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Wax and Gold

Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture

In Abyssinian poetry, the “wax” is the obvious meaning, the “gold” is the hidden meaning. In Wax and Gold, Donald N. Levine explores mid-to-late-twentieth-century Ethiopian society on the same two levels, using modern sociology and psychology to seek answers to the following questions: What is the nature of the traditional culture of the dominant ethnic group, the Amhara, and what are its enduring values? What aspects of modern culture interest this society and by what means has it sought to institutionalize them? How has tradition both facilitated and hampered Ethiopian efforts to modernize? Enriched by the use of Ethiopian literature and by Levine’s deep knowledge of and affection for the society of which he writes, Wax and Gold is both a scholarly and a personal work.

350 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1965

African Studies

Sociology: General Sociology


“A superb book.”

New Yorker

"A classic work of area studies."

Robert D. Kaplan | New York Times

“Ethiopia’s abiding problem is the symbiosis of her autochthonous civilization with the demands of an uncompromising modern world. . . . Nobody has yet described the dilemma, its origin, its magnitude and possible ways of resolving it with greater ability and understanding.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Both a sociological work and an entertaining travel narrative.”

Chicago Tribune

“The literature on Ethiopia is conspicuous for the absence of studies attempting to combine comprehensiveness of coverage with true analytical depth. [Wax and Gold] fills this gap and does it so effectively that for most readers sampling it will be equivalent to discovering a new world. . . . Not to be missed.”

Library Journal

“An important, insightful, and excellent book. . . . With remarkable freedom, virtuosity, and success [Levine] forays from his own base as a sociologist into the domains of anthropologists, psychologists, historians, and linguists.”

American Journal of Sociology

“Levine performs the most ancient scholarly task well, that of the sage, who leads us to see the eternal wisdom hidden behind the veil of everyday concerns.”

American Sociological Review

Table of Contents



1. Introduction: Amhara Tradition and Ethiopia's Modernization

2. The Legacy of Manz and Gondar

3. The World of the Amhara Peasant

4. The Emerging Adolescent

5. The Old and New Elites

6. Orality and the Search for Leadership

7. Individualism and the Quest for Social Progress

Note on Transliteration

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