The following in an excerpt from Tadesse Jaleta’s thesis, A Contextual Study of Guji-Oromo Proverbs: functions in Focus, as submitted to Addis Ababa University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree of Master of Art in Literature.
The Guji people belong to the Oromo ethnic group. They speak Oromo language and practice the original Oromo culture. They are, even, considered to be the ones who have sustained the original Oromo traditions. In other words, the original Oromo traditions are still active in practices of the Guji society. In their ways of life and dialect, the Guji Oromo seem to be distinct from Oromos of other parts of the country with the exception of the Borana Oromo. With the Borana Oromo, they share some ways of life and speak a relatively similar dialect (Van De Loo, 1991).
The Guji live in a large territory found in South Ethiopia at approximately, 450 k.ms. away from Addis Ababa. The area is bordering with Borana in the South, Walayta and Gamo Gofa in the West, Sidama and Gedeo in the North, and Bale and Arsi in the East. Therefore, the Guji are neighbours with the Borana, the Walayta, the Gamo, the Gedeo, the Sidama, the Aris and the Bale people.
The Guji have not been restricted to Guji territory, but have been diffused in the adjacent areas occupied by other ethnic groups. Some of them live mixed with the Gedeo and Sidama people in Gedeo and Sidama Woredas (districts) and Kebeles (villages). In the same way, they live with the Borana people in Borana dominated areas. However, they sometimes, come into conflict with their neighbours such as Walayta, Gedeo and Borana peoples mainly on account of the possession of farmland (Ibid).
According to an informant (Bahrbare Balli), the Guji tribe embraces three sub-tribes. These sub-tribes are called Huraga, Mati and Hokku. Such sub-division, of the tribe is told in Guji oral traditions. The tribal father of the Guji was known as Gujo. It seems that it was from this name that the present name of the tribe had originated. It is said that Gujo had three sons from his first wife. He named the sons Huraga, Mati and Hokku. The sons, after coming of age, married wives and begot children. As a result, the three
Guji sub-tribes emerged.
Besides, the three sons of Gujo moved to a large unoccupied area and divided it among themselves. The sub-divisions were agreed upon to be called by their owners.
Accordingly, the sub division that was taken by Huraga was called Huraga, that owned by Mati was called Mati and the third Hokku. Eventually, the Guji sub-areas have been called as Huraga, Mati and Hokku. However, there are no clear cultural and linguistic distinctions among the people of these areas (the same informant).
The Guji sub –tribes could also be further divided into clans (Balbala). For example, the
Hurga sub-tribe consists of seven clans: Gola, Sorbortu, Agamtu, Hallo, Darartu, Zoysut, and Galalcha. The Hokku sub-tribe includes Obborra, Bala, Buditu, Micille and Kino; whereas, the Mati Sub-tribe comprises only three clans: Hirkatu, Insale and Handoa. All the clans live scattered on the large territory of the Guji as well as adjoining lands, for example, in Gedeo and Sidama areas. There are no cultural and dialectical elements that distinguish one clan from another. All members of the tribe live mixed and scattered on the large territory without any conflict and cultural or political differences among them. They consider each other as brothers and sisters, act together in times of war and practice Gada rituals together (Van De Loo 1991, Tadesse, 1995; the same informant).
The Guji People’s Ways of Life: The Gada System
The old aged and peculiar Oromo tradition, the Gada system, is still functional and practiced by the Guji Oromo. The Oromo Gada system seems to be uncommon among Oromo in other parts of the country. However, the Guji and Borana Oromos have kept the Gada institution and its rituals fresh with its flavor. In these people, it has been serving as an institution that regulates the social, political, cultural and economic norms and events (Ibid).
The Gada institution of the Guji people involves a system of age-set and generation-set that form and enforce the social, political and cultural norms by which individuals and their collective lives are governed (Asmeron, 1973; Hinnant, 1984; Van De Loo, 1991). In other words, the Guji Gada institution is concerned with formulation of the social, political, cultural and economic orders among the people by creating sets of ritual status based on age and generation. It serves as a ritual through which each member of the Guji society is supposed to pass as well as the organization that regulates this ritual.
Each member of the people is conscious of the power and authority vested on the Gada institution and is highly obedient to its directives. Among Guji society, the Gada institution seems to be the ex-genesis of the prevalent social structures and common cultural codes (Hinnant, Ibid). Thus, it is possible to note that the Gada institution of the Guji people is a complex system of ranking, authorizing and decision making for the people.
It is made up of ten successive classes that rotate every eight years. These classes are called: Dabballe, Qarre, Kuusa, Raaba, Doori, Gadaa, Baatuu, Yuuba, Jaarsa Guduru, and Jaarsa Qulullu (Van De Loo, Ibid). The classes contain two series of five successive grades. Each grade is again supposed to go through eight years of activity. The system assigns special rights and duties for each grade or class in the period of its activity. In the system, each male member of the society is promoted to next grade once in every eight years (Ibid). In the Gada system of administration, elders were given a great responsibility. They resolve local disputes, disapprove malpractices, advise and guide the youth and mobilize the people to strengthen their solidarity.
In short, in the Guji people, the Gada institution seems to be an authorized body that generates the social, cultural and political codes, and governs the day-to-day life of the people. Van de Loo (Ibid:35) asserts “…that in the Guji , the Gada institution is the top and authorized body that governs the spiritual and material lives of the people”. Thus, all aspects of the traditional life of the Guji people are governed by laws of the Gada institution (Ibid).
Traditional Belief : Waaqefanna
The Guji people, mainly the elders, practice traditional belief that was believed to be common to most Africans in the earlier times. The majority of the people are still carrying out traditional belief that was also regarded to be the earlier and native belief of the Oromo people. The Guji traditional belief is, presently, called Waqafanna, which has been defined as a belief in one God who has created everything and above all in his power. The belief is led by Qallu who is a significant body in the Gada institution (Wataa Shedo).
In the Guji people, the Qallu is perceived as a messenger of Waaqaa (God). Every time he appears, the people pay him homage and receive his blessings. The qallu with his companions (jarroole) serves as facilitator of peace and conformity among the people.
He gives blessing and says prayers moving here and there in the Guji villages. He also serves as an agent that promotes, and reinforces the aadaa (culture), safuu (morals) and seeraa (laws) of the people. This influential person is regarded as the leader and enforcer of the Guji traditional belief (waaqafanna) as well as regulator of the social and cultural lives of the society (Wataa Shedo).
Waqafanna, as stated above is a belief in one God; the God of creation, peace and life; the God who created and guides everything; the God who created river, therefore, God of river; the God who created tree; therefore, God of trees; the God who is manifested in the form of ayanaa (kind spirit). The God who comes down to a man in the form of ayanaa (kind spirit) and helps and guides him. Therefore, a Guji father says “Ayana Abbaakoo na gargaari, i.e., God of my father help me” whenever he leaves his home to his farmland. He is praying to the God who helped and guided his forefathers. Thus, the waqafanna involves the belief in and prayer to the God who created the world and its dwellers (the same informant).
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