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Ethiopia - A Short History of the Kambata People



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Ethiopia - A Short History of the Kambata People

A Short History of the Kambata People of South-Western Ethiopia
By Tesfaye Habisso H.


From time immemorial Ethiopia had been a museum of many peoples of diverse origins. For me as well for many Ethiopians, a comprehensive history of these peoples has always been a kind of romantic, unreachable dream. No historian has yet attempted to tackle this challenging task.

Most of the hitherto written history of Ethiopia which begins in the later Middle Ages from the pens of monks and court historians and whose main purpose is the laudation of Abyssinian kings does not deal with the comprehensive history of Ethiopia and the Ethiopians at large. It does not particularly touch upon the history of the regions and peoples incorporated by Emperor Menelik II to the Ethiopian Empire-state towards the end of the 19th century.
These regions, though they had their own independent kingdoms and sultanates as well as loosely confederated traditional polities, had no written languages of their own; they had no court historians and thus no written history. Hence it will be the duty of historians, particularly those from these regions, to write the history of their peoples so that the history of modern Ethiopia will be complete. Many outsiders had attempted to write the history of Ethiopia and the Ethiopians based on inadequate data and information, and sometimes relying on secondary sources and hearsay. On this point the Ethiopians themselves, I believe, would/should have quite a bit to say and say it clear and loud now.
This manuscript on the history of the Kambata people however is not a pioneering historical document or research work produced by me; it is primarily a compilation of scattered secondary or written source material recorded by missionaries and monks, professional historians, jurists, administrators and politicians concerning this part of Ethiopia which, I hope, will help for writing in the future a comprehensive history of the people. Be this as it may, writing the history of any people, most of all the history of a non-literate people, is a very difficult and sensitive issue—a complex and complicated project fraught with controversies and disagreements. As The Universal World Reference Encyclopaedia cautions:
“Since history is concerned with human activity, and since human activity expresses itself in a variety of ways, there are histories that correspond to these diverse expressions. To write about any individual or [group] or field of human endeavour a historian must do more than chronicle events, names, and dates. These are but the crude makings of history; they must be refined through an intellect and imagination capable of relating one to
another, rejecting the unimportant, and highlighting that which will throw the subject into a proper perspective. Thus the gathering of information is but a small part of the historian’s task. Even while he is collecting his sources and extracting information from them, he must be concerned with their trustworthiness. Indeed, the historian must forever be on guard against bias in any source that he uses. In addition, as he begins to write his own history, he must be as fair to the facts as he has expected his sources to have been. Of course, the history that he writes will be conditioned by his temperament, including his preconceptions, as much as by the motive and purpose of his research. These variations in human temperament and motives help to explain the frequent multitude of histories on one subject, and temperament and motives are greatly influenced by the period in which a historian lives. All written history is a compound of past and present. Thus, there are no final analyses
in history, no universally accepted conclusions. History can be made to serve every conceivable theory and temperamental peculiarity….” [The Universal World Reference Encyclopaedia, Consolidated Book Publishers, Chicago, 1964, Vol. VII, P. 2477]
It is taking into considerations the above-mentioned precautions and guidelines that this compiled historical account on the Kambata people must be perused and utilized as a source material for further research. My modest attempt to present a short history of Kambata—a region and a people long known by this name—is based on oral traditions and legends, and some written records. I present this history of the Kambata people not for personal fame and glory, nor for riches, nor honours but for choosing to be who I am and the recognition and respect of my ethnic and cultural identity, which no good man gives up except with his/her soul, his/her cultural identity and liberty. As the first President of the Republic of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, once said:
“ A nation without a past is a lost nation. And a people
without a past is a people without a soul.”
I wish someone better qualified than myself had met this need, but suggestions and persuasions in many directions have so far produced no satisfactory results. Besides, I remember quite well the bitter memories of Abebe Abura when he published a small booklet entitled, “ A Short History of Kambata” (in Amharic) some three decades ago; he was unmercifully criticized and condemned by many Kambata and Hadiya elites/scholars for writing allegedly inaccurate and fictitious history of these peoples. No one appreciated, at least, his maiden effort in writing the history of the Kambata and Hadiya peoples. Again, no one forwarded any constructive critique on the book except negative and destructive condemnation. Ever since that time no Hadiya or Kambata historian or any other intellectual in the area of the social sciences better qualified for the task has committed himself/herself and his/her energy, time and resources to write a less controversial and a more consensual sort of history, so to speak, of either Hadiya or Kambata, or both. “A burnt child dreads fire” sort of situation took root among the Kambata and Hadiya elites thus stifling any novel initiative in this regard. This is a paradox no one can decipher: Don’t we want our written history? Don’t we have the conviction and desire to write it? Why oppose or condemn any effort, however palatable that may be to some, when some of our own scholars or patriotic citizens try to write about their peoples? After all, there is no history that is, and can be, written once and for all, and this is true for any research output in the field of the social sciences in general. No one can claim to have the ultimate wisdom in any area of intellectual pursuit; we are all fallible. The search for more and more knowledge is a continuous process. No one is omniscient and all knowing. This naked truth should guide us all when we endeavour to produce or peruse any historical document in particular.
Call it nationalism or anything, I want to see the written history of my people. I believe every individual must be proud of his people and his ethnic nationality; so also his ethnic and civic nationalism as well. And because the history of my people has not yet been dealt with at length by any historian so far, I earnestly seek to provide to the public any available information, oral or written, that might help to fill this vacuum.
As mentioned earlier in this manuscript, Ethiopia had been, and still is, a museum of many
peoples of diverse origins, customs, cultures, religions/faiths and other peculiarities, but not a museum of many written histories of these peoples. There is no people without history; large or small every people has its past, its present and its future history. We need to reminisce our past in order to shape a better today and tomorrow for ourselves and our children. This is what the Southern Ethiopians in general and the Kambata in particular must be fully aware of; they must also be aware of the fact that they and their peoples are no less, no better Ethiopian than the rest of their countrymen and women; they must write their histories in order to avoid an identity crisis for themselves and their children. It is in this spirit that I attempted to compile this brief history of the Kambata people.
Certainly I do not claim that the picture presented in the following pages, built out of a mosaic of evidence from historical records, from contemporary documents and many living witnesses, is wholly accurate and I should welcome any corrections that informed readers can offer me. This manuscript is a provisional and interim venture; it will fulfil its purpose if it provokes the writing of a definitive or a less controversial work and if it fills the gap until that is done.

