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| 67 The Dead Speaking to the Living Religio-Cultural Symbolisms in the Amharic Films of Haile Gerima Tekletsadik Belachew T his chapter is an exploration of the religio-cultural symbolisms of Haile Gerima’s three Amharic fijilms, Harvest:3,000Years (1976), Adwa:AnAfrican Victory (1999), and Teza/Morning Dew (2008).1 In the past, most critics have failed to study these fijilms adequately for various reasons, often being unawareof theirpervasivereligio-culturalandoralfolkloricsymbolisms.Complete commentary on the symbolisms in the fijilms of Haile Gerima demands more space and time than provided here. Thus, a brief illustration of selected religio-cultural symbolisms will be made in conjunction with interpreting the deeper meaning of the fijilms using selected fijilmic texts, relevant theories, and interviews with the fijilmmaker and related Amharic oral and written literature.2 This chapter is divided according to diverse thematic structures of symbolisms. Before the discussion turns to the textual analysis of thematic structures of symbolisms, however, a brief intellectual and biographical introduction to the fijilmmaker and his work, inspirations, and methodological suggestions shall follow. 68 | Tekletsadik Belachew Haile Gerima Haile Gerima (b. 1946, in Gondar, Ethiopia) is an independent fijilmmaker, writer, director, producer, editor, pan-Africanist, philosopher, professor, and storyteller. He has been teaching fijilmmaking since 1975 at Howard University, Washington, D.C., and is based in the city. Gerima and his wife, Shikiriana Aina, who is also a fijilmmaker and fijilm professor, created the production company Negod-Gwad (which means “thunder” or “thunderstorm” in Amharic), Mypheduh Films (“sacred shield”inGe’ez),aswellasSankofaVideoandBooksacrossfromHowardUniversity, specializinginAfricanandAfricanAmericanfijilmsandbooks.Inhisoverfortyyears of fijilmmaking, Gerima has so far produced eleven fijilms: Hour Glass (1972), Child of Resistance (1972), Harvest: 3,000 Years (1976), Bush Mama (1976), Wilmington 10—USA10,000 (1978), AshesandEmbers (1982), AfterWinter:SterlingBrown (1985), Sankofa (1993), Imperfect Journey (1994), Adwa: An AfricanVictory (1999), and Teza (2008) (for broader fijilmography and bibliography on and by Haile Gerima, see Belachew 2013). However, the primary focus of this essay will be on Gerima’s three Amharic fijilms, Harvest: 3,000 Years, Adwa, and Teza. Gerima’s Amharic cinematic corpus does not come to exist outlandishly. Often Gerima credits his sensibility of cultural symbolisms in storytelling to his mother Mulu Basilios, a school teacher, and to his grandmother Hargewoine Tafere, as well as his father GerimaTafere, a priest, poet, playwright, dramatist, and historian (Berry, 2005) who, according to Gerima, is his strongest inspiration. The cultural symbolism the fijilmmaker inherited from his family and community mirrors both the oral and written literature of Ethiopia that has gone through transformation by way of Gerima’s cinematic innovation. A notable inspiration on Gerima is Ousmane Sembène, hailed by many fijilmmakers and critics as the “father” and pioneer of African cinema (see Dokotum 2008, 163–167; H. Gerima 2002, 259; Howard 1985, 28; Pfafff 1984; Sembène 1990). Sembène’s prominent inspirational role in Gerima’s fijilmmaking endeavor was voiced by Gerima as follows: “I’m a Sembène soldier. I believe in Sembène and his work showed me the way. I’m one of his cultural offfspring using a weapon that we call the camera” (H. Gerima 2000, 127). Also, he adds: When I saw [Sembène’s 1963 debut] Borom Sarret . . . I thought “Oh, I can make an Ethiopian fijilm! It doesn’t need to have an English script.” English is a very imperial language . . . you feel like all your characters have to speak it to be in a movie. I saw The Amharic Films of Haile Gerima | 69 Sembène’s fijilm, and that very same night I stopped writing my next movie Harvest: 3,000 Years in English and started writing it in Amharic. (Clark 2016, 61) Therefore, Sembène’s African-language fijilms encouraged Gerima to make fijilms in Amharic. The use of African languages is essential in conveying the cultural symbolisms in the corpus of fijilms that have become known as “African cinema.” Cultural symbolisms are deeply rooted in the specifijic sociocultural context of Ethiopia, pan-Africa, and the African diaspora. Gerima’s pan-Africanist intellectual and artistic inspirations include Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkurumah, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Ousmane Sembène, and Med Hondo. Also, his influences come in part from an interest in Third Cinema at UCLA and his membership of the socalled L.A. Rebellion movement. Teshome H. Gabriel, Ethiopian fijilm scholar and theorist on Third...


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