The History of Finfinne
By Mekuria Bulcha
“Greater Addis Ababa” in the Making: Stop them or Keep Quiet and Perish
“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
My intention with this paper is not to write the history of Addis Ababa or Finfinnee but to comment the appeal made by the Macha Tulama Association to the international community to stop the Ethiopian government’s plan to uproot Oromos from Finfinnee. The three episodes I have described below, is not only the story of Finfinnee but a piece of Oromo history. For Oromo uprooting to end the we have to stop lamenting about what “their enemies did to us” and start to fight back harder than ever before. Not to fight back resolutely when attacked invites the enemy to keep attacking their victims with increasing impunity and contempt. This is what is happening in Finfinnee today. And appeals to the international community is not going to protect us from those who are not tired dispossessing and humiliating us. It will only add to our humiliation. It is said that self-preservation is nature’s first law. This has been translated also as “the survival of the fittest”. I mean we should make real sacrifices to stop this outrageous violation of our human rights or keep quiet and disappear as a people.
Fredrick Douglas, the famous anti-slavery African American said in a speech he delivered in 1857 that “those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Fredrick Douglas’s words have a lot of relevance for our situation; and is applicable to our present concern. Most of us are talking about freedom all the time but are doing practically nothing to make it a reality. We are “men who want crops without plowing the ground.”
Episode I: Finfinnee or Finfinni in 1843
As many of us know, the Amharic speaking community of Menz started to expand from its mountain nests in the early eighteenth century to become the kingdom of Shawa at the time of Sahle Selassie who ruled it from 1813 to 1847. In 1843, Sahle Sellasie went on one of the predatory raids he used to conduct twice or three times against the Abichu, Galan, Sululta etc Oromo bordering on kingdom of Shawa. Major W. C. Harris who was sent on a diplomatic mission to Shawa leading a British delegation and followed Sahle Sellasie on many of his raiding expeditions against the Oromo during the 18 months he stayed in the country and reported what he witnessed as follows in his three volumes long book The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844). The following is an extract from Vol. II, Chapter XXIII. What Harris says in the following quotations was also corroborated by L. Krapf and Isenberg in their reports about the visit they made to Shawa during the same period.
The Raiding and Looting Expedition
“Hundreds of cattle grazed in tempting herds over the flowery meads [meadows]. Unconscious of danger, the unarmed husbandman [herdsman] pursued his peaceful occupation in the field; his wife and children carolled blithely over their ordinary household avocations; and the ascending sun shone bright on smiling valleys, which, long before his going down, were left tenanted [occupied] only by the wolf and the vulture.”
“Preceded by the holy ark of St. Michael, … the King … led the van, closely attended by the father confessor, with whom having briefly conferred, he turned towards the expectant army, and pronounced the ominous words which were the well-known signal for carrying fire and sword through the land – “May the God who is the God of my forefathers, strengthen and absolve!”
“Rolling on like the waves of the mighty waves of the ocean, down poured the Amhara host among the rich glades and rural hamlets, at the heels of the flying inhabitants – tramping under foot the fields of the ripening corn, in parts half reaped, and sweeping before them the vast herds cattle which grazed untended in every direction. When far beyond the range of vision, their destructive progress was still marked by the red flames that burst forth in turn from the thatched roofs of each village; and the havoc committed many miles to the right by the division of Abagaz Maretch, who was advancing parallel to the main body, and had been reinforced by the detachment under Ayto Shishigo, became equally manifest in numerous columns of white smoke, towering upwards to the azure firmament [sky] in rapid succession.”
