of the great oriental sages, that culture is not static, and that culture is nothing more than the moral organization of the self, ones the self knows that its condition is disordered. Culture then is a moral intervention as the self-correction of the disordered soul. (P, 5).The core thesis, which bears the title of the book, is that cultures are historical givens, which can and must be changed when they outlive themselves, and disorder the soul (p,8). We must respect our cultures, the foundations of identities, but not when they deform our souls and become decadent (pp, 9-26).

In a penetrating and courageous chapter he advises women not to deny their sexual rights by allowing themselves to be circumcised but he also warns them to marry for love and not subject themselves to be treated as objects. Many women could become enlightened by reading chapters 11 and 12 and participate in a project of cultural healing. Chapter 4 is a truly brilliant discussion of death and mortality that every Ethiopian should read with particular care.

 The book ends with substantive presentation of Ethiopian cultural matters beginning with our history, a moving description of the Ethiopian landscape and detailed analyses of our languages.Cultures that we must preserve and Reject is a monumenta  achievement in our very own melodic language, Amharic, in a lucid, clear and engaging style.

 Every Ethiopian must read this book and make their children read this book so that they can root their Ethiopianity in a masterful understanding of their own culture. For constructive feedback, you can email to Kiros@fas.harvard.edu Teodros Kiros Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts)>Berklee College of Music