Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Further reports of Eritrean troops in East Sudan

I have been redirected towards another article (in AlNahda) written in Arabic which reports, as Adoulis did mid-October, that Eritrean troops have been deployed in Eastern Sudan, armed and remain posted there. I am copying part of the article here translated in English. The online paper Al Nahda is not always reliable because it tends to quote without naming its sources, relying on word of mouth only. It also spoils its analysis by leaning towards the dramatic. That said, it is Eritreans themselves, those who are settled in East Sudan, who are alerting their relatives and so it is only via word of mouth at the moment that this information is traveling. According to this article in AlNahda, Sudan is looking to resolve the situation via diplomatic means and is hushing up media agencies.

Southern Sudan is set to hold a referendum on 9 January 2011 to choose whether it wants to remain part of Sudan or separate.

Alnahda article is HERE.

The report says:

"I have received information from the same brothers a few days ago, and they reported that the planned military offensive had already begun. The Eritrean regime's army has moved deep in Sudanese territory, toward Khor Baraka and the mountains of Arerb. Last week the military forces extended into the area of Jmbekta where Rashaida [ethnic group] are located. The aggressor entered the area armed [...] Another group of the invading forces entered Khor Baraka where the Bbai [ethnic group in Sudan] are located."

It is believed that Eritrean troops are still
in position now.

What is happening?



Eritrean troops in Sudan

Adoulis has reported that Eritrean troops have moved into Eastern Sudan over taking land: here is the report in Arabic from www.adoulis.com . See English translation below. No international news agencies have reported this nor have the Sudanese. Eastern Sudan is where the majority of Eritrean refugees in Sudan are located.

ARABIC

إعتداء إرتري على الأراضي السودانية

المصدر : موقع الإصلاح
في تطور خطير للأوضاع أفادت مصادر مطلعة بأن قوات إرترية إعتدت على آراضي سودانية بمنطقة (الكرتيب) الواقعة الى الشمال الشرقي لمدينة ود الحليو


وإستولت على مشروعات زراعية تابعة لمزارعين سودانيين كما قامت بفتح معسكرين عسكريين تنتشر فيهما قوات عسكرية كان ذلك في يوم16/10/2010م ،الجدير بالذكر أن هذه المواقع كانت محل نزاع سابق إلا أن السلطات الإرترية قد أعلنت التخلي عنها وسلمتها الى أصحابها ،وفي ذات السياق قامت السلطات الأرترية في شهر يونيو الماضي بإعتقال أحد أفراد ألأمن السوداني العاملين في المنطقة واصطحبته الى مدينة أم حجر الأرترية وأطلقت سراحه بعد ملاحقة سودانية الجدير بالذكر أن الحكومة الأرترية قد أعطت عهودا ومواثيق مغلظة للسودان على ان لا يحصل منها أي خرق أمني بالحدود.



ENGLISH

Eritrean Attach on Sudanese Border

In a serious development of the situation informed sources said that Eritrean forces assaulted the territory of Sudanese region of Alkurtib located to the north east of the city Wad Heleo.

The forces took possession of the agricultural projects belonging to Sudanese farmers and also have opened two camps and deployed two military forces. This was that on 10.16.2010,. It is worth mentioning that these sites were the subject of a previous dispute, but the Eritrean authorities had declared them abandoned and had handed them over to their owners. In the same context, in June, the Eritrean authorities arrested members of a Sudanese security personnel in the region and took them to the town of Om Hajer. They had released them after Sudan had complained. The Eritrean government had given assurances to Sudan that it would not tresspass (would not cross the borders).

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Messenger Donkey

"Two men riding donkeys met one day on a narrow mountain trail. They greeted each other in the customary way, asking about each other's family, and health, and cattle. They began to speak of the crops and the rainfall, and as they talked they noticed that their donkeys put their heads together and sniffed at one another.

One of the men became very annoyed at this, and he said irritably:

- Isn't it enough that you and I have already greeted each other? Why is it necessary for our animals to carry on a conversation too?

The other man smiled and said:

- You don't know the reason? Well, I will tell you. You see, donkeys have been beasts of burden for a long while. Many years ago they had a great meeting and selected one of their members to go to God to plead with him that all donkey should be freed from the cruelty and tyranny of men. The years have gone by, but their messenger hasn't come back yet. And now whenever donkeys meet on the road or in the market place, they put their mouths together and ask one another: 'Has the messenger donkey returned?

So when you see your donkey nuzzling another don't become angry, but simply remember that all living creatures long for liberty."

This is a story lifted from "The Fire On The Mountain and Other Ethiopian Stories" by Harold Courlander and Wolf Leslau.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lion in the Iron Cage - by Nazim Hikmet

"Look at the lion in the iron cage,
look deep into his eyes:
like two naked steel daggers
they sparkle with anger.
But he never loses his dignity
although his anger
comes and goes
goes and comes.

You couldn't find a place for a collar
round his thick, furry mane.
Although the scars of a whip
still burn on his yellow back
his long legs
stretch and end
in the shape of two copper claws.
The hairs on his mane rise one by one
around his proud head.
His hatred
comes and goes
goes and comes ...

The shadow of my brother on the wall of the dungeon
moves
up and down
up and down."

