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The Gada System as an international intangible heritage on UNESCO's



 The Gada system is a political, economic and social system with a long history with which the people of Oromo have been governing themselves in a democratic way. This comprehensive system reflects the ways of living of the people and it has ensured the values and principles such as equality of mankind. It incorporates the values and principles towards which the whole world has been striving such as: the respecting of the rights of women and children, conservation of environment, peaceful conflict resolution, mutual assistance, and the provision of asylum to seekers .The values and principles which the people of Oromo have been putting into practice have contributed significantly to the efforts of ensuring unity and solidarity of the people. Moreover, the system has played great role in enabling the flourishing of the language and culture of the Oromo people for so long to the present. With the provision of due care to it as a valuable heritage, it would not be over exaggerated to state that the Gada system would serve as an inexhaustible 2 fountain of knowledge and wisdom to the contemporary generation. The practice and experience of the Oromo people as manifested in the Gada system is surely very beneficial to the future generation. In particular, we firmly believe that the democratic practices of the Oromo people as manifested in the Gada system would provide an exemplary system of social functioning to the world; and, it is with this conviction that we are bringing forward our request for the registration of the Gada system as an intangible world heritage.

What is Gada?

 Gada is a political, economic and social system which the Oromo people have been following in governing themselves. The Gada system is a democratic system of governance in which the community as a whole has the opportunities to participate on equal basis. The Gada system of the Oromo people is a system of governance in which people are grouped and organized into five Gada grades or strata and govern themselves in rounds. Gada is a system in which the groups of Oromo people who are organized or structured into five grades or strata assume power in rounds which last for eight years each.

Among the Borana, Gada is graded into Mogiissa, Sabaka, Darara, Fullasa, and Makula. On the other hand, among the Karayu Oromo, the strata are referred to as: Robale , Melba, Birmaji, Michille, and Halchisa. Among the Macha and Tulama, these strata are known as: Horata, Michille, Dulo, Robale and Birmaji.

The children of adults who are on political power form a cohort which is the first grade or stratum. In the process, they gradually grow stronger physically and become more self-reliant. Members of the fourth stratum are recruited and supported to acquire leadership knowledge and skills. To this end, mentors are appointed to assist these recruits. Members of the earlier Gada grade who were on power now assume the roles of advising those who are on power.

3 What is the significance of the Gada System to the Oromo People?

I. Political

1. Democratic System

 Political power in the Gada system is not monopolized by a certain body politic. Rather, all members of the communities participate according to their strata a nd in rounds. Those who assume political power are elected by the people in a free and fair manner. The Gada that h as been in power for the period of 8 years is bound to transfer power to the succeeding strata or Gada in a peaceful way when the round of 8 years completes. Moreover, in Gada system, the administrative statutes are thoroughly reviewed and amended or changed through extensive discussions so as to accommodate the changing contexts. To understand these legal and administrative statutes, members of the Gada come together from wider area s and return after getting all the information they require and which they found convincing. In the process of issuing the statutes, a ll group s of the community from children of seven years old all the way to the seventy years old ones participate. All these are indicators of the democratic nature of the Gada system. The fact that the Gada system is a democratic system has helped the Oromo people to live free of oppression, to strengthen the social bond which is established on mutual respect and compassion.

2. Respecting Human Rights

The Gada system is a system in which human rights are duly respected. When children a re born, it is called Bimwdu, which is to mean that they are set free through birth. According to the Gada system, Binnaduma (freedom) is a natural right in which every person h as the inviolable a nd inalienable right to life and liberty. This n ature of the Gada system has enabled the Oromo people 4 to treat each other equally. An Oromo who intends to leave his clan to settle among other clans, he has to request for permission and the host clan adopts the newcomer as one of the members of the clan.

 When a person seeks an asylum among the Oromo people, a ceremony is organized to adopt the person as one of them and, henceforth, su ch person would have equal rights and obligations among the Oromo community he lives with.

According to the tradition in the Gada system, all human beings have to be treated equally and this characteristic of the system has enabled the Oromo people to fight against oppression and discrimination in any form. In the Gada system, the fact that human rights are strictly respected has contributed to the prevalence of an outlook of freedom and liberty among the people, to believe in the equality of mankind, and to live harmoniously and peacefully with other ethnic groups.

