The king missed something, he directed his efforts only towards the men.
The fundamental mistake of the king was to try to exploit higher consciousness that did not developed yet. He assumed the Eritrean new flag must have had created national awareness and national consciousness. He tried to kill two birds with one stone by stirring hatred on religious and provincial grounds. He totally ignored the prominent village consciousness because he believed in trickle down effects. The king was at the top thus always looked top down. According to him if he succeeded to divide the people on religion, the whole population would go into civil war against one another because half were Moslems the other half Christians. If he succeeded to divide the people on provincialism that would turn the highlanders against one another; villages against villages, woman against woman, that would in turn destroy the thread that held the people.
The plan was grandiose because the king always planned and dreamed big. His plan also lacked direction because his vision was unidirectional, ill advised and ill conducted. Had he looked bottom up the outcome might have been slightly favorable to his agenda. The king’s assumption was also wrong like his advisor’s assumption though who knew for sure the British administrator was not playing with both hands. The British never gave without receiving and never helped without benefiting.
The card, the king missed was the woman. He could not see her because she was at the bottom layer, like the foundation that was buried beneath the ground. He did not realize that she was the formidable foe and everyone else was inconsequential. What was visible was misleading. In bars nothing of value could be accomplished. Alcohol could not create harmony, trust and understanding. The king’s spies could easily penetrate and disrupt bars for they enjoyed alcohol themselves but none of them could dare interfere with a woman’s home. The king assisted by the British administrator was able to create disharmony among the many nationalistic parties that were run by men. But the king, following the advice of the administrator, negligently condoned the secret but million strong silent women’s union.
The British administrator was a highly decorated military man. That was also the reason why he was charged to advice the king. No matter how valuable and empire preserving, a king would abhor listening to a lesser man. The administrator had a disposition of haughtiness towards women; a behavior acquired in militarism and carried over to administration. The king also believed in man’s world, where woman’s role was secondary thus inconsequential. So the administrator directed the king toward the men and the king concentrated only on the men.
The referendum was a fiasco to both parties. The king was not happy because he did not get clear majority so were the Eritrean party leaders who felt they were defrauded of clear majority. The only one who was not ruffled by the outcome was the British administrator. He seemed he did not care at all. The longer the process took, the likelihood of him staying in his present power and eventually into knighthood. The messier the event turned, the more power he gained because he was a professional career soldier well suited and well used to anarchy and mayhem.
Warring parties could not stay in stalemate for long especially if one had a slight advantage over the other. The king had advantage because he had the backing of the American administration. By then the USA was the new super power though not a lone. Like everything new they were green, pompous, demanding, arrogant, hasty and easily annoyed. Unlike the old British Empire, Americans were unpretentious, direct and forceful in their demands. Facts meant nothing to them. Their friend the king of Ethiopia detected their readiness to circumvent legal processes and when he pleaded his case they wanted to finish it quick. To a new super power, Eritrea meant nothing, exactly like what the woman of Eritrea said about youth,” Libi gobez ab deretu”, meaning “the heart of a young man is outside his chest”. The village meant nothing. The woman meant nothing.
The United Nations was very busy at that time. It was a men’s club, and it had to be. Men’s union was always messy, disorganized and aimless. But also it was a hectic time. The Great war was over and in no time a new war had started. Everything had to be decided quickly to satisfy both powers before it was too late. New power is like a new car that had to be driven quickly, aimlessly and frequently. At that time, wasting time was illegalized not for the men inside the circle but to all outside of it. Rational discussion was abhorred. It was even considered dangerous. Scientific analysis was vaulted because it was considered top secret property. Consideration and empathy were buried. People were forgotten. Land took prominence. The more mountainous a country, the more preferable and attractive it became. Even places with crabby lands were not spared. Resolutions over resolutions were passed, thousands of them. Numbers and articles were attached to those resolutions. What the USA demanded should be fulfilled quickly. So the resolution passed quickly. What the Soviet Union demanded should be fulfilled quickly. So the resolution passed quickly. The United Nations became the house of resolutions. It was decided to build a new UN office to store all the new and upcoming resolutions. The USA wanted Eritrea to unite with Ethiopia. The Soviets wanted Eritrea to be an independent nation but also wanted a piece of its coastline given to Ethiopia. The British who did not realize their lower status wanted Eritrea sliced in two, half to be given to the Sudan, half to Ethiopia. The British administrator must have realized the power of the woman and wanted to punish her forever by dividing her in half. He wanted to show her man’s world once and forever. There was no other explanation to the craziness.
