All activities and life of each and every member of the Oromo was guided by an egalitarian socio-economic and political structure of the society called the Gada system. The Gada system is a class system that succeeds each other every eight years in assuming political-military administration, economic management, and other social activities. It was the central institution of the Oromo people that contain complex and extraordinary features. It was purely invented by the Oromo and it is one of the most remarkable political systems which was highly democratic with effective legislative and judicial institutions.
The Oromo society was structured in accordance with this Gada system. The society was structured into two distinct but cross-cutting system of the peer group. The first one is the system in which the members of each class are recruited strictly on the basis of chronological age which the anthropologists call Age Sets(read more in chapter 5). The second is a system in which the members are recruited on the bases of genealogical generation. Both social groups pass from one stage of development to the next every eight years. At each level of the development or Gada grade, the classes hold corporate responsibilities. The transition rituals by which the genealogical social group (the sons) passes from one grade to the next is performed every eight years during the life cycle. Every transition ritual at different levels has its own unique character, name, and procedure.
As to the question, how many Gadaa grades are there and how long do they exactly take, it has been differently approached by several interpreters of the Gadaa System. For instance, Leus’ model recognizes eleven Gadaa grades and all bear eight years constituting in sum eighty-eight years. However, others recognize the eleven Gadaa grades but they vary on the question of how long a Gadaa grade take in years. For instance, Haberland and Asmarom vary from the former model in that the fifth Gadaa grade (raba) takes five years and the seventh, eighth, ni1nth and tenth Gadaa grades (i.e. yuuba I-IV) covers twenty-seven total years. However, for Lues all the four yuuba Gadaa grades constitute twenty-four years in sum. The discrepancy between the two models of counting amounts to three years and it arises from the timing of the Power (ballii) transfer ceremony.
The Eleven Regular Gadaa cycle among the Boran Among the Boran people the Gadaa System embraces eleven basic Gadaa grades: five active, five passive and one liminal (full retirement) stage. Each one of the eleven Gadaa grades equally bears eight-year periods and they are based on genealogical generations. Consider the above diagram (a model and summary) of the Gadaa grades.
The Gadaa grades are recruited on the basis of genealogical generations. The following are the Gadaa grades and their descriptions.
I.Dabballe (the first Gadaa grade) from age 0 to 8
Dabballe is the initial Gadaa grade roughly ranging from birth to eight years. As discussed elsewhere, a son born to a man at the fifth Gadaa grade (raba) will be introduced to the first Gadaa grade and such children are commonly named as daballe. Dabballe is unique and they have a special place in the Boran society. They are recognizable by their hairstyle known as guduru which is typically feminine (the Borana likens them to girls at this stage). Dabballe’s hair will never be cut and he will have a fictitious name until the naming ceremony (ceremony of passage to the second Gadaa grade) is undertaken. Besides, daballe are free and irresponsible groups. Being daballe is simply a privilege to the child as well as the mother. Corporal punishment of dabballe is strictly prohibited. Instead, they shall be disciplined verbally and “psychologically.” Even other children who take refuge to a home of daballe will also be excused from any form of punishment.
II. Gamme xixiqqaa (junior gamme) from age 9 to 16
Junior gamme is the second Gadaa grade that has to be established through transition rite. Fathers of the dabballes move from all the principal regions of the Boran to the area of the shrine. Then they had to build a traditional hut known as galma especially on a free and fresh area. In principle, every member of a Gadaa class has to attend the rite of transition. One of the most important activities during the ceremony is hair shaving and giving him the new appropriate name, mostly one of the names of their ancestors. Accordingly, the rite of ceremony changes the social status of the child from being considered as girls to boys; it represents the “birth of sons”. On the other hand, it also ends some of the privileges they used to enjoy and it brings minor social duties to them. Following the rite of passage, therefore, the junior gamme assume responsibilities such as looking after sheep and other simple duties. Lastly, they remain as an informal group of friends and kinsmen rather than as members of a Gadaa class until they reach the third Gadaa grade.
