Last year, during the last week of October, Addis Standard witnessed the gathering of, by state radio and television account, about 4 million Oromos to celebrate Irreecha. Shortly after the celebrations, Addis Standard conducted the following interview with Alemayehu Diro (please see short Bio of our interviewee at the end of the interview), about the relevance of Irreecha for the Oromo nation and Ethiopia at large.
Addis Standard – If you can please start by telling us about the historical background of Irreecha (Thanksgiving) within the Oromo nation?
Alemayehu Diro- Irreecha is one of the ancient ceremonial events taking place twice a year ever since the existence of Oromo as a nation. The Irreecha festivity celebrated in Birraa (in September and October) is the cultural expression of Galata (thankfulness) to Waaqaa (equivalent to the English word God) for providing life necessities to human beings and other living things. This is because the Oromo believe Waaqaa is the sole creator of everything and source of all life. It is also regarded as pure, omnipresent, infinite, incomprehensible and intolerant to injustice, crime, sin and all falsehood. It can do and undo anything.
Irreecha constitutes one of the several religious and cultural practices defining the hallmark of the entire Oromo life. It has promoted and enhanced understanding and unity among the Oromo. It has helped build their common values and shared visions, and consolidated peace (Nagaa Oromo), tolerance and resilience. During Irreecha festivity, the Oromo pray to Waaqaa for peace and stability to prevail; prosperity and abundance to exist; law and social order to be maintained; and the environment to be protected. The Oromo also pray to the supreme Waaqaa for deliverance in times of difficulties and challenges.
This cultural and religious practice of the Oromo was systematically outlawed for more than a century following the fall of the Oromo nation under the tyrant and brutal rules of Minilk II and subsequent Regimes. Despite several odds and difficult circumstances, however, Irreecha has begun to revive in the last two decades. The festivity has registered impressive development from year to year in terms of the number of people attending the occasion and cultural shows being demonstrated. In particular, the Irreecha festivity taking place at Hora Harsadii in Bishoftu has uniquely become Oromo-wide religious and cultural event drawing millions of people from all corners of Oromia and beyond.
AS – How do you describe the main differences between Irreecha and other traditional or religious festivities celebrated by Ethiopians, such as Meskel, Christmas (Gena), or Easter (Fasika)?
AD – All religious and cultural festivities practiced by different people have some degree of similarities and differences. All such festivities describe worldviews of the respective people practicing them. By a worldview I mean a system of values, attitudes, and beliefs, which provide people with different mechanisms to understand the world around them. Irreecha, Meskel, Gena and other similar rituals are ceremonies that celebrate or commemorate specific events that have deep religious and cultural significance. Rituals serve to reinforce important religious and cultural beliefs through meaningful activities that bring comfort and unity of the respective followers. I think in this general sense we may talk of similarities of various religious and cultural festivities. However, since our value systems, attitudes and beliefs are different, their religious and cultural ceremonies and practices remain different.
In this regard, Irreecha is different from other festivities such as Meskel and Gena in that it provides the Oromo with mechanisms to understand their worldview. For example, it provides the Oromo in a unique and particular way a system of morality that establishes right from wrong, good and appropriate from bad or inappropriate behavior. The Oromo have complete sense of ownership, full control and leadership over Irreecha as an institution. Some Oromo may attend and accompany Meskel and Gena festivities but do not have shared objectives and decision-making powers on the institutions. Irreecha is celebrated in the manner that the Oromo would like it to be. It is an invention of the Oromo whereas Meskel and Gena are not.
AS – The Oromos’ participation in many spheres that define Ethiopia’s socio-political and socio-cultural landscape has been largely marked by absenteeism, particularly prior to the 1991 regime change in Ethiopia. And yet Irreecha has been one of the few festivities that the Oromos were able to preserve. Why do you think was that?
AD – I do not think the Oromo preferred absenteeism to participation. As the subject people, the Oromo were denied the rights and opportunities to be part and parcel of mainstream socio-cultural and political economy of Ethiopia for over a century. Successive Ethiopian Regimes have forcefully destroyed the Oromo Gadaa system, robbed of the Oromo land and natural resources, denied them official use of their language (Afaan Oromo), prevented them from exercising and developing their culture, and systematically pushed them away from participating in key economic matters. They were officially denied to be called Oromo and were given a derogatory name called Galla. Ethiopia’s successive regimes were nasty and hateful to anything Oromo. In short, the Oromo were reduced to slavery for over a century. Irreecha happens to be one of the Oromos’ religious and cultural rituals abandoned by these ruling regimes.
But despite the cruelty and enmity, the Oromo paid heavy sacrifices to preserve their language, culture and religious values. At present, at least in theory, the Oromo have repossessed their land and natural resources thanks to the 1974 revolution that led to state ownership of land proclamation. Afaan Oromo is the national working language in Oromia. Gadaa, the Oromo traditional democratic system of governance, is reviving. The traditional support systems such as Buusaa Gonofaa are also coming to existence. Irreecha is just one of the major cultural rituals the Oromo were able to preserve overcoming several odds and difficulties. It constitutes one of the vivid cultural renaissances the Oromo have been experiencing since the last few years.
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