Alaqa Heruy Berru (1865-1949) was the leading Ethiopian painter during the later period of the reign of Emperor Menilek [ruled 1889-1913].
The son of a simple peasant of Dima Giyorgis, he was trained by a local church painter, Mamehir Walda Giyorgis, before traveling to Shawa in about 1895, where he decorated the Church of St. George at Feche, 60 mi (96 km) north of Addis Ababa. This work was so well regarded that he was selected by Emperor Menilek to paint St. George’s, the principal church in Addis Ababa, which was built to commemorate the Ethiopian victory over the Italians at Adwa on St. George’s Day, March 1, 1896. This talented artist, who is remembered as having been among the first to make use of new techniques of painting, and to employ imported materials, later decorated the Church of St. Mary at Entoto, 3 mi (5 km) north of Addis Ababa. He was assisted in this work by his son Emailof, who subsequently emerged as a leading portrait painter. He was also responsible for designing various medals and decorations for the Ethiopian government.
He held the position of Alaqa (head) of the Church of Arata Maryam, near Feche. He resigned from this post during the Italian occupation from 1935-41, but resumed it shortly before his death. Like many Ethiopian artists of former times, he founded a family tradition of art, and his grandson, Ala Fallaga Salam, was the founder after World War II of the School of Fine Art.
R. Pankhurst, “Some Notes for a History of Ethiopian Secular Art,” Ethiopian Observer, Vol. 10, No.1, Addis Ababa, 1966.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1977. All rights reserved.