The Oromo migration revisited
According to M. D. W. Jeffreys, writer of “The Wanderers”, the derogatory term “Galla” is translated as ‘immi- grant’, guest or outsider. The group of people who used to be referred-to by that name, however, prefer to call themselves ‘Oromo’, meaning, “the strong men”. I have therefore replaced this term with Oromo, and put it in bracket so the reader would know what used to be in it’s place on the documents i’m referring to. With the post below, I hope to show how fitting the later title is for Ethiopia’s Oromo children – past & present.
Professor Getachew Haile’s “‘Yeabba Bahriy Dirsetoch Oromochin Kemimeleketu leloch senedoch gara’ (The Works of Abba Bahriy with Other Documents concerning the Oromo – 2002), is primarily a new edition and translation into Amharic and English of the work “Zenahu le-[Oromo]“, a Ge’ez study of Oromo society and Oromo migration into central Ethiopia in the sixteenth century… an important firsthand account of the social structure of the pastoralist Oromo and the impact of their migration on the existing agrarian communities of Central Ethiopia.”
In it, the writer puts it as his belief that Oromos weren’t the innocent victims of Abyssinian ruler’s “massacre” as today’s politics would have us believe. For which no one should be judged, he pleads with the reader, since the wars recounted in the book are no more than accounts of two of our grandparents (namely the Oromo and non-Oromo Ethiopians) fighting over who should take the spoils of what they legitimately stole from the common people. I personally do not believe the spoils were fairly distributed, but the book gives some insights into “The Oromo Question” & culture the discerning reader won’t wanna miss.
The author of the original text, the monk Abba Bahriy, starts his narration with the words:
“I (hereby) begin to undertake studies of the [Oromo] in order that I may know the number of their tribes, their zeal to kill people, and the brutuality of their demeanor. If there is anyone who would say to me, “Why has he written about the wicked ones like the history of the good?”, I will give him an answer, saying to him: “Search in the books, and you will see that the history of Muhammed and the history of the kings of the Muslims have been written, although they are our enemies in religion. Gioyorgis Welde Amid (a Coptic historian who wrote the history of the world from creation to 1260 A.D.), too, has written the history of the Zingu’an kings of the Barbarians, who are the Afridon and the other kings of Persia, who are called at this era the Sofi”.
To corroborate this claim, Section 15 of “Zenahu le-[Oromo]“ begins with:
After this, Birmeje (a “luba” or an appointed Leader of the Oromos to lead the tribe for eight consecutive years) was relieved and Mul’ata son of Bifole was appointed. He made a dullgutto on Gojjam. The meaning of dullaguto is “war of topknot” for when the [Oromo] are circumcised at the same time, they give themselves a name, as we have said at the beginning of Section 4, and they attack a country which their predecessors have not attacked. If they kill people or large animals, they shave their whole head, leaving a little hair (topknot) in the middle of their skull. But he who did not kill does not shave himself, so much so that he suffers from lice. For this (reason) they are zealous to kill us.
My favorite part of the book, however, is Section 19. It shows how perceptive the very devout monk was in matters of the world:
The knowledgeable ones make an extensive inquiry, asking, “How is it that the [Oromo] defeat us, although we are many, and many are our arms?” There are those who say, “God has allowed them because of our sins.” And there are who say, “It is because of our nation’s division into ten classes. Nine of these do not come close to any battle, and they are not ashamed of their fear. But the tenth class battles and fights to the best of its ability. Although our number is big, those who can fight are few, and those who do not come near the battle are many.”
One of these is the party of the monks, who are countless. There are those who become monks in their youth, when monks lure them while they are studying, like (the case of) the writer of this essay and those like him. There are also those who become monks because of fear of battle.
The second group is called debtera. They study the scriptures and all the profession of the clergy; they clap their hands and stamp their feet: they are not ashamed of their fear. They take as their models the Levites and priests, namely, the sons of Aaron.
This third group is called Jan hatsena and jan me’asere. These guard justice and guard themselves from battle.
The fourth is the group of deggafoch of the women of the dignitaries and the (royal) ladies, powerful men and strong you men. They do not come near the battle; they say, “We are attendants of the women.”
The fifth group is called Shimagille, geze, and be’ale rist. They give a portion of their land to the peasant and demand his services; they are not ashamed of their fear.
The sixth group is the peasants. They spend their day in the fields and are oblivious about fighting.
The seventh group is those who benefit themselves from commerce. They make profit for themselves.
The eighth group is the artisans, such as the smiths, scribes, tailors, carpenters, and their like. They do not know fighting.
The ninth group is the minstrels, those who play the qende kebero and the begena, who make begging a profession. They bless the one who rewards them; they give him vain glory and the idle praise. And when they curse the one who does not reward them, they are not charged, for they say, “This is our tradition.”. They keep themselves very far from battle.
The tenth group is those who carry the shield and spear. These can do fighting, and “follow the steps of the king to run”. Because of the fewness of these, our country is destroyed.
The [Oromo], on the other hand, do not have any of these nine classes which we have mentioned. All are trained in warfare, from the small to the big. For this reason they destroy us and kill us.
Those who say, “They kill us by the order of God,” find a reason in the defeat of the children of Israel and their destruction at the hands of the kings of Persia and Babylon. They say, “If a fighter is victorious, who would ask help from God the Exalted and Most High? And if the many conquer the few, the words of scripture which say, ‘one shall put a thousand to flight, and two shall chase ten thousand’, would be vain”.
O knowledgeable ones, you know whether the words of the former arguers or of the latter arguers are credible.
Biya keenya negaa ya godhu!