Monday, February 13, 2012
I think philosophical questions are sometimes great to start with. As much as they bug us, they always help us rack our brains as we try to understand them. Some of the responses we give to these questions could also become humorous.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Friday, February 3, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Pastor /Priest/ to the bride: Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and protect him, forsaking all others and holding only to him forevermore?
Bride: "I do".
There’s always a season for everything under the sun, says the Holy Bible. Now that the fasting time of the year is over, the big season is already well underway, once again – the period where many budding couples desperately waiting for … that day when this special bond between the two souls is instituted through tying the wedding knot after promising to become companions for a lifetime… the day when they would be able to say “I do”, witnessing to public. There’s no doubt about it, wedding ceremonies are in full swing and you can observe this at any corner of our major cities, specially, on weekends in the month of April. Indeed this is the season when the words “I do” are heard in churches all over the country and the weight of the promise resonates in the hearts of happy couples who want to devote themselves to a lifetime of love and happiness. Since most folks in Ethiopia are religious (or, at times, desire to be seen like other pious ones…you know, this is a culturally approved relationship) marriages are very commonly conducted in churches. Somebody said that marriages are made in heaven and celebrated on earth. I think this is true as it signifies the physical, mental and spiritual unison of two souls…the reason why most of the bonding ritual should take place in these shrines.
The institution of marriage is valuable to society as a whole, because it is the foundation of the family, which in turn is the fundamental building block of society. Many agree that marriages seem to be common across various cultures, ethnic groups, different colors, and religious boundaries with some possible variations here and there; hence, the underlying notion of marriage remains the same all over the world: it plays a crucial role in transferring the culture and civilization from one generation to the other, so that the human race is prospered. However, way of solemnizing it differs widely, depending on traditions and ways of life of that particular community. Despite some pecularities and ethnic distinctions, Ethiopian marriages are mostly a family affair in most cases and, therefore, involve the merging of two lives, two families, and sometimes even two communities! Therefore, they are often very elaborate, involving feasting and dancing for weeks, if not for months.
Alas, gone with the days for the unadulterated traditions of Ethiopian matrimony, except, of course, arranged marriages in most ethnic groups and major cities of Ethiopia, thanks to modern education (I don’t mean they have altogether disappeared, though). The number of early marriages, too, seem to have somehow declined in the last 10 years or so, according to recent reports, which is also a good news. Nevertheless, I believe a lot of advocacy work has to be done to bring about significant changes in these directions. Originally, arranged marriages, so they say, were meant to bring about “perfect” matchmaking, though, later they took different forms and I think it’s good that they’re gradually out of the picture, at least in our major cities. By the way, I wonder whether there’s any difference in our arranged marriages and the modern-day high tech ‘computer-dating’ or ‘love connection’ TV programs,… except that the latter are based on written high-tech data collection…otherwise, all seem to focus on kind of matchmaking, don’t they?.... Food for thought!!
Anyway, a marriage ceremony represents one of life's greatest commitments, and is also a declaration of love. Our efforts to part from this traditionally arranged marriage as well as the practice of early-age matrimony is totally laudable. In other words, it's encouraging to see a progressive transformation over the years in the Ethiopian wedding culture…I don't mean we should absoulutely opt the modern forms…(may be a little too early for that). Yet, I still have qualms as to whether we have seriously taken drastic steps in certain areas. Among these, the extravagant expenses that some squander for a single wedding day (which may later bring about discord and sorrow) is one concern; the respectable culture of sending shimaglewoch (elderly men sent by the groom to the bride’s parents, kith and kin, to inquire their willingness to accept the groom for marriage) has now become a superficial drama and, in fact, unnecessary. This is because it’s a foregone conclusion that nothing changes the scenario now even if parents disagree, unlike before. Yet, the practice is deeply stamped in people’s mind and they do this rite knowing that it’s not worth doing. I mean I don’t see why we shouldn’t leave that part altogether. I don’t want to throw cold water on the moment of bliss, but I must say we should have a sense of balance of our cultural rituals if we are to keep moving from the old to the modern ways.
Did I hear somebody say, “I do” …?
Pastor/Priest “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance unto you, and give you peace.”
Congratulations, you may kiss your bride!
