Paperback review: The Lure of the Honey Bird: The Storytellers of Ethiopia, By Elizabeth Laird Polygon


Working with the Ethiopian government, author Elizabeth Laird travelled the country to seek out rural storytellers and document their art. The Lure of the Honey Bird describes those journeys, which took her from the Simien Mountains to the restive Somalian borderlands and on to the walled city of Harar, former refuge of the poet Arthur Rimbaud.

Laird weaves in the stories she discovered, many of them folk tales featuring shape-shifting “hyena-women” (akin to the werewolves of Europe). But she also uncovers a more recent trend for political allegory, a form used to challenge “the complacency of the men in power”, and which served a subversive purpose under the Communist regime in the 1970s. While Laird refrains from drawing any overarching conclusions, this is a lovely meander through Ethiopia’s oral tradition.