|c. 38 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Ethiopia||25,488,344 (2007 est.)|
|Oromo • Amharic • Tigrinya|
|Christianity 48.2% (Ethiopian Orthodox 30.5%, Protestants 17.7%); Sunni Islam 47.5%; traditional religion 3.3%|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Afar • Agaw • Amhara • Beja • Saho • Somali • Tigray • Tigre and other Cushitic peoples.|
The Oromo people (Oromo: Oromoo; Ge'ez: ኦሮሞ; ’Oromo) are an ethnic group inhabiting Ethiopia and northern Kenya. With around 38 million members, they constitute the single largest ethnicity in Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa, at approximately 40% of Ethiopia's population according to the 2015 census. Oromos speak the Oromo language as a mother tongue (also called Afaan Oromoo and Oromiffa), which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. The name was given as Ilm’ Orma ("Sons of Men" or an eponymous 'Orma') in the 19th century; the present form is probably an obsolete plural of the same word orma ("person, stranger").
Oromos are the largest Cushitic-speaking group of people living in Northeast Africa. Available information suggests that they have existed as a community in the Horn of Africa for several millennia (Prouty et al., 1981).
While further research is needed to precisely comprehend their origins, the Oromo are believed to have originally adhered to a pastoralist/nomadic and/or semi-agriculturalist lifestyle. Many historians agree that some Oromo clans (Bale) have lived in the southern tip of present-day Ethiopia for over a millennium. They suggest that a Great trade-influenced Oromo population movement brought most Oromos to present-day central and western Ethiopia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Historical maps of the ancient Aksum/Abyssinian Empire and Adal empire indicate that Oromo people are newcomers to most of modern-day central Ethiopia.
The Oromos increased their numbers through Oromization of other people they conquered, adopting them to the qomo (clan) in a process known as Mogasa and Gudifacha. Through collective adoption, the affiliated groups were given new genealogies and started counting their putative ancestors in the same way as their adoptive kinsmen. Oromo's are believed to be integrated with the indigenous people of Kingdom of Damot, Kingdom of Ennarea, Sultanate of Showa, Sultanate of Bale, Gurage, Gafat, Ganz province, Maya, Hadiya Sultanate, Fatagar, Sultanate of Dawaro, Werjih, Gidim, Adal Sultanate, Sultanate of Ifat and other people of Abyssinian Empire after 16th century Oromo expansion. The native ancient names of the territories were replaced by the name of the Oromo clans who conquered it while the people were made Gabaros (serfs).
Historically, Afaan Oromo-speaking people used their own Gadaa system of governance. Oromos also had a number of independent kingdoms, which they shared with the Sidama. Among these were the Gibe region kingdoms of Gera, Gomma, Garo, Gumma, Jimma and Leeqa-Nekemte and Limmu-Ennarea, as well as the kingdom of Jiren.
Historically, both peaceful and violent competition and integration between Oromos and other neighboring ethnicities such as the Amhara, Sidama and the Somali affected politics within the Oromo community. The northern expansion of the Oromos such as the Yejju and, in particular the Arsi, to ethnic Somali and Sidama territories mirrored the southern expansion of Amharas, and helped influence contemporary ethnic politics in Ethiopia. Also the great Somali expansion from the Ogaden plains west towards the Juba river led to conflicts with the Oromo. In some areas, Oromos and Somalis were in competition for fertile territory and natural resources. Additionally, Eastern Oromos, who had adopted Islam, were along with Somalis and Afars part of the Muslim Adal Sultanate, which under Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi led a conquest of the Christian Abyssinian Empire.
Historian Richard Pankhurst stated that before the coming of European powers and the creation of centralized Ethiopia, the area presently known as Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia:
Constituted a galaxy of states and polities, each moving in its own orbit, but significantly affecting, and affected by, the other entities in the constellation. Each ruler kept a watchful eye on his neighbors but would often exchange gifts and courtesies with them unless actually at war. Dynastic marriages were made whenever practicable, though these only occasionally crossed barriers of religion. Commerce, on the other hand, made little distinction between faith, and trade routes linked traditionalist, Christian and Muslim localities. Ethnic and linguistic communities remained largely distinct, but there was much cross-fertilization of cultures. This was true not only off the Ethiopian highlands and the Red Sea coastlands, but also further south along the Somali-Oromo frontier where later nineteenth century travelers reported the existence of bilingual trading communities.