[THEY DESCEND ON FINFINNE] “…the eye of the despot [Sahle Sellasie] gleamed bright with inward satisfaction, whilst watching through a telescope [one of the gifts from the British delegation] the progress of the flanking detachments, as they poured impetuously down the steep side of the mountain, and swept across the level plain … A rapid detour thence to the westward in an hour disclosed the beautifully secluded valley of Finfinni, which, in addition to … high cultivation, and snug hamlets, boasted a large share of natural beauty. Meadows of the richest green turf, sparkling clear rivulets leaping down in sequestered cascades, with shady groves of the most magnificent juniper lining the slopes, and waving their moss-grown branches above cheerful groups of circular wigwams, surrounded by implements of agriculture, proclaimed a district which had long escaped the hand of wrath. This had been selected as the spot for the royal plunder and spoliation, and the troops, animated by the presence of the monarch, now performed their bloody work with a sharp and unsparing knife-firing village after village until the air was dark with their smoke mingled with the dust raised by the impetuous rush of man and horse.”
“The luckless inhabitants, taken quite by surprise, had barely time to abandon their property, and fly [flee]for their lives to the fastness of Entotto … The spear of the warrior searched every bush for the hunted foe. Women and girls were torn from their hiding to be hurried into helpless captivity [to be used or sold as slaves]. Old men and young were indiscriminately slain and mutilated among the fields and groves; flocks and herds were driven off in triumph, and house after house was sacked and consigned to the flames. … Whole groups and families were surrounded and speared within the walled courted yards, which were stewed with the bodies of the slain. [Those] who betook themselves to the open plain were pursued and hunted down like wild beasts; children of three and four years of age, who had been placed in the trees [by their parents] with the hope that they might escape observation, were included in the inexorable massacre, and pitilessly shot among the branches. In the course of two hours the division left the desolated valley laden with spoil, and carrying with them numbers of wailing females and mutilated orphan children [this was what happened also to Balcha Safo when he was captured by Menelik], together with the barbarous trophies that had been stripped from the mangled bodies of their murdered victims.”
“The hoarse scream of the vulture as she wheeled in funeral circles over this appalling scene of carnage and devastation, mingled with the crackling of falling roofs and rafters from the consuming [burning] houses, alone disturbed the grave-like silence of the dreary and devoted spot, so lately resounding to the fiendish shouts and war whoops of the excited warriors, and to the unpitied groans of their helpless captives. …, gloomy columns of smoke rising thick and dense to the darkened heavens, for miles in every direction, proclaimed that this recently so flourishing and beautiful location had in a few brief hours been utterly ruined, pillaged, and despoiled, as far as the means of ruthless and savage man could effect its destruction.”
After looting and destroying Finfinnee the Amhara forces march to Yakka (today prt of Finfinnee) to take its inhabitants by surprise. Harris writes, “… the Abyssinian system of warfare consists in surprise, murder, and butchery, not in battle or fair conflict. The King continued to advance rapidly …” [Since the Oromo defeated him many times Sahle Sellasie did not want to engage them in open battle]. Harris continues and says,
“Emerging from the forests which extended two miles beyond the Finfinni defile, the scattered forces began to rendezvous around the state umbrellas, now unfurled, to which they were directed by the incessant beating of kettle-drums. Whilst the work of destruction still continued to rage on all sides, herd after herd of lowing beeves [cattle) pouring towards the royal standard, and each new foraging [raiding]party brought with it fresh groups of captive women and girls, and the barbarous tokens of their prowess [dismembered men’s organs]. … The slaughter had been immense. Every desolated court-yard was crowded with the bodies of the slain – childhood and decrepit age fared alike; murderers, unconscious of the disgrace attaching to unmanly deeds, unblushingly heralded their shame, and detailing their deeds of cruelty, basked in the smiles of their savage and approving monarch … ”
“After a brief halt, the march was resumed through the country of the Ekka Galla, which was clean swept with the besom [broom] of destruction. … During the fourteen hours passed in the saddle, above fifty miles of country had been passed over; and the weary forces finally halted in Ekka valley …. Horses and mules were now turned loose among the standing beans, and several thousand head of cattle tired to death with the distance they had been driven from their … pastures, were, with infinite difficulty collected in a hollow … and the King … took his position for the night. …”
During the night, “Loud whoops and yells, arising from every quarter of the wide valley, mingled with the incessant lowing kine [cattle], the bleating of sheep, the thrill neighing of the war-steed, and the occasional wailing of some captive maid, subjected to the brutality of her unfeeling possessor [raping her of course]. Groups of grim warriors, their hands embrued in the innocent blood of infancy, and their stern features lighted by the fitful flame, chuckling over the barbarous spoils they had won, vaunted their inhuman exploits, as they feasted greedily on raw and reeking carcasses [raw meat]. Spears and bucklers gleamed brightly around hundreds of bale-fires, composed of rafters stripped from the surrounding houses; and the whole distant landscape, red from the lurid glare reflected by scores of crackling [burning] hamlets” [groups of extended family homes].
