Beautiful Sidama tribe woman from Sidama region, Ethiopia
Like other comparable communities, the Sidama people who are one of the most populous and persecuted tribes in Ethiopia trace their origins to common ancestors. Oral tradition had it that Sidamas descended from two ancestral fathers: Bushee and Maldea. The Sidama people believe they belong to Sidamigobba, the Sidama country.
Sidama cultural dancers, Ethiopia
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. That was why the present day Ethiopia was called the land of Kush. The Abyssinian historians such as Taddese Tamirat themselves accept this fact.
Sidama children from Ethiopia
The Sidama preserved their cultural heritage, including their traditional religion and language until the late 1880s during the conquest by Emperor Menelik II. Before this, the Sidama had their own well-established administrative systems that dated at least to the 9th century, though it was made up of a loose coalition of Sidama kingdoms. These kingdoms extended into the Gibe region.
Some people in Ethiopia and other historians refer to Sidama people as "Sidamo." 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 term "Sidamo’ was first coined by Beshah Aboye and his soldiers in 1891 when Beshah arrived back in Addis Ababa, to report to emperor Minelik that he encountered some people called "Sidamo" who repulsed his army. 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.
Location and demography
They occupy the vast area of north eastern and eastern Africa extending from the Sudan throughout the Horn of Africa to Tanzania. The Sidama nation is situated in Southern Ethiopia or the Sidama Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia where there is deep contest and conflict over identity, including the population size. The Sidama population is estimated to be 8 million.
They do not call themselves Sidamo, a term which confuses their name and suppresses their identity. The conquest and the suppression of their identity went hand in hand with underestimation of the nation’s numerical strength. Sidamaland has shared borders with Oromia in the northeast, Wolayita in the west and Gedeo in the south. The northern border extends from Lake Hawassa to Dilla town in the South. Te eastern boundary starts at Mount Garamba and extends westward to Bilaatte River in the West.
Waterfall in Sidama land
Total area of the Sidama land including the lands of the sub groups is estimated to be about 50,000 km sq. The major Sidama land is an extremely densely populated are with about over 460 people per sq. km. The capital city of the Major Sidama land, Awassa, is located 275 kms south of Addis Ababa. Land features range from low lands of about 1500 m a.s.l in the Great East Africa Rift Valley that cuts through lakes Awassa and Abaya up to 3000 m a.s.l in the eastern Sidama high lands of Arbegona, Bansa and Arroressa districts. The Sidama land is one of the most ever green and fertile lands in Africa. As a result, for centuries, the Sidama people led one of the most stable and self sufficient lives as an independent nation state in the north eastern Africa until the nation was annexed to the present day Ethiopia by king Minelik II in 1891. Before the annexation, the Sidama people lived in indigenous egalitarian and democratic social, economic, political and cultural systems.
Sidama (Alaba) people in Alaba Tembaro region.
Sidama people speak Sidaamu-afoo. Sidaamu-afoo is an Afro-Asiatic language, belonging to the Cushitic branch, part of the Highland East Cushitic group. It is spoken in parts of southern Ethiopia. Sidaamu-afoo can alternatively be referred to as Sidaama, Sidaamu, Sidaminya, or Sidámo ’Afó. Sidaamu Afoo is the ethnic autonym for the language, while Sidaminya is its name in Amharic. Although it is not known to have any specific dialects, it shares over 50% lexical similarity with Alaba-K'abeena, Kambaata, and Hadiyya, all of which are other languages spoken in southwestern Ethiopia. The word order is typically SOV. Sidamo has over 100,000 L2 speakers. The literacy rate for L1 speakers is 1%-5%, while for L2 speakers it is 20%. In terms of its writing, Sidamo used an Ethiopic script up until 1993, from which point forward it has used a Latin script.
The term Sidamo has also been used by some authors to refer to larger groupings of East Cushitic and even Omotic languages. The languages within this Sidamo grouping contain similar, alternating phonological features. The results from a research study conducted in 1968-1969 concerning mutual intelligibility between different Sidamo languages suggests that Sidamo is more closely related to Derasa (also called Gedeo) than other Sidamo languages.
Sidamo vocabulary has been influenced by Ge'ez and Amharic, and has in turn influenced Oromo vocabulary.
Sidama women of Titra Coffee Union, Ethiopia
One of the ancient Kushites, the Sidama people live in the southern part of the present day Ethiopia, with notable geographical features such as lake Awassa in the North and lake Abaya in the South. The Great East African Rift Valley dissects the Sidama land into two: western lowlands and eastern highlands.
During the course of the great popular migration around the first century AD from North and East Africa to the South of the continent, some Sidamas were left behind and were later scattered into different parts of the sub region. According to the Sidama oral history, during this course of popular migration, the first group of Sidamas reached as far South as the Dawa river, in the present day Ethio-Kenyan boarder before returning back to their present land.
During this period, the Sidama people were separated into 5 sub groups. These are: the Major Sidama group, Alaba, Tambaro, Qewena and Marako. The latter four Sidama sub groups currently live in the western vicinity of the present day Sidama land, out side of the major Sidama province. The current estimated population of the major Sidama and its sub groups is about 8 million people.
Sidama women of Alaba sub-tribe origin, Ethiopia
The Sidama Economy
The Sidama economy is based primarily on subsistence agriculture characterized by archaic production techniques. However, a substantial area of the Sidama land produces coffee, which is the major cash crop in the region. Coffee has been the major source of income for the rural households in the coffee producing regions of the Sidama land.
Sidama farmers exhibiting their coffee
However, the recent plunge in international coffee price drew most of these households back into the subsistence production and absolute poverty (coffee prices fell dramatically even during the commodity price boom of 2001 to mid 2008). Sidama is one of the major coffee producing regions in Ethiopia. It supplies over 40% of washed coffee to the central market. Coffee is the single major export earner for the country. Export earnings from coffee ranges from 60-67% although the country's share in the world market is less than 3%.
The Sidama people have never faced major hunger and famine until very recently. Due to reliable rainfall and evergreen land area, they were always able to produce enough to ensure food security. The society has been characterized by what one may call a low level economic equilibrium. Even the 1984 great famine that hit all other parts of the country did not have a major impact on the Sidama land. However, a continued dependence on subsistence agriculture, which relies on archaic technology and vagaries of nature coupled with massive growth of rural population, and limited rural development, made the Sidama land prone to frequent hunger and famine since recently. Thus, it is not surprising to see that, today, about one-fourth of the total population in Sidama is directly or indirectly dependent on food aid from the international community.
Other major crops produced in Sidama include Enset (also called false banana or Weese in Sidaamuaffo, Sidama langauge), wheat, Oat, maize, barley, sorghum, millets, sugar cane, potatoes, and other cereal crops and vegetables. Enset is the main staple food in Sidama. Apart from being the main source of food, parts of the Enset tree can be used as inputs in other economic activities like construction of houses, production of containers such as sacks, and for handling food items during and after preparation of traditional food. The pattern of Enset and coffee production and consumption over the years has substantially shaped the nature of the Sidama culture and hence the name, the Enset culture.
