The Education System that Ignored Ignorance: Socio-Cultural Unawareness in Ethiopia
By Iddoosaa Ejjetaa*
How do you spell your name?
Which of the following persons’ names are correctly spelled in English: Amenu, Beklcha, Debela, Degaga, Deraratu, Demeksa, Gebisa, Geleta, Geda, Lema, Leta, Megersa, Merera, and Tolossa?
“Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.” [Albert Einstein].
Introduction: Prayer’s Note
I am not a religious activist or linguist by profession, and not behavioral scientist either. I consider myself as keen observer, naturalist and independent thinker who strive to share knowledge and disseminate truth to the public. I like discussion because it is an exchange of ideas and moreover it is an exchange of knowledge. In the contrary, I do not like arguments because it is an exchange of ignorance. Arguments are often happening when people do not want to understand one another or failed to recognize the truth that is always situated in the middle of the people who are arguing over something like religion for instance. One may say there is a God. The other person may say there is no God.
In the world of ignorance this could lead to costly violence. Through discussion, however, one arrives at agreement or understanding overtime. Rational minds think that there is no science to proof right or wrong about the existence of God. The best way one can know the existence of God is by knowing one-self or being authentic-self. A person who has self-confidence in his own authentic cultural identity, he or she also truly know about the existence of God. This is how the Oromo Gadaa Society got to know Waaqa tokkicha, one God. In Oromo Gadaa Society, every decision regarding family, local community and national affairs has reached after thoughtful discussion through Oromo Consensual Democracy. So, I have tremendous respect for indigenous social capital like the Gadaa Oromoo traditions. One of the Oromoo traditions is praying to Waaqa (God) at the beginning and ending of social events and judiciary processes.
This paper is intended to address issues that pertain to persisting ignorance and arrogance, which are bottleneck to discussion and impediment to socio-economic progress in contemporary Ethiopia. When people do not want acknowledge facts or realities on ground, which means they let both ignorance and arrogance to prevail. Consequently, understanding through discussion and mutual respect vanishes. To minimize such likelihood from happening, I want God to know that my intention to write this paper is good, indeed. As Robert Browning said, ignorance is not innocence but sin. I add arrogance, too. So, let’s pray to almighty Waaqa tokkich, one God, now.
Oh, Lord of (Hayyee yaa Waaq) punctilious language, grant us the intelligence to use languages that spoken by our fellow men and women or citizens properly; open our ears to listen to the proper pronunciation of native words by native speakers; put your gracious hands on us and guide our fingers to write the correct letters and spelling; enhance our understanding of social, cultural and language literacy; give our names meaning; teach us how to learn and respect one another and all your creations on this earth planet; give us courage to undo mistakes and ask for forgiveness for the distortion we have made; teach us how to use our time productively; warm our heart to love and respect one-another and make us guided by the golden rule; walk us through light and keep us away from the offspring of ignorance: prejudice, arrogance, and hypocrisy. Amen, Hayyee!
The purpose of this paper is first, to provide a brief but critical analysis of language use policy in Ethiopian; secondly, to show overlooked problems: ignorance and arrogance particularly among some highly educated Ethiopians; third, to reveal the abuse and distortion of written language and educate the public its root causes; to initiate public discussion and encourage one’s stories to be tolled specially stories that related to person’s naming culture; stories of distortion: how, when, who and why?; and finally, to seek for knowledge-based remedies to the problems. I hope this paper would contribute to civic discussion by bringing up an overlooked century old problems: ignorance and arrogances in public life. Therefore, constructive comments and feedbacks are always appreciated. I hope this paper would provoke you to tell similar stories. At the same time, name calling and character assassination are sign of ignorance and arrogance and it is highly discouraged.
Brief Accounts on Education policy in Ethiopia
“The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.”[John F. Kennedy]
In principle, education is the transformation of society and human civilization based on truth. In practice, however, there are man-made political and social obstacles to it. A progress in education had been restricted in Ethiopia because of historical, cultural, and political reasons. Although alphabetic literacy program of Orthodox Church had long time history in Abyssinia, Ethiopia had opened or started experiencing western style education in 1908 that was aimed to preserve the Amhara ruling class.
In 1961, Ethiopia had formed one public higher education, Addis Ababa University, and private, University of Asmara by Roman Catholic Institution. In 1960s, primary education and secondary education was ranked nearly the lowest in Africa.
Under Emperor Haile Selassie regime, the rural population paid special taxes on agricultural land to finance the development of primary schools and yet the schools were opened for urban dwellers who did not pay taxes. Add insult to injury, the Haile Selassie regime imposed Amharic as language of instruction in the whole country which handicapped tens of millions of children who have different primary language such as Afaan Oromoo. In 1974, during the popular Ethiopian Revolution, less than 10% of the total population was literate or semi-literate.
After 1993, all nations and nationalities and people in Ethiopia had gained the right to education in their language for the first time in history of the empire since its formation.
How long it takes to get out of brainwashing- a period of unclear thinking?
