Tuesday, April 8, 2014

RAYA WOLLO (RAYA OROMO) PEOPLE: NORTHERNMOST CUSHITIC OROMO PEOPLE OF ETHIOPIA

The Raya  Wollo people, sometimes called Raya Oromo are agricultural and music-loving Cushitic Oromo people but now mixed with small amalgamated Tigre and Amhara bloodlines living in the Debubawi Zone of the current Tigray Regional State at the eastern edge of the Ethiopian highlands in Ethiopia.

                            Ethnic Raya Wollo girls from Ethiopia.  johangerrits

Historically, the Raya Wollo (Raya Oromo), with the Yejju Oromo, are the northernmost groups of the Oromo people and are a part of the Wollo Oromo Tribe. Their women especially are known by their distinctive hair-braiding styles and facial tattoos.
The Wollo Oromo (particularly the Raya Oromo and Yejju Oromo) were early Oromo holders of power among the increasingly mixed Ethiopian state. The later north-to-south movement of central power in Ethiopia led to Oromos in Shewa holding power in Ethiopia together with the Shewan Amhara. "In terms of descent, the group that became politically dominant in Shewa – and Subsequently in Ethiopia – was a mixture of Amhara and Oromo; in terms of language, religion and cultural practices, it was Amhara.
Man from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia. johangerrits

The official map of Oromia shown below includes the Raya-Azebo territory on its northernmost tip.
Oromia
Currently, Debubawi Zone/Raya-Azebo woreda (county) is bordered on the south by Alamata, on the southwest by Ofla, on the northwest by Endamehoni, on the north by Hintalo Wajirat, and on the east by the Afar Region. The administrative center of this woreda (county) is Mersa; other town in Raya-Azebo includes Weyra Wuha.
Despite their historic resistance against dominance (read any literature on Ethiopian history, the Raya Oromo revolt given below is mentioned as the first revolt against the Teferi government as early as the late 1920′s and as the predecessor of the Bale Oromo revolt), Raya’s ties with the rest of Oromia have weakened due to years of wars in that part of the region. Today, the challenge should be given to Oromo artists to produce music of the Raya in Afan Oromo; music serves as a cultural ambassador as well as a path to reconnect to one’s historic past (heritage). It’s also paramount that the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) set up a session during its annual meeting to deliberate on the history of Raya Oromo and on ways to bring about the renaissance of Oromummaa in Raya.
Raya Wollo man

Why the name Raya Wollo?
Wollo was an historical region and province in the northeastern part of Ethiopia, with its capital city at Dessie. The province was named after the Wollo Oromo, who settled in this part of Ethiopia in the 17th century. An older name for Wollo is Lakomelza.
Following the invasion by Britain that toppled Italian colonial authority in 1941, the provinces of Amhara Sayint, Azabo, Lasta, Raya Province, Wag, and Yejju were added to Wollo. A number of peasant rebellions rocked Wollo, which included the Woyane rebellion in 1943, and revolts of the Yejju Oromo in 1948 and 1970. With the adoption of the new constitution in 1995, Wollo was divided between the Afar Region, which absorbed the part of the province that extended into the Afar Depression; the Tigray Region, which annexed the northwestern corner; and the Amhara Region, which absorbed the remainder of the province in the Ethiopian highlands.
Young woman from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia. johangerrits

Northern Marginalization under Shewan Rule
 The northern provinces of Gonder, Gojjam, Wollo and Tigray are  the heartland of  the "core" culture of Ethiopia -- the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the Amharic language and script, plow-based agriculture, and many elements of the social system of the country derive from this historic region.  Most of the Emperors also came from here.
  At the end of the 19th century, the center of power in Ethiopia decisively shifted from the north to Shewa, with the assumption of  the  title of Emperor by Menelik, King of Shewa.  Menelik was an Amhara, from  the dynasty that  ruled Manz, at the northern  tip of  the modern province of Shewa.  The majority of the inhabitants of the rest of Shewa were Oromo -- as is the case  today.    In  terms  of  descent,  the  group that  became  politically  dominant  in  Shewa  (and subsequently in Ethiopia) was a mixture of Amhara and Oromo; in terms of language, religion and cultural practices, it was Amhara.  The northern Amhara regarded the Shewans as "Galla" (the pejorative  term  for Oromo), and together with the Tigrayans and  some of  the Agau and Oromo people in Wollo, resisted the new Shewan domination, which led to their economic and political marginalization.
Tatooed Wollo Woman, Mezan Teferi , Ethiopia © Eric Lafforgue