III.Gamme gurgudda (senior gamme) from age 17 to 24
There is no formal rite of passage to this Gadaa grade unlike the case of passage to junior gamme. Junior gamme and senior gamme are the sons of two distinct Gadaa classes and they are named after the Abba Gadaa (Gadaa class) in power. In Boran, the junior gamme are called “the sons of Guyyo” and the senior gamme are called “the sons of Liban.” That is, they are named after the two Abba Gadaas, Abba Gadaa Guyyo Gobba (incumbent) and Abba Gada Liban Jaldessa (ex-Abba Gadaa). One of the peculiar features of senior gamme is their tendency to be organized as responsible friends hariyya and mobilize themselves for a continuous five years, especially during summer time. The scope of gatherings ranges from socio-economic to cultural/entertainment activities. Hence, it is customary to move from home o home to find their age-mates. However, before traveling to different houses, they had to notify in advance the mothers of age-mates so that they will arrange the trip and feast for them. Another feature of senior gamme is their elevation to the Gada class. That is, unlike the case of junior gamme the senior gamme will be constituted into two institutions: age sets and Gada class. Hence, it is at this grade (senior gamme) where age-sets hariyya as an institution begins to take root officially. Accordingly, where the first five years of the senior gamme are characterized by joyful activities (singing, dancing and experience sharing) the remaining consecutive three years is the period of being considered as members of the Gada class rather than as a mere member of age-sets. Nevertheless, they continue to gather as many age-mates as they can during this period too.
In nutshell senior gamme had to undergo three main collective social activities (as part of Gadaa development): age-sets formation (hariyya), rendezvous (Wal’argi), and feast (nyachisa) ceremonies covering the entire eight-year period. The purpose of these activities is to first make the members of the grade be aware of their class and peer group. Second, it also makes senior gamme acquire/share experiences with one another for future collective responsibilities.
Young men are also trained to become junior warriors by taking part in war campaigns and hunting large animals; they learn the practical skills of warfare, military organization, and fighting so that they can engage in battle to defend their country and economic resources. The Oromo have used age-sets because generation-sets cannot be an effective means to mobilize troops and a quite distinct organization based on the closeness of age . . . exists for that purpose. In the Borana community, where many elements of the Gadaa system still exist, the assembly known as Gumi Gayyo (the assembly of multitudes) brings together every type of important living leaders, such as living– Abba Gaddas, the qaallus, age-set councilors, clan leaders and Gadaa councilors, and other concerned individuals – to make or amend or change laws and rules every eight years. The Gumi Gayyo assembly has the highest degree of authority than the Gadaa and other assemblies, and other assemblies cannot reverse its decisions
IV. Kuussa (the fourth Gadaa grade) from age 25-32
One of the most important Gadaa grades is the Kuusa Gadaa grade. As the age of senior gamme kicks into a more productive and extraordinary stage, so does the Kusa Gadaa grade welcome the members with different social structure, collective responsibilities and rights. Thus transition to Kusa is accompanied with a formal ceremony. At the stage of grade four, the Gadaa classes and the age set come into being as a formal corporate group: Leaders are elected for both groups. The name of the most senior man in each group becomes the name of the group as a whole.
The two groups then become cross-linked, cross-cutting, structural units that operate as complementary institutions so long as they are both represented by living members. Between the third and fourth Gadaa grades, boys become adolescent and initiated into taking serious social responsibilities. The ruling group has the responsibility to assign senior leaders and experts to instruct and counsel these young men in the importance of leadership, organization, and warfare. They also learn songs, parables, proverbs, cultural and historical maps, and other social skills that they can use in public speech to praise the living and dead heroes or to criticize and ridicule cowardice and traitors. Oratory, the art of public speaking, is highly valued in Oromo society; “the forms of delivery, the wit of the speaker, his tone of voice, his posture, eye contact and ability to command the attention of the audience” are skills to be honed and admired.
Among other Gadaa businesses conducted at this level, the following are the most striking ones:
First, it is at this grade where the Gadaa class and age-sets come into play as formal corporate groups. As discussed elsewhere, the two groups are cross-cutting structural units that operate as complementary institutions as long as both are represented by living members.
Second, it is at this grade that future Gadaa councilors have to be elected. The election of the Gadaa councilors takes place at the time when the rite of passage of the senior gamme to Kusa Gadaa grade takes place. The election process is known as lallaba (proclamation). To be nominated as a candidate as well as to be possibly elected the Borana consider the following criteria: personal qualities (skills such as courage, patience, open-mindedness, reconciliatory and orator); competence of the candidate among his peers and his knowledge (commitment for) of cultural values; antecedents such as betrayal, fraudulent, untruthfulness and others prohibits him from competing; historical achievements of his forefathers (the more his forefathers had accomplished positive deeds to the Boran and to the Gada System; the more the candidate owes high probability to be elected); the candidate has to have a positive image before his own clan and other clans; and recommendation from religious (Qallu) institution.
