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A brief guide to the Hatetas

October 22, 2013

In this short blog post I’ll try to shade a light on the works of Zera Yaqob, the Philosopher and his dispel, Welde Hiwot as well some of the selected commentaries on their works. Disclaimer suggests no detailed analysis of their work is implied and if you’re one looking for it, you may have to look some other place.

It’s true that there was/is a debate over the identity — even their existence — of these two philosophers. There are some Eurocentric scholars like Carlo Conti Rossini, who doubt the existence of a seventeenth-century philosopher called Zera Yaqob and boldly remarks:

Zar’a Ya’aqob is not Ethiopian or there was no such philosopher called Zar’a Ya’aqob. The one known as Zara Ya’aqob was a pseudonym used by a 19th Century Freemason European — who penned the treatises as better known as the Hatetas.

Yet again in recent times, some Ethiopians reiterate this conclusion from a totally different perspective. However, from the Hatetas themselves to scholars who studied them in detail, we’ve got an enormous scholarship that ascertains Zera Yaqob’s citizenry — Ethiopian.


The squabbles aside, this post is all about introducing the Hatetas to a novice. Reading the Hatetas kicks us to see the resemblance of Zara Yaqob-Wolde Hiwot duo as something akin to with the Socrates-Plato duo a master-pupil relationship. That’s why Welde Hiwot’s treatise feels akin as a sequel to Zera Yaqob’s grand treatise.

When we jump to the biography of the master and the pupil, the opening lines of Hateta Zar’a Yaaqob began by introducing the writer’s himself:

I was born in the land of the priests of Aksum. But I am the son of a poor farmer in the district of Aksum; the day of my birth is 25th of Nahase 1592 A. D., the third year of the year of [King] Yaquob. By Christian baptism I was named Zar’a Ya’aqob, but people called me Warqye.

Contrarily, there’s no such autobiographical introduction on Welde Hiwot’s treatise. Some delve into his life and suggest ‘Melaku’ as Walde Hiwot’s pre-baptismal name. On a different point, though, the treatise of Welde Hiwot is much longer, detailed, parable-filled and allegorical, scholars seems interested in the work of Zara Yaqob. Mathias Victorien Ntep aptly remarked the status of Zara Yaqob in the world philosophy as:

If the Frenchman René Descartes  is regarded as the pioneer of “Modern Philosophy”, if many believe that Kant – the philosopher who borrowed the concept of the “Thing in itself” or “Noumenon” from Amo, the philosopher of Guinea in Africa – is the “greatest philosopher” of the “European Enlightenment”, then all those who´re hep to and familiar with the treatises of Zera Yacob  or Zar´a Ja´aqob would argue with me that the works of this East African philosopher represent the climax of both “Modern Philosophy” and the “Age of Enlightenment.  

Amplifying the above assertion, Ethiopian philosopher, Tedros Kiros enunciate that:

Zar’a Ya’aqob is the founder of rationality in Africa. He was a contemporary of Rene Descartes, the founder of rationality in France.

Yet again Claude Sumner, ‘a Canadian by birth an Ethiopian by choice’, Philosopher takes the praise to Zara Yaqob to a new level as:

Modern Philosophy, in the sense of a personal rationalistic critical investigation, began in Ethiopia with Zär´a Ya´aqob at the same time as in England and in France.

Hereinbelow are the treatises of Zera Yaqob and Welde Hiwot in different languages and selected commentaries/critiques on the treatises all the hyperlinked are downloadable.

Hateta Zera Yaqob

Ge’ez, original

Amharic 1, translated by Zemenfes Kidus Abraha, 1955

Amharic 2 translated by Getachew Haile, 2014

English, translated by Claude Sumner

Hateta Walda Heywat

Ge’ez, original

English, translated by Claude Sumner

Critiques and commentaries on the Hatetas — by Claude Sumner

Introduction to the Treatise of Zar’a Ya’aqob and Walda Heywat

Ethiopian Philosophy, vol. II: The Treatise of Zera Yaqob and Welde Hiwot: Text and Authorship

Ethiopian Philosophy, vol. III: The Treatise of Zera Yaqob and Welde Hiwot: An Analysis

Classical Ethiopian Philosophy

The Light and the Shadow: Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat: Two Ethiopian Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, Page 172 -182

Critiques and commentaries on the Hatetas — by Tedros Kiros

Zera Yacob and Traditional Ethiopian Philosophy Page 183-191

The Meditations of Zara Yaquob

Zara Yacob: Rationality of the Human Heart

Seventeenth century Rationalist: On the rationality of the heart 

Critiques and commentaries on the Hatetas — by different scholars

The Ethics of Zär’a Ya’eqob, by Dawit Worku Kidane

Review on Tedros Kiros’s ‘Ethiopian rationalist philosopher of the seventeenth century, Zara Yaqob, by Andrej Krause

Zara Yacob’s theory of truth, by Abel Cherinet

Zar’a Ya’aqob: The Ethiopian philosopher founder of “Hatataism“, by Mathias Victorien Ntep

Zar’a Ya’eqob’s Argument For The Existence Of God, by Chemeda Bokora

Philosopher Zereyacob, by Habte Churnet

The Contribution of Native Ethiopian Philosophers, Zara Yacob and Wolde Hiwot, to Ethiopian Philosophy, by Tassew Asfaw

To be updated.

From → Random resources

  1. geezonline permalink

    And there is this by someone who “studied (mostly moral) philosophy at Harvard”:

    But I have never come across anyone who “studied in Debre Tabor or Akusm” and is aware of ZY’s and his disciple’s existence, let alone their works!

  2. belew! permalink

    The video game is not about Zar’a Yakob the philosopher but Atse Zera Yakob the magnificent.

  3. baba nana permalink

    The philosopher zara yaqob and emperor zara yaqob (which is you posted on the video game) are two different people aparted by more than thousand of years.

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