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Oromo people

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Title: Oromo people  
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Oromo people

Regions with significant populations
 Ethiopia 32,390,000 (2013 Estimate)[2]
 Kenya 227,674[3]
 Canada 11,140[1][4]
Afaan OromoAmharicTigrinya
Sunni Islam 47.5%, Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity 30.5%, Protestant Christianity 17.7%, , Traditional Belief 3.3%
Related ethnic groups
  1. ^ Figures among Ethiopian Canadians most likely does not include those who simply identify as Ethiopian
Map of Ethiopia highlighting the Oromia Region

The Oromo (Oromo: Oromoo; Ge'ez: ኦሮሞ, ’Oromo), are an ethnic group inhabiting Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and parts of Somalia.[5] With 30 million members, they constitute the single largest ethnicity in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa, at approximately 44.49% of Ethiopia's population according to the 2007 census.[6][7][8] Oromos speak the Oromo language as a mother tongue (also called Afaan Oromoo and Oromiffa), which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. The name was given as Ilm’ Orma ("Sons of Men" or an eponymous 'Orma') in the 19th century;[9] the present form is probably an obsolete plural of the same word orma ("person, stranger").[10]


Oromos are the largest Cushitic-speaking group of people living in Northeast Africa. Available information suggests that they have existed as a community in the Horn of Africa for several millennia (Prouty et al., 1981). Bates (1979) contends that the Oromo "were a very ancient race, the indigenous stock, perhaps, on which most other peoples in this part of eastern Africa have been grafted".

While further research is needed to precisely comprehend their origins, the Oromo are believed to have originally adhered to a pastoralist/nomadic and/or semi-agriculturalist lifestyle. Many historians agree that some Oromo clans (Bale) have lived in the southern tip of present-day Ethiopia for over a millennium. They suggest that a Great trade-influenced Oromo migration brought most Oromos to present-day central and western Ethiopia in the 16th and 17th centuries.[11] Historical maps of the ancient Aksum/Abyssinian Empire and Adal/Somali empires indicate that Oromo people are newcomers to most of modern-day central Ethiopia.

Recent history

Historically, Afaan Oromo-speaking people used their own Gadaa system of governance. Oromos also had a number of independent kingdoms, which they shared with the Sidama. Among these were the Gibe region kingdoms of Gera, Gomma, Garo, Gumma, Jimma and Limmu-Ennarea, as well as the kingdom of Jiren.

Historically, both peaceful and violent competition and integration between Oromos and other neighboring ethnicities such as the Amhara, Sidama and the Somali had an impact on politics within the Oromo community. The northern expansion of the Oromos such as the Yejju and, in particular the Arsi, to ethnic Somali and Sidama territories mirrored the southern expansion of Amharas, and helped influence contemporary ethnic politics in Ethiopia.[12] Also the great Somali expansion from the Ogaden plains west towards the Juba river led to conflicts with the Oromo.[13]

In some cases, Oromos and Somalis were in competition for good lands and water resources historically. In addition, Eastern Oromos who were converted to Islam ruled over most of Ethiopia together with Afars and Somalis when Horn of African Muslims who were united and led by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi conquered a majority of Christian Ethiopian highlands.[13]

Historian Richard Pankhurst stated that before the coming of European powers and the creation of centralized Ethiopia, the area presently known as Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia:

Constituted a galaxy of states and polities, each moving in its own orbit, but significantly affecting, and affected by, the other entities in the constellation. Each ruler kept a watchful eye on his neighbors but would often exchange gifts and courtesies with them unless actually at war. Dynastic marriages were made whenever practicable, though these only occasionally crossed barriers of religion. Commerce, on the other hand, made little distinction between faith, and trade routes linked traditionalist, Christian and Muslim localities. Ethnic and linguistic communities remained largely distinct, but there was much cross-fertilization of cultures. This was true not only off the Ethiopian highlands and the Red Sea coastlands, but also further south along the Somali-Oromo frontier where later nineteenth century travelers reported the existence of bilingual trading communities.[13]
Photograph taken by 10th Field Company Royal Engineers during the Magdala Campaign of 1867-68. Queen of the "Gallas" and Son