Third, it is also part of the ceremony to plant a flag made from white and red colored garment called a (baqqalaa faajjii) (a white flag). During the ceremony, “the boy sang their age-set songs (tunnee) and the songs of Gadaa passage (mokkee). The fathers and mothers then stood to face each other around the flag, and the fathers sang a song of praise to their wives” The transition ceremony takes no less than two weeks.
Following this ceremony the election (lallaba) process takes place. During the election the activities such as the assurance of readiness of recommended candidates and notification thereof within the reasonable period of time for election campaigns; fathers of the candidates may be part of the election process; and lastly, notification of election results takes place. Accordingly, the objective of the election is obviously to elect members of a Gada Council (executive organ) known as the Gadaa Council (adula), which includes the Abba Gada office and others (more discussion on the Gadaa Council is held under separate section). Once they are elected freely and fairly, they will remain de facto councilors of their Gadaa class for two consecutive Gadaa grades (i.e. until they reach the sixth Gadaa grade). Therefore, on one hand, the tradition of electing future leaders allows the de facto leaders become more skillful and prepared for public responsibilities. On the other hand, it allows the Boran people to watch the performance and credibility of the elected (de facto) leaders.
V. Raabaa Doorii (the fifth Gadaa grade) from age 33 to 40
At Raba (Gadaa grade V) the basic organization of this executive organ (i.e. Gadaa Council) remains intact. However, given the length of the waiting years (to become de jure leader) factors such as natural (health) and human (wars) may contribute to the death of some of the councilors. It is evident from the Boran Gadaa history that there is the high percentage of premature (before assuming political power) death. Hence when such event occurs, additional councilor (s) will be elected to fill the gap (serve as substitutes for deceased councilor (s). Furthermore, a de facto or de jure councilor may be removed from the office, because of lack of competence, though not limited to, through a procedure known as uprooting (buqqisuu) (The principle of uprooting is discussed in detail under chapter six of this thesis).
Another peculiar activity at the Raba (especially at its early stage), is the appointment of two auxiliary groups known as jaldhaba (executive officers) and torbie (conscripts). Where the former is appointed (and works voluntarily) by a Gadaa councilor and it is an honorary position; the later may be effectuated involuntarily. Hence, the executive officers may put pressure on the conscripts to accept the offer. Moreover, while the former serve for eight years, the later serves only for a limited period of time. In nutshell, at the Raba Gadaa grade the following Gadaa executive bodies have to be constituted:
– The Gadaa Council (adula)
— comprising six senior councilors;
– The Executive officers (jaldhaba)comprising not less than six members; and
– The Conscripts (torbie) 36 comprising seven (short-term agents).
VI. Gadaa (the sixth Gadaa grade) from age 41 to 48
Gadaa Grade is the stage of full political maturity and became the ruling party for the following eight years. This is the peak of the social and political career of Gadaa and the optimum age of having maturity skill and capacity of holding and practically showing societal responsibilities. The Abbaa Boku (the father of scepter) was a ‘chairman’ who presided over the assembly. The Abbaa Boku and his two colleagues are chosen from the oldest or most distinguished families, which are known as `families of Hayu.’ The principal function of the Abbaa Boku is to preside over the parliament to proclaim the laws, and to act when necessary as a ritual expert in the Gadaa-ceremonies. Abbaa Gadaa is another name for Abbaa Boku.
The Abbaa Duulaa (the defense minister) was also one of the leading figures in the Gadaa government. He was the leader of qandala (army) and was elected by the people. His main responsibility included assisting the Abbaa Boku, especially during the time of war. The Abbaa Boku was also supported by a council, known as Shanee or salgee, and retired Gadaa officials. Gadaa laws were passed by the Chaffee (assembly) and implemented by officials. There was no taxation under this system except that Gadaaleaders and their families were provided with necessary materials, such as food, cloth, and house.
