Vale Gashe Alemayehu
An elder in Addis Ababa gave us his essay handwritten in Fidal – Ethiopian script. The style has almost vanished like his generation of grace and genius. If you pour water onto a hotplate, it becomes steam and evaporates, gone forever.
Gashe was a navy serviceman with the rank of petty officer. His experiences complemented mine as an Air Borne lieutenant. In October 2020 we lost him to flu. Guards’ nightshifts are chilly. He leaves a wife, children, grandchildren and bereft colleagues. Vale Gashe Alemayehu.
1. World’s Last People by Alemayehu
I served my country all my youth and middle age in the navy. The West did not want an Ethiopian navy, but that’s where I served. I trained as a naval shipman in Assab, now in Eritrea, also qualifying as a fast-boat builder. In peace time, Ethiopia used fast boats for fishing and sea patrols.
Whether there was peace or war, the West did not want African nations to control their own sea territories. The only exception was South Africa. Nevertheless, Ethiopia supplied African nations with its small, fast patrol boats. She did so under the Derg from 1974 until 1991. Virtually all of free Africa used them to patrol ocean territories. For a while, trade in our boats thrived.
When the West found out about this, it imposed a tax on free African nations’ waterways. The pushiest were France, United Kingdom and Italy. Belgium, Holland and Portugal backed them. The United States went further, threatening African leaders. ‘We will ban you from carrying out patrols through the imposition of economic sanctions.’
The West wanted to stop sales of our fast sea-patrol boats. It implied that Ethiopia used poor-quality manufacture. ‘They are bad for the ocean waters.’ Ethiopia said, ‘Your own ocean activities are far worse for the marine environment. Bring your cruel fascist scientists. Let them face our naval architecture experts. Do not tell us these boats are dangerous for the sea and people; you have far worse.’
We continued to sell our patrol boats to Nigeria, Somalia, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Senegal. This last country had long been used by foreigners as the gateway to human stealing, slavery. Centuries later, Senegal was not supposed to protect its sovereign waters.
To read about the Ethiopian Navy, click here.
Europeans had found they could not win by confronting Ethiopia with bogus science. Now, they tried the post-colonialist ploy of division and corruption. The UK, then France and others, bestowed favours and money upon the Nigerian president: General Ibrahim Babangida had come to power via a military coup. He was neither peacefully installed nor an elected president.
Babangida did the West’s work for them and dismantled Nigeria’s sea patrols. Other African nations followed suit. When you remove a nation’s rights by such means, its people cannot choose whether to live or die. This Europe did to other recently independent African countries.
A Story from Negus Tewodros
In the mid-19th century, the English showered shiny stuff onto Sudanese, Turkish and Arabic people. They recruited Ethiopia’s neighbours and enemies to invade and destroy the ruler of Gondar, Negus Tewodros II. Tewodros told them that not all shiny objects were gold. He warned that, for a long time, they would suffer through the English or come under their rule.
When the English visited the Semien Mountains, they had obsessed over its abundant waterfalls. They thirsted for Ethiopia’s lovely water. Our people invited them to drink and enjoy, but they preferred to kill. Again, we said jump in and swim. Laugh, catch fish and enjoy the meal.
The English left, then returned. Lying about being Christian, they dressed in long robes that hid knives and guns. They abused children and slaughtered the sleeping. Were they human beings? When Ethiopians gave them brumbies, the English sent mules that would not bear foals. When they gave them cows, they repaid us with buffalos that remained undomesticated. Were they genuine? When a mule died, they’d think nothing of riding off with the rest of our horses after chopping off our heads. Such gifts. How just.
Negus Tewodros likened Tigrayan and Eritrean people to zinnar ‘ammunition belts’ that made wearers proud. Despite their beauty, zinnar were deadly: They held bullets filled with gunpowder. Traitors could be like that. The northern people of Welo were like mothers. They were humble, and loved music, buna ‘coffee’ and conversation. The southerners in Sidamo and Konso were hospitable, leaving drink, food and fruit for travellers on the roadsides. They would accompany a visitor and open their houses to him. After washing his feet, they served honey and healthy food.
Next, they dressed him in a buluko ‘warm wrap’. Elders would then take the guest outside to sit with them, chatting at a level suited to the visitor’s educational level. Never would they confuse any person by pitching their conservation too high or low.
Elders would know within 5 minutes where the visitor’s heart lay. If the unsuspecting man leaned towards talk of beautiful women, his hosts would chat disarmingly about women. Next thing, in the middle of conversation, he would realise that he had an uncontrollable erection. That was the reason for the bulky wrap that covered the whole body except the head, to stop him from feeling too embarrassed.
Hosts would continue with the topic for which the man had a weakness. Things then changed. One elder would interrupt the conversation. ‘You’ve just ejaculated underneath that buluko. If you think we’re lying, check it. Do not be shy. All three of us here can stand naked.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’
‘Sit down.’ The host would then bring buna ‘coffee’, elders removing his feelings of shame with small talk.
