Black History Culture : The Cultural Heritage of the Oromo

Discussion in 'Black History - Culture - Panafricanism' started by Omowale Jabali, Dec 5, 2011.

  1. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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    The following is part of an unpublished work known collectively as the 'The Bible With Complexion'. It is from a collection of notes and reports from a database entitled 'The Jabali Manuscript' which is a culmination of over 20 years of intensive and extensive genealoical research. As the author of this work permisssion is granted for the public to reproduce and share any part of this work which will soon be published to my blogsite.

    Hetep'tah!
    Baba 'Omowale X' Jabali
    aka Ras K'Nefer Amenta

    The Cultural Heritage of the Oromo
    By Omowale Jabali
    © 2011

    Oromo have a very rich culture, fostered by the size of the population and large land areas with diverse climatic conditions. One highly developed self-sufficient system which has influenced every aspect of Oromo life is the Gadaa system. It is a system that organizes the Oromo society into groups or sets (about 7-11) that assume different responsibilities in the society every eight years. It has guided the religious, social, political and economic life of Oromo for many years, and also their philosophy, art, history and method of time-keeping.
    The activities and life of each and every member of the society are guided by Gadaa. It is the law of the society, a system by which Oromo administer, defend their territory and rights, maintain and guard their economy and through which all their aspirations are fulfilled.
    The Gadaa system has served as the basis of democratic and egalitarian political system. Under it the power to administer the affairs of the nation and the power to make laws belong to the people. Every male member of the society who is of age and of Gadaa grade has full rights to elect and to be elected. All the people have the right to air their views in any public gathering without fear.
    There follows a brief description of how the Gadaa system works: there are two well-defined ways of classifying male members of the society, that is the hiriyya (members of an age-set all born within the period of one Gadaa rule of eight years) and Gadaa grade. The Gadaa grades (stages of development through which a Gadaa class passes) differ in number (7-11) and name in different parts of Oromia although the functions are the same. The following are the Gadaa grades:-
    1. Dabballee (0-8 years of age)
    2. Folle or Gamme Titiqaa (8-16 years of age)
    3. Qondaaia or Gamme Gurgudaa (16-24 years of age)
    4. Kuusa (24-32 years of age)
    5. Raaba Doorii (32-40 years of age)
    6. Gadaa (40-48 years of age)
    7. Yuba I (48-56 years of age)
    8. Yuba II (56-64 years of age)
    9. Yuba III (64-72 years of age)
    10. Gadamojjii (72-80 years of age)
    11. Jaarsa (80 and above years of age)

    We will briefly describe the duties of a Gadaa class as it passes through the above grades.
    The Dabballee are sons of the Gadaa class who are in power, the Luba. They are boys up to 8 years of age. Thus this is a stage of childhood. Upon reaching their eighth year, they enter the Folle grade. At this age they are allowed to go further away from their villages and to perform light work.
    At 16 years old, they enter the Qondaala. They may now go long distances to hunt and perform heavy work. Three years before the Qondaala ends, those of the Gadaa class come together and nominate the future group leaders (hayyu council) who eventually will constitute its presidium and thereby the executive, judicial and ritual authorities. The final election is preceded by an often lengthy campaign of negotiations. After nomination, the candidates tour the region accompanied by their supporters to win the backing of the people before election, The individuals will be elected on the basis of wisdom, bravery, health and physical fitness.
    In the Kuusa grade, the previously elected leaders are formally installed in office, although they do not yet assume full authority except in their own group. This is one of the most important events in the life of the individual and the Gadaa system over all. In the next grade, Raaba Doorii, members are allowed to marry. This and the Kuusa grade constitute a period of preparation for the assumption of full authority. At the end of this period the class members enter Luba or Gadaa, the most important class of the whole system, attain full status, and take up their position as the ruling Gadaa class. At this stage the system comes to a stop momentarily and all men move to the proceeding class vacating the last class which is the immediately occupied by a new class of youth who thus begin their ascent of the system's ladder.
    The former ruling class, the Luba, now becomes Yuba. The Yubas, after passing through three separate eight-year periods, are transferred to the Gadamojjii class. Then they enter the final grade called Jaarsa and retire completely.
    As described briefly above, when the Oromo man passes from one stage to the next, his duties and way of life in society change. For instance, during the grades of Qondaala, Kuusa and Raaba Doorii, the individuals learn war tactics , Oromo history, politics, ritual, law and administration over a period of 24 years. When they enter the Gadaa class or Luba at the age of about 40 years, they have already acquired all the necessary knowledge to handle the responsibility of administering the country and the celebration of rituals. It ends with partial retirement of the whole, group of elders to an advisory and judiciary capacity.
    The following are the Gadaa officials and their duties according to the Tuullama Gadaa practice:
    1. Abbaa Bokku - President
    2. Abbaa Bokku - First Vice-President
    3. Abbaa Bokku - Second Vice-President
    4. Abbaa Chaffe - Chairman of the Assembly (Chaffe)
    5. Abbaa Dubbi - Speaker who presents the decision of the presidium to the Assembly
    6. Abbaa Seera - Memoriser of the laws and the results of the Assembly's deliberations.
    7. Abbaa Alanga - Judge who executes the decision
    8. Abbaa Duula - In charge of the army
    9. Abbaa Sa'a - In charge of the economy

