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The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros:
A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman
Galawdewos Translated and edited by Wendy Laura Belcher & Michael Kleiner
Written by Galawdewos

Winner of the 2015 Best Scholarly Edition in Translation, Society for the Study of Early Modern Women

Hardcover | 2016 | $39.95 | £29.95 | ISBN: 9780691164212
544 pp. | 7 x 10 | 64 color illus. 18 halftones. 4 tables. 2 maps.
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Introduction[PDF] pdf-icon | Table of Contents [PDF] pdf-icon

Instructors: Readers can read the whole book or can leap right into the story of the saint's life, which runs from pages 77 to 272 (with lots of notes, so in effect about 100 pages of reading). Instructors may think about assigning the Preface (pp. xvii-xxxiv), to orient the students, and the section titled "The Translation of the Life-Struggles of Wallata Petros" (pp. 77-272).

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A Q&A with the Wendy Laura Belcher

This is the first English translation of the earliest-known book-length biography of an African woman, and one of the few lives of an African woman written by Africans before the nineteenth century. As such, it provides an exceedingly rare and valuable picture of the experiences and thoughts of Africans, especially women, before the modern era. It is also an extraordinary account of a remarkable life—full of vivid dialogue, heartbreak, and triumph.

The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros (1672) tells the story of an Ethiopian saint who led a successful nonviolent movement to preserve African Christian beliefs in the face of European protocolonialism. When the Jesuits tried to convert the Ethiopians from their ancient form of Christianity, Walatta Petros (1592–1642), a noblewoman and the wife of one of the emperor’s counselors, risked her life by leaving her husband, who supported the conversion effort, and leading the struggle against the Jesuits. After her death, her disciples wrote this book, praising her as a friend of women, a devoted reader, a skilled preacher, and a radical leader. One of the earliest stories of African resistance to European influence, this biography also provides a picture of domestic life, including Walatta Petros’s life-long relationship with a female companion.

Richly illustrated with dozens of color illustrations from early manuscripts, this groundbreaking volume provides an authoritative and highly readable translation along with an extensive introduction. Other features include a chronology of Walatta Petros’s life, maps, a comprehensive glossary, and detailed notes on textual variants.

Wendy Laura Belcher is associate professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson and Honey from the Lion: An African Journey. Michael Kleiner is a historian of Ethiopia and a translator. He has taught at the universities of Göttingen, Marburg, and Hamburg, as well as at Addis Ababa University.


"By 2050, Africans will constitute around a third of the world’s Christian population, roughly a billion people, and over a hundred million of those will live in Ethiopia. As we confront that new reality, the need to rediscover those African cultural and spiritual roots becomes imperative. The story of Walatta Petros is a wonderful contribution to this task."--Philip Jenkins, Books & Culture

"This richly informative book is unexpected in many ways. . . . In following the dramatic main narrative, we learn about the customs and faith of the great Ethiopian church, all of which is profoundly important for understanding that tradition as it exists today."--Philip Jenkins, Christian Century


"Rarely have I read a text that offered as many possibilities as this story of the seventeenth-century Ethiopian saint Walatta Petros, a multidimensional woman worthy of study. Belcher and Kleiner have given a new generation of readers access to this full biography of a formidable resister to European colonization, as well as keen insight into her communities and relationships with women."--Salamishah Tillet, University of Pennsylvania

"The revolutionary Ethiopian saint Walatta Petros finally has the translation into English that she deserves. Faithful, well-researched, and accessible, this volume brings to light a fascinating example of women’s leadership in the early modern world."--Getatchew Haile, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University

"Wendy Belcher and Michael Kleiner's annotated English translation of the biography of Walatta Petros combines rigorous textual scholarship with a fresh, vivid, and intimate portrait of the saint in her context. This stimulating volume will challenge general readers' view of Africa as 'the land of orality.'"--Alessandro Bausi, University of Hamburg

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