Nazim Hikmet, Turkish poet, 1902-1963

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A philosophy of poverty

"It was expounded in a coherent form for the first time in the eighteenth-century manuscript by St Gebre the Poor. The manuscript which read like a ‘how-to-live-satisfied-with-an-empty-stomach’ manual could have sold well in the present weight-and-diet-conscious Western world. It dealt not only with the filling capacities of one fruit a day meal and warned how one can get fat and lazy by not exercising the mind, but it also advised believers on how to let ambition steam in its own pot and how to realise happiness through deprivation. A Chinese philosopher said to have plenty is to be confused."

by Hama Tuma

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.


ELEPHANTS:

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

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

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

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

(Male)
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!

(Female)
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!

(Male)
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

BEST READ OF MY WEEK: A DIALOGUE

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!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Gigi - Ejigayehu Shibabaw

I am audio browsing through the discography of Gigi, perhaps Ethiopia's most well known contemporary songstress.

There are many sensational Ethiopian women singers out there but Gigi will remain my favourite for sure.

There's another world that few singers open, an outworldly place where the voice resonates further than what lyrics can ever hope to reach and pass on, when words become scales in order to allow the calligraphy of vocals, messages that transcend language, so that all is clear, intelligible, beauty full ... or maybe I'm just making do with not understanding :-) .

Anyways, thanks Gigi for this beautiful song 'Ethiopia' that for me comes at a time when I was seriously considering dropping my project. Ethiopia is still far, but perhaps not that far.


Saturday, 19 June 2010

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Ze burlesque follies of Africa

This is a rather old article, as news time-counting goes (February 2010), but it is written by my favourite Ethiopian author, Hama Tuma, so I cannot resist him nor the urge to share. So here goes: a presentation of two of Africa's plight 'Ze politicians' Zuma and Zenawi. I have chosen to copy here the latter part of his article which deals with Zenawi. For the full version, use your index finger.

"Zenawi versus Zuma : 'Ze burlesque' follies of Africa" by Hama Tuma (an article posted on Hama Tuma's website and also published in Afrik.com , for whom he is a regular columnist.)

"If Zuma is funny son of Zenawi aka Meles is dull and boring. This is the man who invaded Somalia and claimed it was not an invasion; "we just crossed the border". This is the man who blamed the West for the famine in Ethiopia: "they did not send food aid in time". This is the very man who indefatigably claims the economy is growing by 10% per year while the people are starving (14 million need food aid) and the country is in ruins in general. And this is the man who spent millions on monuments and to add insult to injury erected a monument for a donkey called Desalegne that transported arms, ammunition and goods for the guerrillas. Countless Ethiopian heroes have no monument in their name while an "ethnic "donkey has deserved one instead. This is the same Meles whose ultra corrupt wife claims she does not afford to pay school fees for her elder daughter, the same Meles who justifies a massacre (200 shot dead in Addis Ababa in 2005) by claiming that his police were not well trained in riot control. Damn the British who were supposed to train the police and intelligence services!


And Gadafi, the self declared King of Kings of all African tribes (sic), who tried to be second time president of the comatose AU and was angry he could not. This is the same Gadafi who has allied himself with Silvio Berlusconi much to the detriment of African refugees. Salva Kirr, the cowboy manqué, who presides over a corrupted South Sudan government that is seemingly obsessed on whether women should wear trousers or not while the whole region is aflame with violence. Up north, the dour faced Beshir does his massacre routine with gusto, preparing to be re elected as President even when the accusations against him for genocide kick up. In a few months, both Beshir and son of Zenawi will go through the motion of an election that has been rigged already. Swazi King Msawti III has 13 wives and takes up a bare breasted virgin as a new wife at the annual Reed Dance-- a show to make many white colonials chuckle with satisfaction. The young Swazi king is corrupt, he has, for example, spent US$ 500,000 on a new Daimler Chrysler Maybach 62 with all possible luxury extras, including a fridge and DVD player while two thirds of Swazis live on less than one dollar a day. Mention Kabila jr, the Bongos past and present, the Nguema fellow in oil rich Equatorial Guinea, the Congolese Ninja president Sassou Ngueso, the Chadian Deby and royal level corruption rears its head. Abundant folly.


As they say "ze oil" speaks volumes. Corrupt African leaders are backed by predators like the USA, Britain and France. Chinese presence and greed for Africa's wealth and resources has also aggravated the complication--Peking has allied itself with malleable African dictators like Beshir, Meles, Mugabe and more. The rich African countries are the main victims but the poor ones are not spared too--Djibouti sells its land as a military base to Washington and Paris and Ethiopia is being mortgaged to the highest bidder. Corrupt leaders are given more aid so long as they toe the line of the metropolis and persist with their folly that ridicules and damages Africa. Chinese ministers openly admit that they routinely pay bribes to win contracts and the recent collapse of the tunnel of the much touted Gilgel Gibe II dam in Ethiopia (the Italian construction firm reportedly paid bribes both in Rome and Addis Abeba) just ten days after its inauguration is a case in point. The white elephant projects of the seventies are alive and well.


The Ziegfeld Follies were quite a show in their time. "Ze follies" of Africa may stage shows but at the end of the day they are not funny at all. The cost is too much, the destruction too great. From the son of Zenawi to Zuma, to Sassou and Kabila, from Mugabe to Gelleh, the "follies" of Africa are on a rampage to destroy the continent. Time to end their disastrous show."

