According to a book written about history, identy and Genealogy of Eritrean Jeberti who are currently living inside Eritrea and abroad, Dr. Mustafa Lysedie has tried to prove in detail who are Eritrean Jeberti. The first edition which was released in early 2015 had about 350 pages divided into three major parts supplied with more than 150 reference materials.
Here I am not going to discuss about the whole book. My objective is mainly to raise about one serious issue that has caught my attention: 14thc land grabbing accusation.
In his book, though he has mentioned that Jeberti are found scattered all over Eritrea, he focused in one particular geographical location of Eritrea and their early settlements in paricular in Awraja(region) Seraye.
According to his book, he accused the Seraye people of Agaw(Kelew) descendants for grabbing a land he has claimed was once property of Jeberti Eritreans living in today’s highland of Eritrea. This is a serious accusation. Especially, as a liberal democrat, such social issues are important cases. Therefore, in this article, my objective is to bring this claim to public attentionso that concerned parties can sit together and have common understanding before it is too late. I believe there could be some initiatives done in this regard. However, I have not found any publication that addressed his claims seriously.
Although it is hard to say this book has passed through the accepted norms of academic research guidelines that could validate the legitimacy of any legal claim, if it not handled genuinely, it can be a source of tenstion in the future. And, in case powerful emerge that favors the other, it can lead to social conflicts. Political history of land ownership claims has proved that Most conflicts emerge from negligence and on time due considerations to resolve the matter at hand.
Identity issue is much more complex. When genealogy is used to claim ownership of any kind, it is not easy to settle. In general, Genealogy is a separate science which has its own approach usually accompanied by extensive field works including, archieves(public, private, museums, etc), legal documents, archeological studies and sometimes supported by DNA testings to verify its authenticity.
The Book: Who are Eritrean Jeberti? The 14thC Land Grabbing Case
According to his book reviewers, 4 years were required to prepare the first edition. It is prepared by refering mainly published materials(about 150), both scientific and religious. I do not think the author visited Eritrea for preparing this book.
In addition, existing oral mthys and traditions could have shaped his personal opinion to direct hypothetical questions aimed to find a solution to the long standing question of Jeberti Eritrea identity.
In 2015, Awate Website has published an article contributed by an Eritrean Scholar named Beyan Negash(PhD) under a title, “Seminar in Sweden: Who are Eritrean Jeberti?” about his personal reflections after attending a Seminar(via skype) held for an occasion orgabized to introduce the book to Eritreans in Sweden via on October 04, 2015. In one of his paragraph Dr. Negash put his reflection as follows:
“Orally passed mythologies and legends abound in the realms of prophet proportions as aided and abetted by lack of rigorously researched material being availed up until the publication of “Menyom Eritrawyan Jebrti” earlier this year. Dr. Mustafa (2015) put the Eritrean Jebertis out of the myth into the realms of historical and cultural map, one that’s backed by over 150 scholarly references.“
Personally, I remember I had put my opinion based on his reflections about the question of jeberti identity under his article (they can be found in the coment section of the article). My stand on the Jeberti rights is in line to the Universal declaration of human rights and I reject the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist concept of ethnic groups and ethnicity.
Dr. Mustafa’s aproach is much more complex. He combined mythical narrations, oral history, mentions in religious books, history and politics in order to solve the question of Jeberti identity. I could say his approach raises more serious questions than finding a solution to find the true motive of his writngs.
According to his findings, the most important conclusion he reached is that unlike most people’s perception Jeberti Eritreans are not homogeneous people. I believe this is a tactic he followed to reject boldly ordinary people’s understanding of the subject matter.
He tried to prove that Eritrean Jeberti are composed of different families with different backgrounds who came together to be identified as Jeberti ethnic group.
His main narration in regard to the origin of Jeberti settlements starts from the 7thC Islamic expansion in the horn of Africa and and then with the later Beja presense in the highland of Eritrea(14thC) and conquest of Ahmed Gragn to Abyssinia.
According to Dr. Mustafa, Jeberti established themselves in Eritrea starting from 13thC to 14thC. Then, with the expansion of new and powerful Agaw centers in the highland of Eritrea and establishment of Bahre Negassi Debarwa, his has put the Jeberti were driven out from their land simply because of their religion.
Though there are many distortions which can be challenged easily, his approach is sensitive as it can be exploited for religious political agenda unless Eritreans are fully conscious today and the methodology he followed to reach his conclusion. What makes his approach more alarming is, his systematic and methodological focus on islamic expansion, Islamization of the native people and then the gradual disappearance of Islamic influence from the highland of Eritrea.
In consequence, his hypothesis is trying to find wht Jeberti lost theie land property rights and how badly they were disciminated in their own native land. From Human Rights perspective, especialy indegenous rights question, this is a serious case. I am saying this because Jeberti Eritreans are fighting for their rights to have a separate Jeberti ethnic group as well as for the violation of human rights. They have an open cases (such us this) in Canada concerning their situations under the current PFDJ administration system. Therefore, such historical claims could be used as a proof to bring their case forward. Therefore, concerned people should have knowledge about such historical narrations that may have potential legal effect in the near future.
The primary objective of writing the book is to prove the origin of Eritrean Jeberti people. By doing so, the book can, be used as a reference unless it is checked now by concerned bodies.
Dr. Mustafa has come to conclude that the majority of the Jeberti people are native highlander Eritrea habitants who have lost their rights mainly religious discrimination and land property confiscation.
To prove this, he followed sophisticated, complex and sensitive aproaches. If this kind of historical rights violations for land ownership and origin od identity is not discussed with concerned bodies, it can be a serious problem for future generations.
I wish Dr. Mustafa Lysedie had discussed this issue with concerned bodies before publishing it in a book format. But, as far as it holds his rights, he is the only responsible person. Hoping he did so already, I hope he has done major improvements in the second edition.
And those who are potential target people, they should contact and discuss with Dr. Mustafa Lysedie before it is too late. If his findings are proved to be true, then reconciliation should start without delay. And, if it is not true, his findings should be challenged, both academically and legally so that no similar mistakes can happen again.
So far, similar to my concern, many Eritreans raising serious questions related to his publication(1st edition). Be it in public seminars or through publications, the book is confronted by many concerned Eritreans including scholars in Anthropology who did extensive research in Eritrean Genealogy and academicians who are familiar with the history of Eritrea. These academicians, researchers and scholars have published many books that could be a source of references.
It is time for experts to face Dr. Mustafa and present their counter argumenta. For example, an Eritrean website has published an article on February 21, 2017 under a title“ኣብ 21 – ክፍለ ዘበን ታሪኽ ክጥምዘዝ ኣይግባእን” In the 21thC, History shouldn’t be distorted. This article has highlighted serious distortions of facts found in the book.
My take about the book is so far based on the first edition. I have no information what major changes are made with this second version. Saying it seems there is a change in title and cover deaign. This could imply there could be come serious changes.
The first edition reswmbles more of personalized (he put his personal photo and was full of coloured photos). The secomd edition seems a simple one without personal photo. The title is also changed from “Who are Eritrean Jeberti? Which is more dኢrect and authoritative, to more informative title“ኤርትራውያን ጀበርቲ – መበቆላዊ ድሕረ ባይታ “Eritrean Jeberti – Genealogy Background”.
This major change could be from criticisms and professional advice received from readers. But, such cosmetic changes do not mean the case can be relaxing. The first edition should always remain in custody for references.
I hope Dr. Mustafa Lyesdie will come out and explain in detail the difference between the first version and the new version of his book as did for his first edition as given below.