Ethiopia is an ethnically diverse country with over 74 language groups, with Oromo people being among the major ethnic groups in the country. According to the 2007 census in Ethiopia, their estimated population is 30 million. 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 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.
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The Oromo ethnic group is divided 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. The former provinces of Sidamo, Jimma, Kaffa, Welega and Shewa in Ethiopia are inhabited by the Borana. There is also a small group of Boranas that live in some parts of Somalia.
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.
Their society is divided into age sets which form 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. [Also 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 village community gather to watch and cheer young men as they run on top of bulls.
It is noteworthy that the Oromo people is a very religious sect with 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 follow the traditional god. Some of the major religions in the modern Oromo community include Islam, Protestant and Orthodox Christianity, with a considerable increase in the number of Protestant Christians in recent times. However, the majority of Oromo people still follow traditional rituals and practices regardless of their religious affiliations.
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 B.C.E. Moreover, 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 local community has always influenced Ethiopia when it comes to political movements. All secessionist and federalist political movements in Ethiopia have always originated from the Oromo community. There have been several attempts to form an independent Oromo nation but they have always been fruitless.
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Language and Music
Oromo language belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family of languages and is one of the major native languages in Ethiopia. It is the first language for Oromos that live in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. The language which is Cushitic is spoken by over 20 million Oromos, and has slight variations based on subgroups and clans. It has four major varieties and so is categorized as a sociolinguistic language. Some language scholars also believe that the Oromo language is a dialect continuum.
The music and culture of the Oromians are closely related. For them, the Oromo music is quite as important as their culture and that’s why despite the trend of westernization, their music still portray who they are and what they believe in.
Like it is in most parts of the world, the Oromians have music for every occasion. For instance, the horse praising songs or faaruu farda is usually sung during the hamoomota or bride taking. There are also love songs, songs that appreciate the beauty of the Oromo people as well as music that tells stories of the people’s long-suffering, joy and oneness. This is basically what the Oromo music centres on. Today, most of the music artistes combine some western music instrument with the traditional Oromo musical instruments and tunes to make their songs rich and acceptable to present day listeners.
As one of the largest of the newly demarcated states in Ethiopia, the Oromians have their own unique flag representing their own social, political and legal system also known as the ‘Oromo Gadaa System’.
The Oromo flag, known as “Fajji Baqqala” in the Oromo language, is made in the colours of the Qaallu turban (surri ruufa) and has three horizontally equal stripes: black at the top, red in the centre and white at the bottom. Each of the colours has its own representation.
For instance, the Black at the top represents those who are yet to enter active life and are generally considered as the unknown. The red colour represents those in active life found in different institutions. They are regarded as the people’s light. The white colour at the tail end represents those who had passed the stage of active life. It also represents the age of retirement.
Most political parties in the state borrow a leaf from the state’s flag to create their flags. For instance, the flag of Oromo Liberation Front has 3 horizontal colours (red, green, red) striped with a yellow rayed disc; a green-shaped tree and a five-shaped red star. While the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) also has the usual red colour divided horizontally with the yellow and a green triangle placed along the hoist with a tree in the middle.