In the first decades of the 19th century, three Oromo monarchies, Enarya, Goma and Guma, rose to prominence. The collective area was known as Galla-land and comprised most of central and southern Ethiopia, including lands now held by other ethnic regions. In the general view of Oromo people's role in Ethiopia, Ras Gobana Dacche is a famous Oromo figure who led the development of modern Ethiopia and the political and military incorporation of more territories into Ethiopian borders. Gobana, under the authority of Menelik II, incorporated several Oromo territories into a centralized Ethiopian state. Some contemporary ethno-nationalist Oromo political groups refer to Gobana in a negative light. Before military integration, present day Ethiopia, Eritrea, and parts of Somalia were extensively linked commercially by local, long-distance and trans-frontier trade routes. These commercial routes connected Bonga, Jimma, Seqa, Assandabo, Gojjam, Begemder, Maramma, Massawa, Soddo, Shewa, Harar, Zeila and Berbera. Some Oromo writers believe that the Oromo Ras Gobena and the Amhara Menelik II were the first two people in Ethiopia with the concept of a national boundary that would bring various different ethno-linguistic communities under a politically and militarily centralized rule.
"The two most important historical figures who signify the introduction of the concepts of national boundary and sovereignty in Ethiopia are Emperor Menelik II and Ras Gobana Dachi, who used guns manufactured in Europe to bring a large swath of Biyas (regions/nations) under a centralized rule."
Ethnically mixed Ethiopians with Oromo background made up a small percentage of Ethiopian generals and leaders. The Wollo Oromo (particularly the Raya Oromo and Yejju Oromo) were early Oromo holders of power among the increasingly mixed Ethiopian state. The later north-to-south movement of central power in Ethiopia led to Oromos in Shewa holding power in Ethiopia together with the Shewan Amhara.
"In terms of descent, the group that became politically dominant in Shewa – and Subsequently in Ethiopia – was a mixture of Amhara and Oromo; in terms of language, religion and cultural practices, it was Amhara."
Nonetheless, in many cases Oromo became part of the Ethiopian nobility without losing their identity. Both ethnically mixed Oromos and those with full Oromo descent held high leadership positions in Ethiopia. Notably Iyasu V was the designated but uncrowned Emperor of Ethiopia (1913–1916), while Haile Selassie I was the crowned and generally acknowledged Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Both these Ethiopian Emperors are ethnically mixed, with Oromo parents and lineages. Haile Selassie's mother was paternally of Oromo descent and maternally of Gurage heritage, while his father was paternally Oromo and maternally Amhara. He consequently would have been considered Oromo in a patrilineal society, and would have been viewed as Gurage in a matrilineal one. However, in the main, Haile Selassie was regarded as Amhara: his paternal grandmother's royal lineage, through which he was able to ascend to the Imperial throne.
Before the rise of Emperor Tewodros member of the Yejju Oromo dynasty like Abba Seru Gwangul, Ras Ali I, Ras Aligaz, Ras Gugsa Mursa, Ras Yimam, Ras Marye, Ras Dori and Ras Ali II were the rulers of northern Ethiopia while the emperors with Solomonic dynasty were figureheads. Tewodros's wife Empress Tewabech Ali was the daughter of Ali II of Yejju while Menelik’s wife Empress Taytu Betul, Ras Mengesha's wife Kefey Wale and Queen Zewditu's husband Ras Gugsa wolle as well as Ras Wube of Semien who also ruled Tigray and Bahr-Negash were all descendants of Ras Gugsa Mursa of Yejju. The last empress of the empire, Menen Asfaw, Haileselse's wife is from the Wollo Oromo ruling class and she is the granddaughter of Ras (Nigus) Mikael. While the Yejju Oromo nobles dominated Amhara, Tigray and Agaw provinces, Gondar’s court language was changed to Afan Oromo while maintaining Christianity as a state religion. Similar to the nobles and princes of Tigray and Agaw subgroups like Wag, Qwara and Awi these northern Christian Oromo nobles supported by the mainly Muslim Yejju, Wollo, Raya-Azebo Oromo armies ruled the empire while not losing their identity.
The Yejjus have built churches, appointed bishops, gave military titles to the empire's army and appointed regional chiefs under the name of the powerless emperors whom themselves are also appointed by these nobles. Ras Ali II, father-in-law of Atse Tewodros, did intervene in the Church when Abuna Salama excommunicated the Nigus of Shewa Sahle Selassie during the ongoing dispute over Christology that had split the Orthodox Church into a number of hostile factions. Despite the intervention of Imperial Regent, Ras Ali II, Abuna Salama refused to lift the interdict, and Ras Ali finally arrested the Abuna in 1846 and banished him from Gondar. Among the Yejjus, the great Gugsa of Yejju was briefly the most powerful political figure in Ethiopia, and it retained this status until 1889, when Menelik II was crowned emperor. After the death of Ras Gugsa Mursa many of his descendants continued to hold key positions in the north and one of them is Taytu Betul who served Emperor Yohanes as his first minister after she helped him broaden his power base in northern Ethiopia through her family connections in Yejju Oromo area, Semien and Begemider. After her marriage with Menelik she served as an adviser and with her own 5,000 troops she went to the battle of Adwa. She also named the newly founded capital city as Addis Ababa.
