Onesimos Nesib (Qubee: Onesimoos Nasiib) was born in Hurrumu, former Yayu district, Illubabor Zone of Oromia Region in 1855/56. His birth name was Hiikaa (“translator, problem solver, one who liberates”). Onesimos is the biblical name he received after baptism in 1872. Like the main character in Paul’s letter to Philemon, Onesimus had been enslaved. Hiikaa was ransomed by the French vice-consul Werner Munzinger in Massawa in 1870 and then attended the nearby “School for Freed Man” established by the Swedish Evangelical Mission (SEM). From 1876 until 1881, Onesimos studied at Johannelund Missionary Training Institute.
Having returned from Sweden, Onesimos Nesib participated in the SEM expedition to reach Oromia via Khartoum and Famaka (Sudan). However, the team did not reach its destination. Seriously ill and exhausted, Onesimus arrived back in Imkullu (near Massawa) about the middle of July 1882.
A few weeks later, Onesimos started to translate Christian literature into Oromo. The first book printed at the local mission press was a hymn book called Faarsaa fi Weedu (“Hymns and Songs”), 1886.
In 1881, his former teacher and SEM leader in Eritrea and Ethiopia, Rev. Bengt P. Lundahl, had published an Amharic hymn book, Yegubaé Mezmurat. From these 41 congregational songs, Onesimos translated 26 into Oromo. He selected 75 songs from various Swedish and English hymn books and also translated them into Oromo. In total, the first edition of Onesimos’ hymnal thus contained 101 hymns, including two by Martin Luther (“A Mighty Fortress” and “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice”).
Onesimos Nasib kept revising his Oromo hymn book. Based on the enlarged manuscript Onesimos completed in 1927, the Rev. Martin and Ingeborg Nordfeldt published a revised edition in 1935. They included some of Onesimos’ latest songs, yet replaced several of his other hymns (that might have been composed for singing to indigenous tunges) and added an Oromo translation of parts of the liturgy. The Nordfeldt family had made their home in Nekemte in 1924 and learned Oromo from Onesimos and his colleague, Aster Ganno.
Onesimos Nesib had left for Illubabor via Djibouti in 1903, but settled at the invitation of Governor Kumsaa Moroda in Nekemte. In 1904, Onesimos received a plot for his house and a school in Nejo but had to return to Nekemte in early 1906. He stayed there, teaching reading and writing Oromo at an elementary school and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. until he died in 1931
Onesimos could play the harmonium (pump organ) and brought one with him when he returned from his study in Sweden. Unfortunately, the harmonium was stolen during his second missionary expedition to reach Oromia in 1885/86.
Onesimos Nesib’s legacy as an Oromo Bible translator, evangelist and teacher are well-known. However, there is still much to learn about Onesimos as the father of Oromo gospel music. Further studies are most welcome.
» Watch selected videos on Onesimos Nesib
For further study
- Yagubae mazmurat [(Amharic) Songs of the Congregation]. Translated by Bengt Peter Lundahl. St. Chrischona: Mission-Press, 1881 (at the expense of Swedish Evangelical Mission), [41 hymns; with music notation for harmonium]
» View book
- Faarsaa fi Weedu [(Oromo) Hymns and Songs]. Translated by Onesimos Nesib. Imkullu (Massawa): Swedish Evangelical Mission, 1886. [101 hymns; without music notation]
» View book
- Yagubae mazmurat [(Amharic) Songs of the Congregation].
Revised edition. Imkullo: Swedish Evangelical Mission, 1887.
[93 hymns; without music notation]
» View book
- Galata Waaqayyo Gooftaa Machaa [Praise God, Lord of hosts].
Edited by Martin Nordfeldt. Addis Ababa: Swedish Evangelical Mission, 1935. [116 hymns; based on the expanded edition left by Onesimus at his death in 1931]
» View book
Additional Oromo publications translated / edited
by Onesimos Nesib
- Kakuu Haaraa: Innis Kan Gooftaa Keenyaa Kan Fayisaa Keenyaaa KaYasuus Kiristoos Wangeela Qulqulluu Macaafota Ergamtootas [The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ]. Imkullu (Massawa),1893.
