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The Life of Borana Oromo Gada Councilors: The Legacy of the Late Abba Gadaa Hiddoo Galgaloo

Posted: Caamsaa/May 31, 2009 · Finfinne Tribune | Gadaa.com | Comments (3)



The former Oromo traditional leader, Abba Gadaa Hiddoo Galgaloo of the Hawattu Assembly, was killed in a car accident on May 27th, 2009.

By Ibrahim A. Elemo (M.D., MPH)*

The Borana Oromo has a very prominent traditional system of governance-the Gada System. This system is not only well developed and well preserved among the Borana Oromo but also a viable socio-political system to date, comparable to no other region in Oromiya. It is an indigenous system of government where leaders are elected to position of authority through the will and active participation of the people they represent. For people who have studied the system and worked with the Gada Councilors, it is absolutely clear that Gada is a functioning democracy. Leaders are not only elected to position of authority to maintain the laws and the rules of the land but also made accountable for every decision they make during their tenure as councilors of their own constituency and leaders of the society. I had the opportunity to work with Gada leaders of the Borana, Guji, and Gabra Oromo during my years of service as a community physician and coordinator of HIV/AIDS Programs and Projects some five years ago. Because of inadvertent interest in understanding the functions of the system to effectively mainstream HIV prevention programs through traditional Oromo institutions, I had to develop a very close working relationship with some of the Gada leaders from regions of Oromiya, where Gada is still an active system with commanding respect and loyalty from traditional Oromo communities.

In particular, I was very close to some of the Gada Councilors of the Borana, Guji, and Shawa Oromo. When these leaders lose their lives due to lack of appropriate care from the state and other development actors who invite them for duty away from their home, it is painful to learn about their death due to avoidable causes. This is true for most of us who care about them and the institution they represent. In this article, I will try to focus mainly on the Gada Councilors of the Borana Oromo who served during the administration of Liiban Jaldeessa. From now onwards, I will refer to these Councilors and their administration as Gada Liiban Jaldeessa, by that I am referring to the three Borana Gada Assemblies, the institution, the councilors and other governing elite class.

Abba Gada Liiban Jaldeessa
Gadaa.comAccording to the Borana Oromo Gada System, the Gada is made up of three assemblies of active leaders and their immediate family members called Ya’aa. These three assemblies have to undertake ritual migrations throughout the Borana land during their period of administration. I came to know some of the Borana Gada Councilors when their Gada assemblies crossed over to the Liiban territory of the Borana land to perform ritual ceremonies in February 2003. The Borana custom makes it mandatory that the men and women who belong to the Gada class of Liiban Jaldeessa undergo circumcision only when their Gada class as a whole reaches the Gada stage of active leadership. This is true for other successive Gada classes.

The awareness that HIV can be transmitted by sharing contaminated sharps was so well developed that the entire Gada Council made an appeal to the zonal administration and Nagelle Borana Hospital to send them medical professionals who would perform circumcision. Doctors, such as Dr. Geremew Bayyecha and myself, with other nurse assistants made the decision to make the necessary preparation to perform the circumcision according to the custom at the place and time they wanted. Emphasis was given to making every possible precaution to make the procedure safe and to do the mass circumcision at night in their cattle kraals (there was a full moon at the time). The three of us performed circumcision of dozens of Gada Councilors and their assistants during the first night around 3:00-4:00AM in the morning. It was the night when the US started bombing Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The one story, which I learned then, was the fact that the late Hiddoo Galgaloo, the Abba Gada of Hawattu Assembly, was very much concerned by the fact that his father, who was also an Abba Gada of the Hawattu assembly forty years ago, died as a result of the complication of ritual circumcision. They described the scenario as “Habrati Dhahe”. According to my understanding of the situation by that, they were referring possibly to complications, such as wound infection, which was very likely given the fact that back then they were using knife to circumcise. There was high possibility that these sharp materials were shared as many people underwent the ritual circumcision at the same time. There is also a possibility that a person circumcised under that type of scenario dies from complications, such as Tetanus. Some people told me that Hiddoo Galgaloo was concerned or probably worried that he might become a victim of the same unfortunate scenario; “Dhaaci qaba” is the expression used to mean that there is a family history of a certain bad fate.

I was the physician who performed the circumcision of Hiddoo Galgaloo and some of the Gada Councilors, the first ever such service to be given for a Gada Council. We had to make a little more precaution to make sure that he does not develop any complication as a result of the procedure. For more safety, we had to give some of the people prophylactic antibiotics for we were afraid that unfortunately some of them might develop infection because the circumstances surrounding the procedure. Hiddoo was safe and had no complications. He did not have the same fate as his father. Unfortunately, his destiny was different; to be killed in a car accident packed with people!

After that day, I became very close to most of the Gada leaders. My curiosity to understand the Gada system increased more than ever. Hiddoo Galgaloo was one of the six senior Gada Councilors also called Hayyu Adula.

