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The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama October 28, 2015

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The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama (Part 1)

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*

Part I

The first condition necessary in order to understand about “the” Dhugaa-Ganama (i.e. “the” Absolute Truth) is to refer to the Oromo concept of jireenya, that is, existence or the fact that things exist. (Note that the Afaan Oromo terms, le’ii and leetoo, are roughly equivalent tojireenya both in meaning and content). In the Oromo system of knowledge, theunderstanding and interpretation of the world, of oneself, and other people essentially take as their starting point the concept of jireenya — existence — with reference to jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. As such, the Oromo concept ofReality can best be subsumed under three broad concepts (a) Uumaa (Cosmology); (b)Waaqa (Undifferentiated-Being); and (c) Saffu (Human Ontology).

(A) The Concept of Uumaa — Cosmology

Uumaa is the totality of the created universe. The very term Uumaa, which derives from the verb uumuu, literally meaning “to create”, refers to all that is created — non-living things, living entities, and spiritual beings. Yet, the Oromo notion of Uumaa is not something static, but a continuous process. In order to understand, one needs first to grasp the way the concept of Waaqa has an inextricable link to the dynamic notion of Uumaa.

(B) The Concept of Waaqa — Undifferentiated-Being

The Oromo concept of Waaqa is crystal clear: The first Being was Waaqa. It must be noted that the very term Waaqa, with a capital W, should not be mistaken for waaqa, with a small w. As opposed to the former, which is under discussion, the latter simply means sky or heaven. Unlike Waaqa, waaqa is necessarily synonymous with samii, that is, heaven. (Bartles, 1990, pp. 89-111; Knutson, 1967, pp. 47-48; Geleta Koro, 2008, pp. 407, 449, 925) He continues to exist and is absolute, eternal, and infinite. Waaqa is the sustaining power of all that is. However, although Waaqa is often conceived of as the absolute unity, He is also many. (Bartles, 1990, p. 114) This is due to the notion of Ayyaanaa — the immaterial principle which determines the essence of all individual entities. In Oromo philosophical thought, everything emanates from Waaqa in the form of Ayyaanaa. Ayyaanaa can loosely be defined as an immaterial principle that underliesUumaa and determines the essence of all individual entities as well as their common properties. As G. Dahl argues, as immaterial principle,Ayyaanaa “is decisive for the character and fate of … [every]entity.” (Dahl, 1996, p. 167) Therefore, Bartle’s critical observation is correct in that “Mountains and trees, days, months and seasons, every man and his lineage –all have their own ayana. These ayana rule our lives; they make us what we are – ayana are conceived of as beings.” (Bartles, 1990, p. 113) Joseph van de Loo also affirms this depiction when he defines Ayyaanaa as the “invisible part of being, the spirit.” (Joseph van de, 1991, p. 141).

The main implication of these contentions is that everything that exists, whether as material entity or as abstract value, has its ownAyyaanaa. Accordingly, in the Oromo concept of Reality, it would be absurd to make a complete distinction between a thing and its character. Every existent being, whether actual or abstract, cannot be conceptualized without Ayyaanaa. Whatever exists has this property called Ayyaanaa. Ayyaanaa is inherent in every created individual entity. All created things are distinguished from each other by means ofAyyaanaa. From what Dahl points out it is thus justifiable that:

The traditional [sic] cosmology of the Oromo is built around a “quasi-platonic” division between the real world and the world of ideas or principles. Everything that exists in the material world as well as in the form of abstract values, has its correspondence in the form of an immaterial principle (ayaana) which is decisive for the character and fate of that entity. (Dahl, 1996, p. 167)

Yet, the philosophical question is: How can one explain the problem of one-many or the question of change-permanence, especially as this relates to the philosophical question of existence-freedom, if Ayyaanaa is conceived of as some-thing that determines the essence of every individual entity? To properly answer this question, we need to have a clear understanding of the Oromo concepts of Waaqa andSaffu, respectively.

Waaqa is the ultimate source of all that is. It is essential to note, as Bartles suggests, that the very term Waaqa would better be rendered as Divinity rather than what is meant by the English word ‘Supreme Being,’ ‘God,’ or ‘Creator.’ The main reason, he argues:

It comprises more, since it includes countless particular manifestations of Waqa in this world, particularizations of his creative work which are conceived as beings. Hence the word ‘divinity’ will often be a better translation than ‘God’. “Divinity … can be used to convey to the mind at once a being, a kind of nature or existence, and a quality of that kind of being; it can be made to appear more substantive or qualitative, more personal or general, in connotation, according to the context … (Bartles, 1990, p. 89)

In a similar vein, Knutsson himself points out the epistemological difficulty inherent in the Oromo concept of Waaqa. “It is inadvisable to translate waka by the word God, which in most western theological traditions connotes ideas of unity and independence.” (Knutsson, 1967, p. 49) Thus, he also suggests the use of the term Divinity instead of God.

