Published on November 20, 2013.
By Gutama Tarafo
( Delivered to the Lovedale Literary Society, October 1897)
Mr Chairman and Members,
In Oromoland many things are different from South African things. The people are different, and the country itself is different from this country. First of all, I want to speak about the climate of the country. Perhaps many of you won’t believe about the climate, because none of you have been there, except those that came from there. But you read in the books of Geography, and those books say the climate is very hot. I can tell you the climate is not all very hot. But it is quite true that the southern part of the country is exceedingly hot, because there are no mountains there. The upper country is much cooler than Cape Colony, although it is near the Equator, because there are many high mountains near Abyssinia. There are no lakes in Oromoland. But there are many small rivers. The largest river is the River Abaye, that is, I think, the Blue Nile. Also the Hawash River runs through the north of Oromoland and falls into the Blue Nile, at the West of Abyssinia. There are many other rivers, whose names I forget.
Now I shall tell you about the marriage customs. I heard George Tyamzashe’s paper about Kaffir marriages.2 He said when the Kaffirs are going to get married, they buy their wives. Ithink you remember when Jacob wanted to marry, he worked for fourteen years, and then he got those two wives. Well, that is not the way of marrying people in our country. When a man want to marry a girl, first he goes and speaks with her parents, and then if her parents agree with him, he will take her, but if not he will leave her. The Oromo people are quite different from the people of South Africa. They are different in dressing. The Oromo people never wear red blankets, as the Kaffirs do. Rich people wear short trousers and a fine mantle of cloth, and poor people wear the same clothes as the Arabs. The women wear a fine skin dress and no one of you could tell the difference between that skin and cloth. The houses are not the same as those here. The Oromo huts are four or five times bigger than these Kaffir huts. I may say the Oromo house has got two storeys. In the upper storey they keep corn and other things; but in the lower one the people sleep. There are two rooms in the lower storey, one is where the mother of the house does her work and the other one is for sleeping and eating.
There are many kinds of grain, as wheat, barley, maize, and bishinga, that is Kaffir-corn, also pumpkins, potatoes, and other things like potatoes, beans, coffee, peas, bananas, also cabbages and tobacco and many other things which I can’t name in English. There is plenty of honey. The people don’t keep bees as in this country. They hang a kind of basket made of reeds high on a tree. When the honey is ready, the people climb the tree, and get the honey. They sell it in the markets, of these there are many. Oromos never eat wild animals. They don’t eat pigs in northern Oromoland; and they don’t eat any kind of birds; and few people eat fowls or eggs. But there are some tribes that live among the Oromos, that eat nearly everything. The Oromo people are rich in cattle and corn. Some of them have farms for cattle, and some for corn.
The Oromos are not lazy people. The men never allow their wives to go and build the housefor them, and they won’t allow them to go and labour in the fields all day for food, while theysit down in their huts and smoke their long pipes. The women there do not work like that but they only work in the house while their husbands till the ground. The Oromos are not lazy people in working. Don’t think because you saw these boys, that all the Oromos are like them. If you go there, then you will know what work is. The Oromos do not waste their money on tobacco and in buying pipes about one foot long. They won’t do that. What they do is this. They get up early in the morning, and they take their breakfast without washing their face, and then they take their bullocks and their yokes, and go to plough the ground. They never return again till the sunset.
The bullocks in Oromoland are very big, much bigger than those in South Africa, as high as a horse. The yokes are nearly like those used in this country. It is a custom to train one of the oxen to guard the Kraal [dalla?] and they sharpen its horns to fight. It does no work but just keeps the kraal. The kraals in Oromoland are bigger than those here, but are made of bushes too. Many people’s cattle go into one kraal. Nearly every cow or ox has a name, and they like very much to eat salt. There are blacksmiths who make the ploughs, long narrow ploughs, and only two oxen draw them.
There are many forests in Oromoland. In these forests there are many dangerous things, worst of all are robbers that hunt for small boys and girls, and also for big people to kill them, and when they kill anyone, there is a great feast, because he has killed a man or a beast. There are lots of wild animals in Oromoland, such as elephants, lions, leopards, wild bucks or antelopes and many others too. There are many snakes, a very big hairy one, the boa constrictor, the python, the egg-eater, the horned snake, water snakes, and others. Especially the pythons are troublesome.
The Oromo horses are just the same as the Arab horses; they all look like race horses. The Oromos are heathens in religion. They worship a big tree, and in the mountains. They obey just as the king tells them, and the rule is if a person breaks the king’s commandment, he is taken to the market and punished, by being beaten, or sold as a slave. Each part of the country has got a king or a chief of its own. For instance, let us take the Jimma country. That country has got a king or a cheif [sic] of its own. These Kings always want to fight each other, and everyone wants to be the greatest of all the kings. If he conquers one of these kings, first of all he asks for a tax; and if that king won’t pay it, he just comes and destroys him. Sometime that king wants about 200 oxen or he wants some horses, and the other king has to give, because if he won’t he knows that his life will be taken from him, and what he has too.
This essay is taken from dissertation by Sandra Carolyn Teresa Rowoldt Shell, titled ”From slavery to freedom:the Oromo slave children of Lovedale ,prosopography and profile”. Republished here after changing some terms in consideration of sensitivity to non academic general public. The full desertation containing the original essay and the full dissertation can be accessed here.