Going Inside the Oromo Galma Qallu and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church


One of the least studied areas of mankind’s history may be the social consciousness before the Judeo-Christian-Islam religious establishments and how much of it was retained in these religious establishments. In addition, the history of mankind before these religious establishments is one of the least documented. However, according to some learned scholars, this history is the most important for any society. In the opinion of Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis, “For the countries, the peoples, the ethnic groups that have a part of History that antedates their Christian/Islamic Ages, automatically that part becomes the most authentic, the most genuine, the most determinant, the most preponderant part of their entire History.”


In recent times, new evidences have emerged that suggest what these religious establishments are based on in various parts of the world. There is some evidence that indicates that Moses was an Egyptian Pharaoh named Akhenaton. Some accounts note that “liberal Christians see Jesus as simply the Jewish equivalent of a Pagan savior, such as the Egyptian Horus, Hindu Krishna, or Greek Dionysus. They view Jesus’ biography in the gospels as having been largely lifted from Paganism.” According to some scholars, Islam is based on the social consciousness of the Quraish Arab clan. These scholars note that both Ramadan and Hajj used to be observed by the Quraish before the arrival of Prophet Mohammed.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest religious establishments in the world. The Oromo Qallu institution is also one of the oldest religious institutions that antedate the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.


In the process of researching for certain relationships between Oromo wisdom traditions and Moses’ historical connection with Cush (Ethiopia), an intelligent mind has recently discovered tantalizing similarities between the rituals, prohibitions and provisions of the Oromo Galma Qallu and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as in the details of the designs of Galma and traditional Orthodox church buildings.


A systematic study of these interesting similarities between the two institutions, or one institution with two branches, should be bound to show conclusively either one of the following two hypotheses. It is either that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is based on the Oromo Galma Qallu that was transformed nominally to put on a different cover or that the two institutions have no relationships and the similarities are coincidences. If the first possibility is the case, the conception that Ethiopian Orthodox Christians have about other religions as Maxe Haymanot, or imported religion, may have some grain of truth. As a matter of fact, the localities where the core Oromo cultural institutions such as Gada and the practice of Oromo religion is practiced are where the Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is practiced.


Again, if the first hypothesis proves to be the case, it may avail us more information about the origin of the Amharic speaking people. As Professor Mesfin Weldemariam and Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam, former president of Ethiopia, once suggested, the notion that there are no people called Amhara become most interesting. Of course, this suggestion must be at a historical level since the Amharic language is spoken by millions of people today who identify themselves as Abasha, although the name Amhara as an identifier is also gaining root in their consciousness. The Amharic language is believed to have been spoken since the rise of the Solomonid Dynasty in Shawa in 1270 A.D. This suggests that before that time, there were no people called Amhara and no language called Amharic.


An inquisitive mind would then ask the genesis of the Amharic language and the priori identity of the people who have been living in Shawa before 1270 A.D. It must be obvious that such creation of a new language could not happen without some major event that may have affected the society of that time.


We have no conclusive evidence of the major social event that occurred around that time in Shawa. However, according Prof. Donald N. Levine, legend has it that when Islam expanded to East Africa and sacked Aksum, “…the sole survivor of Aksumite royalty, Ambesa Widim, fled south to Menz and fathered a line of descendants who eventually ‘restored’ the Solomonid Dynasty in 1270 A.D.”


What is even more interesting than the fleeing by the Aksumite royalty is the locality where he chose to take refuge. Those who have visited Menz have observed that its terrain is cliffs and troughs.


According to Prof. Donald N. Levine, the Amharic speaking people started to develop a new culture in the fourteenth century, which is characterized by mutual suspicion. As Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis asserts, as a result of Islam’s explosion, the Abyssinian state of Aksum was isolated from its ally at Constantinople. Therefore, if the above accounts are true, it can be concluded that the major social event of Islam explosion became the driver for the creation of Amharic as a new language. In other words, Amharic's creation may just be the result of Islam's explosion. This would suggest that Professor Mesfin’s argument that there are no people called Amhara may be accurate at historical level. On another note, the animosity towards Islam by the early leaders of EOC may well be a manifestation of the aftershock of the sack of Aksum.


Since Menz is surrounded in all directions by Oromo communities, one can’t help wondering if Ambesa Widim took refuge in the cliffs in Oromo country and society. In addition, one may wonder what advantage he and his descendants had to influence the local society among whom he settled to be able to find a Semitic Solomonid Dynasty in their midst. What is for sure is that the Aksumite Dynasty had a literati society with a writing system using Geeze, Orthodox Christianity as well as the Kibre Negest, which roughly means Glory of Kings and is a manuscript used for ruling over the subject people.


It would be very interesting to study how much Ambesa Widim and his descendants could affect the future of the society he settled in, in the way of setting in motion a new direction of Semitization and Christianization of them. One thing is almost certain, which is the fact that the local society may have had Cushitic priori identity. If that proves to be conclusively true, it can be noted that Cushitic Civilization's decline that started due to the expansion of Christianity in East Africa that attacked the Meroe Kingdom in 370 A.D. yet again suffered a trajectory of Islam’s explosion at a later time. It may well be that the expansions of the two Middle Eastern wisdom traditions have set in motion the process of putting Cushitic Civilization under the grip of Dark Age that the region is still suffering from up to our time.  


