Oromia also phonetically spelled as Oromiyaa is the land of Oromo people. The area is 375,000 Square Mile, or, 600,000 square kilometre; Larger than France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium & the Netherlands combined. Finfinnee (also called Addis Ababa) is the capital city. According to the 2007 Ethiopian census, the population of Oromo in Ethiopia is over 32 million.
Oromia is found in the Horn of Africa; in what is today Ethiopia. They are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia constituting about 35% of the Ethiopian population.
Oromia is approximately located between 3 degree and 15 degree N latitude and 33 degree and 40 degree longitude.
History in brief
The Oromo are one of the Cushitic speaking groups of people with variations in colour and physical characteristics ranging from Hamitic to Nilotic. Locale of the 3.5 million year old Lucy, or Chaltu in Oromo, Croatia of the Upper Nile known and recorded in history by such names as Punt, Cush, and Ethiopia, has hosted numerous pioneering human achievements including the development of the earliest pebble tools (circa 70,000 BC), the domestication of animals (circa 5000 BC), and regional trade in antiquity in gold, ivory, myrrh and frankincense with Pharoahnic Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia.
The Oromo make up a significant portion of the population occupying the Horn of Africa. In the Ethiopian Empire alone, Oromo constitute about 40 million of the 85 million inhabitants of the Ethiopian Empire. In fact, Oromo is one of the most numerous nations in Africa which enjoys a homogeneous culture and shares a common language, history and descent and once shared common political, religious and legal institutions. During their long history, the Oromo developed their own cultural, social and political system known as the Gadaa system. It is a uniquely democratic political and social institution similar to the Grecian Polls that governed the life of every individual in the society from birth to death.
The Oromo were colonised during the last quarter of the nineteenth century by a black African nation – Abyssinia – with the help of the European colonial powers. During the same period, of course, the Somalis, Kenyans, Sudanese and others were colonised by European powers. The fact that the Oromo were colonised by black African nation makes their case quite special.
During the process of colonisation, between 1870 and 1900, the Oromo population was reduced from ten to five millions. This period coincides with the occupation of Oromo land by the Abyssinian emperors Yohannes and Menilik. After colonisation, these emperors and their successors continued to treat Oromo with utmost cruelty. Many were killed by the colonial army and settlers, others died of famine and epidemics of various diseases or were sold off as slaves. Those who remained on the land were reduced to the status of gabbar (a peasant from whom labour and produce is exacted and is a crude form of serfdom).
By means of violence and suppression, Haile Selassie who governed from 1930-1974, consolidated Yohannes’s and Menilik’s gains and obstructed the progress of Oromo political, economic and social development. In all spheres of life, discrimination, subjugation, repression and exploitation of all forms were applied.
The 1974 revolution was brought about by the relentless struggle over several years by, among others, the Oromo peasants. The military junta headed by Mengistu Haile-Mariam, usurped power and took over the revolution. Forced to fight against Eritreans, the Somalis and others, many Oromo have fallen in battle. Many others have died on the streets of cities and towns during the so-called “Red Terror” (1977-8).
Not surprisingly, this ruthless oppression and persecution of peoples has resulted in the largest flight of refugees in Africa. A very large proportion of the refugees from the Horn of Africa are Oromo, and this is still going on as the Oromo are still under subjugation.
The Oromo remained independent until the last decade of the 19th century, when Abyssinians from the North aided by modern European arms, managed to conquer them. Since then, successions of autocrats from Menilik to the EPRDF have systematically suppressed Oromo in the idiom of Ethiopian unity, fostering instability, war and famine. Thus for the last one hundred years under the Ethiopian rule, the Oromo have gained very little, if anything, in the way of political, social and economic progress.
The Oromo nation has a single common mother tongue –Afaan Oromo. The Afaan Oromo belongs to the eastern Kushitic group of languages and is the most extensive of the forty or so Kushitic languages. It is one of the five most widely spoken languages in Africa, (Gragg, 1982). It is the third most widely spoken language in East Africa, after Arabic and Hausa.
Much has been written about Afaan Oromo by foreigners who visited or lived in Oromia, particularly European missionaries. Several works have been written in Afaan Oromo using Roman, Sabean and Arabic scripts. Printed material in Afaan Oromo include the Bible, religious and non-religious songs, dictionaries, short stories, proverbs, poems, school books, grammar, etc. The Bible itself was translated into Afaan Oromo in Sabean script about a century ago by an Oromo slave called Onesimos Nasib, alias Hiikaa, (Gustave, 1978). Roman, Arabic and Sabean scripts are all foreign to Afaan Oromo. None of them fit well the peculiar features of the sounds (phonology), in Oromo. Now days, researchers are being done in Afaan Oromo.
As mentioned earlier about 40 million people speak Afaan Oromo. It is considered one of the five most widely spoken languages from among the approximately 1,000 languages of Africa, (Gragg, 1982). It is the third most widely spoken language in Africa, after Arabic and Hausa. Despite this, the minority language, the Ethiopian government authorizes Amharic as a working and official language of Ethiopia.
