Borana mother and child. Courtesy: World_Discoverer
The Borana are one of the major semi-nomadic pastoralist Oromo Cushitic-speaking people living in Eastern and North Eastern Africa. Cushitic speakers have occupied parts of north-eastern and eastern Africa for as long as recorded history. There are almost 4 million Borana people, most living in Ethiopia.
Borana people are found mainly in Ethiopia (99%), but are spread from as far as:
• Northern Ethiopia in Oromia region (southern Tigray Region), mostly in Liban and Dire.
• Kenya (mainly northern). About 44% of the Kenya Borana live in Marsabit District, into Tana River District and Garissa District. About 80% of the Borana in Marsabit District live in Sololo, Saku, Waso and Moyale Divisions. Those in Isiolo District are concentrated in Merti and Garba Tula.
• Even as far south as Lamu Island.
Borana tribe man
The Borana characterize one of largest of the Cushitic groups occupying the Horn of Africa. Their physical features, culture, language and other confirm clearly the fact that they are native to this part of Africa. The Borana tribe is a section of a major group known as Galla. There are four sub-groups – the Gabbra, the Sakuyye, the Boran-gutu and the Waat.
The Gabbra (or Gabra), an assimilated Borana people in the Chalbi desert of northern Kenya
Identity: The word spelled Borana is pronounced with the final vowel silent. It refers to the people or their language and also means “friend” or “kind person”. Thus, a bad person may be told he is not Borana.
Wako, Borana chieftain with a stick on the shoulders – Kenya. Photographer Eric Lafforgue
The Land of the Borana
Three hundred and twenty kilometers north of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, the road of Addis Ababa takes a traveller to a dry region of the country. The landscape here is quiet different from the cooler and wetter Kenya highlands. These two geographical regions are separated by Isiolo, a town which serves as a gateway to the large expanse of land previously called the N.F.D. (Northern Frontier District). This area, which includes the present day of Northern Eastern Province and a large part of Eastern Province of Kenya (Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Garissa and Mandera Districts), covers 240,000 square kilometers which is forty percent of Kenya.
Portrait of Borana woman leaning on anthill. Borana people are the oldest of the group Oromo, living on the border between Ethiopia and Kenya. They are semi-nomadic herders, The Borana women wear a head scarf colorful coverings and beautiful necklaces. Photographer: Anthony Pappone
The land gradually rises northwards towards the Ethiopian Highlands, and is largely made of very ancient sedimentary and volcanic rocks. The country is mainly flat, though in Marsabit District are found cones and craters which form mountains such as Marsabit (1705 m), Kulal (2831 m), and the Hurri Hills (1456 m). During the Old Stone Age (about one million years ago) the Marsabit volcanic flow overran a lake. As a result the lake dried up and its bed formed the present-day Chalbi Desert. Lying close to this is the Dido Galgallu Desert whose barren and rocky surface is difficult to travel across.
The N.F.D. as a whole has both a semi-desert and a desert climate. Most areas have an average of only 200 or 300 mm of rain a year or even less. There are two rainfall seasons (March to May and October to December) and an average monthly rainfall of 50 mm or more occurs only in April or May. The rest of the rain in November and December comes down in heavy storms.
The average temperature is between 22 and 27C, but the temperature range is very wide. The skies are almost always clear, and this fact, together with the intense heat, means that all surface water evaporates at a great rate. So surface water is very scarce and the only reliable sources of water are the Webi Daua River on the Kenya-Ethiopia border and the north Uaso Nyiro River which originates in the Nyandarua mountains and drains into the Lorian Swamp, 530 kilometers away from its source.
Except for the forest round Marsabit and those near rivers, the land is composed of thorn bush, thickets and true desert scrub and grass.
Most of the bush is deciduous, and some is evergreen. The thin grass cover is so sensitive to water that soon after rain the sun-burnt bare land is covered by a luxurious sea of greenery. Among other animals, we find here the reticulated giraffe, common and Grey’s zebra, ostrich, gerenuk, oryx, black rhino, elephant, buffalo, dikdik, lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah. Also occupying a fairly large part of the N.F.D. are the pastoral Borana people who are believed to have herded their livestock down from the Horn of Africa into their present homeland a long time ago.
Borana are speakers of Afaan Oromo. Afaan oromo is Eastern Cushitic language, a classification that belongs to the family of Afro-Cushitic. Borana refers to their language as afan Borana, a dominant language spoken within the Borana region in Ethiopia and Kenya.
The parallel “modern” phenomena of rapid population growth and decreasing availability of productive grazing land threaten the Borana people. Contacts with other nomadic peoples lead to clashes, sometimes bloody, for land. Also they have been increasingly dependent upon relief agencies for help, which is culturally repugnant to these proud people.
Because there are several peoples who now speak the Borana language, the Borana proper may be further distinguished as the Gutu Borana. Their language has been adopted by the Gabbra and Sakuye, who originally came from the same roots as the Somali and Rendille peoples. About 8,000 of the Ajuuraan also speak Borana.
The origin of the Borana people is straightforward but as a result of political nature of ascension to the Ethiopian Central government, some other Ethiopians rely on erroneous history to deny Borana (and their parent tribe Oromos) as aliens in Ethiopia. Relying on European they claim ““These Gallas are one of the Abyssinian problems. They burst into the country in the sixteenth century. Where they came from is uncertain, but they made good their position, and contributed in no small degree to the ruin of the Abyssinian Empire, especially after the queen mother, about the middle of the 18th century, for purposes of her own, brought about a marriage between the king, her son, and a Galla, and thereby introduced Galla intrigues into the political complications of the kingdom. The name “Galla” is said to signify, in their tongue, “invader,” but the Mohammedans have a curious legend that it was given them by Mohammed, when a messenger sent by him to their chief to require them to profess the Mohammedan faith, returned, saying, “He says, no” (ga la). “Then,” answered the prophet,” let that name be henceforth the name of the whole race who have refused to believe the revelations of the Angel Gabriel.”
Borana elder at Chew Bet in southern Ethiopia.
There can be no greater mistake than to confound, as has been done, the Gallas with the Moors. They are a completely different race”(Views in Central Abyssinia, Sophie F. F. Veitch, 1868).
The Gallas, with the usual pride of wild and independent nations, call themselves exclusively Orma, i. e. ” men,” ” the people “; and an individual among them is Ilm ‘orma, ” a son (or one) of the people,” corresponding literally with the Arabic ibn-el-nas—” gentilis,” ” well-born,” “free”—as opposed to the abd or slave.
In the same way, therefore, as the free Galla styles himself Ilm ‘orma, he calls his language Afan Orma, “the people’s tongue”—lit. ” mouth.” (Philological Society (Great Britain)., Philological Society (Great Britain), Louis Loewe – 1846)
About the word “Orma”..
The Orma is a tribe found in Eastern Kenya, mostly along the lower Tana River. They are also called Galla, a term used in Ethiopia (but now considered pejorative) to refer to Oromo people.
The Orma are semi-nomadic shepherds. They live in the southeastern deserts of Kenya except during the rainy season when they move their herds inland. The tribe has a population of about 70.000 people (2005). It has is own language, also called Orma (Encyclopedia).
“…They (Gallas) came out from Guinea and have subjugated and invaded the following provinces of Abyssinia; Gedma, Angota, Dawra, Fatagar, Wied, Ifar, Gurage, Ganz, Cont, Damota, Walcka, Bizama, Shewa and Bali”(Ancient and Modern History and Geography, Jean B. D’Audiffret, 1694).
The above quotations from sources denying Oromo people and for that matter Boranas as not indigenous Ethiopian tribe is a palpable falsehood. It is believed that Oromos inhabited a territory surrounding mada walabu, a region located in southern Oromia region of Ethiopia, before expansion in all direction.
Existing information indicates that the Borana lived as a community of people for thousands of years in East Africa (Prouty at al, 1981).
Bates (1979) asserts, “The Gallas (Borana) were a very ancient race, the indigenous stock, possibly, on which most other peoples in this part of eastern Africa have been grafted”. It is possible that they have existed for a longer period of time side by side with their northern Semitic-speaking neighbors.
Harold G. Marcus hints northwest Borena as the original homeland of the Borana. Settled Borana began to integrate with their Amharic-speaking neighbors at least from the 17th century on.
Borana trace their origin to Tulu Nama Durii, currently known as Mada Walaabu. The Liban territory, together with another Borana region, Dire that is located to the west of Dawa River, are still some of the traditional territories of the Borana. The population growth caused congestion in small areas and imposed strong pressure on resources. It was then decided that each clan should look for new land out of Madda Eela Walabo territorial area. The Borana, which is the eldest clan, was instructed to move towards the south. The Gujii took the portion of the West. Arsi, Karrayyu and Qottu pushed towards the east. The Maccha and Tulaama Oromos headed towards the west. The expedition was made with retreat. In the process some of the Oromos were engulfed by other ethnic groups and lost their language and culture. Thus, they are not known today.
The expansion of the Oromo nation was one of the great events in the annals of African history comparable in its magnitude to the expansion of the Zulu nation of southern Africa and the Fulani nation of West Africa. These are three of the most expansive population movements by well-organized pastoral societies that have been recorded by historians of Africa.
According to Waaqqoo Aboo, and as other Oromos also believe, the Oromo, speaking the Cushitic language, is said to have originated from a place called Madda Eela Walaabo (spring of Walaabo) in Bale Zone, 35 km East of Bidre town which is about 95 kms away from Negelle Borana town. At Madda Walaabo the Oromo, prior to their dispersion, had been ruled by 25 successive abba gadas. That was about 200 years as one-abba gada rules for eight years. The Borana migration to the present region was led by an abba gada called Abbay Baabo Oroo. The Borana have bee ruled by 43 abba gada since then, which may be 540 years ago (1449), and this is also confirmed by Borbor Bule (Golloo Huqqa, 1996).
The Liiban Borana often refers to themselves as Sarkamtu. They believe that they are defenders of Borana identity symbolized by the guutu, a braided tuft of hair on the top of the head. This wore by men from warrior-hood until the final culmination of buufata at Gadamoji, entry into retired elder-hood.
A man without cattle is called Qolle guutu hiikhan, “a destitute whose gutu is unbraided “. Such a person cannot perform his social obligations, marry or participate in rituals. In effect he loses his identity as a Borana. A person cannot be Borana by birth alone, since becoming stockless can deny that identity. Borantiti has a moral dimension of peaceful well being, unselfishness and respect for a common law. Violator of these moral standards are like foreigners, nyaap’a or perpetual enemies, Sidi.
The oral traditions of Borana demonstrate that their ancestors (at least the majority) were resident in Dirre and Liiban before arrival of Boran Guutu in the sixteenth century. Boran guutu, a small but politically and ritually more powerful group, incorporated the clans of Heero Abba Biiya and only then did the identity of Borana proper as known today, emerge.
Through trade and intermarriage the Garre gradually got a foothold in Borana territory and established small settlements. To gain access to key resources they influenced Borana leaders with gifts, fiina.
During the 16th century, following the wars between the kingdom of Ethiopia and the neighboring Sultanate of Adal, which resulted in the exhaustion of both states, Boranas moved north into their territories.
