"Jaga cam kwää jiy" ("Those who eat the sweat of others") by Okello Agaamu

Okello Agaamu is a brilliant singer and composer living in a rural part of Gambella region called Gok. Okello has been composing his own songs since 1974 and is renown in the area for his music.

He composed this particular song ("Jaga cam kwää jiy") around 1982, during Ethiopia's Communist government (called the Derg). At the time, a rebel movement (called Gambella People's Liberation Movement, or GPLM) had arisen in Gambella and withdrawn to the bush, where they waged guerrilla warfare against the Derg militia. This song addresses the rebels, telling them to come back and join the government again instead of starving in the bush. The title "Those who eat the sweat of others" refers to the rebels' stealing food from the local community to sustain themselves.

The Communist government was overtaken in 1991 by rebel fighters, but Okello still acknowledges the good that the Derg accomplished for the people in his area. Due to Cold War propaganda, Western nations have a tendency to demonize Communist regimes. However, though Ethiopia's Communist government was certainly oppressive and violent at times, Okello appreciates the productivity and stability that the Derg promoted. He said that the bans on drinking alcohol until people came back from work was beneficial for his community, for example.

Okello still continues to compose actively in the post-Derg era. He is quite the progressive thinker, and he composes songs promoting development initiatives (such as building roads) and teaching about proper healthcare practices. Okello has attended trainings on HIV prevention and Guinea-Worm eradication and composed songs teaching people about these health issues. Like many Anywaa composers with whom I spoke, Okello says that most of his songs address the problems he sees among his people. "Jaga cam kwää jiy" is not so much political, then, as it is Okello's advise to individuals for maintaining the stability of his community.


Jøøa cam kwää jiy na päär paap i luum ba anwänï ni cungngö ni kwädö ki beel
You people who eat the sweat of others and run away to the bush were found stealing sorghum

Acaan jïïu koru thääyö i luum paap yie da koodhi arøm ruu
You were told not to be wandering around in the bush because of the thorns, so now you deserve this suffering

Køp ni cämö ongwëërë ki nyï jenni, cämö döölö ki nyï jenni,
Only the ongwëërë [species of monkey] eat the fruit of trees, only the döölö [species of monkey] eat the fruit of trees

Møga bee ii athum ge bëët powa ööa maal.
Here are the others, we finished finding the rest [of the rebels], now our region can grow [develop]

Ajaac miliciia coo bang jaay ni kwädö ki beel
Head of the militia, [go] and find the rest of the rebels who are stealing the sorghum

Anwänï ni thääyö cuugngö wï lïëk ocweer dëëre tär
They were found standing in the lïëk [burned area], looking ashen

Dëëre kaa awaangngi ni cwaaga en
His body looks like the white beads around my neck

Ocaan miliciia ba jook aa, pöötha nyïmë aa, olwïthë kaa apak
What has been told to the militia cannot be stopped, it will continue, it will catch them by surprise

Göyö ni wuï gïna akee angø
They will shout, “Wuï!” in surprise; why did you even leave?

Jwöna ree keere mak wa maaø leengwa i øttø, nyë ïïna løny
They are on their own, we will catch them and put them in prison, finally we got you!


Ojho Othow Ojullu (coordination, translation, and transcription)