By Manaamtuu Balchaa
July has planted its roots deep into the lives of the Diaspora Oromians as the month for the reaffirmation of the commitment to the struggle for freedom. Though the main focus turns mainly towards our compatriots who reside in North America (rightly so), the Gurmuu Hawaasa Oromoo Swidin has attempted, for the first time in recent years, to open its doors to all Oromians and celebrate July together.
While Oromians in North America celebrated this year’s July with a special event to mark a milestone in the life and work of the living legend Dr. Birra, the tiny Gurmuu Hawaasa Oromoo Swidin marked its festivities by ushering in a young talent to the stage as one of the new Oromian cultural ambassadors who shall carry forward the torch brought thus far by the giants like Dr. Birra.
The highlight of the celebration was the talented and promising young writer and film producer Gammadoo Jamal. Gammadoo is a humble and shy young man whose intelligence and resolve belies his age. For those of you who are left a few months behind from news, an update is in order. Gammadoo Jamaal is the young Oromian who wrote and produced the new film titled Mijuu Haqaa.
When Jawar Mohammad, with firmness of conviction, declares that he is first and foremost an Oromo, Gammadoo Jamal echoes, “that’s right brother! That’s why we tell our own narratives – the way we experience it and the way our people had lived it. That’s why, brother, we project our future the way we aspire it to be,” through his work Mijuu Haqaa.
Oromo, as a nation, despite enormous challenges, has made a tremendous march forward over the past few decades in many aspects of its life. But, there remains a huge gap when it comes to the representation of its life narrated through the pens, brushes, voices and other medium of creativity that would depict the soul and the unbreakable spirit of Oromians more than any other thing. Save for male singers and a handful of female vocalists and occasional video productions, the vast spectrum of arts has not yet been properly exploited.
Admittedly, great minds of Oromian descent have produced wonderful works of various artistic genres, but Oromians hardly relate to any of them for nearly all those works do not reflect their experiences.
Material production and the resultant possession of wealth might give enough cushions to certain aspects of the lives of a given society, but these, by themselves, do not reflect the depth of the sophistication, or lack thereof, of a true fulfillment of life by that society.
It is rather the stanzas of soul-piercing pieces of poetry; the lyrics of transcendental songs; the momentous, yet eternal, life captured on the canvases; the sculptures that immortalize the flesh; the combination of musical instruments – that seem to defy comprehension by the use of mere sense organs that define how rich a society was/is above and beyond any other measure of richness of a life.
It is with this notion in mind that the arrival of an Afan Oromo film, by Oromian writer, producer, actors and crew, was greeted with much joy and celebration. Mijuu Haqaa premiered on July 6, 2013 in Stockholm courtesy of Gurmuu Hawaasa Oromo Swidin.
Mijuu Haqaa revolves around the lives of two generations of an Oromo family that are subjected to physical and psychological traumas perpetrated by the state and its agents.
The story starts in Norway, where three young educated Oromians find themselves at turning points in their individual lives.
Kenna, the eloquent and educated young Oromian, had left Oromia with an oath to commit his entire life towards elevating his people and his country from subjugation. The tides of IRRBU abandoned are rocking the ship of his life from within. His spirit is restless, and his mind is critical of his own life. What value does being educated has if knowledge is not translated into tools that advance the lives of one’s own people – questions Kenna of himself and his dear friend. As so not fewer young people do, he seems to have retreated into drinking to ride the tides of inner voice into nonexistent shores of solace. At night, drunk and mumbling to himself, we see Kenna staggering on the streets of Norway all by himself.
The chocolate skinned beauty, Hawwii, though she grew up in Norway, is determined to embark on a mission to reclaim her complete identity. As long as she sees it, identity goes deeper than simply speaking Afan Oromo or exhibiting certain cultural characteristics. She has decided to travel back to Oromia and fulfill her dream. But her life does not belong to herself alone. She has a fiancé, who is deeply in love with her, and to carry out her mission, she needs to convince him.
The laid back Firaanboon seems possessed with only one dream … marrying his sweetheart Hawwii and living in happiness in Norway. Would Hawwii succeed in talking Firaanboon into her project? Would they ever get married?
