The Repertoires and Social Roles of Oromoo Asmaarii’s Performance

The Repertoires and Social Roles of Oromoo Asmaarii’s 

Zelealem Aberra Tesfa                                                                                    Helsinki / Finland                                                                                            08.05.2020

- A Note: This article has been published in Gadaa Journal Vol. 3 No. 1. 

                                                                                                January  2020


This study examines the literary content of asmaarii song lyrics and determines the type of entertainment it provides. It also attempts to shed light on its impact on Oromoo oral art, and their role on social interaction. The study aspires to making available an inciting prelude for students of literature, ethnomusicology, humour studies, anthropology and other interested groups. For this purpose, a significant number of asmaarii song lyrics mainly from the Maccaa Oromoo area have been collected through different means. Some were gleaned from published and unpublished manuscripts; while others from the author’s personal recollection. Telephone conversations and written communication via the internet have also yielded some valuable data. The study indicates that the collected data contains the humorous and the non-humorous oral art material. Also revealed is the employment of four types of humour, namely: corrective, observational, scatological, and self-deprecating humour in the entertainment provision of asmaarii. The non-humorous lyrics are mainly praise songs of secular and non-secular affairs. The study also finds homology between the Oromoo people and people of the orient’s custom of exalting their staple diets – buddeenaa and rice.
Key words: Asmaarii, humorous, non-humorous, lyrics, entertainment.


Qormaati kuni qabyyee ogbarruu walaloota weedduu asmaarii fi bashannana sabaaf kennan xinxaalurratti xiyyeeffata. Itti aansees dhiibbaa inni og-afoola Oromoorratti qabuufi shora inni hariiroo hawaasumma irratti xabatu addeessa. Qormaati kuni qoratoota ogbarru, muuziqa sablammillee, anthropology, baacoo fi baratoota fedha qaban kaaniif jalbuusee ykn ittiin ka’umsa ta’uu dha. Kanaafis walaloota weedduu asmaarii, caalaattuu kan Oromoo Maccaa biratti beekaman bifa adda-addaatiin funaanamaniiru. Hammi tokko barreeffamoota maxxanfamniifi kan maxxansa eeggachaa jiranirraa funaanamn yoo ta’u warri kaanimmoo kan barreessaan kun qalbii keessaa qabu dha. Bilbilli fi meeshaalee qunnamtii ammayyaatiins walaloonni hammi tokko funaanamaniiru. Akka qormaati kun agarsiisutti walaloonni funaanaman kun bakka lamatti hiramu. Isaanis: aaf-ogina baacoo fi miti-baacoo ti. Akkasumas akka qormaati kun ifa baasetti asmaaronni dhiyeessi bashannanasaani keessatti qomoo qoosaa afuriin fayyadamu; isaanis: sirreessii, daawwii ykn akeekkii, boolii, fi ofqummunsii. Sabi Oromoo fi sabi baha-fagoo (far-east) midhaan nyaataaf (buddeenaa fi ruuzii) kabaja hedduu ol-aana qabaachuudhaan walfakkaachuusaanii qormaati kun hubateera.  

  Jechoota ijoo: Asmaarii, baacoo, miti-baacoo, walaloo, bashanana

1.   Introduction

1.1 Asmaarii and Oromoo Oral Art

According to Jane Nandwa’s and Austin Bukenya’s definition, oral literature includes all expressions in the form of songs, recitations, and speeches whose production should be evaluated on imaginative and artistic scale. Proverbs, tongue twisters, cradle songs, puns, and jokes, etc. are all products of human creativity.  The two writers define oral literature as: 

“those utterances, whether spoken, recited or sung, whose composition and performance exhibit to an appreciable degree the artistic character of accurate observation, vivid imagination and ingenious expression” (Bukenya, 1983: 1).

Oromoo oral art, among other forms of presentation is expressed through songs that are mostly performed by an ensemble of participants, in which lead singers take turn, while the rest of the participants sing back in choir. Other oral art includes those that are performed around the fire hearth as well as outdoors; like tales, riddles, tongue twisters, etc. Similarly, songs are also performed by a group of singer outdoors as well as indoors depending on the occasion. Masqala and Irreechaa festivals which are celebrated annually are two good examples for outdoor celebrations; while child birth ritual could be one example for the indoors. Most of such group song lyrics and melodies have been orally transmitted all the way down to the present generation, some getting formal documentation and others not so lucky.

On the other hand, there are individual performers known as asmaariis; semi-professional entertainers that appear on festivities and other social occasions, performing songs and lyrics of their own creation and that of other asmaariis. Their oral art, as far as the knowledge of the author is concerned, does not seem to have attained the attention of researchers. The term azmaarii, is a loan word from the Amharic language; which in turn seems to trace its root, like some Amharic words to the Arabic. In both afaan Oromoo and Amharic language, it means a solo singer who plays a traditional one-string viola, locally known as maseenqoo. Even though the musical performance of asmaariis has been practiced in different parts of present day Ethiopia for centuries, however, since when it has been accounted a temporal musical tradition has been difficult to know. The late Prof. Ashenafi  Kebede[1], in one of the musical journals published by Oxford University Press, attributes this difficulty to the unavailability of written documents or tangible evidence (Kebede: 1975, 47). The same could be said for the origin and historical birth of asmaarii in Oromoo society too.

1.2 Asmaariis’ contribution and their socio-economic gain

According to Kebede’s remarks, though entertaining is his main social duty, the asmaarii also plays numerous other roles. “He has been, as he still is in the rural areas of Ethiopia, a newscaster, social critic, clown, companion, political agitator, religious reformer, vagabond, poet, servant, and stroller (Kebede, 1975. 53).” This is quite true for the traditional asmaarii of the Northern part of Ethiopia. However, for a craftsman that accomplishes all these social duties under a single title of entertainment, what he accrues as economic benefit and social status is quiet disappointing. The social position designated to asmaarii in that highly hierarchical and aristocratic society is far from inclusive; the attitude towards his profession as Kebede, 1975, 53 sheds light on is unfavorable and full of despondency.

The attitude of Ethiopian society towards the arts and crafts in general (with the exception of poetry), have been very negative. The secular arts and crafts including music are traditionally conceived to be specializations that should be left alone to the handicapped, the failures, beggars, lepers, slaves, loafers and others that comprise the lowest stratum of the Ethiopian class society. Whatever is negative in the minds of the Ethiopian people is more emphasized in azmari craftsmanship than any other aspect of the culture. Consequently, an Ethiopian parent would feel disgraced if his son becomes an azmari, though probably less so if he himself is one. And, generally speaking, no parent even an azmari would normally permit his daughter to marry one.

Traditional Asmaariis had neither employment nor fixed salary. They usually sing in local beverage house where customers drink honey-mead and other home-made drinks. Sometimes they sing by repeating the lyrics the customer tells them, to verbally attack another customer, thereby becoming a medium for exchange of insults. The employment that often comes from the nobility was not on a par with the respect and economic privilege that their craft deserved. If employed by a nobleman, as Kebede notes, asmaarii’s task primarily is that of an ordinary household servant (Kebede, 1975,51). He further notes:

For the most part, the azmari led a nomadic life. They went from door to door, from one house to another, usually tejj-bets (honey-wine drinking houses), or from party to party (weddings, births, etc.). They moved from village to village, district to district. Sometimes a nobleman employed an azmari on a temporary basis in order to have the musician accompany him on a long journey and enliven an arduous trip on a mule or by horseback. The azmari followed on foot, as did all the other servants, and ran behind the nobleman's mule. He entertained the master during and after meals, or when he camped for the night. If the azmari succeeded in diverting the master, the leftover food from the master's personal dish would be sent to him as a reward of appreciation (Kebede, 1975, 52).

On the other hand, in the Oromoo society, where the socio-political relation was traditionally less hierarchical and known as an egalitarian and democratic system, the social status of asmaariis is not different from any other member of the society. Though they are not many in number, their popularity and their influence on Oromoo culture could be justified by the fact that the lyrics of their songs from the by-gone times have been passing orally from one generation to the other all the way to the present, without any proper written documentation. It is not unusual to hear the lyrics of asmaariis songs being quoted during social interactions and attributed to them as: “… jette asmaariin” (…said the asmaarii). Some are part-time singers while others are nomads that move from one place to the other and cover long distances to look for an occasion where their performance is needed. Over all, they are mainly known for variety of songs they perform during holidays, festivities and other communal gatherings.

They are self-taught musicians who picked the profession on the merit of the suitability of their voice for singing and their sense of humour. Here, it should be noted that what is meant by sense of humour is with reference to the three possible definitions given by Eysenck, which are: “conformist, quantitative, and productive” senses of humour. What is meant by conformist is when a person is stimulated to laughter by a situation that made others laugh. The quantitative describes a person’s trait, such as getting amused easily and enjoying laughter more often than not. Finally, the productive, as the word itself indicates, defines a person’s ability in producing humour to amuse others, by telling laughter eliciting stories or jokes, etc. (Martin, 1998). Obviously asmaarii seems to fit more in the third definition even though both the conformist and quantitative definition also are applicable to him. His main duty is performing variety of songs that are composed by him or other asmaariis. He is a social critic, a poet, a comedian, advice giver, and guardian of the social norms and conventions.