In the first decades of the 19th century, three Oromo monarchies, Enarya, Goma and Guma, rose to prominence.[13] The collective area was known as Galla-land and comprised most of central and southern Ethiopia, including lands now held by other ethnic regions.[9] In the general view of Oromo people's role in Ethiopia, Ras Gobana Dacche is a famous Oromo figure who led the development of modern Ethiopia and the political and miliatary incorporation of more territories into Ethiopian borders.[14][15] Gobana under the authority of Menelik II incorporated several Oromo territories into a centralized Ethiopian state. Some contemporary ethno-nationalist Oromo political groups refer to Gobana in a negative light. Though, before military integration; present day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and parts of Somalia were previously and extensively linked commercially by local, long-distance and trans-frontier trade routes. These commercial routes connected Bonga, Jimma, Seqa, Assandabo, Gojjam, Begemder, Maramma, Massawa, Soddo, Shewa, Harar, Zeila and Berbera.[13] Some Oromo writers believe that the Oromo Ras Gobena and the Amhara Menelik II were the first two people in Ethiopia with the concept of national boundary that brought various different ethno-linguistic communities under a politically and militarily centralized rule.[16]

"The two most important historical figures who signify the introduction of the concepts of national boundary and sovereignty in Ethiopia are Emperor Menelik II and Ras Gobana Dachi, who used guns manufactured in Europe to bring a large swath of Biyas (regions/nations) under a centralized rule."

Ethnically mixed Ethiopians with Oromo background made up a little percentage of Ethiopian generals and leaders.[17] The Wollo Oromo (particularly the Raya Oromo and Yejju Oromo) were early Oromo holders of power among the increasingly mixed Ethiopian state. The later north-to-south movement of central power in Ethiopia led to Oromos in Shewa holding power in Ethiopia together with the Shewan Amhara.[18]

"In terms of descent, the group that became politically dominant in Shewa – and Subsequently in Ethiopia – was a mixture of Amhara and Oromo; in terms of language, religion and cultural practices, it was Amhara."[19]

Nonetheless, in many cases Oromo became part of the Ethiopian nobility without losing their identity.[20] Both ethnically mixed Oromos and those with full Oromo descent held high leadership positions in Ethiopia. Notably Iyasu V was the designated but uncrowned Emperor of Ethiopia (1913–1916), while Haile Selassie I was the crowned and generally acknowledged Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Both these Ethiopian Emperors are ethnically mixed, with Oromo parents and lineages.[21] Haile Selassie's mother was paternally of Oromo descent and maternally of Gurage heritage, while his father was paternally Oromo and maternally Amhara. He consequently would have been considered Oromo in a patrilineal society, and would have been viewed as Gurage in a matrilineal one. However, in the main, Haile Selassie was regarded as Amhara: his paternal grandmother's royal lineage, through which he was able to ascend to the Imperial throne.[22]

By the 1880s, Sahle Selassie, king of Shewa (the later Emperor Menelik II) allied with Ras Gobena's Shewan Oromo militia to expand his kingdom to the South and East, expanding into areas that hadn't been held together since the invasion of Ahmed Gragn.[23] Another famous leader of Ethiopia with Oromo descent was Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the governor of Harar who served as the top general in the First Italo–Ethiopian War, playing a key role at the Battle of Adwa. He is the father of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I.[24]

In 1973, Oromo discontent with their position led to the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which began political agitation in the Oromo areas. Also in 1973 there was a catastrophic famine in which over one quarter of a million people died from starvation before the government recognised the disaster and permitted relief measures. The majority who died were Oromos and Amharas from Wollo, Afars and Tigrayans. There were strikes and demonstrations in Addis Ababa in 1974; and in February of that year, Haile Selassie’s government was replaced by the Derg, a military junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam; but the Council was still Amhara-dominated, with only 25 non-Amhara members out of 125. In 1975 the government declared all rural land State-owned, and announced the end of the tenancy system. However, much of the benefit of this reform was counteracted by compulsive collectivization, State farms and forced resettlement programmes.

In December 2009, a 96-page report titled Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diaspora, compiled by the Advocates for Human Rights, documented human rights violations against the Oromo in Ethiopia under three successive regimes: the Abyssinian Empire under Haile Selassie, the Marxist Derg and the current Ethiopian government of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), dominated by members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and which was accused to have arrested approximately 20,000 suspected OLF members, to have driven most OLF leadership into exile, and to have effectively neutralized the OLF as a political force in Ethiopia.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Oromia Support Group (OSG) recorded 594 extra-judicial killings of Oromos by Ethiopian government security forces and 43 disappearances in custody between 2005 and August 2008.[25]


Oromo distance running champion Kenenisa Bekele.
Oromo track and field athlete Maryam Yusuf Jamal.

