Time to Re-think The Concept of “yilougnta”

There are times I look around and think that I live in a society that is concerned about what will be said more than anything else. Often times, I am convinced that it is indeed the case. Whenever I understand what the concept of “yilougnta” (what will be said) really stands for, that initial thought becomes certitude and I am left in awe at how absurd it could all sound.

Growing up, I have noticed many times, how certain conversations stand meaningless on the grounds of rational thinking when they tend to follow norms and established formulae. Such as the usual declining phrases thrown at invitations to food, drinks and the like, from people that are not too familiar in which case the sensation of ‘what will be said’ is mutual. Often times and not always, similar questions are asked once and repeated multiple times in order to verify the answers. Other times and not always, answers need to be given and repeatedly reformulated in view of reassuring the verification process to the invite.

Doesn’t all that seem like too much work? Though it might sound like a lot of effort put into a simple question and answer exchanged between two people, when done between experts it flows seamlessly. To the untrained ears, the entire exchange might appear to be redundant and needless, but is it? I am no anthropology expert but looking at it with a step back, it looks like a social dance undertaken to show politeness, closeness and trust which is beautiful in its own intricate ways. I however ask myself to what extent we allow this social dance to take up our time and make up the social construct are a part of.

Have you thought of the mere idea that the concept itself is based on thinking first of what others might or might not say or think even before allowing our own thoughts to form? The root word in Amharic itself clearly depicts the basis of this analysis – ‘yilougn’ (what they [others] say). With a deeper thought into this concept I have realized that every single step of an average Ethiopian is dictated by this concept. Now, I say average Ethiopian because there are clearly exceptions to the fact as much as there might be facts to the exceptions.

However put, it doesn’t take away from the veracity of the existence of this clinging social moss we allow to live alongside us. Like moss, algae or lichens on a tree that are harmless and don’t directly damage it, we have this concept that consistently grows on us and with us. Just as these trees, we are not harmed or directly damaged by this but a second thought would have us rethink our practice of “yilougnta”.

In family, friends and co-worker gatherings, I have heard several exclamations of how we have “yilougnta” and how it isn’t good that we practice it as a people. I must admit that I think that we are probably the only country with a one word name to describe this concept, convincing myself that it is that much important to us as a society. Had it not been important, why would we invariably recognize this flaw in our dealings first of all with ourselves and secondly with others and unfailingly keep going back to practicing it?

Can we answer this question to ourselves? Would having an answer allow each one of us some room to reassess the choices that we make in our lives? By choices I don’t only mean our wardrobe, entertainment, career choices or the like. I am referring to who we are in general. Sometimes, saying that we don’t care about what people say isn’t sufficient because we can unconsciously succumb to a lifestyle that we haven’t given much thought about fueled by the only desire to go against what is expected.

Besides, going against society’s expectations isn’t always not caring about ‘what others say.’ It is mostly a different approach to caring about what other have to say, but we can get to that on another occasion. Going back to the point, though ‘yilougnta’ might not be visibly harmful, I wonder if it doesn’t restrict us from fully blooming into the conscious adults that we should be. Is it making us refrain from asking the questions that we want, from speaking up about topics we wish to speak about, from expressing our thoughts freely and fearlessly?

If so then maybe it is time to re-think the concept of “yilougnta”. Moss, Lichens and algae are harmless to the tree they grow on but botanists and gardeners know that such growths indicate lack of vigor and sturdiness.


By Christine Yohannes
Christine Yohannes writes about social change, performs at public events and conducts poetry workshops in schools. She has established a monthly event entitled

Published on Nov 22,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 864]



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