The role of livestock was highly significant in medieval and early 20th century Sidama society. However, recently the size of live stock has been dwindling because of two factors. First, a rapid increase in population reduced the size of grazing land for large stocks, and second, a severe 'Tse-Tse' fly disease in low land areas had virtually wiped out most of the livestock population during the last quarter of the 20th century. However, livestock is still the most important source of livelihood for people living in the peripheral areas of the Sidama land.
Although agriculture is a key to the development of the country, successive regimes failed to successfully transform the traditional agriculture in Ethiopia. The transformation of traditional agriculture as an engine of growth and development was emphasized by a famous American economist, Theodore Schultz (1964), who states that all resources of the traditional type are efficiently allocated, and hence the rate of return to increased investment with the existing states of the art is too low to induce further saving and investment.
Access to markets is another essential component of transforming the traditional agriculture. When the poor manages to produce surplus in one bumper season, they will not be able to sell the produce due to lack of access to markets. Consequently, during the next season the farmers are bankrupt and unable to sustain the previous level of production. This perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty in the Sidama land.
The recent Ethiopian Commodity Exchange is expected to alleviate such problems. However, its effectiveness depends on the ability of the rural poor to tap into such markets which are based primarily in major cities.
Forestry and fishery are underdeveloped in the Sidama area. Fishing activities are limited to the most prominent lakes in Sidama: lake Awassa and lake Abaya. Although Sidama has several perennial rivers, they have never been exploited. Commercial forestry is underdeveloped in the area, but Sidama is well known for its traditional agro forestry system which saved the land from erosion and desertification for centuries. Every household in Sidama practices agroforestry. However, this tendency has also brought a negative impact in recent times. Farmers began to practice planting Eucalyptus trees alongside other crops. Because the later plant has a poisonous effect, it destroys other crops planted under it. Most farmers are aware of the problem. However, the economic benefits of the eucalyptus tree outweigh the cost of losing small crops near it for individual farmers. However, it is generally recognized at present that this trend is dangerous for the overall environmental sustainability of the Sidama land.
Sidama is characterized by a very low level of industrial development. There are very few manufacturing industries in the land. A very few factories available in the area are all located in Awassa town and its environs. The government owned textile and ceramic factories are the only notable manufacturing activities in Sidama. A chip wood factory built in recent years and a meat processing factory in Malga Wondo are the only major private manufacturing activities in the entire Sidama land. Small scale manufacturing activities are highly underdeveloped. Agro processing, a natural system of industrialization in an agrarian economy, is totally absent in Sidama land except for some coffee processing plants.
The conventional agriculture development led industrialization involves the building of agro processing industries that process the local agricultural inputs that can be sold in domestic or export markets thereby adding value to the primary products. This plays a crucial role in reducing rural poverty. The poverty reducing impact of such projects is twofold: first, the market for the agricultural products is readily available at the door step of the producers. Second, processed products fetch better price both in domestic and foreign markets than primary products.
Mining is virtually non existent. Although Sidama is said to have a good potential of mineral resources particularly in the Great East African Rift Valley and the eastern highlands of the Sidama land, these resources are not yet exploited. An absolute lack of industrial development in the area characterized by massive rural over population, perpetuates the current higher unemployment, lingering poverty and overall underdevelopment.
The development of both economic and social services is very low. Economic infrastructure is severely underdeveloped. The Supply of electricity, water and telephone services has recently improved. However, the over all social and economic infrastructure is still severely underdeveloped. All whether roads are not more than 400 kms. Asphalted roads are non existent except for the 90 kms stretch of the Cairo - Addis Ababa- Gaborone road that dissects the land. The private financial services are beginning to operate in the area but are still insignificant. Trade and transport services are severely underdeveloped and limited mainly to very few urban areas. Trade activities in rural Sidama heavily depend on purchase and sale of coffee. The coffee slum of the past 7 years has severely affected these activities.
Sidama people of Ethiopia holding goat
There is a great tourism potential in Sidama land. The rift valley lakes like Awassa and Abaya are already some major tourist attractions in the area. However, the access to lake Abaya through Sidama land has been opened only recently and is not well developed and not open for potential tourists. The agro forestry and the mountain ranges of eastern highlands are other potential tourist attractions in Sidama. However, they have not been exploited so far.
Unemployment and underemployment is rampant. Out of an estimated total population of 5 million in major Sidama area, an estimated 3 million people are in the active labour force of which 70% are estimated to be underemployed or unemployed. Employment in modern sector is very much limited. The total estimated number of the labour forces employed in modern sector in Sidama is less than 1%. If properly utilized huge supply of labour can make positive contribution to economic development. As early as the middle of 20th century, development economists such as William Arthur Lewis, the first economist of African origin to win Nobel Prize in economics, have emphasized the potential of economic development with unlimited supply of rural labour. Lewis's (1954) paper on 'Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour', elaborates how the dual sector model can be successfully used in promoting economic development in poor countries with unlimited supply of labour.
The Sidama region is highly overpopulated. Land holdings have dwindled to less than 0.3 hectares per household due to population explosion. As a result extensive farming is not a viable option. To reduce the current massive rural underemployment,urban unemployment, and excruciating poverty, the region must implement a rapid and massive alternative income and employment generation schemes. This requires the formulation and implementation of a clear and comprehensive rural development as well as small and medium enterprise development strategy, changes in education and training policies, and an overhaul of the over all industrialization strategy in the region in particular and in the country at large.
The Sidama Indigenous Political System
The Sidama nation was administered by the Moote system. Moote is the system of administration where Mootichcha who is equivalent to a King, is nominated by the family and near relatives for the position. The nominated Moote (the King) is presented to a Fichche, the Sidama New Year ceremony, for Qeexala or popular demonstration. Qeexala serves both as approval and mass media to communicate the decision of the coronation to the general public. Then, the Mootichcha (the King) starts to carry out his duties and responsibilities. The Mootichcha is the head of political and administrative structure. The Mootichcha is assisted by Ga´ro, akin to king´s assistant, and hence next to the former in politico-administrative authority.
Sidama man, Ethiopia
Fichche is the most celebrated Sidama cultural holiday which represents the Sidama New Year. The Fichche is based on the lunar system. Sidama elders (astrologists) observe the movement of the stars in the sky and decide the date for the New Year and the Fichche celebration. The Sidama New Year is therefore unique in that it does not have a fixed date. It rotates every year following the movements of the stars. Sidama has 13 months a year. And each of the months is divided equally into 28 days while the 13th month has 29 days. This is because the Sidama week has only 4 days and hence each month has 7 weeks instead of the conventional 4 weeks. The names of the 4 days in Sidama week are called: Dikko, Deela, Qawadoo and Qawalanka to be followed by Dikko completing the cycle of a 4-day week.
The Moote and Ga´ro rule in consultation with the council of people´s representatives known as the Songo. The Songo is similar to the modern day parliament. There was a great parliamentary democracy in the Songo. Agenda for discussion was forwarded by every member of the Songo and decisions were made by the members and forwarded to the Moote for approval. The Songo did not have written constitution. It was guided by the oral constitution which was handed over by generations and was learnt by all involved by heart. Moote was involved in over all political and administrative issues of the society including defence, provision of justice, and the like.
