Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 18 February 2009

The difference between being an Ethiopian and being Habesha.

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By Magn Nyang

February 17, 2009 — Recently, a 22-year old young girl from Anyuak of Gambella won the beauty contest of Ms. Ethiopia. Lots of responses went out on media from Ethiopians all over the world about her win. Even though, most respondents seemed very knowledgeable about the differences between being an Ethiopian and being Habesha, few seemed confused about the differences. In their writings, the confused ones, wrote as if they own Ethiopia and as if being an Ethiopian means being Habesha. This article seeks to show the differences between being an Ethiopian and being Habesha.

The Habesha are those people who are from the North part of Ethiopia, specifically, the Tigre, the Agew, the Beta Israel and the Amhara. The Anyuaks of Gambella are from Southwest of Ethiopia. These two groups led their lives and their history seperately. The Anyuaks had their own history in the Southwest dating back to 2,000 years.

Some 2,000 years ago, the Anyuak country, as it was called, was situated between Southwestern Oromo land, present day part of Ethiopia to Pibor River and to the West up to Nyium, present day Nasir in the Sudan.

The Anyuak country was divided by four main Rivers- the Akobo, Openo, Alworo, and Gillo. The Anyuaks had seven administration states- Adongo, Ciro, Nyikaani, Lul, Tier Naam, and Openo under one Nyeya (king) rule. Each state had its own autonomous administration. They had rights to choose from the two Anyuaks’ political systems- Nyech (kingship) or Kwar (headman-ship). The fact of the matter is Anyuak country was never part of Ethiopia or Sudan before 1902. The integrity of Anyuak country came to an end when it came under nominal British control from 17th to the 18th century followed by Ethiopian invasion. On May 15, 1902, after complicated and prolonged negotiations, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia signed the Anglo-Ethiopian agreement that established his Western frontier with the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. This treaty divided the Anyuak land in two, portioned it amongst the bordering countries Sudan and Ethiopia, without the consent of its leaders. The Southwestern part remained under British control as part of Sudan and the Eastern part became part of Ethiopia under the name Gambella. The word “Gambella” means “Catching a male Tiger with bare hands” in Anyuak.

The Habesha history goes back to the Axumite Empire in the first century A.D. It was documented that around first century A.D., some Hamitic-Semitic peoples (Sabaean traders) from South Arabian came into contact with native people and intermarried. Their off-springs were referred to as “Habesha”, which means “people of mixed blood”. Their land (Tigray, Begemdir, Gojam, Northern Shewa, and Welo) was later termed Abyssinia. It was only when the Abyssinia state exhausted its scarce resources that its leaders expended its frontiers South and Westward in order to amass the resources needed to feed their subjects. Per advice from Count Pietro Antonelli, an Italian with geographic Society mission in Abyssinia, the state of Abyssinia combined with the newly added states of the South and the West, were later referred to as “Ethiopia”

Since the Anyuak country was portioned to Ethiopia in 1902 under the name of Gambella, the Anyuaks became Ethiopians, not Habeshas. The Anyuaks, like the rest of Ethiopians (Afar, Adari, Oromo, Somalis, Gurage, Koman, Kunama, Sidama, Berta, Kembata, Amhara, Tigre, and so on—) are proud Ethiopians. And as long as the contest was held for Ethiopians, not for Habeshas, the Anyuaks have all the rights to participate in it. After all, they were called upon to fight side by side with their Ethiopian fellow citizens to defend Ethiopia in times of need. Therefore, why would they not participate in Ethiopians’ beauty contest?

And if some uneducated Habesha foolishly believe that they are the owners of Ethiopia and get offended instead of applauding when their fellow Ethiopian from Gambella wins the beauty contest, I suggest that they start holding their own Habesha beauty contest and we, the non-Habesha Ethiopians will not participate in it. What some ignorant Habeshas need to know is that the Anyuaks are Ethiopians by the virtue of geographical birth. By being born within the geographical area of Ethiopia, the Anyuaks are Ethiopians.

No Ethiopian is more Ethiopian than the other. One is only an Ethiopian, no more, no less. Some Habeshas, however, seem to see themselves as more Ethiopians than the others. What they don’t seem to understand is that one can not quantify one’s citizenship. One can only be Ethiopian. Not more Ethiopian.

One thing I learned from my education and professional background is that those who put others down or those who think of themselves as superiors, are actually suffering from inferiority complex unconsciously. One who is self assured and confident sees no need to put others down to feel good about himself/herself. Some Habashas suffer from inferiority complex. They are always bent on looking for ways to put others down in order to feel good about themselves. And the outrage responses we recently witnessed from some Habeshas about the winning of Ethiopians’ beauty contest by a young girl from Gambella was not only a manifestation of ignorance, it was also a manifestation of inferiority complex.

