አገውነት በደም የተገነባ እንጂ በቋንቋ የተገደበ አይደለም! (ትናንት በሰ/ጎንደር በቅማንት አገው ወንድሞቻችን ላይ የተፈጸመው በደል ሳያንስ አሁን ደግሞ ዓለም የሚያዉቀው የራሱ ታሪክ ያለውን የላስታ አገው ሕዝብ ለቁጥር ማሟያ እንዲሆን አማራነው ብሎ የፕሮፓጋንዳ ዘመቻ ማጧጧፎ ለጋራ እሴት ግምባትና እንደክልል ለጋራ ሕልውናችን ተጨማሪ አደጋ ነው፥)
By Wondmu Workuw
Many of us read the comment by Biruk Abegaz (ብሩክ አበጋዝ) posted on Facebook, Agew Discussion Forum on May 4, 2018. As indicated in this post, he claimed that King Lalibela’s name was not related to the Agaw language and he felt that the Agaw identity of Lalibela/ Zagwe kings, in general, is simply a saga, in effect constructed by historians. Then, the commentator tried to define the Zagwe identity into his old fabricated mythological contexts.
In spite of his claim, he didn’t provide specific reliable scholarly sources/references to support his views. His comment is based on the traditional anti-Zagwe myths (ፀረ ዛጉኤ ተረት ተረት). He and his associate social media users’ comments in Amharic just concentrated on rebuffing Zagwe identity and the Agaw people in general. Actually, such comments are based on the old-fashioned myth generated by so-called Solomonic Dynasty 8-centuries back to defeat the Zagwes. The sources cited in his comment, namely, the monks, Yesu Mao, and St. Teklehyaymanot are key fabricators of Kebre Negast, the main source of mythology and accounted for centuries of a political crisis in Ethiopia. አሣ ጎርጓሪ ዘንዶ ያወጣል እንደሚባለው ሁሉ, as stated in his Gadl, St. Tekelehaymanot was the one who instructed Yekuno Amlak to open gunfire at the last Zagwe King, Yitbarek’s palace in 1270. Consequently, these Gadls and the related name mentioned in his comment are not scholarly sources, but the extensions of the Kebra Negast myth and unacceptable in such critical issue. Musa (2009), the African writer describes Kebra Negast in the following phrases, as cited in Belai (2017):
“Kebra Negast was actually produced principally to justify, legitimize, and glorify the so-called Solomonic Dynasty after the overthrow of the Zagwe Dynasty of Agaw descent… The document was motivated by the desire of the Abyssinian royal house to assert their divine right to the throne.”
Whether it is primary or a secondary source, reliability is closely associated with the independence of an author, replicability of a data collection procedure and consistency of an outcome. In the absence of such conditions, any document cannot be considered as scholarly literature, but to be understood as a layman’s opinion motivated by varying reasons. In such circumstance, the response was not necessarily desired since it would be simply barking for nothing—which I can say in Amharic— ላም በሌለት ኩ በት ለቀማ.
However, regardless of all these deficiencies in his post, for the sake of educational clarification, I have decided to reply briefly point-by-point to his comment in the form of question and answer as indicated below.
Statement-1): Biruk says, ኤኔለ in Agaw language is ‘bee’ and not associated with the name Lalibela. Is it true?
Answer: It is true that phrase ላሊበላ (Lalibela) was derived from the two Agaw words. I’m a fluent Agaw Language speaker. I’m not familiar with ኤኔለ mentioned by Biruk. But, what I see is, it shares partial like sound with ለለ. Let us keep in mind, as stated in Lalibela/Gebre Meskel’s bibliography on Wikidepia, the bee’s recognition to Lalibela at his birth was in the old Agaw Language. That means the Lastan Agaw word ለለ, lala (bee) was the language of the past, but not anymore in use in Lasta area. This is a common phenomenon for any language. Naturally, a language is dynamic, which changes its meaning, modifies its wordings, or entirely dies over time. For example, the term “nimgimmer” is the obsolete English word spoken about 800-1000 years ago. Its meaning was a ‘doctor’. It is the language of past and not used in the given connotation by English speakers today. The similar situation is true in the case of the historic term ለለ in the Lasta area.
In this particular Agaw word context, the word still exists in diverse forms, but with similar connotations in different areas. For instance, ወ-ለሊ /ŋargi in Agaw-Awŋi has the meaning of ‘honey’. In Quaran Agaw dialect spoken in parts of Belaya/Belee and southwestern Quara/Kemant, the word lali/ላሊ (ለአሊ) is the expression given to a drone/king bee (but not daily language), while swarms of bees are called cihere (ፅኸረ). Another word that has sort of similarity in sound is አሊሊ, which imply to a male bull in the same area (but it’s not also daily language). In some localities, it can be a designation to craftsman/leather processor, as used in daily language. The word ባላ in lose sound expresses ‘dinning’ (hu) in Quarian dialect, but when it is pressed it becomes the Amharic word for ‘pillar’. As discussed in the next section, this is an indication that the Amharic Language is considerably a collection of vocabularies from the Agaw Language.
