Abstract

Wolaita is a peripheral region in southwestern Ethiopia that came under Ethiopian state control in 1894. The central government implemented a policy of violent political control, harsh economic extraction, and cultural marginalization over the vanquished population. During a very short stay as governor between 1958 and 1959, Gärmame Nəway—the famous leader of the attempted coup d'état against Haylä Səllase in 1960—implemented a set of legal, social, and educational reforms very popular among the Wolaita: elections of village representatives and judges, distribution of land to poor peasants, and hundreds of literacy centers up to the most remote areas. Accused of agitating the public, he was transferred by the emperor. His work was dismantled after his departure, but this experience remained in the collective memory. Today, some 50 years later, Gärmame Nəway is highly regarded by Wolaita farmers and intellectuals. Using a story fashioned as a folktale reported today in Wolaita where Gärmame Nəway set up a stratagem to uncover the wrongdoings of local chiefs and judges, this article aims to investigate Wolaita memory of his governorship. To what extent has this experience echoed with the social and political consciousness of the dominated Wolaita? What meaning do they give to it related to their own history and identity? How did it contribute to influence later political struggles?

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