|I was telling an American colleague about "semina werk" literally "wax and gold" - the Ethiopian sophisticated idiom. Sem (wax) is the overt meaning and werk is the hidden meaning. I was telling her how people use semina werk to communicate their severe political views and criticism of social changes.
In the olden days, people used more complicated phrases which were really brain twisters. Mengistu's regime managed to replace that beautifully sophisticated way of speaking with overt insult against whatever was deemed imperialist. His regime was paranoid about religion, plucking eye brows and anything in between. Songs - oh those painful "revolutionary" songs - reflected this paranoia.
Now, poems like the one below reflect the high cost of living in Addis. I got this from a mass e-mail that's been floating around. I think it's brilliantly written. For non-Amharic readers, it's about the through-the-roof price of chili pepper, one of the main spices in Ethiopian cooking. The writer is having a quarrel with pepper and cursing it for being so expensive. My favourite part is where the writer breaks it down to chili pepper that it's not really it by itself: it's valuable only in combination with other spices (because Ethiopian chili is prepared elaborately by mixing the powder with other spices). The writer finishes off with praise for salt with something like As long as I have salt then I'll be alright. Brilliant.
Labels: Amharic, Ethiopian language