Pauline Fathme 

I'm intersted in missions and missionaries' biographies. In my latest search I have come across literatures about a girl who I should have known long ago, and who I believe most of my readers have never heard before. Her birth name is Ganamee Yaa'ii (later she was given the name 'Pauline Fathme'). She is known to by the West as the fuel and the inspiration for Protestant Missions. I have summarized her lifesttory from diffrent authors.  

As we all know modern Oromo history is deeply linked with the Protestant Oromo Mission, which was established by Germans in the 1870s after a long series of failed attempts to reach the Oromo.The Oromo were regarded as one of the most creative people in Africa. It was believed that, once converted to Protestantism, they could become the promoters of religious reform not only in East Africa, but in the whole of Africa. An interesting, but often ignored, factor in the development of the growing German interest in the Oromo peoples was the visit of a few Oromo individuals to Germany in the 19th century. Several studies have been carried out on the presence of Africans in Europe.The influence of these visits on concrete historical developments, however remains an interesting question, which deserves more research. 

Pauline Fathme was certainly the first Oromo to visit Germany. An entire small biography was dedicated to her after her death in 1855, written by the German teacher Ledderhose, who directed a Protestant orphan’s school in the German state of Württemberg. Popularly called the Galla-Büchlein after the title of its first edition, it contains much information on the Oromo, their religions, and especially on Pauline’s country of origin, Guummaa. It was supposed to spread knowledge of the Oromo and push for the establishment of an Oromo mission. It was published in the form of small brochures, reprinted several times, and translated into a number of languages, including English. The project of a mission among the Oromo soon found many important sponsors in England.

Ganamee was born around 1830s in Guma, one of the five Oromo Gibee states. Her father died in a battle when she was only six. She was captured by Muslim merchants three years later, while she was visiting her father’s grave. She was taken to Sennar in the Sudan, and after being sold 12 times, arrived in Cairo as the personal property of Mohammed Ali (1801 to 1849) of Egypt. She worked in his kitchen and was converted to Islam, taking the Muslim name of Fatima. 

When the German adventurer John Baron von Müller traveled to Egypt in 1847, Mohammed Ali gave Fatima to him as a gift. The adventurer also purchased two African boys and took all of them to Germany in 1849. Ganamee was first taken to Stuttgart, where she served in the house of von Müller’s mother and received Catholic and German language instruction. Later, von Müller presented all three of the young Africans to the King of Württemberg. The queen mother, a Protestant, wished that Fatima would join the girls’ school at the Pietist settlement in Kornthal, where Krapf had set up a mission station. There, she lived with a German family, the Fechts, who became her foster parents. She received Protestant instruction, was baptized on July 12, 1852, and was christened Pauline.

She received a Christian education in Kornthal, Württemberg, visited missionary feasts and was prepared for a role in the mission, possibly as a deaconess. The fact that she went through quite diverse religious backgrounds and finally stayed with the South-German Pietists might have contributed to the importance that was given to her. The history of her names illustrates the dramatic changes in her life, and an interesting set of conflicting identities. First her name was written in Oromo, then it was changed into Arabic, and later Germanized after her baptism – her names thus all relate to dramatically different cultural and religious backgrounds (from the Waaqaa-religion via Islam to Protestant Christianity). 

When she was baptized “Pauline”, the name was certainly an allusion to the St. Paul, who had, as the first “Christian” convert, changed his name from Saul to Paul.  She was eager to return home and evangelize her people. In 1853 she even gave all her Egyptian jewellery to the mission. In 1854, shortly after a meeting with Krapf, who had just come back from East Africa, she wrote to himthat she was happy about his plans to go to “the dark land”,and sent him some of her textile works and drawings as gifts for the Oromo.31 On 13 March 1855 she wrote to Spittler:
"I also often think of East Africa. Oh! How happy would I be if the sweet Gospel could also be preached one day among my fellow compatriots, but there this is so difficult among the bad people, and I am in great sorrow because of the dear Herr missionary Krapf, planning to travel so far [into the country] …"

In 1854, shortly after a meeting with Krapf, who had just come back from East Africa, she wrote to him that she was happy about his plans to go to ‘the dark land’, and sent him some of her textile works and drawings as gifts for the Oromo.

