SOLUTIONS WITH DEBTERAW, X: Are Eathiopians defined by Arts or Religion?


Call me by my name, address and title – Obo Arada Shawl
May 23, 2009

History of Arts

Any real history starts at the grassroots. Any one of the following seven disciplines is a type of visual art. This may be a simplified version of what we know about visual arts means. Eathiopians do not seem to have problems in distinguishing these types of arts.

Visual Arts

  1. Drawing

  2. Painting

  3. Sculpture

  4. Architecture

  5. Printmaking

  6. Film

  7. Photography

It is true that the first five disciplines of drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture and printmaking were mainly found in the Orthodox Eathiopian Churches – though missing from the views of the general populace.

The phrase “the Arts” as a term was discussed scholarly and it was quite often limited to the following:

  1. Music

  2. Rhetoric

  3. Dialectic logic

  4. Grammar

  5. Astronomy

  6. Geometry

  7. Arithmetic

Just like the visual arts it was again categorized into seven disciplines. With the exception of geometry and arithmetic, the rest five disciplines were quite known in the Orthodox Eathiopian Churches. Although this category started during the 16th century, in our case, mostly the debteras were the critics to be heard, the rest of us had to comply with the Orthodox Christian form of Arts.

It seems that I am crediting too much to the Orthodox Churches ledger in terms of ኪነት Ki’net. As time passes bye and as if these categorization were not enough to make us confuse, the above seven Arts came to be known as the “Fine Arts” so as to distinguish them from the “useful arts”. Useful Arts – people were too busy or lazy to have need for education. Here comes the conflict of visions for the Arts.

As the difference between science and art become sharpened, the phrase “Fine Arts” came to mean anything that has been associated/created to please the senses.

After losing the sciences, the list now includes the following four elements as well as what we normally think of as “Art”.

  • Music

  • Dance

  • Opera and

  • Literature

With the single exception of the Opera, Eathiopians are good in Music, dance and Literature. This is the art that DEBTERAW used to promote with specially emphasis on Literature- the domain of DEBTERAW. And the so-called scientific analysis by the educated classes of Eathiopia have added more confusion to the Eway Revolution that was underway to rectify Minilik’s concept of modernization, Tewodros’s act of unity, Yohannes’s handling of religion and Haile Sellasie’s type of education.

My first reaction about Arts was in relation to the death of Tilahun Gessesse. A commentary was written entitled “what is Art? What is Artist?” And it can be read at SOLUTIONS WITH DEBTERAW, a commentary on the “arts of death.” In the commentary, I concluded by stating that Tilahun Gessese has dwelt very well on the triangle of Love-Family-Friendship whereas DEBTERAW Tsegaye and Yemane Baria were aiming at the trio for Liberty-Unity-Justice – the Eway to 23rd century of ETHIOPIA አኤትዮጵያ

It is important to remember that during the 20th century, “fine arts” came to be categorized as

  • Visual Arts

  • Auditory Arts (music, drama, spoken literature)

  • Performance Arts (visual/auditory or combination)

The place and role of the Arts in the Eway Revolution

During the era of Haile Sellassie, Art was performed or housed only in two places, in the Hager Fikr ሀገር ፍቅር theatre and at the Haile Sellassie I National Theatre ብሔራዊ ቲያትር these two places were meant to display and encourage the elites of Eathiopians to be patriotic and nationalistic respectively. Those who frequent Hager Fiker Theatre were destined to be patriotic whereas those who go to the Haile Sellasie Theatre were lured to be nationalistic. Unfortunately, those attendees at the Haile Sellasie became hyphenated Eathiopians. The main reason was that creativity was discouraged but carbon copy of foreign materials encouraged. That was a place and a time when the two Tsegayes G. Medhins collide – one for domestic creativity and the other for foreign adaptation. Of course, the National Theatre became a place for confusion and alienation.

Fortunately, there were ‘what I call the third tier of Eathiopian Artists’ such as Tesfaye Lema, Telela Kebede, Awlachew Degene and many other heroic artists who lived under duress or had to leave these two places involuntarily.

During the DERG era “the Arts” was carried on a similar manner with tightly controlled in the name of their “fake revolution”. In fact, as the top men in the power of the DERG were only military and engineers, there was no way to engage the broad masses ሐፋሽ Hafash in the Arts. But thanks to DEBTERAW and his Political Party, EPRP that ኪነት Kinet has flourished albeit under clandestine በሕቡዐ circumstances. Access to the unsung heroes and heroines to make Arts live and well to the broad masses of Eathiopia was encouraged by EPRP albeit at a high cost.

While the DERGists and the Nationalists were busy propagating the Youth with arming with hate and violence, EPRP with the help of its leadership prominent among them DEBTERAW were teaching by example how to love one’s country, respect for one self and to empower others by means of poems, literature and discipline. The result is what we see today. Have a look closely at each individual person.