Sidama (Alaba) woman, Ethiopia
The defence side of the administration is handled by Gaadana or war leader. The Luwa system which involves both administrative and cultural aspects of the Sidama society was mainly responsible for the defence activities of the society. Luwa is administered by an age grade system where each grade rotates every 8 years. There are five rotating grades in the Luwa system: These are: Darara, Fullassa, Hirobora, Wawassa and Mogissa. The Malga clan in Awassa district adds Binancha as the sixth grade.
In the Luwa system, recruits stay outside of their homes for about 5 months. During this period, the recruits carry out military training and training on war songs like Geerarsha which is a counterpart of Geerarsa of the Oromo people, another Kushitic group. Luwa is ruled by a democratic principle and its leader is known as Gadaana (different from Gaadana-war leader). The deputy of Gadaana is known as Ja´lawa. Under Ja´lawa comes Murrichcha (division leader) who during wartime leads Murassa an equivalent of a military division. The Sidama indigenous defence system was therefore fairly well advanced. This was because of the threat of constant conflict with the neighbouring tribes for more cultivable and grazing lands.
The Sidama socio-economic culture
The cultural affairs of the Sidama society is handled by the Woma system. The Woma system has its own council known as the Womu Songo. Woma acts like a cultural and religious leader. He usually performs Kakalo (sacrifices) and other cultural and religious rituals including marriage and circumcision.
There were also other independent socio economic institutions which reflect a unique and egalitarian culture of the Sidama society. Among such institutions the most notable one is Seera. The Sidama Seera system is divided into two: the first refers to the broad concept of Seera as a social constitution which governs the Sidama social life based on the Sidama moral code of halale (the ultimate truth). John Hammer, an American anthropologist who studied the Sidama society extensively, stated that the Sidama moral code halale, provides the basis for distinguishing "good" and "evil" and in the broadest sense the term refers to ´the true way of life´ (Hammer 2002). If an individual in a community is involved in wrongdoing but refuses to admit it or pay the prescribed fine, this may result in ostracism (Seera) where the recalcitrant becomes non-person as people refuse to work, eat or associate with him (Hammer 2002). Although there were no written procedures and enforcement mechanisms for Seera, individuals abide by it because of the fear of breaking the halale and being referred to God, by the elders, as a consequence.
The second concept of Seera refers to the narrower sub constitution created to facilitate cooperation among the community members in construction of houses. This type of Seera is usually referred to as Minu Seera (constitution for house construction). This is similar to the modern day constitution of building society´s but is more powerful because it is linked to the broader concept of Seera that is linked to the societal moral code of halale.
Another related Sidama social sub constitution is called Jirte. Jirte refers to the mechanism of community cooperation during death and other ceremonies. In Sidama, community members living in near by villages form one Jirte system. The Jirte system is comprised of 4-6 villages and is usually formed based on lineages. If a person dies, community members share the burden of looking after mourners until the mourning ends. The mourning usually takes one week. However, non Christian community members could organize remourning ceremonies based on the social status of the deceased. If a community member does not obey the Jirte system, he can be fined based on the principles of the larger Seera system. Jirte is a typical example of the present day voluntary community based organizations (CBOs).
The Sidama society also had unique systems of economic cooperation. The most notable of these are: (a) Dee-rotating labour contribution for farming, (b) Kotta- producers´ cooperatives, and (c) Shufo-rotating butter credit exclusively for women.
Dee is a voluntary arrangement to contribute labour during the farming season instead of farming on one´s plot individually. The labour pooling system usually involves manual digging of plots but can include oxen farming if all of the members have oxen and are willing to cooperate to rotate the farming. The labour pooling system starts with the elders in the groups and goes down to the youngest member. However, if any one in the system needs an urgent assistance, the members will skip the age based system of rotation. Dee is unique Sidama economic cooperation for which modern counterpart cannot be found easily.
The Sidama society also had what one may call an early form of cooperative movement called Kotta. Kotta is a voluntary farmers´ (producers´) cooperative and hence common ownership of given crops on a given plot of land. The Kotta can be limited to one year or can continue for several years and is purely voluntary economic arrangement. The output of the crops is shared among the Kotta members according to their contributions. The Sidama society had, thereof, had a model cooperative system in Kotta that could serve as an example of successful voluntary producers´ cooperatives.
The Shufo, rotating butter credit for women, is different from other economic arrangements in that it involves (a) commodity credit and (b) it is carried out exclusively by women. In Sidama society women could not own any property except butter. Therefore, when they are in a financial problem or have social occasions for which they need larger amount of butter, the other women living in the village can bring certain amount of the commodity and hand over to the needy women after taking the measurement of the size of the butter contributed by each woman. Another interesting feature of Shufo is that, not all women know how to measure the butter and keep the size of the butter each woman contributed in their memories for so many rounds. It needs exceptional talent to keep the size of each measurement in memory because none of the women involved are literate and can read and right. This was how the Sidama women fought both poverty and economic marginalization by men.
During those days land in Sidama was mostly owned privately. Every household had access to land and was able to produce enough for its needs. Land outside of the private ownership was owned communally and was called the Danawa land. The Danawas were administered by the local Songos and were distributed to newly married men and new comers based on their needs. Communal lands in Sidama were properly conserved.
In that way the Sidama society was able to maintain sustainable socio-economic and socio-political system for centuries. After the annexing into the bigger Ethiopia in 1891 most of these systems were disrupted.
God, spirits, and ancestors are the foundational elements of faith for the Sidamas and are the constitutive part of their life.
Belief in God
Sidama has a staunch belief in a supreme being and a creator God named Magano. The word magano is a compound word of ma and gano. Ma means "what" and gano has three meanings: as a noun it means conspiracy; when used as a verb it means I beat and I say or call or name. The approximate meaning of the compound word Magano can be "What can I call?" or "What can I say?" It indicates a deep experience of incomprehensible and incomparable God. It could be that the original person, unable to express the experience, resolved by calling Magano, "What can I say or call?"
Magano is addressed by the Sidamas as father. Other attributes for Magano are Kalaqa (the Creator), Kaaliqa (the Almighty) and Halalancho (the True One). There exists one, supreme, and universal Magano. He alone created all that a person could see around: humankind, nature, animals, birds, heaven, sun, moon, stars, and so on. The Sidamas make a clear distinction between God and their common ancestors saying that the ancestors were created by Magano. They say that "Magano had created and taken them away". Even during their sacrificial offering to their common ancestors Magano comes first before the ancestors' names.
An elaborate story of creation is not what is typical of Sidamas. Some clans attribute a mythical element and special power to their common ancestors, such as claiming a descent from heaven or emergence from earth. Yet every Sidama, if asked about the one responsible for creation, he/she automatically replies that Magano is the one who created all.
The Sidamas generally agree that in the beginning God used to live with people. As the result of sin they committed, Magano departed far away into the sky. Even then Magano is perceived as being actively involved in human life for which reason people continue reconciling themselves with God through sacrificial offerings until today. Magano is called daily in different situations. For instance, people say Maganu wolqai... (In God's power...), Magano anna’ya kaa’li’e (God, my father, help me), Maganu kaa’lona (may God help), and so forth.
