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The Politicization of My Oromo-English Dictionary: The Writer’s Reflections

Published in 2000, Gamta, Tilahun, Journal of Oromo Studies - Archived on November 7th, 2014

Title: The Politicization of My Oromo-English Dictionary: The Writer’s Reflections
Author: Tilahun Gamta (Xiilaahun Gamtaa) (Formerly, Addis Ababa University)
Published: Journal of Oromo Studies, Vol. 7, No.’s 1&2 (2000), pp. 1-17.
Language: English
Keywords: Literature, Mass Media and the Press, Afan Oromo, syllabary, Qubee, alphabet

Background
Many Oromos wonder how I was able to write and publish The Oromo-English Dictionary (OED) in Ethiopia under Mengistu’s regime, a regime that had been openly hostile to the Oromo nation. Here, I offer my reflections on the writing of the work and some of the difficulties encountered in publishing it.

Before I began writing the OED on May 1, 1980, I had leaked out news that I was in the process of writing an Amharic-Oromo-English trilingual dictionary. Some of my Abyssinian colleagues at Addis Ababa University (AAU) were more excited about the idea than I was. The appearance of “Amharic,” though ostensible, at the beginning of the trilingual dictionary probably explains why they showered good wishes upon me. Very soon, my name and the title of the elusive project appeared in one of Addis Ababa University’s research news bulletins. To complete this ‘ingenious’ project without any difficulty, I was advised to submit a research proposal so that I could be entitled to a grant and a reduced teaching load. I thanked my enthusiastic Abyssinian friends and tacitly ignored the suggestion because I did not want to commit myself, in writing, to undertake the so-called ingenious project.

I believe that the regime’s ubiquitous security members took my story on trust because, after the news release, I could move about freely and mingle with Oromos with whom I had parted company at my village (Bure) when I was about thirteen years old. Thus, I was able to refresh my memory of how our people in the rural areas still speak Afaan Oromo, the Oromo language, in spite of one hundred years of the flagrant policy of suppression by the Abyssinian colonizers of Oromiyaa.

I visited Arsi, Baale, Gamu Goofaa, Goojjam, Harar, Kafaa, Shaggar, Sidaamo, Wallaggaa, and Wallo. I did not have to visit Ilu Abbaa Booraa, my birthplace. Due to my own reasons, I could not go to Tigray to interview Raayyaa, Azabo, and Waajiraat Oromos, either. However, I stayed in Waldiyaa, Wallo, overnight, where I had an opportunity to chat with an elderly Raayyaa Oromo. Despite a minor difference in our pronunciation, kaleesha/kaleessa (yesterday), for instance, we could understand each other very easily. After he told me, with a clear expression of concern on his handsome face, that the younger generation must be taught Afaan Oromo and be urged to use it, he said nagaatti (good bye) and left. In addition, when I was attending a conference in Nairobi in 1972, I had the opportunity to gauge the situation in Kenya where about half a million Oromos live. After these visits, I concluded that the pronunciation used by Oromos in both Oromiyaa and Kenya is almost identical at the lexical level. The then rampant and alarming rumor that there were wide regional variations in Afaan Oromo, I became convinced, was baseless.

As already stated, I began writing the OED on May 1, 1980, three years after I had witnessed the Red Terror which wreaked havoc on those suspected of having any affiliation with a party whose views were out of favor. 1 saw corpses lying about in the streets of Finfinne (the city renamed “Addis Ababa” after the colonization of Oromo country). I saw corpses being shoveled out of dump trucks and strewn on the sidewalks for all to see and presumably with the message that they should behave themselves! I saw boys, girls, young/old men and women thrown out of speeding military jeeps and shot dead.

There were two primary reasons for attempting to write this one-man, bilingual dictionary. First, confident that almost everybody in the Empire had cowered in the aftermath of the brutal Red Terror, Mengistu’s dictatorial regime sped up its literacy campaign in the name of socialism and communism. The tacit policy of the campaign was not only to discourage the spread of English but also to thrust the Amharic language down the throats of every nation/nationality in the Ethiopian Empire. The unsuspecting victims of this tacit policy were beguiled into believing that fifteen languages (of the total 80 or so languages in the Empire) were selected and were being used to promote literacy. In my view as a linguist, this position amounted to propaganda. To give credence to its propaganda, the regime allowed the distribution of literature written in the Amharic script in areas where the fifteen languages (representing over 90% of the population) are spoken. The Amharic syllabary, which cannot be adapted to writing the Kushitic languages, was a fiasco. Kushitic people could not crack what appeared as a strange-looking code in which their respective languages were written. In other words, they simply could not understand the reading matter the regime sent to their respective regions. Neither could they cope with learning about 280 Amharic characters as compared to about 35 Latin symbols required to write, if adapted carefully, most Kushitic languages.

