Gender Divisions.

Despite Gadaa being an egalitarian social system, women were excluded from passing through age-sets and generation-sets. Gada effectively enforced a gender-based division of labor in Oromo society, although it allowed two equally important separate and interdependent economic domains. Explaining how the Gadaa system brought these two domains together by establishing mechanisms of balancing, regulating and safeguarding these domains. Men have controlled the mobile resources – those that required going out from the homestead — herding, defense of livestock and land, tilling new fields, plowing, etc. Women have controlled the stationary resources – – the house, the grain, and other products of the fields once they are brought into gotara for storage, etc. Even the cattle around the house are under their control; women milk them, decide how much milk goes to the calves, how much to the people in the household for drinking, how much for butter or cheese to eat or sell, how much to guests who bring valuable information, become friends in time of need, etc…

The balancing of the domains of women and men and maintaining their interdependence has been a precondition for keeping the peace between the sexes and for promoting saffu ( moral and ethical order) in society. By exercising a real day-to-day control over the disposition of the resources at every point of the decision-making process in ways that are protected by the value system of society, the woman wields determinative influence in the society as a whole.

The value system of Oromo society has been influenced by the Gadaa and siiqqee institutions. In precolonial Oromo society, women had the siiqqee institution, a parallel institution to the Gadaa system, that “functioned hands in hand with Gadaa system as one of its built-in mechanisms of checks and balances.” These two institutions helped to maintain saffu in Oromo society by enabling Oromo women to have control over resources and private spaces, social status and respect, and sisterhood and solidarity by deterring men from infringing upon their individual and collective rights.

If the balance between men and women was broken, a siqqee rebellion was initiated to restore the law of God and the moral and ethical order of society. When there were violations of their rights, women left their homes, children, and resources and traveled to a place where there was a big tree called qilxxu and assembled there until the problems were solved through negotiation by elders of men and women. Married women have the right to organize and form the siiqqee sisterhood and solidarity. Because women as a group are considered halaga [nonrelative] and excluded from the Gadaa grades, they stick together and count on one another through the siiqqee which they all have in common . . . in the strange gosa [lineage] where women live as strangers, siiqqee represents the mother and they even address each other as `daughters of a mother.’ They get together regularly for prayers as well as for other important individual and community matters. If men try to stop women from attending these walargee (meetings), it is considered against saffu.

Oromo women used different siiqqee mechanisms to maintain their rights; such mechanisms included the law of muka laaftu (soften wood), the abaarsa (curse), iyya siiqqee (scream), and godaana siiqqee (trek). Because of their liminality, women wield a special religious power where they draw an enormous moral and ritual authority. Men, therefore, try to avoid their curse and seek their blessings, Women, in general, are symbolically and politically liminal and correspondingly enjoy special sacred power as a class. People respect and revere a woman because Waaq made her be respected and revered. Interference with a woman’s sacred authority is regarded as violating seera Waaq and saffu.

A man who violated women’s individual and collective rights could be corrected through reconciliation and pledging not to repeat the mistakes or through women’s reprisal ritual: A group of women ambush the offender in the bush or on the road, bind him, insult him verbally using obscene language that they would not normally utter in the direct presence of an adult male, … pinch him, and whip him with leafy branches or knotted strips of cloth. In extreme cases, they may force him to crawl over the thorny or rocky ground while they whip him. They demand livestock sacrifice as the price to cease their attack. If he refuses, they may tie him to a tree in the bush and seize one of his animals themselves. Other men rarely intervene.”

The Oromo were mixed agriculturalists (farmers and cattle-herders) before they began their sixteenth-century expanded settlement in the Horn of Africa. They primarily reared cattle and sheep and grew barley. The Oromo have used these animals and this cereal crop for economic and ritual purposes. After they expanded and settled, most Oromos continued their practices of cultivating barely and other crops on the highlands and cattle herding on the lowlands. They grew crops on the highland around their homes and took cattle down to the lowland plain for pasture.

Cattle and cereal crops have been parts of the Oromo livelihood. They have used cattle for food, ritual, status, wealth accumulation, and sacrifice in initiation ceremonies. They also used cattle products for fertilization, fuel, clothing, etc. Cattle-rearing has long been part of their lives. Thus, many scholars have tended to ignore the Oromos’ participation in farming and have characterized them as totally pastoralist. They have also reared horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, fowls, civet cats and, in lowland areas, camels, etc. The Oromo have cultivated grain crops, such as xxaffi (poa abyssinica), sorghum, maize, barley, and wheat, using the hoe and plow. Coffee has been an important cash crop. It had long grown wild in Oromia and other neighboring regions.

Certain caste groups specialized in iron- and wood-working and made iron and wood instruments needed for farming. Iron instruments, such as swords, spears, hoes, axes, sickles, knives, etc., have been very important. Some of these instruments were also essential for fighting and hunting. Woodworking has been known for a long time. Carpenters have made wooden objects, such as platters, stools, spades, tables, ploughs, bows, wooden forks, honey barrels, etc. Goldsmithing (warqqee ungulalu) has been practiced in western Oromia. Pottery making, weaving, and tanning have been practiced by specialized caste groups.

The Oromo people have lived in scattered homesteads or huts. The basic unit has been the patrilineal extended family. A man, as Abba Worra (literally head of the family), has authority over his wife or wives, unmarried sons, and daughters. Next, to the family, oola (neighbor) and ganda (community) have been very important social networks. Before the disintegration of the Gadaa system, the land was controlled by the qomoo (clan), whereas cattle belonged to an individual family. Alluding to the social equality practiced in the precolonial Oromo society, Virginia Luling argues that the Oromo had “reconciled a certain degree of political specialization with emphasis on strict equality by means of a system of sets Gadaa succeeding one another over time.

The Gadaa System, an Oromo peoples’ knowledge of governance, is discussed under this chapter at a macro-level (It is not the purpose of this study to deal with Gadaa System at the micro level). As you might consider the approach to present Gadaa System of governance is descriptive and a bit analytical too. From this text, one may understand how Gadaa functions and how it is structured. Hence from the conceptual understanding of Gadaa up to its complex structures is presented under three sections. That is, introducing Gadaa System (conceptual and definitional matters), Gadaa grades (the eleven Gadaa grades among the Boran), and Gadaa Institutions (the Gadaa General Assembly, the Gadaa Council, and the Qallu) of governance).

Based on this uniquely African system of governance one could think of its relevance to the contemporary world (or sub-Saharan states) system of governance. Can the Gadaa System (which is currently prevalent among Borana) be useful today? Can it contribute to democracy and good governance in Ethiopia in general and in Oromia regional state in particular? If so, how can we bridge the scientific knowledge (or elite politics) of governance to the traditional system of governance and so forth? Moreover, given the federal structure of the state of Ethiopia embrace today and given Oromia (as a regional state) “enjoy” a status of enacting its own constitution, it is academically (and relatively) not difficult to analyze the relevance of the Gadaa System and possibly recommend for policymakers to adopt it—where it is applicable, progressive and constitutional.



When the Gadaa Democracy Rules in a Federal State


The Origins of the Oromo and Somali

The Gada system