Yammutti Jabanakooti

By: An Oromo Woman who lived in late 19th century
This story was told a generation or so after Menelik’s army invaded Western Oromia,?probably in the late 1890s or early 1900s. The neftegna brought with them a new economic system (gebar) that reduced the Oromo to near slavery. They also brought a new way to braiding hair (shurrubba). Under gebar system Oromos lost their land and cattle, and they were forced to serve neftegna families by working household chores. All told, oromos fell under the yoke of slavery.

According to my source who heard the story from his mother (now deceased), there was an elderly woman who used to have wealth (measured in cows) and had large grazing land for her cattle. When the invading army of Menelik ravaged her village, this woman lost all of her possession. To add insult to injury, she along with her daughter-in-law were forced to grind flour at the home of the local neftegna chieftain. The daughter-in-law didn’t have memory of the good old days.

In those days it was customary for Oromo women to sing while grinding, the same way Oromo women sing lullabies to their infant. The woman noticed that her daughter-in-law doesn’t sing like other Oromo women. She asked her why she doesn’t sing to which the young woman answered that she doesn’t know any song.

The mother in-law was saddened by the response. She realized where it is all heading to – first you loose the battle, then you loose wealth and freedom, finally you loose your culture and identity.

She wanted to teach her daughter-in-law how fast their fortunes had changed for the worst. She also wanted her to understand the gravity of the system that reduced her to servitude in the household of the ‘masters’. She asked the young woman to leave the grinding to her and listen carefully.

While grinding the old woman sang the following:

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Yammutti jabanakootii

Ameeyyi shantaman raasa

Jabbi shantaman bobbaasa.

Moojitti jabanakeeti

Mataa gad-deebisa footee

Gadaa gad-deebi’a gootee

Yoo qabaatteef si warasu

Yoo dhabdeef si garafu.

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Explanations:

  1. Lines 1 to 3:the woman tells that she used to milk 50 cows and she had full authority over her grazing land.

  2. Line 4 – shows her disdain for the current system, by saying “this is your era, not mine”.

  3. Line 5 – Oromo women (married) used to wear afro hair (high) which was replaced by shurruba (low)

  4. Line 6 – rule by Gadaa system was lost after the arrival of the neftegna

  5. Line 7 – the wealth of the Oromo was confiscated by the neftegna

  6. Line 8 – the poor were also mistreated (as far as lashing) and injustice was prevalent

    What do we learn from these few lines? How does it relate to the current system of land grab that the TPLF regime undertook? Is it different from “Yoo qabaattef si warasuu” Is the OPDO much different from the daughter-in-law as it couldn’t even voice the pain of the people it claims to represent?

    Are the OPDOs also being deprived of its culture and purpose like the poor young woman? Do they need some lesson to remind them of the good old days under Gadaa rule?

    We would like to express my gratitude to my source who is helping to preserve the story of our people. Similar contributions are welcome.

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