By Fayyis Oromia*
Two things prompted me to write this opinion. One was the ongoing dispute between the Habesha, who daily preach about the glory of Ethiopia and Ethiopiawinet, and the Oromo, who try to defend against such Ethiopian identity from attacking Oromo nationalism (Oromummaa). Here, because of the fact that naming is identifying, the Oromo want to identify ourselves with Oromia, not with the already contaminated name – Ethiopia. This name is already contaminated with the Abyssinian identity as well as with its system of domination. Thus, we can rename the historic national area of the Oromo (the Cushites), which stretches from Meroe to Mombasa, as the Great Oromia, instead of using the ancient names like Kush, Ethiopia, Nubia or Punt. Despite the renaming, all the wonderful histories we do find in the literature, which are related to these ancient names, are that of the wonderful Cushitic Great Oromia.
So, as the Amhara forces did agree on common ideology of “Ethiopia and Ethiopiyawinet,” the Oromo national liberation forces should agree on the common ideology of “Oromia and Oromiyummaa.” The name Ethiopia, despite its original relation with being Cush, is really spoiled by being associated with at least the following three negative connotations: (1) that the Greeks gave it the negative meaning: “land of burnt faces or land of Nig*ers”; (2) that the Habeshas made it equivalent to the Abyssinian system of domination; and (3) that both the current Ethiopian nationalists and Oromian nationalists consider any acceptance of the name Ethiopia as a “surrender of those who fought for Oromia to the forces of Ethiopia.” Just these three reasons are enough for the Oromo nationals to distance ourselves from this contaminated name. It is better, if also the ODF (Oromo Democratic Front), the OLF-Jijjiirama and the OFC (Oromo Federalist Congress) try to call the future union of nations they want to foster either optimally Oromian Union or as a compromise name – Cushland. The name Ethiopia must be avoided when talking with the Oromo, but it can be instrumentalized as a trademark when communicating with the international community and with the neighbouring nations. The other reason for my writing this opinion is an e-mail I once got from one Oromo friend who had been concerned about our way of naming (giving names to our children).
Oromummaa Is Our Primary Identity
To comprehend why I do consider Oromummaa as a primary identity, just read the following opinion I once wrote: http://gadaa.com/oduu/?p=3362. Based on this fact, it is mandatory to recall the priori identity of most nations and nationalities in the empire, i.e. their Oromo root. Regarding the Oromo, there are two identities (nationalisms) competing with each other in order to have influence: Ethiopian identity and Oromian identity. Accordingly, we do see in the Oromo community three types of individuals: those who accept Ethiopian identity, but reject their Oromian identity (the Ethiopianists); those who try to reconcile both identities and say “I am Oromo Ethiopian;” and those who reject Ethiopian identity and stress their Oromian identity (the Oromianists). Now, the struggle is going on between the first and the third; whereas the second one is caught in the fighting field of the two.
I think the Oromo democratic Federalists like those in the ODF, OLF-J and the OFC are suffering under this problem of the second position. We do usually ask: are they Ethiopianists or Oromianists? Do they have loyality conflict? They are accused by the Oromianists as if they betrayed Oromia and accepted Ethiopian identity; at the same time, they are ambivalently approached by the Ethiopianists: on one side, they are praised for “leaving their separatist position and accepting Ethiopia and Ethiopiawinet,” on the other side, they are still seen suspiciously as if they are following their “secessionist agenda” in a smart way. What a dilemma for these Federalists? Which way should they move? Here is my humble suggestion for the Oromo Federalists in order to solve this dilemma.
It is not bad that the ODF is struggling for ‘national self-determination with multi-national federation;’ the OLF-J fighting for ‘new federal republic of Ethiopia;’ and the OFC pushing for ‘self-rule with shared rule.’ These three expressions are different formulations for ‘Oromian autonomy within Ethiopian union.’ Such a solution of trying to forge true-federation is a very good prelude for an independent republic of Oromia, but it, surely, can not be a lasting solution. An independent Oromia is indispensable as long as the Oromo nation is concerned. The only thing which can make this striving for an independent Little Oromia of about 650,000-SqKM unnecessary is the possible transformation of the existing Ethiopian empire to the Great Oromian union of 1,130,000-SqKM. Thus, the Federalists should just call the federation/union they want to foster as an Oromian Federation/Oromian Union, instead of Ethiopian Federation/Ethiopian Union. With this move, they can also be accepted as purely Oromianists, instead of being alleged as “unholy Ethiopianists, who committed treason.” The currently existing Little Oromia in the future can be called Oromo state (Oromo Killil, Naannoo Oromoo) within the Great Oromia.
