SOME NOTES ON OROMO CULTURAL NATIONALISM
Abba Ebba, PhD (Indiana University)
In this article I argue that in the history of Oromo nationalism, both “modern” nationalism and the ever ignored “strategic traditionalism,” cultural resistance (aadaa diddaa) has been the characteristic setting of Oromo struggle. To fight against the political exclusion, economic exploitation, and cultural domination imposed by the neo-Abyssinian force on the Oromo, the bedrock for Oromo nationalism has been Cultural Resistance. It was late in the 1960s and onwards that urbanized Oromo nationalist elites, i.e., students, bureaucrats, military officers, professional groups, and the business class facilitated the transformation of localized and scattered Oromo struggles and cultural resistance into an organized national movement, i.e., “modern” nationalism. Here I claim that in spite of its longstanding history, the emergent Oromo nationalism has been distanced from its social base of Oromummaa (Oromoness)—its guiding principle—and distracted by the protracted long-distance nationalism as by divisions among Oromo political elites. The two concepts, namely, “long-distance nationalism” and “Oromummaa,” will make the conceptual framework used in this analysis. While emphasizing the role of Oromo cultural resistance (aadaa diddaa) as a basis for Oromo nationalism and suggesting some directions, it is also my purpose to contribute, however modest, to the existing but scanty literature on Oromo cultural nationalism.
In a broad sense, developing understandings of nationalism and cultures of resistance has been a central theme of ‘modern’ nationalism, particularly in the case of the Oromo in 1990s and 2000s (Jalata 1998; 2007; Anderson 1983). Nevertheless, whilst scholars have been highly sensitive to the importance of acts of nationalism, as if outside of the context of broader social movements, they have focused less upon resistance culture in specific place-based case studies. Those concerned with past and present nationalism have focused overwhelmingly upon understanding the development of general social movements rather than constituting the ethnography of resistance culture and its social base. Moreover, those who studied bandit and banditry in Ethiopia singled out deliberately social banditry as purely a social problem by ignoring its transformation and feeding into political movement. There has been negligence on the part of our scholars also to pay serious attention to examine the political potential of our rural poor to have capacity for political action and engage in larger processes of social change. However, studies show that African peasants fought against dominations fiercely and took part in the decolonization processes and external aggressions (Hobsbawm 1965; Isaacman 1977; Caulk 1984; Crummey 1986).
The aim of this paper is to theorize that the root of Oromo nationalism is Oromo Cultural Resistance. It also aims to relocate the arrested Oromo Nationalism back to its social base by casting light on the narratives of a “long-distance nationalism”. To challenge some misconceptions about Oromo Nationalism, I follow an eclectic etic-emic approach and integrate various folkloric, socio-cultural, and historical data.
RETHINKING CULTURAL NATIONALISM
Through focusing upon the hitherto ignored (re)conceptualization of peasant resistance and their practices of dissident culture (e.g., social/political banditry) as a basis for nationalism, one may come to the understanding that it is imperative to trace the value of cultural resistance to better understand the complexity of “modern” nationalist movement. It also helps to understand, in the periods of acute socio-economic and rapid political changes, how the evolving relationship between the subordinate and the ruling class also affects the central discourse of both the dominant group and the oppressed and the reciprocal resistance practices. Such a theorizing effort often involves the practice of complex cultural understandings about the ways in which the oppressed challenge domination and the structured violence imposed by the oppressive state.
In theory, however, to my best knowledge, scholars have been working on and proposing a variety of competing explanations of nationalism while peasants’ cultural resistance has been neglected as a source of nationalism in a variety of complex ways. Subsequent efforts at hypothesis refinement and testing reproduce and expand the scope of theoretical disagreements which arise from differences in the starting point and neglecting the conceptualization (and theorizing) of the key actor, i.e., the peasantry.
The study of nationalism that ignores the social base of national movement, namely, cultural resistance, is rather the study of “long-distance nationalism” which results, if anything, in a serious theoretical enigma. That is also to say that theorizing in a void Oromummaa (Oromoness), which is the ideological map of Oromo nationalism, instead of relocating it back into its social base (Oromo resistance culture), leaves the total praxis of the liberation movement out of place and devoid of any pragmatic function. Until the disjunction between theory & practice/praxis is resolved the empirical resolution of competing explanations and ideological differences among the Oromo political elites will be difficult. Consequently, the construction of theoretical arguments as knowledge embodiment and the domains to which they can correctly apply remains unclear.
