The Gabra (also written Gabbra or Gebra) is a Cushitic ethnic group mainly inhabiting the Moyale and Marsabit regions of northern Kenya and the highlands of southern Ethiopia.
The Gabra (Gabbra or Gebra) people are Oromo-speaking camel pastoralist ethnic group occupying the arid Chalbi lands of Northern Kenya and the highlands of Southern Ethiopia. They live in a 350,000 square kilometer area spread from the Marsabit District of Kenya to the Sidamo Province of Ethiopia. They are closely associated with other Oromo, especially their non-nomadic neighbors, the Borana.
The name "Gabra" may have roots in the Oromo word gabaro, meaning "vassal" and possibly indicating an association within the Borana federation.
The Gabra's ornamentation and physical culture is similar to many other Cushitic-speaking camel herders. The Gabra live in an area surrounded by other ethnic groups, such as the Turkana (turkan), the Rendille (rendil and Somali, all of whom the Gabra describe as warra dassee ("people of the mat"), in reference to the mat-covered, portable tents, which accompany their nomadic lifestyle), the Samburu (kora), the Boran (Borana, are described by the Gabbra as warrra buyyoo ("people of the grass"), in reference to the grass huts that characterize their sedentary lifestyle), the Gari (safar), and the Dassanetch (galaba). Gabra regard them as enemies (nyapa). However, marriage can be sometimes observed between a Gabra and Rendille, and a Gabra and Boran.
The Gabra occupy territory east of Lake Turkana in Kenya, along the edge of the Chalbi Desert, extending to Ethiopia. Marsabit and the town of Kalacha in the center of the Chalbi Desert are both used as water holes. North of Marsabit the region grows more arid, and the terrain is strewn with volcanic boulders and sand.
Two rainy seasons are separated by a hot, dry season and a short, cool one. It is during the two rainy seasons that the Gabra live most self-sufficiently and ritual ceremonies abound. The cyclical weather pattern, in conjunction with the pasture needs of the Gabra's herds, largely determine migrations, birthing patterns, and the timing of initiation rites.
For the Gabra, to live in balance with a trying environment is to protect land, animal, and fellow Gabra. Thus, they practice certain food and plant taboos, preserve full-grown trees called "korma" (bulls), and revere pregnant women and pregnant animals. As resource managers, they migrate to the highlands during the rainy season to allow the dry season pasture to replenish its water resources.
Perhaps most symbolic of the Gabra's identity is the proverb: "a poor man shames us all." Since mutual support is imperative for their survival as nomands, no Gabra may be allowed to go hungry, go without animals, or be refused hospitality or assistance. A person who refuses to help others is labeled "al baku," a stigma that stays affixed to the family for generations. The practice of camel lending exemplifies this support system.
Linguistically, Gabra speak a dialect of Boran that is classiﬁed as being of the Oromo group of Eastern Cushitic language (Whitely, 1974; Gamta, 1989).
It is generally believed that the Gabra are Somali in origin, but that at some point after they came into contact with the dominant force in what is now southern Ethiopia, the Borana, they lost their own language in favour of Ki-Borana and also adopted some aspects of Borana culture (Robinson 1985; Tablino 1999).
Before the recent massacres, many Gabra may have stressed their linguistic and political closeness to the Boran, but they might have been more afraid of spilling Somali blood than of spilling Boran blood, because they believed their “blood” to be the same as that of the Somali and they believed the misfortune resulting from killing Somali to be disastrous(Schlee 1994b on ethnobiological categories).
Nevertheless, it must also be understood that it is not always accurate to conceive of an ethnic group as a clearly defined entity descended from some common ancestor. It seems that ethnic identities in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia have been fluid, although perhaps more so in the past than at present (Sobania 1979; Robinson 1985). For example, as a result of a confluence of crises in the late 1800s, some Gabra whose herds were wiped out took up hunting and gathering and became Wata. Some of these same people, after eventually acquiring livestock again, then reclaimed their Gabra identity (Robinson 1985). Oral history suggests that both individuals and sometimes entire clans have at times switched identities declared themselves as belonging to another ethnic group (Sobania 1979; Robinson 1985)
"Even fifty years from now we are going to be pastoralists. Livestock is our farm. In the highlands they farm, but our farm is livestock."
