This article explores the socio-political and economic context of Prophets and prophecy in Wolaitta, with specific reference to the Prophet Esa and his prophecy, which emerged in the context of traditional religions of Wolaitta, from 1920 to 1928. The article examines how the prevalence of crisis related to socio-political and economic influence, and the factors that determine who has access to such influence, can impact on perceptions of ‘spiritual insecurity’ in African communities. Often such perceptions and insecurities are expressed in prophetic terms. The article argues that prophets and prophecy is a manifestation of such expressions of socio-political and economic insecurities, as it does not occur in a vacuum but can be located in a socio-political and economic context. In this regard, the conquest of Wolaitta by Menilek’s force in 1894 and the subsequent domination of the northerners resulted in the prevalence of series of socio-political and economic crisis in the area. After conquest, the oppressive social system known as neftegna-gebbar system was institutionalized in the area, leading to existence of maladministration, social inequality and injustice and economic exploitation. The Orthodox Church was serving as instrument to maintain such oppressive system. The infectious disease of the 1920s worsened the situation. Internally their traditional religion failed to be responsive to such crises, and also the people have been exploited by their religious functionaries. It was in this socio-political and economic context that Prophet Esa emerged and most of his prophetic and reformist messages are direct responses to the crisis. The arguments raised in the article are based on the author’s critical engagement with relevant primary and secondary sources. The former includes information obtained from the systematic interviewing of knowledgeable individuals, while the latter consists of books, articles and thesis. These sources are critically examined and carefully cross-checked for their reliability.
Key words: Prophets, prophecy, Esa, traditional religion, Wolaitta.
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