A Remarkable Chapter of German Research History: The Protestant Mission and the Oromo in the Nineteenth Century

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By Wolbert G.C. SMIDT

Oromo–German relations First steps

A crucial period for the creation of the traditional and special relationship between Germans and the Oromo were the 1840s, when many Oromo areas were still located outside the traditional Ethiopian state. Two parallel undertakings of two South Germans – Tutschek and Krapf – led to a permanent public interest in Germany into these people and to the establishment of the first serious Oromo Studies. The first was the young Bavarian Karl Tutschek2, who was nominated teacher of several Africans, freed slaves, who were brought to Germany by south German nobles – and a few of them were Oromo from different Oromo states. Learning to speak their language from them, he wrote the first existing Oromo dictionary and grammar (published in 1844 and 1845). Particularly important for research history were Akkafedhee (also known as ‘Osman’) and Amaan (also called ‘Karl Habasch’),3 whose letters in German and Oromo and records of oral traditions of 1840 are important witnesses for Oromo culture and history. This extraordinary cultural encounter is to be seen in the context of the traditional interest of German courts for ‘curiosities’ and their wish for the accumulation of entertaining and ‘instructive’ knowledge about the world. It was in fact mainly through nobles, that several Oromo were freed and later brought to German states in that period. The prince Pückler-Muskau, an adventurer at the court of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, purchased and later lived together with ‘Machbuba’ (Bilillee), a kidnapped Oromo.4 Also another noble traveller, John von Müller, brought a former Oromo slave from Egypt to Germany, Ganamee from Guummaa (later called ‘Pauline Fathme’), who became a key figure for the first Protestant German Oromo mission. From 1855 to 1927 the short biography of this pious young lady was reprinted several times, together with calls to open a mission in ‘Ormania’, as the Oromo regions were called by German missionaries.5

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