The Borana Oromo Gada institution has three Gada assemblies each with its own Abba Gada. The Gada assembly to which the Abba Gada Liiban Jaldeessa belongs is called Gada Harboora. There were four senior councilors in this assembly. Gada Harboora is considered to be the senior of the three assemblies and it is also the Gada assembly for all of the Borana society. The other Gada assemblies, Gada Hawattu and Gada Konnitu, are the assembly of leaders from Hawattu and Konnitu clan of Goona moiety of the Borana society. Regarding their authority in all the matters regarding the Borana society, all the three Abba Gadas and the other three Adula Hayyus (senior councilor) have the same and equal authority, “muraan wal-qixxe”. This is the reason why the Borana Oromo chooses to call the Abba Gada of Harboora Assembly “Hayyuu Fiixe, or Adula Fiixe”, which literally means “the prime councilor”. He is a councilor representing his clan like the rest of the councilors with the same and equal vote and authority when a decision is to be made. Nevertheless, it is customary that one person has to lead a team whenever there is a team of leadership. Therefore, the Abba Gada in the Oromo Gada system is rightfully considered as the prime minister rather than a president who can make decisions alone. Liiban Jaldeessa is from the Galantu clan; Jarso Boru and Jarso Tari were both from Digalu-Maxxarri clans. The Karrayyu clan has one Adula Hayyu in Gada Harboora. The other two Senior Councilors are Abba Gadas of their respective assemblies.There are also clan councilors in Gada Harboora called Hayyu Garba, and in Gada Hawattu and Konnitu called Hayyu Meedhicha. The status being a councilor in Gada Harboora is quite different from being a councilor in Gada Hawattu or Konniitu. Professor Asmarom Legesse described the Gada system of governance as a government by committee, by that I assume he meant it is these six leaders together who have to sit down together in the presence of other clan councilors to make a decision regarding disputes or issues brought to them.


What is the fate of the Councilors of Gada Liiban Jaldeessa?
The Councilor representing the Karrayyu clan was the first to die from nature cause. He was replaced by someone from the clan. One of the three Abba Gadas, Jaldeessa Borbor, a very calm and soft-spoken councilor, was the second to depart from this world. He was killed few years after the famous Gumi Gayo Assembly was conducted, following a local tribal conflict. He was the Abba Gada for the Konnitu Assembly. Abba Gada Liiban Jaldeessa and Abba Gada Hiddoo Galgaloo were lucky enough to live up to the time when they had to handover authority to their successors. The handing over ceremony was a historic success.

Video: Abba Gada Guyyo Gobba

Today, one of the most humble and wise man in the Gada Liiban Jaldeessa, Hiddoo Galgaloo, is dead. He died on 27 May, 2009 due to a tragic car accident that claimed the lives of two Oromo Traditional leaders and injured more than twenty prominent Borana and Gabra community leaders as they were coming home after attending a meeting in Adama. This brings the number of Adula Hayyu from Gada Liiban Jaldeessa who died during his either incumbency or right after the power handover to three. Presently, there are only three out of six former Senior Councilors. Those who are alive include: Liiban himself, Jarso Boru and Jarso Tari. They are now called Yuba Liiban Jaldeessa. Regarding the role of the former clan councilors in the society: they are considered as Licho Dullatti, meaning they are now treated as former councilors (because there are other clan councilors who are in active duty in Gada Guyyo Gobba).Their authority is usually limited to resolving conflict within their clan.

There are three former Abba Gadas who are alive: Abba Gada Jiloo Aaga, Abba Gada Boru Madhaa, and Abba Gada Liiban Jaldeessa. Jiloo Aaga will retire from active political life when his class as whole reaches the sacred stage of Gadammojji. At the same time, as Jiloo Aaga and his class enter into Gadammojji stage of the system, their sons will enter into the Gada stage and become Gada councilors. Jilo Aaga was reported to be among the people who sustained minor injuries in the car accident that claimed the life of former Gada councilor Hiddoo Galgaloo and Councilor Ibrahim Aadano of Gabra Oromo. The people who were injured in the accident are being treated at a Hospital in Dilla town.

The funeral ceremony of Abba Gada Hiddo Galgalo had already been performed in the presence of many people in a locality called Dida Hara in Yaaballo district. I was told that according to the tradition many people expressed their sympathy by calling for his son to be accorded the status of Adula Hayyu in the future. If a councilor dies before his sons reach the stage when future clan councilors would be designated, the son is considered as “Gamme Hiyyeeti”: meaning children who are orphaned, and in such circumstances, the campaign to take their position will not be very fierce. However, in 2003 the campaign to nominate Adula councilor for the Hawattu clan was very fierce. I noticed that one of the sub-clan of Hawattu clan campaigned fiercely to regain the status, which they claimed their sub-clan lost generations ago.

