Monday, February 13, 2012

The Stick/dula/ or the Stone/dΪngay/?

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.
For instance, a biological science class usually raises a question as to which came first - the egg or chicken ? Here are a few hilarious answers: one student said chicken came prior to egg because ‘C’ came before ‘E’ in the dictionary. Still others argued that why bother - both are delicious. Perhaps the funniest response of all these was “I had an egg for breakfast and chicken for dinner….so I guess egg came first.” Of course, you can’t agree to the logic behind all of the above responses, although you might with their answers. Today’s article craves to answer the question, at least try, - which was introduced first in Ethiopia as a tool- the stick, dula (generic name) or the stone, dΪngay? Just as you couldn’t totally agree with one or the other responses above, none may feel at ease candidly responding to this dilemma. Some historians go for the stick and claim that it came first to Ethiopia as a tool. But then, logical thought tells us that sticks could change into dust somewhere in the mist of time as compared to stone tools. In other words, this side of the argument supports that the stone-age may have preceded the “stick-age” ( if at all there’s one by this name). On the other hand, an insightful examination to the various Ethiopian ethinic groups would help one to appositely witness vestiges of the culture of using dula in the day to day lives of people. Hence, the dula may have come first many millennia ago in Ethiopia, much earlier than our monolithic monuments, who knows? I mean, why on earth are most of our societies still using dula in one form or another? Ethiopans use dulas to defend against untamed animals and make certain that humans can travel from point A to point B without being assaulted by the clawed and fanged beasts of the fields and natural forests. The dula is still used as a device for prevention against aliens, highway robbers and enemies. Furthermore, dula is also linked to some other events. For instance, the Mursic and Surmic people have a culture of ritual stick fighting play-offs, a dueling called Donga stick fight, which is an art that allows young boys to win the honor among the community and hearts of young girls for marriage. The Hamər people use a meter-long dula with the hooked end for gathering fruits in the midst of formidable thornbush, pushing the thorns into place with the forked end and building a cattle kraal. The Hamər use the dula in religious rituals, too, such as, in ceremonies of blessing and cursing.
The Oromo, Amhara, Tigre and other ethinic groups also use one or the other type of dulas for various purposes. By the way, the lonely dula, hasn’t lingered for long as a simple ordinary stick. Like the staff of Moses, it has expanded and blossomed into various types of tools and weapons. The devices that were created from this regular dula were given different names for different uses: a guard's dula, or the ones held by an official police , is called K’omet’, usually made from hardwood and is round and knobbed and is specifically designed to knock off an adversary or incapacitate wild animals; Kezera, BətΪr, or MΪrkuz are names used interchangeably to refer to a walking stick with the number 7-shaped head; Zeng is a type of BətΪr used by those who walk long distances in the wilderness and forests of Ethiopia. It is a formidable weapon and as such held very dearly and intimately by the owner; mədənk’əriya is a strong pole about 4 feet long used to jam a door from the inside to prevent access into a house.
This is a typical gadget used in huts in the countryside or small villages where padlock keys may not be available or suitable to use; Zenezena is a very large dula, the girth of which is about 4 inches in diameter used to pound grain in a mortar called mukəch’a; Mek’wamia is a prayer stick used by the elderly and the church clergy. The Mek’wamia is used in the standing position during the long church ceremonies. The head of the staff is a T-shaped brass or iron handle that can be used as a chin rest. In church festivities, such as in “dances” at Epiphany /TΪmk’ət/ , the Mek’wamia is held and waved in rhythms of the church chants of praise. Thus, the Mek’wamia is somewhat resembling a conductor’s baton in an orchestra.
I personally don’t buy the idea that Ethiopians use dula more often than dΪngay just by a quirk of fate. Considering all the various day-to-day purposes this wooden item has to the people, including the so-many-others not mentioned here due to space and time, I believe the stick, dula, may have been used as a tool prior to the stone, dΪngay here in Ethiopia. Məlkam samΪnt! (Have a good week!)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Meaningful Story Behind the Photo

