Understanding Gabra and Orma Culture and History – (branches of Oromo)

Understanding Gabra and Orma Culture and History.

July 22, 2018

The Gabra, Orma and Borana people are branches of Oromo. The Oromo makes about 50 million and inhabit central, southern, western and eastern fertile region of Ethiopia. The Gabra, Orma and Borana occupy large tract of northern Kenya, especially Marsabit County.

At the end of this article you will find some facts (not based on research) about Orma and Gabra people. Enjoy the wonderful culture of these people.

Village Orma Kipini Kenya

Village of the tribe of the Orma people located on the Tana River near Kipini (Kenya). They are members of the Oromo people of Ethiopia & and northern Kenya and are close relatives of the Borana, Gabra Arsi, etc. all the clans of the people of Oromo. I thank Yaballo 1 for the accuracy on the origins of this people.

Oromo tribes in tana river

They are referred as Orma, Munyo Yaya, Wardey & Wata or Waboni. Basically their tribal route is from Oromo. They live in Tana River County in KENYA across the coast of Indian Ocean. The full documentarty would be released soon……

Maqaadhaan Ormaa, Muunyoo Yaayyaa, Wardeeyi fi Waataa ykn Waabooni jedhamuun beekamu. Isaanis qomoo saba Oromoo yoo ta’ani, kutaa bulchiinsa (County) Tana River jedhamu kan Keeniyaa keessatti argamu keessa hedduuminaan qubatu. Qabiyyeen lafa isaaniis hanga garba hindiitti yoo ta’u, guutummaa guuutuuttis sabni Kun Afaan Oromoo dubbatu. Guutummaan docuumentary kanaa yeroo dhiyootti isiniif dhiheessinaa abdiihaan nu eegaa.

Gabra ‘Oromo’ Cultural Night in Nairobi Kenya

Orma in Kenya

In Brief

The Orma people are an ethnic community found in eastern Kenya, mostly along the lower Tana River. They also inhabit the Southern regions of Somalia in the Lower Juba and Middle Juba regions specifically. They are semi-nomadic shepherds, and they live in the southeastern deserts of Kenya except during the rainy season, when they move their herds inland.

The Orma have a population of about 146,000 people (2011). They are related to the Borana Oromo people to the north and speak the Orma language, a variety of Oromo.

Introduction / History
The Orma are semi-nomadic people, some well known from their tall, slender physiques and handsome features, who live in the southeastern parts of Kenya in Tana River and Lamu districts. They keep cattle and move to the higher grounds during the rainy season when the Tana River floods. They move with their herds inland.

The Orma are remnants of a powerful nation of Ethiopia and northern Kenya. In the late nineteenth century, wars with neighboring tribes forced the Orma to migrate south. Some moved to the rich delta area of the lower Tana River and others settled west of the river.

Raising cattle is their basic means of survival. Their distinct breed of the white, long-horned zebu cattle are among the finest in Africa. The cows are commonly known as Borana cows (with a hump). Zebu are used as a bride price and are slaughtered at weddings and funerals.

Where Are they Located?
Some key Orma cities are Hola (the capital of Tana River District), Garsen, Tarasaa and Witu.

What Are Their Lives Like?
Though the Orma basically survive by raising cattle, they also raise goats and sheep. Men who own more than 1,000 head of cattle are granted special recognition in their communities.

They also eat maize, rice, beans and drink chai. The arid Tana region is not very favorable for growing produce; therefore, they have few vegetables in their diet. Any produce they obtain must be bought from another tribe. This is not an easy task since the shortage of watering holes often leads to bloody clashes between tribes.

The Orma live in round, wood-framed huts built by the women. The huts are thatched with grass and in some cases with woven mats. In some cases when the family migrates with the herds due to drought, they leave the frame of their homes behind, only carrying the mats. They will often return to the same site when rains return. A larger version of these huts is built for those who live in permanent villages.

An Orma man traditionally has only one wife, even though polygamy is allowed now that the Orma are almost exclusively Muslim. Special ceremonies are performed at the birth of children. Babies are dedicated seven days after they are born. A woman stays secluded for forty days after giving birth. Then, a feast is held with the other women in the village and the baby is dedicated a second time. The firstborn child of either sex is named after one of the paternal grandparents.

Among the Orma, the line of descent is traced patrilineally, or through the males. Masculinity in attitudes, rituals and symbolism is customary. Such things as bravery and warrior ethics are also stressed. Spear throwing and fighting are admirable skills among the men and those who have killed dangerous animals or human enemies are honored.

What Are Their Beliefs?
The Orma are almost all Muslim and have been so for three or four generations. They are devoted in their faith, observing all the rites and religious festivals of Islam. Most of the Orma have never heard the name of Jesus. If they have heard His name, it has been through the Islamic teachings that Jesus was simply a prophet, teacher, or good man, but not that He is God’s Son.

The original religion of the Orma included belief in a creator God associated with the sky. They recognized the existence of many spirits and associated them with various locations in nature such as mountain tops, trees, groves, rivers and wells. These beliefs have now apparently been combined with their Islamic beliefs.

Source: Joshua


In Brief
The Gabra (also written Gabbra or Gebra) are an ethnic group mainly inhabiting northern Kenya and the highlands of southern Ethiopia. Camel-herding nomads, Gabra are part of the Oromo; and are closely associated especially with Borana. The population of Gabra is estimated to be about 100,000 (2011).

The Gabra tribe are predominantly pastoralists in nature,the tribe occupy of Marsabit County along the great Chalbi desert.

The clans system is one of the important setup amongst the community since it symbolizes diversity and significance.

Gabra People and Their Clans
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.

The Gabra and Rendille tribes share some of the cultural practices, Sorio is one of the rites that is widely treasured among the two tribes.

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.

The Algana clan is the largest in Gabra tribe,Othola is one of the clan that is amongst Rendille and Gabra tribes in Northern Kenya.

Each clan in Gabbra community, consists of a minimum of one to seven lineages. 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 kinship is important in Gabra daily life, because each phratry has its own territory. 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.

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 resources in an area which a different phratry occupies

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.


  1. There is no orma live southern Somalia, my friend. how they live there, when there is long distance between southern Somalia and Tana river where orma lives? also clans who lives sothern somalia or 2 jubas are well known and they are all documented, none of them are orma.
    Even between tana river where orma lives and souther Somalia, lives by Somali kenyans,so you saying orma divided and some lives kenya others lives Somalia? But I never heard orma lives jubooyinka or 2 jubas in SOMALIA, its new to me.

  2. These people are not oromo but proto Somali people who were called karre (dasse people) there were fought divided subjugated displaced replaced given degoratory names and forcefully assimilated to powerful borana tribe. Gabra means slave waata those who were masacared deprived of their animals and ran to forest. Orma the outsides , sakuye those who lives in saku marsabit county and rendile those who fled and joined nilotic samburus. These divided people never raised up to identified themselves because of fear of fight or the name (nyap) enemy from borana. its only recently thy identify themselves. These dasse people have clans which are shared among them but know divided and live different life in different environment with different given names but same clan

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