D.Mayor Takele Uma met with US Amb,to Ethiopia Michael Raynor Amb. Raynor expressed US’ support to help AA improve..

D.Mayor Takele Uma met with #US Amb,to #Ethiopia Michael Raynor. Amb. Raynor expressed US’ support to help AA improve modern disposal of dry waste & cooperate to help Entoto mountain tourism dev’t project.

ም/ከ ኢንጅነር ታከለ ኡማ ከ ኢቲቪ ጋር ያደርጉት አስገራሚ ቃለ መጠይቅ!

ECOPOETICS OF PLACE: Reclaiming Finfinne, Past and Present (Oromia, Ethiopia)

By Assefa Dibaba (PhD)
Indiana University

Source: Ecthnoecology

“What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. ” ___Oscar C. Labang (citing Lynn White, 1967)


Some narratives are close to the core of who we are in the world. A song or a story may play with slippages in time to connect us with a place past and present, making connections that may seem to transcend time and place and thereby memorialize historical losses. The songs and the story to be presented in this study come from a repertoire of Oromo expressive culture through the observation of performances and through interviews in Oromia, Ethiopia, in 2009 and 2010, and from print sources about the dispossession of land and land resources in and around Finfinne, renamed Addis Ababa, in the last-quarter of the nineteenth century. These narratives engage us with the environment across a history of exclusion, exploitation, displacement, pollution, and forced exile on one hand, and, on the other, unceasing resistance, resentment, and lamentation of the unresolved historical grief. In response to the ongoing youth-led wave of protest in Oromia, Ethiopia, since December 2014 in opposition to the annexation of land around Addis Ababa, the capital, the song of place and the personal story, I posit, give Oromo people today a sense of their history and culture by evoking a deep sense ofecospace, that is, a rooted connection to environment habitats. I intend this study as a contribution to ecopoetics, an analytical model based in artistic verbal expression and oriented to the ethically challenged human relationships with the environment, andethnoecology, an overarching interdisciplinary approach to human environmental cultures that is receptive to the genres of environmental folklore and environmental humanities in the context of current Oromo situation.

Keywords: Sense of Place, Oromo, Oromia/Ethiopia, Ecopoetics, Ethnoecology, Expressive culture / Narratives (Song of place, Personal story), Pollution, Finfinne, Displacement.

Author’s Bio: Assefa Tefera Dibaba is a PhD in Folklore & Anthropology from Indiana University. He is a poet, educator, and  a 2009/2010 IIE/SRF Scholars Fellow from Oromia, Ethiopia.


The Oromo are the most populous single ethno-nation in Northeast Africa. They speak Afaan Oromoo (Oromo Language), a Cushitic branch which is spoken in Ethiopia and Kenya and a fourth widely spoken language in Africa after Arabic, Swahili, and Hausa.[1] Oromia is the region of vast geographical and ecological diversity that covers 141, 699.5mi² (367, 000km²), more than 30% of the Ethiopia’s total area, with Finfinne, the capital, at the center.[2] Sources indicate that the Oromo population covers nearly half of the total population of Ethiopia: to PTW Baxter, “almost certainly the Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and make up…over half of its population” (Baxter 1978, 286).[3] David Shinn puts the figure to less than half as saying “The Oromo are the most numerous ethnic group at about 40 percent of the total population” (Shinn 2003, 27).[4] Moreover, the 2007 census reported Oromia Region population to 27 million, making it the largest state in population and area.[5] And there are other sources that indicate the current Oromo population estimated to more than 30 million.[6] The expressive culture of the Tulama Oromo in the heartland of Ethiopia is the source of information about the people who suffered an immeasurable human and environmental catastrophe and endured the harsh reality of living in proximity to Finfinne as a broken place.[7]

This study does not attempt at present to develop a detailed account of Oromia’s environmental changes overtime. Instead, using available data it explores the role and impact of the state, which is both conservationist and exploitative, from the conquest by Abyssinian musketeers in the 19th century to the present. Thus, I argue, a lasting and sustainable development is one which prioritizes the freedom and wellbeing of both the people and the environment in which they dwell. Toward this goal, this study is organized into three sections. The first section establishes a background of the study from local historical and folkloric perspectives. The second segment connects ethnoecology and ethnopoetics with transdisciplinary approaches. Drawing on the narratives and expressive culture of the people, this section demonstrates ethnoecology and ecopoetics as collaborative endeavors to chart suitable methodological and theoretical terrains informed by local ontological and epistemological views about human-environmental transformations. The third section presents ecopoetic analysis of human interaction with place and the natural world in the study area overtime.  The last part concludes, tying together the themes of expressive culture and environmentalism is what should define the current trend of folklore scholarship as ever compelling and relevant academic endeavor to study the humanity-environment nexus.


The background reading in this article and its theoretical underpinnings reflect the transdisciplinary nature of ethnoecology and its analytical model, i.e., ecopoetics. Interviews, my personal experience, and direct observations were used in Oromia during the 2009 and 2010 ethnographic fieldwork in Salale. I also used relevant sources in print to interpret and analyze the data alongside narratives about some of the environmental challenges the local people encounter to date and the ethnoecological practices the people use to tackle those challenges. Toward this goal, I will begin with two premises. First, there is scarce literature that attempts to converge folklore and environmental studies, and the available works lack thematic focus. That is, the folklorist ethnoecologist relies on the local knowledge to foster collaboration between the researcher and the local population to root ecopoetics (ecological poetics)[8] and ethnonoetics (ethnoscience)[9] as an analytical framework, to propose merging theory and practice, and “to empower the cultural voice of the structurally disempowered.”[10]Betsy Taylor has rightly observed, “the very fabric of public life is so threatened by current global forces that a more urgent mission is the reconstruction and reclamation of public life itself,” which demands to unify the “academic” and the “public,” and “theory” and “practice” (Taylor 2002, 1).[11]

Second, the narratives discussed here are examples of many of the present social and environmental crises which are deeply connected to the past policies and practices, with a far-reaching implications for the future. Thus, this project attempts to trace the place-based local and national (global) hostile relationship in the current Oromo context in Ethiopia. At the same time it demonstrates the unequal historical relationship of the Oromo close to their land and to the environment. The narratives presented here are proto-ethnoecological as they are historical artifacts. The Song of Displacement (DS) was initially composed and presumably performed by a Gullalle minstrel during the first Tulama Oromo removal from inside and around Finfinne in the first half of the 19thcentury. Amina’s Story (AS) is a personal narrative about water pollution and the dire human and environmental impacts of reckless “development” plans in Ethiopia.

