By Mebrahtu Asfaha
It is with profound sadness that I read the passing of the most influential literary figure in Eritrea last night, Mr. Beyene Haile.
With this small memoriam, I would like to present to you Mr. Beyene Haile, an enthusiastic Eritrean, extraordinary interpreter of humane reality and inspirational writer and poet of the art.
Mr. Beyene Haile wrote many significant literary works, but the one that gave him enduring fame was his“Abidu Do Tiblwo”. He published this masterpiece in 1964 when he was only 22 years old, and it is a testament to his linguistic genius and to his extraordinary level of maturity; and it has held its place as a masterpiece of Eritrean literature. The book has seen three editions in 1964, 2003, and 2005 respectively; and has been more read than any other Eritrean book, with the sole exception of “Commando”, I think, by Solomon Drar.
Mr. Beyene Haile was a voluminous writer. Of course, with the exception of “Abidu Do Tiblwo” which is a short mystery novel of only 111 pages. However, most of his literary and political proses, especially his historical prose, are of a higher order, and provide us with an insight to his sophisticated level of writing and to his extraordinary linguistic excellence, and place him in the front rank of Eritrean authors.
His greatest novel is, indubitably, “Abidu Do Tiblwo”. The quintessential theme of the book is art and the love of chiselling extraordinary figures in the white marbles. It is also an account of his youthful attachment to life in Adigrat, Tigray in the mid-1960th.
Furthermore, “Abidu Do Tiblwo” describes with vivid nostalgia the rustic rural life of the beautiful small town of Adigrat; and narrates the profound sadness he felt on seeing his sister rendered physically disable as a result of a physical injury in her leg in the days when there was only one car in the vicinity of the town to transport her for medical treatment to Adi Keyih; and in the days when there was only one school run by the church and the town’s pries. It is also an account of a boy who is their house servant by the name Meles whose tongue is sweeter than honey.
Never did any work of art rise so suddenly into notice or engage the public attention more powerfully, than “Abidu Do Tiblwo”. This cannot be attributed solely to its intrinsic excellence. What he said derived authority from the subtleness of his observations, and tales from the natives’ point of view describing the culture and the accents of the local people, something that no other writer has been able to do. Observe, for instance, how, Mr. Beyene Haile, renders the sweet tongue of their house servant Meles when encountering his master at the bus stop after awaiting for him for a welcome home “ጎይታይ ኣንቃዓ ብድሓን ኣተዉ ይሃቡኒ አታ ሳንጣ”. As an historical novel, dealing with art and rural life it has no equal.
Moreover, for Mr. Beyene Haile, in his work “Abidu Do Tiblwo”, Adigrat represents a community where he grew, and a place for learning and chiselling his extraordinary sculpture. It is a place for growth of the human spirit, and a place for the development of human values. Imbued with the powerful essence that makes a place into a community, Mr. Beyene Haile is one of those rare open persons who genuinely become part of all who they meet. Because he is anchored in multiple cultures and generations, his life stands as a living proof of the growth of intellect and wisdom that accrues through diverse experience and lifelong learning. His emphatic portrayal of diverse people is motivated by understanding, appreciation and a sense of celebration.
Recently, there has been a tradition of following the literary style of writing of Mr. Beyene Haile. Michael Adonay’s work “Mosakuti Mai Mine” follows such a tradition. However, the most recent cinematographic work Eide Amenay (ኢደኣመናይ) is direct imitation, albeit lack of acknowledgement, on the work of Beyene Haile “Abidu Do Tiblwo”.
Moreover, Mr. Beyene Haile is good in his long stories, such as“Tisbit Bahgu” and ‘Dukan Teberh”, but it is as a writer of a short novel that he has eclipsed the other writers of his day. In addition to the aforementioned works, he wrote a large number of essays, poems and novels.
His Tigrigna style is classical. Not a page could be opened without exciting the strongest personal feelings in the minds of the reader. The prose of his ‘Abidu Do Tiblwo”, although half a century have intervened since its composition, is probably, to an Eritrean eye, still devoid neither of freshness nor elegance. It is such freshness and elegance of his style that attracts me to read it, year after year, together with my sister and my mom, each time that my mom comes to visit us from the States to Canada. I am attracted to read his books because I am fascinated by the profound and subtle allegory, which pervades his work, the bold and unusual metaphors that he everywhere employs, and the great variety of knowledge he displays. I am also mesmerized by his incredible ability, and his hasty allusions to passing events, and his description of persons by accidental circumstances, his succinct descriptions of the places they live, and the language they speak and the accent of their tongues. Although I have never been to Adigrat in Tigray, it is extraordinary, how much intensely I desire to visit (one day, hopefully).
In conclusion, while still a young man, he had given body to an extraordinary book that recounts the love of art and the history of the indomitable farmers and priests stepped in the rural tradition who daily wagered their lives and their well–being on the unforgiving dirty and dusty land, but extraordinary beautiful Adigrat, Tigray.
In his meticulous and spontaneous writing, in his richly archaic and poetic composition, and careful explorations of cultures and peoples, Mr. Beyene Haile’s uncluttered, dramatic composition and superb technique portrays a marvelous reverence for the truth and love of art. He is a versatile writer of extraordinary reputation, energetic champion of Eritrean literature, and sensitive preserver of the sights and sounds and diverse peoples and places.
Let us celebrate the life of Mr. Beyene Haile, dedicated champion of education, preserver of history, talented builder of family and community and primary arch to the keystone of Eritrean literature.