My lifelong desire to ink my point of view on life in general and the different experiences one gets from it and to share it with a large audience has come to pass because of the moral boost and courage I received from recently witnessing a profound phenomena in Ethiopia.
21 August 2012, early morning: the worries of the past few weeks had turned out to be real. A friend of mine called me that morning and shared with me the bad news. That same evening I was in a bar having a beer and watching TV showing a program in which a quickly assembled reception was organized to receive the coffin of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at Bole International Airport. It was raining but it looked like every Ethiopian who lived in Addis Ababa was out on the streets and moving in concert towards the airport. It truly was a stunning site to behold.
The reception of the coffin of the late Prime Minister at the airport, accompanying the coffin on its journey to the Palace with all and sundry wailing and crying for the loss of our leader was disorienting to say the least, but above all, it was the way things were done that would always remain like a picture frozen in time, in my mind and I believe in most Ethiopians’ mind. Not only was it done in an orderly and disciplined manner but with a unity and show of genuine love and respect which, I’m sure, most people would never have thought possible. It was something that will not be forgotten for a long time to come, if ever. I began to wonder and started to seriously think about what I saw and how to explain it. The only answer that came to mind was what I dared to name “Ethiopianism”.
A natural follow through for the term I had come up with was to define it in such a way that it was very clear to me and to anyone I wanted to explain it to. What is Ethiopianism? Is it a way of life or is it a philosophy? Or is there ANYTHING called Ethiopianism at all?
YES, I believe there is. To my way of thinking Ethiopianism is found printed in the DNA of every Ethiopian; it is the character of being polite and graceful, of natural pride in being Ethiopian and having the mentality of a warrior when it comes to the defense of the motherland and your spouse.
These basic characters are displayed subtly in most instances, and sometimes in an obvious manner, in our cultural and traditional interactions with each other and foreigners. Let’s take the Ethiopian coffee ceremony as an example. Even though this traditional way of interacting has, to some extent, declined in major cities, it is still a means of meet-and-greet that is used to introduce oneself to new neighbors and catch up on what is going on in the community, town, city etc. with old neighbors. In the modern world people go out to have coffee in twos and maybe threes but it is definitely unheard of to have eight or more to gather and chat, sometimes for hours on end, especially with the frenetic pace westerners tend to live their lives. Weekend gatherings of family members and friends in large numbers, as well as for cultural events and religious occasions, is also quite common here and contribute to the strengthening of the social fabric. Christian and Islamic holidays are celebrated in a festive manner by all regardless of their religious affiliation. Birth and baptism, weddings and funerals are strictly attended, and another unique association called the EQUB (a cultural money-saving process found only here) also contributes to the myriad ways Ethiopians interface with each other. This is a land where people live in great harmony where tolerance for various religions is particularly strong compared to many countries in the world. Long before the bill for gender equality was passed, respect for women’s rights was a norm in Ethiopian communities. The first queen documented in history is from Ethiopia; Queen Borsa ruled Ethiopia around 4254 BCE. Although Ethiopians have been ruled by more than 400 Kings and Queens our makeup (DNA) has never allowed foreigners to rule us. This has always been a well documented fact.
No matter how much we Ethiopians criticize each other, when it comes to foreign invaders, we have always stood up as one. As far as I know, no Ethiopian leader has been as openly criticized as the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. By the same token, again to my knowledge, there has not been any King, Queen nor leader who had been given the kind of respect and love, at his or her funeral, by the great people of Ethiopia in its long history as has been accorded our late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Ethiopians once more showed the world what unity meant in the face of a profound tragedy when they lined up in the hundreds of thousands, coming from all walks of life and from all around Ethiopia, to pay their last respects and homage to Meles Zenawi. I cannot explain it any more explicitly than Herodotus, the Father of History, when he stated that “Ethiopians are profound”.