The Hidden Treasures from the Thomas Kane Collection of Ethiopian Manuscripts  

Ethiopian Manuscripts -Dawit Muluneh.jpg

By Dawit Muluneh, Ph.D. Student in African Studies

Thanks to the Lilly Scholar Resident program, I had the opportunity to catalog and identify Ethiopic manuscripts housed at the Library of Congress. Throughout my residency, I successfully identified a wide range of texts, including prayer books and magical texts.  A significant portion of my time was dedicated to cataloging the Kane's collections, named after Thomas Leiper Kane.  A large number of these collections consists of paper manuscripts alluding to modern texts from the mid-twentieth century.  But there were also parchments found within the collections.

Notably, nearly all the paper manuscripts are magic texts, which belong to a genre of Ethiopic manuscripts invoking 'secret' names of both the divine and demons. This is of particular interest since a vast majority of the Ethiopian manuscripts in other collections are often prayer books in the form of psalters and canticles.

Kane's collection comprises remarkable manuscripts, of which includes a painting resembling that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, originating in Mexico during the sixteenth century. The intriguing aspect is how this image ended up in an Ethiopic manuscript. Despite the widespread dissemination of the Guadalupe painting worldwide, its presence in an Ethiopian manuscript remains captivating. The Ethiopian manuscript tradition continues to thrive, with scribes maintaining the traditional artistic style, giving an authentic Ethiopian touch to the image.

Kane's collections stand as a doorway to uncover the diversity of Ethiopian textual traditions. Their content, composition, and origins provoke thoughtful contemplation about their representation and the larger context of manuscript collections. Among this, a sensitive awareness of cultural preservation must guide our academic endeavors to ensure a respectful engagement with Ethiopia's multifaceted heritage.

About Dawit Muluneh

I am a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has surrounded me with Ethiopian culture and language since birth. Intrigued by Ethiopia's rich history, culture, and language, I embarked on a journey to a monastery in Ethiopia named Debre Libanos in the summer of 2015, where I dedicated myself to studying the ancient language of Ethiopia, Ge'ez. After a year and a half, I returned to the United States and earned my master's degree in Ethiopic and Coptic Studies from Catholic University. Throughout this period, I taught Ge'ez for two consecutive years. Currently, I am enrolled at Howard University, pursuing a Ph.D. in African Studies.


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