Zumra Nuru founded the utopian village of Awra Amba in the seventies. Today over 430 residents continue to practice and follow his homegrown ideals of gender equality, education, honesty, hard work and the rejection of organized religion. Every weekend hundreds of visitors come to his village to witness Awra Amba’s success and marvel at how a community could possibly survive without a church or a mosque.
After spending the weekend with the “Ethiopian Gandhi“, I pulled this interview out of my notes.
Q: What is wrong with our world?
A: There is no peace. Everywhere you look people do not know about peace. What is the need to struggle and fight when peace is an option? The only way to peace is through peace.
Q: Why does Ethiopian society oppress women?
A: We oppress women because we forget that the woman is the mother. Men often refer to them as servants before referring to them as mothers.
Q: How did you realize that women are being oppressed in Ethiopia?
A: Simple, I learned by example from my parents. I saw my mother work day and night and my father just a fraction of the time. That didn’t seem right to me.
Q: Is Awra Amba now at peace with its neighbors?
A: We were persecuted for many years. Thanks to our success in the media, they have finally accepted us. Through discussion and dialogue, peace is always an option.
Q: Are women allowed to marry outside of the community?
A: People in Awra Amba have the freedom to do what they want as long as they follow our rules. If a woman chooses a partner from outside, he too must follow our rules.
Q: Is there a restriction on the number of children in a family?
A: Yes, we ask families to limit their children to 4 or 5.
Q: Do you see yourself as a spiritual leader, governor or counselor?
A: I’m just a farmer. I never had any education. I’m like anybody else, just a farmer.
Q: What will happen to the community once you pass on?
A: Zumra has no authority. The people will lead themselves. My ideas are immortal, but I am not. The educated people will lead the community.
Q: What are the negative effects of organized religion?
A: There is only one creator so there should be no difference between religions. In Awra Amba, we spend our time working. We believe in the creator but there is no time for other things.
Q: When Awra Amban students go away to university, do they come back?
A: They will go away, but they always come back because there is no peace anywhere else. If they decide to stay on the outside, it is their decision.
Q: Why are there no dogs in Awra Amba?
A: Dogs are guards and since there is no crime in Awra Amba, we have no use for dogs.
Q: Why do you always wear the green woven hat?
A: I must wear this to cover the degraded areas (balding) on my head (laughing)…