The Sidamas possess no statues or images of Magano. For them Magano, though active in their life, cannot be represented. Generally Magano’s name is feared or highly respected and is not called for wrong intentions (e.g. cheating, telling lies, stealing). But one can observe some mischievous people or thieves swearing in Magano’s name to hide themselves from being discovered when they are suspected of such acts. Theft itself is a recent experience for the Sidama people.
There is no special day (like Sunday for Christians) for worshiping Magano. Apart from daily invocation of Magano’s name individuals such as the family heads make burnt offering for thanksgiving without any obligation or time set by a special authority. Communal burnt and sacrificial offerings take place at a particular moment and are dependent on the situations provoking them. More than offerings Magano demands good behavior because one often hears people saying "Do not do that for it displeases Magano" or "Magano will get angry". It is only the act of responding to Magano either in thanksgiving or asking forgiveness that people make animal offerings. The Sidamas see their Magano as a true loving father, the one who really cares for his children. They also experience Him as merciful and believe that He forgives their trespasses when they ask for forgiveness. Sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial lamb is a sign of reconciliation with Magano and with each other.
Belief in Spirits
The Sidamas believe that there exist good and bad spirits. The good spirit, dancha Ayyaana, is identified as God's spirit, as the spirit coming from God. This manifests how Magano is perceived as being present in the people's daily life. Maganu Ayyaana, God’s Spirit, is presented as real and playing the role of giving life and blessings. Without Magano’s name, the spirit is not mentioned. One can certainly think that the hierarchical structure that exists within the community (i.e. ancestors - clan elders and religious leaders - parents - children) reflects the degree of the presence of Maganu Ayyaana. Consequently, a common ancestor is conceived as having Maganu Ayyaana abundantly and is made like divine. He lives with Magano and plays the role of a mediator between Magano and his people. Tribal elders and religious leaders are also filled with Maganu Ayyaana.
The bad spirit, Busha Ayyaana, is also seen as real and is hated by the religious leaders and community elders. They curse it whenever they offer sacrifice to Magano. They command saying, Busha ayaana gobbatee ba’i (Bad spirit, go away from the world!) and Magano busha ayaana gobbatee huni (God destroy the bad spirit from the world". The term sheexaane is a borrowed name from the Christians to refer to the bad spirit and is widely used. The Sidama People also say that evil spirits can cause diseases but cannot cure them. Consequently, some Sidamas fear the evil spirits. The individuals called qaallo are seen as the medium of the bad spirits through which communication with them is enhanced. In order to avoid getting sickness some people give animals (male sheep or goats). These spirits have recognition only in a family setting and not in the community setting. There is no community acceptance of them.
There also exists a female spirit, belonging to mothers-in-law, prayed and honored by women alone. They make food offering to it, sing and dance (always at night and under a tree). They call it woxa. It is a cult of fertility. At child birth, mothers-in-law say: ane woxa tirtohe - let my spirit help you for safe delivery. Sometimes when a dream occurs telling of eventual dangers such as war or plague or drought, women also make an offering (always food) and pray to this invisible mother-in-law spirit. However, they never associate it with being Magano but see it as another existing reality. They are aware that Magano alone is the Supreme. At the same time they believe that this mother-in-law spirit can protect them from the evil spirits and help them during their delivery. The food offered is expected to be eaten by the hyenas in the absence of women. The significance of this requires further investigation.
Belief in Ancestors
The Sidamas believe that the ancestors live with Magano, who granted them special power to act. They play a mediating role. However, daily practice of praying to Magano directly or daily calling of Magano’s name and spirit renders the ancestors’ involvement superfluous and reveals Magano’s direct involvement in the life of the people. During the time of supplication Magano’s name takes precedence and that of an ancestor comes next.
Since the Sidama people are organized according to clans, the common ancestor of each clan receives special respect and is paid homage in terms of appreciation that the people came into existence through his instrumentality. The Sidamas, being a patriarchal society, attribute power and authority to men alone. Equal respect and homage is not given to women ancestors. Common ancestors are regarded as very much blessed and filled with Magano's spirit, living in a state of divine. A lot of animals are periodically offered to them as a sacrifice.
Apart from acting as mediators, the common ancestors are seen as blessing and protecting the people and their ethical and religious values. They communicate with their people through dreams and warn them against human abuses of the defenseless, animals, and nature. Whoever dreams a dream, if the dream touches a situation implicating a clan or the nation, spiritual leaders call their councils and examine the dream carefully. If they conclude that the dream truly touches the reality existing within the clan or the nation, they give directions to the people on what to do. They also make an offering to Magano asking for forgiveness and protection from the eventual dangers. The following example illustrates these points.
If an elder a from let say Holloo clan has a dream. The dream is carefully studied by the clan’s spiritual leaders called Gaana and Woma. These people are the consecrated ones. They offer sacrifices on behalf of their clans. Each one has his own council of elders (all men). They do not take any decision without the knowledge of their councils. In their councils' meeting they act as moderators. Gaana and Woma announce and execute the decisions of their respective council. They are very much respected and their words are taken seriously by their people. They live separately and each one has his own council. Yet they work harmoniously in such a way that whatever decision one takes, the other one does not oppose or act against it. There exists constant communication between them. Magano ask the common ancestor of Holloo clan, who is called Aabo, about the issue. The ancestor replied to Magano that he was going to ask his representatives, the Gaana and Woma.
The immediate dead parents also receive respect and veneration. A grand-father is also remembered. A person offers a bull for his dead father and to a certain degree he also remembers his dead mother. They are seen as being part of the family still living. They play a role of mediating, blessing, and protecting the family from misfortunes.
Thus far we have seen the elements of faith in Sidama Religion, we now proceed to the faith responses which the Sidamas make in their lives.
The Elements of Response in the Sidama Religion
Morality, prayer and sacrifice reflect the faith of the Sidama people. And this section explains what these elements are.
Morality and religion are identified in the Sidama culture so much so that outsiders may not recognize the existence of monotheistic religion in it. Consequently, they would easily regard the Sidamas as animists. Many of the missionaries have spoken and some have even written about the people as animists and today some still hold this idea with conviction. However, for a thorough observer and sensitive person, the opposite is true. For Sidamas, morality holds a holistic approach: relationship among individuals, with God, and vis-a-vis creation (land, animals, plants, trees, ...). The dictums, Gafo ikkanno and Maganu di-baxxanno (God does not like it), are the keys that regulate individual’s attitude towards the "other".
At all times a Sidama person would never fail to mention God's name. For example, Magano anna'ya ati afootto; Hai Magano anna'ya; Maganu lao; Maganu kaa'lo,... [in a respective order: God, my Father, You know it all; O God, my Father; May God see or witness; May God help,...].
One cannot find a commandment taught and imposed on the people saying that there is only one Magano to worship and everyone must worship Him. One does not receive or learn the values and practices of Sidama through formal teaching, but learns the ways of behaving and even beliefs and practices from elders through hearing comments about acts, following the elders, and also being reprimanded or physically punished if one acted in an unacceptable way. All passed through customary practices. In other words, the social structures contribute to the young ones to grow in conformity to the cultural values. Seeing, listening to, and following mark children's behavior. As they grow up they, consciously or unconsciously, assimilate and interiorize all the cultural values and practices. Grand-parents and mothers play a role in helping their children to grow in the socially accepted ways. Elder brothers and sisters also help their younger ones.
