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Companion to and Explanatory Notes on the Degiat Subagadis Article

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD                                         May 25, 2019


The purpose of this essay is to clarify and counter the misunderstandings and misinterpretations of my article entitled “Dejazmach Subagadis Woldu: Governor of Tigray and Prince of Ethiopia”. First and foremost, however, I like to make my position clear on some relatively sensitive issues such as the identity of personalities that the article apparently stirred controversy; secondly, I found it important that explanatory notes are necessary in order to combat the misguided and cynical readers’ viewpoints, who without reading the entire article entertained vitriolic language and curses, and in order to make this essay much more educational, I will first address the positive reactions by some of my readers by way of extending my gratitude to them, and then respond to the negative reactions.

Like most of my books and articles that I contributed in the last three decades, the objective of the Degiat Subagadis article was to reassess, discover, explore, and systematically reconstruct a historical phenomenon as complex as the Era of Princes, in which Subagadis played a pivotal role. And as always, the intent of my article was to educate the Ethiopian audience and in our present essay introduce them to the strikingly charismatic prince of Ethiopia by the name Degiat Subagadis Woldu. Moreover, in all my writings, there is no place for bias and prejudice, as well as polemics; I write with objectivity and integrity, and of course I follow certain methodologies to strengthen the central theses of my works, and also support them with paradigms in order to substantiate my scholarly pieces and make them readable and understandable to my readers. Admittedly, unlike my previous articles on Ethiopian history, that of Degiat Subagadis was not fully written on historiography and archeological evidence and this is due to the fact that I was unable to find such evidences in due course of my research; however, some of the references I made are adequate enough to initiate a project of biography and/or history on such great personas like Subagadis.

With the above introductory note, thus, I now move on to the heart of my article and discuss the positive and negative reactions by my FB friends. On the positive side, I will like to extend my gratification, appreciation, and credit to some readers (among many others) including Ato Saleh Abdlwoise, Ato Alema Dola, Ato Teddy Bahta, Ato Berhe Hagos, and Ato Berhane Tesfay; on the negative side, two persons, namely Ato Alema Tesfaye and Ato Seyoum Berhe are worth mentioning for our discussion. It seems to me that Ato Alema Tefsfaye is very angry and likes to vent his disappointment at the person and not the whole content of the person’s writing; for instance, in his first response to my article, he stated on FB the following unfortunate scatology: “…Purposely dilute Irob’s contribution to Ethiopian and Tigrian politics. He is a messenger of evils.” I am sorry to say, but Alema is imbued with negative energy and curses but I don’t take it personal; on the contrary, I have forgiven him. However, I like to offer him some brotherly advice: In all instances in regards to scholarly articles and other related works, it is better to inquire first rather than resort to an outright attack; examples are abound: one could say, “what you wrote about the person is wrong, can you please prove your point?”; “what you wrote sounds good, but some of the phraseology are not clear; can you please elaborate?” These kinds of approaches are the basis for dialogue, democratic political culture, and civilized discourse.

The second negative reaction comes from Ato Seyoum Berhe, who said “someone with academic caliber like Dr. Ghelawdewos making such a blunder is unfortunate”. This negative impulse is not altogether cynical but it is obstructive, and impedes mutual trust and consensus. At any rate, to the second negative energy, I don’t need to respond in detail. Ato Berhe Hagos has eloquently responded in the FB exchanges by saying, “How did he make a blunder? Show you can argue through putting forward your facts against his; that is what academics do.” There is no doubt that Ato Berhe is full of wisdom and has a great heart and he rendered justice to what I call rational social thought. 

Back to positive forces, in an effort to celebrate their constructive feedbacks. Let me put them in right order so that readers can have the gist and make sense out of them. Among the early and first respondents, Ato Berhe Hagos said, “Thank you for the facts about Dej. Subagadis. One rarely finds his name in history books written by Ethiopians.” In point of fact, it is precisely the dearth of information and data on Ethiopian dignitaries of the Zemene Mesafint that prompted me to write about Degiat Subagadis. Incidentally, in 2006 I wrote series of articles on Emperors Tewodros, Yohannes, Menelik, Haile Selassie & Lij Iyasu (Emperor Iyasu V), and Ras Alula Abba Nega; it was a mission on my part to write on history, politics, political economy, and culture of Ethiopia, and for those of you who would be interested in the history of the Emperors and Ras Alula, please visit www.africanidea.org and press on the “Ethiopian History” button or icon.

