Today’s post features Anywaa religious singer and composer, Achan. Achan is originally from Gog (also spelled Gok) area but has lived in Gambella town since her childhood.
Achan’s gift came to her around 2003, when she began receiving songs in dreams. “Sometimes,” she said, “I stay [awake] for a long time without sleeping. And, when I begin to think about God’s mighty work in my life, those songs, when I [fall] asleep…come in my dream. And then I will begin to sing them [in the dream]. So, it’s that kind of thing…it’s a kind of way of life.” After she began receiving songs in dreams, she gradually began to sing them in church, and now she has even put out some recordings.
One of Achan’s songs that she sang during our interview is “Aani Alwaya Ki Ango Keet.” She wrote this song several months ago, while facing a particular challenge in her life and said that, “[It was] the suffering that pushed me to write this song. Because, I had been in a tough time, so I was struggling with some challenges. But, [over] the course of time, I understood that God is on my side. I have to tell those problems that, ‘I have God, who can overcome all these things. He has the power. He already won the victory for me.’…Now, different people have the same problem that I had at that time…so I hope that this song will help them so that they can proclaim God’s victory [over] those problems that they are facing right now.” She has presented this song in her church, and all the church members now know it and sing it on their own.
The chorus references the book of Esther in the Old Testament (available here if you want to read it), in which Mordecai, one of the heroes of the story, is sentenced to hanging by Haman, a prominent kingdom official. In twist of events, instead of being executed, Mordecai is rewarded by the king, and Haman is hung on the same gallows he built for Mordecai.
Achan connected the timing of her receiving her gift with what my Anywaa friends call “the incident,” or, in some cases, “the genocide.” The songs began to come to her in her dreams immediately after what human rights organizations estimate as many as 424 Anywaa were targeted and killed by mob violence. The Ethiopian government estimates only 65 were killed. Regardless of the number, the event was tragic and even caused many Anywaa to flee the area in fear for their lives. Even our friend Apay spent a few years in a refugee camp in Kenya following the incident.
As we have discussed in other posts, ethnic relations in Gambella are tense due to a combination of complex factors . This particular incident unfolded something like this: 2003 saw some isolated groups of Anywaa shifta (bandits) carrying out armed attacks against civilians who had been resettled from the Ethiopian highlands. One of these groups, on December 13, killed eight highlanders just a short distance from Gambella town. When the bodies were returned to the town, the highlanders gathered there began to mourn then became enraged after viewing the bodies, which were reportedly badly mutilated. Civilians and government soldiers began to raid Anywaa neighborhoods with guns, machetes, even hand grenades, and other weapons. They primarily targeted Anywaa men and burned homes, but many women and children were also beaten, raped, or killed. The violence lasted about three days.
Achan said that she began dreaming about songs directly after the incident and said, “It affects me generally as my tribe…I felt [bad] about the many lives that were taken…I believe that it was God who inspired me to receive those songs through dreams, so that I can share with people.” Achan hopes that her songs, “Will help people…God works in those songs. Not [just] in the present time, but also in the future.”
*** Achan’s interview was translated from Anywaa by Ojho Ojulu Othow. Many thanks to him and to Apay for introducing Achan and I and facilitating our meeting!
Feyissa, Dereje. 2009. “A National Perspective on the Conflict in Gambella.” In Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, edited by Svein Ege, Harald Aspen, Birhanu Teferra, and Shiferaw Bekele, 641-653. Trondheim.
Human Rights Watch. 2005. Targeting the Anuak: Crimes Against Humanity in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region. https://www.hrw.org/news/2005/03/23/ethiopia-crimes-against-humanity-gambella-region