3. Respecting Women's Rights

The Gada system is a system in which the rights of women are respected. The instrument through which women's rights are duly respected is known as Siinqee - which is a procedure in which women organize themselves in group to stand up for their rights. In this procedure, women carry a thin stick known as Siinqee which is given to every girl by her mother on her wedding day. With this gift, the bride is reminded of her power to demand her rights are respected in her future life.

Whenever a woman's right is violated, be it by her own husband or by another person, the women around make a sound (illillii) to signify to each other. Upon hearing the sound, women respond by moving to the place leaving everything behind, carrying their Siinqee stick. Here , it is the obligation of every woman to respond to the call. At this time, it is the obligation of the husbands to look  after the homes which women have left behind. This shows the strong determination for the respecting of the rights of women. Then, the women go to the Gada Council singing a song in which they announce out the specific act in which their right is violated. At the Council, they are welcomed respectfully and invited to speak out the wrongdoing. Afterwards, the person who is accused of the wrong doing is brought to justice and the appropriate punishment would be sanctioned against the convicted.

 A man who h appens to come across to the women while they are marching towards the Council, has the obligation to step off his horse so as to show his respect for the women. After greeting them, he would have to ask for their permission to pass them and resume his journey. If the person crosses their way without giving them regards, he would be accused of acting contrary to the tradition and punished accordingly. Likewise, a man who meets on his way a woman who is travelling carrying her stick, is required to greet her properly before passing h er. A woman who has gone out for help of other carrying her Siiqqee stick certainly gets the support she seeks. For instance, a woman who is needy and does n ot h ave anything to sustain her family wou ld carry her stick and go to those who have ample and able to assist her. Accordingly, the families who are asked to provide assistance would do so as much as they a re able to do.

The due respect of women's rights in the Gada system has enabled women to play considerable role among their communities. 

II. Economic Aspects

1.      The role of women in economic sector

In Gada system, family asset is controlled by women. Men have the responsibility of cultivating and harvesting as well as keeping the cattle; and, it is the responsibility of women to manage what is harvested and to allocate the 6 proportion to be used for household consumption, to be sold in the market to earn cash, to purchase other goods and services n eeded by the family. Any man who may challenge this man date of women is despised by his community and he is labeled a name qorqora (greedy).

2.      Cooperation

Work is valued in the Gada system. Any member of the community who is hard worker is respected and appreciated. Every member of the community is required to work on all week days except on Sundays on wh ich many people would like to rest, though there is no prohibition not to work even on Sundays. In the Gada system, working cooperatively is encouraged and there is a tradition of working together such as Dabo in which a person makes request to as many people a s he wants to execute an activity which he cannot do by himself. There are also similar practices of working in groups such as Dado an d Wanfalis which are different from dabo only in terms of the scale of the work to be executed a nd the number of people required to perform the work.

3.      Transfer of Wealth

 In Gada system, the tradition of offering gifts is one of the mechanisms to transfer wealth to the poor and the n ew generation. Mainly, gifts are offered in two occasions: firstly, male children who are born to the community get gifts when they are officially given names by undergoing the ritual of shaving their heads for the first time since their birth. The families of these children offer their children gifts such as one or more heifer. The heifers given as gifts would reproduce and multiply until the child grows and reaches the age of establishing his own family. Girls get such offers on the day of their wedding. Thence, a hu sband and wife begin their life as a family owning the cattle they acquired as gifts.

4. Wealth Sharing

In the Gada system, a person who manages to own a thousand cattle prepares feast to his community members and performs the ritual of wearing a stomach of an ox which signifies h e is very rich. After this ritual, he selects a couple of heifers and releases them so that those who are poor take them for themselves.

Therefore, the Gada system h as always encouraged sharing of wealth so as to ensure the wellbeing of the needy section of the community.

5. The tradition of helping one another

Any Oromo clan that is governed by the Gada system has the commendable tradition or practice of h elping the needy among them. If a person loses his a sset due to any reason, each member of the clan would contribute whatever he can to help the person rehabilitate himself. Therefore, this practice of stretching helping hands to the needy is one more reason for Gada system to be considered as a n exemplary social system.

 III. Social Aspects

1. Increasing the role women play in the community

1.1 Ending of Hostilities

 In Gada system, another power women have is ending any act of hostilities and war whether it is taking place between different clans or with other ethnic groups. Whenever there is war going on and women arrive at the place carrying their Siiqqee stick and go between the parties a t war, both parties promptly give up the fight.