What would you make of this picture at first glance? Be frank – a bird’s nest, a tool to shoo pigeons away in a farm field, or rather a locally made toy for a tot? If you guessed any of the above, you’re dead wrong. Perhaps, those of us who have seen the indigenous t’əla betoch /local drink houses/ in some parts of Addis Ababa and the regions, might assume it’s rather an outdoor placard that notifies the presence of the t’əla drink somewhere indoors. Again your surmise is wrong, unfortunately. Well, I totally agree with a known journalistic adage that says “every picture tells a story,” although I have seen many which have very little, if at all, that communicate meaning. Similarly, however, we do find quite many snapshots that have the most enduring effect on people that can be included among the pictorial record for they show the impact of a certain period of time and place, like those which reveal the hard times of a nation. The beauty of a good snapshot is that unlike similar symbols rendered in paint or prose, it seems to convey reality without the mediation of an artist or interpreter. There’s an Amharic verse that says something relevant to photographs: yaləfutΪn gizeyat fit ləfit amt’Ϊto ləmΪn aynagər yΪnagəral foto Simply translated as: 'Bringing the past times vividly to the fore Yes indeed, the photo tells a tale' While this is a testimony that the photo brings the past into the present, it really illustrates the truth that a photo really tells a story. Today’s piece is the success story behind this compelling image by Jane Strachan, the USAID-OFDA Program Officer while she was in a monitoring visit to a program site. But first, let me give you a background: The USAID/OFDA-funded Hygiene Promotion Awareness Training encompasses a wide range of activities aimed at altering attitudes and behaviors so that they would break the succession of disease transmission associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation. In disaster-affected areas, USAID funds water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions such as the construction of wells and latrines and the promotion of hand washing, safe water usage, and healthy sanitation. Through WASH programming, USAID helps reduce morbidity and mortality associated with water and sanitation-related diseases and poor environmental conditions. Indeed, changes seem to be on the move in these communities. This can be proved by their responsiveness to keep well – hygienically. This is really one of the success stories of USAID/Ethiopia. It is so because breaking the chains of the long-held practices and changing people’s attitudes and behaviors could not come swiftly and easily. It is possible only with an arduous endeavor on the part of those who exercise great work to bring about it. In the context of rural and even some urbanities of Ethiopia, where the provision of “safe” piped water to every household cannot be achieved (at least, in a foreseeable short period of time), the necessity of keeping healthy - hygienic - assumes great importance. Nonetheless, as is true of most developing communities elsewhere, most of these people rely on the government to make sure that their wellbeing is sustainably kept, for they’re without resources to do it all by themselves. However, it is necessary for the community to at least contribute by upholding benefits of trainings, such as this, through developing some form of appropriate individual hygiene care. Real decisions on hygiene awareness should be made at individual as well as at the community level in order to have the biggest impact. This is all what this captivating picture depicts– a tribute to the responsible individual’s responsiveness to this life-changing hygiene training and his creative effort to keep healthy with meager resources. The photo you’re seeing above, in its directness and simplicity records the conditions of poverty while also celebrating the persistent human spirit of staying hygienic in even the most difficult of circumstances. The location is in Bale region, Harawa 7 district, in close proximity to Ginnir, which is roughly 650 kilometers south-east from Addis. It is a hand-washing tool a community member created after receiving OFDA-funded hygiene promotion training. Jane admiringly explains that he, (unfortunately the person’s name is anonymous) has built a rudimentary latrine and installed this tool next to it so that his family won’t forget to wash their hands the minute after they use the restroom. Isn’t it something that deserves appreciation? Yes, it is. The individual utilized his creativity to put into practice what he learned theoretically. Creativity is not the ability to create out of nothing (only God can do that), but the ability to generate new ideas from what has been learned by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. And most importantly, it also comprises of the ability to accept change and newness, a willingness to play with ideas and possibilities, and a flexibility of outlook. According to The International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State University, "Creativity is an effective resource that resides in all people and within all organizations." Therefore, often all that's needed to be creative is to make a commitment to the task we want to accomplish ahead of us and to take the time for it. What earns commendation here is the ability of the anonymous person to define the existing problem, believe in what he learned to address the difficulty, generate creative solution for it, and then transform this solution into action through the use of locally available materials at his disposal. We seem to see the reality itself, people, rocks, fences, clouds, etc. in good photos as this one. No teller is required to tell or to write this story; it happens by itself. Isn’t it fun and useful to be creative as the anonymous person described above? And isn’t it valuable to have a profound impact on viewers by taking a telling snapshot? Məlkam samΪnt! → Have a good week!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Visionary Reformer and His Hilarious Encounters with the Traditionalists!

