Department of Oromo Folklore (Oromo Cultural Studies)

The Department of Oromo Folklore emerged from a realisation of the critical shortage of literature on Oromo culture, history and language. It addressed the lack of institutions that focus on studies of cultural, social, economic, political and literary traditions and indigenous knowledge of peoples. Earlier systems nullified roles of true cultures and traditions with the assumptions of replacing them with ‘High Cultures’ of the Queens and Kings’ types. Change in outlooks and theories call for prioritising the former. On 15 November 1989, the General Conference of UNESCO at its 25th Session in Paris underscored the necessities of safeguarding folklore, realising its nature, roles, and current status; accordingly, it urged member states to give due attention and immediate action to safeguard the folklore of peoples of their respective countries. 

Until very recently, Oromo was an oral society wherein culture, tradition, history, and identity had been accumulated for generations. The Department emerged with the belief that the study of such longstanding traditions and cultures of the people can help in safeguarding them, contributing to the enrichment of literature and promoting the development needs of the people. Its main areas are culture, traditions, history, identity, language and literature.

The Bachelor of Arts in Oromo Folklore and Literature was instituted as an academic programme under the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Jimma University in 2005 and started actual operation in September 2007. The programme was launched with the intention of producing professionals who will help in safeguarding the peoples’ cultures and enriching their literature. 

The intention is that the literature and cultures of oral societies can be enriched through collecting and researching field data and converting them into organised written documents and documentary films. These pave ways for safeguarding, conservation, preservation, documentation, displays of culture and enriched literature. The programme marks a new area of study in Ethiopian higher education. No higher educational institutions in Ethiopia undertake the academic programme under consideration. It is more actual, practical and data-based. 

The Bachelor of Arts in Oromo Folklore and Literature has been designed as a multidisciplinary academic programme. Spiritual, material, oral and performance cultures are the main areas the programme includes. The first deals with political and ideological issues, philosophical outlooks and attitudes; the second is about instruments and products which help in displaying the spiritual aspects of society; the third is about how society expresses and communicates these among its members and with others; the last one is about the acts, behaviour and performances which reveal the underlying spiritual aspects supplementing the oral elements. All of these make the totality of the life of the people; in general, it is the study of the people and their ways or the culture of the people. Culture accumulates the people, their ways and experiences and becomes a resource for development and innovation; so it is for unity and strength. It is having this in mind that the Department developed the curriculum. 

The Ministry of Education of the FDRE called for national curriculum development in 2008.  Accordingly, a needs assessment of stakeholders was conducted and a new curriculum was developed. This was following the admission of the first cohort. On the workshop or in the process of development, the members of the team convinced each other that the word ‘folklore’ covers the concepts attached to literature and would be sufficient. It was then decided that the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Oromo Folklore (or Cultural Studies) be given to the graduates after completion of their studies. While very slight changes have been made to the programme objectives, profiles, rationale and course contents, many of these remain the same.   

In terms of manpower, the Department began with an individual who was in the English Department at the time. Gradual recruitment and employment from different disciplines has helped the promotion of the programme into a strong self-sufficient department. Presently, the Department has twenty-one academic and technical staff. Out of these, eight are on the study leave and thirteen are on duty.

Collecting, cataloguing, documenting, digitising and preserving folklore data are already well underway. Both students and staff collect data from fields. These are processed and categorised into genres and subgenres. They are converted into soft and hard copies. The elements of folklore in these forms are preserved and made ready for use in teaching and research. Social ceremonies and ritual events are recorded right from the field and put into documentary films. This is with the perception that rites and ceremonies expose the outlooks and beliefs of societies. These are resources portraying the actual realities of the social beliefs, customs, perceptions, traditions and philosophy of life. They bring to the fore personalities and experts on a single stage and incidence. Likewise, they enrich information and data to conduct in-depth research into indigenous traditions. These resources can serve other institutions which are interested in them.