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THE POWER OF THE TEXT: Ge’ez: An Ancient Ethiopic Script in Prince George’s County, Maryland . Janet Chernela, Bethany Applebaum, Amy Carattini, Rachel Menyuk, Noelle Haile, and Shoshi Weiss (U Maryland). Ge’ez: An Ancient Script Preserved Through Time. Ge’ez: An Ancient Script.

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THE POWER OF THE TEXT: Ge’ez: An Ancient Ethiopic Script in Prince George’s County, Maryland

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The power of the text ge ez an ancient ethiopic script in prince george s county maryland l.jpg

THE POWER OF THE TEXT:Ge’ez: An Ancient Ethiopic Script in Prince George’s County, Maryland

Janet Chernela, Bethany Applebaum, Amy Carattini, Rachel Menyuk, Noelle Haile, and Shoshi Weiss

(U Maryland)


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Ge’ez: An Ancient Script Preserved Through Time


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Ge’ez: An Ancient Script

  • Ge’ez (ɡɨʕɨz), also known as Ethiopic, is a Semitic language that developed in the horn of Africa. It was the official language of the Kingdom of Aksum and the Ethiopian imperial court. It was a spoken language until the tenth century.

  • Versions of Ge’ez formed the languages of present-day Ethiopia: Tigrina in the north and Amharic in the south.

  • A written form of Ge’ez was preserved specifically for religious purposes.


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Ge’ez: A Written, But Not Spoken, Language

  • Ge’ez is an alphasyllabary script, called an abugida, in which a character represents a consonant and a vowel together. This is different from alphabetic script, where each character denotes one sound -- either a consonant or a vowel.

  • Ge’ez has 26 main symbols. Some Ge’ez symbols appear to be pictographic, such as the symbol for house, while others are phonetic – indicating sound.


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More on Ge’ez

  • Ge’ez characters also carry numeric values; the numeric system reaches the number 5600. The symbols can also be organized into a calendar of one-half year or one equinox, with months of 30 days each.

  • Unlike other Semitic scripts that are written right-to-left, Ge’ez is written left-to-right.


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Today, Ge’ez is the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

This Ethiopian Orthodox Church is in Prince George’s County, Maryland.


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Debre Genet Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

This is the entrance to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Temple Hills, Maryland.


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Debre Genet Medhane Alem, founded in 1978, has 600 members.


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African immigrants are among the newest citizens of Maryland.

  • There are about 400,000 African born residents in the US.

  • Nearly 70% of Africans living in the US today arrived within the past 25 years.

  • Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area (including Maryland and Virginia suburbs) is site of the largest concentration of African immigrants in the country.

    • Ethiopian immigrants constitute largest subset, 18,000 people.


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Ethiopian Immigrants in Maryland

Of the 18,000 Ethiopian immigrants in the Washington, D.C. Area,

over half (10,712) reside in Maryland.


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Ethiopian Community and Church Location

Church Location


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The Power of the Written Word


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In this community, written texts have a special importance.


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Ethiopian scriptures are written in Ge’ez. They combine New and Old Testament texts.


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The Ethiopian Holy Scriptures in Processions

Ethiopia

Maryland


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Another Sacred Ethiopian Text: The Kebra Nagast

  • The Kebra Nagast (also Kebra Negast) is a sacred book of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. In English it is called The Book of the Glory of Kings.

  • The Kebra Nagast was first written in Coptic. It was later copied by hand into Arabic, and finally, into Ge’ez.

  • In its present form, the Kebra Nagast is at least 700 years old.


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The Kebra Nagast Text and the Arc of the Covenant

  • According to the Kebra Nagast, the Arc of the Covenant with the tablets received by Moses on Mt. Sinai, was taken from Jerusalem to Ethiopia by Menelik I.

  • This is an important foundational text for Ethiopians.


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The Covenant: A Sacred Text

Replicas of the powerful text are carried throughout Ethiopia in processions of the important Tabot ceremony.