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Eyob Mergia






















I've just discovered Eyob Mergia, a young Ethiopian-American painter, born in Debre Berhan, and graduate of Addis Abbeba School of Fine Art, now based in South Dakota (the Sioux Falls his blog says, how cool is that!) The reason I picked up on his work initially is that he has done a project on Axum. Below is his poster for his exhibition (apologies, it looks terrible here because I lifted the pictures from his site, erm, Eyob, it's to redirect to you man, if you object to your photos being here, let me know and I'll take them down.)

His compositions and technique are ... well, it's excellent, am lost for words, paintings speak for themselves, so I just wanted to say: check out his work!!!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Ethiopian Mikado

RIP : The touched-by-genius, talented and no doubt slightly tyrannical Stefanos Lazaridis has passed away. This bold opera stage designer was born in Dire Dawa in Ethiopia, and educated in Addis Abbeba. Lazaridis is yet another talent that sprung from Ethiopia, it's in reading his obituary that I learnt his place of birth and study. Ethiopia is springing up in the most unlikely places, at least I would not have expected to find a link there.





I do not mean to be facitious - well not overly - with the following but as elections in Ethiopia are tomorrow, of sorts, I'd like to respectfully dedicate the above song ('As some day it may happen' also called the list song), from the Mikado opera for which Lazaridis famously designed, to a current African version of KoKo (the Lord High Executioner). I would like to ask : is it really what you wanted to turn into? Here are the original lyrics (some words may be offensive but bare in mind it was written in 1844/1845).

KO-KO

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list — I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs —
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs —
All children who are up in dates, and floor you with 'em flat —
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that —
And all third persons who on spoiling tête-á-têtes insist —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

CHORUS

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed.

KO-KO

There's the nigger serenader, and the others of his race,
And the piano-organist — I've got him on the list!
And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
They never would be missed — they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And who "doesn't think she dances, but would rather like to try";
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist—
I don't think she'd be missed — I'm sure she'd not he missed!

CHORUS

He's got her on the list — he's got her on the list;
And I don't think she'll be missed — I'm sure she'll not be missed!

KO-KO

And that Nisi Prius nuisance, who just now is rather rife,
The Judicial humorist — I've got him on the list!
All funny fellows, comic men, and clowns of private life —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed.
And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as — What d'ye call him — Thing'em-bob, and likewise — Never-mind,
And 'St— 'st— 'st— and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who —
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

CHORUS
You may put 'em on the list — you may put 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed!



Lazaridis designed for many operas: Carmen, the Marriage of Figaro, Tristan and Isolde (my first love actually, who needs a man to stage a love story, give me an opera!), Doktor Faustus, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Hansel and Gretel, a lot more ..... and my favourite, as favourite's whims go : The Mikado.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Leaf of Allah : Khat

I am reading 'Leaf of Allah : Khat and agricultural transformation in Harerge Ethiopia 1875-1991' a book by Ezekiel Gebissa, 2004. I really wanted to spread open here, by way of a summary, the wisdom contained in this book - as I see it given - as well as pointing out historical info. No study of the Horn of Africa, be it historical, cultural, social and especially religious, can be complete without looking into Khat, so part one here you go:

* * * * *

The mirqaana : the desired state of heightened energy, reached in all and each of the following three phases.

1. The Igabana : The Eye Opener.

‘A typical farmer in the rural areas of Harerge starts the day by going into his oyiru, the family garden’. He inspects the farm and by 9am he goes to his khat orchard and settles down with other men for the morning chew. Igabana means the eye opener). A small quantity only of khat is chewed to quickly achieve a mirqaana so that ensues a burst of energy for labour intensive daily activities. Then breakfast, then work.

2. The Bartcha :

The early afternoon chew follows. Farmers may obtain their khat from their oyiru, urbanites bring their zurba (one bundle) – commonly bought from the chat terra or the town's market. However if the Bartcha was an invitation the host provides the leaves.

The Luluqacha : Rinsing of the mouth.

‘At the end of the Bartcha the chewed leaves are usually spat out but experienced chewers swallow it with water, tea or milk ‘as a final act of ceremony.’

3. The Atarora:

It is a last evening or night time chewing although not that regular nor widespread.

Note: Solitary khat chewing is not the usual practice.

The consumption :

Chewing: the leaves are placed between the inner side of the cheek and the gum on one side of the mouth. Khat chewing is always accompanied by drinking water or an infusion of coffee husks or milk to reduce dryness of the mouth and to soften khat leaves. This helps with the extraction of juices. 'The chewer adds leaves until a quid is formed'. It is sweetened by a pinch of sugar or sip of sugar containing drink to accommodate the bitter taste. 'Preparing the full quid may take as long as thirty to forty five minutes'.

Khat be used as an astringent medicine, boiled with milk or water and drunk as a beverage.

‘In the absence of rapid delivery’, if fresh leaves are unobtainable a paste is made from powdered leaves ingested or drunk as an infusion of boiled dried leaves. Khat is rarely smoked as is tobacco, but crushing the ends of twigs and leaves to roll them in cigarettes is recorded however.

Note: Rural chewers usually eat! Khat-chewing, against all pseudo-researches and urban myths, does not cut the appetite nor risk to engender malnutrition. Gebessa notes that in Harerge's rural areas khat is chewed before or after plentiful meals.


