Photo Essay - May 15, 2003 - MediaETHIOPIA

"Arbegnoch Qen" - "Patriots Day"

Excepting, perhaps, Genna and Timqet, no other Ethiopian holiday speaks volumes about the Ethiopian identity, character, color and aspirations than Miazia 27 - "arbegnoch qen'. When the assignment to cover the day's celebration came, we were more worried about relentless highland sun of the month of May. By the day's end - assignment completed - sitting at our favorite watering-hole at Africa Avenue, it was a lesson in dignity, History, and respect for that generation of the 1940s that withstood and defeated relentless attacks including WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction - Mustard Gas) that dominated our conversations. Yes, the Americans may search Iraq for WMD for years and come up with nothing (unless they make up the stuff themselves) but these folks that you see here had survived WMD used by Fascist Italians and outlived it by 60 plus years. The most striking part of the event for most of us in the team who are in our mid-20s to 30s is how many arbegnoch are still alive. Some of these folks are as old as 80 and 90! For this generation that has been criticized as lacking some 'wene', it was, perhaps, a reminder that 'wene' may have a direct relationship to 'old age'. We thought even the promise of a ripe old age may not awaken our lazy generation. 

An event we failed in recording - and we promise to make up for it in the future - was the unveiling at Theodros Square of the replica  of the 8 tons of steel cannon, Sebastapol, that Emperor Theodros had his artisans in Gaffat make in the 1800s.  Emperor Theodros' legacy and how Ethiopia should remember him and honor him was of course a topic of a heated discussion that ensued that evening at our watering-hole.  Notwithstanding some disagreements regarding his difficult last years, we all -however- agreed that the day Addis Ababa finally erects Emperor Theodros' statue at the Theodros Square, Ethiopia would then have fully honored one of its greatest sons. Statues for Emperors H/Selassie and Yohannes? "Idme yisten le-hulachin" - we may be surprised. In closing, however, none of us on the photo essay team could explain why Theodros named his cannon that was pulled by 500 people as Sebastapol? Where is Professor Richard Pankhurst - the Google of Ethiopian History? 

On the left column: going top to bottom, you see, a real Italian-invasion era patriot with a finely groomed 'nech-teff yemesela gofere' armed just with spears, a group of 'inatoch and set arbegnoch', three dignified 'arbegnoch' posing for a group photo, and students of 'Arbegnoch' School.

On the right column: going going top to bottom you see, two very tall and well-decorated veterans, a jovial 'arbegna' with 'gofere' that has been kept well-groomed for years, three arbegnoch sharing a moment of pride, and finally arbegnoch mahber president making the customary speech. We found the St. George Beer ad framing our favorite arbegna of the day very ironic. St. George is considered as Ethiopia's guardian/patron angel especially in the victory of Adwa. Here St. George beer's ad is offering a sun-shade to the arbegnoch.

Shown in the middle are the unforgettable Arbegna couple we met in the occasion. The wife is as much war decorated as her respected husband. 


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