The plight of Gumuz people, a.k.a the ”Shankilas”
There are five recognized indigenous people in Beni Shangul Gumuz state. These are Berta, Gumuz, Shinasha, Komo and Mao. The later two are small in number and live largely together in the lowlands of Mao-Komo special district. They speak Oromo and have close economic relation with the Maccaa gosas.
Shinasha are culturally and religiously, and physically (lighter skin complexion) inseparable from settler Amharas, Oromos (recent) and Agaw. They clearly see themselves within the ‘highland’ population. They don’t feel threatened by the ‘highlanders’.
The Berta are mostly Arabic speaking. They are Muslims and they see towards Sudan. They totally reject the ‘highland’ culture and politics. They see themselves more Sudanese than Ethiopian in fact, and they have second home in Sudan in case of conflict with ‘highlanders’. The case of the Gumuz is terrible. It is a tragedy. Between the years of 1830s to 1930s, two-third of Gumuz population were hunted down and sold as slaves. The Gumuz suffered slave raids from two fronts, the Abyssinian front from the east and Arab front from the west. The Berta avoided the Arab slave raids when they converted to Islam. The Gumuz did not convert. They are neither Muslim nor ‘highland Orthodox’. They are also physically district to the settler communities. Their plight continuous today.
The Gumuz used to occupy the entire lowland of ‘west of Abyssinia’. This includes Quara and Metema, where there are still small settlements of Gumuz. This is clearly depicted on all maps from as late as the Italian occupation time. West of Gumuz are Agaw people including Kimant and Awi. The relationship of the Gumuz with the Oromo of Matakkal, as the famous Gumuz scholar Abudulsemed H. Ahmed puts it, is much better and cordial, although contentious at times. Gumuz and Oromos built shared institutions (Kaku and Michu) to resolve their differences and coexist. And they are still using these institutions.