The Oromo people are the largest ethnic grouping in Ethiopia, which has a total of 74 ethnically diverse language groups. About 95% are settled agriculturalists and nomadic pastoralists, practising archaic farming methods and living at subsistence level. A few live in the urban centres.

Oromos today are mainly concentrated in the Oromia region in central Ethiopia, which is the largest region in the country in terms of both population and size. Group members also have a notable presence in northern Kenya.


The Oromo speak the Oromo language as a mother tongue (also known as Afaan Oromoo and Oromiffa). It belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.

According to Ethnologue, there are around 40,467,900 Oromo speakers worldwide.[26]

The Oromo language is divided into four main linguistic varieties: Borana-Arsi-Guji Oromo, Eastern Oromo, Orma and West Central Oromo.[26]

Modern writing systems used to transcribe Oromo include the Latin script. The Ethiopic script had previously been used by Oromo communities in west-central Ethiopia up until the 1990s.[27] Additionally, the Sapalo script was historically used to write Oromo. It was invented by the Oromo scholar Sheikh Bakri Sapalo (also known by his birth name, Abubaker Usman Odaa) during the 1950s.[28][29] The Arabic script has also traditionally been used in areas with Muslim populations.


The Oromo are divided into two major branches that break down into an assortment of clan families. From west to east. The Borana Oromo, also called the Boran, are a pastoralist group living in southern Ethiopia (Oromia) and northern Kenya.[30][31] The Boran inhabit the former provinces of Shewa, Welega, Illubabor, Kafa, Jimma, Sidamo, northern and northeastern Kenya, and some parts of Somalia. Barentu/Barentoo or (older) Baraytuma is the other moiety of the Oromo people. The Barentu Oromo inhabit the eastern parts of the Oromia Region in the Zones of Mirab Hararghe or West Hararghe, Arsi Zone, Bale Zone, Debub Mirab Shewa Zone or South West Shewa, Dire Dawa region, the Jijiga Zone of the Somali Region, Administrative Zone 3 of the Afar Region, Oromia Zone of the Amhara Region, and are also found in the Raya Azebo woreda in the Tigray Region.

Society and culture


Oromo society was traditionally structured in accordance with Gadaa, a social stratification system partially based on an eight-year cycle of age sets. However, over the centuries, the age sets grew out-of-alignment with the actual ages of their members, and some time in the 19th century, another age set system was instituted. Under gadaa, every eight years, the Oromo would hold a popular assembly called the Gumi Gayo, where laws were established for the following eight years. A democratically elected leader, the Abba Gada, presided over the system for an eight-year term. Gadaa is no longer in wide practice but remains influential.

In a short article, Geoffrey W. Arnott described an Oromo rite of passage in which young men run over the backs of bulls surrounded by the village community.[32]


Waaq (also Waq or Waaqa) is the name of God in the traditional Oromo religion, which only about 3% of the population of Oromia follows today, those who do usually living in the Borena Zone.

In the 2007 Ethiopian census in the 88% Oromo region of Oromia, 47.5% were Muslims, 30.5% Orthodox Christians, 17.7% Protestant Christian, 3.3% Traditional.[33] Protestant Christianity is the fastest growing religion inside the Oromo community. In urban areas of Oromia, Orthodox Christianity constitute 51.2% of the population, followed by Islam 29.9% and Protestants 17.5%.[34] But adherence to traditional practices and rituals is still common among many Oromo people regardless of religious background.[35]


It is believed that the Oromo developed their own calendar around 300 BCE. The Oromo calendar is a lunar-stellar calendrical system, relying on astronomical observations of the moon in conjunction with seven particular stars or constellations. Borana Months (Stars/Lunar Phases) are Bittottessa (iangulum), Camsa (Pleiades), Bufa (Aldebarran), Waxabajjii (Belletrix), Obora Gudda (Central Orion-Saiph), Obora Dikka (Sirius), Birra (full moon), Cikawa (gibbous moon), Sadasaa (quarter moon), Abrasa (large crescent), Ammaji (medium crescent), and Gurrandhala (small crescent).[36]


Most Oromos do not have political unity today due to their historical roles in the Ethiopian state and the region, the spread out movement of different Oromo clans, and the differing religions inside the Oromo nation.[37] Accordingly, Oromos played major roles in all three main political movements in Ethiopia (centralist, federalist and secessionist) during the 19th and 20th century. In addition to holding high powers during the centralist government and the monarchy, the Raya Oromos in Tigray played a major role in the revolt inside the Tigray regional state, known as "Weyane" revolt, challenging Emperor Haile Selassie I's rule in the 1940s.[38] Simultaneously, both federalist and secessionist political forces developed inside the Oromo community.

