A Stunning Progress in the Celebration of Irreecha in 2009

October 10, 2009

On October 1, 2009, scientists gathered in Finfinne (Addis Ababa) and Washington, D.C., for a simultaneous press release about the publication in the Science journal of the first major analysis on Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus,) one of the earliest known hominids believed to have lived about 4.4 billion years ago.

The Discovery Channel is scheduled to air on October 11, 2009, two documentaries about the discovery of Ardi, which are titled Discovering Ardi and Understanding Ardi.

On October 7, 2009, the Ethiopian Government Embassy in Washington, D.C., hosted a gala to a diplomatic community for a screening of the documentaries. As the Ethiopian Embassy and the Discovery Channel’s joint press release on this event indicates, Mr. John Ford, the President and Managing Director of the Discovery Channel is quoted to have said “we are, in a sense, all Ethiopians.”

The timing of these events coincides with widely held celebrations in East Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. The celebration of the Ethiopian New Year on September 11 (or September 12 during leap years), Masqala/Maskel by the various society groups, and Irreecha are cases in point.

The celebration of Irreecha is particularly significant among the Oromo society. It marks the end of the June, July, August rainy season and the beginning of the dry and sunny Birra season when the blossoming of flowers changes the landscape dramatically. It is also when the ripening produce in the field is first tasted collectively as families and neighborhood friends. Perhaps, it is because of this tasting aspect of it that some writers equate Irreecha to Thanksgiving, although they may have originated for entirely different reasons. The closest Oromo celebration to Thanksgiving is probably Ghindichufa, which is celebrated by families on the last day of harvest but not institutionalized, at least not yet.

What Irreecha signifies is probably most encapsulated in what the society uses to communicate its arrival. The following expression during the season may be one of the most widely used expressions, if not the single most widely used one. Baga ganna nagaan baatanii booqaa birraa argitan. Saddeenni saddeetatti isiniif haa naanna’u. A rough and literal translation that is meant to keep the original concept in the expression is “Good that the rainy season is over for you and that you came to see the spot of the sunny flowering season. May the eight-term turn around for you to another eight-term?”

These expressions signify the end of one season and the beginning of another season, which incidentally is the beginning of a new year according to our local time reckoning. This significance is expounded by the profound message in the second part of the expression that mentions saddeeta. For a lack of a more appropriately fitting equivalent in the English language, saddeeta is translated here as eight-term. A time of eight years is a term in the Gada system, which is a complex social organization that was ever devised by the human imagination, according to Professor Donald N. Levine. Thus, it is possible to read into the turning around of the eight-term wish as one for progress, growth, and moderation.

Even though we don’t have a record of the first time Irreecha was celebrated, there are millions who were born into it and grown celebrating it in various ways year after year. In Ethiopia, it is celebrated centrally at Hora Arsadi, on the outskirts of the city of Bushoftu (Debre Zeit), which is located about 45 kilometers to the south east of Finfinne. This year, Irreecha was celebrated on October 4 and millions of people were reportedly gathered for the occasion.

Outside Ethiopia, it has been celebrated in the past in a few locations, including Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Oslo, Norway.

This year, it was celebrated in quite a few locations, a stunning progress in such a short time. Atlanta, Georgia; Toronto, Canada; Melbourne, Australia; Bergen, Norway; and Dusseldorf, Germany are the additional locations where it was also celebrated this year. What is more, this year’s Irreecha celebration in Washington, D.C., has reportedly seen the addition of a related celebration, Ibsa Basi or Guba. While Irreecha is celebrated at a selected location on a river bank or a shore of a lake, Ibsa Basi is celebrated by preparing bonfires, or lighting Damara (Hommara), at a selected location near residences of the families who celebrate it together.

Such a stunning progress in celebrating Irreecha only shows the resilience of our society’s shared values of the past and a virtuous direction for the future. As it has been said, the past is the best guide to the future. While the world is celebrating the discovery of Ardi to understand our past better so as to help us see our future better, we should be also pleased in seeing the strengthening of our cultural values, which is bound to help guide our future.