The Ethiopian Jewish Exodus: Narratives of the Migration Journey to Israel 1977-1985

By Gadi Benezer | Go to book overview

6

THE THEME OF BRAVERY AND INNER STRENGTH

, The theme of bravery and inner strength brings together those aspects of the narratives in which the interviewees express a feeling of great achievement, or relate to acts in which their powers and potentials were brought to a maximum or were stretched even beyond that. I shall attempt to describe the different manifestations of this theme within the three sub-phases of the journey. Before that it is important to understand the concept of bravery within the Ethiopian culture. To do that we have to acquaint ourselves with the concept of gobez,1 which is a core symbol 2 in Ethiopian culture.

In Wolf Leslau's Amharic-English dictionary, the entry for gobez is defined as: 'young man, fine young man, manly (like a man), smart, brilliant, clever, strong, brave, quite a fellow'. Rosen writes that 'Every Ethiopian boy (and girl, in her own way) desires perhaps more than anything else to be considered gobez. It is the great Amhara virtue that, traditionally, embodied bravery, fierceness, hardi-ness and general male competence' (Rosen 1987:58). In regard to actual behaviour, this term would be used for someone who had trounced an opponent in a stick fight, or had beaten him in some other kind of battle. Even more importantly, it is someone who has trekked many days through the mountains, subsisting on a pocketful of dried chick-peas or occasional snacks of small bread-balls. 3 He is 'someone able to stay awake the entire night praying, or spend the whole day fasting' (Rosen 1985:76). The two latter aspects are related in my mind to the ability to endure against all odds.

In his book Greater Ethiopia, Levine discusses at some length the readiness to kill one's enemy within the framework of the concept of gobez. He states: 'Amhara and Oromo cultures alike, then, laid stress on military courage. Amhara …warriors were motivated by fierce desires to slaughter their enemies' (Levine 1974:154). In another context, that of hunting, Levine writes:

Indeed, masculine aggressive prowess as displayed by killing wild beasts and human enemies represents a pre-eminent value in most of the cultures of Greater Ethiopia. The killer typically enjoys a privileged status marked by special insignia and perquisites… Many people set up formal occasions at which the killer can boast of his achievements, and they distribute rewards according to the number and fierceness of the

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