Title: Onesimos Nasib’s pioneering contributions to Oromo writing
Author: Mekuria Bulcha (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Published: Nordic Journal of African Studies Vol. 4, No. 1, 1995, pp. 36-59
Keywords: Onesimos Nasib, Afan Oromo
Linguists tell us that the Oromo language also referred to as afaan Oromoo or Oromiffaa with its more than 20 million speakers is the second most widely spread indigenous language in Africa. More than two-thirds of the speakers of the Cushitic languages are Oromo or speak afaan Oromoo, which is also the third largest Afro-Asiatic language in the world (Gragg 1982). In spite of its importance as a vernacular widely spoken in the Horn of Africa afaan Oromoo lacks today a developed literature. Both the cultural history of the Oromo people and the language policy of the Ethiopian government were suggested to be responsible for this state of affairs.
In this paper I maintain that, although some basic literature existed in afaan Oromoo for the last 100 years, as the Oromo were colonized, they were (and still are) not given the chance to build on the literary foundations that were laid down during the last two decades of the 19th century.
To illustrate my argument, I describe Onesimos Nasib’s contribution to Oromo literature, and the efforts he made to spread literacy and modern education in Oromoland at the beginning of this century. I discuss also, albeit briefly, the reactions that the works of Onesimos aroused among the Abyssinian nobility and clergy and the resultant language policy that suppressed development of literacy in afaan Oromoo and the other Cushitic and Omotic languages. The approach in this paper is socio-historical as well as socio-linguistic.