Originally published: 16.03.14
I found this article while searching for information about the Oromo goddess Atete on a scholarly database. Here the southern Ethiopian goddess hardly appears in her own right, most of the Oromo having (incompletely) converted to Islam or Christianity. Yet she has survived in women’s domain, especially in a ceremonial period around birth, known as Qanafa, which remains sacrosanct. The women fiercely defend this time sacred to Atete and, although they are abused at other times, militantly confront men who commit abuse during the Qanafa seclusion. Much of the information available about Atete revolves around these ritualized female protests rather than the actual rites of the goddess.
Jeylan W. Hussein. “A Cultural Representation of Women in the Oromo Society.” African Study Monographs 25 (3), October 2004, pp 103-147 Online:
Oromo scholar Jeylan Hussein outlines the decline in women’s status in recent history, losses that have accelerated since conversions to Christianity (pushed by the dominant Amhara group) and Islam (embraced by many as a means of resisting these traditional enemies of the Oromo). He cites testimony of elders and historical records that indicate that women’s status was better in earlier times and that gender inequality hardened in the colonial era. [108-9]
It’s not that the old laws weren’t patriarchal. Oromo society was already patrilineal, with a harsh sexual double standard that stigmatized females and practiced boy-preference. Men who could afford it married several women, and senior wives ranked far above additional wives and concubines. Hussein analyzes numerous proverbs, showing how they describe women as inferior beings, as weak, fickle, irrational. They overwhelmingly depict women as men’s chattel. Several proverbs advocate beating wives, and compare them to donkeys and horses who could be tamed and beaten at will. As Hussein summarizes, Oromo sayings prescribe male mastery and female subordination. [121-28]
Suppressed Histories Archive: The Suppressed Histories Archives uncovers the realities of women’s lives, internationally and across time, asking questions about patriarchy and slavery, conquest and aboriginality. About mother-right, female spheres of power, indigenous philosophies of spirit– and the historical chemistry of their repression. Even more important, their role in resisting oppression. A global perspective on women’s history offers fresh and diverse conceptions of women’s power, as well as of men and gender borders. It overturns stereotypes of race and class, and the structures of domination that enforce them. It digs under the usual story of lords and rulers, looking for hidden strands, and reweaves knowledge from the divided fields of history, archaeology, linguistics and folk tradition. So we cast a wide arc, looking for patterns and gaps and contradictions which, where vested power interests are at stake, are trigger points for controversy. Some of the flashpoints are women’s power; neolithic female figurines; gender-egalitarian mother-right cultures; patriarchy; witch-hunts; “heresies” such as goddess veneration or shamans; and the rise and fall of empires, including the doctrines of supremacy and inferiority that prop up all systems of domination.