Asafa Tefera Dibaba

Dr Assefa (aka Asafa) Tefera Dibaba is a poet, educator and researcher. He is the author of anthologies of poems in English and Oromo including: Anaany’aa (1998, 2006), Edas-Edanas (1997), Finfi (Ilyaada) (2014), Decorous Decorum (2006), and The Hug (2011), and has published works of prose including Danaa (2000), Eela (2009), Theorizing the Present (2004, reprinted as Beyond Adversities, 2010).

He first moved to the United States in July 2010 after receiving the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund for the persecution he was facing in Ethiopia. He stayed in the United States to pursue a PhD at Indiana University (2011-2015). His recent research has focused on ethnoecology and ecopoetics, and his latest poetry collection is Symposia (2018).

 Hello, could you say a few words about yourself?

My name is Asafa Tefera Dibaba. I thought Literature in the College of Education, Addis Ababa University, (AAU) and I studied Comparative Literature at the AAU for my MA from 2001 to 2003. I studied English Language Teaching (ELT) at Kotebe College of Teacher Education in1985 and ’86 and later at Addis Ababa University from 1994 to 1997. I completed my secondary School education at Najjo High School, Wallaga in 1983.

Born from a farming family in 1967 at Gombo, Jarso District, Wallaga, I have come to become a Poet, unfortunately.

So far, I have published five: Edas-edanas (1997, poems in Afan Oromo), Anaan’yaa (1998, poems in Afan Oromo),Danaa (2000, short stories in Afan Oromo), Theorizing the Present (2004, a critical approach to study Oromo Literature), and, now, Decorous Decorum (2006, poems in English).

Born and bred in the World torn by hunger, by want and disease, in the World besieged by injustice and social evils, we are all Poets—Oral Poets, at least. We recite our fear, our hope, our love, our hate. In every walking human being mooning on this Planet, there are unheard voices, un-echo-ed cries, and untold stories—secrets of the Heart.

We all sing of war and peace, of fear and hope, of love and hate et cetera at a Time in History. Our unheard voices are all rooted in Temporal, for Our problem must be considered from the standpoint of Time. And, only Events give us a nudge in Time. We roll on our side and then sleep to the World until the slide of other Events comes and run over us, crush us. We cannot live with or without this unbearable lightness of Our Being!We sing Songs of war and peace, of fear and hope, of love and hate et cetera at a Time in History. How interesting is it to carry fire and water in the same mouth? Our poor Soul is torn in two.

We have become soorboof- soorkoo or sam-enna-worq in our very being—a double standard. We are born Poets—unfortunate Poets! Our Ayyana (Spirit) sees from ‘within’ and from ‘without’, double-face, Janus-like. We Rural Boys come to school with the Provincial mind, resistant to change (?). We see the World and learn by judging, not by questioning. We do not pose questions for we are shy.

Instead, we poeticize it inside and deliver it. Even so, we react in some way more critically than our fellow Urban Boys (and Girls) and so on. But I do not exactly remember when I picked up poetry as a Purpose—a Serious Purpose. I think it all started when I was teaching at Najjo High School twenty years back.

Why do you write poetry?

Poetry does sting. You sense the pain when you are stung and it never gives you a relief. There it leaves its mark. Just with few words, you can say a lot, and you do not always mean what you say. Sometimes the Intent is not in you, but in the Text. Sometimes not even in the Text, but in the outside social Context.

Today Poetry has a dual function: one, to instruct, and, as well, to critique. You, as a Poet, you are a social critic. You cannot remain passive to see and submit to the status quo—unless you are a sellout, an opportunist. In Our case, now, Literature has serious purposes more than ever.

In my Theorizing the Present (2004), a critical approach to study Oromo Literature from a sociological viewpoint, I have clearly stressed the purposive function and didactic role of our Literature. In a World driven by exploitation, in a World where humanity is overwhelmed by hunger, disease, want and absolute misery, in a world of inequality and injustice, no criticism can be innocent, no literature can be of purely aesthetic value.

What do you think the role of literature will be in restoring the dignity of the Oromo people, the theme that seems to dominate your writings?

I feel it very important for an African writer to pick up the theme that is African, and, of course, of some universal value to humankind at large. Issues of Freedom, Justice, Peace, and Equality are true to all Mankind.

There is this popular theme of Unity in Decorous Decorum, the importance of Uniting our Nation. I tried to stress the need for national unity so that We can curb Our cry for freedom, justice, justice among different strata of people, equality, equality among the nations and nationalities, among Men and Women, among the Haves and the Have-nots (?), an even and lawful distribution of resources, equal job and education opportunities for all, Children’s right…(see “Udaan”). Yes, I think, all that stuff! The form is “a poetic meditation on existence” under lawlessness.

In Decorous Decorum, an attempt is made to portray a system that destroys individuality through police investigations and forced confessions. It shows what happens to characters who feel “weightless” because they lack traditional values and ideals of selfhood under harsh unbearable conditions. It addresses the difficulty of maintaining standards of morality and judgment under a government that demands total submission from its citizens.

It alludes to human identity in a time of police investigations, forced confessions, and ideological ruthlessness masked as democracy. Previously people used to be happy, or pretended to be happy, when their kraals were full of cattle and grain banks were full of grain deposit from season to season.

Then they were farming with an ox-driven plough. Now that we are at the age of mechanized farming, extension package, pesticide, harvesting machine, what have you, who feeds his children from harvest to harvest? Are we poor because We are really poor, or because We lack the gut to direct Our rogue Leaders towards one common goal? In this respect, I would say, the Future would be bleak.

About Asafa Tefera Dibaba

OccupationEducator, Poet, Researcher
LocationIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUnited States
IntroductionMy PhD research project, “Ethnography of Resistance Poetics” (;sequence=1); was an interdisciplinary project that theorizes folklore performance as creative resistance and ecopoetic practices which focus on traditional knowledge tied to the environment and geared to living in harmony with nature. My current research interest focuses, among others, on the role of local knowledge (cultural ecology) to balance the ethically challenged human-environment relationship in the face of rapid social changes. I was relocated to USA in 2010 awarded the 2009/2010 IIE/SRF Scholars Fellowship after repeated persecutions and imprisonments in Ethiopia as a poet (dissident writer), educator, and researcher and for speaking to the repressive power. So Articles you read here on E T H N O E C O L O GY are NOT chapters out of my PhD Dissertation. They are results of my ongoing research during and after my study here in USA (2011-2015) based on my personal experience, observation, available print data, and the fieldwork data I collected in 2009 and 2010 in Oromia/Ethiopia. .
InterestsEnvironmentalism & Expressive Cultures, (Environmental Folklore), Research Activism, Resistance Studies, Nature Poetry, Women Folklore, Rituals, Tradition, Personal Narratives