At this Gadaa grade, all elected Gadaa councilors at the kuusaa Gadaa grade will assume power at the sixth Gadaa grade. Accordingly, the Gadaa Council who has been in power hands over the power to the incoming Gadaa class. Since this Gadaa grade is the most essential stage
In principle, the transfer of the power regularly takes place during the end-term of the Gadaa Council on power. In particular, it takes place in the month of February (Gurandhala). However, in the history of Boran Gadaa leadership, the takeover ceremony was delayed in 1960. Since Jaldessa Liban (the thende facto Abba Gadaa) kept the outgoing class waiting for three months the Borna consider this a most reprehensible failure of Gadaa leadership. This was a very unusual moment in the Boran history of power transfer ceremonies.
Furthermore, Abba Gadaa (the president) belonging to the outgoing Gadaa Council has to appoint (before handing over the power to the incoming Gadaa class) six men from among the ex-members of the Gadaa Council that are now in the semi-retired (yuuba) Gadaa grade. Accordingly, the appointed individuals will become junior councilors for the incoming senior Gadaa councilors. Here the checks and balance is clearly visible, where councils over councils are institutionalized in order to avoid tyranny and dictatorship.
VII. Yuuba (the semi-retired assemblymen) from age 49 to 80
The yuuba (semi-retired assemblymen) cover four Gadaa grades: yuuba VII, yuuba VIII, yuuba IX, and yuuba X. Each of the semi-retired Gadaa grades bears eight years period and in sum covers thirty-two years (i.e. 4X8). When it comes to the powers and functions of the semi-retired assemblymen, their power is limited to advisory services to the legislative body. That is, all the four semi-assemblymen serve as legal experts to the Gadaa General Assembly (gumigayo) which takes place in the mid of every eight years (i.e. in the fourth year of Abba Gadaa’s term office). Accordingly, all semi-retired members belonging to all yuuba grades will attend the Gadaa General Assembly.
Moreover, they may be required to be assistants to the Gadaa Council in power. This case indicates that although ex-Gadaa Council (now yuuba) are in the semi-retired category, it does not necessarily mean that they are debarred or relieved from Gadaa service in general. It is, therefore, wrong to conceive the idea of retirement or leaving the office here as in the west where a person is relieved from his or her official duties and s/he cannot come back to leadership positions. For example, in case of US once a president finishes his or her two-term office there is no chance to serve as a member of the Congress again or as an administrative member of a newly elected president. However, in the case of the Gadaa political system, as long as they (semi-retired men) are not declared individually incapable due to factors such as incapacity (physical or mental) and not fully retired (traditionally known as yuubomu that is after completing the four yuuba period); they have duty to serve as legal experts and advisers to Gadaa council in power.
Despite kinship relationships are being such an important factor in Oromo society, those who are elected to office are expected to serve without regard to kinship ties. Nobody is above the rule of law in Oromo democracy. The Gadaa system as a whole provided the machinery for democratic rule and enjoyment of maximum liberty for the people. Despite the Gadaa system being an egalitarian social system, women were excluded from passing through age-sets and generation-sets. Gadaa effectively enforced a gender-based division of labor in Oromo society, although it allowed two equally important separate and interdependent economic domains.
VIII. Gadamojjii (liminal or full retirement stage) above 81
Gadamojjii (full retirement) is the terminal and sacred stage of the Gadaa grade refers to that are entering into or going out of the gadamojji Gadaa grade. It is appropriate to discuss who can enter into gadamojjii and who is leaving. First, individuals who are leaving gadamojji grade are the fathers of the members of the sixth Gada grade (Gada class in power). Second, the group of men who are entering into the gadamojji grade is the fathers of the fifth Gadaa grade (the raba). It is through a formal rite of passage that previously semi-retired assemblymen enter into the final Gadaa grade. The rite of passage to the Gadamoojjii is more likened to the ceremony of transfer of power which takes place between two Gadaa Councils (between the incoming and outgoing) in a sense that the incoming Gadaa Mooji takes over for the outgoing Gadaa Mooji. While in the case of the former there will be the exchange of scepter (symbol of authority); in case of the later, however, they exchange incense which is the symbol of sacredness. The nomenclature of the ceremony of passage to Gadamoojjii itself is known as the rite of incense exchange (qumbi wallraf udachu not balli walirrafuchu).