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Wax and Gold
Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture
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This unique interpretation of Ethiopian society uses the tools of history, sociology, anthropology, and psychology to examine three main questions: What is the nature of the traditional culture of the Amhara, and what are its enduring values and beliefs? What aspects of modern culture interest this society and by means has it sought to institutionalize them? How does tradition both facilitate and impede Ethiopian efforts to modernization?
Using the insights and the tools of several disciplines, Professor Donald Levine looks on Amhara culture as history, as an outlook on life, a way of growing up, a social structure, a kind of psychological orientation, and, finally, as a “combination of opposites.” With acuity and sensitivity he describes the strains upon the traditional culture made by the needs for modernization and the problems which face young and old in making this rapid transition.
The author has found one key to Ethiopian society in its poetry, where the “wax” is the obvious meaning, the “gold” the hidden meaning. He finds reflections of this ambiguity at all levels of Ethiopian culture and holds that an appreciation of it is essential to understanding the problems facing Ethiopians in their movement toward modernization and their unique role among African nations. Since its first publication, forty years ago, Wax and Gold has became a basic source for the studies of Ethiopia and a provocative model for the study of African and other modernizing nations.
“[Levine’s] pioneering work, Wax and Gold, has become an Ethiopian classic. The very concept of Wax and Gold has taken a life of its own: it figures at once in our understanding of Ethiopia’s pre-modern culture and in our coming to grips with Ethiopia’s reception of modernity.”
- Andreas Eshete, President, Addis Ababa University
“Ethiopia’s abiding problem is the symbol of her autochthonous civilization with the demands of an uncompromising modern world. To the extent that she possesses a venerable culture of her own, problems of adjustment will here be graver than elsewhere in Africa. Nobody has yet described this dilemma, its origin, its magnitude and possible ways of resolving it with greater ability and understanding than Dr. Levine.”
- Edward Ullendorff, Times Literary Supplement
“Scholars who are interested in Ethiopia have waited several years for Levine’s Wax and Gold. Their reward is an erudite work which brings new insights into the culture of the Amhara,… and into the modernization of that country…. In all, there is a great amount of gold to be mined from Dr. Levine’s book, and one can only give it a most positive recommendation.”
-- Frederick C. Gamst, Journal of Development Areas
“For most readers sampling this book will be equivalent to discovering a new world.”
-- Joseph Bram, Library Journal
“In sum, those who are interested in the problems of modernization, either from an intellectual or a policy point of view, ought to read this book, for it is addressed precisely to that problem…. This is a rich and suggestive book that blazes a new trail in the study of modernity and in the sympathetic understanding of a complex traditional society.”
-- Nicholas S. Hopkins, Economic Development and Cultural Change
“Wax and Gold is the first book to take seriously the Ethiopian rhetoric of doubled meaning called samena werq. In setting up a framework for analyzing an African culture that implements one of that culture’s own philosophies, Levine was ahead of his time. Instead of bringing only Western tools to his project of thinking about modernization in Ethiopia, he adopted a profound Ethiopian system of signification.”
-- Wendy Belcher, author of Honey from the Lion: an African Journey
Donald N. Levine, is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Sociology and former dean of the College at the University of Chicago. For nearly half a century he has been devoted to Ethiopia—as a scholar, in university teaching, in providing expert assistance to various government bodies, and in community service on behalf of Ethiopians at home and abroad.
Levine's publications on Ethiopia include dozens of articles, parts of The Flight from Ambiguity: Essays in Social and Cultural Theory (1985), and two books, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture (1965), now reprinted by Tsehai Publishers and Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society (1974), a second edition of which, with a new preface was published, in 2001. An Amharic translation of this book (Tiliqitu Etyopya) was published in 2001 by the Addis Ababa University Press.
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