Monday, 12 April 2010

"Kan darbe yaadatani, isa gara fuula dura itti yaaddu" (Oromo proverb)

"By remembering the past, the future is remembered".

These notes are taken from Mengesha Rikitu's research on "Oromo Folk Tales for a new generation" by (see also his "Oromo Proverbs" and "Oromo Grammar"). Some proverbs are folk tales are worth the detour:

1) Oromo Proverb – Harreen yeroo alaaktu malee, yeroo dhuudhuuftu hin'beektu

"The Donkey doesn't know that it is farting again and again when it is braying." (ie some people concentrating on their own verbosity are unaware of what is going on behind them)

You can tell that dhuudhuuftu is the farting can't you, am betting on the sound that word makes.

Oromifa is one of the five most widely spoken (Afroasiatic) languages in Africa. Its importance lies in the numbers of its speakers and in its geographical extent. The 'official' numbers point to 30 million Oromo speakers (but there has not been to this day a complete or reliable census). The majority of the Oromo people are in Ethiopia and a sizable chunk of this community also dwells in Kenya.

2) Oromo Proverb : Waagayoo hin'arifatu, wanta hundumaa yeroo saati hojjeta
"God is not in a hurry, He is working everything out at it's proper time."

3) Oromo Proverb : bari fallana, takka namaa fodogaa, takka nama fondoga"Time is like a spoon once it feeds, once it snatches."

The Oromo people have been turned into an invisible majority in Ethiopia and have suffered (and still are suffering) violent and ruthless blows at the hands of policies designed to erase them as a people, to wipe out their culture and language.

The women and men of the Oromo diaspora are trying to preserve their cultural heritage and this book is one such example at putting to pen an oral tradition at risk.

4) Oromo Proverb : Gadhee fi badheen afaan ballatu
"A gourd cup and a bad person are wide at the mouth" ( ie : those who do not know their limits talk too much).
Reader, I hope you're not thinking right now this might apply to this blog post...

5) Oromo Proverb : Harka abbaa tokkotin ibidda qabbaachuun nama hindhibu
"It is not difficult to catch fire with someone else's hand" (ie it is not difficult to risk someone else's skin.)

The Oromo alphabet consists of 30 letters (5 vowels, 24 'consonants' - 5 glottalised 'pair' letters - one letter not in the consonant group which is sub-gap and voiced). Keep it in mind while pacing this:

6) An Oromo Folk Tale : 'A WISE KING AND A CLEVER OWL'

"Once upon a time in a far off country there was a well known king..."  

 ...well you know how it goes so I'll take it from here, if you'll allow, to shorten the post slightly, not to disrespect the story teller Mengesha Rikitu.

This king spoke every language known to human beings and animals. He loved his wife very much and acquiesced to her every request (she was, you'll have guessed, very beautiful and equally very whimsical). After many unreasonable demands such as wanting a carpet made from corn silk, the lady demanded a carpet of feathers. Since the king spoke to all animals he called upon all birds to present themselves immediately that morning so that he could pluck their feathers. As soon as he called them [and knowing what he would do to them, woaw, animals are so devoted and are such fatalists!] they arrived. However the Owl was missing. The king, miffed, decided to wait for the Owl before starting the plucking. The Owl only came at sunset.
"The king asked 'why didn't you come this morning?'
The Owl replied 'Oh my Lord, O my majesty, I was very busy with my work'.
The king dumbfounded asked 'why were you so over-busy'
The Owl replied 'I was counting days and nights, male and female'.
The King growing more curious than angry, further inquired 'What did you find then, are there more males than females?'
The Owl answered 'There are more women than men and more days than nights'
The king asked 'why is it so?'
The Owl answered 'I know that every day has night and every man has wife'
The king asked 'what do you mean?'
The Owl replied 'Oh your majesty, in the night when the moon shines it makes the night like the day. In the same way a man who obeys every command of his wife becomes like a wife himself'."

This story opened a whole series or rather, ahem, ungratifying proverbs about women (ie ungratifying for women). I would have posted some of them but I do find that as we say in French the best jokes are the shortest.

I do find these proverbs humorous from the height and distance of my passport which affords me rather luxurious human and woman's rights (luxurious in comparison with many other legal and cultural practices around this globe) but one book did set my not-yet-born smile back into place: Oromtitti: the forgotten women in Ethiopian History by Belletech Deressa. More on that in another post.

A final wisdom note:

7) Oromo Proverb : Ganamaan Ka'anif Waaqi dur hin'baan
"To rise early will not help escape from God"
… one I'll definitely ponder on tomorrow at dawn...

Notes taken with fingers jamming to Mos Def 'Umi says' , 'Mathematics' , Kenna 'Out of control'

1 comment:

Bohashem said...

Mengesha is an old friend i have lost contact with since early 1990s. I remember him writing the book about Oromo proverbs and stories. Mengesha himself is an Oromo from Wallagga province in Western Ethiopia. It was through him that i came to know that most of the Oromo elite came from this province. I would love to meet Mengesha again and to findout how views the situation of the OLF and Oromia 'Killel'.