The people from North East of Africa, and the people around the globe for that matter, have been familiar with the words or names Abyssinia and Ethiopia. We know also that the present Ethiopia is the modernized version of Abyssinia where the majority of the people are being continuously denied the right to life and mistreated in the hand of Abyssinian ruling and semi-literate elites. They had been semi-literate because the system of education had failed them to learn about the true history of the people and their culture, language, and traditions. Instead, the system prepared them to rule others arrogantly and with no respect for others whatsoever outside their ruling class. Those ignorantly arrogant individuals do not want to step out of their comfort zone and experience the life of others whom they oppress.
For the last three decades, I had an opportunity to discuss with different educated people including Ethiopians who have different level educational, professional backgrounds and experience. Most of them had earned their first degrees at home country while their second and third level (PhD) earned in foreign courtiers mostly in the West. I also had discussions with people with lower level of education or commons and matured age wise. In my observation, most of them have something in common: all of them tend to be close minded when it comes to having healthy discussion about the political history of Ethiopia. Some of them think and behave ignorantly more than their great-great parents who lived in archaic feudalistic mode of production and did not have opportunity to modern education.
Among educated Ethiopians, regardless of their ethnicity, majority of them are arrogant and tend to behave that they know everything about anything in Ethiopia as though whatever they believe to be true is the only true. They pertained as if they are Godfathers over their across all multiethnic groups. Every political, social and cultural arrangement must be done in accordance with their vision and plan. The socio-cultural values and traditions considered as outdated and so should be archived in museum for the reference of history that should not be told any way. They tend to undermine any topic related to barbaric conquest by Abyssinia and try to cover up the evils of colonial history in Ethiopia. Add insult to injury, the new generations also tend to follow the foot step of the old arrogant guardian. These are the characteristics: ignorance and arrogance that Ethiopia’s education system had produced among Abyssinian ruling class who had been ignorantly undermined the advancement of indigenous knowledge such as Oromo Gadaa Consensual Democracy and arrogantly denied the right to life and dissemination of truth. The alliance between Abyssinian Neftenga and some Oromoo local bale-abate children of the feudal system were/are hurdles to make any meaningful progress in cultural, social and political life of the Oromoo people.
As a result, a standard of living has not been changed too much for significant number of people in modern Ethiopia. The country has not developed yet a minimum skills and ability to convert inputs into output without imported machineries and ideas. She is highly dependent on imported ideas, goods, services and technical support in every field or professions. This is sad because with this type of mindset or mentality, there is no possibility for real peace, socio-economic and political progress in Ethiopia. This is one of the dangerous places to live. As Albert Einstein said, the world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” I am wondering what you think to be done about it.
The ruling elites tend to recognize Ethiopia as a multiethnic Mosaic for exotic truism purpose only. The socio-political and cultural aspect of it is not important. It is also true that the present Ethiopian State is well known as multiethnic mosaic; there are about 80 languages have spoken with more varieties of dialects. In the former Ethiopia, Abyssinia, two major languages (Amarigna and Tigryigna) had been spoken. Bothe Amharic and Tigryigna languages have a mutual intelligibility, which means the native speakers can understand each other without formal study of language of each other and without a translator; this means they can exchange items or goods in the market by using their own respective words. This is true also for Cushitic language speakers such as Afar, Kambata, Oromoo, Sidama, Walayta, Somali, etc; the native speakers can communicate with each other thanks to the mutual intelligibility of the languages while maintaining asymmetric intelligibility with Amarigna and Tigrigna.
Language use policy and practices in Ethiopia
Historically, Ethiopia alias Abyssinia was ruled by different Emperors who colonized large territories includingBiyyaa Gadaa Oromoo (The Oromoo Gadaa Republic of Oromiyaa) through conquest. The last emperor, Haile Selassie, was deposed by mass revolution in 1974. So, it seems rational to identify Ethiopia as an Empire State, though some people see it as offensive. The present Ethiopian State is the result of war, conquest and colonization lead by Abyssinian Emperors who ruled the country by ignorance, arrogance and blind optimism under the banner of Christian Civilization.
The last Emperor, Haile Selassie, had formal written constitution for the first time in 1931, which was heavily influenced by the Meiji Constitution of Imperial Japan and Russian Empire. After that, themonolingual language use policy were introduced where Amharic was the only legitimate language to be used in public administration, education, media publication and television although there are more than eighty different languages spoken in the country. For example, Afaan Oromoo, which is a single homogenous language spoken in the country as mother tongue by nearly half of the total population in the country, Ethiopia, has been marginalized and prohibited not to be used on public media.
After more than a century of monolingual language use policy, the current ruling party, EPDRF/TPLF, in Ethiopia has changed the language use policy for ever. One can find the unique strength of the policy in its constitution; it recognizes the use of all nations and nationalities in its respective regional administrations or states. For example, in its constitution, Section 3.5.1 of Education and Training Policy (1994) reads: “Cognizant of the pedagogical advantage of the child in learning in the mother tongue and the rights of nationalities to promote the use of their languages, primary education will be given in nationality languages”. However, the ruling party has continued to use monolingual language policy at national or Federal level. Currently, Amharic is the official language of the Federal Government of Ethiopia.