Apart from being the lengthy fasting season (Lent) which made many of us “hibernate” from k’urt’, t’ibs and kitfo (raw, roasted and minced meat), which are the majority’s favorites, (not to mention alcoholic beverages, in some instances), March is a historic month not only for Ethiopia but for the whole of Africa, too. And certainly equally momentous for women all over the world…hope you know what I’m getting at…the International Women’s Day. So, if now and then I wander from one of these thoughts to the other in this article, I hope you’ll forgive my lack of focus as I have already confessed. Besides, you must have noticed that I was pooped from the long fasting…and perhaps busy work … and needed to have a break…just kidding.
Almost a week before the Int’l women’s day, Ethiopians always honor their triumph against a foreign aggression at Adwa. Stunning as it was, the anniversary of the battle of Adwa, is a commemoration of THE greatest victory against foreign belligerence in the African continent - in which the only African, Ethiopian, army defeated the invading and the then unimaginably powerful European, Italian, army on March 1, 1896. March 2 is, therefore, the day we honor to our flag-wavers, who were led by Emperor Menelik II and his clever wife, Empress Taitu, who drove out this superpower, the invading Italian army, from the northern Ethiopia after the decisive battle at a small town called Adwa. Since then, this victory became an icon of independence of a nation and pride for all black people around the World. Later, the colors of Ethiopia's flag - green, yellow, and red have been adopted by many African countries after their independence as Pan-African colors. Furthermore, school children across the continent started to learn in schools about the significance of the Battle of Adwa. One vital fact we shouldn’t forget from the Battle of Adawa is the decisive role played by women. According to historians, Empress Taitu, the wife of Emperor Menelik, has herself gone to the warfront leading her own army, made of 500 infantry and 600 cavalrymen. Besides, the Empress was accompanied by thousands of women who were armed with spears, shields, and swords to participate in the actual fight. Hence, one could see that such a dramatic outcome of the warfront was possible only because women fought in the same way, as their counterpart men. And that’s why we observe as many women patriots as men on any year anniversary of the battle of Adwa. On March 4, 1896, the New York Times had stated about the Battle of Adwa under the heading, Italy’s Terrible Defeat, “The present campaign against the Abyssinians [former name of Ethiopians] threatens to become one of the most disastrous in which the Italians arms have ever taken part… the latest defeat of the Italians by King Menelik had compelled Ministry to resign, owing to the popular disapproval of the Government's policy..”
In conclusion, the battle of Adwa is emblematic to Africa and the fact that International Women’s day is in March makes the month even more symbolic and “double” anniversary for Ethiopian women, if you may. Despite the Lent season which weakens most people, the commemoration of the Battle of Adwa always boosts the morale of Ethiopians. In particular, once again let’s pay tribute to our women who have sacrificed, along with men, for the country’s freedom.
Haven‘t you ever bumped into certain quips somewhere at some time and has still reverberated in your mind ever since? I bet you have! Some of them might be from a book you read, from an ad or a public sign your eyes have seen. You can‘t help but remember some of these epigrams due to the packed ideas they flaunted through few words. Since they‘re typically short, it‘s easier to learn them by heart. For instance, I can‘t forget the following English quips I read some years ago: ‘Success is not access to excess’, or “On the keyboard of life, always keep one finger near the escape key” or “Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get”. How beautifully coined! The meanings are just awe-inspiring.
Amharic language, too, lends itself to various forms of figures of speech and witticism, in the form of wisecrack called k’Ϊne. For instance, let‘s have a look at the following:
hodΪn bə gomən bidəlΪlut gulbət bədagət yΪləgΪmal
(If one tries to deceive oneself by not, say, eating well, one‘s strength will surely fails him/her before he/she travels long enough).
“ləmΪn?” laləw fət’ari aləw ; t’əj ləleləw wΪha aləw
For the one who asks ―Why?‖ there‘s God for him; for the other who doesn‘t have t’əj (honey wine), there is tap water).
laləfəw ays’əs’ətum , ləwədəfitu aybələt’um
(One shouldn‘t feel disappointed by someone for what already happened, (knowing that) it won‘t happen again).
