A BRIEF ACCOUNT ON THE OROMO OF NORTHEASTER AFRICA

The Oromos are one of the indigenous family nations of north-eastern Africa, where they are known to have lived for thousands of years. They belong to the Cushitic language family groups of Hamitic stock. They spread over most parts of present day Ethiopia and north-eastern part of Kenya. Prior to 1974, Abyssinians and Europeans used to call the Oromos by the depreciatory name “Galla”.

The name Galla, which serves Abyssinians as a source of institution for slavery, was invented on one hand to dehumanize the Oromo people and on the other hand to rationalize their expansionist policy over the people they label as „aramane‟, meaning, „infidel-pagans‟. Thanks to modern European made firearms, the Oromos were brutally conquered and annexed to the expanding Abyssinian Empire in the late nineteenth century by King Minelik of Showa dynasty during the scramble for Africa.

The Oromo family structure and kinship organization has much in common with other indigenous peoples of African origin. They have preserved the tradition of descent reckoning system to a common genealogical ancestry as a basis for learning self- identification and for welfare work organization. They have kept alive the tradition of assisting each other in times of social or economic crisis, help the poor and destitute help themselves, work together in cooperatives, settling disputes peacefully through jarsummaa (reconciliation) at family, village, local or regional levels.

Though the Oromos have diverse local customs, experiences and various traditions, owing to ecology and interaction with other cultures in the regions, they remain being culturally and linguistically homogeneous. However, after their subjugation by the highland Christian Abyssinians, which gave rise to a systematic socio-cultural oppression, diversity in religion and dissimilarity in following the dominant Gada national ideology has begun to emerge. The western Matcha regions of Jimma, Lummu, Gerra, Gomma, Leqa and the northern Oromo groups of Wollo and Yejju were the first group to develop a monarchical structure of rule against the former republican form of the Oromo Gada system. They were also the first Oromo group, especially the Wollo and Arsi, to accept Islam as an ideology in reaction to the conquering Christian Abyssinian national colonialism.

Population

Numerically, the Oromos are the single largest ethnic group in northeastern Africa, not less than 40 million people in present day Ethiopia alone. However, successive Ethiopian regimes‟ official statistics always underestimates the Oromo population. It always tries to present not as a homogenous ethnic nation. Even more „pleasantly‟, in 1985 when a sham autonomous rights were given to Eritrea, Tigray, Ogaden and Affar by the Dergue, its officials were asked why not for the Oromos and other peoples in the south? The answer given by some of its distinguished officials was, “Oromo yemibal biher yellem, literally means, there is no Oromo ethnic population in Ethiopia”.
Basically, the Oromos recognize the arrangement of their population in dual structure, whose numerous major and minor clans are widely dispersed all over Oromo occupied regions of this part of Africa. They are found spreading from lower Tana river in the south, in present day Kenya, to the border of Abyssinian Tigray in the north; from the border of Ogaden Somali in the East to the border of present day Sudan in the west. Certainly, there are remnants of non-Boran and Barentu inhabitants in the region whose kingship socio-political organisation is in contrast to the Boran-Barentu egalitarian Oromo Gada system.


Language

From the time of immemorial the Oromos speak one mutually recognizant and one socially agreeable language they call Afaan Oromoo, literally, the Oromo language. Afaan Oromoo serves as a mother language for not less than 30 million people, while it serves as a Lingua Franca of trade relations for about 5 million people in the region. As an indigenous mother tongue of African heritage, Afaan Oromoo is the second widely spoken mother language in Africa next to the Hausa language in Nigeria. In terms of number of speakers, it is believed to be the fourth widely spoken language in the continent next to Arabic, Swahili and Hausa languages.
Afaan Oromo is one of the major living symbols that signify the collectiveness of Oromo identity. In the history of the Oromo people, Afaan Oromo remains being the national-official language of the indigenous Gada Caffee/Gumii assembly, the sacred language of the Oromo Qaalluu institution, the heroic language of Qondaala/Kuusaa-Raaba Oromo military organisation

Since Minelik‟s armed Naftayna occupation of Oromo land in the late nineteenth century, however, successive Ethiopian regimes have pursued the policy to abolish Afaan Oromoo from the region; any of its publication not only in Ethiopia but in any part of this world. European travelers and missionaries who had collected Oromo words and wrote Oromo-English dictionary and some Oromo literatures, helped by Oromo slaves in Europe, as early as in the nineteenth century were taken to be promoters of Abyssinian enemies. Their publications were officially banned for use in the Ethiopian Empire.