The Gabra have a mixed-livestock economy consisting of camels, cattle, sheep, and goats. It is almost entirely based on reciprocity. Most central to the way of life and economy is the camel. When a Gabra comes into possession of a camel, it's named to ensure the Gabra's right of ownership. The camel will be loaned or given to other Gabra in need, and a future act of reciprocity will be expected. In this sense, camels provide great security; they also provide most of the meat and the dry season's supply of milk. The also transport goods and water from foraging areas to surrounding villages. Selling camels and their by-products to outsiders is taboo.
Gabra society is organized according to patrilineal descent and its basic unit is clan (balbal). There are about forty clans in the Gabra society, composing of ﬁve phratries (gos); Algana, Sharbana, Gar, Galbo and Odola. Each of the clan has different origin, with Borana, Rendile, and Somali contributing people to make up the clan in the past to make up each section.
As well, clans are divided into of moiety; Lossa and Jiblo. For example, Disa clan belongs to Algana phratry as well as Lossa. Each half elect a leader called Hayu, so there are two Hayus for each clan. These men come from only a few senior clan, known as the bull clan. They must be of sound mind and body as well as exhibiting leadership qualities. The hayus act as judges and adjudicate in serious issues that affect their communities. They are therefore an important decision-makers in Gabra society. A Hayu from a phratry is respected by all the people in other phratries.
Each clan also select a men to act as mediators to settle disputes, known as Jallaba, that travel from place to place to settle disputes amongst Gabra clans. In settling disputes, if some issues are too difficult for them they leave it to the Hayu. The Jallaba has a duty in allocation of labour, ensure that all livestock are properly looked after and no one is left un-cared for in Gabra society. Each phatry select three men to be the custodians of the sacred paraphernalia, The Sacred Horn, The Sacred Drum and the Firesticks. The Gabra people refer to themselves sometimes as Dibbe Shanan (Five Drums), even though Odhola lost their drum to Rendile sometime ago in a distant past.
Each clan consists of one to seven lineages (min). All Gabra can concretely trace his lineage up to the founder. Normally, the descent of a clan can be traced back seven to eight generations, but some clans, such as the Rendil clan can be traced back just three generations. The founder of such “new” clans joined the Gabra from other ethnic groups, and these recruits are called galtu.
The aspect of phratry is important in Gabra daily life, because each phratry has its own territory (Torry, 1976). For example, in the Gus Sub-Location, Algana is the major phratry and Algana men possess most of the wells in this location. Thus, most of the Gabra are in contact with the members of their phratry in the course of their daily life. Moreover, most of the marriages are observed within the phratry (Torry, 1976), and each phratry makes a special settlement called olla ya’a which constitutes the religious and political center of Gabra life. However, phratry do not occupy a certain area exclusively. Those people who belong to other phratries can reside and use the wells in an area which a different phratry occupies.
Moiety is referred to only when Gabra need to decide their turn for praying in the religious ceremony, or when they make an appeal to the public for aid to the person who suffers great losses or serious injuries as a result of an enemy’s pillage or a wild beast. However, moiety is not so important in Gabra daily life.
Clan is a very important element. A person confronting a difﬁcult problem can expect the help from his milo, or clan’s members. The reverse is also true. Everyone has to help his milo when they are experiencing difﬁculties, because the problem which his milo has will ultimately affect him. Clan is also the unit of exogamy.
Thus, each individuals of the Gabra are strongly involved with his clan.
Ownership right of the livestock and residential patterns are two important features germane to our topic. First, ideologically speaking, livestock are possessed by a clan. Each clan has their own ear-cut-mark and brand, which are put on their personal livestock. The idea that livestock are possessed by a clan is sometimes revealed in an occasion when a clan member will pay a bride wealth with his personal camel on behalf of poor man of his clan. Second, clan members are widely scattered in the area which the phratry, to which the clan belong, own and use. Each family group of the clan tends to build settlements with their afﬁnes (Torry, 1976), but not with other family groups of his clan. The function of these features will be discussed afterward.
The segment of lineage is seldom referred to in the Gabra daily life, except by those whose clan is very big, such as Alano clan or Elmale clan. In these big clans, it is not clan but lineage which possess the livestock, that is the unit of exogamy.
The Gabra people have generational age system which they call Luba, a simplified version of Boran gada system (Lagesse,1973). Each male goes through six life stages, and he has life duties or roles expected of him. The six grades are those of a child, circumcision but unmarried young man, married man, Political Elder, Ritual Elder and then retired Elder. The females after marriage takes on the Luba grades of their husbands and they influence a great deal of decision-making through their husbands, particularly in regard to when and where to move camps.
