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Hijab for Aanolee, Please! – Melaku Girma

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AanoleeThe ‘Trojan Horse’ is from a Greek mythology where the Greeks in their last resort to break into the well-guarded city of Troy, came up with an idea of a horse like statue. As the deceitful statue, hid with soldiers, was entering the city, there were Troy residents who suspected trickery insisting that the gift be burned before it brings a curse. But, their suspicion fell on deaf ears and rather they were considered as paranoid. The Trojan horse was then placed on prime real estate inside the city of Troy until the hidden soldiers, lurch out of the statue and open the gates of Troy for the Greek army waiting outside to enter the city and carry out all forms of atrocities known to men of the time. The paranoid of Troy, a priest said “I fear the Greeks even those bearing gifts” and here I am crying “I fear this Monument – Aanolee and the concept behind it.”
The basic information about the monument was posted on Awrambatimes with the heading, Aanolee Memorial Monument colorfully inaugurated in Arssi on April 8, 2014. It adds that it was a tribute to the Arssi Oromos who were victims of the Emperor Menelik’s imperial expansion in the nineteenth century and that the inauguration was attended by high level federal and regional officials in Hetosa, Arssi, 150 kms southeast of Addis Ababa. Per H.E Muktar Kedir, it was constructed at a cost of twenty million birr to commemorate those Oromo heroes and heroines who were cruelly massacred for strongly resisting the then oppressive regime. The monument shows a severed hand stretched upward holding a women’s Breast. At the inauguration Mohammed Jilo, Head of Oromia Culture and Tourism Bureau elaborated on the need to make the monument a tourist attraction center.
I, for one, would not dare to take a position in history without testing arguments behind issues of the time because my principle is to question every representation of historical events for validity. Equally important, our attempt to understand the prognosis of history before us and the nature of the event that took place in the past, should be dealt with neutrality and freedom from bias based on ethnic or other hidden considerations. Every historical event need to be tested for reasonableness, depth and frequency before arriving at a conclusion about a particular phenomenon, as proper representation of an event or personality. To me, Oromo refers to the thousands of people I personally know and respect as Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, Sisters, Friends, Grandfathers, Grandmothers, Children, Heroes, Religious Leaders, Musicians, Sportsmen, Politicians, Soldiers, Scientists and more. An ethnic name is so sacred and I wish I was not forced to be speaking in terms of this very special collective noun, since an error committed would be multiplied by millions. I will, therefore, try to be cautious in sharing my point of view without causing any harm to communities so that we see the colossal conceptual mistake in the monument, and may be, correct the situation for our common good.
The purpose of this article is not to make a determination as to whether or not the breast mutilation in fact occurred. My idea, however, may help as additional criteria in determining the validity and the magnitude of the accusation that there was a breast mutilation. I strongly believe that our perception of how and who committed the atrocity has significant implication to our future as a nation. There are fellow Ethiopians who strongly state that their ancestors were victims of the breast mutilation act, and given the fact that the area around the horn, including Somalia is known for various similar cultures involving body mutilations as fulfillment of cultural duties, it may be irrational to refute the allegation completely. What I can say here at this moment is, express my sympathy for the women alleged to be victims of breast mutilation and demand that our historians and anthropologists study the issue further, including any atrocity that may have been committed by Arssi Oromos also, so that we have a balanced picture of what happened with in the religious, social and political framework of the time, again with honesty and impartially.
Most Africans agree with me that European writers have a tendency to exaggerate if an issue is one that supports their racist theory that Blacks or Africans are inferior or barbaric in nature. Equally, the narrations by recent Eritrean writers remain questionable without genuine answers to the following questions. Why are they so keen on issues that antagonize Oromos from the rest of Ethiopia? Do the Christian highlanders of Eritrea have a culture of body mutilation in Hamasene, Serai, or Akale Guzai? If their response is not in the affirmative then my second question would be, if there is no such culture among Eritrean highlanders, then why would it exist in Tigrai, in Gonder, in Gojam, in Wollo, in Wollega, or in Showa? Most Christians revere Saint Mary, a women, and somehow these cultures place special significance to women in general because of this Mary – Women connection. Hence, I don’t see this society going that far, practicing breast mutilation as an acceptable method of punishment of women. I am not indulging in a denial and what I am only saying is, in order to assess the true extent of what happened, we need to examine the cultures and personalities accused of the atrocity. I am not fantasizing the idea that there are no criminals among the Christians. The challenge here is the appropriateness of this caricature that Emperor Menelik, an Orthodox Christian, had body mutilation as a sanctioned form of punishment to Oromo mothers, and that this is a proper depiction of the Emperor who had an Oromo first cousin, and who among other things gave us Adwa and a railway in the nineteenth century.
