Is it Barara or Finfine? Debates on Addis Abeba! አዲስ አበባ ስሟ በራራ ነው ወይስ ፊንፊኔ? የማንስ ነች?

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25/09/2018 

The main cause for setting out to write this piece is a press statement that was sent out today by five Oromo political parties on current issues. What has become so controversial and ire on social media now is the quite insensitive and unsubstantiated claim that the statement makes about Addis Abeba, the capital city of Ethiopia.

The statement reads:

” We Oromo political parties state that Addis Abeba is always Oromo’s city. However, this does not mean that non-Oromos cannot live in Addis Abeba (Finfine).”

This is a dangerous claim. Irresponsible and baseless!

It has been a while since Oromo activists have been arguing that Addis Abeba “is actually not the original name of Addis Abeba but Finfine (an Oromiffa word they say) and the city belongs to Oromo people since they were the “natives or indigenous” and the rest of the population are “immigrants or settlers.”  Many have chosen to disregard these claims as foolish and ignore them. They never imagined such outlandish ideas held by some extremist Oromo activists would be taken up and mainstreamed by senior Oromo politicians who are now openly and irresponsibly repeating this wildly unreasonable agenda that could have so many negative consequences. Yet, they did.

Is Addis Abeba’s name Finfine? Are the Oromo people the natives of Addis Abeba and the rest settlers? 

We first tried to conduct an online search for scientific literature on Google Scholar, Jstor and other scientific journals that could corroborate their claims.

One of the few official sources is found in the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) statement issued in 2014 titled “Finfine is the Central and Integral Part of Oromia.” The statement justifies Addis Abeba (Finfine according to their lingo) is  an Oromo city and the rest especially Shoa Amhara are settlers because:

” The area historically and legally belongs to the Oromo people. Before the conquest of Emperor Menelik, the present land on which the city of Finfine is erected had been the ritual, political and economic center of the Tulama branch of the Oromo society…The traditional owners of the land were mainly the Oromo clans of Gulalle, Eka and Galan.  The former name of the area Finfinne was replaced by Amharic name that came to be known as Addis Ababa. Subsequently names of different places in and around Finfine took Amhara names. Among others Burqa Finfine was changed to Filwaha, Birbirsa Ya’ii Goro took the name Arada Georges, Chaffe Arara was designated Arat Kilo, Dalati was labeled Arat Kilo, Tullu Hexo was named Tallaquu Beta Mengist (Grand Palace), Beda Ejersa Ras Kasa Sefer, Luqo Kormaa was changed to Ras Birru Sefer, Barro Korma named as Ras Tesema Sefer, Arbu Irrecha to Ras Hayilu Sefer…”

In the six pages of the statement, there is no other archaeological, historical or scientific evidence given to corroborate the claims. A good question to ask is “so how did the Tulama or other groups of Oromo come to Addis Abeba?”

The only information is that the current sub cities of Addis Abeba had an Oromo name before therefore they are the native lands of the Oromo people. This is a simplistic and unevidenced claim. Prof. Fikre Tolosa in a book he adapted from a so called rare book argued that Oromo and Amhara people have the same ancestral lineages because previous kings of Ethiopia and places held names that had meanings both in Oromiffa and Amharic.  Such are foolishly speculative and indefensible arguments.

An earlier text submitted to the UN OHCHR by Mr.Tarekegn Chimdi “On Forced Change of the Capital city of the State of  Oromia: Ethiopia, from Finfinne (Addis Ababa) to Adama and its Consequences” argues that the Oromo people are indigenous to Addis Abeba (Finfine). He also argues:

“Prior to colonization of Oromia, the present day Addis Ababa had an Oromo name – Finfinne. ” The only book evidence he attempts to corroborate is Major W. C. Harris’ “The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844)”. He quotes Harris “rolling on like the mighty waves of the ocean, down poured the Amhara host among the rich glades and rural hamlets, at the heels of the flying inhabitants—tramping under foot the fields of the ripening corn, and sweeping before them the vast herds of cattle which grazed untended in every direction.” His book was written nearly 30 years before the foundation of Addis Abeba in 1887. The book narrates about conflicts in late 18th and early 19th century, which have nothing to do with the foundation or “colonisation of Finfine” as Tarekegn argues. Moreover, this book discusses about war and advances that took place from all corners of the country not just aimed at Barara or Finfine.

