THERE ARE NO PEOPLE CALLED “SIDAMO”: STOP THE USE OF “SIDAMO” MISNOMER
October 4, 2007
October 4, 2007
Time and again the Sidama people have rejected the use of the derogatory term “Sidamo”. The term was a deliberate fabrication by the invading Abyssinian soldiers of King Minelik as part of the campaign to humiliate, undermine and subjugate the newly conquered territories in the South of the country.
This article is motivated by the outrageous statements made by Eremias Woldemikael during his email conversations with Kambata Xola of Sidama National Liberation organization (SNLO) regarding the Abyssinian occupation, subjugation and exploitation of the Sidama land. Eremias writes:
“When I was referring to Sidama and Oromo relationship, I was using the term ‘Sidama’ in a historical sense. Historians use the term ‘Sidama’ to refer to peoples that lived South of and including some part of Shewa. The term "Sidamo" is used to one of the ethnic groups of those peoples. As you may know the region was conquered by the Oromo during their expansion in the 16th c. For further information on the distinction between Sidama and Sidamo, see J.S. Trirmingham's Islam in Ethiopia pp. 179-185 and Mordechai Abir's Ethiopia: The Era of the Princes pp.73. By making this distinction, I hope you do not feel like I am trying to lecture you about your culture or ethnicity. I am simply trying to explain the context of my discussion”.
I am shocked to read the above statements in the 21st century. I agree with Eremias, on one point, however. Abyssinians do not know anything and do not want to now anything about non-Abyssinian peoples such as Sidama. They must be taught not only about democracy, respect to human dignity and the rule of law but also the fact that there are other proud nations in Ethiopia who have their own history, who know their history very well and who can articulate these at least as much as the Abyssinians do regarding their peoples. Who is Eremias to tell us who we are and who wrote what rubbish about us? We, the Sidama people very well know where we originated, when and where we first settled in Ethiopia and when and how we came to our present land. Quoting rubbish written on Sidama by foreign transcribers of Abyssinian rulers and telling us that the Oromos conquered us in the 16th century, which they did not, is as outrageous as it is a blatant distortion of our history. Our brief history is presented in the next section in case it may wake Abyssinians like Eremias up in the future. The origin of the misnomer “Sidamo” is elaborated in section 3 of the article. Section 4 presents other evidences of deliberate name changes by Abyssinian rulers in Sidama. Finally, section 5 concludes the article.
2 An overview of the history of Sidama people
The Sidama people live in the southern part of the present day Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. They belong to the people of Kushitic origin that occupy the vast area of north eastern and eastern Africa extending from the Sudan throughout the Horn of Africa to Tanzania. The most notable peoples of the Kushitic origin to which the Sidama people belong include, the Saho in Eritrea, Oromo, Hadiya, Afar and Somalis in Ethiopia; the Somalis especially the Degodai tribe both in Somalia and Kenya; the Randle and Sakuye in Kenya and many others in Eastern and central Africa. The Sidama along with Agew and Beja were the first settlers in the northern highlands of the present day Ethiopia before the arrival of Yemeni habeshas (Abyssineans). That was why the present day Ethiopia was called the land of Kush. The Abyssinian historians such as Taddese Tamirat themselves accept this fact.
At present the majority of the Sidama people live in the Southern part of Ethiopia with notable geographical features like lake Awassa in the North and lake Abaya in the South. The population of the Sidama land is about 5 million at present. However, during the course of great popular migration from North and East to the South of Africa, some Sidamas were left behind and were later scattered into different parts of the country and even beyond. One example of such groups of people related to Sidama includes those who live around river Dawa in South Eastern Ethiopia and North Eastern Kenya. The Dawa river was the turning point in the history of the migration of the Sidama people from North to the South. These people now speak Somali language and identify themselves as Digodai, the clans of which include several clans in Sidama. The most notable of these clans is Fardano whose name is maintained both in Sidama and Somali Digodai tribe with out slightest modification. Other people that have even greater affiliation to the Sidama people and its culture and language and that were only separated from the present day Sidama land most recently include Alaba, Tambaro, Qewena and Marako. These groups of the Sidama people live in the western vicinity of the present day Sidama land. This latter group of Sidama people are called western Sidamas. The transcribers of the Abyssinian rulers whom Eremias quotes as his authentic sources on Sidama were misled by the post Minelik Abyssinians writers into believing that there were two different groups of peoples called “Sidamo” and Sidama. That is not only absolutely incorrect but also absolutely outrageous!! I will show why in the next section.