English language has no official place in the constitution although the importance of English language is far reaching than local languages in education, science & technology, government, commerce, banking, hotel services, communication with foreigners, etc. The Ethiopian regimes and ruling elites have chosen to live with hypocrisy by denying the neutral role and status of English language in the country. The ruling elites wrongly perceived and forced the non-Amharic speaking population to accept Amharic language as national heritage for all nations and nationalities in Ethiopia. Ignorantly arrogant elites tend to treat English language of highly educated persons; they mix English vocabularies with their respective languages they speak and write English jargons not make reading and understanding the subject matter much difficult to less educated but English speakers. But on professional conferences or media interview they use Amharic mixed as usual with English vocabularies from the text they read.
The Ethiopian ruling elite’s social ignorance, prejudice, and blind optimism do not allow them to see the pride of other nationalities and their cultural heritage in the country. They failed to recognize that Amharic is the national heritage of the Amhara people just like Afaan Oromoo is the national heritage for the Oromoo people. The fact of the matter is that the non-Amhara populations in Ethiopia such as Afar, Beni Shangul, Kambata, Sidama, Oromoo, Somali, Tigre, etc do not recognize Amharic as their national heritage. Instead, every ethnic group demonstrates pride in their culture and language, and fought hard to revitalize and develop it so as to pass down the next generations.
Strange Names in Strange Country
Strange as it may seem, Ethiopians don’t have name for their country, Ethiopia or former Abyssinia.
One of the strangest things one has ever experience is that educated Ethiopians don’t properly pronounce and write their fellow citizens ‘names, the names’ of cities, places they grown up or live. For example, in May 2013, Dr. Fikire Tolossa wrote a letter in Amharic, to one of Ethiopian political opposition leaders to Dr. Bayyaana Suba, which was wrong and protested against by recipient saying that “I have never spelled my name in any other way than Beyan Asoba. I would not have recognized that this new name actually refers to me if it were not used in context of commenting on the Oromo Democratic Front, of which I am a member.” This type of distortion of person’s name and geographic names are common in Ethiopia. Despite the protest against the wrong spelling, the names: Beyan, Asoba and Tolossa were wrongly spelled at their source or origin, which is the intent of this paper try to address it.
It is weird to read a person’s and some places’ name that exist in Ethiopia. Let me list some of the strange geographic and persons’ names beginning from the country itself: Abyssinia, Ethiopia, Suba, Amhara, Abaabaa, Balaaxaa, Bayyaanaa, Daba, Degaga, Demeksa, Gemechu, Geda, Merera, Taaddaalaa, Tesegera, Zaalaaqaa, etc. One may wonder about the point of listing these names. These names are representing numerous strange and distorted or abused person’s names in every day written languages of Ethiopia.
As mentioned briefly above, Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic and multilingual country now regardless of the existing demand for political and human right issues. Suppose, let all ethnic groups regardless of our language and culture differences are member of the Ethiopian nation State. Now, let me reverse the situation and ask a question: does the name Ethiopia or Abyssinia exist in one of 80 spoken languages in the country? The short answer is undoubtedly NO, indeed. Is it not strange that as one people occupying a specific geographic location in North East Africa, shouldn’t the people have to have the name of their country in of their own words? Why strange name, Ethiopia, which has no any association with people residing and occupying the territories like such as Afariyaa, Amhariyaa, Kambatiyaa, Oromiyaa, Sidamiyaa, Tigrayaa, or Walaaytiyaa.
How do you spell your country’s name in your native language?
According to Sabean script Ethiopia is spelled as Ee-ti-yo-pi-ya while in afaan Oromo spelled as Too-phii-yaa.The name Ethiopia is not a native to the land and people, which is strange. It is obvious that the names:Abyssinia and Ethiopia do not belong to any native language in present Ethiopia. Some accounts show that Abyssinia is probably an English word because in 1870 the British used the name Abyssinia for the ship that was anchored in Bombay harbor and broken up or sold locally following the end of Indian defense services in 1903. Obviously, the name Ethiopia originally derived from classical Greek term Aethiopia; the name that used to refer to a geographical region such as Upper Nile region and present Sub-Saharan Africa. I will discuss later about the person’s name listed above and its abuse.
Rational Human being and the use of language(s)
What makes a human being different from other living species is the mind that we posses to think and understand others, the environment surrounding us, in a logical way using clear words of respective languages. Throughout human history, however, human beings had suffered and still suffering from their own unreasoning devotions and distortions to human causes because of an appalling ignorance about others.
The relevance of language use policy, primarily the use of native language or mother tongue at an early age of childhood, has widely accepted by international communities. Theoretically, it has been also accepted as a guiding principle that learning in mother tongue would establish a foundation for one’s identify, develops self-esteem and brings on psychological satisfaction, advances educational achievements, induces cultural progress and economic wellbeing for all ethnic groups. For the last two decades, it has become public knowledge in Ethiopia that teaching children in their mother’s tongue has become a major policy in the country.