Khat:

The leaves or twigs of Khat (or Kat or Cat, no not that one, don't try to chew the feline) are known for their stimulant effects. Chewing khat is widespread and popular in many parts of the world particularly in the Arabian peninsula (Yemen), the Middle East, Asia and the Horn of Africa, and has been so for as long as the land can attest to its growth (well that's almost everywhere....).

Fresh leaves are preferred since the main active ingredient in khat is cathinone which degenerates fast (two or three days after plucking) resulting in the less potent cathine, found in dried leaves.

Khat is chewed to relieve fatigue, sensations of hunger, thirst or is used as a stimulant or medicine. The consumption of khat is almost institutionalized in the religious life and practices of several Muslim communities in the Horn. For centuries, chewing khat has been standard practice in religious ceremonies held at Muslim shrines across the Somalia, spending long hours of the day and night chewing khat whilst reciting passages from the holy Quran and praying. It also plays an important role during Ramadan and during the Arafa celebrations. Khat chewing precedes or follows religious readings and meditations during the Mawlid, the birth of the Prophet (PBUH).

In the Horn of Africa, the consumption remained contained and small until the arrival of the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway at Dire Dawa in 1902. Henceforth, it has grown considerably with help of highways, Air transport and …. the Derg (yeap, khat consumption grew more rapidly and widely during this military rule than due to the other factors so far counted or analysed it seems).

Ethiopia is the foremost producer and exporter of khat but the plant is also grown and used in Africa in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, the Congo, South Africa and Somalia.

France and the US have banned the importation of khat. But in Britain, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands and Yemen it is legal. Said Barre banned it in Somalia in 1833 but the prohibition was unsuccessful.

Traditionally it is in rural areas that khat was used and known. More recently, urbanites have taken a strong liking to it. There exists a usage divide between these two communities. Rural users believe that ‘if khat chewing is not followed by hard labour it then serves as an irritant rather than as a stimulant’. Ezekiel Gebrissa says that ‘Khat is valued for its critical role in such productive activities as work, meditative worship and cultural ceremonies. However for users in cities and towns khat is a recreational substance used (or more precisely abused) solely for social pleasure.’

For both rural and urban consumers khat is a medium of social interaction.

The Khat shrub is a member of genus Catha in the family Celastraceae found widely dispersed in all continents except for polar zones. The origin and nature of the plant is still uncertain and under study.

---------------------------------
Notes and thoughts taken through an all XX evening: Teardrops , Crystallised , Hot Like Fire , well their entire album in fact on rep-rep-peat.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Axum's Mothers Speak

"Our wombs cry for our sons,
[...]


Where are the flowers of our lives, Kaleb?

Why have you pinned down our love
To rust in a scavenging day?
Where are our men, Kaleb?

Why have you hung our womb to dry
Beyond the darkness of time?
Our breasts hurt, demanding
What visitation ravaged our essence.
The sleepless spirits
Accuse our thoughts, Kaleb.

The season of mothers
Question our dreamless nights.
Our wombs cry for our sons,
Our feet fret for their sight.

Where are the flowers of our lives, Kaleb?"

This is the 'Mothers' Chorus' in the play 'Collision of Altars' written by Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin and published in 1977.

Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin wrote this historical play set in the Axumite empire at the time of Kaleb, the famous emperor of Axum - he is known as Ella-Asbeha (transposed by inebriated Greeks as 'Hellestheaeus'.... talk about slurping...)

Kaleb is reported to have gone into Yemen several times to try to recover his lost territory there. Every attempt met with a smarting failure and this is a cry from the women who lost all, sons to husbands to brothers, begging a reason for their loss, another sacrificed generation.

It's a chorus written by Tsegaye of course. Beautiful. It's a timeless cry that can be spoken by so many across nations, a call to plea-deaf leaders who fight wars in absentia to anoint their waning-phallic prides with. History is no fool, it recognises them for the paper-proxy-generals they are, heads of never-thanked armies, strong only as long as their people's blind love and resigned trust last.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

You Know You're Habesha When

Some time ago I found on youtube, or picked up from a retweet on Twitter I can't remember, a video called 'Typical Habesha' parents. Watching it made me travel back to at least 20 years ago when my dad used to call as if he were stuck in a crashed car about to burst in flames: 'where is my coffee spoon' .... a dancing and ritual interlude to 'bring me my coffee spoon'. That darn spoon was always staring at him from a safe 5 centimeters' distance, waiting for me. If my eyes would so much as begin to roll he'd start a dramatic speech addressed to phantom witnesses about the disgrace of old age and the disgrace of fiendishly uncaring 10 year-old children. It was a tug-of-love between us and I remember this fondly. He's not habesha, nor am I, it's just that this video echoed well creased memories of many a spoon thrown at time and space! I've been hearing (very funny for me but perhaps not so much for those under peer pressure) stories of shared family traditions from friends who come from the Horn, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and I bumped into an old page listing 'You Know You're Habesha When', although it's staged in the US, how does it match with you I wonder? My favourite in there is 'Your parents' favourite TV show is the news'. You know I'm talking to you :-). I should attempt a list about 'You Know You're Algerian When' but then it would only have one entry 'When you're angry you throw things and break stuff'....

