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The Hyena-leg, Egri Zb’ee

When I was a child, there was a man who had a big funnel-shaped wooden leg. His steps made a bang every time he stepped. The children would say, Ennguuuy, and he will chase them. His nick was Egri Zb’ee and children never let him live in peace.

Years ago, a thief broke through the barbed wire and reed fences of the Danadai plantation at Ela Ber’ed and steal fruits. The workers thought it must be animals like monkeys sneaking in and eating the fruits from the far side of the plantation. They set a trap, the tough trap and left. Just after sundown, the thief sneaked in again and started to steal fruits. Suddenly he stepped on the trap, and he fainted. When he regained consciousness, his leg was badly hurt, and he had lost much blood. He was in so much pain, and the trap was difficult to unlock. He stayed for the night immobile and in pain. When morning broke, he heard workers approaching. He wanted someone to save him from the trap, but he didn’t want to be caught wither. But reflex won and he wanted them to stay away. Enguuuy, enguuuy. It didn’t sound like a Hyena, and the workers came closer and found him swimming in blood. They took him to the clinic and his leg had to be amputated. That was poor Egri Z’bee, the Hyena-leg

An Interview with the PFDJ Clerk Alamin Mohammed Saeed

The Egri Zb’ee story I told you is an illustration of what is wrong with the discourse and the political culture of the Horn of Africa region. And in preparing today’s Negarit 144 I listened to the clerk’s interview, Alamin Mohammed Saeed’s where the interviewer seemed prepared to listen to the same PFDJ propaganda for the umpteenth time.

It has been three years since I talked about the clerk, and since then he was not around, or maybe I didn’t take notice. The 60th Jubilee of the start of the Eritrean armed struggle brought him back. At any rate, let me tell you an anecdote.

Once there was a bandit whose people persuaded him to farm and sustain himself instead of remaining an outlaw. They gave him a plot of land to farm, and he was doing fine until one day, he saw a man coming towards him through the rough roads. He asked him, ‘why don’t you walk on the proper road instead of wilderness? The man told him he was avoiding the road for fear of bandits since he carried a bag of money and didn’t want to risk it. The bandit-turned-farmer was enticed. He said, ‘your types will not leave us live an honorable life!’ Then he hit the man, took the bag of money that he carried and returned to his old outlaw life.

The PFDJ would not let Eritreans live a normal life by their provocations and suppression. The clerk Alamin Mohammed Said provoked me enough and I had to say something about his interview.

PFDJ’s Narration Has Turned into A Myth

Just like the Abyssinian clergy, the PFDJ has its own feel-good stories, and I will try to break it apart using the common Eritrean narration; not the one-sided PFDJ myth. But first a warning is due: too much Alamin is not good for your health, the doctor advised.

Kagnew Station and The Elevation of Eritrean

Alamin repeated the usual illusion that the PFDJ’s Eritrea is important the whole world is arrayed against its existence; the USA is on top and according to his narration, it built the Kagnew station in Asmara out of spite, to subjugate the nation.  The elevations of the highest six capital cities, in meters, are as follows:

La Paz, Bolivia             3640
Quito, Ecuador            2850
Bogota, Columbia       2625
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 2355
Thimphu, Bhutan        2334
Asmara, Eritrea      2325

After WW2, space communication was at its infancy and intelligence agencies didn’t have today’s digital technologies and satellites in space. The technology was analog, and receivers were antennas and later microwave dishes. Therefore, before the digital age, elevation was very critical for an efficient communication and broadcast and America found Eritrea attractive due to its ideal elevation and established the Kagnew Station communication base in Asmara.

Asmara and Moscow

There was also another quality Asmara surpassed other places. The latitude of Asmara is 38° E, while Moscow is 37° E. The general direction of Moscow is due north (1 arc degree is about 111 kilometers). Elevation and space proximity to Moscow was the significance of the Kagnew station. In the seventies however, with the coming of the digital age when placing satellite in space became common, ground elevation became insignificant. And in the mid-1970s, the USA dismantled the Kagnew station due to that; security reasons was not a major cause of the decision. But Alamin thinks otherwise.

