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Deepening Cultural Integration among the Cushitic Peoples in Ethiopia
By: Wolassa L. Kumo
The Nubian civilisation predates the Kemetian (Egyptian) civilisation. Archeological records point to artifacts as old as 300,000 years in Nubian lands. Archeological evidences of Nubian pottery dates back to 5000 BC. The Cushitic civilisation of Kerma four and a half millennia ago, the Napata-Meroetic civilisation dating back to the beginning of first Millennium BC, the Agew civilisation of 922-1270 AD are of epic significance in Cushitic history and culture.
Historical evidences also indicate that
the Cushites and the Omotic peoples were the first to domesticate
plants and animals in ancient northeast Africa in particular, the
ancient Cush land or the present day Ethiopia. Two prominent endemic
crops in Ethiopia today, Teff and Enset, were first domesticated by
the ancient Cushites (Aithiopians). The Cushites have been
pastoralists, semi-pastoralists, and sedentary agriculturalists for
at least the past seven millennia and this has significant bearing
on the evolution of their cultures.
In Aithiopia, the Agew and the Sidama (including the ancient Sidama sub groups) settled in the present day Eritrean and Ethiopian highlands while the Oromo, Beja, Saho Afar, Somali occupied the lowlands (hence the name low land Cushites) since at least 7000 BC. The Oromo inhabited the vast territory from northern Aithiopian lowlands to southern Aithiopia since antiquity. In this regard, Tesema Ta'a (2004 ) quotes Christopher Ehret (2002) who "clearly indicates that the period between 3500 and 1000 BC was marked by a continuous expansion of the Kushitic population in Northeastern Africa in general, and the Ethiopian Highlands, in particular. He further explains that the plains and grasslands along the Ethiopian Rift Valley floor and the southern edge of the Ethiopian Highlands became the domain of the two groups of Lowland Eastern Kushitic peoples, namely the Konsoromo and the OmoTana". Like all other Cushites, the Oromo are the indigenous inhabitants of the Horn of Africa who had developed their own distinct identity in the first millennium BC. This rich history of the Oromo society has often been distorted in modern Ethiopian literature. The most cynical of this distortions is the so called "history of the Oromo migration of the 15th and 16th centuries". The Oromo had never migrated anywhere. Like all other Cushites, the Oromo people had always moved from one corner of Cush land to another since antiquity. The Sidama and its sub groups had moved from what was known as the Lake Hayq region in today's northern Ethiopia to south central highlands towards the end of the Aksumite period. There was nothing unique about the movement of the Oromo people from one territory of Cush land to another in the 15th and 16th century or today. Any attempt to indicate otherwise would amount to a fabrication of history to denigrate a society.
Instead it were the Agazian and the Habshat tribes of southern Arabia who migrated to the Cush land in Horn of Africa beginning around 1000 BC. They settled initially as traders. Gradually they succeeded in subduing the indigenous Cushitic peoples and assimilate them into the Semitic culture in northern Cush highlands. This led to evolution of ancient hybrid civilizations such as Aksum from which mixed Cushito-Semitic tribes developed. In spite of their mixed origins these tribes became linguistically and culturally Semitic. These tribes later created what was known as the Agazian kingdom by the people themselves and the Abyssinian kingdom by the foreigners. Therefore, the 3000 year history of Ethiopia we were taught at schools refers only to the history of the Agazian kingdom not of the Cushitic kingdoms, which, as we have seen earlier, were much older. The Agazian kingdom did not succeed in subduing all the Cushites in the vast territory in the Horn. It was only King Menelik II who for the first time in 1880s and 1890s conquered and subdued the vast majority of the indigenous Cushitic and other inhabitants of northeast Africa creating a new empire state of Ethiopia. Indisputably therefore the history of today's Ethiopia (Imperial Ethiopia) is only 120 years old. It is important therefore to understand that the Biblical Ethiopia does not refer to the Imperial Ethiopia of 120 years. The Biblical Ethiopia refers to the ancient Cush-Aithiopia of 9000 years.
