An Oromo Custom worthy of recognition: Dambi Dollo and The Values of the Tree

An  Oromo Custom worthy of recognition: Dambi Dollo and The Values of the Tree

by Tesfa Guma, April 18, 2018


This story is about the evolution of the name of a man and a tree into the name of a city. It is about the combined historical, scientific and economic values of the tree after which the city of Dambi Dollo , one of the oldest cities in modern Oromiya, Wollega, was named. It is located midway between the towns of Qaaqee in the north and the commercial border town of Gambella in the south, close to the border between South Sudan and Oromiya, Ethiopia. The historical part is told by the author who witnessed a narration by an elderly Oromo man to the father of the author. This story was told in 1943 in the city of Dambi Dollo.

As Narrated by the village Elder Maanguddo

It was at the home of Obbo Kumsa, a very old man of about eighty years, when my dad, Fitawrari Guma Aga, along with me was visiting the old man of the village. The story telling started when Obbo Kumsa suddenly pointed at a distant to a bunch of trees and asked my father if he knew about the story behind those trees. He went on to tell us the background history and the social values of what we were looking at.  It was the grave of Obbo Dollo, who was a popular man of his time, about eighty years earlier. The grave was made of a pile of stones in a circular shape. Obbo Kumsa proceeded, “It is the custom of the Oromo of this locality to plant Dambi trees around the grave of a deceased person. The tree is hence named after the person buried under it.  Therefore those bunch of trees you are looking at are named Dambi Dollos, after Obo Dollo, in other words, Mr. Dollo’s Dambi trees. According to our belief, for us the trees represent the dead person who continues to live in and through the Dambi trees”

Obbo Kumsa proceeded on to tell us more about the sociological values of the tree. The Dambi tree would serve as a monument to the deceased person. The human remain in that grave, especially if it was a man of valor, would never be forgotten. His deeds and especially his achievements will be demonstrated by hanging his trophies on those trees. All passer–bys, and especially his descendants would invoke the person’s name and admire his deeds; thus, regarding the deceased man as conceptually alive and never forgotten.

Obbo Kumsa continued with his story narration to tell us why he wanted us to know about the man and the tree. Many years after the Dambi trees around the grave grew large and the branches spread wide with evergreen leaves the shades of the trees covered the grave from above and protected it against the sun and rain. The local merchants who always travelled on foot between the towns of Qaaqee and Gambella needed a resting place half way between the towns. They found the shady spot most convenient for the purpose. They would sit on the stones which marked the grave under the shade of the trees and have their lunch of bread and fried barley along with coffee. From there they would move on to their respective direction of travel. Eventually, it became their custom that whenever they wanted to meet at some convenient place they always made it sure to meet at  Dambi Dollo. The sight became a place of attraction even for the surrounding villagers who wanted to sell their coffee and local beer to the merchants. They built many huts, one hut at a time, resulting in the numerous structures which created a village of their own. That village developed into the city of the modern city of Dambi Dollo.

What is in the Name

Dambi is one of the evergreen species of tropical rubber trees. It is an Oromo name by which the tree is called. In addition to what Obbo Kumsa has described above, the tree also has some interesting economic, ecological  and sociological values, each of which deserves  further logical explanation.

Economic Values

The economic values of Dambi tree include the production of rubber latex for manufacturing rubber. The Oromo people also use the latex to make candles. Latex is also commercially sold world-wide for financial gains. Today when the draught comes, the people cut down the branches of Dambi tree and feed the leaves to their animals. The dunks from the animals returns to the soil to fertilize it. Dambi tree is recycled to reduce the cost of purchasing fertilizer for the coming year.

Ecological Values

Dambi is also a unique tree due to its many ecological and scientific values. There is the relationship between the Dambi tree and the dead person buried under it., when the Oromo bury their dead, they do not use caskets as is done in certain parts of the world; instead, they entomb the body with a shroud only. This method exposes the human remains to decompose easily and become part of the soil as a fertilizer, thus enriching the surrounding soil. The roots from the tree can then easily absorb the decomposed human remain and feed the tree. It enables the Dambi tree to grow into a large shady plant. The side- way spreading roots of the tree prevent erosion and preserve the soil fertility.

The branches produce flowers which cross pollinate with the neighboring Dambi trees planted for similar purposes. Such cross pollination naturally produces seeds which in turn, drop to the ground where they germinate to grow into more Dambi trees. Because of such multiplication of the trees the ecological balance is kept through afforestation. This way the environmental protection, recycling, and replenishment of the land naturally takes place. As the result the whole land surface where the Dambi tree grows is permanently green.

It is not hard to imagine what the Earth land surface would look like if only four trees were planted around the grave of every dead person.  Oromo custom and culture have a great deal to offer to the dying world environment.

As told by Tesfa Guma.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Obbo Tesfa,
    Your piece on Dambi Dolo is quite enlightening. I’ve never been to the historic town, but I’ve heard a great deal about it from many of my friends who come from there. Thank you for informing me.

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