The Italians, during their brief colonization of the country, had given importance to the growth of Afaan Oromoo, primarily aiming at helping them expand their colonial interest. They opened radio station and encouraged some publications in Afaan Oromoo. But, after Emperor Hailesillasie was restored to power, helped by the British government, even those limited freedom Afaan Oromoo gained under the Italian colonial rule was totally banned by the tyrannical Hailesellasie regime. In 1944 the Emperor‟s regime further declared the official use of Amharic in courts, in public meetings and in government and non-government schools for instruction. The Abyssinian priests were among the major opponents of the growth of Afaan Oromoo and the development of Oromo literature even in their own Geez alphabet.

Through bitter struggle, Afaan Oromo has come to regain its original historical life, that since October 1992, the Oromos have begun to use their mother tongue as a medium of instruction in primary schools using the “Qubee” script, the Roman script, from grade one to grade six. However, Abyssinian priests and their elite groups who persistently show their enmity to the use and growth of Oromo language have not yet given up their opposition against it.


Form of Religion

Prior to the introduction of Revealed Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) into the life of millions of Oromos, they had their own indigenous form of belief system.. They believe in one Supreme Being they call Waaqa, the Creator of the universe, animate and inanimate. Hence, Waaqa can literally be translated, for example, as to the European name of God and the Arabian name of Allah. For the Oromos, the belief in Waaqa in turn attributes to the belief in the Law of the Creator, Uumaa. That is why Oromo traditional religious belief cannot be detached from the whole structure of Aadaa Oromoo.

Unlike those “Revealed Religions”, Waaqeffannaa is not a codified-written religion. It should be noted that when the Oromos often say, “Waaqa
Gurraacha” it does not refer to Waaqa‟s complexion. The phrase refers, to express, in all circumstances, Waaqa‟s invisibility and untouchability. Waaqeffannaa is the modern name derived from the original Cushitic Oromo concept of Waaqa.

Today there are millions of Oromos who are converted, particularly, to Christianity and Islam. Though most Oromos were compelled to accept Abyssinian Orthodox Christianity, like among the Matcha-Tulama of central region, Islam among the Itu of eastern region at the time of Turko-Egyptian rule, they have preserved important elements of Waaqeffannaa rituals, Waaqeffanna doctrine and some salient features from the Qaalluu institution in their daily life.

The Oromo Qaalluu, as an institution, is the most important hereditary institution in Oromo religious life. It is believed to have existed since mythical times as the guardian of the Law of Waaqa. It is an important custodian that preserves and protects the spiritual role and moral qualities of the people that every Oromo should observe and follow as national ethos. As a person, Qaalluu (male) or Qaallittii (female) is honored as the holiest person of highest spiritual person. Believers often visit the Qaalluu‟s ritual house called Galma to worship Waaqa, to offer Him thanks, and to receive blessings from the Ayyaana. The ayyaana is believed to speak through the mouth of the Qaalluu or Qaallittii.

Though a visit to Galma and a journey to the Muuda pilgrimage centre have been prohibited since Minelk‟s time, the Oromo Qaalluu institution suffered to unparalleled scale during the dictator‟s Dargue rule of 1974-1991. During this time, followers of Oromo traditional religion were brutally prohibited from visiting the Galma, and most of the famous Galmas were set fire and burned to ash by the dictator‟s national and regional cadres.


Political Organisation and Government.