The significance of this study is to contribute to the ongoing green discourse about the wanton exploitation and destruction of natural environment which is of global concern. We folklorists (and Africanists) haven’t considered yet ethnoecology as relevant both to work beyond a narrowly “interpretive” tradition and to incorporate insights and concepts from folkloristics stance and ecopoetics. The notion of relevance is understood here as the extent to which some principle, method, information or belief is pertinent, connected, or applicable to the subject at hand. It will suffice to repeat Betsy Taylor here: “If there is a crisis of ‘place’ at the heart of postmodern culture, folklore brings a close knowledge of its vicissitudeness.”[12] In my dissertation two years ago I introduced ecopoetics to a critical folklore scholarship as relevant to balance the theory (folkloristics) and its practical application to ecology. I argued,

To place ecopoetics on the flaring interdisciplinary avenue of study such as folkloristics, there is no more compelling time than the present when we are encountering the planetary scope of multiple environmental crisis and social injustices that face the earth and when our academic mainstream offers less alternative way, if any, to sustain at least the debilitating “sacred ecology” which should concern us as folklorists and Africanists.[13]

Folklore as “artistic communication in small groups” can be understood as a locally situated phenomenon, as a social construct, a lived experience and folklorized meaning of the social world which goes beyond the relatively narrow disciplinary terrain in the Humanities to understand.[14] Now, why is “Humanities” relevant in the study of ecosystem from ethnoecological perspective?” Two major reasons are considered pertinent here. First, humans are fundamental components of the ecosystem and possess a profound understanding of the environment in which they live. To attain a full understanding of human relation to environment, close examination of the people’s expressive cultures about their use of ecosystem and implications of the use andperceptions is essential. It is essential because historically the fields of Humanities “have focused on ‘the human’ in a way that has often excluded the non-human world.”[15]This leads us to the second significance of the “Humanities” and the compelling urgency for ethnoecology and ecopoetics in folklore scholarship. Second, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ defines “Humanities” as “a specific set of disciplines, including literature, languages, history, philosophy, archaeology, comparative religion, ethics, and art history,” fields which have been known to have  “civic, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual value for people and communities.”[16] It is fair to say “human ways of thinking and interacting with the environment are ‘inadequate’”[17] and necessitate “‘more constructive and imaginative engagements’… in how ‘we grapple with the changing relationship between human society and natural environment’”.[18] The question is whether or not we can focus seriously on ethnoecology as a folklore-oriented ecological study and ecopoetics as an ecology-oriented folklore theory to analyze human condition in relation to environment.


“Ecopoetics of place” is a critical and creative, often poetic, evocation of sense of place, description of a history, topography, people, culture and nature of a particular place, meanings of mysteries in the local (hence, mythscape), and the embodied knowledge of place, and mythscapes of the dwelling.[19] By this ecopoetic analysis of human-place bonding, places “are repositories and contexts within which interpersonal, community, and cultural relationships occur, and it is to those social relationships, not just the place qua place, to which people are attached,” and socially construct and negotiate place meanings.[20]

 It is important at this point to explore the question what is the significance of place in people’s culture. Keith Basso asks, “what do people make of places?” and he notes, before he attempts to offer a direct answer, if there is one, “the question is as old as people and places themselves …as the idea of home, of ‘our territory’ as opposed to ‘their territory’ …and to which they feel they belong” (Basso 1996, 72).[21] Basso puts it clearly, “when these attachments to places are threatened we may feel threatened as well…places are as much part of us as we are part of them.” Community members involve in place in three ways: by observing the physical aspects of it; by using the landscape and engaging in different physical activities “based on duration and extent;” and through “communicative acts of topographic representation” and descriptions in social gatherings, which involves, no doubt, names, stories, songs, beliefs and rituals (Basso 1996, 73).[22]

A sense of place is a rooted “place attachment” conveyed by symbolic representations (naming) and creative imagination (cultural expressions). A sense of place takes into account “the social and geographical context of place bonds and the sensing of places, such as aesthetics and a feeling of dwelling” (Kyle and Chick 2007, 211).[23] Central to this construct of human-place bonding is “affect, emotion and feeling … often accompanied by cognition (thought, knowledge and belief) and practice (action and behavior)”.[24] Literature about this subjective construct of sense of place (rootedness, insidedness, place identity) indicates that “a space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value”.[25] The subjective perceptions of environment and conscious feelings about it involve “both an interpretive perspective on the environment and an emotional reaction to the environment”.[26]  “Rootedness” and “insidedness” are two concepts that indicate a long-term and overwhelming identification with a place which indicate that much of the landscape is taken for granted while being at home in an unself-conscious way. So, the Oromo bitter words of resentment “Mana hin jirru, ala hin jirru!” (“At home, we are not at home!”) is a remorseful reaction to this estrangement and alienation felt on one’s homeland. The socially constructed place meaning evolves “through ongoing interactions with others and the environment” as reflections of cultural and individual identity.[27] Ethnoecology is an emerging field that offers a fresh way of doing research about these human-environment interactions using transdisciplinary approaches and conveys local understandings of environments from the local people’s worldview or folk ideas.[28] For example, the Oromo Ujuba or Kaabbaa (gravesite) is believed to have sprung from the bones of the ancestors and is protected from felling as the abode of spirits.


