Recently, just before I left South Afrika for Zimbabwe, a fellow Rastafari brother who had just finished reading my book Rock ‘n Rule …asked me to write a journal about my opinion on Ethiopia, the Rastafari impact on the community as well as other personal reflections.
This will be a series dealing with my trip to Ethiopia, Shashemane as well as my thoughts regarding the tensions between the Ethiopian government and its various peoples. I will share a lot of other activists works, their opinions in addition to my own views. I believe that the time for the progressive rise of Oromo Ethiopians is inextricably tied to the socio-economic rise of Ethiopia as well as the rest of Afrika as an economic power.
I wish to also analyze just why the All Africa Rastafari Trade Conference failed to take into account the plight of Oromo people, both historically as well as the present struggles. In my opinion, any movement that ignores the struggles of the community it resides in is setting itself up for failure. I also understand that there are complexities related to the presence of Rastafari community as well as other Pan-Afrikanist movements in Ethiopia and the surrounding regions. My intention is to find out the real impact of Pan Afrikanism in Afrikan peoples daily struggles. I wish to be as practical as possible while contextualizing the various challenges that are faced by such movements both internationally and inter-continentally.
It is sad that many so called Pan-Afrikanists and even Rasta’s have very little knowledge of who the Oromo people are and why their liberation and understanding of their Spiritual system is as vital to our progress as that of other Indigenous peoples. We love to look to Ethiopia’s Christian or Abrahamic heritage, we even go as far as Egypt/Kemet yet we know so little about a people whose lives have been impacted so negatively by the Triple Heritage ( Islam, Judaism, Christianity). I became interested in Oromo people while I was researching about the impact of foreign religions on Afrikan people, my primary concern is still the Spiritual and Cultural progress of all Afrikan people. Let me share a brief history of who these people are, according to Oromo Liberation Front website:
“The People: Origin
A brief look at the early history of some of the peoples who have occupied north-eastern Africa sheds some light on the origin of the Oromos. The Oromo belongs to the Eastern Cushitic language subfamily which in turn belongs to the Afro Asiatic super family that occupied most parts of northeastern Africa. The Cushitic speakers have inhabited north-eastern and eastern Africa for as long as recorded history. The land of Cush, Nubia or the ancient Ethiopia in middle and lower Nile is the home of the Cushitic peoples. According to recorded evidence the Cushitic family separated into different linguistic and cultural groups called Northern Cush, Middle Cush, Southern Cush and Eastern Cush at around 5,000 BC. The Eastern Cushitic family in turn gradually separated into different branches between 3500 and 2000 BC. Accordingly the Oromo national group came into existence as a linguistic and cultural group or as an entity beginning from 3500 BC. The Oromo is one of the Cushitic groups which spread southwards and then east and west occupying large part of the Horn of Africa. Their physical features, culture, language and other evidences unequivocally point to the fact that they are indigenous to this part of Africa. Available information clearly indicates that the Oromo existed as a community of people for thousands of years in East Africa (Prouty at al, 1981). Bates (1979) contends, “The Gallas (Oromo) were a very ancient race, the indigenous stock, perhaps, on which most other peoples in this part of eastern Africa have been grafted”.
According to Perham (1948): “the emigrant Semites landed in a continent of which the North-East appears to have been inhabited by the eastern groups of Hamites, often called Kushites, who also include the Gallas” (Oromos). Paulitschke (1889) also indicated that Oromo were in East Africa during the Aksumite period. As recorded by Greenfield (1965), Oromo reject the view that they were late arrivals, “… old men amongst the Azebu and Rayya Galla dismiss talks of their being comparative newcomers. Their own (Abyssinians) oral history and legends attest to the fact that Oromo have been living in Rayya for a long time.” Beke (cited by Pankhurst, 1985-86) quoted the following Lasta legend: “Menilek, the son of Solomon, … entered Abyssinia from the East, beyond the country of the Rayya or Azebo Gallas (Oromos). There are also evidence (Greenfield et al, 1980) that at least by the ninth and tenth centuries there were Oromo communities around Shawa (Central Oromia) and by about the14thcentury settlements were reported around Lake Tana. The recent discovery, (Lynch and Robbins, 1978), in northern Kenya of the pillars that Oromo used in the invention of their calendar system, dated by carbon date around 300 B.C. is another indication that Oromo have a long history of presence as a community of people in northeastern part of Africa.
Different areas have been mentioned as place where the Oromo developed or differentiated into its own unique community of people or ethnic group (Braukamper, 1980). According to some ethnologists and historians, the Oromo country of origin was the south-eastern part of Oromia, in the fertile valley of Madda Walaabu in the present Baale region. This conclusion was reached mainly on the basis of some Oromo oral traditions. Bruce, an English traveler in the 17th century indicated that Sennar in the Sudan was the Oromo country of origin and that they expanded from there.
