Reconstruction of Oromo history and culture

Before their adoption to Christianity at the turn of 19th century and Islam the Oromo people practiced their own religion. They believed in the supreme being called WAAQA ,WAAQAAYO or WAAQ ,which approximates the English word God. The manifestation of the power of Waaqa through Ayaana is told to the people through Qallu’s (men) or Qaalliti’s (women). The known Qaalluu in the ancient time was Abba Muudaa who most probably lived between Bale and Gannaale river valleys specifically in Fugug according to Asemarom Lagesse, Oromo democracy.

“In pre-colonial oromo society, the core of Oromo social economic ,political philosophical and spiritual life was a holistic institution known Gadaa. Under Gadaa , Oromos believed in Waaqa (God ). Waaqa is one of the supreme being, but many as ayyaana. Ayyaana exist in everybody and everything in the universe. In oromo society waaqa creates and regulates the existence of all animate and inanimate, material and non-material nature and places them in a well-balanced cosmic order.

As an extension of his phenomenon, Oromos believe that the society collapses unless a balance is stuck between male and female, young and old, spiritual and physical power in the cosmic order of Waaqa’s wisdom. The interdependence of the dominant and the laminas is considered as a precondition for peace and prosperity in both meta physical and practical sense.

Oromos refer to this concept of peace and order of Waaqa as Safuu. Safuu is extremely important in oromo religious and political thought. If the balance is disturbed, it is said that safuu is lost, safuu cabse ykn dabse jedhama (mine). The loss of safuu is the loss of Seera Waaq (Waaq’s law and order). The loss of safuu signals the reign of chaos and disaster.

Thus, Waaqa is the source and the course of everything simultaneously. Waaqa is the beginning and end, one and many, infinite and infinitesimal all at the same time. Waaqa exists in everything and everything exists in it. Waaqa is the fabric 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 WalaabuuFaajjii Walaabuu is a tricolor emblem with black, red, and white hues. The black is the future. Black is the unknown and the unknowable. Black is the spirit, the soul. Black is Waaq (God). Black is holy and sacred. The red is the present, the living, the here and the now. Red is the flesh. Red is the blood that rushes through our veins. Red is the living fire. Red is the present. The white is the past, the ancestors, the bones, the ashes. White is the past, the bones remain behind when life flickers out. White is the ashes that remain when the fire is out. White is the ancestors spirit. Thus, in the three colors of Faajjii Walaabuu , Waaqayyo weaves together the past, the present and the future ; the bones, the flesh and the soul.

Discussion Forum
  • Hailegebriel M Gidey: Another superb post! This is something to yell about. I opt to go on the top of my roof and yell- aloud to the end so that echoes go global and the world learn and fetch from this civilization and acknowledge it. When the stones are appriciated and considered as world heritage, Gadaa the very essence of humanity and existance is ignored! Good job Beyo Koo !!!!
  • Mamitti Luke Beyo Koo: Thanks for sharing it. Here is also another piece about the tricolor emblem and Qaalluu system:…
  •  Tesfakiros Arefe I liked the religious and cultural issues you are posting.I have already stole them. But I have a problem on the time frame. The interaction of the Oromo people with the Northern Christians and Eastern Muslims was intensified during the 16th century. Then after there were assimilation and counter assimilation between the Muslim East, Christian North and Oromo south. When we take the case of the Oromo people, they impose their culture, religion and language on others through war and conquest and adoption. The oromo people also converted their religion in to Islam and Christianity before the 19th century. So how do you see this phenomena? I hope you will not exclude the Oromos in the east and north before 19th century.Thanks
  •  Mamitti Luke TesfaKiros Arefe: There are growing body of evidences that indicate, Oromos were in fact in the north-eastern part of the country even before the arrival of the Habesha. Many historical evidences and several authorities dismiss talk of the Oromos being comparative newcomers to northern part of Ethiopia. Regarding conversion of Oromos from Waaqeffanna to Other Religions, here are some notes; 

    -When the Oromo masses were subjugated under the Ottoman-Egypt-Adare alliance, a few Oromo chiefs were co-opted and received lands and titles. The lands of the eastern Oromoswere expropriated. The Oromo in Hararghe were forced to accept Islam by the Turko-Egyptian colonial force between 1875 and 1885.
    -To protect themselves from incorporation into Christian Abyssinia and maintain their identity, a few Oromo groups – the Raya, Azabo, Yejju and Wallo – in addition to armed resistance, embraced Islam during the 18th century.

    -Through Muslim merchants Islam came to be accepted by the heads of the Gibe states (Jimma) in about the mid-19th century.

    -Later, in opposition to Ethiopian colonialism, the Oromo turned en masse to Islam. In the Arssi and Bale regions, the Oromos accepted Islam over Ethiopian colonialism and Orthodox Christianity. For the same reason, some Oromo in Wallaga, Illubabor and other regions preferred Islam to Orthodox Christianity.

    -However, there were Oromos [Tulama (Shoa)] who were forced to accept Orthodox Christianity after their colonization by Menelik.

    -The remaining Oromos -Borana, Guji, Gabra&Orma (Oromo in Kenya)- have continued to practice their Oromo Religion.

    -Generally speaking, both Islam and Christianity have been gradually grafted on Oromo religion in many Oromo regions. Christian and Islam were mainly imposed on Oromos by the gun and sword.

  •  Tesfakiros Arefe Mamitti, Thank you for the detail. It gives very good picture. Only few reservations.
    1. I understand which document you read and how it misled you when I read your first paragraph. I will reflect on this claim and issue in the future. My Oromo historians advised me to look at the new evidences. But I am afraid this narration is created based on fear of counter claims, on regional politics of Oromo elites and to some extent has religious tones(the claim waqafate if more close to the monolithic Christianity).
    2. I want to read more on the impact of the Oromo invasion/conquest of the East. The Oromos were defeated the Islamic forces in the East in the 16thcentury. So my idea is did Islam expanded to the Oromo community following their interaction with the Eastern Muslim community before the coming of the Turko; Egyptian forces to the area? If you are clear on this issue, please enlighten me.
    3. Shewa was a pocket of Christian community cut from the north due to the Oromo movement. They were more close to the Oromos than their northern Christian brothers. So what is your evidence of forced conversion of Oromos in to Christianity in Shewa?
    4.You only mentioned the case of forced conversion of Oromo in East(Islam) and Shewa(Christianity) . But your conclusion doesn’t fit with the different means of conversion you have mentioned in detail. Thank you again.

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