The Ethiopian monk Bahrey, writing in 1593, credited the Borana achievement to the existence of too many non-fighting classes in the ruling Ethiopian hierarchy, as opposed to the Boranas, whom he illustrated as having a homogeneous warrior class.
He also affirmed their spread (as result of their inhospitable homeland) into northwestern areas such as:
Several Borana chieftains gained power in government of the monarchy. Particularly Emperor Iyoas I (1730-55), who was half Borana, favored his mother’s Borana kinsmen and allies, and in his era, the Borana language was the language of the court in Gondar.
By the late 18th century, the influence of the central government of Ethiopia had declined, and local governors and kings enjoyed greater autonomy.
During the era of Zemene Mesafint (which lasted until 1855), the Borana dynasty of chiefs of Yejju were the most important uninterrupted line of warlords to dominate the figurehead emperors of Ethiopia.
They turn out to be sub-kings of Begemder, Regents of the empire, as well as imperial father-in-laws. Ras Ali I of Yejju attained this dominance in 1779, and it continued, although contested by other warlords, until the 1855 defeat of Ras Ali II of Yejju by the upstart Kassa Hailu (who became Emperor Tewodros II).
Due to the powerlessness of the Emperor of Ethiopia during the Zemene Mesafint, the Yejju Borana were successfully the rulers of Ethiopia. Other tribes and chiefs of the Borana people were also famous, such as:
• Lady Menen of Wollo who became Empress in 1800s
• Ras Mohammad of Wollo who became Ras Mikael, later Negus of Siyon and father of Emperor Iyasu V
• Menen, of Ambassel, who became Empress Consort of Haile Selassie
Newly arrived Borana tribe people in US. Circa 1910
A photograph from “Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920.” Courtesy of the Statue of Liberty National Monument,
the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the Aperture Foundation
The Borana migration to the southernmost lowland occurred around sixteenth-century. This migration was facilitated by the Gada system, with its militaristic and expansionistic features; Gada system was a Boran traditional institution that has structured social, political and economic life of the wider Borana. Since the 1600s, the Borana have been migrating, and currently distributed all over the world (North America, Europe, Canada, England, and Australia) forming part of a wider African Diaspora network.
Borana tribe immigrants in US. Circa 1910
A photograph from “Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920.” Courtesy of the Statue of Liberty National Monument,
the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the Aperture Foundation
The Borana are pastoralists, though a few also grow crops around Marsabit and Moyale, or in the southern Ethiopian highlands. There are also a few irrigation schemes in Isiolo District. The rest of the country has too harsh a climate for growing crowing crops and here the Borana are pastoralists. The Waat are hunters and gatherers and, because of their very small numbers, they have long attached themselves to other Boran clans, and in the process they have become completely dispersed.
Borana cattle herder, Laikipia, Kenya
In the higher regions around Moyale, and in the river basins in Isiolo District, cattle are kept by the Boran-gutu. Here the weather is less harsh, grass grows tall, and cattle can obtain water on average every three days. During the dry season, livestock make use of river flood vegetation along the river basin. But during the rainy season, the riverine forest becomes unhealthy for livestock. Swarms of mosquitoes, tsetse flies and other insects sting both man and his herds.
Also, by this time the areas along the river have been overgrazed, while places far from water the grass has grown again because of seasonal rain. If the rainfall is heavy enough, what was previously a dry river-bed or a small stream may suddenly become a large fast-flowing river. Some water may also collect in large pools or dams. The stock is moved into these areas, either along with the whole village, or only under the care of herd-boys. During extreme water shortages wells are dug, and some of these have to be very deep. A large concentration of people and livestock gather around the water holes and often the areas round the wells become overgrazed. The distance between food and water then becomes very great. But the dry season progresses, the wells may run dry. When this happens, the nomads and their herds are forced to migrate back to the river once more.
To the north of Marsabit there are no permanent rivers, and most of the land is covered by sand and gravel, such as the Chalbi Desert, or by bare lava stones as are found in Dido Galgallu Desert. This is the homeland of the Gabbra, who herd camels. Camels can easily go without water for as long as three weeks. They feed on thorns and leaves and in this poor environment they produce more milk than cattle do. Other hardy stocks kept by the Gabbra are goats and sheep, both of which thrive in arid areas where frequent watering is not possible.
Livestock and Trade
Borana keep livestock for various uses. Donkeys are kept as beasts of burden by each section, though mainly by the Boran-gutu who do not keep camels. Cattle, sheep, goats and camels all provide milk (and milk products), meat, hides and skins. In addition, camels provide transport. The Borana also use them for exchange: a cow may be bartered for a donkey, fifteen sheep for a cow, and two cows for thirty sheep for a camel. A pair of elephant tusks used to fetch thirty cows when taken across the Ethiopian border.
People used to set on a long trading journey which took many months. Many people still tell tales of how these traders walked as far south as Nyeri in central Kenya and even reached Mombasa. Sometimes, if they could not sell their stock quickly, they had to stay in one place for a long time.
For this reason they called Nyeri ‘Teto’ (settlement). The journeys were long, tiresome and dangerous. Some of the tribes through whose country the traders had to pass were very hostile. Animals and their products were directly exchanged for tea, sugar and clothing. There was also the exchange of stock for food crops and handicrafts going on between the Borana and the neighboring Burji and Konso.
Apart from their use in trade transactions, cattle and camels occupy a very important ritual place in the lives of the Boran-gutu and the Gabbra. They are used to pay bride, religious sacrifices and to pay fines in the courts of law.
The wealth and, to a certain extent, the social status of a person is determined by the number of livestock he possesses. The average number of heads of cattle owned by a family used to be at least three hundred. One thousand was not unusual and anybody with less than twenty heads of cattle was a very poor man who required a loan in the form of cattle from his close clansmen. This kind of loan entitled the borrower to use the animal’s milk and its offspring while it was in his manyatta.
The Borana social structure includes two moieties (kinship groups) Sabbo and Gona (By Borana law sabbo man can only marry a girl from the gona group, and vice versa. Each of these two groups has its own ritual leader, the qaalu), five sub-moieties, 20 clans and some 60 lineages based primarily on patterns of male descent. Each with their own well, and one man known as the Aba Harega is assigned by the clan to manage this well.
Sabbo is divided into three sub-groups, while Gona is divided into two broader sub-groups. Further each Sub-group is broken down into a fixed number of clans, which are in turn divided into lineages. This is a very difficult system to describe fully, and is not really important to an understanding of the Borana way of life. It is enough to say that the term gona refers to one’s tribe, sub-group and clan. All children belong to the group, sub-group, clan and lineage of their father. Closely related clansmen turn to each other for help in their immediate needs, and they are expected to give assistance to each other.
The Gabbra and Sakuyye are not divided into the gona and sabbo groups. Instead they have only clans and sub-clans, which are their largest units. For instance, the Gabbra are divided into five sections, namely; Garr, Alganna, Sharbana, Odol and Galbo
Borana Chief wearing the kalacha (fallus like ornament he is wearing on the forehead). Photographer World_Discoverer
The Borana take their cows in search of water every couple of days, and rotas are drawn up by the Aba Harega, who informs each person of the set time that they can visit the well. Clans are widely distributed among madda and are the primary mechanism for wealth redistribution. There are about 35 madda with an average area of 500 km². Each madda, on average, may contain several well clusters serving some 100 encampments, 4000 people and 10 000 cattle. Some 100 clan meetings are held each year in which the poor petition the wealthy for cattle. Political structure is related to the social structure.
The Boran achieve consensus on important community issues through open, participatory assembly. Consensus and enforcement of social norms is achieved under the umbrella of the “Peace of the Boran”, which refers to traditional values and laws. Two peer-group structures for males, the age-set system (Hariya) and generation system (Gada) are discussed with respect to distribution of social rights and responsibilities and/or regulation of human reproduction.
These two systems share many similar attributes, but ultimately are complementary in function. All males have a position in each. Hariya consists of 10 eight-year blocks of similarly aged individuals between the ages of 12 to 91 who share a collective identity that evolves with ascension into subsequent age sets.
The Gada system is integral to the Borana and governs all parts of their life; acting as a political, religious, judicial and social institution. Gada is for males only, but not every man goes through this system. Those in the system are called ilmaan korma (children of the bull). A man born into the gada system goes through eleven different stages, and he takes eight years to complete each stage. A man’s son must belong to the grade which is five “rungs” or forty years behind his father. So as soon as the son of a gada member is born, he is recruited into the appropriate grade. Thus, the son of a man born into a high grade may belong to a grade whose members are forty years or much older than he is. The table shows the grades arranged like a
ladder. As a man goes up the ladder, he undertakes various responsibilities, and performs various rites.
The Borana chief of gaddaa wearing his traditional regalia: the kalacha (fallus like ornament he is wearing on the forehead), the uroro (stick) and the licha (to maintain discipline)
Those children who at birth are placed in the first grade (daballe) keep a long hairstyle decorated with cowries’ shells. They look like girls, and are in fact addressed as intal (girl). They are sons of fathers in the raba grade (see table). The daballe are considered special and treated with great respect which other children of the same age cannot hope for. They cannot be punished, and even their mothers hold a special place among the womenfolk. Other women always accord them warm hospitality and approach them for blessings.
Current Borana Abba Gadaa
The Borana society is highly organised, divided into different age sets; the overall leader is the Aba Gada who rules, using advice from the elders and consent from the community. He is elected in a meeting known as the Gumi Gayo or Assembly of the Multitudes: a huge, open meeting that takes place every 8 years. Gada grades can contain males of vastly different ages. Among other attributes, the Gada grades confer political and ceremonial duties and subject members to different rules regarding sexual behaviour. It has been hypothesised that the Gada was created during the 1600s to help the society cope with a population explosion. The rules and regulations dictating the way a Borana should live are renewed and adapted at each meeting, so that the system advances with time. All disputes are resolved through the Gada and it is believed to be one of the most democratic systems in Africa.
Social cohesion is built up around the well; they are important meeting points and all clan members – young and old – help to maintain them. The wells are built from mud so they need constant repair and attention. If one person does not contribute to this labour, they must slaughter a cow for the others or they are not allowed to use the well.
The Gada system works like social welfare: all Borana in the same clan are expected to help each other in times of hardship. If one person, for example, loses his cattle to disease, other clan members will club together to provide him with more cows, so that he will be able to survive.
“If there is a problem we investigate it with the help of the traditional judges: the elders. We all come to the shadow of the tree to discuss the problem. Anyone in the community can voice their opinions and problems are discussed until we resolve them,”
Computer models have suggested that Gada rules on reproduction served to reduce the population by 50% by the mid-1800s and the population may have slowly grown ever since. The human population in the study area may have been about 7 people/km² (or 108 000) in 1982 and may be growing at a rate of 2.5% per year.
Hypotheses to explain this apparent surge in growth include (1) improved provision of food and medical inputs from outside agencies; (2) declining adherence of the population to traditional Gada norms; (3) external interference with the Gada system from national political interests; and/or (4) cyclic, functional aberrations in effects of Gada rules due to demographic shifts in the population.