However, k’Ϊne is a style of speech where the much-prized hidden meaning is often embedded in only one word or an expression. A great deal of Amharic language depends on one word having, or being interpreted,‘ in more than one way. This style of speech seems to have emanated from the religious teachings of the Orthodox Church. Of course, the k’Ϊne poem, as it has evolved in modern times, with its hidden meanings and frequent ellipses, is in marked contrast to such earlier works as the majestic fifteenth-century Wudase Mariam /Praises to Mary/. Rich and varied in its splendid images as the silk and gold embroidery of an Ethiopian ceremonial robe, k’Ϊne may be a little tricky to understand for people who are unfamiliar with the language and culture. K’Ϊne is usually expressed in a poetic form (rather than in prose) containing two parts called səm and wərk’ (wax and gold) which are derived from the same one word or expression. The wax and gold analogy comes from the craft of the traditional goldsmith during the making of jewelry. The image is first formed in wax, because wax is soft and pliable to carve. The wax is then covered with clay, plaster, or porcelain, which hardens. When the molten gold is poured into the plaster or clay, the wax melts away, leaving the gold, with the desired image. Hence, encrypted and concealed message in k’Ϊne is an ancient art of creating more than one meaning, where the apparent wax‘ and the hidden, gold,‘ are intertwined in the same word.
While it takes longer and perhaps deeper analysis to discuss all types of rich Ethiopian poetry, it may be possible to demonstrate the
operation of k’Ϊne in Amharic language. The framework of economy of words and the often sharp sense of passion attached to k’Ϊne gives it a superior power which greater wordiness might not achieve. As an example of one Amharic word where the same word can have different meanings without any change in stress, is the word "bələw".‘ This word can mean: 'tell him', or 'smack him', or could just be an expression of surprise, when it‘s said with a rising intonation. Isn‘t it astonishing? The best way to illustrate k’Ϊne might be to give you some examples. Here is one:
Eyulət, eyulət yə Ϊgziabher chərnət
BandirachΪn s’ənto arbəňa sich’awət.
It is attributed to the late, Negadras (title of honor during the time of the Emperors) Tessema Eshete, father of the once famous Ethiopian soccer captain and icon, Yednekachew Tessema. It was uttered at one social occasion, where a certain arbəňa‘ /patriot/, who apparently had been given an important political post for his participation in the liberation struggle, had asked the Negadras for a word of praise. (It is pretty common for poets and singers then, to be asked to sing or express praises to famous persons in the community during a wedding or some similar social occasions.)
Unfortunately, the maverick Negadras did not think much of this particular ―arbəňa, and official who had insisted on to be praised. So, the k’Ϊne turned out to be a mocking offense. The səm‘/wax/ meaning is obvious for it can be drawn from a direct reading of the poem. I literally translated it as follows:
Eyulət, eyulət yə Ϊgziabher chərnət =
Just see the kindheartedness of God!
BandirachΪn s‟ənto arbəňa sich’awət. =
Steady is our flag and a patriot has got time to play around.
The hidden meaning, wərk’ (the gold) can be obtained from the word-play of arbəňa. When the word is split into two parts, it be-comes: ar -bəňa, for which ar- means human or animal excrement‘/ feces/ while -bəňa /bə Ϊňa/, means “on us”. So, the embedded meaning of the entire k’Ϊne, becomes: This so-called patriot and political figure fools around and demands praise as if he de-served to his credit when actually nothing could be said about him. What a timeless reminder k’Ϊne for those who would like to remain perpetually praised for their little or no contribution at all. I hope this may help as a means of cracking a door into this wide vista of the Ethiopian lingual legacy.
Chər ΪnsənbΪt ! (Let‘s remain tranquil!)
