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post Lost Identities

May 30th, 2009

Filed under: Opinions — Admassu @ 15:15

I came to love Sundays just for sake of the last song of the mass. They would keep on chanting the melody till all have paid their tribute to the church and gave their hard earned money. The longer they kept on repeating the melody the stronger was its grasping meditative power. And I wished each time it could went on like that forever.

When I have closed my eyes to disappear in the sad chorus of this last song, it felt as if I was bidding farewell to something essential that has been already gone.

“Israeli Gamadi” The last song of the mass.

It is now a ritual. I mean, this thing with the tribute paying. I see their faces and their expression when women, men and children stand up to give their final offer. It was obvious that they were doing it more for the others to see. They couldn’t have easily skipped what they have been doing for months or even for years. This community is built on repetitions that ended up being rituals. Rituals that has actually not been part of the historical identity of these people. Rituals that have started as a symbol of goodwill and ended up as an obligation.Normally the church is half filled but on special occasions over five hundred believers could fit in there.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of such occasions. Prior to this particular occasion they all were talking enthusiastically about these white preachers who were going to hold one of their country wide preaching-marathon here. The farmers have actually started to discuss about their coming for about a week before the awaited guests arrived. They were sure that these people from Norway were taking such a burden to come all the way to their small and poor village because they loved them so much and for that reason Jesus has shown them the way to them. They said those kind of things in such emotional manner that it usually left me irritated and speechless. So I preferred to keep my mouth shut and decided to make no comment. Though, I know the reality for I have lived in Europe for years. Nobody or no organization would take such a journey to remote places like this just because of love.

I asked my self: did these farmers really know about their own history and about who their ancestors were? Their ancestors, who have practiced the Gada System (The oldest democratic social system which has been practiced in the southern part of Ethiopia), have lived here for centuries long before Christianity found its way to Ethiopia. Not far from where this church was standing, there is an ancient graveyard with 3000 years old stone-curved obelisks.

But they were been told by the so-called messengers of the Almighty that all their past history and traditions were source of sin and they would not come to heaven if they keep on practicing them. They told them that their handicraft and handmade ornaments are earthly stuff that they should have to get rid of them if they want to sit beside Jesus in heaven on the judgment day. So, they got rid of their old silver necklaces, armbands and colorful handwoven garments, wood made household utensils. They have believed that various customs from their past were truly work of the devil. May be that was not the message that the preachers wanted to transmit in the beginning. May be the farmers have misinterpreted the core message of the preaching.  But it should still be the obligation and responsibility of those preachers to clear the misunderstanding before the damage took place.

Now, here were they sitting bundled in a big hall on a sunny Sunday morning unlike their ancestors who used to hold such social gatherings in the open air under huge trees.  Here were they sitting wearing china-made smuggled cloths and shoes and china-made chip plastic ornaments. Their huts are filled with plastic stuffs that surely were produced with unhealthy and environment-damaging process. Their once green bushes are littered by thrown away non-ecological plastic garbage. They wear forged and smuggled t-shirts, jackets, sneakers and trousers with forged labels of Nike, Adidas, Camel, Levis, etc. Many of them have spent a lot of money for DVD and CD players and TV sets with forged trademark labels of Sony, Phillips, LG, Sanyo, etc. There are two sad facts about this new imported materialist tradition: 1. Those things are extremely expensive comparing to their price and to the income of these farmers. 2. Those things were made with cheap parts that usually stop functioning within a period of few months….

…. now back to the church: On that particular Sunday I accompanied the others. I was too eager to witness the occasion. As we arrived there the church was filled to the brink of its capacity. Because of money shortages, doors and windows were not built in to the prepared holes for the last few years. Though the hall was filled with the odor of perspiration, the fresh air through the openings has made the situation bearable. Since the farmers here prefer to pray with doors and windows closed to prevent bad spirits from coming in, those open holes in the church wall have surely helped to prevent an unpleasant suffocation.

The moment we sat down my eyes were searching for the long awaited strangers. There, right in front of us they were seated on a long bench specially prepared for them facing the curious audience. On a table in front of them there were soft drinks. They were about seven. Frankly spoken, I was disappointed to see that they were all very young. Actually, most of them were teenagers who likely were away from their parents cozy domicile for the very first time.

As I talked with these kids from Norway after the mass, they told me that they had just finished a one year religion course and they were there to do their first practical training. So I thought, their arrival was to use the people here like their first test object. Thinking about that, I felt a certain anger boiling inside me. Sure before talking to them, I had that feeling that they were beginners because the whole preaching procedure was uncoordinated, confusing and boring. It was obvious that they weren’t prepared well and that they had no knowledge about the cultural background of the people. That somehow made the whole event superficial. These kids were only preaching and transmitting what they have learned for a year.

Was it really necessary to travel all the way and practice on poor farmers who obviously took the occasion very seriously and made quite a long journey to be there? Wasn’t it necessary to know the essential historical and social background of a people before meeting them to pour doctrines, principles and ways-of-life upon them?

For centuries, we know how many cultures, languages and civilizations were destroyed by those who thought they were doing God’s job. Recently the Vatican has apologized for those unrepairable atrocities that was caused by its missionaries. We also know that it was a necessary step to take even though centuries too late. The alarming reality is that the same mistake is still being done and precious cultures are disappearing these days. If those responsible for this damage come out after 100 years and say they are sorry, we know that would not repair the damage. Religion is good because its core message is love and respect to God and his creation. If any spreading process of a religion does not fulfill these two essential ingredients, then we have to be cautious because there is a hidden uncanny objective behind it.

Respect! Love!

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