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Children of Hope: Journey of Oromo slaves from Ethiopia to South Africa
Sandra Rowoldt Shell, writes about the enslaved Oromo children for Independent Turkish
Sandra Rowoldt Shell -Tuesday, June 11, 2019 0:45
In August 1890, the three bridges crossed the wooden bridge to the Lovedale Institute in Eastern Cape, South Africa – the foremost missionary school in South Africa. The passengers of these three cards were children, but not South African. In the Horn of Africa they were children who endured the brutality of slavery and the slave trade. Oromo kids. Who were these Oromo children and what were they doing in South Africa?
In February 1972, I started working at the Cory Historical Research Library in the Eastern Cape of the University of Rhodes. Within weeks, I became familiar with the library’s manuscript archive collections. As I was browsing through various card (pre-computer) catalogs, I came across a series of cards that read “Galla slaves” on it. I was surprised.
Who were these “Galla” slaves? What were their connections to the Eastern Cape? As I questioned and researched further, I discovered that the cards refer to a pile of documents in the archives of the Lovedale Institute, run by the Free Church of Scotland. These documents belonged to 64 Oromo children enslaved in the Horn of Africa in 1888-1889. All of these children, each with a different history of enslavement, were put on sailboats to the Arab slave markets across the Red Sea.
Today, Oromos make up 40 percent (41 million) of the Ethiopian population, which is 102 million 374 thousand 44 people. The Oromos, who have a distinctive language and belong to the Eastern Kushitic peoples, have been marginalized as an internal political and economic minority in present-day Ethiopia, as in the past centuries, though numerically the dominant population. Speaking of Oromca, their own Eastern Kushitic languages; they were forbidden to have their own literature, let alone their own history. The majority of Oromo people live in the Oromian administrative region.
Although the Oromo people occupied a series of principals in the late nineteenth century, these communities were united under a common language, religion, political culture – most importantly their democratic system called ”gadaa i- and in particular the collective Oromo identity.
Although the Cory Library and other libraries and archives in South Africa have rich documents of these children, the Lovedale story of the liberated Oromo children has not been studied for more than a century. As I went deeper, I felt a shiver of speculative expectation. Here is proof and documentation of a unique nature. There were potentially important personal narratives of slavery and slave trade that had been overlooked for a long time. This fire that sparked a lifetime of admiration and admiration for the Oromo children köken and their origins and consequences 40 flared up there 40 years ago at the Cory Library.
My passion, however, was softened by the influence of pragmatism and living conditions. I was a graduate of social sciences and did not have a history of education. With the power of this never-extinguishing flame, I had to work full-time and senior at Rhodes and then at the University of Cape Town for many years to gain the foundations for history.
The first thing I did was to photocopy the children’s narratives and take them home. Years later, I showed them to my wife, Robert Shell, a leading expert on Cape slavery and now separated. My wife was an expert in the use of quantitative methodology as one of the few clinometers in the field of history (historian using quantitative methodology). Robert read the stories with great enthusiasm. He stated that these stories were obtained through clearly stable interviews as well as a rare series of individual mini-biographies of slave children, thus presenting themselves ready for systematic analysis. He said that if I could codify them, as well as allowing each child to tell his own story, the children’s stories would at least give an opportunity to look at trends in the slavery and slave trade model in the Horn of Africa. His narratives were the authentic voices of Africa, describing his first transitional experiences within a few weeks of their liberation.
Moreover, the quality of the documents points out that a longitudinal prosopography has been developed based on supporting the documentation of Oromo children’s own first pass records by a large number of various primary sources. Although biography is known as a tool to study the lives of individuals, prosopography is a collection of biographies that allows the study of groups of people through systematic analysis of their collective characteristics. Prosopography provides the historian with a tool that explores common features within a group and emphasizes diversity. And historical information is generated from this variation.
The prosopographic technique applied to the narratives of Oromo children provides a very different and more complex picture of the first transitional experience that emerged as a longer, intricate and variable ordeal than ever known.
The nature of prosopography
Early prosopographies were focused on the lives of the upper tier of society because of their written traces. They had written letters, kept diaries, and had important roles in political or other influential positions that appeared in published sources. Thus, it was possible to follow their lives, make quantitative examinations and perform prosopographic group studies.
There’s one or two upset prosopography. In a special study published by Ghada Osman (obviously a name of Turkish origin), VI. century, the situation of foreign slaves in Mecca and Medina were examined. For this purpose, the author examined the slaves used by the Prophet as a “teacher”, those who were considered masters in the construction of the Kaaba, and a number of slaves from Byzantine, Abyssinian, Egyptian, Persian and Mesopotamian. While listing the names of slaves, he included as much biographical information as he could from the available sources.