In my youth, I lived in Addis Ababa. I even went to high school there (I spent my teenage years in Addis Ababa). I can say with confidence that I know both the Anyuaks and the Habeshas very closely. My experience with some Habeshas is that they lack awareness of what offends and what does not offend others. They say things without thinking about others’ feelings. Gossiping about others (especially dark skinned persons) is a day to day duty for some Habeshas. In fact, badmouthing dark skinned individuals is encouraged and supported by others in Habashas’ culture. The Anyuaks, on the other hand, despise gossiping so much that it is almost a taboo in their culture. The Anyuaks’ cultural norms forbid them from saying things that may offend others. Badmouthing some one, especially if he/she is not present, is met by immediate condemnation by others in Anyuak culture. Thus, individual Anyuaks barely say bad things about others.

With so many ignorant and narrow minded population of her own, my fear for Ethiopia is that one day she will break into pieces. My biggest fear is that one day the rest of the ethnic groups in Ethiopian will get fed up with the ignorance and the unwillingness to learn by some Habeshas and breakaway from Ethiopia. I call on all Habeshas who have not yet come to terms with the reality of the world to start permitting themselves for learning, because the 21st century offers no excuse for choosing to remain ignorant.

The writer is a son of Gambella and can be reached at magnnyang@yahoo.com



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  • 18 February 2009 05:10, by Ana Tafengi

    Magn Nyang,thanks for your writing. In this world, those with light skin pigments ALWAYS think they are better than those with dark skin. (Menghisto, who was dark, was at one point looked upon with distaste by other Habesha)
    It is this same ignorance that breeds racism towards Black people in North America, Europe and other places. In Sudan, it is the same ignorance that leads the riverain Arabs to call anyone dark (zurga)as an inferior being.

    But the sad thing about it is that humanity never seems to learn despite the many examples of this horrible practice in other places. The end result as we know it is WAR because you can’t trample on a people for ever. They will stand up one day and FIGHT. Trust me, when the cup runneth over for the Anyuak and others of their pigmentation, hell will break loose. Let’s hope we learn and not veer to that direction.

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    • 18 February 2009 11:49, by Giituu

      Habesha (Semitic)are not black, they are Habesha.
      they migrated from Yemen crossing Red Sea to to horn of Africa. Even if you call then Black African they will never accept that, coz they are not and they will never be. They are completely genetically not black.

      People in the north part of Ethiopian empire define themselves as habesha "supper race" just because they root is from middle east and they are from semitic speaker, which the language is from Middle East.

      Before the so called Ethiopia (mean the black face) name given by Greek , the horn of Africa was called Cush (Kush) Land, The Cushitic speakers have inhabited north-eastern and eastern Africa for as long as recorded history. The land of Cush, Nubia or the ancient Ethiopia in middle and lower Nile is the home of the Cushitic speakers. It was most probably from there that they subsequently dispersed and became differentiated into separate linguistic and cultural groups. The various Cushitic nations inhabiting north-east and east Africa today are the result of this dispersion and differentiation.

      After the Habesha colonize the Afar, Anyuak, Oromo, Sidama, ...etc and created to days Ethiopia in 1945.

      The Habeshas (Tigre, Gondare, Gojjame) always want to dominate others, they don’t want to see others with there own culture, language, soc-politics.

      So son of Gambella Magn Nyang, as you said the habeshas are think of themselves as superiors, are actually suffering from inferiority complex unconsciously. One who is self assured and confident sees no need to put others down to feel good about himself/herself. Some Habashas suffer from inferiority complex. They are always bent on looking for ways to put others down in order to feel good about themselves.

      Habasha is not Aynuak, Sidama, Afar, Oromo,or Somali.

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      • 19 February 2009 04:50, by yemane

        I found your article to be interesting and educational at the same time. However, I could not help but noticed that you, yourself might have an inferiority complex. I happen to be from the North and am proud to say I am Ethiopian or Habesha in no particular order. Obviously I too can admit that I did not know that Ethiopians in the south would be offended if they were called Habesh. To that extend, I have learned from your article and will be cautious the next time. What I did not necessarily appreciate is that you have painted us all with the same brush. I would have been proud to have known that a beautiful, dark skinned Ethiopian girl won what ever the contest was. I am and always have been proud of my people. If there are people who do feel superior because they have lighter skin, shame on them. Equally important is that if there are people who assume that all people who are light skinned are ignorant and have a complex, shame on them too.
        Thank you
        Yemane

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      • 19 February 2009 04:51, by yemane

        I found your article to be interesting and educational at the same time. However, I could not help but notice that you, yourself might have an inferiority complex. I happen to be from the North and am proud to say I am Ethiopian or Habesha in no particular order. Obviously I too can admit that I did not know that Ethiopians in the south would be offended if they were called Habesh. To that extend, I have learned from your article and will be cautious the next time. What I did not necessarily appreciate is that you have painted us all with the same brush. I would have been proud to have known that a beautiful, dark skinned Ethiopian girl won what ever the contest was. I am and always have been proud of my people. If there are people who do feel superior because they have lighter skin, shame on them. Equally important is that if there are people who assume that all people who are light skinned are ignorant and have a complex, shame on them too.
        Thank you
        Yemane

