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About the Tribe
Livestock and Trade
Borana keep livestock for various uses. Donkeys are kept as beasts of burden by each section, though mainly by the Boran-gutu who do not keep camels. Cattle, sheep, goats and camels all provide milk (and milk products), meat, hides and skins. In addition, camels provide transport. The Borana also use them for exchange: a cow may be bartered for a donkey, fifteen sheep for a cow, and two cows for thirty sheep for a camel. A pair of elephant tusks used to fetch thirty cows when taken across the Ethiopian border.
People used to set on a long trading journey which took many months. Many people still tell tales of how these traders walked as far south as Nyeri in central Kenya and even reached Mombasa. Sometimes, if they could not sell their stock quickly, they had to stay in one place for a long time.
For this reason they called Nyeri ‘Teto’ (settlement). The journeys were long, tiresome and dangerous. Some of the tribes through whose country the traders had to pass were very hostile. Animals and their products were directly exchanged for tea, sugar and clothing. There was also the exchange of stock for food crops and handicrafts going on between the Borana and the neighboring Burji and Konso.
Apart from their use in trade transactions, cattle and camels occupy a very important ritual place in the lives of the Boran-gutu and the Gabbra. They are used to pay bride, religious sacrifices and to pay fines in the courts of law.
The wealth and, to a certain extent, the social status of a person is determined by the number of livestock he possesses. The average number of heads of cattle owned by a family used to be at least three hundred. One thousand was not unusual and anybody with less than twenty heads of cattle was a very poor man who required a loan in the form of cattle from his close clansmen. This kind of loan entitled the borrower to use the animal’s milk and its offspring while it was in his manyatta.
The Borana take their cows in search of water every couple of days, and rotas are drawn up by the Aba Harega, who informs each person of the set time that they can visit the well. Clans are widely distributed among madda and are the primary mechanism for wealth redistribution. There are about 35 madda with an average area of 500 km². Each madda, on average, may contain several well clusters serving some 100 encampments, 4000 people and 10 000 cattle. Some 100 clan meetings are held each year in which the poor petition the wealthy for cattle. Political structure is related to the social structure.
Dress and Ornaments
The Borana traditional dress was made from goat and sheepskins. Three sheep were needed to make a complete garment for a woman. This dress was twisted round the body and held in place by a leather belt, and thong passed over the top of the shoulder held two corners of the garment together. Sandals were made from a single layer of hides.
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, consecutive natural calamities occurred in North Eastern Africa that collapsed pastoral economies and forced human adaptations. A rinderpest epizootic and devastating famine characterized the period. Using oral narrations of the Borana Oromo of Southern Ethiopia, this paper discusses the impact of the Great Rinderpest of the 1890s on cattle, as well as the subsequent famine, and the beginning of predation by carnivores on humans.
Importance of Animal Products
The Borana are pastoralists, though a few also grow crops around Marsabit and Moyale, or in the southern Ethiopian highlands. There are also a few irrigation schemes in Isiolo District. The rest of the country has too harsh a climate for growing crowing crops and here the Borana are pastoralists. The Waat are hunters and gatherers and, because of their very small numbers, they have long attached themselves to other Boran clans, and in the process they have become completely dispersed.
A Borana is not allowed to eat certain kinds of food. He may not eat meat or drink milk from animals which do not have cloven hooves. That is to say animals belonging to the dog, cat, and horse families. He may also not eat fish, birds, reptiles or insects. Foods such as maize, millet and wheat are eaten by the Borana who lives in the higher and wetter areas, Marsabit and the southern Ethiopian highlands. For the majority of the members of the tribe, the staple diet is milk and meat. Because a man may own as many sheep, goats, cattle and camels as he can afford, there is sufficient milk from the many animals to feed his family, except during server droughts. They drink fresh or sour milk, and they use it to produce butter of ghee.
Meat is not a daily food, but forms a regular part of the diet. People are more apt to kill goat and sheep, but during a server drought a bullock or a cow may be killed for food. The meat is cut into strips and hung up until it dries. It is then fried and stored in animal fat. Sometimes the dried meat is pounded into fillets, fried and stored in fat. In both cases, the meat lasts for many months without going bad.
Blood may also be used for food. It is either drunk pure or mixed with milk. The blood comes from the jugular vein in the neck of a living cow or bull. The vein is made to stand out by tying a rope tightly round the cow’s neck. Then the vein is pierced with an arrow and the blood is caught in a gourd. Blood that has clotted is warmed and eaten. But no one bleeds the same cow day after day; one cow may give only a few pints of blood, and even then, maybe only once or twice a year.
To the north of Marsabit there are no permanent rivers, and most of the land is covered by sand and gravel, such as the Chalbi Desert, or by bare lava stones as are found in Dido Galgallu Desert. This is the homeland of the Gabbra, who herd camels. Camels can easily go without water for as long as three weeks. They feed on thorns and leaves and in this poor environment they produce more milk than cattle do. Other hardy stocks kept by the Gabbra are goats and sheep, both of which thrive in arid areas where frequent watering is not possible.
He announces three times that a son is born. Neighbours come with gifts of milk, animal fat and perfumes, while the father distributes some tobacco and makes a sacrifice of coffee berries. During the following four days, dances are held by the women to celebrate the arrival of the new born son.
Importance of Plants
Foods such as maize, millet and wheat are eaten by the Borana who lives in the higher and wetter areas, Marsabit and the southern Ethiopian highlands.
The study revealed a total of 49 medicinal plant species (belonging to 31 families and 46 genera) used to treat various human ailments, the majority of which 40 (81.6%) species were collected from wild while the rests from home garden. Herbs constituted the largest growth habit (18 species, 37%) followed by trees (16 species, 32%) and shrubs (15 species, 31%). Leaf `17 (35%) is the plant part widely used followed by root 13 (27%), leafy-stem 5 (10%), and seed 6 (12%). Oral administration was the dominant route (63%), followed by dermal route (22%) and nasal (11%). The highest number of plant species being used for infectious (48%) followed by two or more diseases and non-infectious disease. Of five and seven medicinal plants of preference ranking the highest ranks were given first for Croton macrostaychus used for malaria treatment and for Prunus africana as ‘’rare” for immediate collection and use in the traditional treatment. Significantly higher average number of medicinal plants (p < 0.05) were reported by informants of higher institution (14.3 ± 34) and adult age groups (11.6 ± 43).