Ato Teddy Bahta has the following to say: አነ ብውልቀይ ንፕሮፈሶር ገላውዴዎስ ፅሑፋት ካብ ዘንብብን ንገላውዴዎስ ዓብይ ናእዳን ፍቕርን ክብርን ዘለዎም ሰባት ሓደ እየ። ንኽልተ ደኬድ ድማ ካብ ገላውዴዎስ ብዙሕ ትምህርቲ ዝወሰድኩ ሰብ እየ። Ato Alema Dola came up with a more civilized discourse and a legitimate question with respect to Seme, that I will deal with later; for now, let me just put what he said initially when the exchanges began: ዝኸበርካ ዶ/ር ገላውዴዎስ ኣርኣያ᎓ መጀመርያ ሓሓሊፈ ካብ ዘንብቦን ጠቕላላ ከኣ ፍልጠትካን ስራሕካን ብመጠኑ ስለዝፈልጦ ዘለኒ ናእዳን ክብርን ወሰን የብሉን።

In a similar vein, Ato Berhane Tesfay shares the same admiration and sentiments like those of Berhe and Teddy, although out of misunderstanding he poses a question in relation to the Agame-Aksum nexus. He says, “I sensed from the article [that] Agames are not part of Aksum civilization? I should expect much more directly from my renowned professor. May be I will not be that much in haste to dismiss him as such but surely I have got more questions to ponder for the distinguished one.”. 

I can sense the sincerity of Berhane, but there is no statement in the article that insinuates or implies that Agame was not part of Aksum. The only time “Aksum” and Aksumite” are mentioned in the Article is in relation to the Agaw on page 2. However, while I am here I like to reassure Berhane that Agame was not only part of Aksum, but it was also the hub to that mighty kingdom; some archaeological findings at Adi Gelamo (between Agame and Kilte Awlaelo) evidently prove that there was a strong trade relationship between Nubia and Aksum; similarly, Hawzien was a thriving locus in the trade route network of Aksum; and in terms of geopolitics, Agame and Akele-Guzai were the eastern frontiers of the Kingdom, and without these outer provinces Aksum would not have had access to the Red Sea. 

Back to the Article: I wish the critics could have read the entire article instead of limiting themselves to the identity of Subagadis; they could have appreciated the achievements of Degiat Subagadis in diplomacy, his just governanace, not to mention his support and dedication to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC). I also wished in retrospect the critics learned from the born-teacher Berhane Tesfay who would not judge hastily. On the other hand, I can understand the critics’ complicated relationship with their identity and their psychological makeup, but what they never seem to understand is that the article actually is a reflection of what I know and the data I have had at my disposal. I have attempted only to integrate fragments of history from relatively loose fabrics of the past. Now, if they think I am wrong they should provide me with facts based on documentary evidence in order for me to redeem the controversy. I won’t have a problem in correcting my mistakes, which by the way is a learning process by itself.

One other thing that I would not expect the critics to understand is my motive of writing the article because they don’t know how related I am to Subagadis; now I want to use the opportunity  to reassure them that I won’t “deliberately” distort the history of my own great-great grandfather. I am the direct descendant of Dejazmach Subagadis Woldu. It is this simple:

 

 Ghelawdewos→Araia→Teklehaimanot→Aregawi→Subagadis. My grandfather Grazmach Teklehaimanot is the son of Shum Agame Aregawi and the brother of Ras Sebhat. Like in all families, the orientation given to me and my siblings as well as thousands of other cousins and cross-cousins was that we are Tigrigna-speaking from Awraja Agame, Tigray, Ethopia; and that the birth place of our ancestors was Azeba in Ganta Afe Shum. So, our identity was defined as Agame Tegaru Ethiopians. 

On the question of Seme, it is now abundantly clear to me that the critics have missed the point when I labeled him “king”; they said, “there was no such thing as king Seme” and I don’t blame them for this misunderstanding because I should either have put the word king within quotation marks (e.g. “king”) or define ‘labeling theory’; I have stated in the first paragraph of the article as follows: “I have affixed the title of king to Seme following a labeling theory” and what that means is Seme, as a founding father, established the inchoate state (rudimentary political system). ‘Labeling theory’ and ‘reconstruction’ are methodologies used in political science and sociology to explain institutions and their creators and that the latter’s’ creation would have a lasting impact on the larger society. The innovative creators or leaders (whether we call them chiefs or kings won’t matter), in most instance, exhibit tendencies of leadership, and by reconstructing their behavior and their deeds (aka self-fulfilling prophecy), we can safely assume that these persons are or were forerunners of state formations; in Africa they were known as chiefs or kings; in medieval Europe, they used to label them as estate monarchies presiding over mini-states; in our Ethiopian case, they were given titles such as Ras or Negus; and Seme, by his multiple roles and behaviors comes very close to such a reconstructed depiction. 

