Walatta Petros (Ge'ez: ወለተ ጴጥሮስ; 1592 – 23 November 1642) was an Ethiopian saint. Her hagiography, The Life-Struggles of Walatta Petros (Gädlä Wälättä P̣əṭros) was written in 1672. She is known for resisting conversion to Roman Catholicism, forming many religious communities, and performing miracles for those seeking asylum from kings.

Walatta Petros
Portrait of Walatta Petros painted in 1721
Bornc. 1592
Ethiopian Empire
Died23 November 1642(1642-11-23) (aged 49–50)
Venerated in
InfluencedEhete Krestos

Names edit

Walatta Petros's name in the Ge'ez script is written as ወለተ ጴጥሮስ. It is transliterated into the Latin alphabet in many ways online and scholarship, including the Library of Congress spelling Walata Péṭros and Walatta Pēṭros. Her name is a compound name, meaning "Daughter of [St] Peter," and should not be improperly shortened from "Walatta Petros" to "Petros." Other spellings are Walata Petros, Wallatta Petros, Wallata Petros, Waleta Petros, Waletta Petros, Walete Petros, Walleta Petros, Welete Petros, Wolata Petros plus Walatta Pétros, Walatta Pietros, Walatta Petrus, and Wälätä P'ét'ros.

Life edit

Early life edit

Walatta Petros was born in 1592 into a noble family with hereditary rights to lands in southern Ethiopian Empire. Before her birth, it is said that her parents were told that she was fated to become an important and influential religious figure. Her father and brothers were officials at court. Walatta Petros was married at a young age to Malka Krestos, one of Susenyos's counselors. She gave birth to three children who all died in infancy and she decided to become a nun.[1]

Becoming a nun edit

After Jesuit missionaries privately converted Emperor Susenyos from Ethiopian Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism in 1612, he called on Walatta Petros's husband to repress the anti-Catholic rebellion started in 1617. When Malka Krestos left to fight the rebellion, leading abbots in the Ethiopian monasteries on Lake Ṭana assisted Walatta Petros in leaving her husband and joining them. After arriving at a monastery on Lake Ṭana, she took a vow of celibacy and shaved her head to become a nun in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, refusing to convert to Roman Catholicism. However, church and court officials urged her to return to her husband, because he was destroying the town where she was hiding. She returned home, but when she found out that her husband had supported the killing the abuna of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, she left him for the final time, becoming a nun at the age of 25 in 1617.[1]

Resisting Roman Catholicism and Emperor Susenyos I edit

In 1621, Emperor Susenyos I forbade the teaching of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Walatta Petros began to protest the Emperor's abandonment of native faith to embrace foreign beliefs and rituals. She was called before the court in 1622 for these protests, and the emperor wanted to kill her, but her family was able to dissuade him. She then moved to the northern regions of Waldebba and Sallamt and began preaching that people should reject the faith of the foreigners and never mention the name of the emperor during the liturgy. She was again called before the court in 1625 for this treason, and this time her husband dissuaded the emperor from killing her, urging him to send the leader of the Jesuit priests, Afonso Mendes, to try to convert her. When Mendes was unsuccessful, the king sent her into exile in Sudan for three years.[1]

This was the beginning of her leadership of the religious communities that formed around her of those seeking to escape Roman Catholicism. Over her lifetime, she set up seven religious communities—the first in Sudan, called Zabay (ca. 1627), and six around Lake Tana: Canqua (ca. 1630), Meselle (ca. 1630), Zage (ca. 1632), Damboza (ca. 1637), Afar Faras (ca. 1638), and Zabol/Zambol (ca. 1641).[1]

Meanwhile, in 1632, Emperor Susenyos gave up trying convert the country to Roman Catholicism. His son Fasilides became king, and Fasilides worked to eradicate Roman Catholicism from the country.

Later life edit

Walatta Petros continued as the abbess of her mobile religious community, leading it with her woman friend Ehete Kristos and without male leadership. After a three-month illness, Walatta Petros died on 23 November 1642 (Hedar 17), at the age of 50, twenty-six years after becoming a nun. It is also said that many people from the Lake Tana islands assembled to mourn her death since she was like a mother to them. Her friend Ehete Krestos succeeded her as abbess of her religious community, until her death in 1649.[1]

In 1650, Fasilides gave land for a monastery on Lake Tana, Qwarata, to be devoted to Walatta Petros. Since the seventeenth century, it has served as a place of asylum for those seeking to escape punishment by the king.[1]

Hagiography edit

Walatta Petros is one of 21 Ethiopian female saints, six of whom have hagiographies. The saint's hagiography, Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros, was written down in 1672, thirty years after the saint's death. The author was a monk named Gälawdewos. He wrote it by collecting multiple oral histories from the saint's community, as well as adding his own thoughts. It has three parts: the biography, the miracles that happened to those who called on her name after her death, and two hymns (Mälkəˀa Wälättä Peṭros[2] and Sälamta Wälättä Peṭros[3]). Later, in 1769, others added more miracles, including those about the following kings: Bäkaffa, Iyasu II, Iyoˀas I, Ras Mikaˀel Səḥul, Yoḥannəs II, Täklä Giyorgis I and Tewodros II.

