Interview of Roba Bulga by Dr. Steven W. Thomas / go back to Issue 6 

On Friday, April 5th, 2013, one of the editors for Ogina, Dr. Steven W. Thomas, a professor of literature and culture at Wagner College, met with Roba Bulga in New York City. Roba had flown from Ethiopia just a day before for the African Film Festival to promote the New York premier of the documentary movie Jeans and Martò, produced by the Italian documentary filmmakers Clio Sozzani and Claudia Palazzi. The movie follows Roba’s personal story and highlights the many challenges facing the Karrayyu in their struggle to maintain the pastoralist way of life. Tickets to the movie at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan were sold out, and after the movie concluded, Roba answered many questions from the audience. This interview was done just two hours before the movie’s first showing. In it, Steve talked to Roba about his life, family, education, poetry, and work, as well as about the movie, and how they all relate to each other.

Roba was born in the Fantalle region of Oromia, and eventually obtained his degree in Foreign Languages and Literature from Addis Ababa University. He is one of the founders of Labata Fantalle, which is non-profit, grassroots organization that facilitates community-led development. He has just completed his graduate study at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy and now works as a Project Coordinator for Slow Food International. He has represented the Karrayyu community at various international conferences, including a network building conference with organic food producers from different African countries held in Italy and organized by Slow Food. While in Italy, Roba was introduced to the Italian filmmakers Clio Sozzani and Claudia Palazzi, who were inspired to tell his story.

Steve first met Roba when he travelled to Oromia in 2010, and was introduced to him through the Gudina Tumsa Foundation. At that time, Steve was a professor in Minnesota at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, who funded his trip.

In this issue of Ogina, we have included clips from the movie Jeans and Marto and two of Roba’s poems, one in Oromo, and one in English.


Roba Bulga was born in the Fantalle region of Oromia and currently works in Addis Ababa for Slow Food International.

Dr. Steven W. Thomas is a professor of English at Wagner College and lives in Brooklyn, New York. His essay “Taxing Tobacco and the Metonymies of Virtue” was published by AMS Press in 2012 in a collection of essays entitled Global Economies, Cultural Currencies of the Eighteenth Century.