Introductory Remarks:Kambata as the ‘Melting Pot’ of Ethiopian Society
How and when the name ‘Kambata’ came into being and what it means is not adequately explained by written historical records. According to oral accounts, some say that the name ‘Kambata’ was first given by the Oromos and it meant , “we have surrounded you; how can you get out of your encirclement?” This encirclement by the Oromo may probably imply the period of the Oromo expansions and the numerous wars fought between the Oromos and the Sidama peoples (Sidamo, Hadiya, Wolayta, Kambata, Gedeo, etc.) in the years 1550-70 and later. This oral tradition does not seem to reconcile with written historical records which confirm the existence of Kambata as a kingdom in the 14th century and earlier. Another oral tradition recounts that the name Kambata was given by the first inhabitants of this area themselves, known in Kambata oral history as the “Ambericho Seven” (‘Ambericho lamala’) who were a group of seven wondering tribes of the Sidama-Omotic peoples, namely Gozuta, Ebbejena, Effegena, Tazuta, Hinnira, Bazata and Saga. It is said that when these seven groups reached the area around the Ambericho massif they found the place very suitable for human settlement and decided to settle there. They said, “this is the place where we shall live”, “this is a place of our choice” (in Kambata language “he’nnamibu kembati” and thus the name Kambata). Another oral account says that the name ‘Kambata’ was adopted from Kambato who was the son of Kokato; Kokato was the first migrant from Sidamaland who occupied the Ambericho area in today’s Kambata and had a son named Kambato who in turn had seven children who established an alliance known as “Kokati Kambata”. It is also said that Kokato later returned to Sidamo {Annulo Jofe, a Kambata informant and one of the first pioneers who introduced modern education to Kambata}.
Be this as it may, modern Ethiopia in general and Kambata in particular is the product of many centuries of interaction and intermingling amongst many cultural-linguistic communities, groups and individuals of diverse origins. The Ethiopians are indeed a mixed people, so also the Kambata. The only shortcoming on our part is that we don’t know enough how mixed we are, that is, about our shared identity and history. If we had known enough about this aspect of our shared identity and history, and taught and passed this to our younger generation, we wouldn’t have confronted or faced many of the intractable ethnic problems that we are facing today
The Kambata are an ethnic group dwelling on the lip of the rift valley about 350 miles south of Addis Abeba in south-western Ethiopia. The Kambata are bordered on the north by the Hadiya and Alaba, on the south by the Tembaro and Wolayta, on the west by the Wolayta and Hadiya, and on the east by the Billate river, which separates them from the Arsi Oromo.They are predominantly sedentary agriculturalists cultivating ensete edulis and some grains. Because of the ensete cultivation, which is carried out in close proximity to the residence, closely clustered villages predominate throughout the area. The Kambata, like other southern Ethiopian peoples, were independent from the centralized Amhara structure prior to the conquests of Menelik II, 1889-1905.
Based on oral accounts and traditions, Kambata indeed can be called the “melting pot” of Ethiopian society. According to the New World Dictionary, by the “melting pot” we mean a “country, place, or area, in which immigrants of various nations /nationalities are assimilated into one main/dominant culture”. Kambata as the “melting pot” of Ethiopian society was well illustrated by the former balabat (woma or king) of Kambata, Fitawrari Bargano Mollisso (1920-47 ) in the following words:
“--- Whence came all these people? They came from the lands of the Amhara, the Galla [Oromo], the Sidama , the Darassa [Gedeo] , the Wolammo [Wolayta], the Gudela [Hadiya], the Gamo, the Zubamo [Dubamo], the Gurage, the Tembaro, the Donga, etc. They are a mixture of all these peoples--- What, then, is the Kambata, this new man? He is neither an Amhara nor a Galla [Oromo ] or a Wolammo [Wolayta]; he is neither a Sidama nor a Darassa [Gedeo] or a Gudela [Hadiya], etc; hence that mixture of blood which , you will find in no other region or province. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Ongota (of Amhara origin) whose wife was a Gabara (of Oromo origin) , whose son married a Doda- Annimanna (Badawacho Hadiya), and whose present four sons have now four wives of different clans claiming diverse origins—a Jumma (Sidama), a Wereza(Azernet- Berbere), a Bubulla (Wolayta) and a Borodamalla (Gamo) respectively. He is a Kambata, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices, affiliations, roots and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds--- The Kambata were once scattered all over Ethiopia; here they are incorporated into one system of population, forming a microcosm of Ethiopian society.”. [ Fitawrari Bargano Mollisso Hellamo, balabat (woma or king ) of Kambata (ca. 1920-47) replying to Dejazmach Meshesha Wolde Ashagre, the then Governor of Kambata province(1920-35) representing the central government in Addis Ababa who asked the former how more than 100 different clans or groups claiming different origins but now speaking the same Kembatigna language (“Kambatiaffo”) occupy Kambataland; as told to the author by Dagna Bafutte Didanna, a close relative of the Kambata king and an elderly Oyeta notable well known throughout the Kambata, Hadiya, Wolayta, Gurage and Alaba areas, in 1986]. As expressed clearly by the former balabat (king) of Kambata here above, more than one hundred (100) groups and individuals that later formed the various sub-groups and clans of the Kambata nation, migrated to the Kambata region from different parts of Ethiopia and at different times over a long period spanning many hundreds of years in the past. As claimed by the founding fathers or clan elders or leaders of the respective groups themselves, they migrated from different regions of Ethiopia. The names of the major clans, their claimed origin of migration as well as the approximate period of their migration is described in Appendix I at the end of this manuscript (see Appendix I)
