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My Memories of Ireecha, 2016

By Johnsay M Feyisa

I grew up in Bishoftu, the beautiful small town located some 40 kilometres southeast of the capital, Finfinne (Addis Ababa). Her evergreen forest, breath-taking mountains, moderate weather, and seven—yes, seven! — volcanic lakes make Bishoftu one of the best places to live in Oromia. To us Oromos, though, what makes her even more special is the annual celebration of Irreecha, which takes place at lake Hora in the month of September. On that day, Bishoftu becomes to Oromos what Mecca is to Muslims: a sacred land of love, peace, and togetherness!

In our house, the preparation for Irreecha starts a week earlier since we host our relatives who would come to celebrate from all parts of Oromia. My Akko would brew Farso and Bokaa. My father and uncles would go to the livestock market to buy an ox or a sheep. My sisters and I would clean our house and help my mother in the kitchen. So, because of the sheer responsibility at home, my family was most of the time unable to join the main event at Lake Hora.

It was only in  2016 that I myself went to Irreecha. That unfortunate day! Dressed in my Ufata Adda (cultural clothe), I sneaked out after helping my family and went to the lake with one of my relatives. I got closer to the lake and took pictures. I was so happy to be among my people. I felt our power, the strength in our collective voice. It was then that people started to raise their hands and show the famous resistance sign. I did too. I was so emotional that I wanted to climb the tree to get a better view.

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Sadly, we had to cut it short and go back home as one of our duty was serving our relatives who would be returning from Irreecha.  Not long after we got home, we heard the devastating news: government soldiers have fired tear gas and live ammunition on the crowd which caused a stampede. We saw dead bodies, one of after another, on Face book.  My people killed en mass and some of their bodies were even found in trenches, among them Engineer Dereje, one of the guests we were expecting for lunch! We couldn’t believe our eyes. Our joy changed to sadness in a matter of minutes. I felt so helpless.  I couldn’t do anything to save them. My people mercilessly gunned down on their own lands, at their peaceful and holiest of celebrations. We mourned as a family; the food that we prepared for this special occasion went untouched. We mourned as a nation. The pain and trauma I felt on that day was only second to how I felt on the night of 29th June, after hearing the assassination of our beloved artist Hachalu Hundesa, yet another tragedy for the Oromo Nation.

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We still mourn after four years. Nothing has changed. Oromia is bleeding.


As the time counts down to Irreecha, my heart filled with nothing but fear, I pray for peace. I pray for justice. I pray for Bilisummaa.


Johnsay M Feyisa is a nurse and Oromo activist. {Courtesy Curate Ethiopia}

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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