Being and Becoming: My Oromo – OLF Moments
(written for those who want to understand the relations between Oromo and OLF)
By Lelise Duga
Just from the title, I can imagine two opposite reactions. Hold your breath and follow me.
OLF is a symbol, a way of life and an interpretation of how the Oromos choose to live in the contemporary world. Oromo and OLF are almost inseparable identities.
I am not a specialist of any sort. Purely a generalist. Only trying to tell a story of my (almost four decades) journey of being and becoming Oromo-OLF.
I am sure the points I raised here can be written and interpreted from anthropological, philosophical, sociological, psychological perspectives. For now, take it as a simple narrative without any of the above frameworks.
It is also worth to note that I am not a member of the political party. I would have been if situations were different. I always regret the infamous split back in early 2000s. Still hurts me when I think of possibilities lost as a result. Still memories of the long waiting hurts.
Some relevant info
Born in Feb 1980 from Duga Jebessa Adessa (father) and Jorge Toyi Gutema (mother – her name later changed to Debritu Haile Michael Tesema by a step father just because he felt a beautiful girl does not deserve an Oromo name 🙂). Crazy right? But that was the story of many by then. Mere fact.
My parents are from Ambo. I am raised in Finfinne. All my years and schooling including university is in the capital.
The starting point
I am always fascinated by the amount of information stored or parked in our subconscious. Usually unrecognized until some sort of real time encounter catches us.
I think for me the starting points were more to do with stories I overheard, the early visits to the countryside, people visiting us, songs and dances I have watched till dawn. Looking back, I feel these early memories and exposures were my foundation for the Oromo woman I am today.
My memory even goes back to preschool 🙂.
‘Chocho’ filled with fresh foaming milk that was passed to me by my ‘Ako’ (equivalent to grandma in English) is still so fresh in my mind. I never forget the aroma ‘qorasuma’, the kind face of my ako or where I stood. The experience feels like yesterday.
I think my cultural induction continued for sometime. I was very inquisitive, loved life and anything to do with history.
The most exciting times for me were when I see my father’s friends, relatives coming over or me going to Ambo. Visits by any of these groups meant uninterrupted stories of student movements, adventures of getting involved in politics, or cattles stolen, hero like figures (🙂mostly to do with ‘shimel’), etc. Sometimes the story telling can be very dramatic involving ‘gerersa’ and cultural dances.
I must confess that I used to bribe 😊 uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews with ‘butule areqe’ so that I enjoy the unlimited access to stories and cultural dances. Those were the moments of pure countryside joy.
Ah, I tell you there is good life in simplicity. A humble and great one.
The first phase: early realization of identity
I was ten years and grade four student. Not a bad student as far as I remember. There was a boy a bit older than most of us who wanted to copy a homework. He asked if he can and I said no. He got angry and beat me shouting the word ‘gala’. I did not know what the word was or don’t remember I ever heard it until that moment. I remember reporting the incident to the school director. Went there with my nose bleeding. There was some punishment for the boy.
More than the pain from the beating, I carried the word he said and went home. Waited for my dad to come from work. I don’t remember how I shared the incident but I recall what I asked him.
❤️💚❤️ Dad, what is ‘gala’? The response – ‘you are not ‘gala’. You are Oromo!
The second phase: my introduction to OLF and the concepts (1995 to 1998 high-school years)
Songs and lyrics – by Ali Bira, Nuho Gobena, Zerihun Wedajo and the like were my first introductions into the concepts of freedom, equality and ‘sabonuma’. I remember the little and sometimes bigger-than-my-age questions. I owe big times to my mom and dad for the relentless explanations and translations. I owe it to friends of my parents whom I call uncles. Dima Abera Hirpa Kabeta Hirpa Abuand those who are not mentioned, thank you for your footprint in my life. You might not know it but you did.
Freedom, equality, self governance – were concepts I found fascinating however limited my understanding was by then. These are still my soft spots.
My children can tell you what my favorite movie is and why it is. Mel Gibson’s ‘Brave Heart’ – you see? The value of freedom, associated stories and equality has reached third generation 🙂. I am sure it will continue.
Language – was the difficult part. I desperately wanted to learn Afan Oromo. I gave it a try. Still working on it. I will continue until perfection🙂. I am a living witness though. Oromummaa is bigger than speaking the language.
Early 1990’s were the beginning of downward spiral for OLF. OLF has already left the country and forced to go underground.
I remember that the freedom flag and some written materials were no more allowed in the open. The hunt started. The open and proud discussions turned into clandestine groups. Sudden disappearance of people, jail stories, kidnapping and at times killings became the norm.
❤️💚❤️ Unlike the unexpected political landscape changes, the concepts got deeper in people’s heart. Mostly harbored by the young and educated.
The third phase: The path of religion and politics – new found passion
I loved God, had struggled a bit with best ways to reconcile my political views and spiritual understanding. Not that I had doubts, more because of external pressure and the environment I have been raised in. Every prayer and teachings I have attended had some elements of condemning ‘zeregninet’ or any perceived Nationalism. Especially in my church, identifying oneself as this and that apart from saying ‘I am semayawi zega’ was considered the sin of all times. You will be told you haven’t grown in Christ.
For me, I did grow 🙂 and found my balance. The more I studied the life of Jesus, the more I got comfortable with my views. He was all about justice, treating others right, loving others, doing right things. I checked whether my views contradict with any of these virtues. My assessment was none at all.
❤️💚❤️ I carried on.
The fourth phase: AAU 1999 to 2003
Oromummaa and sabonumma were the driving forces and sources of energy at that young age. Lots of student movements, protests and strikes.
These were the times that OLF the party broken apart, the repression got worse, many students fled the country, imprisoned, dismissed from campus, list goes on.
I think more than the rough times, the heart break came from OLF the party. So much disappointment and low morale.
I think that was the turning point where other alternatives started to be sought(not by me🙂).
❤️💚❤️Nevertheless, sabonumma continued to flourish. It got deeper by the day. There was little or no organizing party but the concepts of OLF were taking root. Intergenerational processes of passion transfer was happening due to the seeds of those great concepts.
The fifth phase: Adulthood (2003 to date)
In my view, the direct influence of OLF the party reduced while the concepts took root. The rest is history. A qubee generation (25 to 35)and the subsequent qeroo generation (15 to 24)came into this world after the party left. Note: the age categorization is my own interpretation.
These generations are perfect prototypes of Oromo Nationalism. They are born after the father left yet the best of a son or a daughter could ever be.
This phase was I think the darkest of all. Long waiting for some form of miracle. Things going really bad. Really worst times!
Hope diminished but was never lost!
I took part in the 2016 Irecha where more than 500 lives were lost. Watching the crowd especially the qerros was the most remarkable experience in my life. Youngsters below the age of 24 were main actors chanting the names of OLF and all freedom fighters.
❤️💚❤️ I knew then that Oromo consciousness had reached its peak. I realized no force could stop it. And that is exactly what happened! The rest is a history we all know well.
❤️💚❤️People survived dark times hanging on the symbol than the party. The concept kept us moving.
❤️💚❤️ OLF got bigger than the party. It became the definition of Oromummaa. It became a symbol of freedom, equality and self governance. It became part of us!
❤️💚❤️ OLF became the concept of any person, organization or political party that stands for the concepts of equality, freedom and self governance!