Kunama people of Eritrea faces persecution from their own government just like how the Ethiopian rulers and Italian invaders did because they have darker skin, believe in their ancient traditional religion and cultural patterns and they like to stay in their native lands to fight for their rights.(see;http://assenna.com/recent-news-from-inside-eritrea-the-eritrean-dictatorial-regime-is-evicting-kunama-farmers-from-their-ancestral-farm-lands/)

                                             Kunama people from Berentu,Eritrea at a Wedding

The Kunama people and the Nara are the two ancient tribes that domiciled in Eritrea before the coming of the black light-skinned tribes to occupy their lands as neighbors. In other words the Kunama and Nara are the original inhabitants of Eritrea  that has been occupying southern part of western lowlands. The Kunama people,in particular, has been target of persecution from the ruling Ethiopian regimes and the Italians colonizers that invaded Eritrea.

 The Ethiopian kings/elitist regime heads and the Italian invaders saw Kunama people as backward pagans who worship deities and are not willing to change their ways to conform their ways. They called them "Barias" (slaves) and made use of the light-skinned Eritrean tribes in their divisive campaign of persecution by pitching them against the Kunama in their tribal raids which includes rustling of Kunama cattle, capturing of Kunama tribes people and enslaving them. The  light-skinned tribes were seen as superior because they were already having either Islam or Christianity as their faith. Those who were not yet believers readily became Christian and Muslim converts.
                        Ace Eritrean African Pop singer and Freedom fighter in Eritrean War of
                        Independence, Dehab Faytinga Neberi aka Faytinga is a member of Kunama tribe

That same approach used by both Ethiopian rulers and Italian invaders in persecuting Kunama people is still being used by the current Eritrean regime. Kunama people faces daily persecution for daring to speak against their government in defense of their land and fundamental human right. They are constantly targeted for mass murder and some of them are either in refugee camps or have fled out of the country for their safety.
Below is the most authentic historical account of Kunama people by Dr Alexander Naty.

                            Kunama woman carrying load in a unique way

"The various ethnic groups in Eritrea refer to the Kunama with different names. Their neighboring and culturally related Nara calls them Diila. The Tigre and the Hedareb refer them as Bazen, a name that in recent
times has been in decline probably due to its historical implications to the Axumite king Bazen of ancient Abyssinia. The Kunama use the name Kunama to call themselves. The meaning of the name has been
misunderstood. For example, the Italian Franciscan priest, Father Giuseppe Fermo (1950) who compiled a Kunama Italian dictionary associates the name to the Oromo word "konama", which means "my people". The term Kunama means natural.

Among the Kunama if an individual misbehaves, often people would utter that that the person is not behaving the "Kunama way" (i.e. the natural way). Similarly if you request drinking water from a woman who has a
beer too, the woman would ask you "bia Kunama henube aifa?" The meaning of this statement is "do you want natural water or beer?" In these two context the word Kunama is used to mean natural.
                                             Kunama Beauty from Eritrea

The Kunama are a sedentary agricultural people located in the former Gash-Setit region. The region is now called Gash-Barka. They cultivate crops such as sorghum, millet and varieties of legumes. The names Gash

and Setit derive from the names of two rivers (Gash and Setit) in the area. The Kunama refer to Gash and Setit rivers as Sona and Tika respectively. The Italians and the Ethiopians adopted the name gash and
Setit. Currently the region is called Gas-Barka, which includes the former Gash-Setit, Barka and some areas from the former Hamasien and Serae regions.

     Kunama man from Barentu,Eritrea with traditional scars on the face
© Eric Lafforgue
The Kunama language belongs to the Nilo-Saharan language family. Although we speak of the Kunama as a homogenous group, there are variations that manifest historical, linguistic and cultural differences.
These regional groupings include, Marda, Barka, Aimasa, Tika, Taguda, Sokodasa, Ilita and Bitama. The dialects spoken among the Ilita and Bitama are quite different from the others that there has been a tendency
to consider them as two different ethnic groups. The Bitama (from the Kunama word "bia tama", which means "fresh water" have intermarried with the Hedareb so much that they have adopted the language, culture and religion of the latter.
 In the past the Kunama followed their traditional religion, but now some have adopted Christianity whereas a few converted to Islam. The exact number of the Kunama population is unknown because of the lack of census in the country. In 1984-85 the Central Statistical Authority of the Government of the Socialist Ethiopia conducted a census and according to this census the Kunama numbered about 100,000. Apparently this number, included the Kunama in Eritrea, Tigray and the Gonder province. According to the Eritrean government the Kunama constitute about 2% of the total population of the country.

                                     Kunama girl
The Kunama have been organized along matrilineal clan social organisation. Individuals trace their descent through the mother's line. Alberto Pollera (1913; 1935) has reported that there are the following four clans among the Kunama: Karaua, Shua, Semma and Gumma. These clans are limited only in certain areas. They are found in Barka, Tike and Aimasa regions. These clans are referred to as Kara, Nataka, Serma and Gurma respectively in marda. Among the Marda there are many clans that do not exist in other areas of the Kunama land. These clans include Kasara, Doba, Lakka, Momoda, Alaka and Shila. Some clans such as the Kara, Nataka and Kasara among the Marda have subdivisions. For example, kara and Nataka have three subdivisions whereas the Kasara clan has two subdivisions. The different clans that exist in the society have certain important social and political roles. Some clans are responsible for bringing rain. Others are entrusted the role or warding off locusts and insects from damaging crops. In terms of political organizations, what Africanist anthropologists refer to as stateless or acephalous political system characterizes the Kunama. A council of elders who know the customary laws administer the society democratically. As a result, no inequality in power relations developed among the different segment of the community. Women in the society
had and still have a higher social status compared to others societies in Eritrea.

