Fayyeeraa N. Sobbooqsaa
“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and Apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.” ~ Nelson Mandela
Do You Know an Oromo Culture – ‘Garaacha Uffachuu?’
The purpose of writing this story is to leave behind some historical record about our cultures, traditions and ways of life. It also helps us to compare the prosperity of our forefathers before the conquest of Oromia in contrast to the current Oromo generation. It should neither be considered as nostalgia for the past nor failure to recognize the existence of the various types of modern business enterprises.
My grandfather was always telling us about the nostalgic past and the life styles his grandfather was enjoying. He usually likes telling us the abundance and wealth of his grandfather, Jiruu Barii, the grandson of Gadaa Kunee. The whole community knows the wealth of Jiruu Barii and they also tell his story in relation to an Oromo culture known as “Garaacha Uffachuu.” They often say, “Inni Oromoo loon kuma bobbaasee fi dhibba elmachaa ture”, which means Jiruu Barii had a thousand cattle and a hundred more cows for milk. He was one of the very rich Oromos in the region who have celebrated the ceremony of “garaacha uffachuu”, that is, the tradition of celebrating and cherishing wealth with families, relatives, friends and the whole community members in the area.
Jiruu Barii invited all his relatives and friends from near and far to his home. He offered them to choose the best oxen they liked for slaughter. A big pool was made from milk and people were watching Jiruu Barii while he was swimming in the milk pool to celebrate and cherish the abundance of his wealth according to the Oromo culture of “garaacha uffachuu.”
There was another Oromo, Didhaa Abbaa Bashaadaa, who has also celebrated and cherished his wealth in Bokkuu Incinnii after Jiruu Barii. Obbo Ida’oo Boruu also told me that the families of Obbo Shimellis Adugna, a former officer of the Dergue regime, have celebrated and cherished their cattle wealth – garaacha uffachuu in Odaa Nabee region of Oromia.
After our land was taken over by the expansionist Abyssinian Emperors and land lords, however, the cattle were looted by the gun carrying settlers from the north. In addition, our people didn’t have enough grazing land for their cattle since their lands were taken over by force. The road to powerlessness and impoverishment started in such manners. Here we have a very famous and popular poem that has almost become like a national anthem for the Oromo people:
Caffee gad ilaaluun hafe,
Finfinnee loon geessanii,
Hora obaasuun hafe
Tulluu Daalattii irratti
Yaa’iin Gullallee hafe
Qoraan cabsachuun hafe
Hurufa Bombii irratti,
Jabbilee yaasuun hafe
Bara jarri dhufani,
Loon keenyas ni dhumani
Edda Mashashaan dhufee
Biraadummaan hin hafe.
English translation: (by Geresu Tufa)
No more standing on Intottoo,
to look on meadows blow.
No more taking cattle to Finfinnee,
to water at the mineral springs.
No more gathering on Daalattii,
where the Gullallee assembly used to meet.
No more going beyond Gafarsaa,
to chop firewood.
No more pasturing calves,
on the meadows of Hurufa Bombi.
The year the enemy came,
our cattle were consumed.
Since Mashasha came,
freedom has vanished.
Wolde Yohannes Warqineh is a close relative of Suphaa Tolasaa, one of the unsung Oromo heroes who were brutally executed by the very backward, repressive, exploitative and brutal feudal regime of Emperor Haile-sellassie I. I am a living witness to the lynching of Suphaa Tolasaa and many other unsung heroes who have been killed while bravely resisting and fighting against the Abyssinian occupation army. There is a work in progress to document the heroic resistance of these unsung heroes – Guddisaa Raggaasaa, Hirkisaa Naggasaa, Mormataa Toltii, Suphaa Tolasaa and many others on the North side of Tulluu Roggee, in Dirree Incinnii. There were people like Shiferraa and Jamamaa on the South side of Tulluu Roggee in Ammayyaa county, Central Oromia. More research work is needed to complete the documentation of their resistance struggle too before the elders who know them pass away.
Here are some of the ‘geerarsa’ they have left behind for the next Oromo generation just few minutes prior to lynching on a busy market day at Gabaa Robii, in Diree Incinnii. There were two open market days in Dirree Incinnii during that time, Wednesday and Saturday. If they make it on Saturday, many students may miss to see it. Therefore, the intention of choosing Wednesday is to instill fear and terrorize both the students, their parents and the rest of the people through their scare tactic known as: “Ineen yaayyeh teqaxaa”which is like saying “see me and refrain from fighting me.”Lynching was used as a very strong tactic of threatening the people to stop resisting against tbe Imperial feudal monarchy..
Geerarsa Suphaa Tolasaa:
Abbaa Soorii yaa suphaa,
Homaa hin hoorin yaa gurbaa.
