Eulogy for Tekie Alibekit 1949 - 2023

Published: 31 January 2023

Eulogy for Tekie Alibekit 1949 - 2023

It is with deep sorrow that I write to honour Tekie Alibekit for his significant contribution to the continuity of our community and to mourn his passing into the hands of God.  

Tekie was born in 1949, to a family of subsistence farmers in a small village called Enchinaq in Eritrea. He attended primary school in Ashera from 1959 to 1965 and secondary education in Keren from 1965 until 1971. Upon completion, he worked for six years as a teacher and director at Lalmba School in Keren. Those who studied with him would say that Tekie was an exceptionally gifted student, mentoring many of his peers whilst also focussing on his own studies. 

In 1961, when Tekie was twelve years old, the Eritrean War of Independence commenced against neighbouring Ethiopia, and would continue for thirty years. The ongoing state of war was accelerating the destruction of Eritrean people and their culture and ways of life. In 1977, Tekie left Eritrea, settling in Norway, where he would stay for the remainder of his life, continuing his community work and quest for freedom. He forged strong friendships with academics and linguists, becoming respected and admired in his work and fields of expertise. 

Tekie Alibekit, writer, linguist, statesman, community leader and father, kept our languages alive, giving our own words back to us, by first helping to develop a written language, then standardising and teaching us how to use them. Language, the binding force of a community, gives us our unique perspective.  The words we choose to define our culture are the same words we choose to define ourselves. Tekie knew that when a language dies, the culture quickly follows, leaving members of that cultural group bereft and rootless. Language binds us together, providing a means of communicating that was uniquely ours. The loss of that language would precipitate a catastrophic decline, with the populace losing its distinctive sense of self. Our rich legacy of customs and traditions, which relied upon spoken words being passed down through generations, eroded when the words were taken away, replaced by languages inflicted upon us by a succession of conquerors.  Irreplaceable legacies, lost in translation. This loss is what Tekie tirelessly worked to prevent. 

A humble man, Tekie became a beloved community leader ‘in absentia’, using his visionary genius to transform the Blin people and their linguistic and cultural identity throughout the world.  Leading by example, his humility, compassion and empathy assured his position as beloved father-figure for the entire community. Tekie worked tirelessly for over four decades to safeguard the culture and rich heritage of the Blin people.  He supported our community radio shows, where he regularly inspired us to mend the damage that many years of involuntary displacement and inter-generational trauma had inflicted upon us. He co-founded where he published messages of hope and stories of accomplishment and triumph, examples we could relate to and emulate. He had a highly developed social conscience and was regularly called upon to reconcile communities during community rifts. His quest for social justice was unmatched, as was his skill in achieving acceptable outcomes.  In a life punctuated with conflict and forced displacement, Tekie invariably focussed on peace and community building.  

I was merely one of the very many Eritreans in whom he took a personal interest. Over the last two years or so, Tekie mentored me from distance, encouraging me to fulfil the potential he saw in me, and providing me with options and alternatives I otherwise would have lacked. I cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel for the faith he expressed in me and the passion to achieve that he inspired in me.    

Tekie stood tall, like a lighthouse, offering a beacon of hope for scattered war-torn people.  He was the reference point where people would gather, providing a place of stability and sanctuary.  The light he shone upon us allowed us to believe that we could rescue our culture, preserving the best and learning from the rest. It is a rare thing to find a man who genuinely desires goodness for all who cross his path, who treats the displaced and dispossessed with the same kindness and consideration as he treated himself. Tekie was such a man and the world is a lesser place today for his absence. 

Hyab T. Yohannes

30 Jan 2023

First published: 31 January 2023