Ethiopia literlaly has Millions on Millions of people who claim a traditional belief system and reject Christianity and Islam right now today. They all claim that their belief systems outdate the abrahamic ones. And all will tell you how Ethiopian Christianity which largely comes from the Amhara people who do not originate from Ethiopia or even Africa have OPPRESSED their traditional beliefs and values. YES. Even in Ethiopia Chrisitianity is OPPRESSIVE and intolerant
Before the introduction of Christianity and Islam, the Oromo people practised their own religion. They believed in one Waaqayoo which approximates to the English word God. They never worshipped false gods or carved statues as substitutes. M. de Almeida (1628-46) had the following to say: 'the Gallas (Oromo) are neither Christians, moors nor heathens, for they have no idols to worship." The Oromo Waaqa is one and the same for all. He is the creator of everything, source of all life, omnipresent, infinite, incomprehensible, he can do and undo anything, he is pure, intolerant of injustice, crime, sin and all falsehood. Waaqayoo is often called Waaqa for short.
There are many saint-like divinities called ayyaana, each seen as manifestation of the one Waaqa or of the same divine reality. An effective relationship is often maintained between ayyaana and Oromo by Qaallu (male) and/or Qaalitti (female). A Qaallu is like a Bishop in the Christian world and an lmam in the Muslim world. He is a religious and ritual expert who has a special relationship with one of the ayyaana, which possesses him at regular intervals.
Although the office of Qaallu is hereditary, in principle it is open to anyone who can provide sufficient proof of the special direct personal contact with an ayyaana. In the Oromo society a Qaallu is regarded as the most senior person in his lineage and clan and the most respected in the society. He is considered pure and clean. He must respect traditional taboos (safuu) and ritual observances in all situations and in all his dealings and must follow the truth and avoid sin.
The Qaallu institution is one of the most important in the Oromo culture and society and is believed to have existed since mythical times. It is a very important preserver and protector of Oromo culture, more or less in the same way the Abyssinian Orthodox Church is the preserver of Abyssinian culture.
The Qaallu institution has political importance, even though the Qaallu himself does not possess political power as such and religion is distinctly separated from politics. The Qaallu village is the spiritual centre, where political debates are organized for the candidates for the Gadaa offices. Thus he plays both a spiritual and political role in the Gadaa system. For instance, during the fifth year of the Gadaa period, the Gadaa class in power honours the Qaallu by taking gifts and making their pledges of reverence. This is the Muuda or anointment ceremony. As the head of the council of electors, the Qaallu organizes and oversees the election of Gadaa leaders.
The Qaallu institution was once a repository of important ceremonial articles (collective symbols) in the Buttaa (Gadaa) ceremony, such as the bokku (sceptre), the national flag, etc. The national flag is made in the colours of the Qaallu turban (surri ruufa). The national flag had three colours - black at the top, red in the centre and white at the bottom. In the Gadaa, the three colours, black, red and white, represented those yet to enter active life, those in active life (Luba) and those who had passed through active five, respectively. The use of these symbols is prohibited by the colonial government.
The Oromo Qaallu must not be confused with the Amhara Qaallicha, who has a very different, much lower, social status. He is a vagabond who resorts to conjuring and black magic for his own benefit, (Knutsson, 1967). He is notorious for extracting remuneration by threats or other means. On the other hand, it is beneath the dignity of an Oromo Qaallu to ask his ritual clients for gifts or payment. The Abyssinian ruling class has confused the terms, thus disparaging the Qaallu socially and religiously by using the term depreciatingly.
The place of worship of Qaallu ritual house is called the Galma. Each ayyaana has its own Galma and its own special ceremonies. The Galma is usually located on a hill top, hill side or in a grove of large trees. Many of these sites are now taken up by Abyssinian Orthodox Church buildings or Mosques. Places of worship also include under trees, beside large bodies of water, by the side of big mountains, hills, stones, etc. This has been misrepresented by outsiders claiming that the Oromo worship trees, rivers, etc.
The believers visit the Galma for worship once or twice a week, usually on Thursday and Saturday nights. At this time the followers dance, sing and beat drums to perform a ritual called dalaga in order to achieve a state of ecstasy, which often culminates in possession. It is at the height of this that the possessing ayyaana speaks through the Qaallu's mouth and can answer prayers and predict the future.
Religious Oromo often made Muuda-pilgrimages to some of the great Qaallus and religious centres such as Arsi's Abbaa Muuda (father of anointment). Among the Borana Oromo Muuda pilgrimages are still common. Muuda pilgrimage is very holy and the pilgrims walk to the place of Abbaa Muuda with a stick in one hand and carrying myrrh (qumbii). All Oromo through whose village the pilgrims pass are obligedto give them hospitality. As the Mecca pilgrims are called Haj among Muslims, these Muuda pilgrims are cared Jila.
The Qaallu institution was weakened with the advent of colonialism to Oromia, which reduced contacts between various Oromo groups. The pilgrimage was prohibited. it became the policy to discourage and destroy Oromo cultural institutions and values. The Qaallu institution has suffered more during the last 14 years than it suffered during the previous 1 00 years. At this stage it faces complete eradication and Orthodox Church buildings are fast replacing Galmas. Just before the beginning of the harvest season every year, the Oromo have a prayer ceremony (thanksgiving festival) called irreessa. It once took place in river meadows where now the Abyssinian Orthodox Church takes its holy Tabot (tablets) for special yearly festivals, the 'timqat'. The lrreessa has become illegal and anybody who attempts to practise it is now likely to be imprisoned.
The Oromo believe that after death individuals exist in the form of a spirit called the 'ekeraa'. They do not believe in suffering after death as in Christianity and Islam. If one commits sin he/she is punished while still alive. The ekeraa is believed to stay near the place where the person once lived. One is obliged to pray to and to give offering by slaughtering an animal every so often to ones parents' ekeraa. The offerings take place near the family or clan cemetery, which is usually in a village.
