Gedeo people

Total population
(986,977 (2007 census)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Gedeo language, Amharic
predominately Protestant Christianity, Traditional, Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Guji Oromo, Sidama, Welayta

The Gedeo (formerly known as the Darassa, pejorative name given to them by Amhara) are an ethnic group in southern Ethiopia. The Gedeo Zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region (SNNPR) is named for this people. They speak the Gedeo language, which is one of the Afroasiatic languages.


According to the 2007 Ethiopian national census, this ethnic group has 986,977 members, of whom 75.05% live in the SNNPR and 24.84% in adjacent parts of the Oromia Region. Almost one in sixteen—6.24% -- live in urban areas.[1]

The culture of the Gedeo is distinguished by two features. The first is the baalle, a tradition of ranks and age classes similar to the Gadaa system of the Oromo people. Beckingham and Huntingford describe the system as seven grades that span a 10-year period of birth, creating a 70-year cycle.[2] Asebe Regassa Debelo provides oral traditions showing that the Gedeo acquired the practice from the Guji Oromo, with whom they have had, historically, a close relationship.[3] On the other hand, their agricultural economy is based on cultivating ensete, as is their neighbors the Sidama people, whose language is closely related to theirs.

Besides the baalle system, before their conquest by the Ethiopian Empire in the 1890s, the Gedeo lived in a federation of three territories called Sasserogo, or "three Roga". These Roga, Sobbho, Ributa and Rikuta, shared one Aba Gada, which was similar to the Oromo office, and every eight years was passed to a new office holder in the next age set at a ceremony also known as baalle. According to Gedeo tradition, all leadership positions from Aba Gada at the top down to the office of Hyiticha were assumed at the baalle ceremony, while specific roles were held by specific clans or sub-clans.[4]


The origin of the Gedeo is not well known. Tadesse Kippie Kanshie mentions one story in which the Gedeo trace their origin to the aboriginal tribe called Murgga-Gosallo, perhaps the earliest people to have lived in the area.[5] Another Gedeo tradition traces their origins to one Daraso, who was the older brother of Gujo the ancestor of the Guji Oromo, and Boro ancestor of the Borana Oromo, two pastoral groups who live to the east of the Gedeo;[6] this tradition may have its origins in an Oromo practice of mass adoption of indigenous ethnic groups, known as guddifacha.[7] Daraso is said to have had seven sons from two wives, from whom were descended the seven Gedeo clans: Doobba’a, Darashsha, Gorggorshsha, Hanuma, Bakarro, Henbba’a and Logoda. These are organized into two classes or "houses": shoole baxxe (the senior) to which the first four belong and sase baxee (the junior) to which the last three belong. The shoole baxxee comprises more than twenty-five sub-tribes while the sase baxxe consists of ten sub-tribes, all of which are exogamous.[5] To these seven clans specific roles were attributed, which meant only a given clan or sub-clan contributed members from its ranks for the role of leadership while other clans or sub-clans performed duties associated with ritual, traditional medicine, etc. Accordingly, the Aba Gada used to be chosen from the Logoda and Henbba'a clans.[4]

Reunification with the rest of Ethiopia in 1895 led to numerous social upheavals. In areas where the Gedeo "submitted peacefully" local administration was not disturbed, but in those that required military action, military governors ruled and at times became feudal lords. The reunification seriously affected their socio-economic, political and cultural autonomy. For instance, the Gedeo were barred from using their baallee tradition in their day-to-day lives, except in religious rituals, leading to social disintegration, and loosened the social ties amongst the different tribes. Those who fought against reunification, their land was also confiscated and the reduced to gebbars, the Ethiopian equivalent of serfs. The local landlords, known as naftagna and balabat, were entitled to take one-third (siso) to one-half (gama) of whatever the gebbars produced. The landlords emphasized production of coffee due to its importance as a cash crop—to the benefit of the landlords, not the Gedeo peasantry. On top of this, the gebbars and their families were required to perform unpaid work for the landlords. The gebbars also had to contribute asrat (one-tenth of the total produce) to the Ethiopian Church. The landlord also controlled the social life of a gabbar, requiring them to seek his permission before proposing a marriage for his children or to send his children to school.[5]

However, one authority holds that the greatest administrative action that changed the lives of the Gedeo was during the 1920s when measurement of land through qallad (a rope or leather thong about 66–67 meters long) was introduced. The process of measuring land brought many hitherto unoccupied lands, and formerly forested areas that had been under the control of the traditional authorities, into the hands of the national authorities. This forced the ordinary Gedeo to abandon their traditional lands where they grew ensete (as the landlords claimed rist and maderia rights over measured lands), and towards peripheral areas in search of unoccupied and forested lands. This migration led to assimilation of different clans, eliminated traditional no-man's zones and encouraged clearing of forested areas for the purposes of growing mixed coffee and ensete.[8]