Without demeaning Bartles and Knutsson’s respected contentions, however, I would like to offer a philosophical explanation of the reason why the term Undifferentiated-Being conveys a better translation than the term Divinity. First, what must be borne in mind is that the way the very term Waaqa itself is often qualified by the adjective guraacha, literally meaning “black”. In the Oromo view, the term “black” adds the notion of originality. It shows the unknown origin of Waaqa. As Dahl affirms, Waaqa “is black, gura’acha, an expression that essentially summarizes the notions of uninterferedness, originality and lack of distinction. ‘Everything flows out of this undifferentiated state in the form of ayaana.’” (Dhal, 1996, p. 169) Therefore, unlike other thinkers, I am forced to render the word Waaqa as Undifferentiated-Being instead of Divinity. (In the works of Knutsson, Bartles, and Dahl, there is a tendency to render the term Waaqa as Divinity. This is due to the influence of G. Lienhardt’s work, Divinity and Experience, on the Dinka religion and in which Lienhardt “met with similar difficulties in translation” for the word nihalic. For more detail, see Bartles, 1990, p. 89; Knutson, 1967, pp. 47-53; Dahl, 1996, p. 170)

Second, it would be absurd to separate the notion of Ayyaanaa from the concept of Undifferentiated-Being. This is mainly due to the Oromo’s concept of creation. As Dahl argues, the Oromo view of “cosmology, ecology and human ontology is one of the flow of life emanating from Divinity [i.e. Undifferentiated-Being].” (Dahl, 1996, p. 167) This contention has one important implication: The Dynamicaspect of Oromo’s view of creation. As I have stated above, the Oromo notion of creation is that it is not static, but a continuous process. “It would be wrong to regard creation as something which for Oromo was a matter of once and for all. With their conception of time, the act of creation (umaa) is still there: it continues as characteristic of the agent of creation.” (Dahl, 1996, p. 167)

Accordingly, the Undifferentiated-Being is not only the Uumaa’s ratio d’être, but also that ofAyyaanaa’s; despite the fact that the character and fate of everything is determined by the latter ― Ayyaanaa. Therefore, it would be wrong to mistake the reality conceived of the author is calling the Undifferentiated-Being for Ayyaanaa, although the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. It must be remembered that the latter is always conceived of as some-thing of the former. As Bartles points out, Ayyaanaa is Undifferentiated-Being, but it cannot be said that the reverse is true. He argues:

The crucial difference is that Waqa is invoked by everyone universally since he is concerned with all, while an ayana, linked as it is to a particular person, animal or plant, is only invoked and feared by those who linked to it either by nature or free choice. It is ‘something of Waqa’ in a person, an animal or plant making them the way they are: a particular manifestation of the divine, of Waqa as creator and as source of all life.We see the ayana as flowing out of Waqa in a way, filling the whole of creation, filling every creature whose ayana they are, making them the way they are, both inside and outside. But the ayana remain invisible to human eyes. What is visible in man is not his ayana. This visible aspect of man is rather formed and conditioned by his ayana: his ayana manifests itself in it. (Bartles, 1990, pp. 115, 118-19; Also see Sumner, 1995, p. 33)

In a similar vein, Knutson argues that “waka is the most comprehensive … It Includes ayana.” (Knutson, 1967, p. 48)

One important thing must be noted from the above contentions. Ayyaanaa, unlike Uumaa, is not necessarily subject to the idea oftemporality. Rather, it may also characterized by non-spatio-temporal reality by virtue of having the character of Undifferentiated-Being. Therefore, in contradistinction to Uumaa, Ayyaanaa exists before and after the thing it causes comes into being. Everything that exists is thus exclusively attributed to Ayyaanaa, whose act of creation has its ultimate source in Undifferentiated-Being. Hence, the Oromo conception of Reality implies a world-process or dynamic universe that has come to be by virtue of Ayyaanaa. In this manner, Ayyaanaaencompasses Uumaa, just as Uumaa embraces Ayyaanaa.

However, the incommensurability of the concepts of Uumaa versus Ayyaanaa poses the philosophical question of existence-freedom to human reason. As a result of this philosophical problem, the Oromo have adopted and developed the concept of Saffu — Human Ontology.

(C) The Concept of Saffu — Human Ontology

As Gemetchu M. argues the:

Oral tradition [sic] offered each generation words that became the vehicle of their hopes and aspirations. Each generation found its own meaning in the words in relation to its particular historical situation. This relationship between the terms of the tradition and the particular meaning of these terms in specific circumstances gives the Oromo tradition its historical character. As the result of this historical character of the tradition, early in Oromo tradition, there developed a tension between Uumaa (literally “creation”) and ayyaana as the will of Waaqa [or Undifferentiated-Being]. It is perhaps this contradiction that gave rise to the concept ofSaffu (mutual relationship between elements of the social and cosmic orders) which maintains practice obligatory through ethical conduct. (Gemetchu, 1996, p. 97)

Of this mutual relationship, Bartles has it that Saffu is “the mutual relationship (rights and duties) between individual creatures or groups of creatures according to their place in the cosmic and social order on the basis of ayana.” (Bartles, 1990, p. 373) It “is about mutual relation amongst things. Every creature should live in harmony, without inflicting harm on each other.” (Dirribi Demisse Bokku, 2011, p. 80) It must be remembered that the whole concept of Saffu derives from there being a need for such a philosophical explanation of human “existence.”