Oromo people have been in constant contact with other religions like Islam and Christianity for almost the last 1000 years. For instance, the Islamic religion was reported to have been in eastern Shawa about 900
A.D. and Christianity even before that. However, in favour and defence of their own traditional religion, the Oromo have resisted these religions for quite a long time.
There are many Oromo who are followers of Islam or Christianity and yet still practise the original Oromo religion. Bartels (1983) expressed this reality as follows: 'Whether they (Oromo) became Christians or Muslims, the Oromo's traditional modes of experiencing the divine have continued almost unaffected, in spite of the fact that several rituals and social institutions in which it was expressed, have been very diminished or apparently submerged in new ritual cloaks." Many used to visit, until very recently, the Galma and pay due respect to their clan Qaallu. This is more true in regions where Abyssinian Orthodox Christianity prevails.
Desalegn Desissa (2001) Traditional Oromo religion. Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society - Indoor and Outdoor Notice of Events, including Reports 58, 6.
As I am from the Oromo, this account is based on my personal experiences.
The Oromo people have practised their own religion. They believed in Waaqayoo, often called Waaqa, which approximate to the English word of God. Oromos never worshipped false god or carved statues as substitutes. The Oromo Waaqa is one and the same for all. He is the creator of everything and the source of all life, and is omnipresent and infinite. He can do and undo anything, he is pure, and intolerant of injustice, crime, sin and all falsehoods.
There are many saint-like divinities called Ayyaana, each seen as manifestation of the one Waaqa or of the same divine reality. An effective relationship is often maintained between Ayyaana and Oromo by Qaallu (male) and /or Qaalitti (female). A Qaallu is like a Bishop in the Christian world and an Imam in Muslim world. He is a religious and ritual expert who has a special relationship with one of the Ayyaana which possesses him at regular intervals. Although the office of Qaallu is hereditary, in principle it is open to anyone who can provide sufficient proof of the special direct personal contact with an Ayyaana. In the Oromo society a Qaallu is regarded as the most senior person in his lineage and clan as well as the most respected in the society. He is considered pure and clean. He must respect traditional taboos and ritual observances in all situations and in all his dealings as well as follow the truth and avoid sin.
The summit of Mt Wuchacha at the outskirt of Addis Ababa has a substancial area of scrub (dominated by species such as Erica arborea) and is a sacred site of the traditional Oromo religion.
The large tree in the foreground is a Juniperus procera and is the only mature tree remaining of the former forest which once covered all the slopes of this ancient extinct volcano. This tree has been spared because it is a sacred tree.
The Oromo Qaallu Institution is one of the most important in the Oromo culture and society, and is believed to have existed since mythical times. It is the very preserver and protector of Oromo culture.
The Oromo Qaallu must not be confused with the Amhara Qaallicha who has a very different, much lower, social status. Amhara Qaallicha is a vagabond who resorts to conjuring and black magic for his own benefit. He is notorious for extracting remuneration by threats or other means. On the other hand, it is beneath the dignity of the Oromo Qaallu to ask his ritual clients for gifts or payments. Some people have confused the two persona, thus degrading the Qaallu both socially and religiously.
The place of worship of Qaallu ritual is a house called the Galma. Each Ayyaana has its own Galma and its own special ceremonies. The Galma is usually located on a hill-top, hillside, or in a grove of large trees. Places of worship may also be located below big trees, beside large bodies of water, by the side of big mountains, hills, large rocks, etc. This has often been misrepresented by outsiders who have claimed that the Oromo worship trees, rivers, etc. The believers visit the Galma for worship once or twice a week, usually on Thursday and Saturday nights; when they dance, sing and beat drums to perform a ritual of dalaga in order to achieve a state of ecstasy, which often culminates in possession. It is at the height of this performance that the possessing Ayyaana speaks through the Qaallu’s mouth and can answer prayers and predict the future.
Every year, just before the beginning of the harvesting season, the Oromo have a prayer ceremony (thanksgiving festival), called irreessa. It takes place in river meadows. The bring bundles of Bidens sp mixed with grasses which they plunge into the water and then hit their upper body with them.
The Oromos believe that after death individuals exist in the form of a spirit called the ekeraa. They do not believe in suffering after death as in Christianity and Islam. If one commits sin, he/she is punished while still alive. The ekerraa is believed to stay near the place where the person once lived. One is obliged to pray and give offerings to ones parent’s ekerraa by slaughtering an animal every so often. The offering takes place near the family or clan cemetery, which is usually in a village.
Like other comparable communities, the Sidama people who are one of the most populous and persecuted tribes in Ethiopia trace their origins to common ancestors. Oral tradition had it that Sidamas descended from two ancestral fathers: Bushee and Maldea. The Sidama people believe they belong to Sidamigobba, the Sidama country.
The most notable peoples of the Kushitic origin to which the Sidama people belong include, the Saho in Eritrea, Oromo, Hadiya, Afar and Somalis in Ethiopia; the Somalis especially the Degodai tribe both in Somalia and Kenya; the Randle and Sakuye in Kenya and many others in Eastern and central Africa. That was why the present day Ethiopia was called the land of Kush. The Abyssinian historians such as Taddese Tamirat themselves accept this fact.
The Sidama preserved their cultural heritage, including their traditional religion and language until the late 1880s during the conquest by Emperor Menelik II. Before this, the Sidama had their own well-established administrative systems that dated at least to the 9th century, though it was made up of a loose coalition of Sidama kingdoms. These kingdoms extended into the Gibe region.
The cultural affairs of the Sidama society is handled by the Woma system. The Woma system has its own council known as the Womu Songo. Woma acts like a cultural and religious leader. He usually performs Kakalo (sacrifices) and other cultural and religious rituals including marriage and circumcision.