One other question raised was why Seme came and settled in the Aiga area; the answer is simple: Why not! During those days, people were highly mobile and for a person and his entourage taking care of a mini-state, it could perhaps be a big deal to travel roughly 40 KMs from the Adigrat area to Aiga, but for a formidable strong state like Aksum, the distance covered by Seme and his fellow men could be a drop in the bucket. Aksum, during its heyday controlled a vast empire from Nubia (now in northern Sudan) to Berbera (now in Somaliland), and beyond the Red Sea to Yemen.

Now, let me address what I sensed from the negative elements’ frivolous exchanges including telling commentators not “to contaminate their nationality” (ብሄርካ አይተማራስሕ) and my understanding is that the negative forces completely misperceived the intent of the Article and concluded that I was not only “misleading” (their own words) readers in regards to the identity of Subagadis, but also “purposely” (their own words) denigrating the history and contribution of the Irob people. Wow! Negative energy and misperception are indeed twin enemies of humanity. Due to this unfortunate encounter, some innocent readers could be misled, and for this reason alone I will share below the relations I had with the people of Irob.

In 1998, when the Ethiopian-Eritrean war broke out and ultimately ended up in the Algiers Agreement debacle, I was actively engaged along with my fellow activist Ethiopians in the defense of Ethiopian sovereignty and territorial integrity. We organized conferences that were held at Howard University and Best Western Hotel. We also collected petitions, signed by sixty scholars and professionals including myself, and delivered it to the UN Security Council to make sure no Ethiopian territory is lost, including Badme and a bunch of villages in Adi Irob. Four years earlier, I stumbled into a new Eritrean map issued in 1994 in one of my friends’ garage in California, and I was surprised to see Alitena (the capital of Irob district) relocated on the Eritrean side of the map. In all the conferences I led and participated, I supported my arguments by saying that I have lived in Adi Irob and I know very well that Alitena was part of Tigray and Ethiopian territory. And to be sure, I have lived in Adi Irob for at least five and half years and I frequented mostly Sengede, Alitena, and Kele’asa; I still have a vivid imagination of the magnificent cathedral of Alitena and a recollection of the symbolic funeral (ካልኣይ ቀብሪ) for our comrade Dr. Tsefay Debesai at Adi Irob. I cannot also forget the many times of coffee rounds I had with Aboy Debesai; in the five plus years I have lived at Adi Irob, I was completely taken over by the love and affection of the Irob people, and there is no way I can forget the experience I had at Adi Irob, nor could I dissociate myself from that special fabric found at Adi Irob.

The second time I made a reflection on Adi Irob and its people is when I reviewed የአሲምባ ፍቅር authored by Kahsai Abraha, and here is what I wrote then in Amharic:

ኢሕአሰ የተፈጠረበትን ሠፈር ዓዲ ኢሮብን አስመልክቶ ደራሲው በትክክለኛ መንገድ ገልጾታል᎓ “የአዲ ኢሮብ ሕዝብ የመቻቻል᎓ የእንግዳ ተቀባይነትና የሕዝብና ታጋይ አንድነት ፍቱን አርአያ ነው። ዓዲ ኢሮብ በትግራይ ክፍለሃገር ሰሜን ምስራቅ በዓጋመ አውራጃ᎓ ዓዲግራት ከተማ በስተምስራቅ የሚገኝ፣ በአብዛኛው ተራራማ የሆነ ወረዳ ነው። የዓዲ ኢሮብ᎓ ደብረመላና የሃዶ ኗሪዎች ወንዱና ሴቱን እንዲሁም ህፃናቱን የሚያሳትፍ ማኅበራው ኑሮ አላቸው። እንደ ደጋ ክርስትያኑ አክራሪነት አይታባቸውም᎐᎐᎐ ዓዲ ኢሮብ የተለያዩ ሃገራዊና ታሪካዊ የሃይማኖት ቅርሶች ያሉበት ወረዳ ነው᎐᎐᎐የኢሮብ ሕዝብ ውግያ የማይፈራ፣ ያገኘውን ተካፍሎ የሚበላ፣ ያመነውን በፍጹም አሳልፎ የማይሰጥ፣ እስከ ተፈለገው ጊዜ ድረስ ደብቆና ጠብቆ የሚያቆይ ሕዝብ ነው። የኢሮብ ሕዝብ ካመነ አመነ ነው።

