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The Oromo Cultural Principles: First among Equals

By Iddoosaa Ejjetaa* | November 24, 2013

Introduction

Culture is a manifestation of collective experience, achievements in the form of art, custom, social institution, belief system, and etc. To understand a culture is understanding a society. Culture may change as the needs for a society change or/and as a society goes through a process of cultural destruction caused by external or/and internal factors. The primary goal of colonialism is destroying identity by taking a direct attack on indigenous people’s cultural identities: social and cultural institutions, religious symbols, moral and aesthetics values and indigenous knowledge.

For a nation who had suffered from colonial repressions like Oromoo, revitalization of the indigenous culture and knowledge should be seen as a must deed and sacred goal of liberation struggle that launched against all forms of colonial exploitation and oppression.

Historically, the Oromoo Gadaa Society had been a free nation who had matchless of democratic system of its time, self-governing and egalitarian until the first half of 19th a century. After the second half the 19th century, the Abyssinian rival war lords invaded, conquered and occupied the Oromoland with the help of European firearms and military advice under the disguise of Christianity and civilizing mission (between 1881-1914), and scramble for African Continent, the Berlin Conference in 1884 in which the Abyssinian King, Menilik II, took part by writing a letter to European colonial powers seeking for entitlement and recognition of newly conquered Oromoland, Biyyaa Oromoo-Oromiyaa including the present southern part of Ethiopia.

After a barbaric conquest, the Oromo people’s history, language, belief system, cultural traditions, indigenous knowledge, self-rule and self-confidence, self-expression had distorted, kept in silence, devalued, banned, and destroyed by Abyssinian subsequent oppressive neftenya regimes who continued to receive the Euro-American financial, military and professional training supports seemingly as their own extended or satellite republic in the Horn of Africa at the expense of a gross human right violation, indigenous knowledge and environmental destruction.

The purpose of this paper is to address one of the core principles of Oromoo Gadaa culture: the principle of first among equals and discusses the concept of self-reliance in the context of Oromoo culture.

The First among Equals: the Oromoo Cultural Principle

The Oromoo Gadaa culture is very dynamic and living force. As oppose to the hierarchical top-down Abyssinian institutions, the Oromoo Gadaa society have had a horizontal social structure where entire culture and political system had guided by a principle of first among equals.

For example, Abbaa Gadaa/Abbaa Bokkuu Oromoo has been holding the highest office of the Oromoland while he is considered as first man among the equal men-the hiriyyoota. In the same
way, the Oromoo spiritual leaders-Qalluu has been playing the first man/woman among equals role while he/she is holding an equal position in the society. The Qallu or Ayyaantuus are people who have accumulated indigenous knowledge of the creator of the Universe-Waaqa tokkichaa and pray with people, but not on behalf of people. In Oromoo indigenous culture, every person has a direct contact with his/her creator-Waaqa, God, and does not need intermediary men like priests or pastors to pray on behalf of them. In other words, everybody pray together repeats the end words of what the first among equals man- Hangafaa, Qalluu or Ayyaantuu has said.

The concept of “Oromoon Hangafaa qaba” is seemingly has the same meaning like the first among equals. Hence, this concept, Oromoon hangfaa qaba, needs a political recognition and respect by all Oromoo people particularly by younger Oromoo generation regardless of existing differences in religious affiliation.

Life has been always frightening under any oppressor, tyrant and police state surveillance. Under such conditions, people have not afraid of the oppressors only, but also afraid of the freedom they need. This means, freedom depends on the will of the oppressed people; they must show their willingness to be free. They must break the fear factors first and then build self-confidence based on their indigenous cultural identity. In other words, an imported, introduced and practiced falsehood identity must let go once forever.

The concept of Oromoon Hangafaa Qaba in Practice

As one may has noticed, the statement has been always used during various Oromoo meetings. The organizers or moderators of the meetings have set a tone of the meetings by starting with a statement: akka aadaa Oromootti, Oromoon Hangafaa qaba. Kanafuu, eebbaa hangafattin ykn manguddootiin ykn jaarsatiin jalqabana- according to Oromoo culture or tradition, the meeting shall start with elders’ blessing. Traditionally, this had been a common practice by Oromoo people in every part of Oromiyaa as one of unifying Oromoo cultural principles.

Today, unfortunately, the principle has lost its uniformity. The moderators still making the same statement-akka aadaa Oromootti … at the beginning of every meeting, but in most cases they forget about the actions that need to go with it. In other words, there is a disconnection between their words, thought and an action that seemingly, goes in sync with what they have said. I have no doubt about their intention, which is positive. At the same time, due to the lack of consistency and collective self-awareness it leaves one with head scratching and confusion.

In situation like this, Buddha said, “however many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?” In Oromoo case, what is the purpose of one saying akka aadaa Oromootti… when he/she is not matching it with his/her action?

