The Quest for Oromo’s Indigenous Knowledge and Institutions
By Iddoosaa Ejjetaa, Ph.D.
The classical definition of knowledge was given by Plato as “justified true belief.” There are many philosophical theories to explain knowledge. The online Oxford dictionaries define knowledge as a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject [online]. The same source explain knowledge that can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic. According to Stanley Cavell, “Knowing and Acknowledging” the “knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, communication, association and reasoning; while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings.” I am not here to write the theory of knowledge, but trying to bring the human society acknowledgement and recognition for the Oromoo nation’s indigenous knowledge.
The Oromoo Gadaa System (OGS) is an indigenous knowledge reserve institution of the Oromoo nation. It is an organic system, which is self-refining every eight years (in two four-year terms) to meet the needs of the society. The OGS is a well-structured and organized indigenous knowledge reserve that encompasses social, political, economic and military institutions that operate mainly based on self-reliance principles while Oromummaa is an act of embracing these institutions and applying the indigenous knowledge to manifest an authentic Oromoo’s cultural and national identity.
The essence of scientific education is to understand Mother Nature, daachee haadha marggoo, and human experience in relation to Mother Nature. Through scientific education we can ask questions and try to investigate or do research to find out the facts and report the new knowledge about the subject. For example, who is responsible for the creation of human being, other living and non-living things as a part of the whole nature? What if I told you that the answer to the question is Mother Nature? I guess, you would not be satisfied with the answer because it leads to another subsequent philosophical questions such as who is responsible for the creation of the Mother Nature. Again, what if I told you the answer is a God? This time, probably you would be settled and agree with me. But how do you know for sure that it is a God who is responsible for the creation of nature?
I have thought deeply about these questions and tried to find the best possible answers. I would like to share the final answer with you later on if you continue the journey with me through reading and thinking about the perplexities of human life experience.
The purpose of this paper is to share my points of view with you and highlight that the Oromoo Gadaa System is the prima source of Oromo indigenous knowledge reserve that every Oromoo person should safeguard it and reclaim it as a shared-value that can be manifested through applied Oromoo knowledge and life experience, which is often called Oromummaa. Hence, the Oromoo Qubee generation are highly encouraged to embark their scientific studies and discoveries on our forefathers’ indigenous knowledge and bring it to light to show the world that our forefathers had made significant contribution to human society and civilization by creating and developing a comprehensive and complex democratic system: the Oromoo Gadaa System and its Institutions. For the qubee Oromoo generation, I would say they have a gold mining opportunity on their own backyards and they have to go for it.
Oromoo’s Indigenous Knowledge
Indigenous knowledge is local by nature. It is primarily based on social skills and production techniques. Both social skills and production techniques employ indigenous knowledge that in turn involves the process of life-long learning and teaching. The Oromoo Gadaa System provides such indigenous knowledge reserve so as to enable the new generation to learn from and teach the generations to come. For example, Oromummaa is a social skill. The Oromoo children learn social skills: respect, love, sympathy, empathy, ethics (Safuu), sharing, helping others, communications, etc from their parents and through well-organized Gadaa institutions such as the Age group (Hiriyyaa) and Qalluu.
Like every society, the Oromoo Gadaa Society had engaged in production of goods and services for long time or millenniums. They have millennium years of farming and animal husbandry experience and knowledge. The Oromoo farmers were the first people who domesticated barley as cereal crop in the region and a coffee plant and used the coffee beans in the world. This means the Oromoo farmers had possessed a primary indigenous knowledge about these crops. This indigenous knowledge reserve, however, needs a substantial effort in the field of scientific research and documentation for learning and teaching purposes by present and future Oromoo generations.