As a political unit as well as a geographic region, the name Kambata refers to an ancient polity that extended from the Bilate River including Alaba in the east to the Omo (Gibe) River in the west in today’s South-Western Ethiopia. For a long time, even before the polity was annexed by the Abyssinian Christian Empire in the 15th century, this region was well known as the Kingdom of Kambata (Cambat). This covered the whole area which is now occupied by the Kambata, the Hadiya, the Alaba, the Donga, the Tembaro, the Dubamo and the Masmas peoples—the Hadiya and Kambata and Tembaro zones in the SNNP Region of the FDRE. As a cultural –linguistic category however, the name Kambata here refers to four former states with peoples, who had the same language, and culture but different historical origins: the Kambata in the narrow sense (that is, the people occupying Angacha, Kedida-Gamella, Kachabirra, Damboya, Doyogana and Adillo woredas or destricts), the Dubamo, the Donga and the Tembaro. As will be explained later, in the 13th and 14th centuries, these peoples were part and parcel of the State of Damot- Ennariya that also included other peoples such as Damot, Ganz, Gafat, Kaffa, Kullo, Konta, Wolayta, Maraqo, Yem, Garo, Azernete-Berbere and Enner Gurage(Ennariya). In the aftermath of the Christian war against the Moslem invasions led by the fierce and dreaded warrior Gragn Ahmed (1529-43) this region was governed by Ras (Abetohun ) Hamalmal who was appointed as Governor by emperor Galawdewos (1540-59), with an obligation of showing his utmost allegiance to the imperial court in Gondar. However, his rule over the region was effectively weakened by the Oromo wars and migrations that swept across the whole country soon after the demise of Imam Gragn Ahmed at the battle of Woina Dega in 1543. Subsequently, the State of Damot- Ennariya disintegrated into its component parts and separate entities subsequently took shape and emerged in the wake of its total fragmentation. Many peoples such as the Ganz, Gafat Damot, Maya and others disappeared from the map of Ethiopia. They were all completely absorbed and assimilated by the Oromo invaders; a few migrating to northern Shoa and elsewhere. On the other hand , in the south, the Gurage, the Sidama, the Wolayta, the Kambata, the Hadiya, the Gamo, the Goffa, the Gedeo, the Tembaro, the Dubamo, the Donga and many others fiercely resisted the Oromo but as in the central and northern highlands, they were compelled to yield at least some territory. Whatever the case, they were able to resist Oromo rule and assimilation and to maintain their identity intact and to establish their own states ruled by their own respective kings, abagadas and sultans since then, up until they were all conquered again by Emperor Menelik II of Abyssinia in 1890-93 and annexed to the Christian empire-state. That was also how Hamalmal’s governorship was reduced from his wider and far more significant vassalship over half of the State of Damot Ennariya before the onset of the Moslem and Oromo wars to the small Kingdom of Kambata during the 17th century. The Oromo migrations and wars resulted in the weakening of both Christian and Moslem power and drove a wedge between the two faiths along the eastern edge of the highlands. Thus the Abyssinian Christian Empire lost all its former jurisdictions over the State of Damot- Ennariya, including Kambata and many others for over four hundred solid years.
The Kambata, Dubamo, Donga and Tembaro peoples who have a population of about 747,307 (according to the 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia, CSO, Vol.1 Addis Abeba, p.66), are jointly referred to as the “Kambata peoples” but in my analysis they are generally mentioned separately under their respective names. They occupy an area of about 1,200 square kilometres, largely more than 2,000 meters above sea-level, between the Omo (Gibe) and the middle Bilate rivers. .
The language of the Kambata peoples, together with that of the Alaba (population 125,900; 1994 CSO census) and Qabena (population 35,072; 1994 CSO census) forms a branch of “Highland East Cushitic.” They are peasants who conduct intensive agriculture, their principal crops being barley, cabbage, legumes and ensete ventricosum. Their settlements are in some cases over- populated (population density being about 300 people per square kilometre); and many inhabitants therefore are obliged to seek a living in other parts of Ethiopia. Augmenting this social mobility in search of livelihoods elsewhere, the Kambata have developed over a long period of time remarkable survival strategies and abilities to adjust to different and harsh environments and these qualities are well noted by many historians and social researchers. And this is also the glaring reality one can easily observe among the Kambata peoples in their own localities where one can witness a person who is alternately a farmer, a teacher, a butcher, a merchant, etc. at the same time thus trying to diversify his/her means of survival.
Be this as it may, resolving the problem of over-population in the Kambata province was traditionally attempted to be eased by the sole effort of the people themselves who moved out of their homeland as migrant labourers to the Awash valley agricultural farms (Wonji, Metehara, Abadir, etc.); to Maraqo as cultivators and collectors of “berbere” spice; to the Kaffa areas as collectors of coffee beans; and to many parts of Ethiopia in southern, south- western and south- eastern regions where employment opportunities were available. The problem had also been attempted to be resolved by successive regimes of Ethiopia through resettlement schemes, though many of these were not successful as they were not well planned and properly implemented, and most of all, not designed with the full participation and collaboration of the peoples at the receiving end. Nevertheless, the number of the Kambata, Tembaro, Qabena and Alaba who live in the SNNP Region itself is 443,525, 84,918, 28,584 and 117,449 respectively [1994 Housing and Population Census, p.74] and those who live interspersed among the various nations and nationalities of Ethiopia is not large. According to the 1994 Housing and Population Census of Ethiopia, their statistics is as follows:
Kambata Tembaro Qabena Alaba
1. Amhara Region 1,107 34 375 384
2. Tigray Region 23 - 1 2
3. Affar Region 1,418 5 2 4
4. Oromia Region 41,997 1,277 5,036 7,799
5. Somali Region 102 7 5 2
6. Benishangul-G. R. 2,894 - 7 47
7. Gambella Region 3,632 234 1 32
8. Harari Region 51 - 1 2
9. Dire Dawa City 443 - 240 4
10. Addis Abeba City 4,634 36 819 175

