By Marartu Galata
Washington D.C – Obbo Dabbasaa Guyyoo, a notable expert on Oromo cultural tradition, visited the Washington, D.C. Oromo Community and spoke at the Oromo Center.
Guyyoo is widely regarded as a specialist on Oromo culture, tradition and history. Through his school, Mana Baromsa Argaa fi Dhageettii, in Nairobi, Kenya he teaches and trains Oromos and non-Oromos on the Gadaa system as practiced in Borana. His teachings are primarily based on his extensive knowledge of Oromo culture and personal experiences. Obbo Dabbasaa also travels internationally to teach about the Gadaa system. He has come to the Americas on several occasions for the same purpose.
At the August 25 – 27, 2011 forum, attendance slowly increased from about 15 participants on Thursday evening to 25 on Friday, and 40 attendants at the final program on Saturday afternoon. The programs for Thursday and Friday were held in the downstairs meeting location at the Oromo Center on Upshur Street in Northwest D.C., in the evening. On Saturday, Obbo Dabbasaa spoke at the Oromo Community House on 3rd Street to allow for a larger crowd.
Each day’s program started off with a brief introduction of Obbo Dabbasaa and the schedule, followed by “eebbaa,” a prayer in Afaan Oromoo. The turnout at the event was undoubtedly low, mostly consisting of Oromo men, with a handful of Oromo and non-Oromo women. A translator was provided on Thursday and Friday, but was removed from the program on Saturday due to time constraints. However, although the audience was small, participation was high and there was not a quiet moment.
Despite the interaction between participants and the speaker, the conversation was not very groundbreaking, and the subject often returned to religion and/or unity, two controversial topics within the Oromo community. Obbo Dabbasaa mentioned more than once, “Oromoon tokko. Oromoo keessatti namni ‘ani Kiristiyaana, ani Musliima, ani Waaqeeffataa’ jedhee biyyaa baqatee jiraa?” meaning, “Oromo is one. Among Oromo people, is there anyone who has sought refuge from our homeland because they are Christian, Muslim or Waaqeeffataa?”
Kulani Jalata, an out-of-state attendant at the forum, said one main emerging issue from the event was that there is “a disconnect between generations.” Kulani pointed out that there is certainly room for improvement, and for using Obbo Dabbasaa’s teaching to “revitalize our Gadaa culture and apply it to new generations and problems.”
Obbo Dabbasaa spoke at several points over the duration of the event about the education of Oromo customs between generations. Slightly disappointed, he said, “Wal nyaachuu kana, wal balleessuu kana—ijoolleef lakkifnaa?” or essentially, “Will we pass on to our children this practice of demoralizing and destroying one another?”
Obbo Dabbasaa made it clear that it is necessary to teach the younger generations about Oromo culture, particularly the Gadaa system. He also urged that it is indeed possible to revive this sacred Oromo structure, and that Gadaa is not a thing of the past, but a hope for our future.