(2nd edition: St. Chrischona: Mission-Press,1899 [partial edition of the full Bible])
- Macaafa Qulqulluu: Innis Macaafa ta Kakuu Moofaa fi Harawaa
[The Holy Bible: The Old and New Testament]. St. Chrischona: Mission-Press, 1899 (at the expense of the British & Foreign Bible Society).
» View Genesis – Deuteronomy / Joshua – Esther /
Job – Songs of Songs / Isaiah – Malachi / Matthew – Revelation
- Katekismos [(Luther’s Small) Catechism]. St. Chrischona: Mission-Press, 1899.
» View book
Oromo publications translated / authored
by Onesimos Nesib and Aster Gannoo
- Jalqaba Barsiisaa: The Galla Spelling-Book [and Reader].
Imkullu: Swedish Mission Press, 1894.
- Garaani Namaa Mana Waaqayyoo yookis Idoo Bultii Seexanaa
[Man’s Heart either God’s Temple or Satan’s Abode]. St. Chrischona: Mission-Press, 1899.
» View online (ALVIN Portal)
- Si’a lama Oduu Shantamii lama [Dr. (Fritz) Barth’s Bible-Stories].
St. Chrischona: Mission Press, 1899. [1st draft by Aster Gannoo]
» View book
Unpublished Oromo manuscripts
- Oromo manuscripts by Nils Hylander
(in cooperation with Onesimos Nesib, Aster Gannoo et al.)
» View online (ALVIN Portal)
Sources for the translations
Arranged according to the number of translated songs in
Faarsaa fi Weedu (1886):
- 38 songs from Den svenska psalmboken [The Swedish Hymn Book], 1819. (Online version)
- 32 songs from Sankey, Ira D.. Sacred Songs and Solos. London: Morgan & Scott, 1877 (1890) [Overview on Hymnary.org]
- 16 songs from Palmqvist, Gustaf and Per Palmqvist, eds. (1862). Pilgrims-Sånger på vägen til det himmelska Sion [Songs of the Pilgrim on the way to heavenly Zion]. Stockholm: Palmqvist. [Swedish songbook with many songs of American origin]
- Altoghether 15 songs from Sångbok för Söndagsskolan [Songbook for Sunday School]. Stockholm: C.A.V. Lundholm, 1876; and
Oscar Ahnfelt’s songbooks [e.g., Andliga sånger, Stockholm 1917].
In the 1935 edition, music reference is mainly made to:
- Sionstoner [Tones of Zion]. Stockholm: EFS förlag, 1889 etc.
» View book (1905)
- Sions Sånger [Songs of Zion]. Edited by J.C. Holmberg. Stockholm: Röpke, 1744. (Overview of songs)
Onesimos Nesib’s translation of Biblical texts was probably based on the following editions:
- Swedish Karl XII Bible. 1703 edition, revised in 1873. Edited by Church of Sweden. [View text online (STEP Bible)]
- Amharic Abu Rumi translation. Revised by Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johann Martin Flad. Printed at the expense of the British and Foreign Bible Society. St. Chrischona (Switzerland): Mission-Press, 1886. [View online]
- As Onesimos was dissatisfied with the linguistic quality of Krapf’s Oromo New Testament (1876), he refused to revise it and translated the Bible anew.
Arén, Gustav (1978). Evangelical Pioneers in Ethiopia: Origins of the Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (Studia Missionalia Upsaliensia, 32). Stockholm: EFS förlaget; Addis Ababa: Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.
Arén, Gustav (1999). Envoys of the Gospel in Ethiopia: In the Steps of the Evangelical Pioneers 1898-1936 (Studia Missionalia Upsaliensis, 75). Stockholm: EFS förlaget; Addis Ababa: The [Ethiopian] Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. [p. 330, fn. 136 on Onesimos’ 1927 hymnbook manuscript]
Cerulli, Enrico. “Folk-Literature of the Galla of Southern Abyssinia,” Harvard African Studies 3 (1922), 9-226. [Online version at HathiTrust]
Dahlberg, Nils (1932). Onesimos: Från slav till bibelöversättare. Stockholm: EFS förlaget.
