The Abba Gadas: The Story of The Borana Leaders

The Story of The Borana Leaders

Abba Gadas: The Ancient Borana Leadership System
Across the dusty plains, under the shade of acacia trees six old men can be seen sitting together. A few of them are pulling at their scraggly white and ochre beards while nodding in agreement. This is the Adula council; they have come to debate as to who should manage the community’s wells.

Married Borana men look in their direction from afar, as they water the camels. After a few minutes, the head of the council arrives, the Abba Gada or ‘father of Gada’ as he is known in the Borana language.

Old and wise as his years, he trudges along, stick in hand. His eyes still shine with the rigor of his long past youth. He takes a seat at the head of the council as he has done, for eight years, since the beginning of his rule. The other council-men bow in reverence. Councils like these have sat together under similar circumstances, for the past five hundred years.

For five hundred years, the Borana have kept their unity intact by following this system of ruling themselves.

Division amongst the council-men is rare because the members are from the same age set, namely the Gada class or the Warra Bora. As younger men, some of these old men may have also sat in the Borana Assembly or the ‘Salgan ya’a Borana.

The assembly had the president, two vice presidents and six other very important officials who ran the Borana administration. These were the Abbaa Cha a, the chair of the assembly, Abbaa Dubbi, the speaker, Abbaa Seera, the Memorizer of laws Abbaa Alanga the judge, Abbaa Duula, the army commander, Abbaa sa’a in charge of the economy. The president was called the Abba boku.

Like modern parliaments today this Borana parliament would summon sittings to make, repeal or ensure that the laws were being followed. The end of a discussion on issues was accepted without question and the Abba Muriti, the “Father of Resolution”, was present to make sure that those present in the discussion adhered to this requirement. Men who married could also participate or send representatives to the assembly.

Below this assembly was the Hayyus or councillors who made the less weighty decisions. They ensured that the laws made in the higher levels of authority reached the people. Amongst the Borana, the people would hold elections to elect a new crop of leaders every eight years according to tradition.

Abba Gadas: The Ancient Borana Leadership System

The legacy of the Abba Gadas lives on
The decisions made by the Borana traditional councils extended to the use of natural resources. For example, certain areas, such as forests, were set aside as refuge during drought. Herds of cattle or camels were not allowed to go there unless there was an extremely severe drought.

Today we seem to have forgotten these important rules, and cattle invade and damage forests every dry season. There may be no refuge left for them in severe droughts.

The Abba Gadas: Online Exhibition

Credits: Story
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 30 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team.

National Museums of Kenya – Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) – Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) – Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega – Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere – Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu – Art Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki – Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga – Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii – Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti – Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga – Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria – Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba – Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo – Education Officer

Nature Kenya – Other Contributors
The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)

Daisy Okoti – Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shani Mutarura – Shujaa Stories Ltd
Jeff Muchina- Shujaa Stories Ltd
Brian Kiraga – Shujaa Stories Ltd

Masidza Sande Galavu – Shujaa Stories Ltd
Martha Shavuya Galavu – Shujaa Stories Ltd

Eddy Ochieng – National Museums of Kenya
Linda Tambo – Shujaa Stories Ltd
Juelz Laval – Shujaa Stories Ltd

Credits: All media

The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.

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