To study a society from emic perspective is to study it from inside, from the pulse of its lived experience. Emic perspective challenges the projection of outsider concepts, the Western/Eurocentric biases to the Oromo reality in favor of the neo-Abyssinian oppressive state structure. Hence by emic approach, Oromo resistance is not just one of liberation but also of emancipatory action, which is impossible without the analysis of etic factors and without extracting some cure out of the poison itself discharged by external forces. This necessitates an eclectic etic-emic approach, which sees in-and-out, Janus-like, and looks to the future via the past in an endeavor to adjust the major ethos of the Oromo society, namely, the cultural injunction of resistance, both for liberation and emancipation. This is to say that for the oppressed who chose to stay and voice, it is resistance both for liberation and emancipation; whereas, for those of us who, as a matter of fact, forced to choose exit and voice, for we cannot stay and survive at the same time, we chose to exit and voice but only peripherally through “long-distance nationalism”. For here in exit our situation in exile is now relatively much worse than survival back home because we are nationalists put out of place—mana hin jirruu, ala hin jirru, i.e., at home, but already not at home! Our seasonal divided cry is swamped into the dazzling marble of the White House like too many other unheard voices.
To repeat Amilcar Cablar (1966), for our own experiences of the struggle and of a critical appreciation of the experiences of others before us, he told the Tri-continental gathering in his speech titled “The Weapon of Theory,” an African saying goes “When your house is burning, it’s no use beating the tom-toms,” that is, one cannot eliminate imperialism by shouting insults against it but by fighting it by being there. To show the acute need for sacrifice, he adds an African proverbial metaphor that “no matter how hot the water from your well, it will not cook your rice”. This is to say, by “a fundamental principle, not only of physics, but also of political science,” Cabral insists, “We know that the development of a phenomenon in movement, whatever its external appearance, depends mainly on its internal characteristics.” In Cabral’s view of African “Ethnophilosopiccal” folkloric analysis, our political reality—“however fine and attractive the reality of others may be—can only be transformed by detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices” (ibid).
Conceptualizing “Modern” Nationalism
Benedict Anderson (1992), in his The Wertheim Lecture, gives us an excellent recount of a politician-historian Lord Acton in 1860s that there were three powerful and subversive ideas threatening ‘presently existing civilization’: “egalitarianism, aimed at the principle of aristocracy; communism…aimed at the principle of property; and nationalism or nationality aimed at the principle of Legitimacy” (p1). Writing of nationalism, Anderson recounts, “it was ‘the most recent in its appearance, the most attractive at the present time, and the richest in promise of future power’” (ibid). Anderson’s thoughtful critique of Acton’s prediction is important that 130 years later the great polyglot empires that ruled the earth for hundreds of years from Lisbon, London, Moscow, Vienna, Paris, Istanbul, Madrid, even Addis Ababa (emphasis mine) have disintegrated leaving behind “only the residue of the Celestial Empire still more or less standing” (ibid). As this long process of disintegration is also a process of liberation, however, Anderson is right in questioning this double-faced nature of the process, namely, disintegration and (re)integration, as the world is more tightened to integrate into a single capitalist economy, as it were.
Nationalism in its modern sense has become a reaffirmation of one’s self-identity more than ever, a response, an “identity-signifier,” to world terrorism and to globalization imposing itself in a form of economics, politics, and human affairs by dividing the world into Global North and Global South- a new regionalization effect. Whereas self-identity of individuals and groups has become more insecure and uncertain, humans draw closer to any collective union that is perceived as reducing insecurity, sheltering in their own heimats, i.e. home (mana). Drawing on Oromo experience in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, a combination of cultural resistance practices and nationalism has become a powerful response to this top down rapid change and comparable uncertain future, and there have been more varieties of identity constructions in a form of religion, ethnicity, and culture than ever before from below during such crises of ontological insecurities. Within the logic of cultural reasoning and the metaphors through which resistance is expressed, assumptions about the situation of the Oromo society in present day Ethiopia makes it relevant to practice and legitimize the study of peasant cultural resistance to date as a basis for nationalism.
In a resistance discourse, the word “nation” today may refer to a country, an ethnic group, a religious sect, or some mix of those connections. That is, a nation is whatever a person or a group happens to identify with, the people who are fundamentally “like them” in one quality or another. We have people who identify with one another based on their religion and feel as if different from “others”. Such a nationalist sense of indifference and superiority might come from the moral code of the religion or the social group. From this perspective of modern nationalism people identify with one another thinking that their in-group connection and its moral code is equal or superior to the “others”/”outsiders”.