There are several Cushitic peoples in East Africa very closely related to the Oromo. For instance, the Somalis are very similar in appearance and culture. The fact that the Somali and Oromo languages share between 30 percent and 40 percent of their vocabulary could be an indication that these two groups of people became differentiated very recently. Other Cushitic-speaking groups living in the same neighborhood who are closely related to the Oromo are Konso, Afar, Sidama, Kambata, Gedeo, Agaw, Saho, Baja and other groups. Konso and the Oromo people share more than 50% of common vocabulary.
In older literature and in fact until quite recently, the Oromos were referred to as “Galla”, a term with negative connotation that was given by Abyssinian ruling families. One may encounter this name in older texts, here and there but it should be noted that it is a pejorative and derogatory name. Historically, some people among the northern Amharic community used the label “Galla” derogatorily to label the Oromos. However, it should be known that the Oromo people neither call themselves nor like to be called by this name. The term seems to be aimed at destroying the identity of the Oromo people
The ancient Oromo settlement extends deep into present day Gojam, Gondar and Tigrai in northern Ethiopia. Even in recent history the Oromo were living in Gojam and Gonder as early as the seventeen century. But the Habasha clergy and rulers intentionally hide these facts or label these periods – the era of the princess – as the dark ages of their history. It is a fact that some of the Oromo population was absorbed by Amharic and Tigrinya speaking peoples. That such a process did take place is strongly suggested by the fact that Oromo personal names that frequently appear in genealogical reckoning of Amharic and Tigrinya speaking population. The Oromo also assimilated many of its neighboring populations. In this process it is believed that the Oromo developed into a veritable cultural corridor. It opened up extensive cultural exchange between societies which would have otherwise remained isolated and atomistic (Gada, Asmerom Legese 1973) —
The Oromos, have a strong and well-defined system of belief or worldview characterized by its respect of all virtues (such as kindness, honesty, integrity, truth, equality, brotherhood, peace and justice) as opposed to all vices. Monotheistic in nature, the belief is known for its glorification of God or Waqa Who is considered as immortal, everlasting and the sole and ultimate creator of man and the entire universe. The religion preaches that all men are created equal and that they deserve equal treatment in many aspects of life and in the protection of basic human rights. It gives special importance to social harmony and peaceful coexistence. The Oromo believe in only one Waqa (God). They did worship false gods or carved statues as substitutes. The Oromo Waqa is one and the same for all. He is the creator of everything, source of all life, omnipresent, infinite, and incomprehensible, he can do and undo anything; he is pure, intolerant of injustice, crime, sin and all falsehood.
In traditional Oromo religion there is a religious institution called a Qallu. Qallu is also the name given to the spiritual leader of the institution. He is like a Bishop in the Christian world and an Imam in the Muslim world. A Qallu is the most senior person of the society. The Oromo describe the Qallu as Makkala, means messengers of God. As opposed to the egalitarian democratic system of the Oromo society the authority of the Qallu is divine origin, and hereditary.
In Oromo religion is distinctly separated from politics. The domain of Qallu is purely the domain of sacred and peaceful. Whereas the Gada leaders are charged with legal and political activities the Qallu are charged only with ritual and spiritual affairs. There is a clear functional differentiation between the sacred and the profane. The Qallu institution and traditional Oromo religion were weakened with the advent of colonialism and outside religions.The Abyssinian conquerors interfered in the religious affairs of the Oromo and weakened it. They adopted policies to discourage and destroy Oromo cultural institutions and values.
The Oromo have a number of religious holidays such as Irreecha (thanksgiving festival) which takes place once in a year in river meadows.
In its later history, the Oromo people have been in constant contact with other religions like Islam and Christianity for the last 1000 years or so. For instance, the Islamic religion was reported to have been in eastern Shawa about 900 A.D. and Christianity even before that.
Today the majority of the Oromo people are followers of Islam and Christianity, while the remaining are still followers of the traditional religion, Waqeffannaa. The Oromo who are followers of Islam or Christianity yet still practice the mode of experiences of their traditional religion. Bartels (1983) expressed this reality as follows: ‘Whether they (Oromo) became Christians or Muslims, the Oromo’s traditional modes of experiencing the divine have continued almost unaffected, in spite of the fact that several rituals and social institutions in which it was expressed, have been very diminished or apparently submerged in new ritual”. In fact adherence to traditional practices and rituals is still common among many Oromo people regardless of their different religious background.
There has not been threat of religious fanaticism or fundamentalism in Oromo population. The cultural affinity and ethnic identity among the Oromo did not allow such development. Thus there is a great deal of tolerance among the different religions in the Oromo society. It was the Oromo who stopped the protracted wars between the Abyssinian Christian kingdom of the north and Muslim kingdoms of the Somali and Afar from the south that went on for centuries during Medieval Abyssinia. The Oromo created a buffer zone between the two in the 16th century, and stopped the religious wars once and for all.” – http://oromoliberationfront.org/en/oromia-briefs/