How far and why is the Kunama recognized and described as an „egalitarian society?“ February 27, 2009
There is no question whatsoever that, since its first existence, the Kunama has always been and functioned as an „egalitarian society“, in the sense that it is a society “favouring the doctrine of equal rights, benefits and opportunities for all citizens.”
(Oxford Advanced Learner`'s Dictionary of Current English).
Whenever we Kunama, at the VKP/KAM, write and talk about the Kunama people, we mean and refer to the rural Kunama population and society, the cradle of our own historical, cultural, traditional and linguistic heritage.
Let us firstly therefore point out that we do not know for sure, know how far and how much of the above definition of an “egalitarian“ society and of “egalitarianism” in general, can be said to be applicable and could adequately correspond to the Kunama people's social system and therefore, according to our own understanding of our own society, we define the Kunama “as an ethnic/folk-group, nationality and society based and built on a system with the principle of recognizing and respecting, not only its own ethnic-members, but all human beings, as equal and having equal rights, benefits and opportunities”. We shall build and present our arguments based on such definition and compare them with eventual discrepancies that exist and may exist in the meaning itself of “egalitarianism.”
Though “egalitarianism,” for others, may be only a theory, a principle, a choice and an alternative system in one and in the same society, for the Kunama people it is the only one and therefore “egalitarianism,” intended in such restricted sense, can be said to be an innate principle in the Kunama genealogy and in the mentality of the Kunama people and therefore the only system they know, adopt and practice. This is proven, historically, socially, culturo-traditionally and linguistically, by the Kunama people themselves. They equate their sense of “egalitarianism” with the essence of their own society, of their own ethnicity and genealogy.
Historically, the Kunama has always been known as “a peaceful, peace-loving and conflict-avoiding society” and, this, not only within its own self and among its own ethnic-members, but also with its own near and distant neighbouring populations. As a matter of fact, it has been proven over and over again that the many conflicts that the Kunama people have had to face with their immediate and distant populations and forces, have always derived from and caused by those populations and forces themselves, attempting to invade the Kunama land and intrude in the Kunama people's affairs. There is no mention, in the intire Kunama tradition, history and even in the annals of those neighbouring populations and forces that the Kunama people have ever initiated and caused conflicts, either attempting to cross-over their geographical borders to invade those populations' homelands or attacking those forces in their own localities. The Kunama have always been the invaded, the attacked, the oppressed and the persecuted people, and this always in their own native and ancestral land. The Kunama have always been in the defensive and never in the offensive attitude and this up these very times. The Kunama people's history is full of such attacks and wars waged against them, the main reason being their vast and fertile native and ancestral land. As one of the prime inhabitants, if not even the prime inhabitant of the land we today call Eritrea and of its peripheral areas, the Kunama people, throughout their entire history, had to abandon vast areas of their own ancestral territories, forced by and due to the continuous attacks from those other populations and forces, seeking land, raiding the Kunama properties and forcefully expelling them from their own homelands. Today, the Kunama land has become “Adam's apple”, attracting almost every other Eritrean nationality seeking land and occupying it. This could be other people's egalitarian principles, but not of the Kunama people who reject any force which is not only for defence.
Socially, the Kunama society is structured on “egalitarian” system in the sense that it neither has nor knows any kind of hierarchy in its own society and communities. The only authority is that exercised by capable Kunama elderly members, as the guardians and transmitters of the Kunama cultural heritage, to their own Kunama society, communities and following Kunama generations.
The authorities given to the Kunama, village, district and regional chiefs are of the recent history, created and imposed by the foreign forces which had ruled and are ruling in the Kunama land and have been trying to turn the Kunama society into and similar to their own respective societies. The creation of the social, political and other forms of hierarchies, therefore, are not parts of the Kunama, but of the foreign tradition. Up to these days, the Kunama rural population is facing enormous difficulties in accepting, tolerating and coming to terms with those forms of artificial hierarchies and authorities, for they are only imposed upon and therefore neither congenial to nor duly serving the Kunama rural society's needs and life-style. Let alone those non-Kunama village, district and regional chiefs, arbitrarily elected and appointed by the regime, but even those Kunama chiefs, randomly elected by the regional authorities are not accepted, seen and tolerated as serving the Kunama rural communities in their traditional ways. It is very often reported that those chiefs keep coming in direct conflict with the rural Kunama populations, partly because most of them are from the Kunama urban dwellers and therefore not knowing, not sharing and not even accepting the traditional values of the Kunama rural populations and partly because they are seen as the regime's puppets and therefore as derailed and opportunistic individuals and forces.
Added to these are the regime's military, army and police forces, stationed in many Kunama rural areas and villages, very often adopting very inhumane and criminal means to cope with the Kunama populations, indiscriminately, detaining, jailing, mass-killing and burying them in mass-graves, as it has been recently reported by the members themselves of those military forces.
All these methods directly conflict with the Kunama people's peaceful character, conduct and life lived in peaceful communities in their homelands.
Culturo-traditionally, the Kunama is an “egalitarian society” as it shares the same mentality and practices the same principle of seeing all human-beings as equal and “having equal rights, benefits and opportunities”.
Where the Kunama society squarely and practically differs with others and even with the theoretical principle itself of “egalitarianism,” is in the question why other populations and forces keep waging wars, invading their ancestral land, spreading violence and committing criminal and unjust killings of its Kunama ethnic members. The Kunama are asking why the PFDJ's regime itself is today openly committing acts of criminality of the “ethnic-cleansing” proportions, against the Kunama people? These are the acts diametrically conflicting with the Kunama people's principle of “egalitarianism,” and of their “egalitarian” mentality, which does not know any difference or discrimination and where no society should claim superiority over the other and use force to steal other people's “rights, benefits and opportunities,” particularly in one's own native and ancestral land and in one's own cultural, social and local settings. Let us, for now, forget the usual excuse that “Eritrea is for all Eritreans” and that every Eritrean has the “right” to own land and live everywhere, as such assertions and claims do favour only certain forces.
