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Borana tribe woman - Kenya | by Eric Lafforgue
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Borana tribe woman - Kenya

The Borana live in the barren north of Kenya, on the boundery with Ethiopia. They belong to one of the 200 Oromo groups.

Their name means "friend" or "kind person", so that a bad person may be told he is not Borana.The Borana speak an Oromo language spoken by three major peoples. Their way of life is organized around the family's animals: cattle but also goats, sheep and sometimes camels. Because of the changing land and more frequent droughts, they tend to rear camels instead of cattle. Livestock (cattle and camels) is the main source of wealth, and serves as payment of the bride, sacrifices and legal fines.Their staple diet is based on milk products, supplemented by corn bread. Meat is highly valuable and only consumed on rare occasions. Borana solid round huts, built by the women, consist of intermixed branches covered with grass and slits of plants all the way to the ground. They also weave portable grass huts called the dasse. The Borana may have to move up to four times a year, because of the lack of rainfall and arid land. It is the women's role to displace their homes to the new location, either by camel or donkey. However, nowadays, many Borana are not nomad any more and build permanent houses made of mud, which protect them from the heavy rain. Their new houses are generally spacious, with usually three rooms. The deep wells (tula wells) plays a key role in the Borana society, as the sole source providing water during the dry season. The wells appear in clusters, known locally as “tulas”, they were built with no scientific equipment. Most of all, they are never dryed up, even in the event of severe droughts. When the men draw on the well, they form a human chain on a precarious ladder, and sing a loud chorus, which keeps the rhythm going. So the troughs are filled at a steady pace, at the mouth of the well. Families are close-knit, although divorce is quite frequent. A strict role segregation between men and wome exists: men are in charge of the herds care while women are responsible for the children and day-today life. Beside weaving the portable grass huts they build each time they move, they also take care of the tea ritual at the opening ceremony of the new houses. The Borana often sport a shawl or light blanket. Women wear a scarf covering their head while men often wear a small brimless cap for prayer. In contrast to the Samburu, Borana clothes are of dark colours.

Because of their nomadic lifestyle, they had few contacts with Christians. Although Islam has influenced their society, they believe traditionally in one God called Wak. They believe Wak sends all good things, especially rain. In the legend, they have to give gifts to their god, the biggest sacrifice that can be made being the first baby. In this case, it is a shaman who lives in the forest who will kill the new born. They also have intermediary priests named Qalla. Their spiritual leaders are granted a powerful veneration. In their religion, spirits (Ayana) which possess people and things are of a great importance. Their believes are related to their herds which are indispensable for sacrifices and rituals to guarantee fertility, health, and assistance from spirits. As a nomadic group, many traditions are taught through oral history, especially songs. Every single aspect of their culture is based on music. A very known tradition is their complex gada system, that divides the Borana community into different classes. A new gada is elected every eight years by an assembly of all the Borana people or their representatives.


© Eric Lafforgue


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Taken on July 13, 2009