The Luba system is central to Gabra society, in that it controls what is expected of individual in a society. It also defines the individual in the society. In theory, individuals change their Luba grades after 7 years in a ceremony called the Jilla. There has been about 7 Jillas. During Jilla all able-bodied officers young men and elders from Gabra tribe trek to their ancestral or phratry sacred Jilla grounds taken livestocks and houses with them. All the clans except Odhola has their Jilla grounds in Southern Ethiopia.
Men are circumcised around the ages of 18-20 years and girls are clitoridectomized at around the ages of 13-14 years. A person cannot marry, nor he or she is considered adult unless this happen. Men usually marry in their early 30s whilst girls marry around the ages of 14-16, so there is huge age disparity but there is a cogent traditional and custom reason for it. The father or patriarch has absolute control over livestock until he dies. It is therefore important that his sons marry late so that there will be less friction over control of animals, and more cohesiveness of nuclear family cooperative labour in herding and watering the stock.
A man does not enter the Luba system until he is in conjugal union, when he ritual enters what is called Kommicha grade during Jilla ceremony. He gains junior elder status as his position makes it possible for him to have say in discussion of disputes, stock allocations, movements and other secular issues. However, he cannot hold office until he becomes Political Elder (Yuba), the next stage. The Political Elders handles the secular affairs and the Ritual Elders (Dabela) guides religious matters. These are the two most important grades in Gabra society.
The Hayus and Jallabas are installed at the Jilla ceremony by the High Kallus when the men enter Political Elder grade. Hayus retain their office when they move to Religious elder grade at the next Jilla, but now they only wield moral authority. The newly appointed Hayus take over political power at Jilla when Kommicha (junior elders) become political elders. A man will take up each kind of elder for 7 years, 14 or even 21 years depending on the intervals between the Jilla ceremonies, which must be cycles of 7 years. Gabbra measures time in 7 years cycles and each year receives the name of a day of the week. The Jilla is always held in a Friday year, except for the Gara sections who performed it before others in Thursday year.
The Ritual Elder wears a kind of pill-box turban called Hitu. They lead prayers and make blessings if no Kallus are available at a sacred ceremonies. Ritual elders are also responsible for looking after Ada (traditional laws), which are meant to ensure peace, cohesion and prosperity in Gabbra society. The custodians of sacred Drum (Aba Dibbe) and Firstocks (Aba Uchuma) are always Ritual Elders, whilest the Sacred Horn is given to the care of the Political Elder (Aba Magalata).
Each phratry has a special sacred settlement called Yaa in which many senior officers and their families live. The Yaa is spiritual, political and jural headquarters for each phratry, though nomadic, like all Gabbra camps, each one is located within the traditional territory of the phratry. The Jiblo moiety Hayu must live there, as must be the custodians of sacred paraphernalia. Many Ritual Elders also live in Yaa. The houses are arranged in two arcs running north-south, making an open-ended oval. In the centre of a Yaa is a ritual enclosure, nabo, made up of acacia thorn branches. The nabo is used for making prayers and other rituals such as lighting the sacred fire with Firesticks and beating the Sacred Drum when Yaa is going to move, at new moon, and other occasions. Only men who have a Luba grade may enter the nabo, that is those who are either the Kommicha, Political Elders or Ritual Elders. The Retired Elder (Jarsa) are very old men and they do not take active part in secular or religious affairs, except as participants in the same way women and children take part.
This complicated system make up the time-honored strategy that allows the Gabbra to continue to survive in their hostile environment.
Gabra homes, called mandasse, are light, dome-shaped tents made of acacia roots, and covered with sisal grass mats, textiles, and camel hides. Each mandasse is divided into four quarters; a public quadrant each for male visitors, female visitors, and a private quadrant each for parents and children. A mandasse can be completely disassembled and converted into a camel-carried palanquin in which children and the elderly travel.
Gabra live in small villages, or ola made up of several mandasse. Each Ola has a headman which it is named after him. Ola move short distances as many as twelve times per year, in search of better grazing for the camels and other animals the Gabra rely on. In dry season only the camels with milk and some pack camels are kept at the Ola, along with some small-stock. The dry camels, cattle, and much of the small-stock will each be sent out to different satellite camps called fora, though small camp is commonly called arjalla in Gabbra language.
