|April 24, 2015
A Lecture by Professor Wendy Laura Belcher, Princeton University
The 17th-century Ethiopian book The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Wälättä P̣eṭros features a life-long partnership between two women and the depiction of same-sex sexuality among nuns. The earliest known book-length biography about the life of an African woman, written in 1672 in the Gəˁəz language, it is an extraordinary account of early modern African women’s lives—full of vivid dialogue, heartbreak, and triumph. It features revered Ethiopian religious leader Wälättä P̣eṭros (1592-1642), who led a nonviolent movement against European proto-colonialism in Ethiopia in a successful fight to retain African Christian beliefs, for which she was elevated to sainthood in the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church.
An important part of the text is her friendship with another nun, Ǝḫətä Krəstos, as they “lived together in mutual love, like soul and body” until death. Interpreting the women’s relationships in this Ethiopian text requires care, but queer theory provides useful warnings, framing, and interpretive tools. The talk emerges out of Prof. Belcher’s work with Michael Kleiner to translate the text, which will be published in 2015 by Princeton University Press as The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Translation of a Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an African Woman. For a story about Prof. Belcher’s work on this text, go to http://discovery.princeton.edu/2012/12/02/the-life-of-an-ethiopian-saint/
Wendy Laura Belcher is associate professor of African literature in Princeton University’s Department of Comparative Literature and Center for African American Studies. She has been studying African literature for over two decades and is now working to bring attention to early African literature through her research and translation. She also studies how African thought has informed a global traffic of invention, recently publishing Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author (Oxford, 2012).
Sponsors: UO Center for the Study of Women in Society’s Gender in Africa and the African Diaspora, Department of Comparative Literature, and the African Studies Program.