2.      TThe repertoire of their songs

The repertoire of their songs could be divided into two categories: the humorous and the non-humorous. The non-humorous includes variety of praises, such as praise for God and Earth (Waaqaa and Dachee), praises for buddeenaa: a flat, wide, and fluffy kind of bread, a staple diet of most Oromoo families, praise to heroes, dead and alive, and praise to domestic animals for service they rendered to man. Most of their humorous songs carry messages that are related to social corrective. They seem to lay emphasis on humour as a medium of social reform through which exposure of certain individual behaviours they deem unacceptable (stinginess, cowardice, adultery, cheating) to mockery and ridicule.

However, before performing any song of entertainment the asmaarii gives precedence to enquiring after the well being of both Waaqaa and Dachee; whose name more than often is invoked together whether in praise, in blessing or cursing. This notion of inseparability of the two is the reflection of the Oromoo traditional belief that maintains a view that at the beginning “Waaqaa was laying close to Dachee fertilizing it with his rain” an image that Bartles (1990: 108) likens to that of a human couple, i.e. Earth being the wife and Waaqaa the husband. This very close relation, according to an Oromoo tale, finally came to an end when an arrogant and over satiated mule gave him a kick in the belly. Waaqaa got angry, and cursed her saying “May you become and remain barren, forever!” and receded to where he is today. It is interesting to note that two other people from two different African countries tell similar stories but with different reasons for the sky god’s recession.[2]

The verbal greeting the asmaarii extends to Waaqaa and Dachee is not unique or divinity- targeting praise in content, but the same customarily greeting expressed by any two Oromoos on meeting one another. However, it should be noted that in Oromoo society, greeting is not only a conversation opener or a lubricant to oil one’s way to a social interaction; it is a social situation where information about the well being of the individual, the family, the community and the environment is exchanged. The detail of the greeting includes inquiry about and concern for each other’s health, and overall well being of each other’s family. Inquiry after the well being of property (cattle), the serenity of the vicinity and beyond is part of the greetings. In general, the Oromoo greet one another ecstatically. 

2.1    Asmaarii Praise songs

The asmaarii glorifies Waaqaa (Rabbii) by singing His miraculous attributes; he exalts Him as an almighty, omnipotent creator in whose hands everything’s fate is; and finally he concludes his praise by beseeching Him about his own future. The following two lyrics popularly known among the Maccaa Oromoo of Western Oromiya are sang by asmaariis in praise of Waaqaa and Dachee:

2.2       Faarsuu Waaqaa                                Praise for Waaqaa (God)

Ququrxamaa mukaa                              A broken wood
Qurxamaa mukaadhaa                          A wood that is broken
Dambii akka buqqee;                            Sycamore like a pumpkin;
Dudubbataa dhugaa                              Speaker of truth
Dubbataa dhugaadhaa                          Speaker of nothing but the truth
Jedhaa dhugumaadhaa                         The one who speaks the truth
Rabbi, nagaan bultee?                           Rabbi, have you had a good night?
Rabbi nagaan ooltee?                            Rabbi, have you had a good day?
Bultaniin incaalaa                                 Have-you-stayed-the-night-well is better
Ooltaniin itti aanaa                               Have-you-stayed-the-day-well follows
Yaa Rabbi situ caala                              O Rabbi you are the exceeder of all
Kan garaan fittaalaa.                            O you, with an immense cosmic whole.

Yaa Waaqayyo hinroobdaa…                O, God, you rain!
Yaa abbaa guungumaakoo                    O, my master of roaring thunder
Roobdee magarsitaa                             You rain and germinate plants all over
Jeejee dhidhimsitaa                              And cast away hunger
Yaa abbaa hundumaakoo.                     O, our cosmic father.
Baala midhaan goota                            You turn leaf into crop bumper
Muummees laga goota                          A creek into a mighty river,
Kuullees sa’a goota                              Shimmer cattle with colour
Yuuyyees nama goota                            You turn a man to a cur;
Ana iyyeessakee                                     Me, your poor being…
Uumtee attam nagoota?                        Lo and alack, what is my future?

As mentioned previously, according to traditional Oromoo belief, there exists a kind of marital relation between Waaqaa and Dachee. The rationale behind this is Waaqa’s provision of rain and Dachee’s germination of crops with the provided rain. The gratitude expressed in the lyric is hence for Waaqaa’s provision of rain without which the germination of crops and bearing seeds or fruits is unthinkable; and by extension, without which the survival of human beings is at great risk because of the imminent hunger. The asmaarii marvels at Waaqaa’s ultimate power that manifests itself in germination of plants and production of crops, in reproduction of cattle of different colour, in creation of rivers and creeks and also in shaping of human behaviour and personality; or in his up and down mobility on the social ladder.

2.3  Faarsuu Dachee                                 Praise for Mother Earth

The asmaarii personifies Dachee, portrays her as a compassionate mother with bountiful of wealth. He greets her and inquires after her situation not only like a worried son that inquires after his mother’s well being; and seems to take the inquiry a little further to the realm of philosophy. He expresses his wonderment about her contradicting character – her kindness as opposed to her meanness. He marvels with the paradox of her diametrically opposite nature of the way she treats her children; i.e. sustaining them with inequity but devouring them indiscriminately.

Dache naganan ooltee?                        Dache did you have a peaceful day?
Yaa ishee niiti Waaqaa                          You, wife of Waaqaa,
Irrikee midhaani                                   On top of you is grain
Jalliikee bishaani                                  Beneath you is water,
Du’aan sirra ciisaa                               Inside you the deceased lying
Jiraan sirra fiigaa                                 On top of you the alive running
Yoo sitti awwaalani…                           We bury in you, both poor and rich
Nan ajaayee hin jettu                            You never complain of stench
Sirra yoo qotani…                                 If we plough you for our food
Nan madaaye hin jettu                          You never complain of the wound
Gara baldeettiikoo…                            My tolerant mother
Ati nagaan ooltee?                                Did you have a peaceful day?
Ati nagaan bultee?                                Did you have a peaceful night?
Dache yaa dinqitu…!                            O, you wondrous Mother Earth…!
Jaartii garaa meeti                               Lady full of treasures to amass,
Sirra qonnee nyaanna                           We farm and nurture from you;
Jiraa keenya baatta                              Alive, you carry and sustain us.
Yaa sugeessitukoo…                              O, our
satiating   mother;
Sirra horree yaasna…                           On you we reproduce and flock in mass
Du’aa keenya nyaatta                           Deceased you devour us
Yaa gumeessitukoo!                              O you, our ultimate accommodator.

Sooressa abbaa shittoo…                      The perfume soaked rich
Natti urgaaye jettee                               For his aroma and scent
Ofitti fudhattee                                      You take him into you;
Hiyyeessa abbaa cittoo…                     The scabies-infested, poor-snitch
Natti ajaayee jettee                               Never complain of his stank
Deebistee hin gashitu                            And you never return him back
Yaa wal qixxeessituukoo!                      O, you, my equaliser!

2.4   A Humorous Incantation

As much as they beseech and praise Waaqa and Dachee with a strong conviction and with a soft and sweet melody, they also give a quick, non-melodic monologue; that sounds more of a humorous incantation than a serious prayer from a devotee or strict worshiper. And yet, the humorous incantation is a supplication for protection against a variety of strange natural disasters ranging from an untameable opposite sex; to wear and tear that comes with age, and to vanishing of the whole race in toto. Here is an old piece from my own recollection:

 Ababbaraa farda baraa                       A frenzy horse that time brings         
Jeejee fagaara qaraa                            Famine with a sharp bottom that stings
Kan afaan qorshee caccabee                She with broken calabash for a mouth to argue
Kan abbaan gorsee dadhabee               One who her father’s advice could not subdue; 
Hantuutaa karaa taa’ee sirbu               A mouse that dances on the road side  
Nama manasaa taa’ee najibbu             A person who hates me from where he resides;
Qoraattii dhoqqee keessaa                   A thorn in the sludge
Badii galgala keessaa                           Disappearance of the later age;
Qalqala maruu                                      Coiling up skin-bag
Galgala baduu                                      Vanishing in old age sag;                     
Qullubbii tumuu                                    From onion pounding
Muxuxii dhumu                                     From totally vanishing
-           Nu baraarii yaa Waaq!                           -           Save us all; O God!

