Monday, 19 April 2010

Bwaža and Damwamwit

These are two Gurage gods (well one god and one goddess) whose praise poems I am lifting from "Gods and Heroes" (by William A Shack and Habte-Mariam Marcos, 1972). It is a collection of Gurage praise-chants. Bwaža is this permanently irate god who has an itchy thunderous palm. Damwamwit is the goddess of creation and death. She reminded me much of Ishtar (the goddess of procreation and war) in Ancient Mesopotamia, at least a less whimsical version.

The Gurage worship three deities and the gods inhabiting these poems are:
- Wak, the god of War, also known as the 'Sky god',
- Damwamwit (also Maryam who is either one and the same or a separate entity goddess) and exclusively belongs to the realm of women,
- The mighty Bwaža, the Thunder-god, who sits in the Gurage's conceptual hierarchy next to Yegzar, "their otiose supreme beings, associated with nature an inanimate objects".

The prayer-chants are called waywat. The Heroes chants (secular praise) are called wayag. These poems honour chiefs, warriors, tribesmen and chant the heroic deeds of clans and lineages of tribes who have made it into the world of Gurage legends.

The poems for the Heroes section are those of the Čaha, Enor, Gyata and Aža tribes. Together with the Mwaher Gurage, the Gurage formed the traditional political confederacy Yamest Bet Gweragwe (Gurage of th Five Houses (tribes) ). In 1889, date of the rule of Pax Aethiopica, the Walane-Weriro and Aklil Gurage came under government administration of the Western district and since then the confederacy is seven (Yasabat Bet Gweragwe).

Chant to Bwaža

"Oh Brave one!
When you desire, you visit the makya (1)
Zara, at the place of Baša (2);
Šanka at Ţuraše, and at Darsamwa's place;
Ambad at Adana's.
Ašam (3), oh brave one!
Good day, oh brave one!
Your creation is with Gweragwe.
You kindle harar (4) and gwaya (5).
Oh my Lord!
Thought possessing garara (6) You needed garara;
though possessing gwaya You covet gwaya.
In the gwaya someone erects,
You descend and sit down (7).
What did You see there?
What did You see here?
You were discovered (8)by entreaty;
You were brought (9) by entreaty;
At the ğafwara of Madar (10)
what did He find for play? (11)
Negwes (12) Wedewa with his gwandar. (13)
For talking faher, (14)
You had him rest his head on the dat (15)
at his gwatana (16). Oh girls!
At the village of Bwaža;
at the village of Damwamwit (17);
beat your ander! (18)
Clap your hands!
Is there a place You did not visit? (19)
You went to Wagapača, Agyat's place (20).
What did Agyat do?
For raising dust (21) at Your gwatana
You went to Yabiţara, Damwamwit's place.
Be like the bygone days;
at the dawn (22) when life was wahameya, (23)
when red and black cows were tethered in the gader, (24)
when You set them afire to roast."

"(1) a term used to designate men of high status and reputation. Hence as the line suggests even men of high reputation are not immune from Bwaža's 'visit', a euphemism for 'punishment'
(2) in lines 3-5 neither the men not the places can be identified.
(3)The common expression of greeting, lit. 'welcome'
(4)The house on a large homestead usually reserved for entertaining guests.
(5)The main house and sleeping quarters.
(6)Meaning the sacred forest where deities are believed to dwell; here the line suggests that because of his omnipresence, many such forests are needed by Bwaža
(7)i.e. Descend from the sky to strike with lighting a house
(8)meaning that the omnipotence of Bwaža was 'discovered', ie 'recognised'
(9)An allusion to the myth which relates of the coming of Bwaža whose first presence coincides with the development of state organization of Gweragwe.
(10)In everyday speech, yenangara, the place-name for the sacred forest and shrine of Bwaža is a taboo word, the term Madar being used when referring to the sacred area.
(11)The striking with lightning a person or property is conceived of as an act of Bwaža's capriciousness, a way of 'playing', or 'entertainment'.
(13)the silver armband worn by the negwes, a symbol of the office of kingship.
(14)Ie talking boastfully; also meaning behaviour that is openly insulting, immodest, offensive.
(15)The allusion is to a man who rests his head ona head-rest (gyema) while sleeping. Here Bwaža is said to have made Negwes Wedewa rest his head against the trunk of a dat-tree (Juniperus procera) while seeking shelter from the rain, and the Thunder-God struck him dead. Lines 21-24 emphasize the moral point that kings and their subjects alike were punished equally by Bwaža
(16)Sacred forests are also referred to as gwatana
(17)name given to the 'female' deity of Gurage women whose shrine is located in the village of Yabitara
(18)small hand-drum usually beaten by young girls while singing. Drumming is performed only by unmarried girls. Hence the exclamation 'oh girls'
(19)see nbr1
(20)the shrine of Agyat, or Wak, War-God of Čaha, is located at the place known as Wagapača.
(21)An allusion to the dust raised by mounted warriors being led into battle by Wak.
(22)i.e. In former times.
(23)The name given to the second and most important of the five days of feasting during the celebration of Maskal. The first, yeft; the third, esat or 'fire day'; the fourth, nek bar or 'great day'; the last ers bar or 'small day'. Wahameya symbolises success, abundance, rejoicing.
(24)Cattle stall in the main house."


"Maryam : the place of Maryam in the Gurage belief system seems sometimes to be confused with that occupied by Damwamwit. Maryam, creator-goddess is credited with furnishing the natural world, which Yegzar, the Gurage High god, is believed to have created, with human and animal beings."

"Oh Maryam, abo! (1)
Maryam, in Sanan;
Maryam, in Ašwawenna; (2)
Maryam in Addis Ababa;(3)
Maryam, in Workite; (4)
Maryam, is for all!
Maryam; is for Čaha;
Maryam is for Kings;
She is for Negwes Amarga (5)
Oh Maryam, Oh Maryam, abo!
Oh Maryam, You create him.
When cattle are created,
You create them.
Oh Maryam, the creator!
Oh Maryam, the destroyer!
Oh Maryam, of all that You created,
why did You create death?"

"(1)the word abo, which also appears in praise-chant to Bwaža is of uncertain origin, probably an Adeya loan-word. Its use is reserved exclusively for ceremonial songs addressed to tribal dignitaries, chiefs, and 'kings', for example, and religious personages, the word being repeated as a refrain following a stanza of praise. Abo roughly translated means 'Long live...'; hence in this line 'Long live Maryam'
(2)presumably place-names which cannot be identified
(3)the modern capital of Ethiopia
(4)perhaps the place mentioned here is meant to be the market town of Walkitte
(5)Reference to the late Negwes Amarga (d.1958) of the Čaha tribe of Gurage.
(6)Lit. 'infant' of 'child', is also used as an informal title of respect for a young man who has gained prominence and success in warfare, but has not yet had bestowed upon him a military title. Very often he was of the rank and file of soldiery who excelled in bravery during his first encounter on the battlefield. Here the term is used, it seems, to refer to war heroes.
(7)This line alludes to the dualistic nature of Gurage thoughts about creation of the world and living beings in it. The High God of Supreme Being, Yegzar, is credited with creation of the 'natural world'; Maryam created the world of human and animal species".

Note: this HTML, the tabs and the fonts are absolutely doing my head in, so I am leaving it until I feel guilty enough about cosmetics to try to re-arrange the text size and font match. Apologies to the readers.

Notes typed with fingers bopping to a big wallop of this.

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