By the 1880s, Menelik, king of Shewa (the later Emperor Menelik II) allied with Ras Gobena's Shewan Oromo militia to expand his kingdom to the South and East, expanding into areas that hadn't been held together since the invasion of Ahmed Gragn. Another famous leader of Ethiopia with Oromo descent was Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the governor of Harar who served as the top general in the First Italo–Ethiopian War, playing a key role at the Battle of Adwa. He is the father of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. Other Oromo chiefs who allied their native clan's army to Menelik's Shewan central government includes Ras (Nigus) Mikael Ali, Sultan Aba Jifar, Kumsa Mereda, Habtegyorgis Dinegde, Balcha Aba Nefso and Jote Tullu; as an ally to the central government they also campaigned to the south to incorporate more territories.
Menelik preferred one of his two grandsons to takeover the leadership of the empire after him. Both of them were conceived from his daughter's political dynastic marriage with his top Oromo generals namely Ras Mikael Ali and Ras Gobana Dacche. Menelik saw his successor in W/Sagad Wadajo Gobena, his grandson from Ras Gobana's Son, and had him raised at the court as if heir to the throne. Wedajo Opposed the court education of his son and this dispute over child custody led to the divorce of his wife. This grandson of Menelik II was eliminated from the succession due to dwarfism. Lij Iyasu, another grandson of Menelik conceived from his daughter Shoaarega and Ras Mikael Ali Aba Bula (also known as Mohamed Ali) became heir to the throne. After Menelik's death he will appoint his father as king of north Ethiopia. However, within a few years of his reign, Lij Eyasu would be overthrown by Shewan Mekuanents led by prime-minister and war minister Habte Giyorgis Dinagde, also an Oromo from Chebo clan; and they will make Zewditu Menelik as Queen and Teferi Mekonen (who also have Oromo decent through both his father and mother side) as heir and regent. This decision angered Nigus Mikael and he mobilized about 120,000 soldiers, most of them armed with modern weapons, to invade Shewa and restore his son as emperor of Ethiopia, but his mainly Wollo army (composed mainly of Muslim Oromos) was defeated at the Battle of Segale in 1916. Nigus Mikael Ali, father-in-law of Teferi Mekonen, was captured at the battle and sent to prison (Gizot) in Chebo area by the hand of Fitawrari Habte-Gyorgis; Lij Eyasu, on the other hand was captured after 5 years. When he was captured by Dejazmatch (later Ras) Gugsa Araya and his forces, it is significant that Dejazmatch Gugsa, the grandson of Emperor Yohannes IV, knelt on the ground and kissed Iyasu's feet before arresting him.
In 1973, Oromo discontent with their position led to the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which began political agitation in the Oromo areas. Also in 1973 there was a catastrophic famine in which over one quarter of a million people died from starvation before the government recognised the disaster and permitted relief measures. The majority who died were Oromos and Amharas from Wollo, Afars and Tigrayans. There were strikes and demonstrations in Addis Ababa in 1974; and in February of that year, Haile Selassie’s government was replaced by the Derg, a military junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam; but the Council was still Amhara-dominated, with only 25 non-Amhara members out of 125. In 1975 the government declared all rural land State-owned, and announced the end of the tenancy system. However, much of the benefit of this reform was counteracted by compulsive collectivization, State farms and forced resettlement programmes.
In December 2009, a 96-page report titled Human Rights in Ethiopia: Through the Eyes of the Oromo Diaspora, compiled by the Advocates for Human Rights, documented human rights violations against the Oromo in Ethiopia under three successive regimes: the Abyssinian Empire under Haile Selassie, the Marxist Derg and the current Ethiopian government of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), dominated by members of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and which was accused to have arrested approximately 20,000 suspected OLF members, to have driven most OLF leadership into exile, and to have effectively neutralized the OLF as a political force in Ethiopia.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Oromia Support Group (OSG) recorded 594 extra-judicial killings of Oromos by Ethiopian government security forces and 43 disappearances in custody between 2005 and August 2008.