I commend the policy changes though it’s not perfect like the self-rule one. After more than a century of monolingual language use policy, the current ruling party, EPDRF/TPLF, in Ethiopia has changed the language use policy for ever. One can find the unique strength of the policy in its constitution; it recognizes the use of all nations and nationalities in its respective regional administrations or states. For example, in its constitution, Section 3.5.1 of Education and Training Policy (1994) reads: “Cognizant of the pedagogical advantage of the child in learning in the mother tongue and the rights of nationalities to promote the use of their languages, primary education will be given in nationality languages”. However, the ruling party has continued to use monolingual language policy at national or Federal level. Currently, Amharic is the official language of the Federal Government of Ethiopia.
However, the Abyssinian ruling elite’s social ignorance, prejudice, and blind optimism are still persisting and do not allow them to recognize the pride of other nations and nationalities cultural heritage in the country. They failed to recognize that Amharic is the national heritage of the Amhara people like Afaan Oromoo is the national heritage for the Oromoo people. The fact of the matter is that the non-Amhara population in Ethiopia such as Afar, Beni Shangul, Kambata, Sidama, Oromoo, Somali, Tigre, etc do not recognizes that Amharic as their own national heritage. Instead, every ethnic demonstrate pride in their culture and language and fought hard to revitalize, develop and pass down as their national heritage for the next generations.
How do you spell your name in English?
On the first page of this paper, I posed question for you to choose from. If you have chosen few names correctly spelled in English, you are wrong. If you have chosen all of them spelled incorrectly, you get partial credit. If you have chosen none of the names spelled correctly or wrongly in English, you earn full credit. I will explain why starting with true story below.
This is a true story about a strange person’s name. Few years ago, my friend’s brother-in-law came to the U.S. for a visit. One day I went to my friend’s house to visit his family. After interesting conversation with family members, the brother-in-law came to me with brand new laptop he received as a gift from his sister and brother in law. He asked me to setup the new laptop computer. I said, yes, I’m more than happy to do for you. I started setting up his laptop. In the process, I asked his name to register as owner or primary user of the laptop. He said, yes. I knew that he has an authentic and culture relevant to Oromoo name: Dagaagaa, which means approximately abundant in English. I wrote his name the way it pronounced in Afaan Oromoo and spelled it in accordance to Qubee grammatical rules and showed him. He came to me and read his name. He sat nearby quietly for a while glancing at his laptop computer dialog page. His face had changed with a glance of some discomfort as I read from his body language. I realized that he was not happy about the way I spelled his name, and he wanted to keep his name as it was. I did not want to impose my view on him, but tried to persuade him by reason saying that this is the way your name, Dagaagaa, should be spelled in Afaan Oromoo. So I looked at him, and said obboo Dagaagaa, how do you spell your name? He said my name is spelled in English like this: Degaga. I changed and wrote the way he wanted.
My question to the reader is that is there a proper way to spell Oromo or Amhara native words in English such as person’s name, geographic names, etc? In my point of view, a person’s name should be written in the way the native or the owner pronounces his/her name in his native language or mother tongue. I continued my conversation and reasoning to explain to him that Degaga is not either proper spelling in English or Afaan Oromo, but it is the proper spelling in Amharic using English scripts or Latin. The word Degaga has no culture relevant meaning in both Amharic and Afaan Oromo.
Since then, I have continued to observe how other Oromoo spell their name, which is in their native language, Afaan Oromoo. Overtime, I came to realize that Dagaagaa is not alone. The majority of the Oromoo individuals have perceived that their name is spelled in English. To list some of them, Amenu, Edossa, Deba, Degaga, Debelo, Gemechu, Geda, Kedida, Leta, Seda, Tolessa, Oromo, etc. The people who bear these strange names believe that it has been spelled in English. Surprisingly, the listed names has been spelled in Amharic to fit into the Amharic phonics and pronunciations. For example, Gemechu has been spelled to fit the three Sabean/Ge’ez scripts: ge-me-chu; in the same way Leta to fit the two Sabean/Ge’ez letters: le and ta.
One of the sources of such wrong perception could be the use of Latin scripts. Many people in Ethiopia think that any word written in Latin script seems spelled in English. What makes my observation interesting is that the educated elites bear names that has been distorted in meaning and wrongly spelled in writing, and yet did not see the clandestine Amharic forces are still at work. I hope this paper would incite them to rethink and do research about their names’ meaning and history in their native language. Before Qubee used as official writing system for Afaan Oromoo, all names, except few, were spelled in the context of Amhara pronunciation to fit into the Sabean writing system or script.
The other sources of such abuse could be ignorance of culture and deliberate distortion. It is ignorance because the people who intend to cause such distortions are not knowledgeable about the importance of naming culture and the history that stands behind the person’s name. It’s deliberate distortion because it puts the names in the category of empty words that have no meanings in both native and Amharic languages. It’s deliberate because Imperial Ethiopia, from 1930s to 1974, employed cultural annihilation technique toward the Oromoo and other non-Amharic speaking population. The people and institution behind these ignorant acts and deliberate distortions are the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia, public school teachers, office clerks, colleges and universities registrar offices such as Addis Ababa University. These public institutions had been dominated by Amhara ethnic group who had political and cultural upper hands in Ethiopian State for the last hundred years.
