- Posted October 7, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
African culture: Street art
OROMIANS SEEK PEACE AND FREEDOM AT ANNUAL IRREECHAA FESTIVAL
Millions of Oromos were gathered in the south east town of Oromia, Bishoftu – some 50 km from the capital Finfinnee (Addis Ababa), to celebrate the annual Irreechaa Festival at the weekend.
According to our reporter from Oromia more that three millions are attended the annual Irreechaa festival from around Oromia. Despite heavy police presence at the lake, the Irreechaa celebrations and related festivities, including a concert in Dukem town, were orderly and peaceful.
Irreecha marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of spring — along with hopes for an abundant harvest. Although there is strong government surveillance every year, Irreechaa is still one of the most significant celebrations for the Oromo.
Followers show their gratitude to God — known as Waaqa — a force that rules the cosmos. The Oromo believe Waaqa’s creative power is found in each living entity, whether it’s human, animal or a plant. At the shores of Lake Hora, whose waters are believed to carry nature’s blessings, Elders and Qaalluus splashed pilgrims with water.
According to the Oromo elder, Qajeelaa Waatiroo, Irreechaa signifies more that seasonal change. “The reason why the Oromos perform the Irrecha ritual is to thank God that we came out of the rainy and dark season in to the light in good health and to pray that we stay safe in the coming season. We also thank God for the cultivation and for the good harvest we will have this spring,” said Qajeelaa Waatiroo, an Oromo elder.
Irreechaa has evolved over the years from a religious ceremony to a social event and a chance for Oromos scattered across the country to meet. For many young people the festival also presents an opportunity to find love.
Twenty three-year-old Bikila Etana a loan clerk at a bank in Finfinnee attended the festival this year not only to fulfil his cultural duties but also to search for a wife. “I know a lot of people who met here and finally got married. You can get luck here. I also took a couple of numbers and I will be making phone calls when I go back and see how things will work out,” Etana said.
Irreecha was closely monitored the existing government and even banned in the successive Ethiopian governments until 1990 because they thought it was a chance for their enemies- Oromos to come together in large numbers.
As the ceremony was first celebrated by Oromo Liberation Front during the transition period in 1991, it became a prominent part of the country’s cultural calendar, more people looking to reconnect with their Oromo culture have been taking part within the country and the diaspora.
Now young Oromo like Etana and his friends egged each other on as they collected phone numbers, with plans to follow up when they got back home. “It was really a very interesting day. The festival itself was very interesting and in addition to that I’ve taken two to three phone numbers. I came back praying to God that I succeed in one of these,” said Etana as he shared a drink with his friends after the festival.
According to anthropologists, Irreechaa holiday is primarily about celebrating nature’s harmony with a nation at different stage. Meanwhile, it becomes a cultural institution that promotes sustainable ecology, encourages respect for life on earth, and highlights concern over pollution of the soil, air, and water.
Moreover, Irreechaa plays a significant role in reinforcing, and sometimes redefining, our values as a nation or as a community. It also plays an important role in maintaining a common heritage as well as in building community relations and creating national identity.
In Oromia, the Oromo homeland, winter is a busy and muddy season making travel and social life difficult. Spring (booqa birraa) ushers in a new beginning as rain eases, river levels drop, flowers blossom, and newly budding leaves prop to life. During this season, mother earth wears the green gowns of natural beauty -Irreessa or Keelloo.
But today, Irreecha has been revived and signifies much more than a seasonal change for the Oromo people. It is a symbol of rebirth as well as resistance against Oromo’s continued repression. Each year millions of Oromos – from all stripes and religious persuasions – gather at Hora Arsadi in Bishoftu, 50kms southeast of Finfinne (Addis Ababa), Oromia’s capital to rejoice and celebrate Oromummaa.
Beyond its traditional religious significance, which is curtailed due to the government’s ban on Waaqeffanna associations, Irreechaserves as a unifying cultural practice for the Oromos without losing connection to Waaqa. An estimated three million people from around Oromia attended this year’s festival, according to different blogs and media reports.
In recent years, the vast Oromo diaspora has taken this tradition to many lakes and parks in the Western world as a way to recreate a sense of home and belonging. For them, these “foreign” parks and lakes represent Hora Arsadi – the site of Oromo cultural rebirth – for it is in the wide waters of lake Arsadi lay Oromos hope of freedom, harmony, and unity.
Over the last weekend of September, thousands of Oromos – from Melbourne, Australia, Washington D.C. to San Diego, Castro Valley in California to Minnesota, Johannesburg in South Africa to Amsterdam in Holland to name but few –danced, ululated and gave thanks to Waaqa for a smooth transition to a new season and the abundance that comes with it while also praying for nagaa (peace), bilisummaa (freedom),tokkummaa (unity), and araara (reconciliation).