Pan-Africanism, for instance, as a direct response to the Eurocentric discourse of occupation by European powers had a unifying effect among African freedom fighters and later solidified as an organizational ideology of the OAU (Organization of African Union). Though pan-Africanist thought and activity was differing at times due to changing historical circumstances but it unified the different strands against one common enemy, namely, colonialism and imperialism. Among the key concepts unified the different strands were opposition to colonialism and “revitalization and promotion of African cultural ideals, the betterment and upliftment of black people and the importance of a free and united Africa for the furtherance of these ideals” (Bush 1999:14)
It was a hybrid discourse rooted within European rationalism and combining the concepts of progress and cultural nationalism towards a radical black nationalism that aimed at establishing a racial cultural bond between Africa and its diaspora (ibid). Sidney Lemelle and Robin Kelley (1994) also share the view that the critiques of early pan-Africanism “were generally constrained by… a hybrid discourse that combined Christian rationalism and its attendant notions of ‘civilization’ or progress with a black prophetic tradition of Ethiopianism” (p3), then a black chorus line of imagining home! The radical Black Nationalism with a greater mass appeal was later influenced by Marxism to shape the radical nationalism into liberal pan-Africanism.
Marcus Garvey as the leading Black Nationalist concretized pan-Africanism using a symbolism of Ethiopia, considering it to be a source of liberation, a cradle of independent culture built around a black God, the religious symbolism later taken up by Jamaicans as Rastafarianism, another resistance discourse, on the basis of Garveyism, a secular, political movement. On the basis of black consciousness, to reclaim “Africa for Africans” fundamental concepts included “preaching black pride and the importance of diaspora Africans returning to Africa” (Bush, p14).
Pan-Africanism as an ideology and resistance discourse manifested itself in a combination of forms of concrete political movement and expression of consciousness invigorated by cultural revivals, as black nationalists’ effort “to rediscover their shrines from the wreckage of history…a revolt against the Whiteman’s suzerainty in culture, politics, and historiography” (Lemelle 1994:2). The Gurveyan concept of black God overlaps with the Oromo worldview of “Waaqa gurraacha, ”meaning, black God as coincidental, but the irony is that Ras Tafari, whom the Jamaicans worship as black God with mythic Zionist descent is an Oromo, both on his paternal line (the son of Mekonnen Guddisa), and on his maternal side (Wallo Oromo), far from the Solomonic (Zionist) dynasty by birth. Gurvey has made it clear, however, in what he wrote later in 1937 of his own disillusionment about Haile Selassie’s defeat and fleeing the country during the Italian invasion.
To reconstitute the Oromo past and present, to keep on track the Oromo national movement and the corresponding resistance culture, it necessitates a cohesive resistance discourse that serves to unify the Oromo around a clear ideological principle.
Nationalism in Ethiopia
Nationalism in Ethiopia has different phases. Some would link its historical root mainly to the patriotic ardor of the people, “Ethiopianness,” to safeguard the sovereignty of the “nation” against external threats, from regional as well as global powers as during the colonial scramble for Africa, and by Egypt and Turkey, and later the multiple conflicts with Sudan and Somalia (Belachew 2009), which some believe it to have an internal unifying effect. The fact is that, however, it was/is not an easy task for the unionist political elites who “tried to “flock” all Ethiopians together through the construction of a sense of ‘Ethiopianness,’” as some would argue, during the imperial and the socialist period and later (Belachew, ibid, p80). Though the political incorporation was designed to subdue internal nationalism and to mobilize the population against external aggressors, but that has never been a successful attempt. A far-reaching “unionist” agenda to maintain collective nationalism, i.e., “Ethiopianness,” as few claimed, by sacrificing nationalistic political goals and identity for nation-state unity rather aggravated the search for (ethno-)national identity among the marginalized groups.
The question of “Western Oromo Confederation” as a ‘classic Oromo nationalism’ began in 1936 during the Italian invasion is the case in point to be followed by the Bale peasants’ protest and the Salale resistance. The Raya-Asabo Oromo popular protest in north Ethiopia from 1928-1935 under the leadership of Ras Gugsa Wole came to an end only after repeated attempts by the Imperial army and after eight-year defiance. George McCann (1985:601) describes it as a “political symbol of the larger pattern of violence” in the history of (Oromo) peasant resistance and as part of “a series of localized responses to economic and environmental conditions in Ethiopia’s emerging social formation” (p602). On the whole, these are some of the localized and scattered Oromo resistances that consolidated eventually the “modern” Oromo nationalism against the neo-Abyssinian domination.
Modern Oromo nationalism
The lack of autonomy under Haile Selassie, added to the already existing resentment under Menelik, led to brewing Oromo nationalism to challenge the Amhara domination. Though not all encompassing, thirty-three local leaders from western Oromia founded the “Western Oromo Confederation.” They refused to send troops to take part in the battle against the Italian invasion in the Northern front and rather sent delegations to appeal to the League of Nations through the British Consul based in Gore, Western Oromia, for recognition and membership as “Western Oromo Confederation,” but the British Consul did not recognize the “Confederation” (Ezkiel, 2007).