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Eritrean Wonder Women

I found this superb photo essay Wonder Women of Eritrea from photographer Cheryl Hatch who is otherwise known for her war photography generally and her many visits to Eritrea in 1999 during the war. See the full text to photographs here.

I like these photos particularly because they show women's smiles and laughter, it maybe a bit (or very much) naive of me but it shows hope in a subtle way... perhaps.

There is a lot going on amongst the Eritrean diaspora recently with the Peace Conference on its way (with who is attending a question still hanging). Eri blogs and forums are bursting with letters, blogs, articles, rants, sighs, hope, irritation, trembling bunn talk, well a sure sign of fuming keyboards :-) anyways, interesting development in store I'd say, historical possibly. It made me search for the never yet implemented (and somewhat or very much-what illegal) Eritrean Constitution finally drafted in July 1996. I like the preamble come what may and especially:

Noting the fact that the Eritrean women’s heroic participation in the struggle for independence and solidarity based on equality and mutual respect generated by such struggle will serve as an unshakable foundation for our commitment and struggle to create a society in which women and men shall interact on the bases of mutual respect, fraternity and equality;

not that Eritreans are forgetting, I am finding out that Eritreans forget absolutely nothing :-) but certain aspects of traditions die hard and I hope that these women will eventually get the recognition they deserve, actually that all Eritrean women get the recognition that it is they who are building Eritrean society, day-in day-out, in times of peace or war, the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones (although supposedly no one can tell the difference other than God but humans have a distinct tendency to play gods). Asmara means 'The Women Agreed', yea chaps, the women founded the city, not that I am suggesting that all the blokes were out snoring or anything, but languages speak, they are spoken yes but more importantly they speak! Too often we overlook this.

Anyways, looking forward to see what happens in Eritrean politics as always.

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Notes taken fingers zouking to Hugh Masekela, Orchestra Baobab, and the fantastic music cloud of Blackclassical, thank you man!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Daraa Dubertii or Ladies First

Does anyone know lore on the origins of the Oromo? The only bit of information I've found in folklore (history books on this are the pits) is that Oromo origins go back to a mother, Roobee, and her two sons, Booran and Bartuuma, who are the founder of the Oromo nation. They did not know their father, and the stories say that indeed, their father was unknown (see the link thus here). So could it be that a long long time ago, before time remembers and before men conjugated time, the Oromo nation was born out of a matriarchy? I suppose all civilisations did. By the way, big thanks to Gumii.org , I really enjoyed reading this, thanks to those who put it together: Qaaluu Institution.

Anyways, Duraa Duberti (Oromifa for 'ladies first' I am told)

The Siqqe:

When women married in Oromo society, they were given a Siqqe, a long staff style curved cane, to keep for protection. This is one of its uses apparently, I really want one of those:

when and if her husband abused her, she would take the Siqqe, go outside the house, and wail. Women in the community would pick their Siqqes and join her. None of the women in that village would return to their houses or prepare food for their families until the elders in the community listened to her concern and disciplined her husband for abusing his wife.
This is from Belletech Deressa 'Oromtitti'. Hell! This is one of the sure perks of the Gada system!


Marriage:

I am so relieved that I have found not only one of the most honest description of marriage I ever read, but a practice that does not hide this primeval truth in any other fiction. This applies to a description of the Borana family structure as written by the one and only Asmarom Legesse in his book 'Gada':

One gets married for the purpose of raising children and for the purpose of maintaining the continuity of one's line. Sexual gratification is an entirely separate matter.

It is very common, therefore, to find married women who had lovers. The relationship between lovers is a reasonably open matter.

In French we say that the chains of marriage are too heavy for two people to carry, you need a third. So the French are originally from Borana, cool...

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Notes taken with head in the sea (I wish) and fingers in a fluffy cloud (I wish not) thanks to Marcos Valle, and Marco Valle again and OMG, absolutely love this Roots Manuva.

Friday, 23 April 2010

"He could be as a ugly as a monkey’s behind"

The case of the Criminal Walk and Other stories by Hama Tuma, Outskirts Press, 2006.

It was published in 2006 but I do not know when the stories were written.

“As people say, misery is a brother and happiness just a passerby.”

Readers, please excuse but I am going to be rambling on for the next three paragraphs which you are more than welcome to skip, don't miss Hama Tuma's quotes though, am sure you'll love his style.

I never wanted to study History, I always used to dodge lessons or snore in the front row so that I would get thrown out of class. There isn’t much I find remotely mentally titillating in the records that human beings - or should I say ‘man’ beings ;-) - keep. The earliest examples of writing, as archaeological findings indicate thus far, does not recount romances, love, not even hate nor war, but economy, pure and simple mathematical calculation (actually not that simple!).

History's body is literature, through it, with it, it thrives, invites, seduces - literature does mean to know one’s letters, entire cultures can know their letters without ever having written them. The History of all people travels on lips, pulses heart beats, generation-in generation-out. This telling, this imprinting of the memory of past events, is to me History with a big H. The History that my liver (the seat of all emotions in Ancient Mesopotamian belief and in pre-islamic Arabic poetry) was longing for I found in language classes where one is exposed to the texts in the form they were found, in their original tongue, expression and handwriting, and what an invitation is the writing of the hand and its flowing, transient movement.