For anyone, (of course, other than who locks himself up at home possibly, for fear of transmission of ….forget it!) who scrutinizes the scenes on the streets during the last couple of weekends (and week-days) it has already started smelling holiday. It would be easier to figure out from the repeated horns of cars in a non-traffic streets that this is the start of a wedding season. This is so immediately following 'Fasika' /Ethiopian Easter/. Central Statistics Office (CSO) may have it right, but I guess hundreds or even thousands may apply for issuance of marriage certificate during this time; perhaps equal numbers of huge bulls and sheep might be slaughtered for these joyous occasions. I wish them all happy and prosperous marriages! The fact that nothing has changed the grandiose arrangements seem to reflect that the economic downturn has little effect on expenses on weddings around here – the motto appears 'blissful times like these have to be colorfully celebrated, ANYWAY'. I have also witnessed that these periods have been too busy and, shall I say, become the zenith of their business days for the local popular vocalists. I actually saw one popular artist playing his songs in three different wedding festivities I happened to attend in two days. A friend of mine confessed to me, if he had a little melodic voice, he wouldn‘t hesitate to renounce his career for being a zefaň/singer/ full time, specially, come wedding season.
I for one love our wedding songs…truly. There is something about the lyrics that invites joviality. Well, some of them have libretto outwardly a little confusing (I have to admit) even for someone who understands the language but hardly knows the culture. In fact, if you happen to be the bride or groom with plain understanding of the words of these songs (but not the underlying meanings), they may even give you the heebie-jeebies. Take a look at this one with the line…sərg Ϊna mot and nəw… /literally, a wedding and death is the same‘/ you may wonder ―what? However, it isn‘t meant to say that marrying is the same as dying or vice versa. Rather, it is meant to say the deference we bestow to wedding is equally alike to that of one‘s death or bereavement. So much to learn! Among the other wedding songs, for instance, “Yə wəyn abəbaye” / my grape flower (fruit)‘ which refers to the bride/, Amrobətal mushΪraw /‘the groom looks great‘/, Ϊňam wədənal / we too liked it‘(the wedding)/, hay loga ho! /hurray, hurray! /, kulun man kwaləsh / who did the eye make up for you‘?/, sΪri gulΪcha / make the tripod earthenware (upon which your cooking pot rests above the fire)‘ but actually meant get down to the real business‘ / could be mentioned. I must say that side by side with these mundane songs, even perhaps more, (I‘m not good at statistics), were colorful religious wedding songs that have forge ahead to make these wonderful ceremonies vivacious.
All in all, the current wedding season has suddenly transformed the somewhat sober mood of the fasting time to a season of merriment, a hope and dream-come-true wish for the newlyweds and all their dears and nears.
Məlkam GabΪcha ! /Happy Wedding to the newlyweds!/
You may ask any Ethiopian anywhere in the country (or for that matter, anywhere under the sun where they‘re found in abundance) and you‘ll soon find out they‘re members of one or both of these informal socio-economic institutions called Ϊk’ub and ΪdΪr (sorry, if I oversimplify). Ϊk’ub and ΪdΪr are the two most common, lasting, and efficient time-honored socio-economic institutions Ethiopians long ago created. Let‘s see them both.
Ϊk’ub is an association which are often set up by any small group of people (friends, colleagues or just neighbors) in order to provide substantial rotating fund for members with the intention of improving their lives and living conditions. The members of Ϊk’ub usually gather under a tree shade (nowadays, at any convenient place) to discuss and find panaceas to their economic problems. This alliance could be provisional or lasting, depending on the financial needs of the members. Ϊk’ub is more flexible and accessible than the modern banks and requires minimal paper work; they simply operate with available human and/or material resources.
As a result, people without formal education are not discouraged to join. So, from the shoe-shiners and vendors on the streets or generally, from the rank and file to the highest levels of the Ethiopian society, almost every-body is a member of one or more of these Ϊk’ubs. Therefore, for a small payment each week or month, members of Ϊk’ub can keep a steady influx of money to help themselves on a rotational basis. For instance, Ϊk’ub enables a family, including the wealthy, to acquire the necessary funding for occasions such as, weddings, or activities as constructing a house, or starting a micro-business. The rotating fund is a means to make investments that one would normally never consider making due to unavailability of such hoarded money at one time.
ΪdΪr, on the other hand, is a long term union usually formed among large numbers of fellow dwellers, workers or various groups of people to raise funds that would be used during emergencies, such as death within these groups and their loved ones. ΪdΪr members are required to attend funerals and must always be ready to help the grieving family (actually, in recent times, ΪdΪrs have widened their scope of functions and started helping out even the sick monetarily). In fact, the various ΪdΪrs in the country have done commendable jobs by being critical sources of social stability to the needy. The weekly or monthly membership fee for ΪdΪr is minimal and affordable by all. That‘s why ΪdΪr is sometimes described as group life insurance‘.