Dirshaye Menberu (2005). “Nesib, Onesimus”, in: Dictionary of African Christian Biography. (Online version)
Hylander, Fride. “Onesinus [!] Nesib: Some Remarks
on Cerulli’s ‘The Folk-Literature of the Galla’ “, Journal of Ethiopian Studies 7, no. 2 (1969): 79-87. (Online version)
Kebede Hordofa Janko (2005). “Missionaries, enslaved Oromo and their contribution to the development of the Oromo language: an overview”, in: V. Böll et al. (eds.), Ethiopia and the Missions: Historical and Anthropological Insights (Afrikanische Studien, 25), p. 63-76. Münster: Lit Verlag.
Kebede Hordofa Janko (2010). “Onesimos Näsib”, in S. Uhlig in cooperation with A. Bausi (eds.), Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, vol. 4, p. 28-29. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
Mekuria Bulcha (1995). “Onesimos Nasib’s Pioneering Contributions to Oromo Writing”, Nordic Journal of African Studies 4 (1): 36-59. (Online version)
Nilsson, Marianne (2003). “Evangelical Hymns in Amarinya: The Hymnbook Yegubaé Mezmurat,1881, Described and Compared with the Songbook Mrt Mezmura 1, 1975”, Swedish Missiological Themes 91 (1): 81-172.
Nilsson, Marianne (forthcoming). “Implanting Swedish Hymnodies: Emergence and Reception of the First Amharic Hymnbook”, in book on Ethiopian Gospel Music (working title).
Nilsson, Marianne (forthcoming). “Spreading the Gospel in Vernacular: Hymn Translation, Composition and Circulation in Eritrea and Ethiopia”, in book on Ethiopian Gospel Music (working title).
Rappard, Carl Heinrich (1908). Die Pilger-Mission zu St. Chrischona. 2nd, expanded version. St. Chrischona: Schriften-Niederlage zu St. Chrischona. [p. 206-07: short note on Onesimos]
Samuel Yonas Deressa (2018). “Onesimos Nesib, Ethiopian Evangelical Pioneer”, Lutheran Quarterly 32 (2): 160-172. (Online version)
Samuel Yonas Deressa (2020). “Luther’s Works in Ethiopian Languages”, Lutheran Quarterly 34 (1): 61-70. (Online version)
Senai W. Andemariam (2013). “Who should take the Credit for the Bible Translation Works carried out in Eritrea?” Aethiopica 16: 102–129. [For Oromo, see p. 103-110] (Online version)
Tasgaraa Hirphoo (2007). Abbaa Gammachiis (Oneesimos Nasib): Biography – A Native of Oromiya: Enslaved, Freed and an Envoy of the Gospel (1856-1931). Translated from Oromo  by Rev. Magarsaa Guutaa. Finfinnee [Addis Ababa]: self-published. [Esp. p. 43-44]
Tarfasa Digga (1973). A Short Biography of Onesimos Nesib: Oromoo Bible Translator, Evangelist and Teacher. BA essay. Haile Selassie I University [Now Addis Ababa University].
Tesfaye Tolessa Bessan (2019). A History of Oromo Literature and Identity Issues (c. 1840-1991). PhD dissertation, Addis Ababa University: Department of History. [Esp. p. 165-186] (Online version)
Wilson, Sarah Hinlicky (2019). “Lutheran Saints #4: Onesimos Nesib and Aster Ganno”, blog, https://www.sarahhinlickywilson.com/blog/2019/6/12/lutheran-saints-4-onesimos-nesib-and-aster-ganno
Zach, Manfred (1999). “Onesimos Nasib, his Life and Work”, in: N.N., ed., Missiology and Lingustics, p. 4-20. [Addis Ababa, self-published proceedings of the first seminar of the ‘Missiological and Lingusitcs Institute in Memory of Onesimos Nassib and Aster Ganno’]