(Look for connections, arbitrarily lost or purposely subdued)
We are used to hearing about traditional fiction as linear or circular. I find the linear story not as realistic as is usually perceived. If one is not sure of the representational honesty of linear stories, one has to look for a different geometric metaphor.
The 1974 Ethiopian revolution initiated the beginning of the death of the linear story. The fragmenting elements unleashed then are still working their way through all aspects of life. A society in chaos/disharmony can not give you individuals that are comfortable in linearity. I had to look for ways to represent such realities and processes. The conceptual image or geometric metaphor we acquire from such disorder is a labyrinth or a maze. What is more pertinent than Injera in representing this?
An Explanatory Mythology for Injera
Pre-monotheistic societies have explanations for the appearance of every type of creature and behavior through stories. Before they put all responsibility on one superior god, all creation and acts of that were given account through myths and legends.
I remember in my interview with Addis Neger, I said that there may be an origin mythology for “Teff”/ጤፍ. (But I could not find it then) Luckily, a few months ago, I was able to find one, which tells us how “Teff” emerged as the seminal staple of Ethiopians. I am not here to question the level of factity in the story. When we read myths we do not really worry about this, but work for a subterranean reading of the stories. We know different societies answer seemingly nonsense problems with stories. Few examples: how come the fox has a bushy tail? How come the dog became domesticated? Why does the moon reappear every month? How was man/woman created? The interesting thing about the “Teff” myth is that it has a certain rational taste. Something credible.
Atse Sendeq Alama / ሰንደቅ አላማ
This happened around 1500 BC. Its appearance is connected to a real existent person. He was an Ethiopian king whose name was Esiael, Agabos (kingship name) also ATSE (the first king to call himself ATSE). His other name was “Sendeq Alama”. (Too many names)
He was a serpent king. (The serpent myth is a world wide myth) From his life story we find that he was not just a king, but also a ‘scientist’. It is said that he created the “Zememit”, the mule, the wild donkey by interbreeding them with related species. He had such interest in nature that he had his own arboretum and zoo. He was also capable of discovering a technology of longevity. He was able to live for more than 425 years not by the blessing of God but by his discoveries. It is said that what he ate and drank was different from other people. His water was from a spring that emerged from rocks. It was called the water of life. He was sleeping on a stone that has the power to keep him perpetually young.
After living 425 years, he was tired of life……and wanted to die. He allowed a young lady to kill him. The lady who murdered him later became queen Makeda, Saba. Her original name was Iteya, Itye, Itege……. She was the first to be called Itege.
The story of SENDEQ ALMA does not stop. After he died, Saba became queen. During her reign there was widespread famine in the country. Since Saba was not able to feed the hungry, she went to the grave of Sendeq Alama and cried and prayed. God in her dream told her to use the seeds in the grass growing at the king’s grave and feed that to her people. Saba did as she was advised. That was the “Teff” plant. The word ‘Teff’ means ‘sweet and abundant’. It was a famous seed, hearing about it King David wrote a poem in praise.
Given Sendeq Alama being a ‘biologist’, the teff seems to be a conscious discovery……… maybe the king himself discovered it but makeda’s mythologists added about God, her prayer and her feeding of the people. Even if that is not the case, growing on that specific grave, is like teff borrowing longevity from the dying body of the king. I hope someone can expose this to a serious myth analysis, unlike my perfunctory one. (Anyways, I gave it a shot)
The issue here is teff having a unique mythology. (Do you know any explanatory myth attached to other types of grains?) And its appearance has to be transformed into injera and become a cultural object.
Injera as a Pane of Memory
Interpreting the past texts/materials to understand the roots of human nature (in our case our country and society) is done routinely. Freud did it with Oedipus. What he analyzed was a drama. Jung did it by analyzing dreams, fairytales and mandalas. Freud compared his work to paleography, archetypal excavation, translation, the decipherment of ancient languages.
Injera is a panel of memory/a three dimensional sculpture. What is usually lost either in human culture or nature is usually found or discovered. A fish called coelacanth that flourished in the Devonian and cetacean periods was long assumed to be extinct. It was caught off the coast of South Africa in 1938.
Many people quote books to justify contemporary events. Yet, books are or may be tainted or be victims of competitive interpretations. What the ancient Ethiopians/sendeq alama did was create a shared iconic for both sides of the competitors, a bread like injera, that subverts partiality and ideologies. It is quoted everyday and Competed for. Why not we find the hidden meaning, the mistir of this innovation?
The place of injera in the general process of cultural evolution is important. The memories of the old were embedded in the injera, an element which both the powerful and the weak shared. In other words, History was embedded into the need and necessities of everyone. When visible direct representations (petroglyphs, thick parchments, language) expired through violence and prejudice, the subtle modest injera was carried to today on the backs of simple farmers, potters, ladies, mabukias, metad etc … What hisinawinet does is retrieve these memories by abstracting them into ‘simple forms’ of circles, labyrinths and hexagons.
Injera as a form of Representation
Injera is the most complete form of representation.
It is visual (like painting)
It is tactile (like sculpture)
It is tasted
Injera is a survivor document, an edible brana.
What histinawi fiction tells us is to go deeper into the authentic memories of the writer, the characters, and nation and connect them. The meaning lies in the connectivity.
Metaphorizing the Metaphor
We know the idioms and ‘metaphors’ that use injera:
Injerawin Gagere/እንጀራውን ጋገረ
Injera Felagi/እንጀራ ፈላጊ
Yeinjera gemedu tebetese/የእንጀራ ገመዱ ተበጠሰ
Injera berew/እንጀራ በሬው
Injerawin yabeselal/እንጀራውን ያበስላል…
Here, Injera is associated with existence/life. Existence is both chaotic and ordered; or ordered chaos. Interconnected…… Injera is used as a metaphor for describing or illustrating existence. And it is not far from the truth if I stretch this metaphor into a writing technique.
Injera is the memory of an idea; the idea of discovering or inventing a harmonious connectivity. Interbreeding of animals by Atse Sendeq alama is the act of connecting genes heretofore unconnected and thereby creating a new quality.
In other words, meditate on the injera. Carry an injera Telsem around your neck…… in your mouth. This means look for connections, arbitrarily lost or purposely subdued.