Gabra society is broadly divided into the lowland Gabra (Gabra Malbe) on the Kenyan side of the border, and the highland Gabra (Gabra Miigo) on the Ethiopian side of the border. The Gabra Malbe have been the subject of some missionary activity and anthropological research while little has been published on the Gabra Miigo. Gabra society is further divided into several semi-exogamous groups called the "five drums" (Oromo: dibbee shanaan). In Kenya, each of the "drums" generally resides in a particular grazing area which is historically tied to the region assigned them by the British colonial government in the early 1900s, though their previous territory appears to have been larger. The territory of the Ethiopian Gabra, is said to comprise a "sixth drum".
Gabra life is labor-intensive, so everyone has specific tasks. Although the men decide when to migrate, women pack and unpack the camp site before and after migration. In fact, women "own" the huts and have complete authority over them. From age 7, children work six to seven hours a day, mainly tending the animals, while grandmothers largely rear and educate the young.
The Gabra practice a monotheistic religion based on the traditional Oromo religion, centering on worship of the god Waaqa, syncretized with Islamic elements. The religious chants of the Gabra contain non-Oromo words. Kassam (2006: 174) is right on this and also on pointing to Sufi influences. In fact, the name of the chants, dikira, is derived from dhikr, the Arabic word for “commemoration,” which is the word Sufis use to refer to their chants.
The Gabra pray to Waqa everyday when they take camels to pasture. The prayers beseech Waqa to bless the camels and Gabra with peace and prosperity especially with rains. Their lips are always drizzling with nagaya (peace) when praying. The communal prayers are often led by a special men called Kallu, who are often born into Kallu clans. The kallu clans are made up of the descendants of first Gabra ancestors who were said to have appeared on earth from heaven. The Kallu men have the power to both bless and curse, so they are treated with utter respect. The senior men from this clan are High Kallu and they have very special ceremonial powers.
The Gabra make pilgrimages to sacred sites, most of which are located in the mountainous terrain of what is today Borana territory.
One of the important relationships in the social-ecological system is a traditional institution, the korra. Korra are meetings that are held as and when needed at various levels of social organization, from the individual nomadic camp, to the cluster of camps, to an entire arda (a local area defined by a permanent water source or some other feature, sometimes a permanent settlement, and including all the camps currently situated there).
They are also sometimes organized along descent lines, with korra meetings being held for individual miilos (lineages) and, occasionally, for an entire phratry. It is primarily through korra meetings, rather than through any standing institution such as the Yaa councils, that coordination and management of access to pasture and water takes place. It is also through korra meetings that decisions about traditional restocking are usually made.
Marriage is an important part of life for the Gabra, it is probably considered the most important ritual in Gabra tradition. (Wood 125) The Gabra expect all of their people to marry, those who do not marry are considered as being in “bad standing.” Those who have not married are not allowed to fully participate in rituals, they are not given traditional shelter, they are in a way not seen as real people. A marriage is only valid if it was done so through Gabra ritual, any union occurring outside of Gabra tradition will not be recognized until bride wealth is paid and a traditional ceremony is performed. (Wood 126)
Gabra women are considered eligible for marriage soon after they are circumcised. Women must be virgins at the time they are to be married. Sexual contact with an unmarried woman is a crime; it is at the same level as murder. The penalty for this crime is the same but different. The men and women who commit this crime are banished, but not in the same sense. For women, this usually means actually leaving the Gabra and getting married off in another tribe. While for men, the “banishment” is more symbolic and less severe. Men do not have to leave, but they will not be able to take part in rituals until they perform a cleansing ceremony and pay a fine to the family of the banished woman. After this is done men can marry and live normal lives. (Wood 127)
This is similar to the situation in the United States, not exactly, but along the same lines. When a girl turns eighteen years old, she is considered “legal,” this can be considered our “female circumcision.” The crime occurs when an “adult” male has sex with an underage girl, if caught they can be “banished.” Banishment in the United States usually means a period of incarceration and being socially branded a sexual predator for life. For the man, there is no going back to “normal” life here. The girl on the other hand is not banished, she does not receive any punishment. This is a role reversal compared to the Gabra.
