An Ethnographic Survey of Inidigenous Ethiopian Traditional Religious Systems
By Omowale Jabali
© December 2011
The People known to the Ethiopians and Europeans as Galla call themselves Oromo, pl. Oromota, and their language afan oromo; or Ilma Orma (ilm orma), “sons of Men” (afan orma, “language of men”). The name Oromo is said to be derived from Oromo, son of Omer of Ghellad in Arabia, who crossed the sea to Berbera and settled in Africa; another meaning attributed to oromo is “race,nation.” The origin of the name Galla is uncertain. The well-known tale that when a Galla chief “was summoned by Mohammed to Islamize, the messenger returned to report that ‘he said no’-Kal la pronounced Gal la- which impious refusal, said the Prophet should from that time become the name of the race,” is not to be taken seriously. D’Abbadie claimed that it was explained to him as derived from a war-cry, and used by the Galla of themselves when at war. It is, however, of a respectable antiquity, for it is used by Bahrey at the end of the 16th century. Bahrey does not mention the name Oromo, and since he came from the Sidama country of Gamo in south-western Ethiopia, Galla may possibly be a Sidama word which gained currency through his work and its use in other Ethiopian chronicles like the History of Sarga Dengel written a little later. On the other hand, it may be a genuine Oromo word (adopted by non-Oromo) for there is a word galla, “wandering”, which occurs in a text in Cerulli’s Folk Literature, p. 26, in the phrase galla lencada, “wandering lion”; as a name it might allude to their movements over such a large part of north-east Africa. The Abyssinian form is Galla: and in Ludolf’s Latin the people are called Gallani (History) and Gallaei (Commentaries).
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