Illubabor Province

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Illubabor Province in Ethiopia

Illubabor was a province in the south-western part of Ethiopia, along the border with Sudan. The name Illubabor is said to come from two Oromo words, "Illu" and "Abba Bor(a)". "Illu" is a name of a clan, and "Abba Bor" was the horse name of Chali Shone, who founded the ruling family of the area when it was conquered by Shewa; hence IlluAbabor means the Illu belonging to Ababor(a).[1] There is also a place called Illu-Abasambi named in the similar fashion.

The "il" means the same as Al/El. It is ancient in form from ba'il/bayil when the Kingship of the world was in Babylon/Yeman. The "Luba" part is the tribes name: Luo peoples. It was a great kingdom before the slave trade sent most of its 2 million or more citizens elsewhere in Africa and the Americas. The "Bor" is understood as Beor, a bantoid reference for Orion and "Bey/bai. " Al' Ubabai'ar" would be close to its ancient Arabic pronunciation similar to Ubabashan/Bashan. The Holy bible speaks of Bela of Beor in the valley of the Kings war along with the elimination of the Mighty Horim of Idomigodo/Edom from the priesthood of the Judean Levites for refusing to refrain from the ways of their ooni fathers.

Originally, its capital city was Gore, then around 1978 the capital was moved to Metu.[2] With the adoption of new constitution in 1995, the territory of Illubabor was divided between the Gambela, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regions of Ethiopia.


Illubabor was, by the late 19th century, an Oromo state facing the prospect of forcibly being absorbed into the Ethiopian Empire, whose reconsolidation of authority over long-abandoned peripheral territories had been intensifying since the ascension of Menelik II, who had begun his southern campaigns while King ofShewa, to the imperial throne in 1889.

Invasion and reconquest[edit]

Fentnsa Illu was governed Illuababor together with Ras Tessema. Ras Tessema was appointed Fentensa and other his commanders to administer the people in the region. The Governor of Nakamte was Kumsa Merda who trying to defend the army of Ras Gobena Dache. Ras Gobana Dache has assessed the region of Neqamte and Gambella, currently, there is a school in Gambella which named by the name of Ras Gobana "Ras Gobana School." When Ras Tessema came to Illubabor with Fentensa Illu, Jimma Aba Jifar was supported and provide a suitable condition to cross the region of Kaffa. Jimma also under Kaffa, the Governor of Kaffa was King Garicho. Jimma Aba Jifar administered only the current Jimma city area. However, the brother of Fentensa sent a message to Moroda Kumsa to have the alliance to resist Fentensa and Ras Tessema. Their calculation was wrong because Ras Tessema and Fentensa came to unify all Ethiopian territory under one government which is one part of state formation. The Anglo-Egyptian also expand their territory into the Gambella front. They were trying to form an alliance to fight their own people with a lack of political understanding in the work of state formation. Finally, their alliance could not resist the army of Ras Tessema and Fentensa. All people in the region were supported Fentensa and government's army. Moroda had also a personal vision to control Illubabor under the rule of Naqamte which is a very greedy personality of a public leader. Currently, also many Oromo elites perceived that Menelik II invade Illubabor. But, first of all, Menelik II did not invade any region in Ethiopia. For Oromo, it is knowledge deficiency what they perceived as an invasion. It is not an invasion. It is part of state formation in the modern government ruling system. If we conclude that state formation as invasion, the only people who conquered by force in Ethiopia is Galla (Oromo). Oromo invade the land of many people in Ethiopia and it is not the way to argue anyone unless they blind themselves for the consequences of bloody fighting. Now, the region is part of Ethiopia and any Ethiopian citizen has a right to live there. The Galla (Oromo) also highly participate in the state formation. Amhara took the leading position and Oromo also took a lion-share of State formation of Ethiopia.

Gore is the capital town of Illuababor. It is also served as capital of Ethiopia for 24 hour during the invasion of Italy.

Establishment of imperial administration[edit]

Ras Tessema made Gore the seat of his administration. It was at this time that the semi-feudal system of neftegna, balabats, and gebbars was introduced to Illubabor. The Shewan officials and soldiers who settled in Illubabor, known as neftegna or "riflemen", were assigned to a number of peasant households, or gabbars depending on their rank and position. A Dejazmach was granted 1,000 peasant households, a Fitawrari 300, a Kenyazmach 100 to 150; a Shambal 70 to 90; a Mato Alaqa 40 to 60, Hamsalaqa 25 to 35 and an ordinary soldier 5 to 10. Each peasant household had to go to the land owned by the overland and contribute his labor as a form of tax. The overland provided food and drinks. At the end of the work, each peasant went back to their land or business. Taxes were collected from every married couple. In addition to the tax [gabbar] sometimes the local farmers built the fences and homes of the overlord. They had to supply honey, butter, chicken and fattened sheep or goat on holidays. Each household had to produce fifty kilos of grounded cearls to each neftegna every month. Furthermore, the peasants had to transport grain crops to the nearest government granaries. If a gabbar failed to fulfill his duties, he would be summoned to the court. As C.F. Rey had noticed ". . . The judges are the sub governor creatures of course take the side of the plaintiff in nine cases out of ten." The neftegnoch could pass any judgment they wanted, short of capital punishment, which required Emperor Menelek's approval. But people were killed without even the consent of the governors especially in case of rebels or bandits.