What brought these three young Oromians to Europe in the first place? What are the motives that thrust Hawwii, the girl who came to Norway as a toddler and grew up in a modern country and now leads a relatively comfortable life, into the murky waters of search for identity?
As the segment of the story is cast in Oromia, we are visually taken back to Oromia from Norway. It is not the joyful dances and celebrations of Oromians that comes first to the screen. It is rather the other aspect of life – the aspect that Oromians keep firm in their memories while those, who perpetrate it upon them, vehemently deny that it had ever happened or wash it down as a trivial thing that happens to everybody – and not worth mentioning. That aspect of life is the state-sponsored violence. It is the sheer terror carried out by agents of the central government that welcomes us to Oromia.
From a modest hut situated on a rural farm comes out the heart-wrenching and too familiar wailing of a terrorized pair. The desperate voice of the wife urges her husband to run away and save his dear life before “they come and take him way.” Anyone, who is not familiar with the gruesome history of Oromians, would be forgiven if they think that the poor farmer is some kind of a fugitive or an outlaw. An innocent, hardworking young farmer is forced to leave his wife and life behind, and run away to save his life, not from bandits or gangsters, but from the central government.
Yes, Oromians, the great majority of them, had never been the owners of their own lives … they were the properties of the central government, and through it, were/are temporarily placed in the custody of local masters – the predominant majority of whom were settlers.
“Where is your husband?” shouts the armed state agent in that too familiar Amarigna phrase, the language that draws a clear and immediate boundary between who belongs to the masters and who should remain among the subjects, into the ears of the wife who has shrunk into silhouette due to fear.
“Where is your husband?” or “Where is your son?” is the question that successive Ethiopian governments tormented millions of Oromian families with through their armed agents. Those, who could not answer that question to the satisfaction of a particular government agent or officer, were executed, tortured, raped, thrown into concentration camps or made to flee their ancestral land just to save their lives. This writer had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of Oromian families who are now dispersed all over the world, but whose journey into exile began when they were not able to answer those simple questions: “’Where is your husband?’ – ‘Where is your son?’ – ‘Where is your daughter?’”
The terror that gripped that otherwise serene looking rural village immediately evolves into beatings and chasing, and gunshots fill the air. Neighbours crawl in horror while government agents rage in furry. Sweat, tear and blood in one hand confronted by furry of power on the other hand.
Gammadoo weaves together history he has gleaned from his people with what he himself has observed and experienced into a deeper conversation about a small, yet significant, part of the gruesome history that nearly all Oromians families have experienced either directly or indirectly through the fates of at least one member of a distant family.
Mijuu Haqaa depicts a chapter from the several volumes of the history of Oromia. We are invited to share the narration of that chapter through the eyes of a young intelligent man.
The talented actors and cast played their roles remarkably well. If method is still the staple of acting, these actors and cast representation of the local custom, norms, and manners, appropriate usage of words and expressions as well as body language are effortless. They lived the lives of the characters they played and demonstrated to us how talented Oromians are.
This is one film that every Oromian community and other association should screen and then reflect on their experiences collectively.
Those of us who spent our youth watching foreign movies were made to reminisce, with jealousy, how disadvantaged we were as compared to the new Oromian generation. A generation blessed for having the likes of Gammadoo among themselves to enjoy narratives, stories, tales that they can easily relate to, conversations that they can fully participate in and identify with, and dreams and aspiration that they can mould their lives after.
Throughout this tiny personal reflection, this writer has refrained from delving into the details of the stories as they unfold, as most of you might have noticed, because many people are still awaiting its screening in their places. Due to the widespread infringements on intellectual property rights, many writers, singers, actors and producers (we are talking only about Oromians here) were literally left empty handed – unable to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and continue serving their community. Accordingly, the producers of Mijuu Haqaa informed me that they did not see any value in releasing the film on DVDs. Hence, the better option at the moment is for various Oromo organizations and groups to contact Gammadoo and his crew personally, and make arrangements.
Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to the ever Bashaasha Oromian, Obbo Hailemariam Dhaabaa, for inviting me to the event. Fayyaa Argadhuu- Dhaabaa!