3. The Origin of the Misnomer “Sidamo”
When Baalichcha Worawo, the last king of Sidama, made the Wuchale type treaty with Bashah Aboye, the general of Minelik and the leader of the invading Abyssinian army that first set its foot on the Sidama land in 1891, the latter asked the King of Sidama what the name of this people was called. King Baalichcha Worawo told him that his people were called the Sidama people. However, Beshah never used the name Sidama to refer to this people. This was because it was part of the policy of occupation and subjugation to humiliate the occupied territories by degrading their identity either by selling the peoples as slaves or using other humiliating mechanisms such as calling them with inferior names. Accordingly, Beshah and his soldiers refused to call the people in their real name and started to call them “Sidamo” which implied their inferior status now under occupation. However, because the treaty between Beshah and King Baalichcha failed to work, Beshah’s army was defeated and Beshah retreated back to Shewa. The Sidama land was free once again although it was for a brief period.
When Beshah arrived back in Addis Ababa, he reported to emperor Minelik that he encountered some people called “Sidamo” who repulsed his army. Thus the term “Sidamo’ was first coined by Beshah Aboye and his soldiers in 1891. That was how the term emerged. There have never been any people called “Sidamo” and there never are at present!!
Abyssinians had to change the direction of their attack on Sidama from the north western tip of Sidama near lake Awassa where Beshah was defeated by Baalichcha Worawo to the more remote eastern highland of Hula adjacent to Bale in the present day Oromia region. This time another general of Minelik called Leulseged (probably a Tigre due to his name) launched a massive military attack which was superior in armament and ammunition compared to the ordinary armaments the Sidama people then had to reoccupy the Sidama land. He successfully reoccupied the Sidama land and established his first administrative post in Hula which they later called Hagereselam town in the mid 1890s.
Later in 1890s Leulseged forced Baalichcha Warawo to join him in his campaign to conquer the Konso land, south of Sidama. King Baalichcha had no power to refuse to accompany Leulseged because he was now under occupation. King Baalichcha Worawo was taken to the Konso land wth the pretext of assisting the conquest and was assassinated there by Leulseged. His mule called Laango on which Baalichcha travelled to Konso came back home travelling an amazing distance of over 200 kms by its own. To date the Sidama people lament about Baalichcha’s assassination by saying that: “Warawo Baalichcha, diinu galafati ma manchi shaalicha. Gaangichosi Laango, Baalichchi gorena bae dagu gaango”, roughly translated as “ the enemy brutally murdered the beloved King of Sidama. But his mule escaped and came home alone!!”.
After the Conquest of Sidama, Gedeo, the Guji and Borana Oromos and other smaller Kushitic nations south of Sidama, the entire area of Sidama and south of Sidama including Wolayita and starting from Tikur wuha in Awassa town up to Moyale on the Ethiopian-Kenyan border was named the “Sidamo” province by the successive Amhara rulers until the early 1980s when the military Junta reduced the size of the “Sidamo” province by separating Wolayita and Borana from it. This province was dissolved when TPLF fabricated another pseudoregion called the South Ethiopia Nations and Nationalities and People’s Region in 1993.
The Wolayita people who bordered western Sidama land also resisted the Abyssinian occupation very strongly. After they were defeated, their King Xoona was captured by Minelik’s army and was taken to Addis Ababa and was killed there. Due to their fierce resistances, the Wolayita people were given the name of baria (slaves) and harshly mistreated by the Abyssinians. They were sold as slaves in the country. As a result of their resistance their name was deliberately changed from Wolayita to “Wolamo”. This justifies our previous argument that the name change from Sidama to “Sidamo” and its application as a name of a province that includes, Sidama, Gedeo, Burji, Wolayita, the Guji and Borena Oromos was a deliberate policy of humiliation. This was aimed at degrading the occupied nations and subject them to a psychological torture to tame them for permanent slavery. Until recently, the Wolayita people were called the “Wolamo” which is an out right derogatory and insulting misnomer. While “Wolamo” is less frequently used at present, we the Sidama people are being insulted by Abyssinians like Eremias Woldemikeal being called “Sidamo” in the 21st century. This is an abuse of the right of the Sidama people to be called by their right identity. If people like Eremias will not unconditionally stop from insulting us again by calling us “Sidamo”, we will regard this as a deliberate abuse of our right as a nation and refer the case to the relevant international human rights organizations.
Another outrageous statement by Eremias Woldemikael is the following:“Now, I understand you are concerned only about the Sidamo people who still very specifically use that term for their ethnicity. I have read some about them but I am open to any new information you can contribute to my knowledge of the people and their issues.”
