Russian literary interest in Ethiopia has long centered largely on the belief that the African country was the place of origin of Russia’s most famous slave: Ibraham Hannibal, posthumously renowned as the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin. The poet first told the story of his believed Ethiopian ancestor in an unfinished seven-chapter novel, entitled Arap Petro vilikogo (St. Petersburg, 1829). This title was frequently translated in English as the “Moor of Peter the Great”, as in J. Buchan Telfer’s Russian Romance (London, 1875). No scientific inquiry into Pushkin’s Ethiopian/African ancestry was however carried out until it was probably too late to attempt oral research.
Russia, because of its Orthodox Christian heritage, displayed sympathy with Menilek in his resistance to (Catholic) Italy’s imperialist pretentions. This resulted in the late 19th century exchange of envoys between the two countries, and the dispatch of a Russian Red Cross Mission to Addis Ababa. All this was to be reflected in subsequent highly political Russian literature of late Soviet times.
Russian literary interest in Ethiopia was largely initiated at the turn of the century by the Russian author Pytr Nikolaevich Krasnov, who wrote a notable travel book, Kazaki v Afrike; dnevnik nachal’nika konvoia Rossiiskoi imperatorskoi missii v Abissinii v 1897-98 godu, i.e. ‘”The Cossacks in Africa. The Diary of the Commander of the Escort to the Russian Imperial Mission to Abyssinia in 1897-98” (St. Petersburg, 1899). He was subsequently inspired by his Ethiopian experience to write the first Russian novel related to Ethiopia. It was entitled Liubov’ Abissinski (Terunesh), (Berlin, 1921). i.e. “The Love of an Abyssinian Woman” (St. Petersburg, 1903).
Krasnov’s literary career came to an end when as a monarchist and a White Russian he led the Don Cossacks against the Bolsheviks. Several of his short stories set in Ethiopia were however later published in post World I Germany, in Terunesh , Aska [sic] Mariam: povesti (Berlin, 1921), i.e., “Askale Mariam: Short Novels”.
Subsequent Ethio-Soviet contacts in the post-World War II period resulted in the publication of four state-favored Russian novels, featuring the above-mentioned history of Russian-Ethiopian contacts. The first was Volodymyr Ivanovych Synenko’s Strana Ofir: istoricheskii roman (Moscow, 1960), i.e, “The Land of Ofir: An Historical Novel” which told the story of the early Russian traveler E.P. Kovalevskii. Two other Soviet works deal with the Adwa war and the support Ethiopia received from the Russians. One was N.N. Kit’ian’s Zemecha, i.e. the Amharic name for an Expedition (Rostov-on-Don, 1966); the other was a children’s book, by Iu. Davydov, O druziakh tvoikh, Afrika, i.e. “About your friends, Africa” (Moscow, 1962). A fourth novel was E. Golubev’s Uale Alemu nakhodit druzei: prikliuchencheska povest’ (Kostroma, 1963), i.e. “Wake Alemu finds some friends” which recalled the Russian Red Cross mission of 1896-7.
SWEDISH and DANISH
Diplomatic, scholarly and missionary contact between Ethiopia and Scandinavia led to the publication of several literary works in Sweden and Denmark.
Ten Swedish poems by Dr. Evvind Bratt, the Swedish chargé d’Affaires in Addis Ababa, were published in an attractive volume, entitled Arcadia Ethiopica (Stockholm, 1961) They were illustrated by an old friend of Ethiopia, Biörn von Rosen. This was followed by the publication of Anna Riwkin-Brick’s book of black and white photographs of Ethiopia, entitled Gennet bor Ethiopien (Stockholm, 1967), i.e. “Gennet lives in Ethiopia”.
A notable Danish woman writer of juvenile literature at this time was Cecil Bodker, who was invited by a compatriot, Gunner Paulson, a forestry expert, to “write a novel” set in Ethiopia. Complying with this request she produced two literary works: Leoparden (Copenhagen, 1970) and Dimma Gole: en foretelling om en ethioperdreng (Copenhagen, 1970), i.e. ‘Dimma Gole The Story about an Ethiopian”. Both works were almost immediately also published in Swedish,
The life of the 19th Century Swedish Protestant missionary Johan Carlsson provided the background to two literary works by a Swedish author Kai Henmark. They bear the sub-title En resa i det kristna spraket, i.e. “a Journey in the Christian Language”.
Dr L. Zagill was an early 19th century Polish traveler to Egypt, who, becoming interested in Ethiopia, wrote an entirely fictitious travelogue of a supposed journey to that country. Written in Polish it appeared in his Podróz History czna po Abjssyni (Vilno, 1884). He was long considered the first Polish visitor to Ethiopia until his deception was revealed by his later-day compatriot Stanislaw Chojnacki of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, in 1964.)
A fictional account of Ethiopia’s Armenian community by William Semerjibashian was published in his “Ethiopian Sketches” in the journal Ararat, 1981, XXII, no 3, Pp 22-34.