Well ahead, Oromo nationalism was infused on campus in the then HSI University in the 1960s as part of the ongoing university students’ movement against the monarchic rule. Oromo students were clandestinely meeting and discussing since the “official nationalist narrative of Ethiopian history and society that was promoted in the curriculum emphasized the civilizing mission of the Christian north and portrayed ‘Galla’ and other peoples of the south as less than noble savages and Muslims as threatening invaders” (Hultin 2003:407;1996 also citing Zitelmann, 1996). The Struggle was the voice of the general revolutionary university students at the time while Kana Beektaa? that is, “Do You Know?” was the Oromo students’ issue to help escalate the cultural resistance with another clandestine issue, The Oromo: Voice Against Tyranny.
Unlike the Eritrean nationalism, it is argued, the quest for identity and recognition of Oromo culture did not amount to the kind of nationalism that demanded independence from Ethiopia and in 1970s ‘the idea of an independent Oromo state was not yet on the agenda’ until the end of 1976, when a small number of dissident Oromo students joined the armed struggle led by the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front) (Hultin ibid; Mekuria 1997: 54).
It is agreed that “Oromo national movement has evolved from scattered, localized, and cultural resistances of Oromos to Ethiopian colonial domination and its supporters” (Jalata 1995:165). Based on the first-hand data he gathered from previous members of the Macca-Tulama Association, OLF leaders, artists, and prominent Oromo community leaders, Asafa Jalata analyzes the nature of “emergent Oromo nationalism” and the Ethiopian discourses as a nonstop tag of war since the successive Ethiopian regimes have been very resistant to Oromo nationalism, as they mainly depend on the Oromo economic and labor resources (ibid; 1998). Consequently, rather than deal democratically with the problem, Jalata rightly states, the Abyssinian oppressive forces tried to totally destroy Oromo movement, which they proved it impossible and tried “to shape it according to their respective interests via the creation of puppet organizations” (ibid; 1998).
The Ethiopian oppressive state has dominated the Oromo and exploited their resources, repressed their culture, and negated their history (Jalata, 1993), the colonial domination which Amilcar Cabral (1973) describes as “the negation of the historical process of the dominated people by means of violently usurping the free operation of the process of development of the productive forces” (Jalata, p166). They have made unsuccessful reforms throughout history, reforms that Jan Hultin, recounting Benedict Anderson, calls “official nationalism” (Hultin 2003:404). As a result, the Oromo have been denied institutional power for which they struggle to regain and “to re-create an Oromo political power that will enable them to have institutional power in the cultural, educational, and economic arenas (Jalata, p166).
Nationality, nation-ness, and nationalism are cultural artifacts (Anderson 1983). The problem of Black liberation movement, i.e., relations between the modern capitalist countries, their racial policies and economic exploitation, was at the center of pan-African “revisionist” historiography and its materialist analysis over the last three hundred years (Lemelle 1994:2). Despite its racist and ethnocentric origin in Western Enlightenment thought and Social Darwinism, in its broad analysis, ironically the nineteenth century liberal pan-Africanism was rooted in the liberal assumptions such as “beliefs in unity and goodness of humankind, benefits of liberal education, the power of reason and the possibility of uplift and progress within the capitalist system (ibid). As European romanticism and cultural nationalism generated the development of modern Black Nationalism and the latter also contributed to the “revisionist” historiography that triggered the question of national identity among the oppressed African nations and nationalities hoarded by neo-colonial agents into a unity that is growing ramshackle.
After African ‘independence’ now over half a century, the problem of domination remains ever a festering wound for (ethno)nations to itch once again and the question of the right to self-determination necessitates indigenous ideological principle(s) rooted within indigenous (resistance) culture to lead the struggle and to free the oppressed from economic and political bondage and cultural subjection imposed indirectly by the “Whiteman” and capitalist world economy and directly by their kind.
The Principle of Oromo Cultural Resistance and Nationalism
In the case of the Oromo, Oromummaa, Oromoness has become a “modern” ideological guideline for pan-Oromo nationalism built around the cultural revitalization of the Oromo both inside and outside Oromia (Jalata 2007; 1998). It is around this nationalist mantra, I strongly believe, that Oromo political organizations should gather and galvanize the national Oromo struggle for freedom. Hence, the “Urgency” for founding Oromo National Council is indisputable.
As an Oromo cultural identity and a panacea for the oppressed nationalism, Oromummaa is the principle of Oromo cultural resistance and it serves as a critique of engaging in destructive behavior among the Oromo in the diaspora, inattentive of the arrested nationalism. While it casts light on the uneven Oromo consciousness and nationalism, Oromummaa also enhances Oromo national power to overcome the oppressive powers of Ethiopia and resist against all “systems that hinder the emergence of national self-determination and multinational democracy” (Jalata 2007:10). Led by the Oromummaa principle, which I understand as the gem of Oromo Cultural Nationalism, to achieve self-determination and human liberation it is imperative for the Oromo to get reorganized under one National Council, build an effective national political leadership, and increase the organizational capacity of Oromo society in the Diaspora and in Oromia through a national consensus.
