Burji Online

By Tego Wolasa

In the words of Albert Einstein, Curiosity has its reason for existing. And I agree with him.

Last year, while collecting secondary materials about the migratory path of the Burji, I was stung by the curiosity bug.

But before I tell you about the curiosity, I found that there are three general views about the migratory paths of the Burji.

I will mention only the views of those who say that the ultimate origin of the Burji was from Northern and North eastern highlands of Ethiopia before settling in Tegulat and Bulga in northern Shewa.

This view was from several reports, among them Aweke Amzaye (2007), Harka Haroye (2005), and Yamral Mekonnen (2013).

Yamral, for instance, gathered the information in 2013 from Getahun Addo, who was then a 63-year-old resident of Soyama, and Musa Jillo, who was a 95-year-old resident of Yabello.

Other writers such as Alexander Kellner support the view that most of the current inhabitants of southern Ethiopia trace their origin to Northern Ethiopia. Hermann Amborn and Dae Mude indirectly support the same.

The proponents of this migratory route say that the departure of the Burji from the North Shewa towards the south was led by their legendary leader named Burjie.

They further say that on reaching present-day Alaba, they divided into two groups. One group, called Burji Jaba or Burji Jeba, moved towards West Shewa while the main group, the current Burji, moved southwards and settled around the Gidabo river.

Oral traditions and considerable evidence strongly support the Gidabo connection with the Burji. Gidabo river is near Yirgalem town.

Gidabo River

I would have loved to discuss the migratory routes further. Unfortunately, my intention today is to tell you about my curiosity.

My curiosity was about Burji Jaba, the group which was said to have split from the main group and headed westward many centuries ago.

During his recent visit to Nairobi, I posed the question to my dad, now in his seventies. He confirmed having heard about Burji Jaba. According to him, Burji Jaba headed towards Qucha town in Ethiopia and disappeared.

I then spent half the night scouring the net for clues about Burji Jaba and their disappearance towards Qucha town.  I did not find anything tangible. But I didn’t give up either.

The next morning, I contacted my good friend Habibi Tuke, Ethiopian based Burji Lawyer. He didn’t have information about Burji Jeba. But I didn’t despair.

My curiosity then led me to Honorable Chuna Buya. The Burji Member of Parliament in Ethiopia.

I asked him if he knew anything about Burji Jeba, who disappeared towards West Shewa or Qucha town.

The resourceful MP responded almost instantaneously. And here is what he told me.

‘Yes, I know them. They are not at Qucha; they live in Bench Maji zone, Bero Woreda. Their name was Jeba Burji, orr Burji, Yami Burji. I have collected some information about them, and they have a culture similar to ours’.

I found a write-up about Bench Maji and Bero Woreda but didn’t find any mention of Burji. I went back to him for further assistance. He told me to check the Dizi Nationalities of Bench Maji Zone.

Hon. Chuna (right) during the recently concluded Burji New year celebration

I took a deep dive into the internet and found out that the Dizi people have a town called Jeba or called Burji Jeba in some cases.

Similarly, historical texts about the Dizi people talk of Jeba Burji, an ancient Dizi chief who resided in Bero.

Perhaps, the town was named after the ancient inhabitants, the Burji Jeba. Today, Maji is the largest town in the Dizi area. Other major towns are Jeba, Tum, and Adikas.

The Dizi has three traditional leadership titles kyaz, kyam, and Burji.  Besides, they have various chiefdoms which are named after their respective clan names.

The chiefdoms are Adi-kyaz which is based around the Adi area. Kersi-kyam based in the Kersi area, and Urr-Burji (the rain caller) based in the Urr area.

Until the advent of Menelik’s rule in the 1890s, the Dizi were organized into clans. One of the clans is called Jabba.

Interestingly, the Dizi has a caste system comprising of five castes: nobles (karyab), freemen (nyank), bondsmen (Zaku), Geymi, and hunters (kwoygi).

The nobility (Karyab) was in turn divided into seven hereditary ranks, which are “Kyaz, Burji, Tso’ani, Koyz, Ba, and Keysi. ”

Just like Burji, most of the Dizi people are agriculturalists. They grow enset (d’inshi), maize, sorghum, barley, wheat, teff, and other crops.

There is a dispute as to how to classify them. While some classify the Dizi as Western Cushitic speakers, others classify them as Omotic speakers.

The Dizi language is referred to as Dizin or Dizinog. I perused through books about their grammar and vocabulary, but it seems the language is very different.

For instance, Yaab means a person, Qoy for number one, shigo for short, Yinu means I.

A Dizi Girl                                                        

According to the 2007 census, there were 36,380 Dizin speakers. Like the Burji, their population was around 100,000 before the arrival of Menelik and the gebbar system in the 1890s.

It should be noted that I am not making or disputing any claims here. There could be some connection between the Dizi and the Burji, or there is none. Or maybe the Burji did not split into two groups at Alaba, or perhaps they did.

Whatever the case, I hope anthropologists and historians will take a deeper dive and unravel this mystery for us.

Hope I have created some curiosity in you as well.

Photo courtesy of Kwekudee – down memory lane and Wikipedia.

30 Responses

  1. Unbelievable. Thank you so much adayo nujirad. Am personally proud of you ,,,,,Dizis are our cousins ?

  2. Wontto Utto Tego.You’re amazing.I am very amazed by the intrest you’ve taken in everything Burji.Your mention of the Gidabo river actually reminded me of my last visit to Yirgalem over 25yrs ago.It was also my first trip to Arbaminch and latter Soyama.I can’t exactly remember if it was Mzee Dakha Jillo of Yabello or my cousin Duro Burje who narrated me the Burji split,where some of them disappeared around Gidabo river.I hear that’s how the curse “ shianich gidabo quthee latto “ came about.I wish I had inquired more.But I think I’ll now make a point of following it up.Tego you’re doing an incredible work.God bless!

  3. Uncle, this is a great piece of information. You have created curiosity in us and we need to research more. I understand that there were some burjis who migrated to Gidole Guba during the Menelik era. The Burji clan that migrated there are of the Umm clan. After many years they even became the spiritual leaders of the Gidole region. There was a man called Barambas Silano whose root I suspect comes from Burji.

    1. This is a new one, it will make an interesting research item. From the many texts that I read many Burji fled Burjeng Gar during Menelik cruel reign. Is is said that whenn Meneliks conquering army led by Dajjach Luel Seged locally remembered among the Burji as Lusagadi entered Burjiland between 1894 and 1895, so many people fled. I will note down the Barambaras Silano and his spiritual reign in Gidole Guba for consultation with elders and search through secondary texts. Thank you, Uncle.

  4. It’s an interesting piece,? the problem is we don’t have any fully convincing and logically acceptable historical manuscripts or even oral traditions, I heard and read the lots of completely paradoxical and irreconcilable story about Burji’s Origin.
    My generation bears a huge responsibility to overcome this mystery.
    Thanks again for your effort, keep up good work.

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