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Eritrean Literary Giant Talks About Tigrinya Oral Poetry

Blogger Issayas interviews Solomon Tsehaye, eritre's leading poet. after the release of his latest work on massé and melqes, oral poetry genres in Eritrea. Solomon Tsehaye is the man who wrote Eritrea's national anthem:

Issayas: What is massé? Melqes?

Solomon: Massé (awlo) and melqes are related art forms which constitute one of the genres of Tigrinya oral poetry. Massé is performed on happy and festive occasions where, most of the time, specially prepared food and drink are served. Weddings and a number of other celebratory events are appropriate occasions for massé. On the other hand, melqes is performed during funerals and similar moments of sadness. Though different in the way they are presented, massé and melqes have the same poetic structure. They are also composed and recited by the same people. With the exception of a few who either make massé or melqes, the overwhelming majority of oral poets who perform massé also perform melqes.

Issayas: What is the significance of massé and melqes in Tigrinya society?

Solomon: As is briefly explained (in English) in my book, Massén Melqesn Qeddamot Volume I, on pages 540-541, massé and melqes are highly valued oral poetic forms in Tigrinya society. They are highly valued because the ideas and concepts they transmit have depth and relevance. Massé and melqes are source of guidance to society from which people draw all sorts of lessons. They are useful in resolving conflicts. They present social critique which helps solve social problems and correct mistakes. They enhance society’s knowledge on history, culture, language, politics, religion, etc. by discussing various aspects of life. Last but not least, massé and melqes are also very entertaining. Because of the happy occasions on which it is performed masse’ is particularly amusing with a lot of humor connected to it. The events in which massé and melqes are presented were the mass media of traditional Tigrinya society. They were platforms where the real opinions of the people were heard from the voice of its great minds – the oral poets. Whenever such events took place attending audiences were very eager to know what the oral poets had to say. There were even times when people travelled long distances merely to hear massé or melqes, particularly when it was known that renowned oral poets would be present for the occasions.

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