Deacon Dawit Muluneh Tells the Untold History of Ethiopia in His Upcoming Book Hopeless Romantic
Recently, Ethiopia has been in the news cycle of major western media due to a spiral of civil unrest. Deacon Dawit Muluneh understands where the roots of this unrest originate. As a Ph.D. student of Ethiopian and Arabic studies, he has been educated on the true, untold history of Ethiopia, how it was re-written by exploitive ‘scholars’ to sow discord amongst groups in Ethiopia, and how that false narrative has sadly prevailed.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I was originally born in Ethiopia in 1988 and came to the United States at the age of seven. But as I grew up learning the American way of life, I never forgot my roots. I attended my local Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church’s Sunday school every week wherein I was able to gain lifelong lessons which I still apply to this day. Needless to say, Sunday school had a profound impact on my life. Unfortunately, I was briefly estranged from my local parish church when I attended college at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech) which was several hours drive from my town. Upon receiving a Mechanical Engineering Degree in 2011, I was able to go back to my childhood church and begin to teach Sunday school classes. However, the strain of serving at my church while managing a career at my new position as a Patent Examiner at the Patent and Trademark Office was deemed to be cumbersome. Wanting to focus my time fully on service, I decided to quit my job, sell my house, car, and other belongings, and head over to a monastery in Ethiopia - Debre Libanos Monastery - for a year and a half to learn the traditional teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. My hope was to come back to the states after my education and be able to serve my community to a full capacity. Having completed my traditional education, I came back as planned but was surprised to discover a graduate program at Catholic University that encompassed Ethiopian Studies. Wanting to further expand my knowledge about Ethiopian customs and culture I decided to join the program, where I currently find myself today. Since I have joined the school, I have been trained in the ancient language of Ethiopia (Ge’ez), Arabic, Coptic, and Greek. I am currently getting ready to take my Ph.D. compression Exams in both Ethiopic and Arabic Studies.
What led you to write the book, Hopeless Romantic: The Untold History of Ethiopia?
For the past few months, Ethiopia has found its way into mainstream media (like CNN, FOXNEWS, BBC, etc.) because of civil unrest that has taken place in the region. Unfortunately, this has led many friends, family, church members and so much more to be divided among themselves. Seeing all this inspired me to do something to help the nation heal. But what?
Coincidently, as I was preparing for my Ph.D. exams in Ethiopic studies, I came across findings that I found to be enlightening. Far from what many think about Ethiopia, this nation was once a major empire that was even compared to that of Rome’s empire. Having learned about the mightiness of Ethiopia, I thought it would be of benefit to briefly shift the conversation from the divisive issues we currently find ourselves into that of a unifying subject: The mighty tale of Ethiopia.
You are a student of Ethiopic Studies. What is the most surprising thing you've learned so far?
Learning about Ethiopia’s great empire was indeed surprising. However, I was more troubled to learn this great history of my forefathers was stolen by Italian fascists who entered the region in the 1920s and 1930s. These colonizers wanting to take natural resources like gold, platinum, copper, and ivory away from Ethiopia sent war strategists, like Carlo Conti Rossini and Enrico Cerulli, to study the indigenous and come up with methods to better exploit the region. These war-strategists, following the long-held slogan of “Divide and Conquer” advised the fascists’ regime to divide the people according to language, religion, and ethnic lines to better have control over them. Their strategy of how to accomplish this task was masked under the pretense of “scholarship” and “research.” Sadly, the war strategists’ findings were published and found their way into universities worldwide. As a result, present-day scholars are still primarily looking towards their works to learn about the history of Ethiopia. As expected, this phenomenon has given present-day scholars a skewed view of Ethiopians. Moreover, since the publications of the war strategists were designed to divide the people, present-day scholarship (which also depended on their work) has perpetuated further division in the country which in part has led to the current crisis in Ethiopia.
How have you grown spiritually since you began your studies?
During the turmoil in Ethiopia, I have relied upon my faith more than ever. I have learned how to put my trust in God, but more importantly, rely on His guidance in these unknown times.
What surprised you most about writing this book?
While writing this book I was surprised to learn how misinformed present-day Ethiopian Scholars are about Ethiopia. As I mentioned above, since they are relying on the information they have received from war strategists, their research often focuses on the aspect of Ethiopia that is divisive instead of elements that are unifying.
But perhaps a more alarming finding I found, was how present-day scholars shower war-strategists like Carlo Conti Rossini and Enrico Cerulli with accolades. Far from criticizing their work, leading scholars refer to them as being “great scholars” in the field.
Many in the west do not know a lot about the history of Ethiopia. What is one thing you would like for western readers to learn about Ethiopia after reading your book?
I would like Western readers to know that many of the misconceptions about Ethiopia that permeate the world likely stem from the findings of Ethiopian Scholars. Sadly, most of the Ethiopian scholars are non-Ethiopian Westerners and are primarily getting their information from sources that were intended to divide the country of Ethiopia. I believe this reality has had a severe consequence on the Western perception of Ethiopia.
If you could correct one misconception about Ethiopia, what would it be?
One misconception I would like to correct about Africa as a whole (and Ethiopia in particular) was/is a civilized nation. Especially during its zenith, it was considered to be one of the major empires of the world. The only reason it has not maintained its status is that, throughout history, foreign actors have changed the trajectory of the country by exploiting the region’s natural resources and by causing the local people to be divided among themselves.
Are you planning on writing another book in the near future?
Yes. Upon finishing my upcoming exams, I am hoping to conduct research about the influence of colonizers on the field of Ethiopic Studies and soon after publishing my result.
To learn more about Deacon Dawit Muluneh, click here.