In this section I try to answer the following question of ethnoecological and ecopoetic nature: What determines the relationship between expressive cultures and the spatial/social context that gave rise to them? This project deals with these issues of the politics of resources and trajectories of lives and local ecological knowledge in rural Africa, Oromia. Using some folksongs and a personal narrative about water pollution, it is an attempt to understand the local ecopoetic practices against the historical environmental and social injustices in Oromia and the ongoing eco-colonialist agenda to exploit the scarce resources by involving surrogate nation-state leaders. Using a sense of place as a focal point, this study explores the poetics and politics of reclaiming broken places in rural Africa that includes deprivation, eviction, pollution, and the local counter-hegemonic discourse. Broken places are areas of decline left in a state of degradation by war, natural disaster, or reckless anthropogenic activities such as toxic dumps and industrial wastes (Krasny and Tidball, 2015).[29] To reclaim a broken place is a social-ecological rescue through stewardship based on sound social-ecological principles as it is a conscious political act to regain control of, re-create and restore the place where people and nature thrive. The “reclaim” occurs at the intersection of a broken place and ruined ecosystem and urgency to take control of the “broken place,” restore, and provide a narrative of healing the historical grief of loss.[30]


The Oromo people attach a special significance to Finfinne. Scholars have expended much effort to delineate exactly how the people conformed to or resisted the tenets of imperial expansion in the name of nation building.[32] The songs and narratives here attempt to show how the colonial land use policies and practices are rooted in the historical context of land appropriation and environmental degradation in and around Finfinne. The local ecopoet’s perspective is layered in this song of love by Tadele Gamachu but not to be talked about without remorse and indignation:

Qonneet lafa ba’ee yaa damma too maasaanii      We plowed, oh my love, yet we didn’t sow
Garaat’ nama bada waan darbe yoo kaasanii!        Alas! Grief to recall the past, what we lost, woe![33]

The above folksong is a historical allusion widely sung to capture the historical loss. Finfinne, which was solely inhabited by the Oromo clans of Gullalle, Ekka, Galan, and Abbichu, until conquered by Menelik II, was partitioned into twelve districts, each administered by the local clan chiefs: Tufaa Munaa, Duula Harra’a, Jimaa Jaatanii, Guutoo Wasarbii, Jimaa Tiksee, Abeebe Tufaa, Waaree Gololee, Tufaa Araddo, Mojoo Boxoraa, Birraatuu Goolee, Waamii Gaaroo, and Shambuu Bordee.[34] Historically, there were five gates to Finfinne: Karra Alo, northeast; Karra Qirixii, west; Karra Meexxii, northwest; Karra Qaallitti, southeast, and Karra Qoree, southwest.[35]  On Oromoland, the last 400 years have been the history, “at times of bloody conflict, at other times of conciliation and assimilation” between the Amara and the Oromo.[36]

Major Harris of the British envoy wrote thus his eyewitness account of the first half of the 19th century Amara invasions:

“…rolling on like the mighty waves of the ocean, down poured the Amhara horse among the rich glades and rural hamlets, at the heels of the flying inhabitants—tramping underfoot the fields of the ripening corn, and sweeping before them the vast herds of cattle which grazed untended in every direction”[37]

The conquest caused not only the forced eviction of indigenous Oromo people in and around Finfinne but also the degradation of the environment in which they lived by ruining houses and the environment, by “firing village after village until the air was dark with their smoke mingled with the dust raised by the impetuous rush of man and horse”.[38] As it reduced the citizens to serfs and slaves under subjugation, the Amhara rule wiped out indigenous trees and gradually replaced them by eucalyptus, which affectedthe environmental quality (Gessese and Teklu 2011, 2).[39]


The historical song of displacement (SD), presumably a minstrel song, presented in this section comes from a print source (Griefenow-Mewis and Tamane Bitima 2004). [40] It is a theme of significance, of resentment, and a historical grief recited by the Tulama Oromo around Finfinne about a broken place—a place once revered as a sacred site, considered as traditional and constitutional home of gadaa,[41] gradually wrecked by pollution, eviction, displacement, marginalization, and desecrated by prostitution.[42] de Salviac observed with pity in the turn of the twentieth century the beauty of Oromoland lamented previously in the historical song next and described it as “an oasis luxuriant with large trees [an] opulent and dark greenery used to shoot up from the soil” (trans. Mulatu Keno 2005, 127).[43] He adds that in the turn of the twentieth century,

“the greenery and the shade delight the eyes all over and give the landscape richness and a variety which make it like a garden without boundary. Healthful climate, uniform and temperate, fertility of the soil, beauty of the inhabitants, the security in which their houses seem to be situated, makes one dream of remaining in such a beautiful country.”[44]

de Salviac’s observation matches well with the theme of abundance, peace, fecundity, and dispossession and nostalgia for home  inscribed in the song which recapitulates, as the killings and appropriation of their land continued, that “the Oromo natural resources were depleted and their environment and natural beauty were destroyed.”[45] This song is a contextualized experience of dislocation and eviction suffered by the Oromo clans around Finfinne for over 100 years, and believed to be performed originally, as already mentioned, by a Gullalle Oromo minstrel:

Inxooxxoo irra bahanii                 No more standing on the Enxooxxo hilltop,
Caffee ilaauun hafee                    to watch the meadow and wild grass below, no more
Finfinne loon geessanii               no more taking cattle to Finfinne,
Hora obaasuun hafee                  to water at the mineral spring. no more
5 Oddoo Daalattiirratti                     No more gathering on Oddo Daalattii,
Yaa’iin Gullallee hafee                 where the Gullalle assembly used to meet, no more
kooraa Dhakaa Araaraa               no more elders’ counsel,
jaarsummaa taahuun hafee         at Dhakaa Araaraa, no more
Hurufa Boombiirratti                    No more taking calves,
10 Jabbilee yaasuun hafee                 to the meadow at Hurufa Boombii, no more
Gafarsatti darbanii                        No more going to Gafarsa,
Qoraan cabsachuun hafee          to collect firewood, our maiden, no more
Bara jarri dhjufanii                        the year the enemy came,
loon keenyas in dhumanii           our cattle perished.
15 Eega Mashashaan dhufee           Since Mashasha came,
Birmadummaan in hafe                Freedom vanished.[46]

