Posted: Bitootessa/March 3, 2014
The Oromo Studies Association’s Tribute to the Late Dr. Paul Baxter (1925-2014)
It is with great sadness that the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) informs the Oromo and friends of Oromo about the passing away of Dr. Paul Baxter on March 2, 2014. He was 89. Dr. Paul Baxter was a distinguished British anthropologist who devoted his life to Oromo studies. He is one of the finest human being, who contributed immensely to the development of Oromo studies at the time when the scholarship on the Oromo people was extremely discouraged in Ethiopia. His death is a significant loss for his family, all those who knew and were touched by his humanity and kindness, and for the students of Oromo studies. Dr. Paul Baxter is survived by his wife, Pat Baxter, his son, Adam Baxter, and his three grandsons and their children.
Born on January 30, 1925 in England, Paul Trevor William Baxter, popularly known as Paul Baxter or P.T.W. Baxter, earned his BA degree from Cambridge University. Influenced by famous scholars such as Bronisław Kasper Malinowski, Charles Gabriel Seligman, and Evans Pritchard, Paul Baxter had a solid affection for social anthropology. He went to the famous Oxford University to study social anthropology.
It was at the zenith of the Amharization project of Emperor Haile Selassie that he developed a strong interest to study the social organization of the Oromo people. In fact, in 1952, he wanted to go to Ethiopia to study the Oromo Gada system. Let alone tolerating this type of research, Ethiopia was in the middle of the massive project to eradicate the memory of the Oromo from their historic and indigenous territories. The Assimilation policy was in the full swing. Little spared from an attempt was made to change everything Oromo into Amharic. Even the Oromo names of urban centers were rechristened into Amharic names. It is no wonder that Ethiopia was reluctant to welcome a researcher like Baxter who was looking for the soul of the Oromo culture in the homogenizing Ethiopian Empire. Nonetheless, the challenge did not bother the young and exuberant Baxter to pursue his studies. He was determined more than ever to study the social fabric of the Oromo nation. Failed to get permission to do research among the Oromo in Ethiopia, he went to the British Colony Kenya to study the Borana Oromo social organization in northern Kenya. He spent two years (1952 and 1953) among them, which resulted in his PhD dissertation: ‘The Social Organization of the Oromo of Northern Kenya’, in 1954. This research became a foundation for more of his researches to come and a reference for the students of Oromo studies. Besides, the research disqualified many of the myths and pseudo facts that assume the Oromos were a people without civilization, culture, and history. Dr. Paul Baxter did not stop here. He continued with his studies and spent several decades studying different aspects of the Oromo society. It was through his extended research among the Oromos that he deconstructed some of the myths that portrayed the Oromo people as a “warlike” or “barbarian” nation. The title of essays in his honor, in 1994, “A River of Blessings” speaks to his perception and reality of the Oromo as a peace-loving nation. In his article, “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: The Oromo,” he highlighted some of the Oromophobic and barbaric manners of the Ethiopian Empire, and he suggested that peace with the Oromo nation was the only lasting panacea to the Ethiopian political sickening.
In his long academic and research career, he studied the Oromo from northern Kenya to Wallo and Arsi to Guji and so on. He edited a number of books on Oromo studies and published many other articles and book chapters in the field of social anthropology. He participated several times on OSA annual conferences. During the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Paul Baxter was known as the finest living social anthropologist in the United Kingdom. Besides his impressive scholarship on the Oromo society, Dr. Paul Baxter’s lasting legacy is that he educated so many scholars who have studied Oromo culture both in Kenya and Ethiopia. Dr. Paul Baxter’s passion and determination will inspire the generation of students of the Oromo studies. Our prayers and thoughts are with his family, friends, and Oromos and friends of Oromo studies during this difficult time.
Ibrahim Elemo, M.D., M.P.H
President, the Oromo Studies Association
Mohammed Hassen, Ph.D.
Board Chairman, the Oromo Studies Association
A partial list of his scholarly works on the Oromo includes the followings:
1. “The Social Organization of the [Oromo] of Northern Kenya,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Oxford University, 1954.