Which people use the term “Sidamo” to refer to their ethnicity? We the Sidama people in Sidama land with the capital city of Awassa never called ourselves “Sidamo” in our entire history. The other Sidama people in Alaba, Qewena, Xambaro or Marakko never call themselves “Sidamo”. The Woalyita, the Gedeo, Burji, the Guji and Borena Oromos to which the name “Sidamo” province referred to never accepted that name and none of them used the term “Sidamo” before or now. So which ethnic group uses the term “Sidamo” at present? Where did Eremias read about this non-existent ethnic group? If Eremias is able to distort the truth at present while the Sidama intellectuals are providing the correct information about Sidama, one can imagine how his uneducated ancestors were able to distort our names and history in 1890s and thereafter. It is amazing how Abyssinians are unwilling to learn from their past mistakes and unwilling to accept the correct account of history other than the ones fabricated by their rulers and written by some foreign opportunistic transcribers who served as chroniclers of the Abyssinians kings.
4. Further Evidences of Deliberate Name Changes in Sidama
The use of the derogatory terms and name changes by invading Abyssinian forces was not limited to the fabrication of the derogatory misnomer “Sidamo” for the Sidama people, “Wolamo” for the Wolayita people and so on.
The settling Abyssinian rulers exercised a policy of deliberate name change on the Sidama people after their attempt to forcefully convert the Sidama people into orthodox Christianity in 1910s and 20s failed. The Sidama people rejected deliberate conversion to orthodox Christianity by lamenting this statement: “Xoomi yihero xoomi. Xoomiro xoomo gowwu doomi. Miniki giddo doogo nooni?” roughly translated as “If they ask you to fast, do it. Let the foolish do it. But is there any road through your house? Why do you even bother about it?”. The ingenious and most democratic Sidama elders used to organise the Sidama resistances through such poems which most of the time were very effective and successful. The Sidama people later accepted Christianity in the 1950s and 60s through protestant missionaries who brought some education and development projects with them.
Deliberate policy of name changes was part of the Abyssinians operation and subjugation. If a child was allowed to join a handful of schools built in Sidama before 1974 he was not allowed to use his Sidama name. In fact, the Abyssinian rulers forced the Sidama youngsters to go to Wolayita for primary school and the Wolayita youngsters to travel to Sidama so that these people will abandon their aim of getting education because of the high transport and living cost involved if they decided to travel to those distant places to get education. Is not this barbaric denial of the right of a child to have access to primary education? And yet Ethiopia used to boast to be part of the League of Nations and United Nations that guarantees the right of a child to have access not only to primary education but to primary education in their mother tongue. For instances, if a child was sent to a school in Sidama he was asked to come with a civilized name, i.e. of course Amhara name. Thus beautiful Sidama names such as Baxisso, Gabisso, Agana were all ridiculed and were replaced with Abebe, Bekele, Ayele so on. In case a child resisted or refused to change his name, then he was either denied school and any other opportunities or his name would be bastardised like “Sidamo”. In this case the Sidama names such as Dangisso were changed to a bastardised name of “Degsew”, Argata to “Argachew” and so on.
However, forced name changes came to an end with the 1974 revolution which abolished barbaric Abyssinian feudalism. But, of course, other forms of subjugations and oppressions continued until today.
5. Conclusion and Call for Immediate Halt in the Use of “Sidamo” Misnomer
There are no people in Ethiopia called “Sidamo”. The misnomer was invented in 1891 by the invading Minelik’s generals and soldiers as part of a psychological war to degrade and dehumanise the newly occupied land of Sidama and other peoples living around the Sidama land. The same dehumanising misnomer was used against the Wolayita people who were called “Wolamo”. Oromos were called with another derogatory name called “Galla” which in fact preceded “Sidamo” and “Wolamo” misnomers.
We ask all the Abyssinians living in Ethiopia and globally to stop using the derogatory term “Sidamo” which was coined by their invading ancestors. The continued use of this term only validates our arguments that Abyssinians are not the people to live with and the Sidama people be better off as an independent nation in east Africa. Do not add insult to injury by reminding us all the time what your ancestors did to us by using this humiliating term “Sidamo” .
The term “Sidamo” must be declared illegal both in Ethiopia and internationally and must be removed from all websites, other electronic and hard copy documents.
We also plead to the international community to stop using the misnomer “Sidamo” from today on and put pressure on the Ethiopian government to declare the term “Sidamo” illegal as it is illegal to use the term “Galla” and “Wolamo” any more. No people and individuals know better the history of the Sidama people than the Sidamas themselves. We are Sidama not “Sidamo” and no one else is “Sidamo” either.