Before the advent of the Italian colonialism, the Kunama had hostile relations of the ethnic groups in their surroundings. There were raids from the Abyssinians. These raids were aimed at looting cattle and enslaving people. The Abyssinians enslaved the people without any pity because the Kunama were not Christians at that time. In the eyes of the Abyssinians of the time, the enslaving of the "pagan" communities was acceptable. On their part the Kunama carried out counter raids against the Abyssinians. The Kunama raided also the Hedareb people of Eritrea.
Cunama (Kunama) Aimasa Man
More from one of my mother's old photograph albums from when she was in Ethiopia in 1947. These were probably taken by a commercial photographer during the Italian Occupation                                     
The Kunama refer to these raids as sakada masa or bada. Through such raids, they were able to bring women from other societies as captives. By having them go through a ritual, (known as kafala dora in Kunama), women were incorporated into the clans of their captor. In this way, the society incorporated females from other neighboring groups as mechanism of multiplying members of the society. The lack of social discrimination against such individuals in society facilitated a smooth integration of women in the society.

The existence of names of clans referring to some of the neighbouring societies among the Kunama is an indication of the incorporation of members from other communities. The clan names Alaka and Shila mean Tigrean and Tigre respectively. Originally members of Alaka and Shila clans must have come from the Tirgrean and Tigre ethnic groups.
Typical hair-style of the Kunama ethnic tribe, in Eritrea
Among the Kunama of Marda there is a legend that indicates that members of the Shila clan were originally Tigre. In the past girls among the Tigre were not supposed to get pregnant unless they were married. Those girls who became pregnant without legal marriage were killed. One would imagine that this practice must have been adopted after the Tigre conversion to Islam. In any case, a girl became pregnant and she told
about her pregnancy to her brother who did not want his sister's death. They decided to flee to the land of the Kunama ethnic group. The girl delivered her child there. According to this Kunama oral tradition,
members of the Shila clan trace their descent to this legend.

Kunama oral history is full of stories about Abyssinian raids. The raids of ras Alula, a war general of Emperor Yohannes and later Menelik, in the late nineteenth century are often remembered in the collective memory of the Kunama. The raids of ras Alula are commonly referred to as Alula masa. During these raids a lot of cattle were looted from the Kunama (Haggai Erlich 1996; 101-106).
 Indeed, the oral history shows that because of such looting there were no livestock in the society. As a
result, the Kunama had to adopt a system of cultivation known as gooso kooba as a way of restructuring themselves to the previous situation. In this system, a human being, (usually a man) dragged the plow and
another person plowed. The Kunama also abandoned the practice of paying the bride-wealth in terms of cattle during marriage. The raid of Alula also took away many Kunama into slavery. Consequently the
population was significantly reduced. What was the reaction of the Kunama towards such raids? Adult men fought back against the Abyssinians. Some Kunama (mostly children, elderly and women) took refuge into caves.

                               Kunama bride dancing at her traditional wedding ceremony

The Abyssinians piled up firewood at the entrance of the caves and set fire. They sprinkled chili known as berbere in Tigrigna and Amharic. The suffocating effect of the smoke and the pepper forced the women to come out of the caves to be victims of the Abyssinian predators. The hostile relations of the Kunama with their neighboring ethnic groups are even reflected when an individual curses another person such as alake ebini, alghedenai ebini, shilai ebini, turukai ebini, which means, "I curse you that you will be captured by Abyssinian, Agheden Tigreand Turks respectively". All these forms of curse reflect the historical animosity of the Kunama with the external forces.
Interestingly, the Kunama have a saying that goes, alaka wa shokolana nibin nikonni, which means, "you cannot even capture a one-eyed Abissinian". This saying is often uttered to imply that someone is coward.

                                    Kunama ladies at a wedding
The traditional personal names among the Kunama reflect the names of places the raiders had gone in enemy territories. The Kunama have a tradition of naming babies after what they refer as footsteps of the
warriors. There are names such as Adwa, Makalle, Adarde and Darotai. Adwa and Makalle are names of localities in Tigray whereas Adarde and Darotai are names of places in Tigreland in Eritrea. These names are
often given to females. The initiation names of men also reflect the history of raids against the neighboring groups. For example, the name of Asubab implies the raiding of enemy cattle while they are drinking water
in the river. Similarly the name Ajjiuar denotes the attack of the enemy cattle while they are sleeping in their cattle compound at night. A more complete list of initiation names with their meanings appear in Renato
Aroro's (1974; 2124) article.

Has Anybody watched this documentary?

HOME ACROSS LANDS is a documentary that explores the journey of resettlement-- it tells the story of a small group of Kunama refugees and how they reestablish their sense of community in their new home in America. Considered to be some of the original inhabitants of Eritrea, the Kunama people are a marginalized minority populating the remote and fertile regions near the border of Ethiopia. In 1998, war between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke out in a conflict over these border lands forcing over 4,000 Kunama to flee across the border into Northern Ethiopia. In 2000, the war ended with the Eritrean government regaining control of the disputed area, separating thousands of Kunama from their homeland and way of life. Today the Kunama wait in desolation, 45 km from the disputed Eritrean/Ethiopian border, warehoused in the Shimelba Refugee Camp in Northern Ethiopia. Life in the camp is difficult and opportunities for a better life are nonexistent, but the Kunama remain committed to their strong sense of community and family in spite of their displacement. Unwanted in Ethiopia and unable to return to their homes safely, a small number of Kunama are given the opportunity for resettlement in the United States. HOME ACROSS LANDS chronicles the journey of these newly arrived Kunama as they strive to become self-reliant, invested participants in their new home. Guiding their transition is the resettlement agency, International Institute of Rhode Island, that connects them to the resources they need as they work to establish a new community and better life for their families.