Gabra women are not supposed to have sex before marriage, but after marriage, woman are free to, even encouraged to have extramarital affairs. Marriage is somewhat of a transformation for the Gabra, as Wood puts it, marriage is “marked by sexual freedom for the bride and by new responsibilities for the groom.” Although women can have more than one lover, the Gabra are mainly monogamous. Polygamy is allowed, this is usually the case if the first wife fails to produce a son, producing a son is one of the most important justifications for marriage. In this case, the man usually chooses one of his wife’s sisters as a new bride and is expected to take care of all wives equally. (Wood 127) This is the complete opposite to what is expected in the United States, while views on pre-marital sex differ, after a couple gets married, they are supposed to remain faithful to each other.
A June wedding? There are three months during the year that the Gabra consider holy; they are the "camel months," Somd'era Qara, Smod'era Ege, and Yaaka. It is during these months that most important traditions occur in Gabra society, amongst the traditions are weddings and engagements. (Wood 128)
While marriage in the United States is usually the result of a mutual decision of the two adults considering marriage, in Gabra society, marriages are negotiated and arranged. It is not uncommon for marriage negotiations to start while the bride and groom to-be are still very young. Engagements in Gabra society can last several years. The process begins when one of the groom's parents presents the bride's family with kutu. Kutu is a gift consisting of coffee and tobacco. If the bride’s family accepts this gift, it represents an agreement between the families. (Wood 131)
The next step in the process involves a type of engagement payment called marra. Eight marra are required to realize the engagement. A marra is a gift of two leather bags filled with tobacco and coffee, in addition to these, other gifts such as small livestock can be given or requested with each marra. The first and last marra must be payed during one of the camel months. (Wood 131)
Marriage also has payment associated with it is called Qorata. Qorata is due on the wedding day, three young camels, two male and one female, the female may be given after the wedding. (Wood 132)
When the wedding month arrives, the groom's family and friends pack their camels and move their camp just outside of the bride's camp. On a "propitious" day the groom and his party once again load their camels and approach the bride's camp from the east. When the groom nears the bride’s camp he shouts to the camp: "Woowi, Woowi, Woowi, Woowi." The purpose of the shouting is to alert the father of the bride that the groom and his family have arrived. The bride’s father and the abba olla (camp father) will greet the groom’s party and show them were to set up their tents. (Wood 131)
The week before the wedding is spent praying. The two families separately perform a series of prayers. The ceremony is called eba mora (blessing of the fat stomach). Four d’abella and four "exemplary" women lead the prayers, which are said in the morning before the camels are sent to graze. The women and d’abella first pray with the father of the groom. The father of the groom is led out of his camp through the corral and stands at the exit facing out, the women and d’abella face the father of the groom and they pray together. The d’abella and women then head to the bride’s camp and repeat the process. (Wood 134)
The day the wedding ceremony is held depends on a full moon and the day of the week. The Gabra avoid Tuesdays and Saturdays, Mondays and Thursdays are preferred. Weddings are usually held three to five days after the full moon. (Wood 141)
The morning before the wedding day, which is the day of the wedding (the Gabra day begins at noon), both parties have separate preparations to make. In the morning, the father of the bride shaves the crown of the bride’s head. He informs her she will marry, and sends her to spend the day relaxing and looking after his camels. Most Gabra boys and girls have the crown of their heads shaved, leaving only a ring of hair called a gamme. The gamme represents childhood. When a woman marries, the groom covers the gamme with a white shawl Packed camelcalled a hagogo. This shawl will be worn for one year until hair grows in. Married women are not supposed to cut their hair. (Wood 141)
The wedding payment is now due. The groom’s camp prepares the camels and any other animal that is to be presented to the father of the bride. In a ceremony very much like that of the wedding prayers, the groom and his father stand at the corral gate and face four d’abella and four women who say prayers. Wood states that “one ritual rehearses the other, and that rituals rehearse events in ordinary life, it is normal for father to say prayers for their sons and animals each morning as they leave the corral and set out to pasture.” After the prayers are said, the camels and wedding party minus the groom and his father are sent to the bride’s camp where more prayers are said. (Wood 142)
Later in the day, the women in the bride’s camp have to set up the marriage tent. This is done by taking apart the bride’s mothers tent and using a few of the pieces (poles and mats) to build the marriage tent. These pieces are selected by the bride’s mother and together with new poles and mats made by the mother and contributed by others will be use for the new marriage tent. As a result of this removal the mother’s tent will be smaller when rebuilt. This is somewhat of a tradition among the Gabra, a tent will grow and shrink, when daughters are born or married. (Wood 144)
The new marriage tent will be set up in the bride’s father’s corral only to be taken apart again and rebuilt in the groom’s father’s coral. Wood says this symbolizes a reluctance to part with the daughter. Wood also notes that the path taken to the groom’s camp is the reverse path that was taken to present to qorata. (Wood 144)
Women building tengWhile the tents are being taken apart and rebuilt in the bride’s camp, the groom is preparing himself. First he bathes, then he is shaved, then he dresses in new white cloth and ceremonial turban called a rufa. He is then required to go and find specific thorny branches to build a symbolic corral. This is not an easy task since trees grow sparsely in the desert. The groom goes on this quest barefoot taking with him ceremonial “accouterments” of a married man: a wooden staff, a ceremonial whip, an axe and a woven milk container. Along with his gear he takes three unmarried men, they must find trees that have never been cut before. Wood suggests this represents a virginal/newness type of perfection that is present throughout the wedding ceremony. Once the trees are found, the groom kneels before the tree says a brief prayer, makes an offering of coffee, tobacco and milk, and then cuts the branches from the tree. He and the men gather the branches and return to their camp. (Wood 145) In the United States the virginal/newness is usually represented by the white dress of the bride. The accouterments of a man and women are their wedding bands.