As a “dynamic national and global project,” Jalata insists, Oromummaa works on two levels. On the national level, as Oromummaa develops, the Oromo will be able to “retrieve their cultural memories, assess the consequences of Ethiopian colonialism, give voice to their collective grievances, mobilize diverse cultural resources, interlink Oromo personal, interpersonal and collective (national) relationships, and assist in the development of Oromocentric political strategies and tactics that can mobilize the nation for collective action empowering the people for liberation (p12). Whereas, on the global level, by this principle, the Oromo “form alliances with all political forces and social movements that accept the principles of national self-determination and multinational democracy in promotion of a global humanity free of all forms of oppression and exploitation” (ibid).
Towards this end, the basis of Oromummaa must be built on “overarching principles of Oromo traditions and culture”. Identifying and nurturing those strategies of cultural resistance plays a major role in the fight against all forms of human injustices and domination. Equally important is that a universal relevance for all oppressed peoples on a global level as an egalitarian and democratic vision to “create mutual solidarity and cooperation among all peoples who accept the principles of self-determination and multinational democracy in order to remain congruent with its underlying values” (Jalata, p13). This is true to the oppressed to have a moral obligation to defend every nation’s resistance against domination and also to struggle against internal weakness and insensitivity to oppression, dislocation, and human rights violation.
Historicity of Oromo Cultural Revival (1970s)
Historically, in 1975 some determined Oromo nationalists came together to form a cultural committee in Finfinne (Addis Ababa) and to draft a constitution for the formation of an “Oromo Cultural Association,” which was rejected by the Ethiopian government probably underrating it as narrowist, divisive, and ethnocentric. However, the committee worked clandestinely and helped the formation of several cultural groups in Oromia such as Afran Qallo in Dirre Dawa and Guddattu Wollega in Naqamte. This was the time when several other Oromo cultural and political works took momentum both in the capital and in the region including the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front issuing its first manifesto in 1974 and the Macca-Tulama Self-Help Association augmenting the groundwork for the cultural resistance. The same year, the first Oromo weekly newspaper called “Barrisaa,” meaning, Dawn, was inaugurated under the guidance of the Oromo” Cultural Committee” in the Sabean script, instead of the Roman script, as the government did not allow it, and “Barrisaa” as a first newspaper ever in Oromo language, gained popularity within a few months and became the largest newspaper in the Empire with over 20,000 copies per issue. In the following year peasants in Jibat and Macca, organized a (ritual) cultural festival at the hitherto ritual site called Bokku Tule, west of the capital and near Ambo, which hosted several other guests from different parts of Oromia.
The most politicized cultural event that caught the Ethiopian government with fear and shock and supporters of the Oromo cause with awe was the Oromo Cultural Show organized by the Cultural Committee in Finfinne (Addis Ababa) in 1977 attended by cultural bands from Arsi, Bale, Hararge, Illubbabor, Shawa, Wallagga and Wallo. Organized on the pretext of raising funds for Bariisaa, the Oromo newspaper, the occasion served as an emotional reunion for the people in centuries in the history of the nation to get together in Finfinne, the Oromo heartland. The show staged in the National Theatre for two days was attended by thousands of Oromo from across the country. A few foreign journalists attended the festival while the Ethiopian News Agency, newspaper, radio and TV boycotted to report the event, and worse enough, all cultural groups in the regions were banned by the government following the cultural show.
Oromo intellectuals, after the long process of loss of self-identity into Amhara culture and Amharic language that Walelegn Mekonen critiqued in 1960s as systematic assimilation by Amhara supremacy, came to join in the cultural revival and the consequent emotional reunion in the early 1970s and after. Back into the search for self-identity once again which many of them nearly dropped (Hultin 2003:403), Oromo intellectuals constituted the emerging Oromo nationalism and rooted it within cultural resistance to ignite the long repressed nationalist sentiment and keep it aglow.
