It wasn't just any old Bible...to you it wasn't. There, on the inside of its back-cover, the particulars of your birth were supposedly duly noted by MemrE Kebede, your nssha abat, who also doubled as the family astrologer...an astrologer, who couldn't care less about the alignment of the stars in the constellation Leo. Instead, he performed his astral calculations by assigning a number to each letter in BirhanE Kiristos, your Krstna sm. But, of course, they went ahead and lost it...the Bible, that is! ... MemrE would swear up and down in later years that he had, indeed, dutifully entered the time and date of your birth in it, along with the results of his astral calculations, his ngrt that you'd grow up to be ti-i-lq sew. "ItyoPian'm ygezal," he might have foretold, who knows? ... WoynEE!
What an auspicious beginning, right? With the Good Book went crucial pieces of your personal history; verloren forever and a day. To their credit, your parents did remember the month of your birth. That was IT. Nothing else! Not the year, and certainly not the tabot that mewal-ed on the day that your mother's water broke in the back-seat of KunninEr Moltotal's Vollsbagen on the way to Liilt Sehay. Ayy yeKunninEr wuleta! gorebEt b'lo zm! In the dead of night, he was awakened by the incessant pleading of your father and couldn't find it in his heart to turn down this pathetic figure wrapped in gabi (kaporta belayu) having a baby outside his door. It was the price that the good KunninEr had to pay for being the only sefferteNa within a five-mile radius to own anything resembling a motorized vehicle...targa-quTir "AA 13."
For a long, long time, you wondered if you had an identity at all, since your parents lost the entire set of your identifying information...the bare minimum in requirements for an identity from which the rest of your identity would emanate, you thought. Sure, your parents would rack their brains at your relentless urging to fill in the gaps for you the best they could and, as a result, some sketchy details would emerge over the years in bits and pieces...real useful stuff like weather conditions on the date of your birth: "Ayy! YeTalew znab, ayy doffu-u-u...!"
Mind you, NehassE had thirty days, thirty rainy days, twenty-nine of which your parents did not have to remember, but probably did anyway, choosing instead to forget the one day that would have meant something to you! Well, you did, eventually, go on and pick a date arbitrarily, but you were never able to celebrate your birthday without wondering whose birthday you were celebrating. It was a sad day in AbuarE, when your siblings, your own flesh and blood, showed up for your party, ate your Cheralia, drank your sirroko and looked at you askance, as if to say : "What is it with him and this birzday fixation anyway? Just what is it that makes him different from the rest of us, and the millions of other Ethiopian children out there, who are perfectly content with being born Ethiopian? Isn't that the ultimate identity? ...Being born with idenET?"
They had a point! You were in good company with the majority of "no-birzday" ItyoPiawian, who wore their idenET like the badge of honor that it was. When all was said and done, your ItyoPiawinet had very little to do with notations made in that family Bye-ble that went bye-bye. Birth date or not, you were indeed endowed with a rock-solid identity to end all identities by the simple logic of forfE, as long as you were born an Ethiopian and had sense enough to come out looking like one. IdenET! Heck, if coming into this world was your inevitable destiny, you could do worse than being born an Ethiopian! Aydellllll? ...As the afe-tarik goes: ...God molded man out of a piece of clay, which He fired in an oven to give it the proper color. His first two attempts, however, represented a failure since He ended up with "white" and "black." ...Persistent in His Monophysite Nature (divine only, please), He tried again for a third time and, having learnt from His prior mistakes, He made the necessary adjustments to finally achieve that ideal hue!... .A no-brainer as to who was created on that trial!
Ahhha! ItyoPiawinet! That attitude...a prominent theme known in CHewa-circles as ET-tude and firmly grounded in that particular school of thought that there's more to the "Ethiopian look" than mere aesthetics, as so clearly delineated in the ETC, the Ethiopian TriColor. No, not the bandira, but the hue, the pigmentation, the color of the skin: "Qey, yeqey-dama and Teyim." ...If you were qey or qey-dama, you had that much-coveted idenET with ET-tude thrown in for good measure! . . If you were Teyim, you had plain old identity, and you were yhungdyelem-ed into limited ET-tude! . . "Anything" else on either side of the spectrum had, at best, the benefit of nationalET, which the qey-qey-dama folks already had by default!... . How about that?! ... .Generous, eh?
You had failed to get it then, but that was exactly what your siblings had meant to convey with their ET-tude that you shouldn't have an attitude about your missing birth date as long as you were born with idenET. Deeper than skin-deep, idenET was indeed a designation which carried with it the not-so-subtle undertones that you were of the "right hue" and that you, therefore, could legitimately lay claim to all the grandeur, the magnificence that hereditary membership up there in the "red-shifted" spectrum of the qey-qey-dama community had to offer. More than sheer physical property, idenET was the one characteristic that guaranteed you a relatively respectable place in the social hierarchy, defined reality as only a real ET (born and bred) would appreciate, and expressed, prima facie, your intellectual eminence, your moral superiority, your beauty, and your religious purity...ultimately, it declared your intentions to RULE as, over time, it merged with class-identity and power...political and otherwise.
