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Friday, July 19, 2024

Dawee: Manifestations of an Oromo Prophecy 

In the Borana/Southern Afaan Oromoo dialect, calling someone “dawwe” is a serious charge. It is a term used, often, to describe a person who is not aware of what is going around him, a person who doesn’t know anything but acts like “a know it all.” Many consider it an offensive term and should not be used lightly.

Origin of the term Dawee 

According to Borana oral tradition, a long time ago, when our people lived under the Gadaa system, a Raaga (seer) prophesized that there would come a generation that would not know its identity, culture, language, clan, or sub-clan. A generation that would lack the moral etiquette that many African traditions instill in us, a generation to whom its own identity and culture would be “things of the past.” A generation that believes it is thriving, but in reality, is lost.

Oromos, like many other African societies, are governed by the principles of patrilineal descent, meaning they trace their lineage through the male line. This means a person’s social status, inheritance, and membership in a clan or tribe are all determined by their father’s ancestry. It is evident in the Oromo tradition of teaching one’s child their lineage up to the sixth generation. 

Even though I was brought up in an urban setting and had next to zero exposure to my own culture, my father taught me this as a game every day. He would start by asking my name going up to the sixth generation of our family and then he would ask my gosa (the equivalent of the tribe,) mana (clan), and balbala (sub-clan.) And lastly, he would ask what my luba1 is, a genealogical age group identified by the closest reign of Gadaa of one’s clan.

I did not fully understand the importance of what he was trying to teach me, but I enjoyed learning it because he made it fun. The Gadaa System, the indigenous democratic system of governance used by the Oromos in Ethiopia and northern Kenya, is also taught to children in a similar way.

Later in life, I realized that back when there were no identity cards, stating your lineage made people automatically recognize you, and in times of difficulty, help you.

Evidently, the practice carries on to these times: a Borana from Isiolo County can be recognized by a Borana from Southern Oromia using this method, and will likely be introduced to the homes of his other distant relatives. The Luba helped identify your relatives and clan and advised you who to marry or not to marry.

A generation in crisis  

After migrating from Southern Oromia to the Waso lands,2 almost all Boranas converted to Islam. This was not for religious reasons, but rather to be recognized as part of a larger, worldwide religion. In many ways, it was a means of survival amid changing times and circumstances.

The Boranas were likely influenced by their neighboring Somalis, who share a common Cushitic heritage, in embracing Islam. After the Shifta War of the 1960s between the Kenyan government and the NFD rebel groups, the Somali rebel militia fled to Somalia, Borana lands and other Oromo-speaking communities living in Waso bore the brunt of the conflict, which left them confused and marginalized.

Despite adopting Islam, the Borana people did not properly understand the religion and simultaneously forgot their culture and way of life. Eventually, they forged a link with their fellow Boranas in Southern Oromia. They learned the basics of living as herders (foora) and the leadership roles of village and clan elders (jaallab and meedhich). However, this was not enough.

The influence of Western culture in urban areas and interaction with other ethnic groups proved to be a stronger challenge. Many found it difficult to reconnect with their roots and reintegrate into their own culture. Those who lived in urban areas in particular were fast becoming “urbanized.” 

No matter how hard the Borana tried to inculcate their traditional values in their children, it collided with outside culture which proved too powerful and eroded their way of life. I believe this to be a manifestation of the prophecy that predicted the birth of a lost generation of Dawwe Gobbos. This is of course a problem that affects all Africans, but its impact on Kenyan Oromos has been devastating.

While Somalis have at the very least preserved their language, which is a core pillar of one’s identity and culture, practically every urban Kenyan Oromo, with the exception of a few, lost knowledge of their gosa, mana, or balbala. While most can understand their language, they can’t speak it.

To make things worse, the new urbanized generation distanced itself from the ‘baaddiya’ (countryside). That is due, in part, to the perception that the baaddiya and its people arebackward,” “uneducated” or “uncivilized.” 

“One who leaves his culture is a Slave.”

A KiSwahili Saying

The new generation became ashamed of what is theirs and valued other cultures more than theirs. They developed a belief that Urbanized Boranas were more “intelligent” and “civilized” because they knew the current trends in fashion and music.

In reality, though, they seem lost. They are unaware of their self, language, or background, and are a mere copy-paste of another culture. In a way, they had become prisoners of their own minds.

In KiSwahili, there is a saying that goes, “muwacha mila ni mtumwa,” which translates to “one who leaves his culture is a slave.” While not in its entirety, the saying applies when it comes to the urbanized generation. Because while the people from baaddiya identified with each other, embraced each other, and built each other up, those who grew up in the urban areas only disintegrated, are lost or suffered from an identity crisis. 

All of this is a manifestation of the Dawwe Gobbos prophecy, which warned there would come a generation that would claim to know everything yet fail to recognize themselves. A generation that is “knowledgeable” about other cultures but is ignorant of its own.

So, the next time a Borana calls you a Dawwe, take a moment to reflect on whether you are living in a way that is true to yourself and your culture. If not, it may be time for change.