By Dr. Alexander Naty. Part III (http://www.mesel-biherat.com/meselbiherat/resources/POLITICAL%20AND%20CULTURAL%20HISTORY%20OF%20THE%20KUNAMA%20PEOPLE.pdf)

                     Kunama tribe woman and a girl with a donkey.Courtesy Eric Lafforgue

Kunama spiritual tradition/religion has an enviable role for women who are mouthpiece of the gods and ancestral spirits. These women  are called Andinnas,they are held in high esteem in Kunama society. Below is a write-ups by Veleda who polished the work of Kunama Anthropology authority Gianni Dore on her page http://www.sourcememory.net/veleda/?p=87 about Andinnas.

Kunama Spiritual Andinna Matriarchs

The  institution of Andinna is common and widespread among the Kunama. This name can be used in a broad sense for any woman who becomes entranced, and more specifically for the women (andinna shadia) who are chosen by the ancestral spirits and are recognized as called and formally initiated. Only women become entranced and enter the sisterhood of Andinnas.
                                   Andinna in majesty with sword and horned feathered headdress

According to Gianni Dore the term Andinna “may be related to andà, great one, elder, ancestor… perhaps alluding to their function of mediating with the world of spirits (inà is a suffix that indicates a quality of of something).” Every year, the Andinnas fall in trance in the dry months of December and January, after the sorghum harvests. For three or four days up to a fortnight, they roam across the land, across dry, often difficult paths, visiting and being ritually welcomed into villages, where they heal and perform divinations or channel the spirits of ancestors. They “cure with herbs, are able to drive away evil spirits and protect from misfortune.”

To begin with, the Andinne undo their hair and are anointed with butter. They cover the front of their head and sometimes two forelocks with a white, hornlike crown of sheep fat. [And, according to Frank-Wissman, the fat is mixed with other sacred substances, possibly herbs.] They hang long black feathers from their heads and hold poles, the senior Andinnas carryiing staffs with bells on top for calling the spirits.
“They gather within a dagasà enclosure, usually four or five of them with their apprentices, a small, ad hoc feminine confraternity; they drink aifa, the local sorghum beer, they eat valuable foods like sesame and honey, burn incense, hold a sword. They enter trance to the accompaniment of music, singing in call and response. They also express themselves with masculine voices and bearing in public performances, and may threaten or pursue anyone who comes close…”
                                    Portrait of a Kunama woman. Eritrea | © Elsa Gebre
The Andinna are said not to remember what they say or do during these trances. The words they speak are a mixture of Kunama with Arabic and Tigrinya (a majority language in Eritrea), with glossalia (non-words) and infusions of Islamic words and place-names such as Mecca and Medina. As an example, here is an invocation by the Andinna Ka_i_a Annè of Dagìlo:

“O-di-de-do ele-le-le the spirits come, raised/ the spirits come, O mother, O mother! A single spirit comes from Mekkamedina! (…) Like a brigand o-di-de-do-oi-da-do prays in the evening, prays in the evening, I Kagigia I begin to pray/ the spirit comes only from me oi dabò.”

The women carry swords, lances, sticks, shields, feathers, and sheep fat, for ceremonial use; plants and roots for curing, and sacrificial   animals. “Even the entranced movements in their strangeness and irregularity (such as scrambling up on the roof of a hut or into the trees) are codified… Spectators sometimes participate by stepping up to support the women when they fall to their knees or into someone’s arms in deep trance.”
“The traumatic experiences of the andinna women make them agasè, intermediaries between the living and dead. Immersed in the pain of the living, they are called to resolve the sufferings of life; with their traveling as shadows, hella, between the earth, lagà, of the living and that of the dead, they reassure on the fact that the dead don’t have suspended accounts, but respond to the anxietes of the living on the fate of those whose death is not certain.”
                                                  Andinnas with wands.

At the end of the sacred period, the Andinnas go through ceremonies that return them to normality. Their relatives prepare sorghum beer and invite guests; the women often gather together in a single hut, even if there are various spirits, and they make sàmeda, the festival with the closing dance as the period of trance ends.

The andinnas return and are greeted by their relatives, who ask “How was your journey? Are you well?” And then: “Have you seen our relatives? They answer that they have met this one and that one. Various kinds of rites are performed. Some announce and prepare the ceremonies for the dead on behalf of the relatives. Others, the sasalilé, perform divinations, receiving questioners from behind a cloth, speaking in the voice of a dead relative who asks for sacrifices. Pollera describes them being wrapped in a futa on the ground, and hidden there, speaking in tongues.
This hiding of the entranced seer behind a veil or cloth appears in many places, including Indonesia, Philippines, Uganda, the beaded veils of the izangoma in South Africa and the machi in Chile.

                         Kunama woman dancing at her wedding ceremony

At the end of their sacred journey across the land while immersed in ancestral consciousness, the Andinnas return to their village for the closing ceremonies. One Italian observer described how the women danced four times, then returned in procession, with the head Andinna coming last. They were joined by two ex-andinnas who repeatedly cried out, “sullum, sadellà lilina ibba” (“goodbye, Father Sadallà, I leave you…”).

