Earliest known biography of African woman translated into English

Portrait of Ethiopian Saint Walatta Petros. (via Wikimedia)

An account of the life of Ethiopian religious leader and saint Walatta Petros — the first known biography of an African woman — has been translated into English for the first time. The 17th century text describes how the Ethiopian noblewoman, who lived from 1592 to 1642, left her husband to lead the struggle against the Jesuits’ mission to convert Ethiopian Christians to Roman Catholicism. Her story was written down by disciples after her death in 1672, and has been “re-discovered” by Wendy Belcher, an associate professor at Princeton University, who translated and edited this first English version.

Belcher says she knew she “wouldn’t rest until I had translated this priceless work into English,” and learned the Gəˁəz language in order to do so.  “As a biography, it is full of human interest, being an extraordinary account of early modern African women’s lives — full of vivid dialogue, heartbreak, and triumph. For many, it will be the first time they can learn about a pre-colonial African woman on her own terms,” she said. One discovery she made in translating the work was what is the earliest known depiction of same-sex desire among women in sub-Saharan Africa — an aspect that had been left out of a 1970s Italian edition.The book has now been published by Princeton University Press as The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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