Though not recorded per se, Ϊk’ub and ΪdΪr have been crucial informal institutions that have salvaged millions of families from a lot of big and small (usually, off the record) fiscal slumps at various times; anchored in just indigenous knowledge and mutual confidence, they have effectively addressed the socio-economic needs of our society in a sustainable way. What‘s more, these traditional associations attach no other definite criteria to enroll as a member, other than the willingness and commitment to regularly pay and help out each other. Therefore, they were able to transcend all linguistic, religious, or ethnic boundaries, making our society more stable and cohesive. Could these bodies continue to serve now (as they used to) to overcome people‘s local financial needs in the era of international economic downturn? Who knows, time will tell.
Məlkam SamΪnt – Have a great week!
Have you ever thought that there would be any connection between a bone (perhaps with roasted soft meat on it) and a month? Seems weird, isn’t it? There is, however, a sound link between the Ethiopian second month, T’ϊkϊmt, and bone, at’ϊnt, (naturally with meat to chew on it).
Here’s the story: As the rainy season gives in to the beginning of the sunny time of the year, the second month, T’ϊkϊmt ( October), the weather specially, the mornings and nights suddenly turn chilly (at least used to be), as it is the coldest month of the year(appears to be paradoxical to have cool weather with the coming of the sunny days).
It was common to hear lots of bedside stories beginning like “once on a usual cold October day” and so forth. And the elderly people usually counsel people to eat a little more meat than usual at this period so as to survive the chilly climate. That’s why we have the saying bə T’ϊkϊmt and at’ϊnt which is literally translated as ‘A bone with meat on it is required in most of the meals eaten in October’ (I haven’t heard any advice that‘s helpful for the vegans). This is perhaps because Ethiopia is mostly a culture where meat eating is not basically relegated to a festive event. Perhaps that’s why it is quite common to see large number of people around the slaughterhouses and some restaurants eating raw and roasted meat at this time of the year.
Talking of meat, Ethiopia is amongst Africa’s top cattle holders; according to the recent statistics, the country houses 40 million cattle and 50 million sheep and goats and it is at the moment exporting about 6,000 tons of meat out of which most of them comes from goat and sheep. However weird it might seem, don’t forget a single advice from the elderly and the wise - bə T’ϊkϊmt and at’ϊnt - make sure to have at least a bone with meat before you hit the sack at the end of the day in the coming month, T’ϊkϊmt.
chər ϊnsənbϊt! (Let’s hold on happily!)
I remember an ex-colleague who once said, "The moment I read about the iniquity of drinking, I gave up read-ing" (…instead of drinking). He has never once believed that drinking is too bad. He could have been the first to call me and ―herald the recent incredible ―flat-earth kind of news released by BBC, had he not renounced reading anything about alcohol. Just last week, a British Medical Journal published the works of a lead researcher professor Morten Gronbaek from the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark. In brief, the study pointed out that people will be ―immune from incidence of heart at-tacks, strokes, and other forms of circulatory disease, and might reduce the incidence of certain cancers if only they are drinkers. This study suggests that the benefits of boozing increase with age. Accordingly, ―indeed over age 65, not only does moderate drinking prolong life, but so does heavy drinking! The moderate drinkers have a 40 percent lower mortality rate than the abstainers, and even the heavy drinkers have a 12 per cent lower mortality rate. Wow!
While for some across the globe this has simply been a mockery of science, several people have already showed a proclivity for boozing around here, at least. Some have already increased their daily consumption up to four bïrïle (flask for drinking T’әj (honey wine) ….the teetotalers are sure to join the club…gradually. As a result of this scientific ―breakthrough, I can assure you that in no time we‘ll constantly be reminded by the age-old maxim of the night owl 'one for the road' in our local TV and billboards. It‘s no more a surprise that time has come when 'an apple a day …'changes to 'a drink a day'.
