Oduu Haaraya

Considering History from the other side: Comment on Tesfaye Gebreab new book “Yesidetagnawu Mastawesha”


Considering History from the other side
Comment on Tesfaye Gebreab new book “Yesidetagnawu Mastawesha”.
(On Chapter 29 of the book- የማዕበሉ ወግ (Yemaibelu Wogi)

1. Introduction

In Ethiopian history, it has been observed that facts and history of Nations and Nationalities (mainly those who are not Abyssinians-Amara and Tigre) has bee wrongly written, distorted and/or ignored, knowingly and unknowingly.  Such actions should be criticized critically and given correction by all the concerned bodies. Asefa Tefere Dibaba in his book Decorous and Decorum (2006:5) noted that “Of some exertions of duty of a citizen or of social responsibility of a poet I write this.”  Accordingly, I am writing this article as an Oromo who is responsible for his culture, language, history, norms and values.

2. Background

Tesfaye Gebreab  is a writer of many books in Amharic such as (Yeburka Zimita, Yaltemelesse Babur,Yederaswi Mestawesha andd Yesidetegnawu Mestawesha).  Recently, he released a new book entitled “Yesidetagnawu Mastawesha”. Before the release of this new book, different individuals had been writing articles in various social media arguing against Tesfaye and his writings. The articles accused Tesfaye Gebreab for being a spy for Eritrean Government and  for his plan to ‘disintegrate Ethiopia’ and for his intention to create quell between peoples of Ethiopia, specially between  Oromo and Amhara (in his work “Yeburka Zimita”).

The concern of Tesfaye and his works continues to be controversial during and after publication of his new work.   Netsanet Publication Agency, a publication company based in America, agreed to publish his new book “Yesidetagnawu Mastawesha”. After an agreement is made, the publisher  reviewed the book and asked Tesfaye to reduce some chapters, mainly chapter 7 ‘Chaltu ende Helen’ that narrates about an Oromo girl Chaltu Midhaksa. However, Tesfaye rejected the publisher’s question and released his book free on the Internet.

Some argue that criticizing Tesfaye negatively and refusing to publish his book show that Tesfaye is the next target of  OROMOPHOBIA individuals.  Tolera T (2013) describes the attack on Tesfaye saying”Just like Jawar whom they praised his insightful political analysis and counted on to ‘save Ethiopia’ to only wish death for him in outrageous Oromophobia, they expelled Tesfaye just because he told the truth. For me, Tesfaye himself, through his writing, is a victim of Oromophobia.”

On the other hand, different writers wrote in favor of Tesfaye. The writings argue in favor of Tefaye citing his contribution to Oromo and why he became a target of Ethiopianst camp and why the Abyssinians campaigned against Tesfaye Gebreab. One of the articles is by Hunde Dhugassa entitled “Tesfaye Gebreab: The man who created the first Oromo main character in the history of the vast Amharic literature.”  Hunde stated that Tesfaye has a positive contribution on the history and visibility of the Oromo people and nation.

Personally, I read most of his works. I appreciate his works for his initiation to reveal historical and social facts in detail and in interesting manner. His writing is also clear and awesome. Despite my admiration and respect for Tesfaye, I want to reflect my opinion on one chapter of his new book.  Hence, I am not writing to support the two arguments indicated above.

3. The Issue

As said above, Tesfaye Gebreab released a new book entitled “Yesidetagnawu Mastawesha”. Iread the book and interested to comment on Chapter 29 of the book entitled የማዕበሉ ወግ” (Yemaibelu Wogi -literary means a conversation with a wind wave). The chapter is written in the form of dialogue in which a narrator converse with wind wave. The writer read what he wrote to the wind and but the wind remained unhappy with his writing. The wind told the writer as he missed a basic thing and then, continued reflecting his view on the writing of the writer. The writer rarely intervenes while the wind is commenting. Hence, the writer tells us many things through the voice of the wind wave. The chapter advises Ethiopian Peoples to respect history, culture and language of each other. It also describes a need to keep ones culture and build unified identity. Personally, no one oppose keeping once culture respecting each other’s culture, value and history.

However, the issue of keeping unified identity has been complex, controversy and questionable. In his writing, I observed issues that are not strictly refering to the measures and activities of Oromo people, but was written as if so. Some points raised what  the Abyssinians done to Oromo People, but practically it is not. Thus, I am writing to forward my arguments on the points presented on the chapter. I also think that some points needs correction or response.

4. Reflection

I will take statements from the article as points of argument.

A. “For the sake of Oromo People, you should not deconstruct the Amharas’ and Tigires’ realized and unrealized, history, and tells.” I can simply recall Juwar Mohammad’s speech on Al Jazeera. Specifically, his response to the journalist’s question “Juwar, are you Oromo first or Ethiopian first”  Juwar confidently responded that “I am Oromo first, because first Ethiopian identity is imposed up on me. The second thing is that we are forced to deny our identity. We end up reaffirming and reasserting our identity.” This response greatly upset and annoyed Ethiopians, but cherishes Oromo people. Those who seem to be the safeguard of “Ethiopianwinet” strongly opposed the response of Juwar in different ways. They strongly heard that Juwar should deny his Oromumma and should say I am “Ethiopian” Many wrote an article insulting Juwar, which is unethical and uncivilized.  They argued that his speech leads to the disintegration of Ethiopia. How on earth that telling ones identity (being an Oromo) leads to the widening the differences between the various nationalities living in the country, ’Ethiopia?’.