In Hama Tuma’s writing I found not only the blossom of words and the many magical shades of meaning they provide, but also the History of a people and its past, well no, its future because story telling is a tribute to Time itself, so that with this offering it is Time who will remember and stand witness.

Ok sorry, enough … This book opens with a dedication:

“The arrogance of power is still there, injustice abounds but the martyrs and silent and discreet heroes are remembered and their banner still flies high under the Ethiopian sky.”


It is both his skills at similes I love in his writing and his portrait painting-writing.

Talking of lies:

- I have heard they ask a lot of questions to trap you in a lie?
- As if a lie is not white and it is not the ferenji who invented every lie on earth!



Talking of marriage:

“You are sold off by your parents long before you reach puberty” went on the woman “handed over to a man you had never seen. He could be as a ugly as a monkey’s behind aside from being a brute like most men. He could stink like an outhouse; he could have some undeclared skin disease, no matter. Arranged marriage, the deal is made before you stop suckling at your mother’s breast. Is this fair, I ask you? They cut off your nails so that you cannot scratch at your husband on the wedding night. They expect you to fight though since no fight means you are an easy woman. Come wedding night, your half drunk husband throws himself at you with as much sensitivity as a rushing flood. He enjoys your scream, the whole family enjoys your cry of pain and the blood smeared cloth or bed-sheet is shown to all and accepted with ululation. Welcome to the world. What a welcome. By thirteen you feel torn, soiled, abused, and old. Is it a surprise if I hate him?”

This is my favourite portrait, I rolled with laughter in the bus as I read it (literally, I bumped my head on the board crouching from cracking up). Of course, this character is fictitious…

“He was Prime Minister of the impoverished country, a coward perceived as the strongest man in the nation of seventy plus million people, the man all men feared and, he hoped, all women desired. He had passed years in the jungle as a leading member of a guerrilla organization and though he had cleverly kept away from the frontlines and taken part in a battle only once (he fled and was almost executed for cowardice), he paraded as a tested and veteran guerrilla. A verbose man, he actually came across as a vulgar street-smart political con man that liked to parade as a seasoned political strategist or war commander. He had a whore of an ego but he was realistic enough to know that his colleagues and the people at large laughed at his posturing.

It was a Wednesday morning in the month of April when he woke up […]. The bathroom was full of mirrors and the moment he entered he was confronted by the image of the former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Ordinarily a coward, he fainted outright. […] What had happened [to his face] overnight?


Then in his fury and utter dread this dictator banished all mirrors. The story ends with my absolute favourite line:

“If you meet Ethiopians who look unwashed or are passing clandestine hours in front of a mirror, please remember that they have been denied the right to look at a mirror and see themselves.”

Fab writer wouldn’t you say?

Hama Tuma is to be found here http://www.hamatuma.com/

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Notes with fingers jumping to ooohhh yessss, Masai Hip Hop!

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'.
(12)'king'
(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."


Damwamwit

"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".

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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.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Africa Confidential.... Confi what?

I came across "Africa Confidential" ("50 years of reporting in Africa", "one of the longest-established specialist publications on Africa") several weeks ago, that is in name only. My curiosity was intensely teased when I could get no access to it: none from media outlets, be they online or in print, none from archives, none in dissected parts in other magazines, none from universities' online digital resources (Africa Confidential is only available to read when logged on ON campus) and most certainly for me no access from the magazine itself - the price of an annual subscription being in direct competition with my food budget (the prices range from £665/US$1,128 to £737/US$1,290 for an annual subscription.... oh plus VAT).

"To preserve our readers’ information advantage, Africa Confidential is only available by subscription. You’ll not find it on high street news stands or other public outlets. Moreover, none of our commentary, news and analysis is syndicated to the international news services, or re-sold to any of the web-based information aggregators."

"So when you subscribe to Africa Confidential, you can be sure of receiving timely reporting and insightful analysis that is not available from any other media source."

Fair enough.... but this did not appease my thirst: confidential yes, but as in protecting its information from whom? Its online 'About Us' page reads:

"Why confidential?

This continent-wide, on-the-ground coverage enables us to identify and monitor upcoming issues before they are picked up by the general media – and analyse their real significance for our readers.


What’s more, all our contributors write for us on the basis of strict anonymity, a principle that was established from the outset in 1960 to ensure writers’ personal safety in the turbulent, early years of post-colonial African independence. Hence the newsletter’s title.
"

Ok, wonderful, honourable, prudent, whatever, but then it further develops that its readership includes:

"national governments, the diplomatic corps, defence & security analysts, academic institutions, humanitarian and relief aid organisations, and private and public corporations in a wide variety of commercial sectors, from mining, energy and telecommunications, to financial markets and automotive."

Being both innocent and naive I had anticipated that national governments and defence institutions may turn out to be the main source of troubles for their writers' safety but no no hu hu it says. If the personal safety of its contributors is not at risk from these saintly bodies then does it only leave one monster: the public?

This is where I have ax to grind: the elitism of information providers or gatherers. I wonder where their funding comes from other than subscriptions (tax money?). Well, this made me salivate even more: a promise of information available to few could only be a certainty to hit gold...