It is a foundation of Borana life which attracts pilgrims from Ethiopia and Kenya. The assemblies of 1966 and 1988 are discussed in terms of key cultural and political proclamations. For 1988 the proclamations were indicative of a society under resource pressure. These included decrees to better maintain water points, restrict cultivation, establish calf fodder reserves, protect valuable indigenous trees, reclaim grazing reserves for cattle and prohibit water sales and alcohol abuse.
Borana woman Ethiopia
A Borana Family
A Borana household consists of a male head, his wife and a number of children. Brothers, and in fact most of the close relatives, live near one another. So one gets brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, and often people whose only relationship is that of common ancestry, living together in the same village as an extended family. Where a man has more than one wife, the children from all the wives are equal brothers and sisters. A brother from the eldest wife will be responsible for the home after their father dies. All the other brothers and sisters, irrespective of their different mothers, are under his charge. The eldest wife occupies a senior position.
There are strong rules and taboos which help hold this large family together, and also maintain respect. Children must never address anybody older than themselves by their names. The family tree (Fig. 6) gives the names by which members of the family address one another. You will notice that the brother of your mother is called abuyya. Similarly, two people who would both be called ‘aunt’ in English (your mother’s sister and your father’s sister) are called by different names (arera and adada). Elderly people who are not related to you are addressed as abbera and haato. These terms are nearly equivalent to ‘father’ and ‘mother’ respectively. A younger non-relative is either a ‘brother’ an ‘uncle’, or an ‘aunt’. A maternal uncle is treaded with special respect because if he should curse you, you will meet with bad luck.
Sons are more attached to their father than anybody else, and from an early age they learn from them all that men are expected to do. They gain experience in hardship and learn to build cattle bomas, to excavate wells and to water animals. On the other hand, a girl grows up under the strict watch and guidance of her mother. She is taught how to sterilize gourds so that milk stays fresh; she makes beds and often welcomes and feeds guests. She also helps her mother in the fetching of water and collection of firewood. Such teaching is very important because a man looking for a wife always judges a girl by her mother. A good mother trains her daughters to be good future wives.Borana family
Every family belongs to a clan with which its members identify themselves, especially in times of trouble and need. The smallest unit of a clan is called milo, and this consists of close relatives.
There is no family name as in the western world. Instead, a man is named after his ancestors, each in turn. For example, Jilo Godana, Luke means, ‘Jilo son of Godana, grandson of Luke’. He may also bear a fourth name, that of his great-grandfather. Many families can trace back their ancestry through their names and may discover that they have a common ancestry with a different family or families. If a baby’s grandfather is still alive, he may be named after him, so that he bears the name twice – Luke Godana Luke. For instance, the first names given to children are usually chosen to match the time of day when they were born: Guyo is the name of a boy born in broad daylight, and the feminine equivalent is Guyyatu.
Others are named after a major event; a ceremony (Jil), a rainy season (Rob) or a dry season (Bon). Still others are named after week days (as is especially common among the Gabbra section) while a few get odd names such as Jaldes (ape), Funnan (nose), Gufu (trees-stump) and Luke (lanky long legs).
Borana old lady
Each family belongs to a village which has its elder, the ‘father of the village’. The village is referred to as ‘the village of So-and-so’. A family may decide where it wants to live. Members of the village share a spirit of unity, especially in times of crisis. Often a whole village has to move in search of pasture. All important plans, such as where to move to, and where to dig a well for water are made by all the village men together.
A Borana hut is made from wood and skins. After a suitable spot has been chosen, beds are placed on the ground and holes dug all round them in a circle. Two or three long sticks are planted in these holes, and the tops of the sticks are bent to meet at the top. Ropes are wound round the sticks to link them all together. Other sticks bent into semicircles, are tied across to provide a strong support for the framework.
Thatch (called Gela) is woven from the middle of young doum palms. These are placed on the framework until the whole hut is covered. About twenty-five to forty pieces of such thatch are needed to construct one hut, the average size of each being about 1 to 1.5 meters. In addition to this, the Gabbra weave a thatch called dase from the fibres of the sharp-tipped chakke plant (scientific name: Sansivieria guineenis). This thatch may last many years, and it is carried along when a village moves. In order to prevent the hut from collapsing during gales and thunderstorms, supporting poles are placed in the centre and at the rear part of the hut.
The hut is divided down the middle into two sections. There is a bed on each side of the rear part, and his bedroom is separated from the living room by a wall of hides and skins. The room at the front contains a fireplace and is often used as a place to tether calves, lambs and kids, especially during thunderstorms. During a move the hut is dismantled and everything is loaded on camels and donkeys. When the family arrives at its destination, all the women immediately start the construction of the huts. No man will ever be seen helping women in putting up or taking down a hut. To do so is against dignity of men. But among women, the size and shape of their huts is of great concern, for it is a measure of tidiness and responsibility. Within a few hours they can put up or take down a whole village of about twenty huts.
It is also the duty of women to draw water, collect firewood, fumigate or sterilize containers for keeping milk fresh, milk the animals, feed the children to sleep. But the men too have their own role to play. They alone dig water holes, water animals, build or repair cattle bomas, and in times of trouble protect the family from dangerous wild beats and enemy tribes
Dress and Ornaments
The Borana traditional dress was made from goat and sheepskins. Three sheep were needed to make a complete garment for a woman. This dress was twisted round the body and held in place by a leather belt, and thong passed over the top of the shoulder held two corners of the garment together. Sandals were made from a single layer of hides.
A woman from Borana tribe dressed in traditional leather skirt and in hand a musical instrument craft ready to face the dance. Photographer: Anthony Pappone
Men wore very wide short which covered the loins and left all other parts bare. The pair of shorts trousers was held in place by a leather belt. Young men and boys either wore loin clothes (hidda) or a cloth wound round the body, and knotted at the back of the neck. Old men wore turbans on their heads, often with a long, wooden toothbrush sticking out.
In addition to garments, there are various ornaments worn by men and women. Ear-rings are worn by women for beauty. Men, too, may wear a flattened aluminum ring in one ear. Bracelets and arm bangles are worn by women. A twisted double copper wristlet was worn only for a special reason; either by one who had given birth to sons or by members of a clan referred to as ‘the people of black beads’ (or ‘of good luck’). Malda, which comprises three different wristlets and an elephant tusk armlet, is worn by a man to show that he has killed an enemy or a bull elephant. Sakuyye and Gabbra women wear a twisted aluminum and copper head ornament.
Special types of necklaces, worn by Gabbra women, are rectangular and are made from melted aluminum saucepans. They are called qalim. Various types of necklace and other ornaments are worn by both men and women either for special occasions or to mark a particular achievement.
A Borana is not allowed to eat certain kinds of food. He may not eat meat or drink milk from animals which do not have cloven hooves. That is to say animals belonging to the dog, cat, and horse families. He may also not eat fish, birds, reptiles or insects. Foods such as maize, millet and wheat are eaten by the Borana who lives in the higher and wetter areas, Marsabit and the southern Ethiopian highlands. For the majority of the members of the tribe, the staple diet is milk and meat. Because a man may own as many sheep, goats, cattle and camels as he can afford, there is sufficient milk from the many animals to feed his family, except during server droughts. They drink fresh or sour milk, and they use it to produce butter of ghee.
Meat is not a daily food, but forms a regular part of the diet. People are more apt to kill goat and sheep, but during a server drought a bullock or a cow may be killed for food. The meat is cut into strips and hung up until it dries. It is then fried and stored in animal fat. Sometimes the dried meat is pounded into fillets, fried and stored in fat. In both cases, the meat lasts for many months without going bad.
Blood may also be used for food. It is either drunk pure or mixed with milk. The blood comes from the jugular vein in the neck of a living cow or bull. The vein is made to stand out by tying a rope tightly round the cow’s neck. Then the vein is pierced with an arrow and the blood is caught in a gourd. Blood that has clotted is warmed and eaten. But no one bleeds the same cow day after day; one cow may give only a few pints of blood, and even then, maybe only once or twice a year.
From Birth to Marriage – an Ilmaan Jarsa
Important aspects of Borana life; – the lifestyle of ilmaan jarsa are those members of the tribe who do not participate in the gada rites.
When a Child is born
When a child is born, it must be given a sip of milk. This is done to show the importance of cow’s milk. If the child is a boy, a piece of cow-hide is hung above the entrance of the hut. Then the child’s father puts on a special dress; he wears a white turban and carries a whip and a long wooden stick.
He announces three times that a son is born. Neighbours come with gifts of milk, animal fat and perfumes, while the father distributes some tobacco and makes a sacrifice of coffee berries. During the following four days, dances are held by the women to celebrate the arrival of the new born son. For health reasons visitors may only greet the mother from outside, through the wall of the hut. The mother is not allowed out of the hut for the first week, and even then she can only sneak out during the early hours of the morning or late in the evening, bearing a ceremonial knife and a stick in her hands.
The mother and child have to remain indoors for forty days, after which the child is introduced to the outside world. He is taken out to the cattle boma. The mother takes the remains of the umbilical cord, which she has kept safe since it dropped off. She places it on a heifer which will become the first property of the child. In the Gabbra section the present is a camel. For girl children, there is neither a dancing celebration at birth, nor any present for the umbilical cord.
Before the child can be carried on a person’s back, it undergoes what is called bargasa. At the age of about four months he or she is made to sit astride the two feet of a person of the same sex who has been noted for his or her speed in running. This is done in order to make the child grow into a fast runner.
As soon as a boy is able to walk he joins other boys of the same age group and spends the day playing or hunting lizards, mice and butterflies. There is a prize of a heifer from the maternal uncle or father for the first mouse or butterflies killed. Girls do not hunt like
this, but spend their time building miniature huts and making ‘babies’ from clay or wood. By the age of five or six, boys begin to help their parents look after lambs, kids and calves. During the day, herd-boys from different villages get together and play games or have wrestling matches. Then, as they grow bigger, they look after cattle and make cattle bomas.
Borana shepherd dance with their long stick
At about the age of fifteen or a little earlier, both boys and girls undergo circumcision. On this day the candidates take a cold bath very early in the morning, and the boys gather at the entrance of the cattle boma. They are then blindfolded and operated upon by a skilled man.
he detached foreskin is kissed by the mother as a blessing and placed on the back of a heifer in the cattle boma. The boy will give this heifer to his mother. The boys spend the days in the shade, away from the village, hunting birds and lizards with bows and arrows. The wound is treated with a special resin to stop the bleeding. Circumcised girls are kept still by having their legs bandaged together, and they stay at home until they recover.
In his late teens a boy starts to mix with his age-mates. He joins with them in hunting wild animals, mainly elephant, lions, rhino and buffalo. If he kills one of these animals he gains a special status among his age-mates. A man who has accomplished many acts of bravery and wisdom has more chance of being chosen as leader of the age group. A leader has the admiration and respect of everyone.