Most of the Cushitic peoples of northeast Africa live in modern Ethiopia today. As indicated earlier, these include Oromo, Somali, Sidama, Afar, Agew, Hadiya, Maraqo, Kambata, Halaba, Xambaro, Qewena, Konso, Burji, Gedeo, Saho, Darashe, Daasanach, Arbore and Bayso of the Giddicho island on Lake Abbaya. The Oromo people are the single largest Cushitic group and ethnic group in Ethiopia. According to the 2015 population estimate by the Central Statistical Agency, the population of Oromia was 33.7 million accounting for 37.4% of the total population of the country. The Somali are the second largest Kushitic group in Ethiopia with 5.4 million people in 2015 followed by Sidama with the population of nearly 4 million in 2015. Afar, Hadiya, Agew and Gedeo each has population above 1 million while the remaining Kushitic nations have population as small as 5500 (Bayso) and 10,000 (Arbore) and as big as 856,167 (Kambata) (See Table 1). [ Table 1: The Cushitic Peoples of Ethiopia 2015 ]
The Central Statistical Agency of
Ethiopia reports the population of the Hawassa town separately from
the population of Sidama. The Hawassa town is the administrative
capital of Sidama as well as the Southern Region. Where on planet
earth would the population of the administrative capital of a
society be deducted from the population of the society? Hawassa has
been inhabited by the Sidama people for at least the past 1000
years; since the time the ancient Sidama people moved from northern
highlands to the south central part of the country. It was inhabited
by the semi-pastoral Sidama population. In the same manner the
history of the Oromo people has been distorted, we observe today, in
the 21st century, an attempt to distort the history of Sidama and
its land, Hawassa. Hawassa was founded just in 1960, 55 years ago,
by the feudal regime. The space for urban buildings were acquired by
dismantling the Sidama farms and cattle enclosures known in Sidama
language as Hoowe. Today, some attempt to hoodwink us that Hawassa
was built on a barren land and "no one settled on the land 55 years
ago". Come on! Time to fabricate history to denigrate societies is
over. Hawassa, also known as Adaare, has been a Sidama settlement
for over a millennia and will remain the Sidama land for ever. Since
time immemorial when a Sidama child cries for milk, the mother would
sooth the child by saying: "Ado lali Adaare no", meaning, "The milk
cows are in Adaare (Hawassa), my baby." The fact that the Sidama
people have welcomed people from different ethnic groups to live in
the land peacefully has been misconstrued as giving up the right,
which would not benefit any one ultimately.
Nonetheless, the Cushitic groups have been politically and economically marginalized since the creation of the Ethiopian Empire at the end of the 19th century. The Cushitic peoples of Ethiopia are numerical majority but are cultural and political minority in their own ancient homelands. They are what I call a silent and invisible majority. Moreover, underdeveloped literary culture and dependence on oral history may have contributed to fading memory of ancient and glorious common heritage. This has often led to artificial rivalry between the various Cushitic groups for grazing lands and artificial territories. In addition to the assimilationist strategies, the politically dominant Semitic groups have employed the friction amongst the majority indigenous Cushitic population in the country to further divide and weaken them. The Agew reasserted Cushitic hegemony for 375 years between 1922-1270 AD. Nonetheless, they were ambushed alone for more than 2000 years and were defeated and almost entirely assimilated into the Tigray and Amhara population. This was partly because the Agew, who were politically more advanced ancient Cushites, were unable to conquer and unite the Beja, the Afar, the Oromo and the Sidama Cushites.
Central Cushitic (Agew) languages are spoken in Eritrea and Ethiopia
by the various subgroups of the Agew people. The Central Cushitic
includes: (1) Blin in Eritrea with about 100,000 speakers; (2) Awngi
in the Amhara region of Ethiopia with about 500,000 speakers; (3)
Khamta (Xamtanga) in the same region with about 230,000 speakers and
(4) Kemant (Qimant) in the same region with over 1,700 speakers. The
Qwara Agew has become extinct due to the migration of the entire
speakers of this dialect to Israel. Most of the Agew are also
bilingual and speak both Amharic and Agew. The total population of
the Agew speakers in Ethiopia is over one million people.