2. “Repetition in Certain Boran Ceremonies” In African Systems of Thought, ed. M. Fortes and G. Dieterlin, (London: Oxford University Press for International African Institute, 1960), 64-78.
3. “Acceptance and Rejection of Islam among the Boran of the Northern Frontier District of Kenya” In Islam in Tropical Africa, edited by I.O. Lewis (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 233-250.
4. “Stock Management and the Diffusion of Property Rights among the Boran” In Proceedings of the Third International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, (Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Haile Selassie I University, 1966), 116-127.
5. “Some Preliminary Observations on a type of Arssi Song” In Proceedings of the Third International Congress of Ethiopian Studies, ed. E. Cerulli (Rome: 1972).
6. “Boran Age-Sets and Generation-set: Gada, a Puzzle or a maze?” In Age Generation and time: Some Features of East African Age Oroganisations, ed. P.T.W. Baxter and U. Almagor, ( London: C. Hurst, 1978), 151-182.
7. “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: The Oromo”, African Affairs, Volume 77, Number 208 (1978): 283-296.
8. “Atete: A Congregation of Arssi Women” North East African Studies, Volume I (1979), 1-22.
9. Boran Age-Sets and Warfare”, in Warfare among East African Herders, ed. D. Turton and K. Fukui, Senri Ethnological Studies, Number 3, Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology( 1979), 69-95.
10. “Always on the outside looking in: A view of the 1969 Ethiopian elections from a rural constituency” Ethnos, Number 45(1980): 39-59.
11. “The Problem of the Oromo or the Problem for the Oromo” in Nationalism and Self-Determination in the Horn of Africa, ed. I.M. Lewis, (London: Ithaca Press, 1983), 129-150.
12. “Butter for Barley and Barley for Cash: Petty Transactions and small Transformations in an Arssi Market” In Proceedings of Seventh Congress of Ethiopian Studies (Lund: 1984), 459-472.
13. “The Present State of Oromo Studies: a Resume,” Bulletin des Etudes africaine de l’ Inalco, Vol. VI, Number 11(1986): 53-82.
14. “Giraffes and Poetry: Some Observations on Giraffe Hunting among the Boran” Paiduma: Mitteilungen fur Kulturkunde Volume 32 (1986), 103-115.
15. “Some Observations on the short Hymns sung in Praise of Shaikh Nur Hussein of Bale” In The Diversity of the Muslim Community, ed. Ahmed el –Shahi, (London: Ithaca Press, 1987), 139-152.
16. “L’impact de la revolution chez les Oromo: Commentl’ont-ils percu, comment ont-ils reagi?” In La Revolution ethiopienne comme phenomene de societe, edited by Joseph Tubiana, (Paris: l’Harmattan, Bibliotheque Peiresc, 1990), 75-92.
17. “Big men and cattle licks in Oromoland” Social change and Applied Anthropology; Essays in Honor of David David W. Brokensha, edited by Miriam Chaiken & Anne K. Fleuret,( Boulder: Westview Press, 1990), 246-261.
18. “Oromo Blessings and Greetings” In The Creative Communion, edited by Anita Jacoson-Widding & W. Van Beek (Uppsala, Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology , 1990), 235-250.
19. “Introduction “In Guji Oromo Culture in Southern Ethiopia by J. Van de Loo, ( Berli: ReinMer, 1991).
20. “Ethnic Boundaries and Development: Speculations on the Oromo Case” In Inventions and Boundaries: Historical and Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Ethnicity & Nationalism, edited by Kaarsholm Preben & Jan Hultin, (Denmark: Roskilde University, 1994): 247-260.
21. “The Creation & Constitution of Oromo Nationality” In Ethnicity & Conflict in the Horn of Africa, edited by Fukui Katsuyoshi & John Markarkis, (London: James Currey, 1994): 166-86.
22. “Towards a Comparative Ethnography of the Oromo” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical & Anthropological Enquiries, edited by Paul Baxter et al, (Uppsala: Nordiska Afikanistitutet, 1996): 178-189.
23. “Components of moral Ethnicity: The case of the Oromo.” In Ethnicity and the state in Eastern Africa, edited by Mohammed Salih & John Markarkis, (Uppsala: OSSREA & SIAS, 1998)