Oromo Community Profile

  1. Background

The Oromo people are the custodian of the Oromo Gadaa system of governance, indigenous people and largest ethnic group in the Horn of Africa. They are estimated to represent more than 50 % of the people in Ethiopia. They are estimated to be greater than 50 million people by now.

The Oromo are an ethnic group that has remained independent until the 19th century. However, they were colonized by a black African nation – Abyssinia – with the help of the European colonial powers of the day. After colonization, the emperors of Abyssinia and their successors continued to treat Oromo with utmost cruelty. Many were killed by the colonial army and settlers, others died of famine and epidemics of various diseases or were sold off as slaves.

In all spheres of life, discrimination, subjugation, repression and exploitation of all forms were applied to Oromo population. Everything possible was done to destroy Oromo identity – culture, language, custom, tradition, name and origin. They have since been subject to suppression, looting of their resources, and a division of their people by region and religion.

Until 1991 the Oromo people did not have equal rights to the Amhara and nor did several other ethnic groups. They were not permitted to display any manifestations of their culture or language, and were not allowed to enter politics or attend schools in their mother tongue. But, the 1991 changes were not successful as it led to the replacement of the Amhara regime by a Tigrayan power. Oromo people continue to report injustices against them by the current government, and continue to fight for independence.

  1. Oromo community in Victoria

The Australian Oromo community is the largest in Victoria. The Oromo community is one of the emerging communities and its members in Australia are estimated to be greater than 10,000 people. Approximately 5,000 Australian Oromo population are living in Victoria. Most Australian Oromos live in the capital, Melbourne, Flemington and Dandenong.

There are a number of smaller Oromo community members in south eastern region. There are also a number of Oromo communities in State cities, including Adelaide, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, and Darwin with an active social and cultural life.

  1. Reasons of Immigration

Beginning with the conquest of Oromia in the late 1800s by Africans supported by European colonists, the Oromo have been subjected too much persecution from ruling governments. From imperial rulers, to Communist dictatorship, to the current ethnic Tigrayan governments, human rights violations have been used frequently to suppress dissent. Continuous civil war with liberation movements has contributed to an unstable and dangerous political environment. This worsened already widespread starvation during a series of severe famines between 1984 and 1990.

The majority of Australia’s Oromo community fled East Africa following the military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam’s ‘red terror’ campaign in 1978, and after the 1991 change of government. The dominance of other ethnic groups, particularly Amhara and Tigray, in the new government continues to be a point of strife for the Oromo. In 1991, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) reignited a guerilla war to seek Oromia’s liberation. The current Tigrayan government perceives the Oromo as a threat by virtue of their demographic dominance. Along with suspicion of OLF activity, this has led to repression, abuse, and torture of Oromo citizens.

Oromo people have settled peacefully in Australia since the beginning of 1980s from where the Australian Oromo community has been emerged. Hence, Australian Oromo people prefer to be referred to as Australia-Oromo, rather than Australia-Ethiopian. Speaking the Oromo language, “Afaan Oromoo” has served to retain a powerful sense of identity among the Oromo and defy the long standing ban, upheld for almost half a century particularly against the Oromo people and language.

  1. Oromo Community Foundation

After leaving their country, most Oromo spent some time in refugee camps as a community in Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen or Somalia. Oromo refugee arrival in Australia began in the early 1980s and peaked in 2006-9, with the largest numbers of people settling in Australia in 2008. The total population of Oromo community in Victoria numbers about 5000 and is growing, mainly with new babies but also with a few family members still emigrating from refugee camps in Kenya.

Advocacy for Oromia is among the Oromo community organisations established by members of the community to help each other in building new lives in Victoria Australia. Our main focus is education, social services, cultural maintenance and leadership training so that Oromos can support themselves independently without needing public assistance. The association is especially interested in promoting cultural awareness, integration and maintenance as a way of improving the social, health and welfare of the community for better future.

  1. Cultural Expectations

Traditional Oromo society was based on Gadaa, a democratic system of societal law, a system that has declined with their loss of freedom. Members of a Gadaa gained seniority as they aged, taking new responsibilities every eight years. Elders, considered to be wiser, were responsible for teaching, resolving conflicts, and nurturing Oromo culture. Seniority is thus an important factor in Oromo relationships.