The Oromo Gada political aspect has been one of the best indigenously flourished systems on Africa‟s continent. Before Oromos‟ colonisation by Christian Abyssinian kings, it used to serve all Oromos as a source of their political ideology. It is an egalitarian social and economic institution by its original nature, and a republican in its forms of governance, in which the Abba Gada (the president) and the hayyus (officials) are elected every eight years.
The Oromo Gada system of government has had a body of law-maker known as Caffee or Gumii. The Caffee/Gumii assembly is the supreme legislative organ. It
has the supreme responsibility to legislate democratic laws for the people it represents. Since early times, the Oromo laws have been made by the people for the people to protect people‟s and animal‟s rights, to make citizens fulfill their obligations and to maintain the ecosystem in equilibrium positions for human and animal advantages.
The Gada system has had an organised defence system that compels male groups from the Qondaala or Kusaa-Raaba age grades to participate in the defense force of the nation. They are traditionally organised under a defense commander known as Abbaa Duulaa or Abbaa Kormaa in regiments. They are trained in war tactics and often make campaigns against enemy forces that threaten the lives and livelihoods of the nation. The Abbaa Duulaa institution had never experienced defeats until the European made firearms, supplied to Minilik, subjugated them.

More than anything else, the Abyssinian colonial administration has given especial priorities to uproot the political and militarily parts of the Gada system but not succeeded as had been anticipated. The Gada system is still fully operative in Boran, Guji, Karrayu and if not wholly but widely practiced in the Matcha-Tulama of central region.


Economic Activity

Land cultivation and animal husbandry are the main economic activities of the Oromo people. Settled peasants are mainly concentrated in what the Oromos call Baddaa and baddadaree climatic zones. They cultivate wheat, barley, pulse, millet, sorghum and an indigenous cereal crop called Xaafii. This crop, Xaafii, is cultivated by peasants of baddadaree regions. Not less than ninety percent of coffee production, that constitutes more than sixty percent of the Empire‟s foreign exchange earnings, comes from Oromia regions.
Pastoralism is the major economic activity of the Oromos of hot climatic zone, known to the Oromo as gammojjii. Traditionally, the Oromos have been famous for their careful management of livestock. They rank first in number of cattle production in the region, and perhaps in the continent Africa as well.

Oromia is the source of major rivers, which are economically viable for agriculture and hydroelectric power supply. The Source of the Empire‟s hydroelectric power generator is from the water source of Oromia. The Awash
River, Gibe, Fincha‟a and Malka Waqanna rivers are the major power generators for the economy of that country.
The main source of Oromo people‟s economy is directly connected to the land they have been historically connected to it. Native Oromo‟s homeland is historically known to them population as “Biyya Oromoo” meaning, Oromo land or County of the Oromo people. The land was conquered and colonized by the Abyssinian king of Showan dynasty in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Then, the rich Oromo land was divided among the new colonial settlers and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Among the native Oromos, those lackeys who assisted the colonising Naftanyas in menial tasks or as attendants were allowed to own „Gasha‟ of lands for their services. The bulk Oromo populations were practically and theoretically barred from owning a single plot of land. As a consequence, the once self-sufficient Oromo people, on one of the most fertile lands of Africa, were reduced to what the settlers call, “Chisenya-gabbar”, meaning, serf. To be effective, the Chisenya- gabbar system (serfdom) was enforced by the colonial decree, and subsequently implemented accordingly. It gave full power to the local neftenya chiefs to confiscate and distribute arable and pasture lands to the settlers, the Church, loyalists and to the tutelary lackeys from the natives. It was this worst system that had brought the 1974 mass revolution against the kingship based Abyssinian system of colonial rule.

Though the revolution seemed to have given some respite to the colonized peoples of the southern Empire, the military regime usurped power and twisted the revolution to a communist ideology. Even if the old system was broken, the peasants were not able to benefit from the new system that nationalised rural lands. The infusion of a new ideology from the then Communist Blocks, encouraged collectivization, villagization, and finally imposed a deadly starvation, even on those Oromo regions which did not know what famine or starvation had been.

Originally, today‟s Ethiopian regime‟s officials and its politicians were followers of Albanian Communist ideology. However, after the hasty departure of communism from Albania and Eastern Europe, they turned to China for ideological aid, while clinging themselves to the United States and Great Britain for food and military aids. Today, the regime is doing everything seems to its benefit in the name of „democracy and investment‟. It is intensifying land confiscation and eviction of Oromo peasants from their arable and pasture lands for the so-called „investors‟, of which major shareholders are Tigrean officials or owned by their top party members and relatives or by some of their lackeys.


Music clip

Kadir ka Martuu;
Hello Oromia!