This minstrel song (SD) is an evidence that historically, Finfinne and its surrounding was home of the Gullalle Oromo who were evicted in the 19th century by the Shawan rulers, Sahle Selassie (reigned 1813-1847) and later by his grandson, Menilik II (r. 1889-1913) from each and every place named in the song. The Gullalle, Ekka, Galan, and Abbichu Oromo were evicted and could not exercise the basic human attributes which Asafa Jalata discusses by citing Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan: there are “‘essential human needs and essential human powers’ in order to survive and develop fully” (Asafa Jalata 2012, 128).[47] Those basic needs and self-actualizing powers that the “people who were colonized and dominated cannot adequately satisfy include:  (a) biological needs, (b) sociability and rootedness, (c) clarity and integrity of self, (d) longevity and symbolic immortality, (e) self-reproduction in praxis, and (f) maximum self-determination.”[48] Likewise, the human and environmental impact of war, famine, and displacement can be well captured also in a testimony of one Oromo farmer, a victim of forced villagization policy of the Derg regime (1974-1991): “The army came and started burning everything. We ran into the forest with nothing” (Africa Watch Report 1991, 65-67).[49]

Toponymic Features of the SD

Names of places have historical significance to construct the ecopoetics of place. The Tulama Oromo recount the toponyms, eponyms, ethnonyms, and genealogical memories of those dominant spaces which recur in their folklore tradition and folklife. Next, by revisiting place names in the historical SD set in the past as a point of departure, I relocate in the present those toponymic encounters and their implications for the Oromo people today.

Inxooxxoo (or, Entoto)

Available sources indicate that, the area near Mount Inxooxxo, also called Dildila, was the traditional home of the Meettaa Suubaa Oromo.[50] The Sululta Oromo south of the Gaara Gorfu Mountains are probably descendants of the Gullale Oromo who were displaced from Finfinne. Located on an average elevation of about 10, 822 feet (about 3,300 meters) above sea level, most of the natural vegetation in the plateau north of Finfinne has been devastated and the landscape is mostly covered with a few open broadleaved deciduous forest and eucalyptus trees. In the early 1880s Menilik II, the ruler of Shawa, moved his capital from Anko-bar in the northeast to Inxooxxo.[51]Menilik selected Inxooxxo plateau perhaps “because it had been the capital of the early 16th century Emperor Lebna Dengel.”[52] As the mountainous location made it difficult for access to water and wholesome climate, Menilik moved south to the Finifnne plain, where hot spring gushes out, hence, Finfinne, meaning, “fountainhead,”[53] which, by contrast, had “an equitable climate, fertile, well-watered land”.[54] The Oromo sang this SD above with bitter remorse to this day, and historically they allude to the more regrettable incidents following the conquest which they engraved desolately for generations to contemplate (S.D., lines 1-2):

Inxooxxoo irra bahanii                 No more standing on the Inxooxxo hilltop,
Caffee ilaauun hafee                    to watch the meadow and wild grass below, no more!

Hurufa Boombii  (Beetle Field)

Another place of some historical significance in the song (SD) is Hurufa Boombii later renamed Jan Meda (SD, lines 9&10). As already indicated, Finfinne and those significant spaces were the ‘traditional commons’ recognized as shared resources among the indigenous Tulama Oromo and later occupied by Shawa rulers as urban public space after conquest.[55]

Today those sacred sites in Finfinne, including Jan Meda, are a ‘new commons’ set between the two extremes of abandoned and overcrowded spaces.[56] Traditionally Hurufa Boombii was used as a grazing land for calves (SD, line 9) and for horserace, and later renamed as Jan Meda it staged “religious festivals, coronations, military reviews and campaign inaugurals…a place of refuge and temporary settlement,” and sports.[57] To date there are two designated public open spaces in Finfinne: Jan Meda and Meskel Square, both used for coronations, sport activities and public meeting places. Leasing land and generating personal income by officials rather than leaving open spaces for public use is a common corruption challenge in Ethiopia where allegations of crony capitalism have plagued the regime.[58]

Dhakaa Araaraa (Altar of Peace)

Dhakaa Araaraa is one of the specific examples that show in this study ways in which dislocation and environmental degradation affect local communities and shape their cultural concerns (SD, lines 7&8). It is the dominant space near what has become renamed as Gebbi, a palatial compound and seat of the power of Abyssinian emperors at Tulluu Heexoo. The song shows that the Oromo used to assemble at the site of this rocky hilltop to deliberate on matters of public concerns including peace, rituals, and prayers. Until recently, there was a restaurant and bar known as Dhakaa Araaraa owned by the sub-city at Fit Barr near the imperial palace.