I’m not sure whether the Agaw language and tradition are still alive in the Quara-Belee area. My illustration is based on my observation 35 years ago. Since the current government has come to power, the Agaw Language drastically disappeared in many areas. Find the note below, entitled Living in the Community of Belee-Quara.
Statement-2): Biruk says, the name of Zagwe kings is associated with Geez. Is it true?
Answer: It is true that Zagwe kings’ name is associated with Geez. Remember the Geez was the only church language until the end of the 20th centuries in Ethiopian Orthodox. Zagwe Kings were devoted Christians and their original names were converted to the religious names in two ritual events; first, during baptism on the 40th/80th days of a child’s birth; second at the time of coronation. For instance, Lalibela’s crown name was Gebre Meskel. But, in 1162 it was converted to Lalibela. According to his bibliography recorded on Wikipedia counted to Taddesse Tamrat and other scholars, Lalibela “was the given name, meaning “the bees recognize his sovereignty” in Old Agaw [Language] due to a swarm of bees said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as Emperor Ethiopia “. He is the son of Jan Siyoum. Jan is a traditional Agaw designation for intermediate rulers (refer Belai (2017), while the word Siyoum is the noun (መድብለ ስም) originated from Geez. Literature is also consistent with the meaning of Zagwe Dynasty; it was driven from “the ancient Geez phrase Ze-Agaw meaning Dynasty of the Agaw” in reference to the Agaw people that constituted its ruling class.” In the old literature, it was also spelled as Agau and in a modern Amharic Agew.
Anyway, naming in Geez has nothing to do with Amhara identity. Geez and Amharic are not similar languages as once thought, rather Amharic is highly associated with Agaw language, but Amharic has enriched itself by borrowing vocabularies from Geez, Arabic, Heberu, Affan Oromo (Fayyis, 2012) cited in Belai (2017) who compares grammatical structural similarities between the Agaw language and Amharic, Geez and Amharic and other languages. According to this source, Geez and Amharic do not even share similar grammatical structure (find the table below).
Grammatical structures of Amharic and other languages
||Mr. Adam (n) cane (o) tekelha (v)
||Mr. Adam (n) zaf (o) tekele (v)
||Mr. Adam (n) muka (o) dhaabe (v)
||Mr. Adam (n) ome (o) tekilo (v)
||Mr. Adam (n) geed (o) beeray (v)
||Mr. Adam (n) tekele (v) ome (o)
||Mr. Adam (n) planted (v) a tree (o)
|n = noun, o = object, v = verb
Source: Belai (2017), Identity and History …
Statment-3) Biruk says, Lasta … was once Amhara homelnd. Is it true?
Answer: This statement is not true. If the writer wanted to learn facts, he could use independent scholarly historical sources. If one wants to learn about Chemistry, primary/secondary (books /journals written by Chemistry experts are legitimate sources. The similar analogy should be true to history and other subjects. The main historical sources of the Ethiopian history literature are written by foreign travelers, Arabic literature, Royal Chronicles (Zena Mewal) and independent academics. According to scholars in the area, these sources noticed the presence of an Amhara area in southern Wollo, north of Shewa and South of Lasta. But, there was no community called Amhara anywhere else, including Lasta, Gojjam, Gondar and Shewa unless it is defined in terms of a religious denomination. Whether ‘Amhara’ is an ethnic group is still subject to controversy. For instance, prominent scholars, like Professor Mesfin Woldemaryam categorically rejected the existence of an ethnic group called Amhara in Ethiopia.
Whereas Zagwe Dynasty’s identity is concerned, there are over 98 sources, including online literature that confirm the Agaw identity of Zagwe kings. For now, I want to cite just three accessible academic sources by Haile Laribo, World History Professor; Teshale Tibebu, History Professor & the author of the ‘Ethiopian History’ and prominent Ethiopian historian, Professor Taddesse Tamrat.
Haile Laribo (2016) states as follows in his Amharic article regarding the Amhara community: “ዐማራ” የሚያመለክተው፣ የተወሰነ የመሬት ክልል መሆኑ አይካድም። የተለያዩና በየጊዜው የመጡት የውጭ አገርና ያገር ቤት ጸሓፊዎች አላንዳች ማዛባት እንደሚናገሩ፣ ክልሉ በምዕራብ በኩል በአባይና እሱን በሚመግበው የበሽሎ ወንዝ፣ በሰሜን በአንጎትና ላስታ፣ በደቡብ በወንጭት ወንዝ፣ በምሥራቅ ደግሞ ወደደንከል በረሃ በሚደርሰው ሰፋፊ ገደላገደል የተከበበውን ምድር ይዋሰናል። ይኸ ዝርዝር እንደማስረጃ ካገለገለን ..፣ ዛሬ የወያኔ መንግሥት ዐማራ ብሎ የሚጠራቸውን እንደነጐጃም፣ በጌምድር፣ ሸዋ እንዲሁም የወሎን ከፊሉን አያካትትም (Larebo, 2016, http://www.ethiopia.org).
