The Images of Women in the Proverbs and Sayings of the Oromo: The Case of West Arsi Zone

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Addis Ababa University


The major goal of this study is to examine the portrayal of women in the proverbs and sayings of the Arsi Oromo and to asses the awareness of the people about the effects of these proverbs and sayings on women. To achieve this goal, an attempt was made to collect proverbs and sayings that refer to women and attitudinal information from two woredas of West Arsi zone- Arsi Negelle and Kofale. The data was collected using three types of instruments (focus-group discussion), interview and questionnaire. The collected data was transcribed, tallied and tabulated (for questionnaires), translated from the original language (‘Afaan Oromoo) to the target language (English) and finally, it was analyzed and interpreted qualitatively.The study shows that women are portrayed both positively and negatively in the proverbs and sayings of the Arsi. The image of women as mothers is a positive one, despite the fact that even the proverbs sayings that are used to praise women also reflect a socio-cultural attitude of the people and the sex-role stereotypes that are hidden in these proverbs and sayings. Even though the majority of the respondents have indicated that among the Arsi, proverbs are used to add flavor to their speech; to settle social problems; to correct misbehavior; to criticize, praise and encourage good behavior; etc., they directly or indirectly show the inferiority of women and the biased social attitudes towards them. In these proverbs and sayings, women are depicted as weak and dependent, illogical, irrational, irresponsible, ignorant, jealous, unfaithful, unreliable and unpredictable, and as inferior members of their community. Positively, women are portrayed as good house makers and obedient servants for their family. And it was found out that, the women have internalized the negative attitude the society shows towards them and they act according to the social code of conduct honestly. The elders attributed the cause of the existing negative attitude towards women to the cultural adoption of the Oromo people after the fall of Gadaa system due to the conquest of Minelik II to the region. Though they are not aware of the socializing effect of the proverbs and sayings that they use for their aforementioned functions, the respondents indicated that the proverbs and sayings they use towards women have both positive and negative effects on them. It is also found out that the transmission of these proverbs and sayings from one generation to the other generation facilitates the continuation of the existing images of women to the future, thereby causing women’s negative self image that results in low women’s participation in different social affairs. Finally, it was indicated by the respondents that this problem will be alleviated by: teaching the society about gender equality; increasing women’s participation; hindering the use of proverbs and sayings that undermine women; and by educating women so as to enable them defend the violation of their rights.



Proverbs and Sayings