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Haile Selassie and American Missionaries: Inadvertent Agents of Oromo Identity in Ethiopia June 29, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Dictatorship, Free development vs authoritarian model, Knowledge and the Colonizing Structure., Language and Development, NO to the Evictions of Oromo Nationals from Finfinnee (Central Oromia), Oromo and the call for justice and freedom, Oromo Identity, Oromo Protests, Oromo the Largest Nation of Africa. Human Rights violations and Genocide against the Oromo people in Ethiopia, State of Oromia, The Colonizing Structure & The Development Problems of Oromia, The extents and dimensions of poverty in Ethiopia, The Tyranny of Ethiopia.
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 Odaa Oromoo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1941 Selassie passed a decree to ban the Oromo language,  [Afan Oromoo]. His bias against the Oromo became readily apparent when he went so far as to forbid them from speaking their own language. The emperor followed this in 1944 with Decree Number 3, which required all missionaries to teach in Amharic, despite the fact that the majority of the Oromo and other ethnic minorities did not speak the language. According to the decree, The general language of instruction throughout Ethiopia shall be the Amharic Language, which language all missionaries will be expected to learn.  Selassieís government entrenched the Abyssinian culture further by making Amharic the national language of Ethiopia in 1955. During the early 1970 the regime recognized and used four other languages (Tigrinya, Tigre, Somali, and Afar) but not Oromoo afan, thereby demonstrating the leaderís level of disdain for the Oromo.

The concept of Oromo peace also influenced their beliefs regarding the social development of humanity (finna), which they believed passed through five stages to reach the nagaa oromoo. They called the first stage the gabbina, where humanity learned from their past mistakes to create the gada system. After this stage they progressed to the ballina, which involved greater cooperation between them and increased wealth. The badhaadha marked the third stage, where unity and tranquility persisted among the Oromo, which pleased Waqa. After humanity had made peace with itself, it next made peace with nature, represented by the hoormaata stage. Finally, the daaga was the level on which humans integrated all lessons learned from previous stages in order to live in perfect harmony.

 

 

 

Haile Selassie and American Missionaries: Inadvertent
Agents of Oromo Identity in Ethiopia (Thesis)

By Horace Eric Gilchrist

The  thesis analyzes the dynamics among the Ethiopian government under Emperor Haile Selassie, American Protestant missionaries, and the Oromo during the period of  1960-1975. The thesis argues that Selassie and the missionaries had different agendas for helping the Oromo and shows how this resulted in political and social outcomes which neither the missionaries nor emperor intended to create. One such consequence was the
evolution and entrenchment of the Oromo sense of identity. Using the unpublished records of the Christian Missionary Fellowship (CMF) the thesis examines the efforts of this particular mission and that of its counterpart, the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) of which more is known. The speeches and decrees of Haile Selassie and other government officials have also been helpful in this study, and for the Oromo particular, the thesis has had to rely
on published works by the Oromo themselves.

The government of Haile Selassie and the CMF had different views on the proper role of missionary work in Ethiopia.   Selassie saw the missionariesí role as being utilitarian, aiding his overall objective of the unification of Ethiopia. However, the CMF saw their primary goal as spiritual, saving the Oromo from a  life of sin through the acceptance of Christianity. Neither agenda had as its primary goal elevating the depressed sociopolitical and economic levels of the Oromo society. The question arises regarding the success of the CMF in evangelizing to the Oromo and the extent to which the Oromo benefited from CMF efforts. Related to this is the manner in which the Amhara-dominated government and Ethiopian Orthodox Church responded to the success of the CMF.

Findings of the Thesis

‘No unified Ethiopian society existed prior to the late nineteenth century and that the Oromo and Abyssinians had separate and distinct societies during this period. Abyssinians developed a unique sociopolitical culture which differed fundamentally from those of most Africans. Cushitic-speaking humans occupied the area of modern Ethiopia for thousands of years. The Abyssinians traced their heritage back before the time of ancient Egyptians, with roots outside of Africa. Around 1,000 BC Arabic-speaking people, the Sabeans, invaded Ethiopia.’

