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The main Traditional Religions in Kaffa


By: Fr KOCHITO GEBREMICHAEL PETROS 

  • From the many traditional religions in Kaffa, where I come from, I have selected two which I believe inclusively demonstrate thereligious practices. These are Baare-Qocco and Showe Qoole dupho or Deejo.

 Baare-Qocco

From the many traditional religions in Kaffa, where I come from, I have selected two which I believe inclusively demonstrate thereligious practices. These are Baare-Qocco and Showe Qoole dupho or Deejo. Prior to the arrival of Catholicity from Europe and Eastern Orthodox Christianity from northern Ethiopia to Kaffa, everyone celebrated some kind of Baare-Qocco.72 The word Baare-Qocco is a combination of two words. Baare (Baaro) means spirit or feast and Qocco is an offering. Literally the word is an ‘offering’ to spirits, mostly of the ancestors. This is always related with Qabo (the ancestor) of the clan or of the family. People of the same ancestral line would come together and the eldest would lead in a small hut purposely built for this ceremony. This hut, Baare-Ketho, meaning ‘the feast house or house of the deity’, (today the same word is used for church) is built at the side or behind the house of the eldest brother to those descending from a common ancestor. This hut is erected by all who believe share an ancestor. The structure of the house is very much like any Kaffa dwellings. A bamboo wall separates the house from the gimbo (main pillar of the hut). The head of the house sits next to the pillar from where he offers sacrifices in memory of the ancestors at the Nihe-baaro (feast of the ancestors’ spirit). In a family, the younger brothers sit at the left of the elder brother while his sons and their wives sit by the wall. The wife of the household head, his brothers’ wives, and the children sit by the doorway. Just as there is a Christian priest leading the community, so is there a leader specifically to preside over ceremony, the Qaabecho, the eldest or a direct successor to an ancestor. Early morning on the feast- day, this elder opens the house where his brothers and he enter. The leader is helped by a son who offers water, first to the leader and then the rest. All wash their hands as a sign of purification and cleanliness, in preparation for the ceremony. When all are present, leader opens with the following prayer:

God of our fathers and forefathers (ancestors), keep us well and healthy.

God of our ancestors give us prosperity, guard our household and property.

 

God of our ancestors protect us, our wives, and all our relations.

The women then prepare coffee and bread or grain. The first cup of coffee is poured at the foot of the pillar of the hut. This coffee is meant for leaving-dead (ancestors) who are part of the family or the clan, who guide and protect them. The second coffee is given to the eldest. Then all receive their share and spend the day in pleasant conversation and in thanksgiving to the God who was worshipped by their ancestors, who believed Him to be protector of homes, cattle, wives, and children. Pouring beer into a baare gaano,  (a feast jar) is another very important ritual. The time is not strictly specified and so depends on each community, but usually performed in the late afternoon. At Qocco (offering or libation) time, beer is brought by one of the brothers. However at the annual celebration, all married men in the extended family bring beer. Bachelors and the poor are exempted. When beer pouring begins, all stand and listen to the prayers by an elder who says, ‘God of our ancestors, we thank you for giving the earth rain and sun due this season so that we may get food for ourselves, our children, our cattle and all creatures on earth.’ The participants respond, ‘God of our ancestors hear us.’ The beer filled jar is left uncovered at the foot of the pillar because it is believed that the spirit of the ancestors will come and drink. Bread is given to the president of the ceremony, some of which is also placed at the foot of the pillar. In most cases, these feasts occur at harvest time.

To express unity with the ancestors, the food and drinks which were presented as offerings are shared by all. The elements which need to be underlined in this traditional celebration are: People gathering as community, the forms of prayers used at the celebration and the sense ofcommunion with the ancestors. 

Showe Qoolo(e) dupho or Deejo

Qoolo is a Kaffa term meaning ‘spirit’. Showo means ‘soil’, and by transference, showo qoolo means ‘spirit of fertility’. Dupho means performing an offering or a sacrifice. The whole phrase means an offering to the fertility spirit.

In practice, there are two kinds of Qoolo. First, there are spirits that inhabit specific rocks, trees, pathways, crossroads, streams, rivers, and hot springs. These are not always referred to as Qoolo. People rather give them spirits special names, e.g., Gori Gene (the female spirit of a hot spring) or mot Gairo (the spirit of a large rock). Lighting is also a kind of Qoolo, and in parts of Kaffa, people celebrate yearly feasts called Koito to please the spirits.76 Those spirits are believed to harm if there is moral and physical impurity. They are appeased with sacrifices which are done by an individual or by a family member for oneself. The second type of Qoolo is a man-like creature believed to inhabit dead trees and forest thickets. Generally, every village hastrees in which a Qoolo dwells. This is the spirit which unites with the ancestors in protecting every crop and farm from harm. It is celebrated annually in every village

according to the traditions of a social group. For example of these celebrations Lange says:

The Gepetato (an elder of the clan) of the Kaffa kara clan and his assistant enter the fenced-off ceremonial site of their clan consisting mainly of a tree. His assistant digs a hole and the Gepetato cuts the throat of the chicken brought as a sacrifice. The blood is collected in a steer-horn cup and poured into the hole. Bread and beer which is made from the newly harvested crops and portions of chicken are also placed into the hole and covered with the soil.

This is considered an offering of thanksgiving to God who helps them through the ancestors and the spirits in the invisible world. The living- dead take part in the ceremony and are given a share as they are members of the community. After this offertory service, all share food and drink. Ela’s comment well applies to sacrificing in traditional Kaffa:

…the libations of food offered to them (ancestors) are signs of respect and of fraternity in a cultural context where communication with the invisible is just one aspect of the total reality of people’s lives. In other words, the deceased-and by that token, death itself are integrated into the system of relationships that the living maintain with nature, family, and society. Drink and food offered to the ancestors are symbols, therefore, of the continuity of the family and of this permanent contact. In African mind, these offerings express an attitude that is unchanged by death, which is the passage into the invisible. Accordingly, the African always behaves as if the ancestor were still living. Offering one’s dead father a meal is a simple act of filial piety.

From Christian and traditional beliefs in Kaffa, Ethiopia: Pastoral challenges to evangelisation 

Posted By: Kumilachew Gebremeskel Ambo

 

 

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