Finfinne (Fountainhead)

When Menelik was away to conquer the eastern part of Oromia (Hararge) in 1886, Taytu, his wife, moved from Inxooxxoo to Finfinne (SD, lines 3&4). Kevin Shillington writes, Taytu

“preferred the mild climate of the Finfinne plains to adjacent hilly Entoto, a rather inaccessible, cold, and windy summit that located the then capital city a few hours journey to the north…Taytu camped at Filwoha (‘hot-spring’), [the Finfinne fountainhead]. He adds, “She decided to build a house north of the hot springs” and she “settled fully in 1887, after Menelik’s return in March of that year, and gave it the name Addis Ababa (“New Flower”), possibly due to the presence of the mimosa trees. Officially, the name of the capital city changed from Entoto to Addis Ababa in 1906” (Shillington 2005, 23).[59]

Menelik, “the founder monarch of the city allocated large tracts of … land to regional rulers, military chiefs and the clergy” from the late 1880s onwards and the dignitary of a region settled on top of a hill and administered his sefer,”[60] and each sefer was renamed after the name of its respective administrator. The great landscape of Finfinne previously used by the surrounding Oromo clans for farm, grazing, watering, and medicinal purposes at the hora (hot spring) (SD, lines 3-4) is described in more detail in another study as follows. Mikyas writes, before 1886,

“the name of the area was called Finfinne and it was known for its fertile farm land and dense forests with streams and a sloping terrain. The landscape which attracted the Empress had a focus point at Filwuha (Amharic for ‘hora’ or Finfinne), a natural spring of hot water which was used for bathing and medical purposes…the Entoto Mountain, Mt. Wachacha, Mt. Furi and Mt. Yerer sheltered this flat terrain in the middle” (Mikyas Aragaw 2011, 6).[61]

Before Addis Ababa grew into a political and commercial center, the city was a multi-centered semi-rural settlement inhabited by “soldiers, priests and civil servants, who were related or acquainted to the dignitary of that particular sefer” (settlement).[62] Fasil Ghiorgis describes the earlier days of Finfinne landscape as a panoramic view of “semi-rural settlement”:

“These village-like settlements or camps were separated by natural boundaries, such as rivers and steep slopes,… one had to traverse steep slopes, streams and winding paths to go from one sefer to the other”.[63]

Finfinne is a harbor for resource exploitation and conservationism by crony and global capitalism to date, which reduced developing nations into a natural history museum ofgame laws and hunting preserves.[64] Today, Addis Ababa has a population of about 3 million (1994-2007) by the 2007 census report and is expanding sideways by evicting Oromo peasants from their home. The regional statistical data shows that about 91% of the population around Finfinne is engaged in agriculture and cattle rearing.[65] The decision to implement the annexation of lands around Finfinne without seeking consent from the Oromo and the regional state provoked an immediate reaction across Oromia, the Oromoland, in 2014 to which the government responded with brutal repression of the protests.[66] This rightful claim to Finfinne was put succinctly in the 1995 Constitution:

“The special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Ababa, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Ababa within the State of Oromia, shall be respected. Particulars shall be determined by law,” Article 49 (5) of the Constitution (1995).[67]

It is hard to locate the past panoramic attractive slopes, streams, and rivers in Finfinne now identified as a broken place. The garbage dump landslide that claimed the lives of more than 150 residents at the landfill site in March 2017 is one typical example of the broken place.[68]

A recurrent observation of Oromo songs shows that the songs lead back into one another creating a non-ending chain of representation of the historical grief of dislocation and describing a chronic situation of loss that colors almost all Oromo songs to date. Following the ongoing mass protest,  Galana Garomsa, a young folksinger came up with this revolutionary theme injected into the genre of a love song titled “Amala Kee,” meaning, “Your Vibe,” next:

Salgan Haroo Abbaa Makoo             The nine pools of Abba Makoo,
Iddoo gabaa hin qotani.                      It is taboo to plow a marketplace.
Dur manni keenya asoo                      Oh, our home used to be here—
gamoo itti ijaarattanii.                          They evicted us to erect these buildings.[69]

This sense of grief colors Oromo songs of environmental and social justice along with the need to reconcile oneself to nature as a metaphor of wholesomeness and regeneration amid the ongoing national struggle for democratic rights. Nature and places represented here in the expressive culture are references of reclaiming the broken places. In addition to the increasing population intensified by land grab, eviction, and rural-urban migration, unfortunately, “Industrialization within the urban areas and conversion of different land use … has caused the rapid depletion of existing tree cover during the past 100 years”.[70] The current Oromo protest is more than opposition to the annexation of land and reclaiming Finfinne; rather it builds on Oromo resentment and the decades of protracted struggle for social and environmental justice.


The folkloric element of storying resentment in the narrative voice of Amina’s Story (AS) next and the various contents of the descriptions of the injustices depict the dystopia of the top-down policies and development plans that disregard the involvement of the local population. Bruce Bradshaw argues that narratives or deeper traditions and stories explain the world and shape perspectives, actions, and behavior of members of the communities and work as a background to everything visible in the culture.[71]Hence, narratives carry the values and beliefs of the society and direct the daily life of the people, and, it is fair to say, real changes will occur when the people take command of their narratives and transform their social-ecological system.


“I gave birth to nine children. Six of them died: Makida, Hadiri, Tahir, Sultan, Kasim, Kalil. Three survived. My husband also died. I have lost seven members of my family. They were all vomiting and having diarrhea with blood in it. We visited a health center, but we were told the problem was associated with water. I feel sad about my dead children and husband. I wake at night thinking of them, and I now worry if my remaining children will survive. I don’t even know if I will survive. Except for God, we have no hope.”[72]

Amina is an Oromo mother of nine children in Amudde village, southeast of Finfinne. Amina’s Story (AS), is about water pollution and the dire human and environmental impacts of reckless “development” plans in Ethiopia. The personal story is believed to be a symbolic representation of many other unheeded narratives of resentment about social and ecological crisis in Ethiopia. As her story shows, pollution in Amina’s locality shares in the processes of the whole ecosystem challenges caused overtime by urbanization and industrialization and the consequent human and environmental degradation as a price of “development without freedom”.[73] The dominant political culture desecrates ritual sites, sacred wells, and trees in the name of development, a loss which is not compensable.  Ethiopia is considered the water tower of east Africa because of its great resource of surface and groundwater. However, in spite of its available water, the country is unable to provide access to clean water. With the reckless growth of urbanization and industrialization inside and around Finfinne, humanity and ecosystem face many “wicked problems”. Studies show that “The most predominant water borne disease, diarrhea, has an estimated annual incidence of 4.6 billion episodes and causes 2.2 million death every year” worldwide (Gurmesa O. Erena 2015, 1).[74]

