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SHIFTA

The Shifta were bandits, quite common in the Highlands until not so long ago. They were almost always men. Many of them had run away from the villages of their birth due to some serious unresolved conflict, or to evade the taxes of the administration of the day. The Shifta lived in the Berekha, sleeping in trees and riverbeds. They were often gathered in organised bands and robbed people travelling in the Berekha or in the villages after dark. They rarely killed people, except when they met with resistance. The Shifta were naturally feared, but not completely and unequivocally condemned. In fact, to become one was also regarded as a noble way of escaping the fate one faced after losing one’s temper in a situation familiar to everyone, fighting over land. Furthermore, the Shifta targeted rich people, and never hit them so hard as to debilitate them economically. They were, in other words, an integrated part of the economy,

People who joined the Shifta often returned to their villages when their relatives had organised a settlement in the particular conflict in which they had been involved. This could be a matter of months, or years, depending on the seriousness of the crime, and the economic standing of the Shifta’s family. In the case of murder of a white person (during the Italian and British periods) there was no such thing as return, except to face certain death. Most of those who attained fame as Shifta did so precisely because their crimes were spectacular, and because they had been Shifta long enough to become known by name, rather than being simply another anonymous outlaw. These leaders were famous, and are still remembered today in songs and sayings. For example, Debessai Drar was said to be immune to bullets, and other leaders were also praised for their bravery and courage in fighting with the authorities.