Arbore people


Arbore / Eribori

The Arbore are a Cushitic ethnic group living in southern Ethiopia, near Lake Chew Bahir. The Arbore people are pastoralists. With a total population of 8,900, the Abore population is divided into four villages, named: Gandareb, Kulaama, Murale, and Eegude.


Arbore territory

The Arbore territory is a savanna grassland around 500 m  elevation. The Weito River (local name Lima) flows from north to south and runs into the Lake Chew Bahir (Chelbz),  on the border between Ethiopia and Kenya. The people live along the lower part of the river.
The Arbore  trace their ancestry from some of their neighbors like the Borana or the Marle, as is codified in the Arbore myths.  The Arbore culture is ancient but not static.  Arbore is said to be the name of the first ancestor of the Arbore Girl tribe. Arebore "ar" means land and "bore" also means bull. Therefor Arbore means "land of Bulls." They actually call  themselves  "Hoor",  in reference  to their dependence on the inundated flats.

Arbore people Arbore people

Arbore together with their neighbors Konso and the Burji have Cushitic Konso language as their lingua franca. The Arbore sing and dance whiles performing rituals,they believe that their singing and dancing eliminates negative energy and with the negative energy gone, the tribe will prosper. The Arbore are very active traders and spread into distant areas.

The Arbore consists of a northern division called Arbore (Gondorobba), and a southern division called Marle. The northern Arbore have a close relationship with the Tsamai,  and the Marle have a close ancestral and cultural relationship with the Konso, who dwell on the northern shore of the Lake Turkana.

Each major social division embraces two geographically distinct communities, or villages(dirr).  The northern Arbore (Gondorobba) occupy the villages of Gandara`ba (their main center and the residence of their paramount chief), Kulam, and Kuyle and the Marle occupy the villages of Murale and Egude. These villages are autonomous social units.  Each has a religious chief (kawot),  a  political chief (kernet)  and a  group of elders (jalaab).

Areas of inundated flat  are  assigned  to  each household by elders  called mura  (Ayalew  1993). Arbore kwot performs rain-making functions too. All floods recede,  the elders of neighboring villages meet to decide where to  draw borders on the inundated flats  along the river; in this way the arable areas are divided and distributed to each village.


Arbore language

That the language of Arbore belongs within a "Macro-Somali" (now "Omo-Tana") group was first recognized by Sasse (1974). Other members of this group are Daasanach, Bayso, Rendille, Boni and the various Somali dialects. Omo-Tana itself is a major division of Lowland East Cushitic. Arbore's nearest relatives (jointly classified as Western Omo-Tana) are Daasanach and-especially the probably extinct Kenyan language of the Elmolo fisherman of Lake Turkana. The sub-grouping is justified in terms of uniquely shared lexicon and certain common grammatical innovations, amongst which the generalizations of the absolute forms of the 1st person singular and 2nd person singular personal pronouns to subject function, thereby replacing the earlier Proto-Lowland East Cushitic forms, e.g. 2nd personal pronouns to subject function, thereby replacing the earlier Proto-Lowland East Cushitic forms, e.g., 2nd person singular tai/u 'thou': ki/u 'thee', but Arbore ke 'thou' and 'thee'.

Arbore well exemplifies a number of typical lowland East Cushitic features such as: a three-term number system (basic unit: singulative: plural) in nouns, within which "polarity" figures, i.e., gender alternations across the various number forms of a lexeme; a morphosyntax thoroughly deployed in distinguishing topic and contrastive focus; great morphophonological complexity in its verbal derivation and inflection. Of historical interest is the language's preservation of at least a dozen verbs of the archaic "Prefix Conjugation", often attributed to Proto-Afrosiatic itself.


Arbore ethnography

The people who also call themselves the Hor (Hoor) live in four villages in the delta of the Limo River (also known as Dullay or Weyto) at the northern end of Lake Stephanie (Bau or Chew Bahr) in South Omo Zone. The name Arbore is used by the inhabitants if two of the four villages, Gandaraba and Kulama, whereas the inhabitants of Eegude and Murale refer to themselves as Marle, Arbore being the term traditionally employed by anthropologists and by the Ethiopian government.

The Arbore practice pastoralism, sorghum cultivation, seasonal fishing and hunting and engage in a wide regional network of bond friendship for the exchange of gifts. In 1996 their population numbered 3,840. Their economy of subsistence depends largely on the periodical floods of the river.