Oromo slave boys
Over the years following the abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, the British parliament brought the royal navy the obligation to intervene in ships engaged in ocean slave trade and the right to search for suspicious ships.
In September 1888, the Royal Navy’s HMS Osprey stopped three sailboats suspected of carrying Oromo slaves off the Mocha Point of the Red Sea. When one of the sailors, Kathora, insisted on failing to obey calls, the captain of Osprey ordered the ship to be fired with a newly deployed Gardner machine gun. Katora’s captain Ali Kira Muhammad and 4 slaves were killed. When the remaining Oromo slaves were taken to the Osprey deck, they automatically gained their freedom.
Osprey went to Aden, the missionary shelter near Sheikh Osman, where the Free Church of Scotland accepted some of the children (the rest were owned by Muslim families and Roman Catholics in Aden or sent to Zanzibar or Bombay). Before the end of 1888, one fifth of the group lost their lives to the difficulties of the first passage and numerous new diseases, particularly the new malaria epidemic in Yemen.
Rescued Oromo children in Yemen, September 1888 / Photo: Cory Library of Humanities Research, University of Rhodes, PIC / A 1320
In August 1889, the number of children at the institution rose to 64 with the participation of 14 Oromo children, who were similarly rescued by the Royal Navy (but without mercy this time).
What makes the Oromo children group particularly important is that the missionaries in Sheikh Osman conducted interviews using a structured questionnaire on their experiences, with the assistance of three Oromian interpreters, shortly after their arrival. These are the 64 short but detailed first transcripts I’ve discovered in the Cory Library. Specifically, these interviews did not only cover the process of the capture (from children) to the shore, but the time from the cradle to the shore. Two of the missionaries interviewed each child, dedicating themselves to learning the children’s language, and with the help of three people who spoke Oromian fluently. Through structured questions, they asked children about their experiences from their earliest memories to the moment they reached the Red Sea coast.
What do we learn from children’s stories?
The Children of Hope show that the Horn of Africa bears serious differences from the Atlantic slave trade norm. This difference is not only due to the completely different target population of slave traders (the African Horn trade rather than the strong men needed for transatlantic fields, but rather children). It also shows that our knowledge of Atlantic trade, in particular due to the coast-to-coast transition, is almost absent from the Red Sea trade. The Oromo children had no experience of middle-crossing (coast to coast trade). The time they were held in the sailboats was a few hours before they gained their freedom. The unique contribution of this study to the literature is that deaths on Atlantic slave ships show not only the difficult mid-pass experience, but primarily the long and strenuous first-pass ordeal.
In the interviews, the children describe their names, the identity of their parents and whether they are alive, the number of siblings, the names of their villages, towns, regions or countries, their family occupations, the size of their animals and properties. They can tell who the prisoners are, who sell themselves until they reach the Red Sea coast. Accordingly, the largest captive group was “Sidama”: a reference to the “Ethiopians” living in the north, not to the equally vulnerable people of Sidamo, who live in the south of the Oromo territory. The word ama Sidama da means “Abyssinus da in Oromca.
A close look at the land of Ethiopia and Oromo (marked for the humiliating “Galla” term used for Oromos) / Image: John Bartholomew, Africa, 1885
In the 1880s, at the beginning of the children’s narratives, the Oromos were found in the south and southwest of Abyssinia. Sahle Mariam, an emperor by the name of menelik, lived in the lands, including the kingdom of Sheva. In pursuit of the Imperial crown, Mariam had to expand her territories, as well as increase her material wealth and firepower. For this reason, he expropriated the Oromo lands in the south and southwest. Menelik’s ambitions were not limited to these successful regional and hegemonic advantages. At the same time, he headed to raid the Oromo territory for all kinds of looting and taxes, including livestock and slaves. Menelik benefited greatly from the slave trade during the period when he was King of Sheva. He may even be regarded as “the greatest slave entrepreneur in Ethiopia”, referring to historian Harold Marcus. He demanded tax on every slave who passed through his kingdom and / or sold in his kingdom. Menelik was able to meet not only his tactical needs, but also his passion for personal weapons with the money he earned from the slave trade. Efforts gave fruit. On November 3, 1889, the Emperor was crowned Second Menelik, and most of the children’s narratives reflect Menelik’s role in their capture and enslavement.
