This introduction about Borana society is meant to shade light on their culture and give short insight for those who interested in this culture. I have summarized the major institutions of Borana with their duties. Borana- Oromo after their separation from rest of Oromos occupied today southern part of Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Their egalitarianism society has impressed most anthropologist, from around the world. Therefore it’s worth enough to mention, specially their democratic political system the Gada system. Gada system has got eleven classes (luba) with in each level we find different duties.
Qallu institution with its most high ritual responsibilities will be discussed.
At last we shall draw conclusion out of what Borana can contribute for other societies and what kind of threats they are facing from different neighbor and far distance societies. To day we find that all-African countries through out the continent adopting Western “democratic” political system without any ground root. This as a main cause has led us to misunderstanding between each other. But now we may turn our face to what has already been with us for centuries before the arrival of Europeans and ask our selves how African societies has managed itself ? And do we find any indigenous African political system?
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 Walabu 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 and most Barentumma group 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.
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.
| Moiety||submoiety ||clan ||lineage |
Gobbu and Emmaji
Dayyu and Basu
Dayyu - Bokkicha and Kallicha
Baasuu - Bido and Goloo
Nurtu,Titti,Udumtu,Walajji,Daddo, Aaru, Iluu and Moluu
Metta,Gadulla,Doranni,manqata, karara,kuku and garjeda
Daccitu, maccitu,galantu,sirayyu,oditu,konnitu and bachitu
Hawaxu,Qarcabdu,warra 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.
Below we shall try to look at the major four Borana institutions, Qallu, Gada system, Gumi Gayyo and the Hariyya.
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.
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)
The names Wakor,Dambala, and so on are the generic designations of age-sets
| Age - sets|| Age|
| Wakor Duba|| 12-19|
| Darar Godana|| 20-27|
| Dambal Bule|| 28-35|
| Wakor liban|| 36-43|
| Dambal Arero|| 44-51|
| Wakor Sora|| 52-59|
| Dambal Taddacha|| 60-67|
| Wakor Dida|| 68-75|
| Udan Bukko|| 76-83|
| Wakor Mallu|| 84-91|
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.
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.
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.
(By Asmarom legesse 1973)
| Ceremony||year ||place ||month |
| Takeover (balli)||1 ||Nura ||Gurrandhala |
Rite of incorporation;
Ear peircing and Circumcision(to make lube)
|2 ||Ejersa Gurura || |
| All transitions||3|| ||Wazabajii |
| Ginda||4 || Galma Sagan river||Waxabajii |
| Gumi Gayyo||4 ||Gayyo well (ela) ||Obora gudda |
|Oda ||5 ||Oda, near Naghelle ||Obora gudda |
|Muda ||5 ||Oda ||Obora gudda |
|Return to Dirre ||6 || || |
| Reddimessa||7 ||Liban || |
Proclamation of junior council
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.