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The Land of No Jealousy

This essay, “The Land of No Jealousy” written by the renowned writer Sebhat Gebre Egziabher initially appeared in Dec 1992 edition of Yekatit magazine. In it Sebhat portrays a society in the South of Ethiopia, which he says has solved a big societal and moral problem- jealousy. He relies on a tale from a friend and a famous incident to present a perspective on this particular society that he says has owned “a highly realistic and highly sophisticated arrangement”. In a typical Sebhat style, it was written in a simple yet elegant style. There is a society in the south of Ethiopia, which has solved a big social and moral problem, which I would like to tell you about. (For a short while I was closely associated with N, a full-blooded member of that society. He is the source of information.)If you took Shakespeare’s Othello to this tribe and perform it in their own language, they would not at all understand the conversations between Iago and Othello regarding Desdemona. And when Othello, burning with jealous fury finally strangles poor, innocent Desdemona, this tribe would think he was suddenly possessed by the devil or stricken by madness.The reason for their being unable to grasp what to us is elementary knowledge is that in their thoughts and life experiences there is no place for Othello, for to them jealousy is a thing unknown.

In the Addis Ababa University there was a kind of in sane fashion. I hope it is no longer the fashion! A young man falls in love with a young lady. But he arouses no love feelings in her. Nevertheless, he declares   his love and says he wants to make her his sweetheart. She says she is not interested. He says in that case, because he can’t live without here, he is going to kill himself. But first he will have to kill the lady of his heart, because, “if I can’t have you no one else is going to have you.” According to this decisive young man with an iron will but with no intelligence to guide that will, the young lady is only “to be had’, to become the prized possession of some man. Only as possession is she allowed existing. That she may have no intention of one day becoming the property of some man-this is a possibility beyond his horizon. That she has no right to live even without taking his desires into consideration-he is incapable of seeing. So the young man goes about his messy business systematically. First he kills the girl-in the John F. Kennedy Library, of all places-with a knife, of course. (There is a tyrant for you!)

Now the tribe I mentioned above would never understand this piece of insanity if you told it to them. The reason being that this kind of crazy situation could never arise among them.Again (I don’t know if things are different now) a few decades ago it was common news, especially in Gojjam and that part of Wollo geographically near to Gojjam to hear that so-and-so had shot dead so-and-so over a woman. It could be the wife of one of them, or it could simply be some woman.And think of the countless families in these so-called Christian or Moslem areas they have been broken up on account of jealousy. In some cases the man doesn’t feel the jealousy in his heart. The woman could get herself ten lovers at once, for all he cares. Only it is expected of him. So he divorces her. Or he shoots one of her lovers dead.

And this is a common occurrence in a society where God himself is believed to have commanded: thou shall not kill, and also, Thou shalt not commit adultery. There is something dreadfully wrong here. The commandments don’t seem to have taken human nature into consideration. They are giving commands to beings who are incapable of obeying the commands.Now if we go south to that tribe, what do we find? A feat of social engineering that that the distant ancestors of this tribe accomplished.This is a society that, in the not too distant past, used to be pastoral, and now is settled down in villages but still retains many of its pastoral ways, though now settling down to being an agricultural society. Anyhow it is a society, which lives in plenty.

Boys and girls grow u playing together. As they to the ages of seven, eight, nine they pair off in to couples, strictly by mutual attraction and preference. All sorts of singing and dancing and playing. With the years the couple turns into sweethearts. Every boy has his girl. It is understood they are lovers for life. There is no sex in the relationship, naturally. There is only the singing and dancing and kissing and loving. Many of the dances are arranged with a view to giving the scores young lovers maximum opportunity to hug and kiss and drink in each other’s smile. This is the natural way of life. This is the age of pure, lyric love without stresses of sex. (For it would not even cross these lovers’ minds to do sex.)

Now in this very sane society love and marriage are separated. Love is a private affair, but marriage is a social business. The boy and girl have chosen each other as lovers. But it is their parents who will choose their marriage partners for them.So one day the girl gets married (by arrangement) and goes away to live in another village far enough away. Her sweetheart misses her. When the time comes his parents arrange a marriage for him-a socio-economic contract from which will emerge a new family. So far so good.Now he remembers his childhood playmate and his puberty time sweetheart. He very stealthily travels to the village where she now lives as the wife of Mr. Somebody.Our lover waylays the friends of his sweetheart on their way to the spring or to market. He reveals his identity. The friends make it their priority job to arrange a secret meeting between lovers…From now on, although the lovers are going to be as secretive about it as possible, it is understood that any relative of the husband will assist them, or at least make no obstruction whatsoever. With time, our lover begins to enter the house of his mistress. It all goes very smoothly.Then one day the husband arrives at the wrong moment. He chases the lover with a spear. The lover barely escapes with his life. (The lover always barely escapes with his life. The husband doesn’t mean to kill him, really, only to chase him.)The thing becomes public. The husband presents his case to the elders and accuses the lover of sleeping with his wife. He brings evidence and calls witnesses. The lover pleads guilty declares himself ready to carry out sentence as the elders pronounce it.He pays an indemnity of so many animals (the number is determined by the socio-economic weight of the families concerned.) And after that he freely and openly becomes the official lover of the sweetheart of his youth. He only needs to make his presence known by planting his spear in front of the door of the home of his beloved. That way, if the husband should unexpectedly arrive, he sees the spear and he moves away. From now on it is the lover who practically lives with his love. He goes to market with her (and carries the big load with for her). It is he (not the husband) who repairs the fence and even the roof.In case you are feeling sorry for the husband, don’t bother. He too once had a childhood playmate and later sweetheart. She got married (by arrangement) and moved to another village. When the time came he stealthily traveled to the village, where he secretly made himself known to the friends of his beloved. They arranged a meeting between the two lovers, and so on. He is by now the official lover of the beloved of his boyhood and puberty days. And the husband is in turn the official lover of the sweetheart of his young days.

Nobody loses in this highly realistic and highly sophisticated arrangement. Every body is a winner in love, and jealousy is unknown in the land. Well, this was how things stood prior to the blind Revolution. Is that society still intact?(Reprinted here with the authors permission)

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Categories: News
  1. Diomand Babay
    September 14, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Thanks for posting the article here.I’ve been hearing a lot about Sebhat but coudn’t find anything any of his English writings.In fact this one is the first one that I’ve encountered.I enjoyed it emmensely.Hope to read more of his stuff in the future.

  2. P. A. Dula
    May 7, 2010 at 12:16 am

    Sebhat-was an editor and regular contributor for TMS Insign in the mid 50’s from Teferi Makonen School and all the way to the University College of Addis Ababa. He is a writer of a writer both in English and Amharic, in a non-dilectical sense of that term. Sebhat would strangle me for wrting this! Who does not like an extraordinary man devoted to his craft with an extraordinary writing skill.

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