Oromo Ethnic Group of Ethiopia: Interesting Facts Every African Should Know About the 3rd-biggest Ethnonational Group In Africa

Oromo Ethnic Group Of Ethiopia

Oromo people are the third-biggest ethnonational group in Africa. They are especially situated in the horn of Africa; Ethiopia and Somalia. A couple of them can also be found in Kenya.

Unique members from the tribe occupied an area called Oromia or Biiya-Oromo. It was a free nation situated in the horn of Africa yet was later colonized by the Abyssinian domain (now Ethiopia).

The Oromos speak the Oromo language, a Cushitic language which has numerous variations. Early Oromo people relied on vocal communication rather than written words to tell their story, as a result it is unclear how the Oromos came to be.

For a big part of their history, the Oromo people were referred to as ‘galla’. There are different accounts as to the reason why they were called Galla. Antoine d’Abaddie, a French explorer states that ‘galla’ was a war cry spoken by the galla (Oromo) themselves.

Some accounts state that it means ‘to wander’, others say it refers to a ‘river’, ‘foreigner’, ‘pagan’ while some say that when the Islamic prophet Muhammad asked the Oromia chief to accept Islam, the chief said “gha la” which means ‘no’.

Despite the unclear origin and meaning, history shows that this name was never used by indigenes of Oromia to describe themselves but by foreigners, hence it must connote a derogatory meaning.

The Oromo people who used to be called Galla are said to have originated from the lake shamo (chamo) region. Oromos are part of the Cushite family (people from the ancient land of Cush/Nubia) who inhabited a large part of Northern and Eastern Africa.

However, some Abyssinian historians dispute that the Oromos are old inhabitants of the land, stating that they were newcomers who migrated from Asia. Oromia people, however, believe such claims should be dispelled as it was fuelled by an account of Abba Bahrey who was biased against Oromia and further heightened the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) desire to conquer the Oromos.

The Oromo Practiced Democracy Before the Western World Adopted it

Due to having originated from the Nubian family, Oromos share a lot in common with Somalis, Afars, Bejas and so on. They have a unique system of organization called gadaa.

The gadaa is a social system where leaders of the Oromo community are elected by their men every eight years. The gadaa system regulates social, political and religious spheres of life in Oromia.


1. Dabballee (0-8 years of age)
2. Folle or Gamme Titiqaa (8-16 years of age)
3. Qondaala or Gamme Gurgudaa (16-24 years of age)
4. Kuusa (24-32 years of age)
5. Raaba Doorii (32-40 years of age)
6. Gadaa (40-48 years of age)
7. Yuba I (48-56 years of age)
8. Yuba II (56-64 years of age)
9. Yuba III (64-72 years of age)
10. Gadamojjii (72-80 years of age)
11. Jaarsa (80 and above years of age)

The Dabballee are the sons of the ruling class who fall under 8 years of age. As they get older, they progress into the next age grade. Every three years before the third age group ends, the Qondaala, the members of the Gadaa nominate future leaders who will now be members of the Hayyu council.

Similar to modern democracy, the gadaa election is preceded by a period of negotiations/campaigns carried out by members of the Hayyu council as they try to gain supporters ahead of the election.

In the Kuusa age grade, the men will be officially elected, while in the Doorii, they will be allowed to have wives. These two stages prepare the men for leadership, they learn Oromo history, administration, as well as other tactics and necessary information that will help their tenure. When they reach the Gadaa grade they assume full leadership powers.

The Gadaa consists of nine officials who are in charge of different offices;

1. Abbaa Bokku – President
2. Abbaa Bokku – First Vice-President
3. Abbaa Bokku – Second Vice-President
4. Abbaa Chaffe – Chairman of the Assembly (Chaffe)
5. Abbaa Dubbi – Speaker who presents the decision of the presidium to the Assembly
6. Abbaa Seera – Memoriser of the laws and the results of the Assembly’s deliberations.
7. Abbaa Alanga – Judge who executes the decision
8. Abbaa Duula – In charge of the army
9. Abbaa Sa’a – In charge of the economy

Oromo Clothing

The attire of the Oromo is quite similar to their Ethiopian ‘cousins’, the Amharas, although that of the Oromos are mostly red. Due to the multifacetedness of the Oromo people, traditional garments might differ across individual tribes/clans.

Clothes are usually made from a material called Shema. Shema is an Ethiopian cotton which was originally hand-spun but has been industrialized, although some locals still resort to manually spinning the material. The Shema is then sewn to make dresses, shawls, and other local garments.


Written by How Africa

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