Saturday, November 22, 2008
“I shall not wholly die-but in my songs my spirit will, incorruptible and bodies,
survive-and I shall be renowned as long as under heaven one poet yet remains alive”.
Alexander S. Pushkin
In mid-July 2008, I promised that I was going to re-post the articles that I had written in 2003 about General Abraham Hannibal, General Ivan Hannibal, Alexander S. Pushkin and his descendants . I waited until today to start reposting the articles, because I had to wait to confirm a good news that I was aware of for some time. With the news confirmed, I'm elated to let you know that a monument of Alexander S. Pushkin and a Pushkin Center (Library) will be erected in Asmara by May 2009. The agreement was signed between Asmara Administration and the Russian Federation earlier this year. It is worthwhile to note that the Russian delegation visited Lagwen and also Senafe area historical sites. The location of the monument of Pushkin will be adjacent to the Asmara Public Library and the Center(Library) will be adjacent to Milano Restaurant. According to the agreement, the pedestal of the monument, which is going to be from granite is going to be built by Eritrea, Central Zoba Administration, while the Russians are going to provide the life-size bronze statue.
A model statue of Alexander S. Pushkin to be built in Asmara, Eritrea.
Alexander S. Pushkin monument's future site.
Alexander S. Pushkin monument's future site.
The original articles that I wrote in 2003 had five parts. I will start reposting with part I. And in part II, I will add some new information, because two new major books in English had been published about General Abraham Hannibal since I posted the articles. I am keeping the original titles of the articles for old time sake.
Here is part I.
FROM THE ERITREAN CAMEL, TO THE RUSSIAN DOUBLE-HEADED EAGLE, TO THE BRITISH LION: The Odyssey of General Abraham Petrovich Hannibal, Alexander S. Pushkin and Descendants
Seal of the Government of Eritrea
PART ONE: FROM THE ERITEAN CAMEL
At the outset, I would like to note that this is an on going research that needs more fillers. The animals mentioned in the title are/were the symbols of the governments of Eritrea, Imperial Russia and Royal Great Britain, respectively. Even though, there was no country named Eritrea in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the protagonist (using film terminology) in this story, General Abraham Petrovich Hannibal, who was the maternal great grandfather of Alexander Sergeyevitch Pushkin, was born in a place in what is now Eritrea. (Troyant, Blakley, Fienstien).
When I decided to write this article -even though I had written about Abraham Hannibal for Haben in Tigrigna before-I thought hard as to how to approach the subject because I had to decide which part to write and which part to leave out. I must admit it is difficult to do. Therefore, I decided to start it with this long introduction, I hope you don’t mind. I even thought how much harder it would be to direct a film about the life of Abraham. In film, whether you are following the Hollywood genre which follows the Aristotelian (three act dramatic structure) focusing on plots with its protagonist/antagonist, catalyst,confrontation, plot-point, mid-point,
climax and resolution; or the European(Italian, French , Swedish..) model whereby the film concentrates on characters; or on the Soviet model with their own theory of editing (Kuleshov , Pudovkin, Eisenstein); or focusing on realist theory with its mise-en-scene; or formalist(fictional ,fantasy) with its montage ,the dilemma would still be the same. The lives of Abraham Hannibal and his descendents , Ivan, Ossip, Nadezhda, Pushkin ... touch all the theories that I mentioned above.
In 1994, when I was volunteering for the Research and Documentation Center (RDC) in Asmara, I wrote an article in Tigrinya on Abraham Hannibal for Haben, a publication of the Association of the War-Disabled Veterans of Eritrea. A few days before I finished my assignment at RDC and was ready to return to the United States, I got a telephone call from tegadalai (a Tigrigna word for a person who fought for the independence of Eritrea) Solomon Dirar (of the Eritrean Commando fame), who was editor of Haben. Solomon told me that there was another tegadalai who read the article and had some information on Abraham Hannibal. I was surprised, to say the least. I got the name and phone number from Solomon and called. Unfortunately, tegadalai Kahsai Russom was leaving for Keren on a job related trip. Nevertheless, he was kind enough to give me names to contact who would know more about the story through oral tradition.