Since T’әj is still highly regarded by most communities in Ethiopia as a magical drink, such news would definitely create halcyon days, if you may, for owners of T’әj betoch (T’әj houses). Being made of honey, water and gesho (the fermenting herb), many local folks enjoy this local drink called T’әj. To make T’әj milder just take out the gesho, and you have a beverage called bïrz, (a mixture of honey and water that is allowed to ferment, very slightly, on its own for a few days before it's consumed). Bïrz, doesn't have the spicy pungency of full-on T’әj, and it certainly doesn't have the alcohol con-tent.
Even various ancient documents testify that T’әj has been part of the ordinary food table, for a very long time, at least, to the ones with moderate incomes, and surely for the royalty. Even a third century A.D historical text during the height of Axum's power, described it vividly. The inscription goes on to portray the victuals of the monarchy as follows: "There's virgin mutton, virgin beef, honey, wheat, beer, a bucket of butter and - best of all - T’әj, honey wine." Even to date at different parts of Ethiopia, T’әj has still been made with various flavors, thus, "ye'mar T’әj ," honey wine made with honey," "ye'areke T’әj " (flavored with areke, a gin-like local drink), "ye'buna T’әj," which is honey wine flavored with coffee (buna), or we can make "ye'birtukan T’әj " (flavored with orange), or "ye'zinjibil T’әj " (flavored with ginger), or "ye'muz T’әj " (flavored with banana) …I really doubt whether some of us have ever heard or tasted any of the above flavors… Anyway, while the fresh discovery surely serves regular drinkers to tempt some to join their club, the former‘s call was not just to turn us drink up to a merry pitch till the tongues run before our wit, and never give off till the drink be all out. On the contrary, I think, drinking in moderation has always been the commonplace folk‘s wisdom around here, as it may be elsewhere. In fact, the Amharic saying, “marïm sibәza yïmәral” (even honey turns sour if it‘s taken too much") explains it plainly.
However, for now alcohol appears the answer, and chances are some big names would soon start endorsing alcoholic beverages like T’әj and other local drinks. I also expect the first to act in this direction could be local vocalists who would amend their video clips by showing yә bïrïle T’әj,(a flask of T’әj) who knows? It‘s something to encourage moderate drinking so as to live healthier and longer lives. It‘s another to stretch its context beyond a drink a day to keep a heart disease away.
The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting "is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health’’! Indeed it’s an old tradition that can be dated back to the time of the ancient Greeks. Another document states that whenever there was a gathering or a massive celebration, the Greeks would gather, pour wine and toast one another celebrating the occasion. This gesture was later picked up by the other cultures around the world and passed on through generations until we end up with the toasting tradition that we know today. Toasting is something that is done at almost every celebratory or festive occasion where one a person or two may stand up and say a few nice things either about the person or persons or the occasion. As you know, they then will clink their glasses together and cheer before downing their drink. This toasting tradition in Ethiopia is also age-old. Grabbing one’s təj, honey wine or t’əla, local beer or any other drinks, such as arək’e, especially at celebrations like this one, New Year (Adis Amət or Ϊnk’ut’at’ash) people toast with a hearty –“lə t’enachΪn “-! That's the Ethiopian way, which means "to our health." As we are moving forward to the Adis Amət, 2002, (oops, counting your age in Ethiopian calendar makes you feel younger) I think many things deserve to be cherished and we dare raise our glasses and make toasts for them. Of course, it’s not that all of them were deeply remembered for their good sides, but in anticipation that they may, in some inexplicable way, would bring about affirmative results in the Adis Amət. First and foremost, a toast” lə t’enachΪn” for seeing another day, another Adis Amət, despite all the soaring prices of goods and cereals, especially that of bəg (sheep) and doro (chicken) and k’Ϊbe (butter) which are core to Ethiopian holiday festivities. A toast “lə l’ΪjochachΪn” (for our kids) for they will be heading to the next level of educational challenge, though the school fees have skyrocketed like no other time.