The women moved across the clearing, performing protective ritual theater and offerings: “they turn, with weapons lowered, execute right and left turns like soldiers, cross arms, remove their diadems of fat, scatter aifa-beer and milk to the four directions, leap toward the east, hissing, and then compose  themselves. Finally they closed with a sacrifical meal of chicken and injera.”

In Oganna, the procession ends up in the lower part of the village, where the Andinna dance on the final day. They act out raids with lances, chasing away spirits. A 1966 description recounts that three andinnas sang to the sound of the stringed abankalà, always played by men (while only women play the kubulà drum). [69-70] The Andinnas made four turns around the neñeda clearing with their lances, shouting, “Ussumullai, alanga, gasc, negusc, makkamedina, eliti, bitame!” They kissed the drawn sword, then the lance. Each one sacrificed a hen and drank its blood. In the afternoon they acted out a cattle-raid. They started singing outside the village and reentered, shouting over and over “Sanni morò, sanni morò abbagarà naneto. Sanni morò.” Then they ate the sacrificed meat, washed themselves and, crying, went over to a space in front of the huts.

                          An Assembly of the Andinnas

Although the Kunama are matrilineal, the profession of Andinna is not handed down by descent, only  by spirit calling. They have a saying, “Andinnas don’t have heredity.” They may have children, but not as married women (kokidiginà) whose unions are contracted between two families. They join another social category, the kokàta, who are women free to pursue love affairs as they choose.

When an Andinna accepts a student, she teaches her how to control her spirits, and ultimately decides when the novice andinna is ready to begin her practice. “The teachers of possession and their students consist of a temporary confraternity in the dry months of December and January, leading a life apart, moving from village to village and carrying out divinations and curing activities.”  They can bring through many kinds, of families or villages or deities, often on request: “… the andinnas can be invited by relatives of another village and there make festivity and fall in trance.”

“The girls are initiated and put through a long training which includes control of the body and voice. When the relatives, after having failed to find other means of resolving the crises, finally decide to take the girl to become apprenticed to an Andinna…” she is given a structured way of dealing with her state. The author calls possession “a system of action and knowledge that they absorb through a controlled process, which gives order to ‘disorder’, that coordinates everyday time with extraordinary time…. The students accompany and do services for the andinnas as they rove the spaces between this village and that…”

“The Andinnas are ankoradina, which means they are skilled with herbs and roots, carry out curing activities.” Some are sadinà (“those with sada”) which means both healing medicine and poison. The sadinà also uses ceremonial and sacrifice in her treatments. She goes several times around a sick person with a female goat, if it is a woman; with a billy goat, if a man. She offers an invocation to Annà [the co-gendered Supreme Deity of the Kunama] “that what I give you with joy will bring good effects.” She collects the goat’s blood in a receptacle and mixes the medicine into it, then bathes her patient with it, and gives a little of its meat in a broth mixed with the medicine. They split the cooked meat, and the rest of the medicine the patient mixes with milk or beer every two or four days. [Dore, 57-8, citing Ilarino Marichelli]

Other magical titles include usìne and awawe (sorcerers), and the awame, travelling healers who take out “dirt” and do massage, cure with roots and herbs. The Kunama conceive of illness as able to hide or insert itself into the body. A skilled healer can expel it through massage, especially abdominal massage, a process referred to as ula-kieke or nieke.  Lugga, an andinna of Oganna, described how “we take out sand, stones, bones” from the body of sick people.

                                  Kunama tribe kids from Eritrea

Diviners deal with spirits of dead relatives and help people in personal and family crises. The sesalilà are seers whose consultations are done at dusk, speaking from behind a curtain. The categories of awame, sesalile and andìnna are female professions, and often overlap.  Sometimes a diviner will tell where the medicine is to be gathered. Dore mentions a traveler’s account of a female diviner (wäyzäro) Essai in `Addi Sasalù, along the customary route of the Andinnas. [54, citing Sapelli's Memories of Africa]

So many aspects of Andinna spirit-selection, altered states, prophecy, and healing fit the patterns of shamans and medicine people all over the world. They travel between the worlds of the living and dead. Like shamans in many traditions, they say they do not remember what they say or do during their ecstasies. Even the strong involvement of ancestral spirits fits patterns in South Africa, Congo, Siberia, Mongolia, Chile, and other parts of the globe. The fact that the Andinnas are all women may be attributed to the matrilineal/matrilocal culture of the Kunama.
                                       Kunama woman from Eritrea

Kunama testimony about the Andinnas

According to the  Gianni Dore, an authority on Kunama Andinnas,a Christian convert of Kunama extraction from Kulluku near Gash river (Soona) named Joseph Fufa Mati (the Rev. August Andersson was the supervisor) collected the stories. He said the collection was formed around the beginning of the first world war.

The Andinnas

The andinnas, these don’t have heirs. Their profession is this: At the time of the ancestors the andinnas worked. These died. There’s a time of the year in which the andinnas are taken by the spirits, it is said. Once the spirits arrived, the andinnas run to scramble up on the house. She says thus, “O countrymen, the land has broken into combat, flee; if you don’t want to, wait until they come to throw you out and go away, are your feet tied? Why don’t you want to escape?” These words said, she plunged from the roof of the house to earth and fainted. Then her companions sprang up, turned her into an andinna, and she became their head. She then got up and transformed her companions into possessed women; she and her companions became andinnas.

