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.

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