My answer to the question posed in this section is that there is no such proper spelling for Oromoo person’s name and other names for that matter in English. The person’s name is one of the fundamental yardsticks of one’s identity. Every Oromoo person’s name has a meaning relevant to history and culture. Therefore, it must be spelled correctly as the native Oromoo pronounce it and write it in Qubee Afaan Oromoo. The person’s names listed above are assumed and distorted names. The names are spelled in accordance with Amara pronunciation to fit into the Sabean letters, which is totally distortion of the names. Individuals must learn and become aware of it to liberate the distorted names they bear first.
In short, the Oromo person’s names, geographical names and other names must be spelled in accordance with Oromoo native pronunciations like the following examples: Amanuu, Iddoosaa, Dhaabaa, Dagaagaa, Dannaboo, Gammachuu, Gadaa, Hinnaahuu, Qadidaa, Lataa, Tolasaa, and Oromoo, but NOT as Amenu, Edossa, Daba, Degaga, Denebo,Gemechu, Geda, Hinew, Kedida,and Leta, respectively. One cannot ignore this as English spelling, which is obviously not. One must aware of about implicit distortion of names by Amara elites and Ethiopian institutions. The Amara elites and their debteras are excellent in writing and spelling the word Galla. They specialized in it because the word Galla serves desired purposes, which is humiliating and degrading Oromoo identity and history. Had the Oromo people called themselves Galla, the Amara eliets and their likes would have distorted the name and wrote it as Gella as they do now with Geda or Degaga. In 21st century, however, people must not allow institutional distortions, abuse and prejudices. Those who are doing it, I advice them to use their rational by unlearning the politically charged biases and guided by animal sprit. The Hebesha elites and the institutional machineries they are running have caused immeasurable damages to culture, history and identity of the people they colonized for the last one hundred and so years with the help of firearms by Europeans and American. That must end all together with ignorance.
Amharic is no exception from distortion and abuse. The words Amhara and Amharic are not properly spelled as it should be. The native people say and write their collective name and language as Amara (A-ma-ra) and A-ma-ri-gna using the Saba –sa-ba-(Sabean) writing system. This shows one of the carless and abuse of written language in Ethiopia. Strange as it may seem, this type of destortions took place under the watch of the Amara elites who had been behind the scene of distorting the name of other nationalities in the country. One may think also the name Amhara and Amharic are spelled in English. However, there is no such thing like English spelling for native words of Amara; it should be written and spelled exactly as they write, Amara and Amarigna. It is worth effort fix this type of language blunders instead of adding another one such as changing Amharic into Ethiopic, which was never existed before. This is another written language abuse and distortion in 21st century by self-righteous Abyssinian elites.
In other words, the Latin writing for Amara and Amarigna should fit to the Sabean or Geez writing system. The proper spelling that has shown in native pronunciation seems spelled probably like this one: Amaaraa and Amaarignaa. The problem is that it is not convenient to repeat the Sabean letters like Qubee writing system because it creates redundant sounds and make difficult to read the words and understand the meaning of the words. As we know Saba or Geez scripts hold both consonants and vowel in one letter and has no flexibility for words sound similar but different in their meaning.
New distortion is on the making now. The Amara name subjected distortion in Oromiyaa. The Oromoo men and women who bear Amara names write their name in the way it sounds Oromoo using the Qubee writing system. For example, Abera, Desta, Meles, etc are an Amara names. These names have written in Qubee as Abarraa, Dastaa and Mallaasaa, which is inappropriate and distortion to the names and Amharic literature. My suggestions to those who bear the names either keep the name as it is in Amarigna or change it to Oromoo name if you are Oromoo. Don’t distort the names because it becomes an empty word, without relevant meanings to culture in both languages.
Name and Language Distortion in Oromiyaa, Ethiopia
Under the Ethiopian Empire, the Oromoo person’s names and place names were involuntarily changed and abused on legal document such students ID, degree and diploma. Amhara personnel and clerks have had freedom to make such unbearable mistakes and yet they did not have professional guilt or apologies. They were careless in handling person’s name while documenting and did not show a minimum respect for the words and the world around it; that means the culture, history and meaning of the names. In other words, the technocrats and ruling elites had been socially ignorant, professionally arrogant and morally chauvinist.
Thanks to our fallen heroes and heroines, the Oromo Liberation Fronts, and individual nationalist Oromoo men and women in Oromiyaa National Government, today formal education, the newspapers, magazines, brief communications, the Oromiyaa State’s constitution and legal documents are produced in Afaan Oromoo using Qubee and Latin script. Unlike under the previous regimes, the Oromoo families are relatively enjoying their culture and developing their language in significant ways today. Many Oromoo families have chosen culture relevant Oromoo names for their children and restored changed names to their original names (Addis Ababa to Finfinnee, Nazareth to Adamaa, etc). Some Oromoo adults have changed their name, too; from foreign names to authentic Oromoo names while still significant number of Oromoo men and women cherish or stick to their Amharic, Arabic or Hebrew names. These people have shown their good intention to make their foreign names sound Oromoo by altering it using Qubee grammar rule.
