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EthiopianReview.com | October 1st, 1992
By Fikre Tolossa
indicate in this paper some of the personalities of Oromo descent
exerted extraordinary influence on Ethiopian history and
governments. The Oromo were important figures throughout the last
four hundred years. Crowned as emperors and empresses and granted
military and nobility titles, they directed many of the historical
close contact between the Oromo and the Ethiopian monarchy occurred
when Prince Susenyos, born in 1571, was captured in his youth by the
Boren tribe in a battle. This was the beginning of a relationship
that marked the political and historical future of
Prince Susenyos learned the Oromo language and grew up in accordance with the Oromo culture. The Oromo treated him amicably as a prince amongst them.
He joined his relatives at the age of eighteen when he was retrieved in exchange for Oromo captives. When Atse Sertse Dengel died in 1597, some people who feared that Susenyos would ascend to the throne tried to kill him; and he returned to his old friends, the Oromos, for protection and shelter. They welcomed him as a prince once again, and even made him their leader. With the help of his Oromo soldiers, he fought many battles against the Amhara who took over the throne. He was crowned in Gojjam in 1604. He garrisoned two Oromo regiments, Ilmana and Denssa in Gojjam, and made his Oromo soldiers Chewawoch (equivalent to Neftegnoch) over the Amhara peasants. Ilmana Denssa exists to this day as the name of an area in Gojjam.
Atse Susenyos trusted only his time-tested Oromo soldiers. He promoted a number of them to high ranks and filled his palace with them. At times he was so busy with his Oromo friends that he hardly found time to see the Amharas. Inspite of this, some of his Oromo followers who had seen him as their leader felt betrayed when he became an Amhara emperor and left to fight him. The rest remained loyal to him and served him until the end. Even though the Oromo became part of the ruling class during the reign of Atse Susenyos, it was not until the first three decades of the 18th Century that they were able to sit on the Ethiopian throne directly.
Oromo empress of
Emperor Iyoas appointed Oromos to higher positions like Emperors Susenyos and Iyasu did. He preferred his Oromo kinsmen from Wollo to the Gondere relatives of his grandmother, Empress Mentewab. He brought his Oromo uncles Lubo and Birele from Wollo, and made Lubo his inderasse (viceroy), and appointed Birele as a dejazmach and governor of Begemdir. This was the third time in Ethiopian history when the Oromos and their language dominated the court of an Ethiopian emperor.
A Yejju Oromo
chieftain by the name of Ali Gwangul, popularly known as Ali The
Great, defeated Atse Tekle-Giorgis I, Emperor of Ethiopia in 1784
and became the ruler of
another Yejju Oromo named Grazmach Gugssa, later called Gugssa The
Great, became Ras and reigned over Gojjam, Lasta, Begemdir, Semen,
Yejju and Wollo from his capital city Debre Tabor. Upon his death in
1825, his son Ras Imam or Yemam succeeded him and reigned over
Dembia and Quara, the birth place of Emperor Tewodros II in Gonder, were ruled by another Oromo, Dejazmach Alula, the eldest son of Ras Gugssa.
After the death of Ras Alula, his son Ras Ali ruled Gonder. His widowed mother was Weyzero Menen, the daughter of Liben Amede, an Oromo ruler of Wollo. When Atse Yohannes III married her she became Itege, and as such, and Ethiopian empress.
Tewodros subdued all the Ethiopian princes in his effort to unite
Ras Gugssa’s grandsons, Merso and Betul (The father of Empress Taitu, Emperor Menelik’s wife), were important noblemen of Oromo descent. When Ras Ali was defeated by Ras Wube, Merso and Betul captured Wube. As a result, Ras Ali rewarded Merso with the governorship of Semen. As the brothers were heading for Semen, Ras Ali changed his mind and arrested the brothers for a while. After a short while he reconciled with them and made them governors of some districts in Gojjam.