So far we cannot find ANY evidence that shows Finfine was the old name of Addis Abeba before 1887 or the indigenous population of the city were Oromos. No research, literature, architecture, or clues to prove that. Even the likes of Prof. Mohammed Hassen Ali, who authored “The Oromo and the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia 1300-1700” and Mekuria Bulcha “Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation”, Prof. Asafa Jalata’s and Tsega Etefa’s several books and journal articles on the Oromo history and “oppression” never mention anything about the history of so called “Finfine” or Oromo’s role in the 700 plus city (metropol) history, civilisation and architectural wonders  of Addis Abeba.

All the pro-Finfine writings do not mention anything before 1887. Their literature and argument is all post 1887 i.e that former Oromo names of the city were changed as Menelik resettled in Addis Abeba. Menelik’s granddad, Sahle Selassie was also reported to have said by Tarekegne “My grandson will re-conquer my father’s land.” However, this is more of an evidence that Emperor Menelik and Empress Taytu Bitul re-founded the land, Addis Abeba, which Menelik’s grannies built during the Medieval Christian period rather than “colonisation” of the Oromo as the OLF generation attempts to rewrite facts.

The problem with most of the above and even legal documents currently being used by the government to give a special right and interest to Oromia on Addis Abeba does not have any robust historical and scientific evidence. There is no archeological material present until today showing Qubee language or even any structure in today’s Addis Abeba showing that there was an Oromo civilisation or rule as old as the medieval Ethiopia. There is no scientific research or literature showing Finfine as the old name of Addis Abeba or even any clue that only Oromo people were the singular and native residents of Addis Abeba. If there is, it is not anything beyond foolish “listing of old Oromo names of places and arguing because they bore/held (since when?) old Oromo names, they are and belong to Oromos.”

Archaeological, historical and scientific evidence of Addis Abeba pre-15th C

Washa Michael (Mikael): Is located in the middle of Addis Abeba on the Yeka Hill, the Southern East side of Addis Ababa city. Author and researcher Bruce Strachan is one of the few people, who have studied this historical place in the middle of Addis Abeba and worked to preserve it.  He has been writing about Washa Mikael Here.  Bruce states that the semi-monolithic Church was carved in similar way and model as the Axumite and Lalibela structures.
The Lonely Planet website describes Washa Mikael:”Though local priests date it back to the 3rd century AD, it most probably dates back to the 12th century.” Several authors state that the structure was destroyed during the Abyssinian-Adal War (1528-1543) but Bruce argues that the structure was not complete during the construction due to the nature of the materials used in the carving process.
In one of his academic presentations in Addis Abeba University, in 2010, titled “Shoa’s Forgotten Rock Treasures”, Bruce noted Shoan reign as a:
” fascinating period of capital relocation, expansion and development that came to an end when King Lebna Dengel (1507-1540) King of Shoa, found his empire overrun by the Ottoman backed troops of a young and charismatic imam from Zeila named Ahmad bin Ibrahim al-Gazi (1506-1543).”
Shoa and its environs, which includes today’s Addis Abeba as well as most of its architectural and historical significances were destroyed during this war and later during the period known as the Oromo expansion or migration of 16th and 17th Centuries.
In one of his interviews, Bruce stated:
“Lisbon and Venice developed crucial relationships during the 1400’s, in fact one site called Barara, which we’ve as yet failed to locate, is exquisitely illuminated on Fra Mauro’s 15th century Mappa Mundi. Finding this medieval capitol will be an immense archeological breakthrough.”
Today, Barara is interchangeably used with Addis Abeba by many writers and activists.
Bruce Strachan

Photo of Washa Mikael Church 

The author describes Washa Michael as “Addis Abeba’s foremost cultural heritage site.” The site is a hallmark of Shoan civilisation and its residence in today’s Addis Abeba as early as the 12th Century. Whoever civilised the then Addis Abeba and used its environs as a metropolitan city of the Shoan reign of the Solomonic Dynasty can rightfully claim Addis Abeba as it’s fatherland but that is still isolating, so we suggest another at the recap section.
Bruce listed the architectural and religious sites that the Shoan reign beginning from Yekuno Amlak’s 1270 until the fall of Lebna Dengel in 1540 had built inside today’s Addis Abeba and its surroundings. These are:
 the monastery of Debre Libanos, the Debre Mitmaq Monastery (in Tegulat), the Mt Zuqwala Monastery, Managesha Hill Church and Coronation Complex, the Capital City of Barara (with it’s church and patriarchal residence), the Ginbi Church, the Semi-monolithic Church of Yeka (also called Washa-Mikael), the Adadi-Mariam Monolithic Church, The Abbo-Nebero complex, the Ejersa Church, the Enselale Church, the Kistana Cave Chapel, as well as the royal residence known as Badeqe.
The majority of these tangible historical and scientific evidence are still present and serving until today. They are architectural and historical evidence of who lived, ruled and “owned” today’s Addis Abeba in the early 12th and 15th C.
Several international research works are also being conducted on them. This is one incontestable evidence of who founded Addis Abeba, lived in it and can actually claim it, if there need be.