  1. Religious Life

Islam, Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Adventist or Orthodox), or the traditional Oromo monotheistic belief (Waaqeffannaa) in Waaqaa, or God. Traditional Oromo religious belief centres around one God, Waaqaa, who is responsible for everything that happens to human beings. As Oromos adopted Islam or Christianity, they maintained the concept of Waaqaa and incorporated their beliefs into the new religions.

The majority of Oromos in Victoria practice Islam.  Another large percentage of Oromos are Christian. Christians are primarily Catholic or Adventist rather than Orthodox, as the Orthodox Church is associated with the dominant Amhara cultural group. Within the Oromo nation, Waaqeffannaa followers, Muslims and Christians have mingled peacefully, as they do in the community here. Those Oromos whose traditions still mirror the traditions of Waaqeffannaa are less organised, less visible and therefore less understood.

  1. Major Holidays

Holidays generally follow either the traditional Oromo style, Christian or Muslim holiday schedule. Traditional Oromo religion celebrates a thanksgiving festival in fall, Irreechaa. New Year’s Day (January 1) is also an important family holiday, and there are also several holidays like the Oromian Civil Resistance Day, and the Oromo Martyrs Day in remembrance of people who have died.

  1. Oromo Media
  2. Oromo radio program at 3zzz

The Oromo radio program at 3zzz was established in August 1995. The Oromo program broadcasts on 92.3 FM every Sunday from 1:00 – 2:00 PM. It broadcasts a diverse range of news from around the globe, youth program, health program, opinions and analysis of current affairs, interviews, sports, special events (festivals) and provides entertainment to our listeners that would otherwise not be available to them.  The program provides enormous benefits to the Oromo community in Australia and beyond.

  1. Oromo Voice radio program

Oromo Voice Radio was established in 2013 by Madda Walaabuu Media Foundation to broadcast a 30 minute long Short Wave Radio program. It broadcasts three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 7:00 PM local time in Oromia in the 16 meter band or at 17850 kHz to the Horn of Africa. The broadcast service will be provided in two languages: Afaan Oromo (Oromo language) and English.

The Oromo Voice media website (www.oromovoice.org) operates and functions as the twin media outlet of this new critical and ambitious outreach to the Oromo nation and its neighbors. The Oromo Voice website, in addition to posting all the contents of the Oromo Voice Radio broadcast, will post other relevant educational materials -in that sense, the website will have more expanded educational services.

OVR and Oromo Voice website are owned and operated by the Madda Walaabuu Media Foundation (MWMF), which was established and registered in 2013 in Washington, DC, USA and registered in 2014 in Victoria, Australia by a collection of concerned community leaders, human rights activists, feminists, attorneys, journalists and intellectuals.

  1. Gaps and Challenges

Education has been limited for Oromos due to marginalization in Ethiopia and as resources is limited in refugee camps. Many children arrive in Australia far behind their Australian classmates, and they may also need to work to support their families. This can create great stress and loss of confidence for the children. For this reason, and possibly due to the frightening results of speaking out in Ethiopia, children may not ask for help when they need it. Parents often don’t understand the Australian educational system, and in addition, the demands of multiple jobs may make parents unable to be involved in their child’s schooling.

Lack of English language affects most community members and prevents important information getting to the community, especially during the first stages of settlement. That is where the community radio fills the gap. Children were taught respect for elders, and disciplined by a combination of familial pressure and occasional spanking. In Australia, the fear of child protection services can lead to a fear of correcting their child’s behaviors. In addition, children may learn an independence from family in Australia that is unfamiliar and stressful to parents, making discipline more difficult.

In Oromo culture women and men are caught in a vicious circle of erroneous expectations and a mute consensus about certain issues. Sex and sexuality are taboo subjects in Oromo culture including female genital mutilation (FGM).  A woman who discusses sexuality openly could be labeled as ‘immoral’. Though domestic violence and discrimination of women are endemic in the community, cases of women and girls who have experienced gender based violence are under-reported due to ‘cultural acceptance, shame, fear or victim’s ignorance of legal protections.

Most of the community comes from rural and marginalised areas and may have had little formal education, but many urban Oromos are well-educated and worked in nursing, teaching, or other professional fields before coming here. Most members of Oromo community are working in a variety of capacities in Victoria, but unemployment and underemployment are problems for many heads of households. Many familiar practices will be changing in the new Australian cultural milieu, but Oromos hope to celebrate and strengthen their own culture as they build a community here.

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