Incinnii buuta hin jennee,
Wadaroon duuta hin jennee,
Geerarsa Mormataa Toltii
Eessa roobeetu eessa otoo hin roobin hafaa?
Warri eenyuu boyeetu, warri eenyuu otoo hin booyiin hafaa?
Ya Abbaa koo yaa Toltii, haadha koo ishee na deesse,
Bakka garaa koo hin geenyee, daanyaatu natti murteesse.
Continuing the Legacy of Gadaa Kunee: The Struggle Against Conquest, Domination, Oppression and Exploitation
“Warruma dur lolatu amma illee lolachaa kan jiru.” ~ Obbo Daandanaa Gurmuu at the notorious Ma’ikelawwi torture facility and detention center. I didn’t inherit fear. I inherited heroism, courage and determination. Guddisaa Raggaasaa and many others tried their best to resist occupation, domination and dispossession and passed away.
I have tried to document the fight over land between the two Oromo clans, Warra Kunee and Warra Arfinjoo, and presented it on the 2015 annual conference of the Oromo Studies Association. As I have tried to explain on the research paper, the fight over land ownership between these two clans started prior to the conquest of Oromia and that conflict was effectively exploited by Emperor Haile Sellassie’s regime.
As a first generation who has got the chance to have access to college education,
I was interested to study political science and international relations at Addis Ababa University. However, my friends advised me it is a very risky business for Oromos to study politics. They were quoting the infamous saying, “Polotikaa innaa korreentii beruuquu nawu.” It is like saying, “politics and electricity from afar.” One of my friends was saying, “People who have our caliber can study politics on their own by reading books, journals, magazines and newspapers.” We didn’t study politics. However, all of us (including my advisors) were severely and adversely affected by both domestic and international politics.
So, where are those who were saying, “Those of you who have been studying other professional careers such as Accounting instead of politics were just 12+0?” We don’t even hear their voices in any Oromo community activities except that of a lackey and collaborator of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front, Dina Mufti, the so called Ethiopian Ambassador who was shamelessly denying the killings of the Oromo people during #OromoProtests. Dina Mufti has chosen political science and international relations at Addis Ababa University and he was denying the killings and the persecution of the Oromo people during a televised interview with an Eritrean Ambassador to Kenya on a Kenyan Television. I was not surprised at all because George Orwell has already put on record the realities of contemporary politics on one of his books, Why I Write, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
As a citizen of Oromia, it is a duty bound responsibility to continue the legacy of defending my motherland, Oromia, both from internal and external intruders and invaders. Although it was started as a scattered resistance, the spirit and courage of the freedom fighting struggle that was started by Guddisaa Raggaasaa and his other comrades against the Abyssinian colonial army has left a lasting impact on me to confront tyrant and autocratic dictatorial regimes. As a management employee of Ethiopian Airlines, I had a better opportunity to flee the country but I have decided to stay and do something.
“Having Comfort With the ‘Enemy’ You Fight With”
The following story was told by an Oromo military officer who was living in Forto Military Camp in Asmara in the1980s. It was in the mid 1980s. I have been in one of the residence homes in a military camp on top of a hill in Asmara city, Eritrea. The officer was an Oromo who was married to an Eritrean woman. They had a pretty little girl. I went there to secure pension for a deceased soldier who died by car accident while he was on duty in Asmara city.
The officer took me to the Kagnew military base to talk to the concerned authorities regarding the pension fund. Two Soviet military attaché` were walking in front of us to enter Kagnew Station. The officer was saying, “Look at our bosses. They will not be searched to enter the military base but both of us will be searched. You will see it.” As he said, the two Soviet military attaché` were not searched on the gate. However, both of us were searched as he told me to enter that military base.
The officer was showing me the huge scraps and wreckages collected from the war fronts. There were too many disabled IFA military trucks, various types of military vehicles that were manufactured in the Soviet Union, tanks, helicopters, various types of heavy artillery and so on in the vast compound of the huge military base. That officer was saying, “We are just cash cows for the Soviet Union. They don’t want the war to end. Look at the fence of Kagnew Station itself. It is built from scraps collected from tank, mortar and the various types of artillery and military equipments he was naming that I have never heard of before that day. He was saying, “What you are seeing here is perhaps 0.01% of the total wreckage lying in the deserts of Eritrea, Tigray and Ogaden.”
He was also saying, “As you have seen it in my home in Forto military camp, there is no problem between individuals. I love my Eritrean wife and my cute daughter.” He also said, ‘Nama nan jaaladha jechuu malee, namni na jaalata jechuun hin dabda’amu.’ It is like saying, ‘you cannot certainly say someone loves me but you can say I love someone.” He continued telling me a story of a General who had an Eritrean wife who went to her parent’s home the night Kagnew Station was bombed. He suspects that she had some prior information about the bombing of the military base from the Eritrean Liberation Front. He was showing me the armament storages and other buildings that were destroyed by bombs set by the guerrilla fighters.
