Oral Poetry: Society’s Communal Treasure, part 2

Oral Poetry

#Poet remembered for his creative spiritual tool in avoiding a bloody #Confrontation between the peoples of #Eritrea

By Shaebia

While worth mentioning is the significance of oral traditions in revitalizing cultural legacies and bequeathing them to coming generations; the role of such poetic traditions as agents of conflict resolution is also noteworthy.

As mentioned earlier [in the first part], these poets are often quoted and relied upon for their wisdom. Through their recitations, these poets have settled disputes, consoled the bereaved, and commended good people or good deeds… among many other things of course.

Here today I would like to share and example of a massé that served as an instrument for resolving a conflict over a century ago. The story is the first of two presented in a paper entitled “Aspects of Traditional Wisdom: As Agents of Conflict Resolution” submitted by Solomon Tsehaye for presentation at the Fourth Conference on “Storytelling: Global Reflections on Narrative” in May last year.

Mr. Solomon has also included the translation of the massé, which I took the liberty of incorporating into this article.

The event took place at the beginning of the 20th century around 1910 when two strong chiefs Degiat Tesfamariam Fissehaye of Addi Quala and Ra’esi Kidanemariam Gebremeskel of Arreza were engaged in rivalry.

It happened that a young man from Arreza was to be married to a maiden from Adi Quala. On the wedding day the groom and his entourage of no less than twenty men arrived in Adi Quala after a long travel by horses, mules and on foot. The groom’s company performed the traditional prelude show at the yard in front of the bride’s house amid the cheerful reception ululations of Adi Quala’s women and entered the pavilion prepared for the wedding party at the bride’s household. Food and drinks were served after the essential marriage rituals had been enacted.

Compliments on the quality of the feast poured from the men of Arreza. The celebration was continuing in a very happy mood when one among the Arreza men came to the middle of the pavilion with his spear and shield and boasted about the superiority of Arreza in the very presence of Degiat Tesfamariam, the ruler of the town of Adi Quala and its surrounding district. The chief felt insulted by the boastful man of Arreza and ordered his immediate arrest by his armed guards. Several men of Arreza objected the chief’s order and stood in the way of the guards to prevent his arrest. Angered by their audacity the chief ordered again that the men be arrested, too. Almost half of the men of Arreza were put under arrest and were being taken away. The wedding bliss turned to sadness and confrontation. Tension was building up between the two sides and the fear that it may spark into a physical fight was growing. If a fight started then the Arreza people would be annihilated. Wisdom had, therefore, to intervene on their behalf.

A distinguished oral poet by the name of Bahregas Tombosa Weldemikael from the environs of Arreza and a member of the groom’s entourage requested the chief’s permission to narrate massé.

Keen to know what he was going to say in his massé, Degiat Tesfamariam permitted Bahregas Tombosa to perform his massé, which the oral poet had to say in the presence of the entire celebrating crowd.

The chief’s heart was softened by the nice words the poet said about him.The “fullness” and grandeur bestowed on him by the poet in comparison to those chiefs whom the poet considered were only a quarter (one fourth) of him made Degiat Tesfamariam feel that it would be degrading to vie with a handful of men from Arreza who by no means were a match to him.

As the massé appealed to his conscience he calmed down. His anger and eagerness to take punitive action was replaced by rationality and mercifulness. He, therefore, declared the release of those arrested, and the men apologized for their misconduct. The resolving of the conflict brought the occasion back to its festive mood. At the closing of the ceremony, the Arreza group left safely escorting their bride and groom.

Upon their arrival in Arreza a man from the group hurried to tell Ra’esi Kidanemariam, Arreza’s chief, that the oral poet, Bahregas Tombosa, in his massé counted him as only one fourth of Adi Quala’s chief. Ra’esi Kidanemariam who had been one of the great admirers of the poet felt humiliated and ordered that he be summoned to him urgently.

The poet came soon only to be met by the chief’s rage. But as the chief started to reprimand Bahregas Tombosa for his alleged undervaluing of him, some gentlemen who had been in the groom’s entourage intervened in favor of the poet. They told the chief that he must have been misinformed. Having recounted what had befallen them in Adi Quala, they advised the chief that Bahregas Tombosa as the wise and tactful savior of the men of Arreza should be rewarded and not censured. They said if it were not for his wisdom which appeased the anger of the chief of Adi Quala, the entire Arreza group would have been in serious trouble possibly to the point of taking Arreza to war with Adi Quala. Knowing what had really happened from the account of the gentlemen, Ra’esi Kidanemariam regretted reproaching the great poet. Calling him with his pet name Tombish he congratulated and hailed him as a rescuing hero of his fellow men.

Ever since, this renowned oral poet has been remembered, among his many other excellent poetic performances, for this wonderful conflict resolving massé which was his creative spiritual tool in avoiding a bloody confrontation between the peoples of Arreza and Adi Quala.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Solomon stressed that the traditional cultures of humanity as manifested in various oral traditions are incredible sources of wisdom to consult and learn from in the age of globalization.

And that’s why Eritrea’s oral traditions remain to date the society’s communal treasure.

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