In the process of this alteration, two big things are happening: First, the persons’ names have lost their meanings both in afaan Oromoo and Amaharic down the road. Second, enormous distortion has occurred in both languages. For example, a person’s name Abera, Asefa, Ashenafi, Belinesh, Belete, Desta,Girma, Kebede, Meles, Mitiku, Feleqe, Tesfaye, Takele, Tadele, Tamene and Zeleqe are clearly an Amhara person’s names while the bearer of these names could be an Oromoo. After they altered, the names listed above written as follows: Abaaraa, Asaffaa, Ashannaafi, Balaanaash, Balaaxaa, Girmmaa, Kabaddaa, Malaasaa, Mitikkuu, Falaaqaa, Tasfaayee, Taakkalaa, Taddaalaa, Taammaanaa, and Zalaaqaa, respectively.
My question to the reader is why the bearers of these names do not keep the original spelling in Amharic or make it radical changes to it in such a way that Abera to Ibsaa, Balaaxaa to Caalaa, Mitiku to Iddoosaa, Tesfaye to Abdii and so on? The bearers of the names have two choices at their disposal: keep the original spelling in Amharic or make a radical change not modification by using Qubee to make it sound Oromoo, but they were lulled into complacency, which is not the way to go for Cultural Revolution. The point I want make here is that the names become empty words, without meanings, in the context of both Amharic and Oromoo languages after the names are modified using Qubee afaan Oromoo. It is not worth effort to do so because the outcome would be pure distortion for both Oromoo and Amhara languages and literature.
In recent years, Oromoo artists are leading the Oromoo Cultural Revolution. They are informing, inspiring and leading the march toward revitalization of Oromoo Gadaa culture and traditions by promoting afaan Oromoo, which was on the verge of extinction. The Oromoo intellectuals also have played significant roles in encouraging and supporting the movement through scholastic works and conferences. As a result, the Oromoo political awareness has been improved. At the same time, there are some drawbacks in their movements. Some Oromoo artists and intellectuals are not practicing what they are preaching to the Oromoo public. I am not sure if they are unaware of their own ignorance or if they want to remain rationally ignorant about it. To understand the unawareness, it is just enough to ask them a simple question: what is your name and how do you spell it in English? In order to find out their rationally ignorance, it is also suffice to read through their Amharic names that adopted by altering Amhara name to make it sound like Oromoo using Qubee instead of totally changing it.
As to authentic Oromoo names, many world class notable Oromoo athletes, artists, political figures, and scientists are bearing authentic Oromoo names have been wrongly pronounced and spelled their names to fit into Amharic pronunciation. The names are neither Amhara nor Oromoo names. It is unfortunate; these names became empty words through the process of modification. In other words, there is no culture relevant meaning attached to these names.
To mention some of the names: Benti, Bedaso, Deriba, Gebisa, Gelana, Gelane, Gelete, Leta, Megersa, Merera, Mideksa, Wordofa, etc. For instance, read the names of famous Oromoo Marathon runner, Tsegaye Kebede Wordofa who won the London Marathon last month. His first and middle names (Tsegaye and Kebede) have been spelled properly in Amharic. However his last name, Wordofa, is probably Oromo but twisted, altered or modified. The same thing is true for Benti, Gebisa, Bedaso, Deriba, Gelana, Gelane, Gelete, Gemechu, Leta, Megersa, Merera, and Mideksa. The bearers often think that his/her name is spelled in English although we do not have proper way of spelling Oromoo words or names in English. These names have either literal or figurative meanings in Amharic, English or afaan Oromoo.
To understand the names full meaning in afaan Oromoo, one need to reconstructs the names in order to bring them back to their Oromoo root and rewrite them in qubee as follows: Bantii, Dirribaa, Badhaasoo, Galaanaa, Galaanee, Galataa, Gammachuu, Lataa, Magarsaa, Maraaraa, and Miidhagsaa, respectively. I am wondering how the Oromoo politicians have a seat with Amhara politicians who cannot even read and write their names correctly to settle their political differences. I am also wondering that how the Oromoo politicians who bears distorted names and not stand up for his/her name to get it right, can stand up for the Oromoo interests. Genuine national liberation should start from self-liberation from identity crisis and distorted view of own culture and self-inflicted limitations.
Respect should start from the person’s name while greeting the person or writing his/her name in documents. In Ethiopia, almost all names have been always written arbitrarily; nobody pay enough attention to it. One’s name spelling lives at the mercy of individuals. There is no socio-cultural awareness about the importance of name among educated population. For example, a historian, Dr. Fikire Tolossa’s blunder in May 2013 was a case in point. He seems concerned Ethiopian and wrote a letter regarding political issues in which tens of millions people have stake in it, and yet he was manifested less respect to the name of the person to whom he addressed the issues for consideration. It was not a typo or human err. It was the result of, as I have discussed above, carelessness and arbitrary writing of person’s name that had been deep rooted in Ethiopian culture of education-ignorance.
The bearers and the callers must learn about self and others as part of their culture. A formal education and learning a subject matter should be for use so as to improve life, make rational decisions, and become informed and productive member of the society. If education is not for the listed purposes, it is merely limited personal ego. There are many people after higher level of education, but still socially and culturally ignorant and arrogant and yet trying to inspire us with blind optimism. One can earn Ph.D in any field but still culturally ignorant about others. This is not recognized in Ethiopia. PhD is earned for fame but not to transform society and advance knowledge in Ethiopia and underdeveloped countries for that matter.