Let me give you another issue that could be a wonderful dish for similar characterization. Nowadays, it is common to listen to news broadcasts about the Ogaden Liberation Front accusing the Ethiopian forces of rape and other atrocities. But, how much of such accusations are true? Doesn’t that somehow hurt our deeper feelings as Ethiopians since rape is culturally a taboo? Will it be far from the truth we, Ethiopians, regardless of our ethnic background or political beliefs agree that more than 99.99 % of Ethiopian soldiers would abhor and denounce rape of any form? Are we really insane to believe that the soldiers used rape as a sanctioned form of punishment or it is a better description of the army today? Just because there has been such incidents, per the accusations, can somebody make a foolish generalization that the late Prime Minister Meles or Prime Minister Haile Mariam was/is rapist?
US statistics shows that there is about a quarter of a million rapes each year in the US and that it occurs every two minutes. Assuming there is no repeated assault by a transgressor, the rapists make about .08 % of the population. From this we can deduce that there is a chance for less than .08 % of Ethiopian army to comprise rapists. No army can escape this statistic be it American or Eritrean. There are rapists in Ethiopia and Hanna Lalongo is in our recent memory. My point? Body mutilation is a similar atrocity of a different score and, if it happened, the reason will only be either because some members of Menelik’s forces or administration were from a culture that practiced body mutilation as a form of punishment or there were some who were psychologically sadistic. Studies on sadistic behavior talk about sadist percentages in a population based on cruelty to animals, and I believe, if the percentage of sadists is expressed with cruelty to human and especially with women, it will even be smaller.
What was the intention of Emperor Menelik’s expansion? Do we see him as an Emperor who had a desire to build a bigger empire that could resist European colonialism or an evil whose objective was to annihilate a particular ethnic group(s) the way Hitler targeted and mass murdered the Jews? Considering the composition of Menelik’s army and its leadership, I doubt, if the Aanolee war could even be seen as a war between Oromos and Non Oromos because Menelik’s army comprised a significant percentage of Oromos of all ranks. My ancestors in the south must have lived through the era of Menelik’s expansion and maybe they were unhappy about it. But, as a result of Menelik’s action, we are not only a country but the only Independent African nation that defied European Colonialism. What was the antitheses or the inaction of Menelik to people in the southern Ethiopia? Wouldn’t an inaction of Menelik mean the annexation of the southern Ethiopia with the British Empire as part of Kenya or Somalia? Do I wish that I were a Kenyan or Somalian, in the first place? What were the atrocities of colonialism that the Kenyans went through including the Oromos in Kenya? Is there anyone who has the gut to argue the fact that with the current interpretation of ethnicity, Emperor Haile Selassie and President Mengistu were nothing but Oromos who ruled Ethiopia for a continuous sixty one years? Every thesis has an antithesis! As a believer in Pan Africanism, I say, Menelik’s expansion was a necessary evil to defeat colonialism at Adwa, the way chemotherapy is for Cancer. Please note, I am not referring to breast mutilation!
If Anole is to be remembered, it will be wise to tell the story of the warriors who challenged Menelik’s army. Who were the generals that lead the resistance against Menelik? What were their institutions that helped them fight for years? What was their ideology, religious identity or ethnic identity? How and where did they get the armament that helped them endure that long? How high was the determination and bravery of the Arssi fighters? How many did they kill and how much damage they endured? The correct perspective is to recognize the heroes that fought Menelik even if they lost the war. To me, that is the bigger picture that needs to be capitalized, which adds pride in us, be it as Oromos or Ethiopians. The warriors and their horses should be the centers of the monument than a view of a sadistic act that misleads generations depicting Arssi Oromos as hopeless victims who were even unable to protect women; so convenient politically to demonize Emperor Menelik and may be, instigate vengeance. The correct way that builds Ethiopia as a nation is talking about success anecdotes for the present generation to follow, not a story that only transpires hostility and revenge among citizens. It will be a service to generations if the monument was about the role of Oromo women in defending what they consider at the time to be theirs, be it religious or ethnic identity. What was the role of women in providing at least material and morale support? How did they express bravery? It’s better to be talking about the contribution of Arssi women or a heroic act than hinging on a controversial sadistic scene. I suggest that we look at the grace of “Mother Russia Statue” built commemorating the over a million lost at Siege of Leningrad, during World War II. Also see how Europeans portray their mothers on “Statue of Liberty” as a comparison with our active intent and choice to denigrate our ancestors on either side of that conflict.