Elders are generally respected. There has existed a harmonious and supportive relationship between parents and children or the older generation and the younger one. However, today young people, due to different factors such as education, political ideologies, new fundamentalist churches and so forth are diluting the force of the relationship which previously existed between the two generations.
Killing a Sidama person by a Sidama is prohibited. Unfortunately, this value is changing because of the political motivations imposed from outside. For instance, if some people are seen as a threat to Ethiopian government, those who promote the interest of the government would seek to eliminate them.
Adultery and fornication have been also strictly forbidden. Virginity for a girl has been a value honored very much until today. It is considered a very shameful thing for the parents if their daughter is discovered to have lost her virginity. A virgin girl is considered as equal to a man. During marriage people talk of making a girl a woman as if she was never a woman. But if she is not a virgin, she loses her respect and pride, and under customarily setting, she often becomes a second wife and remains under the kindness of her husband. No dowry will be paid for the family. Today, however, because of education there is more relaxation and contact between boys and girls. The educated group does not put emphasis on virginity as a necessary condition for paying dowry and for marriage. As for adultery, Sidama people have lived according to family, sub-clan, and clan level. Those who belonged to one clan regarded themselves as brothers and sisters, and sleeping with the wife of one’s brother was unacceptable and a taboo.
Truth is highly regarded. The expression Halaale gorsitooti [don't abuse or diminish truth] carries with it a deep respect for truth. Maybe this is because truth is also associated with Magano. The people believe that a person who takes offence against truth will certainly suffer the consequence. This is manifested in the expression, Halaalu annasi di-hawao. The exact translation of the expression into English is difficult, but it implies that truth itself will take revenge against the offender and bring justice to the offended. It also means that the one who walks in the truth will win. This is a principal reason for respecting the property of others and refraining oneself from speaking false things. There exist, however, some dishonest people and thieves, who falter this value within the Sidama people.
The consecrated people practice three days fasting before the new year feast, Fichee. Customarily the Sidama people do not practice of fasting, and even the fasting of the consecrated people could be because of their being too busy reconciling and solving problems in the community before the new year.
A holy man is a man who avoids bad words and acts in a good (acceptable) way. He is respected and considered as being blessed and loved by Magano. Maganu maassi'no manchoti, Maganu battino manchoti, Maganu battino bettoti, Maganu maassi'no bettoti are the common expressions. The Sidamas consider Magano as fully involved in people's daily life. With this and other reasons which I have directly or indirectly mentioned, I conclude that for the Sidamas morality and religion are one. Fr. Markos Beyene, a Sidama priest, rightly observed and wrote in his unpublished article - 'A Christian Approach to Traditional Religion in Sidama Area"' - saying that 'the Sidama people see the direct action of God in creation more than the natural laws. Everything comes from God...the fulfillment and success in life is achieved only by the will of God (...). They believe that if people misbehave God goes away from them' [p.8].
Meaningful life is understood as doing good things and passing life (procreating). Every young man is expected to get married and beget children. This is very much valued.
Generally elders, the cimeeyye, try to live an exemplary life. Wherever hatred or quarreling exist the elders bring reconciliation. They solve problems; they take care of social affairs, look after the needs of the widows and the weak, and maintain justice and peace. Misbehaving results in disturbing a harmonious relationship that exists between God and the people, among the people themselves, and among them and their ancestors.
Apart from the consecrated ones (e.g., Ga'ro and Qqaddo) one has to be at least 50 years old and a circumcised in order to assume the position of a community elders. Ga'ro (Moote) plays the following roles: he organizes communal sacrifices if war or drought or plague occurs, commands the army during war, reconciles if two clans are at war or tension, takes decisions on issues concerning the whole clan, solves juridical problems which cannot be solved in sub-clan level, and announces the date of the new year feast, Fitchee, and makes prayer. Qqaddo is a collective name for Woma, Gaana, Gaadala, and Qqaarricha. Their roles are more or less the same but with some particularity to each one. Two of the Sidama clans do not have Woma. The Holloo clan has created a complicated organization. It has both Ga'ro and Qqaddo. Except Woma the rest of the Qqaddo are not found in any other clans except in the Holloo. Ga'ro and Qqaddo are the consecrated people who take care of the life of the whole Sidama people. Each of them have their own council of elders. These people are deeply religious as the elders too are notoriously religious.
Elder women (Qqarubba) are respected, too. But they do not practice authority over men. In the Sidama culture men do not associate with women. Consequently, women also have their own organization. The elder women practice authority over them. Women can change men's decision if it violates peace and harmony in the society. The eldest woman (Qqaro) can impose a punishment if a husband abuses his wife. The punishment cannot be reversed unless he fulfills the imposed obligation by the Qqaro.The good life a person lives determines his position or importance. One can be the eldest in the community but if his way of living is not appreciated he cannot play a role of an elder (cimeessa), who is a very much feared and respected. This is explained in the expression, "chimeesu chilo itisano" [The elder can make a person eat faeces].
Many other practices such as hospitality, respect to foreigners, ceremonies during birth, marriage, funerals, and festivals that exist in the Sidama culture are left for future study.
Prayer and Sacrifice
People pray to Magano individually or communally. Individual prayers can be done with or without sacrificial offerings. But communal prayers are always accompanied by sacrifices. During communal offerings the consecrated people act as the celebrants. If it is at the sub-clan level, unless there exists a consecrated person, a notable elder leads the community into prayer.
The Sidamas follow twenty seven important "moments", which are called ayyaana, in a month. They are followed through the position of the stars. Only some particular men called the ayyaanto (astrologists) know how to follow the stars and discover the types of ayyaana. Each ayana is used for a special function: ayyaana for marriage, for feast, for war, for success, and so forth. The ayyaana for offering sacrifice to Magano are either adula or gutcha. The ayyaanto and the consecrated people whose duty is to look after the issues of their people, direct most of their activities according to the ayyaana. Individuals consult these people to know, for example, when weddings should take place.
Two types of sacrifices exist within the Sidama religion: one is offered to Magano and the other is to the ancestors.
Sacrifice Offered to Magano
Burnt offering: As thanksgiving and asking for blessing the Sidamas offer this sacrifice to Magano. It is offered individually (e.g., a family head) and communally (e.g., at the sub-clan or clan level).
A male animal, a lamb or a bull, is killed and burnt. Before slaughtering, the person in charge starts with a prayer of blessing and mentions reasons for such gathering and offerings. For example, he mentions the good things (blessings) Magano has done for his country, his nation, and his clan. Then the animal is killed. The celebrant, while burning the animal, calls Magano’s name and says (the content is dependent on the intention):
Magano, itoommo, agoommo, duwoommo. Tini xinino, tini shilqqo, atera iilitohe ... Gobba'ya gowi, keere assi, ge'issi, gada'ya geedo'ya seeki, gobbate, saadate kaaya kaayoma qqoli. [God, I have eaten, I have drunk, I am satisfied. Let this burnt offering reach you.... Unite my country, bring peace and stability, bless my generation and the coming generation, and domestic animals].
