Wednesday, January 18, 2023
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Protecting the Holy City of Harar

I came across an impressive poster while scrolling through my social media pages that heralds a call for all Ethiopians and people around the world to support the action plan designed to protect and save Harar’s national and international heritage under the slogan “Gebeta for Harar, the World Heritage of Harar.”

In Ge Senan, “Gebeta” literally means “wooden bowl” (the language of Harari). A wooden bowl (Gebeta) can be as small as a one-kilogram grain vessel or as large as a 50-kg grain container or tub. It was an essential tool in early Ethiopian kitchens and living rooms. It can also be used to calculate the volume of agricultural products. Wooden bowls are strongly associated with the lives of Hararis.

The Hararis have words such as “Enay gebeta,” which literally means “a dish of the mother or a dish prepared by the mother to be served during one of the Hararis wedding rituals.”

However, the deep meaning is distinct from the literary meaning.

Harari mothers sent Enay Gebeta, filled with delicious food, to both the groom and the groom’s father to express their happiness after learning that their daughter was discovered to be a virgin on the wedding night, according to my friend, Ahmed Zekeria (Prof.).

While the first Enay Gebeta is consumed by the groom and his friends, the second is delivered to the father. Thus, Enay Gebeta represents virginity, trustworthiness, carefulness, respectability, and the establishment of trustworthy marriage relations between the bride’s and groom’s families.

“Gebeta for the protection and preservation of Harar,” in my opinion, is very similar to Enay Gebeta. What struck me most when I saw the slogan “Gebeta for Harar—the World Heritage” was Gebeta’s desire to save, protect, preserve, renovate, reconstruct, and so on the walled city of Harar, known as Jigol, with united and strong arms.

People who understand her secret also refer to Medinetul Awulia as the “City of Saints.”

My joy was limitless when I saw the government of the Regional State of Harar paying close attention, and I couldn’t wait until the concerned authority asked for my participation in this planned activity.

There are many things that can be done to save, protect, and preserve Harar’s Walled City, in my opinion.

For example, hundreds of damaged cobblestone roads must be revitalized or rebuilt. I believe that some knowledge can be gained from the ancient roads of Italy, Germany, Turkey, Tunisia, and Lamu.

However, it is also true that these roads cannot be reconstructed with the government’s meager budget.

Stone wall fences in Jigol are owned by Kebeles, private individuals, and even some whose owners are unknown. The Harari neighborhood friendship associations (Afochas) are clearly based on these wall fences that separate them.

Regardless of who owns them, they are a national and international treasure. Many of these walls are severely damaged, and some have collapsed as a result of age and man-made disasters.

As a result, this most valuable heritage must be rebuilt and renovated. Private, kebele, or builders, on the other hand, are unable to repair these damaged wall fences. Helping hands are desperately needed here.

Jigol’s drainage system predates Harar, which is thought to be 500–800 years old. The facts on the ground show that it was not built to accommodate Harar in the 21st century.

Unless a modern drainage system is built that does not disturb its ancient form, things will deteriorate in the coming years. The construction of such a drainage system necessitates a substantial budget allocation, which cannot be obtained from state coffers.

In addition to Jigol’s well-known four museums, there are numerous individually owned houses that are considered mini museums. With the permission of the individual owners, these houses, which were once owned by the Harari great people, can now be used as tourist guest houses.

Because foreign visitors prefer to stay in old mini museum houses rather than large hotels, the Harari Regional State must pay attention to these guest houses. Small and dilapidated Kebele houses found in those large compounds, in particular, must be returned to their owners or renovated to a comparable standard.

Some houses in Jigol do not reflect the ancient Harari way of life. Some are based on ancient tombs and shrines.

I won’t go into detail about the social evils perpetrated in “Medinatul Awuliya,” or the City of Saints, as it is affectionately known. However, the people who live in these dilapidated houses deserve to live much better lives outside of Jigol and should be given the best places to rebuild and preserve these places.

Some Jigol compounds may be subject to archaeological research, which may necessitate the relocation of the owners for a large sum of money. Jigol also has a severe water shortage. It is understandable that the government was unable to solve this problem.

Renovation of Jigol-related artifacts in Aw Sofi, Aw Burka, Fugnambira, Kundedo, Jarso, Kombelcha, Babile, and other locations is also important. There should also be national and international awareness-raising conferences, symposiums, and seminars.

Jigol’s political factions must resolve to work cooperatively. To achieve these goals for Jigol, it is necessary to positively respond to the government’s call and provide the necessary assistance, both in kind and monetary. In this regard, moral support can be beneficial.

Because Jigol is not just a government issue, devising a method for Hararis and Harari lovers to participate in activities can be critical. Organizing awareness-raising conferences, symposiums, and seminars both at home and abroad can be beneficial.

The Minister of Culture and Sports, the Tourism Commission, and higher education institutions (universities, colleges, and institutes) throughout Ethiopia should take charge of preserving our heritage. They can play a significant role in collaboration with members of the business community.

Hareri youths are expected to work day and night with more responsibility (but with patience, method, and coordination) so that their great-grandfathers’ legacy can be preserved and passed down from generation to generation.

So, let us work together to protect Harar, the ancient city.

Contributed by Teshome Berhanu Kemal

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