The Oromo Studies Association (OSA) based in North America joined in a serious debate with Pittard, a UK based PLC, investing in leather products in Ethiopia concerning the pollution of Lake Koka and addressing the problem to the management of the Ethiopia Tannery S.C. (ETSC), later taken over by Pittards plc.[75] However, Pittards Plc, in its letter to OSA in 2009, denied the accusations stating that OSA’s study about Lake Koka’s pollution was based on evidences from 2003 whilst Pittards took over the tannery in 2005 but its management offered to consider a meeting with OSA to discuss the matter in the future. Four of the presentations on one panel of the 2009 Oromo Studies Association (OSA) addressed the issue of Koka Lake pollution and the inattentiveness of investors committed to development without environmental sustainability.[76] Amina’s personal narrative in this study shows that as the poor waste management system in the capital (Addis Ababa) continues, humans and nonhumans living in the fringes of the city and around Akaki River and Koka reservoir located southeast of Addis Ababa continue to suffer incalculable disaster. Koka Lake is a crucial source of water for thousands of people in Amudde area. To address sustainability problem caused by water pollution in the area, I posit, it is crucial to integrate scientific ecological knowledge obtained from environmental education with the local knowledge and alternative indigenous resilience practices.

Among the powerful tools of human rights approach to address environmental justice is story telling. Through narrating personal accounts, data about resentment to impacts of environmental assaults on individuals, families, and communities can be collected, documented, and analyzed to influence policies. Like through personal stories, “through oral history, we can listen to the land speak.”[77] The narratives presented in this study testify to an unmistakable sense of a folkloric pilgrimage that combines the ecopoetics of a deep rooted historical grief of loss Africans suffer.

ECOPOETICS: Practicing Folkloric Environmentalism

In this study I tried to locate the historical trajectories of environmental devastation in and around Finfinne occasioned by forces of war of conquest, unplanned development policies, urbanization and industrialization, and the role of expressive culture to critique the catastrophe and to mobilize national consciousness and transform Finfinne into ecocity of human-ecology solidarity. This study has also revealed that from the dynamics of Oromo ethnoecological and ecopoetic practices, indigenous knowledge of environmentalism comes from two sources: the cultural information (expressive culture) passed down as a creative process of folk wisdom, and the experiential knowledge of individuals and social groups obtained through experience and empirical observations. In this study I also stressed on the issues of relevance. In line with the recent involvement of folklorists in “practical engagement” with human-environment relationship we need to give more explanation for why folklore is relevant and significant, and to offer suggestions (or trigger discussions) how this relevance/significance could be farther improved on ontological and epistemological bases. If the problem of disengagement derives from the historical focus of the discipline, from its inception, on details of collection and classification of texts, and later on ultratheoretism (“pure” folkloristics) instead of practicing the larger systems of meaning about human condition in the face of rapidly changing environment, that problem needs to be addressed. To remain relevant and diversified, meaningful to the “folk,” and to get clear on the nature and institutional arena of its scholarly advance, it is helpful and compelling for folkloristics (and for folklorists) to widen the scope to embrace Ethnoecology and its theoretical stance, Ecopoetics, as critical and creative acts, and to open door for the discipline (Ethnoecology/Ecopoetics) as a suitable academic practice that works closely with the “folk” and the environment in which they live from local or holistic/comparative perspective.


[1] Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi, “The Language Situation in Africa Today,” Nordic Journal of African Studies 2(1) (1993), 79–86 , see pp79, 84. The Oromo are understood as a branch ofCush (Kush), the eponymous ancestor of the people of the “land of Cush,” an ancient territory on either side or both sides of the Red Sea.

[2] See also Oromia: Facts (Year Book)(Finfinne: Published by Office of the President, 2010).

[3] P. T. W. Baxter, (1978). “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: The Oromo” in African Affairs, Vol. 77, No. 308, pp. 283-296.

[4] David H. Shinn. (2003). “Ethiopia: the ‘Exit Generation’ and Future Leaders” in the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Summer/Fall 2003), pp. 21-32.

[5] Central Statistical Agency (CSA) of Ethiopia, 2007.

[6] See “Oromia & the Oromo People,” http://www.gadaa.com/aboutOromo.html; also Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization, http://unpo.org/members/7917.

[7] Tsegaye Zeleke Tufa, “Salale Oromo: A History, 1840s to 1936,” an MA thesis (Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University, 2003). See also Svein Ege, Class, State, and Power in Africa, (Harrassowitz Verlag, 1996), p94.

[8] Christopher Arigo, “Notes Toward an Ecopoetics: Revising the Postmodern Sublime…” Available at


[9] Betsy Taylor, 2002. “Public Folklore, Nation-building, and Regional Others: Comparing Appalachian USA and North-eastern India,” in Indian Folklore. vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 1-27, p1.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Betsy Taylor, ibid., p2.

[12] Betsy Taylor, Ibid, p6.

[13] See Assefa Tefera Dibaba, “Ethnography of Resistance Poetics: …. Oromia/Ethiopia,” Indiana University, Department of Folklore & Ethnomusicology, 2015, pp60-61. See also Fikret Berkes, Sacred Ecology. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis, 1999.

[14]See Dan Ben-Amos. “Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context.” The Journal of American Folklore, 84 (1971) (331), 3-15; See also Michael Herzfeld, “An Indigenous Theory of Meaning and its Elicitation in Performative Context,” Semiotica, 34-1/2, (1981a), 113-141.

[15] Deborah Bird Rose, et al. “Thinking through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities.” Environmental Humanities 1 (2012) 1-5.

[16] Felicia M Sullivan. et al. 2014. “Humanities at the Crossroads: The Indiana Case Study Survey Report,”  p1.