Anyways, I did reach base (I mean campus) eventually and all Africa Confidential's treasures shone through my screen, specifically its 8th January 2010 'Dry times for a quick election' feature, a report about Ethiopia's forthcoming election. A report I found particularly dumbfounding in 1) its title "The government faces elections against a divided opposition: its biggest enemies are the weather and Eritrean President Issayas Afewerki" and 2) its analysis of the Ethiopian people's concerns regarding the election thus surmised:

The people’s priorities
Many voters want to see a serious plan to develop the economy, to push down the ruinous costs of education and healthcare. That takes priority over concerns about human rights or military operations in the Ogaden and Somalia. Excoriated by Western liberals (but admired by ‘realist’ diplomats), Meles neither excites nor appals many Ethiopians; nor is he seen as especially authoritarian compared to his predecessors, Derg leader Mengistu Haile Mariam and Emperor Haile Selassie.

The EPRDF offers policies in droves. Almost every ministry is producing a new five-year Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty, of the kind encouraged by the World Bank and Britain’s Department for International Development. Such plans highlight the opposition’s policy weaknesses – and the government can point to much faster economic growth over the last few years.Inflation has fallen in recent months, as has the budget deficit. The prices of export commodities seem to be on the up, with coffee earnings predicted to reach US$900 million this year, with sales of more than 300,000 tonnes. There are massive plans for further power development; Gilgel Gibe III, the largest project, will have a capacity of 1,870 megawatts. It is on schedule and Gilgel Gibe II, with a capacity of 420 MW, will start generating in mid-2010.After last year’s drought, food will be short in eastern areas of Tigray, Amhara and Oromo, parts of the Afar, Somali and Southern Nationalities regions. Most of Ethiopia is ‘generally food secure’, but the midseason assessment is that 4.7 mn. people will need food aid in the first half of 2010. The United Nations World Food Programme says its funding for Ethiopia has a $127 mn. shortfall. Government food reserves are at 200,000 tonnes. Production in the Belg (February-June) harvest and prospects for the Meher crops (the main season, which normally accounts for 90-95% of annual production) are poor after the lighter than usual Kiremt rains.

And pray, what the heck is "southern nationalities" region?

So that's what was so confidential. Should I tell you about its 5th March article titled 'Target Eritrea'.... ? It's first paragraph is quite erm... peculiar... to me. Maybe in another post?

Incidentally, you may want to read their Who's Who list available online.

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Notes taken by fingers blues-ing on Gil-Scott Heron's new Album 'I'm New here'

Monday, 12 April 2010

"Kan darbe yaadatani, isa gara fuula dura itti yaaddu" (Oromo proverb)

"By remembering the past, the future is remembered".

These notes are taken from Mengesha Rikitu's research on "Oromo Folk Tales for a new generation" by (see also his "Oromo Proverbs" and "Oromo Grammar"). Some proverbs are folk tales are worth the detour:

1) Oromo Proverb – Harreen yeroo alaaktu malee, yeroo dhuudhuuftu hin'beektu
 

"The Donkey doesn't know that it is farting again and again when it is braying." (ie some people concentrating on their own verbosity are unaware of what is going on behind them)

You can tell that dhuudhuuftu is the farting can't you, am betting on the sound that word makes.


Oromifa is one of the five most widely spoken (Afroasiatic) languages in Africa. Its importance lies in the numbers of its speakers and in its geographical extent. The 'official' numbers point to 30 million Oromo speakers (but there has not been to this day a complete or reliable census). The majority of the Oromo people are in Ethiopia and a sizable chunk of this community also dwells in Kenya.

2) Oromo Proverb : Waagayoo hin'arifatu, wanta hundumaa yeroo saati hojjeta
"God is not in a hurry, He is working everything out at it's proper time."

3) Oromo Proverb : bari fallana, takka namaa fodogaa, takka nama fondoga"Time is like a spoon once it feeds, once it snatches."

The Oromo people have been turned into an invisible majority in Ethiopia and have suffered (and still are suffering) violent and ruthless blows at the hands of policies designed to erase them as a people, to wipe out their culture and language.

The women and men of the Oromo diaspora are trying to preserve their cultural heritage and this book is one such example at putting to pen an oral tradition at risk.

4) Oromo Proverb : Gadhee fi badheen afaan ballatu
"A gourd cup and a bad person are wide at the mouth" ( ie : those who do not know their limits talk too much).
Reader, I hope you're not thinking right now this might apply to this blog post...

5) Oromo Proverb : Harka abbaa tokkotin ibidda qabbaachuun nama hindhibu
"It is not difficult to catch fire with someone else's hand" (ie it is not difficult to risk someone else's skin.)


The Oromo alphabet consists of 30 letters (5 vowels, 24 'consonants' - 5 glottalised 'pair' letters - one letter not in the consonant group which is sub-gap and voiced). Keep it in mind while pacing this:

6) An Oromo Folk Tale : 'A WISE KING AND A CLEVER OWL'

"Once upon a time in a far off country there was a well known king..."  

 ...well you know how it goes so I'll take it from here, if you'll allow, to shorten the post slightly, not to disrespect the story teller Mengesha Rikitu.