2.5       Praise for a Legendary Hero

One of the data collection methods employed for this project was telephone conversation from different walks of life including researchers with strong academic credentials. Some provided me with new lyrics and their historical background; while others provided me with the missing parts of the few lines I already know and helped me make it whole. For instance, the following two lines of folk lyric have been lingering in my memory for many years now, without knowing who authored them or when and why they were authored. Here they are:

Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa nama balaa                  Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa is a brutal cutthroat
Akka re’ee ciibsee nama qala                         He slaughters a man like a goat

Luckily, a respected, and well-established intellectual from Addis Abeba University, kindly told me that the lyrics are about an Oromoo resistant named Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa who is said to have lived during the initial phase of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign in the then province of Kafaa, in Limmuu area. Hasan is said to have revolted against the Emperor, claiming that he does not deserve to be reinstated to his throne after running away and staying in exile in England for a period of five years (1936-1941), leaving the people of Ethiopia to the mercy of the Fascist Italian occupying army. The Emperor’s government raised a militia unit from the neighboring provinces to crush Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa. Finally, Hasan was captured and hanged; or “turned into a beehive” as the asmaarii in the following lyric puts it; making an analogue between the way the local farmers hang beehives on tree branches and the method applied to eliminate Hasan. The lyric reads thusly:

Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa nama balaa                  Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa is a brutal cutthroat
Akka re’ee ciibsee nama qala                         He slaughters a man like a goat             
Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa hinfakkaataa                Looks like Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa, he who there stands
Dimotfooriin harkaa hinaddaataa                 A Dimotfour gun shining in his hands  
Egaa yaa surreekoo hardha manacaata!       Woe is me; what a day of ruin for my pants!
Yaa nugusaa dhuguma mootanii                    Your Majesty; you are indisputable ruler alive
Kan Hasaniin gaagura gootani                      For you turned Hasan into a beehive
Utuu gaagurri Hasan dammeesse                  Had Hasan’s beehive made honey as awaited
Jimmaa fi Leeqaan wal balleesse.                  Jimmaa and Leeqaa[3], one another would have annihilated.
Hasan Abba Tibbaa yaa boxollee                  O Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa, the adorable
Kankee duuti natti hin tollee                          Your’s death, for me is unpalatable                
Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa yaa shaashaatuu          Hasan Abbaa Tibbaa the jovial and the glee
Duutee badde anaa nyaatu.                            You’re dead and wasted; devoured be me.

The lyric is flavoured with scatological humour and sarcasm. The asmaarii claims that the very looks of Hasan is so terrifying such that he is going to wet his pants. He deprecates himself in order to highlight Hasan’s brutal nature. Moreover, the asmaarii’s appearance as a double faced actor is evidently seen. In the first few lines he sings about the cruel nature of Hasan, whose horrifying appearance even from afar brings panic and makes the pants wet; while he praises the power of the emperor who subdued him; though he turns the method he chose to punish Hasan into sarcasm. Soon after, he comes out of the concealment he was in and shows his true face when he expressed his sympathy and sorrow for Hasan’s demise. He sings how the death of Hasan “the jovial” made him uncomfortable and even goes to the extent of wishing to die on his behalf. [4]

2.6     Praise for domestic animals

According to Finnegan’s observation, in eastern and southern Africa one of the subjects of praise poetry is cattle and other inanimate things (ibid.111). In Oromoo society, this custom of praising cattle and other domestic animals is performed by the asmaarii as well as the farmers who keep these animals. The asmaarii, for instance, begins his praise by extending his greetings and gratitude to domestic animals, taking into account the service they render to man, and critically questions what man would have been without their service. Here are some praises for domestic animals that the late Aseffa Tuuchoo documented: 

2.6.1      Farsuu wadala harreef                                  Praise for male donkey

Yaa wadala harree                                            O, you, the jackass 
Atis nagaan bultee?                                          Did you have a peaceful night?
Haadha fardaa kortee                                       You mount the mare
Gaangoo nuu dhalchitaa                                  And a mule you beget us
Sooddootti achi kaattee                                    You travel to Soddoo
Soogidda nuu fiddaa                                         And salt you bring us
Situ soogidda baataa                                        It is you who carry the salt
Nutu taa’ee nyaataa;                                        But, it is we who sit and dine in fact.
Attaam nagaan bultee?                                     Did you have a peaceful night?

While being grateful for the service the ass renders to the community and sympathetic for not being paid enough for its service, the asmaarii does not mention its place in mythology, in which the ass has strong presence and features.  The ass in the annals of legend and mythology is portrayed, mostly not only as a beast of burden but rather as a sacred animal, as a religious symbol, as a major character in numerous folktales and fables of many European, Asian, and the Middle East countries. According to Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend the ass was associated with Palm Sunday and Saint Nicholas. It was the main feature of the Feast of Fools, a commemoration held in some parts of Medieval France in January 14, of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, Mary and baby Jesus riding on an ass. The ass has also been at the center of religious controversy. A paragraph from Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend has the following to say:

"Greek and Latin writers accused the Jews of ass-worship and later made the same accusation against the Christians. These accusations probably originated in the misconception that the Jews worshiped Dionysus to whom the ass was sacred. The ass was the religious symbol of the Gnostic sect of the Sethinai, and is traditionally sacred animal because of Christ’s entry   into Jerusalem upon an ass. The dark strip running down its back crossed by another at the   shoulder was given to it because it carried Christ.  (1984, 83)"
Its body parts were believed to be having curative element. In Medieval Europe, the squeezed juice from its fresh dung was used to treat eye ailment, its hoofs to treat gout, and its blood to predict the future etc.

2.6.2    Faarsuu gaangeef                              Praise for the mule

Yaa gaangoo giraancee                         O the gray mule         
Atis nagaan bultee?                              Did you have a peaceful night?
Bagaa nuuf jiraatte                               Thanks, for being here for us
Situ mootii baataa                                 It is you who carry the chief-lord       
Otuu ati hinjirree                                  Had you not been here, o God!
Attam taana laataa?                             What would have happened to us?

As the last line of the praise lyric above indicates, had the mule not been around, the question on whose back the feudal lord would have been carried from place to place seems to weigh heavy in the mind of the asmaarii. It is a question of a sarcastic nature prompted only by a man who has experienced a bitter social relation, such as the one between an armed settler colonialist and a serf, a relation that is characterised by brutal exploitation. The asmaarii wonders, had the mule not been around to serve as a beast of burden who would have carried all the heavy loads; including the chief lord. And that is a reason enough to be grateful to the mule and underline the importance of the service it renders to man.

2.6.3.   Faarsuu Kormaa indaanqoo                         Praise for the Rooster 

As some mythological and historical records show, in addition to its being a universal symbol of the solar energy, the rooster enjoys a strong symbolical representation in almost all religions of the world. For instance, in Christian tradition it symbolises Christ, and light (Linsley: 2016, Martins: 2015, 2). In Islam, as M.A. Carrillo notes it symbolises the angel: “The Prophet himself asserts that the white rooster is his friend because it announces the presence of the Angel.” In addition he remarks that: “The Prophet is said to prohibit cursing the rooster, which calls to prayer.” Carrillo further notes that, while the Chinese based on its appearance and character believe the rooster symbolises what is known as the “five virtues”; that are related to civility, military, courage, kindness, and confidence; the Japanese, associate its chants “with the raucousness of the deities, who lured Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun, out of the cave where she had been hiding.” (Carrillo, 2014, 2)   

Like the other cultures mentioned above, the Oromoo asmaarii sings about the rooster’s close connection to God; whose language is be known to it. In addition the point he mentions in his song is the rooster’s polygamous nature and contradictory behaviour of rummaging in the garbage during the day but proudly alighting above all others during the night: a little nearer to the heavenly home.    

Yaa kormaa indaanqoo                       O rooster, the male fowl
Atis nagaan bultee?                            Did you have a peaceful night?
Kosii keessa demtee                            You roam in the garbage
Raammoo haadhaa oolta;                   And scratch for warms and rummage
Guyyaaa namaa gadii                         During the day you are below us                               
Halkan namaa oli                               At night you alight above us
Hin qottu, hin gabbartu                      You neither farm nor pay tax
Niitii kudhan fuutaa                            But yet you marry ten
Shantama dhashita                             And sire fifty
Baaritti achi haasofte                         You talk beyond the seas
Barii lafaa himtaa                              And forecast the cockcrow
Afaan Rabbii beektaa                         God’s language is to you be known
Lafa barii eegdaa.                              And you wait for the coming of dawn.

The polygamous nature and its managing a big family with no income from farming seems to mesmerise the asmaarii, probably whose family life like most farmers’ is from hand to mouth. According to the asmaarii the rooster’s morning chant which is generally believed to herald sun rise, and the assumption that it comprehends the heavenly language, makes the rooster God’s errand messenger that announces to humanity the disappearance of darkness and the appearance of light. 
Such animal praise songs bring to mind the laws and regulations enacted by Booranaa Oromoo Gadaa leaders of the bygone ages’ against the maltreatment of domestic animals and the care that should be given; especially the enactment by Yaayyaa Galee Anno and Yaayaa Goloo Goboo. The law, by Yaayyaa Galee Anno obligates the owners to take cattle to pasture and water wells, and take care of the calves. Yaayaa Goloo Goboo’s enactment declares that, even though horses and donkeys are individually owned, they are communal property that every clan member should look after their well being. Goboo’s enactment grants individual members of the community the right to bring to the attention of authorities any owner who abuses and maltreats horses and donkeys, so that these animals are taken away from him and given to others who could handle them better (Ujulu T. B., 2018,24).
3.         Praise for buddeenaa

Different cultures have developed different attitudes and regards towards their staple diet. Some elevated it to a higher level of socio-cultural strata; while others consecrated it. For instance the sanctity of rice, in Japan according to Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (1972-938) is so high such that next to the emperor, it is the most sacred of all things on earth. Furthermore, among the ten classifications of mankind Gautama Budha, the primary figure of Buddhism made, while he himself comes first, rice comes second, and the counterpart of hell comes tenth. The Balinese people think that rice has soul similar to that of man and is called by the same cognomen.
The same dictionary notes that in Sri Lanka a rice farmer before sowing the seed should ceremonially be clean and prayers should be said over the seeds. It further notes: “At all points from the breaking of the ground to the final consumption of the grain including sowing, cultivation, reaping, threshing, measuring, storing etc., supernatural advice is sought and followed (ibid: 937). In Southern China, where rice is the staple food, “Have you eaten your rice?” is equivalent to the common sentence “How do you do” used for greeting (ibid: 938).