Mengistu Haile Mariam, being off...w-a-y-y-y off the allowable color-distribution on the Ethiopian TriColor-chart, was an obvious aberration...and that was the reason you, iwneteNaw ItyoPiawi, used to recoil in shame and questioned the state of the man's head as head-of-state, whenever his self-misidentification would bring him onto the international scene representing Ethiopia! Ere besmab, tuff, tuff!...Lenegeru, who cared if the North Koreans saw Mengistu and so thought you too were ...er...w-a-y-y-y off the allowable range on the color-chart! Bihonim, it annoyed you to no end that this guy could do nothing right. You figured, he could have relented to the dictates of reason and sent Fikre Selassie in his stead in the interest of national identity. At least, he looked like he was supposed to look!
Even your God-fearing mother, known for exercising extreme liberalism in matters of color, because of (not in spite of) her birth on the "bright" side of the spectrum, had difficulties with Mengistu. Having secured her unequivocal position in ItyoPiawinet by virtue of her idenET, and so felt no need to further prove herself, she was safe to safely be magnanimous towards those who had missed the Lord's blessing. But, obviously, she too had her limits, and Mengistu's position was just too visible to be liberal about. She promised Qidist Mariam a hand-woven rug for her meqdess if She would only mefenqel "yihEn miTmaT barya" from our midst. Your father, too, not to be outdone by his wife, vowed to deliver muk't berE to Qulibi GebrEl "yihEn Tilmakoss" keneqelelet.
Surely, low-rate swearing considering Mengistu's other attributes, but still, darn, how insensitive of your parents...the ultimate confirmation that they lost that Bible before they read it! ...And you...you of course could, yiluNtactfully, have made accommodations for "Tiqur" on the Ethiopian TriColor-chart. With some minute adjustment to the mewaqir, you could, for instance, have bumped off yeqey-dama, moved up Teyim and filled the slot with Tqur, but you thought it best not to raise any undue expectations, not to mention that, by doing so, you would introduce something incongruous to the deeply entrenched theory of Ethiocentrism...the premise that reserves the center, from which authority is practiced, for the quintessential ItyoPiawi, who would know how to acquit himself well.
The quintessential ItyoPiawi!...He of yellowish hue and Semitic features...he of the House of David and keeper of the Ark, who brought civilizing Christianity to the Kunama...he of beautiful poetry, semina-worq and Kibre Negest, whose indomitable spirit preserved the sovereignty of a nation through the millennia!...He and he alone could be counted on to bring to bear, from his God-given place of authority, his God-given skills to embrace even those God-awful folks on the periphery, who ascended to nationalET by virtue of geographical happenstance and/or the accident of birth to non-entET parents. Only he, who was readily identified as an ItyoPiawi before he was identified as an African...only he, who was sans peur et sans reproche, possessed the moral fortitude for evenhandedness towards those who were born with the obvious evolutionary disadvantage of being remote on the CHewa-lj color-bar, the ETC!...Ay Tquret, a mysterious congenital malformation, mTs...mTs! SewireN'ko new bakach'hu!
Of course, contrary to what your grandfather maintained, the Kunama could easily have claimed the Ethiopian identity as exclusively theirs alone based on, guess what, the color of their skin, ironically. If only they were well-versed in Greek mythology, there, they would have found something to strengthen their argument...the etymological origin of the word "Aithiopia" itself, which meant "Land of the Burnt Face," and as such was referring to them as the sole occupants of the land and the legitimate Ethiopians. (One fine afternoon, Phoebus was zooming past the area in his golden chariot when he inadvertently got too close to the people of the land, thereby burning their faces eternally dark! ...QeZqaZa! )
The Kunama could also have accused your grandfather of being, well, a latter-day-ItyoPiawi, whose yellowish skin meant only that he was looking out to the world through jaundiced eyes, the real usurper who, brandishing a sword in one hand and a cross in the other, brought his "complex complexion complex" with him to enslave the original ItyoPiawi! ...But your grandfather, who, unlike the Kunama, would be quite familiar with Greek mythology, naturally, would counter those assertions with the perfect comeback. A quote from his own formidable Greek, Homer! ...It was no less an authority figure than Homer who spoke of the "Blameless Ethiopians" to describe a people who were renowned for their beauty and refinement and to whom the Hellenic gods, most notably Zeus, traveled so frequently. (Praise be to God, unlike Phoebus, Zeus had no golden chariot that burnt the color off your face. Whew!)