At this stage young men provide most of the labor. They walk after livestock over a very large grazing area, often staying many years away from the central home. They dig wells in dried-up streams and water animals from them. The hunting of wild animals leads to greater acts of courage. The young men now organize raiding parties against enemy tribes. They do this in order to acquire enemy livestock, but if a man kills an enemy, he becomes a hero. He can wear an elephant tusk armlet and boast of his achievement.
The Borana-Oromo marriage system
In the Borana culture a man is the dominator in almost every system. Until 70’s it was forbidden by custom (during raba grade) to raise daughters for period of five years. Because of this, all Borana nomads were forced to give away their born daughters as adoption for Waata tribes. Nowadays, that dangerous culture has changed, but there still remain other reasons as to why a man is still the dominator. As per the title above, I am interested in their marriage traditions so let me write little about it.
Borana people. Photographer Silvia
In Borana culture there is almost no marriage, which is based on love, because it is forbidden for a couple to get married without the approval of their families. Culture is the main criteria by which parents approve marriages. Other criteria’s includes, the man has to be a Borana with an economic capability, which can enable him to feed his family. Secondly, the boy and girl have to be of different moieties SABBO AND GOONAA except Qallu karayyu,who can marry with Mattari-metta of Sabbo moeity and the last marriage is forbidden between girls and men whose fathers are members of the same generation.
As soon as a boy reaches the age of marriage (which in most cases when they enter raba grade) it is in most cases his father who will search for the girl (would be wife) and duly informs the son who he would have “got” or “ found” for him.
Borana is a tribe in southern Ethiopia, which shares its living with the Gabra and the Watt tribes. These are few in their numbers. As I mentioned above, it is forbidden to get marry with these tribes largely because of the cultural differences created by the tribal differences. The underlying reasons for this are: firstly, a Borana family would not like their daughter to adopt a new type of culture which she has never been exposed to as this can arise into problems. Secondly, and above all the Borana are very conservative in preserving their culture (we call it aadda borana) and laws (seerra), which probibit them from marrying any person outside of Borana itself.
urroundings of Dilla – Life in a Borana village
One may ask as to why their marriages are not based on love but instead on the choice made by their parents? Let me put it like this, as I mentioned earlier, aadda borana (the culture) comes first, which means that in Borana it is only the boys who can heritage the family wealth. Because of this a girl cannot choose the one she loves as in so doing she may choose a poor boy, to remember that any Borana without cattle is not considered as Borana anymore or she might make a terrible mistake of choosing a boy from the same moiety. Another argument can be that given the fact that the wealth is on the hands of the boys, if they were allowed to choose whom to marry on the basis of love then the less attractive girls would be pushed aside and this could create economic hardships for the concerned families (let me mention that this culture has made it possible for an equitable distribution of wealth among families). Actually, because of their strong culture and social bondage, they have been able to survive and keep their culture alive. In order to reduce this complex, for all borana it is allowed to have garayyu (mistresses) from any clan. Relationships between husband and wife is more distant and respectful, while between mistresses (garayyu) is more lovely.
Let me now turn to the marriage procedures. The main steps to be followed before a marriage takes place are as follows:
_The boy and the girl have to come from unrelated moiety, Sabbo and Gona.
_The gifts has to be fulfilled. These are as follows:
In the beginning they have to come with what we refer to as the “flower”(which is in the actual sense 2-3 kilos of coffee).
Then after few months he has to comeback with the next gifts, these are:-
Cloth gifts for the girl’s parents and the nearest relatives because in the Borana tradition one of the relatives for example an uncle or a cousin can refuse the proposal. Therefore in order to get married with a girl, one has to persuade the relatives too. At this stage, the clothes should be first given to the parents and if they are accepted, then they will be passed on to the relatives (i.e. the uncles and cousins) If all accept, then the next batch of gifts will follow. What is important to understand in her is that if the gifts are accepted at this stage, then there will be no obstacles in the steps to follow and these are:
One cow for the girls mother.
Then 10-15 kilos of coffee
And then comes what we call a “tax” which is a combination of a cow, an ox and a blanket (badoo). The cow will be given to the mother while the ox and the blanket goes to the father.
The last gift is “Annuna” – is mother’s exclusive cow, which she gets from her son-in law.
After the giving of the gifts is completed, the boy’s father may say “Fudha natolcha” – fix the month to take the girl. When the date of marriage approach they may ask again “Ayyana natolcha” – fix the date for me to take the girl.
According to tradition, each household in the village and the neighboring village has to come with milk in a form of contribution to the wedding. We call it gumachis and in reward, they are given tobacco (tambo).
When couples get married, there is no exchanging of rings just like in most societies. Instead a man uses a ring only when he has killed wild animals like lions, elephants etc. To be recognized as a distinguished hero.
Traditionally, when a man gets his first child or kills a lion he will make one fleet of hair on the top of is head. The difference is that when he has killed a lion,he will decorate it with a red thread.
How then can we identify a married woman?
According to Borana tradition, when a girl is born they will immediately shave the top of her hair on the head like a circle (we call it gubbe) until she gets married. Once she gets married, she will then fleet her hair (this is not allowed until a girl gets married). This will help in identifying her as a married woman and she will not have the gubbe any longer.
The wedding cloth in borana is called Gorffoo. It is made out of gazzel leather and decorated with shells. On the wedding evening the entire village population will gather to drink coffee, fried coffee as whole with milk and batter (bunn qalaa) while the girls parents and relatives will give advice to the future husband of their daughter on how to treat their daughter, on how to put their differences and above all giving them blessings.
On the next day the couple will leave for their new home early in the morning looking beautiful with her hair oiled with butter. On this day every married borana women who turns up for the wedding has to hold her siikke while the men has to hold his ororro which identifies them as married persons and that is one of the presents which the newly wedded couple has to get on this day.
On the day after the wedding, the newly wedded couple will leave for their new home accompanied by one of the family members. The bride will stay there for three days and on her coming back to her parents, a sheep or goat will be slaughtered as a blessing for the new couple’s first nights together. On the following day, she will receive gifts from her relatives, which she may use in her new home.
Borana woman in her village – Kenya
According to Borana tradition, it is strictly forbidden for a girl or a boy once married to just come and eat or drink at their mother’s home without any invitations. The vice-versa also applies. Another rule is that the mother-in law and the son-in law will never see each other face to face for the rest of their lives. In case they want to talk to each other, they can do so without exposing their faces. For example, during an invitation the son in law can sit in the living room whereas the mother-in law would be some where in the house might be in one of the sleeping rooms and from there she could communicate with the son-in law. If they were to meet suddenly on the road, then they would to have to cover their faces until they passed each other.
The negative side of this tradition is that the husband has full powers over his wife to the extent that he can beat her whenever he deems it necessary. Even if she escaped, her family would then negotiate with the elders and return her to the husband (that is only in cases, which are negotiable).
It is important to mention that in the Borana marriage system if a woman loses her husband she cannot remarry, while it is in order for the man to remarry if he lost his wife, but this is a more deeper issue, which we do not look through it at this stage. Another thing is that the married couples are allowed to have heartily lovers (as long as their marriage is not based on love). This is accepted on both sides. Therefore, when a woman loses her husband then her heartily lover will act as an husband but they cannot marry each other.
Borana tradition actually accepts polygamy up to two wives. Beyond this is not accepted but the elders in consideration of the men’s economic capability can tolerate it.
The Naming Ceremony
After eight years the daballe child undergoes a naming ceremony. His relations ask God’s blessings and thank him for the child.
A boy exists publicly only after he has been named. Before that, even his death is mourned privately and he would only be said to have ‘gone back’.
The naming ceremony of a first-born is attended by all his relatives, seven officials and an important person called qadadu. A large shelter is built by the women. A fresh fire is lit by a Waat clansman, a feast is held and the father names his son. After the naming ceremony the father is addressed as ‘father of So-and-so’. Other sons receive only a simple naming ceremony.
Borana women performing a dance and traditional songs. Photographer: Anthony Pappone
Although Islam has influenced their society, they believe traditionally in one God called Wak. They believe Wak sends all good things, especially rain. In the legend, they have to give gifts to their god, the biggest sacrifice that can be made being the first baby. In this case, it is a shaman who lives in the forest who will kill the new born. They also have intermediary priests named Qalla. Their spiritual leaders are granted a powerful veneration. In their religion, spirits (Ayana) which possess people and things are of a great importance. Their believes are related to their herds which are indispensable for sacrifices and rituals to guarantee fertility, health, and assistance from spirits.
Islam has become influential in Borana society in the last 20 years. The Borana around Isiolo are radical Muslims. There has been some response to the gospel by Borana in Nairobi and Marsabit and in trading posts of southern Ethiopia.Christianity: This large and ancient people have had only minimal contact with Christianity, due in part to their nomadic life style. Yet an indigenous church exists and probably with adequate support and scripture in their own language, they will be able to evangelize their own people and neighboring groups. There are about 25 missionaries targeting the Borana, and some Borana Life Ministry workers. There is one Baptist church of Borana in Marsabit. The traditional 50% of the Borana less affected by Islam seem the most likely community to target.
The Borana are divided into two moieties, Sabbo and Gona. Areero Boru Bakkalcha designed this. Also he organized clans and sub-clans. Every one is answerable firstly to his-own closest sub-clan in an ascending order. Sharing of resources and settling disputes starts by the nearest sub-clans, which eventually proceed to the clan and finally brought to the attention of the Gumii.
Borana women at the kitchen
Gobbu and Emmaji
Dayyu and Basu
Bokkicha and Kallicha
Metta,Gadulla,Doranni,mankata, karara,kuku and garjeda
Daccitu, maccitu,galantu,sirayyu,oditu,konnitu and bachitu
Hawaxu,Qarqabdu,warri jidda,dambitu,nonitu,maliyyu and arsi
There is also a pattern of alliance and mutual assistance that operates across moieties. This is a bind between specific lineage or clan is known as sunsuma. When two class or lineage are sunsuma to each other, they are expected to treat each other with special difference. An individual is free to use the wells of his sunsuma partners.
The men who have the ritual power and the responsibility to organize the election of gada leaders (until 1970’s) are the heads of the two moieties. These are the two men known as Qallu.
The origin of Qallus was told like this:
Borana clans were once caught in a very bad draught (bona). The gada classes told the people to wait in their respective camps. They told them that “muda” will come and that they should not go away in search of water and pastures, leaving the shrines unprotected, After many weeks passed, most of the clans began to leave. Only the Daccitu and the Oditu remained. In the end even the Daccitu left. When the “muda” arrived, they found only the Oditu at the shrine. One man among them was therefore anointed Qallu. That is why the Oditu say “obsan qalloman”. That means that those who have the ability to withstand hardships can become Qallu.
The qallu of the Karrayyu, on the other hand was simply found on the ground wrapped in cloth (rufa). No body knows if he had human parents. A Waata, a member of the Sakuyye Gedo clan, found him. The Waata also saw that a girl was sitting beside him. She was a member of the Mattarri clan, the Metta lineage. The Waata told people that he had seen such children. The Karrayyu came to see them. They took them home. When they came of age, the boy and the girl married each other. They became the first qallu and the first qallitti of the Sabbo. To this day the qallu of the Karrayyu can take his qallitti only from the Mattarri-Metta clan.