‘The governing system of the Oromo reflected the society’s openness and flexibility, which contrasted with the Abyssiniansí rigid and autocratic government system. The Oromo clearly placed a value on individual liberty and freedom, which was reflected in their political organizations and social customs. Their acceptance and incorporation of other ethnicities reflected the societyís mutability; they also saw themselves not as a unified nation but as individual federations with a common culture.’
‘The Oromo held religious beliefs as complex as the Abyssinians’ beliefs. Contrary to traditional scholarship, the Oromo practiced a monotheistic religion distinct from Christianity and Islam long before they came into contact with Abyssinians and Westerners.  The Oromo believed in a sky god, Waqa, whom they believed created the universe and, like many pre-Christian societies, the Oromo held a pantheistic belief that Waqa resided in all living things yet remained a distinct entity. The Oromo also had Jesus and Abraham figures, known as Orma: a demigod and son of Waqa, whom the Oromo saw as their progenitor. Orma set down Waqaís law to the abbaa muudaa (father anointed), who acted as the chief priest of the religion. The similarities with Christianityshould be noted: first, Waqa functioning as God the father, Orma as the Son, and finally a figure similar Abraham in the form of the abbaa muudaa. The complexity of the Oromo religion went beyond monotheism. The Oromo also believed in a complex theological system, with many similarities to Christianity. According to their tradition, their god created spirits, known as ayaana, who could be evil or good. However, they did not have the concept of a devil (setana) until the advent of Christianity. Some scholars might describe the Oromo concept of ayaana as a simple pagan belief, yet they resembled Christianity’s angels and functioned in a similar intercessory role for the Oromo as did angels with the Christian god.The Oromo also believed in a divine moral code (saffu), created by Waqa, which guided all things in nature (uuma), and the saffu served to achieve and maintain earthly peace called nagaa oromoo. This moral concept of nagaa oromoo carried over into the Oromo belief in cooperation with each other so that they never formed alliances with non-Oromo against other Oromo groups.’
‘The concept of Oromo peace also influenced their beliefs regarding the social development of humanity (finna), which they believed passed through five stages to reach the nagaa oromoo. They called the first stage the gabbina, where humanity learned from their past mistakes to create the gada system. After this stage they progressed to the ballina, which involved greater cooperation between them and increased wealth. The badhaadha marked the third stage, where unity and tranquility persisted among the Oromo, which pleased Waqa. After humanity had made peace with itself, it next made peace with nature, represented by the hoormaata stage. Finally, the daaga was the level on which humans integrated all lessons learned from previous stages in order to live in perfect harmony.’
‘The Oromo developed a religious class as complex and distinct as Orthodox Christian priests. Oromo called their priests qaallu, and choose them at birth, the position passing from father to son. These priests acted as intercessors for the Oromo with the ayaana and Waqa much like Orthodox priest did for the Abyssinians. Unlike the Orthodox priests, the Oromo priests did not live apart from the people. They also had prophets, called ragas, who foretold the future. Religious historians called ayaantus committed to memory all significant religious and social events in Oromo society.53 Finally, the abbaa muuda acted as the patriarch or pontifical figure in the Oromo qaallu system. The Oromo believed that he obtained his powers directly from Orma. Certain Oromo subgroups such as the Matcha Oromo made yearly pilgrimages to the abbaa muuda to seek blessings.’

‘Several important factors characterized Oromo political, social, and religious life. First, the Oromo clearly valued societal openness and flexibility over a rigid hierarchical society like that of the Abyssinians, and their willingness to incorporate other ethnicities into their groups is one proof of this. Likewise, the Oromo felt closely connected to nature with their religious beliefs and practices. Unlike Orthodox Christianity, which had an elaborate system focused on clergy, the Oromo religion centered on the individual. These religious beliefs easily meshed with their democratic practices, similar to Protestant Christianityís closeness to liberal democracy in the United States and other Western nations. This contrasted sharply with Orthodox Christianity, which matched more with the Abyssinian feudalistic governing system.’

‘The Oromo and Abyssinians possessed distinct cultures with different religious practices prior to the late nineteenth century. No unified Ethiopian nation existed during this period, except as represented by Abyssinian culture. Hierarchical political and religious structures characterized the Abyssinian culture, while democratic political and religious structures marked the Oromo culture.’

