Art and culture

Tribute: Haacaaluu, my son!

The late Hachalu Hundessa Photo: Social Media

By Martha Kuwee Kumsaa

Addis Abeba, June 29/2021 

Hacee

My beloved son, whose passionate yearning for freedom revived my inspiration.

Hacee whose sweet melodious songs soothed our collective trauma.

Hacee who captured our collective dreams and aspirations from across generations.

Hacee my beloved son,

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It’s hard to believe that twelve moons have come and gone since you’re gone.

Twelve misty moons, Hacee koo, each new one mistier than the prior. Twelve of them! They came and went without bringing clarity to our searching souls. Or calm to our trembling hearts.

Each misty moon rose in the west and set in the east, turning nature topsy turvy, leaving mystery in their bloody trails. Hacee koo, as you lie there, witnessing, waiting for justice.

These misty moons saw our rivers run red and our elders humiliated. They saw horrid suffering. Death and destruction. They saw deception swallow your truth and looked the other way.

Haacaaluu Hundeessaa Boonsaa! Your father gave you the spirit name for you to grow bigger and surpass him. Indeed, he was proud when you did rise higher than him and shined. The intensity of his grief was high when he heard the tragic news. With those piercing eyes of yours, you can’t miss his tears rolling down his cheeks in twin and triple lines.

Hacee koo! You, beloved fruit from the blessed womb of Guddattuu Horaa. What did Mama say when she heard the bad news? Did she tremble and fall? Did she grit her teeth and tighten her girdle? Like all mothers of our martyred heroes? Did she brave it all and ask what’s so special about her own son? What about all our martyred sons and daughters? Did she say, aren’t they special too?

Oh, Hacee koo.  What about your beloved Faantuu? Did your loving wife whisper goodbye to your ear? When you left her suckling your newborn baby? Did she send you off with a daring nudge like other wives of our heroes? What is it that can bring comfort to her inconsolable heart?

Did you kiss your darling toddlers, Wabii, Milkii, Giiftii? Or did you turn away from them, toughening up your soft heart and swallowing your tears? Like other hero fathers who knew they would never see those twinkling precious little eyes again? Deep inside, knowing too well that with your sacrifice, your little ones will live out the dream you wove for them and weave their own dreams in freedom.

What about your siblings? Your peers? Your family, your community? Your people? What heals their wounds when you’re plucked away too soon? Your life cut short at thirty-four, just when you’re beginning to live? What is their solace when you join the long list of their fallen heroes and heroines? When each loss reopens old wounds and reignites unresolved piles of imperial grief? What heals such depth of collective sorrow?

Hacee koo, you embody all our heroes who went before you. You stand on their shoulders. You stand in them, with them, for them. You are the unbreakable link within and between generations.

Beyond the horrid continuity of injustice, however, you have also unleashed an incredible power that is disrupting the doom and gloom of perpetual sacrifice. So, change is gonna come much sooner. 

Can you see the march of time growing faster since you’re gone? The empire rapidly convulsing? Can you see the quick succession of the last twelve misty moons?

We hang on to the moon out of ancestral loyalty. But it’s time to invite the sun as well, whether it’s the god of sun or the son of god. After all, this is your anniversary, Hacee koo. And, as we start counting by years, our resolve also heightens.

Make no mistake, though! Anniversaries do harbour a reliving of pain. But they also generate a relieving of pain and a purging of anguish. For, out of reliving comes rebirth, renewal, and transcendence.

Hacee koo, as my closure for your first anniversary, I have two offerings for you. One is my story of reliving our collective anguish. The other is my reflective send-off rendition of Mama’s sweet lullaby.

Reliving collective anguish

The phone rang in the dead of night and broke the tragic news.

Hacee is gone! They ate him!

Whhho?? Whhhat??

My incoherent monosyllabic utterances didn’t register on the other end. My being woken up from a nightmarish half-sleep didn’t help either.

But the voice on the phone was firm. Insistent on the message I could not hear. And it burst into sobs. This struck home and shook me. The sobs, I understand. The words, I don’t.

The words were too hostile for me to comprehend. But the sobs touched me deeply. No, they grabbed me powerfully.