As I have stated at the beginning of this article, in the Oromo system of knowledge, the understanding and interpretation of the world, of oneself, and of the other people takes as its starting point a thought concerning jireenya — existence. This conceptual starting point constitutes the principal point of difference between my thinking and that of who have written on Oromo ideas and way of thinking individuals who tend to identify the concept of Saffu with moral philosophy alone rather than exploring its epistemological significance. To begin with, in the Oromo system of knowledge, the concept of Reality per se stems from a distinct view of jireenya. The main implication is that for the Oromo people, their concept of jireenya serves as a useful starting point for the understanding and interpretation of Uumaa, Waaqa, and Saffu. The philosophical thought Oromo have in this regard is a rich source of ideas that can provide an epistemological justification for the Oromo concept of Reality as a whole. The noun jireenya derives from the root jir — to be, to exist. (Knutsson, 1967, p. 59) Here, it is important to stress that the whole concept of jireenya implies everything that exists. In Oromo philosophy, the idea of jireenyais inclusive of everything there is within the cosmos.

However, one important distinction concerning this idea must be stated right away. The term jireenya refers to the existence of every individual entity. But when it is used for human “existence”, it has quite a different connotation. The English terms, human and man, are typically rendered as nama in the language of Afaan Oromo. In Oromo philosophy, however, there is no such thing as jireenya-nama, but rather we find jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama. The point is that whenever the concept of jireenya is used with reference to nama or the human being, it must be preceded by a noun jiruu — “activity” and a conjunction fi ― and. This name in terms of philosophical thought, has two main implications: First, in Oromo philosophical thought, it would be absurd to totally identify human “existence” with that of the existence of other entities. The very assertion, jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama, makes the concept crystal clear that human beings have a character that is in contradistinction to the existence of, for instance, saree — dog, muka — tree, dhakaa — stone, or minjaala — table. As such, there is nothing like jiruu-fi-jireenya-saree, so to compare human existence with that of a dog, for example, would be self-contradiction. On the contrary, phrases like jireenya-saree — the life/existence of dog or jireenya-muka — the life/existence of tree in accord with human reason, suggest some degrees of communality among all other entities in contradistinction to human “existence”.

Second, the difference between man’s “existence” and that of other entities stems from the element of human “activity” — jiruu. In Oromo philosophy, despite the fact that man exists the way other things do, his very existence, however, differs by virtue of his or her jiruu — “activity”. Human “existence” must be characterized by this very jiruu — “activity”. Essentially, the very conjunction fi ― which is necessarily used alongside the noun jiruu — “activity” suggests that human “existence”, unlike other things, is intrinsically linked with such “activity”.

Accordingly, in the indigenous Oromo system of knowledge, Saffu is used as the generic name for such various “activities” of individual wo/man. As we have stated above, the incompatibility that stems from the view of Uumaa versus Ayyaanaa has resulted in the construction of the concept of Saffu. Stated otherwise, the need for the construction of the concept of Saffu is due to paradoxes of bothmetaphysical and epistemological, that have resulted from existence of the concepts of Uumaa and Ayyaanaa. On the one hand, the Oromo view of Undifferentiated-Being is a representation of an ideal world or the universe of thought. This thought has its roots in thephilosophical question concerning the beginning of the universe. As a response to this fundamental question, Waaqa is often conceived of as the ultimate source of all that is; and consequently as the universe of thought. However, the Oromo do not take a precise categoricalphilosophical position on whether Waaqa produces the world out of nothing or out of His own substance. Thanks to the concept of Saffu, which I shall explicate further, the radical philosophical position just discussed has been overlooked due to there being an epistemological difficulty in coming to a human understanding of the true nature of Undifferentiated-Being.

(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.

Galatoomaa!

——

References

– Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.

– Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.

– Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.

– Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.

– Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia: An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.

– Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.

– Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.

– Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.

——

* Yoseph Mulugeta Baba received his B.A; M.A; and Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy from the CUEA. His research areas include Metaphilosophy, Oromo Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Post-colonial African Political Philosophy, Postmodernism, and Ethiopian historiography. Currently, he is completing his forthcoming book (CUEA PRESS) — on ‘The Ilaa-fi-Ilaamee Philosophical Method of Enquiry.’ He can be reached at kankokunmalimaali@gmail.com.

The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama (Part 2)

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*

Part II

(In my Previous article, I elucidated the way in which the Oromo system of knowledge essentially takes its starting point from the concept of jireenya — existence — with reference to jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being; for the understandingand interpretation of the world, of oneself, and of other people. In doing so, I clearly indicated how Oromo’s concept of Reality can best be subsumed under three broad concepts: (a)Uumaa (Cosmology); (b) Waaqa (Undifferentiated-Being); and (c) Saffu (Human Ontology). The present article is a continuation of previous one.)

The Oromo mode of thought “denies” any distinction between thought and things. As a consequence, Waaqa is conceived of as being both transcendent and immanent. This is due to the Oromo concept of Uumaa — creation. Uumaa is a world-of-process. This act of creation — Uumaa — signifies Waaqa’s presence as a natural part of the entire created natural world in the form of Ayyaanaa, which, in turn, is responsible for the emergence of new creatures — uumama — at different epochs of human history. Ayyaanaa is thus something of Waaqa. In other words, Waaqa is at the same time one and many. In Oromo philosophical thought, therefore, a distinction between the universe of thought and the universe of nature is untenable.

