From ‘Jirra’ (We are here) to ‘Jirtu’ (Are we here?)- Haacaalu Is Gone With No Answers.
By Ali Edin
The death of Haacaalu Hundessa has rocked Oromia fraternity around the World, raising tension in Ethiopia as protests turned out violent in different areas. The years of protests, suffering, and oppressions appeared to be coming to an end when Dr. Abiy ascended to power following the resignation of Hailmariam Desalegn, however, it appears as if that victory was short-lived with the emergence of similar scenes. When Haacaalu appeared on Oromia Media Network (OMN) a few weeks ago, he appeared to make it clear that Oromia is yet to be liberated as the suffering of the largest ethnic group is yet to end. On that day, he was categorical in his criticism of Dr. Abiy and viewed his leadership as having no impact on his people. “It’s not yet bilisuma for Oromo as long as the statute of Menelik stands in the heart of Finfinne (Addis),” remarked Haacaalu during the interview.
The fight for liberation by Oromos was a long struggle but the persistent push by youth protesters commonly referred to as ‘Qeerroos’ finally bored fruits. Protesters, activists, as well as artists, were consistent in their push and Haacaalu joins the list of thousands who have lost their lives in the fight. Through his music, Haacaalu managed to mobilize the youths who were scattered and helped create a politically conscious, defiant, and resilient generation. His lyrics have been nothing more than lessons to help teach the right history especially for the youths who took over the mantle in the freedom marches. His 2015 track Malaan Jira (“What existence is mine”), was a kind of an ethnographic take on the Oromo’s uncertain and anomalous place within the Ethiopian state. His powerful expression of the group’s precarious existence quietly, yet profoundly, animated a nationwide movement that erupted months later. Maalan Jira was the soundtrack for the revolution.
On 10th December 2017, Haacaalu took the centre stage during the largest-ever Oromo concert in the capital, Addis. The moment he took to the podium the scene turned magical as he gave his opening greetings – “ashamaa, ashamaa, ashamaa” – the crowd was electrified. His movements on the stage and his exemplary use of traditional poetry is celebrated as his best-ever performance. As the crowd surged and got charged, it was not known to them that the decades-long revolution will bear fruits and almost one of them will ascend to power few months later for the first time ever.
Hacaalu repeatedly asked the crowd ‘Jirtu’ (are we here?”), inspiring the crowd even more. In under a minute, the singer had created what Dolan calls moments of communitas, “resulting in a sudden and deeper insight into the shared process of being in the world.” As his light fades, at a time when his soundtrack gave hope to the multitudes at the event and the millions who watched from all over the world, Haacaalu sang like he knew he was close to his death but he kept urging his audience to look in the mirror, to focus on themselves, and decolonize their minds. “Jirra (we are here),” he sang and shortly before his assassination, he again asked, “Jirtu ( are we here?).
Haacaalu was jailed at 17 years for his activism for justice and fairness. The struggle he fed with his artistic language and beautiful songs must continue.