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(2014) Law, culture and visual studies, Dordrecht, Springer.

Saying the saffu and beating the law

the changing role of sacred sites in the oromo politico-juridical system

Pekka Virtanen

pp. 547-572

This chapter presents a semiotic analysis of the role of sacred sites and other physical features and objects in key political/religious rituals of the Oromo people living in the Horn of Africa. Theoretically, it builds on Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of the concept of "archive" as an intersection of the topological and the nomological of the place and the law. For Derrida, the place of the archive is not a locatable place, but a topos, the marking of a discourse. In contrast to the European tradition based primarily on archives inscribed in writing and summarised in a codified law, for the traditional Oromo society, laws were part of the oral tradition – a mixture of religion, law and social custom – inscribed in ritual practice and the landscape. This made the aspect of consignation especially crucial: due to their inherent character oral laws must be systematically re-enunciated and revised. The power of consignation was reinforced by the iterability of ritual, which turns it into a repeatable chain of marks. The fact that there is no archive without an outside has been the basis for the survival of the key institutions of the Oromo: whilst the ritual practice provided a technique of repetition, it was the landscape which provided the topos, the commencement and an inexhaustible repertoire of signs which would carry the normative principles and practices (nomos) to new times and places. This chapter is divided into four parts. A discussion of the politico-juridical system and livelihood of the Borana Oromo, who have maintained the traditional Oromo politico-juridical system in a relatively coherent form, gives the background for an analysis of topography in the politico-religious rituals. The rituals, on the other hand, form the basis for the politico-juridical system. A brief return to Derrida concludes this chapter.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-9322-6_24

Full citation:

Virtanen, P. (2014)., Saying the saffu and beating the law: the changing role of sacred sites in the oromo politico-juridical system, in A. Wagner & R. K. Sherwin (eds.), Law, culture and visual studies, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 547-572.

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