At the family level, the family-head offers the sacrifice to thank Magano for all the blessings (e.g., children, wealth, good fortunes) he has received from Him. While burning the animal he says, "My Father, take this. Let it reach you. It is for you, and take it." He also prays for more blessings. Some individuals who prayed during their suffering, such as barrenness and serious sickness, offer the burnt offering sacrifice to Magano when their prayer is answered. These people had promised Magano an animal if He would respond to their prayers, if He would come to their help. Women and young men bring their promises to the spiritual leaders who would offer on their behalf.
Blood offering: This is done communally for the purpose of purification, reconciliation and protection from bad things such as enemies, drought, and plague. If something which is considered as grave offense against human beings, and indirectly against Magano, within a sub-clan or a clan by an individual or the individuals, the community offers this type of sacrifice. When those with the gift of foreseeing tell the eminent danger (e.g., war, plague, drought) or when a dream revealing the eminent danger occurs, the consecrated people organize the sacrifice. If the people are suffering because of plague or drought, the consecrated people make supplication through blood sacrifice.
The ritual of this type takes place in the following ways:
The consecrated people choose and announce the day of the sacrifice, the ayyaana, and the place where the sacrifice will take place. On the day of the sacrifice people gather together. The sacrificial animal is prepared. A consecrated person presides over the activity. The presider opens the ceremony by welcoming people and telling them the reason of the gathering. After this, everyone with grudges and quarrels comes foreword and presents his cases. They are listened to and the matters are solved. In other words, people are reconciled with one another. A prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of the people is offered to Magano. The presider prays concerning the needs of the community and slaughters the animal. The blood of the animal is collected and sprinkled to the sky, to the earth, and onto the people as the sign of reconciliation. While sprinkling the blood with a branch of a particular tree, the presider addresses to God and says:
Gatisi, xummisi, gobba gatis, Holloo, Hawela, Faqsa, Alata, Sawola Qwena gatis ... [Save us, purify us, save...(here he mentions each clan of the nation by name).]
With this act the people are reconciled with Magano and with the earth, which is regarded as mother, and with themselves. Thus, they are purified from their guilt. They also make their supplication to Magano. Then a small piece of meat is taken before removing the skin. The presider takes and raises the meat, tastes it, and passes it to the elders. After this the meat is cut, roasted and cooked, and everyone present in the gathering consumes it. Finally, the future issues of the community are discussed. The presider concludes and the people go to their home.
Sacrifice Offered to the Ancestors
The Sidama people show their gratitude to their ancestors through sacrificial offerings. At the communal, clan level, the offering is done to the common ancestors. At the family level, the husband fattens a bull and offers it for his father.
Bulls are slaughtered in several numbers periodically as a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the blessings received from the common ancestors and for their continuous presence among the people. At the same occasion, people also ask for their continuous blessings and presence. For instance, the people of Holloo clan offer their sacrifice to their common ancestor after every seven years.
During an interview with an eighty-eight years old elder from the Holloo clan concerning the sacrifice, he says that their common ancestor does not demand that the people must bring animals for sacrifice. But individuals who possess animals want to keep a bull among their cattle in gratitude for the blessings they have received from their common ancestor. Moreover, out of the sacrifice the ancestor wants the poor in the society to feast on meat, for they rarely get it. So it is a joyful moment for the poor to gather together with others and enjoy meat to the full. Both the poor and the rich alike celebrate together, and carry the remains back to their homes.
When the bulls are killed the blood is poured on the tomb of the ancestor. Those who received favours (e.g., children) they had asked from Magano or the ancestor also bring whatever they had promised . The lambs brought on this account are killed and burnt as a thanksgiving offering to Magano, and to the ancestor if he was asked to mediate. His name is mentioned after Magano’s name.
Each individual also remembers his immediate parents, specially his father. He fattens a bull and offers it at the time he wants. At different moments he prepares honey and milk and pours them on his father's tomb and then on his mother's tomb. The grand-parents are also remembered. While offering the sacrifice the person who offers says:
gedeno'ya seeki, geedo'ya seeki, galte'ya seeki, ooso'ya seeki. Ooso'yarana saada'yara gosa'yarano kaaya abbi [Make straight my future, my wife, my children, my cattle. Bring blessings to my children, cattle and to my nation].
However, if an individual is poor, he is not obliged to do so. Responding to the question why an individual has to make an offering to his parents, an elder, Gujo No’ora, said that when a sacrificial offering is done here on earth a simultaneous gathering and celebration of the people living with Magano in heaven takes place. When one is remembered by his son, all his friends come to celebrate together. But if one is forgotten by his own, he will feel that he is like an abandoned beggar. So he communicates through a dream to his son. It is believed that if the son who possesses wealth refuses to respond to the dream, he will fall sick until he reconciles himself with his dead father. As we observe, the concern is more on a father than a mother.
An offence a father commits against somebody is perceived to affect not only himself but his children as well. If he dies without solving the problem, the case has to be solved before or after his burial by his relatives. This signifies that the familial and affective relationship continues between the living and the physically dead. The relatives organize reconciliation to heal the wound caused by their late member lest their children suffer the consequences. The dead parents are also beneficiaries of this reconciliation, for they too are perceived getting peace.
As we have already mentioned above, there are some people who offer sacrifice to the bad spirits because they fear getting sick. This is done not to honour or venerate these spirits; they are hated, but because the people believe in their existence, they would like to appease them from causing
harm. This is a family affair that does not involve the whole community.
Concerning the sacrifices offered to Magano on communal level, no fixed place is found. There exists neither a house nor a tent, not even an altar. All depends on the dreams specifying the place or on the indication of those who possess the gift of prophesying or on consensus. On the individual level, it is done at home not inside but outside the house of the one offering the sacrifice.
As for the ancestors, the sacrifice is offered where their tombs are found. There exist in different places the shrines called hara but only houses, without statues or images, where the elders and others come to pray. The elders also conduct their meetings there. Sometimes burnt offering to Magano at the sub-clan level takes place at these shrines.
The Sidamas are truly Monotheist and they do not see Magano as a tribal or exclusive entity. God does speak to people through their cultures and situations. To this communication or revelation each individual or group responds according to its understanding of God and culture.
God has been speaking to the Sidama people in their culture, revealing through dreams, prophets, and individuals' deep experience of the sacred. What I consider important is that be it a dream or a prophecy, but if it deals with avoiding evil, promoting human life, and bringing people closer to God it is good and a revelation. The Sidama religion is an example of God's universal salvific act. God truly acts and Christianity is not the only way for salvation. An honest dialogue and true respect to other religions are important not only for collaboration in promoting human life and to live in harmony with others, but also to discover more the mystery of God's work to bring humankind into Himself.
Sidama: the Luwa and the Anga Culture and their Social Implications
By Wolassa Kumo
In my previous articles, I mentioned the Sidama grand social constitution Seera, and various sub constitutions which derive from this grand constitution. We have also seen that all social constitutions or Seera in Sidama were based on the Sidama moral code of halale, the true way of life. In this socio-cultural and socio-political system, the role of the elders was very important. Elders were bestowed with the power of enforcing the Seera and referring the recalcitrant to Magano or God if he/she refuses to abide by the Seera.