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The Covenant: A Sacred Text

A replica is also carried in the Tabot ceremony in Maryland.

Tabot procession, EthiopiaTabot Procession, Maryland


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Musical Texts

Liturgical music written in Ge’ez, requiring lessons and memorization, is part of the religious service.


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A screen projects song texts in three languages: Ge’ez, Amharic, and English


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The Mahlet [This will be the VIDEO]


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The Power of Writing: Similarities and Differences

  • The way Ge’ez is preserved for religious texts is similar to the way Hebrew was kept as a written language when it was not spoken. Hebrew was revived as a spoken language after 1600 years.

  • Latin, another language that is written but not spoken, has a special role in religious and legal matters.

  • Ge’ez is kept alive by a specialized priesthood that is able to read it and to write it.


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Who We Are

Noelle Haile, Amy Carattini, Bethany Applebaum, Shoshi Weiss


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We Thank Reverend Zebene Lemma

Rachel Menyuk and Reverend Zebene Lemma


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Bibliography

Adugna, Gebeyehu

1998. African Immigration in the Modern Era. College Park: Center for Information Policy, University of Maryland.

Arthur, John.

2000. Invisible Sojourners: African Immigrant Diaspora in the United States. Westport: Praeger.

Bakhtin, Mikhail

Brandon, George. 1997. Yoruba. In American Immigrant Cultures: Builders of a Nation. David Levinson and Melvin Ember, eds. New York: MacMillan

Bucholtz, Mary

1996 Cultural Performances: Proceedings of the Third Berkley Women and Language Conference April 1994. Berkley: Berkley Women and Language Group, University ofCalifornia.

Chacko, Elizabeth

2003. Ethiopian Ethos and the Creation of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Journal of Cultural Geography. 20 (2): 21-42.

Chambers, Erve.

2006. Heritage Matters: Heritage, Culture, History, and the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland: Sea Grant Publication.

Eckert, Penelope

2000 Linguistic Variation as Social Practice: The Linguistic Construction of Identity in Beltin

High. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Holmes, Janet & Miriam Meyerhoff

1999 The Community of Practice: Theories and Methodologies in Language and Gender Research. Language in Society 28(2): 173-183.


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Bibliography

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara

1995. Theorizing Heritage. Ethnomusicology, 39(3): 367-380.

Lave, Jean & Etienne Wenger

1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge. University Press.

Oral and Written Transmission in Ethiopian Christian Chant

Shelemay, Kay Kaufman; Peter Jeffery; Ingrid Monson

1993 Early Music History, Vol. 12. pp. 55-117.

Speer, Tibbett. 1994. The Newest African Americans aren't Black. American Demographics 16(1):9-10.

_____ 1995. A Cracked Door; U.S. Policy welcome's only Africa's brightest and richest. Emerge 6(9):36.

Turner, Victor

1986. Dewey, Dilthey, and Drama: An Essay in the Anthropology of Experience. The Anthropology of Experience. Edited by Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Burner. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 33-44.

Wenger, Etienne

1998. Communities of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge Univesity Press.

Wilson, Jill.

2003. African Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington: A Demographic Overview. Presentation to the African Immigrants and Refugees Foundation. Nov. 18.

Worku, Nida

2007. African Religious Beliefs and Practices in Diaspora: An Ethnographic Observation of Activities at an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church in Los Angeles. African Immigrant Religions in America. Edited by Jacob K. Olupona and Regina Gemignani. New York: New York University Press, 207-226.


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Photo Images and Acknowledgments

All photographs in Maryland were taken by our research team.

Ethiopia photo images from www.brigish.com/wazee/ethiopia/legend.htm

www.selamta.net/Ark%2520of%2520the%2520Covenant

We wish to thank the Center for Heritage Resource Studies and the Department of Anthropology of the University of Maryland.

We can be reached atchernela@gmail.com, chernela@umd.edu


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