In many circumstances, it has been noted that Amharas are responsible for safeguarding Ethiopia and considered as ‘true’ Ethiopian. However, other ethnic groups have been considered as the tribalist. Concerning this issue, Wallelign Mekonnen(1969) in his article “The question of Nationalities in Ethiopia published in the magazine called Struggle, he noted that:

Talking about Mengistu and Tadesse, one cannot fail to remember the reaction that the Mengistus coup though a family one and at that by a sector of Shoa Amharas (with few exceptions, of course among the Workeneh) was very popular just because it was staged by “Ethiopians”-Amharas. With Tadesse, it was automatically a tribalist uprising. Why? Tadesse an Oromo cannot stage a nationalist coup but Oromo Supremacist.

Wallelign Mekonnen(1969) added that “Start asserting your national identity, you are automatically a tribalist.”  Hence, the statement taken from Tesfaye’s article does not refer what the Oromo People has been doing. Oromos never deconstructed the identity, culture, history, language and norm of others. Rather, as the above example and explanation shows, the identity of Oromo People has been ignored and deconstructed for more than a century, mainly by the Abyssinians. I think it is better to the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) not to oppose other people when they tell their own true identity.

2. The other statement says “ነጮች ገዝተውን ቢሆን ኖሮ ግን ኦሮሞነት ጭራሹን ይጠፋ ነበር። ኦሮሞነትን ያቆየው የአቢሲኒያውያን ሁዋላ ቀርነት ነው.” Roughly means “If we [Ethiopians and Oromos] were colonized by the white, Oromumma (being an Oromo) would have been vanished completely. Oromumma is alive (saved) by the backwardness of the Abyssinians.” This is the statement that I oppose seriously and that initiated me to write this article.   In the statement, two main ideas are indicated.

2.1. The first is Oromumma would have been lost if [Ethiopins and Oromos] were colonized by the white people.

I argue that Oromumma would not have been lost if [Ethiopia and Oromos] were colonized by the white people.  We can take two major examples to justify the argument. One example is the measure taken by Italians during their occupation of Ethiopia, 1935-41, after they defeated Ethiopian forces at the battle of Machew.  During this period, there was a change in a language policy of the country. McNab (1989:78) described the situation saying “An Italian edict of 1938 divided Ethiopia into six administrative units of the East African Empire: Amharic in Amhara; Amaric and [Afan Oromo] in Addis Ababa (Finfinne) ; Harari and [Afan Oromo] in Harari; Afan Oromo and Kafficho in Oromo Sidama, and Somali in Somalia.

The Italians had their own political interest and mission for doing so. However, it helped many children to learn in their own native language. Accordingly, the Italians made possible to Oromo students learn with their mother tongues. Inline with the language, students were able to learn and practice their culture, identity, language, value, norms history and etc, which were legally forbidden before the occupation by the Ethiopian Kings.  This would have helped students to be aware of their identity and would have enabled them to keep their own identity. Hence, their policy is better than the previous Abyssinians administration. Allowing Oromo students to learn in the language best understood, would enable the learners to develop their self-conscience, that would in turn develop their identity.

Oromumma or being an Oromo is inclusive term that incorporates many things. It refers to the culture, language, history, consciousness, norm and values of Oromo people. Oromumma is a concept that includes these and other things. If we compare, what the Italian and Abyssinian governments had done in terms of Oromumma, it is observed that Oromumma appeared to be lost under the Abyssinian rulers than under Italian occupation.  Oromumma appeared to revive under the Italians. Hence, I don’t believe that Oromumma would have been lost had [Ethiopia and Oromos] were colonized by the white people.

The contribution of Swedish can be taken as a second example.  Onesimos Nasib was one victim of the slave trade who was captured by strangers and was sold into slavery. In 1870, at the age of about 16, he was bought and freed by a Swiss named Munzinger. Munzinger given Onesirnosi to the Swedish missionaries in Massawa. The missionaries sent him to Sweden in 1976 for further education. For five years, he studied in Sweden at the Johann Lund Missionary Institute and graduated with a teacher’s and missionary work diploma in 1881.

After graduation, Onesimos left Sweden and went back to Massawa and then to Oromiya. Onesimosi translated different materials to Afan Oromo. Mekuria (1994:94) mentioned the works of  Onesimos saying “Onesimos wrote and/ or translated most of them between 1885 and 1898.  During those thirteen years, he translated seven books, two of them with Aster Ganno.  He also compiled an Oromo-Swedish Dictionary of some 6,000 words.”  However, the translation of The Bible to Afan Oromo was the most significant contribution made by OnesimosAccording Mekuria (1994), his translation of the Scriptures is regarded by historians and linguists as a great intellectual feat and a remarkable accomplishment for a single individual.