The association of wheat with divinities; such as the goddess Demeter of the Greeks or with Ceres, the goddess of harvest of the Romansor its later attachment to the Christian Virgin saints St. Vulgan in Ireland Notre-Dame Pantiere, Our lady the Bread Giver in France, are also mentioned by the dictionary.

 A similar practice is observed in Oromoo, even though they do not pay homage to a single particular grain but they revere buddeenaa–the traditional flat and wide bread, mentioned previously - in general, from whatever cereal it is made. The Oromoo express the loftiness of buddeenaa by equating it with the highest authority. They say buddeen mootii dha; which literally means buddeenaa is king. By extension, buddeenaa is synecdoche, i.e., one small portion of the whole livelihood.  In some Oromoo society buddeenaa is a symbolical representation of profession or employment. “Buddeen baafateera” means he has earned a living or a trade; or buddeen furdaa nyaata literally means “He eats fat bread” which figuratively is “He earns a big salary.” 

The reverence for buddeenaa starts right on the farm plot, before it appears on the dining table. As a teenager, I remember watching how farmers including my father performed the custom of pouring libation on the farm field before the annual harvest. The libation included a bunch of the fresh harvest, homemade beer, and sacrifice of a lamb. Members of daboo, - an ad hoc group of farmers for co-cooperatively participating in farm work, such as clearing farm field, farming, weeding, harvesting and storing – later after the day’s work eat, drink, and sing homage to buddeenaa, and sing praise songs for the cattle. Here are few lines of lyrics of such a song:

Nooruu yaa buddeenaa                      Reverence for you buddeenaa
Yaa buddeen dhirsa dhiiraa               buddeenaa, the husband of man
Buddeen guddisaakoo                        buddeenaa that brought me up
Buddeen maaf tuffatu?                       Why underestimate buddeenaa?
Maxinoo cuffatu                                 A mouthful bite of it we take                        
Farsoosaa unatu                                 A cottage-beer of it we make
Maatii ittiin bulfatu                            A family we sustain with
Boqqolloo isa molgoo                         The curved up maize
Bisingaa isa okkoo                             The hook-like sorghum
Daagujjaa quqummee                         The oval-like ragi
Xaafii qoxol diimaa                            The xaafii with red spikelet
Garbuu isa jorooroo                           The slender and elegant barley         
Farda koottee baasaa                         Makes the horse gallop faster
Jagna onnee kaasaa                           And the brave more braver
Nooruu yaa buddeenaa warqeekoo    Reverence for you buddeenaa, my gold

Sumaaf yoona geessee nabseenkoo                            Sumaaf yoona geessee nabseenkoo    Because of you my life is so far sustained.[5]
As mentioned earlier, in the above lyric buddeenaa is revered for sustaining human life in a simple and clear term, regardless of what cereal it is made from. The shape and looks of different cereals are also endeared. However, in his praise for buddeenaa, the asmaarii performs, probably as an introductory song, an aphorism that embodies more than one implication. In the four lines presented below the importance of buddeenaa in life is not presented in simple and ordinary terms, but it rather picks a philosophical view to further assess its multiple effects vis-à-vis the established social norm of the Oromoo society. Let us take a look at the aphorism the asmaarii presents, and try to explain its content:
Badhaasaa Calqanii,                            Badhaasaa Calqanii               
Badhaasaa Calqanii                             Badhaasaa Calqanii
Kan buddeen ajjeese,                            In one that is killed by bread
Madaaasaa hin argani.                         No wound can be seen on the dead.
A closer look at the four lines gives us multiple of meanings. The first line “Badhaasaa Calqanii” is a personal name either inserted as a historical subject to be remembered as a victim of buddeenaa, or just to create a tonal parallelism with the last line of the lyric; a literary style frequently seen in Oromoo folk poetry.

What the two last lines reveal is the gist of the message, which is death caused by buddeenaa, without inflicting wound, and with no trace of blood. In another word the lyric holds two paradoxical messages; i. e. the two powers that buddeenaa possesses; – the power to sustain life, and the power to deprive of it. It contains a double message; what the lack of buddeenaa entails hunger and starvation pari passu with what excess consumption (gluttony) brings; which is death, in both cases. The third and implicit message that it carries is the manner in which buddeenaa is earned. Since buddeenaa also implies a livelihood; the manner and ways in which it is earned determines the moral standing of the individual. Therefore, the third important message is whether the livelihood has been earned in a dignified, honest, and acceptable way that the well-established social norm dictates, or in undignified, dishonest, opportunistic and immoral way; because for the asmaarii, who also plays the role of a guardian of social norms and values; those who earn their livelihood in the latter fashion are dead to the society. Buddeena has killed them without inflicting wound, and with no trace of blood.

The asmaarii continues delivering his performance in which he elevates the status of budeenaa above everything beneath the sky and above the earth. 

Gadi buutee uddeellaa, kooraa gaabi sadii                 A downward crupper, saddle with three cotton blanket load        
Nooruu yaa buddeena, gooftaa Waaqi gadii                Reverence to you buddeenaa, you are a king next to God.
Warri buddeen quufee, jaarsaa fi jaartinillee             Those satiated with buddeena, even grand-dad and grand-mum
Gola keessa fiigee didibbee xabata                             They run around in the inner room and play drum-drum
Warri buddeen dhabee, misirroon kaleessa                Those who lack buddeenaa, even the bride and groom
Kaloo keessa fiigee si jibbee xabata                            They run in the field and play I hate you; I hate you
Taraa wal aboota,                                                        And strike each other with a fist, boom and boom
Akka ilmaan jaldootaa                                                 Like the offspring of the baboon!

For asmaarii without buddeenaa love, marriage and honeymoon are unthinkable. The motionlessness of human emotion is captured in the following lines:

Eegan hunda faarsee                            Since I have praised all
Takkan buddeen faarsaa                       Let me praise buddeenaa once
Kan Waaqni nuu laatee                        That Waaqaa granted us
Koorichaa, koorichaa,                          Saddle, saddle
koorichaa gaangoo dha                       That saddle of a mule
Wanti Waaqaa gadii                             Of all that is under Waaqaa
Wanti lafaa olii                                     Of all that is above the earth
Guddaan buddeenuma.                         Buddeenaa is the greatest.         
Yaa buddeen gabbataa                          O buddeenaa; the plump
Namni yennaa si quufu                         When satiated with you
Utaalee xaphata                                   Men play and jump.
Jaarsaa fi jaartiinillee                          Even old men and women
Aarrisaa filata                                       They comb their grey hair                    
Shushubbee taphata.                             Dance to Shushubbee[6]fanfare.
misirroon kaleessaa                              The yesterday’s bride
Yennuma sini dhabdu                            When she fails to get you
Dhirsa dhiiftee baati                             Runs away from her husband;
Gaafa guyyaa shanii                             Just on the fifth day
Eega wal fuudhanii                               Of their matrimony
Wanti nyaataan dhibnaan                     For lack of something to be eaten                 
Gola keessa kaatuu                               They run in the inner room
Uleen walqabatu.                                  Strike each other with a broom.                          
Gaafa halkan sagalii                             On the ninth day
fayyaa wal baqata                                 Both are on their own way
Walitti hin  dubbatu                              Never talk to one another                     
fiirmaa walii laata                                They annul the signature.                     
Edaa yaa buddeena…                           So… O you buddeenaa            
miilli dhala namaa                                Human being’s legs
sumaan jajjabaata.                                Are strengthened by you.

In general, the asmaarii praises buddeena as quintessential straightener of that part of the human body that shrinks and wrinkles easily. And finally, he extends gratitude to the farmer, who produces this powerful master next to Waaqaa:
Sibiilla dookaye                                     A shapeless rough iron
burruusatu finiinsa                                A hammer makes it sweat
Ija boolla bu’e                                       A sunken eye-ball
maddii qoqoncoore                               Puckered cheeks hanging to fall
hudduu shushuntuure                            Wrinkled buttocks that loll
buddeentu diriirsa                                 Buddeenaa stretches them all.
Gabaree yaa qottu                                O the man that ploughs; you the farmer 
Hojiin sittaa haa toltu                           Blessed be your life and labour
Jabaadhuu nuu qoti                              Be strong and keep on farming              
waan ittiin jiraannu.                             So that we could keep on living.