Red Sea

Oil iss the king of energy, it’s but with every passing day, however, the use of renewable energy like solar, wind, and hydropower energy generation is increasing dramatically and thus the importance of oils is decreasing. And since Eritrea is on the Red Sea, it had an advantage because huge amounts of oil and natural gas was shipped over adjacent sea lanes. But the beneficiaries need nothing from Eritrea except to prevent it from possibly disrupting the sealine supply. That also explains why the West was so much interested in Eritrea.


In the early 2000, the late Ambassador Girma Asmerom boasted that Eritrea’s mountains are full of minerals—the usual boasting by the PFDJ about the hidden wealth. We asked then, “what good is a mineral that stays buried underground forever if it cannot be extracted and exploited for the benefit the people? That requires another story.

The Ethiopian Ambassador to Kuwait.

During the Badme war of 1998-2000, the Ethiopian ambassador to Kuwait frequently met the Kuwait foreign ministry officials to pass an appeal from his government to advise the Eritrean government to stop the escalation of the war. The Ambassador repeatedly told the Kuwaiti deputy minister, ‘we have an air force, we have tanks, we have this and that…we are not afraid of the war, but it will destroy Eritrea. Please convince them to stop.’ The deputy was tired of the boasting, and he told him, “Mr. Ambassador, what is the use of all your armaments and forces if you cannot use it? If you are in a war, you go ahead use it if you think that is the solution…”

Of course, the same remark applies to Alamin: why did Eritreans liberate their land if they were not going to enjoy freedom?

Unfortunately, Alamin and his boss are the samples of the PFDJ mentality…he is a clerk with a one-page governing manual carried over from the struggle era.

“A Mute person sings only one song” An Eritrean proverb

Alamin never mentioned any friends but so many enemies—he might think Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed is enough for a friend. Fqr eske meqabir, as the Amhara say, ‘Love up to the grave.’ Everyone is the PFDJ’s enemy: the USA, England, Tigray, Italy, Tigray, the West, again Tigray, and Tigray once more, Portuguese, missionaries carrying the bible!

I wish someday the PFDJ leaders would remember they are not infallible angels but mortals like the rest of humanity. They are everywhere pointing fingers at half the world that they consider enemies! I wish for once they practiced introspection and found out what is wrong with them. If they did that honestly, they would know they are the biggest problem and that will benefit them and the rest of Eritreans who were supposed to benefit from everything they claim to have achieved and will achieve in the future. But how can they when the PFDJ doesn’t even know the population of Eritrea? Alamin says, we might be 2, 3, 4, or 5 million. Take your pick.

Since he cannot differentiate between 2 and 5 million people, Alamin the clerk is not fit to be a shepherd of ten goats not an entire country!
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” Lewis Carroll

Our hope is great for a prosperous Eritrea, a stable life for Eritreans, and conscious Eritreans will not stop fighting until they achieve that goal. However, where are Eritreans heading? Do they have the same destination, or everyone is riding on a different train? Are they all genuine riders? If anyone doesn’t have the good of Eritreans at heart, according to universally accepted norms, people shouldn’t choose rides randomly, or ride for an excuse. A journey to end the era of tyranny should be the priority. The liberation of Eritrea was achieved with that spirit. What followed has divided Eritreans when it shouldn’t have. What is needed is waging a truthful, honest struggle, not sectarian, fascistic, not a struggle for anti-human and primitive visions. Those who are sowing hate and division among the people and hindering the just struggle must be identified. The field must be cleared to wage a confident, clear, and truthful struggle with the aim of safeguarding human dignity, freedom, and justice. If Eritreans unite on these goals, they will arrive at the targeted destination. Conscious people must know where they are going. They must not be blinded by those who want to lead the struggle to a different, trivial destination, a destination of disarray, disunity, and self-loathing.


