In Defence of Haile Fida: The accusation does not hold water.
By Mootii Baarboo
In separate informal conversations, two people recommended that I read professor Fikre Tolessa’s book entitled, “The True Origin of Oromo and Amhara” (a rough translation from Amharic). The book was a revelation with the author claiming, from beginning to the end, that his ‘hallucinations’ were supported even though there was no substantial evidence. It is not my intention here to review the book as this would be tantamount to wasting time. However, I am compelled to comment on the Professor’s misguided accusations about the late Haile Fida. It is really sad to see the living accusing the dead (who cannot defend themselves) with false and fabricated allegations.
On pages 97 – 98, Fikre accuses Haile Fida of being a Whiteman’s collaborator who spent his time preaching maxxee haimanot (an imported religion, namely Protestantism or Pentecostal, Christian denominations) in Wollega. This accusation does not hold water for Haile was never known as a preacher of religion. What is known about Haile Fida is that he left Wollega at a tender age when he completed Grade Eight and joined the General Wingate School in Addis Ababa. His history tells us that he had been a teacher for one year after his completion of secondary school education and before joining the university. We also know that he had been a lecturer for one year before winning a scholarship and travelling to France to pursue postgraduate studies. So, can the Professor enlighten us when and in which church Haile Fida had been a preacher of maxxe Haimanot? It would have been plausible if our learned Professor accused Haile of being a Marxist who was against religion, maxxee haimanot or otherwise, for Haile was one of the leading leftist individuals involved in the Ethiopian politics in 60’s and 70’s. Now, even if Haile had been a preacher of maxxee haimanot, why should he be accused of distributing the Word of God? Of course, the professor ostensibly says Haile Fida was a preacher of a maxxee haimanot in Ethiopia for which he should be demonised. The question I’d like to pose to the professor is: which religion in Ethiopia is not a maxee?
The two main religions (Christianity and Islam) are strictly speaking both maxxee haimanot (coming from outside). The concept or accusation of maxxee haimanot (as far as I know) was coined and used by derg cadres in 1970’s to persecute the Pentecostal denomination. It appears that our Professor has not moved on with the times and is still persecuting people for being Pentecostals or of a Christian denomination other than the Orthodox Church in the present Ethiopia where, at least, people are free to worship any religion they choose. Come on Professor, remove the word maxxee haimanot from your vocabulary, especially whilst spending most of your life in the Whiteman’s country whom you unjustifiably blame or look down on throughout your book for reasons that lack a grain of truth. Surely, an academic as esteemed as a Professor is expected to not make false statements but true comments that can be verified and supported with evidence.
In your book in the pages mentioned above, you demonise Haile Fida whilst praising Onesimos Nesib. True to your colour, you even gave Onesimos the title of Pastor when you referred to him as Pastor Onesimos. Was Onesimos really a Pastor or can you bestow any title on people posthumously? The two individuals (Haile and onesimos) have contributed much to the development of the Oromo language and culture in their own ways. But what beggars belief is that you tolerated and even praised Onesimos who you were aware of translating the Bible into afaan Oromo and taught what you referred to as maxxee haimanot. You did this because he used the Ge’ez script in his translation of the Bible. Your hatred of Haile mainly emanated from his use of the qubee in writing in Oromo in general and the publication of his grammar book in particular. I think it would have been fair if you devoted your argument to this aspect rather than accusing him of collaborating with and helping the Whiteman to teach maxxee haimanot.
You touched upon the reasons why Oromo should abandon the qubee and adopt the Ge’ez. What you fail to mention is how Onesimos himself was persecuted for writing in Oromo, even using the Ge’ez script. Now that the Oromo, through the sacrifice of their fallen heroes, have gained the right to decide how to write and use their language, you have suddenly appeared on the stage to tell them which script to use and how to write their language. Aside from the notion of who should decide which script to use in writing Oromo, your linguistic, political and social reasons are one-sided or half baked. For example, apart from a few points such as the Ge’ez script has a symbol for this or that Oromo sound, you do not give any insight into other linguistic, social and political aspects as to why Oromo is better written in Ge’ez or qubee. It is evident that your main reason (discussed throughout your book) is that the Latin alphabet is foreign and the Ge’ez is home-grown and, therefore, Oromo should adopt the latter. But again you fail (or do you deliberately avoid) to mention the fact that the Ge’ez script itself has shortcomings rightly commented on by various re-known Amharic writers. In any case, you did not need to defame Haile Fida to justify your own conjectures.