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Tesfaye Gebreab: The man who created the first Oromo main character in the history of the vast Amharic literature

Posted: Hagayya/August 7, 2012 · Finfinne Tribune | Gadaa.com | Comments (18)

Author/Journalist Tesfaye Gebreab

By Hunde Dhugassa*

Many individuals, journalists, politicians, historians, academicians and leaders from Ethiopia and neighbouring countries, and from different corners of the world have written about the Oromo. This includes its history, politics, ability, value and nature. The time, objective, nature and fact differ from person to person. The objective of this brief note is not to give analysis on the subject matter, but rather to summarize an hour presentation of one of the most famous and controversial writers on the issue of the Oromo.

Any ordinary Oromo from Ethiopia can, without difficulty, name two important non-Oromo authors from its neighbours – who have had a positive contribution on the history and visibility of the Oromo nation: Professor Asmerom Legesse, and author/jounalist Tesfaye Gebreab. Both are Eritrean by birth, but hardly know the effort of one another until recently. The work of Professor Asmerom started almost half a century ago in the Borana region of Oromiya, while that of Tesfaye started after the fall of the Derg military junta. It is by chance that the professor started his most celebrated research on Gadaa democracy of the Oromo people, but Tesfaye’s historical and artistic contributionshave grown up in and with him in the beautiful city of Bishoftu.

Prof. Asmerom Legesse, Chairman & Research Director for the Citizens for Peace in Eritrea (CPE)

Asmarom Legesse is an anthropologist, Ph.D. Harvard, Emeritus Professor, formerly of Boston and Northwestern Universities, and Swarthmore College. He has conducted many years of field research among the Oromo in Ethiopia and Kenya. He is the author of several books, including, Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System. He also wrote Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society (1973). He is one of the few non-Oromo heroes of the Oromo people. We have dozens of articles, high-level speeches and even songs (listen to one below) to honour his outstanding contributions.

In “Yaa Ilmaan Kushatik Oromoo,” Artist Addee Ilfinash Qannoo praises Prof. Asmarom Legesse:

Professor Asmerom Legesse on the Oromo Gadaa System and Borana Calendar:

After three decades, a young enthusiastic writer Tesfaye Gebreab emerged with “Yeburqa Zimita,” a semi-historical novel surrounding the reflection and reaction of the Oromo people on the century-old marginalization, discrimination and suppression, which date back to the annexation of the Oromo land by King Minilik II in the late 1890’s with the advice and logistical support of the then European leaders. The book in general has resulted in at least three opinion groups as far as audiences are concerned in Ethiopia: the majority, which thinks he did what he had to do as a responsible author; the second group, which thinks the book is correct in all aspect, but fear the detailed revelation of the facts might hinder future and continued coexistence. There is also a minority third group, which think he is a destabilizing agent, commissioned by those who do not like the Ethiopian unity.

Tesfaye describes himself in almost all opportunities as “Ijollee Bishoftu,” literally to mean the Child of Bishoftu. An Eritrean by birth, but an Oromo by experience and attachment, Tesfaye has developed a strong sense or Oromo value. Bishoftu city, his birth place, is located 47km south of Finfinnee, the capital city of Oromiya. But he clearly underlines he is not a man to compromise his profession by any attachment or fear. He firmly believes his works are only the products of historical facts, observations of the ongoing Oromo people’s struggle, and channelling of these into his professional commitment and responsibility.

At an Oromo community event, organized in Harlem, The Netherlands, on 14th of July 2012, Tesfaye was invited to give a brief presentation on his works and his experiences on the Oromo issues. He had also answered several questions from the audience. He specifically started by asking, if anyone knows any Amharic literature that has an Oromo main character at its centre. After he had observed a complete silence in the room, he said none had done so – except his book, “Ye Burqa Zimita.” That could be one of the reasons that explain partly the enormous, but contradictory opinions with regards to the book. Even though many authors have tried to insert Oromo characters in their works, none has had the courage to put them at the helm of their efforts. Tesfaye admits that the time has also played a great role. He noted famous authors, including the works of Baalu Girma and Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedin. Baalu has named the most beautiful character with a typical Amharic name Lulit Tadesse at the centre of his book called “Ke Admas Bashager,” which he later revealed her with her real name, Chaltu Tolasa. Lulit’s self-description in the book points to the highly touching fact that, from the peer pressure, she thought her sensational beauty and glamour go only with the then kings’ language’s name Lulit, rather than Chaltu. That is why she calls herself Lulit hiding her identity instilled in Chaltu. Additionally, in his most read book, “Oromay”, Baalu Girma introduced another Oromo character called Tadese Qoricha. Oromay has unfortunately resulted in his murder by the Derg military junta. Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedin had also described the Oromo invisibly relating it to the Awash River in his work known by “Awash.” He looked talking to the river itself, but a closer look revealed that he was referring to the Oromo as a nation. Both Baalu and Laureate Tsegaye are thought to be an Oromo in one of the other links of their family composition. The later was heard speaking fluent Afan Oromo on one of his interviews with the VOA Afan Oromo Service.

