December 18th, 2011
Below is a comment written by Abraham. This comment was given on the topic “Ethiopian Evil Eye Belief” by Niall Finneran. Because the comment from Abraham has given us a more deeper view of the topic, we felt obliged to present it as an extra add-on to the subject matter “Evil Eye”.
Hi, Thanks for your observation of the role of Evil Eye in the Ethiopian contemporary Culture.
However, I disagree with your central theme of generalization the culture throughout Africa in particular Ethiopian. Actually, the traditional notion of Evil Eye concept in Ethiopia is by far very different from the general Bantu based concept of witchcraft which exists in most part of Africa south of the Sahara. Actually, the concept evil eye does not exist in Africa south of the Sahara except in the Horn of Africa. The Ethiopian concept of Evil eye is similar to that of the Mediterranean and of the Fertile Crescent traditions of Mesopotamia and Judeo Christian traditions. In Ethiopian Highland similar to that of Southern Europe and North Africa the evil eye is the name for a sickness transmitted — usually without intention orempowered by evil spirit — by someone who is envious, jealous, or covetous or some one influenced by a demon (Satan). This also could be by anyone or from those people from specific social class or cast.
In general, Evil eye is also called the invidious eye and the envious eye. In Hebrew for example it is ayin ( it is also called & pronounced exactly the same way in Amharic language the national language of Ethiopia) or ha’ra (the evil eye) which in Yiddish. In mainland Italian it is mal occhio (the bad eye) and in Spanish mal ojo or el ojo (the bad eye or just the eye). In Sicily it is jettatore (the projection [from the eye]) and in Farsi it is bla band (the eye of evil). The evil eye belief is that a person — otherwise not malific in any way — can harm you, your children, your livestock, or your fruit trees, by looking at them with envy and praising them. The word “evil” is unfortunate in this context because it implies that someone has “cursed” the victim, but such is not the case. A better understanding of the term “evil eye” is gained if you know that the old British and Scottish word for it is “overlooking,” which implies merely that the gaze has remained too long upon the coveted object, person, or animal. In other words, the effect of the evil eye is misfortunate, but the person who harbours jealousy and gives the evil eye is not necessarily an evil person per se. This is often true in the Ethiopian context.
Evil eye belief is geographically spread out in a radiating ring from ancient Sumer, where it apparently got its start. It is mentioned the Torah (the Old Testament of the Bible) and its existence is acknowledged by modern Arabs, Jews, and Christians. The belief extends eastward to India, westward to Spain and Portugal, northward to Scandinavia and Britain, and southward into North Africa. Although many people of European descent think it is universal, in fact China has no evil eye belief — nor does Korea, Burma, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Sumatra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Australia (aborigine), New Zealand (aborigine), North America (native), South America (native), or any of Africa south of the Sahara except Ethiopia. It is generally referred to by scholars as a Semitic and Indo-European belief. The Westernmost pre-Columbian outpost of evil eye belief was along the Atlantic coast — Ireland, England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, and France; the easternmost pre-Columbian outpost of evil eye belief was India.
The epicentre of currently active evil eye belief is in nations along the Mediterranean and Aegean shores, plus India and the South American countries most influenced by Spanish conquest and in the horn of Africa Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. It is now a fairly widespread belief among indigenous people in Latin America. Colonialists also spread it to North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
In Ethiopia, similar to that of the Near East because the evil eye is a specific form of evil, the protective charms and spells that have developed around it are also quite specific in nature. In some countries, if a person feels moved to praise a child, fruit tree, or dairy animal, he or she follows the praise by spitting, under the mother’s or owner’s approving gaze, to remove the taint of the praise. That’s why in Ethiopia similar to that of the middle East ad Southern Europe often people when they admire a child they will spit toward the child and if the chid is sick and they suspect of Evil Eye (Buda) then they will ask the person they believe is responsible to spit towards the child. In other areas, praise of a child can be safely mediated by immediately touching the child, to “take off the eye.” If the praiser fails to follow these protocols, the mother may invoke religious aid by uttering a formulaic prayer to obviate the possibility of an evil eye incident, or she may speak ill of the child to counter the damage caused by the praise. In Ethiopia this is done by the religious leaders from the Church or Mosque which involves reading from the holly scripture followed by victim drinks three sips of holy water and then victim is bathed in holy water the priest performing religious rites.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church forbids its members to consult and make use of individuals who use magic rituals to get rid of the evil eye, does not recognize the wearing of amulets as a form of protection against the evil eye, though many members of the Orthodox Church wear these amulets which contain passages from the bible in conjunction with their crosses.
Comment by Abraham