Tuesday, April 1, 2014
The Quest for Oromo’s Indigenous Knowledge and Institutions
By Iddoosaa Ejjetaa, Ph.D.* | April 1, 2014
The classical definition of knowledge was given by Plato as “justified true belief.” There are many philosophical theories to explain knowledge. The online Oxford dictionaries define knowledge as a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject [online]. The same source explain knowledge that can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic. According to Stanley Cavell, “Knowing and Acknowledging” the “knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, communication, association and reasoning; while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings.” I am not here to write the theory of knowledge, but trying to bring the human society acknowledgement and recognition for the Oromoo nation’s indigenous knowledge.
The Oromoo Gadaa System (OGS) is an indigenous knowledge reserve institution of the Oromoo nation. It is an organic system, which is self-refining every eight years (in two four-year terms) to meet the needs of the society. The OGS is a well-structured and organized indigenous knowledge reserve that encompasses social, political, economic and military institutions that operate mainly based on self-reliance principles while Oromummaa is an act of embracing these institutions and applying the indigenous knowledge to manifest an authentic Oromoo’s cultural and national identity.
The essence of scientific education is to understand Mother Nature, daachee haadha marggoo, and human experience in relation to Mother Nature. Through scientific education we can ask questions and try to investigate or do research to find out the facts and report the new knowledge about the subject. For example, who is responsible for the creation of human being, other living and non-living things as a part of the whole nature? What if I told you that the answer to the question is Mother Nature? I guess, you would not be satisfied with the answer because it leads to another subsequent philosophical questions such as who is responsible for the creation of the Mother Nature. Again, what if I told you the answer is a God? This time, probably you would be settled and agree with me. But how do you know for sure that it is a God who is responsible for the creation of nature?
I have thought deeply about these questions and tried to find the best possible answers. I would like to share the final answer with you later on if you continue the journey with me through reading and thinking about the perplexities of human life experience.
The purpose of this paper is to share my points of view with you and highlight that the Oromoo Gadaa System is the prima source of Oromo indigenous knowledge reserve that every Oromoo person should safeguard it and reclaim it as a shared-value that can be manifested through applied Oromoo knowledge and life experience, which is often called Oromummaa. Hence, the Oromoo Qubee generation are highly encouraged to embark their scientific studies and discoveries on our forefathers’ indigenous knowledge and bring it to light to show the world that our forefathers had made significant contribution to human society and civilization by creating and developing a comprehensive and complex democratic system: the Oromoo Gadaa System and its Institutions. For the qubee Oromoo generation, I would say they have a gold mining opportunity on their own backyards and they have to go for it.
Oromoo’s Indigenous Knowledge
Indigenous knowledge is local by nature. It is primarily based on social skills and production techniques. Both social skills and production techniques employ indigenous knowledge that in turn involves the process of life-long learning and teaching. The Oromoo Gadaa System provides such indigenous knowledge reserve so as to enable the new generation to learn from and teach the generations to come. For example, Oromummaa is a social skill. The Oromoo children learn social skills: respect, love, sympathy, empathy, ethics (Safuu), sharing, helping others, communications, etc from their parents and through well-organized Gadaa institutions such as the Age group (Hiriyyaa) and Qalluu.
Like every society, the Oromoo Gadaa Society had engaged in production of goods and services for long time or millenniums. They have millennium years of farming and animal husbandry experience and knowledge. The Oromoo farmers were the first people who domesticated barley as cereal crop in the region and a coffee plant and used the coffee beans in the world. This means the Oromoo farmers had possessed a primary indigenous knowledge about these crops. This indigenous knowledge reserve, however, needs a substantial effort in the field of scientific research and documentation for learning and teaching purposes by present and future Oromoo generations.
The lack of self-ruling political right in Ethiopian Empire and the decline of the Oromoo Gadaa System of Self-governance lead to the deterioration of the Indigenous knowledge and Institutions. In addition, the absence of curiosities from the Oromoo educated class for long time and self-inflicted prejudices against Oromoo indigenous knowledge had played a significant role on its underdevelopment. The educated class is the first social group who run away from their villages and turn their back to their culture and traditional ways of life. Consequently they find themselves in the garrison cities where almost everything is imitation of modernity that has no root in the local culture or traditions. Moreover, the educated elites had been played an agent role to introduce exogenous values including foreign religion, culture of conspicuous consumption and other copy-cut life styles from the West, and Middle-East world.
As I mentioned above, because of the lack of basic human right the Oromoo as a nation has no formal indigenous institutions yet. Instead, the institutions are maintained by the Oromoo Gadaa fathers and mothers who have been serving as Oromo indigenous knowledge reserve as institution. . This means the Qubee generation scientific research and discoveries are highly dependent on the existence of Gadaa Oromoo fathers and mothers (abbootii Gadaa Oromoo) and time because if they die the institutions and knowledge will die with them. For many of them, a biological time is about running out now. One day they will leave us for good. So it is responsibilities and sacred duties of this generation to secure and backup these precious indigenous “documents” that had been inherited form the previous generations.
As JF Kennedy said, the purpose of education is to advance human knowledge and dissemination of truth. However, contrary he said, the education system in Ethiopia has been harboring ignorance, distortion and denial of the truth that effectively disabled the process of learning, thinking and bringing positive changes to our society. So I suggest to the new generation regardless of their ethnic and cultural background to use the best three doses of pills/prescription for ignorance, distortion and denial of history. They are: genuine education, genuine education, and genuine education (3-GE). Through genuine education one can learn the true essence of love (jaalala), which is unselfishness, the creator, and creatures, uumaa fi uumammaa.
Generally, indigenous knowledge (IK) are the outcome of true and genuine collective human experience. It could be knowledge about culture, tradition, history, philosophy, belief system, art, farming, biodiversity, medicine, family, economic distribution, etc. The Oromoo Gadaa System is one of such collective human experience that need to be learned as universal value to human society and pass down to the next generations.
The Predicaments of Indigenous Knowledge in Ethiopia Politically speaking, Ethiopia as a nation had never been colonized and maintained its independence while all African countries had been colonized by European states. To some extent, this is true. Practically, however, the Ethiopian Empire State had been constructed and maintained by European states and continued to operate under indirect-colonialism of Anglo-American and European States. Like all African Republics or States, the Ethiopia’s government structure, military structure, religious institutions, political and social, educational, and legal systems are highly influenced mainly by Anglo-American and European institutions including British, France, Italian, Germany, American, Japan, China, etc. Consequently, indigenous knowledge had been systematically marginalized and ignored, unfairly criticized as primitive, static and simple idea by semi-literate domestic elites or agents of exogenous institutions.
These exogenous institutions such as the Orthodox Coptic Church officials (clergy/priests) and collusion of feudal neftenyaa and self-serving local balabats in Ethiopia, for instance, had played a key role in dismantling indigenous institutions, discrediting and condemning indigenous knowledge and even blessing Menelik’s genocidal and unjust war against our people and indigenous people of the south. Here one must note that the local Oromoo balabats had played a primary role in sponsoring, defending and assigning a commanding site Oromoland to the Orthodox Churches in Oromiyaa today. In addition to the neftenyaa system, these social class is accountable historically for the decline of the Oromoo Gadaa System and underdevelopment of its Institutions. Beside this, at present the decedent of these social class still maintained their loyalty to the Orthodox Church and Ethiopia’s empire state. Some individuals even have been involving in the Oromoo liberation struggle by dressing a sheep skin to saboteur the genuine aspiration of Oromians for freedom and independence. This author suspect that this very social class had contributed to the weakness of Oromia liberation camp.