I see a lack of knowledge or information about Mastofact or Mazophila behaviors, and a public display of a women’s body, of what westerners would call an ‘R’ rated “soft porn” is an indication of our degeneration as society. Is it culturally acceptable to portray our grandmother’s naked body on a cenotaph and talk about tourism? What kind of tourism will that be? Oromo mothers I know are very decent and give special attention to morality, and the private part of women is not subject of a public scenery. The same applies to Oromo fathers. Considering the fact that the majority of Arssi inhabitants are believers, it seems strange, if the monument is in fact an idea agreed on by the people. With my very limited knowledge of the religions in the area, I am aware that there is a practice of “Hijab”. I believe Islam and Christianity have so much in common. You will see the concept of hijab even with in the Orthodox Church as women cover most parts when attending Sunday mass. Although the two religions practice hijab differently, there is common understanding about what modesty represents. So isn’t the content of the monument somehow obscene? Why was this basic value of the majority in Arssi compromised? I would like to understand how that community interprets modesty and how its value interacts in shaping peoples reaction or judgement of a statue made of one of the most private parts of a women, especially that of our ancestors. Wouldn’t this modesty be a hypocrisy of both Moslems and Christians ,if we expect women to cover their head while offending everyone culturally and religiously by allowing this offensive statue stand right there for everyone to see, I wonder if the area is off limits to children? I really want to hear from Muslim and Christian leaders in Arssi and beyond about the place of the statue given our belief, culture and decency. And what is going to be the reaction of the future generations to such a highly offensive image? Does that help or impede the peaceful coexistence of Ethiopians? What were the driving forces of the recent tragic killings in Arbagugu, Bedeno, Cheleko, Garamuleta, etc.? What fueled that level of hatred, beheading even a one year old supposedly Amhara child, 1991 Arsi? Were there any lessons learned from the recent actions of Nelson Mandela? How constructive is it to go back over a hundred years only to bring what could only be a reflection of the very worst in us? How does that make us better than those who lived a century before us?
Every Ethiopian should have nothing but sympathy for the alleged Aanolee victims in Ethiopia because confirmed or unconfirmed, women breast mutilation is sadistic. At the same time we should be cognizant that there are groups that use ethnic conflicts to their ultimate but hidden agenda. The Aanolee war is one of the many wars Emperor Menelik fought in the process of forging the present day Ethiopia. We need to reconsider the good intention of the Emperor and his multi ethnic army along with the diverse cultures represented there. It is illogical to believe that, body mutilation was a punishment to Arssi Oromo sanctioned by Emperor Menelik whose circle comprised Negus Teklehaimanot, Ras Gobena, Ras Mekonnen, Ras Mengesha Yohannes, Ras Alula, Fitawrari Habtegiorgis, Dejazmatch Balcha etc. These were not only our ancestors, but the cornerstones of Pan Africanism sprout from Ethiopianism of that century. The breast mutilation act should be seen as an isolated cruelty of either a person of culture that practices body mutilation or a Sadist, definitely not a legacy of Emperor Menelik. I believe it is ok to commemorate the warriors who resisted Menelik’s expansion, and there are a number of ways to do that; statues of confederate soldiers are still observed in the US. The theme of Aanolee’s story should be the strength, courage and heroism of the people who fought against Menelik’s expansion and that would be an addition to Ethiopian heritage. I don’t believe the Aanolee monument is in par with the culture and beliefs of the Arssi Oromo in particular and Ethiopians in general. The monument will only let a sadistic act linger in our minds, and I don’t see a point in letting this perverted act continue poisoning our relationships, here in the twenty first century. The monument is obscene, immodest and immoral that only infuriates the present and future generations. I don’t see any reason other than ensuing or perpetrating bitterness, risking our very peace and continuance as a country, and may be serving as a cause for our own demise, like the Trojan horse. This could be annoying to those who are already captivated by a rage for vengeance on a century old controversial incident, but I urge that this serve as my humble appeal to my fellow Ethiopians for correction.
The monument is indecent self-deprecation, and I say, Hijab Please!
Melaku Girma