When I returned to Eritrea in 2000, I still had the notes that I had taken from Kahsai in 1994. The notes had not left my wallet for six years. I called on my friend Solomon Dirar and decided to visit one of the persons on the notes. We set out to visit Lagwen and to talk to Aboi (respect form for elder) Abraha Gebre-Amlak, a retired judge of Lagwen. I had been waiting for this visit for six years. As the moment of truth was approaching I began to get nervous, because I have been researching Abraham Hannibal, Pushkin, etc., since the mid 1980’s, therefore I was anxious to find out what kind of new information, or if any, awaited me. Lagwen is a quiet small village located some 12 kms. south of Asmara. It did not take us long to find out where Aboi Abraha Gebre-Amlak lived in Lagwen. We found the house located near the village church. We found Aboi Abraha reading and he was surprised by our visit. After we explained to him the purpose of our visit, he opened a wooden trunk and pulled out a book wrapped in plastic. The title of the book was “Tiwlidi Lagwen” (The Genealogy of Lagwen). The village had published its own history during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. How that book was published is a story by itself for another time.
Aboi Abraha Gebre-Amlak of Lagwen in front of his house in January 2000.
The Book of Genealogy of Lagwen
Aboi Abraha on top of gobo (hill) Una Mariam showing me the area where according to oral tradition of Lagwen, one of its son “Abrha Zerai wedi inkab Adi Lagwen” [Abraha Zerai son of the village of Lagwen] was kidnapped. It is also the vicinity where old Lagwen used to be located.
Back in 1994, Kahsai Russom, recalling from oral tradition that he had heard from the elders, indicated to me that Abraham Hannibal was kidnapped from a small hill called Una Mariam. I asked Aboi Abraha about it. He turned to the book of Lagwen to page 11. To my surprise, not only did it mention the place but also the name of the real Abraham Hannibal.
It says,“a certain ‘Abraha Zerai wedi inkab Adi Lagwen’ [Abraha Zerai, son of the village of Lagwen]was kidnapped and sold and then taken to Turkey. From Turkey he was taken to Greece and from Greece back to Turkey. He was then taken to Russia, and in Russia he became the right-hand man of Peter the Great. He became popular because of his bravery.
So were descendants, who among them became generals and intellectuals.”
This was a shocker! This was a unique finding in all my research for the following reasons:
1. The original name never appeared. There were arguments whether his name was Abraham or Ibrahim. At least, Tiwlidi Lagwen’s version testifies to the argument that the name of Ibrahim emerged in Turkey and reversed back to Abraham when he was re-baptized in Vilnius (modern day Lithuania).
2. Greece was never mentioned.
3. The origin of Abraham’s birth was debatable, even in discussions in Dehai forum. For example, Abraham indicated that he was born in Lagon (with its so many variation in Russian, French, German, Latin, Italian, English, etc., translations) the focus had been to the south. Adi Logo (near Debarbua), Logo Sarda, Logo Chiwa, etc., were among the major candidates. And here, in Lagwen, not too far from Asmara, is a small village that had written its own history and claimed Abraham Hannibal as its lost son. Incredible if you ask me.
4. During our discussion with Aboi Abraha, he mentioned that Lagwen in the earlier times had been looted, burned, etc., by various conquerors, and had to move to its present location -- it used to be located not too far from where it is now. Because it was located at a crossroads, it had become the punching bag of various rulers and conquerors. I think the University of Asmara’s archeology department should look into this story.
5. At the end of our visit, Aboi Abraha was gracious enough to take me to gobo (hill) Enda Mariam, where Lagwen claims that one of it’s sons, Abraha Zerai, was kidnapped from and taken to Russia via Turkey to become one of the greatest generals of Russia who had among his descendants, Ivan Hannibal, Osip, Nadezhda, and the soul of Russia himself, Alexander Sergeyevitch Pushkin.
This is their incredible story that would put any Hollywood film to shame. If the claim of Lagwen is proven, then Lagwen and its long lost son and his descendants would be the only village and
family in the world who would claim royals in Russia, England, Germany, and etc. as their relatives.
Next part: TO THE RUSSIAN DOUBLE-HEADED EAGLE
ABRAHAM P. HANNIBAL: The Odyssey Begins