Such renaming of Ethiopia as Great Oromia solves the conflict between the pro-independence forces and the pro-unity forces: we will have both the desired independence and the required unity, if the other nations accept this recommendation as a compromise solution. As far as the Oromo-proper are concerned, we renamed our nation from
Gaallaa to Oromo; our capital city from Addisaba to Finfinne without waiting for any permission or recognition from anyone else. So why not we rename the country from their Ethiopia to our Great Oromia? Anybody can call the country as either Abyssinia or Ethiopia, but the Oromo people should unanimously agree to call it from now on as Oromia. That country is neither the land of bas*tards (Abyssinia) as the Portuguese called it nor the land of burnt face (Ethiopia) as the Greeks named it, but it is the land of the brave (Oromia) as both the Oromo-proper and the Oromo-progeny call ourselves. Such Cushitic Great Oromia, in which freedom of citizens, liberty of nations, genuine democracy, justice and human rights are respected will be our future common home, if the other nations in the empire voluntarily accept and endorse this suggestion.
Then, the ODF, the OLF-J and the OFC supporters, who nowadays started to say “we are Ethiopians” need to correct their rhetoric and boldly assert that they do belong to the Great Oromia, so that even the Habeshas can start to say “we are Oromians.” This call must be extended also to supporters of the OPDO, who still call themselves Ethiopians, and with that undermine the fact that their country being Oromia. In summary, accepting this Ethiopian identity has several negative impacts: why should we call ourselves burnt face; why should we accept its association with the Abyssinian system of domination; it is almost equivalent to being won in the war between Ethiopia and Oromia; the Habesha propagandists of the ideology called ‘Ethiopia and Ethiopiawinet‘ feel triumphant over the “narrow nationalist” Oromo; it is tantamount to hurt the feeling of our brothers and sisters in OLA (Oromo Liberation Army), who fought (are fighting) against Ethiopia and for that reason hate this name … etc. Thus, even if the Habeshas insist on the name Ethiopia, all the Oromo and others should consequently decide and start to rename the whole county as Oromia.
Naming Is Identifying
To identify ourselves (i.e. name ourselves) in line of our natural identity (Oromummaa), we have to trace back our history and find our root. For instance, nowadays, it is almost confirmed that even the people in south Gojam, north Shoa and east Wallo, who are today considered as Amhara have got Oromo base; confirmation of the Oromo root of the other peoples in the northern part of the empire will surely continue. Classic examples for the confirmed ones are the Oromo individuals like the late Walellign Mekonnen of Wallo and the late Belay Zeleqe of Gojam. This fact helped me think over the importance of identifying ourselves (naming ourselves) in line (in service) of our natural identity (Oromummaa). Just to show why this is important, let’s look at the operational definition of identity and naming. Here, we can differentiate personal identity from social identity and ethnic identity:
– Personal identity is the way in which a person defines him-/herself in terms of individuality and difference to the others. This might include factors, such as age, gender, nationality, culture, religious affiliation, disability, sexuality, interests, talents, personality traits, and family and friendship networks. The way in which a person sees him-/herself in relation to those around and what makes him/her unique, are all aspects of personal identity. Part of our personal identity is given to us at birth, such as gender, nationality and genetic history. Other aspects of our personal identity are formed during our early years of development and continue to develop during our lives as we grow, mature, make choices, forge relationships and build an evolving identity for ourselves.
– Social identity is how we do function within many different social situations and relate to a range of other people. Social groups may involve family, ethnic communities, cultural connections, nationality, friends and work. They are an important and valued part of our daily lives. How we see ourselves in relation to our social groupings defines our social identity. Children, who have been separated from their family or country of origin, may become confused about their personal and social identities. They may have experienced a number of moves, been cared for by different people in different places, lost important contacts and relationships from their past, been separated from family, friends and their ethnic and cultural networks. Feeling or being made to feel different is a major issue for children who have been adopted, particularly for children from diverse cultural backgrounds or with a disability. For the adopted child, the stigma of not living with their birth family, living as a cultural or ethnic minority and becoming accustomed to what it means to be adopted are lifelong adjustments.
– Ethnic identity refers to a person’s sense of belonging to an ethnic group. Ethnic identity is drawn from the realization that a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviors are consistent with those of other members of the ethnic group. Ethnic identity recognizes that a person belongs to a particular group that shares not only ethnicity, but also common cultural practices.