In other words, politicians, activists and citizens of Eathiopia should re-evaluate their stand on what ኪነት means and how it is applicable to their daily lives. In order to do that, let us examine and relate the case of the following three Artists.

  • Wogayo Nigatu a case of Performing Art

  • Tesfaye Lemma a case of Living art

  • DEBTERAW Tsegeye a case of Enduring Art

Let us start by asking how, where or why. Of course, the how question is relevant to Wogayehu Nigatu, the where question is for Tesfaye Lemma and the why question relates to DEBTERAW.

In other words, how did Wogeyehu Nigatu die at such a young age? Where is Tesfaye Lemma currently located despite his efforts to develop and promote Eathiopian Arts? And why is DEBTERAW IS STILL HELD INCOMMUNICANDO? I believe the answer lies deep in each of us who are interested in the Eathiopian Arts?

Now that we have established that we all cannot live without some sort of Arts, let us understand the basic forms of Art.

Art has two parts, a Form and Content.

Form includes elements of art, principles of design and physical materials that artists use.

Content is based on idea that portrays what an artist means, what an artist actually portrayed and above all how people react to the artist’s actual or intended messages.

Let us take for instance, the following incidents

  • What Mellese Zenawi has said in relation to the Eathiopian flag,

  • What Issayas said in relation to the Ethiopian state

  • What Wallellign has written in his essay in relation to an Amhara mask and

  • On DEBTERAW’s pun of words concerning Haile Sellasie’s betting on the throne. All four had opinions – after all that was why the main reason they received education – to express opinions. But to say what they said and to write what they wrote

ጨርቅ ባንዴራ (መለስ) through the prism of arrogance

ኢትዮጵያ ሃያላን ባይኖሩ ኖሮ … lack of understanding of social history

እስከ መገንጠል(ዋለልጝ) through the prism of family dispute

ዴሞክራሲ ያለ ገደብ (ፀገየ) through the prism of Arts

Should be judged and evaluated based on

  • Place

  • Time and

  • Circumstances, otherwise it is an historical for all of us not to discern the differences.

DEBTERAW’s works is full of content – the form of Arts – that has influenced religion, politics and society in general.

Our years of war and revolution in terms of politics and social influences as perpetuated by Artists and citizens of Eathiopia who were summarily executed in a historical context brought us mixed feelings of revulsion, anger and sorrow.

Though no fault of DEBTERAW and his political party, he is in prison for what power holders have pronounced and for what many cone artists have composed and sung.

What about Religion

There is a huge difference between an organized religion and a non- organized religion, the former not only it is relatively recent but also it is based on some rational or scientific phenomena, while the latter depends on faith alone.

So what is the main religion of Eathiopians? I bet there is no clear answer for my question. Obviously, there are all kinds of Christians such as Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Jehovah, etc. etc, but they are all Christians – or are they? Please, someone explain to me in lay terms. Eathiopians are Muslims with Sunni or Shiite affiliates, but they are all Muslims – or are they? There are Eathiopians who practice Judaism, and there are people who are anti-Christ or no religion at all. So why is that religion suddenly became an issue in Eathiopia or is it going to be?

Is that because of the return of King Yohannes’ children posed as atheists? Maybe the absence of followers of Teddy’s unity, or lack of education despite Haile Sellassie’s effort for economic development and nationalism or the lag of scientific modernization as frequently blamed King Minilik of Shoa? Does the future have to catch up with the past?

I do not understand.

As far as religion is concerned, the elites of Eathiopia were not educated, as Christian Evangelists no as Madras’s though have had attended Christian and Moslem universities. The Christian elites were educated in Addis Ababa University while the Muslim elites were educated in Cairo universities. This condition relates before the Eway Revolution.

The Eway Revolution had encouraged for religion to travel from Arat Kilo and reached Mercato via Arada (AKAM).

Arat Kilo was/is a place where churches, palaces and universities conglomerate.

Arada also known as Piazza harbor businesses, entertainment and government (BEG).

Mercato was/is a place where a mosque and a church stand side by side harmonizing people to people and business transactions of all goods and services.

So where does DEBTERAW and his political party stand on religion? I believe DEBTERAW and his political party, EPRP stands independent of all organized religions. I believe DEBTERAW had tackled the issues of

  • Personal and family

  • Social and cultural

  • Politics and economic

  • Church and ministry and

  • Theological and Spiritual issues,

As separate entities.

If this is not the correct idea and method by DEBTERAW, what then was/is the alternative one? For this DEBTERAW IS STILL HELD INCOMMUNICADO. Do we live for Arts or Arts serve us all? It is high time to stop acting and become real people. It should start from the top down – DEBTERAW SHOULD BE FREE.


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