Facts About Oromo People, Language and Culture


Ethiopia is an ethnically diverse country with over 74 language groups and Oromo people are among the major ethnic groups in the country. According to the 2007 census in Ethiopia, their estimated population is 30 million people. The majority of them live in rural areas and their main economic activity is agriculture. About 95% of them practice subsistence farming in their rural farms and are known to use archaic farming methods.

A small number of them are nomadic pastoralists and tend to move from one place to another in search of pasture and water for their animals. The number of Oromo people who live in urban centers is also very small because the majority of them are contented with being settled agriculturalists in rural areas. The Oromo tribe inhabit the central region of Ethiopia that is commonly referred to as the Oromia region. Ethiopia’s central region is the largest in terms of size and population. There is also a small group of Oromos that live in the northern region of Kenya. [Read: African Cultural Facts]

Oromo People

The Oromo ethnic group is dividend into two major subgroups and several clans. The Borana and the Barentu are the two major subgroups. The Borana subgroup is found in northern Kenya and the southern parts of the Oromia region. Most Boranas are pastoralists especially those that live in northern Kenya. There is also a small group of Boranas that live in some parts of Somalia.

Credit: Kevin Koski
Credit: Kevin Koski

The former provinces of Sidamo, Jimma, Kaffa, Welega and Shewa in Ethiopia are inhabited by the Borana. The Barentu inhabit the eastern zones of the Oromia region that include Amhara region, Jigiga zone, Bale zone, Arsi zone and Miarb Hararge. The Barentu practice subsistence farming as their major economic activity.

Oromo Culture

Their society is divided into age sets which forms a major part of its social stratification system. The age sets are based on an eight-year cycle that is commonly referred to as Gadaa. The social stratification system has undergone some notable changes in the last century. An example of such changes is the election of leaders to head the popular assembly after every eight years. The main role of the popular assembly is to establish laws that guide the community. [Read: Kenya and Tanzania’s Luo People]

The Gadaa system is still very popular despite the presence of modern social and leadership structures. Oromo people have a very unique rite of passage where the entire community gathers to watch young men as they run on top of bulls while the village community surrounds the young men as they cheer them up. It is noteworthy that Oromo people are a very religious sect with a strong belief in a traditional god that is popularly referred to as Waaq.

However, the number of people who worship this traditional god has gone down due to the emergence of other types of religion such as Christianity and Islam. According to a recent survey, only 3% of the population still follows the traditional god. Some of the major religions in the modern Oromo community include Islam, Protestant Christianity and Orthodox Christianity.

The majority of them still follow traditional rituals and practices regardless of their religious affiliation. There has been a considerable increase in the number of Protestant Christians in recent times. Oromo people have their own special calendar that relies on astronomical observations. A lunar-stellar calendrical system is normally used to develop the calendar and it is believed that the calendar was first developed in 300 BCE.

A total of seven stars and the moon are normally used to create the Oromo months. The current population is completely divided when it comes to religion and politics. The community has always influenced Ethiopian politics when it comes to political movements. All secessionist and federalist political movements in Ethiopia have always originated from the community. There have been several attempts to form an independent Oromo nation but they have always been fruitless.

Oromo Language

Oromo language belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family of languages and is one of the major native languages in Ethiopia. The language is spoken by over 20 million Oromos. The language is Cushitic and is normally spoken in different forms based on subgroups and clans. It is a first language for Oromos that live in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Some language scholars believe that the language is a dialect continuum. The language has four varieties and that is why it is categorized as a sociolinguistic language. [Read our Article on Swahili people, Language and Culture]