Amenti Bonja was born in East Shewa zone of Oromia, in a rural area called Qilee Dooyyoo, where he spent the first seven years of his life. He started his first grade education at Qilee Dooyyoo Elementary School and then moved to a nearby town called Maqii (Meki) with some of his older siblings and completed high school there. Right after high school, he was placed into Jimma University Medical School and was attending his first year there when he won Diversity Visa Lottery and moved to the United States in 2015. After moving to the United States, he earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, commonly referred to as Georgia Tech, in the state of Georgia where he has been living ever since he moved to the US.
Recently, Amenti has translated George Orwell’s classic novel ‘Animal Farm’ into Afaan Oromoo under the title “Ganda Beeyladootaa.” In this interview, Amenti told Addis Standard that he embarked on the idea of translating as a hobby, while he works as a full-time engineer.
Addis Standard: How did you come across Animal Farm? What impression did you get from reading it?
Amenti: As an Oromo, it is nearly impossible to be apolitical, and during the times I have paid attention to both Oromo and US politics, I would often hear of the term ‘Orwellian’ (which is in reference to the description of a future totalitarian state in George Orwell’s novel 1984). So, I purchased a copy of ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ and thoroughly enjoyed the read. To put George Orwell’s classic novel ‘Animal Farm’ as timeless is simply an understatement. In just about 100 pages, it describes the ever-persisting challenges societies from every corner of the world face, and it does so in a very beautiful way that easily sticks and is very engaging for readers at every level and age.
AS: So, what factors contributed to your decision to translate it to Afaan Oromoo?
Amenti: As much as I loved the book and how relevant and timeless I have found it to be, I knew that language was one of the major barriers keeping this great text from being accessible to millions of Oromos across East Africa. Since it also happens to be very short to read and translate, as a Qubee Generation, I decided that I should try my best to remove that one barrier and make sure my people have access to one of the Must-Read books of the 20th century. I reached out to a lot of people to see if the book has already been translated and found no such confirmation, so I started translating it myself around January of 2022. However, right after I completed translating the book, I have come to learn the fact that it has actually been translated to Afaan Oromoo by Abbaa Caalaa Lataa more than ten years ago. I have since reached out to Abbaa Caalaa Lataa, just out of respect and to thank him for having acted on this a decade earlier. Besides the fact that the time and energy could have been used to translate some other great texts out there, presence of two versions that are a decade apart could only mean another round of campaign to reach an even wider audience at a time when digital presence has grown exponentially.
“My hope is that this book helps my target audience in Oromia and beyond to be able to easily catch onto some general patterns of a path that leads down the endless cycle of violence, tyranny, betrayal, corruption, propaganda, and everything in between…”
AS: You mentioned relevance and timelessness, is the timing of the translation and the Animal farm stories associated? If so how?
Amenti: As I have put it in the introduction section of Ganda Beeyladootaa, for Oromos who have already read the book or for those who now have the chance to read it in Afaan Oromoo, this book feels as if George Orwell wrote not about Russia’s Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath, but instead about what Oromos have been through and still continue to go through in their struggle to reclaim their Abbaa Biyyummaa, to create a just and fairer world, to protect their right to life and live a dignified one, and to also shield and embrace their language, religion, worldview, culture and more. In fact, this book is so relevant, timeless, and timely that the everyday news we come across that are of interest to Oromos are just a replay of some part of the stories in this small book. I have no doubt most societies across the globe would feel the same. So, it is this very fact that made me embark on the journey of translating Animal Farm to Afaan Oromoo. My hope is that this book helps my target audience in Oromia and beyond to be able to easily catch onto some general patterns of a path that leads down the endless cycle of violence, tyranny, betrayal, corruption, propaganda, and everything in between, be it now or in the different future.
AS: Where and how did you acquire skills needed for translating a book and what is your advice for those who want to do so?