‘Abyssinians commenced the political unification of Ethiopia in the middle of the nineteenth century by destroying the sociopolitical and religious institutions of the Oromo. In 1852 the Amhara, under Dejazmatch Kassa (who later became Emperor Tewodros), defeated the most powerful Oromo city-state controlled by Ras Ali.
Within three years Dejazmatch Kassa conquered all of his Tigrean and Amhara rival leaders and assumed the title of Emperor of Ethiopia. Once the Abyssinians had unified the country, they initiated political and religious procedures to pacify other ethnic groups, including the Oromo. Emperor Menelik II (1885-1913) destroyed the Oromo gada system, replacing it with the military feudal structure known as nafxanya. Abyssinian soldiers confiscated the Oromo land and turned the Oromo into gabbars (peasants), who began to pay a feudal homage to their new conquerors by contributing one third of their crops and paying a monetary tax.’
‘The Orthodox Church played a key role in the pacification of the Oromo in the twentieth century. Emperor Menelik II initiated this campaign through a mass Christianization process in Oromo areas. He used his soldiers to conquer the Oromo, made them all Orthodox Christians by imperial decree, and then sent Orthodox priests to pacify his newly conquered subjects with religion. He also supported the construction of Orthodox churches throughout the conquered Oromo territory; he accomplished this by granting bala gults (feudal grants) to the Orthodox priests with Oromo peasants on the land. Meanwhile, all Oromo had to attend Orthodox services conducted entirely in Geíez, the ancient Abyssinian language that most Amhara and Tigreans did not understand. Like most imperial powers, the Abyssinian rulers naturally sought to make their language and religion the dominating one. Although to date the governmentís efforts at colonization had been more haphazard than coordinated, they achieved results. By the beginning of the twentieth century the Abyssinians had made significant inroads into destroying Oromo culture and creating in them a new Ethiopian identity.’

‘Haile Selassie’s ascendancy to the throne marked the beginning of perfected efforts by the Abyssinian government to pacify the Oromo. Selassie wanted to create a unified Ethiopian state under his control and devised several means to accomplish this goal.Through a project called Teklay Gizat (pulling together) he attempted to manufacture an Ethiopian identity with a campaign of uniting all disparate peoples. Selassie’s effort to centralize his power and create a new national identity manifested in many forms. In his philosophical outlook the Abyssinian culture, particularly that of the Amhara and Orthodox Christianity, represented his concept of Ethiopia and, under him, being Ethiopian became synonymous with accepting his view of Abyssinian culture. The emperor expressed this sentiment in public speeches throughout his reign. In a 1959 college speech Selassie clearly expressed this sentiment: The Amhara race must know that it has an obligation on its part to work in the technical field no matter at what level. To preserve the heritage of one’s honor and culture. This statement indicates that, for Selassie, being Ethiopian meant being Amhara. The emperor continued to express the belief that being an Amhara Orthodox Christian represented the qualities of Ethiopians when he stated on 15 January 1965, Ethiopia, an island of Christianity, has made her own distinctive contribution to the Christian faith; forever since her conversion to Christianity she has remained faithful, her age-old ties with the apostolic church uninterrupted. This shows that Selassie believed that Orthodox Christianity represented all of Ethiopia’s peoples and their non-Christian religions. In his Ethiopia, no room existed for people who did not assimilate to the Abyssinian culture and religion.

‘Selassieís attempt to create a national Ethiopian identity appeared harmless on the surface but, in fact, he took the nafxanya system to its logical conclusion by destroying the traditional Oromo provinces and creating new ones controlled by military governors. He employed a technique that communist governments would later use to pacify ethnically diverse populations: He forcibly split up the Oromo and other ethnic groups.Selassie also continued Menelikís policies of church building and forced conversions in conquered Oromo areas.These policies helped to weaken substantially the political cohesiveness of Oromo communities.’
‘The Ethiopian government enacted legislative policies to weaken the Oromo politically as well. In 1941 Selassie passed a decree to ban the Oromo language, Oromoo afan. His bias against the Oromo became readily apparent when he went so far as to forbid them from speaking their own language. The emperor followed this in 1944 with Decree Number 3, which required all missionaries to teach in Amharic, despite the fact that the majority of the Oromo and other ethnic minorities did not speak the language.  According to the decree, ìThe general language of instruction throughout Ethiopia shall be the Amharic Language, which language all missionaries will be expected to learn.î15 Selassieís government entrenched the Abyssinian culture further by making Amharic the national language of Ethiopia in 1955. During the early 1970 the regime recognized and used four other languages (Tigrinya, Tigre, Somali, and Afar) but not Oromoo afan, thereby demonstrating the leaderís level of disdain for the Oromo.’