In the absence of such distinctions, however, how to define human nature remains problematic. Such a philosophical question sets the scene for the concept of Saffu. This concept has its origin in the description of human “existence” as being related to one or another kind of human “activity”. As I argued in my pervious article, unlike other things, human “existence” is intrinsically linked to jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. This “activity” can best be a result of having a knowledge of things in accordance with the place assigned to each of them by Waaqa. The Oromo notion of jireenya includes the idea that everything relates to nature outside of itself. As it would be absurd to have this notion about human reason, however, the concept of jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama was developed which enables one to interpret and balance the “paradox” posed by Uumaa versus Ayyaanaa.

Therefore, the concept of Saffu — human ontology — is not only about the Oromo’s moral philosophy, as some scholars have tended to argue. But, it is also an epistemological notion founded on the idea of the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. The jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama essentially relates to the physical world as well as human society. The concept of Saffu — human ontology — is thus nothing other than a proper understanding and interpretation of one’s state of “existence” as s/he radically relates to both aspects of nature — physical world and human society. It is a critical reflection upon a relationship that ought to exist between each human being and Uumaa as well as Ayyaanaa, on the one hand, and between an individual and human society, on the other. (Raayyaa Horoo, 2008, p. 13)

The above epistemological assertion has two philosophical foundations: (a) seera Waaqa — the laws of Undifferentiated-Being and (b)seera Nama — the laws of human being. The former is not a complete form of knowledge. As I have already argued, the origin ofUndifferentiated-Being is wholly “unknown” to the human mind. Yet, coming to some sort of such knowledge is not impossible. This is due to the Oromo’s notion of Ayyaanaa. Ayyaanaa can be “thought of as fractions of Divinity [Undifferentiated-Being]: fractions which arise from the continuous Creation [Uumaa] by which God expresses himself and imposes structure on the world.” (Gudrun Dahl, 1996, p. 170) Hence, knowledge gained concerning the laws of “nature,” for instance, is attributed to Ayyaanaa. These laws are conceived of as fixedand eternal. They are thus immutable.

Seera Nama — the laws of human being —, on the other hand, are subject to change in the context of jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama —human “existence”. Although the seera Waaqa — the laws of Undifferentiated-Being — underlie every jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — at different epochs of human history, yet; the understanding and interpretation of the seera Nama — the laws of human being — may differ considerably between individuals. In the Oromo concept of Reality, however, this difference need not be seen as a “contradiction”; unless such an interpretation goes against the concept of Saffu — human ontology. That is to say, the denial of Saffu is the failure of the individual to keep a balance between seera WaaqaAyyaanaa — and seera NamaUumaa. This “activity,” as indicated already, is generally called thejiruu-fi-jireenya-nama. The clear assumption is that, although one has a considerable difficulty (in) overcoming this “contradiction,” there is always room for the interpretation and understanding of the case in question to keep a balance between all things: Saffu, which finally leads, to pluralistic interpretations of the universe, despite the fact that there is just one universe.

Accordingly, the Oromo have adopted and developed a philosophic method of enquiry to identify and determine the tenable form of interpretation whenever various competing interpretations arise. This mode of investigation is called an ilaa-fi-ilaamee — philosophic-mode-of-thought. With such foundations in mind, let us, in the following subsection explore the justification of this form of enquiry. In order to do so, I would single out Gumii Gaayo as justification of the case in point.

(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.

Galatoomaa!

——

References

– Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.

– Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.

– Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.

– Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.

– Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia: An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.

– Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.

– Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.

– Raayyaa Horoo, Waaqeffannaa. Finfinnee, 2008.

– Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.

——

The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama (Part 3)

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*

 

Part III

In one of my previous articles (Part II), I tried to demonstrate how the Oromo concept of jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being — has led to the conception ofSaffu, which enables one to interpret and balance the “paradox” posed by Uumaa versusAyyaanaa. It has been clearly indicated that the concept of Saffu — human ontology — is nothing other than a proper understanding and interpretation of one’s state of “existence” as s/he radically relates to both aspects of nature — physical world and human society. Suchunderstanding and interpretation of Reality (i.e. Uuma, Waaqa, Ayyaanaa) eventually leads to pluralistic interpretations of the universe. Consequently, the Oromo have adopted and developed a philosophic method of enquiry to identify and determine the tenable form of interpretation whenever various competing interpretations arise. This mode of investigation is called an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought. In the present article, I try to show and how this is the case. In order to do so, I would single out Gumii Gaayo as justification of the case in point.

To begin with, Gumii Gaayo — is the possible justification for an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought. It is one of the main and most critical institutions of the Gadaa System. Thus, I need to give clear and concise points on the latter first.

What is the Gadaa System?

