Nafxanyaa and Gabbar
By Zelealem Aberra, October 13, 2019
The very mention of Finfinnee, by Obbo Shimeles Abdiisaa, as the initial place where the once free cultural values of the Oromoo was broken by the Nafxanyaa system and also where the back bone of the system is at last broken after a long bitter struggle, caused a tremendous commotion and dust-raising, especially by those benefited much from that dead system.
I think much has been said about the semantical representation of the term, though much of our younger generation that use the social media as the main source of information do not seem to know how exactly the nafxanyaa system practically operated, and flayed the gabbar (serf) bone white. Therefore, the following are few historical accounts that could give a good picture of the bygone brutal system to our Qeerroo and Qarree. The type of exploitation is un-heard of. It was both in cash, in kind and in human labour that the nafxanyaa mercilessly squeezed the last drop out of the gabbar (serf) and his family. His wife has to grind grain, fetch water and fire wood; his children have to herd or look after the cattle, for the new landlord and his family.
It was this unbearable situation of servitude that the famous British Novelist and journalist, Evelin Waugh, after a couple of visits to Ethiopia which was then called Abyssinia wrote that the “peoples of the south and west were treated with wanton brutality and unequaled even in the Belgian Congo.” He said that the Abyssinian Imperialism “was not a question of a tolerable system being subject to abuse, but of an intolerable system…devoid of a single remedying element.” What the “Abyssinians imposed was, by its nature, a deadly and hopeless system.” Waugh in Abyssinia (1936:16). How does anyone with a normally functioning state of mind try to defend the bearers of such an humanly system?
The onerous burden of the Oromoo gabbar has captured not only the attention of foreign writers, but also that some domestic ones too. For instance, Asebe Hailu’s account, written in 1927 and cited in the work of the late Addis Hiwet (1975:20) entitled “Ethiopia: From Autocracy to Revolution”; and again cited by many Oromoo Scholars such as Prof. Mekuria Bulcha; Dr. Aseffa Kuru, etc. also gives a clear picture of the system. It is rather a long quotation, but, it gives a vivid picture of how a nafxanyaa robes the fruit of gabbar’s labour and finally, his unfortunate life too! It is read as follows:
“Three times in a year he (gabbar) surrenders 15 quna (baskets) of ground flour to the melkenya (Abyssinian governor) tribute in honey, and a tenth of his produce to the state. No sooner the peasant has unloaded the tribute due to the melkegna that the latter ‘conguadulates’ the peasant for having come just at the right time to be sent to the melkegna’s qelad (land) somewhere beyond the Awash from where the peasant is supposed to bring a load of tef (grain) . The toil-torn peasant supplicates, pleads and laments: ‘Oh sir, it is harvest time in our area and if I don’t do the harvesting now. Before the approaching rains, sir I will be finished, evicted, uprooted! Oh, sir! No heeding to his pleadings and lamentations. He must go to the qelad and collect the load of tef as the melkegna ordered! The peasant has no choice and he submits. Cursing, like the Biblical Eyob, his birth place, i.e. his very existence, he takes to his heels in the direction of the Awash. At the qelad the inevitable happens. The mislene (the governor’s representative) engages the peasant in the renovation of the melkegna’s house on the qelad. That takes a good whole week’s work. Only then does the peasant reach Addis Abeba with the load of tef, at Addis another task, another order! Endless! The peasant now collects the whole lot of grain – the one from the Awash qelad, which he would have had grounded into flour, and the one he himself had brought in earlier – and store them properly. While he does this he runs out of his own provisions and in the hope of keeping his belly full gorgeously moves after feast places – and comes back exhausted, sick and diseased. Like a sick old dog with his head resting on a heap of animal dung the peasant passes his last torturing and agonizing days below the fence of the melkegna’s compound. When at last he dies the melkegna’s household servants carry the body on a stick and after a few scratchy digs they ‘bury’ him in a a ditch. Oh! The donkey! No problem, somebody has helped himself to it as the peasant lay dying below the fence. A lady living nearby asks a lady of the melkegna’s household: ‘Sister, I saw a dead body leaving your household for burial today. Who could he possibly be? (…) “Don’t mind him, sister,” reports the lady from the melkegna’s household, “he is not human born, he is only a gabbar.”
It doesn’t puzzle me if an ignoramus arrant, no better than cannibals of the bygone ages applies or implements such a brutal inhuman system and defends it to death. But, hearing someone literate, or well educated and an honorary citizen of modern society; who enjoys all the fruits of science and modernity; who enjoys the benefits of western democracy, coming out roaring; and creating all that hullabaloo to defend something accursed, indeed shocks me!