About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

Born and raised in Keren, Eritrea, now a US citizen residing in California, Mr. Saleh “Gadi” Johar is founder and publisher of Author of Miriam was Here, Of Kings and Bandits, and Simply Echoes. Saleh is acclaimed for his wealth of experience and knowledge in the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. A prominent public speaker and a researcher specializing on the Horn of Africa, he has given many distinguished lectures and participated in numerous seminars and conferences around the world. Activism was founded by Saleh “Gadi” Johar and is administered by the Awate Team and a group of volunteers who serve as the website’s advisory committee. The mission of is to provide Eritreans and friends of Eritrea with information that is hidden by the Eritrean regime and its surrogates; to provide a platform for information dissemination and opinion sharing; to inspire Eritreans, to embolden them into taking action, and finally, to lay the groundwork for reconciliation whose pillars are the truth. Miriam Was Here This book that was launched on August 16, 2013, is based on true stories; in writing it, Saleh has interviewed dozens of victims and eye-witnesses of Human trafficking, Eritrea, human rights, forced labor.and researched hundreds of pages of materials. The novel describes the ordeal of a nation, its youth, women and parents. It focuses on violation of human rights of the citizens and a country whose youth have become victims of slave labor, human trafficking, hostage taking, and human organ harvesting--all a result of bad governance. The main character of the story is Miriam, a young Eritrean woman; her father Zerom Bahta Hadgembes, a veteran of the struggle who resides in America and her childhood friend Senay who wanted to marry her but ended up being conscripted. Kings and Bandits Saleh “Gadi” Johar tells a powerful story that is never told: that many "child warriors" to whom we are asked to offer sympathies befitting helpless victims and hostages are actually premature adults who have made a conscious decision to stand up against brutality and oppression, and actually deserve our admiration. And that many of those whom we instinctively feel sympathetic towards, like the Ethiopian king Emperor Haile Sellassie, were actually world-class tyrants whose transgressions would normally be cases in the World Court. Simply Echoes A collection of romantic, political observations and travel poems; a reflection of the euphoric years that followed Eritrean Independence in 1991.

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  • Haile S.

    Selam Awate people,

    Well it is Mesqel መስቀል and Damiera ዳሜራ time. In tigrigna we commonly say ዳሜራ. What does it mean or what is the origin of the word?

    • Brhan

      Hello Haile S
      I found it as ደመራ in page 693 Tigrinya dictionary by Dr. Kasa G/Hiwet and Professor Amanuel Ganki. So the root word can go to the verb ደመረ which means to add. What things are added to celebrate the festival. May be the woods that we add to create the fire, light ?

      • Haile S.

        Selam Brhan,

        You got it 👍🏾! That is what I found. It is ደመራ like they call it in amharic, meaning as you suspect, the act of bringing the individual torchs together. Coming together to celebrate, or መደመር!

        • haileTG

          Hey Moxi and Brhan,

          Interesting that when you asked the question, It just occurred to me the way you are describing it. I didn’t have time to look it up but just thought about it and that line of reasoning made sense to me. May be publishing the Etymology book will not be that hard after all:-)

          • Haile S.

            Selam MoKsi,

            ሆየ ከመይ ሓዲሩ? ቱኻን ውጻእ ቁንጪ እቶ ዶ ክትብል ሓዲርካ?

            ተደሚርና ተደማሚርና ነዛ መዝገበ ቃላት ኣይንሓምቀላን ኢና!

          • haileTG

            Hey Moxi,

            I had a good night, hope you had too. Today Shabait put out a PR in connection to world Tourism Day. It is in Tigrigna. I read it once to get informed, and I had to read it again for the laughs. I mean you have to read it to see what I mean. It has nothing to do with Tourism, but it is an art in itself on how to write a PR on Tourism when you have none. Worth checking:-)

          • Haile S.


            Yemane’s and Shabait Job is to fill the pages with whatever comes, because the natural fillers if a news page are not there.

            I jot whatever idea comes to my mind after reading ዝባዝንኬ. Here is what I jotted but didn’t post on the 19th of September after reading shabait. It had posted about celebrating internatiknal museum day on the 18 of september for a day that should have been celebrated on 18th of May. Here it is a draft of my reaction then that I didn’t post.

