Jimma Town: Foundation and Early Growth from ca. 1830 to 1936

Open access


This study deals with the early history of Jimma town and its growth from its foundation until 1936. It explores social, economic and administrative themes, but also attempts to show the interrelationship between these themes. The town of Jimma evolved during this period from being the home-town of a relatively homogenous society and culture into a place of residence for a diverse and increasingly cosmopolitan population. Economically, the story of Jimma during this period is one of both continuity and change. It is a story of continuity because Jimma, which had been a center of trade from the very beginning, continued to be so during this period. There was significant change, however, because unlike the previous decades in which Jimma had served as a point of exchange or transit for elite goods that mostly originated from beyond the borders of the Oromo Kingdom (such as slaves, ivory and musk), during this period the town developed into the chief center for the collection, organization and export of a cash crop that was grown locally (coffee).

Economic change, therefore, resulted in both production and exchange. The social, economic and administrative history of Jimma is closely intertwined, however. The mixture of peoples and cultures, as well as the nature of the urban social institutions that evolved in the town, are closely tied to “the cash crop revolution”, which brought streams of permanent and temporary residents to the town; the evolution of the town into a chief administrative center, as well as the introduction of somewhat peculiar administrative and fiscal institutions, came about, at least in part, as a result of the location of the town in the heart of the “coffee country”, as southwestern Ethiopia came to be known. In short, both the urbanity and the urbanization of Jimma can be explained by the story of coffee production and trade. This article documents these processes extensively and accounts for the growth of a major town in modern Ethiopia.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • ABIR M. (1968): Ethiopia: Era of the Princes. London: William Clowes and Sons Limited.

  • ABIR M. (1965): The Emergence and Consolidation of the Monarchies of Enarea and Jimma in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. In. Journal of African History 6 2 pp. 205-219.

  • ABIR M. (1966): Salt Trade and Politics in Ethiopia in the Zemene Mesafint. In Journal of Ethiopian Studies 4 2 pp. 1-10.

  • ABREHAM A. (2012): Narrating Local Identity among the Southwestern Oromo of Ethiopia: Case of the Jimma and Gera. In. African Study Monograph 33 1 pp. 17-47.

  • ADEM A. (1992): Qubba Abba Arabu. An Islamic Shrine in Jimma. B.A. thesis. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University.

  • BAIROCH P. (1998): Cities and Economic Development: From the Dawn of History to the Present. Chicago: University of Chicago.

  • BEKE C. T. (1843): On the Countries South of Abyssinia. In Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 13 pp. 254-269.

  • BEKE C. T. (1851): Journey to Kaffa. London: James Madden and Leudenhall Street.

  • BORELLI J. (1889): Ethiopie méridionale: journal de mon voyage aux pays Amhara Oromo et Sidama septembre 1885 à novembre 1888. Paris: May et Monteroz.

  • BULATOVICH A. (2000): Ethiopia through Russian Eyes. Country in Transition 1896-1898. Transl. by Richard Seltzer. Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press.

  • CAULK R. A. (1978): Armies as Predators: Soldiers and Peasants in Ethiopia ca. 1850-1935. In International Journal of African Historical Studies 11 3 pp. 457-497.

  • CAULK R. A. (2002): “Between the Jaws of the Hyenas.” A Diplomatic History of Ethiopia (1876-1896). Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz Verlag.

  • DAMTE A. (1993): Urbanization in Ethiopia; Pre and Post Revolution Experience. Ph.D. thesis Madison: University of Wisconsin.

  • DONHAM D. – JAMES W. (eds.) (2002): The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia. Oxford: James Currey pp. 196-217.

  • FULE G. (1985): The Kingdom of JanJero: A Historical Survey to 1894. B.A. thesis. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University.

  • GARRETSON P. P. (2002): Vicious cycles: ivory slaves and arms on the new Maji frontier. In

  • GEMEDA G. (1989): “An Outline of the Early History of Jimma Town”. In Proceedings of the Fourth Seminar of the Department of History. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press.

