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When Orality Turns to Writing: Two Documents from Wälläga, Ethiopia
Journal of African Cultural Studies
Vol. 18, No. 1, Language, Power and Society: Orality and Literacy in the Horn of Africa (Jun., 2006), pp. 43-55
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25473355
Page Count: 13
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The paper explores the oral origins and political motivations of two written documents drafted by the Oromoo rulers of Leeqaa-Naqamtee in western Ethiopia at the turn of the nineteenth century. The first document, the 'Chronicle of the Warra Bakaree family' is the history of the ruling family of Wälläga-Naqamtee written by Kumsaa Morodaa, alias Däjjach Gäbrä Egzi'abehér, who ran the western Ethiopian province under Ethiopian administration from 1889 till 1923. The second document, titled 'Boräna Geneaologies,' was drafted by order of the same Oromoo ruler who put into writing genealogies collected by local elders as a way to claim legitimacy for his family rule over the region. The two documents, and the correspondence exchanged between the Ethiopian court and the western Oromoo rules, reflect the intricacies and ambiguities of the semi-autonomous rule of Wälläga-Naqamtee under Ethiopian administration. They also show the gradual inroad of centrally-imposed rules and regulations (mainly concerning land, taxes and tributes) inevitably eroding local prerogatives (and consensus) and discouraging accumulation of local wealth to comply with the growing needs of the central Ethiopian state at the peak of its territorial expansion. The paper reconstructs the history of these documents and explains the motivations of the 'unequal exchange' which led the Naqamtee court to preserve into writing what had been presumably conceived and transmitted till then within the traditional bounds of an oral discourse.
Journal of African Cultural Studies © 2006 Taylor & Francis, Ltd.