            ሰላም ሰብ ዓወተ

            Shabait እንድዒ ግዲ ስኺራ
            ወይ ወረ ስለ ዝሰኣነት መሬት ጻሕቲራ
            ግንጽል እንተበልኩስ ትብል ሎሚ IMD ኣኽቢራ
            እንታይ ከነውሪ ተብሂሉ ይመስል መዝገባታ ፋሓሒራ
            ወረ ተሳኢኑለይ ኣብዛ museum ዝኾነት ንባዕላ ኤርትራ

            International Museum Day 18 May ዶ’ይኮነን ኣንቱም ስድራ?
            እንሃለትኩም በሉ ተብዕል IMD ካብ 18 May ክሳብ ሰፕተምበር ዕስራ

        • Brhan

          Selam Haile S,
          Forgot to say Rhus Awde Amet …I hope you enjoyed it .
          Thank you. But my dictionary ( which is Tigrinya- Tigrinya) has become a great help and I have used to provide the answers of questions asked here at the forum. Do you have one? If yes , can you tell its title and authors
          Haile, መደመር! are not you still in the spirit of yesterday’s festival. Park politics for a while…

          • Haile S.

            Selam Brhan,

            Thank you! ኣሕቢሩ!
            I have ዘመናዊ መዝገበ ቓላት ትግርኛ ብ-ተክአ ተስፋይ. እሕታሚ፡ ሕድሪ 1999. It is voluminous, but is poor in etymology and has a lot of word of technical english origin. As first comprehenssive dictionary the author did great job consulting specialists, but it can be improved a lot. To understand a word, I also consult old tigrigna and other language dictionaries that were prepared by missionaries for their use as well as Geez dictionaries.

            መደመር is good. The problem is on how it is done and when a massive መቀነስ is added to it.

          • haileTG

            Selamat Brhan,

            EPLF dictionary is (from what I heard) the best one if you can get a copy.
            Hezbāwi genbār ḥārenat ʼÉretrā was a great author on many topics as: language (dictionary – Tigrinya and Arabic), Health, Education, Women in Society, Politics…

            I am sure ELF had similar productions but I don’t know who was the main publisher for ELF (Red Sea press and others did much for EPLF).

            You can search “Hezbāwi genbār ḥārenat ʼÉretrā” in the format given. But the actual content is not easy to find online. Time to visit some PFDJ festivals, it might be on the CD and book isles beside the ticket desk:-)
            Details of Dictionary follow:

            Genre/Form: Dictionaries
            Document Type: Book
            All Authors / Contributors: Hezbāwi genbār ḥārenat ʼÉretrā.
            ISBN: 9994800140 9789994800148

            Notes: Title also in Tigrinya and Arabic.
            Tigrinya title on top of t.p.
            Introduction in Tigrinya.
            Description: 718 pages ; 23 cm
            Responsibility: Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.

          • Berhe Y

            Hi HaileTG,

            Is there Tigrinya-Tigrinya dictionary by EPLF. Are you referring to the English, Tigrina and Arabic dictionary by EPLF.

          • haileTG

            Hi Berhe and Brhan,

            I just noticed that! No, EPLF didn’t have that.

          • Brhan

            Selam Halie S,
            I had this one. I was speaking about Tigrinya- Tigrinya dictionary

  • Brhan

    Hello Awate forum participants
    Witnesses accuse Tigray fighters of Kobo killings
    Northern Ethiopia has been racked by more than 10 months of war that has left thousands dead.
    The Tigray forces have denied targeting civilians. Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda told the AP that the accounts from Kobo “are just a figment of someone’s imagination. There was no such thing as our forces going in every house and targeting civilians.” He blamed local [fighters], “irregular units,” and said that “people who were hiding their guns” joined them.

  • Haile S.

    Selam Saleh and all,

    Nice piece as usual, but allow me to go to the skin and bones of your piece, I will leave the flesh to those who like ጮማ (ዓዓጽሙ ንዓና፡ ሰስግኡ ንእንዳ ጎይታና).