‘In its continued effort to unify Ethiopia, Selassie’s government actively limited the political activities of the Oromo. The regime provided the Oromo only limited participation in the government. The Oromo officials selected by Selassie to work in the public service were those who had completely abandoned their culture and adopted that of the Amhara. One such person was Major General Mulugeta Bulli, an Oromo balabat, who became Minister of National Community Development.  Selassie was an autocratic constitutional monarch who tolerated no political opposition, not least from the Oromo. After several coup attempts in the 1960s, primarily by Amhara officials and some Oromo, Selassie further restrained the advancement of the Oromo even the assimilated ones. In 1966 he banned the Oromo political party, Macha Tulama Association, and harassed its leaders with imprisonments and executions. In one episode the government jailed one hundred party members and executed two of them (General Taddesse Birru and Lieutenant Mamno Mazamir) on grounds of subversion in spite of the fact that, earlier that year, they had helped to put down an actual coup attempt by Amharic officials. The regime also executed leading Oromo intellectuals and human rights advocates, including Marno Mazamir, the author of an Oromo book; also executed was Haile Mariam Gamada, a famous lawyer.’

‘Imperial authorities also used social neglect to subjugate the Oromo. The government failed to provide adequate educational facilities for the Oromo, while encouraging them and other minorities to help themselves. In a speech on education in 1962 Selassie stated, ìAnd similarly if you [Ethiopia’s non-Amhara ethnic groups] continue to consult one another and strive to get rid of the other handicaps, say problems of obtaining clean water, better roads, and sanitation for your community, you will find that the accomplishment within your capacity. This indicates that Selassie did not feel personally responsible for providing even basic social services to the Oromo in the manner that most governments provide for their citizens. The regime required all teachers to instruct students only in Amharic, ensuring that Amhara teachers made no effort to be culturally sensitive or accommodating to Oromo children. Statistical data from the Selassie era show the harmful effect that the policy of social neglect had on the Oromo, educational reforms benefiting the Abyssinian elite only. For example, sometime in 1947 Selassie created an education tax via Proclamation 94, and the Abyssinian elite managed to ensure that Oromo peasants paid most of it. This policy resulted in Oromo peasants paying for Abyssinian childrenís education to the detriment of their own. Nearly 88% of Oromo school children between the ages of seven and twelve years did not attend school, as well as 97% of those in the age range of thirteen to eighteen years. In the 1960s the majority (83%) of Oromo children who attended school dropped out by sixth grade.The result of all this was that the Oromo had limited opportunities for basic employment and for secondary and college education. By 1974 0nly 10% college age Oromo students were enrolled in Ethiopia’s universities.’

‘The government of Haile Selassie also failed to provide economic opportunities to the Oromo. Subsistence feudal agriculture formed the basis of the Ethiopian economy from its earliest history through the 1960s, with Amhara aristocrats benefiting from the labor performed by peasants on their land. The Selassie administration consisted primarily of nobles who came from this feudal tradition and had no incentive to alter the system. By the late 1960s 60% of Oromo farmers remained in a feudal system of land tenure because Selassie failed to dismantle it, contributing to the economic disparity endured by the Oromo by allowing Abyssinian nobles to avoid government taxes, while the peasants paid them.Earlier, in 1942, he had issued Proclamation 8, which established land taxes that were paid primarily by the Oromo peasants.Proclamation 60 of 1944 set out details of an income tax but, when the Abyssinian nobles refused to pay, the emperor substituted it with a regressive tax on labor and rented land that, once again, placed the onus on Oromo peasants.All major industrial projects were in areas dominated primarily by the Amhara.’

‘ Haile Selassie bore a great deal of responsibility for the poor conditions of the Oromo people, even if he was not directly involved with all of the policies. Although he ascended to power as a modernizer, he readily sacrificed true reforms for political convenience. For example, in 1924 he attempted to abolish the slave trade by making it a capital crime, but he did not enforce this law, and he allowed the problem to continue well into the late 1960s.  The emperor also demonstrated his exclusive commitment to himself by his failure to enforce his own tax codes on the Abyssinian nobles, and he personally oversaw most of his governmental initiatives through the 1960s. For example, he reportedly used merit to appoint all government ministers, and he personally chose 1,000 them.’

‘The successive policies of the Abyssinian governments through the 1960s require some comment. The evidence presented thus far shows that Abyssinian rulers were determined to form a unified state under their domination and used Orthodox Christianity as one means to subjugate non-Semitic speakers such as the Oromo. Haile Selassie perfected the system of colonization through the use of legal measures, political repression, and socioeconomic neglect to subdue such peoples, and he supported and established the notion of accepting Orthodox Christianity and the Abyssinian culture of the Amhara as the prerequisite for being Ethiopian. His governmentís actions allowed no room for groups such as the Oromo to retain their cultural identity and still be Ethiopian. One would expect the oppressed people to respond to this assault on their culture in a negative manner, and there is no doubt that the Oromo viewed the Orthodox Church as a tool of their subjugation. Indeed, they did respond in a negative way to this onslaught of Abyssinian culture.’

