Uma and the Father God

May 5, 2007

Much has been said about nature. Nevertheless, the debate over evolution and creation worldviews are still ongoing.

In its November 13, 2006, issue, TIME magazine reported about a debate it organized between Prof. Richard Dawkins of Oxford University and Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. TIME quotes Dr. Dawkins as saying “close reading of the physical evidence should lead toward atheism.” It also quotes Dr. Collins as saying “material signs point to God but that God also exists outside of space and time.”

Close observation of what these scientists said shows that both of them are reading from the same scripture but give it different interpretations. It may not be unfair to assume that the starting points of “physical evidence” for Dr. Dawkins and “material signs” for Dr. Collins point to the same scripture. If that is the case, their differences in interpretation may be more of subjective reflections of each one’s understanding of the scripture than an objective reality of nature.

Perhaps, the point of discussion for both scientists and interested parties at large should be the understanding of the scripture well before the inclination to conclude that it leads to one way or another. We can safely argue that the scripture doesn’t point to multiple directions. Our suggestions that it does boils down to our collective misunderstanding of it, or that we have yet to fully understand it.

For the convenience of this analysis, let us call what we have yet to fully understand the Scripture of Nature. Bringing together our sectarian understanding of the Scripture of Nature may help us enhance our current collective understanding of it. From space exploration to the exploration of the deep ocean to human genome mapping, vast pages of the Scripture of Nature have been studied. Another vast page that seems to be understudied is what lies in the collective experiences of arguably the most conscious animal, the human being. It is evident that in both Drs. Dawkins and Collins statements lie shadows of ideas borrowed from other people who have dealt with the issue previously. That is a sign which shows how our thinking processes are shaped by the thinking processes of those who lived before us. That is also a reason why we need to explore our collective experiences as much as possible for a better understanding of the Scripture of Nature.

In its March 2006 issue, the National Geographic magazine published some results from its Genographic Project. The report suggests that “modern humans” lived at a place called Omo Kibish in Ethiopia nearly 200,000 years ago, and started migrating outwards nearly 70,000 years ago.

Although the magazine dubbed it the Greatest Journey Ever Told, new consciousnesses that were acquired before the journey began, along the journey, and outside of the journey don’t seem to have been included in the genographic study. However, it is clear that bringing together some of the critical consciousness reflections of all these groups may open a new vast page of the Scripture of Nature. That is because all these three groups must have some observations of nature over such a long period of time. Obviously, the first two groups have a spatially wide observation along the journey whereas the third group has an even longer observation of nature over the 2000 centuries. While the information we have in the religious texts may be reflections of some levels of observations of nature, we can argue that they don’t reflect the observations in their totality. We can also argue that they may have misinterpretations of some of the observations since they involved substantial subjective interpretations in a limited domain of space and time. The Judeo-Christian-Islam religious establishments have nearly 2,000 years of history and their genesis was heavily concentrated in ancient Egypt and the Middle East. In this analysis, we will take as an example the Oromo people to represent the group outside the journey and compare their worldview with other groups. The Oromo people are one of the main national groups in Ethiopia with very ancient culture. Omo Kibish is within close reach of a segment of the Oromo people and we assume that they have been living there since the very early ages. We have no reason to assume otherwise.

In his book called Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud attempted to explain the origin of the concept of the Father God. The Bible has it that God created man in His image. This is one of the critical departures from the concept of Uma in Oromo worldview and the concept of the Father God.

In an interview in 2002 with an Ethiopian newspaper, Jean Doresse had the following to say: “Historians argue that the first language was Sabean. But Oromiffa [Oromo language], Somali and Afar languages use words whose origin is earlier than hieroglyphic Egyptian. They are the most ancient spoken languages. … my own opinion is that all the Horn of Africa and South Arabia are the places of birth for the history of mankind rather than Egypt and the other parts of the world. These are the birthplaces of man, the birthplaces of languages and civilization, though perhaps there was no idea of religion at the beginning.”

In a 1998 interview with a journalist, the late Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, Ethiopia's legendary playwright who wrote the African Union anthem noted the following: "The cradle of man is here, the beginning of man is here, there is no refuting that. Archaeologists, geologists have dug everywhere and they have come up with the bones to prove that man started here. And that man was not sleeping, from the moment he was created he started creating. The heritage of that man, of the ancestor, is the heritage of the world."

The rough translation of the concept of uma is nature. According to Oromo worldview, the power that keeps uma in balance is Waaqa. Some people equate the concept of Waaqa to the concept of the Father God. However, unlike how the concept of the Father God is defined in the Bible, the Oromo people say Waaqni humna malee bifa hin qabu. That is roughly to say Waaqa has no form but power. Therefore, this is one critical difference between the concept of Waaqa and the concept of the Father God.

Also masked in the above critical departure is the difference between Nature Celebration and Worshipping the Father God. According to Oromo consciousness, uma has its balance and that balance needs protection and celebration. At Nature Celebration ceremonies, thanksgiving is afforded to Waaqa, the power that keeps it in balance, and humanity is reminded to protect it. This appears to be what is being characterized by the scientists as well. TIME magazine points out the suggestion of Drs. Dawkins and Collins that “if the universal constants, the six or more characteristics of our universe, had varied at all, it would have made life impossible.” Such understanding of nature makes the understanding of the Scripture of Nature more complete.

Another critical departure between Oromo worldview and the writings in the religious texts lies in the answer to the question of what happens after death. This issue seems to be the main dividing factor between the Jehovah Witness sect of Christianity and the rest of Christianity. According to Ecclesiastes 4:20-21, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

This is perhaps the most revealing link between Oromo worldview and the Judeo-Christian-Islam religious establishments. According to Oromo worldview, a person pays for his or her wrongdoings while still on earth but his soul rests after death. Put differently, the concept of Chubbu, punishment here on earth for the wrongdoings while here on earth, is in Oromo consciousness whereas the concept of hell is absent.

The concept of the Father God is not absent in Oromo culture, but manifests itself in a different way than how it is depicted in the religious texts. The Geez or Sabean language appears to be the critical link between the Oromo concept of father and the concept of the Father God in the religious texts. Ab is the Geez or Sabean language equivalent of the concept of the Father God in the religious texts, and interestingly enough, that of father in Oromo language. In Oromo language, Abba means father. Incidentally, this term, or a variation of it, is used to refer to father in many languages of the world. Whether the concept of creation in his own image is derived from the physical similarity between the father and the son is something to ponder about. However, the use of the term Abba or its variation in different languages gives a further evidence for the proposition that humanity migrated outwards from Ethiopia.

While Oromo children are taught to respect their fathers, it appears that as people traveled farther away, this respect has been lifted enough to revere the father to the Father God and worship Him.