Menelik II was one of the beloved emperors Ethiopia has ever had. He unlocked the country’s door for technological advancement and brought about so many reforms of his time (but only at the sacrifice of harsh criticism and harm that was inflicted upon him). Among these fundamental improvements, the introduction of telephone was one that caused him much confrontation among his own conservative people, especially the clergymen. The humorous disputes that went on between this farsighted leader and those against his modern changes, and the incidents that took place as a result, are the center of today’s piece. According to the legendary Ethiopian journalist and prolific writer, P’awlos ňo ňo, who wrote As’e Menelik /Emperor Menelik/, and a popular historian and writer, Tekle Tsadik Mekuria’s, As’e Menelik Ϊna yə Ityop’ia andΪnet (Emperor Menelik and the Ethiopian Unity) the first ever land line telephone, also known as "plain old telephone” was installed in Menelik’s palace in 1889 (perhaps much ahead of even some European countries). (I wonder, though, who he was talking to in it, for it was only one piece). This news caused annoyance among many clergymen who resented the new technology. Eight representatives of the clergy, then approached Menelik and appealed to the Emperor that the telephone in the palace was, in fact, the work of səyt’an (the Devil, Satan) and that it should be removed from the palace and destroyed in public. Concealing his fury at the request, Menelik informed the delegates that their concern was 'legitimate' and he will get back to them the next day. Subsequently, he called up his nobility and the Patriarch and bitterly complained that the clergy is interfering in his vision of growth for his country by claiming that the telephone technology is the work of səyt’an, the Devil. He also firmly stated that the priests were bent on sabotaging his work and were, in the process, forcing him to even consider abandoning the Orthodox faith just to distance himself from the backward clergy. Upon hearing such a shocking declaration from the Emperor, the nobility and the Patriarch rushed to assure the Emperor that they will calm down the priests and begged him to stay with the Orthodox faith. Another funny incident that occurred, in line with this ever first installation of landline telephone, was at one of his top aide’s residence. Two years after Menelik set up telephone at his palace, a second one was fixed in the home of AfənΪgus /spokesperson of the king/ Nessibu, the then minister of justice. One Sunday afternoon, however, the telephone apparatus developed a short-circuit and brought a minor electrical shock to the AfənΪgus as he was chatting on the phone. When the clergymen heard of this incident, they seized the opportunity to publicly declare that this is a clear sign that the device was indeed the work of səyt’an and pronounced unfit for the country and its people. Later, they grabbed the telephone set and publicly burnt it.
In 1899, eight years after the burning of the AfənΪgus' telephone-set by the clergy, however, the Emperor stuck to his wish and vision and was able to inaugurate the Harar-Addis Ababa telephone line. We know that we are now found in an era where even the service of mobile phones has exceeded that of the traditional residential landline phone (at least in Addis and some big towns). Nontheless, Menelik’s hunger for tech, his will and determination to press forward with his development vision (almost 120 years ago) despite major stumbling blocks, eventually paid. It’s a testimony that good will always prevail over ignorance. Ethiopians owe him for such a valor. What a brilliance and resolve to advance his nation!

Language, Universality of Music and… Musicians?!

Like language, music is a human unversal in which perceptually discrete elements are organized into hierarchially structured sequences according to synthatic principles. According to a new report published online on March 19th in Current Biology, (ScienceDaily, Mar. 20, 2009), “Native African people who have never even listened to the radio before can nonetheless pick up on happy, sad, and fearful emotions in Western music. The result shows that the expression of those three basic emotions in music can be universally recognized, the researchers said.” In other words, what’s being played in this part of the globe could have meaningful interpretations in another quarter. There is a close relationship between language and music. In fact, now, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center have found evidence that the processing of music and language do indeed depend on some of the same brain systems. Their findings, which are currently available, published in the journal NeuroImage, are the first to suggest that two different aspects of both music and language depend on the same two memory systems in the brain. One brain system, based in the temporal lobes, helps humans memorize information in both language and music— for example, words and meanings in language and familiar melodies in music. The other system, based in the frontal lobes, helps us unconsciously learn and use the rules that underlie both language and music, such as the rules of syntax in sentences, and the rules of harmony in music. Language learning (and teaching, for that matter) short of savoir faire about the culture in which it operates, is like learning bare or meaningless symbols. One part of culture is, certainly, music. But music, so they say, is far deeper than a language: it is a universal language, and even some go as far as saying that “it is the purest form of self-expression.” Hence, it’s neither restricted by boundary and race, nor by character of the language in use, be it Latin, Semitic, Cushitic or the like. Then one might wonder, “Okay, let music be universal as language, as a form of self-expression. Does this mean that musicians could be, too?” The current piece attempts to reflect on this notion by taking an analogy of recent incidents that took place in different parts of the world. Well, the recent tragic deaths of both the Ethiopian music superstar Tilahun Gessese and the world king of pop, Michael Jackson, have triggered some discussions locally as to their actual similarities. Of course, the scope do vary greatly. However, the following parallels stick out : they both started music at their early ages; their music have been No. 1 hit for more than 3 to 5 decades in their respective countries; Ethiopians owe both celebrities for their moving melodious songs at a crucial time when Ethiopia was hit by a severe natural calamity in the 80’s. While Tilahun sang in tears his tour de force, “Way Way silu”(literally, ‘when they utter trickling lamenting sounds’ at a loss of loved ones), Michael, along with other several musicians around the globe, sang the powerful summon, ‘We’re the world’ at a fund-raising campaign for the victims of drought. What’s more, overlooking their life styles, they both were rehearsing hard for what were to be their greatest comeback bid, shortly before the end of their lives, perhaps once again, aspiring to finish it with stardom. What’s even more surprising is the fact that both singers had tragic unexpected deaths at the same year and of the same medical cause – probable cardiac failure; Could this have been just a quirk of fate? Or may be,… just may be, like music…, could musicians, too, be universal? Long ago, a lay admirer from a neighboring country, who knows the Amharic language a little, once coined a doggerel to this iconic Ethiopian singer. With his frail lyrical skill but with bold determination to pay a personal living tribute to Tilahun’s wonderful music, he jotted down: awroplan hedə Ϊyə gəsəgəsə kə zəfaňoch andəňa T’Ϊlahun Gəsəsə. literally translated ‘The aeroplane has swiftly gone, Among the musicians Tilahun Gessesse stands number one’.
While there’s no obvious link between the airplane that went swiftly and the fact that Tilahun ranks first among others in musical skills, the individual seems to have achieved his objective of being appreciative of the melodic talent in his own way, rising above his own language barrier and border (though, I have to say, the verse created a gag amid the literary critics at the time). That’s even more evident in Michael’s global musical legacy, as well. His music touched millions across the globe, in spite of language and cultural differences. Indeed, many would agree that music is a universal language. Would it be possible to consider musicians universal, too, owing to the many bona fide parallels that could be drawn from vocalists all over the world? Məlkam samΪnt ! → Have a good week!