Language as a “Rallying Symbol” for Cultural Identity
What fueled the Oromo liberation was the dominance of ruling elites who pursued the policy of “linguistic homogenization” as a strategy to bring about unity. Thus, Amharic has been a national language by prohibiting the use of other languages for official and instructional purposes. Fishman (2010) maintains that Oromo language being the main unifying element of the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia it is an obstacle to the Ethiopian identity and expansionist ideology (p385 citing Bulcha 1997:326). Consequently, as a “rallying symbol” for Oromo cultural identity, under the consecutive Ethiopian regimes, Oromo language “has been an object for proscription and sanctions by consecutive Ethiopian regimes for nearly a century (ibid). Hence, one of the successes of the Oromo cultural resistance in the last two decades has been the development of Oromo Orthography called Qubee (Oromo script) by adopting the Latin script as opposed to the Geez script which “has greatly enhanced the psychological liberation of the Oromo people” (ibid). The current leaders of Oromo Nonviolent Revolution is led by the Qubee Generation aka Qeerroo, who benefited from learning in their native language, Afaan Oromo, developed self-knowledge and challenged the status quo.
Doubtless to say, the “rural non-literate masses are the reservoir of Oromo cultural heritage,” including value systems and language, a synergy to keep on track both nationalism and the revival of culture and reconstruction of identity. The local people are the guardians of the ‘cultural heritage’ and also perceived as “less unresisting”. Thus, “the upholding of a ‘traditional’ and local Oromo value system may be interpreted as an active and persistent form of “cultural resistance” against the state, as a subversive moral critique of illegitimate power” (Hultin 1994).
Land Grab: a Structured Violence against Cultural Nationalism
There is a fear of a potentially negative influence of the western capitalist economy and political project of “modernization” and a fierce resistance of the oppressed against this western materialistic, consumer orientated, capitalistic and secular modernization through turning to cultural resistance in defense of their own religion, culture and identity. This cultural resistance, in turn, leads to a “reinforcement of religious traditions and cultural identities” and to an “intensification of national and religious identifications” (Wagner 2003:192).
By the same token, one way to dismantle the Oromo cultural resistance is by imposing “land grab” policy which the government uses to evict the Oromo from their home, displace the people and abuse their land through a structured violence. Oromia is the land of plenty. Foreign investors know that it is the most favorable regional state appropriate for investment because, added to its rich vast asset of land and human resources, its location is strategic for transportation, power and water supply close to the project sites since the federal capital, Addis Ababa, traditionally known as Finfinne, is at the heartland of Roomie. This “land grab” policy is a structural violence of globalization orchestrated with African dictators as a reward to their Western masters to remain in power.
“Land grab” can be framed as ‘the structural violence’ of globalization superimposed on indigenous peoples such as the Oromo in Ethiopia to misappropriate land by violating human rights of the indigenous peoples, ignoring impacts on social, economic and the environment, avoiding transparent contracts with clear and binding commitments on employment and benefit sharing, shunning democratic planning and meaningful participation (Oxfam 2011:2). This is a ‘structural violence’ (Galtung, 1969) because states and corporations follow it at a faceless policy level and to be enacted by police force and militias which is a direct violence.
The pro-western policy of the government and its negative attitudes towards “tradition” practically poses many problems to the indigenous peoples by leasing their lands to foreign investors and displacing the peoples from their ancestral home and desecrating ritual sites, cutting sacred trees and bulldozing their ancestral burial places which the natives commemorate. This “anti-tradition” attitude of the government is religious as it is political and it could hassle the cultural resistance in the long run because the government fears that its background is a renaissance of a cultural, often religious, nationalism.
The current regime in Ethiopia was not prepared for this cultural revival as a new variety of Oromo nationalism until it generally understood it as a doctrine and a movement designed to promote and safeguard the existence of the nation. The government then decided to dominate unconditionally the Macca-Tulama Association founded in the early 1970s and dismantle its foundation by hoarding the leaders and prominent members of the association in prison without charge since 2003.
According to the neo-Abyssinian murderous violence against the Oromo in Ethiopia, indeed, Oromo nationalism and its revitalizing force, i.e. cultural resistance, was a phenomenon that was thought to have disappeared long ago. After decades of an unsuccessful underestimation of Oromo nationhood and national pride and structured campaigns to debilitate the idea of the nation and nationalism, the breathtaking speed of the spread of Oromo national and particularistic movements reinforced by cultural resistance (revivals) hits the Ethiopian dictatorial regime like a cultural shock.
Part of the emic factors that enriches nationalist sentiment is commitment to national heritage re-emerged as a cultural revival, as anemic component of Oromo national identity, and upheld mainly through celebrating the annual thanksgiving Irreecha festival and re-enacting divinity observances, particularly among the Macca and the Tulama Oromo branches. Among the Borana branches of the Sabbo-Gona Moieties and the Guji Oromo to the south, exogamy as a characteristic feature of moiety is still viable including other autochthonous ways of living such as the egalitarian gada practices though overhauled by the state power and, as a result, the power of the traditional chief, Abba Gada, now has become negligible and functions only under the regional and district political appointees.