1.2 Prayer to 'Waaqaa'

 The other social role of women is making prayers to Waaqaa on behalf of the whole nation. Moreover, where people gather for prayers, it is the women 8 among the community who go in the front only seconded by little children. In particular, when there is a problem facing the community such as drought, epidemic outbreak, etc., they go to a river or lake in the nearby carrying green grasses to perform the ritual of prayers so that Waaqaa intervene and solve their problem. This role of women is due to the belief that women have the power to mediate between Waaqaa and the whole community.

1.      3 Cleansing of Sin

When the revered customs of the Gada system are breached by people who do immoral things, they investigate into the matter and cleanse the perpetrators so that they rejoin the community with proper ethics and conscience.

1.      4 Adoption

 For those who are n ot able to bear children, there is a solution in the Gada system. This solution is the practice of adoption in which families who are not able to bear children can take children from families who have plenty of children (except their first-borns). This would spare these families from the grief of not having children and enable them to bring up children so that they would support them during their old age days. The adoption parents bring up their adopted children as their own and bequeath to them everything they possess on their death. Adoption is a social mechanism which enables to solve social problems and, in Ethiopia, it is widely known.

2.      Environmental Conservation

According to Oromo culture, the people have reverence for the natural environment they live in. Big trees are considered as graceful shelters and meeting venues. The high reverence for Oda tree emanates from this tradition. It is a taboo among the community to cut down trees. According to  the Gada system, the youth are not a llowed to cut trees. In general, community has the tradition of cutting only trees that have completed their growth or those which are already dry to use them for different purposes such as construction activities. As there is a widespread understanding of the close interrelation between forest and availability of sources of water, the community conserves forest areas at large.

3.      The Irreechaa

 Ceremony In the Gada system, social fabric is maintained among the members of the commu nities and the ceremony of Irrechaa is celebrated annually as th an ks giving to Waqa for helping the people through the rainy and muddy season of summer to a bright season. Though Irrechaa is celebrated in different localities throughout Oromiya, the town which is considered as the most favored center for the celebration is Bishoftu town, at Hora Arsadi. The other significance of Irrechaa is the creation of an opportunity for the Oromo people to meet at this place and manifest their culture, greet one another and share the sense of belongingness at large. During the ceremony of Irrechaa, a song that is sung to thank Waqa is known as Marewoo which goes:

"Hooyaa mare woo, mare woo, mare woo, Alaa manaaf nuutolii yaaaayyolee woo" and in this, the coming of the New Year and the wish for the n ew year are expressed.

6. Arbitration The Gada system has enabled to maintain social relations in which hatred and envy is not nurtured. Those who quarrel with each other have to make peace and a party that h as caused loss or damage to the other would compensate.  Mostly, a rbitrators are selected from among the senior members of the community. There is such arbitra tion system structured at different levels. The supreme body of mediation or arbitration is the Gumi or Caffee. The tradition of arbitration among the Oromo people is based on truth.

It is by investigating into the truth and by making the righ t decision on the matter that the arbitration comes in. This has a significant role in promoting a healthy relationship among the community.

The Significance of the Inscription of Gada System by UNESCO •

·         The Gada System functions towards the strengthening of social relations; thus, it enables to ensure peace and stability among the communities and promotes harmony and mutual respect and also peaceful conflict resolution and promotes respect for cultural diversity.

·          The exemplary role of Oromo people in peaceful transfer of political power every eight years through democratic system of governance is significantly important.

·         It enables to acknowledge the indigenous democratic political system of the Oromo Nation at an international a rena which assists efforts made to safeguard and transmit the system to fu ture generations.

·         It enables to change or reverse the wrong perception towards the Gada System and confirms that the Gada System is compatible with existing international human rights, protect the rights of women and children and promote mutual respect among communities.

·         It promotes the Gada System and Oromo culture at international level and this attracts tourists from all over the world and enhances intercui tural dialogue.  

·         It opens the opportunities in which the modern governance systems at national and regional levels can implement the traditional knowledge into the modern systems of governance. Therefore, we faithfully request the inscription and recognition of the Gada System on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. We express our appreciation to all efforts being undertaken in this regard.



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