This king spoke every language known to human beings and animals. He loved his wife very much and acquiesced to her every request (she was, you'll have guessed, very beautiful and equally very whimsical). After many unreasonable demands such as wanting a carpet made from corn silk, the lady demanded a carpet of feathers. Since the king spoke to all animals he called upon all birds to present themselves immediately that morning so that he could pluck their feathers. As soon as he called them [and knowing what he would do to them, woaw, animals are so devoted and are such fatalists!] they arrived. However the Owl was missing. The king, miffed, decided to wait for the Owl before starting the plucking. The Owl only came at sunset.
"The king asked 'why didn't you come this morning?'
The Owl replied 'Oh my Lord, O my majesty, I was very busy with my work'.
The king dumbfounded asked 'why were you so over-busy'
The Owl replied 'I was counting days and nights, male and female'.
The King growing more curious than angry, further inquired 'What did you find then, are there more males than females?'
The Owl answered 'There are more women than men and more days than nights'
The king asked 'why is it so?'
The Owl answered 'I know that every day has night and every man has wife'
The king asked 'what do you mean?'
The Owl replied 'Oh your majesty, in the night when the moon shines it makes the night like the day. In the same way a man who obeys every command of his wife becomes like a wife himself'."

This story opened a whole series or rather, ahem, ungratifying proverbs about women (ie ungratifying for women). I would have posted some of them but I do find that as we say in French the best jokes are the shortest.


I do find these proverbs humorous from the height and distance of my passport which affords me rather luxurious human and woman's rights (luxurious in comparison with many other legal and cultural practices around this globe) but one book did set my not-yet-born smile back into place: Oromtitti: the forgotten women in Ethiopian History by Belletech Deressa. More on that in another post.

A final wisdom note:

7) Oromo Proverb : Ganamaan Ka'anif Waaqi dur hin'baan
"To rise early will not help escape from God"
… one I'll definitely ponder on tomorrow at dawn...

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Notes taken with fingers jamming to Mos Def 'Umi says' , 'Mathematics' , Kenna 'Out of control'

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Tickling Ge'ez, no no I don't mean tackling...

Notes based on "Ethiopic : An African Writing System / Its History and Principle" by Ayele Bekerie, The Red Sea Press, 1997.

In his chapter 'The History and Principles of the Ethiopic Writing System', Professor Bekerie introduces parts of the exegesis for Ge'ez. I wish I could get my hands on Asras Yanesaw's Yakam Matasabia, preferably translated in English (I'll settle for French also mind you). Anyways, briefly, this is what I wanted to share:

Ge'ez is a writing system that organises itself around 7 orders (what Indo-European terminology would categorise as vowels within a syllabary) and 26 graphs. I keep here the term graph used by Professor Bekerie and I really hope that his new term 'syllograph' for Ge'ez will be widely accepted and adopted from now on by Ethiopianists. Indeed, Ge'ez is NOT an alphabet! On a personal note, I do think that there would be much to be gained from observing Ge'ez's graphs as logograms or at the very least inquire as to the morphographemic dimension of its syllabary (maybe it has already been done, any suggestions anyone?).

So 7 Orders times 26 Graphs equals 182. This number represents half a year, that is, one equinox. There are two equinoxes in a year, and so 182 times two is 364. This corresponds to the total number of days in a year... Well, not really, of course a year is 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes and 9.55 seconds. That is why there is a thirteen month in the Ethiopian calendar, to make up for the 'discrepancy' - a calendar which is therefore equinoctial and based on a solar year.

I am not going to dive into numerology, I find it quite difficult to count actually, no jokes. I am just wondering though, why divide the 364 total by 12, I mean where does this 12 come from, why a basis of twelve months? Or is it that number 30 (30 days, that is the number of days in each Ethiopian month) dictates 12 months? 30 has no relation to a prime number in a system organised around 7 or 26.... hmmm, curioser and curioser... well for someone as numeral-illiterate as I. Perhaps a reader has the answer or perhaps the answer is to be found in a comparison elsewhere. '12' reminds me of the Sumerian and Akkadian sexagesimal system (organised around 6 or 60) – which would account for 12 and 30. The Sumerian calendar is based on synodic months, a lunar year of 12 months plus another added (or an intercalendary one added) in order to fall in sync with the solar year. It also revolves around two seasons, as would suggest the Ge'ez calendar's two equinox base. There is also a 'still-being-uncovered' study of the mnemonic aspects of graphs and astronomy for Sumerian and Akkadian, and the Ge'ez preserved system would be a fantastic source of information.

I don't think I am seeing double, to me this is another lead into the similarities of two most ancient civilisations: Ethiopia and Ancient Mesopotamia. Don't get me wrong, when I say comparison, I mean comparison. The study of languages has become (or perphas always was) hijacked by politics and religion. I am no hijacker. Whenever I compare (languages, culture, whatever) I compare, strictly. It does not mean that I am equating.

I believe that Ge'ez is indigenous to Abyssinia. I don't buy that it was imported. I also believe that Ge'ez is far more ancient than the dates it has so far been allocated (due to the dearth of archeological data available until now and certainly also due to the dead end street that is endlessly seeking a source to Ge'ez in Yemen).

What a wonderful world Abyssinia is, ain't it!

There is a fascinating world of hermeneutics in Ge'ez, that is using numbers to decipher scriptures, again dear Asras comes up with taunting explanations of many terms like Abraham, Selam, Hewan. I only have exerpts of what he wrote: hello, hello, if any one out there in cyberspace has a copy, please could you share one with me? That would be grand!... well, one can hope can't one...

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Notes taken with fingers jigging to K'naan 'TIA', 'ABC', and 'Soobax'.