Amenti: I have no prior experience of translating texts, nor did I read articles or books on how to do it, although I must admit that doing so could only help me do an even better job. I mostly use common sense and believe that the main thing is to translate everything in the context it has been written and not a dictionary translation that misses the author’s intended message and delivery. Besides, there is also the traditional way of saying certain things that you can’t just translate it directly but will have to find an equivalent way of translating it to your audience’s language and unique expressions. So, for those with good command of Afaan Oromoo and good understanding of its uniqueness, I would say to mainly use common sense, zoom out and feel the paragraph when they come across phrases or sentences that require contextual understanding, and to ask themselves “this maybe an accurate translation, but does it make sense to my readers? Or did the author mean it this way?” Then, with help from second person to help review your works, I don’t see any reason why anyone interested can’t do it.
AS: In what formats the Afaan Oromoo version of your book is available?
Amenti: My intention has always been to make this book available free of any charge. I had managed to secure some good deals with publishers back home in Oromia, however, distribution of the physical copy seemed very challenging, so for now I have decided to just release the digital copy for free with full readiness to collaborate with anyone or organization that is interested in either helping me reach an even wider audience, create an audio book or even print freely distributable physical copies in the near future.
AS: How are you planning on reaching a larger Afaan Oromoo audience?
Amenti: Considering that it is an e-book version that my target audience across East Africa will get, I am trying my best to put the word out there mainly through facebook, interviews and other platforms such as twitter and telegram. With my small audience over social media, I can only reach so many people and I have and will continue to reach out to notable figures and other people with huge number of followers to help me make this great book as accessible as possible. I believe this interview with Addis Standard will also help me do just that and I would like to say thank you to Team AS.
AS: What do you recommend for making reading materials available in Afaan Oromoo?
Amenti: When I started translating this book, I knew that access to smart phones or computers is still very limited, that purchasing a single book could itself be economically challenging for many and that the education system back home is not one that encourages the habit of reading books. With those facts in mind, instead of being bitter about it, I believe we should search for ways around it when we are able to. I found myself privileged enough to be able to translate as a hobby and make it available for free and that is what I did. I believe there are countless people with potential to write and translate books, and millions who are passionate to read them, only if it had been tapped into and supported with finance and a better curriculum. A radical change to Afaan Oromoo as an academic subject, from being taken so not seriously both by students and the teachers, to a subject where you learn how to read books/articles/essays and be able to write on different topics early on from a young age, will be revolutionary. I believe that, with people’s best interest at heart, those with power to influence the curriculum and those with the authority to provide the finance to buy books from authors on behalf of the schools, hold the key to encourage existing writers, tap into the uncovered potential and take Afaan Oromoo literature to the next level. In the meantime, we should all continue to contribute in anyway we can.
AS: The selling of print copies in the US is said to be used for charity activity in Oromia. What are those activities and who are the partners you are collaborating with?
Amenti: In hopes for some fundraising where I would direct 100% of the profit to doing or donating to some charitable work in Oromia, I have made very limited copies available for sale within the United States. I am currently working on selling and shipping those copies to buyers who have reached out so far. My book, Ganda Beeyladootaa, is now being sold for just $25 plus $5 shipping fee. The sale so far has been very underwhelming, and I am not sure how big of a fund it will amount to or the kind of collaboration it will open doors for, but I will continue to sell the book both online and at future events and explore what can be done with it. Oromia is currently hurting from every corner with violence, drought, displacement, and more. So, if possible, I would love to sell fast and make the funds available for those in need.
AS: How can people engage with you in reaching your audience as well as vamp up the charity works?
Amenti: I will be happy to collaborate with or provide everything free of charge for anyone or organization that is willing to print and sale my book among diaspora Oromos with the aim to direct 100% of the profit towards a charitable project in Oromia. There are some who have already reached out and offered to help me print and distribute physical copies back home sometime in the near future, and I am hoping more will jump in to help in any way they can – be it by buying the physical copies from me and letting others know about it, helping print and distribute physical copies back home, sharing the digital copy of the book with anyone they believe will love it (especially the youth and educators back home), reading it to their children and parents, etc. AS