Professor Laribo (2017) also clarified the same facts in his interview with ESAT on January 10 &22, 2017. In Part 2, he said, “Wag Shums, the People of Lasta, are founders of Zagwe Dynasty as Agaws and nowadays, the Agaws speak Amharic”. In the Part-1 interview, the professor told that “the people of Gojjam and Begemdir are Agaws, they are not Amharas” just “they speak Amharic”. The area of “Amhara is limited in the portions of Wollo”. “Emperor Tewodros is Quaran” [in effect Kemant-Agaw) not Amhara. He further stated that the evidence was obtained from Arabic sources written until the 19th century and Royal Chronicles (Zena Mewal).
Professor Teshale Tibebu, on the other hand, clearly describes King Lalibela’s Agawness in the following terms:
“King Lalibela (ruled c. 1200-1250) was the most famous king of the short-lived Zagwe dynasty (dynasty of the Agaw) that came after the demise of the Aksum kingdom. The Zagwe period runs from about 1137 to 1270, and the Agaw is one of the oldest indigenous people of Ethiopia” (www.worldhistory.biz).
Taddesse Tamrat (1972) not only confirms the Agawness of Zagwe Dynasty, it also points out the dynasty’s distinct tradition from later Ethiopian rulers’ on power transfer. He states that “Unlike the practice of later rulers of Ethiopia, under the Zagwe dynasty the order of succession was that of brother succeeding brother as king, based on the Agaw law of inheritance.”
Indeed,Biruk’s comment is contrary to the historical facts. Biruk Abegaz and his associates believe that a repeated lie becomes a truth in a span of time (ብሩክና መሰሎቹ ውሸት ሲደጋገም እውነት ይሆናል በሚል በተሣሣተ አመለካከት ተሞልተው አምባቢውን ለመታለል መሞካራቸው እነሱ ራሳቸው በስብእና ቅውሠት ውስጥ መሆናቸውን በግልጽ ያመለክታል፥). It is once again, a tragic error and unconstructive. It will never build unity and mutual confidence among us rather it creates rife valley that can threaten our common development and peaceful co-existence as a community. We can only be bound together by common interests on equal footing, whilst accepting facts and respecting one another, as Agaw and Amhara.
In conclusion: We live in high tech-edge in the history of mankind, nothing can be hidden. What I said here can be checked through DNA analysis and archaeological studies beyond the existing historical literature. In what circumstances or measurement that the people of Lasta can be defined as Amhara? Identity is not a choice, like an ideology, lifestyle, or citizenship, but a natural gift that we have to accept and preserve as it is. Biruk Abegaz’s post/comment is just fake, the piece of fiction and politically motivated rather than a search of knowledge of the truth. I believe that the objective of the current propaganda campaign, like this post, is to abort the Lasta people’s aspiration for self-rule/zonal administration to overcome the extreme poverty they have been experiencing and to rehabilitate their precious heritage. This is a malicious intent that cannot be imagined in other parts of the world in this 21st century. Therefore, I have to conclude with an Amharic key phrase as follows:- ዓለም የሚያዉቀው የራሱ ታሪክ ያለውን የላስታ አገው ሕዝብ ለቁጥር ማሙያ እንዲሆን ከኦሮሞ ጋር በቁጥር ለመወዳደር ተብሎ አማራ ነው ማለት ንቀት ብቻ ሳይሆን ሥድብም ጭምር ነውብየ አምናለሁ፥
Dissolved Lasta Lalibela Band
Note: Living in the Community of Belee-Quara
Exactly 35-years ago, in 1983, I stayed long in Belaya and Quara community. Definitely, the dialect was difficult to understand for me. It took me more than a month to catch up the pronunciation. The people were very kind, they fed me a fish and honey daily. My host told me the presence of pre-Biblical Judaism faithful Kemant-Agaws on the far upper of Emperor Tewords (Tewdrow Ketema). Quara and Chilga are the only places in the world where pre-Biblical Judaism has been preserved by the Agaw-Kemants. At that time, I was ideologically communist and had little interest to look into the matter. There were a few churches in the area, at a distance of about 20 km between them. The administrator of the Church was called Qese Gebez (he is not a priest, but speaks Amharic barley with a strong accent).
Christianity and tradition were simultaneously functional. Sounds of birds and donkeys’ behaviors were closely monitored before starting a long trip. There were birds of sounds that conveyed warnings and a message of danger or bore the message of an opportunity. Based on the message, a man had to remove tangible danger before starting the trip or canceled the trip if there were uncertainty to identify sources of danger and eliminate it. If the message of an opportunity was ringing, then a man pursued his trip with delight expecting some sort of gain in this particular journey.