Over a dozen manuscript copies were made in Ethiopia.[4] The first print edition was published in 1912, based on one manuscript.[5] The first translation into another language, Italian, was published in 1970,[6][7] In 2015, the first English translation was published, which included color plates from the parchment manuscript illuminations of her life, and in 2018 a short student edition was published.[1][8]

Scholarship edit

Little was published on Walatta Petros in Western scholarship before the 21st century. Written before the corrected, full edition based on 12 manuscripts was published in 2015,[1] incorrect information about her (i.e. birth and death dates, children, travel, and hagiography) appears on these websites,[9][10] encyclopedia entries,[11][12][13][14][15] histories,[16][17] and journal articles: one published in 1902 in Russian[18] and another in 1943 in Italian.[19]

More has been published in the twenty-first century, almost entirely in English. The first was written by the French art historian Claire Bosc-Tiessé, who conducted field research at monasteries on Lake Ṭana about the creation of a royal illuminated manuscript of Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros.[20] The Russian historian Sevir Chernetsov published an article arguing that Walatta Petros was a non-gender-conforming saint.[21] The American literary scholar Wendy Laura Belcher argued that Walatta Petros was one of the noble Ethiopian women responsible for the defeat of Roman Catholicism in Ethiopia in the 1600s.[22] Some journalism has been published about the saint as well.[23][24][25]

Controversy has attended the English translation of the Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros, starting in October 2014 after one of the co-translators, Belcher, started giving talks about the saint's relationship with Eheta Kristos[26] and due to news coverage of the translation.[27][28] Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church have stated online that “this book claims Walatta Petros is a lesbian”[29] and have written many comments about sexuality on a Guardian article about the translation.[27] Belcher has published a rebuttal on her website[30] and published a scholarly article on the topic of same-sex sexuality in the hagiography.[31]

In a September 2020 academic article, Dr. Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes argued that Belcher and Kleiner lacked an understanding of the Ge'ez language and pushed an orientalist and racist narrative of a queer, sex-driven, violent African woman in their translation.[32] In October 2020, scholars and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church submitted an open letter to Princeton University, Princeton University Press, and Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber protesting the treatment of their religious texts and urging the university to cease support to this translation and forthcoming works by Professor Belcher.[33] Princeton University Press and the Princeton University President both responded with statements that they unequivocally supported Belcher and Kleiner's "award-winning work."[34] Kleiner wrote a philological response article, rebutting the charges of misunderstanding and mistranslating the Ge'ez, thereby undermining the basis for the charges of racism raised by Yirga.[35] Kleiner argued that the disputed translations, a dozen or so words out of tens of thousands of words, were a result of choosing the contextually best term from the lexically legitimate ones, although he admits that all translations will have some mistakes. However, Belcher’s argues the mistranslations were not mistakes. Rather, the mistranslations were deliberate choice a “stretch” of critical words that change the meaning-making of her hagiography and at times contradictory interventions. He added that Ethiopian church members understand the second meaning ይትማርዓ/ይትማርሐ (yətmarrəˁa, yətmarrəha, [feminine] guide/lead each other) as is common in monastery life. In this context,ይትማርዓ means ይትማርሐ(guide each other). Yirga agrees that one of the meanings is sexual but insists that the word is interchangeable with ይትማርሐ and should be understood contextually which means helping each other in a communal life.[32]

Notes edit

1.^ This is a portrait of Walatta Petros that appears in the manuscript created between 1716–1721 (and cataloged in different sources as EMML MS No. 8438, Tanasee 179, EMIP 0284, and MS D in the Belcher-Kleiner translation) and was previously found in the saint's monastery Qʷäraṭa on Lake Tana in Ethiopia.