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  • 19 February 2009 19:13, by bereket

    I found the article very interesting as it distinguishes the semantics between Habesha and Ethiopian. The highlanders- the tigrigna and Amharic speaking people in the northern part of ethiopia, primarily constitute the abysinian state which later came to dominate the present day Ethiopia. But many people in Ethiopia donot seem to understand the underlying meanings between the two words. Nor do they seem to get the fact that the making of the present Ethiopia was mainly through subjugation than territorial integrity. So the present Ethiopia never had the same geography till the south of the country was conquered by the then abysinian emperor Minelik in the second half of the 19th century and incorporated in to the now expanded abysinian state. But this does not mean that these various nationalities never saw each other or had any forms of communication. There were trades and movements of people across the boundaries. In fact the Axumite civilization was the product of minglings of civilizations between the Habeshites(Tigres and Amharas)who came from the middle east as well as the indeginous cushetics such as the oromos who were later forced to move to the south and later moved back to the nearby highland areas in the north. The book ’Geda Melba’ presents a good historical perspective on this issue.I believe it is important to understand this fundamental fact. One of the present difficult issues facing the country is the issue of the rights of nations and nationalities. Only if we can come to clearly understand our past and learn our mistakes, can we think of moving forward. What existed so far has been absinocracy and hegemonoizing the country with abysisnian culture. i am from the north. And I feel ashamed of what the successive abysinian leaders starting from Youhanes did to the people. In fact the abysinian leaders were as cruel to the neighbouring peple as they were to their own people.So what Youhanes and menelik did may not necessarily reflect the true nature of Tigres and amharas.So discussing the issue simply creates a venue to fleshe out our diffrences and come together as one people. it shouldn’t be offending.

    God Bless u all,
    Bereket teklu

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  • 20 February 2009 03:49, by Berhan Sebhat

    Magn Nyang wrote a revealing article on Ethiopians view of who is uniquely and historically qualified to be the face of the country. He chose to label this group as habeshas. I guess I resemble his portrait of who is a habesha. I want to comment on three issues that he has stated. The discussion of who is habasha is as irrelevant as that of who is an Arian in the modern age. Every culture has its ideosyncracsity when it comes to the superiority question. In Ethiopia as clearly put by Magn is the “habesha’s” versus the non-habeshas. I personally do not like the term because my people the Eritrean’s equally use it to elevate themselves. Therefore, I will differ to Magn’s clear explanation of the historical explanation of the term.

    My first observation is that Magn gave a premise of who is Ethiopian when he used the term of “by the virtues of geographical birth.” That is what precisely defines a post nineteen century state. A boundary is what defines a modern nation. If we Africans continue to insist that heritage comes before the state then we will continue to fail in our attempt to form a perfect union. Anuak is as much an Ethiopian as an Amhara or a Kunama is as much an Eritrean as a tigrengia person.

    Second, the question of grandiosity being a reflection of the lack of self assurance as stated by Magn when he discussed the inferiority complex of some groups in Ethiopia is correct. It is a collective brain disorder. The prominent African American Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint coined it as such that racism is a form of mental illness. It is my hope that Magn in his capacity concentrates on this issue of our African Societies collective disorder. We are in need of purging form our fear of being exposed if we took our mask of and admit that we are guilty of grandiosity. Therefore, my third point is tied to this complex of always being first or pure. Magn called it the lack of awareness and used very harsh term when he described the population of Ethiopia as ignorant and narrow minded. I would have preferred brain washed and paranoid. My hope for Africa is that we rise above fear and started to trust those whom we deemed as not like us although the spirit and the DNA of mother Africa courses through all our blood. Thank you Magn, I love you Brother.

    Berhan Sebhat, North Carolina

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    • 21 February 2009 19:15, by Mohammad100

      Dear all,
      Of all the above claims and counter claims, the following statement caught my attention. ......"My hope for Africa is that we rise above fear and started to trust those whom we deemed as not like us although the spirit and the DNA of mother Africa courses through all our blood"

      Wow, this is deep. In addition to this honest and magnificent statement, here is my hope and vision for Ethiopia, and the rest of Africa.

      I hope in the near future, all Ethiopians will reach to a celebrated National Reconciliation which will bead care and concern among all Ethiopians. I also envision that all Ethiopians will be brave enough to look into each others eyes, and convey their true sympathy for the suffering perpetuated on all Ethiopians by the previous generation, such that the new Ethiopia will built by all the Ethiopian Children on true Democratic principles as opposed to trying to out smart each other.
      Ulfina wojjin,
      Yaadasaa

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