People were thinking that the son of the former Abba Gada of the Hawattu clan (Diid Adii) would easily be nominated for the position of Adula Hayyu. However, other members of the clan campaigned for months to designate another person. That was a living proof that power transfer in Gada system is not like a power transfer in Monarchy. People raise fund to campaign for their sons based on their family legacy. In such campaign, the individual capacity of the son is also seriously scrutinized. The son of Jilo Aaga was denied the privilege of being a Borana Abba Gada because he was circumcised against the custom. The custom is sons of Jiloo Aaga can only be circumcised during the stage when their class as a whole would be circumcised. For those who know how the Gada system functions, the Gada system is not a system where authority is simply passed from fathers to sons. Of course, the legacy of one’s family and the past accomplishments of a clan councilor has a great influence in the decision that is made to nominate the would-be councilors. These councilors must pass through a rigorous training for years about the laws and the customs of Borana, and the wisdom of leading a society before they take the position of authority in Gada.

I was among the persons who witnessed the fierce campaign and the background checks the lawmakers and former clan councilors had to make in order to nominate six people for the position of Adula Hayyu. In 2003, it was the sons of Boru Guyyo who were promoted. Boru Guyyo, an Abba Gada himself was killed during the first year after he handed over authority to Boru Madhaa. The circumstance of his death still remains a mystery, at least to the general public. His son did not encounter a tough campaign as people unanimously favored him as Gamme Hiyyeeti.

During this era, when the homogeneity of a community is lost and traditional system is severely weakened as result of the overlapping state government, Gada leaders and former councilors need special protection and privilege to reduce occurrence of similar incidences. Gada leaders are being killed by people who want to take revenge on the community or by causes, such as Gada leaders traveling in over-packed public cars. In the old days, their territory is highly guarded and they are always ready to protect their sovereign territory. Nowadays, this is not possible, as the state does not allow such system of self-defense. That system in communities, such as Borana, has been replaced by local militia whose main task is not to protect the community as such but prevent the movement of insurgents and armed opposition groups. Three Borana Abba Gadas are killed over the last eighteen years from avoidable causes due to negligence of the administration and/or by a perennial inter-tribal conflict.

It is my firm belief that recurrence of similar incidence should be prevented. The Gada councilors and all stakeholders need to work on a mechanism whereby their security is guaranteed by the state when they are called for a duty. They are not ordinary people and should be accorded all the due respect of leaders who command loyalty and respect from their own people.

As the purpose of this article is to honor the life of Hiddoo Galgaloo, a councilor whom I appreciated and adored so much, and a wise man who is loved by his people for his ability to listen to the opinion of others before he makes his own judgments. The late Hiddoo Galgaloo was a man who at times when some of the Gada councilors do not show maximum restraint to live up to the expectation of their people, he was one of those who were reserved from activities, such as too much drinking of alcohol in public or other habits unbecoming of Gada councilors. In my opinion, he was a councilor who was most loved and respected by his colleagues in the Gada leadership. He is missed by his friends and by all of the people who know him closely.

In my book, “The Roles of Traditional Institutions among the Borana Oromo, Southern Ethiopia: Contemporary Issues in Borana and the 38th Gumii Gaayoo Assemby” Hiddoo had to say this, I write the whole paragraph from the book:

“Hiddoo Galgaloo-abbaa Gadaa of Hawaxxuu assembly expressed his concern over the tragic conditions of the Boorana holy sites where the Gada people convene ritual ceremonies every eight years. He claimed that the holy shrines in Dirree and Liiban are being cultivated and shrine trees cut down. All of these crimes were perpetrated deliberately to damage the Borana traditional belief system. These crimes were committed as there is no protection of these sites by the government from our rivals and wrongdoers” (page 170).

Besides, Hiddoo was extremely supportive of the efforts Oromiya HIV office were making to enable the Gada Council and other traditional institutions in Borana deliberate on customary laws and practices in the society and proclaim new laws or modify existing laws in order to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS in the rural areas of Borana. He was very vocal in supporting change ideas to resolve some of the very controversial issues at the Gumi El-dallo and Gumi Gayo conventions held in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Finally, I want to conclude by saying that his legacy will be the source of inspiration for generations to come and for his kids who may aspire to hold political positions in the Borana society in the future: May his soul rest in peace!

Kaayoo Qabna,

Gadaa.com* Ibrahim Amae Elemo is a former Director of Oromiya HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office and author of a book “HIV/AIDS, RH and Gender Promotion: The roles of Traditional Institutions among the Borana Oromo: Contemporary Issues among the Borana Oromo and the 38th Gumi Gayo Aseembly”. Presently, he is an adjunct professor at Harry S Truman College in Chicago, USA. He can be reached at ielemo@yahoo.com.

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  1. doti guyo

    Jul 15, 10 at 2:29 pm

    I actually appreciate Dr.Ibrahim Ame Elemo for his immense contribution on expressing borana culture to world wide.Thank you $ carry on doing well.naga keessa ta’a.from doti ,mekelle unversity


    Oct 9, 10 at 9:23 am

    I appriciate the work done by Dr Ibrahim for his imense research and making this known to many scholars around the world. I would request him to do the same in the unique ceromonies among the borana people.


    Oct 12, 10 at 7:49 am

    I am realy proud of you Dr Ibrahim for you have shown your love for our people you have given me to follow your foot steps.thaks in advance from masinde muliro university