In times of big play and big players it was the small players who sometimes played crucial roles. To the crazy idea of dividing Eritrea in half only one vote was required to go either way because half the Nations said yes, the other half no. The decision of that nation would determine either to let the Christian woman stay together with the Moslem woman or separate her from her precious other half. Haiti’s vote saved the woman. The woman’s wish came true. All her life she fought for unity. All her life she fought against division in her village and outside her village. She got permanent reward for her unselfish deeds. But her fate was not sealed yet. She was still in a limbo.
It was an era to forget or aptly to say never to forget but even better not to remember. Second World War came to an end but in its journey, a journey always forgotten by men who instigate war and violence, took Millions of innocent people to death and destruction. A war that started meaninglessly ended meaningfully but without a respite another meaningless war started. The proponents called it cold war, a meaningless term to a meaningless scenario. It was created and named by men who had nothing better to do. The same way people were ignored in the inferno war, people were also ignored in the cold war. The same way the big war was for land, the cold war was also for land. The same way the big war was for dominance, the cold war was also about dominance. Both wars had something in common: peoples’ lives were secondary and subsidiary.
In the case of Eritrea, the land took prominence. It is mountainous thus perfect for eavesdropping. It is located in strategic location, the Red Sea and Bab-El-Mendeb thus perfect for military installations. It had two functional ports thus perfect for any Navy. It had modern infrastructure and electricity thus perfect for central command post. It was like well baked bread ready to be munched not only by the hungry but also by the gluttonous. The people of Eritrea were secondary thus subsidiary. They were not taken into consideration. Their breath, sight, touch and senses were not detected. Their wishes, dreams, aspirations and history were considered irrelevant. And worse the people did nothing wrong to anybody in their history. Rather than harm others they run away from trouble. They received strangers and treated them as their own. Their generosity could even pierce devil’s heart. They were naïve, natural, stoic and direct people.
The British were red faced when they saw the result. But it did not matter because by then they were secondary power. What worried the Eritreans was the red faceness of the Americans. At that epoch, a red faced America was menacing. In a very short time, after the issue of dividing Eritrea was defeated, as if time was a scarce commodity, by twisting cajoling, intimidating, bribing, promising and neglecting other nations’ ideas the UN passed a resolution sponsored by the USA to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia. That resolution had to pass. There was no if or but. There were daring Eritreans who went to the UN to present ifs and buts. They were not only denied the opportunity but were forcefully kicked out of the UN building. More than the face of the resolution it was the contents and intents that were detrimental to the dreams and aspirations of the Eritrean people.
The resolution to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia stipulated that Ethiopian currency, military and foreign affairs would be paramount. In other words Eritrea would not have its military, its currency and could not deal with outside world on its own. It also stipulated that both nations’ flags would fly in Eritrea but not in Ethiopia and the nail on the coffin was the King would be the sole supreme person in the federal system.
On its face, for the Eritrean people not having their own military, currency or foreign affairs did not matter for they were not used to having them in the first place. The majority of the people who inhabit the land that included the whole population of the highland lived their life cut off from the outside world for hundreds of years in peace, harmony and respect with one another and traded in kind. Currency, arms and foreign affairs were redundant, unknown and unnecessary. In those lonely years they managed to survive and preserve their genes, culture, beliefs, customs and norms.
They understood violence to be the ultimate curse so they avoided it as a plague. Because the land did not provide ample they became very kind and sympathetic towards others because they believed no one had a better life than them. They welcomed any stranger without fear, doubt or hesitation.
They were also very equitable people. They divided their land equally and rotated it because it was the only fair thing to. They formed villages and tied the villages through marriages after carefully studying the ancestry to enhance their genetic diversity.
A village, what the people call Adi, became the nucleus of their life and description of their being. It made them who they were. It rooted them and shaped them. It became their identity, their relevance, their tool and their salvation. They did not have to carry anything but their Adi. No first, middle or last name required. You had Adi, you are a person. A person without Adi became a person without identity, a living dead. The first thing they ask when meeting a person they did not know was “where is your Adi?
Then Eritrea became a country with distinct boundary thanks to the Italian colonialist. The people were neither exited nor saddened. The making of Eritrea did not change their Adi. They took the Eritrea the Italians created as everything else the Italians made, roads, bridges, tunnel and railways.