Revolt in Wollo
 Between 1928 and 1930 there was a rebellion -- or a series of rebellions -- in northern Wollo  against  Shewan  domination.   The  specific  political  cause was  support  for Ras Gugsa  Wale, a northern Amhara lord with a strong claim on the throne, against the Shewan Ras Teferi  (who crowned himself the Emperor Haile Selassie after defeating the revolt). The government  suppression of the revolt led to quartering soldiers with local people, interrupting the salt trade,  and  involved massive  looting and confiscation of cattle.   Combined with drought and  locusts,  the  result was  famine. Haile Selassie  ordered  the  importation  of grain  from  India  to  supply  Addis Ababa, but there was no relief for north Wollo. Political measures were taken after the revolt, including the replacement of much of the administration, which formerly had local roots, with  appointees  from  Shewa;  and  the  joining  of  the  rebellious  districts  to  the  province  of  southern Wollo,  which  was  ruled  with  harshness  and  venality  by  the  crown  prince. These helped to contribute to the further marginalization of the area, and the series of famines which plagued the area up to the fall of the Emperor.
  The  cumulative  impact  of  imperial misrule  and  the  petty  tyrannies  of  local  landlords created  an  atmosphere  in  which  development  was  extremely  difficult,  as  described  by  two consultants investigating the possibility of starting livestock projects:
  Wollo is virtually impossible ... there is such an obscuring weight of disbelief, suspected
innuendo and antagonisms; such a mess of mis-government at petty levels, and such a
lading  of  landlords  that  there  is almost nothing  to  start with and nowhere  to start  that
will  not  go  wrong  or  sour  ...  [there  is]  the  smothering  welter  of  the  weeds  of  an
entrenched and stagnant society.
 
The Weyane in Tigray
  Following the restoration of Haile Selassie after the defeat of the Italians in 1941, there was a  revolt  in Tigray.   Known as  the Weyane,  this was  the most  serious  internal  threat  that Haile Selassie  faced.   An alliance of  the Oromo semi-pastoralists of Raya Azebo, disgruntled peasants, and  some  local  feudal  lords, under  the military  leadership of a  famous shifta, Haile Mariam Redda, the rebels nearly succeeded in overrunning the whole province.4  British aircraft had to be called in from Aden in order to bomb the rebels to ensure their defeat.  While some of the  aristocratic  leaders,  such  as  Ras  Seyoum Mengesha,  were  treated  gently  and  ultimately allowed  to  return  and  administer  the  recalcitrant  province,  there  were  reprisals  against  the ordinary people.  Most notably, the Raya and Azebo Oromo were subjected to wholesale land alienation, and much of their territory was transferred to the province of Wollo.  This area was badly hit in subsequent famines, partly as a consequence.
Girl from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia. johangerrits

Tax Revolts in Gojjam
  Gojjam treasured its independence for centuries, and did not submit willingly to Shewan rule. The  issue around which opposition  repeatedly coalesced was any attempt by  the central government  to measure  land and  tax  it.   Taxation was not only  resented as  the  imposition of unjust exertions by government, but was feared as the means whereby the traditional land tenure system would be undermined, and the farmers' independence destroyed.
  In the 1940s and '50s there was a series of attempts to measure land in Gojjam, prior to taxation.  In the face of peasant resistance, including violence, all attempts failed.  In the early 1960s, only 0.1 per cent of the land had been measured, and Gojjam, one of the richest and most populous provinces, paid less land tax than the poor and thinly populated province of Bale.  In 1950/1 there was armed resistance, including a plot to assassinate Haile Selassie.  However the most  serious  revolt  occurred  in  1968,  in  response  to  the most  systematic  attempt  to  levy  an agricultural income tax to date.
  In  February  1968,  in  reaction  to  the  arrival  of  parties  of  government  officials accompanied  by armed  police,  the  peasants  of Mota  and Bichena  districts  resorted  to  armed resistance.  After months of stalemate while much of the province remained out of government control, Haile Selassie sent troops to Gojjam in July and August.  The air force bombed several villages;  it burned houses but  its main  task was probably  intimidating  the  resistance.   Several hundred people died, according  to contemporary accounts, but the Gojjamis remained defiant.
Finally, in December, Haile Selassie backed down.  He visited Gojjam in 1969, cancelled all tax
arrears, and made no serious attempt to collect the new taxes.

