Snapshot of Oromo Language

Oromo Language and History circa 1910

June 8, 2016

[EAJN] Mardaasa Addisu – Oromo Activist – Oromo Language and History

This is a small peek at the Oromo language and History around the beginning of the 1900’s.

I. The first document is an online Oromo to English dictionary published by Cambridge Press. Edwin Foot and Liban Bultum wrote the dictionary in 1913. In the preface of the dictionary, Edwin Foot states the following regarding Oromo people:

[pullquote align=”normal”]”Though there are marked local differences in dialects even in Abyssinia itself, as for instance between that of the Oromos of the highlands and that of the Borana, yet the language is so essentially constant that the women and children of the Gurri tribe, who inhabit the El Wak oasis and surrounding districts under their chief Gababa, talk the same dialect as those of the Walega; though the men of the tribe, who travel about and have dealings with other tribes, use many Somali and even Arabic words.” [/pullquote]

 The personal history of Liban Bultum is one that was well documented. Liban was one of many children abducted by Abyssinian King Menelik II and sold into slavery. It was a British Navy officer Commander Charles E Gissing in 1888 who freed the children from slavery and took them to Lovedale Missionary (South Africa).


The following BBC report provides an overview of one of the other children Bisho Jarsa, the grandmother of South African Apartheid activist Neville Alexander.

 II. The Journal of Oromo studies Summer 1993 Volume 1 Number 1 provides some detailed analysis on Oromo langauge standardization that occurred in 1991. Dr Tilahun Gamta wrote Qube Affan Oromo: reasons for Choosing the Latin Script for Developing an Oromo Alphabet (see page 36). In the article, Professor Tilahun discusses how over 1000 Oromo scholars convened in Finfinne (Addis Abeba) November 3rd, 1991 to standardized Oromo writing on Latin scripts.

III. Dr Addisu Tolesa wrote the article Oromo Literature, Geerarsa and the Liberation Struggle (pg 59) found in Journal of Oromo Studies 1994 Volume 1 Number 2. The article is centered on Geerarsa (folksongs) and it’s role in preserving Oromo language and culture. Another aspect of Oromo culture that has influenced continuity of Oromo language is the Gadaa system. Gadaa is an “Oromo Social, political and economic order. It is the symbol of Oromo unity and love among the Oromos. It is a democratic system of government that symbolizes Oromo civilization.”

 Through Gadaa administrative process, Oromo from rural to densely populated regions sent delegates to meet at Odaa or Gummi to deliberate on new laws and elect new leaders. As a result, Oromo language retained continuity across regions as observed by Edwin Foot. The Gadaa system was intact until the late 1890’s when Abyssinian King defeated and massacred many Oromo. The Abyssinian King instituted systems to restrict Oromo movement in attempts to destroy Gadaa. Today, some Oromo regions continue to practice Gadaa in it’s original state while other regions have renewed Gadaa practices. Video of Gadaa by region are available on youtube.

 IV. Journal of Oromo Studies 1995 Volume 1&2 and Number 1 &2 has details on earlier research conducted by Oromo Students Study group in Europe 1972. The article by Dr Feyisa Demie

titled Special Features in Oromiffa and Reasons for Adopting Latin Scripts for Developing Oromo Orthography (pg 22).

Hopefully, the above provides everyone some details along with added historical references as it gives a broader picture to what influenced and contributed to the retention of Oromo language.

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