BADHAASA, Oromia (OPride) — The Borana Oromo have elected Kura Jarso, 30, as their 71st Abba Gadaa in an elaborate, week long ceremony attended by tens of thousands of people in Badhaasa, southern Ethiopia.
Spectators and invited guests started arriving at Arda Jila Badhaasa (the Badhasa ceremonial place) several days ahead of Jarso’s inaguration. The mood here was euphoric all week long and Badhaasa is packed with people from every corner of Oromia. This is where the Borana Oromo leaders have exchanged power peacefully and in a democratic manner every eight years for more than 560 years.
Everyone is welcome to Badhaasa, but the sacred coronation ceremony of the newly minted Gadaa leader was held in secret. Those who came to witness this historic event entertained themselves with food and drinks in a designated area. The transfer of power (baallii dabarsuu) took place on March 2, 2017, around 3 a.m. local time out of the sight of the general public.
No one except the two Abba Gadaa’s and their advisors is allowed to witness the transfer of power. The ceremony is so sacred that the Borana believe “it has the power to kill unauthorized observers.” As per the Borana Gadaa tradition, the newly elected Abba Gadaa, Kura Jarso and his seven-person cabinet arrived at the outgoing Abba Gadaa, Guyo Goba’s house on a horseback last Thursday and loudly proclaimed: “Yaa dhiyaanne, Sa’aa nama nu duraa gorsaa.” Roughly translated: “We are here, keep every person and cattle out of our sight.”
The two leaders and their council of advisers then rode their horses until it was clear that no one could see them or witness the secret ceremony. That’s when the formal transfer of power took place. At that point, after passing on the mantle of leadership to Jarso, Goba blessed his successor: “Hormaataan na caali. Bultumaan na caali.” “I bless you to be more fruitful than me. I bless you to be a better leader than me.”
The outgoing Borana Gadaa leader announced the peaceful transfer of power to an anxious public at sunrise. The details are meticulously planned down to the specific language and timing of Goba’s remarks.
Following a brief exchange of pleasantries, Kura Jarso retreated inside, where he stayed indoors for the next three days. During this period, which is known as nyaachisa or ulumaa, no one from the general public could see or interact with him. The formal inauguration took place on March 5. At the event, which was attended by government officials, foreign dignitaries, tourists and the media, the newly elected leader announced new laws and pledged to work for preserving the Oromo culture, on areas conflict resolution, and on improving the livelihood of the Borana people. In his inaugural address, Kura Jarso prayed for the rain to come and called on the federal government to bolster its assistance for the Borana who are dealing with the effects of a severe drought.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Kura Jarso is educated. He was a second-year statistics student at Hawassa University when he quit to take over the reins of Gadaa leadership.
Although he officially handed power to Kura Jarso, Guyo Goba will have an immense advisory role in Jarso’s administration. In fact, several councilors are elected from Goba’s government to serve in the incoming administration to ensure continuity and smooth transition. In addition, all Gadaa leaders who are still alive, including Jilo Aga and Liban Jaldessa, both of whom advised Goba, will continue to work with Jarso.
In addition to Kura Jarso, two other Gadaa leaders assumed power this week: Tarii (Adii) Jaldessa of Gadaa Hawaxa and Boru Dima of Gadaa Konitu. But since Kura Jarso’s Harbora is the eldest of the three Gadaas, Kura assumes the role of Adula Fixe, meaning he is the Abba Gadaa of all Borana. The other two are leaders of their respective clans. The Boran are the senior of Oromo’s many tribes.
Gadaa is an egalitarian socio-economic and political system of the Oromo people, in which power rotates between five Gadaa classes every eight years. Under Gadaa, members of the society are organized into 11 age-based grades that range from birth to death. While its influence has waned due to the encroaching forces of modernity, religious influence and decades of political repression, the Borana are among the few remaining Oromo tribes to still fully practice the Gadaa system.
In a historic achievement for the Oromo people, in November 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed the Gadaa system on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
“The system regulates political, economic, social and religious activities of the community dealing with issues such as conflict resolution, reparation and protecting women’s rights,” UNESCO said at the time. “It serves as a mechanism for enforcing moral conduct, building social cohesion, and expressing forms of community culture.”
(Photos and reporting by Elias M Hordofa. Additional photos by Amensisa Ifa.)