[Note: Just try to contrast the voice coming from Oromo degradation and destruction and Amhara victory and joy: the sounds made by thousands of agitated Oromo livestock, the screams of female captives being raped, most of them young virgin girls, the burning of Oromo homes and countryside, mingled with the boastful fukara and qararto of the Amhara forces. This happened not only in Finfinne and commited only by Sahle Sellasie but in thousands of places for many years after him in Oromoland]. Harris notes here that Sahle Sellasie who became king 40 years ago had already carried out 84 similar raids against his Oromo neighbours in every direction.
[THE RAIDING IS OVER AND SAHLE SELLASIE LEAVES FOR SHAWA.]
[Note: On this occasion Sahle Selassie released the captured Oromo women and children because the Harris and Dr Johann Krapf, the German missionary who was in Shawa at that time, begged him to free them. However it did take Sahle to go back on his words and plunder and kill the Oromo of Ekka (today’s Yekka) and Finfinne again]
[Unexpected second raiding attack on Finfinne after a short time]
Harris wrote down the following:
“The survivors of Ekka an Finfinni tribes, believing the fatal storm to be expended [passed], had already returned with the residue of their flocks and herds, and were actively engaged in restoring their dilapidated [destroyed] habitations, when the Amhara hordes again burst over their valley, slew six hundred souls, and captured all the remaining cattle, thus completing the chastisement of these .. clans who, notwithstanding the generous restoration of their enslaved families, had failed to make submission.”
Episode II: Amhara Occupation of Finfinnee in the mid 1880s
Sahle Selassie died in 1847, four few years after the above events took place, and was followed by his son Haile Melekot. H. Melekot continued with the predatory raids against the Oromo; but did not live long. He died in 1885. Ten years later, his son, Menelik, became the king of Shawa. Sahle Sellasie could repeatedly raid but not able to occupy or stay on Oromo territory. Though armed with firearms, his forces were not capable to defend themselves against the famous Oromo cavalry. But Menelik was able to do what Sahle Sellasie couldn’t. He was not only able to raid the Oromo but also occupy Oromo territory permanently. He was assisted by the modern weapons he could amass in exchange for booties he collected in his numerous raids against the Oromo (see Mekuria Bulcha. The Making of the Oromo Diaspora, Kirk House Publishers, Minneapolis, 2002 for details).
As he started expansion into Oromo territory, Menelik first built his capital on the Entotto ranges overlooking the Finfinee the magnificent plains and valleys in 1881. Entotto was chosen as a strategic site defensible against the surrounding Oromo who were not yet subjugated. By mid 1880s the subjugation of the Oromo in this area was completed (with the active participation of traitors such as Gobana) and Menelik was able to descended from Entotto and build his capital on the undulating plains of Finfinnee. Tens of thousands of Oromos were uprooted as Menelik granted their land to the nobility and their soldiers and as the city expanded over the years. Many of the uprooted moved south and some went west. The loss of Finfinne was documented in an Oromo poem “No More Standing on Entotto” by an anonymous author just after occupation. Here are some of the lines:
No more standing on Entoto
to look down on the gren pastures below; …
No more gathering on Daalatti
were the Gullallee Gada used to meet; ….
No more taking young calves
to graze on our ancestors, grounds …
The year the enemy came
and our cattle were taken;
Since Meshesha* came
our land and freedom are lost.