    Thus, the entire presidium consists of nine members, called "Salgan Yaa'ii Borana" (nine of the Borana assembly). The Abbaa Bokkus are the chief officials. (Bokku is a wooden or metal scepter, a sign of authority kept by the Abbaa Bokku, the president). The Abbaa Bokkus have counselors and assistants called Hayyus who are delegated from the lower assemblies.
    There are three level of assembly - inter-clan, clan and local chaffes, chaffe being the Oromo version of parliament. The chaffe assembly was held in the open air in a meadow under the odaa (sycamore) tree. The chaffe made and declared common laws and was source of the accumulated legal knowledge and customs. In the hierarchy of Gadaa chaffes, the assembly of the entire presidium of the ruling - Gadaa Class - is the highest body whose decision is final. It is the assembly at which representatives of the entire population come together, at predetermined times, to evaluate among other things, the work of those in power. If those in power have failed to accomplish what is expected of them, the assembly has the power to replace them by another group elected from among the same Gadaa class or Luba. And this was one of the methods of checking and balancing political power in the Oromo society. The second highest Gadaa assembly is the clan chaffe. It is from these assemblies that special delegates to the higher assembly are elected. The lowest Gadaa chaffe is the local chaffe. This is made up of local members of the Luba from among whom representatives to clan chaffes are elected.
    The holders of these responsible posts can remain in office for eight years only, in normal times, and are then replaced by a new group of officers. The power is handed over at a special ceremony at a special place and time. The office-holders conduct government - political, economic, social, ritual and military - affairs of the entire nation for this period. During war time all capable men fight under the leadership of the group in office. During the eight year period the officials live together in a village (yaa'aa village) and when necessary travel together.

    There are five Gadaas in a cycle of 40 years. If a man enters office (becomes Luba) now, his sons will become Luba 40 years from now. The five Gadaa (sometimes called Buttaa) in the cycle have names, which vary slightly from region to region. Among some Oromo communities, the sets of five Gadaa names used by the sons are different from those of the fathers. Whereas among other communities, the same set of Gadaa names are used for both fathers and sons. For instance, the Gadaa practiced in the Borana community uses the following different sets of names for the five Gadaa. (Could be likened to five parties who take power in turns).
    Fathers Sons
    1. Birmajii Aldada
    2. Melba Horota
    3. Muudana Bifoole
    4. Roobale Sabaqa
    5. Duuloo Kiloolee