John Hammer, an American anthropologist who studied the Sidama society extensively, stated that the Sidama moral code halale, provides the basis for distinguishing "good" and "evil" and in the broadest sense the term refers to ´the true way of life´ (Hammer 2002). If an individual in a community is involved in wrongdoing but refuses to admit it or pay the prescribed fine, this may result in ostracism (Seera) where the recalcitrant becomes non-person as people refuse to work, eat or associate with him (Hammer 2002). Although there were no written procedures and enforcement mechanisms for Seera, individuals abide by it because of the fear of breaking the halale and being referred to God, by the elders, as a consequence.
Another related Sidama social sub constitution is called Jirte. Jirte refers to the mechanism of community cooperation during death and other ceremonies. In Sidama, community members living in near by villages form one Jirte system. The Jirte system is comprised of 4-6 villages and is usually formed based on lineages. If a person dies, community members share the burden of looking after mourners until the mourning ends. The mourning usually takes one week. However, non Christian community members could organize remourning ceremonies based on the social status of the deceased. If a community member does not obey the Jirte system, he can be fined based on the principles of the larger Seera system. Jirte is a typical example of the present day voluntary community based organizations (CBOs).
Dee is a voluntary arrangement to contribute labour during the farming season instead of farming on one´s plot individually. The labour pooling system usually involves manual digging of plots but can include oxen farming if all of the members have oxen and are willing to cooperate to rotate the farming. The labour pooling system starts with the elders in the groups and goes down to the youngest member. However, if any one in the system needs an urgent assistance, the members will skip the age based system of rotation. Dee is unique Sidama economic cooperation for which modern counterpart cannot be found easily.
God, spirits, and ancestors are the foundational elements of faith for the Sidamas and are the constitutive part of their life.
Belief in God
Sidama has a staunch belief in a supreme being and a creator God named Magano. The word magano is a compound word of ma and gano. Ma means "what" and gano has three meanings: as a noun it means conspiracy; when used as a verb it means I beat and I say or call or name. The approximate meaning of the compound word Magano can be "What can I call?" or "What can I say?" It indicates a deep experience of incomprehensible and incomparable God. It could be that the original person, unable to express the experience, resolved by calling Magano, "What can I say or call?"
Magano is addressed by the Sidamas as father. Other attributes for Magano are Kalaqa (the Creator), Kaaliqa (the Almighty) and Halalancho (the True One). There exists one, supreme, and universal Magano. He alone created all that a person could see around: humankind, nature, animals, birds, heaven, sun, moon, stars, and so on. The Sidamas make a clear distinction between God and their common ancestors saying that the ancestors were created by Magano. They say that "Magano had created and taken them away". Even during their sacrificial offering to their common ancestors Magano comes first before the ancestors' names.
An elaborate story of creation is not what is typical of Sidamas. Some clans attribute a mythical element and special power to their common ancestors, such as claiming a descent from heaven or emergence from earth. Yet every Sidama, if asked about the one responsible for creation, he/she automatically replies that Magano is the one who created all.
The Sidamas generally agree that in the beginning God used to live with people. As the result of sin they committed, Magano departed far away into the sky. Even then Magano is perceived as being actively involved in human life for which reason people continue reconciling themselves with God through sacrificial offerings until today. Magano is called daily in different situations. For instance, people say Maganu wolqai... (In God's power...), Magano anna’ya kaa’li’e (God, my father, help me), Maganu kaa’lona (may God help), and so forth.
The Sidamas possess no statues or images of Magano. For them Magano, though active in their life, cannot be represented. Generally Magano’s name is feared or highly respected and is not called for wrong intentions (e.g. cheating, telling lies, stealing). But one can observe some mischievous people or thieves swearing in Magano’s name to hide themselves from being discovered when they are suspected of such acts. Theft itself is a recent experience for the Sidama people.
There is no special day (like Sunday for Christians) for worshiping Magano. Apart from daily invocation of Magano’s name individuals such as the family heads make burnt offering for thanksgiving without any obligation or time set by a special authority. Communal burnt and sacrificial offerings take place at a particular moment and are dependent on the situations provoking them. More than offerings Magano demands good behavior because one often hears people saying "Do not do that for it displeases Magano" or "Magano will get angry". It is only the act of responding to Magano either in thanksgiving or asking forgiveness that people make animal offerings. The Sidamas see their Magano as a true loving father, the one who really cares for his children. They also experience Him as merciful and believe that He forgives their trespasses when they ask for forgiveness. Sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial lamb is a sign of reconciliation with Magano and with each other.
Belief in Spirits
The Sidamas believe that there exist good and bad spirits. The good spirit, dancha Ayyaana, is identified as God's spirit, as the spirit coming from God. This manifests how Magano is perceived as being present in the people's daily life. Maganu Ayyaana, God’s Spirit, is presented as real and playing the role of giving life and blessings. Without Magano’s name, the spirit is not mentioned. One can certainly think that the hierarchical structure that exists within the community (i.e. ancestors - clan elders and religious leaders - parents - children) reflects the degree of the presence of Maganu Ayyaana. Consequently, a common ancestor is conceived as having Maganu Ayyaana abundantly and is made like divine. He lives with Magano and plays the role of a mediator between Magano and his people. Tribal elders and religious leaders are also filled with Maganu Ayyaana.
The bad spirit, Busha Ayyaana, is also seen as real and is hated by the religious leaders and community elders. They curse it whenever they offer sacrifice to Magano. They command saying, Busha ayaana gobbatee ba’i (Bad spirit, go away from the world!) and Magano busha ayaana gobbatee huni (God destroy the bad spirit from the world". The term sheexaane is a borrowed name from the Christians to refer to the bad spirit and is widely used. The Sidama People also say that evil spirits can cause diseases but cannot cure them. Consequently, some Sidamas fear the evil spirits. The individuals called qaallo are seen as the medium of the bad spirits through which communication with them is enhanced. In order to avoid getting sickness some people give animals (male sheep or goats). These spirits have recognition only in a family setting and not in the community setting. There is no community acceptance of them.