Then a man went to the house of the possessed women. They did like this: when a sick person comes from them, they say they are extracting the ill from that person. Some of them pull out stick from him. Others say they extract pebbles. Having done this, they take recompense in sorghum, sesame, millet, tobacco, honey and meat. For seriously ill people, some of them kill a white she-goat and collect a little of the blood in a receptacle. Then they take the ill out of the sick person and pour a little water and cover him; with the goatskin they cover the sick person’s head, with that skin they wrap up his body so that the spirits and the ailment go out of the sick person.

Because of this they call them andinnas, but they do not have heirs. [77, Note 2, contrasts this with the many Kunama offices inherited by matrilineal law. 78, note 5, explains that the sick person rides two or three times the animal to be sacrificed. Poorer folk use eggs instead.]

Extracting illness energies out of the sick is a classic practice by medicine people all over the world. So is the use of sacrificial blood, herbs, or eggs, to cleanse and infuse energy. Other African accounts repeat the theme of shamans climbing up onto roofs, or sometimes into trees, when in ecstasy, for example among the shaman-diviners of the BaYaka in Congo.


Now here is the story of the andinnas. The possessed women in the summertime [do] thus according to their custom: they don’t eat honey, nor do they eat fresh sesame; thus they remain until the fire festival is celebrated in this time. They take themselves to the countryside, they collect roots of curative plants and then go to the river; arriving at the river, they scoop a dent in the water and put the curative root in the water which streams around it; they undress and bathe. Then returning home, they mix sesame and honey with water brought from the river and put the medicine in it; all the andinnas consume it. Then the rest of the medicine they put upon the door lintel and also put it under and in the clay oven and in the fireplace. That’s how they do it according to their custom.

                                       Entranced Andinnas roaming the Kunama country

This beautiful ritual uses plants and the power of living water to heal.

Andinnas goddita [the closing ritual]

Then the next day the women go to bring water and in midday the possessed women do the closing dance. Once the aifa is filtered, they take it to the clearing, then they sound the cithar of the andinnas and the women begin to dance. The women clap their hands and dance, then at the center of the clearing they counterpoise their lances. One at a time the possessed women throw themselves on the lances, each one throws herself on the lance, all the andinnas do thus. Then a woman takes the sorghum beer in a clay receptacle, and stands in the middle of the clearing. Then the andinnas, dipping their fingers in the aifa, spray it here and there; then one at a time they all run away and the men hold them up so they don’t fall. All the andinnas do this.

Then all the andinnas are brought home, they rush to take the chicken meat from each others’ container and eat it. The andinnas are bathed, then they take off the fat from their hair, and send the spirits back to their countries. From this moment they come back to normal. Once back in their normal state, they begin crying and saying, Where is my son, where is my husband, where are my relatives? Then when they stop crying, they are given millà greens to eat. Then they offer aifa to those present.

Then their companions come to find the andinnas back to normal and greet them saying, Have you returned well from your journey? Are you well, they say. Have you seen our relatives? and they answer, saying We met in this or that place of the dead this one and also that one. So to the youth who is not married they say that he is married there and has come with his wife and they found each other. And offering tobacco to the spirits they also take tobacco. Now I have written the story of the possessed. Tell me another.

The above describes the closing ritual after the Andinna-s have spent weeks in trance, going in procession from village to village,  carrying out healings, oracular speech, and feasting on special food.

In the appendix, Dore includes a colonial letter referring to orders to question the women affected by the “devil”. This language is typical of colonial European demonization of the indigenous religion, and reflects a systemic campaign to eradicate it. The writer describes how three women sang in honor of the Elephants, Giraffes, and Buffalos and saluted the brigands, repeated two more times these salaams. He recounts the usual multi-glossal chants of the andinnas.

One morning they played their cithar and playfully set about drinking from a pumpkin gourd given by the countryfolk and another gourd of honey mixed with sesame and another gourd of meal, of uaca, and of water; they killed a white hen putting the flesh in a clay cup, then with the water of the last gourd the three women wash their hands making the water pour in the gourd with the meat and with their hands washed, they rub their feet, mouths, and navels.

Then they give the meat to children and begin to disport themselves with the cithar, two of the women spread a mat on the ground and lay down covering themselves with a futa, and from under there saluted the people who were around, while the third woman threw herself on them shouting Ualladi Salama, uommi salama onani soan salama, then begins to speak a language which is neither Arabic or Baza or Tigré, and then is healed.
Beautiful young Kunama tribe girl from Eritrea with an awesome smile.© Eric Lafforgue 

Sociopolitical aspects of the Andinnas


The Kunama have withstood repeated invasions and raids from more powerful, more patriarchal neighbors. Outsiders often call them by the depreciating name Barià, meaning slaves. For three centuries the Kunama were forced to pay tribute to the Funj empire of Sudan, who also took many of them captive and enslaved them. This traumatic history colors their language: where we might say to someone, “Are you crazy?” the Kunama expression is, “Has a Funj taken you?”
Dore emphasizes that Kunama land is “a territory historically exposed to risk,” and that the Andinnas give expression to collective trauma in their ritual theater, “transforming the memory of violence undergone.” They enact Otherness and themes of border-crossing, in a way similar to the zar religion. They smoke and use male behavior, gestures, voices. They reproduce the gestures, moods, positions or bodies of foreign spirits, of the dominators. They act out raids and counter-raids, with acts modeled on European and Ethiopian armies, such as drills and presenting arms. Some of their songs are battle songs. 