    In this manner, a given name repeats itself every 80 years. This is in fact the complete Gadaa cycle divided into two semi-cycles of 40 years each. The first 40 years is the Gadaa of the fathers and the second is the Gadaa of the sons.
    Although it is not known with any degree of certainty where and when the Gadaa system started, it is known and documented that the Oromo have been practicing it for well over 500 years. However, according to oral Oromo historians, the Gadaa system has been in practice for several centuries. "Their (Borana Oromo) noted historian, Arero Rammata, was able to recount, in 1969, an oral history covering four thousand years", (Prouty et al, 1981). Today Gadaa experts easily recall fifty-seven Abbaa Gadaas with important events. Of course, this highly sophisticated system cannot have appeared without having been based on something earlier. Therefore, further study and analysis is required to know more about its origin and development.
    Social scientists of diverse backgrounds at different times have studied the Gadaa system. Many of them have testified that it is uniquely democratic. Among those authorities, Plowden (1868), stated, "among republican systems, Gadaa is superior." Asmarom Legesse (1973) described the Gadaa system: "one of the most astonishing and instructive turns the evolution of human society has taken." Indeed, it is one of the most fascinating sociopolitical structure of Africa that even influenced the lives of other peoples. Several neighboring peoples have practiced a sort of the Gadaa. Among these are Sidama, Walayita, Konso, Darasa, Nyika, Nabdi, Maasai, etc., (Beckingham et al, 1954).
    Like living organism, cultures undergo evolution in order to adapt to changing conditions. The Gadaa system has thus been undergoing evolutionary changes since its inception so as to serve better a continually developing society. However, the fundamental that occurred in the Gadaa system, starting around the end of the eighteenth century, were brought about mainly by events set in motion from outside the Oromo society. Therefore, it was not fully a normal or natural development.
    In most communities suddenly and in a few cases gradually, the usefulness of the Gadaa system declined. Among the factors that had contributed to this decline were: firstly, the protracted wars that preceded the onset of colonization. The end of the eighteenth century was marked by constant wars and skirmishes, particularly in the north and north-eastern Oromia against the encroachment of the Abyssinians. Because of the insecurity imposed by such wars coupled with the distances involved to go to the Gadaa ceremonies to change the leadership, the Abbaa Duulas (fathers of war) stayed on their post for much longer period than required by the Gadaa rules. This gave these war leaders a mandatory power, because they were forced or encouraged by the society and existing circumstances, such as the continuous wars, to hang on to power. This weakened one of the outstanding features of the Gadaa system, the built-in checks and balances mechanism of political power. This in turn weakened the ideology by which the Oromo nation was successfully led for several centuries.
    In addition to the protracted wars, the passing of major trade routes through the area and the subsequent expansion of trade gained the war leaders more wealth. Thus the wealth, fame and power they gradually gained enabled them to command a larger number of followers in the area they were defending. Thus they usurped the political power that belonged to the Gadaa officials and the people and finally some of them declared themselves "mootii" (kings).
    The second important factor that contributed to this decline was the coming of new beliefs and religions. The politico-religious aggression that took place in the expansion of Islam and Christianity has affected the culture of the Oromo people very much. The invasion of Oromo land by Muslims in the east and south and by Christians in the north have left their mark on the Oromo culture.
    Thirdly, the changes in the mode of living of several Oromo communities was probably one of the important factors that led to the decline of Gadaa. As the Oromo society developed, there was a gradual change in the social, economic and political life of the people. For instance, in many parts of Oromia, a settled agrarian mode of life developed fast and the people practiced both mixed agriculture - raised crops and animals - and nomadic pastoralism. The latter was the dominant mode of life before this time, although Oromo have practiced cultivation for a long time and have made significant contribution to agriculture by domesticating plants and rearing rare varieties of crop plants. The introduction and expansion of trade had significant contribution also. These and other related factors led to the emergence of a new social system, which created a significant pressure on the Gadaa system and brought about a modification or change in the Gadaa practices.
    Finally, the onset of colonization had tremendously reduced the political and usefulness of Gadaa system as the administrative affairs and management of the national economy were taken over by the colonizers except in remote regions. Atseme noted, "Menilek outlawed the major chaffe meetings in the Oromo areas he conquered." Bartels (1983) also noted, "Gadaa ... was gradually deprived by Amharas of most of its political and judicial powers and reduced to merely ritual institution." Even the social aspects, that is the ritual and ceremonial aspects, have not been left to the people. The observance of Gadaa ceremonies has been prohibited by proclamation.
    The Oromo people also have a rich folklore, oral tradition, music and art. For example, it is believed that the Oromo are responsible for the invention and use of phallic stones (Wainwright, 1949 and Greenfield, 1965). Decorations of stone bowls from Zimbabwe include pictures of cattle with long "lyre-shaped" horns such as raised by Oromo. According to these scholars, this and the phallic stones found in Zimbabwe are traced directly to Oromo and linked to their early settlements there and to the Zimbabwe civilization. Wainwright (1949) argued that these were founded by the Oromo. He wrote: "Waqlimi and his people came from Galla land and its neighborhood, and were already installed in southern Rhodesia before A.D. 900." (Waqlimi is an Oromo name). This date coincides with the date of the erection of some of the famous buildings there which Wainwright says were built by "Galla." This appears to be part of the spread of Cushitic civilization.
    Although much of this culture and these traditions have survived harsh suppression, much has been forgotten and lost, artifacts have been destroyed and Oromo are discouraged from developing their culture and art.
     
  2. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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    The word “culture” is most commonly defined as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group; different cultures are the distinct ways that classified people living in different parts of the world, that represented their experiences and acted creatively. African peoples have got our own culture, which distinguish us from other parts of the world, of course also having our own sub-cultures among ourselves. Aadaa Oromoo (Oromo culture) being one part of the Cush culture is one of the sub-cultures within the common African culture, which consists also the faith system of Waaqeffannaa as part and parcel of the Oromo/African culture.