Some Notes on the History of Kambata
In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the regions on both sides of the Omo (Gibe) river belonged to the State of Damot-Ennariya which was annexed by the Abyssinian Christian Empire of northern Ethiopia. Christianity was introduced to this region during the reign of Emperor Sarsa Dengel ( 1563-97). Kambata was then one of the provinces of this State. According to the Arab historians Al’Umari (c.1345) and Maqrizi (1434) however, Kambata was part of the Moslem state of Hadiya that also included the “Galla [Oromo]states of the Gibe, and the Sidama peoples Gudela [Hadiya], Tambaro, Alaba, and Wolamo [Wolayta]” {Ernesta Cerulli, “History of the Sidama Countries”, Peoples of South-West Ethiopia and Its Borderland, 1956, p. 85}. The first reference to Kambata as a political unit is found in a praise song in honour of Emperor Yeshak (1414-29) who annexed it as a province of the Christian Ethiopian Empire. In this song it is stated that Kambata was a country in which horses were bred and which paid tribute in horses to Ethiopia {CGA, song 2, line 43}-- something for which it has been noted up to the present day. The conquest was accompanied by the settlement of military colonists (chawa) from northern Ethiopia, mainly Amhara, and by a Christian missionary campaign. According to Manoel Almeida’s “History of High Ethiopia or Abassia 1628-46”, Book I, Ch. 2, p. 9, Kambata was one of the 36 kingdoms of the Abyssinian Empire that were controlled by the Abyssinian emperors preceding Emperor Susneyos (1607-32); the latter had little control over them due to the Oromo expansions and settlements cutting them off from their link with the Christian north. Another Portuguese Jesuit Pedro Paez confirms the same number of kingdoms with some modifications of the list. The patriarch Mendes in his Expedito Aethiopica, Book I, ch. I also states that Kambata was one of the more important regions of the ancient Christian empire located at latitude 7 degree north. Historical records confirm that Manz, Marrabete, Ganz, Gafat, Yifat, Hadiya, Kambata, Bale, Ennarya, and Gurage were some of the ancient southern kingdoms under the loose control of the Abyssinian empire {Manoel Almeida, Ibid, p. 9}. Towards the end of the fifteenth century the population of the region known later as Kambata Province (Awraja Gizat), between the Omo and the Bilate rivers, consisted essentially of three ethnically and socio-economically distinct strata. At the bottom were the Fuga, the Awado and the Saga, castes of potters, black-smiths, tanners and hunters whose ancestors may have been among the earliest inhabitants of the region. Above them were a broad stratum of cultivators, who as clan names and other indicators suggest, most probably belonged to the Sidama and Omotic-speaking peoples from the south. The upper stratum consisted of the Semitic speaking military colonists from northern Ethiopia, who evidently acquired not only in politics but also in the cultural fields an importance disproportionate to their relatively small numbers. In fact, the influence of the Christian Abyssinian Empire on southern Ethiopia, politically and culturally, had been quite significant. Besides, many ruling dynasties of southern Ethiopian states claimed Amhara or Tigray descent: Kaffa, Kambata, Wolayta, Zay, Amarro-Koyra, Janjero {Yem}, Dorze, Gamo, Bosha, Gurage, etc. {Haberland, Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1964, pp. 235-8}.
Soon after the outbreak of the Holy War (Jihad) of the Muslims of the State of Adal under Imam Ahmad G. Ibrahim al-Ghazi (Gragn Ahmed) against the Christian Ethiopian Empire in 1529, Kambata too became a battlefield. In 1532, the Adal Commander Abd an-Nasir conquered the province from the southeast. According to oral testimony, however, Christians who survived this conquest retired to the summit of the Ambarricho massif and saved their ritual objects. The province suffered such heavy loss of life that it became in the course of the sixteenth century an attractive target for invaders from the southeast.
In the wake of the troops of Abd an-Nasir, semi-nomadic Hadiya groups from Dallo (Bale), called Weto-gira (Gudela), migrated into the region between the Omo and the Bilate. From 1570 (if not earlier), the Oromo began to break out of their original homeland between the upper Ganale and upper Dawa and to exert pressure on the surrounding peoples. Unable to conquer the Sidama highlands, which were already relatively densely populated, they bypassed them in their great expansion towards the east; yet indirectly they caused some groups to emigrate from the region. Oral traditions state explicitly that in about the middle of the sixteenth century, the Effegenna, Ebejenna and Goromma fled northwards from the Sidama-Gedeo (Darassa) region in order to avoid Oromo rule. They settled on the Ambarricho massif in Kambata joining the earlier settlers from the Sidama-Darassa regions already living there, and being relatively populous groups, introduced their Highland East Cushitic language to Kambata. A related language was that of the ancestors of the Tembaro, who came from Yemererra in the central Sidama highlands and reached their present territory after a long migration through Alaba, Bosha and Dawro. At roughly the same time, i.e. between c. 1550-70, the ancestors of the Dubamo and the Donga, said in oral traditions to have been Christians, were on the move. Their origin can be traced back to Qawena in the eastern Sidama highlands. It can be assumed that the settlement of these groups in Kambata resulted in a marked supremacy of Highland East Cushitic languages, whilst Omotic and Semitic were pushed back to steadily shrinking linguistic islands and to their eventual extinction. In the economic sphere a differentiation emerged between the highlands, which were occupied by ensete farmers, and in the middle and lower regions, Hadiya nomads of the Weto-gira tribe grazed their livestock.
As mentioned earlier, in the aftermath of the Christian empire’s victorious war against Gragn Ahmed(1529-1543) and the latter’s demise at the battle of Woine Dega in 1543, Emperor Galawdeos appointed Ras (Abetohun) Htamelmal as governor of half of the kingdom of Ennarya that also included Kambata then. As Atme G.M. reminisces:
“Being the descendant of kings and the bearer of the title abetohun, Ras Hamalmal, in that period, ruled half of the kingdom of Ennarya, namely Kambat[a], Walamo [Wolayta], Kullo, Konta, Zanzaro [Yem], Garo, Ennar’ot as far as Barbare-Meder, including Maraqo , and on the other side as far as Kafa. Chawa (soldiers) were posted with their respective commanders in all these places. While they settled under their respective commanders they failed to assist one another when the Moslems and Galla came. They split up under their respective commanders and localities. They also differed highly from one another in language. The mother tongue of Kafa, Kullo, Konta, Walamo, Kambata, Maraqo, and Zanjaro, Garo and Enar’at is Ennarya, and they all resemble each other. The unity in language and religion can clearly be seen today.” [ Atme G.M. (Tafla) O.J.:71f].
Abetohun Hamalmal(1551-1614), as historical records confirm, was the grand-son of Emperor Naod (1494-1508) through his mother Romanewerq, daughter of the Emperor [Basset 1882-116]. He was also one of the key generals of Emperor Gelawdewos (1540-59) who undertook several war expeditions to different parts of the country to oust the remnants of Gragn Ahmed from the Christian strongholds. In 1559, he was ordered, with another general Ras Fassil to attack Harar which was at the time the major center of Islam. This expedition is well illustrated by Atme G.M. in the following words:
“The Negus [Gallawdewos] gave an order that Ras Fassil and Ras Hamalmal, the Governor of Kambata, should invade Hararge. He has disbanded the remainder of his army and did not have time to mobilize it. Furthermore, the clergy was urging him on with the great promise: ‘Should you fall into the hands of Nur Muhammad [Amir Nur b. Mujahid; the still resisting and strongest general of Gragn Ahmed after the latter’s death] you will become a martyr and reign in heaven.’ Thus he led an expedition into the country of Adal, where he died at a place called Nach-Sar on the border of Wallo. Ras Fassil and Ras Hamalmal set out from Kambata via Malka Amhara and Annya and reached Adari (Harari). In those days, the sultan of Harar was Habib, who was in his time a great and dreaded man. They fought a fierce battle in the plain named Sayyedna-Hasheem at the Yarar-Gate. Sultan Habib died, and Ras Hamalmal entered Adari, burned it and demolished all the mosques. In short, he wrought great destruction and then returned home. He had not yet heard of the death of Atse Galawdewos” [Atme G.M.(Tafla ) O.J.:29].
Soon afterwards the Oromo invasions and migrations marked the eclipse of the Moslem onslaughts against the Abyssinian Christian empire and the latter had to make futile attempts at curbing waves after waves of Oromo warriors invading and forcefully occupying many territories inside and outside of the Christian and Moslem jurisdiction and control of the day but to no avail. Ras Hamalmal fought Luba Michile (Mesle) at Dago in Arsi province in around 1560, thus repulsing the Oromo invaders from occupying Kambata and the adjacent territories which were then under the Christian empire. Hamalmal firmly retained his governorship of the Kingdom of Kambata, long after the Oromo invasions. When the Portuguese delegation led by Father Fernandez reached Kambata, on the orders of Emperor Susneyos, in 1614, Hamalmal was still the governor of Kambata. Buckingham and Huntingford noted of this situation as follows;
“Traveling eastwards from the river Zebee[Gibe] the Father [Fernandes] reached Innagara, a place in the Kingdom of Cambat, which was governed by Hamalmal who at that time recognized the emperor as his overlord . To the left there are people called Guragues who do not often obey the emperor” [Fernandez (Buckingham /Huntingford) 1954 162-76]. The Portuguese explorer Almeida who was at Emperor Susneyos’s court in 1614 also confirms about Ras Hamalmal being the Governor of Kabmata and a faithful vassal of the emperor thus:
“The fact that Hamalmal, amid so many Galla countries, obeyed him [the emperor] and still accorded him some recognition was rather because he was well-disposed and a vassal of old standing, than because the empire was strong enough to make him do it if he had wished to revolt. So today Cambata does not pay any tribute nor does the emperor appoint a governor for that kingdom, it all belongs to various Galla and Moorish lords who hold and rule it. At the time the emperor did what he could.” [Ibid, 1954:165]. Emperor Susneyos reigned in Gondar from 1607-32.
Ras (Abetohun )Hamalmal’s story and the Oyeta dynasty he founded in Kambata seems to have evoked a funny twist in the oral traditions of the Kambata people. A tradition widely known in Kambata states that seven groups at the summit of the Ambarricho massif, who had survived the upheavals of the long-lasting “Holy war” (‘Jihad’) , formed a federation (Kokata). The names of these ‘seven of the Ambarricho’ (‘ambarricho lamala’) are generally given as Oyeta, Gulba, Hinnira, Taza, Effegena, Ebejjinna and Fuga. According to an etiological tale, a hunger contest is supposed to have determined their internal hierarchy and secured the kingship for the Oyeta group or clan. Whereas hitherto Kambata had merely been a political term, from the end of the sixteenth century onwards a process of ethno-genesis drew together heterogeneous groups, symbolized by the number seven; and from this process emerged the Kambata people. All the remaining groups referred to as ‘Kambata peoples’ based on their common language are also symbolized by the number seven (‘Molli lamala’ among the Tembaro,’ Dongi lamala’ among the Donga, ‘Dubami lamala’ among the Dubamo). The population of Kambata (in the narrow sense ) was stratified according to ethnic origin: the Oyeta (Ras Hamalmal’s dynasty) who claimed to originate from Gondar, formed the royal clan; the Gulba from Bulga ( Shoa) formed a clan of nobles; the originally Omotic-speaking Hinnira and Taza made up an upper stratum of ‘free commoners’ while the lower stratum of free commoners was composed of Efegenna and Ebejjenna, who had become linguistically dominant; finally, the Fuga, the Saga and the Awado, formed endogamous castes of artisans–carpenters, hunters, potters, blacksmiths, etc. Social stratification was the order of the day which eventually gave way to a semi-feudal order in the 19th century, particularly during the reign of King Dilbato Degoye (1845-92). Today, no social stratification exists among the first four groups who have freely intermarried and intermingled among themselves over the past several hundreds of years; they all enjoy equal status in all walks of life. But the social status of the last groups (Fuga, Saga and Awado) still remains unpalatable to all people who believe in the equality of all human beings and their equal treatment in all aspects of life, in brief, respecting their inalienable human rights. Personally, I believe that if the Fuga, Saga and Awado had the upper hand in leading the Kambata people over the past several hundreds of years, perhaps, we would have become a technological or industrial society today as these three groups were the ones who had great skills in making armors of war, agricultural tools, kitchen utensils, pottery, tannery, hunting, etc. and masters of the material culture of the Kambata people. The whole Kambata society have depended, and still depend, upon their technical skills and output for many generations up until today.
Ras Hamalmal is considered to have been the first king of the Oyeta dynasty, which was named after his wife Oyete (Hayat), daughter of Hajj Ali(ye) Ismael Jeberti, a religious and war leader of the Azernet- Berbere (eastern Gurage) at the time. As mentioned earlier, this Hamalmal is mentioned in the report of the Portuguese Jesuit Antonio Fernandes, who in 1613/14 undertook a mission from the Ethiopian imperial court at Gondar through Kambata. Thus the chronology for the beginning of the Oyeta dynasty can be fixed. Hamalmal was nominally the governor of Kambata province in the name of the Christian empire. In practice, however, he was independent, especially as the expansion of the Oromo into Shoa has broken the territorial link with the Abyssinian state. Relations with the Christian north were broken off almost in the course of the seventeenth century; yet survivals of Christian Orthodox traditions have been retained to the present day.