“The Gada System is a system of gada classes (luba) or segments of genealogical generations that succeed each other every eight years in assuming political, military, judicial, legislative and ritual responsibilities.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 31; Asmarom, 1973, p. 81) It is the Oromo people’s central philosophical thought about the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being — which has “endured for at least four centuries of recorded history.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 30) Specifically, the Gadaa System is a political philosophy that necessarily characterizes individual men’s rights and responsibilities as each of them relates to all facets of human life from birth to death. (Yoseph, 2011, pp. 84-98)

First, in Oromo society, structural institutions are abstractly constructed in such a way that they in effect govern the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama. They essentially explain how everything that exists in the universe has to be assumed, understood, and interpreted in accordance with whatever changes that take place in the lives of individuals. This makes the Gadaa System extremely complex. This is the main reason why the very term Gadaa can neither be precisely defined (Mohammed, 1994, p. 9) nor given a univocal interpretation. (Asmarom, 1973, p. 81) In light of this difficulty, however, the best way to understand the Gadaa philosophical system is to know how the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama relates to the Oromo’s concept of time.

In Oromo philosophy, the concept of time and human “existence” are viewed as two sides of one coin. Time and human society are thus divided into grades and generational-“sets”, respectively. “The set or class is the group of people who share the same status and who perform their rites of passage together, whereas the grades are the stages of development through which the groups pass.” (Asmarom, 1973, p. 51) The full cycle of the Gadaa System has ten grades (Mohammed, 1994, p. 11): Daballe grade [0 – 8 years of age]; Folle orGame Titiqaa grade [9 – 16 years of age]; Qondalla or Game Gurgudaa grade [17 – 24 years of age]; Kuusa or Raba grade [25 – 32 years of age]; Raaba Doorii or Doorii grade [33 – 40 years of age]; Gadaa grade [41 – 48 years of age]; Yuba I grade [49 – 56 years of age];Yuba II grade [57 – 64 years of age]; Yuba III grade [65 – 72 years of age]; and Gadamojii grade [73 – 80 years of age]. (Gadaa Melbaa, 1985, p. 20)

Gadaa grade starts from the first eight years (0-8), counting every eight years till it reaches eleven which falls between 80-88, that is the person becomes an elderly. One Oromo stays in one Gadaa grade for eight years out of the total of his ages. In the course of his/her life time, one Oromo could not be out of these eleven grades. In each of the Gadaa grades, Oromo have their own clearly defined roles and responsibilities to be fulfilled, and there is a system or a ceremony when one passes from oneGadaa grade to the next. (Dirribi, 2011, p. 213)

The full cycle of Gadaa System is divided into two periods of forty years each. (Mohammed, 1994, p. 11) Each span of forty years is calledgogessa or mesensa — meaning “generation”. Thus, a “generation” lasts for forty years. Each “generation” consists of five parties. “A ‘generation’ is forty years long and there are five segments or gada classes within it.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 31) The five parties are theGadaa of the father (Melbaa, Muudanaa, Kilollee, Biifolee, Michille) and the gadaa of the son (Harmuufaa, Roobalee, Birmaji, Mullataa, Duulo). “The basic rule of the gada system is that the newly born infant boy always enters the system of grades exactly forty years behind the father, regardless of the age of the father. Father and son are five grades apart at all times.” (Asmarom, 1973, p. 50)

At the end, the relationship between TIME and HUMAN SOCIETY can well be subsumed under Asmarom’s words:

Here we find a society that is stratified into two distinct but cross-cutting systems of peer-group structures. One is a system in which the members of each class are recruited strictly on the basis of chronological age. The other is a system in which the members are recruited equally strictly on the basis of genealogical generation. The first has nothing to do with genealogical ties. The second has little to do with the age. Both types of social groups are formed every eight years. Both sets of groups pass from one stage of development to the next every eight years. (Asmarom, 1973, pp. 50-51)

Keeping a concise summary of the Gadaa System in mind, let us now examine Gumii Gaayo — in order to see what justification there is for an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought.

The Gumii Gaayo

Of all the ten grades, the most important, in the Gadaa cycle, is the sixth stage, i.e. 41 to 48 years. It is the kernel stage of the GadaaSystem. This stage is seen as a major landmark in the Oromo philosophical thought. This eight year period begins and ends with a formal power transfer ceremony known as baallii or jarra. (Asmarom, 2000/2006, 217) Baallii is the event that ends the Gadaa of the previous eight years and starts the new one. (Mohammed, 1994, p. 15) “Ritual leader and time reckoning agent (Ayyaantuu) decides when and where to transfer the ‘baallii,’ and creates favorable atmosphere to effect the transfer.” (Dirribi, 2011, 243)

After this formal power transfer ceremony, there is a discourse and a long debate on the substance of the new law. This discourse is the most inclusive event in the Oromo political life (Asmarom, 1973, p. 93); and consequently, the event is known as Gumii Gaayo. “Gumi means ‘the multitude’ because it is a very large assembly made up of many councilors (hayuu) and assemblies (ya’a) drawn from different sections of the Gada institution.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 97) Thus, the phrase “Gumii Gaayo” literally means “the national assembly.” Asmarom points out that the National Assembly or Gumii is “made up of all the Gada assemblies of the Oromo, who meet, once every eight years, to review the laws, to proclaim new laws, to evaluate the men in power, and to resolve major conflicts that could not be resolved at lower levels of their judicial organization.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 100) It is “the supreme juridical and formal legislative body” (Bassi, 1996, 155) or “the ultimate high court of” (Helland, 1996, p. 141) Oromo society. As Marco Bassi cautions, however, “it would be misleading to think of it in terms of a central and permanent legislative body on the model of a modern parliament. The Gumii Gaayoo only meets periodically, once every gada period (8 years), and the laws actually proclaimed during each general assembly are really very few.” (Bassi, 1996, p. 155) “The purpose of the meeting is not to promulgate new laws but by reviewing the existing ones to reinforce aadaa [custom], and occasionally to do away with some custom that is felt (usually due to external pressure) has become outdated.” (Leus, 2006, p. 237)