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 is had been, and to some extent still guiding system of the religion, social, political and economic 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.
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 practising 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 neighbouring peoples have practised a sort of the Gadaa. Among these are Sidama, Walayita, Konso, Darasa, Nyika, Nabdi, Maasai, etc., (Beckingham et al, 1954).
Among many factors, the onset of colonization had tremendously reduced the political and usefulness of Gadaa system Atseme noted, “Menilek outlawed the major chaffe (assembly) 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.
There are three main religions in Oromia: traditional religion , Christianity and, Islam . Before the introduction of Christianity and Islam, the Oromo people practised their own religion. They believed in one Waaqayyoo (God). They never worshipped false gods or carved statues as substitutes. M. de Aimeida (1628-46) had the following to say: “the Gallas (Oromo) are neither Christians, moors nor heathens, for they have no idols to worship.” The Oromo Waaqa is one and the same for all. He is the creator of everything, source of all life, omnipresent, infinite, and incomprehensible, he can do and undo anything; he is pure, intolerant of injustice, crime, sin and all falsehood. Waaqayyoo is often called Waaqa for short.
Time is a very important concept in Gadaa and therefore in Oromo life. Gadaa itself can be narrowly defined as a given set of time (period) which groups of individuals perform specific duties in a society. Gadaa could also mean age. The lives of individuals, rituals, ceremonies, political and economic activities are scheduled rather precisely. For this purpose, the Oromo have a calendar. The calendar is also used for weather forecasting and divination purposes.
The Oromo calendar is based on astronomical observations of the moon in conjunction with seven or eight particular stars or star groups (Legesse, 1973 and Bassi, 1988) called Urji Dhaha (guiding stars). According to this calendar system, there are approximately 30 days in a month and 12 months in a year. The first day of a month is the day the new moon appears. A day (24 hours) starts and ends at sunrise.
Potentially, Oromia is one of the richest countries in Africa. Agriculture is the backbone of its economy. Still employing archaic methods, subsistence agriculture is the means of livelihood for more than 90 per cent of the population. There are a variety of farm animals and crop plants. Farm animals include cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, mules, horses, camels and chicken. The Cushitic speaking communities of this region perhaps Nubians, are credited with the domestication of donkey and were the first to breed mules, (a result of a cross between a donkey and a mare). The Oromo are expert in animal husbandry through their long tradition as herdsmen. For some, cattle-rearing (pastoralism) is still the main occupation.
Because of Oromia’s favourable climate and rich soil, many types of crops are cultivated and normally there is little need for irrigation. Normally one and sometimes two crops can be harvested annually from the same field. Among the major food crops are cereals (wheat, barley, tef, sorghum, corn, millet, etc.), fibre crops (cotton), root crops (potato, sweet potato, yam, inset, anchote, etc.), pulses (peas, beans, chick-peas, lentils, etc.), oil crops (nugi, flax, etc.), fruit trees (orange, mango, avocado, banana, lemon, pineapple, peach, etc.), spices (onion, garlic, coriander, ginger, etc. – coriander and ginger also grow wild) and a variety of vegetables like okra which is indigenous to Oromia. Coffee, a major cash earner for many countries, has its origin in the forests of Oromia and neighbouring areas.
The country is also rich in wild animals and plants. Many different species are found in the waters and forests of Oromia: different kinds of fish, hippopotami, and crocodiles. Land animals include lion, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo, giraffe, wild ass, zebra, Columbus monkey and elephant. There are a number of wild animals that are found solely in Oromia, such as Nyaala, bush-buck (special type), fox (from Baale), etc.
Various types of birds, many of them unique, are found around lakes and elsewhere. These creatures are a source of attraction for tourists and natural scientists alike.
The forests of Oromia are a source of excellent timber. Although the major portion of the forests has been destroyed since its occupation, some still remain in the south and west. However, this is threatened by mismanagement, particularly through the fast the expanding state farms and resettlement programmes. At the time of colonisation a large part of Oromia was covered with forest. This has been reduced to the present 5-7 per cent. In addition to timber trees, medicinal plants and trees producing different kinds of gums, grow in abundance. Myrrh, frankincense and gum Arabic are gathered from the wild trees. Forests, besides being a source of timber, medicine and gum, are useful in the conservation of water and soil, and as shelter for wildlife. They also have an important aesthetic value.
Oromia has important mineral deposits. The gold mines at Adola and Laga Dambi in the Sidamo and around Nejjo, Asosa and Birbir river valley in Wallagga regions which were the major sources of revenue for Meniiek and Haile Selassie are being exploited using modern machinery. Other important minerals found in Oromia are platinum, sulphur, iron-ore, silver and salt.
The hundreds of hot springs scattered over Oromia are also of economic importance. Thousands of people, including foreigners, visit these springs for their medicinal and recreational value. They are a great potential source of thermal energy. Rivers, streams and springs are plentiful. The rivers have many falls that could be used to generate electric power with little effort. The extent of this electric power could easily satisfy the power needs of Oromia and neighbouring countries.
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