4    .Faarsuu bookaa                                      Praise for Mead

Daadhii, and booka are the two names that the honey-mead is known by in Oromoo society. It is a beverage of a special occasion, when compared with cottage beer or farsoo as it is called. The praise for daadhii or booka is not for the beverage per se it is rather a wrapping for the expression a deeply set emotion, a message for transmitting to bring to the attention of the society a social problem. The following two stanzas are certainly praise for honey mead. The second two lines carry a message that call for unity, and awareness to the importance of cohesion and loyalty to one’s own social entity.

Daadhiin gad wixxisaa                         Mead is in a mad-rush to loom
Gorduuba dhufuufi                                And come to the living room
Buustuutu ol ittisaa                               But the pourer is the preventer
Bor duuba dhguufi                                To drink it alone later
…..Ko’ yaa daadhii!                              …..Come on; O honey mead!

Daadhiin gurraattidha                          Mead is colour black
Yoo dhugan diimtuudha                         But red when drank
Calaqqisaa hin dhftuu?                         Don’t you come shining bright?               
Akka ija biiftuudha.                              Like the sun’s glowing light.    
…….Ko’ yaa daadhii!                           …..Come on; O honey mead!

Kiiramuu, Kiiramuu                              Kiiramuu, Kiiramuu
Kiiramuun wal loltee                            The Kiiramuu have quarreled
Dachaa Warabitti,                                In Waraab’s plane land
Diigamuu, diigamuu                             Scattered, scattered
Diigamuun hin tollee                            To be scattered is bad            
Dachaana walitti.                                 Let us together stand
…….Ko’ yaa daadhii!                           …..Come on; O honey mead!

Musee Kumbul beektaa?                       Do you know Mr. Kumbul?
Faranjicha tokkoo                                 The one from the foreign land
Dhagaa bittinneessaa                           He scatters the rock with his hand                              
Kan firasaa jibbee                                 One who hates his own relatives
Halagaa leellise                                      And praises his non-relatives
Harkaan of xinneessa                            Brings disgrace on himself.
……….Ko’ yaa daadhii!                        …..Come on, O honey mead[7]
5.          Asmaarii as a peace advocate and a social critic

Individuals could rise from poor communication and misunderstanding. Verbal abuses and harassments can also cause conflicts depending on human mental makeup.  Some people are insensitive towards verbal abuse such that they deal with it in a humorous way. Others are not. Massimo Pigliucci in his summary of William Irvine’s, A Guide to the Good Life, provides us with two humorous responses by two classical philosophers, - Cato and Socrates - to the insult hurled at them. He writes:

 Cato was pleading a case when an adversary named Lentulus spit in his face. Rather than getting angry or returning the insult, Cato calmly wiped off the spit and said, “I will swear to anyone, Lentulus, that people are wrong to say that you cannot use your mouth!” Or consider this: “Someone one came up to Socrates and, without warning, boxed his ears. Rather than getting angry, Socrates made a joke about what a nuisance it is, when we go out, that we can never be sure whether or not to wear a helmet.

The problem is, not everybody treats verbal abuses and put-downs with humour or with acquiescence. Some prefer to pay back with a cudgel, while others brandish a sword. And not everybody is Cato or Socrates either. What is depicted here is that humour also serves as a sort of defense mechanism, the type that Freud characterises as “that allows one to face a difficult situation without becoming overwhelmed by unpleasant emotion (cited in Martin 1988, 18-19).

Since asmaariis play other roles besides entertaining their audience; in between their songs they insert few lines of lyrics that carry words of wisdom and messages of advice against conflict inciting social elements like verbal abuses, and unnecessary comments, that might bring the cudgel into play, which is to the disadvantage of the head whose complaints reads as follows:

Amaan, amaanii, Amaan, amaanii.                   Peace, peacefully; Peace, peacefully.
Hamaan afaani, hamaan afaani                       Mean is the mouth; mean is the mouth 
Dubbate na rukuchiisa                                      For the speech that it made
Jedhe mataani.                                                  I get beaten up says the head.

Dubbate na rukuchiisa                                   For what it spoke and stung
Jedhe mataan arrabaanii                               I get beaten up says the head about the tongue.

The asmaarii at times prefers an indirect method of hinting at new phenomena by shedding light on the negative sides of newly introduced commodities that were not previously known in the Oromoo day to day life: And he does that under the guise of narrating their positive side; like the previously not existing bravado and hullabaloo a coward demonstrates after having a sip or two of araqee; the ever blaring propaganda dissemination on the radio etc. 
Araqeen maal balleesse?                      What is it that araqee[8] did wrong?
Lugna goota fakkeesse                          Except making a coward appear a hero
Shinishiniin maal balleesse?                What is it that shinshiniin[9] did wrong?  
Beera mucaa fakkeesse                         Except making an old women look like a girl
Baatiriin maal balleesse?                     What is it that a pocket light did wrong?
Halkan guyyaa fakkeesse                      Except making the night shine as bright as day
Raadiyoon maalballeesse                     What is it that the radio did wrong?
Soba dhugaa fakkeesse.                        Except making a lie look like the truth.

As a social critic, asmaarii makes it his duty to give a piece of his mind for those who waste their hardly earned income on drinking that home-made spirit locally known as katikaalaa.

Katikaalaan nama daarsaa                   Katikaala[10] impoverishes a person
Hindhuginyaa ilma jaarsaa                  Don’t drink it, o son of a wise man![11]

And he has an advice both for those who have insatiable appetite for wealth as well as for those who amassed and lost their wealth; or addunyaa; a term that might have been borrowed from the Arabic language. In Oromoo, it mainly means wealth. It also means the good fortune of going up and the misfortune of coming down the socio-economic ladder.  According to the asmaarii world view getting conceited about this unreliable, coming and going addunyaa, to which he attaches a feminine gender, is not advisable.
Addunyaan galaana                              Good life is like a flood
Namarraa godaanaa                             It floods in and floods out        
Yommuu dhufuuf jettu                           When she is about to come
Dallaarra marsiti                                  The fence she circles
Yommuu galuuf kaatu                           When she is about to depart
Dallaa caccabsiti                                  The fence she shatters.                                                 
Adunyaan hin koorinaa                         Of good life do not be a conceited freak
Adunyaa konyee hin guunne                 Good life that does not fill the palm,
Deemtee muummee hin dabarre           Dose not travel beyond the creek
Adunyaan Garbuu tabbaatii                 It is like on-a-hill-top barley farm.
Guddatee ganyaa dhoksaa                    Hides a mare when grows tall
Jigee hindaanqoo mul’isaa                   Exposes chicken when suddenly fall.[12]

Asmaariis are also keen observers of the effect of certain governmental policies on the society and individual members. One good example is an asmarii’s take on the aggressive cultural assimilation policy implemented by successive Ethiopian states. The policy implementation made Amharic the official language of the country and created a wide chasm between the few literate and the majority illiterate. As a result, those who learned to speak the official language and accepted the Orthodox Christian faith by dropping their traditional religion has gone through some sort of social mobility that made their day-to-day life remarkably different from the common town dweller. This created a chasm that was not previously there and brought to existence a “we” and “them” notion among the members of a society. In some places, the opportunistic stand and pretentious attitude of some of those Oromoo cultural turncoats did not escape the satirical treatment of the asmaarii. Here is one from Western Oromiyaa, Gimbii town, (446km from Finfinne – Addis Abeba) about a literate Oromoo named Fayisaa Gootaa, who according to my informant, Ayele Tamiru, changed his name to Abbaatee Fissahaa, (Father Fissahaa) and became an Orthodox priest and later elementary school teacher, for which he was awarded a service medal. A local asmaarii known by the name Abbaa Kaarruu came up with the following satirical song:[13]
Botoroo yaabeen jigsaa                         I climb Botoroo and cut it
Dhirsa giiftii Sannaayit                         The spouse of lady Sannaayit
Nooruu yaa Abbaatee Fissaa.                Greetings! O father Fissaa.    
Abbaate tamaartanii                              O Father, you became literate              
Mangistii gargaartani.                          And supported the government.
Abbaatee mataa shaashii                       O father, whose head is in a turban
Yaa michuu Dajjaammaashii.                Bedfellow of the man that govern.
Abbaate hin malattani                           O father, you cunningly planned well
Kan shaashii marattani                         That, you wrapped your head with a veil
Masqalii qabattanii                               That you clutch the cross with your palm               
Dawwitii dagamtani.                             That you read and recite the psalm.
Daakaa galaanaas beektu                     You know how to swim in the lake
Afaan amaaraas beektu.                       The tongue of the Amhara you speak              
Kobbortaa gaarii qabdu                       You have a nice overcoat, indeed
Eessaa nujalaa qabdu!                          No wonder, us, you don’t heed.

6.  5.              Asmaarii on Adultery

Until recent times, adultery in many countries has been considered one of the serious crimes to be dealt with, with severe punishment; and was condemned as an immoral, antisocial and criminal act by all the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as Hinduism. The severe punishment for committing adultery was usually for the women, and occasionally for the man, and the penalties ranged from banishment, mutilation, torture to capital punishment i.e., death by hanging, stoning etc. Some countries implemented public humiliation of both sexes instead of physical elimination. According to a Wikipedia Document[1], such punishments have gradually fallen into disfavor, especially in Western countries beginning from the 19th century.