Bək’olo – the Rainy Season’s Treat

It’s been almost a couple of weeks now since many of us started to feel…only feel, the long-awaited rainy season, the kΪrəmt, although we’re in reality sensing the not-so-usual-kind of bΪrd /cold/ and zΪnab /rain/. In the past, kΪrəmt used to be not accommodating if one wants to have touristy time. However, it is now actually lighter and brighter, in all respects, compared to those of the yesteryears. That means, you don’t have to miss your customary walking or running on the streets around your place despite some drizzling… and can always remain fit doing your outdoor exercises. But one thing you notice as you return from this routine is a whiff of the freshly roasted odor of a certain cereal on almost every corner of the metroplis …surely, you never want to pass by it…. and together with your fatigue from the exercise, your stomach “reacts”positively to it…and on a whim, you feel like starving. This makes you guess whether this roasted aroma could be the best “fast” food of the rainy season. You guessed it right … this is Bək’olo TΪbs,the seasonal treat. Because of its slightly sweet flavor and crisp, juicy texture, Bək’olo is a favorite of adults and children alike. I know that some native localities go even further, opting for Kurt’ sΪga /raw meat/ , instead, to “regenerate” lost internal heat for such time of year. On the other hand, others perhaps would rather settle on hot macaroni soup as it helps to perspire on cold rainy days. Nonetheless, owing to its fair price and rich dietary value, Bək’olo TΪbs is the most favored choice for many as their kΪrəmt seasonal treat… it’s not a surprise if many are seen grabbing some on their way home. You already got it… Bək’olo TΪbs is corn /maize/ on the cob roasted on charcoal fire with a slightly smoky flavor. You can do it by putting some ears of Bək’olo (no husks) on a barbeque grill (or the local charcoal stove) and cooking them until they are almost charred on the outside and rotating continuously to cook them evenly. Bək’olo TΪbs is so addictive (at least to many of us) that once you tasted the organic ones, you wish the showery days lasted longer (unfortunately, there are only few retailers who can make it genuinely flavorsome). So, follow this wise counsel : when purchasing organic fresh Bək’olo, ask for ləga (fresh) ones and buy it with the green husks.
Keep the husk intact while storing the Bək’olo to maintain flavor and freshness, but you should really buy ləga ones on the day you plan to eat it. To test the Bək’olo before purchase, peel back a corner of the husk and make sure the kernels are plump and tightly packed together. Pierce one kernel with a fingernail to check for plumpness — the raw kernel should exude a milky substance, which indicates that your Bək’olo will be fleshy and juicy when you bite into it! I always hear from a couple of long-time diaspora friends that, among other things, what they actually miss and remember with love from Ethiopia is the Bək’olo TΪbs that’s usually served on those long rainy days when school was closed, and all their family gathering together around the charcoal heat. They considered the heat symbolic of the love of their mothers who used to make the magical Bək’olo TΪbs. Bək’olo could also be eaten boiled, in the form of Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl and is likeable by many, too. Some even prefer Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl to Bək’olo TΪbs which has a smoky flavor. Whether you take it in Bək’olo TΪbs or Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl form, you can be sure of it’s myriad health value.The medicinal worth of Bək’olo is beyond one’s imagination: just read any health journal and you’ll discover that it contains important B vitamins, which aids in the prevention of heart attacks and colon cancer, and to help improve memory. Bək’olo also contains important nutrients that help promote the health of the heart and the eyes. The kΪrəmt satiates us, local folks, in bringing nourishment to people in all of the usual ways–saturating crops, filling rain water tanks, and dams, possibly relieving us from the usual outage of power (though the current severe dearth of electric power is also unusual, just like this year’s kΪrəmt ). What cereal is more synonymous with the coming of kΪrəmt than the freshly picked natural Bək’olo on the cob? So, enjoy making Bək’olo TΪbs or Bək’olo k’ Ϊk’Ϊl an essential part of any kΪrəmt time party, BBQ fun or a refreshment for a long walk over the weekends. Məlkam SamΪnt! →Have a great week!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Changes as we Move on to the Ethiopian New Year!