Folklore as a Cultural Metaphor
The role of cultural metaphor in building national identity and nationalism can be best exemplified by the Kalevala of Finnish people. Not only in Finland but its transnational influence is also immense. When in 1985 the Kalevala was taken to China, the Chinese people “welcomed” the opportunity to join the Finnish people in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of their national symbol in 1835, the event to be followed by the Chinese-Finnish seminar in 1986 on joint collection and recording of folklore (Tuhoy 1991:190, also citing Honko 1986). The value of cultural metaphor handed down to generations and the folklorization of the social matrix, particularly for a society engaged in resistance against domination, is crucial. We benefit from Sue Tuhoy’s explanation that in China in the 1930s, some intellectuals worked on folklore with the government to mobilize the masses to resist Japanese imperialism and also to push forward a political reorganization of society and for the realization of a state in the future, be it democratic, nationalist, or socialist one (ibid, p217, fn16).
For our purpose, let us theorize two nation-building theses: hence, one based on the acts of removal with its racial and stereotypical dehumanizing force to upsurge heteronomia (external rule) for colonial intent, and the other, based on democratic notions and institutions in search for freedom, equality and social justice leading onto autonomia (self-government) and “diversity in unity”. The latter is a move against the integrationist policy that focuses on mere “unity in diversity” at the expense of the marginalized and by holding nations together in the name of territorial integrity, i.e., in the name of federalism. The latter thesis of nation-building relates to the Joan Herder’s thought about nationalism (in folklore “study”) as heralded by the Grimm Brothers, and also by the Finish nationalists to reconstruct Kalevala as the nation’s heritage—the rallying symbol of cultural/national identity.
In line with this argument, Regina Bendix (1997) is right to describe folklore as a vehicle in the search for the authentic, satisfying a longing for an escape from “modernity” (p7). That is, one function of folklore not very vividly seen to a non-folklorist or to a folklorist indifferent to an emancipatory function of folklore, is its prompting change or reform in a less radical term “affirmatively in revolutions and negatively in counterrevolutions” (ibid). Another political function of folklore is serving nationalism as a modern political movement based on folklore and folk culture as native cultural (re)discovery, the purpose folklore has served since the Romantic era, in the move away from monarchic rule to democratic institutions (p8), the move from heteronomia to autonomia (Gauchet, 1999). In this view, the “ideal folk” has been the “pure,” metaphorically speaking, the unspoiled by “modernity” and free from every evil of it (p7), and, therefore, authentic.
The Narrative of Resistance against Domination
Among the Oromo, the multidimensional function of folklore is immense. The social history about Oromo popular songs of social banditry and resistance shows that they are handed down orally to succeeding generations from memory. Social banditry and the sporadic popular resistance throughout Oromia, and hunting down and hanging of Oromo rebels by government security agents were the motifs recaptured with a tone of anger and revulsion in songs of defiance and stories woven around the exploits of Oromo heroes. Remorse, antipathy, and bitterness about the continuous repression, execution and displacement are the themes of Oromo resistance narratives which serve as a cultural metaphor and document local history and the lived-experience of the people.
“Traditional” Religion as Cultural Metaphor
Ethiopia is considered as the island of Christianity surrounded by Islam and Pagans, since Orthodox Christian church and the state are indivisible in the history of the country. There has been no room for other religions, particularly traditional religion. Among the Oromo, adopting Islam, Protestant Christianity or Catholic was a common behavior of opposition. When forced to convert to Orthodox Christianity as in the case of the Salale, they lived practicing covertly their traditional religion and rituals in the household and with neighbors at ritual sites as a form of cultural resistance. Sacred tree coronations and divinity observances called qallu institution are the common tradition viable to date among the Oromo. To date, one such vibrant traditional religious practice among the Oromo is also the Irreecha festival that unites the Oromo irrespective of religion, region, or political ideology.
The Irreecha Thanksgiving Festival as “Strategic Traditionalism”
Irreecha is the all-encompassing Oromo festival celebrated on the last Sunday of September. As a historic holiday originated among the Blue Nile bound Cushitic people of the Oromo Irreecha has been celebrated for thousands of years though highly suppressed during the successive brutal Abyssinian regimes following the colonial encounter in the 19thcentury. As the cultural revival got momentum, Irreecha has become a popular mass event over recent years and started dramatically spreading and regaining its lost position. At the national level, it is celebrated in Bishoftu town in Oromia state, 25 miles east of the capital, Finfinne, at the ritual site of Lake Hora Arsadi.
On the festival led by Abba Malka (father of the ritual and the site) Abba Gada, community leaders and all folks irrespective of ethnic-bound religion, age and gender, share their produces, blessings and peace and address thanks to Waaqa (God) for the blessed transition from the rainy season (Ganna) to the bright and colorful Birra (Autumn) season. Accordingly, these days, millions of pilgrimages attend this sacred Oromo traditional holiday, especially, at Hora.
