In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Northeast African Studies 9.3 (2007) 1-14

Rendering Audible the Voices of the Powerless
Ezekiel Gebissa
Kettering University, Flint, Michigan

The Ethiopian Revolution of 1974 brought radical changes to the political and economic landscape of Ethiopia under the old regime. It closed a long chapter in the country's political history and opened a new and highly contested chapter in the politics of its historiography. Not long after the last monarch of the so-called Solomonic dynasty was toppled, a prominent Ethiopian historian raised the question of the proprietorship of history in a paper aptly titled "Whose History Is Ethiopian History?"1 The purpose of the paper was not so much to identify the rightful owner of Ethiopian history as to assert that there is an authoritative, unassailable, and monophonic Ethiopian history. Implied in the author's argument was that the Amhara-Tigrayans were the original inhabitants of Ethiopia and the rest were newcomers to the scene. Living in a unified political entity, however, they have developed a new shared identity and created a common history.2 This basic assumption became the standard of Ethiopianist3 historiography. Any kind of scholarship that questioned the validity of this assumption and the antiquity of Ethiopia was dubbed bellicose propaganda that nurtured centrifugal forces. Only interpretations that contributed to the production of a unitary, monolithic, master narrative passed the test of Ethiopianist scholarship. In effect, scholars were expected only to reinforce political orthodoxy in the name of preserving the Ethiopian state and its history.

Regardless of the effort to prevent the rewriting of history, the 1974 revolution created a political atmosphere that permitted forays into new terrain in Ethiopian historiography. With the declaration of socialism as the new ideology of the state, scholars felt safe to employ analytical concepts such as the class struggle and the primacy of economics in their [End Page 1] analyses and in selecting research topics. Social scientific inquiry focused on the study of the downtrodden, the neglected or excluded, and the historically silent. Many scholars turned to the production of knowledge about the activities and experiences of previously ignored classes, ethnic groups, and marginalized segments of Ethiopian society. These changes coincided with the intellectual ferment in academia that legitimized the use of oral information in the reconstruction of history and emphasized the critical role of the less dramatic historical forces, such as agrarian change, rural political economy, and property relations, in shaping social institutions. Ethiopian studies underwent a significant transformation as scholars focused less on the powerful and the dominant, and this often meant paying more attention to the non-Semitic peoples of southern Ethiopia.4

Perhaps because of their numerical significance as the largest ethnonation, the Oromo figured prominently among the ethnic groups that became the focus of the new scholarship. A number of studies were undertaken, exploring class relations, state formation, protest movements, land alienation, and agricultural production among the Oromo. Besides the work of expatriates5 and a number of BA essays,6 a few MA theses and PhD dissertations were completed by Oromo scholars during the late 1970s and the 1980s.7 Together these works moved Oromo studies onto a new plane and came to constitute an important milestone in Oromo studies. Basing their works largely on oral traditions, the authors of the studies brought legitimacy to Oromo oral traditions as historical sources. The conscious use of Oromo oral sources in the reconstruction of history brought the Oromo back in as active players of history. The fact that most of the scholars involved were Oromos signaled that Oromo intellectuals have come of age to produce Oromo-centered scholarship. Paul Baxter was perhaps acknowledging the importance of these works when he wrote in 1986 that "If Oromo studies are to develop they must depend on research carried out in Oromo lands among Oromo people and, increasingly by Oromo scholars."8 Despite their invaluable contributions, the trail-blazing works of these scholars were not seen as constituting a complete break from Ethiopianist historiographical traditions. As one Ethiopianist put it...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1-14
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.