Every time a new-year looms one of the things that always comes to mind is resolutions…for change! (I’m sure you all have at least quite a few ones for this year).This is mostly true because we know and really feel deep inside that our current life-form or status needs some (if not full) sort of transformation. We all have an innate desire to make over. But I guess we require some kind of time-zone momentum to give in our ingrained habits, or else, we wouldn’t wait the beginning of every year to make some commitments. However, honestly speaking, turning these resolutions to fruition is, for the most part, very difficult. Although I don’t have any statistics to support me at the moment, among the common Ethiopian New Year’s resolutions, saving money, quit smoking, getting married, drinking less alcohol and nowadays getting fit stand out. Unfortunately, at the end of the year, we find many of our resolutions unresolved. The main reason appears that we humans (I don’t know whether this is true for other animals, too) find change a little discomforting…because altering our habits need a little effort, and quite a few slip-ups discourage us from continuing to fight those “shackles” of ours. Be it internal changes like altering our diets or daily routines, or else external ones, like shifting our residence, office locations, all initially become distant mountains. Well, getting rid of our customary ways, our attachments to various scenes, places and most of all, people are not something to easily “throw away” from our heads and move on, especially, if changes are several at a time. I guess we’re not created that way! Most of them come time and again on our ways and try to win over our mentalities. After all, they have been with us for a considerable time. Neither getting familiar with the newly introduced mode of doing things so quickly is simple. However, if we make a reality check and see the big picture, change seems to be an ongoing inevitable phenomenon in our day to day lives. So many things have constantly been changing in our eyes. From the privately owned rising buildings around the metropolis and government built condos to the record high devaluation (20%) of our currency are all external changes recently. The ensuing skyrocketing prices of goods as we head to the new Ethiopian Year is really a frustrating change. The 2003 Ethiopian New Year has also concurred with changes in our workstations, for those moving to new workstations, if not for those folks who remain in their former ones. All these changes could be sufficient to be nerve-racking. So, now the obvious question would be is “How do we cope-up with all of these changes?” Well, I suggest John Dewey’s advice on changes could be a panacea for at least a couple of them (if not for all the queries). According to John Dewey, “As changes are going on anyway, the great thing is to learn enough about them so that we will be able to lay hold of them and turn them in the direction of our desires. Conditions and events are neither to be fled from nor passively acquiesced in; they are to be utilized and directed.” Talk of the potential upcoming changes, (I personally confess) has always been frustrating than heartening at first to most of us. However, things will hopefully turn out to be much better as time goes by if all of us work together for a common good. Let me make wishes for the coming year as it is common in our tradition: Let the New Year be peaceful, a time for mutual understanding, much progress and most of all ACTION to change our resolutions into execution!

Craze of the Football /Soccer/ Tournament & Nationalism!

Football carries heavy political and symbolic significance…footballs diffusion across the world allows different cultures and nations to construct particular forms of identity through their interpretation and practice of the game. “Richard Giulianotti, ‘Football: Sociology of the global game’ I am not actually packed(so to speak ) about the whim of football as such. Nonetheless, more than any other time I know of, this year’s soccer cup tournament in South Africa seems to have unearthed (at least to some of us) a totally different disposition and quirks in many people (mind you, this did not exclude VIPs in the political arena) than the usual mind-set we have known for years. Well, as many would agree, soccer (football) is a magical game that can draw countless crowds (guys, we’ve already witnessed this incident) due to the excitement, passion, emotion and dedication it creates among fans. The fact that we see plenty of reasonably logical people (oh, yes, like myself) showing long faces to the opponent team supporters, at times by fidgeting, banging tables, crying, forging enduring friendships, frantically eating cigarettes (one had meant to smoke), gambling and walking around feeling 10 feet tall when their favorite team wins, and all other kinds of impulses prove that. Among other things, what makes this year’s football tournament inimitable, so to say, is the chipping in of those high-profile personas who opted to see the matches of their respective countries (altering schedules of even the most vital global deliberations at G20 summit). This has become so natural (this time), especially, when supporters’ team is one’s own country as emotions started to go sky-high then. Actually, fans in countries with strong local and regional identities have a slightly different relationship to the sport than fans in countries where regionalism is of less importance. However, at the end of the day and in the most literal sense, football is just a sport game for all; nothing was as serious about it as defeating or/and being defeated for this has always been a rule of thumb of the game. Another observation seems to be gender equity of fans. Although soccer is still largely a masculine domain (at least in this part of the world, if I'm not mistaken), we have now observed a good number of feminine fans supporting their national heroes, even to the extent of offering their attractive bids (the promise of Paraguayan model could be mentioned)as a sign to boost their moral. What is perhaps amazing of all the commonality, however, is the fact that many of the talented and famous European club players, who were expected to display their brilliant talents with their national teams, couldn’t prove in the battlefield like other times. Gone are the days, so it seems, where that team color, collective effort and national patriotic fervor acts as a momentum to win. Globalization appears to have dominated soccer, too. And a club, not one’s nation, has become a driving force for a skilled player to exhibit his/her talents. Well, I personally think it’s positive to suppress nationalistic emotions and exalted patriotism in modern times with well-mannered societies and applaud globalization in football. Like it or not, I think, globalization has already been in the making of football. As someone said, “Who would have predicted thirty years ago that British soccer fans would have cheered for a London team full of Africans, Latin Americans, and Spaniards, coached by a Frenchman? Or that the national English team would be managed by an Italian?”If I add to this statement, “Who would think World Cup Tournament to be hosted in one of the African countries?”
In conclusion, it may be difficult to state the accurate cause for such a totally radical (or perhaps different) make-up of soccer. Whether World Football Cup has been hosted for the first time in Africa is the result of the sweeping change of international football is not very clear. One thing for sure, however, is that football/soccer has greatly transformed itself with globalization.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