They recall terrible attacks by outsiders: “O countrymen, the country has broken out in battle, flee; if you don’t want to, wait until they come to throw you out and go anyway. Are your feet bound? Why don’t you want to escape?” 
“Why you have lost the enemies? Why you have not held your lance tightly? Why you have not held your lance tightly to kill the one who eats berbere [Ethiopians or Eritreans]? Why you have lost the enemies?” 
“Why we do not burn? Why we do not put to fire Adua and Makalle? Why we do not burn Sawa?”
Dore says this is “to control and also emotionally express the violence undergone, and the fear.”  That is indubitable, but there may be another dimension he does not consider: the activation of protective spirits around Kunama lands. Even the processional route the Andinnas traverse seems to have a protective magical dimension. There is also the aspect of women acting out warrior and specifically masculine behavior: “I’m on the trail of the Beni Amer [Muslim invaders of Kunama country]. I don’t hide what my mother and father say. I am like a strong man, I am perverse and don’t do what I’m told.”
Another layer of politics is from recent colonial rule and European religion. The earliest accounts of Andinnas (of Kunama culture generally) come from Swedish and Italian missionaries, and are deeply stained with their prejudices against indigenous religion and culture as pagan superstition. A Swedish letter from Kulluku village refers to the mother of a young convert as a “witch doctor.” Dore points out that the woman may well have been an Andinna.
The Italian-Kunama dictionary compiled by Catholic missionaries renders Andinna as a “spirit-woman, witch.” She has ties to Sadalla, a being who is glossed as Lucifer, chief of the demons, even though for the Kunama, Sadalla does positive actions and healing. He is the spirit who comes to give warnings to the Andinnas who fall immediately in a week-long  trance. During that time they speak in tongues and are in constant touch with Sadalla who drinks aifa with them. 
While some clergy took the more pragmatic attitude that “we don’t want to know about it,” the main thrust of the foreign missionaries was to do away with the shamanic culture of the Andinnas. Here is a story “Sadalla” told by a Christian convert, which demonizes this important spirit of the Andinnas and describes the women themselves not as healers, but as devil-possessed evildoers:
The demon and the andinnas are relatives. He lives in the deserted countryside. Then he goes into the houses. The andinnas and the spirits sit together; he has an iron stick. Then, if if his subjects behave badly, he strikes her on the neck with the iron stick. If in the country there is a sick person, he goes there. He breathes a spirit into the sick person and they get worse. He then takes to the cemetery the shadow of the sick person. The spirits carry him away and the sick person dies. He goes from country to country in search of meat, in search of honey, in search ofaifa. He breathes his spirit into a healthy person who becomes agitated. This is the story of Satan. [81]
Dore says the public performances of the Andinnas “allow insight on assymetric social relations and symbols, such as between Kunama and external forces, between men and women, human beings and spirits, the living and the dead, and to socialize the relationship between the possessed and the spirit or the spirits. [59] He remarks that even though men turn to the Andinnas in times of need, they “hold them at a distance” socially, and are afraid of them.
                                Kunama dancers performing at the Festival Eritrea 2006.
Dore concentrates on the political and “theatrical” aspects, but has less to say about the spiritual. What he calls “therapeutic theater” could also be described as shamanic acts of power. This is especially true of the Andinna’s walking of a ritual course across the Kunama landscape. Their brandishing of weapons and chants appears to be protective magic that brings in power from ancestors and the land. They seem to be  warding off danger from their Kunama people, who have suffered such a long history of invasion and danger from without.
Sexual politics of a mother-right culture under siege