    In the tigrigna version, you said space/universe is ኣስተር in Tigray’gna (in Tigray). Frankly, I didn’t know that Tigriyans call space ኣስተር in routine use. But now thinking about the word, curiously, it sounds like እሽጣር or Ishtar, the mythological God of the universe of the middle & eastern civilization and Axumites before christianity.

    Trying to find a summarised presentation on Ishtar, I fell upon and discovered a youtube emission by Azieb Yebiyo talking in details about Ishtar. However, Azieb presents Ishtar as a Goddess than God, different than what is usually written. You need patience, not easy to follow.

    On the image, you have always soft spot for others. You chose the relatively harmless stripped hyena instead of the dangerous spotted hyena. Nice!

    • Saleh Johar

      Maybe I used the zoo type of hyena–that is the image I found usable. Thanks for explaining the difference.

      On Ishtar, I have done an episode on it and that my ancestors believed in Ashtar before they baptized the rest of the region–one can claim anything about abowatna, why not me 🙂

      I didn’t say Tigrai but our Tigrayit. In Tigrayit, space is ዓስተር :: I found it fitting and “I coined it”. Any objection will not be entertained 🙂

      • Haile S.

        Saleh and all,

        እንታይ ክንገብር ኢልካና፡ ኩሉ ወረ ብዛዕባ ትግራይ ስለዝኾነ፡ ትግራይት ተዋሒጣ ተሪፋ።

        There is a third type of hyena, cuter and smaller in size but similar to the stripped hyena, Aardwolf. It is not at all dangerous, it feeds on termites. It is found in easter and wester Eritrea, Does anyone knows local language (Tigrigna, Tigrayit, afar, Saho etc) name(s) for it?
        Thank you!

      • Ismail AA

        Selam SJ and Haile S,

        Quite interesting. Inventing (manufacturing) or adopting terminologies is part of developing culture where language is key dynamic. By the way, Haile has unique quality among the Awate forum community. I think he has sworn to himself he would not look at any word in the text before tasting what is in it by a hard look at the accompanying screen image, which I more than usually do not do. He has aesthetic mind that combines content with expressive contextual images as salt with edibles.

        Having said that, however, what about “ሃዋሁ” (ሰማይ – ሰማያት) for space people us in common conversations. Can this equalize with the Tigrayit Saleh has adopted? I think, correct me if I am wrong, ሰማይ and ሰማያት) does also have some religious tone which one hears when people read blessings. ኣብ ሰማያት ትነብር ፈጣሪ ኩሉ ዓለም (heavens). I think this refers to the space. Arab Christians also say similar things. Would love to see what Haile would make of this.

        • Haile S.

          Selamat Ismail,

          Thank you for this generous compliment. The great Beyan just highlighted your communication style. I will add among others your generosity.
          You are absolutely right, I like to go to the bottom of meanings and origin of words. I am not the only one, many others do, but I don’t pass easily over words without bringing them to the forum even at the unconcious risk of “derailing” the core of a piece.

          The earliest written geez record of ሰማይ is in Ezana’s geez stone inscription inscribed after his conversion to Christianity. He started by saying በሓይለ እግዚአ ሰማይ…. Wrongly, people translate it as in the name of the Lord like they pray nowadays. No he said “by the power of the Lord of the sky…”. This king is coming out of worshiping Ares, Mehrem and Ishtar.

          Ishtar or Ashtar, ዓስተር, Astron (Gr), Astrum (Lt), Astre (Fr), Stars … all point to the celestial body (stars planets and all in there). The celestial body is in space (ሰማይ). Therefore, it is understandable that Ezana says “by the power of the Lord of the sky” to signify that his new Lord is the lord of everything.

    • haileTG

      Selamat Moxi, SGJ, Ismail

      Yes, Moxi cares for words with great precision. A linguist once told me that great literary work is based on total care of each individual word, almost like your own child. Essentially, moxi could be Eritrea’s literature bulwark if he undertakes one huge project I dare recommend for him. Moxi, think about starting etymological research for Tigrinya. I saw one such book written by a western monk in Ethiopia from 1910 but it was for Amharic. Tigrinya requires etymology, it can start small scale but would for sure grow. One way to show love of words might be to dig in to their sources, which moxi is great at:-)

      • Haile S.