K’әrәrto ïna Shïlәla /Praise songs & Heroic Chants/ as well as Election Season

Patriots Day and election season have already concurred in May … (by the way, we have started the voting system for election just some five years back). This choice of timing has given the month of May a unique place in our nation’s history - a time to celebrate a new election culture. (It’s funny, though, that this historic event coincided with other countries in Europe, too). What amazed me was the language of political parties and the tune of the melodies heard on various media on these two entirely different occasions, that is, during the election campaigns and commemoration of the Patriots Day - appear to be analogous, if not identical. These songs are called K’әrәrto ïna Shïlәla, /Praise songs & heroic Chants/. This is what my piece attempts to focus today. Praise songs/ K’әrәrto/and heroic chants /Shïlәla / were at first meant to describe social and political resistance, especially in the northern part of Ethiopia, Gojjam region, to be more specific. They mainly reflected on the achievements of heroic figures like military patriots and political leaders, describing their characters, personalities, powers and skills that make them superior to others. Historically, reciting them, farmers used to rouse audacity during war campaigns and before battles; they were mainly recited by warriors on these occasions and times of war, at battlefields and by hunters upon returning from hunting. Later, the people also articulated in this poetry their grievances, feelings of sorrow, and encouraged uprisings and revolts against invaders and enemies. In other words, K’әrәrto ïna Shïlәla were songs meant to encourage and boost the morale of those who fought in the battlefields and who have already gained success in it. The singer some time appeared aggressive and war-like praising himself and whatever weapon he had at his disposal. Besides, he praised the adventures of his family, friends, neighbors, harvest and cattle. To put it in context, one instance is given below where this form of poetry is reflected to Belay Zeleke, one of the highly acclaimed brave military men of Northern Ethiopia…he was given the name Aba Kostér for his gallantry. Ïsti bäsmam bïye lïjämïr sälamta →Let me start greetings in the name of the Father, Aba Kostér Bälay yä haymanot geta → Abba Kostér Bälay, Lord of the faithful. Ïsti bäsmam bïye lïjämïr tamïr→Let me start in the name of the Father, Aba Kostér Bälay, yä t’or minister→ of Abba Kostér Bälay, minister of war Ïsti bäsmam bïye lïjämïr mïsgana →Let me start praising in the name of the Father, Kostéren yämiyahïl mïn wand tägäñäna→ Since when has it been found comparable to Kostér! Ïndä k’ätïr ïsat yämifajäw fitu→ whose face is “blazing” like midday fire, Aba Kostér Bälay lämch’än lay näw betu →Abba Kostér Bälay’s home is Lämch’än. This is the kind of poetry called K’әrәrto ïna Shïlәla and it’s the sole form of music that we hear on the occasion of Patriots’ Day. On the other hand, with the nation’s second-ever election slated for May 2010, mainly tribal, coalition-opposition and other individual parties have started campaigning using the national media so as to connect with their supporters. They also have had open campaigns on the streets and in some public locations to engage and inform their voters about their programs. As this practice has been totally novel to the country, some of the tactics these parties have employed appear to be very amateurish and unimpressive…which is of course natural…given the only two elections ever since the nation's history ( if at all, we’re talking about the general process, if not about results). What’s most astounding, though (at least, for those who have the opportunity to follow-up other countries’ elections), has been the tune of most of these parties - their race for parliament election - have begun to sound more and more like nothing but praise songs /K’әrәrto/ and heroic chants /Shïlәla/…which are completely meant for admiring heroic deeds of valiant soldiers who exhibited superior skills in wars and not elections. I mean, most of the discussions that took place among competitor parties have predominantly focused more on uplifting oneself and exhibit self-importance rather than pragmatic debates. (By the way, it seems that this exercise has almost become a trend in elsewhere election dramas, too?) To conclude, I'd say Ethiopians for the most part, like to hear their K’әrәrtos and Shïlәlas, especially during occasions, such as, the commemoration of the recent Patriots Day. This is because the tunes always remind them once again the heroic deeds of their brave military heroes of the yesteryears. However, hearing similar-tuning “melodies” from the election campaigners may not only be inappropriate as they become out of context to the goals political campaigners want to achieve from the election, but also become displaced. Wishing a tranquil transition in our upcoming election, I want to share you a quote by the Welsh national poet, Gillian Clarke: Yet tonight, under the cold beauty Of the moon and Venus, something like hope begins, as if times can turn, the world change course, as if truth can speak, good men come to power, and words have meaning again.

