Oromos Pilgrims of Sheikh Hussein
Every year, tens of thousands of muslims and animists, mostly Oromo, converge from the whole Horn of Africa and even from more faraway for a little-known mystical gathering at a sacred site, the Mausoleum of Sheikh Hussein. Geographically, the village of Annajina is a small dot lost in the mountainous Bale region, at six hundred kilometers from Addis Ababa. Spiritually, the holy place of Sheikh Hussein is the largest, the less orthodox and the most heterogeneous Muslim gatherings throughout the Horn of Africa.
The pilgrims, too poor to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, converge to the mausoleum of Sheikh Hussein. He was a great figure in the history of Islam introduction into the Horn of Africa, in the vast Oromo’s territories.
Twice a year the lost village of Annajina becomes a center of faith and devotion at the crossroads of Islam and animist beliefs. A first pilgrimage takes place at the beginning of the year to celebrate the birth of the holy man who is venerated for his miracles. The second one is held at the time of the Eid el-Kebir, the Feast of the Sacrifice. During this period the small village is transformed into a giant pilgrimage place for three days.
In the 14th century, Sheikh Hussein, a Sufi saint, was the first Muslim "missionary" to venture deep into Ethiopia. The Oromo, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia with its 26 million members that is one-third of the total population, not only confer on Sheikh Hussein great wisdom but also ascribe to him all kinds of miracles that gave rise to the cult.
Incantations and supplications that pilgrims put on him betray the pre-Islamic origins. By a sort of syncretism, the Oromos pray the saint to win the favor of Waq, the only God of the sky that their ancestors worshiped before converting to Islam.
When the pilgrims arrive at the holy place, burdened with their bundles, branches of firewood and blankets, they start organizing themselves into small camps with their family and co-pilgrims from the same village. According to the custom, the locals must welcome them, offer their hospitality and a piece of land for camping. First thing after installation, the pilgrims go to the mausoleum. A few steps before the entrance, they take off their shoes and go inside the holy place. The pilgrims lie face down on the ground and remain in this position for long minutes. Others put their lips or their foreheads on the white ramparts. Then they go to the tomb of Sheikh Hussein and prostrate themselves against it. They grab handfuls of dust from the floor and place it on their face before swallowing the remains. They stay there for hours, crying and praying Sheikh Hussein to receive a good harvest, a land to farm, a birth of a child or healing.
After the prayers and devotions are completed, pilgrims came back to their camps and meet with others for singing, dancing and praising the holy man. All rituals are accompanied by Qat, the exhilarating and stimulating plant wildly consumed throughout the Horn of Africa. Men and women, sitting in groups everywhere, chew the tenderest leaves before starting the great prayer of Eid in front of the village’s school. When ready, they form ranks: men, dressed in white at the front, and behind them, women dressed in colorful outfits. They all pray to Allah and his Prophet Muhammad. For a few hours, the Sheikh Hussein become secondary as the pilgrims practice the same Islam as all the Muslims of the world. However, once back in the camps, gathered around the grilled mutton, the pilgrims start to sing again the praises to Sheikh Hussein.