There also exists a female spirit, belonging to mothers-in-law, prayed and honored by women alone. They make food offering to it, sing and dance (always at night and under a tree). They call it woxa. It is a cult of fertility. At child birth, mothers-in-law say: ane woxa tirtohe - let my spirit help you for safe delivery. Sometimes when a dream occurs telling of eventual dangers such as war or plague or drought, women also make an offering (always food) and pray to this invisible mother-in-law spirit. However, they never associate it with being Magano but see it as another existing reality. They are aware that Magano alone is the Supreme. At the same time they believe that this mother-in-law spirit can protect them from the evil spirits and help them during their delivery. The food offered is expected to be eaten by the hyenas in the absence of women. The significance of this requires further investigation.
Belief in Ancestors
The Sidamas believe that the ancestors live with Magano, who granted them special power to act. They play a mediating role. However, daily practice of praying to Magano directly or daily calling of Magano’s name and spirit renders the ancestors’ involvement superfluous and reveals Magano’s direct involvement in the life of the people. During the time of supplication Magano’s name takes precedence and that of an ancestor comes next.
Since the Sidama people are organized according to clans, the common ancestor of each clan receives special respect and is paid homage in terms of appreciation that the people came into existence through his instrumentality. The Sidamas, being a patriarchal society, attribute power and authority to men alone. Equal respect and homage is not given to women ancestors. Common ancestors are regarded as very much blessed and filled with Magano's spirit, living in a state of divine. A lot of animals are periodically offered to them as a sacrifice.
Apart from acting as mediators, the common ancestors are seen as blessing and protecting the people and their ethical and religious values. They communicate with their people through dreams and warn them against human abuses of the defenseless, animals, and nature. Whoever dreams a dream, if the dream touches a situation implicating a clan or the nation, spiritual leaders call their councils and examine the dream carefully. If they conclude that the dream truly touches the reality existing within the clan or the nation, they give directions to the people on what to do. They also make an offering to Magano asking for forgiveness and protection from the eventual dangers. The following example illustrates these points.
If an elder a from let say Holloo clan has a dream. The dream is carefully studied by the clan’s spiritual leaders called Gaana and Woma. These people are the consecrated ones. They offer sacrifices on behalf of their clans. Each one has his own council of elders (all men). They do not take any decision without the knowledge of their councils. In their councils' meeting they act as moderators. Gaana and Woma announce and execute the decisions of their respective council. They are very much respected and their words are taken seriously by their people. They live separately and each one has his own council. Yet they work harmoniously in such a way that whatever decision one takes, the other one does not oppose or act against it. There exists constant communication between them. Magano ask the common ancestor of Holloo clan, who is called Aabo, about the issue. The ancestor replied to Magano that he was going to ask his representatives, the Gaana and Woma.
The immediate dead parents also receive respect and veneration. A grand-father is also remembered. A person offers a bull for his dead father and to a certain degree he also remembers his dead mother. They are seen as being part of the family still living. They play a role of mediating, blessing, and protecting the family from misfortunes.
Thus far we have seen the elements of faith in Sidama Religion, we now proceed to the faith responses which the Sidamas make in their lives.
The Elements of Response in the Sidama Religion
Morality, prayer and sacrifice reflect the faith of the Sidama people. And this section explains what these elements are.
Morality and religion are identified in the Sidama culture so much so that outsiders may not recognize the existence of monotheistic religion in it. Consequently, they would easily regard the Sidamas as animists. Many of the missionaries have spoken and some have even written about the people as animists and today some still hold this idea with conviction. However, for a thorough observer and sensitive person, the opposite is true. For Sidamas, morality holds a holistic approach: relationship among individuals, with God, and vis-a-vis creation (land, animals, plants, trees, ...). The dictums, Gafo ikkanno and Maganu di-baxxanno (God does not like it), are the keys that regulate individual’s attitude towards the "other".
At all times a Sidama person would never fail to mention God's name. For example, Magano anna'ya ati afootto; Hai Magano anna'ya; Maganu lao; Maganu kaa'lo,... [in a respective order: God, my Father, You know it all; O God, my Father; May God see or witness; May God help,...].
One cannot find a commandment taught and imposed on the people saying that there is only one Magano to worship and everyone must worship Him. One does not receive or learn the values and practices of Sidama through formal teaching, but learns the ways of behaving and even beliefs and practices from elders through hearing comments about acts, following the elders, and also being reprimanded or physically punished if one acted in an unacceptable way. All passed through customary practices. In other words, the social structures contribute to the young ones to grow in conformity to the cultural values. Seeing, listening to, and following mark children's behavior. As they grow up they, consciously or unconsciously, assimilate and interiorize all the cultural values and practices. Grand-parents and mothers play a role in helping their children to grow in the socially accepted ways. Elder brothers and sisters also help their younger ones.
Elders are generally respected. There has existed a harmonious and supportive relationship between parents and children or the older generation and the younger one. However, today young people, due to different factors such as education, political ideologies, new fundamentalist churches and so forth are diluting the force of the relationship which previously existed between the two generations.
Killing a Sidama person by a Sidama is prohibited. Unfortunately, this value is changing because of the political motivations imposed from outside. For instance, if some people are seen as a threat to Ethiopian government, those who promote the interest of the government would seek to eliminate them.
Adultery and fornication have been also strictly forbidden. Virginity for a girl has been a value honored very much until today. It is considered a very shameful thing for the parents if their daughter is discovered to have lost her virginity. A virgin girl is considered as equal to a man. During marriage people talk of making a girl a woman as if she was never a woman. But if she is not a virgin, she loses her respect and pride, and under customarily setting, she often becomes a second wife and remains under the kindness of her husband. No dowry will be paid for the family. Today, however, because of education there is more relaxation and contact between boys and girls. The educated group does not put emphasis on virginity as a necessary condition for paying dowry and for marriage. As for adultery, Sidama people have lived according to family, sub-clan, and clan level. Those who belonged to one clan regarded themselves as brothers and sisters, and sleeping with the wife of one’s brother was unacceptable and a taboo.