Here, my main concern is not to discuss either the political or the ritual aspect of Gumii Gaayo. Such a thorough discussion has already been carried out by many scholars of the social sciences – who should get all THE CREDIT in this regard. Rather, my central issue of investigation is to analyze and disclose the philosophical mode of thought being imbedded during the long debate and discourse during the major event of Gumii Gaayo as the justification of an ilaaf-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought. To begin with, this philosophical mode of thought has its origin in the Oromo philosophical distinction between seera — laws and aadaa — “custom”. Of the former one, Asmarom has pointed out:

One of the most interesting aspects of Oromo tradition is that laws are treated as a product of human deliberation not a gift of God or of heroic ancestors.

… the people view the laws as being their own, not something imposed upon them by a divine force, by venerated patriarchal lawgivers, by superior class of learned men, or by “Tradition” in the generic sense. (Asmarom, 2000/2006, pp. 208-209)

In the national assembly, for instance, the Gumii deliberately alter or reaffirm both old and new laws. The Oromo thought about laws is, hence, that they are not immutable. Unlike “customs,” the existing laws can be matter of faculty abrogated to make new laws. “In Oromo culture, laws are known as ‘sera’ customs as ‘ada’ and it is the laws that are subjected to deliberate change.” (Asmarom, 2000/2008, p. 108)

In contradistinction to laws, however, the concept of “customs” is virtually immutable. This is due to epistemological issues. In Oromo philosophical thought, “customs” are considered immutable NOT because they are reasonably justified, but rather because they are BEYOND human knowledge as Reality, with a capital R, cannot be directly observed in jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. As a consequence, accepting the notion of there being a natural law is a necessary base in the Oromo concept of “customs,” for the simple reason that the latter cannot, unlike laws, be subjected to any deliberate change or interpretation. This notion is known as Dhugaa-Ganama, — “the” Primordial-Truth — which is to say “the” Absolute Truth. Any breach of the Primordial-Truth is considered a violation of the act of creation — Uumaa. To say the least, this is to go against the concept of Saffu.

As I have argued above, the whole concept of Saffu — human ontology — is one’s effort to keep a balance between Ayyaanaa andUumaa. Hence, in the Oromo concept of Reality, fatal flaws that exist in jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being — are attributed to man’s failure to balance between “the” Primordial-Truth and the laws – rather than resulting from Waaqa’s very act of creation. “The Oromo believe that things go wrong because individuals or their parents might have gone out of the normal track (Safuu) and they advise the person who happens to be in a wrong direction to correct his mistakes and come back to the right track.” (Dirribi, 2011, p. 29) Therefore, what would deliberately be subjected to change is not the Primordial-Truth, which is absolute and eternal per se, but the laws. Yet, the latter ought to be founded on the former for its interpretation. The point is: the Primordial-Truth must be the ultimate ground of one’s interpretations of laws. “The concept Safuu embodies broader idea. Safuu is, in fact, about laws. However, not all laws are safuu. Man-made laws are temporary, they are made to address certain problems and they change over time. Saffu is not subject to change. Safuu is more of about the laws of nature.” (Dirribi, 2011, 75)

Despite this foundation, however, there are still various forms of interpretations. Eventually, this would lead to competing forms ofinterpretation. Hence, since Reality CANNOT be observed directly by an individual, in his/her jiruu-fi-jireenya, NONE of his/her interpretation is taken to be absolute and objective. This directly poses the epistemological problem of determining or identifying the correct or the tenable answer to the case in question. Moreover, the viable solution to the case in question might be obscured by the dominance of worn-out interpretations. At the end, this would blind the observer to an alternative solution to the case in question.

Accordingly, the Oromo have adopted a philosophical approach known as an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought to overcome such an epistemological problem. In many cases, this philosophical mode of thought has been widely manifested in the preliminary and main sessions of Gumii Gaayo. Initially, Gumii Gaayo was intended to provoke an intellectual discourse. “A remarkable aspect of the institution is that managing the assembly requires knowledge of laws, rituals, gada history, chronology and time-reckoning.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 211) The most important aspect of this intellectual discourse, however, is not the debates themselves which ensue. Rather, it is sober reflection in various discourses that is generated as a means of finding common ground for the meeting of minds.

