The secret behind the symbolic representation of ‘Odaa’ tree for the Oromo society

by GEMECHU KEDIR

Societal expression is one of the most common characteristics of human beings. Nations have a unique perspective to describe their respective culture. For instance, regarding expression, we can take the symbolic representation of the Oromo nation by ‘Odaa’ tree. The two are inseparable . That means one could not get the nation without the symbolic representation of ‘Odaa’ tree. Everywhere and every time ‘Odaa’ tree represents the Oromo society.
Since the period the symbolic representation began to be practiced, surfing the tide of time the trend still represent the society. To substantiate this point it suffices to see nowadays one would get Odaa tree on the flag of Oromiya state flag and at the hall of Gadaa leaders ‘Galma Abbaa Gadaa’. As an adornment it is embroidered on the costumes of the society.
If one takes a century-long ride back on the time train, orally or historically one will trace the Oromo society with the symbolic representation of ‘Odaa’ tree. Studies show that it is hardly possible to tell the time when the symbolic representation of the Oromo society by ‘Odaa’ tree came into being. Due to lack of evidence on as to when the Gadaa system started,still scholars are debating on it. All institutions that represent the Oromo society are established under Gadaa system.
Gadaa leaders proclaim laws and make decisions under ‘Odaa’ tree. Based on historical and oral descriptions of the society I would like to dive into as to what is the secret behind the sycamore tree’s symbolic representation. Before I familiarize you with the details let me define as to what is meant by ‘Odaa’ tree? ‘Odaa’ is an Oromo word that stands for a sycamore tree.
It is possible to dilate on why the sycamore tree was chosen among other types of trees. What are the points scholars raise?What are the orally passed down sayings ? What do elders say about it? These things consist of the core points of this article readers are invited to go through . Here we go.
What Scholars say about?
” Sycamore tree is the center of religion for Oromo society. Besides it is a historical document that helps to recollect sociopolitical aspects of the past generation” Asafa Jalata as described it in his book.
As to him there exists no formal written document that throws light on as to when Gadaa system came into being. Regarding this issue scholars are still locked in a debate.
For readers better understanding I would like to explain about the close relation between sycamore tree and Gadaa system. As is known, the Oromo society and Gadaa system are inseparable. Gadaa leaders make decision,proclaim laws under the shade of a sycamore tree. They use it as a conference hall or a court room. That is why the governing system is symbolized by it.
Some written records about Oromo history give a clue that ‘Odaa’ has been serving as a pillar of all the affair of the Oromos. “Before the birth of Christ, it was there!” Asafa affirms. Sycamore tree is an ever green tree with too much branches. It covers a wide area. Naturally it grows at wet and fertile areas.
In the history of Oromo people or since the beginning of Gadaa institution, when a general assembly is organized for sociopolitical and religious purpose tree.
So, ‘Odaa tree’ is traditionally believed as the source of tranquility. The Oda shades serves as both central offices of government where Gadaa assemblies are held and where leaders assemble. It as well serves as a sacred place for ritual practices. In the Oromo culture sycamore tree is regarded as the source of peace, an emblem and oneness of the Oromo society, Asafa stated.
According to the diction of another scholar ”Oromo religion is mostly related to the ten commandments of the creator .Oromos give worship to one God. All their religious activities are carried out at places where big trees are found” Haberland German citizen researcher of culture.
“ The religious system of all Cush tribes are similar. Specially the Oromos regard sycamore tree as an abode of natural spirites. ‘Ayyaana’ is the place where spirit of God is located and heard,” Trimingham (writer).
What are the orally passed down sayings? I got two oral sayings. Let us see the first..
Once upon a time heaven and earth had got closer to each other. Fortunately a heavy downpour raged for long hours. All animals took refuge at a house. From all animals a horse created a mess kicking all animals in the house. Since then drought began to surface for a long period of time. Sycamore tree proved the only drought resilient tree. The others proved less compatible. That is why traditionally the Oromos call the tree the shelter/shade of all human beings or sycamore tree. And ‘Walaabuu’ is the origin of all water. Today Walaabuu is called ‘Madda Walaabuu’ which means ‘Odaa’ doesn’t grow outside wet areas and Walaabuu is the origin of all water. Hence the two are inseparable. So,both of them are entwined and revered, for they ever belong to the Oromo Society.
The second saying or belief is as follows. Once there was a generous person who lived amid the Walaabuu society. Fortunately he lost his heifer . After searching for it for a long time he got it at a sycamore tree and felt happy. After a long search he was exhausted. So he reclined under the shade of the sycamore tree and slumbered. Suddenly a cloud descended down from heaven and enveloped the sycamore tree and its surroundings. Though the cloud , the almighty sent to mankind his commandments, to be observed by human beings. God gave the most generous person the responsibility to teach others under the shade of a sycamore tree. Then the generous person began to teach others. This way the religious practices got started. Still the shade of Oda tree is seen as a sacred place where the word of God was heard. It is owing to this reason the Oromo society attach Oda Tree the spirit of God. The gist of this belief is precisely related to the explanation of scholars like Haberland.
What elders say about? Sycamore tree is a holy and sacred symbol that belongs to Oromo Society. It is a sign of an ever fertility and evergreen bough through out the year. Its shade is sought after by human beings. According to elders a sycamore tree is free from any dirt and poisonous animals like snake,scorpions and others. Apes and baboons prefer it not for their shelter. It is not befouled by their refuses. Due to this reason, people choose it a shelter without fear of any harm. Either a religious or political law issued under it is take one from ‘Waaqaa’ called God ;so it is respected.
In general according to the philosophy of the Oromo society, their religion and political systems are entwined and both are entailed under the Gadaa system. Religion and religious practices reinforce the political philosophy of Gaada such as initiation,participation,transfer of power and other political practices.
In the religious institution of Gadaa, Oromo religious ceremonies and Gadaa ritual practice such as Irreecha’, ‘Ateetee’, ‘Nabii’, ‘Boorantichaa’, ‘Dhibaayyuu’,
Garanfate’,’Ayyaanaa’,’Wadaajaa’,prayers…etc are performed by riversides, by the foot of big hills, by large water bodies and under the shade of big trees like sycamore tree.
There have been a number of historical and anthropological studies on the history and culture of Oromo society. Various explanations were given as to why sycamore tree had become a religious and political centre under Gadaa system. In fact still today it represents the society and it has become inter-generation activities with the same interpretation throughout the generation. Youths of today are expected to keep up, boost and transfer the symbolic representation culture of the sycamore tree to coming generations using the assurance of cultural rite.

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