Football/Soccer/ and its Long Journey

I believe it’s quite natural to say a few things about football game at this time of the year when the 2010 World Football Cup competition is imminent here in our continent (we’re not accustomed to calling it soccer around here but I’ll keep on using both alternatively for the sake of my various readers' understanding). Football has travelled a very long voyage to reach the phase where it’s now in Africa. While it hasn’t per se arrived at the stage where it should have been, the present status of African football in general and Ethiopian soccer in particular, hasn’t been very well (you well know that I’m an optimist and always look at the glass half-full, although I kin’ of lost enthusiasm with our football teams lately). The reason why many, like me, deflect in seeing foreign soccer, in particular, European soccer, rather than the local ones is, hence, obvious…we all want to see real talents in the “battlefield”. However, our passionate sensations towards the game as a whole haven’t dwindled a bit despite the continual failure of our local national team. In fact, it has really gone beyond one’s expectations. From teenagers to the adults, country folks have just become crazy about football (as far as my memory goes, it wasn’t like this before…has the game become so different from those of the yesteryears to draw as many populace now? Maybe so. Or has the public started using football as escape mechanism from discussing the mounting quandary of the fly-by-night economy and politics? If that’s so, I doubt whether that could serve as the best panacea! Alternatively, could there be some other reasons… God knows! Anyways, everywhere you go in the villages of the metropolis and elsewhere, you'll see little boys and girls) kicking around a football (… girls playing in such large numbers is a new thing, too). And that’s wonderful! One can clearly see the fervent zeal of the kids for soccer. Where the hard cash’s available, the ball will be a real one and so will the field of playing. Otherwise, the ball will be made of plastic bags with strong thread wrapped around it, or occasionally it will be made of crumpled up paper and wrapped worn-out socks. So will the playing fields: dusty, muddy or even the village streets. What’s significant, anyway, is that there’s what’s called a ball and a game to satisfy their enthusiasm for the day. Besides, if there’s anything trendy across the nation these days that could be shared by kids and adults equally, is the DS-TV soccer show. The locations - "public video-houses" where people access these shows have become the “mini-stadiums” to see live international football games. The host country, South Africa, has done a very fantastic job to make the 2010 World Soccer Cup a wonderful moment. Therefore, I don’t want to throw cold water on anything related to this magnificent event, as the feeling is mutual to all of us in the entire continent. However, it has reminded me to travel back and see the journey Ethiopian football has undergone over the years. The Ethiopian national football team, nicknamed The Walya Antelopes (named by one of the endemic animals) is managed by the Ethiopian Football Federation. It was one of only three teams (along with Egypt and Sudan) to participate in the inaugural African Nations Cup in 1957, according to reliable sources. Ethiopia won the competition in 1962 when it was the host, but success has been hard to pin down since the end of the 1960s. Unlike the long-distance running which constitutes world-class legends and that have still had superb scores, like Haile G/Selassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh, and Meseret, (to mention only few) our football hasn’t been successful for a long time. That’s why a lot of people avert from local football and resort to only international soccer games.
All in all, while the rationale for seeing such a large number of people’s mania forestalling altogether to football needs a broader analysis, dodging from real political and economic debates could be one possible reason for people becoming so infatuated in soccer. On the other hand, there could be several other root causes for having unproductive national soccer teams. Although our football has travelled long years, it still needs to aggressively address its problems and find ways forward. In other words, the Ethiopian Football Federation has to start some projects to start preparing our teams for the upcoming world cups. If not for the 2012 World Football Cup in London, we could at least hope ours to go for the next one. May be then we, like the players in the field will dance Diski (the special South African dance that has been created for the 2010 World Cup).

Ethiopia’s Undiscovered Gem - the Abay Wәnz

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry,” said Thomas Fuller (Gnomologia, 1732). This seems to be typically true to most of our fully unutilized rivers, and especially appropriate to the longest river of the continent - Abay Wәnz (Abay River). Although Ethiopia has got several rivers, Awash, Ak’aki, Baro, Ch’elek’lak’a, Didesa, Erer, Genale, Gibe, Omo, to mention a few, they never appeared to be very noteworthy to the country (or perhaps accentuated, as such) until recently, I guess, with the nation’s growing shortage of water and all other natural resources as well as the current global debate of alternative energy. Well, the drastic measures taken to build a gigantic hydroelectric power with our Gibe Wәnz is commendable, though. That could be a panacea to most of the now-and-then power outage that we see now. That being as it may, my today’s piece focuses on one of our potentially rich river, the Abay Wәnz (Abay River). Setting out its journey to the Mediterranean Sea from near the gorgeous town of Bahir Dar, north western part of the country, on the shores of T’ana hayk’ (Lake T’ana) , the Abay Wәnz is really one of the huge wealth of the nation in terms of both tourism and energy resource. Its wonderful scenery and picturesque villages with superb birding and wildlife, whether you’re looking for fish eagles or hippos, lazy days in the sun or thundering whitewater, you will find it all here on the Abay Wәnz. In terms of energy, too, it could be utilized as a colossal hydroelectric power and irrigation for a vast agriculture. The recently released IMAX / OBITAMAX film "Mystery of the Nile", has beautifully portrayed the section of the river between Lake T’ana and the river falls (which is called the Nile Falls). Yes, indeed this river is really a mystery as it’s indicated in the title of the documentary film.
Rising at an altitude of 1,830 m (6,000 ft) in the region of Lake T’ana, the Abay Wәnz flows south and then west in Ethiopia, and follows a northwestern course out of the country in Sudan before merging, at Khartoum, with the White Nile to form the Nile proper. It’s here that the Abay Wәnz gets its foreign name, The Blue Nile, which contributes about two-thirds of the water of the Nile, where it, in part, flows through a deep gorge. As the popular song has it in Amharic “ Abay Abay ye ager Adbar, ye ager sisay ye alageru tesedido...(literally translated as ‘Abay the emblem of a country, the affluence of a nation, obliged to asylum…) this river has so far done more harm than good to the country as it liberally exports all the top and subsoil with all the rich mineral deposits to the neighboring countries. While it’s still definitely a huge resource of the nation, it has hitherto not widely drawn on (I’m not sure if we have ever used 5% of it) in any kind of reserve for national revenue. On the other hand, the river is being dammed for irrigation and hydroelectricity production in the neighboring countries. Whereas their use of this river is something laudable on their part, the incapacity (or perhaps negligence, among other reasons) of Ethiopia not to fully exploit Abay Wәnz (Abay River) is really a mystery behind. Anyways, Abay Wәnz (Abay River) is surely a vast resource of Ethiopia and I believe, as most do, that it’s time we capitalize on the country’s undiscovered gem before the well becomes dry and too late to realize its worth, to borrow Thomas Fuller’s phrases. (This was written in 2009)

