Literary Legend Sebhat Gebre-Egziabiher Passes Away
By Seble Teweldebirhan
Addis Ababa, February 21, 2012 (Ezega.com) - The legend of Ethiopian literature, the man who represented the liberal lifestyle for Ethiopia, the living library with answers for many questions, the one and the only Sebhat G/Egziabher died in Addis Ababa yesterday at the age of 76. He was at Bete Zata hospital for the last weeks, but his death was sudden and unexpected to the public.
Throughout his life he was one of the most controversial personalities in Ethiopia. The man, who always gets his way for writing and doing some culturally shocking things, is a hero and pioneer for many and embarrassment for some. He always was a daring soul, who never had a second thought for speaking his mind and stand for the things he believed in. For Sebhat, an axe has always been an axe and he did not sugarcoat no matter how offensive it might be.
In addition to his legendary status in Ethiopian literature, he is regarded as a philosopher who lined up his own theory for life. Sebhat has many followers who adore the way he viewed his world. His books are the reflection on how he understands culture, religion, sex and love. Sebhat is a naturalist writer who uses simple and straightforward terms. Though some question the significance of his writings for solid points like politics and economy, for anyone who reads them closely, they are more sophisticated and complex than they appear to be on a face value.
His books recorded some momentous life styles of Ethiopians in the 60s and 70s. If it weren’t for his remarkable books like Letume Aynegalgne and Tekusat the present generation would have been blind folded on how the previous generation perceived life and behaved at that time.
He is often criticized for spoiling the younger generation by his eccentric lifestyle. The criticism goes to the heart of his character that deviate him from conventional expectations on how to lead one's life. Sebhat, in practice did take life very easy and made fun of everything. Even when he talked about his own life, Sebhat used to make it sound humorous and showed that he has no boundaries whatsoever. Especially writing about sex, Sebhat in his books always used words and expressions that are sexually explicit and somehow offensive to the society. For the liberal youth who wish to differ from the strict rules of culture, his life style was a reverie.
Regardless, Sebhat always told the young not to follow his examples. As a person who believed everyone has his/her own personality to follow, he never required the youth to take up and become him eventually. However, once offended by the criticism, Sebhat said that those who disapprove his life style should come up with better lifestyle and win over the youth. “If anyone out there thinks the youth has done wrong and are going astray by following my example, why don’t they do better things and win the youth over to their side?” he asked sensibly.
Though he was celebrated than most famous people in the country, Sebhat never used his fame and status to get financial or material gain. He refused to be used by the media and any journalist would know how hard it was to get an interview with him. The fact that he had no interest to promote himself, probably promoted him more than he could ever imagine.
Whenever he is interviewed though, Sebhat was one of the very few who spoke their mind to the public. He was a man who did not pretend to be anyone other than himself and did not care whether the audience agreed with him or not. Fortunately, that is one of the many reasons Sibhat is loved and adored by many. By not trying to impress others, he impressed a whole nation.
The man was also considered as a living library. He read a lot and knew something almost about everything. His column on Addis Admas newspaper and on several other publications for the last several decades indicates that Sibhat was indeed a man of wisdom. That is probably why he has answers for any questions posed to him from any direction. As those who know him closely give their testimony, Sebhat regards his books as the only assets he had in the entire world. His suitcase, which he carries everywhere, was filled with books and it was considered as a trade mark of his personality.
One of the other criticisms on Sibhat is the fact that he did not write as many books as he could. Compared to his close friend Bealu Girma who died at early age but managed to write many books that have historical and political significance, some claim that Sebhat wasted half a century without putting his wisdom into real use. Even though the books he published influenced many, he was open about his disinterest in publishing his writings.
Many claim that he could have come with several books that might serve the younger generation a lot. As a man who was a bookworm with exposure to western education and of course as a person who witnessed the country going through several changes, he probably had a better opportunity, knowledge and material to do so. There are also some that criticize his published books for being all about sex and nothing more. Of course, the scenes of his books are dominated by explicit sexual obsessions.
However, it is important to remember that Sebhat was his own person and never considered himself as a leader and a hero in any front. He mentions several times about his discomfort when people consider him as a big deal. He was who he was by choice and he wasn’t a kind of person who abandons his way of life to impress society. Therefore, the criticism might not be fair from where he stands. It probably was not his fault if society is disappointed for the things he didn’t expect himself doing. In fact, it never looked like Sebhat failed his own expectations in any way. He remained content and satisfied with his own self. On the criticism for dominantly writing about sex, his answer was “I didn’t not write anything any of you never did or say”.
Sebhat was also a legend for his too modern love affairs. Recently, the man in his 70s announced to be in love with a woman in her early 20s. She is, according to Sibhat, the 8th women he ever loved. That shocked the public, but for those who knows and understood him, that wasn’t shocking at all. His interpretation of sex, love and lust was what made him a unique persona compared to his generation and the country's culture in general.
Sebhat was the one and the only of his kind for Ethiopia. For his fans, and for those who criticized him as an old pervert obsessed with sex, Sebhat did give a lot. In his entire life, despite the content of his speeches and writings, Sebhat showed the importance of being honest and true to himself. He is the only public figure the country has so far about making and following one's rules for own life. Sebhat, whether he was right or wrong, never lied and cheated the public, or pretended to be somebody else. His life was never dependent on the approval and the nod of the public. He had an opportunity to present himself as a decent public figure and defend his works. However he never did any of it. He did not disown his books and writings and was never ashamed of who he was no matter how hard people tried to make him so.
This by itself is a gift for the country and its people. In a society where pretending is the prevailing life style, Sebhat tried to show us we all are one of our kind and we should take pride for it. He did this by living it as an example.
At the age of 78, the legend who remained in the public eye for half a century died in Addis Ababa. Sebhat was born in Tigray region, in the historical Adwa town in 1928.
He has surprised and shocked the public several times for his sometimes ‘gone too far’ comments and opinions. His death is probably the last shocking news of his legacy.
Over the years, Sebhat published books like 'Letum Aynegalign' (I will not see the end of the night), 'Tikusat' (Fever), 'Sebategnaw Melak' (The 7th Angel), 'Ager Menged' (Advance), 'Mastawesha' (Memories), 'Amist Sidist Sebat' (Five Six Seven), and 'Yefikir Shamawoch' (Love Candles). In addition, he was a prominent columnist for several publications, including his recent writings for the weekly Addis Admas.
Sebhat, Rest in Peace!
Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for Ezega.com. She can be reached by sending email through this form.