May 22, 2013 (Far From Africa) — “No man is an island” is what I associate with Oromo culture. Oromo?! From where?! Oromia! Where?! It’s when I met Dhabesa, a journalist, from Oromia who is now living in Melbourne that I got to understand more about a not-so known country. Dhabesa and the Oromo community which he works with have the great ambition create the internationally recognized state of Oromia. According to Dhabesa, Oromia is a country located on the current Ethiopian territory but in search of government.
Now, why does Oromo culture make me think of this quote from a British metaphysical poet? When Dhabesa confides in me, he shares amazing principles of his culture that are far from the preconceived African-backward ideas and close to our new Western aspirations for a more harmonious world. In their religion “waaqeffannaa”, Oromo people live in harmony with nature. At a child’s birth, a seed is planted in the ground, at death, a tree is put in earth. Any living beings are respected and balance between human beings and nature is fundamental. In Waaqeffannaa there is only one god “Waaqaa” and other creatures including human beings who are connected to their mighty god through spiritual powers. As a young European woman I got particularly interested by the Oromo “Siinque”, a women’s organisation excluding men which has both religious and political functions. Their customary right allows them to carry out legal actions against perpetrators of women’s rights.
As surprising as it can be, Oromo and American people celebrate Thanksgiving. Now I imagine you raising eyebrows… Really?! How possible?! Unlike the Americans “Irreechaa” (Thanksgiving) is a non-religious celebration to promote a sense of belonging and cultural identity. Most of the Oromo festivals revolve around the survival of their identity despite the oppressive Ethiopian government. Oromo people represent about 40% of the Ethiopian population but for years they have been governed by a sheer minority (3%). In other words, a majority became a minority.
What is it like to fight for your ideas? In 2004 Dhabesa was at that time studying a Bachelor in Foreign Languages and Literature when he was arrested in his graduation year. He was sentenced to three years in prison and at his liberation, the recurring threats of reincarceration persisted. Persecuted, he fled to a Kenyan refugee camp and waited for a safer place. Luckily, the UNHCR sent him and his young children to Australia in 2009 as he recalls the exact arrival date. Today, not only is he dedicated to build a strong and united Oromo community in Australia but he also fights for his wife to join the rest of the family here.
He is still part of the world of journalism by contributing to the news on the radio and by compulsively reading them. But today he also aims to finish his studies in social services to eventually get a PhD in Social Science. “To work with the community, I want to empower myself and invest in knowledge”he asserts. Community development is at Dhabesa’s heart but he also shares his concerns to see members of the Oromo community being psychologically and emotionally weakened by the difference of environment. Back at home, “you are a majority and we are culturally and linguistically connected to each other. It’s easier to find support”. Understanding the difficulty in transiting from one habitat to another, Dhabesa puts his energy to orientating Oromo families and filling out the emotional gap. “Link up with your nearest community or anybody to get the chance to ask what to do to move forward. Don’t focus on one option and always look at all the possible options” he advised.