Gada system, an indigenous democratic socio-political system of the Oromo

Your browser is not supported by this application. Please use recent versions of browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Edge or Safari to access 'Dive' interfaces.

Inscribed in 2016 (11.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Authority for Research and conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), 2015

Gada is a traditional system of governance used by the Oromo people in Ethiopia developed from knowledge gained by community experience over generations. The system regulates political, economic, social and religious activities of the community dealing with issues such as conflict resolution, reparation and protecting women’s rights. It serves as a mechanism for enforcing moral conduct, building social cohesion, and expressing forms of community culture. Gada is organized into five classes with one of these functioning as the ruling class consisting of a chairperson, officials and an assembly. Each class progresses through a series of grades before it can function in authority with the leadership changing on a rotational basis every eight years. Class membership is open to men, whose fathers are already members, while women are consulted for decision-making on protecting women’s rights. The classes are taught by oral historians covering history, laws, rituals, time reckoning, cosmology, myths, rules of conduct, and the function of the Gada system. Meetings and ceremonies take place under a sycamore tree (considered the Gada symbol) while major clans have established Gada centres and ceremonial spaces according to territory. Knowledge about the Gada system is transmitted to children in the home and at school.

Guyo Goba, the seventieth Abaa Gada of the Borana Oromo, ties ‘kallacha’ headgear on his forehead which is a symbol of power, and bearing a staff known as Hororo and a whiplash (Litcho) in his hand and wearing shorts (Hida)
Gorfo, a leather dress made of skin of cow and beautified with stripes symbolizes that the women are mothers of the Dabballe. They are greatly honoured; their blessings are sought by women. Dabballe dhali ‘May you give birth to dabballe’.
Abba Gadas transmit the knowledge and practices associated with the Gada System
Most of the meetings of the various Gada councils convened under the shade of Oda tree, emblem and sacred tree for the Oromo, used to review the laws, resolve major conflicts and deal with the issue of power transfer.
Participants take with them a bunch of green grass and Ada (Abyssinian daises) to be placed on the shore of Hora (Lake) Arsadi while chanting thanks to Waqqa at Irreecha Festival celebrated in September at national level in Bishoftu Town
On the occasion of the Irrecha Festival celebrated at national level, women walking to Hora (Lake) Arsadi holding siinqee (stick) and one of them also carrying caaccuu, a religious object made of skin of cow decorated with cowry shell
A marriage ceremony held during the Irrecha Festival presided by Abba Gada and other officials. In the Gada System, marriage ceremonies constitute a rite of passage from Kusa to Raba Dori grade for most of the members of the class.
AIn the power take over ceremony, referred as Balli Walirafudhu, the outgoing Gada ruling class handover ostrich feather, a symbol of authority, to the incoming. The handover of power is often undertaken every eight years smoothly and peacefully.
Abba Gada Beyene Sanbeto with his wife at the power transfer ceremony. He is president of the Gada Council established recently at Bishoftu to promote the Gada System, realize good governance and ensure peace and stability of the Oromo people.
Dhichisa, a traditional dancing in which men perform fast and high jumps during the Gada Power transfer ceremony and other rituals in connection with the System. In this dancing, those who accomplish heroic deeds including the Gada officials are praised.