From Hamalmal’s time onwards, Kambata served as a refuge for political refugees and economically threatened groups from southern and northern Ethiopia. The immigrants, such as Amhara from Gaynt (Begemedir), Bulga (Shoa), Manz(Shoa) and people from the Hadiya and Ormo regions, often became the founders of new clans, whose number rose in the course of time to about one hundred or more. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Kambata remained restricted to a small territory around the Ambarricho massif due to the consequences of the devastating wars of Iman Gragn Ahmed (1529-43) and his generals Abd an-Nasir (1532) and Nur Ibn Mujjahid(1529-68), and the subsequent massive Oromo migrations (1570-1870), while Hadiya herdsmen who came along with the Muslim jihadists continued to control and use most of the area between the Omo and the Bilate rivers for grazing. The Kambata peoples were famed for their sophisticated agricultural techniques and their surplus production; yet population pressure (itself in part a consequence of this agricultural success) presented a growing threat to their existence.
No written records exist about Hamalmal’s immediate successors. However, Kambata (Oyeta) oral traditions confirm Dame (Demelash), Anno (Enniyew), Ketemo (Ketema), Dil’aba and Gonjobo as Hamalmal’s immediate successors. For the kingdoms of Dubamo, Donga and Tembaro, too, the period from the beginning of the seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth century is a dark phase, though they also have their own oral accounts of this period. One event which was of significance for religious and political history was the kidnapping of a spirit medium, the hauzul-mancho from Bosha, by the Dubamo. According to oral traditions or accounts, the Kambata owed tribute to the Hadiya of the Wetogira tribes, to whom they were also under humiliating conditions. In about 1770, their king Katama managed, with the help of other Hadiya groups (the Shashogo and Urusso), to drive out the Weto–gira Hadiya tribes (Haballo, Bargage, Hojje, Han’qalla, Hayiba, Haysaba, Gonda’la, Errera and Massawa; these were part of the Moslem jihadists that conquered Kambata and led by Abd an–Nasir in 1532). The murder of Dil’aba, Katama’s immediate successor, shortly afterwards by Hadallo Gebro [Gebru, Ketema’s brother], a member of the Oyeta royal clan, was followed by a period of succession disputes and civil wars which lasted about ten years. Under King Waqo Ketema (c.1790-1810) the Kambata state was again consolidated.
The Donga had successfully striven for some time under their woma(king ) Hanagassa to extend their territory. In about 1770, however, the Badawacho Hadiya pushed them back to their small mountain homeland. Around 1800, they and their neighbours, the Dubamo, fell under the overlord-ship of the Soro-Hadiya, who had advanced from the north. The Tembaro were able to maintain their independence and became notorious for their raids into the country lying southwest of them, extending beyond Dawro (Kullo-Konta).
Under King Dagoiye Waqo (c. 1810-45) a ‘formative’ period began in Kambata, in which the institutions of the state acquired their essential features, and Kambata began to extend its territory by a deliberate programme of colonisation, pushing the Wolayta and the Hadiya peoples. As in many kingdoms of southern Ethiopia (e.g. Wolayta, Janjero), the newly acquired areas were in each case demarcated by a system of walls and ditches, which served in part as fortifications but had a more important symbolic significance.
Kambata enjoyed its ‘classical’ age under woma (king) Dilbatto Degoiye (c.1845-92), who was highly respected among the peoples of central southern Ethiopia. Under his rule the institutions of state reached their highest stage of development An administrative apparatus sub-dividing the territory into counties (gocho ) was created, and diplomatic and military measures led to a considerable extension of the area covered by the state (reaching roughly the present-day linguistic boundaries of the Kambata). The main military conflicts were with the Soro-Hadiya and the Wolayta, whereas the other Hadiya tribes and the Alaba were tied to the Kambata state by alliances and inter marriage. The rise of the monarchy and of the Oyeta clan was accompanied by growing clashes of interest and socio-economic antagonisms between the ruling stratum and the mass of the peasantry (kontoma). An insurrection (‘kontomi diddenna’) which broke out in about 1885 was crushed by King Dilbatto with the help of friendly Hadiya groups (mainly Badawacho).
At this time Kambata already lay within the field of operations of the Shoa Amhara, who had occupied the Gurage country and were beginning to extend their conquests into the areas immediately south of it. Between 1891 and 1893 the Kambata peoples were subjugated by the Christian Ethiopian empire under Emperor Menilik II . This meant the end of the kingship and the beginning of a new political and socio-economic era, characterized above all by the gabbar system. The inhabitants were allotted as bondsmen or serfs of the state (gabbar) to military colonists (naftagna or gun-bearer) from the north colonizing the conquered peoples including the earlier colonists called ‘chawa’ who migrated to the region since the time of Emperor Yeshaq of Gondar (1414-29) and were obliged to pay taxes in kind and perform corvee–like services. Insurrections against this state of affairs broke out in many parts of southern Ethiopia, particularly during the civil war of 1916 during the reign of Lij Eyasu Michael. Conquest by the Ethiopian empire was followed by a (re) Christianization of the Kambata region; but it was not until the 1950s that this process was completed, thanks partly to the work of Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries. The Amhara introduced new crops (e.g. eragrostis teff) and ox-drawn ploughs; but in the highlands to this day the latter has only managed to gain a secondary place vis-à-vis the traditional agricultural tools-- the digging- stick and hoe. An important innovation was the emergence of centers of administration and commercial activities (katama) in a country where the only form of settlement had been that of loosely grouped hamlets and far-flung villages. The gabbar system was abolished by the Italians and was not reintroduced after the reinstatement of Emperor Haile Sellassie I by the British in 1941. The landlord-tenant system which then emerged did not fundamentally alter socio- economic relationships. Fortunately, most Kambata, especially in the densely populated highlands, were in any case peasants on land which was considered as belonging to their communities and for which only a relatively small tax had to be paid to the state. Large estates were promised to those descendants of kings who were appointed balabat (government chief) and to people of the Oyeta clan. Overpopulation in the core area of the Kamabata made it increasingly necessary for landless peasants to seek their living standards among self- sufficient smallholders from about 1960 on. In general however, the material quality of life remained so low that the majority of inhabitants of the Kambata areas greeted the revolution which broke out in 1974 and the proclamation of a land reform with great optimism, which, however, was dashed soon due to the ill-advised programmes of forced villagization, forced resettlement in remote and harsh environments as well as the inability of peasants to sell their agricultural surplus produce at the market price and at places of their choice or preference but forcefully supply their products to the state-owned Agricultural Marketing Enterprise (AMCE) at government set prices and quantities. This, in brief, covers some aspects of the history of Kambata from the 14th to the 20th century.