Gumii is not a debater’s arena but a place for sober reflection. The basic guideline for the deliberations is simply this: Do not look for the worst in what others have said in order to undermine their position and win an argument; look for the best they have to offer, so as to find the common ground…There are many practical strategies that have been developed to help people approach that ideal. (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 213)

The main justifiable reason why the Oromo have adopted such an approach is due to their conception of Reality: Uumaa, Waaqa, andSaffu. The very term fi‘and’ — clearly indicates how human “existence” is essentially characterized by both ilaa — “objective” knowledge of an entity and ilaamee — one’s understanding and interpretation of that “entity”. It must be noted that both ilaa and ilaamee are technical terms that have been deeply embedded with philosophic concepts. Ilaa refers to peoples’ views of the “world” as presented and beingunderstood or interpreted in the systematic knowledge of the community. It is their “objective” view of the “world” or an entity in question, although not absolute per se. In Oromo philosophical thought, there is no possibility of having absolute knowledge, except in the case ofWaaqa. Yet, some basic ultimate principles, which universally govern the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama, are comprehensible to human reason by means of Ayyaanaa. Such knowledge is a priori to and independent of ilaamee.

Ilaamee, on the other hand, refers to one’s understanding and interpretation of these ultimate principles in the space-time world — Uumaa. Put simply, it is a critical explanation of one’s understanding of Uumaa in accordance with the ultimate universal principles — expressed inAyyaanaa. The main implication is that what an individual understands and interprets (i.e. ilaamee) must be essentially conjoined (i.e. —fi—) with “the” Absolute Reality” (i.e. ilaa) of the universe that ultimately rests upon Waaqa, or the Primordial-Truth, or Universal Reality, etc.

Hence, this approach has necessitated an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought on the grounds that NO interpretation can be absolute. In the Oromo philosophy, since the concept of the Primordial-Truth equally serves as the starting point (i.e. ilaa) for an individual’sinterpretation (i.e. ilaamee) of the universe, NO interpretation (I repeat! NO interpretation) is complete in itself. Hence, the tenable form of an interpretation to the case in question must be identified and determined carefully. In so doing, one should adhere to an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought to properly make such an identification as well as any determination. Let me explicate and show how this is the case!

(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.

Galatoomaa!

——

References

Asmarom L. Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. New York: The Free Press, 1973.

___________. Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System. Philadelphia, PA, RSP, 2000/2006.

Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.

Bassi, M. “Power’s Ambiguity or The Political Significance of Gada.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 150-161.

Dahl, G. “Sources of Life and Identity.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 162-177.

Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.

Gadaa M. Oromiya. Addis Ababa, 1985.

Gemetchu, M. “Oromumma: Tradition, Consciousness and Identity.” eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 92-102.

Helland, J. “The Political Viability of Boorana Pastoralism.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires eds. P. T. W. Baxter, Jan Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 132-149.

Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.

Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.

Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia: An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.

Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.

Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.

Raayyaa Horoo, Waaqeffannaa. Finfinnee, 2008.

Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.

Yoseph Mulugeta, “The Role of Negritude in Restoring an Indigenous Gada Oromo Political Philosophy for ‘Good Governance’ in Ethiopia.” M. A. Thesis. The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, 2011.

——

* Yoseph Mulugeta Baba received his B.A; M.A; and Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy from the CUEA. His research areas include Metaphilosophy, Oromo Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Post-colonial African Political Philosophy, Postmodernism, and Ethiopian historiography. Currently, he is completing his forthcoming book (CUEA PRESS) — on ‘The Ilaa-fi-Ilaamee Philosophical Method of Enquiry.’ He can be reached at kankokunmalimaali@gmail.com.

 

 

 