Starting in November 2015, during a wave of mass protests, mainly by Oromos, over the expansion of the municipal boundary of the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia, 80-250 people have been killed and many more have been injured, according to human-rights advocates and independent monitors. The protests have since spread to other ethnic groups and encompass wider social grievances.
The Oromo people are the largest ethnic grouping in Ethiopia, which has a total of 74 ethnically diverse language groups. About 95% are settled agriculturalists and nomadic pastoralists, practising archaic farming methods and living at subsistence level. A few live in the urban centres.
Oromos today are mainly concentrated in the Oromia region in central Ethiopia, which is the largest region in the country in terms of both population and size. Group members also have a notable presence in northern Kenya.
The Oromo language is divided into four main linguistic varieties: Borana-Arsi-Guji Oromo, Eastern Oromo, Orma and West Central Oromo.
Modern writing systems used to transcribe Oromo include the Latin script. The Ethiopic script had previously been used by Oromo communities in west-central Ethiopia up until the 1990s. Additionally, the Sapalo script was historically used to write Oromo. It was invented by the Oromo scholar Sheikh Bakri Sapalo (also known by his birth name, Abubaker Usman Odaa) during the 1950s. The Arabic script has also traditionally been used in areas with Muslim populations.
The Oromo are divided into two major branches that break down into an assortment of clan families. From west to east. The Borana Oromo, also called the Boran, are a pastoralist group living in southern Ethiopia (Oromia) and northern Kenya. The Boran inhabit the former provinces of Shewa, Welega, Illubabor, Kafa, Jimma, Sidamo, northern and northeastern Kenya, and a small refugee population in some parts of Somalia. Barentu/Barentoo or (older) Baraytuma is the other moiety of the Oromo people. The Barentu Oromo inhabit the eastern parts of the Oromia Region in the Zones of Mirab Hararghe or West Hararghe, Arsi Zone, Bale Zone, Debub Mirab Shewa Zone or South West Shewa, Dire Dawa region, the Jijiga Zone of the Somali Region, Administrative Zone 3 of the Afar Region, Oromia Zone of the Amhara Region, and are also found in the Raya Azebo woreda in the Tigray Region.
Society and culture
Oromo society was traditionally structured in accordance with Gadaa, a social stratification system partially based on an eight-year cycle of age sets. However, over the centuries, the age sets grew out-of-alignment with the actual ages of their members, and some time in the 19th century, another age set system was instituted. Under gadaa, every eight years, the Oromo would hold a popular assembly called the Gumi Gayo, where laws were established for the following eight years. A democratically elected leader, the Abba Gada, presided over the system for an eight-year term. Gadaa is no longer in wide practice but remains influential.
In the 2007 Ethiopian census in the 88% Oromo region of Oromia, 48% were Muslims, 31% Orthodox Christians, 17.7% Protestant Christian, 3.3% Traditional. Protestant Christianity is the fastest growing religion inside the Oromo community. In urban areas of Oromia, Orthodox Christianity constitute 51.2% of the population, followed by Islam 29.9% and Protestants 17.5%. But adherence to traditional practices and rituals is still common among many Oromo people regardless of religious background.
It is believed that the Oromo developed their own calendar around 300 BCE. The Oromo calendar is a lunar-stellar calendrical system, relying on astronomical observations of the moon in conjunction with seven particular stars or constellations. Borana Months (Stars/Lunar Phases) are Bittottessa (iangulum), Camsa (Pleiades), Bufa (Aldebarran), Waxabajjii (Belletrix), Obora Gudda (Central Orion-Saiph), Obora Dikka (Sirius), Birra (full moon), Cikawa (gibbous moon), Sadasaa (quarter moon), Abrasa (large crescent), Ammaji (medium crescent), and Gurrandhala (small crescent).
Most Oromos do not have political unity today due to their historical roles in the Ethiopian state and the region, the spread out movement of different Oromo clans, and the differing religions inside the Oromo nation. Accordingly, Oromos played major roles in all three main political movements in Ethiopia (centralist, federalist and secessionist) during the 19th and 20th century. In addition to holding high powers during the centralist government and the monarchy, the Raya Oromos in Tigray played a major role in the revolt inside the Tigray regional state, known as "Weyane" revolt, challenging Emperor Haile Selassie I's rule in the 1940s. Simultaneously, both federalist and secessionist political forces developed inside the Oromo community.
