WHY AND HOW DID THE KUNAMA PEOPLE END UP SETTLING IN THE TERRITORY THEY ARE NOW OCCUPYING? Part 3 2000 – 2001
Accodrding to several elderly Kunama and the recent research done by some historians, among them Fit. Michael Hasema Raka, state that the Kunama people used to live not only in the city of Axum and in its surroundins but that their territory had extended "from Axum to the Red Sea coasts" (Zanta Ertra p-30).
Fit. M. H. Raka makes a reference to a book written, in the year 872 a.C., by a certain Arab historian called El-Jakobi.
Though there have not yet been established the main reasons why the Kunama had to abbandon the vast territory they had been occupyin for centuries, the pieces of information gathered from the Kunama themselves as well as from some scatered historical sources, indicate that the sudden influx of numerous Semitic populations from Yemen and other parts of the Arabian peninsula, had forced the Kunama to look for securer places in the central regions of today's lowland Eritrea.
The statement by Addalla Udi (an elderly Kunama) that a prominent Kunama called "Dunggul had to lead his-fellow Kunama people to fight against their first enimies", refers to the times of the influx of the Semitic populations into the Kunama land. He infact, added that, before such times "the Kunama did not know any other than their own race".
As it often happened in the world, whenever groups of settlers reach a continent or a land, they try first of all, to eliminate or at least, spread fear and respect among the natives, either by decimating or simply subduing them.
Consider the cases of the Aztecs in Mexico and Middle America, the American Indians in North and South America as well as of the many cases of the African populations at the beginning of the colonization of their continent.
This very same fate seems to have occurred to the Kunama people too.
If in fact, the Kunama used to settle in a comparatively large territory, their number must have been much higher than that which came to be known in later times.
This seems to prove the fact that the remaining Kunama population needed only a small portion of their territory that today comprises the following four districts or "fractions", as the Italians used to refer to them:
Aimasa, Barka, Sosona/Marda and Tika.
The logical question therefore, goes:
HOW MANY KUNAMA HAD BEEN ELIMINATED by the then, new settlers?
There was a considerable lapse of time between the arrival of the first Semitic populations, the overthrow of the Kunama military and political authority and the ascendancy of the new comers to power.
Unfortunately, there are no historical documentations which could have shed some lights
on the sequence of all those events that led to the fall of the Kunama from power; but
one could ask: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE KUNAMA PEOPLE FROM THEN ON?
A certain king called Bada/Badin, Baza/Bazen was said to have reigned together with his wife Kuname, sometime during that period, but how he had ascended to, how long he had been in and how he descended from the throne remain a mystery.
Some people substain that his tomb were to be found somewhere around the city of Axum,
but this seems to be a vague idea as one needs an archaeological evidence to prove it.
Following their matriarchal system of kinship, the Kunama inherited however, only the name of their queen-mother "KUNAME".
As it is extensively mentioned, reported and described by many historians like, El-Jakobi, Fit.Raka, Prof. Addis Birhan in his "Eritrea, A Problem Child of Ethiopia" as well as based on material gathered from various Kunama oral traditions, there is no doubt that, both
the king Baza and his wife queen Kuname had really existed and ruled over their Kunama people. Surely that king and queen had also had a military force, some government ministers and officials, intellectuals, princes, princesses, civil servants, chiefs and so on and so forth.
It is therefore, unthinkable that an entire ruling house would completely disappear in such a short period of time, without leaving behind any trace of its history, unless a systematic killing and total destruction had taken place.
The likelihood therefore, is that, together with the king, queen, the entire royal cohort and the whole of the Kunama civilian city-dwellers had been wiped out so that only the Kunama rural population had managed to survive. This could well explain the reason why the remaining Kunama population had retreated in the western parts of its country, isolated itself and remained for centuries, in its primitive life-style whereas the settlers achieved a certain level of an improved life standard.
This could also explain the reason why the Kunama, ever since, have become very skeptical and suspicious of their neighbouring ethnic groups, particularly of the Tigrigna speaking populations of the highland Eritrea.
As it has already been pointed out, there was a considerable lapse of time, between the arrival of the Semitic populations into the then Kunama territory, their siezure of the military and political power and the final removal of the Kunama people from Axum and its surroundings. One could state that from then on the Kunama were forced to live in anonimity and palyed no role whatsoever in the history of the future Eritrean nation.
As far as the Kunama are concerned, that period therefore, denotes a "historical vacum" as no mention of them is made until the times of Azei Johannes and Ras Alula.
Whether that dark period of the history of the Kunama people meant also the beginning of their persecution by the new settlers is difficult to conclude.