Strange as it may seem, most Abyssinian ruling elites pertained that they graduated from the school teach everything about anything and the graduate now about everything. They don’t have guilt and shame for failing to ask, pronounce or write their fellow-citizens person’s name the name of places they call home. These semi-literate individuals need to learn the basics about their own people first before teaching African Americans as Dr. Fikire tried in his movies. It is an insult to our intelligence that he presented Menelik II as idol for black people hiding the crime he committed on Oromoo people: breast cut, and hands cut at Annoolee, Arsi and the exchange human being for gun with European and Arabs to create his Ethiopian Empire State on the grave of indigenous people and pass down to the present generation of Abyssinian ruling class. Despite the blunders pseudo-intellectual historical blunders, the truth shall be disseminated to the generations to come and will never be forgotten.
Under the current Ethiopia’s language use policy, there are no official limitations, as far as the constitution, the use of Afaan Oromoo in Oromiyaa. The limitations are often come from individual language users and technocrats; the Oromoo men and women, Oromoo institution leaders and business owners. These Oromoo individuals, technocrats, business men and women, have chosen to live with misperception, ignorance and distortions. For example, in Amhara, and Tigray Regional States the name of institutions, business brand names and person’s ID are written or issued in Amharic and English, in Tigrinya and English while in Oromiyaa State, the name of institutions, business, and person’s name on ID are often written or issued in afaan Oromoo and Amharic only. There are few cases and places where names are written in Afaan Oromoo and in English excluding Amharic. In few cases, the names have been written in English after afaan Oromoo and Amharic. Let’s look at the name of school and restaurant in Oromiyaa as an example. The name of school in afaan Oromoo and Amharic: Mana Barumsaa Tokkummaa; Andinet Timihirt Bet (in Geez script). In similar way, the name of restaurant: Mana Nyaataa Bashananaa in afaan Oromo; Mezinegna Migib Bet in Amharic. In both cases, the Amharic version remain dominant while the afaan Oromoo version limited to people who can read and write afaan Oromoo only. Consequently, non-Amharic or non-Oromoo speakers are explicitly excluded from the advertisement or services.
Individual names and businesses in Amhara and Tigray states enjoy international recognition and economic advantages; they have easy access to foreign countries or crossing international boarders while the Oromoo people and other people, individuals, and business institutions in Oromiyaa do not have similar recognition and advantages.
For example, one can consider the effects of having legal documents such as marriage and birth certificates issued at some Oromiyaa offices with the title name written in Afan Oromo and Amharic only and no space in English. Now think about it, the usage and validity of these marriage documents are international and should not be self-limited to the regional state of Oromiyaa. The reason very clear, one can have his/her birth certificate from the district he/she was born and may travel to some foreign countries such as Canada, United States, Europe, China, or Japan. It is this time that one starts thinking how much giving priorities to Amharic over English has impact on his/her life as Amharic cannot take one beyond the State border, Oromiyaa. This is what one can call as self-inflicted cultural destruction, self-limitation, and self-inflicted inferiority complex created by technocrats in Oromiyaa Regional National State.
In my understanding, nobody put a gun on the head of Oromoo business men and women to write their name or their business brand name in Amharic and afaan Oromoo only. The current law of the land doesn’t also prohibit Oromoo individuals, businesses and institution to use English because English used as the official language of instruction in high schools, colleges, universities, commercial banks, financial institutions, in all government agencies and ministries in Ethiopia today.
Why do Oromoo businesses and institutions in Oromiyaa afraid of self-promoting in English?
I think, the Oromoo people and other people in Ethiopia will be better off if they promote their mother tongue side by side with English and demand for English to be used as the official language because of obvious reasons; Amharic is one of the underdeveloped languages and it has no capacity to promote research and development, science, technology and commerce at local and international level like English language.
The need for Genuine Cultural Revolution
It has been widely accepted that every genuine liberation movement is a cultural movement. In some cases, however, the liberation movement leaders had failed to make the core of their value. In the Oromo case, the liberation movement leaders had taken a neutral tone to the need for genuine cultural change in Oromo Society. The Oromo Gadaa traditions, Culture and belief system, Waaweffaannaa, have not received from the liberation leaders or organizations the attention they deserved yet. To the credit of Oromoo Artist, the Oromo culture is partially reviving, but not florshing yet because of the lack of genuine institution that support and nurture indigenous Oromoo cultural institutions. My question is that how one can unit and mobilize oppressed people like Oromoo under one organizational leadership by abandoning or taking a neutral position on the relevance of cultural identity. I believe strongly that a genuine liberation must start from cultural liberation.