The following statement is made at the risk of being proven wrong, due to the unsuccessful effort this writer made to collect verifying evidences. So, here I go!  There is no doubt that adulterer and adulteress have existed in the past, and do exist in the present Oromoo society too, but the kind of severe punishment mentioned above is unheard of. Gadaa as an open and a democratic system, neither promoted nor condemned adultery; it is practiced in a hidden way with the assumption that it is unbeknown to others; and especially to the spouse. And that makes the matter a risky business and adventurous for the adulterer. However, because of its familial and societal repercussion when such relation becomes known one of the following two things might happen. The spouse might take personal measure, or bring the case to the attention of the traditional authorities. The traditional authorities assess the familial and the societal damage the relation had brought; and in addition, the character and social standing or reputation of the adulterer. Based on their findings, they fine the adulterer with few heads of cattle, to be paid to the spouse. And, I stand to be corrected, if a researcher comes out with a better result.

The asmaarii captures the situation of the adulterer and makes a mockery of it; a performance that could be categorised as corrective humour; a construct that combines wit and ridicule as its tools to elicit laughter. The French philosopher, Henri Bergson evaluates corrective humour from its educative aspect, and as a tool of betterment of harmful individual behaviour that otherwise would have called for “punitive measures”. He further characterises the laughter caused by corrective humour as “…a social reaction which punishes and puts down deviant elements in man's behaviour and in various events (191: 70).” Ziv Avner concurs with Bergson’s views and elucidates the emotional impact of such mockery on a perpetrator. He notes that “….the fear of becoming a target for mockery should be sufficient to prevent a person from again committing the deed that has led to a punitive reaction (1988: 357).” Similarly, Ruch, and Heintz (2016:2) assert that exposure of failures or inappropriate behaviours to mockery and laughter shame the individual as well as the group to improvement.

The asmaarii turns this excursion of the adulterer to the island of love and bliss into a frightening adventure for other would be adulterers and a laughter eliciting phenomenon for his audience. The asmaarii’s mockery on adultery is expressed in the following lyric of one of his songs:  


Siyii taa’ee natti raaju                          While, you were telling me the wonders untold
Anaa taa’ee sitti baacu                         While, I was selling you the jokes unsold
Dhufekaa abbaan galma keetii!            Here arrives your husband, o my God!
Dhufekaa abbaan galma ijaare             O, here arrives your abode’s builder
Kan gaaddidduun mana caale.             Whose shadow is than the abode bigger.
Ol adeemuuf gooda hamaa dha            I can’t run up, I am out of breath
Gadi adeemuuf ol adeema;                   I can’t run down, that is where he is!
Harka tokkoon buta baataa                  He carries a machete in one hand
Harka kaaniin guca baata                    and, a torch in the other
Butasaatiin na butuufi                          To snatch me with his machete
Gucasaatiin na gubuufi                         To burn me with his fire;
Dubartiin mala hin wallaatu                For a woman is clever and able
Gola gaangee xob na godhi                  Snatch and throw me into the stable
Balfaa gaangee natti aguugii               Cover me up with that hay, indeed
Qicaa daadhii natti guuri                     and, feed me drops of honey-mead.
Huubaan makii gadi na baasi               Take me out, mix me in hay
Bishaan alaa nama nyaataa;                Let the river take me away.
Yaa tumtuu gama Wiinsaa                    O the blacksmith at Wiinsaa, yonder
Edaa lubbuun nama fiigsaa                  A tormenting life gives the spur.
Jedheetan yaada Disaasaa;                  Thus, I rain on me thoughts of despair
Disaasaakee ittuma dhiisi!                   Never mind my thoughts of despair
Bishaan lapheetti na biifi.                    Spray my chest with water, o quick!
Bishaan kankee ittuma dhiisi                Then again…, better forget the water, I think
Aannan lapheetti na biifi.                     Just spray my chest with that milk
Aannan kankee ittuma dhiisi                Then again…, forget your milk, my sweetheart
Laphee gubbaa gad na ciisi                  Just, come and lie down on my chest
Nafsee duwwaa gadi na dhiisi              And set my life free to fly
Nafseen duwwaan kan Rabbii tii.         For it belongs to the God in the sky!

A relation between the adulterer and the adulteress sometime takes an unexpected turn and becomes an absurd situation. The adulterer, instead of treating his lady as a partner of love and bliss rather acts totally out of his sphere of influence and attempts to control, set norms and even punish her; an aberrant situation that originated the following popular proverb. It reflects a similar situation and other incongruities that arise from problems and consequences that one brings upon oneself.

Harkaan idaa:                                   What a self-inflected debt
Namaa hin qotuu,                              He neither farms for you
Namaa hin loluu                                nor fights for you and protect
Sanyootu nama hidha!                       But an adulterer imprisons you yet!

The kind of entertainment the asmaarii provides includes impersonation. However, he does not imitate or copy others, in the real sense of the term; rather he attempts to play act others imagined performances, like that of the adulterer presented above. He makes a mockery of certain imagined or real happening that he believes failed to measure to the established social norm. In the following lyric the asmaarii assumes the behaviour of a disappointed bride and vents her complaints on how the groom lied to her about the non-existing wealth he boasted about when he coaxed her to marry him. The asmaarii brings the maiden sexual interaction of the bride and the groom to the scenario which from the bride’s perspective was a murder attempt on her life by the groom and her mother-in-law; rather than an unforgettable first night of a honeymoon; but of course, she gradually changes her attitude, as the following lyric tells:

Mucaa boddosee ija kuullee                           Buxom baby with eyeliner
Birriin okkotee shan guute                             I have five earthen-pot-full of silver
Jedhee sossobee na fuudhe                             So he said and inveigled to marry me
Yeroon okkotee harka kaa’u                           But, when I put my hand inside the earthenware
Barariin ukoo na guute                                  Cockroaches filled my armpit, I swear;
Yeroon boorsaasaa harka kaa’u                     Inside his pocket when I put my hand 
Rigaa shantamii shan fuudhee                       Fifty-five toothpicks is what I find.
Kan na dhibe kan haadhasaa ti                      His mom is a surprise, yet still
Sabbata mudhii na hiiktee                              From my waist she untied the girdle 
Ilmashee gadi natti dhiiste                             And let loose her son on me, for the kill.
Gara bariitti achi guuree                               So towards the dawning of dawn
Aggudduu lafatti dhiibee                                To the ground pushing his toes down;
Hadutuuf gadi natti dhiibe                             He shoved it in me murder-intent, so to speak
Ciiseen ilaale akka raatuu                             I lay down there and watched like a fool, so to think
Turee mi’aaye akka baaduu                           But after a while it turned sweet, like skim milk
Anoo hinduune galatasaati                            I didn’t die thanks God; what a surprise!
Wantichoo safarasaa ti.                                  Actually, that thing is just a matching size.
Torbee boodaa…                                            A week later…..
Gajaraa na harka buusee                               He put a machete in my arm
Laga bunsaa naa buuse                                  And sent me to his coffee farm
Waggaatti gombisaa lama dhaabnee             A year later we built two granaries, what a joy
Mucaa ilmaas dalga baannee.                       And sideways we carried a baby boy.

7.              Why the Asmaarii chose his profession
For the asmaarii introducing himself, particularly the reason why he chose this occupation is one way of eliciting humour. He sings in a tone of self-deprecation, while indirectly exalting others whose trade benefits the society. The more he tells a story of himself depicting it as much unfortunate as possible it appears as much incongruent as possible. He plays the role of an eccentric as well as that of a dolt. Occasionally he takes a grain of certain substance from his pocket and rubs it against his maseenqoo’s string for a better tone and sound. The curiously watching youngsters ask him what the substance is; to which he responds: “It is a leopard’s eye-goop (rheum) that I plucked while the beast was sleeping”.  
He attempts to appear as eccentric and as hopeless as possible in how he tried his hand at many occupations but could not succeed. For instance, how he tried to be a farmer but failed because the ox that pulls his plough smeared him with mud; so he gave it up. A clerk he tried to be but his eyes couldn’t see through the murk; and even sought advice from others, but some turned him down while others gave him the wrong advice. He would have remained a hopeless good-for-nothing fellow had he not one day grabbed his lance and chased and killed a dik-dik and made himself a masiinqoo out of its skin and became an asmaarii. Ever since the masiinqoo is hanging down from his neck and rests on his chest; and he proudly claims that the dik-dik that runs away from others, as for him it plays on his chest. He thusly sings his rather funny mini-bio that is filled with lame and exaggerated excuses; in other words deprecating himself in order to elevate and praise those hardworking men of different professions:
Qurupheen orma caakkaatti baqatti              From others the dik-dik runs to the forest
Anammoo lapheerraa na xabatti                    But with me she plays on my chest

