Tribute to a Man of All Trades

Tesfaye Sahlu, commonly known as Ababa Tesfaye, the iconic star of a cancelled children's show that ran on a state-run network, died at the age of 94. To many, the death was a tragedy - Tesfaye represented a generation that prioritised the importance of discipline to children. He will be missed.

In my recent article where I paid tribute to the late Negash GebreMariam to console the veteran journalist and author’s friends and family members, I happened to mention Tesfaye Sahlu, who acted by my side in Negash’s play Dil Atbya Arbegna, roughly translated to mean “Patriot After Victory”. The title had nothing to do with the proverbial satire. It just means what it is, as it is.

Born in Bale Province, in a village known as Kedu in the state of Oromia, Tesfaye Sahlu, now better known by the name of his famous TV character Ababa Tesfaye, passionately played characters of every kind in plays like Ha Hu Be Sidist Wer and Oedipus. However, his entire life was never an utter success story, there were failures here and there, and also heartbreaks. For instance, his father, Ejersa Bedane, passed early on in Tesfaye’s life.

I have seen Tesfaye play Mulatu Astatke’s Tizita. with an accordion, and then the Kirar, Once, he sang and danced not just addressing Ethiopians but the globe. He also once sang a song called Anchi Alm or, roughly translated to, “Hey Planet” to coincide with the period mankind started to process food for astronauts to consume while in space. He then used the momentary opportunity to abuse the globe. He said, “yee Earth do not try to brag about us, as mankind has reached the secrets you have hidden”.

His almost half a century long experience on what was then known as Ethiopian Television (ETV), now Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency (EBC), was palpable to anyone that saw him on his famous morning show for children. The episodes of the series usually started with Tesfaye, as Ababa Tesfaye, instructing children to “sit properly and quietly” and listen to stories known only by the wise. Animals – apes, lions, birds and other creatures – stood in for human beings in morality tales. Ababa Tesfaye, in life, as he did the good characters in his stories, would make good on the lessons learnt from the conclusion. He did this for over 42 years and thus served as the glue between the older passing generation and the young oncoming one.

There is hardly a year that has gone by without Ethiopians realizing that Ababa Tesfaye is part and parcel of the nation. His father, Ejersa Bedane, was said to have addressed him as fair, as is always the case of fathers in the Ethiopian society with their male children with the belief that they will have better chances of survival. Ejersa used to foretell that Tesfaye was not only one child or two or three, but 10 instead. That remark had been proved to be true considering his many talents in so many fields. He once even joined the Kagnew Battalion to South Korea on a United Nations mission.

Tesfaye Sahlu had been of late vending books he had written for children, another great contribution to society. These books, which he carried on his back, may seem to be ordinary. But that is not the case. He had enough resources to live on. But whatever he did was only a revelation of what one man can do with passion. When a man once offered him a ride, he rejected the offer asserting that walking was keeping him fit. And it did contribute to his health, as well as impacting the behavioural development of the youth that followed his career to the streets.

A similar type of social etiquette is missing in millennials that did not grow up watching Ababa Tesfaye. Athletics, football, handball, basketball, martial arts and table tennis are positive influences on the youth but not as much as Tesfaye’s children’s show was. Movies and TV, however, in the absence of the show, have become monotonous time killers filled with violent and indecent images that children are being exposed to at an early age. Chewing stimulants like Khat or smoking Hashish and other depressants has become the order of the day, as they say.

I would like to conclude this article by mentioning that Ababa Tesfaye Sahlu had been accorded a ceremonial funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral last Wednesday on August 2nd, 2017, in the presence of tens of thousands of people who paid tributes to the icon that most owe their social decorum to. Some carried banners depicting the iconic image of Ababa Tesfaye with his right hand raised to say goodbye. Demeke Mekonnen, deputy prime minister, was among the high profile representatives at the funeral ceremony.

I believe many would agree with me if I proposed the media air reruns of Ababa Tesfaye’s children’s show, at least once in a while, to keep the good lessons passing from one generation to the next, like we do with the songs of the late artist Tilahun Gessesse.

Let Tesfaye Sahlu rest in peace. Dhna Hunu, Ababa Tesfaye.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Aug 12,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 902]



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