    Waaqeffannaa’s interaction with other religions
    According to the expert opinions written up to now, the concept of monotheism is the whole mark of African Traditional Religion including the faith system of the Cush nations. It seems that this concept of monotheism have moved from Cushitic black Africans (including the Oromo) first to ancient Egypt, secondly, further to Israel of the Bible and lastly to the Arab world of Koran. The experts tell us that Moses was not the first monotheist, but Akhenaten was the first revolutionary monotheist; they even claim that Moses might have been black. It is also argued that Moses was an Egyptian Pharaoh known as Akhenaten before the exodus. Additionally, they do argue that Akhenaten’s monotheism revolution in Egypt was not inspired from inside, but induced from outside by the Cushites, i.e. Akhenaten might have derived his monotheism concept from Africa’s/Oromo’s concept of Waaqa tokkicha in a form of “Waaq humna malee bifa hin qabu (God has no physical form, but power).” This concept may have been misinterpreted so that the other religions later started to talk about God with a physical form.
    It is also interesting to observe many similarities between some old Egyptian words and Afaan Oromo words; for instance, the similarities of the ancient Egyptian words “Anii and Matii” with the Oromo words of “Ana (Ani) and Maatii.” Anii of Egyptians, which means I (I am who I am), that is equivalent to God is similar to the Oromo word Ani, which also means I and refers to the first person singular (the actor = the main character of GOD). Matii being the designation of God’s congregation and the Oromo word Maatii for the family which is the “congregation” of ani (first person = God) are surprisingly the same. This is only one of many similarities between Oromo and Egypt registered by experts till now. It is not my intention to talk about this historical relationship here, but just to show the relation between Oromo’s traditional religion and the three Abraham religions, even though Judaism is not part of the current religions practiced by the Oromo. It means the new acceptance of both Christianity and Islam by Africans is the coming back of the same belief in Waaqa tokkicha to Africa in different forms.
    This historical relation between Amantii Oromoo and the two big religions of the world suggests that Waaqeffannaa is the older version of monotheism and humanism. Waaqeffannaa as a faith system and Irreechaa as a major national celebration were part and parcel of Oromo public life. Now, some Oromo nationals prefer the name Amantii Oromo/Amantii Africa to Waaqeffannaa. It is important if we all can agree to call the Oromo traditional religion as Amantii Oromo/Amantii Africa, just like we agreed on calling our language Afaan Oromo and our country Biyya Oromo. So in short, we can say: Our land is Biyya Oromo, our language is Afaan Oromo and our religion is Amantii Oromo. It is known that some people may argue by saying “how can we call it Amantii Oromo, when we do see that more than half of the Oromo nowadays have Christianity and Islam as their religion?” Are Oromo with other first language rather than Afaan Oromo not Oromo, despite their lost Afaan Oromo? Should we say just because of these Oromo, who nowadays speak only English, German, Amharic, etc., that Oromo language is not Afaan Oromo? The same way, it is not logical not to call Oromo religion as Amantii Oromo because of the Oromo who overtook other religions. Actually, the designation Waaqqeffannaa (believing in and living with Waaqa) can also be applied to Christian Oromo and Islam Oromo even though most of the Islam Oromo prefer the name Rabbii to the name Waaqa. They all are believers in Waaqa = God = Allah = Rabbii. Amantii Oromo differs only because of its specificity for it is the older Oromo faith embedded in only Oromo/African culture without any influence from alien culture.
    The fact to be accepted here is that God is universal even though we call HIM Waaqa, Rabbii or Allah. But, Amantii Oromo is the way how our forefathers believed in this universal Waaqa of humankind. We don’t have God or Waaqa, who is specific only to Oromo/Africa and doesn’t care for other nations. Waaqa is the God of nations. But, we Oromo do have a specific way and culture regarding how we do practice our belief in Waaqa. This way of practicing our faith is what we call Amantii Oromo. Amantii Oromo is simply the Oromo way of practicing the faith in the universal Waaqa. It is part of the Oromo way of dealing with the problems of life (it is part of Aadaa Oromo). Accordingly, aadaa (culture) can also be defined as the way, in which a certain collective or group of people deals with its own life problem.
    The difference between this Amantii Oromo and the other two big religions practiced by Oromo is that the other two got not only the faith in one God, but also the elements of cultures from the people in which they first emerged. We can see here the Arabs accepted the concept of Waaqa tokkicha while still keeping pre-Mohammad Arab culture in Islam, which is far different from Oromo/from African culture, but Islam practiced by Oromo in Oromia is colored by Arab culture for it is adopted from there. Interestingly, this is the difference between Islam Arab and Islam Oromo; Islam Arabs adopted only the concept of Waaqa tokkicha from Cush of Africa/Egypt/Israel, but don’t seem to exercise alien culture from these areas, whereas Islam Oromo tend to adopt both the faith and the culture from Arabs. Egyptians and Israelis, who accepted the concept of the same Waaqa tokkicha, also do practice their faith being colored by their own previous culture; they don’t seem to practice Cush culture; but again Christianity practiced in Oromia is mostly colored by the culture of the Israelis, the Habeshas as well as by that of the Western world for Christian Oromo tend to adopt not only the faith, but also the alien culture.

    http://gadaa.com/oduu/11044/2011/09/19/waaqeffannaa-the-african-traditional-faith-system/
     
  3. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Bumping for reference. See points concerning "Ani".
     
  4. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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