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Gubaa – The Oromo Thanksgiving Bonfire

Posted: Fulbaana/September 28, 2011 · Finfinne Tribune | Gadaa.com | Comments (1)


By Anga’a Dhugumaa

This special day, three in one festival, is a day when everyone celebrates and thanks God together. This national holiday (Ayyaana Waggaa) includes the following: the bonfire-thanksgiving day (Gubaa-Irreessaa), New Season (Bara Haarawaa) and all Oromos birthday (Meeqa Gubde? Baga Geese!).

The two previously described as Ateetee and Booranticha are festivals, which can take place at any convenient day and month. However, Gubaa and Irreessaa are absolutely and logically fixed to one particular day and month of the year. It is the third week of the month of September every year on a Sunday. The ‘law of five fingers’ fixes the Gubaa day. It begins mid-August and goes through to the third week of September.

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(Video: Gubaa ceremony – Toronto, Canada – 2011)

In the middle of August, a tall olive tree (EjersaOlea Africana) is cut, and all its branches removed except at its top. It is then erected (horduu, dhaabuu) on ground as a pole. The species of this tree has to be olive. Olive trees (Ejersa) are considered as holy trees among the Oromo. Its smoke is very sweet. Erecting such a tree at the peak of the rainy season symbolizes a wish for the Earth to get firm. It is a peak time for the ground to get wet or saturated with rainwater, and is too weak to stand heavy rain. This day, which is called Taaboree or Muka Dhaabaa, is observed by the youth only.

The final gigantic celebration takes place exactly five weeks later from this day. The five weeks are refereed to as the ‘five-finger rules’. One finger is equivalent to one week.

On this particular day, the third week of September (on a Sunday), the ceremony commences with huge bonfire, which takes place few minutes or hours past midnight, i.e. very early Sunday morning. Oromos believe that any new day begins few seconds past midnight. Oromos of the olden days had no watch to tell exact time. However, they could definitely tell that at one point the time was past midnight.

In the community, in every household, there are some who have chickens. Among the chickens, a rooster crows one hour (plus or minus 10%) past midnight, and thereafter, once about every hour (watch video). This author deliberately checked on this and found it to be true. On what the rooster bases its moment to crow remains a mystery.


Examining the nature of the third week of September indicates the sudden change of the season from the old to new. This week is the peak of the season, where the character of the way changes to the new one. It is a week when a new species of flowers blossoms. It has an absolutely special scent that is impossible to substitute with modern perfume, which is produced by modern chemical formulae. This species of flower is called Keelloo (see picture). Its color is the combination of all colors with yellow, the outstanding color, and the color red as background. At this time of the week, new crops arrive. The main crops include maize, barley, cabbage, potatoes and many others. The third Sunday of September is a special day, people feed themselves with fresh food, and transfer from old and exhausted food to new food. On this day, they come out from the difficult, malicious rainy season to a new season.

The Gubaa day is the birthday of all Oromos. All children born eleven months ago or one hour from the day of the Gubaa are considered as one-year-old’s. Therefore, each and every family in the Oromo society celebrates its birthday on this Gubaa day. All Oromos have rounded up their ages by roughly plus or minus one year. Therefore, they all have the same birthday, but different ages. On the Gubaa day, an eight-year-old boy celebrates his 8th birthday while an eighty-year-old man celebrates his 80th birthday on the same day. The celebration takes place at the Gubaa site. At this Gubaa site, everyone has to answer the question, “meeqa gubde”? and “baga geesse”!, which means “how old are you?” and “happy birthday,” respectively. Oromos had found that nobody’s birthday should be forgotten, and there is no time to be wasted to celebrate the birthdays of millions of people over one productive year.


On this Gubaa day, the bonfire will take place under the foot of the olive tree that was erected in mid-August, five weeks ago. Bundles of dry shrubs are piled under and around that pole, which is called Mijirii when done. All evils, including diseases, hunger and bad spirits must be wiped out by setting them on fire at this Gubaa site (see video above). The head of the family then carries a torch called Ibsaa or Gucaa into the house (see torch in the picture), where his wife starts the fire for him. She first makes fire with bundle of olive-wood (Ejersa). Olive-wood has good scent when it burns, and it pleases God. While blessing, simultaneously, she sticks each burning olive-wood bundle into the torch carried by her husband (her son if widow) on his shoulder. When the torch burns very well, he (the head of the family) then goes around in the house burning all the problems the family had had, as described below, during the outgoing year. With the help of the burning fire, he will drive them, the evils, out, and all the evil problems and diseases shall be directed to the (Gubaa) bonfire site. On this occasion, the head of the family and all others have to use a special word goroggor, … goroggor, … goroggor, respectively, from start to the end. This word is used only on this day. This word goroggor has several meanings like the Kaawoo, and Hayyee. Some of the meanings of these three words are: Kaawoo means power, freedom, happiness, prosperity and love. Hayyee means ‘thank You God;’ ‘hear me God;’ ‘I adore You God;’ and ‘be exulted God.’ Goroggor means ‘help us God to win over our enemies;’ ‘allow not the enemies to escape God;’ ‘we ask You God to burn all problems and evil spirits that had been around us the whole year;’ ‘take us over to the next Oromo New Year safely God!’

After each and every family cleansed out all bad spirits and diseases from their residences, they come to this common place (Mijirii) and burn the evils to the end, as described above for one family. All members of the community will stay around this bonfire until dawn. At the Gubaa site, they sing a song known as Hiyyoolee, hiyyoosee, birraa birraa yaa keelloo daraaree, which mean Spring, Spring (the season) my love, the keelloo flower has blossomed. Oromos think that a devil may sneak into one’s house unless one takes preventive measures. Hence, on this Gubaa day, after the existing evils had been burnt out at the Mijirii, two fresh and bitter gourds are posted on both sides of the main entrance, and they should last for one year before they become dry and let the devil creep into the house again.

At sunrise, new crops will be roasted on this bonfire. All members of the community eat new food after a blessing prayer. They then turn around to each other and say “Baga Geesse,” which means, ‘happy birthday;’ ‘Happy New Year;’ and ‘Happy Gubaa and Irreessaa day.’ It is only on this particular day that the calves are branded by burning their skins to establish the communities’ ensigns. Different communities have different ensigns. On this new day, the process of the Irreessaa will take place after the bonfire is over. Each and every member of the community spreads out to different directions and fetches the new flower, Keelloo. They bring these flowers and lay them down around the ash of the burned Mijirii. The rest of the day will be spent dancing, eating, and drinking Oromo beer, farsoo Oromoo. Early in the afternoon, dancing till night falls is the major pastime. This day is a great day for those who are ready to marry. Such individuals identify their future partners on this occasion. They dance (sirbuu) together to see if their rhythms match. They briefly talk to each to see if they have some feelings and common understandings for each other. Since the next chance is one year away, there will be no time to waste. The man then cuts the Keelloo flower and throws it onto her shoulder. By doing this, he is showing his willingness to marry her. The lady makes no response because it is customarily her parents who would finally approve or disapprove the marriage. If she is a matured girl, the parents take great precaution, because the matured girl may, at her own free will, go to her male partner and declare that she is married to him. This free will on the part of the woman is called Aseennaa. Such a case cannot be revoked by either parents or by the man. However, if the man forcefully marries her, the case cannot be easily settled. Sometimes, the parents of the couple could end up in a terrible fight.

– Source: Oromo Parliamentarians Council


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  1. Judge

    Sep 30, 11 at 3:56 pm

    Five STARS to all!