Woldeab's Letter to Ibrahim


Woldeab Woldemariam wrote a warm letter as a eulogy for his friend and comrade Ibrahim Sultan remembering their eventful struggle for Eritrean independence.

Woldeab Woldemariam wrote a warm letter as a eulogy for his friend and comrade Ibrahim Sultan remembering their eventful struggle for Eritrean independence. Woldeab Woldemariam wrote a warm letter as a eulogy for his friend and comrade Ibrahim Sultan remembering their eventful struggle for Eritrean independence

Ato Woldeab Woldemariam and Sheikh Ibrahim Sultan were two of the stalwart figures in the movement for Eritrean independence in the 1940s. Together with their other comrades like Abdulkadir Kebire worked relentlessly against all odds to enlighten the people of Eritrea about liberty, freedom and their right to exist as an independent autonomous state.

They led by example in forging a unified and tolerant movement by putting the oppressed and the sidelined in the forefront by tackling the issues of labor and the emancipation of serfs.

They faced blackmail, character assassinations, exclusion and death threats up to 7 assassination attempts that left Ato Woldeab bedridden for almost half a year.

When Sheikh Ibrahim died in Cairo in 1987 almost 40 years later, Ato Woldeab wrote this eulogy for Sheik Ibrahim as a letter fondly reminiscing about their struggle together.

My dear brother and friend Ibrahim Sultan,

Do you remember when the British marched into Asmara in April 1941? How we gathered and went to the “Commando Truppe” to welcome them, only to be scolded and told to disperse by the Chief Administrator Brigadier General Kennedy Cooke. He told us not to assemble without permission. Yet we disobeyed and walked through the main avenue, “Campo Citato”, a street that we were not even supposed to see from afar. We went to St. Mary’s Church, the Grand Mosque, the Protestant Church, and the Kidane Mehret Catholic Church to pray together before heading home.

Do you remember how the next day when the Chief banned us from assembling without permission even in small groups; nor to carry sticks longer than a meter, and at most as thick as a cane? But we still met defiantly at Hagos’ Tea House to form our Patriotic Society, electing a council of 12 men to represent us.

Do you remember when in 1944, we solemnly gathered at Saleh Kekia’s home? There, to show our unity, we shared a dish of chicken slaughtered by a Muslim and then swore upon the Holy Quran. Again we shared another meal of a chicken slaughtered by a Christian and swore upon the Bible. We did this to unite without any religious, regional and ethnic divisions and to fight as one for Eritrea for Eritreans.

Do you remember when views divided our Eritrean people, hostilities emerged, and we urgently called for a meeting at Biet Giorgis? Only to be disrupted by Andinet (pro-union) youths? In reaction, within a month, you founded your organization Al-Rabita Al-Islamia?

Do you remember when our respective organizations met in Dekemhare to discuss concerns and avoid misunderstandings that may arise from the name of your organization having a religious reference in it? We concluded that our goal was the same irrespective of how our organizations were named.

Do you remember when in February 1950, the UN delegation met, a fight broke out among our Eritrean Christian and Muslim brothers? How the bloody fights went on for 7 days without any intervention, all along while the British were watching in Asmara. You and I went from one area of the city to the other trying to calm down the situation. Didn’t we go to visit both the Christian and Muslim cemeteries with flowers to reconcile the dead as we tried to do with the living in prayers and dialog?

Do you remember when in September 1963, we traveled to the UN with scarcely a dime, $10 between us for our meals for a whole day? Yet, we managed to share our appeals with the emissaries before returning to Cairo through Libya.

Do you remember when in 1965, our children fighting for freedom were divided into 5 factions due to their divisive leaders? How heavily it weighed on us as we watched them descend into civil war. You and I traveled to Damascus to confide with our Syrian friends who welcomed us warmly and let us broadcast through radio to all fighters. You spoke in Tigre and I in Tigrnya as we sent messages of peace and harmony.

Do you remember that protecting the unity of our country was our greatest challenge in our struggle? The British schemed tirelessly to divide us. Yet we, a tiny nation with a small population, foiled an empire and kept our country safe from the dangers of division.

My beloved brother and friend Ibrahim, man is mortal even if he is as a genius, admired and precious as you. As our fathers have gone before, you now too. But in passing, we still can create something eternal. I know in certainty, that what you have given to protect the unity of our fellow countrymen will be an enduring picture of your legacy, to this generation and the coming, as we are capable of leaving a permanent mark.

Your Brother,

Woldeab Woldemariam

This translation captures the essence of the eulogy and is not a direct translation of the actual letter.

Woldeab Woldemariam’s biography has been written by Dawit Mesfin in this book. This eulogy and Dawit’s proper version of it can be found there.

  • Every day we are making Eritrean history. Let’s tell them. Soon they may be forgotten.