Tesfaye Gebreab: The man who created the first Oromo main character in the history of the vast Amharic literature

by Hunde Dhugassa  | Aug 5, 2012

Author Tesfaye Gebreab

Many individuals, journalists, politicians, historians, academicians and leaders; from Ethiopia, neighbouring countries and from different corners of the world have written about the Oromo. This includes its history, politics, ability, value and nature. The time, objective, nature and fact differ from person to person. The objective of this brief note is not to give analysis on the subject matter but rather to summarize an hour presentation of one of the most famous and controversial writer on the issue of the Oromo.

Any ordinary Oromo from Ethiopia can without difficulty name two important non Oromo authors from its neighbours, having a positive contribution on the history and visibility of the Oromo nation: Professor Asmerom Legesse and Tesfaye Gebreab. Both are Eritrean by birth, but hardly know the effort of one another until recently. The work of Professor Asmerom started almost half a century ago in the Borana region of Oromiya, while that of Tesfaye started after the fall of the Derg military junta. It is by chance that the professor started the most celebrated research on Gadaa Democracy of the Oromo people, but Tesfaye’s historical and artistic contribution has grown up in and with him in the beautiful city of Bishoftu.

July 30, 2009; Professor Asmerom Legesse, Chairman and Research Director for the Citizens for Peace in Eritrea (CPE), while lecturing on society, culture, and development at the Eritro-German auditorium

Asmarom Legesse is an anthropologist, Ph.D. Harvard, Emeritus Professor, formerly of Boston and North-western Universities and Swarthmore College. He has conducted many years of field research among the Oromo of Ethiopia and Kenya. He is the author of several books including, Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System. He also wrote Gadaa: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society (1973). He is one of the few non-Oromo Hero to the Oromo people. We have dozens of articles, high level speeches and even Songs to honour his outstanding contribution.

After three decades, a young enthusiastic writer Tesfaye Gebreab emerged with “Yeburqa Zimita” a semi-historical novel surrounding the reflection and reaction of the Oromo people on the century old marginalization, discrimination and suppression which dates back to the annexation of the Oromo land by King Minilik II in the late 1890’s with the advice and logistical support of the then European leaders. The book in general has resulted in at least three opinion groups as far as Ethiopian audiences are concerned. The majority who think he did what he have to do as a responsible author. The second group who think the book is correct in all aspect but fear the detailed revelation of the facts might hinder future and continued coexistence. There is also a minority third group who think he is a destabilizing agent commissioned by these who don’t like the Ethiopian unity.

Tesfaye, describes himself in almost all opportunities as “Ijollee Bishoftu” literally to mean the Child of Bishoftu.  An Eritrean by birth but an Oromo by experience and attachment, Tesfaye has developed strong sense or Oromo value. Bishoftu city, his birth place; is located 47km south of Addis Ababa (Finfinnee), the capital city of the country, in Oromia National Regional State. But he clearly underlines he is not a man to compromise his profession by any attachment or fear. He firmly believes his works are only the products of historical fact, observation of the ongoing Oromo peoples struggle and channelling of these in to his professional commitment and responsibility.

At a Oromo community event organized in Harlem, The Netherlands on 14th of July 2012; Tesfaye was invited to give brief presentation of his work and his experience on the Oromo issues. He has also answered several questions from the audience. He specifically started by asking if anyone knows any Amharic literature that has an Oromo main character at its centre. After he observed a complete silence in the room, he said none have done so except his book “Ye Burqa Zimita”. That could be one of the reasons that explain partly the enormous but contradictory opinion with regards to the book. Even though, many authors have tried to insert Oromo characters in their works none have the courage to put them at the helm of their efforts. Tesfaye admits that the time has also played a great role. He noted famous authors including the work of Baalu Girma and Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedin. Baalu has named the most beautiful character with a typical Amharic name Lulit Tadesse; at the centre of his book called “Ke Admas Bashager” which he later revealed her with her real name Chaltu Tolasa. Lulit’s self-description in the book points to the highly touching fact that from the peer pressure, she thought her sensational beauty and glamour goes only with the then kings’ languages name Lulit rather than Chaltu. That is why she calls herself Lulit hiding her identity instilled in Chaltu. Additionally in his most read book, “Oromay” Baalu Girma introduced another Oromo character called Tadese Qoricha. Oromay has unfortunately resulted in his murder by the Derg military junta. Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedin has also described the Oromo invisibly relating it to the Awash River in his work known by “Awash”. He looks talking to the river itself, but a closer look reveals that he is referring to the Oromo as a nation. Both Baalu and Laureate Tsegaye are thought to be an Oromo in one of the other link of their family composition. The later was heard speaking fluent Oromo on one of his interview with the VOA Afan Oromo Service.

Tesfaye said he was thinking about Leenco Lata while he was framing Anole Waqo as a main Character of his book, Ye Burqa Zimita. Leenco an outspoken veteran Oromo politician at the center of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was known in the events leading up to the formation of the Transitional Government of Ethiopian (TGE) in 1991. He has authored several books and remains a very influential and controversial figure for his role in OLF joining and leaving of the TGE.

At the Harlem event, Aster Gemeda, an Oromo heroine for her unreserved contribution in the Oromo Peoples struggle for the last three decades and describes her experience of Ye Burqa Zimita, “as the only Amharic novel she finished reading” recommended, Tesfaye deserve to be called “Obbo Tesfaye” the Oromo equal word for “Sir Tesfaye”.

The writer, Hunde Dhugassa is a Lawyer and a Human rights activist, can be reached at jajjabee430@gmail.com