The qallu is the only child his mother is allowed to raise. If she brings forth daughters, they are given up for adoption.
The qallu of the sabbo comes from the Dayyu clan of the karrayyu submoiety, and the qallu of the Gona comes from the Oditu clan of the Fullelle.
The clan affiliation of the Qallitti is also specified by custom. The wives of the qallu karrayyu can come only from Mattarri-Metta, and the qallitti of the Oditu can be a member only of the Digalu-Emmaji. Thus the qallu of the karrayyu is the only Borana who is allowed, or rather required, to violate Borana rules of exogamy.
“Lallaba” ceremony: – Is in which the qallku organizes and oversees the election of gada leaders. Every eight years the qallu are confronted with many candidates seeking office. Further more, a large number of people who are not seeking office, but who wish to express their support of one or another candidates, also come to the qallu villages, but now this responsiblility has given to gada institution since 1970’s.
The moiety leaders (qallu), who are the most senior men in the kinship system are barred by custom from seeking gada office for themselves and from trying in any way to influence the political and ritual activities of the gada councils.
Among the Sabbo it is the mana qallu of Karrayyu as a whole, i.e. the major lineage (karrayyu-dayyu)- that is barred; whereas in the Gona moiety, the restriction is imposed on the entire Oditu clan. Both these groups are admitted into the junior (garba) council. Qallu is barred from carrying arms and from taking part in any of the activities Borana consider especially masculine.
The leaders of the Gada and Qallu institutions were required to avoid each other for the entire term of office of the Gada leaders. For the duration of the term of office of the gada leaders, Qallu and Abba Gada do not participate in the same ritual or political activity. There are two political ceremonies in which they are both physically present: lallaba, where the newly elected Gada leaders are proclaimed before the nation, and the national assembly where the laws are proclaimed. In both instances the Qallu say nothing and do nothing: they are there as observers.
In the third event, the Muda, they face each other and address each other. The Abba Gada pays homage to the Qallu and receives his blessings. This is the only event when the ritual seniority of the Qallu over the Abba Gada is made manifest. The political seniority of the Abba Gada over the Qallu is self evident in every Gada ritual and political ceremony. The pattern of avoidance between the elected political leaders (Gada) and the hereditary ritual leaders (Qallu) is one of the most interesting features of Oromo democracy.
It sometimes happens that the Qallitti’s son (the one to inherit) is very young when the old Qallu dies. Then the qallu’s brother or someone else may lead until the child has reached the right age.
Even though the Qallu office is a hereditary there are also possibilities to remove them from power.
On the occasion of the total solar eclipse, the Borana may remove from office any elected, appointed, or hereditary leader- including the Qallu. When the eclipse is sighted, the Qllu may be held responsible for the ominous event.
The Abba Gada can be removed from office in middle of their term (4th year) by national assembly if needs be.
Borana Oromo Troupe from Isiolo Performs at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi
A man called Ali Guracha before the establishment of Gada system for long period led Oromo. They called Ali an Oamora. This system of being ruled under one leader for long period of time made Oromo more uncomfortable, as it was leading the way to despotism. With this in consideration a man called Gadao Galgalo Yayya crated Gada system around 1446.
The Gada system is a system of generation classes that succeed each other every eight years in assuming political, military, judicial, legislative and ritual responsibilities. Each one of the eight active generation classes- beyond the three grades- has its own internal leadership (Adula hayyus) and its own assembly (ya’a), but the leaders of the class become the leaders of the nation as a whole when their class comes to power in the middle of the life course- a stage of life called “gada” among the Borana. The class in power is headed by an officer known as Abba Gada or Abba Bokku in different part of the Oromo nation.
The Borana age-sets known as “hariyya” are recruited on the basis of age, whereas the gada classes known as “luba” are recruited on the basis of genealogical generations.
We can define the gada class or luba as a segment of a generation that assumes power for a period of eight years, whereas gada is the years when the members of the class stay in power as the rulers. Stated differently, luba is a group of people and gada is the term of office of the leader of that group, and by extension it is the era during which that leader and his luba were in power. Each luba is governed by a group of elected officers called hayyu. The members of the luba have an internal government. The luba in power allows all the other luba to enjoy a substantial degree of autonomy and refrains from unduly interfering with their internal disputes and activities. All conflict within the luba are taken to the council of that luba only in situations where they are unable to resolve their internal problems are the cases appealed to higher councils. There are three different bodies to which they can take their disputes: the Gada assembly (ya’a arbora), the two moiety councils (ya’a Oditu, ya’a Karrayyu) and the pan- Borana assembly (Gumi).
There is, however, one rule that makes them sharply different. The basic rule of the gada system is that the newly born infant boy always enters the system of grades exactly forty years behind the father, regardless of the age of the father. Father and son are five grades apart at all times.
All Borana belong to a “luba”, but a large part of the population are born into their respective luba too late to take part in the public gada observances when their luba is charged with this responsibility. People born into the luba after it has completed its obligation in the gada cycle are known as ilman jarsaa in distinctionn to the ilman korma, who are born prior to this point in time.
Those individuals who in this process have been formally designated to represent their luba are known as hayyu and when they have completed the gada obligations they are collectively known as the “licho” of Borana. The licho will gradually build individual reputation as wise men, who are intimately familiar with the ada-sera Borana, whose words carry weight in all public assemblies, which may be convened on the basis of the clan or on the basis of proximity. The licho and the jalldhaba are generally known as abba kae (fathers of the meeting place) and are collectively supposed to oversee the welfare of the members of their clans. At the time when the hayyu are selected to take up the gada obligations, they each appoint a small number of jalldhaba in consultation with the elders of their clan. Depending on the matter at hand, however, the meeting may be called on the basis of territory (kora deedaa) or clan (kora gosaa).
Grade 1: Daballe
-The first grade is named daballe. It is a grade always occupied by a class of people sharing a common identity by virtue of the fact that they are all the sons of the gada class who are in power as leaders of Borana society as a whole.
The dabballe stand out in Borana society because of their striking hairstyle, known as “gudure”, they will dress like girl and called also girl (intal). They grow their hair like girls up to shoulder.
They consider the boys to be among the principal mediator between man and God. The parent is prohibited by custom from ever punishing them physically.
The mother of dabballe is very respected among Boranas.
The dabballe have no sisters. All their sisters have either been abandoned to die soon after birth or they have been given up for adoption,as prior to 1970’s. Their sisters are raised only after the boys have entered the gamme grade (2).
Grade 2:Junior gamme (gamme didiko)
-The transition ceremony by which the sons pass from the dabballe into gamme grade is performed at the shrine of Nura, near the town of Negelli. And shave the dabballes hair, where they will also give names to their son(s). The naming ceremony of the oldest son is called Gubbisa, while the naming ceremony of the other sons called Moggassa. The gamme hairstyle is the head is shaved in the middle, and the rest is allowed to grow long, treated with butter and curled.
Then calling them as “girl” will be corrected soon as “boys” and they will start dressing like boys.
Grade 3: senior gamme (gamme gugurdo)
The shaven (gamme) part of the hair is smaller than in the previous grade.
The oldest boys in the class are permitted to go on war parties, cattle raids and hunting expeditions with older gada classes. Cattle raids on Guji and Somali are more usual.
With the decline in intertribal wars, another source of excitement has come to assume a progressively large role in the life of Borana adolescents (gamme gugurdo). They call it ”fora”. It is the time when young men take the family herds into the untamed river valleys.
At the beginning of grade 3 (gamme gugurdo) the small clusters of age-mates begin to celebrate the ceremonies of “ harriyya cuch”. Many of the “fora” youths return to their bands before the ceremonies start. The whole procedure is repeated annually over a period of five years in the senior gamme grade 3. This is done under age-set called harriyya, group of people born in the same eight-year period. Hariyya system is different from the Gada system (grade 3 gamme gugurdo). Here to participate in harriyya cuch ceremony, one has not supposed to be gamme gurgurdo, gada class, what matter is only your age.
During the last three years of grade3, the gamme themselves (i.e. the gada class rather than the age-set) go through a ceremony that closely resembles the hariyya cuch. Again local groups mobilize and go around from camp to camp singing, feasting and collecting members of their class. The ceremony is called wal’argi (to see each other) in the first year and nachisa (feast) in the last two years.
The effect of the hariyya cuch, wal’argi and nachisa ceremonies covering the entire eight-year period, is to make the members of the senior gamme (and the age-sets associated with them) acutely aware of the society-wide significance of their class and peer group.
The Cusoma will end with celebrations known as “chinna”, which take place at a number of prescribed site in Borana, during which a hayyu for each sit will be selected. After chinna the ijolle cuchu will be known as a hariyya, which is based on age, but which excludes the ilman korma, will eventually be named after the hayyu selected at the chinna near the wells of Borbor, with a prefix which either Wakor or Dambal.
The harriyya, which in effect are age-sets are not localized, but members of the harriyya in a locality will meet every year to perform a rite known as korma-korbeesa, which involves the ritual slaughtering of a male goat. The localized hariyya perform the korma-korbeesa during three gada periods and, as their ilman korma coevals hand over the gada responsibilities to the next luba the harriyya performs a different rite called the korbeesa yuuboma.
During eight-year period, the local age-set is thereafter named informally after its local leader. In time the name of one of these leaders wins out, and the entire age-set is thus named after him.
Age sets in 1963 (Asmarom legesse)
| Age – sets
| Wakor Duba
| Darar Godana
| Dambal Bule
| Wakor liban
| Dambal Arero
| Wakor Sora
| Dambal Taddacha
| Wakor Dida
| Udan Bukko
| Wakor Mallu
The names Wakor,Dambala, and so on are the generic designations of age-sets. The names Duba, Godana and, so on are the proper names of the leaders.
Grade 4: Cusa, junior warriors
The gamme-cusa transition rites takes place at the shrine of Dhaddacha Dhera in the vicinity of Arero. At this stage in the ceremony all the boys in the class, including infants, were required to wear shorts. At this place the father will shave the hair of his sons. On the fourteenth day of the ceremony the cusa emerged from their isolation camp wearing adult ceremonial customs and carrying whips (licho) to which they had attached a small scepter (bokku).
The transition rite thus came to an end and the “cusa” proceeded with the Lallaba ceremony, the grand event in which the “election results” were announced to the assembled representatives of all Borana clans.
What is expected of one Borana leader?
– Good lineage connection.
– Knowledge of tradition (history and laws)
– Skill in Arbitration.
An old Borana story tells about a time when Oamora, a one-time strong leader, led the tribe. In the course of time the Borana people felt themselves weighed down under the burden of a prolonged authoritarian rule. The elders of the tribe met to discuss the matter and reached agreement that they might do better under a leader whose period of authority was limited to about eight years. Thus emerged Gada- an elective rule, limited to a term of eight years. The office to which a person is elected is not intended to feed his pride or to boast his power, but to serve the community responsibly.
– Popularity with the people: – Popularity to the Borana, means the man is a good “all round” person, a true Borana, one who does the right thing to and for the people he represents within the pattern of their own lifestyle.
