Nov 19, 2012

Oromo: Historical Finding Of A Restored Ancient Dictionary

One of the oldest Afan Oromo-English dictionaries was recently restored and gave rise to a historical finding about the man who helped to compile it.


Below is an article published by Gadaa:


On November 15, 2012, finalized the restoration of one of the oldest Afan Oromo-English (English-Afan Oromo) dictionaries; the dictionary was collected and compiled by Edwin C. Foot, and was published by the Cambridge University Press in 1913.

In the PREFACE of the dictionary, a editor stumbled upon an acknowledgement made by Edwin C. Foot, the dictionary’s collector and compiler, to “Liban Bultum,” whom Mr. Foot recognized as the clerk who assisted him with the dictionary.

A further search of “Liban Bultum” revealed that Obbo Liban Bultum was actually an Oromo, who was sold as a slave at the age of about 13, freed upon his arrival at the coast of Yemen, and sent to South Africa with British missionaries. This part of the story is similar to the recent widely reported story of Aaddee Bisho Jarsa.

Records acquired from “The Oromo diaspora narratives,” a document with stories of some 62 freed Oromo living in South Africa in the 1890′s and early 1900′s, indicate that Obbo Liban Bultum was later on employed at the Law Office of Mr. Daniel McLaren Brown as a clerk in the city of Port Elizabeth.

The records also show that Obbo Liban Bultum was with Aaddee Bisho Jarsa, whose grandson was one of the Anti-Apartheid freedom fighters, Dr. Neville Alexander. It’s to be noted that, just before his recent death, Dr. Neville Alexander shared the story of his lifelong search for his Oromo roots to VOA’s Jaallannee Gammadaa.

Unlike Aaddee Bisho Jarsa, Obbo Liban Bultum did return to his homeland, Oromia, from South Africa in the 1900′s. Upon his return to Finfinnee, Obbo Liban Bultum began to work as an interpreter at the British Legation in the capital. The dictionary posted on the “Oromo Studies Collection @,” was one of the works he was involved in using his knowledge of the English language as well as Afan Oromo.

We request Oromo scholars to further research other works of Obbo Liban Bultum, if any.