The power of elders in the Sidama society was not based on a simple age count as is the case in most modern societies. The Sidama elder is more the product of various social processes through which he passes than the product of a simple aging. For a person to become a recognised elder with authority in Sidama, he has to become a Cimeessa (respected elder with authority) or Cimeeyye for many respected elders. There are three important socio-cultural processes that shape the Sidama elder who will have the required authority to enforce the Seera system in the society. These are: the Luwa cycle, Barcima (circumcision), and the Anga culture. In this brief article, we will revisit the cultures that shape the institution of Cimeessa in the Sidama society.
2. The Sidama Luwa Cycle
As I pointed out in my previous articles, the Luwa is administered by an age grade system where each grade rotates every 8 years. There are five rotating grades in the Luwa system. These are: Darara, Fullassa, Hirobora, Wawassa and Mogissa. The Malga clan in Awassa district adds Binancha as the sixth grade.
However, the recruitment to a given Luwa grade does not depend on the age of the individual. It depends on the grade of one's father. For instance, if we assume that Darara is the first cycle and Mogissa is the last cycle, and if the son of Darara becomes Mogissa, a son born to a person who is a member of the Darara cycle has to wait for 32-40 years to join the Mogissa grade. Therefore, in the Luwa cycle, it is possible that a child as well as a 40 years old adult can become members of the same Luwa cycle. Thus, age is not a sole criterion in the making of the Sidama Cimeessa (respected elder). A person who did not pass through the Luwa cycles cannot become a Cimeessa while a younger person can qualify for a position if he fulfils all other requirements.
The Luwa system has two important objectives. The first and the most important one is the recruitment and training of the able bodied men for the defence of the nation. The second objective is the development of potential elders who will have authorities to replace the current elders (Cimeeyye). Women are not allowed to participate in the Luwa system. Therefore, they are automatically excluded from the nation's defence forces as well as from becoming Cimeeyye or respected elders. However, the Sidama society has its own ways of showing respect for elderly women.
A fascinating aspect of the Sidama culture in this regard is that, younger people never call older people, men or women, by their names. They always use the name of their children, using as prefix, mother of ".." and father of ".". If they do not know the names of their children, they simply call them mother or father, even if they are not their real mothers and fathers. While many of the beautiful Sidama indigenous cultures have been lost due to the Abyssinian conquest, this particular way of life survived until today.
Sidama girl from Ethiopia
Avoiding the direct contact with the mother-in-laws is another aspect of unique respect the Sidama society offers to women in general. A person who is newly married to the daughter of a woman will not stand in her way if he sees her walking in the street. He has to run in to the bushes to give the mother way to proceed with her trip. Not only he is not allowed to mention her name, but he is also required to talk with a language of respect such as Ki'ne (equivalent to English "thou" - in Sidaamuaffo). The wife is required to reciprocate the respect to her husband's family. But she is required to reciprocate it to the father of her husband, as she is required to be in close contact with the mother of her husband. This aspect of the Sidama culture is being gradually eroded due to massive conversion into Christianity.
3. Barcima (Circumcision) and Its Social Implications
In Sidama society, male circumcision has been practiced since time immemorial. Circumcision is one of the processes of building respected elders (Cimeeyye) in Sidama society. After a person participates in the Luwa cycles he has to carry out circumcision before his sons' Luwa cycle arrives. If he fails to circumcise before that, his progression to the class of respected elders can be seriously undermined. A non circumcised old person cannot be regarded as Cimeessa in Sidama society.
The circumcision ceremony is one of the biggest social events in Sidama society. Depending on the level of wealth of the individual, such as the size of farm and farm land owned, the size of Enset or coffee plantation, and the number of cattle the person owns, he can organize a huge ceremony involving hundreds of elders and young men and women from the area and far apart for the ceremony. Everyone invited or present in the ceremony is provided with Buurisame (food made from Enset with a lot of butter in it) and Malawo (drinks made from pure honey) beginning with the oldest and going down to the youngest. This process is called Malawo Tuma (the Honey Ceremony).
For a person to prepare the Honey Ceremony during his circumcision he has to pass through one of the Luwa cycles with in the past 40 years but not beyond. Thus, during the ceremony every body praises not only the person who is going to be circumcised but also his Luwa grade, stating that the Honey Ceremony belongs to such a person and such a Luwa grade. At the beginning of the Honey Ceremony, the person to be circumcised declares that it is his time now to circumcise and that he makes his Luwa grade and the Sidama society proud by willing to defend the nation and become an elder to serve the society.
I participated in two of such beautiful ceremonies in his rural village when I was about 8-10 years old, and I still remember how beautiful those ceremonies were. Most of these types of ceremonies that survived the Abyssinian conquest have now been almost lost due mainly to conversion into Christianity. The next stage in the making of the Sidama Cimeessa institution is the Anga culture.
4. The Anga Culture
The Anga culture is the most complicated part of the Sidama culture. Anga, which literally means "hand", has a different meaning when it is used in the context of the development of Cimeessa or Cimeeyye, respected elders or elders with authority. An elder with the Anga authority must have already participated in the Luwa cycles, must have been circumcised and most notably organized the grand Honey Ceremony. An elder who did not pass through those stages cannot claim to have the Anga authority.
An elder or Cimeessa who has Anga has superior moral authorities to all other Cimeessa in the society. In other words, the Anga is the last stage in the making of the Sidama Cimeessa or an elder with full moral authority to enforce Seera (social constitution) in the Sidama society. In addition to passing though the Luwa cycles, circumcision and Honey Ceremonies, the elder who claims the Anga authority has to make Kakalo (sacrifices) to the ancestors to declare his position as a holder of the Anga Authority.
An elder with Anga authority does not participate in any ordinary activities in the society. He does not eat any meat unless the animal is slaughtered either by himself or some one who has similar Anga authority like him. One fascinating aspects of the Anga culture is that when the Cimeessa with the Anga authority is a in a house dining alone or with some one, every body must keep quite. This is because, if some one mentions some names which are considered to be impure while the Cimeessa with the Anga was eating, then he will automatically stop eating. These names include animal names such as pigs, dogs or sounds like shouting, whistling and so on. If the Cimeessa with Anga listens to those names and sounds while he is eating, he has to automatically stop eating and leave. If he does not do so, he loses his Anga authority and has to offer other sacrifices to reclaim the Anga.
As in the case of many other areas in the Sidama culture and civilization, in this area extensive future research is required.
The Anga culture is practiced by the Sidama clan called the Xummano or the Yemerechcho. However, the Luwa, Circumcision and Honey Ceremonies are practiced by any member of the Sidama society. At present, the Anga culture has almost disappeared because of massive conversion to Christianity and diminishing number of the members of the society who acknowledge the Authority of Anga. Likewise, the authority of Cimeessa has been weakened and highly undermined. Although the concept still survives in Sidama, its significance has been significantly reduced.