Tesfaye said he was thinking about Leenco Lata while he was framing Anole Waqo as a main Character of his book, Ye Burqa Zimita. Leenco, an outspoken veteran Oromo politician at the center of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), was known in the events leading up to the formation of the Transitional Government of Ethiopian (TGE) in 1991. Leenco has authored several books, and remains a very influential and controversial figure for his role in OLF joining and leaving of the TGE.

At the Harlem event, Aster Gemeda, an Oromo heroine for her unreserved contributions to the Oromo people’s struggle for the last three decades, described her experience of Ye Burqa Zimita, “as the only Amharic novel she finished reading,” and recommended that Tesfaye be called “Obbo” Tesfaye, the Oromo equal word for “Sir” Tesfaye.

* The writer, Hunde Dhugassa, is a Lawyer and a Human Rights Activist, can be reached at jajjabee430@gmail.com


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  1. Dhaloota Haaraa

    Aug 7, 12 at 5:00 am

    Gabreab thank you for speaking against injustices being committed on Oromo people. You are really voice of reason among Ethiopians who turned their back to Oromia that brought them up and made them to where they are today. Ethiopian tend to bite the hand of Oromia that feed them. This is a very sorry state of Ethiopians which you have started to change. Keep this good job and try to rally Ethiopian Oromians behind the struggle of Oromian independence. Ethiopian Oromian have no other country than Oromia. Therefore, they have to stop supporting Ethiopian colonial government Oromia and support Oromo people’s struggle for independent Oromia in which Ethiopian Oromians and Oromoo people live in unity and peace under the constitution of independent Oromia in which the right of Ethiopian Oromians are equally respected with that of Oromoo people. Gabreeab, as people like Neville Alxander are to South African people struggle against apartheid regime, you are to the Oromo nation.

  2. Safia

    Aug 7, 12 at 5:20 am

    Trying hard to impress your sugar daddy Isayas, you give Eritreans credit for writing Oromo cultural history for you?


  3. Dheeboota Bilisummaa

    Aug 7, 12 at 9:04 am

    jajjabee koo jabaadhu

  4. Mortar

    Aug 7, 12 at 9:32 pm

    To: Safia

    Who ever contribute something positive to the Oromo people is welcomed, be it Eritrean or not. Abysinians have unreasonable hate for Oromos, Eritreans, Somalians and others. This is the root cause of the political unrest in and around Ethiopia.

  5. saarttu

    Aug 7, 12 at 10:48 pm

    One of the best book i ever read was yaburka zimita, took my breath away, i remember finishing it in less than 48 hrs. God bless Obbo Tesfaye Gebreab!!

  6. Gorbaa

    Aug 8, 12 at 2:27 pm

    And why the Oromo intelectuals do not write such books and others ? What are they doing, except accusing each others and confusing the Oromo people. I think it is better to stop looping and speed up our steps of organizing our confused people for the eminent danger of future.

  7. Sabbataa Dubbii

    Aug 8, 12 at 4:11 pm

    He is challenging all Oromo writers that we are yet to come up with something that is original and indigenous.
    The two men are looking at us from outside not within Oromo culture. I am not questioning their genuine efforts.

    Sabbataa Dubbii

  8. bilisummaa

    Aug 8, 12 at 4:36 pm

    Hunde, many thanks for the article. Obbo Tesfaye was born in Bishoftu, Oromia, from Eritrean descent family. However, he has out spoken that he is a proud Oromo & has moral obligation to contribute to the cuase of Oromo. His book YE BURKA ZIMITA is so mesmerizing that it’s still & will forever be copied in my heart. Tesfaye I can’t wait to see your new book, Ye Siditegnawu Mastawesha, esp reading the history of our hero, Shurshuraa. Homage to Obbo Tesfaye!

  9. Tagesse

    Aug 8, 12 at 7:05 pm

    I consider the work of Tesfate trash and worthless.One time people or govern might make mistake.Ot they might be erraneous.But he wants to use the past as instrument to sow resent amoung intermingled society.We,Ethiopians,are intermarried and we dino live alone in the discources few supporter of the socalled OLF

  10. Yilma

    Aug 9, 12 at 4:57 am

    Tesfaye is one of the very few highly skilled and frank Amharic authors. The facts he included in his books are just reflections of the reality that has been happening since 1885 in Ethiopia. Stubborn denial of reality and accusing innocent writer is useless. It is a historical fact that Menelik II has killed millions of southern Ethiopian nations including Oromos in the process of annexing the territories in to the present day of Ethiopia. Go and read any history book which discusses the events of the time including the chronicles of Menelik II. The solution is to accept the facts and to work hard to create the better future in Ethiopia.

