Gabra people

The Gabra (also written Gabbra or Gebra) is a Somali-Oromo ethnic group mainly inhabiting the Moyale and Marsabit regions of northern Kenya and the highlands of southern Ethiopia.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Total population
c. 700,000
Regions with significant populations
 Ethiopia520,010 (2007)[1]
 Kenya141,200 (2019)[2]
Oromo, Somali
Related ethnic groups


The Gabra migrated to Northern Kenya around the 15th century due to their pastoralism nature. They settled in present day Moyale, Marsabit, North Horr and the vast Chalbi Desert and southern part of ethiopia.


Traditional camel bell used by the Gabra.

The name "Gabra" may have roots in the Somali word ”GABBR", the name of an evergreen plant that grows on the desert.

The Gabra's ornamentation and physical culture is similar to many other Cushitic-speaking camel herders. The latter include other Somalis in Southern Somalia, Rendille, and Sakuye, 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 Borana, on the other hand, are described by the Gabbra as warra buyyoo ("people of the grass"), in reference to the grass huts that characterize their sedentary lifestyle.

Gabra homes, called mindasse, are light, dome-shaped tents made of acacia roots, and covered with sisal grass mats, textiles, and camel hides. Each mindasse is divided into four quarters; a public quadrant each for male visitors, female visitors, and a private quadrant each for parents and children. A mindasse 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 mindasse. 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.


Gabra society is broadly divided into the lowland Gabra (Gabra Malbe) on the Kenyan side of the border and the highland Gabra (Gabra Miigo). Gabra society is further divided into several semi-exogamous groups called the "five drums" (Gabra: 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".


Somme Gabra are Sunni Muslims, while others still hold (or have returned to) their ancient traditional oromo -waqi beliefs and the camel oriented rituals with nominal Sufi Islamic practices. They make pilgrimages to sacred sites, most of which are located in the mountainous such as Hesi-Nabo and Agal. Today, both of these holy sites are located within Gabra's traditional territories. The religious activities include animal sacrifices and ritual prayers and were presided over by Dabela, the religious leaders.


According to Y-DNA analysis by Hirbo (2011), around 82.6% of Gabra in Kenya carry the paternal E1b1b haplogroup, with most belonging to the V12 or E3b1a subclade (58.6%). This lineage is most common among local Afroasiatic-speaking populations. The remaining Gabra individuals bear the T/K2 (3.4%) and J haplogroups (3.4%), which are both also associated with Afroasiatic speakers, as well as the E3*/E-P2 clade (3.4%) and E2a lineage (3.4%).[9]

Maternally, Hirbo (2011) observed that approximately 58% of the Gabra samples carried derivatives of the Eurasian macrohaplogroups M and N. Of these mtDNA lineages, the M1 subclade was most common, with around 22.58% of the Gabra individuals belonging to it. The remaining ~42% of the analysed Gabra bore various subclades of the Africa-centered macrohaplogroup L. Of these mtDNA lineages, the most frequently borne clade was L3 (19.36%), followed by the L0a (9.68%), L4 (9.68%), and L2 (6.45%) haplogroups.[9]

The Gabra's autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to Bayesian clustering analysis, the Gabra generally grouped with other Afroasiatic-speaking populations inhabiting Northern Kenya.[10]


  1. ^ Gordon, Jr., Raymond G. (editor) (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas, Texas, USA: SIL International. ISBN 978-1-55671-159-6.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Volume IV: Distribution of Population by Socio-Economic Characteristics". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  3. ^ Tablino, Paolo (1999). The Gabra: Camel Nomads of Northern Kenya. Paulines Publications Africa. ISBN 978-9966-21-438-6.
  4. ^ Wairimu, Nderitu, Alice (2018-12-14). Beyond Ethnicism: Exploring Racial and Ethnic Diversity for Educators. Mdahalo Bridging Divides. ISBN 978-9966-1903-0-7.
  5. ^ Whittaker, Hannah (2014-10-13). Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Kenya: A Social History of the Shifta Conflict, c. 1963-1968. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-28308-4.
  6. ^ Schlee, Günther; Shongolo, Abdullahi A. (2012). Islam & Ethnicity in Northern Kenya & Southern Ethiopia. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84701-046-9.
  7. ^ Feyissa, Dereje; Hoehne, Markus V.; Höhne, Markus Virgil (2010). Borders & Borderlands as Resources in the Horn of Africa. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 978-1-84701-018-6.
  8. ^ Kefale, Asnake (2013-07-31). Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Ethiopia: A Comparative Regional Study. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-01798-9.
  9. ^ a b Hirbo, Jibril B. "Complex Genetic History of East African Human Populations" (PDF). University of Maryland. pp. 195, 199, 215, 220. Retrieved 5 December 2017.
  10. ^ Sarah Tishkoff; et al. (2009). "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans" (PDF). Science. 324 (5930): 1035–44. doi:10.1126/science.1172257. PMC 2947357. PMID 19407144. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-12-05.

Further readingEdit

  • Günther Schlee: Interethnic Clan Identities among Cushitic-Speaking Pastoralists, in: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 55, No. 1 (1985), Edinburgh University Press
  • Muchemi Wachira: Neither Ethiopian Nor Kenyan, Just Gabra, Garre Or Borana, in: The East African, 31. August 2009 [1][2]