Famines in Wollo and Tigray
  In 1974,  the Emperor Haile Selassie became notorious  for his attempts  to conceal  the existence of  the  famine of 1972-3  in Wollo.   This, however, was only one  in a succession of such incidents.  Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam of Addis Ababa University has documented how the  famines  of  1958  and  1966  in  Tigray  and Wollo were  treated  with  official  indifference, bordering on hostility towards the peasants who were considered sufficiently ungrateful for the divinely-sanctioned  rule  of Haile Selassie as  to allow  themselves  to defame his  reputation by dying of famine.
  There was severe famine in Tigray in 1958 which went without significant government relief.  In 1965/6, reports of famine from Were Ilu awraja in Wollo arrived at the Ministry of the Interior in November 1965, one month after the situation became clear to the local police, but no action was  taken.   The  information  took  a  further  302  days  to  reach  the Emperor, who  then requested the Ministry of the Interior to act -- which it did by asking officials in Wollo to send a list of the names of the people who had died.6  A small relief distribution was then authorized.
The only consistent response to famine was to regard it as a security problem -- famine created destitute migrants, who needed to be prevented from entering towns, particularly Addis Ababa.
  Both the 1958 and 1965/6 famines killed tens of thousands of people.
  The famine that struck Wollo during 1972-3 played a crucial role in Ethiopian history:
"the revelation of that famine by the British television journalist Jonathan Dimbleby played a key
role  in  precipitating  the  downfall  of  the  rule  of Haile Selassie.   Between  40,000  and  80,000
people  died." The  famine  also  led  directly  to  the  creation  of  the  Relief  and  Rehabilitation
Commission (RRC), the powerful government department mandated to prevent and ameliorate
future famines, and to coordinate international assistance.  The 1972-3 famine was the last one
in which  there were  no  functioning mechanisms  for  the  delivery  of  large-scale  humanitarian
relief.
  The Wollo  famine was  popularly  blamed  on  drought,  a  backward  and  impoverished
social system, and the cover-up attempted by the imperial government.  These factors were all
important -- though it must be remembered that specific actions by the government, especially
after  the  Ras  Gugsa  and  Weyane  revolts,  were  instrumental  in  creating  the  absence  of
development.  In addition, forcible alienation of resources and violence also played an important
role.
  The  group  that  suffered most  from  the  famine were  the Afar  pastoral  nomads  of  the
Danakil desert.  Famine had already gripped them in early 1972.  The Afar inhabit an arid semi-
wilderness, utilizing pastures over a large area to support their herds.  In times of drought, they
are  forced to move  to areas which they do not normally exploit.   Traditional drought reserves
included the Tcheffa Valley, on the rift valley escarpment, and pastures along the inland delta of
the Awash  river where  the waters  dissipate  into  the  desert.    In  the  1960s  the Tcheffa Valley
became the location of commercial sorghum farms, and small farmers from nearby also began
to use much of the land.  Meanwhile, large cotton plantations were developed along the Awash.
 By 1972, 50,000 hectares of irrigated land had displaced 20,000 Afar pastoralists.
  During the years of good rainfall, the loss of the drought reserves was not noticed by the
Afar, but when repeated drought struck, they found that a necessary resource they had utilized
sporadically for generations had been alienated, without compensation.  Famine among the Afar
was certainly caused by drought -- but by drought acting on a society that had been deprived of
the means of responding to that threat.
  Official indifference to the plight of the Afar is illustrated by an incident in 1974, when
the flood waters of the Awash river were directed to the Dubti valley in order to irrigate cotton
plantations.  The resident Afar population was not informed, and 3,000 lost their homes, while
100 were "missing."
  Mobility is crucial to survival among the Afar.  Nomadic in normal times, the ability to
move freely over large distances becomes a vital concern when resources are short.  In the early
1970s,  the Afar's mobility  was  further  restricted  by  the  flow  of  weaponry  to  their  nomadic
neighbors  and  competitors,  the  Issa  (who  are  ethnic  Somali).    The  Issa  themselves  were
suffering from the alienation of much of their pasture and restrictions on their movement.  The
result was an attempt by  the Afar  to appropriate wells  formerly used by  the  Issa.   This  led  to
widespread armed clashes, especially in 1972.  One Afar reported "Many people die.  Disease is
the first cause but the Issa are the second."  Meanwhile, a survey done among the Issa reported
that homicide by the Afar was a major cause of death.  The famine also resulted in large-scale
armed clashes between the Afar and their Oromo neighbors in Wollo.
  The second group which suffered severely from the famine included farmers in a narrow
strip  of middle-altitude areas  of northern  and  central Wollo.   Those who  suffered most were
tenants.  The Raya and Azebo Oromo had been reduced to that state by massive land alienation
after they participated in the Weyane revolt against Haile Selassie in 1943.  Others were forced
to mortgage  or  sell  their  land  by  the  stresses  of  repeated  harvest  failures  in  the  early  1970s.
Landlords  took  advantage  of  their  tenants' penury  by  insisting on  the  payment  of  large  rents,
often in kind.   This demand could be backed up by  force, as most  influential  landlords had a
retinue of armed guards.  The enforcement of crippling tenancy contracts in time of shortage had
the effect of taking food from the hungry.  Thus, during 1973, the famine area exported grain to
the provincial capital, Dessie, and to Addis Ababa.
  The famine was much less severe in Tigray province, despite the drought affecting both
provinces.  The difference can be largely accounted for by the different modes of land tenure --
in Tigray, most farmers owned their own land; in middle-land Wollo, most were tenants.
Finally,  the Emperor Haile Selassie considered that the peasants and nomads of Wollo
were shaming His reputation by starving, and resolved to ignore them.  Reports of famine were
consistently  ignored  or  denied.    In  response  to  a  report  by  UNICEF  documenting  famine
conditions  in  July  1973,  the Vice-Minister  of  Planning  retorted:  "If we  have  to  describe  the
situation in  the way you have in order  to generate  international assistance, then we don't want
that assistance.  The embarrassment to the government isn't worth it.  Is that perfectly clear?"
  Though  the  governor  of Wollo,  Crown  Prince  Asfa Wossen,  was  both  greedy  and
incompetent  (at the time of  the  famine he forced  the closure of commercial sorghum farms in
the  Tcheffa  Valley  by  engaging  in  litigation,  claiming  their  ownership),  Haile  Selassie was
never  in  ignorance  of  the  conditions  in Wollo.   A UN  official visited him  in early 1973 and
found  him well-informed  --  his  attitude was  that  peasants  always  starve  and  nothing  can  be
done,  and  that  in  any  case  it was  not  the  Shewan Amhara who were  dying.   On  belatedly
visiting the province in November 1973, his one remedial action was to announce that all who
had sold or mortgaged their land in the previous year could return and plow it during the coming
season, only leaving it to their creditors afterwards.  Even this minimal and tardy gesture was
not enforced.
Portrait of a Man Holding a Christian Symbol, Bieta Golgotha, Lalibela, Wollo Region