Qoteen nyaadha jennaan                                I tried to farm and feed myself
Sangaan dhoqqee na dibe                              But the ox smeared me with dirt
Hordaan rom’ee na dide                                The plough shaft shook and resist
Barreesseen nyaadha jennaan                       I thought of earning a living as a clerk         
Ijatu arguu na dide                                         But my eyes couldn’t see through the murk 
Sobeetan nyaadha jennaan                            I tried to earn a living as a liar
Ollaan baaltii na hime                                   Tattletale neighbors killed my desire         
Namni waasi na dide                                      Men refused to be my guarantor
Maali malli koo jennaan                                What should I do, I pondered
Nagadeen nyaadha jennaan                           To earn a bread as a merchant I hit the road
Harreen fe’amuu dide                                    But the donkey resisted the load
Teephni qax jedhee cite                                  Alas; the breaking of the leather strap no one forebode! 
Malli koo maali jedheen                                 What could be the solution, I said                             
Beektuu durbaa gaafadhe                              From a wise girl I inquired
Isheenis akkas jette:                                       And thusly she answered:
“Ganama dibbeen xaxa                                  In the morning I tangle my drums
Galgala sirban dhaqa                                     I go dancing when the evening comes
Sodaa ababbaafaan rafaa                              I go to sleep for fear of my father
Kuni maal lafallafa                                        What is it that you jabber?                            
Beenu karaan si hafaa”                                  Go away, you have still road to cover.           
Jettee nyaarashee buttee                    Her eyebrows she knit, saying that
Anaan garaa na kuttee.                      And made me give up in fact.                       
Maali mallikoo jedheen                      What could the solution be, I pondered           
Beekaa tumtuu gaafadhe                    From a wise blacksmith I inquired   
Innis akka naan jedhe                         And thusly he answered:       
            “Ganama tumaan tuma                                  In the morning I hammer iron
            Guyyaa cilaattiin guba                                   During the day, charcoal I burn
            Qottuutu na gaafata                                        Those who plough demand of me
Maarshaa labsiisuufi                                      To make them ploughshare
            Qonyee na marsiisuufi                                    And a hook curved and bent    
            Ati dhuftee dhaabbachuun                              Your arrival to stand here
Jiruu na hiiksisuufi                                         Is making me an indolent                      
Malakee maalan beeka”                                I know no solution; you solve it.”
Jedhee nyaarasaa butee                                 His eyebrows he knit, saying that
Innis garaa na kutee.                                      He also made me give up in fact
Maali mallikoo jedheen                                  What could the solution be, I pondered        
Beekaa faaqii gaafadhe                                  And from a wise tanner I inquired         
Beekaa faaqii gaafannaan                             When I inquired from the wise tanner
Innis akkas naan jedhe:                                              He too answered thusly:
            “Fardatti kooraan hodha                               I make saddle for the horse
            Koortuuf makaddaan hodha                           for the bride I make a pillow
Natu miidhagsa soddaa                                  It is me who beautifies the in-law                       
Ganama duugaan duugaa                              In the morning I am busy tanning           
Guyyaa sareerraan eega                               And watch out the dogs during the day                  
Kun maal  dhaabatee seeqaa                         Why is this standing and sniggering anyway?
Narraa geggeessaa Leeqaa!”                       You, Leeqaas[15] please chase him away!”
Jedhee nyaarasaa butee                                 He too eyebrows knit, said that
Innis garaa na kute                                         And made me crestfallen in fact
“Kottu malan sii malaa”                                “Comeback and have my advice”
Jedheetu na deebise                                       So he called me back, how nice                       
Barcuma na teessisee                                     Gave me a chair and made me sit
Akkas jedhee na gorse.                                   And gave me all his wit                                 
            “Qalqalloo qarshii shanii                              A leather sack is five qarshii[16]
Gabaa baatee bitatta                                      You can buy from the market
Harree wadala korma                                     A he donkey, a jack ass                          
Qarshii shantamaan bitta                               You buy with fifty qarshii            
Fuutee Kurmuukiin lixxaa                              Off to Kurmuk[17] you go
Warqee isa dheedhii fidda                              And bring gold that is raw                  
Ennaa warqeen dhabame                               If gold is not found              
Busaa goromtii fiddaa                                    A pullet malaria is abound
Galtee ittiin dugdaa cittaa”                           You come home and suffer a broken back” 
Jedhee kana natti himee                                 He told me so; the man has got the knack.
Wayyoo yaa bada abbaakootii                       Woe is me, I am in a total mess                        
Kun dhuma dubbii kooti                                 This is the abrupt end of my case
Jedheen bayee baqadhe                                 So, I run away from there
Waayee namas kakadhe.                                And swore about others’ affair.           

Maali fallikoo jedheen                                   What could the solution be I pondered
Shaanfookoo manaa butee                             Then I snatched my lance from the house;
Kuruphee kolbaa filaa                                    Dik-dik with an upright horns
Gaara keessa kaachisee                                 I chased in the mountain terrace
Shaanfookoo itti nyaachise                            And made her eat my lance
Kuruphee yaa waatikoo                                  O dik-dik my bovine baby
Orma lubuuf baqattaa                                     From others you escape at a glance
Ana lapheerraa xabatta.                                 As for I, on my chest you dance.

8.              Asmaarii and reward

Asmaarii in his praise songs mentions the heroic deeds of men living as well as deceased. He sings about the generosity of husbands and the wives. He praises the tall, the short, the bald-headed and all kinds of men and women. For their performance, they are rewarded with, usually cash. As much as they praise the generous ones they also ridicule and hurl humorous insults at the stingy ones. When rewarded, the asmaarii produces a sound of ululation on his maseenqoo and blesses the provider.

One of his means of softening the hearts of his audience and make it generous is to use a self-deprecating humour as a tactic. Appearing as humble and helpless a person and lowering themselves down a little the asmaariis try to attain the sympathy of their audience. They seem to be aware of the fact that self-deprecating humour attains more attention than pomposity and braggart of a cocky person. There are few lyrics in my collections that can pass as good examples of self-deprecating humour. The first lyric shows how an adult asmaarii belittles himself to a level of a child, by asking for a prize usually meant not for adults. It reads as follows:

Waan naagootu yoo dhabde               If there is nothing you can do for me at all
Naa kenni indaanqoo dhaltuu             Just give me a female fowl   
Kan lafa adeemtee galtu                    That can walk home on her own
Kan mana geesse dhaltu                     And delivers the moment she gets home. 

For a man of his age, asking not only for a fowl, but for one that can walk home like a four-legged animal is quite absurd. This is no gift that fits an adult’s status; for in the Oromoo farming community it is children who are given chicken or rooster as a gift.

Asmaarii usually performs on annual holidays or other festivals. On these occasions just like the other invited guests he helps himself to whatever the festivity could afford. But during his performance, to earn the sympathy of the audience, he brings his wife into the picture, even if his not married, portraying her as a pitiful woman left at home and dying of hunger while he is enjoying himself dining and wining. In order to wheedle his way to the pocket of his target he blames himself for lacking a leather sack, in which he would have taken some food home for her, a strange and unheard of practice.  

Wayyaa Dangalloo Shabbaa                The cloth of Dangalloo Shabbaa
Wayyaa Dangalloo Shabbaa                The cloth of Dangalloo Shabbaa
Ofiikoof nyaadhee quufee                     As for me, I am well satiated   
Niitiinkoo agabuu jirtii                         But my wife is dying for a snack
Wayyaa qalqalloo dhabaa!                   O, my lack of a leather sack!

Asmaariin fira miti                                An asmaarii is not a relative                        
Dhabu siin hilaa mitii                           If I don’t get, I will not be lenient
Yoon sitti siqee ijaajjee                         If I move and stand near you
Maal gammadde naan jettaa                You may say what made him happy
Yoon sirraa siqee ijaajje                       If I move and stand away from you
Maal dallante naan jettaa                    You may say what made him unhappy
Gullallettan nagada                              I will go for trade to Gullallee
Damma foolleetti naqee                        With a gourd full of honey
Hindheeratte yoo jette                          If you say you are too tall
Quphaneen sii sagada                           I will squat and bow to your wit
Hamma abootteetti galee.                     Sizing-down myself to a fist.

