Irreecha, a thanksgiving day that comprises two distinct festivals observed on top of mountains and on the banks of rivers, is the most colorful and very attractive celebration the Oromo people mark for the glory of their creator (Waaqa).
The Irreecha festival which constitutes the main part of the Gadaa system of the Oromo is serving as a symbol of the Oromo people’s identity from time immemorial.
The festival which attracts millions of people from all walks of life here and abroad celebrated to thank, bless and pray to God (Waaqa) for their achievements and their wishes for peaceful relationship between nature and man. They plead to God for the health of their families, relatives, clan and their country as well as their livestock.
The Oromo people celebrate Irreecha at two locations: at mountain tops (Tulluu) and at the bank of rivers (Malkaa). The observance of the two festivals mark seasonal shift, either from winter to spring or spring to winter.
The Irreecha Tullu, an annual festival observed in May at the top of mountains to mark the end of the dry season and the onset of the rainy season.
On this day, people gather on mountain tops to give thanks to the almighty Waaqaa (God) for all the blessings bestowed upon them throughout the past dry season and ask for reconciliation, peace and harmony for the present and the future.
This ritual believed to be observed by the Oromos for more than 6400 years, is the time when the Oromo people are gathered to bless and pray to their creator to give them rain so that their cattle will get water and grass.
The ceremony kick starts with a call from elders (mangudo) from different places to meet each other in solitary place known for its moisturizing springs and pastures.
This Irrecha practice takes place at the banks of rivers immediately following the end of the rainy season and it is celebrated in September when the rainy season subsides giving way for spring (Birraa).
The Oromo people celebrate Irreechaa Malkaa not only to thank Waaqaa (God) for the blessings and mercies they have received throughout the previous year but also to welcome the new season of plentiful harvests after the rainy season.
This festival is a conspicuous and eye-catching special season heralding full hope and better life during the shining and bright season (Birraa).
Observed in the month of September following the end of the dark rainy season, Irrecha marks a seasonal shift, a transition from gloomy and muddy rainy season, to the bright spring colored with daises-like flowers (adey abeba).
The day is marked at Hora Arsadi (Lake Harsadi) located at Bishoftu, in Oromia region, 47.9 kilometers south of Addis Ababa, on the main road to Adama.
Such historic and very beautiful ritual ceremony is accomplished not only along the bank of rivers but also around the lakes and its vicinities.
Here what is surprising about Bishoftu is the existence of a constellation of seven volcanic lakes surrounded with the exotic beauty of meadows of green grass. This has added exceptional beauty to Bishoftu town which has an unfathomable beauty attracting tourists and casual visitors. Hora Arsadi, Babogaya, Bishoftu, Kuriftu, Cheleka Kilole, Green and Ziquala Lakes are the natural beauties engulfing Bishoftu town.
The festival also known as spring holiday (Ayyaana Birra) is a unique and sparkling occasion in which families, relatives, clans and their closed friends remained in distance by rivers and flood that prevailed during the rainy season get together. Families meet their loved ones and share greetings and seasonal best wishes which is sometimes accompanies with exchange of special gifts (kennaa addaa).
The special day also marks the opening of a traditional court season (Xaddachaa Saaquu). This is so because the benches of the traditional courts will not be in session during the rainy season that extends from June to September.
This is a period in which mountains are covered with meadows and exotic flora with their captivating smell and natural beauty. This is the month of hope and optimism for better life and prosperity.
Participants attired with their colorful traditional out fits which depict their culture, identity and age group, start flood the place where the festival is observed early in the morning.
During the actual date of the celebrations, Abba Gadaas, heads of Gadaa system, a traditional social stratification system of Oromos, moderate the processes involved in the ceremonies to be conducted at specified time and location. More than four million spectators and participants converge on the annual event of Irreecha irrespective of their religious orientation and racial, gender and world outlook.
The Abba Gadaa leads the ceremony by carrying a bouquet of fresh grasses and flowers in their hands blessing their God for his benevolence. They carry a traditional and ceremonial staff while the women holding the same fresh grasses and flowers including decorated cultural embroiders made of beads and cultural canes in their hands sing a traditional song. The Abba Gadaa humbly requests three rounds of permission from the participating crowd to bestow the annual blessing on the spectators.
Thanksgiving Holiday serves as a uniting factor among the different peoples in the country in which hundreds and thousands of citizens from across the nation providing an excellent opportunity for the Oromos to share their indigenous culture and tradition with the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia and to people in foreign lands.
Seasonal love songs and praises are sung by children while the older young persons exploit the situation in a mood of identifying their future life partner.
Marriage ceremonies are also conducted on such occasions among the Oromo people. These attractive traditional marriages in most cases are arranged by the parents of the bride and the groom through rigorous negotiations.
The parents take pleasure in the wedding ceremonies of their offspring and it is the time when the long awaited traditional marriage ceremony takes place amidst cultural paraphernalia to be enjoyed by everyone.
Irreecha is part of the Gadaa System that served as the basis of democratic and egalitarian political system among the Oromos.
Gadaa is the traditional social stratification system of Oromos in Ethiopia and northern Kenya; it is also practiced by the Gedeo people of southern Ethiopia.
Under the Gadaa system, the power to administer the affairs of the nation and the power to make laws belong to the people. Every male member of the society who is of age and of Gadaa grade has full rights to elect and to be elected. This democratic and egalitarian political system of the Oromos will soon be inscribed in UNESCO’s world intangible heritage list.
The Irreecha, the main part of the Gadaa system of the Oromo, is the time of peace and tranquility to be joined by all and it is a time of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.
See you next time as we meet on yet another year of Irreecha Celebration!!!