Minneapolis (MN) – This year’s eclectic cultural celebration in Little Oromia (Minnesota that is) is too colorful and too rich to report on in one piece. Every moment was like an epic plot in a good movie that sends one into a state of thrills and evokes a feeling of homesickness.
Starting at about 9AM, joyous members of Minnesotan Oromo Community started gathering at Lake Nokomis, in Minneapolis. At first, it seemed many were afraid to change into traditional outfits or get out of the warmth of their car hideouts. But as the weather started warming up briskly, the youth took charge cheerfully leading the attendees in traditional dances and songs. The day was something of a record, filled with heart-stopping celebrations unmatched by experience of last seven years. Oromos in Minnesota began celebrating Irreechaa in 2004, at least in the present form.
There was simply too much to be prideful about. First; the event was a clear manifestation that against odds of long years of cultural repression, relocation and immigration, the Oromo have incredibly preserved their cultural heritage. Second, the eye-catching and elaborate cultural costumes represented at the lake are testimony to the fact that Oromos remain largely connected to their roots, and hold their tradition dear.
Third, putting to rest the misconceptions that have once plagued turnout at Irreechaa in Minnesota, Oromos from all stripes came in unison to give thanks to Waaqa (Waaqa is the Oromo equivalent of God/Allah) for the blessings bestowed upon them and pray for nagaa (peace) Oromo. It was truly an Oromo to see many coming straight to Lake Nokomis after attending church services. Or Women dressed in scarves and hijab (variably veil) taking part in what is sometimes erroneously regarded as only Waaqefannaa celebration. Men who proudly wore Muslim hats and cups yet joined in at every pace of the celebration. Even at this age of heightened religious dogmatism, Oromo remain largely tolerant of divergent views and continue to coexist notwithstanding the fact they have embraced different religious beliefs.
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Roughly after two hours of non-stop dancing and singing, the women were called to the fore to lead the group to Malka (the ford) to wrap up the celebration with the more ceremonial aspects of Irreechaa. Brightly and beautifully dressed mothers, little girls and young ladies – took charge reciting traditional ballads – walking at a much slower pace to the lakeshore.
Once at the ford, the Oromo women, in accordance with the long standing Oromo culture of “ladies first”, gave thanks to Waaqa Uumaa (the creator) and prayed among other things for the reign of justice in their native Oromia, Ethiopia. The elders took turns – with (unofficial) representatives of different faiths at the front – praised Waaqa, blessed the young, the elderly, the world, and prayed for freedom to ring from every mountain top in Oromia. After the prayer ceremony was concluded, Irreessaa (the bundle of green grass) was hoarded up at the lakeshore.
The highly enthusiastic youth did not seem to have had enough to dance. Some growing impatient to even wait until the prayer ceremony was called to a close. Then they took turns joyfully jumping and singing – contending to outperform each other – almost reminiscent of traditional folk songs extemporaneously but artistically done on similar occasions (in Oromia) to impress potential brides.
The extraordinary day of music, dance and blessings was followed by a huge feast. Besides a huge stack of burgers and hunky beef ribs, three best sheep in town were slaughtered for the feast. The barbecue, with a special Oromo touch, was salivating from afar. Later, ecstatic organizers confessed, even with Cuuko, Marqaa (porridge), Daabo (bread), Itituu, Daadhii and other food items brought in for the potluck, the food was barely enough for everyone. But thanks to the intimate Oromo culture of sharing – they ate off each other’s hands – and everyone, including those who came at 5pm, had a bite.
Traditionally Irreechaa, the premier holiday of the Oromo people, marks the end of the dark-rainy season and the beginning of a blossom harvest season of Birraa. It is in Oromo tradition to gather at the river banks, mountain tops and lake shores to give thanks to the almighty Waaqa for all the blessings of the yesteryears and ask for Nagaa (peace) and Araara (reconciliation) for many years to come – Oromsis Adula, Sep. 2009. See my article “Irreeechaa in Minnesota: A Tradition Continues” for detailed background information on Irreechaa.
The 2010 Eretcha Celebration in Minnesota was made possible by generous contributions from Opride.com, Katar Restaurant, Oda Nabe Self-Help Association, Metropolitan Transportation, Ahmeds Auto and other benevolent members of the Community (including Qamariya’s family whom we couldn’t resist naming, from a long list that was given to us).