The Oromo of Harerghe: On their Settlement Pattern and their Dialect

By Afendi Muteki

TOromo of Hargdhehe Oromo of Harerghe belong to the Barentuma/Barento confederation, one of the two main branchs of the Oromo people. They are bounded by the Arsi Oromo in the west and south, the Karayyu and Jille Oromo in the north west, the Afar people in the north and the Somali people in the east and south east. They call their natural homeland “Fugug”. They are basically regrouped to three major tribes; the Ittu, Afran Qallo and Anniya.

The Ittu Oromo ocuppy the western part of Harerghe highlands. Their home area is called “Carcar” or “Ona Ituu”. They are the people who are very close to the assembly of “Caffee Odaa Bultum” under which the tradition of the Barentuma Oromo adminstration system is kept. The natural boundary between Ittu and Afran Qallo is Burqa river which is found near Baroodaa town. The boundary between Ittu and Anniya is the Ramis river.

The Afran Qalloo Oromo lay to the east of Ittu and North of Aniyyaa. They are largest of the three groups both in thier population and the area they occupy. They have four main divisions called Oborraa, Babile, Daga (which is subdivided to Nole, Jarso and Hume) and Ala. It is not clear whether the land of Afran Qalloo has a unique name although some people call it “Goro Fugug”. Afran Qallo had a long tradition of “Raabaa Doorii” assembly which was held at a place called “Bululoo” near the town of Watar.

The Aniya Oromo occoupy the lowlands of the former Gara Mulata province. Their home area is called “Diida Aanniyyaa” or ”Burqaa Tirtiraa”. With only few exceptions, they are pastoralists. The boundary between Afran Qallo and Aniyya is the Mojoo river. The Anniya Oromo used to held their “Caffee Gadaa” assembly at “Burqaa Tirtiraa”.


The Oromo of Harerghe speak the Oromo language called Afaan Oromo. However, they retained unique dialect which has certain important features. First, their dialect is marked by a guttural sound “kh”. Some linguists say that the Harar Oromos borrowed this sound from other languages (like Somali, Harari and Arabic). But this assumption has no base because the “kh” sound exists in other Oromo dialects as well; it exists even in “Borana” and “Guji” dialects which are thought to have low contact with other languages. On the other hand, in the Harar Oromo dialect it is not only the loan words that have the “kh” sound but also many words of Oromo roots are marked so. For example “khaleessa” (yesterday), “khannuu” (to give), “khaayuu” (to put down), “khiyya” (mine), “khoottu” (come) etc… have all “kh” sounds and these words were not borrowed from any other language. So the notion that asserts “kh” is a loan sound is unreliable.

The second feature of the Harar Oromo dialect is its possesion of many loan words which are used only in Harerghe. This has no mystery because the Oromo of Harerghe live in the land criss-crossed by trade routes and military expeditions, and they share boundary with different nations such as Somali, Afar, Harari etc; so it is evident that they borrowed many words from other languages. For example, we can see the Oromos of Harerghe saying “zigaal”, “zanyaa”, “zuuguu”, “azeeba”, “azala” etc… These words were borrowed from Harari language (As the Cushitic languages doesn’t have “z” sound, and the words we listed here appear only in Harari language and the Harar dialect of the Oromo language, we can easily conclude that the Oromos of Harerge borrowed them from their Harari neighbours.)


The third feature of the Harar Oromo dialect is its maintaining many idiomatic expressions which are peculiar to the Harerghe region. For example, we can hear the Harar Oromos saying “miila kharaa khaayuu” (to put the leg in the road) which is to mean “to go”, “harka jabaatuu” (to be hard handed) to mean “to be thrifty, “dhukkee irraa khaasuu” (to blow dust on) to mean “to attack severely”.

There are two types of colloquiation among the Oromos of Harerghe. One is the traditional confederacy based colloquation, and the other is the urban-rural deviding colloquation. On confederacy level, the three tribes of the Harar Oromo (Ittu, Afran Qallo and Aniyya) have retained certain vocabularies and “phonetic” variants which can differentiate them from one another. For example, the Ittu Oromos say “eessa” for “where” but the Afran Qallo Oromos say “eeysa” which is phonetically different. While the Ittu Oromos say “diiddam” (twenty), the Afran Qallo Oromos say “diydam”; When the Ittus say “ishii” (her) the Afran Qallo Oromos say “isii”. On the Other hand the Ittu Oroms say “subaaxa” to mean “lunch”, but the Afran Qallo Oromos say “laaqana” for lunch. When the Ittu Oromos say “jibbuu” (to hate), the Afran Qallo Oromos say “jibbu” and “balfuu”; when Ittu Oromos say “indooyyee” (aunt-mother’s sister) the Afran Qallo Oromos say “haboo”. The Ittu Oromos say “khottee” for “nail”, the Afran Qalloo Oromos say “qeensa”.


The urban-rural deviding colloquiation is relatively a recent phenomenon. It is mostly a result of Afan Oromo’s high fusion with Arabic, Somali and Harari languages in the urban areas. For example, an urban house wife in Harerghe may call her female friend “geelee” in the manner of the Harari woman. The urban people say “faxara” for breakfast (in the word from Arabic), but the rural people simply call it “dhihena”; the urban people may say “shubbaaka” (also borrowed from Arabic) for window which the rural people call “fooddaa”.


One must not take the distinct usage of a dialect by the Oromos of Hareghe as something that separate them from other Oromos just as Ziyad Barre of Somalia was preaching 30 years ago. Even though they developed a unique dialect and certain traditions which are peculiar to them, the Oromos of Harerghe always consider themselves part of the greater Oromo nation.

Written by Afendi Muteki

January 12/2013.

Gelemso, West Harerghe



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