Hatata (The Inquiries into Reason and Equality)

The Hatata (Inquiries) are two Africa texts of early African philosophy, written by Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat in Ethiopia in Gəˁəz in the 1600s.

Ralph Lee is translating them into English, with an introduction by Wendy Laura Belcher and Dag Herbjørnsrud. 

The first Inquiry into Reason is attributed to the seventeenth-century Ethiopian writer Zärˀa Yaˁəqob (hereafter Zera Yacob); the second Inquiry into Reason is credited to Zera Yacob’s student, Wäldä Heywat (hereafter Walda Heywat) (Sumner and Samuel Wolde Yohannes 2002, 114).

In the first Inquiry into Reason, Zera Yacob argues for putting one’s own rational thoughts and investigations at the center of one’s life and actions. He argues for the equality of men and women, as they are “equal in marriage.” Zera Yacob criticizes the different religious teachings equally (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Indian religions). He stresses that when religion is not in accordance with logic or nature—such as religious laws denying menstruating women contact with their children—such laws were invented by men, not God. At the same time, Zera Yacob maintains his belief in God, as a type of deistic creator of everything, and the text quotes heavily from the book of Psalms.

The second Inquiry into Reason, by his student, Walda Heywat, is of a rather different character. More in line with traditional and conservative views, it does not stress the individual’s reason so much as what is morally correct, of use in society, and in accordance with the will of God. Walda Heywat starts by stating that all religions might be false but also includes an argument against abortion and for the importance of women treating their husbands well in order to keep them from unfaithfulness—in accordance with Ethiopian tradition. At the same time, Walda Heywat argues that husband and wife are one flesh, and that the man should ensure that the woman has equal sexual satisfaction. If the man does not provide this, “your marriage will not deserve the blessing of God.”