                         Kunama bride dancing at her wedding
Kunama women do not stay in the house; they move freely across the land in daily life. Especially young women cover a lot of terrain in bringing home water. For this reason, as well as the strong mother-right customs of their culture, they have the reputation of being “free” among neighboring peoples. These outsiders, both the Muslim Sudanese and Christian and Muslim Ethiopians, believe that Kunama women hold headship over their men. [68, note 65] This belief is fortified by the lack of sanctions against Kunama women taking lovers, something that the patriarchal neighbors disapprove and severely punish in women.
Cunama (Kunama) Aimasa Woman | More from one of Paul Jackson's mother's old photograph albums from when she was in Ethiopia in 1947. | This image was probably taken by a commercial photographer during the Italian Occupation.
Traditionally, Kunama women are free to take lovers as they choose, as a different source explains: “As soon as she reaches puberty, a Kunama girl is given a hut of her own where she can entertain her male friends. She is totally free to choose her own boy-friend, a lover or her future husband. It is very seldom that the Kunama parents would practise pre-arranged marriages for their children.” When an unmarried woman takes a lover and becomes pregnant, her parents ask her who the father is. They ask him if he is willing to marry her. If he refuses, she goes through the ‘Mashkabara’ ceremony. The young man provides a cow to be sacrificed, and the young woman’s extended family comes to mark her passage from girlhood:
“Through that ceremony, externally consisting in the changing of her hair styling, the girl is brought into the state of womanhood. The underlining meaning of this ceremony is that, to be a mother a girl has to become a  ‘woman,’ no matter whether that takes place through marriage or just simply performing the ‘Mashkabara’.” [Source: "Kunama Customs - Traditions - Pregnancy" at http://baden-kunama.com/KUNAMA CUSTOMS - TRADITIONS - PREGNANCY Part 1 RKPHA 1999-2000.html ] This excellent article continues with a description of the intense solicitude and communal support that the Kunama provide to all pregnant women, in food, labor, emotional, and in every way possible.
Kunama Tribe Girl, Barentu, Eritrea
The traditional values of the Kunama are communal and strongly egalitarian in many ways. It is a culture of sharing, free of class stratification or of one group lording it over another. Society is organized around the mother-kin, and we have already seen the importance of the Andinna priestesses. However, Kunama women are subjected to female genital excision and even infibulation. These may have been adopted from their patriarchal neighbors, who have invaded and raided and oppressed them for centuries.  However it came to be, excision is now deeply embedded in the culture. A third of Kunama women suffer the most severe form, known as infibulation. In this extremely painful ordeal, the clitoris and entire vulva are amputated and the external labia are sewn together into a wall of flesh. Heterosexual intercourse can take place only by cutting the woman open. The Kunama have a name, koda, for the special relation between two women who passed through infibulation together, their legs tied apart to each other. [Endnote 2, p 84]
In the documentary Sharifa’s Three Wishes (2000) the wishes of the deceased grandmother Sharifa all pertain to Kunama traditions. One her wishes is that a clitoridectomy should be performed on her youngest granddaughter, Geneth. “Agid, the mother of the child, tries to refuse. She would like to protect her daughter from this ordeal. Agid argues that in the city many families don’t perform this ritual anymore. The old powerful women warn that an uncircumcised women will be ostracized from the tribal society, won’t be able to inherit and will not be buried in the family grave. The primary threat is the ghost of the ancestors, which can be terrible and can bring tragedy over the entire family.” [Sharifa's Three Wishes]
Kunama dancer - Festival Eritrea 2006 - Expo Asmara Eritrea.
As the grandmother’s name indicates, some Kunama have converted to Islam, and others to Christianity. The aboriginal culture is buffeted by outside forces, as it has been for centuries. In mixed marriages (aboriginal-faith to Christian or Muslim) contradictions arise. Dore tells how one Muslim husband took the approach as the earlier missionaries: “I don’t want to know about it.” He avoided his wife when she entered trance and ordered not to even speak to him then. Yet the chants of the Andinnas reflect strong Islamic influence, with phrases like Mekka-Madina and Salam appearing often. A Catholic priest told one girl who had been an Andinna’s student, “If you are an Andinna, you can’t be a Christian!” She responded, “Yes I know, now I’m a Muslim because I invoke Meccamedina!” [Dore, 67]
The transwoman oracle
European sources always refer to the Kunama supreme Deity, Annà, as “God,” but in one place Dore indicates that the people saw Annà as co-gendered. He describes the case of a shepherd who took male lovers, declared a female identity, and became a sensation practicing divination, healing, and counter-sorcery a century ago. An Italian court case of 1903 says:
“a man dressed in women’s clothes, and wearing necklaces, went out in the country doing dances as if possessed by a spirit.” People gathered around him: “while still dancing, he told how Annà [god] had spoke to him in a dream, and had also changed his sex. This condition was for him, a man, necessary to be recognized and enjoy the rights of Ascilminà, which are always reserved to women. The people then divided into two camps, most of them shouting at the imposter, other upholding the possible truth of his assertions. [He]… assumed the female name Alima and contracted with great pomp, and to the amazement of many and the mocking laughter of others, the first marriage with one of his shepherds.” 
“But a crowd of people drove off the new couple with sticks, and they had to move to another area. They settled in a remote locale, where people came first out of curiosity and then to consult him. People were of the opinion that Alima was hermaphroditic and thus like God, as they imagined Divinity to be, as the unique origin of the Kunama line.” [ emphasis added]
Alima’s name grew, s/he got followers and a court, and a village grew up around hir. S/he was called Annà and hir village Anne Suca (God’s country). Every night s/he spoke with various dead people, relatives showing hir with abundant gifts, and more consultations followed. When the rains failed at Sogodas, a council was called, and an old man warned the assembly that they needed to discover the traitors who were hiding like snakes in the country, who were using sorcery to stop the rain. People felt there was no time to lose; the fields were baking, the witch must be found immediately if any of the crops were to be saved. They proposed to consult “Annà.”

So a group of elders went to hir with gifts and offerings. They told hir who they suspected; all were immigrants from other regions. Alima went into trance, named three of the unfortunates who had been suggested, and made recommendations on how they should pay for their sorcery. When hir pronouncements were brought back to the assembly, a howl of hate rose against the condemned. In vain, the three men protested their innocence and implored friends and relatives to protect them. A hundred hands attacked and threw them to the ground. They were killed on the spot. Alima later implicated another five men who were killed after being tortured. 
Dore speaks of the cross-dressing and assuming of feminine identity as “a necessary act because he invades a territory belonging to the andinna or ascirminè women.”  This implies that prophecy was a female realm –incarnating spirits certainly was  — but in fact male diviners also existed. The suli fada male diviners cast lots and oversaw ordeals of accused sorcerers. [84, n. 5] The witch-finding of  Alima  fits the masculine paradigm more closely than the feminine. There is no indication of this solitary oracular figure ever having been identified with the Andinnas, whose practice is thoroughly communal. No one becomes an Andinna without being initiated and taught, even though that happens after they are selected by the spirits.
Kunama woman
Their ritual practices bear some resemblances to the zar religion, another female trance religion that originated in Ethiopia and  spread to Sudan, Egypt, Arabia and beyond. Both groups while entranced smoke, brandish weapons, and manifest primarily masculine spirits, and often powerful foreigners as well. There is something going on with ceremonially working the Other, as Dore’s subtitle indicates: “Women and possession as historical archive and experience of Otherness among the Kunama of Eritrea.”

