With a new political wind blowing through Ethiopia, the hitherto exiled Oromo Studies Association was able to return to home soil after four decades. Their conference produced gems of wisdom that cast the African experience in a new light.
The new political dispensation in Ethiopia, following the election of Abiy Ahmed and the earlier recognition of the various ethnicities that make up the country, is generating exciting new discoveries.
For example, the 33rd conference of the Oromo Studies Association (OSA), held for the first time on Ethiopian soil, unleashed an avalanche of new information that could very well change many of the perceptions we hold about ancient Africa.
For example, we learn about the Ayyaantuu, Oromian scientists and philosophers who developed a complex system of numerology and astronomy to predict everything from weather patterns for agricultural planning, to moments of societal upheaval.
In their antiquity, they built a series of astral observatories all along the length of the eastern Rift Valley, through which they mapped the visible universe, named stars and planets, and developed a calendar system that recycles itself every 365 years. Among the tools they used was a forked sighting staff, still carried by Oromo herdsman today.
Perhaps the last of these observatories has been finally located at Namoratunga in northern Kenya, with most of the star-aligned stone pillars still intact.
Using their calculations, the Ayyaantuu had observed the movements of a comet, and predicted that it was set to return every 75 years. In 1682, the astronomer Edmond Halley (1656-1742), using Newtonian laws of motion to compute its overall trajectory even after it has departed, came to the same conclusion. The comet is now named after him, except in Oromo, where it is called Gaalessa.
Gems like this were part of a veritable treasure-trove of hitherto little documented information that came flooding out during and after the OSA conference.
Out of over 100 papers submitted, there were some 56 presentations covering topics ranging from ecological management to history, constitutionalism, culture and economics.
OSA was founded by a group of exiled activists in 1986 in response to a crackdown that had led to those campaigning for greater recognition of the Oromo people and their culture being murdered, tortured, jailed or driven out of the country.
The Oromo number over 35m in all directions from Addis Ababa, which was part of Oromo territory...