Comment from: Florad [Visitor]

Dear Tesfaye,

Thank you for your effort to compile a history of one of the rich cultures of our country.

You played one good role and set an example to show how we can build the future Ethiopia based on mutual-cooperation.

May God Bless You!

11/05/07 @ 14:03
Comment from: lomy [Visitor]

This a fake and biasd story changed from the original writing posted at Aiga forum earlier.
All is changed and faked. There was no the word Oromo at that time? It was perfectly explained how the Gallas were invading the highlands of Ethiopia. The writer was using at least about 50 references. Go to Aiga and read the original version.

if this Site was independent and pro Ethiopia, it would not allow any OLF fake story to be posted here to mislead while other pro Ethiopia posts are rejected.

11/06/07 @ 11:14
Comment from: ewnetun tenageru [Visitor]
ewnetun tenageru

I am not from Kembata or Hadiya and I don’t know Ato Tesfaye but I am thrilled by his writings chronicling the history of Kembata and Hadiya. It seems to me that Tesfaye is one of the silent majority of Ethiopians who is both a true Ethiopian and proud of their ethnic origin. In this case he is a proud Kembatan as he should be. It is not a contradiction to be both an Ethiopian patriot and a proud Kembatan. Our history as Ethiopians has been a history of a mosaic of different tribes living next to each other in a loose federation but ruled from central power weather from the north or central Ethiopia. Such imperial leadership has not been even handed or fair but that is what empires are by nature. The Amhara led empire of the last 200 years did not even develop Yifat, Menz, Tegulet and such famous places where the leaders came from. Imperial power, at least in Ethiopia, has been one that exploits all farmers for survival but is much more famous for defending Ethiopia from invaders. The history of all nationalities in Ethiopia should be chronicled. And who would be better suited than the learned from the area? The initial writers don’t have to be completely right but they can start the conversation for others to develop, criticize, elaborate and build a wealth of knowledge over several years and centuries. Amharas, Oromos, Tigreans, Somales, and other big and small ethnic groups will only benefit from researching their history and submitting to criticism. Just like technology history is never final, more will be discovered by future historians that prove the previous historians wrong and knowledge will be more refined without discrediting the original or previous researchers. The only bad history is one in which the writer starts out with a bias and purposely bends facts to fit his bias.

11/06/07 @ 13:18
Comment from: melese for less [Visitor]  
melese for less

Kembata language is in danger to disappear from the earth. Kambata children they do not speak their language in City area like Addis Ababa. They all designated by Amara names. Moreover, most kembata prefer to be called Amara. I used to encourage them not to hide their identity, instead to be prude of what they are. My friend was from Gonder and his wife was kembatea, he took his wife to Gonder and tried to introduce her with his family and relatives, but they did not welcome her and they did not like their son to marry Kembatea.

11/06/07 @ 14:51
Comment from: Getachew Hunda [Visitor]  
Getachew Hunda

Hi Loomy

First of all, I am very happy when I read a comment written by individuals like you, against the history and integrity of Oromo people, because it clearly exhibit how the enemies of Oromo get burn when they read or heard when the true history of Oromo emerged from a wonderfull person like Tesfaye Habiso. Whatever you said and believe about the history of Oromo, Oromos they do not care and they do not listen to you. Oromo believe that they were indiginous people of Ethiopia before Habeshas’s expansion to south, west and east and no one could change their mined. Thanks to God, Today, Oromo kids speak their language and pride of their culture. If you are trying to put Oromos head down by repeating words of your grandfather or great grandfather, you will get gastritis and hypertension, but you will not change the mined of Oromos. Whatever you said against Oromos, you will not affect the integrity and strong unity of Oromo People. The more you said against Oromo people the more you produce OLF and the faster you make disintegration of beloved Ethiopia.
Thank You Tesfaye Habiso for your historical view.

11/06/07 @ 15:42
Comment from: Wodi Mekelle [Visitor]
Wodi Mekelle

Hey lomy…don’t forget U r on…this is a biased “portal"…we just read it for ignorant and funny comments posted everyday.

11/06/07 @ 17:07
Comment from: fggh [Visitor]

that is not a short story lol

11/06/07 @ 20:41
Comment from: observer [Visitor]


Whatever you are, you are an idiot. The fact that the word ‘Galla’ was used in the past doesn’t make it right or make the preferred term Oromo ‘fake’ becuause yes, OLF and all Oromo organizations use it now and for as long as as they wrote their own history. May be you are a person who feels entitled to rule in the name of ‘Unity’. That will never happen –so get used to it! You are not going to be alowed to write the future history of the Oromo or any other people. Get your head out of your ass!

11/07/07 @ 08:06
Comment from: Felix [Visitor]

melese for less

You are right. Things like that happens. But, in this case, the family of the Kembatta woman should have been the ones who refuse to offer their daughter to empty and shallow Gonderes who have nothing but shallow pride>

11/07/07 @ 11:55
Comment from: ewnetun tenageru [Visitor]
ewnetun tenageru

Only demented people demean or disrespect the Oromo people or any other nationality for that matter. We honor all the different group of Ethiopia weather they come from small ethnic group or a large group like the Oromo and the Amhara. Our diversity will continue to be the beauty of Ethiopia. However, there is no denying that in the last two centuries there has been discrimination against the Oromo along with other smaller ethnic group in Ethiopia. On the other hand, there is no justification now for OLF or ONLF and other such movements to rise up and fight against Ethiopian unity when at this point they are more liberated than ever before. They have their land, they have their local government, they are free to develop their language and culture, they manage their economic development and they hold in their hand their own destiny within Ethiopia. What they don’t have is complete democracy a la USA and Western Europe and that is true for all Ethiopians. Ethiopia is now in the position of what China became in the early stages under Deng Xiaoping. The development is faster than ever but political freedom is not there even in China after 30 plus years. We have challenges in Ethiopia just to develop and increase our standard of living. Tribal war will not add value to any tribe but tribal chauvinism by any tribe will not only fail to add value but will take away the little that all tribes have in Ethiopia.