Truth is highly regarded. The expression Halaale gorsitooti [don't abuse or diminish truth] carries with it a deep respect for truth. Maybe this is because truth is also associated with Magano. The people believe that a person who takes offence against truth will certainly suffer the consequence. This is manifested in the expression, Halaalu annasi di-hawao. The exact translation of the expression into English is difficult, but it implies that truth itself will take revenge against the offender and bring justice to the offended. It also means that the one who walks in the truth will win. This is a principal reason for respecting the property of others and refraining oneself from speaking false things. There exist, however, some dishonest people and thieves, who falter this value within the Sidama people.
The consecrated people practice three days fasting before the new year feast, Fichee. Customarily the Sidama people do not practice of fasting, and even the fasting of the consecrated people could be because of their being too busy reconciling and solving problems in the community before the new year.
A holy man is a man who avoids bad words and acts in a good (acceptable) way. He is respected and considered as being blessed and loved by Magano. Maganu maassi'no manchoti, Maganu battino manchoti, Maganu battino bettoti, Maganu maassi'no bettoti are the common expressions. The Sidamas consider Magano as fully involved in people's daily life. With this and other reasons which I have directly or indirectly mentioned, I conclude that for the Sidamas morality and religion are one. Fr. Markos Beyene, a Sidama priest, rightly observed and wrote in his unpublished article - 'A Christian Approach to Traditional Religion in Sidama Area"' - saying that 'the Sidama people see the direct action of God in creation more than the natural laws. Everything comes from God...the fulfillment and success in life is achieved only by the will of God (...). They believe that if people misbehave God goes away from them' [p.8].
Meaningful life is understood as doing good things and passing life (procreating). Every young man is expected to get married and beget children. This is very much valued.
Generally elders, the cimeeyye, try to live an exemplary life. Wherever hatred or quarreling exist the elders bring reconciliation. They solve problems; they take care of social affairs, look after the needs of the widows and the weak, and maintain justice and peace. Misbehaving results in disturbing a harmonious relationship that exists between God and the people, among the people themselves, and among them and their ancestors.
Apart from the consecrated ones (e.g., Ga'ro and Qqaddo) one has to be at least 50 years old and a circumcised in order to assume the position of a community elders. Ga'ro (Moote) plays the following roles: he organizes communal sacrifices if war or drought or plague occurs, commands the army during war, reconciles if two clans are at war or tension, takes decisions on issues concerning the whole clan, solves juridical problems which cannot be solved in sub-clan level, and announces the date of the new year feast, Fitchee, and makes prayer. Qqaddo is a collective name for Woma, Gaana, Gaadala, and Qqaarricha. Their roles are more or less the same but with some particularity to each one. Two of the Sidama clans do not have Woma. The Holloo clan has created a complicated organization. It has both Ga'ro and Qqaddo. Except Woma the rest of the Qqaddo are not found in any other clans except in the Holloo. Ga'ro and Qqaddo are the consecrated people who take care of the life of the whole Sidama people. Each of them have their own council of elders. These people are deeply religious as the elders too are notoriously religious.
Elder women (Qqarubba) are respected, too. But they do not practice authority over men. In the Sidama culture men do not associate with women. Consequently, women also have their own organization. The elder women practice authority over them. Women can change men's decision if it violates peace and harmony in the society. The eldest woman (Qqaro) can impose a punishment if a husband abuses his wife. The punishment cannot be reversed unless he fulfills the imposed obligation by the Qqaro.The good life a person lives determines his position or importance. One can be the eldest in the community but if his way of living is not appreciated he cannot play a role of an elder (cimeessa), who is a very much feared and respected. This is explained in the expression, "chimeesu chilo itisano" [The elder can make a person eat faeces].
Many other practices such as hospitality, respect to foreigners, ceremonies during birth, marriage, funerals, and festivals that exist in the Sidama culture are left for future study.
Prayer and Sacrifice
People pray to Magano individually or communally. Individual prayers can be done with or without sacrificial offerings. But communal prayers are always accompanied by sacrifices. During communal offerings the consecrated people act as the celebrants. If it is at the sub-clan level, unless there exists a consecrated person, a notable elder leads the community into prayer.
The Sidamas follow twenty seven important "moments", which are called ayyaana, in a month. They are followed through the position of the stars. Only some particular men called the ayyaanto (astrologists) know how to follow the stars and discover the types of ayyaana. Each ayana is used for a special function: ayyaana for marriage, for feast, for war, for success, and so forth. The ayyaana for offering sacrifice to Magano are either adula or gutcha. The ayyaanto and the consecrated people whose duty is to look after the issues of their people, direct most of their activities according to the ayyaana. Individuals consult these people to know, for example, when weddings should take place.
Two types of sacrifices exist within the Sidama religion: one is offered to Magano and the other is to the ancestors.
Sacrifice Offered to Magano
Burnt offering: As thanksgiving and asking for blessing the Sidamas offer this sacrifice to Magano. It is offered individually (e.g., a family head) and communally (e.g., at the sub-clan or clan level).
A male animal, a lamb or a bull, is killed and burnt. Before slaughtering, the person in charge starts with a prayer of blessing and mentions reasons for such gathering and offerings. For example, he mentions the good things (blessings) Magano has done for his country, his nation, and his clan. Then the animal is killed. The celebrant, while burning the animal, calls Magano’s name and says (the content is dependent on the intention):
Magano, itoommo, agoommo, duwoommo. Tini xinino, tini shilqqo, atera iilitohe ... Gobba'ya gowi, keere assi, ge'issi, gada'ya geedo'ya seeki, gobbate, saadate kaaya kaayoma qqoli. [God, I have eaten, I have drunk, I am satisfied. Let this burnt offering reach you.... Unite my country, bring peace and stability, bless my generation and the coming generation, and domestic animals].
At the family level, the family-head offers the sacrifice to thank Magano for all the blessings (e.g., children, wealth, good fortunes) he has received from Him. While burning the animal he says, "My Father, take this. Let it reach you. It is for you, and take it." He also prays for more blessings. Some individuals who prayed during their suffering, such as barrenness and serious sickness, offer the burnt offering sacrifice to Magano when their prayer is answered. These people had promised Magano an animal if He would respond to their prayers, if He would come to their help. Women and young men bring their promises to the spiritual leaders who would offer on their behalf.
