By Marco Demichelis
July 29, 2014 (UKEssays.com – TheUK’s Expert Provider of Custom Essays) — The Oromo people have become the largest ethnic group of Ethiopia in the last century. Ninety percent of the Oromo live on the plateau, a minority resides in the north of Kenya. With a population of over 30 million, the Oromo are the comprise 35 percent of the Ethiopian population. They are a Cushitic (Afro-asiatic language family settled between Tanzania in the south until Sudan and Egypt in the north) -speaking group, even if they have a total of 74 ethnically diverse language groups. In the past, they were probably a nomadic pastoralist group who modified their livelihood typology becoming sedentary farmers since the 16th-17th century. The Oromo were formerly called Galla during the past by non-Oromo Ethiopians, and it is easy to encounter this name in older texts but it is considered today a denigratory term. Historically, some people among the northern Amhara community used the label “Galla” derogatorily to label Oromos as well as to label populations of Shewa region or southern Amharas who were mostly mixed with Oromo. During the short Italian occupation interlude of Ethiopia, the term Oromo was preferably used than Galla.
Oromia is one of the 11 federal states of Ethiopia and it is divided in twelve regions, each of these regions is further fragmented in woredas (a sort of municipality). For example, Bale region is shared in 17 woredas; Oromia is split in 180 woredas.
Ethnic divisions and social traditions
The Oromo are divided in twelve major braches (Welega, Macha, Tulama, Wollo, Ittu, Ania, Afro Qallo, Nole, Babille, Jarso, Arsi, Borana) further fragmented into a family clan structure and socially stratified in accordance with male Gadaa system, still in use among the Borana. The classes of Gadaa are called Luba, and are related to the members’ age. The Luba of a man is strictly associated to that of the father even if it is not identical. There are eleven different degrees of Luba, each of which a man belongs to a cycle of eight years, after which is organized a popular assembly, called Gumi Gayo. During the Gumi Gayo new laws were established to be used for next eight years; it was elected a leader, and members of different Luba had the occasion to reach a higher Luba level. The transition is marked by a special initiation rite. Each Luba is characterized by a set of rights and responsibilities. Religiously speaking, today, the 47 percent of the Oromo are Sunnite Muslims, the 30 percent are Orthodox Christians, the 17 percent are Protestant, while the remaining are still affiliated to the old Oromo religious tradition. The pre-colonial name of God for Oromo was Waaq; however, Waaq is not properly as God but the Supreme Being made by many ayyaana. Ayyaana exist in everybody and everything in the universe. In Oromo religion, Waaq creates and regulates the existence of all animate and inanimate material placing them in a well-balanced cosmic order. As an extension of this phenomenon, Oromos believe that society collapses unless a balance is struck between female and male, young and old, spiritual and physical power in the cosmic order of Waaq’s wisdom. The interdependence of the dominant is considered a precondition for peace and prosperity in both metaphysical and practical sense. Oromos refer to this concept of peace and order of Waaq as safuu. Safuu is extremely important in Oromo religious and political thought. If the balance is disturbed, it is said that safuu is lost. The loss of safuu is the loss of seera Waaq (Waaq’s law and order). The loss of safuu points the beginning of the reign of chaos and disorder. Waaq is the beginning and the end, the one and the multitude, the infinite and the infinitesimal. Waaq exists in everything and everything exists in It. Waaq is the metaphysic that weaves the past, the present and the future. This philosophical, political and religious thought of the Oromo is embodied in their emblem, the Faajjii Walaabuu. Faajjii Walaabuu is a tricolour emblem white, red, and black. The white is the past, the ancestors, the bones, the ashes. The red is the present, the living, the contemporary age. Red is flesh, is the blood that flows through our veins. Red is the living fire. The black is the future, is the unknown and the unknowable. Black is the spirit, the soul and Waaq (God). Black is holy and sacred. The official flag of Oromia region is white, red and black.
The entry of Oromo in history
It is difficult to know much about the Oromo before the 16th century, as expressed by R. Pankhurst, they probably lived, before the Imam Ahmad‘s invasion (the Gragn, the left-handed, 1528) in the Borana region of Ethiopia where may have been an element of the population of medieval Muslim kingdoms (Ifat, Waj, Dawaro and Bale). It is during this previous historical period that Oromo began to change their political structure, starting to assume a more monarchic system thus converting from nomadic pastoralists clans in sedentary planters. At the beginning they had not a written language, the first chronicles on the Oromo were written by an Amhara monk called Bahrey, who composed a History of Galla in 1593. In this text, Abba Bahrey asked in which way the Gallas defeated us (Abyssinians), though we were numerous and well supplied with arms; the Ethiopian monk concluded that it was because all their men were also trained as warriors while among Christians Ethiopians there was only a restricted class of warriors. It is after the invasion that many Oromos started to convert themselves to Christianity and Islam, learning to use horses and to promote agriculture.
