Legends and myths often go unnoticed, and little effort is made to debunk them because many believe they have little relevance to the real world. However, myths can profoundly shape people’s thinking, and individuals may act based on what they believe to be true. It is when people act upon these myths that their effects can become horrific. A prime example of this is the Holocaust, where many Germans believed the myths that scapegoated Jews for Germany’s problems, leading to the devastating consequences of the Holocaust.
One myth that is prevalent in Ethiopia is the understanding of the word “Banda.” Banda is synonymous with “traitor,” referring to someone who collaborates with the enemy to harm their own country. While this definition is not problematic, the issue arises when Ethiopians make the term ethnic-specific. They often label soldiers from the former Italian colony of Eritrea as “bandas” because they served the existing administration. However, logically, the Eritreans administered by the Italians cannot be considered “bandas” if they served the government under which they were governed at the time. Moreover, the responsibility for Eritrea being under Italian rule lies with Emperor Menelik, who sold Eritrea to Italy, not with the Eritrean people themselves.
Ironically, the true “bandas” are the Amhara Askaris of Italy, specifically those from Debre Berhan, who betrayed their own country by serving the enemy. They had their own government, albeit in exile, but chose to align with the enemy against their fellow citizens who were fighting against the Italians.
Legends and myths are created through various means. One example is a German myth passed down from generation to generation, suggesting that bananas are crooked because a Black man in the jungle bends them that way. Another example demonstrates how rumors and lies can be considered as facts and spread until the originator of the story refutes it.
In debunking the popular myth regarding Alula’s role in the amputation of Eritrean prisoners of war (POWs) after the Battle of Adwa, it is essential to consider a few logical points. The authority to punish or pardon POWs lies with the sovereign of the country, in this case, the Emperor. If Alula had the authority to punish POWs, he would also have had the authority to pardon them. Punishment and pardon are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated. After the Battle of Adwa, Menelik pardoned the Italians, indicating that it is highly unlikely that Alula, who was an enemy of the Italians, would have pardoned them. Therefore, the myth surrounding Alula’s involvement in the amputation of Eritrean POWs seems unfounded.
It is crucial to openly discuss and debunk such myths, like the Alula myth, to foster understanding and promote reconciliation between Tigrigna-speaking people from both sides of the Mereb River. The consequences of failing to debunk these myths can be seen in the inspiration they provide for Eritrean soldiers to execute genocidal agendas and the deafening silence of many Eritreans, especially those in the diaspora. It is my hope that a balanced assessment of responsibility will be undertaken in the aftermath of the conflict, encompassing both Ethiopians and Eritreans who actively participated in the genocide and those who remained silent.
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