Sire: Sire is also about 35 kms south of Addis. Cities like Sire debunk the method used by extremist Oromo activists to deny residence and rights to Ethiopian people in the surroundings of Addis Abeba  based on the very abstract zoning system of the “Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne.” Sire city of the 15th century based on recent scientific findings is located in what is today outskirts of Addis Abeba around Dukem on the way to Debre Zeit (Bishoftu) in the Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne.

“Some 15 km north of Debre Zeyt, mid-way on a secondary road to Chefe Donsa and only some 2 km beyond passing the rural market town of Godino, a remarkable archaeological site has been investigated in detail. The area is locally known as “Sire” and making reference to the archaeological evidence the authors named the site the “City of Sire”. Some 6 km to the north-west of this place are found the medieval ruins of the Church of Ginbi and not far to the west looms Mt Yerer.42 Only some 2 km to the north-east the terraced hill-top of Ichichie is located.” found Breternitz & Pankhurst (2009).

Sire is another important evidence of tangible, researchable and scientific evidence about who lived here before Ahmed Gragn’s invasion and the Oromo expansion of the 16th & 17th Century. 

Southern Abassia section of the Fra Mauro map indicating toponomy and geographical features – Note: The southern orientation means that south is above.  (Source: Walker (2014))

Barara: Italian Fra Mauro was one of the first and most trusted mappers of the 15th
century. He was a monk, who travelled the world. His  Mappa Mundi correctly mapped many pre-colonial lands in Europe, Africa and the Near-East. He also had mapped a few places that still retain the same name and location as they did then, including today’s Ethiopia which he had called Abassia (Ethyopia). One contentious place now that has puzzled many archaeologists  to find is known as Barara. Many Ethiopian activists believe and argue that Barara was the former name of some sub cities and surrounding  zones of today’s Addis Abeba not Finfine. However, most of them say so based on what they heard  from their grandparents. They are not totally incorrect either. Mauro in 15th Century mentioned the legendary Westerner, who visited  Ethiopia then, Prester John and described a city known as Barara in and around today’s Addis Abeba.
According to Walker (2014) “Fra Mauro inscribes references to the legendary king, Prester John, across Ethyopia  Abassia, even mentioning his capital and the number of kingdoms under his Lordship.” Moreover, the author states “Our investigation has confirmed the surprising completeness and accuracy of Fra Mauro’s research. “
Walker, however, further does detailed investigation referring to more recent maps since Mauro, uses Google Maps, Satellite and other present day references like visits and interviews in search of Barbara. He has not yet said where specifically it is but located other cities in the nearby of present day Addis such as the Eastern, Southern and Northern outskirts of Addis Abeba, what is currently being called, Oromia Special Zone but were then (15th Century Medieval cities of Ethiopia) sprouting bases and cities of the Shoan rulers and people. Barara was destroyed during the religious wars of 1530 by Ahmed Gragn and was swallowed by the Oromo expansion/migration.
According to another mapper, Pinkerton’s 1818 map, Barara is located between upper and lower Shoa. The research by Hartwig Breternitz & Richard Pankhurst (2009) is one that perhaps clearly delineated Barara’s location based on a survey, archaeological and historical analyses.  The authors state:
“However, “moving capitals” and a number of prominent royal settlements existed, especially in Shoa, which formed – next to Amhara – the centre of the Ethiopian kingdoms of the 13th to early 16th Century. One of them, Barara, a settlement in south-east Shoa, appears to have been a capital for close on a century, but remains one of the country’s least known – and most enigmatic – of towns, despite its obvious function as political and economic centre of 15th and early 16th century Ethiopia. “
And here comes the crux of the matter. Hartwig Breternitz & Richard Pankhurst further explain “However, having been destroyed by the Adäl conqueror Amir Ahmed ibn Ibrahim, better known as Grañ, the Left-Handed, in the first half of the 16th century, the city as well as the whole of South Shoa was later inhabited by migrating Oromo, as a result of which knowledge of Barara as well as of the other historic places in south Shoa was lost.”
Now, from which era and period are our Oromo brothers and politicians starting the count from? Why are they avoiding all this indisputable evidence?
Pankrust and Beternitz note that they were unable to exactly locate Barara. They consider the city was built with “mud and wood”, which could have easily been destroyed. They conclude “However, there is good reason to still believe that Barara was located between Mt Yerer and the Wechecha Range as indicated in Fra Mauro’s map. ”  Professor Marco Vigano finds that Barara is located in today’s geographic location of North West Addis Abeba. This location links today’s Addis Abeba city and the outskirts of the Wechecha Range a bit farther from the capital. Bear in mind that today’s Addis Abeba is way different from the Addis Abeba of 20 years ago, 133 years ago or 600 years ago in size, population and demography. It has been expanding.
Sedai: is another medieval city in the outskirts of Addis that Samuel Walker (2014) found matching Mauro’s map. He said “a previously un-identified site, fitting the descriptions on the Fra Mauro map, containing substantial architecture and quantities of medieval cultural material spread over an eight kilometer transect.”
Walker’s work is very useful in the understanding of Addis Abeba or cities inside and near Addis Abeba pre-1887. This is a work in progress but must be read Here.
Entoto and surroundings:  The architectural and historical remains in Entoto are said to be from the middle to late 17th century, which is way before the so called foundation of Addis Abeba. The current city of Addis Abeba, although not widely inhabited during those centuries, but probably had served as trade route between Barara, Sire and destroyed towns. Entoto is less than 16 Km from the centre of Addis Abeba i.e Menelik Square or Piassa. How can Entoto be considered outside of today’s Addis Abeba? Only if Oromo parties are claiming only a certain sub city of Addis Abeba, that can make sense.
The above are considered to be twin cities of Barara, which either cross or surround present day Addis Abeba. They had their own populations known by the then names as Bararans or Sedians and their descendants together with later expansive Gragn and Oromo soldiers as well as later day urbanizers are now known as Addis Abebans. It does and must belong to all of them.
Recap 