Oromo leaders became a major element in regional politics, but it was rare for the Oromos, who were intermixed among the Amhara, to act politically together as Oromos without considering the family and clan level. Only after a period of assimilation the Oromos played a major role inside the Ethiopia kingdom, but we need to wait until the 18th-19th centuries; in southern regions of Ethiopia (Gibe and Wollega), Oromos remained the dominant element of population and were able to establish several kingdoms which gained dominance over the Sidamo and Omotic indigenous people remaining essentially independent from Ethiopian authority till the late 19th century. The Oromo emigration and invasion continued until the beginning of the 17th century, while, emperor Susenyos (1606-1632) took a keen interest in the Oromos, learning their language and starting a new integration’s politics. However, after a first encouraging peaceful period between Amharas and Oromos, Susenyos’ reign concluded with a tentative to Christianise the Galla groups geographically closed to Amhara territories, by resurgence new conflicts. In 1620, Oromos attacked Bagemder region and in 1627, Gojjam; Susenyos’ counterattack brought war in Oromia’s territories increasing violence and divisions. During the 18th century, however, the unity of the Ethiopian kingdom depended on the Oromo military support, when a rebellion broke out in Damot region shortly after young Emperor Iyasu’s coronation in 1730; the Oromo chief, Waranna, was posted as governor of the region and its troops permitted that the capital, Gondar, was supplied with basic necessities. Iyasu’s chronicler reported the “devotion of the Gallas” tried to Oromos by Amhara kings and noblemen of the court. The Oromo militarization of the Ethiopian reign permitted that many clans lesser rank warriors rose to prominence. With the increasing importance of the Shoa region (where Addis Ababa would later be built) the Oromos acquired a greater weight, emerging as new rulers of the entire area, even if under the noble Sahle Selassie (1795-1847) the Oromos clans were subjected again by Amharas Negus (King). The most important Ras of Oromo nation, in the XIX century, was Gobana Dacche (1821-1889) who, under the authority of Menelik II (1844-1913) led the development of modern Ethiopia and incorporated several Oromo territories into a centralized Ethiopian state. During the XX century and with the rise of Oromo nationalism, Gobana Dacche began to be regarded in a negative way. However, some Oromo writers believe that the Oromo Ras Gobena and the Amhara Menelik II were the first two people in Ethiopia with the concept of national boundary that brought various different ethno-linguistic communities under a politically and militarily centralized rule.
Recent history and emerging nationalism
With the designation of Haile Selassie I (1892-1974) as emperor of Ethiopia, the Oromos lineages and relatives acquired a role of even greater prominence, the new Negus Neghesti (emperor) was, in fact, ethnically mixed. During the sixties and seventies Oromo’s discontent manifested itself promoting a vivid nationalism, caused by awareness to be a political minority even if numerically preponderant. In 1973 was founded the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an outlawed nationalist organization which would promote the Oromo self-determination from what they called the “Abyssinian colonial rule”. This utopian purpose subsequently changed, during the nineties of XX century, in a clear stance by stating that its goals are to form, if possible, a political union with other nations on the basis of equality, respect for mutual interests and the principle of voluntary associations. OLF has played a major role in the formation of the Transitional Government in 1991 following the fall of the Derg regime (the communist government which followed the end of Ethiopian monarchy). However, OLF lefts the transitional government, alleging that its members were being intimidated, jailed, and killed in many part of Oromia. Since then OLF has been engaged in low-scale protracted armed struggle against the Ethiopian government. Still today the Oromos feel as a nation without fundamental rights, still oppressed by Ethiopian settlers. In 1998, closed to the border among Ethiopia and Kenya, OLF killed between 187 and 216 people. In 2005, before the presidential elections, the OLF killed 400 pro-governmental Oromos. During the last years the OLF has been accused to be strictly affiliated with the al-Ittihad Muslim courts of Somalia receiving military and finance support by Eritrea. However, it is always very difficult to ascertain the truth of these rumours. To date, the Ethiopian federal state has manifested little interest in promoting an improvement of living conditions of the population of Oromia, that together with the Somalis of Ogaden (the Somali region of Ethiopia) remain the most disadvantaged.