The seven largest East Cushitic language speakers in Ethiopia are, Oromo, Somali, Sidama, Afar, Hadiya, Gedeo and Kambata. Most other languages are spoken by few hundred thousand people or less. Most East Cushitic languages are spoken in Ethiopia. Others are spoken in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea.
4. Afaan Oromoo as a driving force of cultural integration of the Cushites in Ethiopia
Therefore, Afaan Oromoo provides a unique opportunity to deepen cultural integration among the Cushites of Ethiopia. The most important question that follows is the modality of the implementation. The first plausible approach would be to conduct further studies to determine the current state of cultural and linguistic integration among the Cushites of Ethiopia. This could be achieved in either of two ways: by creating a new forum for study of Cushitic languages and cultures by independent Cushitic scholars or by utilizing the existing Oromo studies institutions. The studies will identify gaps and propose methods of intervention and resources required to address these gaps. While this is a more formal and sustainable approach to tackling a fundamental socio-cultural development problem, it requires prolonged consultations and consensus building which by their very nature can only be achieved in the long run. Nonetheless, as a famous macroeconomist, John Maynard Keynes, once said: "In the long run, we are all dead."
most pragmatic approach would rather be to use a combination of
formal and informal channels to sensitize the Cushitic societies
about the importance of deepening cultural integration among various
Cushitic groups in the country. The process could begin with the
Cushitic quartet: Oromo, Sidama, Somali and Afar, who not only share
significant cultural and language heritage but also long common
geographic borders. The cultural sensitization could begin, for
instance, with formal or informal exchange visits of cultural groups
among the four societies. This could include exchange visits of
drama groups, music bands, from the four groups as well as Gadaa and
Luwa heritages leaders from Oromia and Sidama.
Another more formal mode of cultural integration would be through the education system. This will entail the introduction of Cushitic languages in all schools in Cushitic language speaking regions and zones in Ethiopia as additional language courses. Since it would be impractical to introduce all the 18 Cushitic languages as additional languages courses in all schools in Cushitic language speaking regions and zones in Ethiopia in the short to medium term, Afaan Oromoo would be an obvious choice.
5. Afaan Oromoo as a language course in all schools in Cushitic language speaking Regions and Zones in Ethiopia
Education is by far the most effective and sustainable tool for advancing socio-economic and socio-cultural development. Educating a child is educating the future leader of society. Deeper cultural integration will not be realized without enabling the current generation of our peoples to understand and speak our languages. There is no better way to achieve this than introducing major Cushitic languages as additional language courses in primary and secondary schools across all Cushitic language speaking regions and zones. As the most widely spoken Cushitic language across the Horn, Afaan Oromoo is an obvious choice as additional language course in Sidama, Afar, Somali and other Cushitic language speaking territories in the country. Once this has been successfully implemented, other major Cushitic languages such as Somali, Sidama, Afar and Hadiya could be gradually included as additional courses outside of their native areas.
is not an unrealistic proposal. The major Cushitic language speaker
in particular Oromo, Somali and Sidama, adopted Latin Scripts
decades ago. This was made official following the 1991 change in
government. Since the Latin Scripts more accurately capture the
morphology, phonology and syntax of all Cushitic languages, teaching
any Cushitic language to any Cushitic language speaking child would
not cause an additional burden. Cushitic children will understand
any Cushitic language faster and easily.
of human societies has shown that it is impossible to unite a
country by a barrel of gun forever. That is why empires crumbled
throughout human history. Nonetheless, it is possible to unit a
country through the will of the people who live in it. That will can
only be there when there is a level playing field for everyone to
take part in the building of a particular territory. Today, in
Africa we have dozens of countries where more than two official and
national languages have been adopted. In South Africa, all eleven
languages in the country are official languages. Did South Africa
disintegrate because it adopted eleven official languages? Far from
it. One of the most celebrated achievements of South Africa's
democracy is the adoption of all the languages in the country as
official languages. A country of eighty ethnic groups can learn a
lesson or two from South Africa and many other African countries.
Article Source: afroarticles.com
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