Please, No Grievances with the Rains /kïrәmt/!

This year the rains appear to be a little protracted… mind you, appear to be (not in reality), as compared to the last couple of years. Just because in those years didn’t rain as much intensity doesn’t mean it shouldn’t rain this year (sounded like the expert in metreology). The period of the rainy season normally ends by 1st week of our 2nd month, Tïk’ïmt, October, if I’m not mistaken. The other day I heard someone being grumpy about the “heavy”, at times, “hasty” rain of Addis Ababa and the surrounding areas. Sitting next to his and his partner’s table at a local restaurant, I and my friend could obviously tell that this person was sick and tired of the current rains, by what he was intensely talking at the top of his voice. (Nonetheless, I guess the nature of rain is all the same elsewhere: I mean, it comes when it has to and goes when it’s finished in its own time). In other words, this is how nature operates – in seasons (so far so good). So, simply being cranky about everything natural doesn’t seem to be OK for a man of senses. A poet once wrote, “As a rule, man is a fool. When it’s hot, he wants it cool. And when it’s cool, he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not.” What a clever observation on human nature! This guy from the restaurant continued complaining how this “exceptionally” heavy rain highly affected the drainage of the roads and, especially, the new highway /k’әlәbәt mәngәd/. He totally held the rains accountable for all the blunders occurred on the roads during the current rainy season. Again, I was not able to buy that idea, too. If we’re really truthful, floods are unpreventable if heavy rain occurs. I agree that heavy rains at times have caused not only floods, but uprooted trees, and even killed innocent people. Nonetheless, the fact that the drainage was not functioning properly has nothing to do with the rain that comes with its own annual “plan”. Most often the root problem hinges on irresponsible individuals who always litter and clog the ducts of our newly built highways or ring roads /k’әlәbәt mәngәd/, letting the floods freely run for long on the freeway, rather than via the water pipes. Unless our misdemeanors are intentionally overlooked, we ourselves are often the problem-creators; the remedies are also available with us, as well: for instance, protecting the water passages from being clogged by trashes and wastes. My question here is why can’t this man (well, I know there are many others like him, too) couldn’t see it in a straight-thinking way? In other words, why do some people often deliberately avoid or like to camouflage talking such daily transgressions of their own? Aren’t these main factors that stand on our way to development? Why do we blame nature for every gaffe? Why can’t we develop a better culture of calling a spade a spade in pinpointing our own setbacks, instead? Albert Ellis once said, “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You don't blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the President. You realize that you control your own destiny."
In conclusion, I would sincerely suggest (to this dude and any other individual who has similar views) to merely stop groaning and criticizing the rains and start changing their attitudes. I don’t see any reason why anyone should have a chip on his/her shoulders against the beautiful gift of nature! Please, no grievances with the rains! God bless Ethiopia and the world with the rains, as it’s through such a season that we have been able to grow the necessities of life!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saying “I do”




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!

Female Patriots and their Shining Contribution to Ethiopia’s Freedom


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.

K’Ϊne - The Wide Vista of the Ethiopian Lingual Legacy



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!)

Observations of the Current Ethiopian Wedding Season and Songs!



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!/

Ϊk’ub and ΪdΪr – valuable traditional socio-economic institutions


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!

A Bone and a Month - Bə T’ϊkϊmt and at’ϊnt !


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!)

A drink a day keeps the heart disease away.



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.

Ethiopian Toast –“lə t’enachΪn “- ለጤናችን!


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”!

Men with Extraordinary Heroism


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.