5. Systematic abuse of the Cimeessa institution by the current regime.
Another factor that undermined the Cimeessa institution in Sidama is political interference by the current regime. Because of the unpopularity of most of the measures the current regimes undertakes in Sidama, it has resorted to bribing the elders. The members of the ruling party personally contact well known Sidama elders through out the Sidama land and provide them with money and transport them to towns and cities whenever they convene unpopular meetings in Sidama. The elders are forced to comply to these pressures both for fear of political persecution and because of the economic benefit they obtain in participating in these processes. Even after the Loqqe massacre, the first people invited to a meeting in Awassa in 2002 to support the actions of the massacre were the elders. However, this time the elders did the opposite of what they were expected to do. They unanimously condemned the massacre.
Although the elders try to balance cultural values they uphold with the benefits and intimidation the current regime, the constant pressure under which the regime puts the Sidama Cimeessa institution and the continued participation of the elders in most unpopular decisions regarding the Sidama society has seriously undermined the creditability of this institution at present. The most resilient group that continually rejects unpopular measures of the regime has become the youth, particularly the young people below the age of 30. This is mainly due to relatively better education and exposure this group has regarding the basic human rights, democracy and freedom. Since this demographic group represents the future of Sidama, our nation has a great hope!!
THERE ARE NO PEOPLE CALLED "SIDAMO": STOP THE USE OF "SIDAMO" MISNOMER
By Side Goodo
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:
Sidama tribe girl
"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 thought 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.
Sidame tribe children from Ethiopia
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 with 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. Other 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 Sidama illegal as it is legal 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.
October 4, 2007
An Overview of the Sidama Resistance Movements.
The Sidama people had never accepted the Abyssinian conquest peacefully. They made various attempts to repulse the invading army. The first group of intruders led by Menelik's general Beshah Aboye were annihilated by the Sidama army and civilians led by the ingenious King of Sidama called Baalichcha Worawo. The army of Beshah was totally defeated and left in disarray until the second wave of attack was launched on by Leulseged, another general of Minelik, with superior military force on the Eastern front of Sidama. It was Leulseged's army which was able to establish full Abyssinian domination in the Sidama land and assassinate Baalichcha Worawo, the last king of Sidama.
The pattern of brutal subjugation of the Sidama people continued in a relative calm until the Italian occupation of the country prior to the second World War. The Sidama resistance movement gained momentum during and after the Italian occupation. It was the brutal nature of the feudal system that robbed Sidamas of their complete freedom that forced them to take up arms at the historic opportunity of the Italian occupation. Various armed groups began to wage armed struggle to uproot the remnants of the Abyssinian regime from the Sidama land. Notable among these fighters and Sidama freedom leaders were: Yetera Bole, Wena Hankarso, Hushsula Xaadisso, Mangistu Hamesso and Lanqamo Naare and Fiisa Fichcho. However after Italy was driven out of the country by the allied forces during the second World War, the Abyssinian rulers got an upper hand and were able to temporarily silence the struggle of the Sidama people for freedom. As a revenge to the resistance movement waged during and after the second World War, the Abyssinian rulers massacred over 120,000 Sidamas during and after the war.
It was during the last decade of Haile Selassie's rule that the Sidamas were able to regroup and wage another relentless resistance struggle against the Abyssinian regime. The heroic resistance movement led by the well known Sidama patriot Takilu Yota, in the northern parts of Sidama, had shaken the foundation of Abyssinian rule in Sidama until the end of 1960s.
At the beginning of 1970s notable Sidama heroes and resistance leaders formed the first organized Sidama Liberation Struggle which mobilized Sidamas in the scale unknown before to wage an overt armed struggle against the military government. The founders of the first organized freedom fighting in Sidama were: (1) Amare Gunsa, (2) Yetera Bole, (3) Roda Utala, (4) Gawiwa Siriqa, (5) Fiisa Fichcho and (6) Teklehaymanot Simano. Amare Gunsa was the first Sidama to be beheaded by the military government while fighting for the liberation of Sidama. His head was taken to Addis Ababa to verify his death to the authorities. Yetera Bole and Roda Utala and most others also sacrificed their lives fighting for the liberation of the Sidama people.
Although the six heroes mentioned above played a fundamental role in founding the Sidama Liberation Organization there were many other notable Sidama freedom fighters who took the banner of the founders and continued to fight for the liberation of their people. This second group of Sidama heroes were: (1) Tumato Tula Bankuriso, (2)Ashe Hujawa, (3) Barassa Gosoma, (4) Dadafo, (Mote of Malga), (5) Gasara Sodo, (6) Kumo Gada , (7) Ginbo Basha, (8) Kafale Kinbichcha, and (9) Barasa Jofe. All of these people sacrificed their lives fighting for the freedom of their nation.
The Sidama National Liberation Organization, is the continuation of such heroic struggle of the Sidama people and as such works to ensure that past historic legacies of the heroes are never forgotten or hijacked by any individual or individuals who are power and benefit mongers.
The Sidama liberation struggle which was later named the Sidama Liberation Movement waged an armed struggle against the military regime for 7 years between 1977-1983 and fully liberated 3 high lands districts of Arbegona, Bansa and Aroressa in the South Eastern Sidama land from the Abyssinian yoke. In this struggle over 30,000 Sidamas perished. The name Sidama Liberatin Movement was given under the leadership of Woldeamanuel Dubale who led the movement's activities during this period.
In Northern Sidama the liberation uprisings of Borrichcha and Wotara Rassa gave another shock to the military leadership. In Borrichcha uprising the Sidama denounced the brutal military regime and its policies and took up arms to liberate themselves. However, due to its military superiority the derg was able to crush the uprising in August 1978. Over 500 people were killed during the one day intense fighting on the mountain of Borrichcha and its vicinities. The leaders of the Borrichcha uprising were: (1) Barasa Wotiye, (2) Bitre Gamada, and (3) Yetera Koome.
The same heroic resistance was met by the derg in the Wotara Rassa where the Sidama had shown stiff resistance against the military regime. Over 100 people were killed in Wotara Rassa fighting in 1978. The leaders of Wotara Rassa uprising were: (1) Dadafo, (2) Agana Jobisa.
The Sidama people had made tremendous and historic contribution to the weakening and the final down fall of the military regime. However, the fruits of the struggle of the Ethiopian peoples was hijacked by the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) which imposed the monopoly of political domination over various peoples of the country. Once again the Sidamas and other Ethiopian peoples were robbed of their human and democratic rights and subjected to untolled injustice and economic plunder and exploitation.
Although the regime tries to deceive the international community by fabricating a radical constitution that "guarantees" the right to self determination and human and democratic rights of all peoples in the country and by producing various liberal policy documents on papers , none of them are put in to practice on the ground. Instead at present the regime is suppressing the basic human and democratic rights of oppressed peoples like Sidama, Oromo, ... with an open and violent means. The Awassa massacre of May 24, 2002 of innocent and peaceful Sidama demonstrators who demanded their basic rights of living and working in their own land, the Awassa town, is the clear demonstration of anti peace and anti democratic nature of the TPLF/ EPRDF's regime.
Thus the Sidama people are once again determined to continue to fight for their freedom. They can no longer tolerate the vicious Abyssinian rule whose salient feature is subjugation, denial of any basic human and democratic rights and economic plunder to deliberately impoverish and undermine oppressed peoples to tame them for eternal domination. Accordingly, the Sidama National Liberation Organization has devised a political program to strengthen and guide an age old Sidama Liberation struggle.