Thursday, 5 February 2015

Fait Tinga Longhi, nicknamed “Fighting Gun” one the veterans for the independence of Eritrea

Fait Tinga Longhi, nicknamed “Fighting Gun” one the veterans for the independence of Eritrea

The Kunama are a minority in Eritrea that have a unique culture that they have maintained despite the hardships. They have lived in co-existence with their immediate neighbours the Baria (Nara) and the Beni Amer. Both the ELF and the EPLF had not been able to respect their culture and choices. Under the PFDJ, even their existence is under threat. Their region has become a no-mans land. They have been marginalized in their own land. The Late Dr. Alexander Naty, a prominent Kunama scholar has written articles about their plight.  One of his articles, ‘Environment,society and the state in southwestern Eritrea’ examines this issue in detail.

The Kunama have the right to have their own administration under a constitutionally federal arrangement in Eritrea. I not only support that, but I even defend their right to self-determination, including and up to secession.  We need to make unity attractive to all Eritrean components, to make it work. Badume and Fayotingun Longhi  were some of the prominent leaders of the Kunama. This not is about Fait Tinga Longhi.

According to Jordan Gebre-Medhin, Fait Tinga Longhi, was one of the most highly decorated men from the Kunama. He was born in Gulu, Suzenu in the Kunama area , in the late 1910s. Though Christian to begin with, he converted to Islam, in the 1940s. At that time, according to Trevaskis Kunama had about 22,000 people of whom 3000 were Christians, 12000 Muslims and 7000 who believed in traditional beliefs. According to western sources then, the Kunama region was sparsely populated partially because the Kunama had been virtually wiped out by the Abyssinian and Beni Amer attacks. After 1860, the Egyptians made a concerted effort to convert them to Islam while Swedish missionaries worked to convert them to Christianity.

Between 1952 and 1962, Fait Tinga Longhi was elected enthusiastically to represent the Kunama people of his district to the Eritrean Parliament as an Anti-Unionist. At the end of the Federal arrangement he was imprisoned several times by the Ethiopian Government for his pro-Eritrean work. He was a political prisoner when the military regime came to power and he was freed by the EPLF in 1974 when they stormed the prison in Asmara.

According to Alexander Naty, “In the past ethnic groups such as the Kunama, Nara and Beni-Amer have predominantly inhabited the area.  The Kunama and Nara belong to Nilo-Saharan language family. The Beni-Amer is a Cushitic-speaking people.  In recent times members of other Eritrean ethnic groups such as the Saho and Tigrinnya have settled in the region.  These communities have been mainly attracted by the availability and fertility of the land and other economic opportunities. Each of the indigenous groups (i.e. the Kunama, Nara and the BeniAmer) had a specific territory that is recognised by tradition.  The Kunama people refer to the land they inhabit as Kunamalaga, which means Kunamaland.  Reflecting their matrilineal societal organisation, they also refer to it as afa laga, which means the land of the maternal grandmother.  Territories that are located adjacent to river Gash and Setit belong to the Kunama traditionally.  The Beni-Amer often grazed their livestock in these localities.  Their intermingling with the Kunama of Sokodas has facilitated the settlement of the Beni-Amer in some Kunama villages in the region."

"The Kunama society is organised along matriclan and matrilineage line.  The different lineages constituting a clan own land.  Individuals who do not belong to the lineage or clan also can use the land on usufractory basis.  The land cannot be sold or purchased. There are many clans in the Kunama society.  These clans include kara, nataka, serma, jula, sogona, lakka, akartakara, alaka and shila, among others.  The number of clans differs from one region to another.  Some regions probably because of the extent of population intermixing have more clans than others.  Each clan owns land that is collectively used by clan members.  This ownership of land has been misunderstood by outsiders who often conceive the Kunama as lacking a concept of ownership of land. " 

"The Kunama believe that from the very beginning, each clan had its own land.  Historically, clan members probably claimed land on “first-comer” basis.  There was also a tradition that allowed clan members to acquire land that belonged to another clan.  For example, if a lion or other animals kill a person, the kinsmen of the deceased individual would claim the area where the person was killed. Lands that are acquired in this way are referred to as kokoba laga, which means “blood land.” End of quote.