ደራሲው ስለ ዓዲ ኢሮብ ያደረገውን ገለጻ ሙሉ በሙሉ የምስማማበት ነው፣ ምናልባት አከራካሪ ሊሆን የሚችለው “ኢሮብ የሚለውን ቃል ኢሮባ ከሚለው ሲሆን ይህም በሳሆ ቋንቋ ወደ ቤት ግባ ማለት ነው” የሚለውን ነው።ደራሲው ከአፈ፟ ታሪክ ያገኘውን ትርጉም ትክክል ሊሆን ይችላል። ነገር ግን እኔ በበኩሌ ከዚህ ቀደም በዚህ ጉዳይ ጥናት አድርጌ ነበረና ‘ኢሮብ’ ‘ምዕራብ’ ከሚለው ቃል የመጣ ሳይሆን አይቀርም። ዓዲ ኢሮብ በትግራይ በስተምስራቅ የሚገኝ ወረዳ ቢሆንም ክአፋር ወይም ቀይ ባሕር አዋሳኝ አንጻር ካየነው ግን የፀሐይ ግባት ወይም ምዕራብ ነው የሚሆነው። በተጨማሪ ‘ምዕራብ’ የኢትዮጵያ ሴማዊ ቃል ከሌሎች ከኢትዮጵያ ውጪ ሴማዊ ቃላት ጋር የሚገጥም ነው። ለምሳሌ በጥንታዊት መሶጶጣምያ (አሁን ኢራቅ) ኣቃድያን የተባሉ ነገድ የፀሐይ ግባትን ‘አራቡ’ ይሉት ነበር፣ በኡጋርቲክ ደግሞ የፀሐይ ጥልቀትን የሚገልጽ ግስ ‘አራቡ’ ነው፣ በፎንሽያን (ከእብራይስጥ ቋንቋ የተዛመደ ቋንቋ) ‘ኣሮብ’ ማለት ምዕራብ ማለት ነው። የግሪኩ ቃል ‘እሮፕ’ (አሁን የአውሮጳ አህጉር ስም የሆነውን) ‘ኢረብ’ ከሚል ሴማዊ ቃል ነው የፈለቀው። ሰለሆነም ‘አውሮጳ’ የሚል ቃል የፈለቀው ከሴማዊ ቋንቋ ስለሆነ አንዳንድ ሰዎች እንደሚሉት ‘ኢሮብ’ ከ ‘አውሮፓ’ የመነጨ ሳይሆን ‘አውሮፓ’ ከ ‘ኢሮብ’ የፈለቀ መሆኑን ከላይ ያስቀመጥኩትን ርቱዕነት በሚገባ ያሳያል።

By way of concluding, I like to critically examine some points in relation to the respondents so that altogether this essay could serve as an educational platform. The critics or negative respondents have an obligation to balance their haphazard rejoinder or retort instead of rigidly dismissing the many facets of the Article and limiting themselves to the identity issue only; they should not also dismiss Gebreyesus Abay’s book as a “fifty year old book”; whether a book is fifty or hundred years old, it should be judged by its content, and I personally found the book as a rare treasure and a valuable genealogical document. Similarly, that of Abba Tesfai Medhin, The History of the Irob People, that I have used as one of my references is equally important despite the fact that the book heavily depends on oral tradition and Biblical sources. The critics should reread the book and underscore the Tigrigna-Irob inseparable connections.

The respondents claim that Suabgdis’ predecessors were non-Tigrigna speakers except for his father Woldu is unacceptable to me, because, quite clearly there are at least three names, including Wrede Mihret, Shifare, and Sebhat that are in the family tree list that I have included in the text; on top of these the majority of Subagadis’ brothers and sisters as well as his sons and daughters bear Tigrigna names. Interestingly, the names of the respondents and a sizable of the Irob people that I have known at Adi Irob also bear Tigrigna names. Names alone, of course, may not define ones identity, for there are multiple factors and inputs that contribute to a group or peoples’ nationality. As I have convincingly argued in the article, “there is no doubt that the Irob and Tigrigna speakers of Agame share a dual heritage and syncretic culture that bounds them together”.

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