When the men return to camp, the women begin to dismantle the marriage tent and prepare to bring it to the groom’s camp. The groom takes the thorny branches and lays them in a circle on the ground inside the corral. This circle symbolizes his new corral. When the bride’s camp brings the dismantled tent to the groom’s camp, the groom will be sitting on his barchuma (the stool of a married man) waiting for the women. The women lay the pieces on top of the thorny branches, at this point the groom’s father says a prayer while he walks around the circle sprinkling the branches and tent pieces with an oily mixture. The groom’s mother says a prayer as well, except she walks inside the circle. Wood states, “straight shapes such as spears and thorny branches are related to masculinity while round shapes such as milk containers and tents are feminine. In this ritual, the two spheres represent men and women, inside and outside space, each space is a center of reproduction: the tent, center of human sexuality and child birth, the corral, the place of livestock care and reproduction.” (Wood 148)
The marriage tent will be reconstructed there in the corral where the couple will live for one month after which they can move into the camp. While the women build the tent, the three men who assisted in finding the trees will gather firewood and build a fire outside of the tent. Gabra usually do not build fires outside of tents, only for special occasions such as the burning of the umbilical cord of a newborn son do they build fires outside, in this case it will stay outside for four days and then it will be brought inside. (Wood 150)
After the fire is lit, the men and women separate. The women go back to the bride’s camp and spend the night singing songs of love, children, the bride does not participate, she is to remain in her mother’s tent. In contrast, the men, excluding the father of the bride, stay at the groom’s camp and sing songs of war and raids. This continues throughout the night. (Wood 160) This can be compared to the bachelor parties that are usually thrown for the bride and groom in the United States. The party of the groom is usually a raucus and rowdy one, celebrating one last night of freedom, while the bride's party is supposed to be more of a gathering of women who give the bride advice, although some women also prefer to celebrate one last night of freedom.
When the time comes to “transfer” the bride, usually just before dawn, the father sits with her and advises her. The bride, who has already been dressed in new white cloth, her father places the white hagogo over her game, and tells her to listen to her husband, to live in peace. The father then sends forth a procession. The women line up in a straight line, the bride is carried on the back of a women standing in the middle of the line, she is covered in white cloth. As the procession begins, the songs are sung louder until the bride reaches the groom’s camp (following the same path the women used to bring the tent) where the singing comes to a complete halt. (Wood 160)
In the groom’s camp, the men remain seated while the women stand. Wood compares the sudden change of singing to silence as a transition from “boyish enthusiasm” to “mature seriousness.” During this part of the ceremony, the groom rises and addresses the crowd. He begins by asking his father for a camel, his father who is anticipating this, will give him a camel or promises to give the next newborn. The groom then proceeds to ask his brothers, then the men of his camp, then the men of his bride’s camp, then friends of the camp. Although not all who are asked will give a camel, it is considered a sign of respect to be asked. Wood suggests this is a display of the strengths and weaknesses of the groom’s social ties. (Wood 161) In the United States, some couples make a list of presents they would like and make the list available to those invited to the wedding.
