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Tezkar - An Ethiopian pledge to remember

The Reporter (Addis Ababa)
November 9, 1999
by Makeda Ketcham

Addis Ababa - Makeda Ketcham, the writer and director of this 52 min. documentary film speaks about the moviie in this article. I have made five trips to Ethiopia in search of my Ethiopian roots. During that time I discovered that the history of the country was closely intertwined with that of my family.

My great-grandfather, Johannes Mayer, was a German Protestant missionary who, during the reign of Tewodros II, worked in Abyssinia and married there a native of the region of Wollo (Tenta), a lady named Sarah Negussie.

Jacob Mar, his son and my grand-father, studied in Germany and came back to Ethiopia around 1905 when Menelik II was ruling the country. He exercised various political activities in the fields of imperial adminstration and in private affairs until 1923, when he settled in Brussels, occupying a post in the Ethiopian consulate. He was condemned to exile by Haile-Selassie. His family settled in Paris, where he died in 1951.

From this period, his main legacy to his two daughters is a seal bearing his title of Lidj Engueda Work Ze Wollo, his writings on the legends and tales of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, which were commissionned by the empress Zawditu, as well as a collection of souvenirs which constitute the only link between his descendants and the land of his origins. Among them was a mysterious picture of my mother in her chilhood, bearing the legend that she is a descendant of King Mickael of Wollo.

My mother, Desta, was born in Europe and she never visited Ethiopia. But she lived with this legacy of memories transmitted by her father, building it into a magnified myth of hen land of origins. By these souvenirs from which she nurtured me, the objects and documents left by her father, certainly showing his deep acknowledge towards Ethiopia, by the forename of Makeda she gave me, she created in me this feeling that part of my identity was kept in Ethiopia.

Among these snatches of memory, which were created through the exile, an imaginary one of our origins, where is the reality?

Who were really my ancestors, and what did attract them to that land?

What was their course at the light of the historical times they crossed?

I will encounter this Ethiopian memory, through its historical aspects, background of the family history, through its popular aspects, the value of the memory of generations in the social and religious life, through its intimate form, the lineage of my Ethiopian ancestors and their descendants, my cousins.

Which echo will I find in the Ethiopia of today?

This process of reminiscences will take the shape of an itinerary on the locations where my ancestors lived, through the encounter of those who possess souvenirs of the time they have been through, where they were and what they left behind them.

The film retraces the history of my ancestors through contemporary Ethiopia. I follow in the footsteps of my family, searching for its past from the region of Gondar to Wollo, from Maqdala to Tenta, on the frescoes, in the memory of the people, listening to their sounds and to the songs of the azmaris (troubadours).

Are there still members of my family in Ethiopia? Will they remember those who have gone forever? And can I still celebrate Tezkar in today's Ethiopia, for my great grandmother and my great grandfather and their son, my grandfather, who all died in exile. If possible, that traditional ceremony, Tezkar, which comes from the root word Zekere, "to remember", will be both a mourning for the exiled and a reconciliation with the land of my ancestors.

Copyright (c) 1999 The Reporter. Distributed via Africa News Online ( For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.

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