Seven spheres upward and you have the real heaven, or paradise, where saved souls take the harp and sing eternal praises to their creator. Seven geological strata down under and it is hell with demons that come in many shapes and sizes.
Most have blue skin and are provided with fangs to tear the flesh of the ungodly, and a tail so that you can distinguish them from angels.
The underworld of the demons is also known as Tenos, probably from the Greek god Tartarus, son of chaos who made Lxion and Tantalus suffer in Hades of hell for their iniquities.
A friend of mine once told me that hell (whatever it is) blazes so hot that you can feel your skin searing only forty kilometers away from its gates. He didn’t tell me though if it was under the ground or somewhere in the dark retreats of the universe.
Anyway, to most old Eritreans the world entails a place of imperfection. It is always nine, and you can never make it ten, they say, however hard you might try. In other words, you can’t win them all.
Let’s say you win in the national lottery. You are beyond yourself with joy, moving around in the house in all four and barking like a dog. But, something inside tells you that it is too god to be true. The telephone rings. It’s bad news. You have just lost a dear friend. The world is vein, you say, and wish the gods had kept your friend alive and took away your money instead. If this goddamned world can’t find a place for my friend to live within it, what is then, the meaning of life you say?!
When Nigusse, the Eritrean legendary figure died (probably through treachery) fighting, his people mourned him thus:
“O Negusse, look how the world is vain and empty, they have taken your gun to the market to be sold, they have put your spear and your sandals for sale, they won’t fetch much, but they will make us weep just the same.”
Similar ballad was composed by the village folks after the death of another Eritrean legendary figure who dropped dead after seeing the Evil one during a hunting expedition.
“O hans wedi Zemo look how vain is this world….e.t.c”
What the songs mentioned above tried to convey is very simple to understand. If this world cannot accommodate the brave and the hero, then it’s worthless and empty. It is also said that if the wicked person dies and is taken to the graveyard for burial, the earth refuses to allow him/her in her bosom. It manifests its rejection by producing earthquakes or emitting a cavernous howling as if to say: Be gone, O son of perdition!
Such a person, who most probably had been so unjust to the poor when on this earthly plane, is now considered by the people as the embodiment of wickedness and is rejected even by the dust on which he/she used to tread. What about the shape and nature of the mother earth itself? When I was a little child, the house maid with a fertile imagination used to tell me that the earth was indeed flat, and that on the other side of the flat disc lived all kinds of people some with tails, others with horns, not to mention giants and cannibals.
Most Eritreans reproach the world for its perfidy, infidelity, vanity, cruelty, its double standard, its being two-timer, and label it as a liar, a cause for family misunderstanding, for the fight between brothers, treacherous and a brazen-faced traitor.
Yet, if you ask the perpetrator of such ‘defamation’ to simply wish for death and leave this earth for good, the answer will come as a surprise: Are you kidding, who doesn’t want to live forever?
In some Eritrean folk poetry, the world is portrayed as a place of paradoxes where the spirit and the flesh fight for domination and control of the person. But the old and the wise prefer to liken the world to a school built for mortals. We learn as we grow and in the course of our life, we climb abstract mountains, descend into spiritual valleys, fall into an allegorical abyss, bump against mental walls, make symbolic turns, run through subconscious barriers, burst like volcanoes, swallow our anger, live with our humiliations and sorrows, suffer injustices, tolerate the intolerable, smile to hide our feelings and continue in this sweet torment until the day we die.
My friend Haile, tells me jokingly to enjoy my problems. I like that. I think most of us Eritreans would more readily subscribe to such kind of philosophy than venting our anger as western psychiatry would have us do. However, it is one thing to enjoy one’s problems; it is yet another thing to take them not as simple problems but as real challenges.
“It’s when we have learned everything the world had to teach us that we finally die,” I heard an old man comment one day. The moment you graduate from college life, death overtakes you. You have been taking an extensive course on life for 80 years, in vain.
According to Eritrean philosophy, the world is not only imperfect but it is also contradiction in motion. A likeable rogue, as it were. It gives pleasure and it bestows pain at the same time. But with all its injustices, no one wants to leave it soon.
There is a traditional ballad addressed to the old, and the dying (who want to go on living despite infirmities caused by senility and agonizing pain) which goes more or less as follows:
“If your eyes have already decided to stop seeing for you,
And if your ears have become too proud to listen
And if your legs have refused to support your weakened frame
And your hands to bring food to your toothless mouth
Then there is nothing much left for you to do in this world of dust
Except to bid farewell once and for all time
And join those who preceded you to the world of eternity
For the world indeed a nice place to live
And you can’t have too much of it
But when the system is in a state of collapse
And the organs refuse to obey
Noble Death is to be preferred to ignoble life.”
According to tradition, the earth, which was created a long time ago as a place for mankind to sweat and toil, will one day be made to screech to a halt. That’s the end of the world as we know it. Everything that has a beginning must also have an end. It’s as simple as that.
And when will be the end of times?
An old lady recently told me that if women are occupying posts previously had been reserved for noble me, it’s a sign that the world will soon come to an end.
It is her thoughts that have come to an end, but she doesn’t know it. She belongs to the previous generation. She was watching a play made for her days. The play is now over. And the audience has already left for home.
Oh, capricious world, goes another Eritrean ballad, you don’t hold to the same principle long enough to earn our respect. The idea of a treacherous world will always remain in the minds of old and ageing Eritreans.
For the younger generation though the world as they put it is perfectly imperfect! Everything is as it should be. Daily life provides us with the lessons we need to learn, grow, and evolve. These experiences are necessary for our highest good and learning. Yet, if we fail to learn the lessons we are doomed to repeat them until we do.