Oromo Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions in the Customary Judicial System in Ethiopia


This paper discusses the role of Oromo proverbs in conflict resolution and/or management as a peace-making verbal communication principle in the cultural context. The lesson from proverbs, which contain traditional morsels of wisdom, consists of cultural value and rhetorical effectiveness helping to enforce reality in the context in which they are used. Data for this paper is generated from primary sources. In data gathering, we used interview and focus group discussion. The analysis shows that proverbs have persuasive power to advise, guide and influence conflicting parties to settle their case peacefully. The proverbs tell their truths about conflict situations and devise a resolution and management approach through metaphorical and symbolic representations. Proverbs are also an integral part of Oromo culture, handing down and imparting norms, values, rules and the worldview of the community to guide people to live in customary ways.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Abrahams, Roger D. 1972. Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions. – Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction, edited by Richard M. Dorson. Chicago, IL; London: The University of Chicago Press, 117–127.

  • Achebe, Chinua. 1996. Things Fall Apart. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

  • Adegoju, Adeyemi. 2009. Rhetoric in Conflict-Related Yoruba Proverbs: Guide to Constructive Conflict Resolution in Africa. – African Study Monographs 30 (2): 55–69.

  • Adeeko, Adeleke. 1998. Proverbs, Textuality and Nativism in African Literature. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

  • Ademowo, Adeyemi Johnson and Noah Balogun. 2014. Proverbs and Conflict Management in Africa: A Study of Selected Yoruba Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions. – International Journal of Literature, Language and Linguistics 1 (1): 39–44.

  • Akoto-Abutiate, Dorothy Bea. 2014a. African Theology/ies: A Contemporary Mosaical Approach. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

  • Akoto-Abutiate, Dorothy Bea. 2014b. Proverbs and the African Tree of Life: Grafting Biblical Proverbs on to Ghanaian Eve Folk Proverbs. Studies in Systematic Theology 16. Atlanta, GA: Brill. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004274471.

  • Bohannan, Paul. 1967. Introduction. – Law & Warfare: Studies in the Anthropology of Conflict. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, xv–xiv.

  • Brock-Utne, Birgit. 2001. Indigenous Conflict Resolution in Africa. A draft presented at the seminar on indigenous solutions to conflicts held at the University of Oslo, Institute for Educational Research, February 23–24, 2001.

  • Fiseha, Assefa; Gebre Yntiso and Fekade Azeze. 2011. The State of Knowledge on Customary Dispute Resolution in Ethiopia. – Customary Dispute Resolution Mechanisms in Ethiopia, edited by Gebre Yntiso, Fekade Azeze and Assefa Fiseha. Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Arbitration and Conciliation Centre, 21–36.

  • Gebregeorgis, Mehari Yimulaw. 2015. Discursive Depiction of Customary Conflict Management Principles in Selected African Proverbs. – Folklore. Electronic Journal of Folklore 62: 225–246. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/FEJF2015.62.gebregeorgis.

  • Gemechu, Dejene. 2007. Conflict and Conflict Resolution among Waliso Oromo of Eastern Macha: The Case of Guma. Social Anthropology Dissertation Series 15. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press.

  • Gemechu, Dejene. 2011. The Customary Courts of the Waliso Oromo. – Customary Dispute Resolution Mechanisms in Ethiopia, edited by Gebre Yntiso, Fekade Azeze and Assefa Fiseha. Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Arbitration and Conciliation Centre, 251–277.

  • Gemeda, Eshete. 2012. African Egalitarian Values and Indigenous Genres: A Comparative Approach to the Functional and Contextual Studies of Oromo National Literature in a Contemporary Perspective. Berlin, Zürich: LIT Verlag Muster.

  • Gonfa, Sena. 2008. The Images of Women in the Proverbs and Sayings of the Oromo: The Case of West Arsi Area. A Master Dissertation. Addis Ababa University, Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.

  • Gow, Greg. 2002. The Oromo in Exile: From the Horn of Africa to the Suburbs of Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

  • Halliday, Michael Alexander Kirkwood and Ruqaiya Hasan. 1985. Language, Context and Text: Aspects of Language in a Social-Semiotic Perspective. Victoria: Deakin University Press.

  • Joireman, Sandra F. 2011. Where There is No Government: Enforcing Property Rights in Common Law Africa. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

  • Kalunta-Crumpton, Anita and Biko Agozino. 2004. Pan-African Issues in Crime and Justice. Alder-shot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

  • Kidane, Sahlu. 2002. Borana Folktales: A Contextual Study. London: Haan Publishing.

  • Legesse, Asmarom. 1974. Gada: The Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. New York, NY: The Free Press.

  • Mandova, Evans and Wellington Wasosa. 2013. The Role of Proverbs in the Shona Judicial System with Special Reference to Nhango Dzokusuma Nyaya Padare. – International Journal of Asian Social Science 3 (4): 871–877. http://www.aessweb.com/pdf-files/ijass-3(4)-871-877.pdf (accessed September 24, 2019).

  • Mieder, Wolfgang. 1985. Popular Views of the Proverb. – Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship 2: 109–143.

  • Mieder, Wolfgang. 2014. Behold the Proverbs of a People: Proverbial Wisdom in Culture, Literature, and Politics. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

  • Regassa, Megersa and Dejene Gemechu. 2015a. Indigenous Mechanism of Conflict Resolution among the Oromo: The Case of Reejjii Institution of Jimma, Ethiopia. – The Journal of Oromo Studies 22 (1): 69–89.

  • Regassa, Megersa and Dejene Gemechu. 2015b. Jigaa Institution: The Surviving Gadaa Court among the Jimma Oromo, Ethiopia. – Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences and language Studies 2 (2): 3–23.

  • Minahan, James. 2002. Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: Ethnic and National Groups Around the World III, L–R. Westport, CT; London: Greenwood Press.

  • Nanda, Serena. 1994. Cultural Anthropology. 5th edn. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

  • Norrick, Neal R. 1985. How Proverbs Mean: Semantic Studies in English Proverbs. Trends in Linguistics: Studies in English Proverbs 27. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110881974.

  • Okpewho, Isidore. 1992. African Oral Literature: Backgrounds, Character and Continuity. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

  • Renkema, Jan. 2004. Introduction to Discourse Studies. Amsterdam, New York, NY: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

  • Samatar, Said S. 1992. In the Shadow of Conquest: Islam in Colonial Northeast Africa. Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press.

  • Schellenberg, James A. 1996. Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research, and Practice. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

  • Seymour-Smith, Charlotte. 1986. Macmillan Dictionary of Anthropology. London: Macmillan Press Ltd. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-08037-3.

  • Shongolo, Abdullahi and Günther Schlee. 2007. Borana Proverbs in Their Cultural Context. Verbal Art and Documentary Literature in African Languages 24. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

  • Taylor, Archer. 1931. The Proverb. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Vestergaard, Bjarne; Erik Helvard and Aase Rieck Sørensen. 2011. Conflict Resolution – Working with Conflicts. Frederiksberg: The Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution. https://konfliktloesning.dk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/ConflictResolution.pdf (accessed September 24, 2019).

  • Westermann, Claus. 1995. Roots of Wisdom: The Oldest Proverbs of Israel and Other Peoples. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

  • Zartman, Ira William, ed. 2000. Traditional Cures for Modern Conflicts: African Conflict ‘Medicine’. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.


Journal + Issues