Your grandfather would turn on that proverbial cunning charm so distinctively Ethiopian, that single most devastating secret instrument of lb-alemesTet that is so often (mis)taken for dignity and self-deprecating politeness...the disarming charm, which had served him well over the years by allowing him to make his moves surreptitiously. "Surely," he would say to the Kunama (kunenE ayhonibachihum?), "You do not mean to suggest that Homer meant you when he spoke of the 'blameless Ethiopians...the beautiful people!?! ...With all due respect, you are the descendants of Ham, whose own damn father Noah damned him into eternal damnation through a curse that would forever be etched in his face, for Pete's sake!" ("QurinCHaCH," your grandpa would utter under his breath:" wedEt keff-kefffffff ? ") ...He would then go on to talk about those ubiquitous faces of the deities that grace the interiors of centuries-old places of worship. The straight nose, the big brown eyes, the thin lips and, of course, the hue...the "right hue"..."I can see how this might seem like self-aggrandizing chauvinism," he would argue, "but how could you, reasonable folks that you are, not see the uncanny likeness between them and ' us' their chosen people?"
As for that enslavement business that the Kunama would have brought up, how uncouth of them, your grandfather would find the right response in Darwin...in an offshoot of his theory of evolution, Social Dar-hun-ism, whereby the "fittest" would not just survive, but would eventually prevail over those who, by natural selection, would be assigned their rightful place, the periphery (dar-darun): "Esti Ato Kunama legizEw ...er . . darhn yaz!"
Besides, your grandfather would further contend, what about those humane gestures extended to the Kunama later on, which gave them "bodily liberty" and made them beneficiaries of a wide array of "anti-cruelty" decrees? ...Oh, the kindness of the blameless Ethiopian! (The use of "barya" as a pejorative term was decreed illegal by Mengistu and, therefore, had the unintended consequence of increasing its use among ItyoPiawian, who saw the act as an utterly unconstitutional move motivated by Mengistu's self-interest. In fact, the term took on an added meaning to connote a possible direct causal relationship between "barya" and "cruelty" by evolving into "godolo-barya")
If it was any consolation to the Kunama, the Ethiopian TriColor-chart, hardwired as it was in the minds of Ethiopians who were steadfast in its application, did provide for unbiased treatment of all who fell outside the range of its spectrum...regardless of which end. While the Kunama were on the "dark side of things," Frederico, by virtue of his Aitalian heritage, was along the "lighter wavelength" which, if there were any fairness in the world, should automatically accord him an honorable place in ItyoPiawinet. Right? WRONG! Sure, Fredo was born and raised Ethiopian, good for him, and so shall bask in all the glory that nationalET entails, but that was about as much as his type of light skin would get him. Poor thing! He made that small error of being born a ferenj, . .simply and repulsively, no color at all, just neCH, . . neCH-(aCHiba). The same, of course, applied to Giovanni Bekele, the product of a direct mixture with ferenji blood. Notwithstanding the fact that a whole bunch of misguided gals from that infamous private-school swarmed all over him, he carried the dishonorable stigma of being "kewkawa k'lss! . . ErewedialiNNNN!??...diqala...meTfo diqala! "
Remember what your father told you about Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold, whose only blemish on an otherwise unblemished idenET was Mrs. Aklilou, his French wife? Well, your father should know. Being confined to the antechambers of power at Tach-gbi and Lay-gbi, he was never quite close enough to hobnob with the Habtewold-brothers, but was within ear-shot of the latest about them. And so it was that he found out that Mrs. Aklilou was persona-non-grata at the Emperor's court and that, not even her husband's prominence and the Lion of Judah's love and respect for him, were enough to override the fact that her white...skin was an untouchable among the standard-bearers.
"LjE, ... never judge a person by the color of their skin," your father would go on to remark rather piously in one of those "le-lj mkr, l'abat metasebya" moments that always punctuated every paternal story-telling. Hah!...You thought of reminding him of his short-lived Pan-African experience. Inspired by Maître Afework Tekle's not-so-abstract artwork at Africa Hall, in which the selkaka ItyoPiawi (who else) beaming with obvious ET-tude, lights the way for a "mosaic" of "Africans" in the dark background, your father had taken to spouting platitudes about the merits of the Pan-African Movement until, one fine day, some negereNa had coined the term "negritude" to better capture the essence of the movement. Immediately...before he had seen the qum-neger, your father had seen the "neger" in "negritude." (Too close to "negro" for his taste) ...RUN, DADDY, RUN!!