Ethnic identity is the type of identity, on which I tried to concentrate in this essay. To be an Oromo belongs here; and it is not only biological identity, but also political (identifying oneself with the Oromo interest) and psychological (identifying with the Oromo problem). One method to make children/individuals to feel that they do belong to certain nation is the naming of the children/individuals. This is the simple logic behind changing names during baptism (Christianization); all the given names are either of Jewish or Habesha origins. Let’s look at some “lost Oromo” because of such naming: the hero, Abune Phexros (what was his true Oromo name as a child?), who resisted the Italian colonizers and therefore martyred; Nigus Michael of Wallo; Nigus Tekle-Hayimanot of Gojam; Nigus Suseniyos of Gondar; emperor Haile-Silassie of Ethiopia; the heroes like Abebe Aregay and Belay Zeleqe; the artists like Xilahun Gesesse and Teddy Afro, etc. All were considered as non-Oromo till we recently could research and find it out that they all were/are Oromo. We may need to research further to acknowledge if people like the emperor Minilik-II (“our colonizer”) and the first king of Shoa (Ye-Kunoo-Amlak) were victims of such naming maneuvers. Were all the Oromo-progeny in the northern part of the empire such victims in the last 3000 years?
The question yet to be answered is, why do the Habeshas, the Arabs and the Jews want to name everyone else in their own languages? Why should every Christian be named with either Habersha or Jewish names? Why should every Muslim be given an Arabic name? Religious motive? Only fools and naïves can believe like this. I would like to say: it is more political than religion for it is one of the very effective way of assimilating. By identifying an individual with such names, it is possible to take a part of his/her identity towards the nation to which the name belongs. If the individual is both politically and psychologically not mature enough, it is sure that he/she feels to belong to the nation where his name comes from. That is what Habeshas did during Ximqet celebrations in Oromia and in other occupied national areas. They changed Oromo names to Habesha names. This process of changing names used to also be done in schools, in military camps and in the other institutions of the imperial system of domination. It was the very effective method used in the Abyssinization process of especially the Agaw and the Oromo in Abyssinia.
Actually, changing of only names would have been not so grave, where an individual is conscious enough to know to which nation he/she belongs not only biologically, but also politically and psychologically. The worst is when such individuals lose their roots like those who do like to say: “duuroo gaallaa nebern,” as the Amharanized Oromo in south Gojam, north Shoa and east Wallo would like to say, and “ye Oromo dem allebin” like the Amharanized urbanites in Finfinne, Diredhawa and in other big towns would like to narrate. I know that these Oromo individuals lost, not only their Oromo name, but they lost also their Oromo language and the Oromo way of life. Most probably, this is true for all the Oromo-progeny, who now deny their Oromo root.
Thanks to the Oromo liberation movement, things are now moving in the right direction of getting back to Oromummaa. What those who got Habesha, Arabic and Jewish names should do is only to go to Hammachiisaa and change their names back to the very attractive and beautiful Oromo names. Let the Oromo named, for instance, Teshager Goraw be renamed to Firaaol Jaalataa; let the Oromo named Asegedech Qixawu be renamed to Dammee Aadaa … etc. So, all Oromo with non-Oromo names, please let’s hurry to go to Hammachiisaa and get the great Oromo names. I hope in the future, Raayyaa Oromo, who now make their geerarsaa/qerertoo in Tigirinya, and Gojam/Wallo Oromos, who make their geerarsaa/qereertoo in Amharinya, will come back to their roots and make their geerarsaa in Afaan Oromo. The Oromo with politically conscious mentality now need to work on it and help those who had lost their identity to Habesha, to Arab and to Jews so that they can come back and celebrate their origin. It is clear that one part of Oromummaa is our own style of naming ourselves and our children; the other aspects of our identity are, of course, Aadaa Oromoo, Afaan Oromoo and Amantii Oromoo, where we need to invest a lot and on which development we should work hard. So it is now the right time to revive and develop all aspects of our identity.
