Of heroes & traitors – The ballad of Legesse Wegi
Ethiopians’ respect for the dead is only equaled by their respect for “God’s Guest”. “God’s Guest” (YeGziabher Engida) is, in the old days, a person on whom the sun sets before he got to destination’s end. Whether the traveler was a man sought by the victim’s family for murder (an eye-for-an-eye social justice system that became the central point to an amazing Amharic Book entitled “Tikur/TiQur Demm”, dark blood), planning to visit his relatives who live at a different part of the country, or has a pending court-case he should present himself to in the morrow, he’d be traveling on his feet (literally!!) so gets dead tired by the end of the day. He can’t go into the woods and prepare a grassy bed to lie his tired bones on because, unlike today, the woods were filled with wild animals and/or robbers. So he knocks on the door of a house near by and begs for a place to spend the night.
“I’m YeGziabher Engida”, he declares, “looking for shelter. Will you let me sleep here? I promise I’ll be on my way first thing in the morning”. Ethiopians being very religious (remember that thing Jesus said about receiving guests and/or him coming as a thief at night, etcetra?) and almost as hospitable as legend says, the traveler is never disappointed. Infact, he gets more than he asked for. He’s entreated to enter. Asked to sit on a chair, perhaps, the “Lord of the house” sits. He’s then given water for his feet and food for his belly (the milk, or yogurt, serving as an appetizer).
In the meantime, a chosen “Qurbet” (a rag made from the skin of either an ox or a sheep that everybody used for bed in those days) is laid to him in the living room. Given either a “twaff” or a “masho” (traditional candle and lamp respectively) to illuminate the darkness while he prepares for sleep he’s told to have a good night, and wake the lady of the house before he leaves in the morning so they could give him something for the road.
Times have changed! But a bit of the hospitality still remains. You don’t say hi and go on eating what you were when a guest comes to your abode, for example. Even if he refuses, you forced him to sit and partake of “the fruits of the house” with you. If a long lost cousin drops by your house after hours, you generally don’t show him the door. You take him in, ask what happened, share the food, make the bed. Say your neighbor started beating his wife again, and she run out and didn’t know where to go. Consequences may follow. Gossips may abound. But it still isn’t considered good manners to shut the door on her face. After calming her down, you go to where the “Abawera” is walking around as if “looking for whom to devour” or beating his kids (coz that’s how it goes, first mommy then the kids) and try to bring peace. You beg him to think of their kids. The value of patience. To allow you bring “her” back and make things ok. “Why would your enemies delight on you?!”, you’d demand “why would you wanna wash your dirty laundry out in the open? Let her come in and spend the night in her bed. In the morning, I’d get a couple more elders and we’ll see what happens”.
If none of it seems to work, or this particular wife isn’t the type who likes begging for forgiveness over sins she didn’t commit, or has families who can afford to take care of both her and kids, you throw a blanket on the sofa and tell the dear woman to crush here for the night.
Sharing may not always be happiness. But Ethiopians, the last people who can afford it (one might say) do it anyway. That way, you get to keep good will between your neighbors, and have the angels enter a credit on your heavenly dossier.
Yes! “YeGziabher Engida” is still cherished. You don’t have to particularly like this person to treat him as such. He maybe a friend or a foe. But you treat him as one. You say “he’s come here in God’s name, whatever he did, let Him ask it of him”. You certainly don’t go around killing him in his sleep.
Alas, one “YeGziabher Engida” met his maker through the hands of those he trusted, according to ERTA. This “YeGziabher Engida” was Legesse Wegi, member of the Oromo Liberation Front and a “central committee member and commander”. Legesse was killed by Farmers in a remote village in Wellega, the news said, who lured him under false pretences. He was seeking food and shelter and the farmers (who “were tired of his past robberies and afraid he’d do some damage this time around too”) told him they would give both to him. They led him into the house and, after getting hold of his gun, stoned Legesse to death.
The news came a day after Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Task Force issued a warning of “an imminent terrorist attack” (Check: A Bush Legacy). So I felt there must have been some connection. And asked my favorite Oromo blogger, Orom@tic, who I saw eye-to-eye with only 10% of the time if he felt the same way. I said:
1. Is he [Legesse] an OLF member?
2. Is he likely to orchestrate those bombings?
3. Was the “terrorism” warning given by Federal Police and “Mekelakeya” only a day before his alleged “being killed by farmers” a plot to make us feel threatened and justify his death?
His response were “Yes, No, Yes” respectively.
Brief though Oromantic’s answers maybe (making abesheet roll her eyes), the questions have inspired him to write a poem entitled Hero. But I’m not here to post that poem here. No! The poem that inspired me to write this post is the one I found on Rantburg while goggling for information regarding Legesse’s death. This poem is based on Bob Dylan’s lyrics, said the reader, he’s posting it because he felt the occasion called for it.
Please try to understand I don’t mean no disrespect to neither the dead nor those “who killed him”. I simply found the first stanza (i think it’s called) of the poem oddly prophetic. It goes:
I pounded on a farmhouse
Lookin’ for a place to stay.
I was mighty, mighty tired,
I had gone a long, long way.
I said, “Hey, hey, in there,
Is there anybody home?”
I was standin’ on the steps
Feelin’ most alone.
Well, out comes a farmer,
He must have thought that I was nuts.
He immediately looked at me
And stuck a gun into my guts
Read the rest here.
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