By Solomon Mekonnen
The Guji has various laws, traditions and cultural norms that accord high respect and recognition to women and which ensure women’s entitlement to equal rights with men. The norms grant several rights to women.
According to a printed document written by Jemjem Udessa on the Guji Gadaa: A Blue Print for Democracy and Distinctive Socio-Cultural Characteristics of Guji Oromo, the Guji mythology traces back administration system that following the life of human being as a social animal,the genesis of Gadaa was first tried by bara-akkoo (era of women),which however,endured a harsh and a women- biased tyranny of five consecutive akkooo’s (namely, Hoyoyo Hoyo,Hoya Garo,Lali Laso,Qadho Qaso, Ako Mano).
Then, after, by resistance of maltuu, Guji created an organized and decentralized administration system of power sharing among confederacies and parties. There were two mootiis after the reigns of akkoo,which finally were seen to start sharing of administrative roles into regions and individuals just before the designing of the Gadaa System. The last reign of mootii is assumed to be the time when the idea of federal system of administration was initiated as we can see two mootii’s (joint governors) within one reign .
The document also tells the fall of the akkoo reigns as a historical turning point, that ushered in the transition of man from reign of nature to that of man and the foundation of patriarchal-society in which paterfamilias exercise the administrative power upon his family and fellowmen. As tradition goes, the personal authority of mootii-the top-man, the tactician who caused the depose of Akkoo Manoo subsequently seized the leadership. The man who overthrew the matriarchal leadership and returned the leadership to the mootii (which is patriarchal government) in Guji was Hiyyoo Kuullee, after whom the governance system of the country started taking the shape of federalism instead of liberalism.
According to Jemjem,the wives of Guji Abbaa Gadaas are called Haadha-bollaa, bearing the title and responsibilities equivalent to ‘First Lady’ in modern politics. She is the head of women in the respective administrative system of her husband. Haadha-bollaa,literally means, ‘mother of the throne’ ,which is the official name and responsibility of the wife of Abbaa Gadaa. This special title traditionally exists, may be only, in the Guji Gadaa system of administration, he added.
Rights of Girls
Jemjem Udessa is a senior researcher who have been conducting research on Oromo Gadaa System for over 20 years. According to his presentations on the Annual Conference of the Oromo Study Association (OSA), it is prohibited to have a love affair with an unmarried girls as this is a crime and immoral (fafaa-fokkoo), and even it is forbidden to touch a girl’s body. The fine is seven heads of cattle, out of which one is slaughtered for members of sub-clan leaders. Among the remaining six heads of cattle,the heifer is given to the girl’s father. The rest five will be be returned to the accused person if he regrets.
On the other hand, girls are not allowed to fumigate,make up their eyelashes with antimony and drench themselves with perfume till they get married. Only parents, siblings or relatives buy clothes for a girl. If a non-relative boy is found buying clothes to a girl, he will be punished as a trespasser too.
Addibaana-Official Marriage by preferences of Girls
Among the five forms of lawful(official) marriage in Guji, one is accomplished by the exclusive decision of the girl. This type of marriage is called addibaana.
A case study by Fantaye Etefa on Civil Code and Customary Marriage explains addibaana as the rarest and yet another type of intimidative way of concluding marriage…..addibaana is one way in which a girl may, for various reasons….,walks into the home of man she has intended to marry and would thus declare her intention. She takes all necessary materials siiqqoo, mijuu, kadhoo, bonkoo, quttoo (quttoo is exceptional item of girls to indicate virginity)… she comes and stands in front of the kraal(a rural village of huts surrounded by stockade), just before the entry of cattle to convey her will to the man. As a rule,unless he admits her, she may not enter; however, for many cultural,legal and mythical reasons he never rejects her offer. The possible causes that usually urge Guji girls to go for addibaana are many. To list some when a girl happens to suffer a sight love without the knowledge of a man; or when the family weigh on her interest, say when they betroth her to someone whom she is not willing to; or when she is too late in getting husband; or when she suffers under unfair handlings , may be step-mother, or when there is a sever maladministration in the family in case of the absence of one of her parents, among others.
According to Jemjem, following the marriage process , conciliation goes in the same way as that of hawadii( as if the marriage was made by mutual interest of the girls and the man). Nevertheless, the means used by the girl may not be brought as a defense in mediation whether her families are aware of it or not. Moreover, according to Guji social laws,the girls who perform their marriage through addibaana deserve due respect, service and treatment from her husband, his families and fira members, even higher as compared within the case of other forms of marriage.
Ayele Kebede is also a lecturer at Bule Hora University conducting research on Guji Gadaa system since 2011.
He said that the Guji Oromo’s have institutionalized the Gadaa system before many years through trial and errors . Previously women were not allowed to enter Gumii enclosure.(Agallaa gumii) but during this assembly they are allowed. The elders seriously warn that husband and wife not to go to the court. If some misunderstanding surfaces dispute should be handled at a family level first and then at clan ( Gosa) level and finally it comes to the Gumi assembly.
There is a proverb in Guji which goes in Afan Oromo ‘Worra gowwaa dubbiin fira dhaqxii warra fira gowwaa dubbiin gumii dhaqxii ‘ which literally means if the family members are not good at handling disputes they could seek arbitration at clan level and if that fail to do so they could appeal to Gumii. Gumi ‘s decision is the final verdict . When they handle disputes at the Gumi level or at family one,the elders most of the time don’t look for a third person as a witness. They directly ask those groups who are in conflict.
According to Ayele, the people who stand before Gumi are seriously instructed to speak honestly without distorting the truth. Finally when they pass decision or verdict if the person denies the case they ask him to swear in the name of Waqa ( God).They ask him to swear and leave him . Culturally it is known that many things happen on a person who falsely swear in front of elders. An old man related to this researcher an instance about one person who cut a tree that grew on a sacred place and whose children died soon. He lost many things and even he disappeared. Nobody forced him to leave but Waqa himself they believed. People cite many instances. Many things including the right of women to attend the general assembly are being amended adjusting things with modern trends.
The area of concern on the research is keeping this system intact or as original as before. What one shouldn’t deny is a bit transformation is mandatory. The system should go abreast with the advancement of technology and what the time dictates, the researcher adds.
This transformation could be instructed by scholars while discussing with elders. The possibility is there to incorporate the norm in the education curriculum. Curriculum designers could take this into account. Children could learn their culture at school. When textbooks from elementary class to higher institution are seen, there is not serious and exhaustive research or writings made on Gadaa system. For instance, Bule Hora University has a plan to establish a cultural institution which will exhaustively work on Gadaa system including many other cultural issues. My advice is universities , Ministry of Education and the government should include such useful culture on education system. Gadaa currently is not in education system. Education is power and without education the viability and sustainability of a given heritage, anywhere, is questionable. So, we have to include it in our curriculum, Ayele added.