Protestant missionaries arrived in the early 1950s. They established two churches, the Ethiopian Kalehiywot Church and Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekaneyesus. Of these, the Ethiopian Kalehiywot Church attracted the bulk of the Gedeo population and exerted a far-reaching influence. The missionaries found their evangelical work quite easy, for they had only to substitute the Christian God for the Mageno, the Supreme Being of the Gedeo. Moreover, before the Christian missionaries arrived there was virtually no formal education among the Gedeo. The handful of government schools were in the towns. The missionaries quickly identified this gap and used it to their advantage, establishing Bible and elementary schools. Gedeo were so eager to learn how to read and write, that elementary schools had to offer evening classes for the adults, lit by kerosene lamps. As Tadesse Kippie Kanshie writes, "These schools not only taught religious cadres but also cadres of change."[5]

The landlords, well aware of the consequences, were vehemently opposed to any education of the Gedeo, and worked against the efforts of the missionaries, by limiting their movement in the countryside in various ways. While the missionaries relied on the help of their converts to circumvent the effect of these limitations, the local elites also struck against them. Some, such as Murtti Obese, one of the first converts to evangelize to the Gedeo south of Dila, lost his life in 1970 while in the remote areas of Hagere Mariam woreda, and Tesfaye Argaw was murdered while on a similar mission in the lowlands.[5]

Related to this was the effort of the Gedeo to regain their lost rights. In the 1950s, Gedeo elders were selected and presented a petition to Emperor Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa, but to no avail. The Gedeo clashed with the Ethiopian army in 1960 at Michille hill near Dilla. With traditional weapons like spears against modern firearms, the Gedeo killed 68 government army and officials, while the latter killed 86 Gedeo peasants, "a small number considering the state’s level of military power," Asebe Regassa Debelo notes with some satisfaction.[9] Nevertheless this defeat led to government persecution of local Protestants. Church leaders were accused of inciting the people against the feudal government and church gatherings were banned. Further, government authorities forcibly resettled Gedeo in Adola, Hagere Mariam (Bule Hora) and other Guji Oromo territories located far from the homelands of the Gedeo.[10] While the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie at first led to improved conditions, such as land reform, but these improvements did not last. Cheating and deceiving had become "normal" ways used by most town merchants in dealing with Gedeo peasants. They were told by Political Commissars when to harvest, when to sell and whom to sell to, and these officials eventually tried to enforce collectivization on the Gedeo. In response, farmers clashed with government soldiers in 1981 near Rago-Qishsha.[5]

When boundary lines were drawn between the new SNNPR and Oromia administrative units during the Transitional Government of Ethiopia, much territory originally belonging to the Guji Oromo, including the Qallu compound (galma) in Wenago, was given to the SNNPR. The local Guji Oromo were dissatisfied with this arrangement, and unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the office of then Prime Minister. This led to violent clashes in Hagere Mariam woreda between the Guji and Gedeo in April–May 1995. The federal army attempted to intervene between the two to stop the fighting, but only succeeded in becoming the target of Guji militants.[11]


  1. 1 2 "Census 2007" Archived February 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., first draft, Table 5.
  2. C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford, Some Records of Ethiopia, 1593-1646 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1954), p. 210
  3. Asebe Regassa Debel, "Ethnicity and inter-ethnic relations: The 'Ethiopian experiment' and the case of the Guji and Gedeo", Master's thesis in indigenous studies, University of Tromsø (2007), pp. 49f
  4. 1 2 "Ethiopian Village Studies: Adado, Gedeo", CSAE: Ethiopian Village Studies, June 1996 (accessed 18 November 2009), p. 2
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Tadesse Kippie Kanshie, Five thousand years of sustainability? A case study on Gedeo land use (PhD dissertation: May 2002), Treemail publishers, pp. 22-31 ISBN 90-804443-6-7
  6. Asebe Regassa Debelo, "Ethnicity", p. 43
  7. Asebe Regassa Debelo, "Ethnicity", p. 57
  8. "Ethiopian Village Studies: Adado, Gedeo", p. 4
  9. Asebe Regassa Debelo, "Ethnicity", p. 51
  10. Asebe Regassa Debelo, "Ethnicity", p. 49
  11. Asebe Regassa Debelo, "Ethnicity", pp. 73-78
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