CALL ME BY MY NAME: A commentary on a death of a fallen hero

Obo Arada Shawl alias Wolde Tewolde – April 9, 2008

What is his name?

Retta Adane was his given name. I used to call him as Rettaw just to upgrade him from his two syllabuses name. However, he has refused to do so.   My idea of a third letter is to avoid Black vs. White type of conversation, in other words, avoiding them and us. We always have a third arm or leg in the Ethiopian context. Retta used to tell me that there was only two-way struggle. He was saying there is still two Ethiopia, one for the privileged class and the other for the underclass. He chose to side with the underclass. Retta recognized that he came from a privileged class but he abandoned it for the sake of the majority of Ethiopians. Nonetheless he lived in both worlds fighting tooth and nail.

What are his accomplishments?

Academically, Rettaw has an associate degree. He was an accomplished photographer, career wise. Professionally, he was a real REVOLUTIONARY. He fought in the cities, in the metropolitan areas, in the mountains, and across deserts and ghettos of Ethiopia and America. He had sacrificed his comfortable life to combat grievances for a better tomorrow in political, social and economic matters for all Ethiopians.

How did he live?

Unknown to his family and many of his friends, he had lived a comfortable life. A life of freedom and liberty. He freely moved between the Badme (Zone of Washington), namely Axum and Zula restaurants. He had been sending messages of free spirit and life. Retta traveled physically from America (A) to Ethiopia (E) and from Addis Ababa (AA) to AAssimba (AA). He showed us the way of alphabetical travel from A-E. Having left the party, Rettaw has been traveling mentally and spiritually from Axum (A) to Zula (Z). Retta has traveled from A-Z, a complete study of the Latin alphabet. What a noble journey! Call me by my name. What is my name?

His Weakness

The hallmark of EPRP and EPLF was discipline. One is internal and the other external. Retta did not like both of them. As a result he abused himself albeit without abusing his own organization, EPRP.

His Sense of Humor

Retta’s sense of humor was impeccable.


One day, I met Retta while traveling in a city bus and he asked me whence I was coming from. I told him that I was coming from a public meeting where Negede Gobeze, Aregawi Berhe and Eyassu Alemayehu were attending. He was taken aback. He labeled them in the following manner:


Mr. A as ki’lo (innocent)

Mr. E as selay (spy)

Mr. N as feri (coward)

How can you put these three together, he asked me, mockingly? I said to myself as (sic)

spy-innocent-coward. I did not tell him to decipher any of my alphabetic letters. I know he was trying to be funny.

At another time, I met him again in a city bus. This time I have asked him from where he was coming. He said, “I have been to my doctor, a doctor who told me that I would only live for three months but when I returned to see the doctor for my final appointment, I found out that he was dead. I must have misunderstood my doctor. He was prescribing death for himself.” I teased Retta that he must have suffered from the deadline. He smiled because he knows that I know that he was not afraid of death. I laughed, laughed and laughed as usual for his sense of humor.

Another sense of humor of Retta as was narrated to me by one of his comrades was as follows. As his friend was addressing a gathering, by saying “ladies and gentlemen” Retta added a third category by addressing a “those in between”. This has happened in Italy some twenty years ago. Retta was ahead of his time and he was teaching by example. Of course, this was contrary to his “them and us”.


During his career, I think Retta was employed temporarily by Tamrat Lyne a one time prime minister of Ethiopia. Retta has lost his job, as did the prime minister. Retta had a photograph taken from Makalle field of donkey’s mating season. Whenever he wants to scare or test people’s mentality or culture, he shows them the picture as they gasp, “ he is crazy.” He was teaching his countrymen to face reality lest culture shock breaks them.


The lesson Retta is leaving behind

It is said that Mark Twain aptly described about mysteries, the mystery of God, Death and of Life. For most Ethiopians God and death are certain but not life.

Retta’s death was not sudden and unanticipated. He is divorced, unattached, have 3 children and his whole life revolved around the concept of EPRP as the head of a family, community and society. He no longer felt safe when EPRP and a whole lot of his comrades died, exiled and imprisoned. Nevertheless, he deeply believed in the ultimate success story of EPRP.

How do the Retta comrades at this age and stage of life grieve? How do they overcome the complete emptiness and fear? Well, he has lived enough time to teach and to struggle albeit with harmony, peace and freedom with himself and his surroundings. Retta is to be emulated in his personal courage.

Grief is natural and normal. It hits us in different ways. For some of us, it is as if a stone is sitting on our chests until we can barely breathe. For others, it is a fact that can’t be faced, so much so that they keep busy from dawn to midnight drinking or working. Grief is like a blanket, smothering us with sadness and fear, but in the case of Retta, there is no grief for he has carried out what he wanted to accomplish

And so it is with all of us. Good books and politics will ease his comrades’ pain though these are not the only options. Prayer will encourage contemplation. We all have lost a truly special person. We all will carry a bundle of sorrow on our back if we miss his point of view and life style.

Those who have attended the burial ceremony informed me that many have regretted of not knowing him enough to appreciate his life. I know most of them were frustrated and angry at his behavior. We should look for the best in everybody. If we had the patience to listen and see long enough and keep on waiting, their good side will come out. I wish I had asked him what wisdom he would impart to the world if he knew it was his last chance. I suspect he would say “ Retta lived for 30 years after a terminal diagnosis for freedom.”

Tell him how much we miss him and ask him for advice on how he coped up during rough times. He won’t answer; imagine what he would have said, “vive EPRP and continue the struggle”

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3 Responses to CALL ME BY MY NAME: A commentary on a death of a fallen hero

  1. Mezega says:

    Because of or despite my unique love-hate relationship with the EPRP, I can identify myself with Retta and the narrator of this metaphysically laden moving story. I think it is about living for an ideal in the face of the harshness of the prevailing reality and with the sad realization that, that ideal might never be realized at all. Many, if not all, who passed thru EPRP’s project must be facing the same ordeal and the same predicament.
    You know what pains me most and why I envy Retta? I don’t think I have a friend like Obo Arada Shawl to tell my story after I am gone, nor am I sure whether I am worthy enough to deserve one.

    God bless your soul, Retta!!!


  2. Mister Mezega!!!
    For your information, I am not a friend of Retta but a comrade. That means I am also your comrade (friend if you prefer).
    Someone will remember you and your story, just be patient. Stay alive and well. And do not have hate-love relationship with EPRP. You should only love EPRP. Retta had love-hate relationships with individuals but not with EPRP. Yours should not be different. Keep hope alive.

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