Documenting the written heritage of East Goğğam: a rich culture in jeopardy (EAP432)

Aims and objectives

The main objective of this project is to document valuable monastic collections in East Goğğam and preserve selected endangered materials.

Ethiopia can be proud of her age-old manuscripts, which are to be found in the possession of approximately 20,000 churches and 8,000 monasteries, mosques and traditional schools all over the country. This large body of literature has been an object of wonder and uniqueness in its quantity, quality, and variety and also in its sustained continuity. The literary content covers not only the field it was designed for i.e. religion but also philosophy, history, social law and statecraft, culture, and last but not least, the technical sciences including Mathematics and Astronomy, Astrology, Architecture, Medicine and the Fine Arts and several allied disciplines.

However, Ethiopia’s church and monastic library collections today are often kept in very poor conditions. Priceless volumes lie on the dirty floor, or piled up one on top of another without any idea shelves. Many manuscripts are in danger of being eaten by rats or insects; others are exposed to damage from rainwater. Storage from the security point of view is also in many cases not satisfactory. Iqa bets, or storehouses, are frequently built of flimsy material, and are sometimes unlocked, or locked only with cheap locks, which can easily be broken or forced open. Some Iqa bets, because of the use of inflammable thatching, have unfortunately burnt down along with their enormous and priceless collection. Therefore, the launching of a project which helps to identify, document and preserve the most rich and endangered collections in the country is a necessity.


The project digitised 61 manuscripts from the monastery Debre Koreb we Qeranyo Medhane’Alem and digital copies were deposited with the British Library.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: