On Ethiopian Oral ‘Puzzled Poetry’: Nudging a Prism Through Literary


It is a recent trend that Ethiopians has professionalized ‘poetry’ across the terrain of literary development. To this day, what we forgot often is the rank and file found at the grassroots of Ethiopian peasantry society is a poet for himself. Poetry is highly embedded in Ethiopia whose society is significantly composed from the Agrarian society. In a similar endeavor, it is natural for every household among the pastoralists to use to sing for their herds. Actually, not only animals are sensitized melodies, scientists are telling us flowers also reacted for melody. What surprise us about the Ethiopian peasants for centuries is it seems like the peasant have a real talk with his oxen with a bare poetry. Most of them were ‘kene’ whom didn’t destine for the inks of an author. Rather, much of them compose ‘oral tradition’ and folklore of the society. Although the late preeminent scholar- Donald Levine named by the literary sense as ‘ Wax & Gold’. Notwithstanding, in this piece, we will call it  ‘puzzled poetry’ through characterizing the mysterious word inserted within the poems and the listener search for solving the meaning of the puzzle.
Now, one may ask ‘Why didn’t we have the safe voyage between oral Kene (puzzled poetry) and literary poems? It is not few who have a good command for puzzled poetry in its oral form but not kept in written literature. It is not uncommon to dig the oral tradition from the grass root peasant household than a school curriculum, provided that bulky poetry were not kept in written records.
Perhaps, Folklore students dig the popular poems to understand social values along with its dynamics. It is not unusual to observe peasants act to pinch the cattle they reared as if the cattle responded back for their owner’s self-made poems. Customarily, Ethiopian peasants also have poems for his oxen as the pastoralists do for camels. Agriculturalists do have the norm of praising their favorite pet. In an Ethnologist’s sense, Herders don’t raise livestock for economic sense. Eventually, herders built emotional capital to be fixated with their animals whose passion let them to an outright ‘puzzled poetry’. For instance, the farmers don’t have any puzzled poetry out of intimacy, for ‘donkey’ as they are not privileged for intimacy.
There was a legendary Mother Gelanesh who is a Nun in Washira Monastry found in Amhara region. The place is known to admit clergies who like to learn a specialized poetry (a.k.a. Kene) with wax and Gold. Many people argue that the scheme of Kene puzzles the poem through inserting double meaningful word. As Donald Levine exemplified ‘the wax and gold’ tradition, it is a typical way to explain the Ethiopian highland society; whereas it is the social norm than exception which made them ‘masculine’ and ‘non- opinionated’ predispose him for.  For Levine, ‘Linguistic ambiguity’ and ‘disguised insult’ was the rule of the day, by way of characterizing the  population. .
Once a journalist appeared to mother Gelanesh and asked old nun, as how does she see ‘kene’ in a way of looking an expert opinion. By then, mother Gelanesh were a blind tutor of kene in Washira monastry. And this old woman found the question embarrassing. And She replied him ‘my son, pity for you! No one can see ‘kene’. May be someone can puzzle it’. Inventing a puzzled poem is commonly known as ‘kene tezerefe’. The reply of Mother Gelanesh also holds puzzles as in turn she was telling him back the journalist didn’t come up with smart question. At all, he didn’t have know-how for ‘kene’.
By way of concluding, it is timely to end the divide between the oral ‘puzzled poetry’ and literary poems, through nudging unabated efforts or inscribing the household poetry. That is how one can make sense of Ethiopian tradition of oral poetry to be destined in the writing pad of the minds of the generation. Consequently, the inscription helps towards civilizing the poetry and advancing the society. Against this backdrop, the sorts of HOHE Awards ultimately aspires the safe reception of oral poetry of peasants to be published product. Also, HOHE Awards contends that Secular Kene’s (puzzled poetry) of clergies has to be published than ever before. Good day!

(This article is contributed by HOHE Awards. HOHE Awards started in 2017, is an annual award presented for an author of a distinguished book possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues) By Eyob Asfaw