  11. Sabbata Dubbii

    Aug 9, 12 at 11:48 am

    Tagesse your statements imply something very uncritical, emotional and untruthful. By the way Shakeaspere was nudging the victorian nobles every now and then throught out his life in London. He took a good cover telling the powerful how they were heartless murderers and power hungry men and women. That is what the writer of ” Ye Burka Zimita” about. Basically Burka is an Oromo, or, an Amhara, an Eritrean, and a Tigraya. He is just a historical character. A creation of an author telling the pains of all the Oromos there by all himanity. Why on Earth you are furious about it. Hadis Alemayehu wrote a novel and he made most of his major characters from Gojam. Kassa Gudu did want to follow the traditioanal feudal rules and social etiqutte. And Bazabih and his lover were innocent people who loved each other to death. They are historical characters that moves any body and any reader from any society. Burka moves anybody as a character and his values and dreams are very human and living and believe me they will become true. Burka is a night mare for many Tagesses’. Alas when shall we get to converse about the pridicaments of humans in the Ethiopian Empire. Tagesses are turning the eyes blind and ears deaf. Dialogue. Dialogue. Dialogue. Dialogue and Dialogue. That is what the author is doing. He is Burka himself. That what I see.

    Sabataa Dubbii.

  12. dave

    Aug 9, 12 at 6:59 pm

    The founding father of modern turkey Kemal Ata turk liked to say”What you lost in battle field can not be gained back by dirty propoganda”..What OLF missed also can not be gained back by trash propoganda and proxy sympathizers.So,Dear OLF,specially Shane, please note that a big battle lost(1991) can not be regained by small internet wars…

  13. Sabbata Dubbii

    Aug 10, 12 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Dave,
    Internet is not about anything at all it is about human connection. You may learn from history and sometimes philosophers say words are powerful than bullets. They arouse the people under tyranny. Even Moses in his original words says that words are original and they become powerful illuminating lights. During the II WW a famous America general lost a war in Philippines and he told his enemies he shall come back and after sometimes he came back and wiped out the Japanese army from Philippines.

    Your statements have a defeatist inclination. If you are an Oromo work with all of them and never rely on what you hear from propagandists in your groups. What you are saying is let us be divided and remain defeated. Just go and see human sprits in London. I have seen many people who had lost coming back after so many years and become victorious. With your pessimist ideas you will never reach anywhere. I know for sure the Oromo people will be victorious whether you believe it or not. I opt to say that you pessimistic idea makes the 50 million Oromos more determined to be glorious and victorious. They will learn from their mistakes and correct it and come back to get their legitimate rights and nation. Believe me the victory that comes will shake Haven and Earth then you run around for your shitty rat holes. Look out for you hideout when Oromos are coming back roaring.
    I resent you took a name after a great warrior, David! Shanes will correct their glitches and they will fight for our true freedom. They do it now; they had done it in the past. Stop distortional, factional inflammatory words. We will unite and Oromos are one and the same always.
    Tasfaye’s books will inspire millions now and in the future. I bet you, you might have not turned a page from his books.

    Sabbataa Dubbii

  14. Gorbaa

    Aug 10, 12 at 3:01 pm

    Mr. Dove,

    you are really deorbited and confused by your hatred forward the Oromos and their leaders, i don’t care whether it is Shanee which you have mentioned or QC, Jijjiramaa or OPDO. You have only quoted the Kemal Ata Turks statement from the book on the shelf without knowing what he has meant by this saying. To tell you the true history, the Ottoman empire or Mamlak Al Usmaniya has occupied the large territories beyond its home land of Turks. When the uprising has started in the occupied lands like in Arabians, Greece, Kosovo, Sudan and Ertrea, the Ottoman generals have lost the upper hand over the occupied peoples. If you are not insane person, how can you compare the Ottoman generals who have lost the war with the occupied people, with the Oromo leaders who are struggling to free their people from the occupyers ? I think it is better for you, first to free yourself from the blindness of hatred and then show up to talk about Oromos.

  15. dave

    Aug 11, 12 at 11:14 am

    Dear Hunde!
    An army of sheep led by a tiger is better than an army of tiger led by a sheep!(David,your great mentor)

  16. Eeboo

    Aug 13, 12 at 3:55 pm


    Hi Dave from the cave. :)
    Under the supposedely high and hard talking big mouth I see you drooling and peeing too much and soaking your pants. Mexxifo Wayane! :)

  17. AY

    Aug 15, 12 at 2:53 pm

    Tesfaye Gebreab wrote the Burka Zimita to please his woyanne bosses and comrades at the time. Not because he was sympathetic or for Oromo nationalism. He was a Derg propaganda journalist and then a woyanne cadre after the fall of Derg. He was preparing and publishing propaganda for woyanne while thousands of oromos were being imprisoned just for speaking their language. So be carefull who you praise. He is just an opportunist man with a gift for writing. I still think Burka Zimita was a good book though.

  18. Selurut

    Sep 7, 12 at 3:55 am

    I personally admire writer Tesfaye Gebreab for reflecting his experience as Oromoland raised. But I don’t feel good for those separatist groups evenif I myself has Oromo descent. I believe mutual respect should be presented with each nation and nationality in Ethiopia. I know some of my brothers loathe the term ‘Ethiopia’ considering it Empire.But it doesn’t hurt our identity despite the ill-treatment by our so called leaders.