ERITREA'' (ERITREA,2003) @ [276k VBR]

(ERITREA,2003) @ 
Do you remember comrades? ... "Monsieur Eh! Who sings Monsieur? Who is she?: Incredulously staring: expression resembles that of a dog who saw meow: Aha-aha ...: is "# ¹ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♪ ♫ ♪ #" Monsieur! .. . the neighbor of the second third is of the same ethnicity: neither topic you hear this music every day ... his fill "...
Well today we will meet that Eritrean singer, beautiful, with character and with a voice almost as unique as its history priopia. 
"Faytinga is a bit like the equivalent of a fighter cmarada Charles de Gaulle gifted talent and Edith Piaf the beauty of Brigitte Bardot. " (La Grande Epoque), Release Eritrea. (Mondomix.com) online music magazine.

Dehab Faytinga Neberi (Aka Fatinga)

Born in 1963, the singer Faytinga an ethnic Kunama , one of the tribes of Eritrea where women and men have equal rights. His mother grew up in the highlands of that nation, while his father was a revered figure among the Kunama who fought for the independence of the country. So, the British administrators of the early '50s had given him the nickname "Fighting gun" ("The revolver in battle") which in turn had taken its name, Faid Tinga
In 1978, at the age of fourteen Faytinga joins troops in the liberation struggle Kunama people and become a combatant until the final arrival of the release and a final fragile Eritrean-Ethiopian war in 1991.
Dream Faytinga had always been to be a singer, and sleep, as sometimes happens wives, came true when she was sent to entertain the troops at the front with her songs as a message of hope and determination.

She composes her own songs and also interprets the work of renowned poets and composers in Eritrea as Agostino Giles Arodi Tulli, or Petro Agostino. She sings poetically too, as it is accompanied by "krar" , a string instrument very similar to a small harp.

Consumada y elegante bailarina, así como talentosa cantante, Faytinga pronto se convirtió en una de las principales figuras y fuente de inspiración para los hombres y las mujeres de su país.

.Accomplished and elegant dancer and talented singer, Faytinga soon became a leading figure and inspiration to men and women of their country.
in 1990 will tour the U.S. and Europe with his band Eritrea original but not until 1995 that will have the chance to do so, for the first time as a soloist. 

This happened after the release of their first album (on cassette tape). Thus, with increasing success among its increasingly large following, both in Africa and beyond, in the year 2000 comes to winning the 2nd prize in the ranking of East African female singers in "Ma ' Africa "in Benoni, South Africa.
In 1999 acts by the Parisian vocal duo Dire OUI in the festival "Africolor" in Seine Saint-Denis (France), just before recording their first album with international repercussions " Numey " .

Her second album, Eritrea, was recorded with the complicity of older musicians Malka family but the singer has managed to incorporate modern sounds and arrangements that make it deliciously unclassifiable.

All songs on this album are sung in ancient African language Kunama and listen to your music will recognize many ties, many similarities with other West African countries, and in some cases, to other more distant. Thus, under Eritrean lute called "Wata" is remarkably similar to "Ngoni" of Mali. Another similarity with the music from across the continent is that many of the songs Faytinga are suggestions, tips, educational sayings such as " Numey "(which means" Do not interrupt the narrator . ") However, the delicate voice Faytinga is decidedly East African characteristic, so are letters that are stories, stories often true as "Milomala" , a song about Eritrea's struggle for independence. 

On June 4, 2005, on the occasion of an exceptional gala-concert to benefit women and children affected by HIV and AIDS, Faytinga Eritrea presented in one of the first songs that directly address the issue of these serious diseases, and that is a firm commitment to support without taboos to those who suffer. 

In an interview with The Voice Magazine 'in August 2004, described Faytinga concerns, objectives and why his music : " I sing about peace, love and unity. The war did not bring any positive change for Africa but only creates refugee crises, pain, distress, discomfort and hardship. I bring the music of hope for the people. " 



She is one of Eritrea's best known singers and her personal story is a chapter in Eritrea's history. Her father was a well-known person among the Kunama tribe.

During his many years of struggle for a free Eritrea he gained the title "Fighting Gun" - a name the British gave him early in the 1950s - a play on the name "Faid Tinga". While her father was of the Kunama people, her mother grew up in the highlands and was of Tigray descent with grandparents from the Blen tribe. So Faytinga represents three of Eritrea's nine tribes.Faytinga herself participated in Eritrea's fight for independence from the age of fourteen, got her education via the struggle, and was a freedom fighter until Independence in 1991.

She has always been interested in music and has developed her own style "in the field" that is her own blend of several traditional music forms. 

Quizás también
Kunama girl in the Valley of Obelisk of the western lowlands
                                  kunama tribe boy


Kunama girl - Barentu Eritrea


Barentu, Eritrea

Kunama Girls

Kunama tribe girl - Barentu Eritrea by Eric Lafforgue, via Flickr

Kunama woman- Barentu Eritrea
             Kunama girl from Berentu,Eritrea


  1. beautiful! thank you for this lovely article!!

  2. what bullshit,everyone in eritrea is indigenous except for the rashaida. just because kunama are darker doesn't mean they are discriminated against. don't talk shit about a country you aint from.

  3. it's not bullshit it's true you have to read the historian my friend

  4. how can you claim it is bullshit if we have kunama in ethiopia who claim they were less discriminated against under socialism than under this new regime?


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