by Amare Abebe
I grew up listening to vendetta being romanticized as justifiable homicide.
Stories such as a mother that sent out her only son, who is barely off age,
to avenge the blood of the father he never got a chance to know. The man was
murdered while his unborn child was still in his mother's womb. The dutiful
wife would never give up until she sees justice done. She keeps the memory of
a slain husband alive and burning until such a day arrives. Bidding for an opportune
moment to execute the traditional justice, beqel, so that demu
demE kelb hono indaiiqer. The vulnerability of a pregnant mother, the
injustice of the premature loss of a loved one, the determination and resolve
shown by the women, and the inherent quest for justice are what would be appealing
to most that pass the story around. Avenging the death of a loved one overshadows
the extent of culpability of the guilty party, and the Old Testament concept
of justice demanding an eye for and eye is not totally lost to this part of
our world. Not to mention the inadequacy or - more aptly put, for all intents
and purposes - the non-existence of a functioning justice system in Ethiopia.
What is peculiar about vendetta
is that the homicide is not committed as a spur of the moment criminal act perpetrated
in a state of temporary insanity. Rather it takes place far removed in time
and space from the original predisposing criminal act. People who might or might
not have an immediate stake would plan and execute the revenge with detached
efficiency guised as family honor.
I never pondered over the
contemporary relevance of such stories as I viewed it through my personal urban
prism. I would easily relegate such knowledge to a historical aberration or,
maybe, to the less enlightened culture of my people in the far remote corners
of the country. A Robin Hood type of folklore told to reinforce our sense of
pride and honor however anomalous.
Soon enough, though, I had
a rude awakening in a cultural collision asserting the undeniable reality regarding
the heterogeneity of the Ethiopian cultural landscape.
Some two decades ago my
friend and I had decided to travel to Dabat, Gondar, to visit his cousin there
who was yemeserte tmihirt zemach. One evening we were settled
in the all-purpose tukul that was lit from a masho,
the shiro we'T simmering over the gulcha while we
imbibed the lifter Tela. This was quite an exciting Agerhin
iwoq adventure to us and we were quite positive or, you might say, oblivious
to the scarcity surrounding us. We were just like enthusiastic little kids out
on a camping trip. It was amidst such a jovial atmosphere that Mandefro, the
second zemach, who was assigned from the local high school in
Semien Awraja, walked in to join us.
Mandefro was a tenacious
gentleman, serving his community with zeal and looking ahead to attend college.
He actually confided to us that his dream was to become a teacher.
That evening Mandefro appeared
subdued and less inclined to idle chat. After a little prodding and coaxing
from us he finally agreed to tell us what seemed to be bothering him. He started,
"Today was the same like any other day. I walked to my classroom and found
my students readily assembled for class as usual. They invariably like to start
quite early so that it allows them enough daylight hours to tend to their farms
after classes. The customary greetings were exchanged and we resumed from where
we had left off yesterday. I was in the middle of one of the sessions when a
melikteNa walked into the room unannounced and whispered in my
ear that one of my absentee students had asked to see me in private after class.
Soon after we finished class, I walked some 5Kms to the village where Ato Anberber
lived. I arrived at his house and was ushered in by his wife who offered me
the medeb to rest and also poured me traditional Tela
to quench my thirst. Later, Ato Anberber walked in and began by asking me if
I have any relatives that reside in Hamusit. "No," I answered. "I
met two suspicious looking Segure lewitoch this
morning who approached me and asked if I know a zemach by your
name. They said they were heading to Maksegniet to sell the cattle they were
herding and dropped by to inquire about you claiming to be kin. I denied that
we have a zemach named Mandefro and they left. That is when I
sent out for you in order to warn you," explained Ato Anberber. I thanked
him for this crucial information and hastily left.
"So many things ran
through my mind but I had no doubt regarding what this is all about. Ayachu,
some 15 years ago my father - nefsun yimarewina - was involved
in a Tej bEt brawl and murdered a man who he said has disrespected
him and his family. I was a toddler then and did not know much about the affair.
I later learned that my father had never stopped looking over his shoulders
ever since the incident. The detail of the story was told to me when I started
junior high. It was not long after he told me the story, that my father passed
away from natural causes. Looking back, I guess he must have sensed his demise
and felt obliged to warn me of the eminent danger that might await me. According
to the tradition, I, the first son, became the prime inheritor of his sins upon
his death. Therefore the relatives of the victim are now coming after me for
We were listening to the
story totally mesmerized. The first question we uttered in unison was, "So
what are you going to do?" (Call 911?) He shrugged and said in a matter
of fact fashion, "I have to go home and retrieve my father's mawzer.
It has been hanging on the wall ever since I care to remember and it needs some
cleaning and oiling."
We didn't get it. "Why?"
Mandefro glared at us.