Therefore, it can be said that the work of Onesimos and his language team was the first and the significant step towards creating an Oromo literature. In addition to preaching Goespel, Onesimos actively engaged in providing education to Native Oromo using their own mother tongue, specifically around Wollaga Area. From the above discussion, it can be understood that Swedish enabled Onesimos to attend his Education. The education he attained helped him to translate books to Afan Oromo and helped him to teach his society in their mother tongue. Hence, he contributed great share to the development of Afan Oromo, there by helping people to the existence of Oromumma.

These two examples can be an evidence to argue that Oromo might be more benefited from the white peoples than the benefit they got from the black Abyssinian. Hence, it can be said that Oromumma would have revived more if the Oromos were colonized by the white.

2.2. The second idea in the statement is that Oromumma is kept (saved) by the backwardness of the Abasinians. Before reflecting on the idea, it is better to ask how and why the Abyssinians kept Oromumma. The answer would be clear and straight forward.  As far as my knowledge is concerned, the backward Abyssinian rulers try to exterminate the Oromumma from the earth. This can be observed from different things.

For example, McNab (1989:86-89) noted that:

The Imperial Government attempted to tackle the language aspect of these goals [centralization, modernization and integration] by single mindedly promoting a policy of unity based on Amharization. Amharic became one of the most important symbols of, and also the means of achieving national integrity and shared culture.—-Amharic language and culture was treated by the government as being synonymous with Ethiopian language and culture.

The quotation indicates that Ethiopian rulers designed a policy called Amharization, where all ethnic groups in the country are obligated to abandon their own language, identity and culture and forcefully made to accept the culture and language of the Amhara. Similarly, Wallelign Mekonnen (1969) stated that according to the constitution, you will need Amharic to go to school, to get job and to read books.  Hence, there was a deliberate and systematic policy that intended to wipe out Oromumma and the identity of most Ethnic groups in Ethiopia. To be an Ethiopian, one has to speak Amharic and practice Amhara culture. The culture of other people including the Oromos is neglected.

Amhara identity has been considered as Ethiopian identity. Regarding this, Wallelign Mekonnen(1969) has to the following:

—Ask anybody what Ethiopian culture is? Ask anybody what Ethiopian language is? Ask anybody what Ethiopian music is? Ask anybody what Ethiopian religion is? Ask anybody what the national dress is? It is either Amhara or Amhara-Tigre !! To be “genuine Ethiopian” one has to speak Amharic language, listen to Amharic music, to accept the Amhara-Tigre religion, Orthodox Christianity,—- In short to be an Ethiopian, you will have to wear an Amhara mask”

Wallelign (1969) described “Ethiopian Culture” is the Amhara culture and language that is superimposed on all other nationalities in Ethiopia. As a policy, it had worked for 8 decades or so to build an Empire in which Amhara culture and language is dominant and to assimilate other peoples in Ethiopia to the culture and language of Amhara. That is, the value of Amhara is imposed on the others. The Oromo People, for example, were forced to deny their religion and forced to accept Orthodox Christianity. Most of Oromos were followers of Waqeeffata before the invasion of Oromiya by the Abyssinian force. Later, they were forcefully converted to Orthodox. Muslims were also forced to leave their religion forcefully and converted to Christianity. Boru Meda is an appropriate example here. These all show that a lot of attempts have been deployed by Ethiopian rulers to destroy the language, identity, culture, norm, religion, etc and replace it by that of the Amharas. So it is not clear how Oromumma is kept (saved) by the backwardness of the Abassinias?  At the end, let me show how the rulers attempted to destroy Oromumma by focusing the selection and use of the language of instruction in Ethiopia.

Among the diverse languages of Ethiopia, Afan Oromo was one of the languages. Though Afan Oromo is the most widely spoken language in Africa and serve as a lingua franca in Ethiopia, it had been abandoned from education, governmental works and media for more than a century (Bender, 1976). The past regimes of Ethiopia attempted to replace Afan Oromo by Amharic (McNab, 1989). Using mainly Amharic for education has hindered the development of Afan Oromo and other languages. This kind of policy produces assimilationist policy forcing other languages to be ignored and lost any recognition (Shimelis, 2006). Hindering students not to learn in their native language is intended to suppress their identity and made them to develop the identity of other people. In addition, it was aimed at psychologically harming the society and to make them feel inferior. By doing so, the past governments of Ethiopia made very clear attempt to make Oromumma extinct.

The above examples and explanations clearly show how the Ethiopian rulers worked hard to denounce the Oromo identity (Oromumma) and planted their own ‘Amahara’ identity on Oromo people.  Generally, it can be said that the Abyssinians assimilation and Amharazation Policy destroyed Oromumma, than saving it.

I end up my comments by the suggestion of Wallelign Mekonnen(1969). He  recommended:

      We must build a genuine national- state. And what is this genuine national-state? It is a state in which all nationalities participate equally in state affairs, it is a state where every nationality is given equal opportunity to preserve and develop its language, its music and its history. It is a state where Amharas, Tigres, Oromos, Aderes [Harari], Somalis, Wollamos [Wolaytas], Gurages, etc. are treated equally. It is a state where no nation dominates another nation be it economically or culturally.

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