It is imperative for us to understand the contents of first among equals or Oromoon hangafaa qaba and its applications so as to revitalize Oromoo authentic-self effectively. At present, many Oromoo individuals and families have abandoned their own indigenous culture and tradition at
home to become Christian and Islam. However, I believe and they believe in also that the Oromoo Gadaa culture, traditions and rituals are still at the heart of everyone although not practiced or lived in everyday life. Some people say that religion does not prohibit from being Oromoo. This means accepting foreign religious values shouldn’t contradict with indigenous common values that show common Oromoo interest and identity. If this is the case, why the Oromoo meetings do not start with eebbaa hangafaa in line with aadaa Oromoo everywhere, now?

Like other societies, the Oromoo Gadaa Society had established principles, which are self-evident truth that nearly all the Oromoo people understood and accepted as national values. The statement, for example, Oromoo people choose their leaders based on first among equals principle. Oromoon hangaffa qaba-the Borannaa is consistent with the principle of first among equals. Therefore, as Oromoo people have the right to expect or have reasonable expectations from their leaders to perform their social responsibilities such as organizing and leading community meetings in the line with the Oromoo cultural principles.

Every element of Oromoo culture has its respective aadaa and dudhaa, which are the building blocks of authentic Oromummaa. For example, Eebbaa manguddoo (elders blessing) is one of the manifestations of aadaa Oromoo whereas the ways, the steps and skill set being followed shows part of the dudhaa or the ritual aspect of the culture. That means every part of Oromoo culture-aadaa- has its own respective dudhaa-ritual.

For example, eebbaa jarsaa and hammachiisaa constitute the elements of Oromoo culture. The content and context of eebbaa and hammachiisaa are the knowledge and skill set of dudhaa. To put in different way, if we take eebbaa jarsaa as a culture, being seated and give a blessing represent the dudhaa: ta’ani eebbisuun dudhaa dha; baruu harka lamani waaqatti qabani kaadhachuun dudhaa dha. Hayyee, Hayyee, Hayyee jeechuun dudhaa dha. Oromoon taa’e eebaa keena, taa’e eebaa fudhataa-kunis dudhaa dha; eebaa booda harka walsimuun ykn dhungachuun dudhaa dha; Jarsi Oromoo yeroo eebisuu qommaa irraa waabufataa –kunis dudhaa.

Let me make clear here: eebbaa jarsaa shows the content while the steps and skill performances, the dhudhaa-rituals, show the context of Oromummaa. In short, akka aadaa Oromootti, only one ayyaantuu or hangafa expected to provide ritual services or eebbaa during Oromoo social events such as meetings. In recent years, however, it has been changed because external influences. Some Oromoo people try to understand it in context of diversity of religion (Christian and Islam). To my understanding, this not the case; Oromumma is not about diversity or equal opportunity of religion. Instead, Oromummaa is about authentic-self, Oromoo that makes a person Oromoo based in line with authentic Oromoo culture and shared values.

As Oromoo, with all respect, it is irrelevant to line up the Islam and Christian preachers to conduct eebbaa jarsaa, blessing on Oromoo social events, meetings. One must note that eebbaa jarsaa Oromoo is intended to exercise Oromoo cultural identity and principles in line with akka aadaa Oromootti-Oromoo traditions, but not intended to exercise an equal opportunity for other religions. It should be noticed that some imported religions denominations have been instrumental to destroy our identity and bury Oromoo culture underground and to humiliate our people.

As I have observed, as you may did also, some Oromo meetings have been exercised in the line with what the leaders believed to be right; they used statistical data to determine the demography of religion or hierarchies in Oromiyaa: Islam first, Pentecostal Christian second, and Waaqeffannaa third. The blessing – eebbaa had performed in line with the hierarchies set by them: Arabic first in the names of Alha, Jesus of Nazareth in Afaan Oromoo, and finally in Afaan Oromoo in the name of Waaqa Gurraacha. In my view, this does not serve both Oromummaa and tokkummaa because there is no religious hierarchy in Oromoo culture and traditions. I believe that most Oromoo people believe that they have known just one God for all -Waaqaa tokkichaa through which they see their identity as indigenous people of Africa. As one nation, therefore, we must exercise the Oromoo Gadaa cultural principles: First among equals and the concept of Oromoon hangafa qaba… and fulfill the promise that many of us like to offer. It is a disservice to our culture and forefathers forgetting the actions that need to go with our promise: akka aadaa Oromootti jalqabbinee akka aadaa Oromootti xuumuruu qabina.

