The Oromo are a native African ethnic group found in Ethiopia and to a smaller extent in Kenya. They are the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia, at 32.1% of the population according to the 1994 census, and today numbering around 40 million.
The Oromo are one of the Cushitic speaking people living in Eastern and North Eastern Africa. Cushitic speakers have occupied parts of north-eastern and eastern Africa for as long as recorded history.
Oromo people are found mainly in Ethiopia (99%), but are spread from as far as:
• Northern Ethiopia (southern Tigray Region)
• Kenya (mainly northern)
• Even as far south as Lamu Island
The Oromo characterize one of largest of the Cushitic groups occupying the Horn of Africa. Their physical features, culture, language and other confirm clearly the fact that they are native to this part of Africa.
Existing information indicates that the Oromo lived as a community of people for thousands of years in East Africa (Prouty at al, 1981).
Bates (1979) asserts, “The Gallas (Oromo) were a very ancient race, the indigenous stock, possibly, on which most other peoples in this part of eastern Africa have been grafted”.
It is possible that they have existed for a longer period of time side by side with their northern Semitic-speaking neighbors.
During the 16th century, following the wars between the kingdom of Ethiopia and the neighboring Sultanate of Adal, which resulted in the exhaustion of both states, Oromos moved north into their territories.
The Ethiopian monk Bahrey, writing in 1593, credited the Oromo achievement to the existence of too many non-fighting classes in the ruling Ethiopian hierarchy, as opposed to the Oromos, whom he illustrated as having a homogeneous warrior class.
He also affirmed their spread (as result of their inhospitable homeland) into northwestern areas such as:
Harold G. Marcus hints northwest Borena as the original homeland of the Oromo. Settled Oromo began to integrate with their Amharic-speaking neighbors at least from the 17th century on.
Several Oromo chieftains gained power in government of the monarchy. Particularly Emperor Iyoas I (1730-55), who was half Oromo, favored his mother’s Oromo kinsmen and allies, and in his era, the Oromo language was the language of the court in Gondar.
By the late 18th century, the influence of the central government of Ethiopia had declined, and local governors and kings enjoyed greater autonomy.
During the era of Zemene Mesafint (which lasted until 1855), the Oromo dynasty of chiefs of Yejju were the most important uninterrupted line of warlords to dominate the figurehead emperors of Ethiopia.
They turn out to be sub-kings of Begemder, Regents of the empire, as well as imperial father-in-laws. Ras Ali I of Yejju attained this dominance in 1779, and it continued, although contested by other warlords, until the 1855 defeat of Ras Ali II of Yejju by the upstart Kassa Hailu (who became Emperor Tewodros II).
Due to the powerlessness of the Emperor of Ethiopia during the Zemene Mesafint, the Yejju Oromo were successfully the rulers of Ethiopia. Other tribes and chiefs of the Oromo people were also famous, such as:
• Lady Menen of Wollo who became Empress in 1800s
• Ras Mohammad of Wollo who became Ras Mikael, later Negus of Siyon and father of Emperor Iyasu V
• Menen, of Ambassel, who became Empress Consort of Haile Selassie
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Keywords: Cushitic speakers, Oromo, Lamu Island, Gallas, Arsi, Shewa, Welega, Gojjam, Hararghe, Wollo, Yejju, Oromo dynasty, Begemder,