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| 181 A Wide People with a Small Screen Oromo Cinema at Home and in Diaspora Teferi Nigussie Tafa and Steven W. Thomas T he Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (at least 34 percent of the population by a conservative estimate), and some also live in Kenya and Somalia. Since the 1990s, signifijicantly large diaspora populations in the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway, and other countries have fostered a cohesive transnational community, including the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) with its own annual academic journal. The Oromo are just one of more than eighty ethnic groups, each with its own language, who have played important roles in Ethiopia’s complex history, but the participation of most of these ethnic groups in modern forms of culture such as the novel, theater, television, and cinema is little known to scholars of African literature and cinema (Hassen 2008; Tafa 2015). Scholarly work on what is called “Ethiopian” literature and cinema has focused almost entirely on works in the Amharic language. Indeed, for most of the twentieth century until the revolution in 1991, the Oromo language was banned by the Ethiopian government from use in print and broadcast media (Bulcha 1994; Hussein 2008). The Oromo are a somewhat unique case in Ethiopia because their size is larger than the two dominant groups, and this presents a challenge to the organization of the nation-state. The new multiethnic federalist government constituted in 1994 has been nominally committed to a pluralistic Ethiopian 182 | Teferi Nigussie Tafa and Steven W. Thomas culture, allowing Oromo-language literature, theater, radio, television, and cinema to emerge. Nevertheless, Oromo artists, alongside artists from many other ethnic groups, have had to overcome political obstacles and cultural barriers in Ethiopia as well as abroad. OuressayisthefijirsttoexaminecinemamadeprimarilyintheOromolanguage. It surveys a range of feature-length movies, short fijilms, and television dramas produced in Ethiopia as well as in the United States and Norway. It also draws upon interviews with Oromo directors and media professionals. It raises questions about what it means to categorize a cinema culture by its ethnic identity in both national and global contexts. Is what makes a movie Oromo simply the language spokenbytheactors,theculturalsymbolisminthemovie,orthepoliticalafffijiliation of the director? Is the narrative structure and cinematic style of Oromo movies any diffferent from other movies made in Ethiopia? The global and modern characteristics of ethnic struggle for political recognition have led many scholars to critically examine the relationship of ethnicity to modernity in a way that radically questions the assumption of a nation-state’s isomorphism with its media culture. In scholarly study of how African cinemas travel across national borders and how local communities respond to globalization, such as the essays collected in Viewing African Cinema in the Twenty-First Century (Şaul and Austen 2010) and Global Nollywood:TheTransnational Dimensions of an AfricanVideo Film Industry (Krings and Okome 2013), it is clear that diffferent ethnic groups have articulated their identities in relation to national politics and the economic forces of globalization in diffferent ways. Considering the context out of which Oromo cinema emerged, our essay argues for the importance of three aspects of indigenous Oromo cultural practices that not only have influenced the content and style of the narrative, but also have oriented the community organizations that support the fijilmmakers. The primary aspect is the Gada system, which is an indigenous form of egalitarian, rotational, age-set democratic government. Structurally related to the Gada system are two important cultural practices.1 One is the ethical orientation of guddifacha, which literally means “adoption,” but more broadly is the practice of including war captives or even just outsiders into their community. The other is siiqqee, which is the traditional form of women’s empowerment in indigenous Oromo culture. Our essay will show how the movies articulate and adapt the indigenous cultural practices of the Gada system, including guddifacha and siiqqee, in a context of political oppression and marginalization.These cultural concepts are not just the Oromo Cinema at Home and in Diaspora | 183 thematic content and political symbolism of the movies, but are also part of the social infrastructure that has empowered Oromo fijilmmaking—the collaborative nature of its production and the community-centered form of its distribution and exhibition. Hamid Nafijicy has surveyed a diverse range of diasporic, exilic, and ethnic fijilms from around the world to theorize the concept of the “accented style,” which includes “the fijilm’s visual style; narrative structure; character and...


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