University of Uppsala, Sweden
Linguists tell us that the Oromo language also referred to as afaan Oromoo or
Oromiffaa with its more than 20 million speakers is the second most widely spread
indigenous language in Africa. More than two-thirds of the speakers of the Cushitic
languages are Oromo or speak afaan Oromoo, which is also the third largest
Afro-Asiatic language in the world (Gragg 1982). In spite of its importance as a
vernacular widely spoken in the Horn of Africa afaan Oromoo lacks today a
developed literature. Both the cultural history of the Oromo people and the
language policy of the Ethiopian government were suggested to be responsible for
this state of affairs.
In this paper I maintain that, although some basic literature existed in afaan
Oromoo for the last 100 years, as the Oromo were colonized, they were (and still
are) not given the chance to build on the literary foundations that were laid down
during the last two decades of the 19th century.
To illustrate my argument, I describe Onesimos Nasib’s contribution to Oromo
literature, and the efforts he made to spread literacy and modern education in
Oromoland at the beginning of this century. I discuss also, albeit briefly, the
reactions that the works of Onesimos aroused among the Abyssinian nobility and
clergy and the resultant language policy that suppressed development of literacy in
afaan Oromoo and the other Cushitic and Omotic languages. The approach in this
paper is socio-historical as well as socio-linguistic.
It is perhaps easier to appreciate the contributions made by Onesimos if we look
at them in relation to his life and the numerous events that influenced or affected
him and his work in one way or another. Therefore, I present in this section a short
biography of Onesimos Nasib.
For full biography: Onesimos Nasib