Ras Betul had
a son named Wele. Emperor Menelik II favored Wele so much that he
promoted him to Ras and appointed him to be the governor of Gonder
and Yejju. Ras Wele Betul was one of the heroes of the Battle of
Adwa. Ras Wele’s son, Ras Gugssa married Queen Zewditu, the daughter
of Emperor Menelik, who became the empress of
of Wollo, whose name had been Muhamed Ali before he was converted to
Christianity, was the Oromo king of
empress of Oromo descent who played a vital role in Ethiopian
politics and history in the 2nd half of the 19th Century and the
beginning of the 20th Century was Taitu Betul, the wife of Emperor
Menelik II. It is true to say that she reigned with Menelik in that
unforgettable era of Ethiopian history. She was Menelik’s counselor,
as well as policy maker in many state affairs. As a matter of fact,
it was she who encouraged Menelik to fight the Battle of Adwa
against the Italians, in order to save
Dejazmach Wolde-Mikael Gudissa was another great nobleman of Oromo descent who ruled Gola, near Ankober in Shoa. Negus Sahle-Selassie, the great king of Shoa, was his grand father. Emperor Menelik was his cousin.
The Oromo also functioned as military and administrative leaders. Fitawrari Habte-Giorgis Dinegede, was an Oromo who was raised to noblehood by Emperor Menelik II who esteemed his merit very highly. He became a counselor in the government and commander-in-chief of the Ethiopian army in 1896 at the end of the Battle of Adwa. Even though many prominent Amharas, including Liqe-Mequas Abate, wished to be in that post, Menelik appointed Fitawrari Habte-Giorgis.
Fitawrari Habte-Giorgis was known for being a wise statesman who played a vital role in Ethiopian politics. It is true to say that it was because of his influence that Lij Iyasu was replaced by Tefferi Mekonen (Haileselassie I). Had he not been loyal to Emperor Menelik, he had the power and influence to crown himself after the overthrow of Lij Iyasu.
Dejazmach Balcha Aba Nefsso was another great Oromo general who fought in the Battle of Adwa. He ruled Sidamo and Harer and died at the age of eighty fighting against the fascist Italians in 1936.
Ras Gobena Dachi was one of Emperor Menelik’s highly revered generals. As the commander Menelik’s army, he participated in several military campaigns to the south. He was famous for being a great military strategist. He is the most controversial figure among Oromo intellectuals. Some Western-educated Oromos do not even want to hear his name blaming him for conquering the south. Others defend him stating that, after all, he was a great soldier who believed in Ethiopian unity, and who acted in a fashion appropriate for his time to achieve that goal.
recent example of Oromo
genealogy involves Empress Menen Asfaw and her husband Emperor
Haile Selassie. The last Oromo Empress of
A leader of an Oromo descent who reigned over Ethiopia longer than any monarch was, believe it or not, Emperor Haile Selassie I, whose given name was Teferi Mekonen. His father Ras Mekonen was the son of Dejazmach Wolde-Mikael, the governor of Gola, near Ankober, who was the son of (Ato?) Gudissa. Teferi Mekonen was reputed for being fluent in the Oromo language, even though he spoke it only when the need arose. I believe his mother Yeshimebet Ali, too, was an Oromo whose father was a Muslim. The name of her mother is said to be Wolete-Giorgis. It seems that HaileSelassie was not interested in having the genealogy of his mother revealed for reasons known only to himself. Maybe, it was to conceal the fact that his maternal grandfather was a Muslim. That could be one reason why his biographers, when he was still alive, mentioned only his mother’s first name dropping her father’s name.
There was a rumor that she was a Gurage. However, as I pondered upon the name of her father Ali, I suspected that Ali was an Oromo from Wollo, as there were a number of Alis from there who played a vital role in Ethiopian history. As I posed this question to an elderly lady who happens to be a relative of Emperor Haileselassie, she informed me: “I have heard that Ali was an Oromo from Wore Ilu, Wollo, where my relatives come from. The mother of Yeshimebet was indeed Wolete-Giorgis. She had a half-sister by the name of Mamit Balcha. Balcha was an Oromo.”
these facts we can see that those leaders who ruled
In spite of
these arguments, one fact still remains unchallenged.
Tolossa, Ph.D., is Assistant Dean of Faculty at
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