Last Sunday, October 1, 2017; the Irreecha celebrations were reported to have passed in a peaceful and joyous note and they continued to be celebrated until October 8. The celebration continued in Burayu at Melka Atete, and Sebeta at Melka Sebeta, and they were concluded peacefully yesterday. During the week, several sources reported of the significance of the holiday, in its historical, socio-economical, religious and political aspects. Because the Oromo people are the majority in Ethiopia and are vastly located around the country, the Irreecha celebrations are varied as such. The way they are celebrated in such different mechanisms but the central ritual is the Irreecha grass, held by the participants as they sing many songs commemorating the day. These songs are not the same in the Tuluma, MaiMai, Borena. Yet, the main point is the journey towards the rivers (Melka). Which signifies the passing of the rainy season and the crossing over to brighter days with friends and family. On this day elders make hearty speeches, then the celebrations reach their peak.
This beautiful cultural holiday is recognized by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage. After listening to several young people share what the holiday meant to them, I myself became more appreciative of the culture. It became apparent Irreecha was not only a gorgeous ceremony to behold, but has numerous lessons to give to us, as Africans.
In addition to this, I recently learned that there is more to Irreecha than meets the eye. In order to get the full picture of a particular culture, there needs to be a full out discussion with the people of that culture. The fact remains though, however much Irreecha has been discussed, there remains a lack of understanding within the Ethiopian society about the holiday. Below are a couple of important takeaways:
What Is Irreecha?
The word “Irreecha” directly translates to “praise”, and as you would guess, it is the Oromo version of thanksgiving (the American holiday); where the people celebrate the transition from the gloomy, dark and rainy season to the now bright, sunny, and fruitful season. The Ethiopian summer season is accompanied by heavy rains throughout the two months it says. It is no secret that, with it, comes thunderstorms, overflowing rivers, cold days and the like. These conditions make the season particularly difficult because people and cattle die as a result of flash floods, loved ones cannot visit each other as a result of overflowing rivers and the overall gloom of the season makes sun loving Ethiopians, and Oromos in particular, unhappy. When September marks the end of this grueling season, the country glows as the signature Ethiopian flowers, the bright yellow “Adey Abebas” cover it. Irreecha is a time to give thanks and pray for the harvest, bringing millions of people, from all parts of Ethiopia and from all walks of life, together in harmony. This celebration has been an integral part of the history and culture of the Oromo people for quite a long time, as it continues to be annually celebrated at Horra Arsedi lake located at Bishoftu.
The religious significance of Irreecha.
What makes this Thanksgiving holiday special is how all religions come together to give praise to the creator in unison and pray for the coming year to be fruitful. On Irreecha, no singular deity that pertains to a specific religion is worshipped. Irrecha is not a religious ritual as many deem it to be. Rather, it is a beacon of unity that brings people together with different religious and social backgrounds once a year, to be thankful for the blessings in their lives that they attribute to their chosen religious God Head. This means that a Christian walks on the trail to the lake along with his Muslim brother, singing joyous songs. They both are praising their respective Gods without the walls of religion dividing them. This is something quite extraordinary to witness. Irreecha indeed does bring people from all walks of life together, instilling hope for the future while setting aside their differences.
The Waqafena place a special religious significance to Irreecha, they believe there is one God, and that great miracle take place there hence they do not go to worship the rivers. The believers of this faith do not believe the existence of Satan. When a mad person gets healed by one pint of water, they asked, “how could it survive an entire river”? The Waqafena religion followers, make up about 3% of the Oromo population, as per a consensus carried out in 2016, and as can be figured, to the rest of the 97%, the experience is more cultural.
The outcome of Irreecha
As a unique cultural holiday celebrated by the Oromo people, Irreecha makes significant strides in bringing individuals with a cornucopia of worldviews together, but it still plays a major role in signifying the solidarity of the people. Coming together in thankful joy, praying and hoping for a happy, prosperous and bright future, while loving one another comes naturally to Ethiopians. This attractive holiday that is the pride of the Oromo people also has caused interest throughout the global arena. Tourists have taken part in the rituals, creating it to be a true world cultural heritage. These and many more other reasons are why Irreecha should be given the due recognition it deserves.