Wonderful Likely Continuity of North East Africa’s Long History - Part II
After reading all the historical accounts in Part I of this article, no curious mind may escape being caught by the question that if the Oromo people and Ethiopia have such a rich history, why are they so far behind in today’s world order?
To answer this question comprehensively, we need to study the tumultuous history of East Africa since the fall of the Kushitic civilization. The region seems to have been caught between the statement in the Old Testament and the clashes of two great civilizations that led to a cascade of other smaller civilizations.
What are left of the early accounts of the Oromo people include the Oromo language that is one of the richest according to some basic parameters, their highly civilized culture that has prevailed peace among themselves irrespective of blowing winds their way from various directions, as well as the world famous athletes in the likes of Abebe Bikila, Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba and many others. Of course, the Gada, Guma and Guddifacha systems are the pillars of their social systems that have prevailed up to the present time. Oromo wisdom in East Africa is so deep that even the Amharic speaking Semitized Kushites have a parlance that likens someone without Oromo blood to foolish.
Figure 5. CT scan of King Tutankhamun (left) and Kenenisa Bekele (right), the world famous Oromo athlete who competes representing Ethiopia.
One of the main factors that set in motion the decline of Kushitic civilization appears to be the arrival of some Semitic Yemeni sailors from across the Red Sea who crossed over to the African side and intermingled with the local population at about the time the Kushitic civilization was flourishing. Whether the sailors were raindrops in the ocean of Kushitic people or if they changed the demographics of the area they settled in is subject to debate. However, with fully developed writing system called Ge’ez, they were able to build what is known as the Aksumite Civilization.
The Aksumite Civilization had two devastating effects on the future course of the region up to today. First, it was by this civilization that the Kushitic civilization at Meroe was caught off guard by the invasion of King Ezana of Aksum around 370 A.D. Because of the extent of barbarism of King Ezana’s invasion, the Meroitic civilization was completely destroyed and their hieroglyphic and cursive texts remain undeciphered up to the present day. This is clearly evidenced in the Discovery Channel’s documentary mentioned in Part I of this article.
The second devastating effect of the Aksumite civilization is the misinterpretation of the statement in the Old Testament mentioned earlier. Instead of refuting the statement in the Old Testament, the nobility of the Aksumite civilization, the Tigreans, attempted to disown their own identity in what appears to be distancing themselves from the race that was condemned to slavery, according to the Old Testament. No one has probably observed this better than Donald L. Levine when he wrote in his recent book that “The Tigreans had to deny that they were the Hamites of the Old Testament.”
Even with these devastating effects for the region, the Aksumite civilization has achieved remarkable historical milestones. However, it was completely weakened by the rise of Islam in the Middle East, which had ripple effects across the Red Sea. The Aksumite civilization was succeeded by the Agaw, another Kushitic stock of people, Christian civilization around Lalibella farther south from Aksum in present day Ethiopia.
That civilization was again succeeded by a new civilization that may have given birth to a new language and continued the identity denial. According to Donald N. Levine, “the sole survivor of Aksumite royalty, Ambasa Widim, fled south to Menz after the sack of Aksum and fathered a line of descendents who eventually ‘restored’ the Solomonic Dynasty in 1270.”
The ‘restoration’ of Solomonic Dynasty in 1270 in Shawa may have given birth to Amharic as a language. In addition, it may have put marginal concept of Christianity on Oromo Qallu Institution as a cosmetic change, introduced Ge’ez script for writing Amharic in the area, and started the influence of marginal Semitic characteristics on the local Oromo society. What may be tantalizingly interesting is the similarity of a number of provisions and prohibitions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Oromo Qallu Institution.
In addition, although the Ge’ez script was adopted to write the new language, the core structure of the Kushtic language they had been using has not changed at all. Donald N. Levine notes that “… a number of distinctive Cuhitic features, such as the use of subject-object-verb sentence order, compound verbs, consecutive gerunds, and cleft sentences, are found in Amharic, but not in Ge’ez.” We might add that in present day Oromo land, Amharic is spoken in island cities among the ocean of Oromo people. This is one of the most interesting things that characterize Ethiopia that doesn't seem to concern the ruling cliques that it is so unnatural to make the Oromo language the official language, or at least one of the official languages, and give the world class athletes mentioned above the opportunity to be trained using the language that is their mother tongue.
The ‘restoration’ of the Solomonic Dynasty set in motion the emergence of the culture of the Amharic speaking people. Donald L. Levine notes that most of the Amharic speaking people’s culture traits “appear to have characterized the Amhara system since the fourteenth century.” That is shortly after the birth of the Amharic language around the end of the thirteenth century. It may be such short age that could be the source of the culture of the Amharic speaking people that learned scholars as well as close observers find it hard to understand. The confusion was unwittingly brought up to light recently for the international community when Hailu Shawul, the Chairman of the main political opposition in Ethiopia that caters to the interests of the Amharic speaking people, characterized his constituents as double-faced during his interview with the BBC’s HARDTalk program.
Furthermore, the penetration of Islam in Oromo country through trade as well as settlement since the early sixteenth century has also influenced the Oromo society, notably in Wallo.
The subsequent arrival of the westerners, partly as a proxy resistance against Islamic expansion in the region by reaching out for the Christian establishments in Ethiopia opened the door for a tumultuous course for the Oromo people who have been struggling ever since for their identity as well as their way of life. Up to the present day, neither Christianity nor Islam has deep root among most Oromo souls, and they are still guided by the concept of Chubbu, which is similar to the concept of Karma.