– Given to Hospitality: – The Borana prefer visitors in the rainy season because they then have milk in abundance and can entertain more lavishly. But if quests came at other times they would extend themselves to serve the visitors well, even though they might be embarrassed because they were in short supply.
– Patient, within approved institutions: – Some cases may take several years to be solved, depend on its difficulties, but all these things are more important than time- a lesson that every Westerner who works with people like the Borana has to learn. If one leader make a decision because of lack of patience he will lose his office, and that will be bad reputation for his lineage.
– Balance of generosity and skilful management: – The exchange of cattle which accompany the Borana marriage are not so economically burdensome as to create the crises that they do in some African tribes.
– Military skill: – Leadership in war belongs to the Gada group and the age-sets have their elected leaders
During lallaba ceremony, now six boys were elected. These young men were invited in the lallaba ceremony as senior councilors (adula). The highest office is that of the Abba Gada “arbora”. He is described as the “adula fite”. The two seniority positions are held by the councilors known as Abba Gada “kontoma”. These two officers always come from two specific clans from the two sub moieties of the Gona moiety (Hawattu and Konnitu). The three most senior officers of the council are collectively known as gada saden. The remaining three councilors are simply adula hayyu. All the six-adula councilors are required to live and nomadize together from now until the group subdivides sixteen years later. At that stage the gada establishes three separate bands (one called olla Arbora and the other two-called olla Kontoma). Each band must continue to operate as an indivisible community for another thirteen years. Through out this period no decision can be made and no ritual performed without the participation and consent of all the councilors. The adula councilors are assisted by a group of volunteers known as “jalldhaba”. The adula council in consultation with the elders of the relevant borana clans does the selection of the jalldhaba.
The cusa, who usually cannot marry for a variety of reasons, are allowed to keep mistresses. Their mistresses, can be only married women, virgins are taboo.
Now at about 20 to 24 years of age many of the cusa have mistresses.
During cusa period it is appropriate however for them to search for wives, which they may marry when they enter Raba grade.
There is a period of two or three gada periods between the time an individual was elected as leader of his luba (gada class) and the time that he was invested into office as leader of all the people i.e. of all the Gada classes. In Borana this period of testing was 21 years and the leaders can be removed from office by the pan-Borana assembly, if they don’t fit. In these period they are judged for their ability to lead in wars, their patience in times of crisis, their wisdom and eloquence, their moral qualities, their skills in mediating or adjudicating cases of conflict, and their knowledge of law, custom, and historic precedent. In Western democracies there is no mandatory period of testing for political leaders. Men and women who are able speakers but have no political experience whatsoever can be elected to the highest office.
Borana woman with headband
Grade 5: Raba, senior warriors
As all persons cannot be warriors a man called Yaayya Fulleele instituted raba. The raba is a age set group moving in a big camp. The raba grade has mostly the defense responsibility. Therefore What ya’a (assembly) decides, the harriyya executes (militarily or others).
Those men who are in the gada cycle and who are of the appropriate age when they reach the raba grade are expected to marry.
The date of the marriage ceremony was set for the month of Watabajji.
Borana say that any member of the adula council or any one of the ritual experts or deputy councilors who is unable to get a wife through the normal process of inter-lineage negotiation is allowed to pick a wife then and there. The councilor simply declares his choice, and neither the girl nor her family is allowed to turn him down.
The Gada asembly in the Raba grade
The major changes under raba grade the councilor may have died or may have been removed from office (buqqisu). The elders of borana clans and the leaders of the two moieties (qallu council) jointly retain the authority to remove any adula councilor who fails to meet his numerous ritual-political responsibilities.
The bokku is the most senior ritual leader and takes precedence over the Abba Gada himself in all ritual activities.
Throughout the first eight years of the Raba grade, the men are without children. Although they are allowed to marry in the thirty-second year of the grade system, they can not raise their children until the fortieth year. Any child born to the wives of the raba during that period is known as gata and must be abandoned to the elements. Unlike all other grades, the raba grade lasts thirteen years, not the usual eight years. The main significance of this subdivision of the grade is that the junior (first eight years) are not allowed to have any children whereas the senior raba (next five years) can have sons but not daughters. Customs requires that the children of the junior raba and the daughters of the senior raba be abandoned to die or give to Wata family. But this is not any more.
Grade 6: Gada, the stage of political and ritual leadership
The power take over (balli) occurs in the month of gurrandhala in the forty-fifth year of the gada grade system. It is performed at the shrine of Nura in the eastern corner of Boranaland. The most senior man is referred to as Abba Gada “arbora” and the other two are Abba Gada “kontoma” called collectively Gada Saden. Any Borana who is visited by the Abba Gada is required to sacrifice livestock for him. Even impoverished families kill small livestock to honor the leaders.
It is worth remembering that the two sub-moieties (Hawattu and Konnitu) that establish their own gada assemblies are both from the Gona moiety. The sabbo moiety has no special assembly. For two of the abba gada Kontoma there is an additional junior council consisting of a number of “hayyu medhicha” councilors, who represents all Borana clans and “hayyu garba” representing the clan as the abba gada Kontoma himself.
The separation of the sub-moiety leaders (kontoma) occurs when each kontoma asks the Abba Gada arbora to give him the right of assembly. The Abba Gada grants this right. The Abba Gada konnitu then goes to a place called Dambi Dolo near the town of Megga and the Abba Gada Hawattu goes to Suruppa, near Yaaballo. It is only when the gada assembly goes to Liiban for the Oda (gumi Gayyo) ceremony in the fourth year that the three assemblies come together. In short, gada leadership is a variety of parliamentary government as opposed to bureaucratic government.
The assembly as a whole is charged with the responsibility of resolving major crisis between descent groups, clans or camps.
The class is required to perform four major ceremonies in the fourth and fifth years of the period. These ceremonies are named Ginda, Gumi Gayyo, Oda and Muda.
The gumi Gayyo ceremony occurs in the fourth year of the gada period, but it is a ceremony that concerns all Borana, not merely the class in power. The “raba” and all the four-yuba classes are expected to attend. It is important to stress, however, that gumi Gayyo is a pan-Borana event. At el Gayyo.
At the time of the general transition rites (dabbale-gamme, gamme-cusa, cusa-raba), in the third year of any gada period, we find Borana undergoing a basic structural mutation as each class changes grades. At that time the gada are involved indirectly because their sons, the dabballe are having their naming ceremony.
The circumcision and ear piercing is performed in the shrine of Ejersa Gurura, near Nura. A cow will be sacrifice. The gada will pick up the thorns of the “dhagamsa” trees and used them to pierce their ears. The men also pierce the ears of their wives and of their assistants. Before the circumcision, the womenfolk left the camp and the men took baths in their huts. The operation was performed by anyone who had the skill. The only men who had to be circumcised by experts were the three Abba Gada. The Waata were charged with this responsibility “because no Borana is allowed to spill the blood of an Abba Gada”. In the fifth year of the gada period the class goes once again to the eastern district (Liiban) to perform the muda ceremony.
Muda means, “to anoint”, and anointment symbolizes gift giving. The ceremony is the occasion when the gada class in power makes an offering to the ritual leaders of the moieties, the qallu of the Oditu and the Karrayyu. In the last part of the ceremony the qallu puts on a lion skin mask and releases the snakes he has brought along for the occasion.
Customary law prohibits the Gada leaders from traveling beyond a defined perimeter within Dirre and Liban. The specific law that constrains the movement of Gada councilors is known as Sera Dawwe or Sera Goro.
The Abba Gada himself is subject to the same punishment as all other Borana if he violates laws; same punishments. That is the evidence that shows us that the law is above everybody, including the Abba Gada.
In the very highest office, that of the Abba Gada, it is more likely that the Gumi will use its power of cursing to punish the man who violates his office and the curse. They say usually results in his death. Abba Gada hinijjesan male, hinbuqqisan, yo inni seer balleesse. “The Abba Gada is killed rather than being uprooted, if he broke the laws”.
A group of qualified elected officers’ wait on the sideline always ready to take over responsibility from he deceased, disabled, or uprooted officers. Occasionally, a close kinsman through the male line of the missing leader may take the office.
Portrait of a woman tribe Borana in el sod the House Of Salt, volcanic lake, where they dig the black salt, Yabelo, region of Borana tribe, south Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Photographer: Anthony Pappone
Garba councilors are elected by one luba, to serve with the next. One of the junior councils of the Gada institution, known as the Garba council (hayyu garba) is elected by the outgoing government and serves with the incoming government. This contributes to continuity from one Gada assembly (ya’a) to the next and this may help to finish the unfinished job.
| Takeover (balli)
Rite of incorporation;
Ear peircing and Circumcision(to make lube)
| All transitions
|| Galma Sagan river
| Gumi Gayyo
||Gayyo well (ela)
||Oda, near Naghelle
|Return to Dirre
Proclamation of junior council
(By Asmarom legesse 1973)
Grade, 7,8,9, & 10: Yuba, the stage of partial retirement
Yuba stage covers twenty-seven years from 53-80. Yuba1 (3yrs), Yuba2 (8yrs), Yuba3 (8yrs), Yuba4 (8yrs)
Youba are retired and they retain advisory authority.
The most important residual responsibility of the retired gada class (Yuba) is to oversee the political and military activities of the luba in power. The retired Abba Gada who oversee the national convention are called Abbotin Gada “the Gada fathers” in contrast to the “Abba Gada Qomiccha” who is in power and whose performance is under review.
Grade 11: Gada Mojji, the terminal sacred grade.
It was deemed essential that people should retire also. This is called gadammojji. Oolee Bonayya was a man who came up with the idea.
In Borana the very young and very old holds ritual power, whereas the middle generation holds political power.
Henceforth, the gada mojji cannot carry arms, they cannot kill any living creatures, and they are required to use a ritual argot. People seek their blessing and wherever they go they are given food and shelter. Men and women come to them to refuge from misfortune enemies, or angry kinsmen.
For the benefit of Christians the gada mojji describe themselves as “monks” and the analogy is not farfetched. The transition rite is known as the rite of incense exchange (qumbi walirrafudhu). The men who are leaving the “gada mojji” grade are the fathers of the gada, the class in power.
At this stage, the members of the gada class enjoy great respect as ritual leaders of their society but they are deprived of nearly all-secular political and economic power. In the earlier decades of this century they did not only hand over all political authority, and the symbol of active luba membership called the “Kallaccha “, they also handed over all their earthly possessions to their sons at the point when the sons were entering the period of fatherhood and the final stage of senior warriorhood. On that occasion, the luba comes together for one final ritual called qumbi wal-irra-fudhani or “ the handing over of incense”. The peer group gathers in and around the ceremonial pavilions called “galma” constructed for each one of the retiring elders. Inside the pavilions, surrounded by their age mates, the old men recite all their accomplishments to their sons, in a tense ceremony in which they are judged harshly for failing to distinguish themselves as warriors and hunters.
These men, who were about to go into final retirement, surpassingly celebrated the event by marring off one of their members. The man who married on this occasion was carefully selected by the gada mojji and by their sons, the gada.
It turned out that the man whom they had selected to marry the “gessitti” was by far the most accomplished warrior.
