Monday, March 26, 2012

A Conversation with Abba Berhanemeskel Matewos

Abba Berhanemeskel Matewos

Part One:
Issayas: Would you briefly tell us about yourself?
My name is Abba (Father) Berhanemeskel Matiewos, a Capuchin Friar from Asmara, Eritrea. Before getting to the monastery, I lived in Decamhare, Eritrea where I was attracted by the presence of the Capuchin Friary. I had my first education in Decamhare. I finished my middle school studies in Embatkalla and my high school in Mendefera. My journey to music started at a very young age in Embatkalla and Mendefera. Then I studied Philosophy in Decamhare and Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. I returned to Asmara, Eritrea and continued my studies in Theology. I was ordained as a priest in Asmara after I finished my studies.

I had been a teacher in high schools, teaching subjects such as mathematics, computers, languages, music arts and drawings. I had been a director of academic schools and small institutions. I have two BA degrees. One is in Accounting and the second one is in Computer Science from St. John University, Queens’s campus, New York, in 1996, and from Lehman College in the Bronx, NY, in 2001, respectively. In 1999, I also received an MBA degree in MIS from Marywood University, Scranton, Pennsylvania.

At present, I am teaching music to 4th – 6th grade students in Asmara, Eritrea, who would be able to play the piano by reading notes. The program is a continuation of the music choir established in the year 1974. The main aim is to upgrade the quality of church music by graduating piano players who would hopefully in the future be able to interpret Ge’ez songs and introduce Ge’ez songs internationally. Believing that it’s high time to produce quality songs, I wrote four books in Tigrigna (Fidel Dimzi,Nibab Milikitin: both are books to learn and play the piano the hard way, Laza kana – Muzika: about the interpretation of sound or music) to preserve a sound understanding of music, a proper education of piano and flute lessons and other musical instruments. The aim of the books is to build a solid base in music arts' field so that students may be confident with the music as well as with the Ziema literature.

The front cover of one of Abba Berhanemeskel's book

I am very tuned to translate the Ziema-milikit into European notation style. This research is meant to investigate the gap that exists between the two cultures. The update can be a clarification of music note of Ziema and may be enforcement to its music notation system or script (milikit). Of course, the big gap of Geez-note is the missing block of the whole issue of our Ziema-geez. It needs a dedicated and a determined will to fill up such gap. The gaps are: the lack to indicate a single note in Ge’ez milikit, and no system that reply the Ziema-ge’ez, i.e. lack of music instrument to replay the Ziema, and of course some of consequences that requires to set a system. I wish this is a favored time to restore our Ziema-geez treasure of art and to preserve the Ziema-chant through a viable Ziema notation system.

At this time I am interested in writing books of music. I am dedicating an intensive research to find a standard solution of Ziema-ge’ez, namely to collect the data of basic notes and to imprint them in a standard piano. Therefore I am developing part of my time for research in order to preserve the Ziema-ge’ez, so the young generation can use it as part of their culture and develop it as a new development of human skills in the area of world music (it may yield a new scale). Beside pastoral activity I am intending to be involved more on computer issues for example, to understand our identity and to fix few of the double standard of the computer alphabets of Tigrigna, that makes uncomfortable for any “Tigrigna typist”. This problem relates with many important issue, like the Ziema-ge’ez of writing poetry and the annotating of notes’ script.

Issayas: For people who don’t know about Ge’ez and Ziema, would you briefly describe what they are?

Abba Berhanemeskel: The description of Ziema and the style of Geez, I believe it is a question of reading books about it. The word Ge’ez describes the people that live in Eritrea and Ethiopia,
since the languages spoken on these areas depend directly from the formal Geez language. Later the word Ge’ez was added to Ziema (chant), this stands to clarify the special song of these people. At the end, even the people Ge’ez, made their selection to adapt a certain form of song, called Ge’ez, that is attributed as a song to God Father. Therefore, when the two words are tied together, Ziema-Ge’ez, it means the song dedicated to God the Father. The word Ziema is just a translation of song, chant, or form of carol.

Issayas: Even though I don’t agree with it, I’ve heard people argue that Ge’ez is a “dead language”. How do you reply to that kind of argument?

Abba Berhanemeskel: I was discussing some updating issue on the Tigrigna characters to be imprinted in the computer system with professional people of big computer companies; I had a reply that this company would not consider any discussions on such matter. They said they would never be interested on it, because it is a dead language or character. I think it is a problem that arises from a misunderstanding. I am sure, no one can say that Latin is a dead language, for the Roman Catholic Church has been using it for centuries, and many scientific words come directly from it, and it is a building block to the subsidiary romance languages. Among the few of these romance languages some are closer to Latin than the others, but they all are new generation of Latin basis. My reply is that to be interested on these old languages such as Ge’ez is a search of ourselves; i.e. our identities. Therefore, Ge’ez for us is a formal base and a common value of history. How many people and cultures are there with no references of their background in history? I wish that all languages that exist in the world had a source or a mother tongue like we have. I feel it is not only about being proud of, but it is a matter of recognizing the cultural and historical sources of a language. I am proud for Geez people who have their own song, script, tradition, and language. This makes me think that there are sources that no one has a right to do away with it at any level. If we want to recognize the history, this is one, I believe.