The lack of self-ruling political right in Ethiopian Empire and the decline of the Oromoo Gadaa System of Self-governance lead to the deterioration of the Indigenous knowledge and Institutions. In addition, the absence of curiosities from the Oromoo educated class for long time and self-inflicted prejudices against Oromoo indigenous knowledge had played a significant role on its underdevelopment. The educated class is the first social group who run away from their villages and turn their back to their culture and traditional ways of life. Consequently they find themselves in the garrison cities where almost everything is imitation of modernity that has no root in the local culture or traditions. Moreover, the educated elites had been played an agent role to introduce exogenous values including foreign religion, culture of conspicuous consumption and other copy-cut life styles from the West, and Middle-East world.
As I mentioned above, because of the lack of basic human right the Oromoo as a nation has no formal indigenous institutions yet. Instead, the institutions are maintained by the Oromoo Gadaa fathers and mothers who have been serving as Oromo indigenous knowledge reserve as institution. . This means the Qubee generation scientific research and discoveries are highly dependent on the existence of Gadaa Oromoo fathers and mothers (abbootii Gadaa Oromoo) and time because if they die the institutions and knowledge will die with them. For many of them, a biological time is about running out now. One day they will leave us for good. So it is responsibilities and sacred duties of this generation to secure and backup these precious indigenous “documents” that had been inherited form the previous generations.
As JF Kennedy said, the purpose of education is to advance human knowledge and dissemination of truth. However, contrary he said, the education system in Ethiopia has been harboring ignorance, distortion and denial of the truth that effectively disabled the process of learning, thinking and bringing positive changes to our society. So I suggest to the new generation regardless of their ethnic and cultural background to use the best three doses of pills/prescription for ignorance, distortion and denial of history. They are: genuine education, genuine education, and genuine education (3-GE). Through genuine education one can learn the true essence of love (jaalala), which is unselfishness, the creator, and creatures, uumaa fi uumammaa.
Generally, indigenous knowledge (IK) are the outcome of true and genuine collective human experience. It could be knowledge about culture, tradition, history, philosophy, belief system, art, farming, biodiversity, medicine, family, economic distribution, etc. The Oromoo Gadaa System is one of such collective human experience that need to be learned as universal value to human society and pass down to the next generations.
The Predicaments of Indigenous Knowledge in Ethiopia Politically speaking, Ethiopia as a nation had never been colonized and maintained its independence while all African countries had been colonized by European states. To some extent, this is true. Practically, however, the Ethiopian Empire State had been constructed and maintained by European states and continued to operate under indirect-colonialism of Anglo-American and European States. Like all African Republics or States, the Ethiopia’s government structure, military structure, religious institutions, political and social, educational, and legal systems are highly influenced mainly by Anglo-American and European institutions including British, France, Italian, Germany, American, Japan, China, etc. Consequently, indigenous knowledge had been systematically marginalized and ignored, unfairly criticized as primitive, static and simple idea by semi-literate domestic elites or agents of exogenous institutions.
These exogenous institutions such as the Orthodox Coptic Church officials (clergy/priests) and collusion of feudal neftenyaa and self-serving local balabats in Ethiopia, for instance, had played a key role in dismantling indigenous institutions, discrediting and condemning indigenous knowledge and even blessing Menelik’s genocidal and unjust war against our people and indigenous people of the south. Here one must note that the local Oromoo balabats had played a primary role in sponsoring, defending and assigning a commanding site Oromoland to the Orthodox Churches in Oromiyaa today. In addition to the neftenyaa system, these social class is accountable historically for the decline of the Oromoo Gadaa System and underdevelopment of its Institutions. Beside this, at present the decedent of these social class still maintained their loyalty to the Orthodox Church and Ethiopia’s empire state. Some individuals even have been involving in the Oromoo liberation struggle by dressing a sheep skin to saboteur the genuine aspiration of Oromians for freedom and independence. This author suspect that this very social class had contributed to the weakness of Oromia liberation camp.