Blood offering: This is done communally for the purpose of purification, reconciliation and protection from bad things such as enemies, drought, and plague. If something which is considered as grave offense against human beings, and indirectly against Magano, within a sub-clan or a clan by an individual or the individuals, the community offers this type of sacrifice. When those with the gift of foreseeing tell the eminent danger (e.g., war, plague, drought) or when a dream revealing the eminent danger occurs, the consecrated people organize the sacrifice. If the people are suffering because of plague or drought, the consecrated people make supplication through blood sacrifice.
The ritual of this type takes place in the following ways:
The consecrated people choose and announce the day of the sacrifice, the ayyaana, and the place where the sacrifice will take place. On the day of the sacrifice people gather together. The sacrificial animal is prepared. A consecrated person presides over the activity. The presider opens the ceremony by welcoming people and telling them the reason of the gathering. After this, everyone with grudges and quarrels comes foreword and presents his cases. They are listened to and the matters are solved. In other words, people are reconciled with one another. A prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of the people is offered to Magano. The presider prays concerning the needs of the community and slaughters the animal. The blood of the animal is collected and sprinkled to the sky, to the earth, and onto the people as the sign of reconciliation. While sprinkling the blood with a branch of a particular tree, the presider addresses to God and says:
Gatisi, xummisi, gobba gatis, Holloo, Hawela, Faqsa, Alata, Sawola Qwena gatis ... [Save us, purify us, save...(here he mentions each clan of the nation by name).]
With this act the people are reconciled with Magano and with the earth, which is regarded as mother, and with themselves. Thus, they are purified from their guilt. They also make their supplication to Magano. Then a small piece of meat is taken before removing the skin. The presider takes and raises the meat, tastes it, and passes it to the elders. After this the meat is cut, roasted and cooked, and everyone present in the gathering consumes it. Finally, the future issues of the community are discussed. The presider concludes and the people go to their home.
Sacrifice Offered to the Ancestors
The Sidama people show their gratitude to their ancestors through sacrificial offerings. At the communal, clan level, the offering is done to the common ancestors. At the family level, the husband fattens a bull and offers it for his father.
Bulls are slaughtered in several numbers periodically as a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the blessings received from the common ancestors and for their continuous presence among the people. At the same occasion, people also ask for their continuous blessings and presence. For instance, the people of Holloo clan offer their sacrifice to their common ancestor after every seven years.
During an interview with an eighty-eight years old elder from the Holloo clan concerning the sacrifice, he says that their common ancestor does not demand that the people must bring animals for sacrifice. But individuals who possess animals want to keep a bull among their cattle in gratitude for the blessings they have received from their common ancestor. Moreover, out of the sacrifice the ancestor wants the poor in the society to feast on meat, for they rarely get it. So it is a joyful moment for the poor to gather together with others and enjoy meat to the full. Both the poor and the rich alike celebrate together, and carry the remains back to their homes.
When the bulls are killed the blood is poured on the tomb of the ancestor. Those who received favours (e.g., children) they had asked from Magano or the ancestor also bring whatever they had promised . The lambs brought on this account are killed and burnt as a thanksgiving offering to Magano, and to the ancestor if he was asked to mediate. His name is mentioned after Magano’s name.
Each individual also remembers his immediate parents, specially his father. He fattens a bull and offers it at the time he wants. At different moments he prepares honey and milk and pours them on his father's tomb and then on his mother's tomb. The grand-parents are also remembered. While offering the sacrifice the person who offers says:
gedeno'ya seeki, geedo'ya seeki, galte'ya seeki, ooso'ya seeki. Ooso'yarana saada'yara gosa'yarano kaaya abbi [Make straight my future, my wife, my children, my cattle. Bring blessings to my children, cattle and to my nation].
The Gurage traditional belief, which is called Adbar, provides many protections for local biodiversity. Many group of people in each village of Sodo Gurage have their own sacred trees. Every Gurage community has his own adbar tree that is believed to be the abode of spirits. Adbar tree or group of trees are a symbol of peace and stability and are believed to be a link between people and spirit. Big and strong trees are considered as adbar and tree species such as Albizia schimperiana and Podocarpus falcatus are often selected as adbar and Acacia gerrardii is chosen for its strength. The Sodo Gurage use zigibe as a pillar and put butter on stem so as to propitiate the sprit. It needs to be covered by drinks like tella (local beer) and arake (locally fermented alchohol), and animals are sacrificed under it. The type of animal slaughter is depend on the group of people who participate in the adbar ceremony. If the people think the adbar is female they called eme-be-tachin and they slaughter a cow and if they think the adbar is male they slaughter an ox. How they know whether it is female or male? The ceremony take place on the 1st of May and 12th of November (according to Ethiopian calendar) each year. At this time the Gurage people sacrifice animals under adbar trees to maintain good farming and cropping season as well as avoid any evil spirit that brings epidemic diseases. The adbar trees are very respected and nobody could utilize them. The Sodo Gurage construct fences around adbar to protect it from intruders.
The adbar consisted of a variety of tree species. During a field visit in and around Kondaltity Balewold Church located in Sodo Gurage, I had the opportunity to interview young and aged people. The young generation now overlooks the significance of traditional believes of the Gurage. They have favoured modern religion. Even though the young overlooked and only the elders carry on practicing the traditional adbar in the presence day, they participate for drink and eating.
The Gurage are mostly Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, but also practice Islam, Roman Catholicism and traditional religious beliefs. Both Christianity and Islam were outside religions imposed on the Gurage by invasion. Today, a Gurage Christian or Muslim could just as easily also observe rituals to honor Waq, the Gurage sky god. Earth shrines to Waq are common outside of villages. The Fuga people, a class of hunters and artisans, are considered to hold the key to traditional rituals. Their reputed powers of magic and sorcery are greatly feared. The Fuga are barred from working the soil because they are believed to destroy its fertility. A traditional Gurage belief holds that the Fuga turn into hyenas at night, eating dead animals and murdering children.