[17] Oscar Labang, “Toward A Postcolonial African Ecopoetics,” Ecocultural Perspectives: Literature and Language.  Eds. Oscar C. Labang et al. Raytown (MO): Ken Scholars Publishing, pp13-32, p13.

[18] Ibid.

[19]Gerard Kyle and Garry Chick. “The Social Construction of a Sense of Place,” Leisure Sciences, 29: 209–225, 2007.[20] Ibid., 210

[21] Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), pp72, 73.

[22] Ibid. p73.

[23] Kyle and Chick,  ibid. p 211 citing  Hay 1998, p. 5

[24] Ibid. p.210

[25] Ibid. p211

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid. p. 212.

[28]Virginia D. NazareaEthnoecology: Situated Knowledge/Located Lives, Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press. 1999. “By ‘folk ideas,’ Alan Dundes claims, “I mean traditional notions that a group of people have about the nature of man, of the world, of man’s life in the world….” “Folk Ideas as Units of Worldview,” in Journal of American Folklore, vol. 84, no. 331 (January – March 1971, 93-113), p. 95. See Ashenafi Belay Adugna, ibid., p25, citing Workneh 2001. Barre Tolken, in his “A Cultural Worldview” explains “worldview” as a manner in which a culture sees and expresses its relation to the world around it.” Barre Toelken, “Cultural Worldview,” in Dynamics of Folklore. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996, p263.

[29] Marianne E. Krasny and Keith G. Tidball. Civic Ecology: Adaptation and Transformation from the Ground Up. Cambridge MA, 2015.

[30] Ibid.

[31]Gadaa.com. “Revisiting the Oromo Roots of Finfinne in Pictures,” Available at,  gadaa.com  http://finfinnetribune.com/Gadaa/2015/07/july-13-finfinne-day-guyyaa-finfinnee-revisiting-the-oromo-roots-of-finfinne-in-pictures/comment-page-1/. January 13, 2015.  Also at Qeerroo.com

[32] Abbas Haji Ganamo. Conquest and Resistance in the Ethiopian Empire, 1880 – 1974: The Case of Arsi Oromo. Leiden/Boston: Brill. 2014.

[33]Tadela Gamachu, 2009. A love song titled “Qonnee Lafa Bahe,” / “Plowed, Not Yet Sowed”. Available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNsON2Rd85g.

[34] Negaso Gidada, “A Tragic Consequence of the ‘10th Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan’: Warning for the Future,” (A Memoir), May, 07, 2014, p1. See Bairu Tafla, Review. Peter P. Garretson. A History of Addis Ababa from its Foundation in 1886 to 1910  452, Aethiopica 5 (2002), 252-254.

[35] Talks on phone with an Oromo elder whose name remains anonymous for his safety.

[36] Bairu Tafla, ed. Asma Giyorgis and His Work: History of the Galla and the Kingdom of Shawa. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1987. Cf. Teshale Tibebu, The Making of Modern Ethiopia, 1896-1974, (Lawrenceville, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1995), p17.

[37] W.C. Harris, The Highlands of Ethiopia. in 3 volumes. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1844.

[38] Harris, ibid.

[39] See Gessesse Dessie and Teklu Erkossa. 2011. “Eucalyptus in East Africa: Socio-economic and environmental issues,” Planted Forests and Trees Working Papers. Gessesse and Teklu report that “Indeed, in 1913, not long after its introduction to Ethiopia, a directive was issued ordering the people of Addis Ababa to uproot half of the eucalypts planted in the town (p2, citing Edy 2001).

[40] Catherine Griefenow-Mewis and Tamane Bitima, Oromo Poetry Seen from Within.Koln: Rudiger Koppe Verlag, 2004, pp42-43. Dajjach Mashasha is the son of Abeto Sayfu Sahla Selassie (Ras Darge’s half-brother).

[41] See Asafa Jalata, “Gadaa (Oromo Democracy): An Example of Classical African Civilization,” The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.1, (March 2012), pp.126-152, p126. See also Asmarom Legese,Gada. New York: The Free Press. (1973).

[42]Bethlehem Tekola, “Urbanization and Prostitution in Ethiopia: A Historical Sketch” in Narratives of three Prostitutes in Addis Ababa.  Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University, Center for Research Training and Information for Women in Development (CERTWID), 2002.  Available athttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/245109004_Narratives_of_three_prostitutes_in_Addis_Ababa

[43] Martial de Salviac. An Ancient People, Great African Nation, translated by Ayalew Kano, (East Lansing, Michigan, 2005 [1901]), p127.

[44] Ibid. p128.

[45] Citing de Salviac, p349, Asafa Jalata is right to maintain that “During Ethiopian colonial expansion, Oromia, ‘the charming Oromo land, [would] be ploughed by the iron and the fire; flooded with blood and the orgy of pillage’”. Asafa Jalata, “Gadaa (Oromo Democracy): An Example of Classical African Civilization,” The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.1, (March 2012), pp.126-152, p127.

[46] Griefenow-Mewis and Tamane Bitima, ibid., 2004.

[47] Asafa Jalata, “Gadaa (Oromo Democracy): An Example of Classical African Civilization,” Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.5, no.1, March 2012, p128. See also Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, (New York:  Plenum Press), (1985), p262.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Evil Days. 30 Years of Wars and Famine in Ethiopia. An African Watch Report, 1991. Africa Watch Report, 1991:65-67.

[50] Svein Ege, Class, State, and Power in Africa: a Case Study of the Kingdom of Shawa (Ethiopia) about 1840. Aethiopistische Forschungen 46, Harrassowitz Verlag, 1996, p147

[51] Ralph E Birchard notes “… Entoto Mountain ridge is where the city began and the original development still contains two old churches,” pp162-165, see p162.