Because Adi embodied the Eritrean people’s being their consciousness was also a product of Adi. Everything revolves around Adi. Adi became the center of focus and point of reference for all their activities, thinking and reasoning. If Adi existed, everything else existed. So the “new” Eritrea was seen as Adi and not the total sum of Adis. People of knowledge might say that was backward looking and inferior. But it was Adi and Adi’s consciousness that saved Eritrea and Eritrean people from delving into tribal or ethnic confrontation. Equality, fairness, faith and the woman were the main ingredients that Adi was made of. As long as those ingredients were not interfered with nothing of negative consequence could arise and did not arise.
The British administrator and the king’s errors arose from a wrong assumption that Eritrean people had developed higher consciousness of nationhood. Their Adi’s consciousness was ignored to the detriment of the power’s grand plans.
Eritrean people look from bottom up not top down. For them Eritrea was a big Adi like their Church and Mosque that represented Higher heavenly power. Except writers and people of knowledge every other Eritrean calls Eritrea Adi. Writers and people of knowledge call it Hager (country), the correct terminology. The people’s rootedness in Adi also made them ardent nationalist. Wherever they are, Eritrean use words like wedi Adey (my village man meant to be countryman); Adi keydu (he went back to village meant he went to Eritrea); adi kemey ala? (How is the village meant how is the country) and many more.
When the idea of federation was explained to Eritreans, they were really offended and affronted. The people could not separate Adi from the woman and the land. To federate Eritrea with Ethiopia was literally taken as rape to the woman; expropriation of the village land and defilement to their religion. That feeling was not an isolated or new. They had the same feeling towards murder.
Man to man murder was a very rare event and there is no recorded history of a murdered woman. As it is, it is not an exaggeration to say man to man murder happene only ones or twice in a decade and half of the causes were manslaughter. It was also dealt in a unique way. Any man to man deliberate murder was considered as action against a woman. She was in charge of the solution. The only murder that was considered manslaughter was if the murder was accidental or unintentional. If her husband was the victim, it was her son and in the absence of a son her daughter or the woman herself who had to revenge. If her son was a child during the murder, revenge would wait until her son was capable to revenge.
If the murder was unintentional then the whole village got involved in the solution. Her village would demand restitution and a bride from the culprit’s family and village. Preferably the bride would be the closest relative to the culprit, his daughter or sister.
The Idea behind the bride was that a woman was considered the embodiment of peace. Once the marriage was done, the murder event was forgotten as if it never happened and never to be mentioned in due respect to the bride, her children, her family and her generations to come.
The sensitivities of the man when it comes to the woman were also exposed during the Italian colony. One Italian regional commissioner asked all villages within his administration to provide him with mature girls able to work so he could send them to Italy to serve as maids. At that time the demand for Eritrean maids in Italy was very high. But the villages took the demand as offensive because it was never done before and thought he wanted the girls for intermarriage with Italians. Led by a local hero named Bahta Hagos the whole region rose in rebellion against the Italians. As a result many Italians and Eritreans lost their lives. The Italians led by Roman Catholic priests apologized for the misunderstanding but the matter was never forgotten.
As their saying goes, ”Ms faraday men temaguatay” meaning who can argue with judge, federation was imposed on them by the UN with the pushing and shoving of the US and pleading of the king. The fate of Eritrean was sealed and delivered.
With no time wasted, the Ethiopian flag was flown alongside the Eritrean flag. Tens of thousands Ethiopian army were deployed through out Eritrea and Birr became their currency. To put nail on the coffin, the king became their king, the supreme leader. Priests and sheiks were forcefully advised to include his name in their sermon
To sooth the population a mock parliament was formed but representation was delineated by the king. The majority was automatically given to the union party members who advocated total unity with Ethiopia and pittance to the nationalistic parties but most refused to participate. The king also started bestowing meaningless titles to woo some people into his plan. Again most refused to accept the title both in principle but mainly because they did not want to offend their people.
After six years of flying together, one day, the Eritrean flag was not to be seen. What they did not felt during the Italian and British rules, the people felt spiritually naked, mentally beaten and psychologically trapped by a foreign force. The woman felt physically naked because she took the flag as the common drape that covered her and her people body. At the sight of an Ethiopian soldier they started trembling. They stopped talking audibly fearing the Ethiopian soldiers who did not speak the local dialect might take it in a wrong way. Fearing the soldiers might violate the woman, men and boys started overprotecting the women and girls. Everyone started arming themselves with sharp stones in case the soldiers made a wrong move. They started describing the soldiers in words only used to describe the devil and hell. Let alone befriend even a talk with any soldier resulted in insults and if repeated ended in beating the erring person.
