The Origin and Start of the Belew

Written by: Aida Kidane

The origin and start of the Belew, where they came from and where they spread to...

Abdel Min Telb fathered Abbas and Abdella. And Abdella was the father of the prophet Mohammed. And Abbas was the father of Belew. Abbas was given title, his son and grandson that his descendents reigned for 500 hundred years. After this, Belewi was born; he grew up and was given title.

Then the sword was taken up in Mecca, and the ones who fought him took power of Mecca. So defeated, Belewi and followers crossed to the island of Ire. After ruling some time there, he fought the Frengis (white men) and defeated them. Even in second fighting with them, he won over them. But they fought him the third time and this time they won.

After that, Belewi left the island of Ire. He went from the land of island Ire, which was water to the right and left, and settled on that road, and in a place called Kelhi dug water well (Hatsbi), and passers by and traders going thru his place were buying water from him on way to Ire.

When the frenjis won on their swords, he later left the place he was in and island of Ire on the right side behind him and went to a place called Geromota and fortifying himself there, ruled there. At this time, the Kebessa and the land known of the three Mefles (Sahel) were all Christians.

There was no single Muslim there. So the Christians marched at night and attacked Belewi, and all who were found outside the fort were taken as prisoners. Then at sunlight they fought again and Belewi won over them. But because the Christians were numerous in the land, Belewi was forced to leave with his followers and arms away to the Barka area.

There the Fuj (Funj) were ruling and he entered under their rule. The Fuj used to nominate those they liked and defeated those they did not. So Belewi became settled there and got cattle. And they lived there like that.
One day, a Diglel of unknown father and tribe came there and was received by one of Belewi's officials. This official gave him food and mat of tenkobet. This Diglel used this tenkobet mat as bed at night and hanged it up above two zengi (wall linings?) in daytime for shade.

They lived like this and one day while the official of Belewi was asleep, he went deep into dream where a man came to him saying, "This Diglel who is your guest in your home and is being kindly zi-meshaken, your title will be transferred to him".

At daylight, the official woke up and called a meeting of all his father's people (his people) and told them he will give his daughter to this Diglel for engagement. But the people opposed him saying do not give her to him. And he asked why? They said whose son is he?

Where is his tribe? Of which country is he that you offer him this? But he was determined and said he will do it.

So the man with his children started preparing a wedding tent, Ablo. But the people cut the tent with swords destroying it. He said to them why his daughter's tent was cut down and started fighting with swords amongst them.

Much blood was flowed in Belews land and they stopped the killing. The determined official rebuilt the wedding tent and married his daughter to the Diglel. But after the wedding, after six months, the Diglel died. As his bride was with child, she bore a son. P1 of Tigrina ends here).

His mother's uncles married her away to another man, and this nephew grew up with them and then married him to one of his cousins. One day as he was playing with his peers, a stone flew and hit him at his head, membesbes, and he fell dead.

The other boys cried the son of the Diglel has died! When asked who killed him no one knew, people said it must be those playing with him. So his maternal uncles and grandfather buried him. And his wife was with child.

After some time, the official went to Belew and asked him to contribute blood money. Belew agreed to give the money, but as according to tradition, the dead's people shall come forward and sit on mat on our doorstep, if he has tribesmen. His grandfather answered that he has no paternal relatives.

Belew said if he has no paternal relatives whom should we give the blood money to? His grandfather answered, "I am his tribe". He was told you are amongst us as money givers and will be given the money? Do you think you will be given the money? And so they separated like this.

At these uneasy times, the girl gave birth to a child, and was a boy. His maternal uncles raised this child.

After some time, his grandfather the official died. Then the Belew people dug the grave of the Diglel and took out the skull sewing it with lakha, cloth, used it as grain measurer at the market.

The grandson of the Diglel one day went to the market to buy grain and was told to measure it with his father's skull. He went to his mother and said, "Mother, when I play with the boys, they say that the sons ob Belew killed my father, and when I went to the market, they say measure the grain by your father's skull, what is the meaning of this?" he asked his mother.

His mother used to keep this secret from him. Now he threatened her to tell him or he will commit suicide.
So his mother told him that his grandfather came here and her grandfather had her father's sister married him. When your father was in his mother's womb, your grandfather died. Then your father was born and married me. When playing, the sons of Belew killed him, and you were in my womb.

Then my grandfather died, and the people dug out your father's skull and used it to measure grain, in quarter measure, sewing it. That is why they said to you to measure by your father's skull.

After this official or chief had died, the Belew people were without a chief, because of this boy. His maternal uncles used to pierce their camels and cattle as brand. Their sister's son said I will do the same and taking one of the cattle, pierced her on her right ear. He dressed his cloth on, Fatetu, on one of his camel.

When his uncles returned, they saw that cow was pierced. When they asked who did it, they were told it was Naseh, and they said let it be his. When they came to the camel, they saw one camel with a cloth on her back. And when asking who put the cloth on the camel, were told it was Naseh too. They said let this camel be his.

After that, the cattle from his cow were called Lige Naseh. And offsprings of the camel were called Fat'et. So these two's offsprings are even now regarded as royal to the Diglels (lords). End of p 2 in Tigrina.
One of a lige Naseh, a cow is regarded equal to a man. And of the Fat'et camel, one mensya asserte (year) is taken to Barya. These are from the chief of the Belew people.

When this chief died, they were without chief for a long time. So the Belew people counselled to go to the Fuj to be given a chief from them. So when the sons of the chief travelled, they took with them this boy, to care for their horses.