For those who had nothing to recite, the ritual was a deeply humiliating experience.
They will recite (dhadu) about what they have killed.
The outgoing class shaved their elaborately decorated hair and went into final retirement while the incoming class tied the “kallacha” headgear on their foreheads and entered the sacred state.
The weakness of Gada system
The fundamental rule in Gada grade is that father and sons must always be 40 years or five grades apart, regardless of the age of the father or of his sons.
For example: let say the father had had his first son at age 40 then automatically the son will be in dabballe grade. And let say again the father had had his second son at age 56 then this boy will enter gamme grade 3 on the 16th year of the cycle and joins his brother in the same grade. Let say again the father had had his last son at age 72, that means the infant will enter raba grade and he can marry at any time.
We now follow the infant who was born into the 32nd year of the cycle. This infant will be 56 years old when he completes the gada cycle. If he has a son at that time, the son will become a member of the class in power (gada, 6) at birth. The other members of his class will treat him as an equal. If is worth remembering that if a man has a son when he is in the 20th class, the son enters the 15th class at birth. Such a man, his sons and all his descendants are perpetually retired they are Ilman jarsa.
Only males are involved in the Gada system. Females have peripheral membership in the gada class of their husbands. A man is credited with any children born to his wives. A wife may have sexual relations with any member of her husband’s class.
Gayyo is a locality as well as one of the nine “tulaas” (deep, permanent water wells). It is about 33 km on the way to Negelle Borana after the salt crater.
According to the elders and the informants, prior to the formation of the gada customary law (aada) conflicts used to be set right by mutual understandings, blessing and forgiveness. But, as population and crimes increased, many cases became difficult to get final resolution by blessing alone. Many people became reluctant to forgive everything and, therefore, demand for equal compensation for equal loses became imperative. Serious crimes and offences of all sorts expanded. Offenders became disobedient to elders and refused to appear when summoned to face charges.
A man called Gadao Galgalo Yaayya was appointed to be the first abba gada and ruled the Oromo nation for eight years. But he was not able to give commands, as no one was responsible to any one else. There were rewards for good achievements but no concrete seera (law) for referral to correct or punish wrong doers (Borbor Bulee, ref. Gollo Huqqa, 1996). A man called Daawwe Gobboo systematically formulated the seera for all the Oromos. Later, after the dispersion of the Oromos in many directions he was the one who decided to hold one pan- Borana assembly once in every presidential period. This he fixed to be on fourth year of the eight-year period. The Oromos in the neighborhood –Arsi and Gujii – have been sending their delegates to the Gumi Gayyo Assembly. He laid down seera for everything at the place called Doloollo Makkala, about three kilometers south of Megga. The seera of marriage, livestock, water wells, pasture, wildlife, trees, bees and even ants. He set various disciplines when holding meetings. For instance, a meeting attendant should only speak when allowed. All meeting should start with prayer and blessing (Borbor Bulee, ref. Gollo Huqqa, 1996)
Before the formal proceedings of the Assembly commence the following are blessed the tree shadow (Assembly itself), the livestock, women and children, before starting the agenda. Rainfall, pasture, peace and stability should be prayed for before beginning the discussion.
During the discussion no one is allowed to stand and talk, craft wood or scratch the ground. But, everyone should sit in a manner, which does not draw the attention of participants away. Each of the seera violation corresponds with a certain disciplinary action commensurate with that violation.
The pan-Borana meeting at the well of Gayo is an event that brings together almost every important leader. Gumi Gayyo is by far the most inclusive event in Borana political life. They think of it as the assembly with the highest degree of political authority. It is interesting to learn that this body, which holds the ultimate authority, is neither the gada assembly nor the Qallu councils. It is rather the assembled representatives of the entire society in conjunction with any individual who has the initiative to come to the ceremonial grounds. In their idiom it is gumi (the multitude) which sits in judgement. In theory any individual has a right to attend, to take full part in the delibrations, and to bring any matter to the attention of the gumi.
In part the meeting was dedicated to introducing new rules believed to be binding on all Borana.
It is important to stress, however that their deliberation concern law regulation of resources rather than the structure of society.
It is only at Gumi Gayo meeting that the laws can be changed or new things added to it.
The most important meeting involving the largest number of people from the clans is known as the kora debanu (meeting about wealth). Only the most serious and intricate cases affecting the clan members reach this meeting, which also is the ultimate arbiter within the clans in matters of compensations and public collection of animals to assist or restock unfortunate members of the clan. Only cases of extraordinary complexity and importance will be passed on to the ultimate high court of Borana society the gumi Gayyo.
“To see the Abba Gada lead the gathering of Borana every morning before daybreak to a place where they sit down with everyone facing the east as the sun rises and together pray to Waqa for help to do what is right, is very moving at Gumi Gayo assembly”, Gunnar Kjaerland.
On a higher level, when the Borana know that there are things of importance for the society at stake, they are very careful to see that both the Sabbo and the Gonaa groups are equally represented, if not the case will not be handled.
Women participate in political activities indirectly through their song called Karile.
The national assembly, Gumi is made up of all the assemblies and councils of the Oromo, who meet in the middle of the gada period, once every eight years, to review the laws, to make new laws, to evaluate the men in power, and to resolve major conflicts that could not be resolved at lower levels of their judicial organization. All the sectoral assemblies of the clans, moieties and age-sets are allowed to attend the general assembly and bring their proposals to the pre-Gumi meetings. However, only the Gada assemblies are there as active participants and take part in the legislative debates. One prospective gada, one active and three retired gada are present. All these have important roles to play in the proceedings. Key positions are reserved for the Abba Gada in power and for all the living semi-retired Abba Gadas i.e. those in the Yuba grades. The Abba Gada in power serves as the presiding councilor under normal circumstances and holds the power of “cutting” the debates and formulating the emergent propositions. When the Abba Gada in power and his council are under review, however, one of the retired Abba Gadas takes over as the presiding Gada councilor. Seniority and competence select him.
Women’s mostly do not participate in political activities along side with the men, but instead they participate in political activities indirectly through their song called karile. Here in their song they use to criticize the poor decisions made by men. By doing this they can force them to change their less honorable decisions.
The people carry their spears when they go to the Gumi and Lallaba. They do not carry weapons when they go to the rituals such as the Muda, or the anointment of the Qallu, or Dannisa, the fatherhood “ceremony” of the warriors- they carry ritual objects instead. They say Gumi is a place of war not ritual.
Hariyya (military force)
The biggest encountered war between Guji and Borana in recent history was in 1946. It is known as the Oditu war because settlements of the Oditu clan and their Qallu suffered the heaviest losses. The Abba Gada in power, Guyyo Boru, was at the time too far away to be personally involved in the campaign.
The most successful war waged by the Borana in recent times is known as the war of Madha Galma, because he himself brought the warriors together and personally led the campaign in 1952.
The decision to engage in war was made by gada assemblies (Ya’a arbora)
The top military leadership (Abba Duula) came from the gada classes.
The actual fighting force, however, was drawn from age sets (Harriyya).
The most relevant age set is the group that is described as the barbara of the gada leaders. It consists of the oldest age group in gada classes who are empowered to mobilize all the members of their age set. The core group-made up of people who belong to the same gada class and the same age set- is the group that is known as “barbara”. It is the group that helps the gada leaders to mobilize the entire age set, not merely the part of the age set that belongs to their gada class. Thus when the Borana speak of “barbara Gobba Bule”, it means the groups that belong to the same gada class and the same age set as the Abba Gada Gobba Bule.
Normally age-set leaders (hayyu hariyya) are engaged in organizing and overseeing social activities of the members but they may be called upon to mobilize the age-set in case of war. Once mobilized, the age-set (harriyya) or the part of it that was mobilized becomes an age-regiment (ch’ibra). Each age-regiment is then headed by a temporary leader who is referred to as the abba ch’ibra (regimental leader) or abba arch’umme (baton chief). The former leads the regiment in responsibilities in maintaining discipline in the fighting unit, in prodding laggards or punishing cowards. All regimental leaders and baton chiefs are under the direct command of the abba duula or chief of war.
It is often the case that the age-set leaders are only heads of one or two individual regiments and that the military organization as a whole is headed by an Abba Duula or “war chief” often drawn from the senior warrior grade (raba) or the ruling grade (Gada ).
The army of Emperor Menelik against which the Arsi fought for so long is, in all probability, the largest military force ever assembled by an indigenous African state during the colonial era, albeit with substantial assistance from the European colonial powers who armed it to advance their own economic and political interests.
The age-set system (hariyya) is a supportive organization under the authority of the Gada assemblies: it is organized strictly on the basis of age and has nothing to do with genealogical generations. Age-sets and gada classes are crosscutting social categories: one is not a sub-set of the other. Age-sets have their own councilors (hayyu hariyya) who lead the group in time of peace and their own elected regimental leaders (abba ch’ibra or abba arch’umme) who lead them in war.
“Age-set” (hariyya) is the generic term we use to refer to the age organization as a whole. Its full domain includes ritual and social activities in addition to their critical military function. The phrase “age-regiment” (ch’ibra) refers to the age-set specifically re-organized for warfare, is subordinated to Gada.
Makabasa (nicknames) are another way of remembering histories or Gada chronologies like gogessa. Makabasa refers to the cycle of seven nicknames: – Fullasa, Mardida, Darara, Libasa, Sabbaqa, Moggaasa and Makula.
The Makabasa pass from father to son. Mardida is born to Liibasa, Libasa is born to Moggaasa, Moggassa is born to Fullasa, Fullasa is born to Darara, Darara is born to Sabbaqa, Sabbaqa is born to Makula, Makula is born to Mardida.
Other way of using Makabasa, to trace down Gada chronology is that to remember always the chronology of Makabasa itself. This means if we start for example with Fullasa then comes Mardiida and follows Darara, Libasa,Sabbaqa, Moggassa and Makula. The recent abba Gada Liiban Jaldessa Liiban’s makabasa (nickname) is Moggisa, which means the next Abba Gada will be automatically Makula then Fullasa, Mardiida, Darara, Libasa and Sabbaqa. Then will comes again Moggisa after 56 years, and so on.
In its classic form the Oromo polity was organized as four principal institutions. These are the generational organization (Gada), the dual organization (Qallu), the military organization (Hariyya) and the national assembly (Gumi). Of the four institutions, the most important is the national assembly known as Gumi.
The major difference between Gada and Qallu is that: Gada is elected body and has authority over all Borana for a limited period of time, while the Qallu is hereditary, has authority over half of Borana, but they stay in office for life.
The structure of these four Oromo polity is; Gada and Qallu are co-ordinate institutions and are both subordinated to the authority of Gumi, the national assembly. The age-set system is subordinated to the Gada system and performs it’s most important military functions under the authority of particular Gada leaders who have been elected to lead the age-regiments in particular military activities especially in national campaigns.
The people can appeal a case of conflict to the Qallu council or the Gada council. The Qallu have adjudicative and mediating responsibilities over the moieties, clans and lineages. Each, in his own sphere, has the authority to resolve conflict. The Abba Gada also have similar responsibility to mediate or adjudicate conflict between members of their own luba or between different luba but not within another luba.
