April 25, 2013 at 2:37 pm · Gadaa.com
The book is an astonishingly refreshing work that treats the problems of the Oromo people vis-à-vis the Abyssinians (Ethiopians). It is of tremendous significance both for the summing up of and the refutation of past historiographical distortions and shedding of new light by its re-interpretation of important historical episodes in the history of the Oromo people. It is a comprehensive treatment of the history, culture, religion and civilization of the Oromo people in general – as a free nation – and the trials and tribulations both during subjugation by Abyssinian forces in particular, and the resistance they put up over the last hundred years, which is still going on under difficult national (Ethiopian) and international conditions.
Bulcha has the knack for putting all these complex multifarious problems and issues in a clear, understandable language for a broad audience. He articulates the struggle of the Oromo people for emancipation from the Abyssinian colonial yoke – with its ups and downs – not in a straight line but proceeding in a zigzag manner, clearly without embellishment, as opposed to those who are trying to do so by making the murky origin of some of the important Oromo liberation organizations idyllic. The author clearly, in an unambiguous language, states the right of the Oromo people to self-determination without any interference from any quarter, be it national or international, with all its consequences.
The author describes exactly word for word what happened to me when I first came to Finfinnee in September 1956 from Western Oromia. An Abyssinian fellow ninth-grader at the General Wingate Secondary School in Addis Ababa – by the name Asresahegn Tessema – I was a small fourteen years-old boy, he being a big eighteen years-old man, said to me, “ichii gemed af Galla ke yet metach”?Although I have forgotten many of the names of later and recent classmates, I still remember that Abyssinian’s name. Since I was shocked to hear such a statement, his name and remarks are indelibly ingrained in my memory.
As a curious young person at early age, I wanted to find out the nature of things as to who I was, where I came from, what was the current condition of being an Oromo in strange surrounding like Addis Ababa. So, I began reading anything of relevance to Oromo – its people, culture, history etc. specially the so called Ethiopian history. Among others, we were indoctrinated with Abyssinian myth and legends passing of as “history” in the class rooms, chiefly over the Abyssinian stock and nothing virtually over the Oromos. So, I began my own journey into Oromo history. Among others, I read Ullendorff, who said that the “Galla” have contributed nothing of value to Ethiopian civilization – past or present. I was deeply offended and became determined, and began to find ways and means of changing this terrible situation by way of preparing on my own small way through reading further – the history of emancipation of different peoples of the world.
These learning processes continued from high school throughout my time at the Haile Selasse I University. Although I had physical sciences background by training and experience, I continued the learning process by actively participating in support of revolutionary movements, specially the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam in 1960s. There are, among others, many episodes and anecdotes to mention, but I still recall Tadesse Tamrat – after obtaining his degree in “Ethiopian” history in 1968, he angrily defended and eulogized Menelik in an arrogant and boastful manner for his “unification” of Ethiopia – when we, of the oppressed Nationalities, accused Menelik of being in the league with European imperialism and colonialism, as a junior partner himself; and that he had participated in the Scramble for Africa by attending the Berlin Congress of 1884. Then and there, I realized that their heroes are our oppressors and enemies, and that we have nothing in common. Let me cite further examples to illustrate my point.
Theodros, considered a hero by most Ethiopianist historiographers, had cursed his fellow countrymen for deserting him in his hours of need in his deadly conflict, in which he was engaged with Oromos. Towards the end of his life, when situation became desperate, he cursed his fellow Abyssinians: “Galla yigzachihu” – it was the worst insult he could ever imagine. By the way, Mekuria Bulcha gives in his book a possible, plausible and credible explanation for the troubles and eventual demise of Theodros and his empire, unlike the Ethiopianist scholars.
I could cite further examples of how their heroes are our enemies and oppressors. I mention in passing how Gebru Tareke – while describing, with a good deal of honesty, the oppression and treatment of Southern tenants at the hands of the neftenya settlers, nevertheless proceeded to and characterized Menelik as an “anti-imperialist” during the Scramble for Africa. For the Abyssinians, he might well have been, but for us, he was an imperialist oppressor with vast land holdings and tens of thousands of slaves, chiefly Oromos.
Even foreign writers on Ethiopia show such bias. I recall an Abyssinian by the name of Hagos Gebre-Yesus saying that M. Perham was a perceptive writer on Ethiopia, although she never visited Ethiopia – several decades ago when I was in Montreal, Canada – to be precise in 1970. At that time, I did not comment because I had not read her book. Now I know why Hagos made such a statement. She extolled the Abyssinian character traits while she denigrated Oromo character traits. Besides, she advocated for the assimilation of the Oromo people by Abyssinia’s superior culture since, according to her, the Oromos are of inferior race and culture, thus not capable of development as people to an independent nationhood. From the points I mentioned above, it is tempting to conclude that, what is good, honorable and decent for the Abyssinians is exact opposite for Oromos and vice-versa.
Bulcha’s epic story about the Oromo civilization on the Shawan plateau leaves Ethiopianist discourse standing on its head. He convincingly argues by mustering multi-disciplinary sources: geographical, anthropological, sociological, historical, legends and myth to make his case soundly. This book will be, I am sure, the standard and comprehensive reference work on the Oromo society for many years to come. It is not only a reference book, but it debunks several centuries of mystification by Ethiopianists about the people living in the Horn of Africa. Mekuria Bulcha’s erudite work is bound to be valued and cherished by the fighting younger generation of Oromians for decades to come. It is logical, coherent, consistent, and systematic.
The final point I have, by way of criticism, is the omission of the photograph of the illustrious, the late Mokonnon Wassanu, who was executed by the Dergue, from among otherwise thoughtful and beautiful photographs of most of the leadership of the Macca Tullamaa Association. The other is a small mistake – may be due to oversight. The Dergue came to being as a committee in April 1974 and assumed governmental political power officially in June 1974.
I urge every genuine Oromo patriot, wherever he or she may be – to read this book: “Contours of the Emergent & Ancient Oromo Nation: Dillemmas in the Ethiopian Politics of State and Nation-Building” by Mekuria Bulcha. (2011).
* Abarra Wakjira: firstname.lastname@example.org