When his cajoling yields positive result he blesses the generous provider with one of his humorous blessings. To make his provider more delightful, he unmans and curses the generous fellow’s imagined or real adversary in a laughter eliciting way:


Hori! Hori! Ammayyuu hori!                                     May you prosper, prosper more
Waan nyaattuu fi waan dhugdu                                  May what you eat and drink
Hamma afaanii fi fuunyaani sitti haadhiyeessu!       Be as near to you as your nose is to your mouth 
Namni sitti hinaafu                                                     May he who is jealous of you
Irraanolee abida haabaqatu!                                     Flee from fire up-a-hill-track
Abidi fagaara isaatti haaqabatu                                May fire catch his buttock
Irraangadee dhagaa haabaqatu!                               May he flee from rocks a-down-hill-track
Namni amajaajii keetii;                                             A person who is your adversary           
Shan haa albaatu guyyatti                                         May she be attacked by dysentery                       
Dalga haa cabdu, akka udaan ishee!                        May she collapse side-ways, like her crap
Lafa haalixxu, akka fincaan ishee!                            Like her urine may the ground suck her up
Tasa haabaddu, akka dhuufuu ishee!                        Like her fart may she completely evaporate up.[18]


Asmaarii is a traditional entertainer that has impacted the Oromoo people’s social life. His performance embodies both the humorous and the non-humorous oral literature that reflects Oromoo ethos. However, one might ask does the asmaarii himself have a sense of humour? The answer, simply is, not only that he has a sense of humour, but he is a mini humour factory that provides a multifaceted entertainment to his community. The asmaarii is a singer whose songs and a performer of praise and a humourist too. His is a social critic, a peace advocate and the guardian of the cultural norms and social values such as honesty, bravery, generosity, and hard work. He promotes the Oromoo language and literature through his poetic talent. He is an entertainer as well as an advice giver on the avoidance of conflict and advancement of social harmony. In general, his performance facilitates smooth interaction among community members by creating a conducive and friendly atmosphere during festivities and holidays. However, according to a reliable individual informant who so far has collected and produced two books on Oromoo folktales and oral art, currently the number of these semi-professional singers is dwindling; due to different contributing factors; among which the pressure from religious expansion is said to be one. If such information could be verified through further research, strong voice against the deliberate eradication of a people’s literary wealth and culture seems a call of the time. For most of the lyric contents of the asmaarii’s performance do not in any way counter the dogma of any religion, hence, an attack on a to-be-cherished tradition should not be tolerated. [19]


Aberra. Zelealem (1977) “How a Mule Cracked the Ozone, and other African Folktales; in Oromo Commentary Vol. VII No. 1 1977
– The same article in Finnish language under the title: “Miten Taivaseen Tuli Reikä ja Muita Afrikkalaisia Taruja has been published in Kumppani 4/1996 (Finnish cultural magazine).

Adultry:  Wikipedia org:

Bartles, Lambert (1990): Oromoo Religion. Myths and Rites of The Wetsern
Oromo of Ethiopia – An Attempt to Undertsnd. Dietrich Reimer Verlag Berlin

Bergson, Henri (1911): Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic Translated by Brereton, Cloudesley L. ES L.(Paris), M.A. (Cantab) and Fred  Rothwell B.A. (London) Temple of Earth Publishing

Birrii. Fiixee, Rev, (2012): Seenaa fi Aadaa Oromoo Wallaggaa, Dambii Doolloo, Ethiopia.  

Chinweizu, I.  Voices From Twentieth Century Africa: Griots and Town criers, Faber and Faber, London 1988.
de Albornoz M.A. Carrillo & Fernández, M.A. (2014): The Symbolism of the Rooster

Dorson, Richard M. (ed) (1961) Folklore Research around the World A North American Point of View Indiana University press.

Leach, Maria (ed) (1984: Funk and Wagnal Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend.  Harper and Row

Nandwa, Jane. and Bukenya, Austin (1983): African Oral Literature for Schools, Longman, Kenya

Hange, A. Artan. Folktales from Somalia. Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala, 1983

Kebede. Ashenafi, (1975):  The "Azmari", Poet-Musician of Ethiopia
Source: The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1975), pp. 47-57
Published by: Oxford University Press

Leach. Marja, (ed.) (1972): Funk and Wagnall Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend  Harper San Francisco

Linsley, Alice C.  (2016): The Rooster in Biblical Symbolism

Martin, R. A. (1998). Approaches to the sense of humor: A historical review. In W. Ruch (Ed.), Humor research: 3. The sense of humor: Explorations of a personality characteristic (pp. 15-60). Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter & Co.


Pigliucci. Massimo, (2015): How to Be a Stoic: an evolving guide to practical Stoicism for the 21st century.1

Ruch, Willibald and Heintz, Sonja (2016): The virtue gap in humor: Exploring benevolent and corrective humor. Zurich Open Repository and Archive; University of ZurichMain LibraryStrickhofstrasse 39 CH-8057 Zurich

Tuuchoo.Aseffa, Gumaa;An unpublished manuscript in the possession of the author.

Ujulu Tesso Bent (2018): Oromo Indigenous Religion and Oromo Christianity, Contradictory or Compatible? A comparative Religious Study from Theological Perspective  George Olms Verlag AG Hildesheim

Ziv, Avner. (1988): "Humor as a Social Corrective." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum 3rd ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company. 356-60.

[1] Prof. Ashenafi Kebede (1938 – 1998): was well known Ethiopian composerconductorethnomusicologist, historical musicologist,  and a man of pen too.
[2]An article by the same author, initially under the title “Miten Tavaseen Tuli Reikä ja Muita Afrikkalaisia Taruja in Kumppani 4/1996 (Finnish cultural magazine) and finally “How a Mule Cracked the Ozone, and other African Folktales” in Oromo Commentary Vol. VII No. 1 1977), attempts to make an analogy between the causes of the Ozone depletion; - one of the causes for global warming, and the ancient stories from three African people that narrates why and how the sky god receded further away from the human touch. 
Among other things, in the article is presented how the Somali and the Bini of Nigeria narrate similar story to that of the Oromoo, but with different reason for god’s recession. According to the Somali the cause for his recession was the work of two millet pounding women. Every time they raised their long-wooden shaft they unintentionally hit the low laying sky god and pierced many holes in it. That was what disappointed the sky god and made him recede up to where he is today. (Hange, A. Artan. Folktales from Somalia. Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala, 1983)

The Bini of Nigeria narrates a different reason for why he receded. When the sky god was laying low, people did not need to labour at all. They just stretched their hand and cut a piece from the sky and eat. But sometimes they used to cut more than they could finish and throw the excess to the garbage; for which god gave them advice and warning. When they declined his advice and kept on their extravagant behaviour the sky god receded out of their reach. (Chinweizu, I. Voices From Twentieth Century Africa: Griots and Town criers, Faber and Faber, London 1988.)

[3]Jimmaa Abbaa Jifaar and Leeqaa Naqamtee were two sub-provinces during the Emperor Haile Sellasie’s reign.
[4]The phrase “anaa nyaatuu” or “biyyoon anaa nyaatuu” litrary means “let the soil eat me;”is expressed upon hearing grief or something touching.
[5]Source: Rev, Birrii. Fiixee, (2012): Seenaa fi Aadaa Oromoo Wallaggaa, Dambii Doolloo, Ethiopia.
[6]Shushubbee: A kind of dance.
[7]Source Prof. Tesema Ta’a.
[8]Araqee: The word is from the spirit (drink) called arak or sometimes spelled arrak, or araq in Arabic.
[10]Katikaala: Home-made spirit.
[11]Source: Ayele Tamiru 17.07.2019
[12]Source: Anonymous

[13]My informant Ayele Tamiru from Gimbi, Western Oromiyaa, has the following to say about Abbaatee Fissaa: Abbaatee Fissaa (Fayissaa Gootaa) was born in Gimbii, in a village called Cuuttaa during the reign of Minilik. During that time, Fitawraarii Amantee Bakaree, a local chief, built a church of Saing George and brought a priest by the name Abbaa Wolde Elias from Gojjam. Abbaa Wolde Elias in addition to the church service started teaching how to read and write, and the Ge’ez language to small children, among whom was Fayisaa Gootaa. Fayisaa, when he gets back home from school began teaching to local children of his clan (Tosiyoo) all what he learned during the day at school. During the reign of Lij Eyaasuu; Abbaa Wolde Elias noticed Fayisaa’s effort and sent him to Gofjjaam so that he could further study the Orthodox faith. During his studies in Gojjam his name was changed to Fissahaa. After completing his study and ordained as a priest he returned to Gimbii during the reign of Queen Zawdituu and gave up his church service to begin teaching children. He pursued his teaching job both during Haile sellasie reign; and during the Italian occupation. He was a teacher in a modern school built by Dajazmach Gebere Egziabher from grade 1 to 8. In 1971 (E.C) for the service he rendered was given a golden medal by Dajazmach Fiqre Sellasie Habte Mariam. Later he became a pensioner and died in 1985 at the age of 93 (May honey mead fill his cemetery).  

[15]Leeqaa: An Oromoo Tribe
[16]Qarshii: A monetary name in Afaan Oromoo
[17]Kurmuk: A small border town between Ethiopia and  The Sudan
[18] Source: Aseffaa Tuuchoo
[19]According to my telephone conversation with Guta Abdi, an Oromoo author‘s opinion, asmariis are no more singing in beverage houses in towns as they used to; nor on holidays and festivities. He further says that maybe few old ones could be found in the remote country sides where the influence of the Pentecostal religion has not dominated as yet.(05.01.2020)


  1. Hedduu natti toleera irraas baradheera Galatoomaa.

  2. Baay'ee namatti tola, isin guuboo jechootaa fi aadaati!

  3. Kana laalee utuun si hin ajaa'ibsiifatin hindarbu. Galatoomi!

  4. Baay'ee namatti tola!Galatoomaa!

  5. Bilisummaan Oromoo gatii galata keessanii haa baasu!

  6. Galatoomi. hojii boonsaadha hojjette

  7. Maal jedhu...jechoonni siif gahaa miti. kuusaa/guuboo/ jechoota afaan Oromoo akka nuuf qopheessitu abdiin qaba

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.


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