But what makes difference is that, the more unjust or incompetent the leaders are, the less likely that the cases of conflict will come before them. This means the power can shift to one side.
Time reckoning (Calendar)
Time and historical causality
Gada, is incredibly complex concept, is not merely the foundation of the Borana socio-political system and the basis of the temporal stratification of the society, it is also a concept that incorporates all history and the total cognitive framework within which historical processes unfold.
Anthropology has tended to underestimate the intellectual accomplishments of non- literate societies. This is partly function of the linear model of the universe that is pervasive in Western thought. Technological primitive societies must also be primitive in all other respects, it is thought. Borana time reckoning is unique in eastern Africa and has been recorded in very few cultures in the history of mankind. The best known examples of this type of time reckoning are the Chinese, Mayan, and Hindu calendars; it is very doubtful that the Borana system derives from any of these cultures.
Borana calendar is permutation calendar based on lunar rather than solar cycles. The lunar month is about 29.5 days long. The Borana “year” consists of twelve such months or 354 days- eleven days shorter than the solar year. In many near-eastern societies the solar year is made to equal the lunar year by adding an intercalary month to the later. The Borana are unusual in that they seem to be the only people with a reasonably accurate calendar who ignore the sun. The 1984 Science Newsmagazine established this issue. East African megalith called Namoratunga, though not as spectacular as Stonehenge, seems to have had a calendric (300 B.C.) purpose for the ancient Cushites of the upper Nile. The Borana-Cushitic calendar is lunar, but is unique in that it completely ignores the position of the sun. Namoratunga is the first archaeo-astronomical site to be studied in sub-Saharan Africa.
The twelve lunar months have the following names: Cikawa, Sadasa, Abrasa, Ammaji, Gurandhala, Bittottessa, Chamsa, Bufa, Waxxabajji, Obora guda, Obora dikka and Birra.
There are no weeks; instead each day of the month has a name. However, they have only 27 names of days and not, as would be expected, 29 or 30.These are: – Areeri Duraa, Areeri Ballo, Aduula Duraa, Aduula Ballo, Garba Duraa, Garba Balla, Garba Dulacha, Bitaa Duraa, Bitaa Ballo, Sorsa, Algaajima, Arba, Walle, Basaa Duraa, Basaa Ballo, Maganatti Carraa, Maganatti Jaarraa, Maganatti Briifi, Salbaan Duraa, Salbaan Ballaa, Salbaan Dullachaa, Gardaaduma, Soonse, Uurruma, Lumaasa, Gidaada, Ruuda.
A Borana time-reckoning expert (ayyantu) can tell the day, the month, the year and the gada period from memory. Should his memory fail him he examines the relative, position of the stars and the moon to determine the day and the month astronomically. The seven stars or constellations he uses are: –
– Lami (triangulum)
– Busan (pleiades)
– Bakkalcha (Aldebaran)
– Algajima (Belatrix)
– Arb Gaddu (central Orion)
– Urji Walla (Saiph)
– Basa (Sirius)
In six out of the twelve lunar months the six constellations appear successively, in conjunction with the moon. During the remaining six months none of these six stars and constellations is visible at the rising of the moon.
The new moon appears with Sirius (Basa) once a year. The month begins with any one of the three days named Salbana. The event takes place in the month of Obora Dikka.
Threat to Borana
The war that Africans must wage in the post-colonial era is a war against ethnocentrism as practiced by Africans whose intellectual horizons do not reach beyond their own ethnic backyards and by Europeans who believe that their civilization is the terminal stage of human development.
This institution- the Gada system is keyed to a remarkably sophisticated system of time reckoning. The system is based on accurate astronomic observations associated with a complete day-month nomenclature. The total system is a permutation calendar the like of which has been recorded only three times in the history of mankind. It occurs among the Chinese, the Hindu, and the Mayans three civilizations far removed from Borana. Borana historians use the principle of permutation to check their records along several crosscutting parameters. The system is an intellectual feat, like of which has probably not been recorded anywhere.
Borana can generate the entire calendar, the historical chronology, and the gada cycle without ever having to count, that shows how intellectual they are.
In its present form, social science is a major threat to the African identity.
The technologically inferior society often has sociologically more viable institutions.
There are two philosophical attitudes that vitalize the study of culture. One is ethnocentric, supremacist, and antiquarian in character, and the other is dedicated to the development of scientific tools that can help us minimize all forms of ethnocentric bias in social science research. One threatens to destroy the African cultural identity; the other promises to uncover the lost valuable elements of our heritage.
The Abba Gada Jaldessa Liban (1960-68) and his councilors were once summoned by the district governor and detained in the district capital (Yaballo) for a month. The district had ordered the Abba Gada to mend his heathen ways and to accept Christianity as his faith. The Abba Gada said that he was the father of all Borana and ritual leader of his class. Therefore, he was not free to accept Christianity and he was released. This case shows us once intolerance for others culture, even using force as a means of action to abandon others culture and tradition to replace their own desire, as it has already happened in most of the African societies.
Borana girl, Zuru, Kenya
Up to the middle of the 20th century the Wallaga Oromo has been organized in a strict system of age-sets and grades called the Gada system. The system formed a well-functioning social organization and a political structure, which has influenced the Oromo up to the present. The organized Gada system collapsed in the Henna area during the 1940’s due to strong influence from Evangelical Christians (see Gunnar Kjaerland 1977).
A.L Kroeber, the anthropologist, discussed the need for an acceptable climate for the acceptance of new ideas. There is no doubt about the truth before us, he said- when the Borana, faced with starvation, saw the practical Christian demonstration of compassion then the field ripened quickly unto harvest (see Gunnar Kjaerland 1977). This text reminds me of what Desmond Tutu once said, “when they came we had a culture and they had a food, when we opened our eye they had a culture and we had a food”(translated in my way). I do not think of any society, which would choose food in return of culture? Whatever the foreign motive for the aid, and however society may be uplifted because of it, it is bound to exert pressure of some kind or other on the recipient people resource towards cultural change if it is not done with understanding and respect. Beside these pressures due to Aid programs on Borana society there is also border pressures.
The alienation of grazing land the extension of the road system, and the emergence of towns are all part of a socioeconomic system that stands in direct opposition to the nomadic life style and value system. The only hope for the survival of the Borana way of traditional life is that the government does nothing- and this does not seem likely.
The situation now is that the people may try to break out of their tribal structures, no longer living as Borana, but as Ethiopians. This is quiet manifest in the case of land acquisition. The government will sell, give or rent Borana land to non-Boranas. The change is the “death-knell” for nomadic herding and grazing and an invitation to farming. Thus the Borana are in the same position as so many minorities the wide world over-have they any right to be what they really want to be?
In a longer perspective, the total survival of Borana society and culture depends on the survival and rebirth of herds.
Ella (well) is one of the core elements, which keeps Borana together. Without that the society may break away, that is why they do not appreciate water generated by technology.
What made a society to stand as a homogenous is their binding force of social order. Most of Western anthropologists have studied this force in order to be able to destroy a socio-cultural force in return to replace their own. By doing this they have been successful to colonize African society up to present day, by snatching their identity. This is as a matter of fact, may happen to Borana society too. Through war one may lose number, which can be replaced. But the nightmare is losing culture, which can not be replaced. Today most of our names across Africa are David or Mohammed, our color is, thanks for multinational companies, which can produce even skin bleaching creams to get rid of “unpleasant” human color, is light. With out rule and law, which is part of culture a society will fall apart. This in return will lead to suicide, homicide, and genocide, which most of the world societies are still suffering from.
The 37th Gumi Gayyo Assembly (GGA) has passed on resolution in order to protect these mistakes.
Traditionally Borana families adopt specific names for various reasons. The names are the living memory of fathers and grandfathers. Names like Galmaa, Guyyoo, Gaayo, Boru, Jaldeessa (men’s name) and Waare, Elemaa, Yuubo (women’s names) have specific reasons and meaning. These are the names the Borana want to retain along with the aada wherever they live.
The Borana converted to Christianity or Islam found changing their names to that of the respective religious community may lose their buusa gonofaa (social security). Buusaa gonofaa (social security): – Those people who have lost all of their livestock by some sort of misfortune, should get back from their respective clans as many as they had before. Those who have lost as the result of mismanagement or negligence may get back only a few so that they should not totally “lost their guutuu” (a strand of hair at the top of the head, as a symbol of identity, of “being” Borana).
Names reflect the identity, and are a mirror, of any given nation or people. We are quite confident that God loves the Boran and their names as well as he loves others. It should be realised that our names are not inferior to any other names. From the past experience we know that the Boran who changed their names to that of Somali or Garrii were claimed to Garrii for good. Therefore, no Borana converted to Christianity or Islam should change their names and that of their children to Christian or Moslem sounding names. It is appropriate to say something in support of the above statements by the GGA. Any true religion is not destined to destroy the culture and identity of peoples. In the past Christian missionaries, and even the church, have been trying to evangelize the various ethnic communities without a well -thought out approach -without due consideration –about the culture and identity of the people. As expected, the result was a low response, especially in the lowland areas. We must understand that the goal of the Christian gospel is not proselytizing but transformation. When it (the gospel) comes to a specific ethnic group in the garb of specific language and culture, it is not necessary that the outward form pass on to other ethnic communities but what is essential is the substance, the message. Thus the Christian gospel, its genuine nature, does not destroy the identity and cultures of peoples. Because it is translatable, i.e. its essential tenets can be ingrained in the cultures of peoples without carrying over the outward forms. It, therefore, transforms and redeems them, as God intends them to be. (Gollo Huqqaa)
The Euro-American scholar who says there is no such thing as an indigenous Oromo “democracy” or “government” should ask himself whether he is concerned about the applicability of the words “government” and “democracy” to Oromo institutions on serious clearly articulated, comparative scientific grounds or because he likes to think that democracy is a unique Western invention that should not be lumped together with the institutions of other “inferior societies”. The scholar who draws parallels between Western democracies and African institutions must also ask himself “Am I trying to boost nationalist egos by telling people that their cultural achievements are great or is there, in fact, an adequate basis for making the comparison?
The great French savant, Antoine d’Abbadie, who was seeped in Oromo culture living among them for a decade, he came to the conclusion that the options confronting humankind were not monarchy versus anarchy, but democracy versus despotism, a fundamentally different polarity that makes democracy and the role of freedom in human life the central not the peripheral issue.
How deep the sense of order is among the Borana can be gleaned from the fact that homicide-within their society-is virtually unknown. What democratic society in the Western world can boast of such an achievement?
The Oromo are one of the most orderly and legalistic societies in Black Africa and many of their laws are consciously crafted rules not customarily evolved habits.
Current Abba Gadaa and his councils
||Current Borana Gadaa Councilors.
||Types of councils
|Guyo Goba Bule
||Adulla Fite ( head of councils)
Customs: The economy and life style are built entirely around cattle and camels. Young men do the daily herding while the women do all family nurturing. The homestead groups may be required to move three or four times each year, often as far as 100 km, because of the low rainfall and poor land.