Stories are told and retold through the power and elusiveness of the words of men and women in endeavors of remembering.
Voices are echoed to oneself and the world beyond one’s existence and serve defiance against the baneful floods of negating mainstream discourses. My Africa is home to a flourishing and diverse tapestry of human recitals in all corners of her lands:
Some of these have been read and told, many have been misread and mistold
Unfortunately, mystifying to humanity, an even greater multitude have been unread and untold;
I come to you with one of these stories.
The Horn of Africa, located in the easternmost tip of Africa, mothers many ethnonational groups along its green pastures and scorching deserts. African national groups have inhabited this part of the world for thousands of years and maintain a unique relationship of belonging to the earth. From these very lands, the story of the Oromo begins.
The Oromo nation is the largest of all constituencies that make up the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Oromo are mainly rooted in Ethiopia, albeit their presence extends to the confines of neighboring states such as Kenya, Sudan, and Somalia, where significant Oromo saliences can be seen and felt. Most modest figures put the Oromo at 40 million strong, while others find the Oromo comprising as high as 50 million. These aforementioned numbers cumulate into meaning almost one half of the demographic totality of 100 million-plus in Ethiopia are Oromos. It is conceivable, therefore, without much hesitation to say that the Oromo hold numerical dominance in the region.
Cultural pillars of the Oromo
All nations have languages in which they express their innermost cogitations to one and all alike;
for the Oromo, that vernacular is called Afaan Oromoo (literally meaning the mouth of the Oromo). Mekuria Bulcha (1997) notes “the Oromo language, Afaan Oromo, which is one of the five most widely spoken indigenous languages in Africa, is a lingua franca in the southern half of Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya, used by several ethnic groups as a means of trade and communication.“ Despite its pervasiveness, vitality, and viability in Ethiopia and across the region, it is ironically yet to become a working language of the federal framework within Ethiopia itself.
The Oromo practiced (and still practice in limited statistics) an indigenous, monotheistic religion called Waaqeffannaa in which the Oromo worship in and supplicate to Waaqa Gurraacha (The Black God) to whom they offer gratitude for the joy and plead for divine intervention in their times of trouble. The Oromo, to this very day, commence important assemblies of all variants with a prayer to Waaqa. Waaqeffannaa is still practiced by sections of the Oromo, although it doesn’t maintain prominence as it did before the advent of Abrahamic religions. In correlation with the Oromo relation with Waaqa, the annual festivity known as Irreechaa stands worthy of notice. Irreechaa has two variants: Irreechaa Malkaa and Irreechaa Tulluu.
Irreechaa Malkaa (happening in fall) is observed after the end of the rainy reason which hinders families from meeting and overflows the rivers of the land, henceforth they thank the Creator for having overcome these conditions. This unifying procession is held by river banks. Parallel to this conception, Irreechaa Tulluu (happening in spring) is a procession that is meant to supplicate for the rain when the sun’s scourge is flaming over. They trek to the mountain tops to ask for blissful tears of the skies. The felicitations of Irreechaa, despite its root in Waaqeffannaa theology, have become a symbol of pan-Oromo unity. In contemporary times, the assumption of different faiths is overarched by a concrete sense of being a people united in history, language, culture, and aspirations.
The Oromo view of what lies beyond rationally alludes to inquiries about how the Oromo used to run their mechanics of governance and societal harmony. The retort is the Gadaa complex. Gadaa is a multi-layered, democratic system of governance whereby there are five classes of progression, each with a duration of 8 years until the fifth stage of assuming chairpersonship.
In this system, males will pass the stages, including (these names have other interchangeable terminology as well) Dabballee (8th year), Gaammee Xiqqaa (9th-16th year), Gaammee Gurgudaa (17th-24th year), Kuusa (25th-32rd year), Raabbaa Dorrii (33rd–40th year) before finally leading the Lubaa stage (41st-48th year) of becoming the Abba Gadaa through elections (chairperson of the governing assembly known as the Caaffee or Gumii). The retired receive the appellation ‘Yuuba,’ and transition into an advisory role. Oromo women’s participation is best integrated into the system called Siiqqee, and this platform allows the women of society to organize and demand rights. This word Siiqqee comes from the stick married women carry, itself a symbol of prestige and respect. The Siiqqee is a parallel institution to aid women’s participation in structures where males dominate.