At the same time as Menelik came to power, the southern regions emerged at the summit of Baraa Balliyyaa, meaning “brutal days” or “time of suffering.” This meant the greatest drought and scarcity in Ethiopian history from 1887 to 1892. The crops perish, the food came to a privileged location. Grasshopper, caterpillar and mouse invasions spread all over the country, and cattle died from cattle plague (transmitted by a small number of cattle imported by a group of Italian soldiers from Massawa). Scarcity, cholera, bubonic plague, diseases and hunger related to them continued; thousands died. When the drought ended in 1892, between one-third and one-half of the Ethiopian population, people died and many children became orphans. A little under one third of the Oromo group of 64 children gradually lost one or both of their parents due to hunger and illness.
In addition, the first passageway from the house to the shore was not fast, nor did it follow a direct route. No child had followed the same route. The itineraries were long and difficult. Children had suffered numerous trauma from hunger, fatigue and whipping, from stiffness to hand and / or foot tying with rope or chain, to severe stigma. One of the children, Gilo Kashe, was so traumatized physically and mentally that he was irreparable and in need of care for the rest of his life. Their long and punitive first pass had further aggravated by the severe drought and the shortage of food and water. When the children reached the beach, he was emaciated. They were weak and most of them were dying.
Shortly thereafter, in Sheikh Osman’s first transitional experience, it became clear that the immune systems of the weakened children were seriously compromised. They became an easy target for epidemics, especially a fatal malaria epidemic that recurred when the body’s immune system weakened in the elderly, especially after entering the bloodstream. Soon after the death of many children, the missionaries decided to find a healthier institution for care. They wanted the children to remain on the African continent and at the same time believed that they should be looked after at one of the mission schools of the Scottish Independent Church. The Lovedale Institute in the Eastern Cape, besides being the Church’s foremost institute, was also the best missionary education institute in southern Africa, possibly on the continent at that time. Children from neighboring African countries, particularly from what is now known as Malawi, Zambia and Botswana, were educated there.
After medical treatment and another year of recovery and primary school education, the missionaries were ready to embark 64 Oromo children on board the ship to Aden on the east coast of South Africa and ultimately to the Lovedale Institute.
Journey to the Eastern Cape
At the time, the Germans were the only dominant naval power along the Indian Ocean coast of Africa, from Somalia to Cape Cape of Good Hope, as well as the sole maritime trade along this coastline. For this reason, there were no British ships traveling from Aden to South Africa. The journey would have two stages.
On July 24, 1890, Oromo’s children (accompanied by clergy Alexander Paterson and Matthew Lockhead) boarded the Rio Grande postal ship of the French ship line Messageries Maritimes to Port Louis in Mauritius. To reach the eastern coast of South Africa from Mauritius, it was necessary to cross from Port Louis to Conway Castle, the steamer of the British Castle Line. This was the first voyage of a new Franco-British mail ship venture alliance.
When Conway Castle approached East London (South Africa) on Wednesday, August 20, 1890, Revendend William Moir from Lovendale met the children and accompanied them on the final part of the journey to Lovendale. On the afternoon of August 22, 1890, they arrived at Lovendale. His long journeys and days of slavery were finally over. But in reality, they had been subjected to forced migration.
Yemen Aden to South Africa East London by sea / Visual: Author, GIS Laboratory, Cape Town University
Director Dr. Under the auspices of James Stewart, the nature of Lovendale education evolved from the original academic program organized on the liberal arts line to a professional program for African students. Under the program, the majority of black female students would study household skills such as cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing. However, two of the Oromo girls had different plans: they insisted on being trained as teachers. Their intellectual competences emerged at the beginning of academic school work and were successful in their goals. Similarly, some of the young Oromo men passed the written and oral proficiency exam and attended the academic program at Cape University of Cape of Good Hope (1916).
The rest of Oromo was scattered throughout South Africa and was employed wherever they could. But some, at that time, wanted to go home. Some of the young Oromo men joined the British army (mostly as a driver) during the South African War of 1899-1902. At least two of them, in their letters to Lovedale, described in detail the dangerous and pathetic war experiences. When allowed, he left his troops to return home, independently of each other. Like many of his peers in civilian affairs, he used the money they earned to finance his journeys to Aden. There were eight men, all men.
The self-financed return of these 8 volunteers symbolizes the first liberation and reconstruction of the adult Oromo group. Free will, determination and surprising courage lie behind these migrations towards home. Even though there was too much risk on the way back, and their future was by no means certain, they left. The return – and unaided return – points out that the last traces of the passivity imposed on them by slavery have been successfully erased. Each decisively took on the personal responsibility of their own lives.
