In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Oromo

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Contemporary Studies
  • Religion
  • Ecology and Environment

African Studies Oromo
Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0038


The Oromo (formerly known as Galla) constitute one of the largest ethnic groups of Ethiopia (c. 26 million), but they are also found in northern Kenya and Somalia. They are divided into subgroups that are based on geographic and social factors, of which regional identity is one of the most important. The Oromo language (also called Afaan Oromoo and Oromiffa) belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Although the Oromo were often perceived as typical exponents of the so-called cattle-complex, they were characterized by a mixed economy with extensive farming. The status of cattle, however, was high; beyond the economic value of cattle, a strong emotional and ritual relationship existed between people and stock. Traditionally, the gadaa system, which included a classification by age groups, was a central institution of social and political organization. Age groups succeeded each other every eight years in assuming military, economic, political, and ritual responsibilities. The male members of Oromo society were classified into generation-sets and gadaa grades. In modern Oromo society, gadaa is no longer in wide practice but it seems to remain influential. In the 16th and 17th centuries a massive expansion of the Oromo took place. An increase in population and demographic pressure as well as ongoing droughts led many Oromo to leave their southern Ethiopian homelands. The expansion was military in character, and, as a result, many Oromo groups started to settle in different regions. They proceeded to develop into a political power. By the end of the 17th century, they were taking an active part in the political formation of the Ethiopian state. A process of mutual assimilation between the Oromo and other inhabitants of the Ethiopian empire started. Over the centuries, Oromo became part of the Ethiopian nobility and some held high leadership positions. The relationship with the Amhara people, who constitute the second-largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and who have dominated the country’s political and economic life, was, however, marked by constant strain. At the beginning of the 20th century, different Oromo groups began to develop a sense of togetherness and a nascent nationalism (Orumumma, “being Oromo”) emerged. In 1973, Oromo discontent with their position led to the formation of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which launched political agitation in the Oromo areas. After the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, an Oromo federal state, called Oromia, was founded.

General Overviews

Most studies include Oromo history, society, and culture in a wider Ethiopian context. Abir 1980 takes into account the contribution of the Oromo to Ethiopian history from 1490 to 1889. Adejumobi 2007 ties in chronologically with the author’s study of late-19th-century and 20th-century Ethiopian history against the background of changing global power configurations. Marcus 2002 also gives an overview of Ethiopian-Oromo history, and includes the 20th century until 2000, whereas Zewde 1991 concentrates on the last century of imperial rule until 1974. Pankhurst 2001 is a political history of Ethiopia. Shinn and Ofcansky 2004 offers a helpful guide for the history of Ethiopia for those with little or no previous knowledge. Ullendorf 1998 gives a useful classical overview, which is a little dated with its focus on the northern population. Levine 2000 is an interdisciplinary study presenting an approach that views Ethiopia as a common cultural region.

  • Abir, Mordechai. Ethiopia and the Red Sea: The Rise and Decline of the Solomonic Dynasty and Muslim-European Rivalry in the Region. London: Cass, 1980.

    The book covers subjects often neglected, including the contributions of the Oromo to Ethiopian history between 1490 and 1889.

  • Adejumobi, Saheed A. The History of Ethiopia. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.

    The book is intended for both students and general readers and is focused largely on the late 19th and 20th centuries. The author questions of shifting global power configurations and their implications for Ethiopia.

  • Levine, Donald N. Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

    This interdisciplinary study combines history, anthropology, and sociology and treats Ethiopia as a common cultural region despite its political, religious, and linguistic diversity. In this second edition of the book originally published in 1974 the author also examines Ethiopia since the overthrow of the monarchy in the 1970s.

  • Marcus, Harold G. A History of Ethiopia. Updated ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    The book gives a complete overview of Ethiopian history to the fall of the Mengistu government in 1991. First edition published in 1994.

  • Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopians: A History. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

    The study focuses on political history and is written by one of the leading specialists on Ethiopian history.

  • Shinn, H. David, and Thomas P. Ofcansky. Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004.

    The book is the third and latest on Ethiopia within the Historical Dictionaries of Africa series. It is a reference guide listing historical events, important persons, geographical locations, ethnic groups, and other topics for those with little or no knowledge of Ethiopia.

  • Ullendorff, Edward. The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People. 4th ed. Kingston, Jamaica: Headstart, 1998.

    Originally published in 1960, a still quite useful overview book, despite its emphasis on the northern, Semitic-speaking population.

  • Zewde, Bahri. A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855–1974. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1991.

    The book focuses on the last century of imperial rule, with an emphasis on the 20th century.

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