Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


Local Techniques to Interpret Social Change:
The Narratives in the Oral Chronicles of Boorana Prophets
in Southern Ethiopia

OBA Chikage

(The Graduate University for Advanced Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies, Department of Regional Studies)

Key words:

Boorana, prophecy, prophet (raaga), oral chronicle, historical practice

The objective of this article is to describe how the Boorana people interpret events and construct their history, focusing on their oral traditions as retold by various narrators. Among the Boorana, an Oromo-speaking people of South Ethiopia and North Kenya, there are diviners called raaga. There are many oral traditions related to the raaga who tell about such historical events such as a big immigration, many conflicts, various disasters, and troubles within Boorana politics. It is said that the raaga have predicted historical events, advised people to perform ceremonies to get over social problems, and provided criticisms of society.

In this article, first I describe how that the activities of the raaga define and maintain the morale of the community while explicating several of their stories and prophecies. Then I analyze a number of their historical narratives related to the immigration in the mid-17th century, the big conflict with the Arsi people at the beginning of the 18th century, the conflict with the Arsi in the mid-19th century which killed almost an entire generation, the internal conflict at the end of 19th century, and the Menilek conquest also at the end of the 19th century.

In a discussion of some oral texts, I suggest that the stories of the raaga have become one of the bases for constructing the historical memory of the Boorana people. The narrators have related the results of historical events to the prophecies or magic of the raaga in order to explain them. When the Boorana construct their historical memory, they create a causal chain of events by reinterpreting prophecies of the raaga and making a bricolage of oral traditions related to these prophecies.