Issayas: You mentioned that you like to be involved more on computer issues like understanding our identity to fix few of the double standard of the computer alphabets of Tigrigna, that makes uncomfortable any “Tigrigna typist”. This problem relates with many important issue, like the ziema-ge’ez in writing poetry and the annotating of notes’ script. Would you elaborate?

Abba Berhanemeskel: The alphabet typing of Tigrigna has come up with great resolutions: from Geez gate to Geez TypeNet. The new edition was useful for it cleared some difficult problems
that existed with the previous version. Geez TypeNet also resolved some issue of internet giving free access and support to internet users, reshaped the size of fonts, and smoothed some intricate forms of typing. However the TypeNet couldn’t resolve the whole issue for it was confined in the 255 size of alphabet space. The last version built around 2000: the Geez Mahtem Unicode has a lot of advantage from its predecessors, especially for it gained large size of alphabet space. The wide space of alphabet, beside any preferences of fonts and shape, has more than necessary space to accommodate the Geez alphabet. However, this system appears to have problem of inconsistency with single keys and in other part a kind of double standard issue especially in dealing with the vowels (seeing from the end point of keyboard). I see an inconsistency in these points:

1. All geez alphabets should be considered as consonant for each of them needs to be aggregated to the 7-vowel, except those with 5-vowel. For example: Most of the keyboards are consistent: the “ሰ & ሸ”, “ሀ & ሐ”. However some other letters are scattered: the “ተ & ጠ”, “ቸ & ጨ”.

2. The above position of keyboard doesn’t follow the aggregate alphabet. For example, in the 2nd sample the letter that associates its similar should have been vice versa: the “ተ with ቸ”, “ጠ with ጨ”. Sample of such inconsistency are spread around, and if this criteria was followed I believe the end user would have been helped to associate with the similarity of alphabets.

3. A kind of double standard samples can be mentioned as follows: Some results of vowels seem to have uncoordinated structures: The letter “E = አ” is used with three meaning that makes it not friendly user. For example: the word “ገዚአን” becomes “ገዜን”, the word “ግዝአት” becomes “ግዘት”, and when the single “E = አ” is used alone becomes letter “አ” in 1th order.

4. A single letter “E” functions as a 1st order, changes the previous letter into 1st order, and in the third item switches the previous letter into 5th order. The output of three different results
would be a good solution, but unfortunately such activities, at least from what I tried to understand, become tedious to continue and it frustrates the user with similar unnecessary order of alphabets.

From my part the form of writing should give rise a standard or a consistent form of result. The problem that I pointed out resides in the coordination of keyboard “E” that is used in first case as a consonant (the “አ”), other times as a vowel builder of 1st and 5th (as in “ግዘት” and “ገዜን”) order. My advice is to look at the typing form, the table that the end user uses, and trace a consistent order of alphabets, like for the first proposal I mentioned above.

For the second problem, I would advise to delegate some of the functions of “E”, as in the above case, to other different keys. The issue is to determine the objectives, and for the space of alphabet in the keyboard exists more than we need. I see that the problem can be fixed and smoothed with easy process, from the coordination stand point. I believe that these and others level of keyboard importance is relevant to all of us and it should be implemented to the Geez users best interest. The literate people in this field are in all over the world. It is our right “ሪምና እዩ” to discuss about it and send to the Geez soft system engineers to implement it with sound (workable) steps.

Allow me to add a short proposal:

Other problem of coordinating is that the system GeezWord should have facilitated its use by preparing a software decoder that allows switching one version system to the others (to new comer versions). I believe the translator software is of great help. For example, a person who wrote his paper with GeezNet should be enabled to transfer those data into a new version of GeezWord system. This interpolation of system will empower the author to update data into a new version of Geez-Word system. This translator device will also help to keep documents in one consistent system, instead of having to refer to older version for documents that were written previously. The lack of transferring old versions to new once creates problem of inconsistency to the writers and it confines the author with documents that work with incompatible versions. To settle the inconsistency is quite possible to implement. A solution on this avenue will keep the users stick with the current Geez-system they have, instead of requesting other different avenues to preserve their document.

Next part two

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  1. Dear A. Berhanemeskel,

    every body who uses the geez type is aware of such difficulties. If there is a solution to it, why it can not be taken care?

    Is it up to the programers of up to the users?

    I wish solutions could be found for the best interest of our country and for the precious books that exist in Geez Typing styles.

    Hope to hear from you on this regard.

  2. Dear Abba,

    I have read the point you made on regard the typing problem.

    My name is Fidel, and such argument become an issue to me, I don't know why.

    My question is the same the 1st posted above.

    Why our country should pass through difficulties when you expert guys know the solution?

    I appreciate your input.

    Fidel from Asmara

  3. Dear Abba Berhanemeskel

    I really appreciated the life time commitments you made towards the renaissance of the geez culture.Your book, I have found it up to be one of the fundamental educational references in geez music. Besides, the cultural and musical intiatives you made are undeniable evidence of progressive changes which reflects your imaginative mind that lies pavement for breeding geez culture on the young generation.

    The principal question that should be popped up im mind is that:

    " Are we bridging the gap or broadning the gap"

    We have rich culture and unexplored musical resources.I believe Abba Berhanemeskel have made milestone and slingshot to flourish geez musical culture.Our role is to put on musical contribution, together we can make difference.

    No matter what we do, our origin defines us who we are and shapes our future.The good behaviour should be cultivated on the mind of everybody.

    Big appreciation and expecting more for further enlightnment....

    Robel A.