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!

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