I felt sympathetic stings in my eyes, but tears refused to roll. I could not weep.

There were screams on the other end. I wanted to join in, but no voice would come out of me. No air in my lungs. Just suffocation, numbness, lifelessness, hopelessness. The intense smell of death. Another imperial killing.

Hacee is gone! They ate him! The words kept ringing in my ears. But these words are now mine, deeply embodied. They come from deep within my own soul, flesh, and bones:

Hacee is gone! They ate him! My beloved son is gone!

It hit me like lightning — striking and burning right through my body. It tore into my heart like a lance.

I’ve lived through such traumas before. I’m no stranger to political violence. I survived ten years of imprisonment and torture in Ethiopian dungeons. I lived through the tragic murders of precious loved ones, comrades, and friends.

But, each time I grieved, at the depth of my anguish, there was always a sharp awareness that I was grieving the loss of others. Even the murder of my darling baby brother was the loss of a dearly loved one.

Hacee koo, but your murder is different. I feel I am murdered. That bullet is lodged in my body. I’m grieving the loss of my own sense of self, my Oromummaa. I’m grieving the deep loss of what I have lived for, what I have struggled for all my life. I’m grieving the loss of my hopes and dreams.

My womb trembles and red tears roll. My heart splinters into a thousand shards. My spirit is crushed. I am shattered.

And there aren’t many to turn to for consolation, Hacee koo. Our friends are all wrapped up in the same smothering grief. We are swallowed in shared anguish. This is a collective trauma.

We called each other but folks couldn’t even finish a sentence before they breathe hard and stop. And this is not the virus pandemic. We just could not breathe from the manmade pandemic. Collective suffocation. Old and young alike, we could not eat, sleep, or work.

Our young ones were hit the hardest. You see, Hacee koo, you inspired them with Oromummaa in ways that none of us elders could, no matter how hard we tried. You touched them where they wished to be touched. They said that you were the light that reached out to them in dark places of the world.

Those who hid in darkness and took your life at night are the meanest cowards. In their twisted mind, they knew where to hit us and where it hurt the most. But they had no clue they were committing suicide, that they were killing the best of what is human in themselves.

But thank Waaqa, Hacee koo. You’d be amazed by how our young people are bouncing back dramatically and taking charge. They are fired up by your passionate yearning for freedom. They have embodied your resolve, your courage and fearlessness. Rest assured, Hacee koo. There will be justice for you and justice for all.

You see, Hacee koo, you weren’t just a celebrated singer. You represent something much deeper in each one of us, something undying, something precious, a living spirit transcending times and spaces.

You have touched us all from across generations. Young and old alike, we have taken that fateful bullet. It is lodged in our collective body. Best of all, we have your living spirit in the heart of our hearts. Continuing the struggle is now ours. Free from pain, now you sleep in peace, Hacee my beloved son.

Mama’s Lullaby

Gudee guduruu dhibbaa. Maal tu guddisuu jibbaa?

Little loved one with a hundred dreadlocks. Who on earth would loath to nurture you?

Hush, my baby, hush. Cry not, my little one.

Hush, my baby, hush. Calm down my gudee, my sweeter than honey littlest loved one.


Left to right: Fantu Dammiso (his widow), Hachalu Hundesa, Guddattuu Horaa(His mother) Photo: BBC Afaan Oromo

Fear not my baby. You’re cuddled in the soft comfy nooks of my arms. You’re cradled in my bosom. You’re my gift from Waaqa, my baby. I will protect you and keep you safe from harm.

Drink your milk, my little Oromo baby, suckle from my breast. Have your fill of Oromummaa, my baby. Burp and belch as you like. Your spittle and drools are a gift of fragrance for your  mama.

Sleep away, my baby, as Mama sings you sweet melodious lullaby. Slumber away, my gudee. Dream away sweet dreams and big dreams, my baby.

These brilliant eyes will see beautiful things when they wake up. These dainty hands will grasp some victory cups. These little feet will climb lofty mountains, my gudee. You will take my Oromummaa to the heights I never reached, my baby. 

*****

Hush, my little Oromo boy, hush. You take your stick and look after the cattle. You take your books and go to school.