Of course, there are many Oromos including the educated ones who consider themselves Christians or Muslims but have Oromo world outlook at heart. This was most evidenced by a well researched paper presented at the recent Oromo Studies Association (OSA) conference held in Washington, D.C. The researcher, an anthropologist who presented herself as an “outsider” because she was not borne and raised as an Oromo, found Oromo world outlook in the segment of the society where she did the research as an original Oromo world outlook. On the other hand, the society in which she did the research, which has been exposed to Islamic influence, thought that they borrowed it from Islam. Interestingly, the researchers graphic presentation of this Oromo world outlook revealed an Octagram (eight-pointed star), that could well be called Oromo Star. Even more interesting is the fact that the researcher hadn’t noticed the star her research brought out, which was pointed out to her after her presentation.
Coming down to the problem in today’s Ethiopia, many factors compound what is on the ground. Some bloodshed of hundred years ago between the Amharic speaking people and the Oromo people and a number of other peoples, which was a result of the advent of gun in Europe that got its way to the hands of the Amharic speaking people, is one of the major ones. It effectively created a ruling class influenced by western ideologues.
This ruling class has become a weak link between the peoples on the ground who have great wisdom traditions and western influence that interacts mostly with this weak link, which has shallow knowledge that would generally explain away problems through superstitious means. This weak link doesn’t seem to be interested in learning the deep wisdom of its people nor is it capable enough to absorb the well developed deep knowledge of the west that understands the meaning of walking the talk. This weak link can easily be moved by the loud noise of uneducated noisemakers who can readily put Oromo tricolor on their body while making the noise for the Amharic speaking people, drumming to the tune of exotic drumbeats. They think all the peoples in Ethiopia are the same and an Israeli tribe, and shout to the not well educated Christian clergies and Muslim clerics to preach intermarriages between their followers.
The tragedy is that this weak link thinks that it knows better than the peoples it came from who stand on wisdom traditions developed and reached maturation over the course of many millennia. As a matter of fact, this misguided thinking doesn't stop at the thought level. Instead, it transcends to the level of making critical decisions on behalf of the peoples without minimum and proper consultations with them.
For this critical link, it has been fashionable to import not well understood concepts from outside and then impose them on the peoples with brute force. The socialist revolution that was imported over thirty years ago came with the badge of "revolution consumes its children". So, this badge, which is unbeknown to the peoples on the ground, consumed a capable generation through what is now remembered as the Red Terror.
A segment of this weak link in Eritrea waged one of the deadliest wars against Ethiopia to eventually put itself in a political prison house fenced by an imported concept called sovereignty. According to academic sources, in early modern Europe, sovereignty meant "supreme authority within a territory." This may have come to existence for the appropriation of resources within occupied territories. The boundaries of present day African countries are reflective of the nature of the concept of sovereignty, which puts the resources of a given territory before the people who live on that land. It is counterintuitive to African family values, hospitality and freedom of movement of, especially, the nomadic peoples.
The cost of Eritrea's effort to install this imported concept in Northern Ethiopia, which may be properly called Abyssinia, without genuine consultation with the peoples on the ground has been incalculable and its imported sovereignty has not been placed on the ground as of yet. The challenge to put it on the ground manifested itself during the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of 1998 - 2000 that cost over a 100,000 human lives and has been costing the United Nations millions of dollars every year over a span of a few years now. The cost to a Kiros in Mekelle, whose native mother tongue is Tigrigna, is that he may have to travel nearly a thousand kilometers south to Finfinne to get a visa to visit and do business with another Kiros, whose mother tongue is also Tigrigna and who lives in Asmara just a few hundred kilometers north of Mekelle.
The name of the country led by this weak link itself has been imported and readily accepted by this weak link, which preaches to all the peoples to die just for the name itself, even if they are uninformed about its origin, when it was coined, why it was coined, and most of all, the literal meaning of it. When the ordinary person is told about its history, one can easily observe him or her taken back in resentment that if this name went to the peoples for referendum, it may well risk outright rejection by the overwhelming majority of the peoples. It is not clear if this weakest link has conscious feeling that what old colonial powers in Europe couldn't colonize through war, some adventurers may have done so by giving out a name of their choosing, the meaning or implication of which is not well understood by the majority of the populace.
Oromo political organizations and activists find themselves at a very important juncture in the history of North East Africa as well as the world at large. They have the opportunity to spearhead the rectification of many mistakes of the past. Chief among them ought to be guided by the wisdom and wishes of the peoples. Such shift of paradigm might lead to a political establishment in a village of four major houses in East Africa where each house has its head and free movement of the peoples in the houses is allowed without any restrictions, in an African way. Such paradigm may lead to the formation of Kushitic centered federation of states, Semitic centered federation of states, Omotic centered federation of states, and Nilo-Saharic centered federation of states. The village so formed may well be called East Africa States Union, which we hope to be a model African happy village that will have left behind poverty, and will have propelled up to the level of developed countries by taking advantage of the benefits of globalization. The time to do it may not be tomorrow, but today. In fact, it should have been done yesterday to take full advantage of today.
The tools needed to do it must be a series of completely free referenda by well informed populace. Using imported guns, which we have never invented, has not helped to form a happy African village. Holding to the gun and not bowing down to the wishes of the peoples by any group may not be an incentive to discourage unarmed parties to reach out to get hold of the gun. That exercise will not break the vicious circle. It will only make its existence continuous that is not a guarantee to overcome poverty.
In conclusion, with this historical background, or at least using what is readily convincing, Oromo political activists as well as other rational politicians in the region must hasten to reshape the course of history in North East Africa. The former group may be at the transition step from Oromo Redemption to Resurrection of Kushitic Civilization. In the eyes of learned scholars, the North-Western Africa is a cemetery of Kushitic-Khammtic peoples and a great Northern African Khammitic Union may rise to unite lands from Atlantic to East Africa that would form a strong pillar for the larger African Union.