[52] Richard Pankhurst and Denis Gerard, Ethiopia Photographed, (London: Kegal Paul International, 1996), p94.  According to my informant, Maabre Goofee, the mountain called Tullu Ilen near the town of Ambiso, Dagam in Salale, was named after Lebena Dengel’s grandmother, Queen Eleni, one of the four wives of Zara Yacob (1438-68). Eleni was from a Muslim family. The Salale say “Saraa-Qum” to mean Zara Yacob, as his name is in Geez.

[53] Catherine Griefenow-Mewis and Tamane Bitima, Oromo Poetry Seen from Within,… pp42-43.

[54] Ibid.

[55]See Garrett Hardin’s metaphor of peasants’ sharing an open access field until the land is completely degraded, also taken on the level of urban folklore,” in  Garrett Hardin. “The Tragedy of the Commons.”Science, New Series, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (Dec. 13, 1968), pp. 1243-1248.  See Indiana University web page to the Digital Library of research on the definition of the “Commons,”  onhttps://dlc.dlib.indiana.edu/dlc/contentguidelines . See also Albert Kwokwo Barume  “Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Africa,” IWGIA Document 115,  Copenhagen 2010.

[56]Veronika Poklembovái et al., “Challenges of New Commons: Urban Public Spaces,”  Conference Paper, Governing Pooled Knowledge Resources: Building Institutions for Sustainable Scientific, Cultural, and Genetic Resources Commons, 1st Thematic IASC Conference on the Knowledge Commons, Sept. 12-14, 2012. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

[57] Poklembovái et al, (n.p.)

[58] Fasil Ghiorgis (Lecturer, Independent Architect), “Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development” (EiABC), Addis Ababa University Modernity and Change in Addis Ababa A Brief History of Addis Ababa  pp54-59, p54.

[59]See Kevin Shillington, ed., “Addis Ababa,” in Encyclopedia of African History: A – G.. 1, Volume 1, New York/London: Tylor & Franciss Group. (2005), pp23-26, see p23.

[60] Finfinne was settled as a military garrison divided into sefer (settlements). Fasil Ghiorgis notes that “a sefer is an area similar to a military settlement or camp, with a buffer zone in between.” Ibid, p54. He adds, “after the fire of 1892, which destroyed the old Ghebi (palace) and its environs, more ambitious construction activities began to emerge that expanded upon the previous facilities.” Ibid. p55.  This and other matters of environmental history, such as the traditional Oromo names in Finfinne, need further study. Some names of the different places in and around Finfine were:  Finfinne (Fountainhead) = Addis Ababa (New Flower); Burqaa Finfinne = Filwaha (Hot Spring); Birbirsa Yaa’ii Gooroo = Araadaa Giorges, later renamed Piazza under the Italian occupation (1936-1941); Chaffe Araara / Dalattii = Arat Kilo; Tulluu Heexoo / Dhakaa Araaraa = Grand Palace; Baddaa Ejersa = Ras Kasa Safer; Luqo Kormaa = Ras Birru Safer; Barro Kormaa = Ras Tesema Safer; Arbuu Irrecha = Ras Hayilu Safer; Adami = Semen Mezageja; Baabbo = Addisu Qera; Burqa Qoricha = Yeka Micha’el. See Ralph E Birchard, p162. See OLF Resolution, “Finfinne is the Central and Integral part of Oromia.” No. 005/stm-abo/2014.  (n.p). Available at


[61] Mikyas Tesfaye Aragaw, “Urban Open Space Use in Addis Ababa: the Case of Masqal Square.” Unpublished Master Thesis. Department of Landscape Architecture, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 2011, p6.

[62] p54

[63] ibid

[64] Douglas M. Crowe and Jeff Shryer, “Eco-colonialism: An Opinion from Sub-Saharan Africa,”Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Gaborone, Botswana. Available athttp://furcommission.com/eco-colonialism-an-opinion-from-sub-saharan-africa/.

[65]Oromia Facts, (Year Book)(Finfinne: Published by Office of the President, 2010);Central Statistical Agency (CSA) of Ethiopia, 2007. See also Alain Gascon’s “Shäwa, Ethiopia’s Prussia. Its Expansion, Disappearance and Partition,” in Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, ed. by Svein Ege, et al. (2009, 85-98).

[66] See Negaso Gidada, “A Tragic Consequence…,” p2. Cf. Bairu Tafla, Review. Peter P. Garretson. A History of Addis AbÃba from its Foundation in 1886 to 1910  452, Aethiopica 5 (2002), 252-254.

[67] Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 1995, Article 49 (5).

[68] Tesfaye Getnet, “Koshe Tragedy Could Happen Again,” in the Capital, Ethiopia, newspaper, March 20, 2017. Available at http://capitalethiopia.com/2017/03/20/koshe-tragedy-happen/#.WVOaVWjysgA

[69] Galanaa Garomsa, 2016. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isaZSb7E5zY

[70] E.T. Shikur. “Challenges and problems of urban forest development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,” inTrees, People and the Built Environment. Proceedings of the Urban Trees Research Conference, Birmingham, UK, 13-14 April 2011, p131.

[71] Bruce Bradshaw, Change Across Cultures: A Narrative Approach to Social Transformation, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), p240. See also Michael Jackson,  The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression and Intersubjectivity. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2002.

[72]This episode of People & Power aired from Saturday, February 21, 2009. Available athttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3vvy8xsqeM  (pub. 2009).

[73] Human Rights Watch. “Development without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia,” HRW, New York City, October 2010.

[74] Gurmessa Oljira Erena, “Investigation of Drinking Water Quality from Source to Point of Distribution: the Case of Gimbi Town,” Adduis Ababa University, M.Sc. Thesis, 2015, p1.

[75]“Oromia: Environmental Pollution,” at Oromo Studies Association (OSA) Annual Conference, 2009, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, August 1-2, 2009.

[76] Ibid.

77 Debbie Lee, Kathryn Newfont, The Land Speaks: New Voices at the Intersection of Oral and Environmental History, NY: Oxford U Press, (2017), p25.


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