After the groom has asked for camels, it is time to enter the marriage tent. The first time the bride and groom enter the marriage tent they do so with two attendants. These attendants are there to assist the bride and groom. They all must step over a milk-filled bowl before entering the tent. The groom’s attendant carries the groom’s marriage stool inside, this creates a special bond between the two of them. From that point forward, the groom’s attendant is allowed to have sexual “access” to the groom’s wife, because of this young boys are usually chosen. The bride’s attendant is there to comfort the bride. These two attendants also serve the new couple with their presence by helping relieve the tension of the new situation by providing company. During the next few days the couple will get to know each other. For most couples this will be the first time they speak to each other. The marriage is usually consummated after the four days spent with the assistants, since girls usually marry after they have the circumcision, the consummation may take place much later. (Wood 162)
The last ritual the groom performs is passing under the belly of a camel. This is done in the presence of three d’abella. The groom leaves his tent and must pass under the belly of a camel without being kicked. If the groom is kicked, it means he has done something very wrong in his life, such as having sex with an unmarried woman, if he passes untouched, it means he will have a good, fruitful marriage. The three d’abella then accompany the groom back inside his hut and say a prayer while on the outside d’abella at the rear of the tent are praying for the couple as well. (Wood 163)
The next morning, the groom performs his first sacrifice as a married man at his new home. He slaughters an elemo chibra (ram), whose meat will be eaten by the couple. Someone other than the bride must cook the meat, she is confined to the tent for the first four days, the groom must also remain close to the tent, if he does leave he must take his wedding accouterments. (Wood 163) The accouterments identify him as a married man, such as one can identify a married men in the United States by a gold wedding band.
After four days, two d’abella and two women come to visit the couple. The d’abella wash the groom’s hands and the women wash the bride’s, the bride and groom wash their hands in return. The groom and d’abella then build a small fire whose ashes are used by the bride and groom to smear on their right hands and right thighs. The women and d’abella pray for the new couple to have sons. (Wood 163)
On this morning, the groom brings the fire started on the wedding into his tent. The bride is to cook her first meal as wife and had’aman (mother of the house). This meal is called buluqa, it is a liquid mixture of the food available at the time. This is the day that the assistants leave the couple. The rest of the day is full of visitations. Later in the day the couple will visit the bride’s mother bringing with them a “wedding toast” of milk, oil and fried coffee beans. The bride now has the task of visiting family and friends asking for barito, wedding gifts in the form goats and sheep. (Wood 164)
The couple will stay in the corral for about a month, after which they will move their tent into the camp. The tent is taken apart and packed onto three camels. The bride will ride on the lead camel carrying someone’s first born son (able Gabra usually do not ride on camels), the camels are lead by her husband to their new home. (Wood 164) This last ceremony is somewhat like the tradition in the United States where the bride is carried by into their new home by the groom.
The long process of marriage in Gabra society is a series of detailed rituals. These rituals serve the purpose of preparing the couple for married life. They also establish roles for the couple, man as the provider, and woman as the caretaker/child bearer. At the same time the process establishes their positions in the society. Marriage in Gabra society establishes people.
I. Aspects of Camel Possession
It is each family group that in practice possesses the livestock and manages them,while the clan ideologically owns the livestock. In the family group, more than one person insist on their right of ownership on each livestock. Baxter (1970: 126) pointed out, “Every beast is the focus of a complex of rights and cannot be said to have one legal owner.” This applies as well to the Gabra. However, Gabra externally consider that all livestock which the family group keeps belong to the patriarch (abba worra). The father is the patriarch. He represents the family group and manages those livestock. The livestock which are kept by a family group can be classiﬁed into two categories according to the rights of possession. A family group possesses all goats and sheep in the enclosure, however, the camels and cattle which are kept in the enclosure consist of both those possessed by the family group and those not possessed by the family group.
The camels for which the family group holds the rights of possession are called halal (hereafter personal camel). The personal camel can be disposed of according to the dictates of the patriarch of the family group. On the other hand, the camels which are not personal camels (hereafter holding camel) can not be disposed in such a manner. The family group can, however, make use of the holding camel products of holding camels, such as milk, blood and its labor. The rights of possession of such holding camels belong to another family group.
II. Forms of Camel Transfer
The complicated aspects of camel possession was consequences resultant from the complicated forms of camel transfer. Gabra transfer their camels as gifts, on the basis of short-term loan, through trade and trust.
Transferring a camel as a gift includes the transfer of the rights of possession. When an owner transfers a camel as a gift, the ownership of the camel is also transferred from transferor to transferee. Thus, a holding camel can not be used as a gift. The typical form under which gift camels are transferred among Gabra is qaban-qaba, a camel of circumcision, which is transferred from a maternal uncle to his nephew, and qarat, bride wealth, which is transferred from a groom’s family group to bride’s family group.