Many historians state only that, as soon as the Semitic populations had outnumbered them, the Kunama began to head westwards, but whether that emigration process took place peacefully or forcefully has not yet been clarified.
The historians however, agree that, (and many elderly Kunama too support them) only at the times of Ras Alula the number of the Kunama killed had ranged between one-hundred (100) and one-hundred-and.fifty-thousand (150.000).
What made Ras Alula hate the Kunama so strongly as to wage such a genocidal war against them is also an important and a very serious historical event to be investigated.
Was it only personal, political or racial hatred?
Was it because the Kunama had, perhaps, attempted to regain their lost land and kingdom?
Could, Ras Alula, have seen the Kunama as an immediate threat to his rule and to the security of his own ethnic group members or was it because, as it has often happened, being Ras Alula himself a settler, had intended to eliminate the natives or aborigines?
Keeping in mind the theory that the Kunama military and man-power had already been annihilated by the prime invaders of his own Semitic ethnic group, Ras Alula's fears were totally unfounded.
Although by that time, even the Kunama rural population had been reduced to a negligible
number and confined to live in their present territory, Ras Alula kept on waging war after war against them.
(The activities of Ras Alula will be extensively described in a future paper).
The Kunama were constantly followed, threatened and persecuted not only by Ras Alula, but also by their immediate neighbouring ethnic groups such as:
the Beni-Amer and the Marda/Baria (Nara) from the North-Weast and the Tigrigna speaking
populations from the North- East and South of the Kunama territory.
One could adopt the same argument to explain the reasons why these ethnic groups too kept on waging wars against the Kunama- Infact they too were all off springs of their Semitic ancestors and therefore, they had to eliminate or, at least decimate the number of the native
Kunama population for their own security as well as to guarantee enough place for their ethnic group members to settle in.
According to many elderly Kunama and some historians, Ras Alula himself was said to have been the main instigator of the Beni-Amer, Marda/Nara as well as of his own Tigrigna speaking ethnic group, to follow, persecute and wipe out the Kunama people.
They bring, as the main motive, the fertile land the Kunama were occupying.
One infact, wonders why a peaceful, peace-loving and conflict-avoiding people like the Kunama should have been and be constantly harassed, disturbed, provoked and fought against.
Their only bad luck seems to be the occupation of the most fertile parts as well as be one of the prime inhabitants of today's Eritrea.
Quite a number of Kunama elderly substain that, when the Beni-Amer of the Barka region, realizing the aridity of their territory, thought of leading their cattle to the fertile areas of the Gash/Setit region and had asked Ras Alula to intervene and help them to do so, this was said to have ordered that they should use force rather than peaceful means to deal with the Kunama.
As the Beni-Amer had tried to carry out Ras Alula's advice there immediately arose a bitter animosity between them and the Kunama that lasted for years.
It has been and it still is, therefore, their land that has always created problems to the Kunama and fomented them conflicts with their neighbouring ethnic groups.
The Italians, realizing the vastness and the fertility of the Kunama land as well as the agricultural opportunities it offered them, tried first of all, to win the trust and the sympathy
of the Kunama people before they undertook their cotton, fruit and other plantations in their land.
Not only did the Italians approach the Kunama very diplomatically, but they also protected them throughout their entire administration.
In the whole history of the Kunama people, the Italians were the first and the only authority in Eritrea that had ever understood and taken care of the Kunama plights.
It is infact said that, for the first time in their history, the Kunama had been given fire-arms to protect themselves.
The Italians were also said to have given the Beni-Amer, the Marda/Nara and others herdsmen, very clear orders not to lead their cattle into the fertile areas of the Kunama land until the Kunama farmers had completed their crop-field works, collected and secured their harvest.
As they themselves had declared, from the very beginning, the Italians had gone to colonize Eritrea with the intention of "turning it into another Italy" thus meaning that they had planned to establish themselves there for good.
This might explain the reason why the Italians, compared with the other subsequent rulers of Eritrea, were much more tactful in dealing with the lowland local populations.
After the British had defeated and succeeded the Italians, they totally overturned the policies of the latter as far as the Kunama people were concerned.
As a matter of fact, they were said to have immediately sequestrated the fire-arms from the Kunama people and re-distributed them instead among the Beni-Amer and the Marda/Nara ethnic groups thus adopting and putting into practice their well-known principle of "divide and rule".
Consequently the sufferings of the Kunama people began a new.
They had to face the Beni-Amer and the "Dala" cattle raiders as well as defend themselves against the various and constant attacks coming from those same neighbouring populations.
With the terms: "Alaka/Dala or Abesha", the Kunama people refer to the Tigrigna speaking populations of the "Kebesa" regions.
As it will be dealt with in a separate paper, the British themselves were said to have been behind the cattle raiding activities for the simple fact that it was a booming and very lucrative business.
