‘Ethiopianism’ Not a Competition

A recent Amharic movie I saw shocked me. The premise of the film was a woman who had chosen to live in Ethiopia after forsaking a life in a Western country. The film was meant to be a scathing commentary of modern Ethiopia and its youth – full of women who would prefer money and a ticket abroad over their ambitions.

The film explains what it means to be Ethiopian, by boldly stating what superficial Ethiopian qualities are. They were mirroring the sorts of arguments that are made in many circles.

This usually revolves around speaking a foreign language, mainly English. And of course, there is the case of appearances, with young people often scolded for attempting to mimic on-screen personas. Most recently, the criticism has incorporated interracial relationships.

It is in walking the streets of Addis Abeba that the stigma is evident. Women are made to take in the stares and the derogatory remarks that are made. The worst part is that such reactions are made to women who may not even be in a relationship with a non-national they are seen with.

Regardless of the association between a white male and an Ethiopian female, some in the public are often seen laying blame, and pointing fingers like that woman is an infidel who sold her country. Such decisions are treated as an affront to Ethiopian pride. Too many are led to assume that behind it all is personal wealth, and is the responsibility of each citizen to correct this wrong.

A friend of a friend was at a traditional restaurant with her partner, when the waitress felt it was necessary to point out that the couple’s relationship “was not our culture.”

The unsolicited advice was a jab at the woman’s choice that has the most effect on that very gender. It is often the case that people reserve such comments for women, and not for men that are hanging out with non-nationals. All of a sudden, they are struck with a sudden defused calling to correct this “provocation to Ethiopian pride.”

Such treatments worsen when a woman dates an African.

The words of caution given to a friend of mine by her father when she started a full-time job at the African Union was, “don’t try and bring an African home.”

This is prejudice. But we often confuse it as attempts of concerned citizens to preserve our culture.

One does not need to prove they are more Ethiopian than another. This is not a competition, we all deserve to live our lives at the peak of our happiness or in a healthy pursuit of it. We cannot compete at being more Ethiopian much the same manner the dead cannot compete at being the most dead.

Unfortunately, such hateful comments, born out of unfettered nationalism and misconceptions towards a group, are not exclusive to one group. Shaming over the choice of a partner has also been prevalent over the internet, especially on social media sites.

One’s liberty can only reach as far as the next person. In the name of saving the Ethiopian culture, we should not encourage violence. Double standards need to apply.

Who gets to decide what is acceptable to the nourishment of a culture, or for wrecking it? And should a culture not evolve, or stick to a rigid form un-evolved for eternity?

Many of our close ancestors have found it prudent to hide the realities of their lives. The secrets are there only because of the fear of backlash and judgment that would follow. And it is often the case that those same people are advocates of that culture, until at least what has gone around comes around.

It is most unfortunate that judgment is our culture. There are songs sung, pieces of literature written and stories told about Ethiopians needing one another’s approval and the shame of not receiving it. But when we want something, sometimes for reasons that are hard to articulate, it is hard to change, least of all because society wants us to.

We are forced to hide because what is acceptable matters more than what is right. If there is ever a social awakening, this is a where it has to start.


By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com) is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Jun 02,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 944]



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