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Ethiopian Journal of the Social Sciences and Humanities

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Claude Sumner’s “Oromo Wisdom Literature:” An Attempt at Understanding their Philosophical Content

Bekele Gutema

Abstract


In his lifelong work at the Department of Philosophy of Addis Ababa University, Sumner initially worked on the written sources of Ethiopian philosophy. It is after the production of multiple volumes on the written sources that he turned to the oral sources. The major ones are contained in three volumes titled, “Oromo Wisdom Literature.” By developing an approach that looked at philosophy in the broader and strict senses Sumner studied the different oral sources of Oromo philosophy. His approach to philosophy was that, while writing is a very important aspect of doing philosophy, this does not, however, mean that oral sources cannot have philosophical content. This is what has been demonstrated by H. Odera Oruka’s sage philosophy. Sumner used proverbs, songs, folktales, riddles and similar oral materials to distill philosophical content out of some of them. The paper will try to show how oral sources could be considered as philosophy in the broad sense, while there is also a possibility that such material could be changed into philosophy in the strict sense by philosophers. By briefly analyzing Sumner’s position on this, I will try to show the significance of oral wisdom/literature not only for philosophy but also other types of intellectual activity.




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