Men who never knew stress started tensing. Many succumbed to depression. Even the unshakable woman showed signs of doubt and fear. As the man became overprotective to her, she became extremely overprotective over her children but specially the girls. She was raised to be the stewardess of purity and took the event as life and death test for her readiness. She saw the soldiers as man eaters, beasts, devils in uniforms, messengers of Satan and body snatchers. “Do not come close to them”; “Avoid their eyes”, “Be attentive lest they snatch and take you away”, “Animals”, “beasts” were her descriptions of the soldiers.
It was mass hysteria, a new phenomenon for the tranquil people. Laughter (tsehak) and smiling (fshikta) were erased from their naturally smiling faces. They looked grim and serious. Over a short time they associated smiling and laughing to foolishness and negligence. Something started boiling inside them, something new but menacing. They never knew violence but they felt something violent brewing inside them. They grew up fearless, independent and were never bothered by loneliness. But now they started going in groups even for a short distance and for something that did not require team. Their relaxed body and habits became rigid and slowly but surely their natural shyness vanished. Those who lived in cities and towns started arming themselves especially young boys and girls. Men would not leave home without knives, to stab a soldier if threatened; boys without short sticks and sharp stones to whack a soldier’s head if approached and young women without red pepper powder, to blind a soldier if grabbed. What was done in the cities was replicated in the towns and villages. They created a new saying, “Nai habar maat darga gaat” which meant “A burden to all is like porridge.”
The king and his actions did not help either. He started robbing the country of everything he thought were useful to his country. Everything the Italians left, he robbed including telephone poles, wires, metal scraps and other junks. People unaccustomed to stealing went mad and furious. The woman was visibly shaken and really worried and called the Ethiopians serekti hatsawn (metal thiefs). It was understood because steel was core to her survival. Steel was the only metal the people used to make mahresha (plow). Without is it was impossible to till the hardy and stony land. No metal plow meant no grain and definite extinction. By extension she also concluded correctly if the Ethiopians stole steel, land was next in line. In spirit and consciousness one could not separate the woman from the land and the land from food and the food from the plow. When the Ethiopians stole steel, they stole her plow and her being. The news of stealing scrap metals was spread like fire and inflamed all women and in turn annealed their determination. Their old unity and sisterhood was cemented by blood and peace, the new one by plow and fire.
The king also brought bureaucrats who did not speak or know the local language or the local culture. People, who throughout their life received and sheltered strangers became hostile and aggressive to strangers, they even equated the Ethiopian language to that of animals. And finally after their beloved Eritrea was annexed unlawfully they equated Ethiopians with beasts. They were spiritually, mentally and psychologically primed to fight. And they did.
Not the old men; not the city men but expatriate students, teachers and some ex parliamentarians with village roots and hearts started the revolution.
They were ahead of their time. They were pioneers. They knew the journey would be long, difficult, bloody but not impossible.
Following village customs they discussed meticulously; deliberated deeply and reached into consensus on the three immediate but imperative issues: the name for the movement; the leader for the armed struggle and the date to start the revolution.
For name, they chose Eritrean Liberation Front, E.L.F in abbreviation. Tahrir in Arabic; Harnet in Tigrinya because in their pure heart they knew anything less than total freedom would be betrayal to their people.
To lead the armed struggle, those selfless and wise men, chose Hamid Idris Awate. Awate is a Moslem name for the Lowlanders but it also meant Victory for the Christian highlanders and in no time they started calling him Wedi Awate in adulation.
For date, those far looking, tolerant and inclusive men, chose September First, 1961. For the Christian Highlanders the significance was it coincided with their New Year which they call St. John’s day and it was a season when all Christian highland boys and girls cleanse their body by immersing themselves in streams of water [Pagume or the 13th month] at down for two weeks in preparation for that Holiday. For the Moslems the significance was it was Friday.
Probably no one heard the sound of the first bullet. But it did not mater for sometimes silence is louder than noise. It was not the sound of the bullet but its significance that exited the people of peace and tranquility. It was amazing how in short time, people who abhorred violence throughout their history, embraced one.