A third joined them, challenging the visitor. ‘Can I count you among my livestock? Or, are you the fourth human being in our group here? If, through hearing mere words, you cannot control your penis, how weak you are, what a dangerous animal you are.’
Another said, ‘Look at that horse in the field. His organ is exposed. The donkey and ox are the same. They don’t distinguish their wife from their daughter. As for bulls, they sometimes chase everything, male and female. Now, you’re acting exactly like those beasts.
‘You sit with the elderly yet cannot control yourself. Nobody can trust you here with our children, women, men and even our beautiful animals. Your brain is small and your body is big. If you want to heal, there is a place for that: our village salon. If you refuse to go there, you must leave our village. You are not welcome.’
Konso and other geniuses once healed the mentally unsound. This included genetically ill sexual abusers. They also cured sociopaths, dictators and abusive leaders. These could be heads of households or community leaders. Elders helped all kinds without imprisoning or humiliating them; nor did they drug them with anti-psychotics.
Negus Tewodros said that abusers would predominate. Ethiopian geniuses in communities and monasteries would suffer. Evil would attack and destroy them. 160 years on, much of Sidamo and Konso civilisation has been destroyed. This is thanks to investors from the West and Middle East. England, the United States and Germany imported the disease of tribalism, dividing farmers: Our governments took their fertile land. Arab businessmen received it for little more than the cost of a bribe.
In my own lifetime, what have I seen? Where have I been? The downfall of the Derg was in 1991 and the TPLF governed until 2018. During that 27-year interval, what has been done to those like me? Once, I was among the finest of our motherland’s naval boat builders. I was an officer in Ethiopia’s land and sea naval force. To view a photo of 1976 recruits, click here.
In the early 1990s, the West dismantled Ethiopia’s navy through its messengers: the new government that called itself Weyana. They put me in prison and physically and mentally abused me. These lackeys of the West and Arabic nations did this to me and countless others. Though none of us had committed crimes, they locked us up indefinitely without charge let alone fair hearing.
Foreigners ignored this injustice. The new government incarcerated the entire Ethiopian naval force. It did not matter whether a person was army or seaman. They put us in secret prisons around the country. The West funded some of them. Former naval officers spent between one and 21 years in prison. Our gaolers made sure we suffered for the duration.
Realising that we were useless to them, our tormentors threw some of us onto the streets: This happened to me after many years in prison. We were all left to die of starvation. I survived, scraping a living as an ordinary, simple guard leading a less than human existence. With the new government of 2018, we found out that many of our fellow servicemen had died. Today, we are still learning about the fates of former colleagues and do not know where many are located.
Now, I have handed over my story, this story of many. It is in safe keeping. Let the good people of the world know about it. Tens of thousands of geniuses have died and many simply disappeared. I am among 100,000 leftovers discarded and scattered, dying slowly.
I leave a message: It is not only for this generation, but for those to come if the world survives. If you read the Orit Zifitrat =The Beginning of Humankind, you will learn how Abyssinia was the first builder of boats and ships. These are the words of the Orit Yehuda Bible.
Those who try to destroy the planet have destroyed Orit Yehuda and other Ethiopians in a manifestation of total racism. If you are Yehuda, creator or genius, gugmangug — disaster bringers — will destroy you. Oh, how they will destroy you out of hatred for humanity, civilisation and enjoyment of the world.
I am sorry to be among the world’s last people. However, I believe that I am. If any do survive, there will one day be a new Orit Bible. This will tell of our destruction. Thank you for reading me.
© Yerada Lij Australia, 2020
Alemayehu —Translated by Mesfin Tadesse, 2020
2. Fate of Ethiopia’s National Library
The building did not need Western-style air conditioning. For 868 years it kept books beautifully. They dated from the 12th century. Between 1991 and 2018 27,000 books disappeared from the library. Nobody knows where. Abroad? North? Ethiopia was under the TPLF government.
— Gash Alemayehu, 2020
- To read our November War post about the TPLF & the West, click here.
- To read our book extract on Menelik II’s library (House of Books), click here.
3. An American in Addis Ababa
An American war veteran also caught flu in spring. For 21 days, staff in an Addis Ababa hotel looked after him. They took it in turns without payment or reward. The stranger had a titanium knee and war injuries, so could not walk the few steps to the toilet.
In Australia he could have been dumped on Christmas Island for being so different. The US Embassy gave him the rude finger. Ethiopians did not notice skin colour and language difference. They healed him.
He caught a taxi to the airport and stopped the car before it turned onto the main road. Gazing back at the hotel, he cried. It was an Orit Yehuda hotel. Ethiopian Muslims would have done the same; Oromo and Gambela people too regardless of religion. A couple of groups would have asked for money.
The day after he left, the local Medhan Alem monastery priest prayed for the world to have peace from COVID-19. He asked that we be spared bad leaders driving the world the wrong way with their selfish interest.
© Ianet Bastyan, 2020
- Tewodros II in Lucy’s People: Ch. 12
- Featured image: Lake Tana Water © Mesfin Tadesse 2020
- Photo: Emperor Tewodros II at Bahir Dar © Mesfin Tadesse 2020