Saturday, October 17, 2009

Conversation with Pastor Ezra Gebremedhin

Part Five (Last)

Issayas: How about the Mensa?

Pastor Ezra Gebremedhin: In his book Envoys of the Gospel in Ethiopia , Gustav Aren writes: "A convert from Islam, Ato (Mr.) Gustavo Bealged Maybetot (1908-1987), went in 1927 from Geleb to Asmara to seek employment. "On my arrival there a circular had been distributed to all companies and government offices which forbade employment of members of the Church", stated Ato Gustavo in his Hiwoyt Tarik, his 12-page autobiography.Later he founded the Mekane Yesus Congregation at Dessie, Ethiopia.

Ato(Mr.) Gustavo Be'alged Maybetot (1908-1987)

Two things struck me about Ato Gustavo. The first was his forename. The name must have been given to him by some Swedish missionary, or taken by him in appreciation of a Swedish missionary by the same name. The second thing that struck me about him was his loyalty, his perseverance in his Evangelical faith he had received. He was a Kenisha, at home in his faith away from home. Secondly, he belonged to the category of people known as the Mensa (pronounced with a guttural sound at the end). Who were the Mensa? What can we say of their history and culture? In what way did they come in touch with the Swedish Evangelical Mission?

Teachers in Geleb. Sitting: Left to right: Qesh Dawit Amanuel, Ida Coisson, Ida Harndahl and Eleazar Hedad. Standing. Left to right: Eyassu Be'imnent, Tesfa-Li'ul Hibtes , Timoteos Fayed, Samuel Etman, Maestro Coisson. (1930)

Teacher Natnael Negassie and his family who labored in the Geleb area.

Karl Johan Lundstrom has given us a short but comprehensive survey of their history. His text follows.

When the first Swedish missionaries arrived in Massawa, the French Consul Werner Munzinger advised them against advancing to the Oromo through Abyssinia. He suggested instead that they begin work among the Mensa people who according to him, were pagan and lived just a few days walk from Massawa. However, he soon ran into a problem. Catholic missionaries, who had initiated mission among the Bilen, not far from the Mensa, protested against his proposal. He therefore changed his mind and recommended Kunama as the most suitable site for pioneer missionary work by the Swedes.

Seven years later, Munzinger, who by then was in Egyptian service, was still urging the missionaries to do something for the Mensa. In December 1873 a missionary by the name of E.E. Hedenstrom (1844-1904) moved up the area, settling in a place called Geleb. In Geleb the missionaries met still another culture. The people were not, as Munzinger had first stated, pagan but bearers of a mixture of Muslim and Christian cultures. Mensa tradition claims that the people originated in Arabia. The Swedish missionary K.G. Roden writes,

Their forefathers were two brothers Tsed and Tsebed, descendants of Kerosh and Manneja, who lived in Arabia. later on they separated: Tsebed remained in his country of origin, while Tsed crossed the Red Sea , landed on African soil and settled on Buri, a peninsula south of Massawa. From him were born Haranreway, Hatsotay, Toray, Schiahai, Adalie(Adaglie), Mensaay, and Mereyay. The first of these formed a branch called Haranrewa; the others a second branch with name of six people: Haso, Tora, Schiahay, Adallye, Mensaay and Mareya.

The new settlers were Saho who migrated from the coast to Haigat. A migration led the same groups of Saho to the plateau where they took up Tigrigna or Tigre as their language. The story continues to narrate how the Mensa and Marya left their brothers and moved towards the area where the sun sets and then moved up to Haigat. There they went in different directions. Mensaay settled at Haigat and his descendants were called Mensa, while the Mareyay settled at Erota and his descendants were called Marya. The existing population, called Tigre was subdued and Mensa and Marya became the ruling classes (Shimagele) in the area. The area mentioned above was located in the Central Eastern Highlands of Eritrea and stretched towards the north. The language spoken by the people was Tigre, closely related to the ancient Ge'ez. Other related groups, such as the Bet Juk, settled north of Mensa. The Mensa were divided into two groups: The Beit Abrehe, with their main center at Habna (Geleb) and the Biet Eshhaqan, with their center at Mihlab.

Issayas: Pastor Ezra, thank you very much for your time. Do you want to add anything before we end?

Pastor Ezra: I would like to take this occasion to thank you sincerely for kindly presenting the forthcoming book entitled, Kenisha: The Roots and Development of The Evangelical Church of Eritrea 1866-1935. By Karl Johan Lundström. Edited by Ezra Gebremedhin in a series of installments. As we now come to the end of this generous enterprise, I must say that the publication of the book has been delayed and that it will be published, hopefully, during the first quarter of 2010. It will be a solid work of just over 500 pages, richly supplied with photos, maps, some simple charts and a comprehensive and up to date bibliography. Among the appendices of the book we have a section of several pages on literary sources (annotated) on the history of the Swedish Evangelical Mission (SEM) and the ECE, as well as some brief statistics on mission and church, yesterday and today. A “lexicon” with very short biographical data on former Swedish missionaries and their Eritrean colleagues from around 1867 to the present (for Swedish missionaries) and to 1935 for their Eritrean colleagues, will be of interest for both Swedes and Eritreans. We shall be sending notice on the venue of the publication and distribution of the book in good time. Meanwhile, be our jungle telegraph. Thank you!

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