The Source of Tokkummaa

The word tokkummaa and Oromummaa are the most widely used by Oromoo individuals through writings and verbal communications during meetings and social media. In many cases individuals tend to address the concern they have about the lack of tokkummaa. I wish that if they have had addressed the root causes for the lack of tokkummaa. Sometime they confuse tokkummaa (unity) with Oromummaa ( jiruu fi jireenya Oromoo), which is very complex to explain in a single word or statement. To my knowledge, tokkummaa is the function of Oromummaa. Tokkummaa is the outcome of Oromummaa. Tokkummaa is not what ought to be. Instead, tokkommaa is what it is; means a reality or facts on ground. The lack of tokkummaa cannot be resolved through wishful writing or speech on meetings. Instead, tokkummaa can be realized if only if every Oromoo family members try to strive to take action to revitalize indigenous Oromo culture and learn from it and live life with it in accordance with the Oromoo cultural principles. In short, if we don’t practice and live Oromummaa, we cannot see tokkummaa on the ground; it may remain as virtual reality, but I hope not.

The Oromoo Concept of Self-reliance

Tokkummaa can be archived through the Oromoo concept of collective self-reliance. The Oromoo Gadaa System is a collective self-reliant system. It has well organized and structured institutions, education system and belief system. It refines itself every eight years. The Abbaa Gadaa/Abbaa Bokku is the first man among equal men-the hiriyootaa who hold the highest office fulfilling his social responsibilities with high level of moral ethics, safuu, integrity and transparency.

The Oromoo Gadaa culture and social teaching are well known to humanity as against any form of exploitations, discrimination, corruption, and abuse of power and natural environment. A strong sense of collective self-reliance has been always reflected in Oromoo cultural principles, arts and songs. For example, one may refer to a recent Haacaaluu Hundeessaa’s music “waa’ee keenyaa” 2nd album, and also in earlier traditional Oromoo songs to understand the concept of self-reliance even at individual level in Oromoo culture. The following lyrics are about self-reliance: Surreen jilbaraan dhumitee abbatuu waranataa, hiyyuumaa Ijoolluman namatti dhuftee, abbatuu tatafftaa. Kobborta eenyuu nama bata, yoo abban batatee mallee, rorroo halgaa irraa dhufte eenyuu namaraa dhowaa, yoo abbaan dhwaate mallee.
The concept of Oromoo collective self-reliance is important strategy for the revitalizing and bulging our nation: the Gadaa Republic of Oromiyaa by complementing with imported skills relevant to build our nation.

Conclusions

Uuman Oromoo aadaa fi dudhaa aadaa qaba. The Oromoo people have cultural principles and rituals for the culture. First among Equals is one of the core principles of the Oromoo culture. Oromummaa as Collective identity must be based on Oromoo core cultural principles, common interest, shared values, traditions, social institutions, and strong moral ethics, safuu Oromoo. To regain what we have lost in the past, the Oromoo, as a nation, need to stick to its fundamental cultural principles: first among equals, Oromoon hangafa qaba and practice them. Let the hangafa conduct his/her social responsibilities: teaching, blessings, and etc in line with aadaa and dudhaa Oromoo.

The Oromoo younger activists cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes had done by older generations. They are expected to enjoy Oromummaa first in order achieve tokkummaa through creative self-expression and mutual understanding. The younger Oromoo generation has abundant resources and opportunities to learn from, understand about, frame and consolidate what are relevant and indigenous to the Oromoo Gadaa Republic. In other words, the Oromoo Qubee generation is expected to draw from the past Oromoo Gadaa forefathers wisdom to live the present and shape the future of the Oromoo Gadaa Republic.

Moreover, the Oromoo communities, as mother organization for younger generation, have a social and moral obligation to revitalize the Oromoo indigenous culture by creating conducive environment to re-establishing and reconstructing the Oromoo Gadaa institutions by persuading their members and mobilizing resources to revitalize these institutions; this can happen by sponsoring the first men and women among equals from Oromiyaa who have involved deeply in Oromoo culture and gained rich experience, knowledge and skill sets in particularly in aadaa and dudhaa Oromoo to teaching the younger as well as the older generations about Oromoo Gadaa cultural traditions and providing standardized social and spiritual services.

Finally, the Oromoo people must know their history, core principle of their culture, and heritage and understand the content of Oromummaa as prima concept of tokkummaa. The Oromoo history, culture, national identity and symbols: Fajjii Abbaa Gadaa, and afaan Oromoo need to be learned and promoted so as to revitalize authentic Oromummaa, build a genuine tokkummaa and ultimately earn the Oromoo Gadaa Republic of Oromiyaa where we all can live in peace, true-self and free at last!

November 24, 2013
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* Author: Iddoosaa Ejjetaa, Ph.D., native to Oromiyaa, Ethiopia. Independent and Naturalist Thinker; Activist and Advocator for the Revitalization of Authentic Oromummaa, Indigenous Oromoo Gadaa culture and traditions, and the formation of Biyyaa Gadaa Oromoo-The Gadaa Republic of Oromiyaa.

 

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