The press statement by a cluster of Oromo opposition forces, who now feel to have become the de facto rulers of the country, after the TPLF clique lost most of its power within the key sectors of the government, have likely issued this presser as a strategy of giving the rest of the opposition forces, as well as Addis Abebans, another assignment. Instead of focussing on the major events happening in the country such as the targeted ethnic attack against Gamo and Gurage people in Burayu, Oromo region by alleged Qerro youth, the mass arrest of youth in Addis Abeba and the entrenchment of key government posts mainly by officials from the OPDO, they are focusing on minor issues that could create more problems and clashes.

Hence, if there was anyone to rightfully claim more rights in today’s Addis Abeba, then it would have been especially of the people related to the Shoans of the medieval period. However, this is a futile venture because before the Shoan reign, there were other people, who also called themselves “natives”. And, also before these people, there were people of certain ethnic group, who lived in this region and called themselves “indigenous.” Hence, the “we are the natives” argument holds little or no water at all. There is no ethnic group that should be given special rights and interests in Addis Abeba. Current city laws and articles of the constitution giving special rights and privileges to the Oromia region should immediately be revised. Oromo activists and opposition parties should also refrain, as well as apologise, for making such divisive, isolating and conflict inciting statements. It is unbelievable that Oromo elites are making such claims, when most of them are based in the Western world, where they are considered as Londoner, Torontonian or American equal to those those born there. People born in Addis Abeba might be considered “a native of Addis” but Addis Abeba is and must be for all Ethiopians, also anyone, who legally resides in the city respecting the laws of the country and the people. There is no first class or second class Ethiopian!

Finally, to reassert our arguments and justifications on Barara (Addis Abeba) and its medieval foundations let us mention a few important bullet points from Professor Marco Vigano’s satellite and archeological research and lectures on Barara:

  • Addis Abeba is as old as 600 years old not just 100 plus i.e. since when it was refounded.
  • Addis Ababa, its extent covers a set of major medieval settlements that included at least seven forts, thirteen Churches and some seven villages, aside from Barara, the capital.
  • There were 22 official missions to European courts stemmed, from 1380 to 1530 alone from Barara (Addis Abeba)
  • Barara, Tich, Amagie and the Yekka complex (Badeqqe?) lie within Addis Ababa, like other forts on Entoto, while Sadai, Vuicie, and Masin towns are in the vicinities, or just South

Beyond these, there are also several chronicles and Orthodox religious texts proving our arguments. However, we chose to stick to a few of the “modern” references for now. More good research and scholarship is necessary to end the claims and counterclaims once and for all.