Photographer Abel Assefa’s “People and Portraits” Instagram Series Captures the Spirit of the Oromo People at Irreecha Birraa Celebration in Ethiopia



A striking ritual of gratitude, Irreecha Birraa is an indigenous ceremony practiced by the Oromo People of Ethiopia.  Upon the subtle announcement of Birraa (spring), the gathering marks a promise of “hope and bounty” which upholds the people in accord with the summons of the season.

The annual celebration takes place in the Oromia town of Bishoftu, south east of Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa. Thousands of people travel to the sacred grounds of Lake Harsadi (Lake Harasadi) to participate in the elaborate Irreecha ritual, from sun-up to sundown. This occurs in September, at the beginning of Birraa (spring) to give thanks for “giving way for spring”, following the end of a dark and rainy season associated with “a time of difficulty”.

Though its largely known as a celebration to give thanks to Waaqa (God) for the blessings and mercies received throughout the previous year, it is also a consecrated time to honor the bliss of spring and “welcome the new season of plentiful harvest”.  In harmony with a season of renewal and rebirth, the day is also praised and embraced for expressions of “forgiveness and forward looking”.

Irreecha is an ancient African culture practiced by the Oromo people of Ethiopia for thousands of years. And while the celebration plays a significant role in the revival of culture as well as the manifestation and preservation of Oromo national identity, it also represents the “pan-Oromo tradition” in a compelling performance and colorful display of cultural practice.

At this year’s celebration where thousands gathered, unpredictably toward the end, the festivity halted after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse an anti-government protest, triggering a stampede that killed dozens. And as the world came to know Irreecha Birraa by way of media reports of the tragedy, the “festival of thanks” and its symbol of “forgiveness and forward looking” got lost. However, one photographer’s “People and Portraits of Irreecha” Instagram series paying homage to Irreecha redeems what may have been lost. It unveils to the world striking portraits as well as offer the viewer a peek into the Oromo people’s enchanting ceremony, respectably known by those who have experienced it. Abel’s arresting series captures the spirit of the Oromo people at Irreecha Birraa 2016 prior to its disruption.   

Abel Assefa is an Ethiopian Visual Artist, Cultural Documentarian, and Historic Building Conservation professional.

Click through the gallery to see featured photographs by Abel Assefa.

Author: Amira Ali

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