The Oromos also have a unique calendar system based upon the lunar system in which there are 27 days in a month and 12 months per year. This calendar is called Dhahaa Oromoo, where each day of the month has a name of its own.
Afaan Oromoo, Waqqeffannaa, Irreechaa, and Gadaa are notable facets but only some of what constitutes Oromo epistemology. The culture of the Oromo calls for further study and intrigue as much more remains to be documented and shared.
Oromo History: Resistance Has Become Culture
Even our cattle were free!
Oromo history is an oxymoronic mash of sweet beatitude and bitter scolding. The collective memories of the Oromo are shrouded in times of glory succeeded by chapters of agony, thus pushing one to conclude understand it as a past of extremes. This extreme of a people who knew of freedom but later on came to yearn for it in their thoughts and dreams is a culmination of the processes that established the modern Ethiopian state in the early 20th century. The same conglomerate of processes that brought to power core an imperial ruling class and ostracized diverse national groups to the periphery.
The formation of the Ethiopian state is a highly controversial dilemma, which occurred in such a way that it still haunts the political dynamics of contemporary Ethiopia. Emperor Menelik II, initially the king of Shewa, a province in Northern Ethiopia, engaged in a wave of successive conquests in the ‘Ethiopian South’ in a political desire to craft out an empire state in the Horn. These conquests faced stiff resistance amongst many groups, the Oromo included. However, the hierarchy of European-made firearms in the emperor’s armory was a decisive factor in finally forging the creation of a state the world knows today as Ethiopia.
Commencing with Emperor Menelik II’s imperial foundation, successive power welders have risen and fallen, nevertheless, the relationship of the Oromo and the Ethiopian core remained unchanged. The Oromo were referred to (officially and unofficially) by a pejorative term, “Galla,” meaning savage, uncultured, pagan, and inferior. Imperial Ethiopia, Socialist Ethiopia and now Pseudo-federalist Ethiopia have all bereaved the Oromoo of their land, power, and culture in different (failed) bids of sculpting a nation-state out of a state with many nations within it.
A misdiagnosis of the problems of the Ethiopian state by previous regimes have exacerbated the problem; it was only in 1991 that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in coincidence with other forces, forces which it later had a fall out with, acknowledged the quagmires of the Ethiopian state. The flickering optimism of the early 1990s could be epitomized as a short honeymoon that preceded a wrecked marriage where broken promises assumed centerfold.
The Oromo (alongside other national groups) dismissed the EPRDF rule mainly due to what veteran opposition figure Marara Gudina once famously phrased as, “… the EPRDF started American music that is multiparty democracy, free and fair elections, the Rule of law, press freedom and in fact what has been very beautiful to western ears but the problem is that the EPRDF has continued to dance their own dance.’’ The critical juncture was reached after governmental plans to expand the capital city into the environs by a magnitude of about 40 times under the infamous “developmental’’ project name “The Master Plan”; the rebuttal, of a plan upon which the populus wasn’t consulted, set into course a series of protests that lasted over 4 years before finally turning the once potent regime futile by mid-2018.
Currently, the government is engaged in a battle that manifests itself both through grotesque propaganda campaigns and outright military confrontations against the armed wing of the OLF (presently dissected from the political wing) in the West and South of the Oromiyaa region. This crisis has implicated the insecurity of the biggest regional component of Ethiopia where murder, arrests, and harassment of the average man and woman occur daily. These conditions are painfully reminiscent of the times that ultimately affected the Oromo jacquerie against EPRDF proper.
The Oromo story is a complicated one, drenched in a trans-generational effort of a people who have pursued all possible avenues for a state of being. This state of being is intended to break free and instate a status quo of no more exploitation, mortification, or repression. The Oromo’s quest for self-determination is mirrored through equitable representation, economic ownership, political self-governance, and dignity.
The Oromo is neither for peace granted with subservience nor for infinite resistance;
the Oromo detests not harmony but rather mediocrity,
the Oromo impulses for equality; And for this, the drums beat
the dawn of dreams is upon the horizons; it is because of this that the living live and the dead have died.
So be it done as it was here spoken.
Glory to the Martyrs! For we are because they were!