Repression through time in the eyes of sympathetic ‘Ferenjis’
We are free today, at least partially anyway. And it is important to remember repression of our people through time.
Often times most of us believe white folks who visited the then Abyssinia as official missionaries, emissaries, travelers or ambassadors had bias against Oromos. It is mostly true, they were told by their Abyssinian hosts so they wrote what they were told. HOWEVER, they were few odd ones who went out and observed for themselves and wrote the reality.
Among these few people with integrity and honesty are Herbert Weld Blundell and Reginald Koettlitz who published their travel report to Ethiopia in 1890. Their description of the state of the country (the repression of Oromos) is very different to most guests of that time who were hosted by the Abyssinians. Their anthropologic observation shows the subjugation of our people right after the conquest.
Please mind the language. While the description is accurate, the language use should not be judged by today’s academic standard.
The Gallas were probably the aboriginal inhabitants of the country prior to the advent of the Abyssinians; they are said, however, also to be immigrants. They have been conquered, and are held in subjection by the help of firearms, which
their conquerors take care they shall not obtain, and by this device they are kept in a position of distinct inferiority and abject servitude. They are without doubt a much purer race, have fine lithe figures, though spare, and Lave regular, handsome European-like features. Their hair is crisply curling, similar to that of people of Jewish stock. The hue of their skin varies from a light copper-colour to that of chocolate. They divide themselves into many tribes, according to the district, yet speak a similar language (though, as mentioned by Mr.
Weld Blundell, there are several dialects). It was interesting to me to find that our Somali servants (which accompanied us through the whole of our route), could understand, they told me, some of the Galla words used by those people inhabiting the extreme south-west of the country, bordering upon the Sudan, and it points distinctly to a relationship of not very distant date. Other travellers have noted similar facts, I find. That they are of a similar race scarcely admits of doubt,
for in feature and build they very much resemble each other. The Somali is darker coloured, however, his skin being of a dark brown to almost black tint; but this is ?ccounted for in the fact that he inhabits a more arid, hot, and desert tract of country, and lives perhaps a more outdoor life, because of his nomadic habits, and thus the sun has acted more upon his skin than upon that of the Galla.
The Galla lives a settled life, has his permanent hut, either among a cluster in a village, or else occasionally apart upcn land that he tills. His villages, like those of the Abyssinians, are invariably placed upon the summits or near the summits of hills, which keep him out of the heat of the lower lands, free from mosquitoes and consequent fever, as well as serve for the purpose of look-out and defence. They are the producers and cultivators, being an industrious folk. Around their villages and huts a tract of cultivated country can always be seen, with flocks and herds grazing near. There is no doubt that, if they were not so oppressed and taxed, they would produce more, but the only thing taxed in, Abyssinia appears to be the produce of industry, that of husbandry, manufacture, and trade, the result being that these suffer. The Gallas grow cotton, spin it into thread by a peculiarly delicate spindle, and weave it into cloth. Wheat, barley, teff, pepper, coffee, tobacco, vetches, beans, and peas, etc., I also saw cultivated by them.
Their huts are similar in shape to the Abyssinian, but, especially in the west, the arrangement of the interior is somewhat different, there being no inner circular wall, only a partition, somewhat back from the door, passing straight across the floor space, sufficient room only being left for use as a doorway; this divides the room into two, the outer acting as a porch, and as a place for keeping household necessaries, while the inner is the cooking part and women’s quarter, and where also are the beds, which are screened off by wickerwork hanging screens.
The Galla is said to be pagan, and to worship a god which is in some way connected with a tree or rock. The Abyssinians, however, so despise the Galla, that our interpreters (who were Abyssinians) would not condescend to inquire, or could not obtain the information we asked for. It is possible, also, that, being an ignorant people themselves, they could not comprehend what really we wished to know.
As we moved along our route it was often pitiable to see the servile manner in which the Galla bowed and did homage to us or to our Abyssinian escort, and points to a savage oppression which does no honour to the Abyssinian. Evidence of their dependence and oppression was not wanting in other respects en route, for it could especially be seen by the domineering manner in which a Galla (man, woman, or boy) would be told to give up some of his possessions which he might be carrying. If he did not comply or attempted to remonstrate, it was forcibly taken from him, he was maltreated and knocked down, and his goods confiscated, at least in part. They are evidently in great fear of their conquerors, and have no rights. Because the Galla smokes, which he does from tobacco grown in his garden, out of a kind of long hubble-bubble pipe (with water under the bowl), the Abyssinian does not, for he despises too much anything practised by a Galla.
Others give another and religious reason-” because tobacco is born in the tomb of Arius,” and is therefore accursed
Blundell, H.W. and R. Koettlitz, A journey through Abyssinia to the Nile (continued). The Geographical Journal, 1900. 15(3): p. 264-272.