Unfortunately, she never fulfilled her goal of returning home; she died of lung disease at the age of 24 on September 11, 1855. Sometimes Ganamee remarked that the Oromo were “wild, but good”, and expressed her hope that they would one day convert. In the last phase of her sufferings she again began to speak very often of her home country, Oromia. Her last weeks left a strong impression on Spittler. His successor at the leadership of the St. Chrischona Pilgermission, Rappard, noted in 1873that before dying she had implored him, with tears in her eyes and her arms outstretched, to bring the Gospel to her “wild countrymen”. Rappard further notes, that Spittler had regarded this as a “holy legacy” and was always looking for means of realizing this “burning demand”. 

Pauline Fathme’s legacy

The papers, published and unpublished, of the St. Chrischona Pilgermission near Basle continuously refer to Pauline Fathme when they speak of a possible future mission among the Oromo. The missionaries present at Tewodros II’s court in Ethiopia from 1856also refer in their reports sent to St. Chrischona of the plan for an Oromo mission, which, however, remained out of their reach. 

The annual report of the St. Chrischona Pilgermission from 1864 finally notes that the plans to create an Oromo mission had greatly advanced.The sale of the book on Pauline Fathme’s life had brought together with some other contributions, around 500 Swiss Francs. This sum was to be invested in the foundation of a missionary station among the Oromo. Additionally, in early 1864, a sponsor in Great Britain gave 2,500 Francs for this purpose, and Krapf even promised to provide for a yearly contribution of 300 gold Florin if the “Galla-Mission” could start immediately. 

Ganamee influenced the Basel missionaries in Switzerland to send missions to Oromia. She had visited the Basel mission station before her death and had made a big impression on the leaders there in appealing to them to send missions to her country. The Basel missionary leaders, particularly their head, a man named Christian Friedrich Spittler, 77 “had regarded this as a ‘holy legacy’ and was always looking for means of realizing this ‘burning demand.”78 The extent of her influence over European countries regarding sending missions to Africa, even after her death, was described in the Church of England Magazine:

"We think our friends knew already that bishop Gobat intends also a mission to the [Oromo clans], of whom a dear member, late Pauline Fathme, in the church-yard of Riehen, at the foot of St. Chrischona mountain, is resting in hope of the blessed day of a happy resurrection. Her sepulcher is to us a continual admonition not to forget the millions of [Oromo] that are inhabiting the south of Habesh, and nearly extend to the equator. Many think with us, that the best way of reaching this interesting people with the gospel lies through Abyssinia. And may the cheerful day of salvation for the Oromo [nation] soon dawn!"

What Can We Learn From The Life of Ganamee Yaa'ii ?

I've read so many stories about former Oromo slaves who became champions of the gospel, such as Onesimos Nasib, Aster Gannoo, Ruffo, etc. What amazes me about Ganamee is that though she lived far away from her Fatherland, Oromia, she never lost the imagination and prayer for her countrymen until her death. As I write this, I am not sure what most of my countrymen are obssesed with especially thesedays. Ganamee would teach us to not lose ours sight away from our people until they are fully reached with the Gospel. 

I ask, "Has Ganamee's wish been fulfilled? Are the Oromos all reached with the gospel?" I am afraid so. In a new research released recently (which I was part of), much of the Oromoland ('Ormania' as Kraph called it) is yet to be reached with the message of the gospel. Hence, we should all pray that God would raise a generaton that will fulfill Ganamee's wish which is of course our wish. Let's arise my generation! Let's arise my people! Let's fulfill Ganamee's wish!

 

 

References:

- Pauline Fathme: First Fruits of the Gallas to Christ Jesus. Ludderhus K.  (Translated from German by Dr. Kraph) 1857.

- Tsega Etefa. Integration and Peace in East Africa: The History of Oromo Nation. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN 2012

- "The role of the former Oromo slave Pauline Fathme in the foundation of the Protestant Oromo mission" an article published by WOLBERT G.C. SMIDT

 

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