By Ngatu Jembere, Geneva, 3rd World Lab Center
Like Jewish people in one historical junction, Agaws are known looking down their fellow Agaws for linguistic or religious reasons. This started by Shewans in the year 1316/17. At the end of the 13th century, North Shewans speak Amharic fluently. They learned Amharic from their neighbors, the people of Amhara Province in South Wollo. In 1314, Amda Seyoun became of King Ethiopia. His kingdom was based in North Shewa. he and his army recruited from Shewa and Amhara Province spoke Amharic well. In 1316/17, Amda Seyoun invaded East Gojjam, which used to called Guažām. In the same period, the King also attacked North Gondar, particularly Dembya and Wogera. At that time, the people of Gondar (Begemdir) and East Gojjam didn’t know Amharic. Their dominant language was Agawgna with diverse dialects (refer Belai, 2015, draft manuscript circulated for comment at Addis Ababa University, Muse Tegegne, 1993 and Faysa, 2011). Also (refer Carlo Conti Rossini, One of writers of Ethiopian History, ancient times to Medieval Ages).
During invasion, East Gojjam was ruled by the King namely Zankimir. His name is also spelled as Zukamir, King Zankimir and his people had strong Orit faith. After intensive war not less than one decade, Zankimir was defeated. He was presumably died around Chaco Mountain (‰¢ }^^). Amda Seyoun was successful conquering, East Gojjam and Dembya and parts of Wogera. Following this event, Christianity was introduced in East Gojjam and North Gondar, the occupied areas. Ultimately, Amharic Language was established as a legitimate language in the conquered territories. Agaw language which was associated with Orit faith was gradually weaken and disappeared. For instance, at the end of the 17th century, all East Gojjam areas the east of Chaco Mountain (‰¢ }^^) became completely Amharic speaker and the west of Chaco Mountain (‰¢ }^^) present West Gojjam, Awi and southern shore of Lake Tana still used to speak Agaw language. Over time, the language disappeared gradually from Damot. However, the Agaw language was widely spoken in Sekela and Achefer till 1920s. Sekela was part of Ankesha administration and Bahir Dar was the integral part of Agew Midir administration until 1945. James Bruce literature also confirms this historical relation regard to Sekela and Ankesha-Gugssa.
Amda Seyoun’s victory is concerned, King failed to penetrate into Zege, the rest of West Gojjam and present Awi. West Gojjam and Awi remained in hands of Jan Chuha and his successors for the next 300 years maintaining their Agaw language and Orit faith. This reality had changed as balance of power shifted in favor of Gondar based rulers/ warlords in post Gragn political environment. Gondar based warlords who become dominant force after defeat of Gragn opened continues war against West Gojjam and Awi. Almost after one hundred years of warfare, they succeeded to introduced their style Christianity, mix of debtera and wuqabe in Damot, Awi and the southern side of Lake Tana.
Let me returned to the story of Sekela and Achefer. As mentioned above Agaws were against other Agaws due to religouns and linguistic diversity. For instance, other Damot citizens called the people of Sekela self-denied Agaws (Finote Selam ketema, Sekelawoch Agwuntachewn yedebeku Agwoch nachew yibalal). The said statement didn’t push Sekelans towards denial direction rather help them to develop self awareness and reclaim their Agaw identity openly. Thus, in 2013 in European calendar, Sekela Woreda Council made one an unusual historical decision. That is to secede from West Gojjam and join Awi Zone to rehabilitate their Awi identity. Following the Woreda Council’s decision, Woreda Administration presented a petition to the Regional Government to restructure Sekele Woreda into Awi Zone. Regional officials who has been preoccupied with Kemant issue was panic (tdenagetu) and tried to harass petitioners.
When they know Sekelans are not kind of people whom to be bent for harassment, the people of Damot and the regional government has began to give due respect for the Sekela people. Some regional officials believe that Sekelans do not only secede themselves and join Awi, they can also grap Bure and other areas. Due to their open reclaim their Agaw identity, like Kemants, Sekelans have gained high respect.
The same stereotypical scenario is true for the people of Achefer in Bahir Dar City. It is not common phenomena hearing the following phrase in Bahir Dar City: Achefer has also become Amara (Acheferim Amara hone yemil ababal mesimat addis neger ayidelem). Of course, a majority of the Achefer people including me do not know their Agawness, only small percentage of people know they are Agaws. Those are educated people with second and third social science related degrees.
The people of both woredas has passed through the same stereotype experiences. The difference is Sekela has reclaimed its Agaw identity and has gained respect. Whilst, Achefer has continued to masking itself and as a result has become the victim of persistent stereotype.
Note: For the sake of education, the author has granted permission to anyone who wants to translate and post on faceboook.