Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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!)

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