Presently, a number of ethnic based political organizations have been formed to promote the interests of the Oromo. The first was the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. However, these Oromo groups do not act in unity: the ONC, for example, was part of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces coalition that challenged the EPRDF in the Ethiopian general elections of 2005.

A number of these groups seek to create an independent Oromo nation, some using armed force. Meanwhile, the ruling OPDO and several opposition political parties in the Ethiopian parliament believe in the unity of the country which has 80 different ethnicities. But most Oromo opposition parties in Ethiopia condemn the economic and political inequalities in the country. Progress has been very slow with the Oromia International Bank just recently established in 2008 though Oromo owned Awash International Bank started early in the 1990s and with the first private Afaan Oromoo newspaper in Ethiopia, Jimma Times, also known as Yeroo, recently established. Though the Jimma Times – Yeroo newspaper has faced a lot of harassment and persecution from the Ethiopian government since its beginning.[40][41][42][43][44] Abuse of Oromo media is widespread in Ethiopia and reflective of the general oppression Oromos face in the country.[45] University departments in Ethiopia did not establish curriculum in Afaan Oromo until the late 1990s.

Various human rights organizations have publicized the government persecution of Oromos in Ethiopia for decades. In 2008, OFDM opposition party condemned the government's indirect role in the death of hundreds of Oromos in western Ethiopia.[46]

Notable Oromo people

  • Ali Birra – Singer, Poet, and Nationalist[47][48]
  • Derartu Tulu – Athlete[49]
  • [50]
  • Mulatu Teshome?? – President of Ethiopia[50][51]
  • Negasso Gidada – former President of Ethiopia[50]
  • Fatuma Roba – first African woman[52] to win the Olympic gold medal in a marathon
  • Gobana Dacche – According to Yates, he was from the Oromo community who was an extensive landowner, top ranking general, and a zealous, loyal follower of his king Menelik II, who later died under mysterious circumstances with considerably less property to his name[53]
  • Sheik Bakri Sapalo – Oromo historian and poet who in the 1960s was the first African to invent an alphabet for an African language[54]