The Impacts of Church Education on Indigenous knowledge
The Orthodox Coptic church jealously dominated the education system in Ethiopia. The Orthodox Coptic Church in Ethiopia had provided training in reading and writing in Ge’ez and Amarigna (Amharic) at primary school level to limited areas and people of the country. To summarize the church education in Ethiopia: elementary pupils had to learn to read, write, and recite the Dawit Medgem(Psalms of David). There are 15 sections, called negus (kings), which normally took two years to master. Next they learned to sing kum zema (church hymns), which took four years, and msaewait zema (advanced singing), which took an additional year to learn. Liturgical dancing and systrum holding required three years. Qine (poetry) and law required five years to learn. The interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Apostles’ Creed, took four years on average, while the interpretation of the works of learned monks and priests took three years. When a student knew the psalms by heart, he had mastered the “house of reading” and was now considered an elementary school graduate. As one can see there is no a single grain of indigenous knowledge or belief system had been taught by the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Coptic Tewahido Church is considered by government as indigenous institution, when it is imported and imposed on native culture. Both religions Christian and Islam were imported and imposed on native population, such as the early Christianized ethnic Tigray and Amhara and then ethnic Oromoo, Sidama, and other people of the south, by few clergies and foreign religious crusaders. These institutions had replaced the indigenous belief system, institutions and knowledge over time. As a result, the majority, if not the entire population, ethnic Tigray and Amhara believe that Bible is the source of their history and culture. As one can easily understand, the people of Tigray and Amhara have lived far more years than the bible does, which is two thousand years. As people who residing in East Africa, the Tigray and Amhara people must have had indigenous culture and knowledge. What are they?
Despite the claim of three thousand years history of civilization, Ethiopians exposed to non-church education or modern education in 1920s. The ministry of education established in 1930s. Secondary schools established in 1940s, and higher education, Addis Ababa University, established in 1960s. In similar way, the modern education system had also failed in teaching and conducting research on indigenous knowledge so as to integrate it into the modern education. As a result, creativity, inventions and innovations have seen as odd culture to our society. On the contrary, receiving aid, economic migration, conspicuous consumption of imported goods including education and dependency on Western advanced societies or institutions have become a culture.
Therefore, it is up to the Habesha (Tigre and Amhara), the Oromoo and other ethnic groups of the new generation to dig deep down to find out their respective indigenous knowledge that deep rooted in their culture and traditions and pass down from one generation to other generations by their native ancestors if any and re-evaluate the existing very controversial written history, which is biased and by large based on fiction history. The cycle of self-discrimination must end by the new generation. By doing this they can find shared human values that would allow them to live in peace without disrespecting one another as good neighbors and citizens of their respective nation. So one must understand that no one would agree on imported history that was written by the followers and supporters of Christianity crusaders, war lords, kings, dictators and agents of the Western discriminatory and racist institutions of the time as shared human value and history of our respective people in our time. The time and world have changed forever.
The present suspicion, political conflicts and all forms of problems in our region will not be solved without recognizing and applying indigenous knowledge. The lasting resolutions for the problems can be achieved if every member of our society or nation adults learn and teach their younger generation good social skills, which are critical to successfully functioning society. Basic social skills enable adults and children to know what to say, how to make good choices, and how to behave in adverse situations. The extent to which young people possess good social skills can influence their adult behavior in decision making, conflict management and problem solving. Social skills are also linked to the quality of the school environment. The Church and modern education in Ethiopia, unfortunately, had been denying members of our society these good basic skills such as respect, appreciation, empathy, apology, truthfulness, positive attitude about others, etc. Instead, the system allowed social ignorance such disrespect, occupational despise, ethnic chauvinism, fear, the divine right of the kings and honor for ruling class. As a result, the Ethiopian empire has produced highly educated class like Dr. Getachew Haile without basic and good social skills; it seems that he passed through poor socialization as one can understand the meaning of his name, ‘lord of …power’, which is false-self has given to him by his parents
and trying his best to make them proud by being discourteous and rude to the Oromoo people. Dr. Getachew Haile, be nice!