Despite a high level of media exposure (TV sets and radios in village towns and villages) and a spread of dominant assumptions by government cadres down to the grassroots level of villages and organized activities by major religious sects such as Orthodox Christianity, Catholic, Protestant churches and Islam, the indigenous people still practice both cultures, that is, the “traditional” and the “modern,” side by side, by way of a coping mechanism, and “tradition” is still lingering as the liberal ideology is also struggling. The commitment to preserving national heritage is thus associated with “strategic traditionalism,” whereas “globalization” is related to “liberalism”.
In sum, the tag of war has been always there and seems never too far anytime soon. The reason is that, if “modernization” is possible without viable civilization and sustainable development centering on “people” rather than just on “material” so it is in Africa only until the people’s heart gets hardened. And if “modernization”/“civilization” and/or “development” is not in respect for “people” and a quest for justice, freedom and equality irrespective of region or religion and ethnic-bound, so there is an ongoing tension between “traditionality” and “modernity” as myth confers a transcendent meaning of humanity and existence beyond the promised transcendence, which is another manifestation of paralysis of “modernization”.
And the story goes on spinning….
CONCLUSION: Restorying the “Long-distance Nationalism”
I would like to close this article by Benedict Anderson’s critique of “Long-Distance Nationalism.” Anderson’s concept of “long-distance nationalism” draws from Acton’s aphorism that ‘exile is a nursery of nationalism’ (Anderson 1992:2) which he further supplements by the narrative of one lived experience an Indian Sikh, a Canadian citizen, told to Anderson’s friend, a professor from Indiana University (p11). This Sikh Indian is a successful businessman in Toronto, as Anderson was told, and also a financial supporter of the Khalistan nationalists fighting against non-Sikhs in Punjab, India. He invests large sums buying guns and grenades on the international arms market, which is the most dreadful face of capitalism. Self-assured that he is, of his commercial future and the safety of his children in Canada, this Sikh less cares to participate substantially in the Canadian political life. Rather he lives through e-mail, by “long-distance nationalism ”Sihkfying himself. In other words, this businessman lives in an “imagined heimat,” where he belongs by birth, language and earliest childhood experiences, but “in which he does not intend to live, where he pays no taxes, where he cannot be arrested [for his political attitude and/or active participation], where he will not be brought before the courts… in effect, a politics without responsibility and accountability,” according to Anderson (Anderson, p11).
In his book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty Albert Hirschman (1970) argues that people can either leave (exit) or stay and make their dissatisfaction known (voice) when faced with deterioration in circumstances and cannot bear it up anymore. There is a compromise between exit and voice in this regard since people cannot both leave and stay and have their voice heard and understanding the differing effects that the choice of exit or voice will have on the deteriorating organization (in Herbert 1999:183; also Jalata 2008). Both exit and voice are forms of resistance to which there is another alternative choice, that is, acquiescence exhibited through loud silence! There could be different determinants for people to favor exit or voice at some point in time when their situation is worsening at home, but “there is good reason to believe that in large parts of Africa circumstances have overwhelmingly favored exit in the form of migration as the appropriate response for people faced with deteriorating economic and/or political fortunes” (ibid). Those who favored loyalty too, rumors are that their song has become “Mana hin jirruu, ala hin jirru,” meaning, “We are at home, already not at home!”. Seeing in-and-out Janus-like or like the Oromo Atete Guyye, guardian of the door (of home), the oppressed is not here nor there, just looking to the future via the past (cf. Edward Said, 2000:176-177). For the oppressed the Future is a forward movement into the Past! For the oppressed, time never is, time was!
It is not without reason that I chose to close this paper by restorying the narrative of “long-distance nationalism.” By the “thick description” of the narrative, one may rightly come to an understanding that being Sikh in Toronto is made possible by mere “long-distance nationalism”. Likewise, being (and becoming) Oromo is possible in the Diaspora, but the cumulative effect of such a less responsible, less accountable and partially committed nationalist activity, divided as our voice is beyond measure, by sheltering in one’s own “imagined heimat” is dubious and is hypocrisy until we get reorganized under one National Council. In exile, our heimat is built on a firm rock, as it were, and we may think it is neither touched by the wave of the struggle far back home, nor stirred by the troubled shouts of discontinuous solidarity rallies here in the Diaspora. If there is humanity aching behind barbed wires besieged in concentration camps in the 21st century, wherever it occurs, I dare say the Nazi’s hiemat is not too far to rebuild itself.
And, in reality, an Imagined Heimat—the dream House—is the Home never built yet. A House divided against itself cannot stand!
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