(note: Meshesha was one of Menelik’s lieutenants)
The poem laments the destruction of the social institution (Gada), the economic production and the natural environment of Finfinnee by the occupiers. The conquerors want also to change the identity of the place: they “Christened” it Addis Ababa and built a city using Oromo sweat and blood. And from Addis Ababa, the rest of Oromoland and the Empire was controlled, oppressed and exploited for about 100 years.
Episode III: The EPRDF Enters
In 1991 it became the turn of the Tigrean elites, who come from Maqale and Adwa, located between 800 and 1000 km away in the North, to decide whether the Oromo should live or not live in Finfinnee. The Tigrean regime has already uprooted Oromo intellectuals from Finfinnee and has succeeded in silencing Oromo voice in the city and country. They have imprisoned and/or sent into exile Oromo journalists, writers and artists; they have closed down Oromo newspapers and cultural clubs. They terrorise Oromo businessmen and destroy their businesses. Thus the ethnic cleansing which the Macha Tulama Association fears will happen along with the planned removal of Oromo public institution from Finfinnee is already underway. The Oromo should understand that this process which the Meles regime has set in motion has strong Amhara support and is going to have far-reaching consequences on the Oromo. The uprooting of the Oromo will not be limited to Finfinne. Addis Ababa is going to expand towards Bishfotu in the South, Sabata and beyond in Southwest, Sandafa and Shano in Northeast and Holota and even to Ambo in the West. The scenario is that the regime will work actively to discourage Oromo presence in the region. Eventually it will call the region “Greater Addis Ababa” and declare it a federal, Amharic-speaking territory. The Oromo will be restricted to the rural backyards where they will easily be controlled. I am not telling you a fiction; this is an ongoing process. But it is not too late to stop it.
How and Who is Going to Stop it?
We Oromos should make it absolutely clear to those who will drive us out homeland that they are engaged in a dangerous enterprise that can backfire. They should know that the Oromo have nothing against those who respect their human rights and will live with them in peace, but will not accept uprooting and humiliation anymore. This cannot be done by paper work or appeals to the international community alone. The Oromo should engage in a real struggle to attract international sympathy. Here real struggle means concrete action on the spot.
What is concrete action? My answer is organised demonstration; organised protest. In Finfinne! Not in Washington, London or Melbourne, at least before this happens in Finfinnee itself. It is futile and even ridiculous to make appeals abroad until and unless such a demonstration takes place in Finfinnee. The population of Finfinnee is estimated at two and half million of which 18 to 20 percent are Oromos. This means there are between 400,000 and 500,000 Oromos in the city who can carry out such a protest. It will be ridiculous if such a large population will bow to humiliation by the EPRDF. The leaders of Macha Tulama Association should think seriously about this. They have a historical responsibility in the absence of other genuine Oromo organisations in the city at this moment. Furthermore, there are several million Oromos physically not far away from Finfinnee who could be recruited for demonstration. Inhabitants of other Oromo cities and towns can stage demonstrations in solidarity with those in Finfinnee. The other oppressed peoples of the south should be approached for their co-operation. We in the diaspora must give our support without reservation. Not only words but material support.
We Oromos should stop being terrorised into submission. Every available means should be used to stop the EPRDF plan to evacuate Oromo institutions from Finfinne. As Fredrick Douglas said, “the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” It is time for us to learn from the anti-apartheid struggle, the Intifada of the Palestinian children, and the Civil Rights Movement of the African Americans. I will repeat Fredrick Douglas’s words once again: we should use both words and blows’ to get rid of the injustice being committed against them. Concerning Finfinnee our demands should include the following:
1. Change the name of the area and city back to its Oromo original. Drop the colonial name. Finfinnee shall remain an Oromo capital.
2. Build parks and monuments in commemoration of the thousands of men, women and children who were massacred or taken prisoners and enslaved by Sahle Sellasie and Menelik.
3. Build Oromo institutions and revive the Oromo language and culture. It is ridiculous that about half a million Oromos living in the city are not able to use their language as they wish. It was with Addis Ababa as a centre that the Amhara rulers suppressed and tried to destroy our heritage. Our heritage will flourish in and radiate from Finfinnee.