Presently, a number of ethnic based political organizations have been formed to promote the interests of the Oromo. The first was the Mecha and Tulama Self-Help Association founded in January 1963, but was disbanded by the government after several increasingly tense confrontations in November, 1966. Later groups include the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), the United Liberation Forces of Oromia (ULFO), the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (IFLO), the Oromia Liberation Council (OLC), the Oromo National Congress (ONC, recently changed to OPC) and others. Another group, the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO), is one of the four parties that form the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. However, these Oromo groups do not act in unity: the ONC, for example, was part of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces coalition that challenged the EPRDF in the Ethiopian general elections of 2005.
A number of these groups seek to create an independent Oromo nation, some using armed force. Meanwhile, the ruling OPDO and several opposition political parties in the Ethiopian parliament believe in the unity of the country which has 80 different ethnicities. But most Oromo opposition parties in Ethiopia condemn the economic and political inequalities in the country. Progress has been very slow with the Oromia International Bank just recently established in 2008 though Oromo owned Awash International Bank started early in the 1990s and with the first private Afaan Oromoo newspaper in Ethiopia, Jimma Times, also known as Yeroo, recently established. Though the Jimma Times – Yeroo newspaper has faced a lot of harassment and persecution from the Ethiopian government since its beginning. Abuse of Oromo media is widespread in Ethiopia and reflective of the general oppression Oromos face in the country. University departments in Ethiopia did not establish curriculum in Afaan Oromo until the late 1990s.
Various human rights organizations have publicized the government persecution of Oromos in Ethiopia for decades. In 2008, OFDM opposition party condemned the government's indirect role in the death of hundreds of Oromos in western Ethiopia. According to Amnesty International, "between 2011 and 2014, at least 5000 Oromos have been arrested based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government. These include thousands of peaceful protestors and hundreds of opposition political party members. The government anticipates a high level of opposition in Oromia, and signs of dissent are sought out and regularly, sometimes pre-emptively, suppressed. In numerous cases, actual or suspected dissenters have been detained without charge or trial, killed by security services during protests, arrests and in detention."
According to Amnesty international, there is a sweeping repression in the Oromo region of Ethiopia. On December 12, 2015, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported violent protests in the Oromo region of Ethiopia in which more than 20 students were killed. According to the report, the students were protesting against the government's re-zoning plan named 'Addis Ababa Master5 Plan'.
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- Abebe Bikila – The first Ethiopian to win a gold medal in the Olympics
- Kenenisa Bekele – Athlete
- Ali Birra – Singer, poet, and nationalist
- Sheik Bakri Sapalo – Historian and poet who developed an alphabet for Oromo language 
- Derartu Tulu – Athlete
- Fatuma Roba – first African woman to win the Olympic gold medal in a marathon
- Ras Ali I – Founder of Yejju dynasty
- Ras Gugsa Mursa – Member of the Yejju dynasty who founded Debre Tabor city as the seat of imperial regents
- Ras Ali II – The last member of Yejju dynasty to rule Ethiopian Empire as regent to the powerless emperors. Also father-in-law of Kasa Hailu who later became Tewodros II
- Ras (Nigus) Mikael Ali – Previously called Mohamed Ali, his son Lij Iyasu appointed Mikael as king of north Ethiopia to rule over the northern provinces including Tigray
- Ras Gobana Dacche – Top general of King Menelik II
- HabteGiyorgis Dinagde Botera – War minister and first person to take the prime-minister position.
- Ras Makonnen W/Mikael Gudisa - Played great role at the battle of Adwa
- Emperor Haile Selassie – One of the longest reigning and the last emperor who modernized the nation. He is the son of Ras Makonnen and Yeshimebet Ali Aba Jifar
- Lij Iyasu Mikael Ali – He is Menelik's grandson and Ras Mikael Ali Aba Bula's son whom was officially designated heir to the throne.
- Sultan Aba Jifar – Governor of Jimma until 1932
- Balcha Aba Nefso – Governor of Sidamo and Harar provinces. He fought in the first Italo-Ethiopian war and died while fighting the second one.
- Empress Tewabech Ali – Member of the Yejju rulling class who was married to Emperor Tewodros
- Empress Menen Asfaw – Member of the Wollo rulling class who was married to Emperor Haileselase
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- Mulatu Teshome – President of Ethiopia
- Tadesse Birru – Father of Oromo nationalism
- Elemo Qiltu – First commander of the Oromo Liberation Army
- Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin – Poet Laureate of Ethiopia
- Haile Fida – Leader of All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement
- Tirunesh Dibaba – Athlete
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Oromo people.|
- Tsega Etefa, Integration and Peace in East Africa: A History of the Oromo Nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. ISBN 978-0-230-11774-7
- Mohammed Hassan, The Oromo of Ethiopia, A History 1570–1860. Trenton: Red Sea Press, 1994. ISBN 0-932415-94-6
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