11/07/07 @ 12:36
Comment from: Meles for less [Visitor]  
Meles for less

Ewenetun Tenageru
You said “The Amara led Empire of the last 200 years did not even develop Yifat, Menz, Tegule and such famous place.”
First of all, these places are not famous and you don’t have any ground to say that. During Amara Empire of the last 200 years, Feudal Amaras were sent from Yifat, Menze and Tegulet to Oromia and South Ethiopia to suck the blood of Oromos, Kembata, Hadiya, Welayta and others. Illiterate Amara Feudal sit back and receive 1/3 of the production and livestock from original landowners, who latter became peasants. They have collected a lot of money and property from these areas and built large villa in Addis Ababa and sent their children to London. I do not know why they did not develop their region with the money they sucked from peasants and I will leave the answer for Feudal Amaras and their descendants. If you compare Amara Empire with the current EPRDF, Tigray led regime spent 1/3 of the countries economy to built up Tigray province and he does not care about others. Since I am from Debre Berhan, I don’t see any development especially at this region. EPRDF is revenging Amaras from North Showa and I rely felt sorry for that.

11/07/07 @ 15:21
Comment from: ojago [Visitor]

Our minds have been bomarded for so long with dirty poletics of bipartisans, dear Tesfaye, it is good start to divery our minds from nothing to some thing,,,, God bless you.

11/07/07 @ 17:07
Comment from: dereje [Visitor]

why do we regret about the past when we a are unable to change the present? the
the present tribal leader system.
you ought to change that instead regretint
about the past.

11/07/07 @ 20:31
Comment from: Daniel [Visitor]

my question is..if I’m not wrong the topic is about Kambata people, but the
topic changed to Oromo!!!! what’s going on people!!! all our mind is about politics nothing else!!! let’s get the point give comment about subject. looks like we are in Math class but discussing biology!!! the teacher is Melese!!! wake up people
think forward!!!

11/07/07 @ 20:43
Comment from: Xuma hosey [Visitor]
Xuma hosey

i agree with Tesfaye Habiso that all nations or nationalities, proud or not
must have their own history.

Yet, I find so many discrapencies on your assertions of Kambata people being part of Abyssinian highlanders of came as recent as my fathers time.

Being mixed never gave the great people of Kembata any priority in Abyssinian kingdom, instead led to marginal oral hearsay being concoted
nearily hundreds of years latter.

You assert, the Great Kembata nation was part and parcel of Christian Abyssinia, yet not many people heard of Kembata nation as people from Ethiopian books. sad but always fact of being subgugated in around own town by people who came 500 miles from the north.

My question to you is here,

You claim to be part of Amhara kingdom as back as 13th and then you assert also as The great people Kembata were as indepedent self governing people of the south until 1893. Do you find contradictions here?

Unity through negotiated historical facts with mutual respects for every stakeholders is what all nationalities are striving in todays Ethiopia.

I congratulate you for your attempts to place some sort of accounts which resemles some historical claims to bring forth such forgotten people to
have something to base their past history.

Its true Sidama people are one the worriors and fierce defenders of their territory, so as the Wolaytas.

Both of these Kushitic people assert their encounter and being conquered by Amharas only in 19th. I find it very fishy when Kmbata Oral tradition claims of having to do anything with Abyssinian colonization as far back as 13th?

Can you come back elaborate on these
variations? Even Guraghes were allys to resistances of the south up to 19th.

11/08/07 @ 00:29
Comment from: Woytata [Visitor]

With no uncertain terms this guy (the writer) is distorting the very truth of the Kambata peoples. first of all, Tesfaye i don’t think you are an enlightened person with a caliber to narrate the history of these people because I happen to read a lot of fallacies and inconsistencies in your manuscript. let me pick one or two of them, you said the sidama people fought the Oromos and under the sidama people you included others which don’t belong to-for instance Wolayta, Gedeo, Guji, Hadiya-the sidamas. Its only Sidamas and the sidamas who fought and deterred the expansion of the Oromo people to the south of Ethiopia. But these sidamas do not include other ethnicities you mentioned under them. You also mentioned that the name Kambata is supposed to be originated from a Kambato-a sidama guy with his son’s name Kambata-who landed in the present Kambata area. Believe it or no, its only this information that stands out and remains correct for centuries to come. If you want to confirm this blatant fact, please go to Ethiopia organize a symposium invite people from Sidama and Kambata elders, then I am sure you learn a lot and may come back to your sense. On the other hand, You have no the slightest respect for other ethnic groups but you kept on calling derogatory words. Can you tell me that where is a people that go by the name Sidamo, Wolamo, Galla in that country? These are just misnomers to the real and indigenous people called the Wolayta, sidama, and Oromo, period. However, it should come as no surprise that this derogatory words are misnomers used by the Axumite Habasha just to humiliate your people and invoke inferiority complex among the minorities, thats all. Just look at simple facts that you yourself are called by Amhara name, isn’t it? Tell me how many of your children goes by Kambata names? I guess no one. So, please don’t put salt in the wound by using derogatory words as it just reveals your disrespect or maybe naivety. I am not going to hide my head in the sand but if you need more information in case, I can be reached through

11/08/07 @ 01:34
Comment from: ketema [Visitor]

people you are behaving like mud people you are loosing the track and fighting among yourself. or you have never read the history of different countries. I would like to extend my appreciacion to Tesfaye Habiso. I know there are very many things to be mentioned but still I belive that to make something good you begin from zero. this is the beginging of something good to be done. we are proud of your historical capacity. take courage dont listen the murmuring of some ignorant people. go ahead
it surprises me to read useless words of some ethnic groups. You learn from this and you also write about ur history. Instead of going ahead and develop our country dont pull back our beloved country.

11/08/07 @ 10:20
Comment from: Dana [Visitor]

It is great to have historians like Tesfaye, who can take courage to reveal the truth. We have so many intellectuals but for Europe and America. We need people who dedicate their time for our cultural values, our history which is our richness. Please keep it up!

11/08/07 @ 13:22
Comment from: Alethia [Visitor]

I really agree with Lomy’s comment and I don’t see why people go mad when the truth is being told. This is what I identify as deficit in ones character. The fact that the word ‘Galla’ was used in the past makes it more than right. If you don’t want to learn from history; the fact as it was presented, the truth as it was told, then you cannot be helped. Lomy and fellow others, please keep up the good job.

11/09/07 @ 12:10



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