Ayy ItyoPia! ...In fairness to your old man, his Weltanschauung was, of course, not an exception in the family. What about that time...back (w-a-y-y-y back) in your youth when you'd sent your family a rather flattering picture of your kenfer-wedaj, who happened to be a Yolanda Jackson from Biloxie, Mississippi ? ..."W-u-i-i-i-i-i-i stamr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r ! ItyoPiawit tmesslalech!" everyone had exclaimed. Later, smitten by Yolanda's capacity for tobogganing all over you in bed in fSum-extraterrestrial moves till you O-h-h-h-h-h-b-a-b-y-y-y-ed to the high heavens, you declared your intention to shack up with this...this celestial body, causing an uproar of untold magnitude back home. Wouldn't you know it, the same "w-u-i-s-t-a-m-r-r-r" folks were suddenly up in arms about your bad-ass judgment about bad-ass Yolanda: "Wui, wui, wui, abesku geberku getayE, te-Shanqlla gar, balTefach set, mnew ljE, mnew-w-w-w!!"... S-h-o-o-o-o-t! At least, they could have called her Shanqo...somewhat endearingly. But no such luck! In fact, as your family burned Yolanda in effigy, all of AbuarE was abuzz with speculation as to where "yeNa sew b'Amarica" had gone wrong. Among the greatest "nEgro conspiracy theories of the 20th century" that emerged were: "Argzabet yhonal,"..."Mestefaqr yihonal,". . "Asa-bid-aw yihonal."...A dizzying array of yihonals, except "Ywedat yhonal."
So, what happened here? Well, you just got a crash-course on the finer points, the intricacies, of ItyoPiawinet, that's what happened here! Yolanda, neither a Kunama nor a Fredo, was a Messelech (minus the madiat), and Messelech happened to be quite a ways from "nech!" What a waste of human potential! If only she were of the right stock, with her near-perfect score on the omnipresent Ethiopian TriColor-scale, and her gift for giving outworldly pleasures to her mate, instead of "o-h-h-h-b-a-b-y-y-y," you might have gone: "Iffff-o-o-y, Messelu! ...y-e-n-E i-m-e-b-e-ttttt," for the rest of your natural life.
Needless to say, "Yo" was cut adrift! ...Abet yabesha mqeNnet! That legendary scheme: "wendmE kemiyageN inE lTa!" ...And so...the search was on in your own community to fill the void with Massresha, whose lineage, at least through sebat bET, would be free of "broken bones" (aTinte sebara). Ideally, she would have a brand-name father, who was not a general-populace, general-category AbayE with generalized identity, but a General Dilnessaw! ("Yachiii ye-Jininar DilEE lj?"...enough said). Beterefema, Massresha herself would, of course, have that much-cherished idenET and perhaps, by any luck of the draw, would be able to at least spell tobogganing!...It would be a loooong search, however! Like...Years!...And...and when you finally did luck upon her (this perfect package that was Massresha), your old ass was in no mood to be tobo-gunned out of this world.
Life in ItyoPiawinet! From the day of your unknown birthday, through the four phases of life as the elders define it (from your ye-nefass bahiriy to your ye-affer bahiriy ), you toe the line guided by that antenna imbedded deep in your psyche...ET-tude! No? Well, isn't that how and why Yolanda was booted out of the ETC-ene, because you felt that atavistic pull of an age-old, established paradigm and wouldn't disrupt the existing order of things by sticking up for the woman you cared about? (What's love got to do, got ...!)
Look...even if all you had to brag about was nationalET (mTs), you'd still act like you had some sense!...Say, for instance, you had a daughter who, thanks to you, her progenitor, was of the nationalET type...wouldn't you, just like your dyed-in-the-skin counterpart in the qey-qey-dama community, demand that she don't bring no damn fool up in yo house who looked like you? You certainly would! No marrying down in this family! . ."YhEn Tinziza ket gorguresh ameTashbN, anchi?!" And, while you were at it, you would tell PuppiyE to try Ambi to bleach away that ambivalence. (Please don't forget the neck, Puppsie, lest you end up looking like yemEda ahiya, and, for God's sake, stay out of the sun, yenE'nat!) Incidentally, did you know that the janTila is a prized possession among ET back home, and that it is used more in bega than in kremt? Yep! An entire nation united under the idenET-umbrella to fend off an archenemy, the Sun-God, . . the Good RA...nothing Turu about RA hereabouts, unless TuruRA was a label you could live with!...Nahhh! Qilat is where it's at! "Kewededum ayqer yiwedalu qeyi...!"
Muluken should know. He is a color-carrying member of the qey-qey-dama community himself. Before he was born again, he was born with idenET! ...Now, . . let's see if he can change that! . .ItyoPiawinet ain't no myth that vanishes with changing haimanot, changing mengist, and changing ...! Not yebestehwala phenomenon, it has always been there in its most unadulterated idenET since time immemorial, and is liable to survive through the vast expanse of centuries to come! ...Und wieso? W-e-l-l...because it's written! . .That's why: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?"