Bilen Speaking Communities and Creation of Civic Associations: A Proposal

Today, Bilen speaking communities are known by one ethnic group formed by revolutionary ideas and later transformed into a state institutional structure by being part of the 9 ethnic groups. But this clustering is not welcomed by Blin communities.

Some groups are now openly opposing the ethnic group formation. They have started to form their own civic associations to restore their dignity and preserve their language, culture, tradition, history and historical places.

This civic society formation is encountering resistance from individuals who are skeptical about its true motive. Those who are opposing the creation of civic associations are afraid of division among the Bilen speaking communities. This is an imaginary skepticism.

Some civic organizations are emerging by breaking all the opposition coming from different angles. In this regard, a civic association formed by Bet Terqe Tribe is the leading one.

Bet Terqe is one of the largest tribe among the Bilen speaking communities. It is composed of more than 32 independent families clustered into 9 bigger families. Although the current general consensus is all Bet Terqe are from the same family, some disagree.

To encourage the emergence of other civic association formation, it is good to discuss the historical evolution of Blin people clustering introduced by colonizers.

Some historical background

When Eritrea became the official colony of Italy until 1932 Italians were not in hurry to disturb the social structure of Eritreans. However, after 1932 Italians were expanding their colony and they wanted to control the people more aggressively.

As part of the extension of new Italian policy aimed to subjugate more Eritreans, Bilen Social structure became a victim.

Before colonization, Bilen speaking communities were living independently. However, with constant external interference and wars, the social structure of Bilen people started to change.

The first colonizer which introduced “Divide and Rule Policy” among Bilen community was Italy.

Until 1932, Blin people were following a semi-federal system, where each village had its own leader, called shum. ሹመኛ። in total, they were around 25 village chiefs. In each village, there were different families/clans who live together in harmony. They were electing leaders depending on wisdom and leadership quality. It was not family based. And each one had equal opportunity to resume leadership position. And, no one was discriminated.

They had Customary laws which date back to Axumite Kingdom era or Zagwe Dynasty. The Customary laws were free of any religious dogmas or references. They were secular. And, Village Administration and other issues were independent of religious interference.

This kind of administration had helped the Bilen speaking community to preserve their language, culture, and traditions. Although the de-centralized system had its negative effect to protect from, external enemies, internal problems were almost none existent, or are resolved through dialogue and reconciliation.

With the coming of Italians, this ancient and traditional system was shaken. And, the internal harmony of Bilen people is changed.

The Italians were unable to administer them easily. They decided to centralize the 25 villages using Representatives. It is at this that they destroyed the semi-federal and autonomous villages administrative system and nominated Two Bilen Chiefs.

One was from Bet Terqe, and another was from Bet Tewqe.

Many of the village chiefs were unhappy about this re-groupings. And those who revolted, they were put in prison. This is the beginning of chaos among Bilen, community.

During the BMA(British Military Administration), they tried to restore the village chief system. It was impossible as many villages were changed and many moved to cities.

And, Family Clan became the means to new social movement. This led to hot social debate and re-organization. Later, it ended by 3 tribal associations – Bet Terqe, Bet Tewqe, and 12 Neged.

The social groupings established during the 1950s was highly politicized. It had many pressures from the external politics of the Federation era. Although they succeeded in nominating their local representatives and managed to send one representative to the then formed Federal National Assembly, with the dissolution of the federal agreement with Ethiopia, the 3 Bilen faced another challenge. This led to The 3 Bilen Social Groupings to social instability until now.

After Eritrean independence, PFDJ interfered in the internal affairs of Bilen communities. PFDJ brought about 32 clans together and pressured them to be united under one Customary law.

The process was done under the heavy interference of government officials. As shown in the table below, these officials were meant to put pressure among the Bilen people.

Regional Administration heads, National Security agents and other top government officials from Anseba Province were there to put pressure for the clan or family representatives to come out with one Customary law.

Liberation of Bilen Families from the Century old Oppression

In the newly formed clustering, there are about 32 families. My objective is to make these 32 families and other non-included families independent. In order to protect interest and continuity as a strong and unified familiy, each one should be free to form its own independent civic association.

Another independent Civic association can be formed at a bigger umbrella to work on Bilen Culture, tradition and language.

My proposal is to form The Bilen Family Communities Council that will be the Center of all Associations that work independently for the betterment of Bilen Speaking families of Eritrea that are living inside and outside Eritrea.

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