The importance of Gore as a center for invaluable export trade items in Illubabor depended upon smaller markets such as Hurumu, Noppa, Metu and Bure. By 1930 each of these markets had a population of about 500 including resident foreign merchants. Import trade items to Illubabor were textiles, liquors, sacks, salt, soap, ironware, abujedid, machinery, glass bottles (birrile) and others. Exported trade items included ivory, rubber, coffee, and wax. Ras Tessema monopolized the ivory trade and controlled it for his own benefits. He deployed spies and prohibited any one from engaging in selling and buying of ivory. Rubber grew wild in Illubabor, and Gore was the center of the rubber trade. This was exported to Europe through the port at Gambela. Another important item exported through Gambela was coffee, which was brought there through Gore and Bure.

For the peasant society of Illubabor, the only means of earning money was to serve as porters of coffee, wax, hides, skins and salt bars between Gore and Gambela through Bure. The round trip journey took about eight to ten days. Porters were usually cheated of their earnings. A porter would carry a load with a certain weight and when he reached his destination, merchants would complain that it was some pounds lighter than what the porter had started with and thus deprived of most of his pay. It is important to note that the trade of the area was in the hands of foreigners and immigrants from the highlands and Shewa. Particularly, Ras Tessema and his officials benefited from the trade of the area. It is reported that he had frequently led punitive expeditions against the Gimira and captured thousands of slaves for himself and his soldiers.

After the fall of Haile Selassie, the first Chief-Administrator of the Illubabor Province was Ato Hussein Ismail, a statesman belonging to the Gadabursi clan residing in Ethiopia appointed by the DERG, Tafari Benti.[3]

Reform and development[edit]

When Lij Iyasu was designated as a successor of Emperor Menelik II, Ras Tessema was summoned to Addis Ababa in 1908 to serve as Iyasu's regent. Ras Tessema was replaced as governor by his son Dejazmach Kebede Tessema (1908 - 1910); Dejazmach Kebede did not make any changes in the administrative system set up by his father. He was in turn succeeded by Dejazmach Ganame. The process of land measurement began under this governor, which was one of the most dramatic consequences of the consolidation of the new system in Illubabor. This process classified the land into various categories. The major ones were: Yemengist Meret (government land), Samon Meret (church land) and Siso (land to the balabats, or local supporters). Government land was registered exclusively as government property. It was from this category that land grants were made to the soldiers, or granted to government employees in lieu of salary. Samon Meret was Church land given to the church and was cultivated by the peasants for its benefit. Siso was a portion of land that was allocated to the local supporters. The balabats were allowed to retain one-third of the measured land, and the rest went to the government.

It was during the governorship of Dejazmach Ganame that the cultivation of coffee was further developed in Illubabor. Coffee became one of the most important trade items exported through Gambela to the Sudan. Traditionally, the Oromo cultivators were made to pay taxes on the amount of coffee they have actually picked from the trees and were permitted to retain those fallen coffee beans on the ground. In 1914 when Dejazmach Ganame started collecting taxes on the fallen coffee beans, the peasants protested against the new tax burdens. They sent a delegation to Addis Ababa to appeal the case to Ras Tafari (the future Emperor Haile Selassie. Dejazmach Ganame was summoned to Addis Ababa and ordered to cease this tax on the fallen coffee beans.

Fascist occupation[edit]

The Fascist occupation in Illubabor led to the disintegration of the Neftegna-Gabbar system. The Italians proclaimed that all the land in the area belonged to the Italian government, but allowed gabbars to use the land under better terms. The Neftegna were deprived of their usufruct and their leading members were exiled from Illubabor, which led to some of the local Oromos accepting the Fascist occupation. Despite this, some of the local ballabats remained and collaborated with the Italians in administrating Illubabor. These included Eba Seko and Marga Karo: Marga Karo administered the people west of the Gebba river while Eba Seko was in charge of the people living east of the river[4]


This was however reversed after the liberation of Ethiopia.


  1. ^ Yasin Mohammed Ruffo, "Border and Border-Crossing: The Case of Internal and External Migrants into and Out of Illubabor, 1904 - 1936", in AEGIS Cortona Summer School in African Studies, Borders and Border-Crossings in Africa, 16–22 June 2008, Cortona, Italy. (accessed 12 February 2009)
  2. ^ "States of Ethiopia". Statoids.
  3. ^ Legum, Colin (1975-01-01). Ethiopia: The Fall of Haile Sellassie's Empire. Africana Publishing Company. ISBN 9780841902299. Chief Administrator of Illubabor (Region): Ato Hussein Ismail.
  4. ^ This narrative is based on the account in Yasin Mohammed Ruffo, "Border and Border-Crossing: The Case of Internal and External Migrants into and Out of Illubabor, 1904 - 1936".

See also[edit]

Coordinates: 8°N 35°E / 8°N 35°E / 8; 35