Sunday, 18 July 2010

I am a huge elephant!

This song was composed by Tado Dilli and sung on October 31, 1972 by Ganne-Rasha Terefe in central Sheka. It is a lamentation of a Sheka family. This song is part of 63 others, recorded from the bards performing in the Kafa highlands, and published in 'Domination and Resistance: Narrative Songs of the Kafa Highlands' by Werner Lange, 1979.

But much more than that, this song is part of the rich and formidable heritage of the oral traditions of the people of Kafa and Sheka.


O, mother elephant, let us go to Vingite!
Let us run to Yeha!

The sons of hunters with their spears,
Will not let us pass.

Let us go through Uchchi;
Let us run through Ulla;
Let us go through Gashi
Then let us run to Galla!

The Galla of Dido with their spears,
Will not let us pass.
The prople of Ebachchi with their spears,
Will not let us pass.

We are trapped
We are in great trouble!
Let us save ourselves by giving up one of our children.
You are the female;
I am the male:
Together we can always produce other!

I will never give up my baby son!
When lying he is like the fruit of a palm tree;
When standing he is like a huge monument.
I will never give up my baby son!
Before being pierced with fifty-five spears;
Before I feel death approaching;
I swear by the name of the sky-god:
I will never give up my son!

O, mother elephant, take our children and go!
It sounds better if I die:
My body will be used to decorate women;
My skin will be used for a man's plow;
I will be used for saddles:
I will be used for armbands;
I am a huge elephant!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The case of the valiant torturer by Hama Tuma


The Case of the Valiant Torturer by Hama Tuma

An ex-torturer of the Red Terror is presenting his 'achievements' to the Derg's court. The court is going to punish him for complaining he was not getting enough 'anarchists' to torture and meet his quota:

"Well, you remember how the country suffered from lack of rain? We suspected foul play. A few priests who were preaching that God has cursed us, in other words saying that God was against the State, were arrested and brought to us. Within two hours, all the priests confessed that they were part of an anarchist plot. Using these confessions we grilled again around thirty anarchists we already had in custody and who had all confessed to being central committee members of their party. All of them now revealed that their party had sabotaged the rain. It was a stupendous success and the newspapers highlighted it, revealing that the anarchists were responsible for the drought and agricultural chaos."

Underneath Hama Tuma's flamboyant irony and witty satire, the stories (or I should say histories) recounted in this selection ('The Case of the Socialist Witchdoctor and other stories') send shivers to the soul and are quite disturbing.

... Hama Tuma again did I hear you say? ...

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Fragrance of Ethiopia

"Dedicated to those who were either killed or who suffered years of imprisonment without trial" - Kevin O'Mahoney

" - You of the 2nd Division," he said "are the pride of Ethiopia; you are in the forefront of the motherland's defence against the forces of disintegration. (...)

- Defending the motherland? Who defended my mother? Last year she died of starvation in Kobo. Who defended her?"

Meaza of Ethiopia (meaza means fragrance) is the historical novel of writer Kevin O'Mahoney who published it in 1991; he seems to have written it in Adigrat (at least the publication is from Adigrat and so is his dedication mark). One of the main characters of this novel is Lemlem the bar owner, a tender, wise and generous woman originally from Enticho, who fled to Massawa where she was forced into prostitution and who managed to escape it to settle in Adigrat.

One of the priest in the novel who comes to Kobo to try and help fight the famine says "These prostitutes are to be reckoned among the most sympathetic and kind-hearted people I have ever met. I often feel that Our Lord had them in mind when He said : 'The first shall be the last and the last shall be the first." A mighty line I'd say.

" 'Here we go again: Mark, Engels and Lenin : the august trinity! Why do we have to ape some foreigners who died a long time ago? has human thought in science, sociology and economics made no progress after their deaths? Have all human insights remained stagnant since then? I would like Ethiopia to come up with its own original, creative solution to its own problems' said Meaza."

This novel lays over less than 200 pages the events of the last years of Ethiopia's last monarch, the famine, the military motivations for revolution and the Derg's birth, the Red Terror and the bloody years that ensued, the arrival of 1991 and the ousting of the Derg.

The result of O'Mahoney's writing and skill is a vision that has woven the 'details' of each characters' life from inside and outside of themselves, he really captured the human experience and History. Events unfold from within for all of us, they are not external floating titles waiting to be penned in bullet-point formats by self professed historians (or university professed, same difference) that the spurted ink of 'objectivity' purports to record.

O'Mahoney's introduction, dated 17th July 1991, reads "The purpose in writing this historical novel, therefore, has been to further and, hopefully, to make a small contribution to the ongoing process of reconciliation."

Little did he know who and what was going to follow but perhaps that is the point entirely, peace and stability do not source from the state nor its rearing head whosever it maybe from decade to decade, it comes from the people. Maybe it was the meaning of ancient Greece's definition of Democracy after all, democracy is reconciliation (now I would like that version better : Reconciliation is the unity of the people, by the people, for the people.... and henceforth democracy is begotten, so to speak, whatever shape it may take within reconciliation). Unity brings a dynamic and strength that no entity, governmental or political, can stifle nor subjugate.

Anyways, blabla, I hear you... Just read Meaza. Thanks O'Mahoney!