‘During the 1900s to the 1940s the Oromo reacted to Abyssinian imperialism by applying their traditional societal flexibility, which allowed them to adapt easily to new situations. Most non-Muslim Oromo accepted the mass conversion to Orthodox Christianity and wore circles around their neck to symbolize their acquiescence.
However, American Protestant missionaries witnessed many Oromo, including those of Wollega, practicing their traditional religion in secret. Christian missionaries in the 1960s testified that ìwhile most Oromo feigned adherence to the Orthodox religion, they secretly worshiped other spirits. Some Oromo attempted genuinely to accept Christianity on their own terms. Among such converts was the religious scholar Onesimos, who translated the Bible into Oromoo. The Oromo elite also responded to the political domination by taking Amharic names and cooperating with the local Abyssinian officials. However, as before, the Abyssinian rulers responded negatively by limiting the advancement of Oromo officials because of the fear that this would help to promote a sense of a national identity. Had the Amhara-dominated government approached the Oromo in a different manner, taking into account the Oromo traditional societal flexibility, the outcome might have been different. The Selassie governmentís negative response to the attempts of the Oromo to adapt their system subtly, while retaining some cultural independence, caused them to become more militant in their actions. Their dissatisfaction with Selassieís regime manifested in the form of several peasants revolts.’

‘The Raya Oromo initially revolted in 1935 in response to the brutal tactics of Selassie’s military governor, Ras Mulugeta, as he attempted to force them into the national army.With the initiation of the Italian Invasion in 1936, another group of Oromo, who described themselves as the Western Oromo Confederation, declared their independence from the Ethiopian government. Eventually, Selassie defeated the two groups, but the fact that the Oromo had rebelled at all indicated their level of  frustration with the government. Many Oromo cooperated with the Italians during their occupation because the Italians reorganized Ethiopiaís provinces along linguistic lines and constructed mosques for Oromo Muslims.The negative feelings and actions of the Oromo toward the Abyssinian government intensified as the twentieth century progressed; by the 1960s, peasants became increasingly belligerent toward the Selassie regime. The Oromo peasant populace became enraged by the blatant disparity between themselves and the Amhara elites, including the heavy taxes that they paid without tangible socioeconomic benefits.Oromo simply had no land on which to live or farm because of the pro-Amhara policies of Haile Selassie. In a series of revolts starting in 1963 in the province of Bale, Oromo peasants unleashed their anger on the central government over its increased property taxes and favoritism toward Amhara Christians. The assimilated Oromo elite responded to the tactics of the imperial authorities by developing sociopolitical organizations that instilled a sense of a national Oromo identity that transcended their traditional divisions. The small number of Oromo who managed to achieve positions in government organizations, such as the civil and military services, felt disenfranchised by the Ethiopian government. Oromo civil servants and military officers could expect to achieve only nominal advancement in the imperial government, from which they obviously felt a certain amount of alienation. The disgruntled assimilated Oromo started to form self-help groups to provide political expression and to help their communities to advance. Activists formed organizations such as Arfannn Qallo, Biftu Ganamo, and the Macha Tulama Self Help Association, which sought to improve Oromo communities. The Macha Tulama became the most important and influential of the self-help organizations in expressing the political angst of the Oromo elite. On 24 January 1963 the Macha Tulama organization emerged from three older groups with the goal of creating educational, medical, and religious facilities for the Oromo.’

‘Ethiopia experienced a colonial period that mirrored the rest of Africa in terms of duration and tactics. The major difference was that the Ethiopian colonial system originated with Africans (the Abyssinians) colonizing other Africans (the Oromo). The issues of ethnic and national identity that plagued colonial Africa with the creation of artificial nations that had no historical basis also plagued Ethiopia and continue to plague it…..The study demonstrates that Ethiopian historiography should be reexamined to understand the true dynamics that led to the creation of this state. The traditional scholarly approach of regarding Ethiopia as a monolithic culture centered on Abyssinian society has proven inadequate to understand the sociopolitical conflicts that trouble modern Ethiopia. Only through examining all of Ethiopiaís ethnic groups and their interactions with one another can Ethiopian historiography be advanced.’

– You can read the full  thesis @ http://repository.lib.ncsu.edu/ir/bitstream/1840.16/844/1/etd.pdf