You will be kind and wise, my little Oromo boy. You will breathe freedom in a better world. The loving world I always dreamed but never lived in. The world I struggled for, all my life.

You will not face my bitter struggles, my little Oromo boy. My generation has done that for yours. You will avoid the pitfalls I fell into. The justice slopes you climb will be gentler. Your struggles will be sweeter, your successes dazzling.  

*****

So, saddle your horse, my strong young man. Mount your horse, my beloved Hacee. Kaachisi farada kee, goota koo abbaa daabee jigaa, ride your horse, my hero with long dreadlocks. Trot to Galaan, trot to Gullallee. Canter to Abbichuu, canter to Ekkaa. Harness your horse and gallop farther away.

Seek out your peers, Hacee, and play as you like. Have fun, my beloved Hacee, and laugh as loud as you wish. Sing and dance as you wish.

Let no one put you down, Hacee. And make sure you put down no one. Hold your head high, young man. Tell your peers that your Oromummaa means the Oromoness you suckled with your mama’s breastmilk. Tell them it is precious.

Tell them what Mama taught you. That your Oromummaa is one face of your namummaa, a face of your humanness. Only those who deny your namummaa deny your Oromummaa. Never let them trash the priceless gift of Mama. Never let them take away your grace from Waaqa.

*****

Hush, beloved Hacee, hush. You did not avoid the pit I fell into. The Empire did not spare your fiery young spirit, Hacee koo.

But prison gave you the space of reflection. It shaped and sharpened you like it shaped and sharpened me. No jailer can destroy the fiery spirit yearning for freedom. That’s the spirit of Waaqa.

Hacee koo, Waaqa gave you a truth teller soul in the body of an artist. You are a precious work of the finest art yourself. You are the divine art of Waaqa, Hacee koo.

Hachalu Hundessaa in the music video “Maalan Jira.”

Your fiery music sings rebirth and renewal. You weave together truth tellers from across generations. You weave together culture and history, politics and art. You are a genius who strikes a deep chord in old and young alike, Hacee koo. Now, that is a divine gift from Waaqa.

Burning questions burn me deeply. How did we fail you? How is your struggle not the sweeter one I promised you? But my weary soul is soothed by your songs, my beloved Hacee.

*****

But once upon a night, they told me the day went dark. The sun was eclipsed at its zenith on the big dome.

I look up and there are tears in the dark clouds gathering above. Flowers are twisting with pain. Leaves are wilting. Trees are weeping. Grasses are hurting. The wind blows pain, and the gentle breeze whispers anguish.

As Hacee my hero lay limp. As all passionate lovers of people and fearless seekers of justice do, he paid the price of his love with his life, the most precious of everything.

Hacee, the man of many friends lay alone. The man who inspired millions with sweet melodious songs lay quiet.

Hacee, the man who loved peace was plucked by violence. The man who loved was taken by hate. The man who sang with mic was taken down by gun. The gun of hate won the day.

Oh maaloo Waaqayyo, wayyoo, wayyoooo, wayyoooooo….

*****

Hush, old Mama, hush. Calm down and sing along.

You are tired, sweet old Mama, travelling the jagged empire for far too long.

Bathe your weary feet in the cool waters of revival songs. As Hacee dips into the deep wells of ancestral spirit and flushes the scorched fields of empire, nurturing liberation.

Let the sweet ancient melodies flow through the furrows of your forehead and the wrinkles of your body. Let them seep deep into the cores of your soul and uplift your spirit.

Hush, old Mama, hush. Cry not, sweet old Mama. Wipe your tears and embrace the million Haccees who sprang to life with that one shot. He is inspiring even more in his death.

There will be healing for all. And there will be justice for Hacee and justice all the martyrs.

Cry not, sweet old Mama. There is some blessing in all this. The crossroads have been crossed. Sing and dance and celebrate. The Empire just killed itself. And nothing will ever be the same again.

*****

Editor’s Note: Martha Kuwee Kumsa, is a Siinqee feminist and a Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, specializing in Oromo culture and immigrant identity. Professor Kuwee can be reached at kuweekumsaa@gmail.com 

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