Linguistically, the Kunama society has a series of characteristics denoting egalitarian principles. The Kunama language does not make any grammatical gender difference; e.g. “he/she/it, his/hers/its” and so on, but it uses only a single personal pronoun “unu” (he/she/it) and “ingnga” (his/hers/its) for all genders. In the Kunama society, man and woman are humanly seen as equal. The sense of equality is very sensitive in the Kunama people's mentality.
The Kunama language does not have the “majesty vocabulary”, like
“His/Her Majesty”, in English, “Lei” in Italian or “Sie” in German, but it uses only a straightforward “ena” (you,) for all persons, for all genders and for all levels of social stratification. There is no discourse reserved for an hierarchy or authority which traditionally does not exist in the Kunama society.
The Kunama language and tradition do not have personal titles like, “Ms., Miss, Mrs., or Sir, Excellency” and so on, as in English, or like the Tigrian titles, such as, “Ueizero, Ueizerit or Ato,” and therefore the Kunama address people, though respectfully and without titles, but only with their names. This surely proves the Kunama people's tradition, sense and principle of equality of all human-beings and therefore regarding and treating them all as human-beings and as equals. The choices of village, district and regional chiefs, the authority given to them and the attempts to creating some sort of an hierarchical system within and imposing upon the Kunama society are said to have been introduced and initiated by the Italian colonialists who, not being able to master the Kunama language, in order to directly reach and interact with the Kunama people, chose Kunama individuals, giving them some authority which enabled them to function as intermediaries and mediators between the Kunama people and the Italian regional authorities. Such enforced upon system came to become known to the Kunama who had no choice, but just take it, surely not seeing it as part of or reflecting their tradition. That conflict of cultures and of cultural values have been dragging on up to these very days. The rural Kunama society is said to be facing great difficulties in putting up with the authorities exercised by those village, district and regional chiefs, many of whom are said to be non-Kunama individuals and therefore, not being able to understand the Kunama people's traditions, mentality and principles in their societal matters, they do keep resorting to using force, violence and criminality, accusing the Kunama people of not obeying their orders. Traditionally, the Kunama is not used to being given compelling orders.
This all comes down to the Kunama people's fundamental understanding of “egalitarianism” and of an “egalitarian social system” which rejects force and accepts consensus as the only means to keep its society in order.
Another very important factor which deeply reflects the Kunama society's sense of “egalitarianism” is its inherent and unbroken tradition of owning, distributing and administering its native and ancestral land, within its communities, as Kunama, as members of the Kunama society and as members of the Kunama ethnicity. This does not exclude non-Kunama ethnic-members from using the Kunama land, but only and simply as “users” and not as “owners”. Individually, the Kunama themselves do not consider to be the owners of their ancestral land, if not only as Kunama ethnic members.
Within the Kunama society, land ownership, its distribution and administration are extremely sensitive issues which have never been learnt and understood either by the past colonial authorities or by the present PFDJ regime and by its regional authorities in the Kunama land which, with their unwise and unconsidered land policies, are creating very deep resentments in the Kunama society and creating havoc in the whole region and spreading ominous conflicts and hatred among those now fiercely competing forces, including the regime itself, in their aggressive invasion and ownership drives of the Kunama people's native and ancestral land. History and culture are the parameters of a society.
Based on the Kunama people's century-old tradition and egalitarian principle and mentality, the “KUNAMA LAND, as COMMONLY OWNED by the KUNAMA as KUNAMA ETHNIC-MEMBERS, IS NEVER EITHER SOLD; BOUGHT OR IN ANYWAY TRADED” and therefore the initial colonial decisions, as well as the present land policies of the PFDJ's regime, on the Kunama people's land, are not only very contrary to the Kunama people's fundamental tradition and value, but totally against the Kunama people's land ownership, distribution and administration rights. In short, the declaration of the Kunama land as “TERRENO DEMANIALE, STATE LAND and MERIET MENGSTI,” IS A CLEAR VIOLATION OF THE KUNAMA PEOPLE'S ANCESTRAL LAND PROPERTY AND OWNERSHIP RIGHTS.”
This is a fundamental issue, concerning, not only the present regime, but also any other Eritrean future authority, which has to reverse that declaration, by suspending and abrogating all its by-products and negative consequences, such as the massive invasion of the Kunama land, by non-Kunama members, the forceful ejection of the native Kunama from their ancestral land, from their villages and urban areas and the unlawful appropriation of the Kunama people's land, by non-Kunama populations. These are the fundamental rights of our Kunama people which are and will be incessantly demanded until they are fully restored. The historical, traditional and other legal documents recognising and defining the geographical borders and delimitations of the Kunama people's ancestral land are there to prove their legitimate claims.
Failing to remedy such a deeply afflicting malice, to the Kunama will always mean total attempts to destroying their society and social system, built and based on “egalitarianism,” on “egalitarian principles” and on “egalitarian life-style.” Without claiming to be unduly boasting and boastful, let us dare suggest that the “egalitarian social system” and life-style of the Kunama people should be of a good example and of a role-model, to be looked at and even considered, by the Eritrean authorities, as a master-societal model, which could be imitated and even adopted as helping to creating a “peaceful, peace-loving and a conflict-avoiding Eritrean society,” just like that of the Kunama traditional rural society. What other and alternative social system, could the Eritrean multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society hope for, if not that which unites, secures and stabilises it? God bless it!
The VKP/KAM: (February 27, 2009).