April 8, 2014 (OPride) – Hundreds of thousands gathered in Hetosa, Arsi zone of Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia’s nine federal states, for the unveiling of the Aanolee Cultural Center on April 6, 2014, local media reported.
The cultural center houses the Oromo Martyrs’ memorial monument, an ethnographic museum and a mural. Standing several inches on top of a tomb, the monument shows a severed hand stretched upward holding a women’s breast. It is erected as a tribute to the Arsi Oromo whose hands and breasts were mutilated by 19th century Ethiopian emperor Menelik II.
Located 150kms from the capital Addis Ababa, Aanolee is a site steeped in Oromo history. As Madda Walaabuu stood as the cradle and greatness of the Oromo, Aanolee came to represent it’s humiliation. For centuries, the Oromo were organized under an egalitarian Gadaa system. It was at Aanolee that power transfer took place among generations of Arsi Abba Gadaa leaders under Odaa Rooba, one of the five Gadaa Oromo assemblies.
In late 19th century, roughly at the same time as the scramble for Africa, emperor Menelik II set out to forcibly incorporate independent Oromo territories into his “nascent empire.” Having conquered the Wollo, Tulama and other Oromo tribes, Menelik faced a fierce resistance from the Arsi.
The Arsi were not new to their Amhara neighbors to the north. In their encounters in battle, the Arsi did not consider their future nemesis to be much of a contender. The Arsi had, as they still do, much respect, both in war and in peace, for their southern neighbors – particularly the Sidama known for their fiercely warrior tradition. Besides, the Amhara did not know how to ride horses and the Arsi did not see any reason to be worried about loosing in battle to them. When news came that an invading army was arriving, the Arsi simply asked, “Is this the Sidama?” When told it was not, the Arsi scoffed, lowering their guards.
When Menelik’s Shoan army, equipped with modern firearms acquired from western powers, arrived in the 1880s, the Arsi was in for a rude surprise. Buoyed by a tradition that bestowed Wayyooma (an almost sacred high honor) accorded to those distinguished in war as in peace, the Arsi waged a valiant war of resistance. The Arsi repeatedly ambushed and kept Menelik’s forces at bay for six years between 1980-86 — winning all 38 running battles. In one instance, in 1985, after Arsi warriors wiped out his elite imperial guard in a nightly ambush at the battle near Mount Albasso at Doddota, Menelik fled to save his life, leaving behind his wife and Negarit (the imperial drum). Menelik’sremaining soldiers, awed by the bravery of their opponents, snug: Doddota ye wandoochu bootaa (Doddota land of the brave).
On Sep. 6, 1886, at a place called Azule, Menelik’s state of the art armaments outmatched the spears and shields of the ferocious Arsi fighters. After in a single day an estimated 12,000 Oromo fighters, faced off against a superior force led by Shoan general Ras Darge, perished, an armistice was declared. The Arsi then “suspended their struggle to save whatever could be saved,” according to Oromo historian Abbas H. Gnamo, author of a recently published book, “Conquest and Resistance in the Ethiopian Empire, 1880-1974 – The Case of the Arsi Oromo.”
But the suspension of open hostility did not end Menelik’s apetite to crush and humiliate the Arsi. In 1887, the Shoan forces came back to avenge their repeated defeat at the hands of local Oromo fighters and to terrorize the remaining populace into total submission. Ahead of a schedule Buttaa event, a power transfer ceremony under the Gadaa system, Ras Darge called for a meeting to “make peace” with the Arsi and “deliberate” on future administrative matters. Thousands gathered at Aanolee. Aanolee was strategically chosen because it was a symbolic site of Arsi power and what is reverently referred to as Arsooma, a custom by which the Arsi Oromo settled inter or intra clan disputes — the super glue that held the Arsi tightly together.
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