The Fuj chief received them. Food was served with five in one group served. One small plate with delicious food was sent along with the other large plates. The Belew men sat in accordance, five on one plate.

This small and delicious plate was left. A man could not separate from his group to eat alone, so they said let this son of Diglel eat it. So this small and known food was given to the Diglel son and he ate of it.

Then next day, the Fuj sultan sent them all dresses of the same kind, but one different and beautiful smaller dress with them. The men wore the same dress and this small cloth left. They were told there was a cloth left.
They said it was too small for any of them and let it be given to the son of the Diglel. So this son of Diglel wore this smaller and prettier cloth.

It continued that the Belew men were given large plates of food but one small one alone and cloths all the same but one small one for a year the chief not summing them. Then they were received by the Fuj sultan and said they were without a chief for long time enough, even being here a long time, so elect a chief for us or give the old title to our preceedors.

The sultan answered saying I sent you the same food plates, and same time sent a small and special plate.

So which of you was feeding of this small plate?

They answered that the plate was small and a man could not separate from his group, so this child, the son of the Diglel was eating of it.

The sultan said well, but I sent you cloths but one prettier and smaller, who was wearing it? They answered that as it was small, a full-grown man could not wear it and we gave it to this child.

The sultan said then that title was given from God, not me, so God has elected this child for you. He will be your chief. They answered whose son or tribe is he electing, he is not our son, he has no country.
The sultan said God elected him, are you not aware that a chief has different food and cloths? So now he is your chief. The Belew refused to accept him saying he was not of their blood. Even his maternal uncles refused his appointment. So they dispersed.

The Fuj sultan called for the child and asked him whose son and tribe he was from. The son answered saying he did not know of his tribe but that his grandfather came there, the chief married him to his daughter and he settled here, and my father was born. And when my father was playing with boys, they killed him. The sultan asked the son if he accepts being a chief.

The son said if you give me title I would not refuse it. If you really accept me as your son, bring me 12 of the tribesmen my father is rumoured of being from. The sultan said to accept you as my son and elect you, suck from my nipples and the boy did so, and the sultan brought 12 men of the rumoured tribesmen of the boy.

When this happened, the Belew people quietly went at nighttime away and came to their land. They collected all gold silver and gunpowder on their horsebacks and leaving all animals behind spread to many places.

Those were the contenders and selectors of the chieftainship. Some went to Bahri (eastwards) and others to the Hadendowa land, some dispersed to the Sahel, two villages (clans) of them went to Base (Massawa)
The cattle, goats, belongings and houses and Alets (other clans) stayed there. In the morning, the sultan was told of the fleeing of the Belew, and he sent soldiers to that place.

There in Belew land, the soldiers found other clans and belongings and animals still there. The soldiers told the sultan of their findings, but that the ruling people had gone away. So the sultan made the boy chief of the remaining people. So it was announced that the Diglel was elected. The name Diglel was used as a undermining way but it rose to ruling title and is so still now.

The people the boy ruled over were then called Hedarib and Beni Amer. Until this day, if a slave of the Hedarib is asked who his/her master is, they say this is my master, they do not say my Netab is this one. When they snatched this aristocracy from the Belew, they still hold it.

Long ago, when the Frenji defeated Belew in Ira Island, he settled in Geremota, and after that found sanctuary at the Fujs. But his brother Yosef refused to travel on and with his soldiers settled in Base. And Tegez was ruling there then. Yosef came to Tegez and got sanctuary from him. After some time, the rule of Tegez deteriorated and fell and was exiled from there. Being this, Yosef was elected and ruled there.

When the Belew dispersed from Barka, two of their clans went down to Base and found home at Yosef's. From these two clans, Amer son of Humed started serving Yosef.

Sheik Mahmood sent message to Yosef saying since you have a runner with you, send me a mule. Yosef was a ruthless ruler like Tegez, and his end was nearing, and any animal brought to market for sale, he ordered one leg to himself and rest three to the seller, i.e. one-fourth tax. And all were taxed as he wished. End of p4 of Tigrina.

Then when this Sheik Mahmod asked for this mule, Yosef put saddle on the mule and told the server Amer son of Hamed not to mount the mule on the way, but to lead it. And Amer did as ordered to Sheik Mahamod, who asked Amer why the mule came unseated by him all this way.

Amer said he followed orders and was afraid of his master. Sheik told Amer to return with the mule but Amer sitting on the animal. Amer refused saying his master will kill him. The sheik said tell your master that I ordered you to ride it. Uneasy, Amer rode the mule to Yosef. When Yosef angrily asked why he rode it, Amer answered it was of the sheik's order.

Yosef had the young man caught and flogged him with a whip. Because the boy rode on the saddle, Yosef had it first washed with milk on hide (delmi), then washed on delmi of water. He sent another server to the sheik with the mule, and the mule was... Tigrina translation ends here.

Richard Sundstrom was a Swedish missionary who collected hundreds of pages of Eritrean history mostly in Tigre language. Some are in Blein and few in Tigrina. He was there in ca 1880-1910, mainly in Gheleb village. He died in 1919.


• Translation: R. Sundstrom collections to Tigrina from Tigre by Ato Gebru, Kifle 1998 Uppsala. Richard Sundstrom Swedish missionary in Eritrea 1869 – 1919.

• Source: Carolina Rediviva University Library, Uppsala - Sweden


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