See also


  1. ^ Haile Selassie's mother was paternally of Oromo descent and maternally of Gurage heritage, while his father was paternally Oromo and maternally Amhara. He consequently would have been considered Oromo in a patrilineal society, and would have been viewed as Gurage in a matrilineal one. However, in the main, Haile Selassie was regarded as Amhara: his paternal grandmother's royal lineage, through which he was able to ascend to the Imperial throne (see history).
  2. ^ "The World Factbook". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  3. ^ 161,399 Borana, 66,275 Orma
  4. ^ "Canada – Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada Highlight Tables, 2011 Census". 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  5. ^ Merriam-Webster Inc, Frederick C. Mish, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Merriam-Webster: 2003), p.876
  6. ^  
  7. ^ The CSA estimates a population growth of 7.6% between the time the census was conducted and the date of its approval: "Ethiopia population soars to near 77 million: census".  
  8. ^ Tesema Ta'a, The Political Economy of an African Society in Transformation (2006),, pp. 17.
  9. ^ a b "Gallas" in Encyclopædia Britannica 11th ed. 1911.
  10. ^ "Oromo" in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
  11. ^ Oromo migration to central Ethiopia
  12. ^ "Oromo and Amhara rule in Ethiopia" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  13. ^ a b c d e W.A. Degu, "Chapter 7 Political Development in the Pre-colonial Horn of Africa", The state, the crisis of state institutions and refugee migration in the Horn of Africa: the cases of Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, Thela Thesis (Amsterdam, 2002)
  14. ^ "Ras Gobena victory against Gurage militia" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  15. ^ Donald Levine, Greater Ethiopia, the Evolution of a multicultural society (University of Chicago Press: 1974)
  16. ^ "Gobana Dache’s Participation in Building Ethiopia". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  17. ^ "Union of Amhara and Oromo in royal families". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  18. ^ "Oromo in Ethiopian leadership". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  19. ^ "Background and consequence of Oromos in Ethiopian leadership" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  20. ^ "Ethiopian Oroo nobility". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  21. ^ Kjetil Tronvoll, Ethiopia, a new start?, (Minority Rights Group: 2000)
  22. ^ Peter Woodward, Conflict and peace in the Horn of Africa: federalism and its alternatives, (Dartmouth Pub. Co.: 1994), p.29.
  23. ^ Great Britain and Ethiopia 1897–1910: Competition for Empire Edward C. Keefer, International Journal of African Studies Vol. 6 No. 3 (1973) page 470
  24. ^ Haile Selassie I, My Life and Ethiopia's Progress: The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I, translated from Amharic by Edward Ullendorff. (New York: Frontline Books, 1999), vol. 1 p. 13
  25. ^ "Human rights abuses under EPRDF". 
  26. ^ a b "Oromo - A macrolanguage of Ethiopia". Ethnorm. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  27. ^ "Oromo, West Central". Ethnologue. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  28. ^ R. J. Hayward and Mohammed Hassan (1981). "The Oromo Orthography of Shaykh Bakri Saṗalō". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. p. 44.3, 550–566. 
  29. ^ "The Oromo Orthography of Shaykh Bakri Sapalo". Retrieved 15 October 2010. 
  30. ^ "Oromo, Borana-Arsi-Guji". 
  31. ^ Aguilar, Mario. "The Eagle as Messenger, Pilgrim and Voice: Divinatory Processes among the Waso Boorana of Kenya". Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. 26, Fasc. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 56–72. Retrieved 27 October 2007. 
  32. ^ Arnott, "Bull Leaping as Inititation Ritual," Liverpool Classical Monthly 18 (1993), pp. 114–116
  33. ^ 2007 Census
  34. ^ Ethiopian Population Census Commission. "Summary and Statistical Report of the 2007 Population and Housing Census". United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  35. ^ "People of Africa reference". 1991-11-03. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  36. ^  
  37. ^ "Migrations profoundly affected the Oromo unity". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  38. ^ "Raya Oromos inside the Weyane revolt of Tigray" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  39. ^ Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia: 1855–1991, 2nd edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), pp. 261f.
  40. ^ "Govt. continues rejecting license for Jimma Times Afaan Oromoo newspaper". 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  41. ^ "Ethiopia’s "government" attacks Macha-Tulama, Jimma Times media & Oromo opposition party". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  42. ^ Yeroo newspaper struggles to survive
  43. ^ CJFE award nominee
  44. ^ CJEE Jimma Times profile
  45. ^ "Ethiopia’s Largest Ethnicity Group Deprived of Linguistic and Cultural Sensitive Media Outlets". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  46. ^ "OFDM Press Release: The Massacre of May, 2008". Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  47. ^ "Ethiopia: Ali Birra not quitting music". Jimma Times ( 
  48. ^ "Ali Birra, Great Oromo Music".  
  49. ^ "Derartu TULU". Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  50. ^ a b c "Ethiopia Elects Dr. Mulatu Teshome as president". Awramba Times. 7 October 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  51. ^ "Ethiopia parliament elects Mulatu Teshome as new president".  
  52. ^ Tanser, Toby (19 April 2008). "Fatuma Roba: A Twisted Path to Living Legend". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  53. ^ Yates, Brian, 2013. Christian Patriot or Oromo Traitor? The Ethiopian State in the Memories of Ras Gobäna Dače.Northeast African Studies, 13 (2), 25:51
  54. ^ Mohammed, Abdulsemed (13 June 2013). "SEENAA BARREEFAMA AFAAN OROMOOTIIFI SHOORA DR. SHEEK MAHAMMAD RASHAAD" [HISTORY OF OROMO WRITING and the Contribution of Dr. Mohammed Reshad] (in Oromoo). Retrieved 2 November 2014. 

External links

  • People of Africa - Oromo
  • Oromo

Further reading

  • Tsega Etefa, Integration and Peace in East Africa: A History of the Oromo Nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ISBN 978-0-230-11774-7
  • Mohammed Hassan, The Oromo of Ethiopia, A History 1570–1860. Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1994. ISBN 0-932415-94-6
  • Herbert S. Lewis. A Galla Monarchy: Jimma Abba Jifar, Ethiopia 1830–1932. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1965.
  • "RIC Query – Ethiopia". INS Resource Information Center. Retrieved 8 October 2005. 
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