The ensete, or so-called "false banana," is at the heart of Gurage daily life. This fat, fleshy, coarse fruit provides both a staple food and practical uses ranging from roof insulation to a sort of Saran wrap. Ensete is believed to cure all illnesses and several species of the plant are usually grown next to Gurage houses. The plant , able to thrive with little cultivation, staves off famine and is a traditional offering to the Gurage god in charge of human welfare. The ensete diet repulses most Amharas and helped keep the Italians away from Gurageland during their wartime occupation of Ethiopia.
As far as Wolaitta religious worldview is concerned,
the belief in spirits and other natural objects dominates
their daily life. Balisky (1997:32) said that in the Wolaitta
worldview the spirits are real in everyday experience as
natural objects are. This Wolaitta sacred worldview
articulates a physical and spiritualized universe and
does not distinguish one from the other. Also, the
“spiritual beings” can change into “physical beings” in
order to interact with the human being.
The Wolaitta believe that alame (world) did not come
into existence of its own volition but was created or
brought into by somebody known as medhaga (Eternal
creator). For Wolaitta people the concept of Supreme
Being whom they call Saluwa Tossa or sky God
occupies an important place in their everyday life. This
is revealed in their daily conversation proverbs like
Tossi Gikko (if Tossa so willed), Tossi Eres (Tossa
knows everything) etc. Whenever a group of people or
an individual plan to do something and agree on the
details, the saying Tossa sheno Gido (if Tossa so
wished) or Tossi maddiko (if Tossa helped) follows.
These sayings appear seemingly in daily conversations.
Informants claim that He is equivalent to the God of
Christians and Allah of Muslims.i
Indeed, this name is
used now by almost all religions in Wolaitta. The
Christians especially adopted the old name, Tossa, and
used it in the Wolaitigna (Wolaitta language) version of
Jesus Christ or as an equivalent to Jesus Christ. Thus,
it is logical to accept the general assumption that Tossa
must be old in this society, i.e. the name and the
worship of this God is age-old.
However, in the Wolaitta religious view, apart from the
belief in the existence of Tossa, there is the belief that
there are of ayana (lesser divinities or deities), who are
believed to be intermediaries between God and man.
Ayana are easily approachable.
Nevertheless, such kind of contradiction also exists in
traditional religion of other African countries (Lambek,
2000; Kapferer, 1997). The African, and for that matter
the Wolaitta of Ethiopia, have ayana of different realms
of influence and fall into groups. The ayana (deities) are
the representatives of God on earth. The ayana are
there to receive offerings and sacrifices on behalf of
God. Ayana in Wolaitta concept carry out petitions to
God and at the same time interpret God as well as the
ancestors to the people. The Wolaitta view their ayana
as means to an end. Their popularity waxes or wanes if
they are responsive or unresponsive to human
Moreover, just like in other African countries, it is
notable that before the advent of Christianity in
Wolaitta, there were personalities who functioned under
superhuman and supernatural influences as seers,
diviners, medicine-men in African traditional religious
settings. And Prophets „had appeared in the past
particularly in circumstances of social stress‟;;;; in African
traditional religious settings. Onunwa (1990) observed
that, prophets occupy important position in African
traditional religion just as priests. Prophets had
appeared in the past particularly in circumstances of
social stress. Since the history of the traditional religion
has not been written, it has not been possible to record
the development and rules of the prophetic ministry in
the faith. A reconstruction of the ministry of prophecy in
the traditional religion may not necessarily fit into the
biblical or Islam
The conquest of Wolaitta by Abssynians In 1894
and the ensuing deep crises
As explained earlier, the Wolaitta Kingdom, with its well
developed and organized structure. maintained its
independent existence for centuries. Nevertheless, the
Ethiopian Empire state under Menilek destroyed such a
developed and organized kingdom and its structure.
Before the drama of final campaign of conquest in
1894, the Wolaitta resistance and Menlikes‟;;;;s aggression
continued for a number of years
It was during this time that prophet Esa emerged.
Thus, it could well be that prophet Esa felt burdened for
his compatriots. They were socially and economically
harassed by the Northerners. And they were being
exploited by their religious functionaries. Esa‟;;;;s burden
was translated in to action. As a response to domination
by non-native forces Esa promised the people that God
would help them to liberate their land from the invading
force. Esa‟;;;;s teaching has got political dimension as he
taught the people about the expulsion of the Northern
settlers from their motherland. This was a threat to the
officials as it might invoke the indigenous people
against the new comers.
In addition to this, the reforms that he brought into the
traditional religion can be analyzed from two angles; as
a reaction to the view of Orthodox Church, and as a
solution to reduce the elements of traditional religion
that burdened the local people. Thus, he adopted some
aspect from Orthodox Christianity, and integrated it into
the traditional religion so as to bring a significant reform
on it. In so doing they reacted to the view of Orthodox
clergy and responded to Amhara domination. Of
course, the rise and rapid expansion of the teaching of
Esa, which was within the context of the primal religion
of the south, indicate that the people of Wolaitta found
little attraction to Orthodox Christianity. As explained
earlier, for most people in Southern Ethiopia, the
Orthodox Church‟;;;;s close association with and
ideological support of the feudal empire that committed
one of the worst human atrocities is not easy to forget,
especially when nothing is done on the side of the
church to redress this basic issue of morality. In
Wolaitta and southern Ethiopia at large considerations
such as these provide a substantial part of the
explanation for the success of Esa‟;;;;s prophetic and
reformist messages, which could be characterized as
„Wolaitta‟;;;;s revolutionary‟;;;; response to Abssynians and
Orthodox Church. He fought for ethnic equalityvi, social
justice, land reform, and freedom in most cases
favoring the native people. Consequently, the people
began to call him Esa Laliya.
vii Whatever its failings
maybe viewed from a current perspective, Esa Laliya
has offered the peoples of Wolaitta an alternative route
to meaning, identity and even resistance to power in
one of the darkest times of their history. Consequently,
his messages remained the most dominant and popular
even after he was wiped out by neftegna officials and in
Wolaitta area, his prophesy and reformist messages are
widely remembered by the people at present.