Under the current regime, language use policy is much better relative to the previous regimes of the Ethiopian Empire. It seems a full weight charge should be placed on Oromoo individuals: the media, institution and business leaders, scholars, artists, etc. They did not use the opportunities to advance the Oromoo language and culture. For example, the artists are leading the cultural liberation through their songs. However, most of them have names that are not part of their lyrics. It seems to me meaningful if the singer’s names related to the song and reflect the culture through authentic Oromoo name. So the Oromo public should encourage artists that their names reflect their lyrics. I hope that the future advertisement for newly released songs would include this: “Buy Original Oromo Song & Name.”
Authentic Oromoo name matters as much as person’s candid deeds matters.
Authentic Oromummaa is about decency, self-worth, genuine and peaceful life-style. It is also about self-reliance, well-organized belief system, Waaqeffaannaa, and about well-structured Oromoo Gadaa Institutions. We, the Oromoo, are brethren by birth and blood but not by religion and region. Authentic Oromummaa is a shared value or identity among us and comes first while the rest come next. Living genuine Oromummaa means practicing and manifesting Oromoo life style in different ways such as having authentic Oromoo names, experiencing Oromoo Naming Culture called Hammachiisaa, wearing occasional Oromoo customs, having positive attitude toward others, worshiping Waaqaa Uummaa (one God of the Universe) and celebrating the Oromoo Gadaa culture, Irreechaa, and symbols such as Odaa, Fajjii Abbaa Gadaa (Black-Red-White) as Oromian/Oromiyaan National Flag and heritage. I suggest that all Oromoo communities residing abroad and Oromiyaa to use these symbols one people and nation.
As Marx wrote, “the question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, this-worldliness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question” [Marx Thesis, XIII). This would demand from each one of us to take practical action to transform existing social, political and economic barriers.
In conclusion, social and cultural awareness is vital to socio-economic progress. The lack of awareness about social and cultural values has created persisting ignorance and arrogance, which are bottleneck to discussion and impediment to socio-economic progress in Ethiopia today. An ignorant society is an abusive society. A society that established an education system that promote understanding of the social and cultural awareness would understand human right, freedom, respect, the importance of peace and harmony, conflict resolution, the importance of discussions and reasoning. Ethiopia’s education system, however, has failed terribly to produce social and cultural awareness among highly educated and less educated member of the society; the system had been overlooked or ignored the danger of ignorance and arrogance behaviors in the society for so long. Today, ignorance and arrogance are more widely spread among highly educated people. Those ignorantly arrogant Neftenga and their likes including the neo-Neftenga, tend to undermine every aspect of social and cultural progresses such as the advancement of indigenous knowledge: the Oromo Gadaa Consensual Democracy and arrogantly continuously denying people their natural right to life and dissemination of truth in public life.
Therefore, every respective member of the society must assume their own responsibilities toward mutual respect, self-determination and collective freedom. The people must develop a culture of mutual respect as human being first and then move forward to arrive at mutual understanding on issues related to political aspirations and cultural identities. It is also morally imperative to fight against socio-cultural ignorance such as arrogance, prejudice, hypocrisies, corruption, and blind optimism. Common sense tell us, ignorance can be unlearned if a person open his/her mid to learn or educate him/herself. Arrogance, however, it takes time to overcome. When both ignorance and arrogance combined together it becomes life threatening agent: makes life difficult, and the road to education most likely closed and increase costs to society. Since every member of the society would die in the long run, before witnessing some changes because of the agent, it seems logical to send ignorantly arrogant agents to visit cemetery first. This is in fact the worst scenario, but not the best solution. For the long-run, the best solution is creating education system that devote its resources to educate, advance knowledge, disseminate facts and increase awareness of cultural and social values among members of the society. So, multicultural and multiethnic society like Ethiopia, must design an education system that foster social and cultural awareness in order to achieve any meaningful socio-economic and political progresses in the future.
An Oromoo person, any person from any cultural for that matter, who cannot believe in himself, he or she cannot be a true believer of Waaqa, God or Allah.
As Mating Luther King, Jr. said, nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity; Anthony de Mello also identified human factors that destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness [social and cultural].
Last but not least, it is the Oromoo Gadaa tradition and culture that to begin with blessings before addressing the subject matter and at the end. So, once again, let me conclude my paper with prayers note:
Oh, Lord of (Hayyee yaa Waaq, Abet Geta hoy) punctilious language, grant us the intelligence to use languages that spoken by our fellow men and women or citizens properly; open our ears to listen to the proper pronunciation of native words by native speakers; put your gracious hands on us and guide our fingers to write the correct letters and spelling; enhance our understanding of social, cultural and language literacy; give our names meaning; teach us how to learn and respect one another and all your creations on this earth planet; give us courage to undo mistakes and ask for forgiveness for the distortion we have made; teach us how to use our time productively; warm our heart to love and respect one-another and make us guided by the golden rule; walk us through light and keep us away from the offspring of ignorance: prejudice, arrogance, and hypocrisy. Amen, Hayyee!
Gadaan Oromoo Gabbina. Na hoofkalchaa.
June 22, 2013
*The Author, Iddoosaa Ejjetaa, Independent and Naturalist Thinker; Activist and Advocator for theRevitalization of Authentic Oromummaa, Indigenous Oromoo Gadaa culture and traditions, and the formation of Biyyaa Gadaa Oromoo-The Gadaa Republic of Oromiyaa.