The black people or African descents are subject to institutional discrimination and racism more than any other races in the world including the holy land- Israel and Saud Arabia. Do you know why? The reasons can be many, but one of the reasons is imitation of ideas. The black people are the most imitating of other societies’ idea. They did not protect and develop their own indigenous institutions (political, religious, cultural and socio-economic institutions) to shape their lifestyle and influence others. No other nations are imitating Africans’ culture, religion, lifestyles but the Africans tend to imitate others about everything that life needs. Some African or extremists trying to be more imitator and more knowledgeable about the culture, religion and ideology than the original inventor or creator of the idea. It is understandable that human being has ability to imitate and all cultures imitate ideas from original culture. The question I would like ask the readers is why the changes are in one direction only. Why African descents imitate ideas of the other culture when the other culture do not imitate the African idea or world view?
For example, black Africans including Ethiopians has been pretending as if they have better known about the Jesus of Nazareth more than the Israelis and Prophet Muhammad more than the Arabs; Marxism and Leninism or communism more than Russians; democracy more than Americans and Western societies. These blind optimists about other’s idea are cynical at the same time about their own indigenous knowledge; they are willing to abuse, jail, torture and murder their own innocent people for the authenticity of imported ideas, religious and political ideology. In the case of Ethiopia, the king Menelik II and Yohanness II – holy war and wildish conquests were a case in point. They had imitated from the history of European middle-age idea of religious crusaders and empire builders. The Abyssinian kings had been acted as proxy war lords of European colonial powers and committed incalculable atrocity against the Oromo people and other black people in East Africa. In addition, these Abyssinian kingdom were one of the worst Africa’s kingdoms who sold Africans, their own race, to British, Arabs and other European white race for the exchange of European firearms to conquer the land of other nations and subjugate the people and build the empirical institutions based on European ideas and political model. What most disgracing is when people like Dr. Getachew Haile and his like trying to keep the truth elusive and misrepresent the history of the black people and glorifying the history of the White colonial proxy war lords like Menelik II as great black king, who was cowardly cut women’s breast, mutilate men’s hand and embarrassingly sold his own black race to the European white race.
In conclusion, the quest for truth shall continue by present and future Oromo generations. The root cause for conflicts in Africa is an imported knowledge and imitation of ideas. In many cases, imitation represent a false-self or an act to hiding a true-self. Discriminatory and racist attitude against black people had been partly brought up by European’s colonial power proxy war lords in Africa such as Menelik II of Abyssinia/Ethiopia kingdom. Although most black people tend to cherish and assimilate their cultural identity into the Middle-Eastern and Western cultural identity and ways of life, the very culture of the societies they imitating have been reciprocating or holding discrimination against them based on race, stereotypes and historical disadvantages. Institutional racism still exist and there are also significant number of individuals who think that Africans have not yet acquired culture and civilization. The imitation of others’ ideas, belief system and political institutions by Africans including my fellow Oromoo has kept the racist believes alive. It is suffice to mention the 2013 incidents against African immigrants in Saud Arabia and recently in Israel. The majority of Africans believed that embracing Christianity and Islam would lead to heaven via holy land. Unfortunately, it turned out differently; they end up in hell in the holy land. So, the lasting solution would be revitalizing indigenous knowledge and institutions that demands for real efforts, courage and sacrifices. As to the Oromo’s quest for indigenous knowledge and institutions, revitalization of the Gadaa Republic of Oromiaand its institutions would be the lasting solution for century old colonial extraction, subjugation and embarrassment.
* About the author: Iddoosaa Ejjetaa, Ph.D., native to Oromiyaa, Ethiopia. Independent and Naturalist Thinker; An activist and advocator for the revitalization of Authentic Oromummaa, Oromoo Indigenous knowledge and institutions, and for the formation of Biyyaa Abbaa Gadaa,Oromiyaa-The Gadaa Republic of Oromia.