The confirmed reports of burning Tigrayan captives for possible later consumption and statements encouraging such behavior by Amharic and SNNP leaders is no surprise when the history of cannibalism in Ethiopia is reviewed. The joint action of members of Amhara and SNNP forces draws attention to documented previous cultural practices of these groups.
One of the earliest reports of what is called famine cannibalism are found in a report by YeHarer Tarik in Harar in the 17th century. In wars between Christians and Muslims there were severe famines leading those in Harar to kill weak individuals, butcher, and sell their remains as “goat meat”. Other reports exist of Amhara doing similar acts in fights against the Oromo in the late 19th century.
Mortuary cannibalism has been seen in the southwest area of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Southern Ethiopia. There groups of people called quamtut are known to secretly rob graves to harvest fresh bodies. For this reason recent burials are often guarded for over a month. A third group of cannibal behavior which occurs during daylight and involves the intimidation of its victims who are usually enemies is named gorogoro.
Cannibalism against enemy is also a form of ancient psychological warfare practiced in central and southern regions of Ethiopia. Pagan peoples and Christians both believe that destruction of the body before it is allowed natural corruption in the ground can have negative effects on future generations. From my experience in treating Ethiopian Orthodox Christians it is well established that believers fear life saving amputation for injury or diabetes complications because they fear it will affect their reincarnation. Consumption of the flesh of an enemy weakens the opposing clan’s powers.
Similarly the practice of the Ethiopian Orthodox believers is to bury bodies within 24 hours as their Syriac Christianity derived beliefs order by Old Testament Law. Mutilating the body or allowing its consumption by scavager wildlife and not being interred properly can affect ones reincarnation. This is well known by the Amhara and used against the Tigray as a form of psychological genocide.
It is indeed ironic that in December 2020 Amharic expansionists were spreading false rumors that the native Gumuz people were attacking and eating “light skinned people” a shady reference to Amhara to incite hatred against them and justify their extrajudicial killing.
Rise Up Tigray, an British diaspora group, is showing the 2017 film, Beza, in London on March 26. Set in the time of the desperate struggle of the Tigray against the Russian backed Derg Regime it tells the story of a women TPLF fighter’s courage and sacrifice for her people. The inclusion of women as fighters and leaders in the long struggles of the Tigray people has played a major role in their resilience and survival. The study of the Tigray revolution against the Derg Regime found in in John Young’s book, Peasant Revolution in Ethiopia the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, documented this cultural strength.
Many Tigray diaspora are advocating showing this film in other locations as a part of telling the world about who the Tigray are and understanding their struggle for freedom and autonomy through the past two centuries of Amharic monarchal rule and then the Amharic expansionist movement.
The current war in Ethiopia begs comparison of the similarity of Amhara dominance over what we call Ethiopia with the European conquest of the New World. In America the once toted celebration of Christopher Columbus Day has become instead a day of solemn reflection on forced conquest and cultural obliteration. The blindness to the devastation of American European influence reminds me of the blindness of Amhara obliteration of other Horn of African societies.
The current Ethiopian conflict is not a really new phenomenon but really a repeat event of a recurring theme against central authority in the empire we now call Ethiopia. The expansion of the old Abyssinian empire under the Amhara monarchy since the mid 19th century has repeatedly tried to create a single nation state identity. To some extent international interests have at various times encouraged this to promote the development of a “civilized modern Ethiopian” state as defined by greater world powers. Whereas today many Abiy Ahmed supporters see his leadership as a new pro-Africa anticolonial movement in reality it is shaped into a redo of the reign of the late Haile Selassie into an internal colonization. Like Haile Selassie he portrays an Ethiopia that welcomes major power involvement in economic development but only through him. Like the European settlers who exterminated large groups of American Indians especially those who did not adopt European language and ways of life, Abiy Ahmed has advocated for non-Amhara extermination.
In the New World over the past century we have lessened the idea of Christopher Columbus as a discoverer of the New World in favor of him bringing a dark period of cultural obliteration and forced submission of the aboriginal population of America to that of Europe. The cause of bringing modernity to society is not a justification for tyranny.
Listen to the rhetoric of Amhara news sources and you hear frank open discussion of the inferiority of many ethnic groups and religions of Ethiopia except Amhara. The Amhara culture like Christopher Columbus forced its language, religion, trading practices, government, and even complete civil obligations of the Tigray, Afar, Somali, Beningshagul, and Southern Ethiopian Peoples. Those that argue that the Tigray dominated too much the previous Ethiopian People Revolutionary Front are making a similar point they fail to see about the Prosperity Party which is now an Amhara substitute. I suspect this is why many Tigray do not want to remain in Ethiopia. Many will be happy to see the other regions of Ethiopia find their own destiny. The current war of the Tigray is not about who dominates Ethiopia but rather whether the Tigray, Oromo, and others can choose their own path for self determination.
Like Europe learned in World War II where Hitler dreamed he could unify Europe under a German firm hand and Yugoslavia in the 1980s the times of monocultural dominance over large multicultural dominion are coming to an end. If the region of Ethiopia wants to prosper and find peace, to end the wars that come every generation, it needs to find a new solution. Christopher Columbus has no place in Ethiopia.
Is it reasonable to starve your enemy? At this time the United Nations and members of the African Union are calling upon the Ethiopian government and allied militia of the Amhara state to stop the intended blockage of food aid to Tigray which has resulted in dangerous ongoing famine for millions especially children. There are those promoting starvation of the Tigray region saying that it will weaken them and bring fighting to an end sooner. The Bible in both the New and Old Testament specifically forbids this practice. Classic Judeo-Christian values sees violence to easily become a self propagating recycling of increasing harm to the parties involved.
I have previously written about the recognized justifications of both Islam and Christianity for a just war and how the Tigray Defense Force for the most part has met and exceeded this criteria. Additionally I did say that there was an argument that Christ calls for complete pacifism as the only way to go. Which of these is correct has been controversial for centuries?
Now I am going to write about justification from the point of view of the Ethiopian government and recent statements by the President of the Amhara region that what they are doing is a holy war.
In the Old Testament in Proverb 25:21-22 it says
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”
Here the burning coals recalls an Egyptian expiation ritual, during which a guilty person, as a sign of repentance, carried a basin of glowing coals on his head. Meeting violence and hate with charity and generosity stops this escalation of harm.
This message is repeated by Saint Paul in Romans 12 where he writes:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
As I have previously written, invoking Jesus name to commit clearly forbidden acts is a form of blasphemy so severe that it is recognized as the sole unforgiveable sin.