The 1975 Northern Rebellions
  The Wollo famine contributed to the downfall of Haile Selassie, not because the hungry
peasants  and  nomads  revolted  and  forced  him  out,  but  because  the  issue  gained  political
currency among the students and middle classes of Addis Ababa.  However, that is not to say
that the famine, and more generally the eight decades of political marginalization and economic
stagnation that preceded it, did not have serious consequences at the time of the 1974 revolution
and the years following.
Man from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia.  johangerrits

  In  the  early  1970s,  "peasant  risings  in  various  provinces  [were] an even more closely
guarded  secret  than  the  famine".   These  revolts  intensified  in  during  the  revolution, with  a
series of rebellions led by feudal leaders in each of the northern provinces.  In Wollo, there was
a  revolt  by  a  feudal  lord,  Dejazmatch  Berhane  Maskal.    In  March  1975,  he  destroyed  an
Ethiopian airlines DC3 at Lalibella.  In October, he rallied supporters after a spree of killings of
former landlords by peasants and government security officers.  Dej. Berhane's ill-armed force
of 5,000 was defeated by government militia and air  force attacks near Woldiya in December
1975, but he continued to cause problems for the government for years.  Another feudal leader,
Gugsa  Ambow,  had  brief  military  successes  in  northern Wollo,  before  the  army  foiled  an
attempt  to  capture  Korem  in  mid-1976,  reportedly  causing  1,200  fatalities  among  Gugsa's
peasant army and local villagers.18  Other smaller revolts occurred in Gojjam and Shewa.
  The most  significant  rebellion  started  in Tigray.   This was  an  insurrection  led  by  the
former governor, Ras Mengesha Seyoum (son of the governor at the time of the 1943 Weyane).
 Ras Mengesha fled to the hills with about 600 followers in November 1984, when the Dergue
executed 60 officials of the previous regime.  Ras Mengesha combined with other members of
the aristocracy, notably General Negga Tegegne  (former governor of Gonder) and formed the
Ethiopian  Democratic  Union  (EDU)  in  1976.    They  obtained  encouragement  from  western
countries.  With Sudanese military assistance, the EDU occupied the towns of Metema, Humera
and Dabat (all in Gonder province) between February and April 1977,19 but was defeated by the
militia force sent to the province in June-July.
 Proud father with his daughter from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia.  johangerrits

