Tag Archives: Afar

The Djiboutian

Far From Africa titled its first post back in 2013 Where is the Gambia? And after two years of publishing, today’s post could be titled Where is Djibouti? There are two plausible theories to explain the name of Djibouti and its capital city, Djibouti City. Some claim that it can be traced to the Afar word Gabouti meaning ‘a kind of doormat made from palm fibre’. Others would say that it comes from the Land of Tehuti after the name of the Ancient Egyptian god of the moon and knowledge.

Me’ad, a Djiboutian living in Melbourne talks about his country and how in such a small country there is a vast and rich culture. Despite the desert-like appearance of Djibouti, he portrays the country as a potential tourism destination offering a variety of landscapes from the breathtaking rugged mountains of the north to the incredible white landscape of the salt lake Assal and the beautiful beaches on the Red Sea.

Lake Assal, Djibouti

Lake Assal, Djibouti © Salt News

When asking Me’ad where Djibouti is, he laughingly responds “I stopped telling people that I am from Djibouti and I just say I am from the Horn of Africa.” He also describes his country as “a small country between Somalia and Ethiopia on the coast of the Red Sea.”

Me'ad © 22/06/2015

Me’ad © 22/06/2015

Comfortably proud of his African and Djiboutian identity, his name Me’ad coincidentally is an Arabic word meaning ‘appointment’ and a Somali name literally signifying “lots of rain drops” as a time of prosperity. He tells that growing up in Djibouti was very interesting thanks to the mix of cultures. This mix initially came from Yemeni traders due to Djibouti’s proximity to the Middle East, the Afar ethnic group from the northern lands of Djibouti, the French and Somali people. Strategically, the French kept Djibouti under their administration to counteract the British influence in the region. Me’ad has very fond memories of the strong sense of community that existed  and still exists in Djibouti as “we were very much supported and protected by my family in Djibouti and in Somalia.”

Somali people speak a more literary and classical Somali and are more connected to the Somali culture. The Somali (as an ethnic group) of Djibouti were more influenced by the West and other cultures through the French, the Arabs and other local ethnic groups. On 27 July 1977, Djibouti gained its independence and the 9 year-old Me’ad still remembers the excitement at that time. He particularly recalls the popular emergence of a Somali band with patriotic songs that he saw the concert of in Djibouti.

Proud Djiboutian with a passion for music and arts, Me’ad shares with Far From Africa his anthology of Somali and Afar music through the following extracts.

“This song is titled ‘Hooyooy La’aanta’ (without mother – the importance of maternal love) is interpreted by a famous and one of the best Somali singers, Mohamed Souleiman Tubeh. His debut started in Djibouti in the late 50s before he went to Somalia.  I like this song because of all the affection I have for my mother.”

“This a video of traditional Somali dance. It revives memories of my childhood as it was a way to socialise and we often attended this kind of spectacle. It was very funny to see adults seducing each other.”

“This is traditional Afar dance. I grew up in a multicultural suburb of Djibouti City and some of my neighbours were Afar. Sharing this video is a way for me to pay tribute to some of my Afar childhood friends and my nieces and nephews who are Afar too.”

This song is extracted from a theatre play titled ‘Gar caadawe iyo caashaq’ and it is the first play I saw in my life in 1973 when I was 5.”


He describes this music as very rhythmic with lyrics on patriotism or on various topics going from societal issues to honesty and unity. “The language that singers use is very metaphoric making the lyrics very poetic. I don’t know how they do it!” Today, Djiboutians still appreciate Somali and Djiboutian music as well as folk dances and young people tend to listen to the modern version of those songs.

After being in Australia for almost 20 years, Me’ad now works in democracy advocacy and policy, another passion of his. He believes that good governance and electoral system are “critical to help a country develop and change. It is the foundational basis for effective and successful development projects and societal change.”

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Beyene, a Tigrinya word for Justice

Rare is it to hear TV news or read articles on Eritrea. Some people might roughly locate the country in East Africa, but where? Eritrea is one of the countries in the Horn of Africa, and unlike its neighbours, it possesses a long coast line on the Red Sea facing the Arabic peninsula.

© Marion Cabanes - 16/06/2013

© Marion Cabanes – 16/06/2013

Among the 4 million Eritreans, I met Beyene who has recently left Brisbane to start a new career in Melbourne. Beyene is from the Tigrinya tribe and speaks his native language among many others. He explains that his small country is home of nine different ethnic groups: Tigrinya, Tigre, Afar, Saho, Bilen, Rashaida (Arabs), Hedareb, Kunama and Nara. His description of Eritrea’s cultural, linguistic and religious diversity evokes this beautiful mosaic of cultures in one small country. One of the many beauties of Eritrea is that all diverse groups fought over 30 years for their independence from Ethiopia to become one nation in 1991.

This country is an incredible coming union of nine tribes, a mixture of Muslims, Catholics, Orthodoxes and Protestants who have chosen to live together, and a territory geographically shaped by low and high lands.

To continue and understand Beyene’s journey to Australia, we need to see the current political system that has kept one man in power for the last two decades. Having studied in South Africa, did further studies and worked in Ethiopia with USAID on rural enterprise development, and travelled to Europe and America, Beyene affirms “I had never had plans to leave Eritrea. When traveling to other countries, people tried to convince me to settle here and there but I always wanted to live in my country with my wife and my three children”.

His ambition to make a difference in Eritrea and his experience as a Journalist forced him to secretly escape his beloved country. On a wet rainy night, he traveled from Eritrea to the border city of Sudan for 18 hours on foot. Later he arrived in Karthoum (Capital of Sudan) to collect his passport that he had previously sent to the Australian Embassy in Kenya. A friend of him based in Nairobi sent it back to him with a visa for Australia. Soon after, he landed in Brisbane full of sadness to be separated from his family and his country.

Beyene worked as a Maths and Business Teacher for the Queensland Department of Education until he obtained the opportunity to join the Melbourne SBS team as the Executive Producer of the brand new Tigrinya Program. I first met Beyene in Brisbane and was touched by the telling of his journey to Australia. When I met him again in Melbourne, I sensed his hope for his family to get a visa as well as I could see how proud he was of achieving so much in the last three years.

Eritrea is a resource-rich country in diamond, potash, possibly oil and offers an attractive coast line on the Red Sea. The resources and potential to develop tourism could make Eritrea wealthy and developed as we First World people perceive it. Beyene brings a different perspective on wealth and talks about the potential of his country by describing Eritreans as “hardworking, social, welcoming and peaceful people”. He adds “they strive for better life albeit all the difficulties they are facing”. Saying that, Beyene, a name meaning ‘Justice’ in Tigrinya, is happy to be the voice of his compatriots back home or based overseas who are ready to take their future into their own hands. In this sense, Beyene advises young Eritreans in Australia to “study and become involved in the economic system to improve themselves. Know the system, the education opportunities, the language and participate to the economy”.

Today Beyene’s biggest wish is to be reunited with his wife and three young children in Melbourne. Nonetheless, he still holds the dream to acquire a small farm in Eritrea that would produce lemons, onions, chili peppers, tomatoes as he used to. For now he keeps counting the days and nights that separate him from his beloved ones.

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