According to Jordan, at about the age of 22, Longhi joined the Italian army and by 1939 he became a native expert on the Shifta attacks on the Italians in Ethiopia. In 1939, the Italians gave Longhi a bronze medal for his services and promoted him to Shumbash, the highest ranking order, awarded to Eritreans during that period. A few months later, for reasons that are not known, he was dismissed from his colonial post and he went to his home village. When the Italian army fighting against the British was facing defeat, the Italians enlisted him again in their army as the head of a regiment of ‘native battalions’.

On the memories of the Kunama towards Italian colonialism, Alexander Naty states that the Kunama give the Italians credit for bringing peace to the area. In fact they remember Italian colonial rule with some nostalgia. The Italian image of the Kunama somehow resonates that of the Kunama about themselves; they portrayed the Kunama as victims of slave raids by the Abyssinians. The positive attitude of the Kunama towards Italian rule is also related to the Italian policy of territorial and administrative delimitation, which took into consideration factors such as history and ethnicity. As a result, all Kunama were incorporated within the Gash-Setit administrative unit and indigenous customs were left intact.  

When the Italians were defeated he went back to his home village again. The state of anarchy that ensued in 1942 forced him to form a military band  of 58 to defend his community against the raids of the Beni Amer and the Abyssinians. By 1943 the British established a truce and Longhi and his men surrendered. When the provocations of the Unionist Shifta activities increased in the region, he established one again a peoples’ armed militia in an alliance with Hamid Idris Awate.

The immediate cause of the war between the Kunama and the Beni Amer, prior to this new alliance was the breakdown of the migration and settlement rule that had guided certain tribes of the Kunama and a section of the Beni Amer. For some centuries, a section of the Beni Amer had migrated via established routes to and from a dry weather encampment along the banks og the Gash River. Because of population growth and social development, certain Beni Amer began to settle permanently along the Gash River site. The Kunama angered by this began to wage war and a civil war broke out. According to Jordan, this explanation given by the British Military Administration (BMA) and the US Consul in Asmara, defies logic and is not plausible.

When the attacks of the Unionists Shifta intensified both Hamid Idris Awate and Longhi joined forces and attacked BMA police garrisons, to ambush police forces and to attack the Ethiopian supported Shifta. In the mean time, the Beni Amer accepted Longhi and his group as adopted sons. It si here that Longhi was converted to Islam. In the 1950 the BMA put a price on Longhi’s head, but it was only after the British declaration of amnesty that he surrendered. He again returned to his native village and was popularly elected to the Eritrean Parliament in 1952. He voted on all issues with the Muslim League in the Parliament. He joined the ELF in the late 70s but later switched to the EPLF. According to Jordan Gebre Medhin, Fayotingun Longhi’s and Hamid Idris Awate’s peoples’ militias acted as prelude to the modern armed struggle in 1961.

Source: Jordan Gebre Medhin’s book, Peasants and Nationalism in Eritrea pp. 158 – 160 and Alexander Naty’s article mentioned above
More on the Kunama:


  1. Hi,

    Your site looks to be very helpful for subjects that are quite obscure on the internet. I've been looking for information about this man. Through my searching I've discovered he's referred to by multiple names, including Fayid Tinga Longhi, Fait Tinga Longhi and Fayotingun Longhi. Most books refer to him as 'Fayotingun'. As I'd like to create a Wikipedia article about him, I'd like to get the correct name. Is there a reason why he is overwhelmingly referred to as Fayotingun, and is there a notable source for his alleged birth name 'Fait Tinga'? Also, is there a source referring to the exact dates of his birth and death?

    I would also like to know where I can find images of Longhi.

    Thanks and much appreciation,


  2. Not really sure this was all what I can find about him, regards