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“Taking” The Bride: The Hamoomota

By Leila Qashu*

Hamoomota refers to a repertoire of songs, but it also designates the group of men from a same clan who accompany the husband (ilma), his father (abbaa ilmaa) and his best man (jalaa) to get the bride of another clan from her home.

The union is not only a contract between the groom and the father of the bride, but also an agreement between two clans, providing them with allies to help them if they are ever needed. Often marriages are performed with the same clans and lineages over several generations so as to strengthen the common bonds. The hamoomota represents the clan, and it must meet the bride’s family, participate in ceremonies that seal the marriage and bring the bride back to the groom’s house before sunset. For the Arsi, the larger the hamoomota, the stronger the clan appears to the bride’s family and clan. The hamoomota is also an occasion to reinforce clan cohesion and values, and the men are proud to participate.

Although the men are well received by the bride’s family, their actions are warrior like and strongly evoke the ritualized kidnapping of a girl from another clan. This idea is clear in their actions and songs, as well as in their speech, when they say they go « to take the bride » (intallah fudha). When he wrote about nuptial songs among the Macha Oromo, Cerulli (1922) also described the groom feigning abduction of the bride on the day of the wedding, which shows that this symbolic kidnapping has long been a part of these ceremonies.

Traditionally, the hamoomota travels on horseback, but as many men no longer have horses, especially in the lowlands, they often rent a bus. I have participated in two hamoomotas, one by bus in the lowlands and the other by horse in the highlands. The hamoomota expedition is generally a physical challenge because of the speed on horseback, the long trip in the heat and the dust and the wear on the voice from singing all day. Men return exhausted, but at the end of the day they are applauded for having shown their strength by “taking” the bride at a gallop and returning the same day.

As the men are traveling on horseback, they sing hamoomota or faaruu farda (horse praising songs), they play games and some discuss amongst themselves. Generally, with the exception of digression into games, the men try to remain in one solid group so they can sing together and remain a unified representation of the clan when going through towns. The games, however, are another demonstration of their strength and their warrior qualities, consisting mainly of chasing races. All of a sudden, one man may put his horse in a run in front of the group or off to one side, and another chases him until one of the two tires. Sometimes, one man chases another, trying to hit him with his walking stick, using it like a club or like a lance.

Once a man has won the race or has succeeded in hitting or reaching his competitor, the two men return to the group. These games demonstrate strength, but they are also a real competition which results in one man defeating another. All the other men watch these games of individual strength that go on outside the space of the group. Although the goal of the hamoomota is to stay in a group and represent the clan, these games show that, as with proud warriors going to fight, there is often individual competitiveness among members of the group.

During the journey, when a song leader (afolee) desires, he can launch a song and the other men will join in response. Most of the hamoomota songs are sung as call and response, with one soloist who leads and a choir (hamoomotuu) that responds, but sometimes they can be sung in antiphony, with two choirs that alternate singing their lines.

The choir, hamoomotuu, can also be called jalaa qabdootaa, which signifies « those who receive ». This terminology is important because it shows that in the case of call and response, the leader gives the song to the others who receive it. Indeed, the leaders of the songs usually come from a family that knows and practices music, because they must have good knowledge of the verses of the poems in order to be able to lead the group. Many of the song leaders that I met are also very vocal in daily life, for example in community meetings.

Although the hamoomota is meant to represent the unity of the clan, as with the games, there are some individuals who show their competitive spirit in the songs. Sometimes two leaders start two different songs at the same time, creating an effect of polymusic (Rappoport 1999) in the middle space. At times, this is due to a separation between the two parts of the group, but it can also be a willful assertion of independence and domination on the part of the leaders.

The following excerpts of hamoomota songs give an idea of their poetic form and content. This first song, Gosa tiyya goshoo tiyyaa odoo fooyoo galgaleessee, is often sung while the men are traveling to and from the bride’s house.


Gosa tiyya goshoo tiyyaa odoo fooyuu galgaleessee

Loowwan jechoon geegayoo odoo fooyuu galgaleessee

Gosa tiyya goshoo tiyyaa odoo fooyuu galgaleessee

Osoo kiyyaa durba dhabnee osoo fooyuu galgaleessee

Woree qabdaaf sitti gamnee osoo fooyuu galgaleessee

Farda gurran gara dirraa osoo fooyuu galgaleessee

Leencaa jechoon gala irraa osoo fooyuu galgaleessee

Translation :

My clan, my friends, night is coming when we take the cattle.

The cattle of geegayo is the best, night is coming when we take the cattle.

My clan, my friends, night is coming when we take the cattle.

I could have a girl from my region (but I prefer to have your famous girl), night is coming when we take the cattle.

Because you (the parents) are famous, I am coming to you night is coming when we take the cattle

I would like this beautiful horse with the black back, night is coming when we take the cattle.

If you give me what I want, I will say that you are like a lion, night is coming when we take the cattle.

As can be seen from the previous example, in these songs, the men often refer to their clan, their ancestors and toponyms, because they are all references that recall their common identity and unite them as a group. They also praise their new allies: the bride, her family and their clan.

– Full Paper (Arsi Oromo Society Viewed Through Its Wedding Music)

*The above excerpt is from a Masters and Pre-doctoral work completed by Leila Qashu at University Paris VIII, Saint Denis, France. Member of the UNESCO/Norway Funds-In-Trust Program, “Ethiopia – Traditional Music, Dance and Instruments.”

OPride.com would like to take this opportunity to encourage readers to submit Hamoomota songs.

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