Item 67 - Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

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PETH/9/67

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Letter from Sylvia Pankhurst to Lord Pethick-Lawrence

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  • 19 Nov. 1956 (Creation)

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2 sheets

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P.O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa.—Describes her new house and the local soil and flora. Richard is teaching history at the University College of Addis Ababa. Discusses plans for the Ethiopia Observer, and the effects of the stopping of the Suez Canal on Ethiopian trade.

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Transcript

P. O. Box 1896, Addis Ababa
19 November 1956

Dear Fred,

After the weariness of an hotel, we at last have a charming house surrounded by eucalyptus trees. We reach it up an avenue of eucalyptus and there is a row of them bordering our land all round and quite a wood behind the house. We have some geraniums some of which grow 8 feet high and mean to have more. They bloom all the year round here. We have a few roses and hope to have any more as well as other flowers. There is a room in front, as you will see from the photograph {1}, which has windows the entire length. This is where I work. There is a little veranda where we have lunch and a round summerhouse with a thatched roof with a window on two sides. I believe that will be a good place for writing on chilly days of which there are many. At present it is used by a man who does odd jobs and gardening. Later there will be a house for him built in Ethiopian style. They make a rather elaborate framework of thin would {2} and new plaster the walls outside and in until they are quite thick. Such houses are warm and durable. The plaster they use is very elaborate; they make a sort of pudding on the ground of the earth mixed with water; after stirring and waiting several days they sprinkle into† it with chopped grass, and finally it becomes a durable plaster which will last it is said for twenty years or more without repair when applied to the walls.

The earth is very light here; much of it is red. It is volcanic. It is very deep; one can see where the streams have worn it away 10, 20 or even more feet of earth often without a stone, which looks as though it had been cut artificially it is so sheer and straight. Where they are cutting new walls one can see high banks on one or both sides, all fine earth with hardly a stone. This is like the earth the Blue Nile carries to the Sudan and Egypt from the Ethiopian highlands.

Towards the end of September one suddenly sees all the fields, all the grass by the roadside, golden yellow with the so-called Maskal flowers. They come out at this season, the anniversary of the bringing to Ethiopia of a piece of the “true cross” found by the Empress Helena in Jerusalem. These flowers last only a couple of months or so at that season and then disappear. That is whey they are called Maskal flowers. Maskal means the Cross. It is curious that though the plants bearing these flowers grow from one foot to ten foot high according to whether they are in a field or just by the roadside without much soil or moisture one does not notice them till suddenly the hills and valleys are all golden yellow. The green buds do not show among the green and the flowers all seem to burst out together. They are born† on branches sticking out from the main stems which are frail and slender. They make an amazingly beautiful show. About the same season yellow acacia and the little golden balls of the mimosa come into bloom and Addis Ababa which was all blue-grey-green becomes glorified with gold.

Richard is teaching at the University College of Addis Ababa Economic History, African History and Ethiopian History. He is studying hard as well as teaching.

I suppose by this time you will have had a copy of our new monthly “The Ethiopian Observer”. We have devoted the first issue to the Emperor’s visit to the Ogaden and to Somali problems. The second issue will be Addis Ababa: Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s plan for it, a survey of population, History of the town and descriptons as it is, poem inspired by its history. The third issue will be devoted to the Ethiopian woman: history, education, prospects. The fourth will be Public Health in Ethiopia. The most difficult thing here is to find efficient secretarial assistance.

We often think of you and all friends at home. What an awful mess about Suez! {1}

With love from us both
Affectionately Sylvia P.

The stopping of Suez Canal is ruinous to this country. Coffee is their greatest export—after that hides, skins, oilseeds, honey, beeswax and various agricultural products. Coffee is far and away the greatest source of revenue. It goes in largest quantity to U.S.A., after that Britain and Europe. The East does not take it. The Emperor’s visit to India, Japan, etc., is opportune and some trade will result, but not to compare I fear with coffee. Transport problems in this mountainous land make cereals a costly export and cereals can be obtained much more cheaply from the great farms, highly mechanised elsewhere on the great plains.

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Letter-head of the Ethiopia Observer. Sylvia Pankhurst is named as the Editor. A few changes have been made to the punctuation.

{1} PETH 9/68.

{2} This is the apparent reading. Presumably the intended word is ‘wood’.

† Sic.

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Sent with PETH 9/68.

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