July 10, 2018

The Long Lost Tribe of Girma Eshetu

By Jamie Isetts
The Long Lost Tribe of Girma Eshetu

“I kept seeing people who looked like me,” says farmer Girma Eshetu of his first visit to the area where he now resides. Eshetu’s life began with turbulence. Young Girma’s father, a soldier in the Ethiopian army, was sent to battle at the Kenyan border. During the scuffle, he was reported missing. Eshetu’s mother brought her young child with her as she traveled the country seeking his father’s whereabouts. She eventually discovered that he had been killed.

In the aftermath, she moved herself and her son to a small village in the Yirgacheffe district. The government had given her a small parcel of land in this renowned coffee region as retribution for her husband’s death. She ran a small kiosk selling household goods and food. All the while, her son Girma started school and discovered an interest in metalworks. Girma remembers, oddly, toying around with soldering and makeshift welding on the side of the dusty road behind the kiosk. The past was tough, but the present looked good. Thus, Eshetu’s mother never talked about where Girma was born or their original tribe.

One thing she did talk about: school. Girma emphasizes how hard she pushed him in his studies, and it paid off with a placement in technical college in the capital of Addis Ababa. He became a mechanical engineer for St George Beer factory. After twenty years of working for this iconic Ethiopian brand, he started his own company designing coffee wet mill equipment—the critical step of coffee production where the fruit of the cherry is removed from the seed.

Now the story arrives at just a few years ago. Mr. Eshetu was at a manufacturing expo in Addis. One of Girma’s objectives for the show was to check out a unique new alloy, produced in a small area in western Ethiopia. By coincidence, the source of this metal was close to where he had recently leased land to start a coffee farm.

Eshetu came to the booth and was surprised by the physical resemblance between himself and the sales rep, who hailed from the town that produces the alloy. They started talking and the rep described his tribe in the west, which is known its particular facial features. In a reversal of his mother’s journey decades before, Eshetu traveled to the village and began asking about the little he knew of his family’s history. In an incredible turn of events, he had unearthed his ancestral homeland: people from this village remembered his mother, father, and even little Girma.

An interesting footnote: Girma’s long lost tribe is famous for highly skilled metalwork. Whether fate or coincidence, Girma Eshetu’s childhood hobby, career in mechanical engineering, and lease of farmland in this district seem to bind him to his homeland in a preternatural way.

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