  The  EDU  remained  active  in  Tigray,  where  two  other  rebel  groups  were  also
operational.  The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was set up in February 1975 by a
group  of  left-wing  students  and  peasants,  incorporating  the  Tigray  National  Organization,
created  three  years earlier.   Prominent among  its early  leaders was Berihu Aregawi;  later  the
front was  headed  by Meles Zenawi.    In  1978,  the TPLF  set  up  the Relief Society  of Tigray
(REST),  headed  by  Abadi  Zemo.    It  espoused  a mix  of  Tigrayan  nationalism  and  socialist
transformation.   The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), after defeat  in the urban
Red Terror (see chapter 6), retreated to a base in rural eastern Tigray in mid-1977.
  The EDU was rent by divisions between its leaders, and its aristocratic leaders failed to
gain popular support among their erstwhile tenants.  Crucially, it suffered defeat at the hands of
the TPLF.20  The EPRP was also defeated by the TPLF and driven into Gonder, creating lasting
bitterness between the two organization.
  After  the  ill-fated Peasants' March  of  1976,  the  government  launched  a  series  of  five military  offensives  in Tigray: November  1976,  June  1978, October-November  1978, March-
April 1979 and May-June 1979.  Small towns such as Abi Adi changed hands several times.  By
1979,  REST  estimated  that  50,000  people  in  Tigray  were  displaced  on  account  of  war.
Refugees from Tigray and Gonder began to arrive in Sudan in early 1975.  By May there were
34,000; by 1978  there were 70,000.    In February 1979,  the Ethiopian army  invaded Sudanese
territory at Jebel Ludgi, forcing the evacuation of the nearby refugee camp of Wad el Hileui.
Young woman from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia
Young woman from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia.  johangerrits

Dates and  Event of Raya Wollo (Raya Oromo) people          
1929: Oromo peasants and nomads in Yejju, Raya or Wajerat districts of present southern Tigray and northern Wallo revolted against the rule of Haile Selassie and refused to pay the heavy taxes imposed on them.  The government dispatched troops to put down the revolt.  The peasants with few arms they possessed were able to defeat the troops and capture a large quantity of arms and ammunition.  Additional arms were obtained by the nomads from the Red Sea coast in Tajura.

1929: The Oromo fighters of the revolt in Yejju and Raya controlled a large part of their area and closed the trade route that connected Dasee, the capital of Wallo, to the south.  In a battle with the government forces in October 1929, the Oromo fighters captured 2,000 rifles and 12,000 cartridges.

1930: Tafari Makonnen, throne name Haile Sellassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God and Emperor of Ethiopia, succeeded Zawditu to the throne.
Woman from the Raya wollo tribe.  johangerrits

1930: A large government force, led by the war minister, Mulugeta, arrived in Yejju and Raya regions.  The Oromo fighters put up stiff resistance.  The Oromo resistance was finally put down, although temporarily, mainly by the use of airplanes.  It was the first time airplanes were ever used in a war in the Empire.

1931: The first constitution of Ethiopia was introduced.  In this document the term "Abyssinia" was dropped in favor of "Ethiopia," thereby defining Abyssinians and all the colonized peoples as "Ethiopians."
woman from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia.  johangerrits

1935/1936: Oromo of Raya and Qobbo were fighting Haile Selassie’s army.  At one point, on April 3, 1936 near Ashange Lake, they almost trapped Haile Selassie himself fleeing from the Italians.  He never put his feet in this area again after that.  During the same period, the Oromo guerrillas attacked the retreating Ethiopian army led by Ras Mulugeta and inflicted heavy casualties.  They revenged his earlier (1930) aerial attack on them by killing his son; he himself narrowly escaped.  One of the reasons for the attack was, the Ethiopian army on its way to the war had looted the property of the Oromo communities.

1943: The Oromo uprising in Raya was temporarily suppressed with the assistance of the British Royal Air Force stationed in Aden.  Many of the leaders of the Oromo movement were also implicated in the Woyane revolt in Tigray in 1943.

1947/1948: The Raya Oromo rose up in arms again.  Again after they had liberated a large area of their land, the movement was stopped when the British Royal Air Force in Aden, at the request of the Ethiopian regime, bombed the Oromo guerrilla positions.
Young woman from the Raya Wollo tribe at Hayk market. Ethiopia.  johangerrits

Source: http://gadaa.com/oduu/2644/2010/02/28/documentary-on-the-raya-azebo-oromo-of-oromias-northernmost-territory/

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