Here too, it might be worth noting that the British, unlike the Italians, had no plans of making of "Eritrea another England".
This might well explain the reasons for deliberately fomenting conflicts among the various Eritrean ethnic groups as well as bereaving Eritrea of that little wealth it had accumulated.
Many Eritrean historians of the present times, keep praising the British for having raised the level of education among the urban populations, but very unfortunately they forget or ignore (perhaps even deliberately) to condemn the irreparable damages the British had done to the Kunama people, the hatred they had disseminated and the split they had created and left between the Kunama and their neighbouring Beni-Amer, Marda/Nara and the Dala.
The very fact that the British were said to have planned and suggested the lowland Eritrea be annexed to their then colony the Sudan, indicates that they were more interested in their political and territorial gains than in the welfare and peaceful co-existence of the Eritrean people as a whole.
Their main objective was to keep the lowland Eritrean populations together by dividing them into their ethnic or tribal lines.
The elderly Kunama had neither accepted nor admired the British administration in their territory. They infact state that, during the British rule, the Kunama were surrounded by their enemies.
The British were also accused of having so orchestrated that, from the North-East, the Kunama were persecuted by the Dala;
from the Norht-West by the Beni-Amer and the Marda/Nara and from the West by a group of mixed populations of Beni-Amer and the Marda/Nara settlers led by the well-known man called HAMID Idris Awate.
Regarding this man, the Kunama today, are very rightly accusing both, the Jabha-Al-Tahrir armed-struggle group and the present Eritrean government, for turning HAMID Idris Awate,
"from a LOCAL VILLAIN into an ERITREAN NATIONAL HERO".
To the Kunama people in general, it is a really "adding insult to injury" that, one of their most hated persecutors should be elevated to the state of "national hero".
It is a shame that the former Jabha-Al-Tahrir armed-struggle group leaders and the present Eritrean government should praise and honour HAMID Idris Awate without having studied the background details of his earlier life and deeds.
Like any other mortal human being, HAMID Idris Awate was born "not as already an adult" but as a child.
This means that he had grown up and lived amonst his own ethnic group members (Beni-Amer/Baria/Marda/Nara); carried out innumerable cattle raiding and saling activities;
committed evil crimes against other ethnic group members (Kunama) and left in them indelible memorties and nightmares.
If it has never been done before (as we strongly believe), HAMID Idris Awate's early life
history had and has to be thoroughly and carefully scrutinised and studied before rushing to accept his later activities and "presumed" extraordinary courage and bravery as the first Eritrean "freedom fighter and martyr".
(There will be a separate extensive paper on the person and deeds of HAMID Idris Awate seen from the Kunama perspective).
The slow westward movement of the Kunama people in fact, came to a standstill due to the atrocious activities of HAMID Idris Aware.
It is not however, very clear whether that plan had been made by the British themselves, so as to block the Kunama within the Eritrean geographical borders, or whether HAMID Idris Awate had carried out his cattle raiding and other evil activities on his own initiative.
Many Kunama believe that he was indirectly motivated and supported by a group of British nationals residing, at that time, in Kassala (Sudan) who were said to have profited from the sales of the raided Kunama cattle by HAMID Idris Awate.
As a proof of this trade, the Kunama report that, some of their people had dared to travel down to Kassala and had witnessed of having detected a lot of Kunama cattle in the market places of that town.
The very fact that, because of the ever growing cattle raiding and trading activities in the lowlands of Eritrea, the British authorities there had formed a so called " field police force" to combat that crime, indicates that they were very aware of the injustices against the Kunama people.
The paradox however was that, as the Kunama themselves report, everytime that "field-force" was called for following a Kunama cattle raid, it would arrive either very late or not at all. Some Kunama even state that they had often observed how that "field-force" would do so as if they pursued the raiders but they would actually spend the day in vain and return to their headquarters to report their failure.
This repetitive series of tricks convinced the Kunama to conclude that the British authorities were infact indirectly co-operating with the raiders and making considerable financial profits from that dirty trade.
During the British rule, some Kunama (still alive), used to live in and around the areas of Ugaro and Anali.
They attest that they had not only perasonally known HAMID Idris Awate, as a young herdsman of his father IDRIS Awate, but that they had also shared, with him, the same grazing areas as well as the same water-wells in that district.
These report that, in later years, because of the ever-growing evil activities of the same (adult) HAMID Idris Awate against them, they had to abbandon those areas altogether and move again north-easternwards.
As they did, more Beni-Amer, the Marda/Nara and other mixed populations went to settle in those areas thus forcing the Kunama people to retreat and settle down within the territory they are now occupying.