He continued telling me his concerns, “Who knows the heart of my own wife too? She may withhold such vital information from me too like the wife of that General if she gets some tip that Forto Military Camp would also be bombed by the Eritrean Liberation Front.” He was leading a life full of controversy, suspicion and fear. He sighed and said, “In the military life, you can die any moment. Therefore, we have no other choices except having comfort with the ‘enemy’ we are forced to fight with.”
I managed to secure 41.00 Ethiopian Birr per month, (which was about $19.80 U.S. Dollars at the exchange rate of the time @2.07) as a pension fund for the four family members of the deceased soldier who died while serving his “Revolutionary Motherland Ethiopia!.” It is even very hard to imagine how $4.95 per month could feed a child, cover clothing costs, pay for house rent, lumbar for cooking food, electricity for lighting a home, water bills, transportation expenses and cover other miscellaneous expenses. Telephone, Radio, television and gas are a luxury that only the privileged few are entitled to have access to.
The irony is even today, there are too many Oromos who do not know they are under persecution. It is very relevant to recite Harriet Tubman’s observation here: “I have freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” That is why they have been denying us the right to have access to quality education to keep us in the dark and exploit our resources. Now, they have started giving very inferior quality education to our kids to continue the legacy of keeping them in the dark and exploit both our human and natural resources.
On the flip side, the former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was saying, “There is no such thing as a community. There is only a family.” In contrast, the European colonial powers and their client states were destroying strong and powerful families in Africa and elsewhere. That is why the Oromo people say, “Kan tokkoof badii, tokkoof badhaadha.” It is like saying, ‘Some ones’ profits could be at the expense of the other person.” While those who were looting our resources are only focusing on the pursuit of happiness for themselves and their family members, the looted Africans who were once strong and prosperous families like mine are now struggling to rebuild their impoverished and disempowered Oromo communities around the globe.
I always remember how Oromo soldiers who were involved in the various war fronts used to write the slogan of the time, “Revolutionary Motherland or Death!” at the end of their letters they were writing to their family members. Is it really a “motherland” worth dying for? What they were calling a “motherland” was not even taking care of their family members, both when they were alive and after their death. On the other hand, the Dergue military regime has never hesitated spending billions of dollars on killing machines despite the unimaginable misery of the people. It was such enormous injustice that was extremely hard to ignore that has forced me to get involved instead of becoming a bystander.
According to World Genocide Watch, “perpetuating poverty” is one of the tactics often used by ruthless regimes that are engaged in committing genocide against the ethnic and religious groups they have targeted to exterminate and cleanse them to vacate and occupy their space. Prevent Genocide International also observed it perfectly, “The genocidal purpose of destroying or degrading the economic foundation of national groups was to lower the standards of living and to sharpen the struggle for existence, that no energies might remain for cultural or national life.” As a result of such genocidal policies, we are also significantly shrinking and our body weights and heights are becoming smaller as compared to our foremothers and forefathers. My grandfather was also telling me how he was much smaller in body weight and shorter in height as compared to Cuucar Kunee, a brother of Gadaa Kunee and how I was even much smaller than my father and himself. He was also telling me the festive wedding of his elder son, my own father, and the number of cattle he has slaughtered and how life would become much harder for my generation. The objective is obviously to make us physically and psychologically unfit to resist their exploitative and repressive brutal governance systems.
We have been discussing the shrinkage of our body weights and heights with many Oromo activists like Obbo Tamaam Yousuf and even during this annual conference of Oromo Studies Association with Obbo Jayilu Danboobaa, Obbo Tsagaye Gelgelu other Oromos. Obviously, # OromoProtests are the outcome of these severe political, social, economic and cultural crises.
Unintended Consequences of Conquest and Occupation
The unintended consequences of the destruction of our cultural heritages and Safuu and Safeeffannaa – the set of ethical and moral values that were nurtured and developed by the Oromo Gadaa Democratic System of governance over hundreds of years have been replaced by a very inferior culture of governance that has led us to such severe social, cultural and economic crises. What were not very common in the past few decades and despised by our people such as begging are becoming very common. Awfully bad cultures such leaving our homestead and becoming refugees in foreign countries, the disruption of male-female ratio as a result of the endless wars that have been waged to use our youth as cannon fodders and income generating creatures under the guise of peace keeping forces has also led to other social crises such as prostitution and polygamy. There are also too many widows and single mothers who are struggling to raise children alone since their husbands were killed in the various war fronts.