There are two types of trade, buying (bita) and selling (gurgur). Gabra purchase camel with money, goats or sheep. Most of the sellers are Somali, who buy camels from Turkana or Somali and bring them to the Gabra for selling. The price of a male adolescent camel (gurbo) is around 7 goats or sheep, and that of a female adolescent camel (orge) is around 14 goats or sheep. A female adolescent camel is also exchanged with an adult castrated camel (dufar). On the other hand, Gabra people seem reluctant to sell camels. Only those people in great difﬁculty sell a camel, in which case they usually sell an adult castrated camel at the same rate described above. If they need money urgently, they butcher the adult castrated camel and sell its meat.
3. Short Term Loan
There are two categories of holding camels. One is that which is transferred by short term loan and the other is that which is transferred by trust. Gabra lend camels to other family groups for a certain speciﬁed period as a short term loan (erug). Both personal camels and holding camels can be lent out on the basis of a short term loan, except for the camel which is itself borrowed from another family group as a short term loan. Short term loans are used by family groups which do not have enough camels. For example, a family group lacking sufﬁcient camel milk would speciﬁcally borrow a milk camel for one to three years: the family group which has no bull camel for mating would borrow a bull in mating season: and the family group with insufﬁcient loading camels for shifting settlements would borrow loading camels for several days. The short term loan for milk camel and a milk camel itself are called karashime.
Trust (dabare) is the most common form of camel (as well as cattle) transfer. Trust is a long-term loan in which only nulliparous camel (orge) can be used. Both personal camels and holding camels can be trusted, except for the camel which itself is borrowed from another family group as a short term loan. In a trust transfer, the owner transfers his personal camel to someone without the right of possession. Therefore, ownership of the camel does not change from trustor to trustee after having trusted. Trustees can keep a trusted camel as long as the owner does not ask for its return. They have the right of use of the trusted camel and what it produces, most importantly milk. The rights of possession of female offspring of a trusted camel belong to the owner of the trusted camel. However, the rights of possession of male offspring of trusted camel belong to the trustee of the trusted camel. As a result, all trusted camels are female.
Trustor and trustee become intimate friends through the trusting of a camel and they refer to each other as jal. The word jal means friend. Although Gabra often use this term for anyone in daily life, only those who trust camel or cattle can call each other jal. Those who do not trust camel or cattle are not considered jal but rather acquaintances.
Trustees can, in turn, trust out the offspring of a trusted camel to other Gabra, which I call “sublease” in this paper. Through subleasing trusted camels to other Gabra, the jal relationships become interconnected, extending down to sublease trustees. The human relationships resulting from such a jal chain can be conﬁgured diagrammatically. For this purpose, consider a camel (maternal) X, for which the owner is X0 and the trustees who keep the trusted camel are consecutively X1, X2, . . . Xn (where n is a natural number).
The word jal is applied only to those who trust camel directly. Those who are not directly connected by virtue of a speciﬁc trusted camel do not recognize themselves as jal friends. In other words, when X0 trusts out his personal camel to X1 and X1 subleases its female offspring to X2, X0 and X1, X1 and X2 have a jal relationship with each other, while X0 and X2 do not. Subsequently, X2 subleases a trusted camel to X3, and X3 subleases its female offspring to X4 in this manner. The length and development of the jal chain is thus extended on the basis of the subleasing of camels. Since a single individual usually trusts out several camels to some men, and, conversely, he gets several trusted camels from some trustors, the jal chains which originate with different camels are, in a sense, connected. In this way, the jal chain creates a multiple network in the Gabra society.
From here, let us rearrange the way of transfer and the aspects of possession of camel. There are both personal camels and holding camels in any enclosure. Most male camels are personal camels, because the male offspring of a trusted camel becomes the trustee’s property. There are, however, few female personal camels in any enclosure, because Gabra trust out most of their personal camels to other family groups. Most of the female camels are trusted camels and there are a few short term loaned camels. Usually, an owner trusts out most of his personal camels to other Gabra, and he lives on camels trusted in from other Gabra.
Supplementary information in PDF format (download)
SYSTEM AND REALITY: THE CAMEL TRUST SYSTEM OF THE GABRA - Toru SOGA - Hirosaki University