The key to the realization of these elements of our identity is, of course, the success in our struggle for bilisummaa/freedom. We need to be smart enough to know how to push for bilisummaa. Just as an example, we need to have optimal approach in dealing with the current power balance in the Ethiopian empire. That is why I do want that we need to weigh our positions in the context of the present situation, time and space. Just to describe one situation, the two dimensional Czech vs. Slovakia struggle, where the two nations opted for peaceful separation, was very different from the hitherto multidimensional (at least three dimensional) struggle in the Ethiopian empire. This multidimensionality makes the situation in Ethiopia very different from this example and even from the other examples like Israel vs. Palestine; Chechnyan vs. Russia; Serbs vs. others; Kurdistan vs. Turkey, etc.
In Great Oromia (Ethiopia), the fact that at least three forces (Amhara, Tigrai and Oromo) are fighting against each other for either domination or liberation is unique. This triangular struggle needs wisdom in knowing and using the possible alliances of “two against one.” Till 1991, there had been no confusion, Oromian liberation forces and Tigrean “liberation” forces had formal or informal alliances against the dominating and ruling Amhara elites. From 1991 till 2006, there was a confusion for the Amhara opposition forces and the Oromo liberation forces could not trust each other to foster an alliance against the now dominating/ruling Tigrean elites. From 2006 (the first attempt of forming AFD) till now, there is approach-avoidance conflict between these two forces, which seem to be diametrically opposite (Amhara crying for a unitary democratic Ethiopia and Oromo singing about an independent Little Oromia).
The ruling Tigrean elites did/do exploit this fact and pour a kerosene to the fire of conflict between the Amahara and the Oromo forces. If this conflict continues, there is no chance to get a victory over the Tigrean elites for the Amhara forces and the Oromo forces do neutralize each other. If they are smart enough, these two opposition camps should try to unify and consolidate their own camps respectively first and then foster a tactical alliance of the two camps against the ruling Tigrean elites. To promote such a possibility of an alliance, the Amhara forces should moderate themselves and stop their cry about the unconditional only unitary Ethiopia as well as the Oromo forces should moderate themselves and refrain from singing the unconditional only independent Little Oromia. The compromise middle position for both can be an autonomous Oromo state within the Great Oromian Union (Ethiopian Union), so that the Amhara forces need not be anti-Independence and the Oromo forces need not be anti-Unity.
After getting rid of the Woyane tyrants, the two opposition camps can go for public verdict regarding the type of federation (nation-based federation of the Oromo vs region-based federation of the Amhara; given the name of the union will be Great Oromia) and then live according to the result. Otherwise, we have to be sure that neither the Amhara unitarists nor the Oromo liberators will get victory over the polarizing machine of the Tigrean elites; the two big nations have to be ready to be ruled by the Tigrean oligarchy for at least the next one century. The question to the elites of the two nations is, are we as such fool or naive to fall into the trap of the polarizing Tigrean elites? The way forward for all the currently oppressed nations and nationalities in the region/empire (including the Amhara) is to come back to their original national identity and then cooperate regionally for the possible common benefit. Both the past assimilative colonization under the Amhara elites and the present hegemonic colonization under the Tigrean elites need to come to an end. We should move further and rename the whole country from Ethiopia to Great Oromia for naming is identifying and we, the Oromo, better identify ourselves with Oromia, not with Ethiopia. Amhara can call the country Ethiopia if they insist on it, and at the same time the Oromo can name it Great Oromia. This is a win-win solution for the conflict between the two big nations. Naming a multinational country after the name of its big nation is not new; e.g Spain is named after the Spaniards; India after the Hindi; Russia after the Ruski … etc.
Last, but not least, I would like to encourage all the conscious Oromo from all walks of life to go to Hammachiisaa and get our lovely and true Oromo names, being liberated from the alien past naming. Following this Oromo example, I also recommend for individuals who do belong to the other oppressed nations in the empire to do the same. I hope the Habeshas, the Arabs and the Jews will not be disappointed when we just become aware of the motives behind their insistence to name foreigners in their languages. They are really so smart that they could instrumentalize their religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) in order to influence the other nations. It is very easy to persuade a believer of one religion to take the name of the other nation, which is considered to be the origin of the respective religion in comparison to the non-believers. So, the Oromo nationals, let’s go for Hammachiisaa; at the same time, it is mandatory for us to assert the Hammachisa name of the country called Ethiopia from now on as the Cushitic Great Oromia, so that our Oromian identity will not be diluted and masked by the Ethiopian nationalism known as Ethiopiawinet. May Rabbi/Waaqa help us all the Oromo nationals in general, and the Federalists in particular, to agree on this renaming of the future union as ‘Oromian Federation or Oromian Union’!
* Fayyis Oromia can be reached at email@example.com.