The age organization controls cattle, pasture and water. It distributes cultivable land after floods and guarantees law and order in the territory of the Arbore. Each generation class (herr) comes to power after an initiation which is held once in about 40 years in rituals known as ner and chirnan. Each generation class consists of four age classes (jim). The group containing the young people waiting to be initiated into a jim is called morqo. The same term is used for the four age classes organized and named, but waiting to form a generation class by undergoing initiation at the close of the 40 years.

The Garle and Olmoque clans, who are senior and junior, jointly lead the political and ritual life of the Arbore and their neighbors, and the leaders of the age organization survey the smooth running of daily life among the Arbore. The political chief is usually called kyrnat, the ritual qawot, even though it does not imply that political and religious life and functions are strictly separated. Both the Arbore and their neighbors enter the sacred cattle-gates of qawots (ritual chiefs) with gifts of heifers, bulls, honey, coffee, tobacco and herbs to receive blessings for human, animal and crop fertility, for rain and for victory against their enemies.



Although the Arbore have well  developed technology  and knowledge for herding cattle, they depend on plant cultivation for  most of their food.  The Arbore provide cereal  grains for  neighboring groups through bond partnerships.
The productivity of riverine environment occupied by the Arbore is  thus  crucial for  neighbors,  especially  during drought. The crops grown by the Arbore are sorghum, maize,cow pea, green, gourd  and pumpkin. Among these crops, sorghum is  the most important in terms of the amount of starch produced and the number of varieties  present.

The Arbore, the sorghum growing specialist among the tribes in Omo valley depends on both rainfall and the Weito river for their sorghum cultivation. There are two rainy seasons. The big  rain,  from  March  to  May,  is  quite  reliable,  but  the  small  rain ,  from  October  to November, is not reliable. The Arbore call the big rain "guh," and the small rain "hagai,"  and the  two intervening dry seasons  are  called "maar."

In the past, they used to possess the monopoly of the ivory trade. They exchange cattle for agricultural products from the Amare Kokke and aquire worked iron from the Kerre and Borana.


Types of field

The Arbore distinguish four  types  of field  according to  ecological status  and  the social rules  of distribution:

(1)  Gofa irit  are fields  made in  areas  of the  plain that are  not  inundated. The fields  are usually in small depressions that receive rainwater from  an adjacent hill  and are cultivated shortly after a rainy season has finished.

(2)  Dabante dersit  are fields made  at  the  center  of the  inundated  flats. The mura  distribute  plots  to  each  household, demarcating the borders with sticks called saaban. After distribution, the schedule of cultivation is put under the control of the mura.  Dabante dersit  are the most important fields for the people because they retain the most moisture .

(3)  Simako are made on  areas  of the inundated  flats  that have  not  been  allocated  as  dabante  dersit.

( 4)  Luchi are made in riverine forest. These fields  are usually small, and few  in number.


Social life and culture

The social life of Arbore men are organized within age-grade system. Men of an age-grade are known as 'Gimm" (its generally mean contemporary). There are four age grades, namely Ogarsa,Gidama, Maarol and Wattana. Men who have passed through each grade of the system are said to belong to "Gerda" ( singular; "Greer" means Elder,Old man,husband). The final age-grade period culminates in a special ceremony called 'Nar.

Clictoridectomy is practiced on the women of Arbore tribe. The operation is done during the period of prolong marriage rites, and the precedes consummation of marriage and the establishment of nuptial households by a period of four months to two years.

Whiles Arbore men will take wives from Booran, Dassanech, Rendile or even Burji, they will usually not take wives from Konso or hammer tribes. Only in the Kuyle where men marry from Tsamako people, and even in that case other Arbore tribe people look down upon that marriage because Tsamako women are not circumcised.

The Arbore build their huts slightly oval in shape.

The Arbore have a bodily mutilation of raised dots on the chest and abdomen.

The Arbore believe in a Supreme Being creator and father of men whom they call Waq.

The women of the tribe cover their heads with a black cloth and are known to wear very colorful necklaces and earrings. Young children will wear a shell type hat that protects their heads from the sun.

Body painting is done by the Arbore using natural colors made from solid and stone. Traditional dancing is practiced by the tribe and wealth is measured by the number of cattle a tribesman owns. Arbore is one of Ethiopia Cultural Tour in Omo Valley.