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Galawdewos; Belcher, Wendy Laura; Kleiner, Michael (2015). The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691164212.
  2. ^ Belcher, Wendy. The Translation of the Poem Portrait of Walatta Petros (PDF). Wendy Belcher.
  3. ^ Belcher, Wendy. The Translation of the Poem Hail to Walatta Petros (PDF). Wendy Belcher.
  4. ^ Belcher, Wendy. "Gadla Walatta Petros Original Ethiopic Text (The Life-Struggles of Walatta Petros) (MS J, 1672)". www.academia.edu. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  5. ^ Galawdewos (1912). Conti Rossini, Carlo (ed.). Vitae sanctorum indigenarum: Acta S. Walatta Petros. Miracula S. Zara-Buruk. I. II (in Latin). Secrétariat du CorpusSCO.
  6. ^ Gälawdewos; Ricci, Lanfranco (1970). Vita Di Walatta Petros. CSCO 316; Scriptores Aethiopici 61 (in Italian). Leuven, Belgium: Secrétariat du Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. ISBN 9789042903579.
  7. ^ Gälawdewos (2004). Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros [The Life of Wälättä P̣eṭros: In the Original Gəˁəz and Translated into Amharic). Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church Press.
  8. ^ Galawdewos (27 November 2018). The Life of Walatta-Petros: A Seventeenth-Century Biography of an African Woman, Concise Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691182919.
  9. ^ "Santa Walatta Petros". Church Forum. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  10. ^ "Sainte Walatta". Nominis. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  11. ^ "Walata Petros, Ethiopia, Orthodox". Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  12. ^ Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 7 April 2005. ISBN 9780195170559.
  13. ^ Gates, Henry Louis Jr.; Akyeampong, Emmanuel; Niven, Steven J. (2 February 2012). Dictionary of African Biography. OUP USA. ISBN 9780195382075.
  14. ^ Uhlig, Siegbert (1 January 2010). Encyclopaedia Aethiopica: O-X. Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 9783447062466.
  15. ^ Böll, Verena (April 2011). "Walatta Petros (Saint) – Brill Reference". Religion Past and Present. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  16. ^ Ogot, Bethwell A. (1 January 1999). Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520067004.
  17. ^ Hastings, Adrian (5 January 1995). The Church in Africa, 1450–1950. Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780191520556.
  18. ^ Turaev, Boris (1902). Izsledovaniya V Oblasti Agiologicheskih Istochnikov Istorii Etiopii (Studies in the Hagiographic Sources on the History of Ethiopia). St Petersburg, Russia.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  19. ^ Papi, Maria Rosaria (1943). "Una Santa Abissina Anticattolica: Walatta-Petros". Rassegna di Studi Etiopici. 3 (1): 87–93.
  20. ^ Bosc-Tiessé, Claire (2003). Uhlig, Siegbert (ed.). "Creating an Iconographic Cycle: The Manuscript of the Acts of Wälättä P̣eṭros and the Emergence of Qʷäraṭa as a Place of Asylum". Fifteenth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz: 409–16.
  21. ^ Chernetsov, Sevir (2005). "A Transgressor of the Norms of Female Behaviour in the Seventeenth-Century Ethiopia: The Heroine of the Life of Our Mother Walatta Petros". Khristianski Vostok (Journal of the Christian East). 10: 48–64.
  22. ^ Belcher, Wendy Laura (1 January 2013). "Sisters Debating the Jesuits: The Role of African Women in Defeating Portuguese Proto-Colonialism in Seventeenth-Century Abyssinia". Northeast African Studies. 13 (1): 121–166. doi:10.14321/nortafristud.13.1.0121. JSTOR 10.14321/nortafristud.13.1.0121.
  23. ^ "Princeton University – Belcher: Perspective on ancient Ethiopian texts". Princeton University. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  24. ^ Zoppo, Avalon (3 December 2014). "Professor discusses African homosexuality". Daily Targum. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  25. ^ Howard, Jennifer (21 September 2015). "A Broader Notion of African Literature". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  26. ^ Belcher, Wendy Laura (27 October 2014). "Same-Sex Intimacies in an Early Modern African Text about an Ethiopian Female Saint, Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros (1672)]". UCLA.
  27. ^ a b Flood, Allison (3 December 2015). "Earliest Known Biography of an African Woman Translated to English for the First Time". The Guardian.
  28. ^ Miller, Allison (November 2015), "The Saint Who Sent the Jesuits Packing: A New Translation of an Ethiopian Manuscript Sheds Light on African Women's Anticolonialism", Perspectives on History.
  29. ^ @African_HornET Twitter, December 8 2015
  30. ^ Belcher, Wendy Laura (9 December 2015). "Controversy over Sexuality in the Gadla Walatta Petros". wendybelcher.com.
  31. ^ Belcher, Wendy Laura (1 January 2016). "Same-Sex Intimacies in the Early African Text Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros (1672): Queer Reading an Ethiopian Woman Saint". Research in African Literatures. 47 (2): 20–45. doi:10.2979/reseafrilite.47.2.03. JSTOR 10.2979/reseafrilite.47.2.03. S2CID 148427759.
  32. ^ a b Woldeyes, Yirga Gelaw (2020). "Colonial Rewriting of African History: Misinterpretations and Distortions in Belcher and Kleiner's Life and Struggles of Walatta Petros" (PDF). Journal of Afroasiatic Languages, History and Culture. 9 (2): 133–220.
  33. ^ "Open Letter To Princeton University: Black History Matters Too". HagerBekel.org. 6 October 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  34. ^ Galawdewos (13 October 2015). The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-16421-2.
  35. ^ Kleiner, Michael (2020). "Considered Translations Reconsidered. A Rejoinder to Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes's Criticisms of Our Allegedly 'Sexualizing' Translations in The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros (2015)". wendybelcher.com. Retrieved 20 January 2021.