A toast “lə k’ələbət məngədochachΪn” (for our newly constructed ring-roads), since they were completed this past year, though the dramatic increase of gas price may restrict us from fully enjoying our vehicles on these highways. A toast “Yə bΪrhan Amət YΪhunΪlΪn” (let the new-year be that of light) for our new Electric Power House, GΪlgəl Gibe I, (one of the three project sites was said to be completed this past year), even if we are still having several months of dark nights. Yet, we always see the Adis Amət as a hope to see better things and situations. Was it Tom Clancy who said, “Man is a creature of hope and invention, both of which belie the idea that things cannot be changed”? So, it’s very customary in Ethiopian culture to celebrate the Adis Amət with such a mindset of hope and wishful toast. I hereby stop and make a toast for this year – Adisu Amət Yət’ena, Yə səlam, Yə bΪls’ΪgΪna Ϊna Yə dəsta zemen YΪhunΪlΪn, literally translated as “Let the New Year be of health, peace, prosperity and happiness”!
As the week began with Martin Luther King’s day, it‘s natural to honorably echo his life, legacy, bravery and his influence elsewhere in the world. Not only as the symbolic leader of American blacks but also as a world figure whose imprints had universal impact. His struggle for freedom and human rights left a great impression throughout the nations. His love for his people and country didn‘t let him sit idly with his arms folded and allow brutality to reign over his own fellowmen. He was arrested twenty times and assaulted at least four times; yet, he didn‘t give up, and his unwavering struggle finally took away his life, as well. However, his sacrifice bore fruits eventually.
When I think of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., another man always comes to my mind concurrently in Ethiopian history. Both individuals had some marked similarities, which is the focus of today‘s piece. Not only were both of these people God‘s servants, but also passionate lovers of their people and country. They both nobly sacrificed their lives for their great cause: exposing the injustice and suppression of their people by their perpetrators. Well, that man who used to live on this side of the planet (whom some even compared him to saints), and who demonstrated similar kind of incredible heroism as MLK, is Yetekeberu (Reverend) Abune (Patriarch) Petros (Peter). Abune Petros was one of the first four native Ethiopians who were anointed as bishops by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria to serve under the Coptic born Archbishop Abune K‟erllos of Ethiopia in 1932. Abune Petros was given the province of Wello (north eastern part of Ethiopia) as his diocese. In 1936, the Fascist Italian armies of Benito Mussolini occupied much of Ethiopia, and Abune Petros traveled to the then northern Shewa district of Menz to join the sons of Ras (honorary title of the army, which means ‘head’) Kassa, and other resistance leaders to plan an attack on the Italians to drive them out of Addis Ababa. Nevertheless, this plan of assault failed the following year, and the Bishop was captured in 1937. To cut a long story short, the Italians gave him the following ultimatum upon his detention: to stop preaching against the occupying army‘s violence and terror against civilians and the patriots, accept the Italian authorities in Addis Ababa and ultimately condemn his fellow
patriots as bandits. “Otherwise”, he was told, “you will lose your life”. Here comes the extraordinary heroism of this individual: Abune Petros refused to comply with the ultimatum set by his tormentors, and through the Italian interpreter, gave the following response to the interrogating officers of the invading army: “The lamentation of my fellow people who died due to your nerve-gas diffusion and bombardment of heavy shells will never be forgotten; my con-science could never accommodate your ultimatum. How could I see my God if I have a blind eye to such a heinous crime?” and turning towards his people, he quoted from the Scriptures, “Listen to me, you who know righteousness, a people in whose heart is my law, do not fear the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them like garment …… (Isaiah 51:7-8)”. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthews 5:10)”. And he paused...forever. Seeing that he defiantly refused to submit to the Italian rule, he was immediately condemned to death. Shortly before his execution, Abune Petros dressed in his clerical robes, (as you see him on his statue) held up his hand cross and pronounced his anathema on the people and on the very earth of Ethiopia itself, if his people were ever to submit to the invader. He was then shot to death in front of a horrified audience. What more heroism could be demonstrated for a love of one‘s people and country other than such one?
To conclude, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Abune Petros were simply ordinary men but they exhibited extraordinary heroism in confronting inhumanity and repressive regimes. It was this magnificent courage that made them exceptionally laudable. Were these two gallant personalities able to exhibit such kind of incredible heroism due to their strong faith in God? And could lack of such individuals in society (who can take such a bold act of sacrifice to one‘s fellow people), the main reason for not yielding notable changes in bringing about true democracy? As Elmer Davis once said, "A nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave." Let‘s all take this opportunity to thank both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abune Petros for demonstrating love and compassion to their people through sacrifice.