On the other hand, if the hypothesis that the two institutions have no relationships and the similarities are coincidences, a careful study must be conducted to prove this. The similarities between the rituals, the provisions and the prohibitions between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and other similar churches such as the Russian Orthodox Church would be very helpful. In Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis’ opinion, “…there is not a single bond – be it ethnic, linguistic, historical, social-behavioral or cultural – to keep the Kushitic Oromo and the Semitic Amhara in a country called either Abyssinia or Ethiopia.”


While we leave the issue of keeping the two peoples in one country or separating them into two countries to political organizations and other interested parties, a systematic research must prove or disprove the Professor’s view that there is not a single bond between the two peoples. In fact, Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis is very busy for the world to see in trying to help the Oromo people to become independent from Ethiopia. Yet, although he sees no single bond at least linguistically, Prof. Donald N. Levine, in his book called Greater Ethiopia, asserts that “… a number of distinctive Cushitic features, such as the use of subject-object-verb sentence order, compound verbs, consecutive gerunds, and cleft sentences, are found in Amharic but not in Ge’ez.”    


In Prof. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis’ opinion, if it may be proven that many Amharas have Oromo roots, it amounts to Amhara people’s effort to continue ruling over the Oromo. That kind of opinion may convince the half-cooked Oromo politicians and other political rookies although for those seasoned ones as well as those interested in the truth, neither is such finding going to contribute to Amhara effort to continue to rule over the Oromo nor is the truth going to affect Oromo struggle for liberty in a negative way. In fact, it might cause terminal damage to any Amhara wish to rule over the Oromo.


On the other hand, if most of the Amharic speaking people happen to have Oromo background, the politics of East Africa is bound to be interpreted differently in the future. In addition, we may be just at the door of Cushitic Renaissance in East Africa after nearly two thousand years of Dark Age. Conditions for this seem to be at the disposal of political organizations and civic institutions in our region. Continued studies by researchers with the caliber of both Professors Levine and Megalommatis to prove these theories one way or the other is only going to help in our quest for Cushitic Renaissance in East Africa that will have significant implications for Africa as well as the world at large.


Voice Finfinne is pleased to share this new finding with its readers and calls upon more research as to which institution may have borrowed what from the other institution or if none has borrowed anything from the other.


The following tables are prepared based on a careful and intelligent study by Girma Waldamariam Yadate.


Table 1. Similarities in the design of Galma and the EOC


Both Galma and the EOC are fenced compounds

Both Galma and the EOC houses have similar island rooms in the center of the bigger house or building.


Table 2. Similarities in Rituals


In front of every Galma Qallu compound, there is a place for Irreessa. Before entering the compound of Galma or when passing by it, Qallu’s followers kiss the Irreessa. Similarly, followers of the EOC kiss the fence of the Church before entering the compound or while passing by it.

Before entering a Galma, its followers kiss its door. Similarly, before entering the EOC building, its followers kiss its door.

Inside Galma, Qallu followers kiss what is known as Furda. Inside the EOC, its followers kiss what is known as Qidus Qiddusan.

Followers of the Oromo Qallu institution go to Galma three days a week: on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Followers of the EOC go to church three days a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Both at Galma and at the EOC, drumming is a common practice.

Burning frankincense is a common practice at both Galma and the EOC.

Before eating at Galma, a Qallu has to bless the food. At the EOC, a priest has to bless before eating.

At weddings, a Qallu blesses using Dadhi (drink that is made from honey) or milk. A priest blesses by carrying a cross.

Qallu sits behind a curtain in the inner compartment, and ordinary people are not allowed to see him. Inside the EOC, only what is called the Liqa Kahin is allowed to sit in the inner room and other people are not allowed to see him.

There is yearly ceremony at sea or river by both institutions

Qallus do rituals with what is called Miju. Priests do rituals with grape.


Table 3. Similarities in Prohibitions


After giving birth, a woman is not allowed to enter either Galma or Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) for a certain period of time

A woman on menstruation is not allowed to enter both Galma and EOC

Neither a man nor a woman is allowed to enter either Galma or EOC if one had intercourse the previous night


Table 4. Similarities in Provisions


A new born baby is given new name by a Qallu, the process is called Hammachisa, and by a priest through baptizing. 

In both Galma and the EOC, glowing fire is necessary to stay overnight: In Galma, Samadulla keeps the glowing fire whereas in the EOC, Manakusit keeps the fire.

Samadulla is a lady who is no longer sexually active; the same is true of a Manakusit.

After harvest, Oromos take to their Qallu a small portion of their harvest. The harvest that is provided is called Midhan Mata. For the EOC as well, one-tenth of the harvest, commonly known as Asrat, is provided.

To stop conflicts in a society, Kalacha and Cacu are brought out from Qallu’s Galma, which becomes a conventional sign for the society to stop its conflict. In the EOC tradition, a cross and the tablet are brought out for the same purpose.

Both the Qallu institution and the EOC receive contributions from their followers.

Both believe in being clean from blood. Some time after a woman has given birth, Qallus or their appointees go to the woman's house, squeeze leaves of a certain tree that is known to have a strong aroma, and splash the mix in the house. That is considered cleaning the house of blood stains. Similarly, EOC priests traditionally go to the house where a baby is born, do some prayer and splash the water in the house.  This provision appears to be an extension of the prohibition for a woman on menstruation not to enter either Galma or the EOC.


Editors Note: When this article was first published, the last comparison in the Provisions table was stated as "Both believe in animal sacrifice as a cleanser." We made a misrepresentation in presenting the concept in English. The concept was about cleaning blood instead of viewing it as a cleanser. We thank our reader Andualem for his comment on that particular comparison.




























































































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