The Grand Ceremony and an All-round Public Event
First and foremost, imageries are powerful elements or symbols that help catch imaginations in any kind of identity system. It is a worldwide practice to employ imageries in order to make the messages of identity more inspiring and appealing.
In this article I would like to mention three of the imageries the Oromo are employing in making the message of Oromummaa meaningful, impactful and memorable.
Right now IRREESSAA symbolizes the whole aspect of Oromummaa. The transformation of IRREESSAA (IRREECHAA) celebration from being reduced to a local event that was randomly celebrated in few parts of Oromia, mostly by peasants and the countryside Oromo population, to such well organized, grand thanksgiving ceremony, an all-round public event, engaging millions of Oromo from all walks of life, both in Oromia and abroad, which progressed hugely in such a short period of time, can be seen as the most cohesive imagery that the Oromo mass did win and brought back to life.
IRREESSAA became more than the religion we follow, the clan we belong to, the ideology we cherish and the political indoctrination we submitted ourselves to. As much as IRREESSAA is thanksgiving the Oromo way, it became the forum of unity, the scene of maturity, the platform of wisdom and most of all the altar of tolerance. Thanks to IRREESSAA ceremony, today Oromo?s outcry for freedom, liberty, peace and stability; Oromo?s prayer for equality and fraternity reverberates all over the world, from Australia to Canada, from Scandinavia to USA, from the Netherlands to South Africa, and beyond. It is forcing the Oromo to come together and assume their identity and uniqueness. It is forcing the world to give attention and respect to the values of the Oromo.
The other powerful imagery the Oromo is bringing to light is the traditional Oromo flag, which is made up of the tricolor horizontal stripes of Black, Red, and White. The Oromo adapted this flag as the symbol of their nationhood as long back as their social organizations are remembered. However, not long ago, in the beginnings of the 2000s, I observed that it was the subject of confrontation among the Oromo, with regard to political affiliation. The importance of reclaiming the traditional Oromo flag, and the very powerful unifying power the traditional Oromo flag could have for the Oromo from different walks of life, congregation, political belief and various specificities, was not so appealing then.
I think that situation is very much changed now. References made to the Lubas, who used to be in charge under the egalitarian and democratic Gadaa system of the Oromo and the representatives of Qaallu institution who have decorated their attire and objects with these traditional three colors, have indeed paved the way for today?s reality. I do say to my brothers and sisters, while promoting Oromummaa worldwide, it is very timely not to confuse Oromo national flag with the emblems and flags of fronts and political parties. Oromo flag as an imagery symbolizing nationhood, supposed to be raised up by every entity aspiring freedom for the Oromo people.
Gubaa (Oromo Bonfire)
In order to avert so many misunderstandings regarding ?gubaa? or ?gubaa masqalaa?, I would like to ask fellow Oromo to put Oromo imageries in a larger perspective and perception of the humankind. Among the beautiful assertions promoted by various sociologists and social anthropologists about the Oromo, I like the assertion made by Bates (1979) that the Oromo were a very ancient race, the indigenous stock, perhaps on which most other peoples in eastern Africa have been grafted. As an Oromo and social anthropologist, I do wish to alter Bates? assertion and say the Oromo are an ancient race on which most of the peoples in the world have been grafted.
I personally came to this seemingly improbable conclusion after I have done some readings regarding the traditions of celebrating bonfire nights (gubaa), especially in Scandinavia and Europe.
One of the very interesting stories about ?gubaa? comes from Germany. The peoples of Sachsen Anhalt, in northern part of Germany used to worship their ?Waaqaa? by the name of ?Wodan? (hoechsten gott Wodan) and to perform various rituals throughout the year. Then came the strongest crusader of Christianity by the name of Karl den Grossen and forced them to accept Christianity and forbid them to exercise their tradition. As a result the people went underground and proceeded with their rituals. As such they started to celebrate ?gubaa?, yearly on the night of 30th April, away from the watching eyes of Karl den Grossen, on the top of mount Brocken, in the vicinity of Vernigerode, thanking ?Wodan?, the god of their ancestors, for enabling them to make through the hardships of the winter and to see the lights of spring. Most interesting is also the reason why these people chose mount Brocken for their ?gubaa? celebration. Because mount Brocken happened to be covered by fog and mist for more than 300 days a year, the ancient peoples of Sachsen Anhalt believed this was the place where the spirit of ?Wodan? wallows. When the messengers of Karl den Grosse did find out this celebration of ?gubaa? by the Sachsen Anhalt people, they waged a campaign against them by defining them as nonbelievers and witches who are performing rituals that is meant to harm humankind.
Why I narrate this?
For one, the science of archeology did confirm that the first human race materialized itself in Africa, i.e. in Eastern Africa. And we read in various research materials that humans roamed world over from this part of their origin. Moreover, various authorities in social sciences assert the Oromo are the ancient race and indigenous stock in this part of the world. So is my wish to assume that the ancient peoples of Sachsen Anhalt in Germany and the peoples in other parts of Europe and Scandinavia brought with themselves the belief in their ancestral God and the celebration of ?gubaa? from their original birthplace.
For the other, I do want to use this as springboard to reason out with those fellow Oromo who doubt ?gubaa? is Oromo ritual. Of course it is Oromo ritual. It is the celebration of the arrival of the spring, the coming of ?booqaa birraa?, thanking ?Waaqaa? for helping us to overcome the hardship of the winter, and asking to bless the coming and blossoming life.
With this in mind, I would like to say briefly that the name ?gubaa masqalaa? could be the smart move of the Oromo to protect their ritual under the duress of the intrusion made by the Orthodox Christianity in those days. Otherwise I never experienced in my childhood that I spent in the countryside of Oromia any connection of Oromo ?gubaa? ceremony to Orthodox Church rituals. It always has been thanksgiving Oromo way.
I want my fellow Oromo to remember one thing though. It is not only ?gubaa? ceremony that the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia appropriated as its own and tried to baptize it by another name. This kind of action is not only limited to the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia. There are varieties of documentations around the world that confirm how the rituals of traditional beliefs have been seized by the Christian Churches in order to divorce the ancient people from their original thoughts and marry them to the new evangelism.