A Thank you Note for Tedi Afro By Fekade Shewakena
Dear Tedi Afro,
I just finished watching the Tikur Sew music video. It is a wonderful piece of art, a flashback to the epic battle of Adwa and a reminder of the legendary heroism of our grandfathers, our greatest generation, who fought like lions for their dignity and the dignity of the land they considered sacred. It is the story of a humble King and people who, moments after defeating the enemy, went down on their knees to thank their God for giving them the power to repulse a superior European army. The scene in the video where an Ethiopian fighter jumps from his horseback and flew like a missile onto the Italian soldier was so moving as the scene where the surviving fighters were tending to the dead and wounded including to the enemy soldiers. It reminded me of the stories I heard from family elders as a little boy and those told even in the chronicles of Italian soldiers who survived the rout to write about the ferociousness of our fathers that annihilated their army. The ignorant may look at the video and think it is a simple messianic hype. But uncontested evidence, even testimonies by the Italians themselves, stands to show that was how they did it. I have heard stories of heroes who dived into the Italian trenches and silenced the artilleries. Thanks you Tedi and those imaginative cinematographers who worked with you to give us a glimpse of what it looked like 116 years ago at Adwa. Can the Ethiopian Television that fills the airwaves with pitiful and nauseating programs find four minutes to play it to the general public? If not, who cares, it is the information age.
If we were like many other countries who cling even to their mythologies and piece together fragmented historical episodes to make themselves look great and use it to perfect their unions, and move their people and countries up, we could have turned Adwa into a Hollywood like blockbuster movie and played it to our children endlessly. Look at the movies of World War II made by the different countries involved in the war. It is like you are watching the stories of entirely different wars. Everyone tries to take the larger piece of the pie to itself and shows the heroism of its side. But yeh, this is unfortunate Ethiopia where her subsequent leaders think acknowledging her glorious past would dwarf them.
What kind of ungratefulness is it that we don’t even pay minimal respect to the very people who left us with our dignity and pride intact in a free and a beautiful land and inspired millions of black people around the world? I often get puzzled when I read what none Ethiopians say about the battle of Adwa and Menilik and compare it to what our political vendors say today. Listening to Professor Raymond Jonas who says, “Adwa opened a breach that would lead, in the aftermath of world war fifty years later, to the rollback of European rule in Africa. It was an event that determined the color of Africa” or to the likes of Professor Melefi Asante who says, “After Adowa, Ethiopia became emblematic of African valour and resistance, the bastion of prestige and hope to thousands of Africans who were experiencing the full shock of European conquest and were beginning to search for an answer to the myth of African inferiority” fills you with pride of being born Ethiopian. Compare this to the idea of some among us, who right after the fall of the dergue in 1991, thought that destroying Menilik’s statue at Arada Giorgis was a good idea. Thank God that insanity stopped soon.
And thank you Tedi for singing part of it in Oromoffa and repeating Balcha’s name in the song. We, the ungrateful generation after him denied this lion of a human being even a small statue. He, among others, is the witness that the Oromo fathers and mothers of the time knew that their country extends far beyond an ethnic enclave and rose in mass to lead and fight in this glorious war. Eternal respect for them!
So dear Tedi, I am not thanking you here only as an admirer of a fine work of art or as a music lover. I am thanking you even more for something more important. You know this is open season in Ethiopia where all sorts of small minded political vendors are busy rewriting our history and trying to replace it with manufactured historiography and redefine heroism for us. The Tikur Sew music video could not have come at a better time. The four minute video is obviously too small to tell even a fraction of the story of that battle or Menilik or the people who gathered from all corners of Ethiopia to fight the war. But it amounts to no less than building a statue.
And thank you Tedi, for showing the generation that is turned into an infatuated watcher of premium league soccer that there are their own things to watch and admire and take lessons and pride off of. I shared the video with some African and African American friends. They were as impressed and as proud as I am watching a video of one of the greatest events in the history of black people. I can’t tell you how elating it was to tell them that I have grandparents who fought in that war. Thank you for giving me a chance to brag about that.
And thank you Tedi for asking a good question in the same Tikur Sew album. “Why is it that we don’t move when we have legs, and why is it that we are hungry when our soil supports so much green lush?” Half the answer is that we are tied up by greedy power lovers who think we are their subjects than freely thinking and working citizens of a proud country. How can you walk forward when a handful of people do think knowledge comes along with the possession of the gun and do the thinking for you and chose what you have to read and hear and the direction where you have to walk to? And look at the justice system. Does Ethiopia look like a land where our people since time immemorial believe that there is a “God of law” (Yhig amlak)? Look how the current leaders are working hard to make the country more attractive for foreigners than its citizens even at the cost of turning our people into semi slaves. Look at the discrimination between citizens where even educating the future builders of the country in higher education goes not with merit and capability but on the basis of affiliation and service to the rulers. Look how they consider every criticism and demand for minimal human rights as terrorism. Look at all of this, and hear the joke they tell you that this is a renaissance. Remember that folksong? It sums it up.
Oh, Ethiopia my country, the fooled and the cheated
Those who gave their lives for you starve
While your killers get their tummies filled
There you have just a few of the answers for your question.
But here is the most important point. You are the example that gives us the hope that your generation will definitely come with the full and complete answer pretty soon!
Thank you Tedi! You are my hero.
Thank you for giving us another soundtrack for our struggle.
Keep singing, and lauder.