The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*
Part IV
In an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-philosophic-mode-of-thought, what identifies and determines the possibility or the tenability of an answer to the case in question is not a form of an interpretation that an individual employs, but the case in question itself. InGumii Gaayo, the tenability of the solution has nothing to do with the form of an interpretation that one offers. It is, rather, determined by what the problem at issue is. When Gumii meet every eight years and a long debate is held between hayyu — councilors and ya’a — assemblies, what becomes apparent first is not the proclamation of or the interpretation of the new laws. Nor, is it the resolving of whatever major conflicts could not be resolved at lower levels of their judicial organization. It is rather, the reality of various forms of questions that essentially arise from a life-crises in the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama, crises which every individual and the community have experienced with in different Gadaa classes.
The Gumii sees and discusses what the Gadaa has done for the country during the last eight years. The Gumii shows the right direction to the Gadaa, and whenever they are on wrong ways, it suggests ways of filling the gaps observed in the duties of the Gadaa. The Gumii deposes the Gadaa who misuses the power of the people; and Oromo is governed or administered by the laws formulated by human beings (the rule of law) in contrast to the divine or religious rules; and there is no more witness than the function of Gumii for this. ( Dirribi, 2011, p. 258)
As such, each interpretation and its understanding must be radically based on the reality of the class then in leadership which will last for eight years. Hence, the period of eight years provides horizonsthrough which individuals must echo the life-crisis that they have gone through and experienced.
In this manner, whenever competing interpretations arise, one can clearly identify as well as determine the tenable mode of interpretation to the problem at hand. It would thus be absurd to try to offer a tenable answer without a proper knowledge of what the case at issue is. Therefore, the philosophical thought that characterizes Gumii Gaayo can be subsumed under three claims:
  1. A tenable solution to any problem is determined by the case in question that comes to be identified during every Gadaa class of eight years.
  2. The mode of interpretation used for the problem at issue is a determinant of the tenability of a solution to a life-crisis in the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama— ontological characteristic of human being.
  3. Ergo, it is not impossible for the latter claim to be unconditionally determined by the former claim, but not viceversa.
As I have argued above, Gumii is not the debater’s arena but a place for sober reflection. The main reason is that once the case in question is identified, there should be little room for the radical mode of thought. A radical mode of thought is a peculiar fallacy that inherently involves defending or refuting any form of a thesis on the grounds that it was the answer when one’s own method of enquiry was used. However, ‘x’ or ‘y’ does so without admitting that, wittingly or unwittingly, a correct thesis can only be arrived at by the case in question rather than a method of enquiry of one’s choosing. 
Therefore, the assumption that the case in question essentially determines any form of interpretation and its tenability is the crux of an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-philosophic-mode-thought. Consequently, the mode of reasoning and an individual’s very intention is neither to justify his/her interpretation nor to dismiss that of the others. Rather, it is to give a proper and tenable form of interpretation in accordance with the case in question. As such, an individual should arrive at two judgments: (a) a decision to successfully dismiss any radical mode of though; and (b) a decision to impartially identify a tenable solution to the problem at hand. In this manner, one can dismiss some pseudo-epistemological assumptions inherent not only in one’s interpretation, but also in that of others. Asmarom is thus quite right when he explicitly affirms the basic principles that underlie Gumii: “Do not look for the worst in what others have said in order to undermine their position and to win an argument; look for the best they have to offer, so as to find the common ground for the meeting of minds.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 213)
Hence, in an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-philosophic-mode-of-thought, the central issue is not to take a stand, but to properly understand the case in question. It is not to win an argument. Nor is it an art of getting one’s own way. Neither is it an arguing for a desired outcome so that others get out of one’s way without being challenged intellectually. Neither is it a way to place Others under one’s mental bondage by forcing them to accept one’s understanding of Reality. Nor is it seen as a positive value to hold onto a rigid approach to the last dying effort. In contradistinction, an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-mode-of-thought involves becoming aware of alternative solutions based on whatever the case at issue is. For in reality there is nosuch thing as a solution without a consideration of the case in question, just as there is not any form of question without pondering a given life crisis in jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama.
Here the question arises whether Heidegger was always original in his way of conceiving Dasein i.e.jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama. According to Heidegger, the Dasein is a distinctive being (Sein) compared with all other beings (Seiendes); i.e. it is a being (Seiendes) whose Being (Sein) not only has the determinative character of existence, but also is endowed with the privilege of understanding Being. (Heidegger, 1978, p. 32) To do indigenous thinkers/philosophers justice, we need to take a closer look at the fundamental distinction which characterizes the thought of Oromo philosophy’s of jireenya—existence. This is the distinction between jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama and jireenya. As I argued in my previous articles, in Oromo philosophical thought, it would be meaningless or absurd to identify human “existence” with that of the existence of other entities. Man’s very “existence” differs by virtue of his/her “activity”. In contradistinction to all other entities—jireenya—the very jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama is endowed with understanding and interpreting his/her “activity”. It is capable of understanding Reality (UumaaWaaqa,Saffu) as this manifested in the systematic knowledge of the “world”—Ilaa.
In a similar vein, it is capable of interpretingIlaamee—one’s understanding in the space-time world—Uumaa. The jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama manifests itself in its temporality and everydayness has to be interpreted—IlaameeIlaamee is always a process of understanding and then interpreting the Ilaa. This is crystal clear in Gumii Gaayo where the period of eight years (Gadaa) provides horizons through which individual echoes the life-crises s/he has gone through and experienced. Therefore, Heidegger’s conceptions of Dasein and hermeneutic phenomenology can hardly be original, in a thorough sense.
(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.

Galatoomaa!

References

  • Asmarom L. Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. New York: The Free Press, 1973.
  • ___________. Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System. Philadelphia, PA, RSP, 2000/2006.
  • Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and   Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.
  • Bassi, M. “Power’s Ambiguity or The Political Significance of Gada.” In Being and Becoming   Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 150-161.
  • Dahl, G. “Sources of Life and Identity.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 162-177.
  • Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.
  • Gada M. Oromiya. Addis Ababa, 1985.
  • Gemetchu, M. “Oromumma: Tradition, Consciousness and Identity.” eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 92-102.
  • Heidegger, M. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978.
  • Helland, J. “The Political Viability of Boorana Pastoralism.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires eds. P. T. W. Baxter, Jan Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 132-149.
  • Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.
  • Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.
  • Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia:  An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.
  • Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.
  • Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.
  • Raayyaa Horoo, Waaqeffannaa. Finfinnee, 2008.
  • Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.
  • Yoseph Mulugeta, “The Role of Negritude in Restoring an Indigenous Gada Oromo Political Philosophy for ‘Good Governance’ in Ethiopia.” M. A. Thesis. The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, 2011.

yoseph_mulugeta_baba*Yoseph Mulugeta Baba received his B.A; M.A; and Ph.D degrees in Philosophy from the CUEA. His research areas include Metaphilosophy, Oromo Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Post-colonial African Political Philosophy, Postmodernism, and Ethiopian historiography. Currently, he is completing his forthcoming book (CUEA PRESS)—on The Ilaa-fi-Ilaamee Philosophical Method of Enquiry. He can be reached at kankokunmalimaali@gmail.com.

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