Another reform ideas of Esa was directed towards
ways of reducing some elements of traditional religion
that burdened the local people; letting the people to
abandon the worship of various spirits and to worship only Tossa, God. He was also introduced new ritual
practice, like teaching the people to seek mercy by
offering honey in place of animal sacrifices. In this
regard he enabled the people to ascertain the
omnipresence of Tossa among the ordinary Wolaitta
people, and enabled them to worship Tossa together in
an open field called as Dubusha. In effect the family
members went to Dubusha especially on one day of the
week, Sunday. There, the fathers were to pray Tossa.
In praying he would dip his fingers in honey and flick it
towards the sky, symbolizing that his prayer were
directed to God/ Tossa/, not to Satan. On the other
hand, mothers pray to Marame or to St. Mary.
The Gamo is a unique system in which people and nature have co-existed sustainably for millennia. But in the last few years, the evangelical Protestant Church has made inroads into the most remote areas and is eroding the traditional animist social structures that have until now bound the people of the Gamo to each other and the environment.
Members of these outside-funded parishes and schools have disdain for traditional values and have even begun to act in ways that run counter to Gamo culture, including cutting down sacred trees, disrupting community meetings, planting crops in pasture land, and denouncing indigenous leaders as backward or even evil. The results have been destructive, even to the point of causing violence between communities.
Shot in Ethiopia, New York and Kenya, A Thousand Suns explores the modern world’s unjustifiable sense of separation from and superiority over nature, and how this is being imposed upon the people of Gamo. Six months after filming was completed, the Ethiopian government — at the behest of evangelical Protestant missionaries in the region — took away the organizational rights of 42 indigenous groups who focus on preserving the traditional cultures of the Gamo.
Their primary language is Mursi. The primary religion practiced by the Mursi is animism, a religious worldview that natural physical entities--including animals, plants, and even inanimate objects--possess a spiritual essence.
Animism is the religious belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Potentially, animism perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as animated and alive.
Animism is the oldest known type of belief system in the world that even predates paganism. It is still practiced in a variety of forms in many traditional societies. Animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the belief system of many indigenous tribal peoples, especially in contrast to the relatively more recent development of organized religions. Although each culture has its own different mythologies and rituals, "animism" is said to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous peoples' "spiritual" or "supernatural" perspectives. The animistic perspective is so widely held and inherent to most animistic indigenous peoples that they often do not even have a word in their languages that corresponds to "animism" (or even "religion"); the term is an anthropological construct.
Largely due to such ethnolinguistic and cultural discrepancies, opinion has differed on whether animism refers to an ancestral mode of experience common to indigenous peoples around the world, or to a full-fledged religion in its own right. The currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the late 19th century by Sir Edward Tylor, who created it as "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".
Animism encompasses the beliefs that all material phenomena have agency, that there exists no hard and fast distinction between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that soul or spirit or sentience exists not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows. Animism thus rejects Cartesian dualism. Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names, or metaphors in mythology. Some members of the non-tribal world also consider themselves animists (such as author Daniel Quinn, sculptor Lawson Oyekan, and many contemporary Pagans).
AGAW (Ezanas people)
From the start of Christianity introduction to Ethiopia, the North Western Cushitic Agaw people was suffering from multidimensional socio-economic prospective (such as religion, politics, social, economic, culture and language) for over 1600 years. With the rising and expansion of Christianity in the fourth century, the majority of Agaw were forced to accept Christianity following the conversion of the two Agaw king brothers, Aezana and saezana and received Christian name as Aberha and Atsibeha. Those who resisted and adhered to their original and former belief (Judaism and paganism) fled from North to South and South-East direction along Tekeze River and settled in Gondar and around Gondar and Lasta and gradually to North Shewa, Jemma and Abay rivers and beyond.
The Agaw population who resisted for centuries long the state religion after conversion of majority had been divided into smaller enclaves (Awi, Kementy, Himita, Blen, Alien/Falasha and more others). As a result, they got exposed for further religious and, economic and social oppression as Christianity chased them behind. In between, however, the Agaw people were enjoying their golden time during Zagwe Dynasty for about 400 years, until 1270. But after the pseudo Solomonid dynasty took power from Zagwe, the fate of Agaw people changed from bad to worse.
The first incidence in this process was forcefully receiving religiously constructed identity by abandoning their true Agawness. This process (forceful conversion from Agaw identity to Amharization continued until the late 20th century and even continues to this day. Those who resisted not to become Christian (Amhara) were denied of property rights. As a result, basic assets such as land and other resources that measure the wealth status of rural households in particular were concentrated in the hands of royal family members, provincial governors, Orthodox Church, military officials, and their respective descendants in the form ownership system called of rist and gult. Land was used as one of main instruments to convert traditional and Old Testament (Oriet) religion followers to Orthodox Christian. The fate for non adherents was to be evacuated from their land and exercise their original religion by emigrating far beyond the conquerors’ territorial jurisdiction. The Agaw people in general and the Kemant and Felasha (black-Jewish ) in particular were suppressed by the then King Yishak (who ruled from 1413-1444) and ordered either to be converted to Christianity or persecuted. This state and religion combined conspiracy made most people to remain poor and finally leading them to move to mountainous and rugged geographic areas as a last resort. The existing settlement of Himita and Kemant people is the live example of the past injustice to these people. The worst was what had happened to Bete-Israel tribes. They were totally evacuated from their land and made to be dispersed to different directions within Gondar and Tigray provinces. In the end, their exodus from their homeland to State of Israel was the result of deep rooted religious and tribal marginalization persecution and suffering induced by their neighbor and the then local government.