  • GEMEDA G. (1984): Gomma and Limmu: The Process of State Formation among the Oromo in the Gibe Region C. 1850-1889. M.A. thesis. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University.

  • GIST N. P. – HALBERT L. A. (1956): Urban Society. New York: Thomas Cromcull Company.

  • GONZÁLES-RUIBAL A. (2011): Fascist Colonialism: the Archeology of Italian Outposts in Western Ethiopia (1936-1941). In International Journal of Historical Archeology 14 4 pp. 547-574.

  • GOSHU. H. (1970): The Kingdom of Abba Jifar II: 1861-1934. B.A. thesis. Addis Ababa: Haile Sellassie I University.

  • GRUHL M. (1932): The Citadel of Ethiopia The Empire of the Divine Emperor. London: Jonathan Cape.

  • GWYNN C.W. (1911): A Journey in Southern Abyssinia. In Geographical Journal 37 2 pp. 113-139.

  • HASSEN M. (1990): The Oromo of Ethiopia. A history 1570-1860. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • HODSON A. W. (1970): Seven Years in Southern Abyssinia. Westport: Negro University Press.

  • KRETZMANN P. E. (1900): John Ludwig Krapf. The Explorer-Missionary of Northeastern Africa. Columbus: The Book Concern.

  • LEWIS H. S. (1965): A Galla Monarchy Jimma Abba Jifar Ethiopia 1830-1932. Madison and Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press.

  • LITTLE K. (1974): Urbanization as a Social Process: An Essay on Movement and Change in Contemporary Africa. London Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

  • MABOGUNGE A. L. (1968): Urbanization in Nigeria. London: University of London Press.

  • MAINS D. (2012): Blackouts and Progress: Privatization Infrastructure and a Developmentalist State in Jimma Ethiopia. In Cultural Anthropology 27 1 pp. 3-27.

  • MASSAJA G. (1889): I Miei Trentacinque Anni Di Missione Nell' Alta Etiopia. Milan: Pontificia S. Guiseppe.

  • McCANN J. C. (1995): People of the Plow. An Agricultural History of Ethiopia 1800-1990. London: University of Wisconsin Press.

  • MONTADON G. (1912): A Journey in South-Western Abyssinia. In Geographical Journal 40 4 pp. 372-391.

  • NASSIR M. (1973): Economic History of Jimma Aba Jifar 1878-1930. B.A. thesis. Addis Ababa: Haile Sellassie I University.

  • NEUMANN O. (1902): From the Somali Coast through Southern Ethiopia to the Sudan. In Geographical Journal 20 4 pp. 373-398.

  • PANKHURST R. (1968): Economic History of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa: Artistic printers.

  • PANKHURST R. (1982): History of Ethiopian Towns. From the Middle Ages to the Early Nineteenth Century. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag.

  • SALVADORE M. (2010): The Ethiopian Age of Exploration: Prester John’s Discovery of Europe 1306-1458. In Journal of World History 21 4 pp. 593-627.

  • SBACCHI A. (1985): Ethiopia under Mussolini: Fascism and the Colonial Experience. London: Zed Book Ltd.

  • SEMMA T. (2007): Origin and Development of Jimma Town to 1942. Master thesis Addis Ababa University.

  • TRAVERSI L. (1888): Escursione nel Gimma. In. Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana Serie III Vol. I (Anno XXII – Vol. XXV) pp. 907-910.

  • VANDERHEYM J.-G. (1896): Une Expédition avec le Négous Menelik. Paris: Librérie Hachett.

  • WOLDE MARIAM T. (1984): Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Kingdom of Jimma 1800-1935. M.A. thesis. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University.

  • WOLDE MICHAEL A. (1973): Urban Development in Ethiopia: 1889-1925. In Journal of Ethiopian Studies 11 1 pp. 1-4.

  • ZEWDE B. (1991): A History of Modern Ethiopia 1885-1974. London James Currey.

Journal information
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 1058 587 34
PDF Downloads 7531 7262 2098