        Selam MoKsi and all

        Thank you MoKsi! ወሪዱኒ ዒሉ፡ መልሓሰይ እኳ ኣጽርየ ዘይተዛረብኩሉ! This is a project for SGJ. Of course all of us can help. I saw him at aan today speaking his sweet tigrigna. The supposed interview became ሕክያ and I saw him ከቑጠጢ 😁።

        MoKsi, you are absolutely right! There are now several tigrigna dictionaries, but one with ethymology, synonyms, usage, related adages etc is missing. ትግርኛ ብ”ማለት’ዩ” ከይሓመካ፡ ናይ ሕማመይ ተበኪላ፡ ጽባሕ ኣነን ንስኻን ከም ቴኖን ባጦን ከይተዛረብና ኣይንተርፍን።

        • Ismail AA

          Selam Haile S.,

          Let us wait what SJ will make out of this. Nonetheless, in the area I was born and raised “damiera” did not refer to the occasion “Mesqel”. It referred to the cone-shaped dry wood and grass structure put at a centrally locate public gathering field that was lit to burn after an open-air religious sermon. The uniqueness of this is the occasion is attended by followers of all faiths as the festal part of Mesqel also shared by all – Moslems and Christians. I think that had to do something with the change of season, which could have been came down through generations, and related to nature: transition from Winter to Spring. The “Damiera” day was preceded by an eve where the young lit their little “shigs” and roamed around the households in neighboring villages singing and playing. The families gave them some gifts ranging from food stuff, grain to “weTeTo” that generous and well-off peasant offered. I remember my mother gave some of peers a nearby village one of my favorites “weTeTos” that used to shepherd. I was mad to my mother for days. The young then celebrated in the eve of “Damiera” with traditional dance “goyla” at the center of the village. It was celebration of the start of Spring, which ensued from two or three weeks earlier with (Qudus Yohannes), marking the end of cold and wet winter months and starting of warm and bountiful season of harvest time.

          I think I digressed so much and talked about something experts like SJ and Haile should tell us about. Anyway, I close this with a question: Haile and SJ: is it the occasion “Mesqel” celebrated as pure religious event or it is associated with “Damiera”, and its symbolic relation with the turn of season? I am asking you this deliberately to goad you if you know this could have something to do with nature and associated turn of season. What do you think about “Sham-al Nasim” in Egypt (ancient) and “Nowroz” (New Day) which it is the beginning a new calendar year there? Since Yohannes and Mesqet fall at the end of old and beginning of new year, do you think the time had been shifted to Geez Calendar year to fit the Orthodox Christian outlook?

          • Haile S.

            Selamat Ismail,

            Your are right and I have similar understanding as you. Thank you for the sweet personal story that also demonstrates how this feast is practiced.

            When I mentioned both feasts, I don’t mean they are interchangeable. The Meskel መስቀል or feast of the Cross is celebrated by other christian churches other than Abyssinians. It just is much more pronounced in us. And more, there are at least 2 Meskel feasts. One is today 17 Meskerem, the other is 10 Megabit. Where are you believers? 😁

            The Damiera ዳሜራ falls on the same night or day, but as you said is most likely somehow related to the change of season and may preceed the christian era. I will give time for others to chime in on the meaning of Damiera before sharing what I found.

          • Ismail AA

            Selam Haile S,

            Thanks for the bonus information. I was not aware of the second Mesqel. The existence of this may offer a clue that “Damiera” might have symbolized transition from Winter to Spring since pre-Christian times. Regarding “Damiera”, it appears to had been adaptation to an existing practice rather than had been adoption from the faith to fit the beginning of the Geez calendar year. The riddle that should be looked at and sorted out is whether the counting of the date (Mesqel) according the Geez Calendar was by coincidence or by design of the Orthodox clergy.