Borana Oromo people

The Borana Oromo people, also called the Borana, are a subethnic group within Oromo people and live in southern Oromia's Borena Zone of Ethiopia and northern Kenya.[2][6] They speak a dialect of the Oromo language that is distinct enough that it is difficult for other Oromo speakers to understand.[6] The Borana people are notable for practicing Gadaa system without interruption. [7] Borana people don't name their children for up to three years.[8]

Borana Oromo
Borana women
Regions with significant populations
874,000 Ethiopia

276,236 Kenya[1]

10,000 Somalia
Traditional faith (Waaq), Islam,[3] Christianity[4]
Related ethnic groups
Other Oromo peoples[5] and Somalis

Demography and languageEdit

Borana girls in Ethiopia

Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, the Oromo people had differentiated into two major confederations of pastoral tribes: the Borana and the Barentu, and several minor ones. The Barentu people thereafter expanded to the eastern regions now called Hararghe, Arsi, Wello and northeastern Shawa. The Borana people, empowered by their Gadda political and military organization expanded in the other directions, regions now called western Shawa, Welega, Illubabor, Kaffa, Gamu Goffa, Sidamo and thereafter into what is now northern Kenya regions. The Borana further subdivided into various subgroups such as Macha, Tulama, Sadacha and others.[9]

The Borana speak Borana (or afaan Booranaa), a dialect of Oromo language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages. In the border regions of Ethiopia-Kenya and southwestern Somalia, one estimate places about 1,094,000 people as Boranas.[10] Another estimate in 2019 suggests 874,000 Boranas in Ethiopia, 210,000 in Kenya and 10,000 in Somalia.[6] The Borana are the southernmost Horners of the Horn peninsula.[11]


The Borana, Gabbra and Sakuye peoples are sub-ethnic groups within the Oromo people group, and share language and culture. Some groups from the Oromo people from southern Ethiopia entered northern Kenya during the 16th century. They then differentiated into the cattle-keeping Borana, while the Gabbra and Sakuye specialized in camel-keeping. They lived together, each with different pastoral focus. As competition for grazing lands and resources increased, conflicts emerged.[12]



The Oromo people were traditionally a culturally homogeneous society with genealogical ties.[13] The Borana[6] and other Oromo communities governed themselves in accordance with gadaa (literally "era"), a limited democratic socio-political system long before the 16th century, when major three party wars commenced between them and the Christian kingdom to their north and Islamic sultanates to their east and south. The Gadaa system elected males from five Oromo miseensa (groups), for a period of eight years, for various judicial, political, ritual and religious roles. Retirement was compulsory after the eight year term, and each major clan followed the same gadaa system.[13] Women and people belonging to the lower Oromo castes were excluded.[14] Male born in the upper Oromo society went through five stages of eight years, where his life established his role and status for consideration to a gadaa office.[13]

Under gadaa, every eight years, the Oromo would choose by consensus an Abbaa Bokkuu responsible for justice, peace, judicial and ritual processes, an Abbaa Duulaa responsible as the war leader, an Abbaa Sa'aa responsible as the leader for cows, and other positions.[15]

Social stratificationEdit

Like other ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa and East Africa, Borana Oromo people regionally developed social stratification consisting of four hierarchical strata. The highest strata were the nobles called the Borana, below them were the Gabbaro (some 17th to 19th century Ethiopian texts refer them as the dhalatta). Below these two upper castes were the despised castes of artisans, and at the lowest level were the slaves.[16][17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Volume IV: Distribution of Population by Socio-Economic Characteristics". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b Oromo, Borana-Arsi-Guji (Ethnologue)
  3. ^ Aguilar, Mario (1996). "The Eagle as Messenger, Pilgrim and Voice: Divinatory Processes among the Waso Boorana of Kenya". Journal of Religion in Africa. 26 (Fasc. 1): 56–72. doi:10.1163/157006696X00352. JSTOR 1581894.
  4. ^ Cornelius J. Jaenen (1956), The Oromo of East Africa, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer, 1956), pages 171-190
  5. ^ Sarah Tishkoff; et al. (2009). "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans" (PDF). Science. 324 (5930): 1035–44. Bibcode:2009Sci...324.1035T. doi:10.1126/science.1172257. PMC 2947357. PMID 19407144. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  6. ^ a b c d Steven L. Danver (2015). Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-1-317-46400-6.
  7. ^ "Oromo, Borana in Ethiopa".
  8. ^ "Why Borana people don't name their children for up to three years".
  9. ^ Asafa Jalata (2010), Oromo Peoplehood: Historical and Cultural Overview, Sociology, University of Tennessee Press, pages 5, 11-12
  10. ^ Appiah & Gates 2010, p. 196.
  11. ^ Cossins, Noel J., and Martin Upton. "The Borana pastoral system of southern Ethiopia." Agricultural Systems 25.3 (1987): 199-218.
  12. ^ Elliot Fratkin; Eric Abella Roth (2006). As Pastoralists Settle: Social, Health, and Economic Consequences of the Pastoral Sedentarization in Marsabit District, Kenya. Springer. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-306-48595-4.
  13. ^ a b c Tesema Ta'a (2006). The Political Economy of an African Society in Transformation: the Case of Macca Oromo (Ethiopia). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-3-447-05419-5.
  14. ^ Paul Trevor William Baxter; Jan Hultin; Alessandro Triulzi (1996). Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquiries. Nordic Africa Institute. pp. 252–253. ISBN 978-91-7106-379-3., Quote: "gadaa government was a preclass institution based on democratic principles even though it did exclude caste groups such as smiths and tanners, and women (...)".
  15. ^ Tesema Ta'a (2006). The Political Economy of an African Society in Transformation: the Case of Macca Oromo (Ethiopia). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-3-447-05419-5.
  16. ^ J. Abbink (1985), Review: Oromo Religion. Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia by Lambert Bartels, Journal: Anthropos, Bd. 80, H. 1./3. (1985), pages 285-287
  17. ^ Paul Trevor William Baxter; Jan Hultin; Alessandro Triulzi (1996). Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquiries. Nordic Africa Institute. pp. 254–256. ISBN 978-91-7106-379-3.


Further readingEdit

  • Asmarom Legesse. Gada Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. The Free Press A Division of McMillan Co. Inc, 1973
  • Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford, Some records of Ethiopia Hakluyt Society, 1954
  • Bassi Marco, Decisions in the Shade. Political and juridical processes among the Oromo-Borana Red Sea Press, 2005
  • Clifford H F Plowman CMG OBE, Notes On The Gedamoch Ceremonies Among The Boran, Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 18, No. 70 (Jan 1919), pp. 114-121