The hitherto unprecedented human greed and culture of nepotism and corruption that was put in place to exploit and dispossess our people is another social crisis. Dishonesty, greed and lies of the coward technocrats and collaborators like the so called Ethiopian Ambassador who has been working with both the Dergue and the TPLF/EPRDF regimes are becoming prime examples of immorality and bad governance cultures. It truly reflects the degradation of our Safuu and Safeffanaa and there is no other crime that is much greater than aligning yourself with those regimes who commit genocide on your people to advance personal fame and get some leftovers and share from the wealth that is being looted from the resources of Oromia and other marginalized nations and nationalities in the Ethiopian Empire. I personally believe that it is only the posterity measures and documentations of ethnic cleansing and the genocidal extra-judicial killings of our people and the courage to speak against their savagery and barbarity to name and shame that would expose their torture techniques and deter the Oromo collaborators not to align themselves with the Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Fromt (TPLF).
It was because of such unbearable injustices that our generation was also saying “The Dergue Regime Must Go!” We didn’t have the social media like the Qubee Generation. There were no Facebook, Tweeter, YouTube Videos, TV and Radio that were there to support our struggle during that time. There were no books, journals and newspapers that we could read and enrich our knowledge about the Oromo people. The very few books I managed to read in Ethiopia that discuss Oromo issues while being under fear of persecution for simply reading them were. Gadaa Melbaa, Cultural Survival – Politics and the Ethiopian Famine by Sisai Ibsa and Bonnie Holcomb, a series of articles/blogs, The Kindling Point, also by Bonnie Holcomb and Sisai Ibsa and Ethiopia and the Challenge of Independence by Haggai Erlich were the very precious historical records for our generation. Unlike our generation, there are now abundant books, journals, Websites, and the social media such as Facebook, Tweeter, YouTube and other types of electronic media.
The Dergue Regime collapsed but those who replaced it have even become the worst and the most vicious of all the previous Ethiopian regimes. The Qubee Generation is also saying, “The TPLF/EPRDF regime must go!” Yes, it must go.
What the United States Meant to Me as a Person:
“U.N. official, panels address issue of torture at Washington Conference” ~catholicphilly.com, Catholic News Service (CNS)
Six great moments I had here in the United States of America Are:
- The Light Africa Conference at the Library of Congress in the Thomas Jefferson Hall because I have been blogging on Ayyaantuu.com how I was inspired by what Thomas Jefferson has written in the last quarter of 18th century.
- The invitation at the presidential campaign by Senator Hilary Clinton at Daughters of the American Revolution Hall in year 2008. I was among the very few Hillary supporters when too many people were supporting the Obama campaign and I had a valid and justifiable reason for doing that because I know from my own life experiences that children, women and the elderly are the most vulnerable groups in conflict areas. Therefore, it was just more than politics for me since I know many “untold stories”about violence against women.
- My personal testimony about torture at the Catholic University of America on a joint conference by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and TASSC- International. The conference was sponsored by TASSC- International. The keynote speaker was the Special Raporteur for the United Nattion’s Convention Against Torture (UN-CAT), Professor Juan Mendez, who is also a torture survivor from Argentina. Mendez is also a member of TASSC- International.
- My personal testimony at the United States Congress – Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on June 25, 2015.
- I have been invited to attend an interfaith conference at the Washington Hebrew Congregation
- I have been invited to attend an interfaith conference on World Refugee Day at the ADAMS Mosque in Sterling, Virginia. The keynote speakers were the United States Secretary of State, John F. Kerry and the United Nattion’s Goodwill Ambassador for refugees, Angelina Jolie.
Some may consider this as self-aggrandizement. However, as a person who has endured unimaginable magnitude of human brutality, I would rather say it is truly American values, “Having pride in what you do.” I have never expected the United States to solve all problems of the world. There are already too many problems that the United States itself has created and the Horn of Africa is one of such regions. While asking them not to prop up dictators, it is also up to us to solve our own internal problems. It is never too late to leave behind the culture of fragmentation and we must come forward as a united political force to lead that troubled region and bring about lasting peace, freedom, democracy and sustainable economic development.
I would like to thank the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) – International for encouraging me and giving me the opportunity to talk to the people and government of the United States of America. I believe that we have tried our best to empower Oromo women through the eponymous name to commemorate the martyred Oromo freedom fighter girl, Ayyaantuu, and it is really very interesting to connect her with an Oromo freedom fighter and genocide survivor Urjii Dhaabaa.
There is also another girl whose name is Ayyaantuu and she is in the shadow and she doesn’t even know that she has become a genocide survivor through the tactic of perpetuating poverty. The Shakespearean Ayyaantuu may use her knowledge of theatrical arts to connect the dots since I have already told the ‘untold stories” to other people and a Stanford University professor the various tactics of domination, oppression and exploitation of the Oromo people. I would also like to thank the Stanford University professor, a friend of TASSC- International, for giving me counseling and assistance to reunite with my family members who were forced to live in three continents –Africa, Europe and North America.