In 1903, David Hunter of Lovedale conducted a survey among young Oromo adults in South Africa: would they want to return home if a assisted transition had been proposed? There was an equal distribution between respondents who were absolutely interested, those who were indecisive, who had found a good job in South Africa, or who were married and decided to set up their home in the country in which they were accepted.
Among the consenting Oromos, there was a high expectation that Lovedale would move quickly and make an early return home, according to survey results. Their responses, however, did not attract the attention of the missionaries as they had hoped. For years, the Oromos have only enjoyed silence from Lovedale. A young man, Liban Bultum, who came to the fore as a remarkable student and natural leader in his early days at Lovedale, took the initiative. He wrote to David Hunter and requested a response. But the answer was still silence. Lovedale was in crisis. The principal, clergyman James Stewart was seriously ill and died in 1905. Stewart was replaced by clergyman James Henderson, who had no prior knowledge of the offer to Oromo children and young adults.
In fact, both sides – Menelik’s reign in Addis Ababa (which would naturally play a role in returns) and Lovedale – were in administrative turmoil due to adverse health conditions. In Addis Ababa, the Emperor II. Menelik was increasingly weakened by syphilis during his youth. Successive strokes, epileptic attacks and signs of old age weakened her control of the state administration, causing her to become increasingly attached to her advisers, most of them German.
Tired, Liban took matters into his own hands and in desperation applied to the German Consulate in Port Elizabeth. Liban II. The contacts at Menelik’s palace managed to persuade the sick Emperor’s advisers to finance the journey of the Oromos. Eventually, on July 3, 1909, the Oromo group embarked on the German Kronprinz ship in Port Elizabeth, despite British reluctance.
Kronprinz / Photo: Witthöft
In 1909, about a third of Oromo returned home. Another third of them found profitable jobs or married and preferred to settle in South Africa. On the other hand, the last three thirds have lost their lives, sadly falling into the violent legacy of the physical trauma of the first transition they experienced during the capture and enslavement at the end of the 19th century.
Today, Oromos fleeing to other countries, including South Africa, are experiencing manifestations of xenophobia throughout the country. While Oromo has been seeking protection from immigrants and refugees in other African countries, including South Africa, for decades, Ethromian authorities have triggered the defective Add Addis Ababa Master Plan O Oromo protests in 2016 by the Ethiopian authorities. The government’s severe response has given Ethiopia the worst internal turmoil of the last 10 years – and increased immigration. As the city of Addis is surrounded by Oromia, the expansion of the Ethiopian capital means the expropriation of its territory for the majority of farmers and nomadic shepherds. Oromo protests against the implementation of the Plan Master Plan güç gained strength and reached great heights. Hundreds were killed, and many more were injured, arrested or detained.
The Master Plan was shelved after that, and an apology for the deaths was issued. In April 2018, Dr. Oromo has been a member of the Ethiopian Parliament since 2010. Abiy Ahmed was elected as the 12th prime minister of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s new Oromo Prime Minister. Abiy Ahmed, April 2018 / Photo: Reuters
This, of course, at least in part was a strategic move to appease the Oromo people. Although it was believed that his vision did not coincide with the Oromo people’s demand for self-determination in the Oromian regions without federal intervention, he issued a statement that could indicate hope towards the end of 2017:
“[Ethiopian citizens] expect a different discourse from us … We must discuss the issues openly and respectfully. It is easier to bring people into democracy than to drag them into democracy. This can only be achieved through peaceful and political participation. ”
Like the children of this work, we just hope that the oppression is over. However, according to the observers’ reports from the field, even though the Prime Minister’s office of the excellent measures explained, infantry soldiers in the Ethiopian regions. They are unaware of Abiy Ahmed’s message, do not hear it or fail to apply it.
Sandra Rowoldt Shell, Children of Hope: The Journey of Oromo Slaves from Ethiopia to South Africa (Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2018; (South African paperback edition) Cape Town: UCT Press / Juta, 2019).
Ghada Osman, Yabancı Foreign Slaves in Mecca and Medina in the Formative Islamic Period ”Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 16, 4 (October 2005)
Harold Marcus, II. Life and Period of Menelik: Ethiopia, 1844-1913 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)
“Ethiopia: Who is the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali?” DW: Made for Minds [online source] https://www.dw.com/…/ethiopia-who-is-new-prime-minister-ab…/ a-43180360
* The ideas contained in this article are the property of the author and may not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Independent Turkish.
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