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The Conflict between the Ethiopian State and the Oromo People

Published in 2013, European Conference on African Studies, Kumsa, Alemayehu - Archived on August 13th, 2014

Title: The Conflict between the Ethiopian State and the Oromo People
Author: Alemayehu Kumsa, PhD
Published: Centro de Estudos Internacionais do Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL) (5th European Conference on African Studies/ECAS – June 27-29, 2013)
Language: English
Keywords: Colonialism, Abyssinia, Oromo, Ethiopia, Liberation Movement

Abstract:
Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. The etymology of the term from Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involves the transfer of population to new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to the country of origin. Colonialism is a characteristic of all known civilizations. Books on African history teaches us that Ethiopia and Liberia are the only countries, which were not colonized by West European states, but the paper argues that Ethiopia was created by Abyssinian state colonizing its neighbouring nations during the scramble for Africa. Using comparative colonial history of Africa, the paper tries to show that Abyssinian colonialism is the worst of conquest and colonial rule of all territories in Africa, according to the number of people killed during the conquest war, brutal colonial rule, political oppression, poverty, lack of education, diseases, and contemporary land grabbing only in the colonial territories. In its arguments, the paper discusses why the Oromo were defeated at the end of 19th century whereas we do have full historical documents starting from 13th century in which the Oromo defended their own territory against Abyssinian expansion. Finally the paper will elucidate the development of Oromo national struggle for regaining their lost independence.

Article in PDF format   ……   Alternatively, On Gadaa.com

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Harvard University’s African Studies Workshop Featuring Kay Kaufman Shelemay: “Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism”

Published in 2014, Seminar Presentation, Shelemay, Kay Kaufman - Archived on July 20th, 2014

Title: Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism
Author: Kay Kaufman Shelemay (Professor of Music and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University)
Published: Seminar Presentation, African Studies Workshop at Harvard University
Language: English
Keywords: Ethnography, Ethnomusicology, Music, Oromo Nationalism

On March 3, 2014, Kay Kaufman Shelemay, G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, presented, “Listening to Ethiopia’s South: Music, Musicians, and the Performance of Oromo Nationalism.” Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music at Harvard University, was the discussant.

– Source: African Studies at Harvard University

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Urban Centers in Oromia: Consequences of Spatial Concentration of Power in Multinational Ethiopia

Published in 2010, Jalata, Asafa, Journal of Oromo Studies - Archived on April 1st, 2014

Title: Urban Centers in Oromia: Consequences of Spatial Concentration of Power in Multinational Ethiopia
Author: Asafa Jalata (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA)
Published: Journal of Oromo Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2010), pp. 39-74.
Language: English
Keywords: Oromo, Oromia, indigenous people, centralization and spatial concentration, formation of garrison towns

Abstract
This paper examines the essence and characteristics of cities and urban centers in Oromia and the major consequences of the centralization and spatial concentration of Habasha (Amhara-Tigray) political power in a multinational Ethiopia. It specifically demonstrates how the integration of indigenous Oromo towns into the Ethiopian colonial structure and the formation of garrison and non-garrison cities and towns in Oromia consolidated Habasha political domination over the Oromo people. Ethiopian colonial structure limited the access of Oromo urban residents, who are a minority in their own cities and towns, to institutions and opportunities, such as employment, education, health, mass media and other public services. In addition to exclusion, the Oromos have been prevented from developing autonomous institutions, organizations, culture, and language, and have been subordinated to the institutions and organizations of the Habasha colonial settlers in their own cities, towns, and homeland.

Article in PDF format on “Selected Works of Asafa Jalata”   ……   Alternatively, On Gadaa.com

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A History of Oromo Cultural Troupes (1962-1991)

Published in 2013, Bessa, Tesfaye Tolessa, Science, Technology & Arts Research (STAR) Journal - Archived on February 22nd, 2014

Title: A History of Oromo Cultural Troupes (1962-1991)
Author: Tesfaye Tolessa Bessa
Published: Science, Technology & Arts Research (STAR) Journal Volume 2, Issue 1, 2013, pp. 86-94
Language: English
Keywords: Culture, Music, Oromo Struggle, Oromo Cultural Resistance

Abstract:
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the struggle of Oromo cultural troupes in creating consciousness among the Oromo to reconsider their lost rights. The study draws up on primary and secondary sources, which had been collected in the summer of 2008. Primary sources are securitized from archives and interviews. Informants were selected only on the basis that they had been direct participants of the events. Printed material, as both primary and secondary sources, are utilized with critical scrutiny. Many of these sources are indicators of the situation the Oromo had been forced to bear in those days. From the analysis of these sources, the paper is able to reveal how the Oromo troupes brought hidden grievance of the Oromo to the light under unbearable situations. It also shows how these troupes brought unstructured way of cultural resistance and rural social banditries into the modern form of organized struggle by attracting many minds of bureaucrats, military officers, students, professional groups and the business classes.

Article in PDF format (Gadaa.com)

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The following audio is from the era on which the author of the research paper writes.

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