Borana traditional ceremonies

The Borana people have rich traditions and values that pass from generation to generation. These tradition include the ceremonies they perform to signify some of the important aspect of their lives. These ceremonies not only help in the continuation of cultural values from generation to generation but also a commemoration of significant happenings. There are various types of ceremonies and rituals they performed.

They include but not limited to gubissa, gadamojji, fudha, ya’a, gnachissa and others. This page is dedicated to introducing the various ceremonies performed. For today we will introduce you to the gadamojji, which is celebrated by this proud people once every eight years.


What Is the Gadamojji in the Borana Tribe?

The Borana settled in Ethiopia and Kenya, but their lands are constantly threatened.

In Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia, the Borana Oromo people live out pastoral lives. In the tradition of this ancient culture, the Gadamojji represents a significant period in the lives of all Borana people. The event Gadamojji is celebrated every eight years according to the lunar calendar, and with its ceremonial activities and political values, its importance is highly regarded by tribal members. The Borana Oromo also name a significant member of the tribe as Gadamojji, a very high position for an elder.

System of Gaada

In Borana, the system of Gaada governs the rules of birth, marriage and other rites of passage. The system began with the creation of human beings according to Borana beliefs. The Gadamojji is a central figure in the tribe who is respected and believed to have special powers. The Gadamojji ceremony celebrates the change of governance from elder members of the tribe to the younger warriors.

Rite of Passage

As a basic definition, the Gadamojji is a rite of passage ceremony that marks the end of one generation’s control of the tribe and the start of a new one. The Gaada period lasts for eight years. The final Gadamojji ceremony includes several activities and other events that mark the political, social and economic changes occurring within the tribe. The Gadamojji ceremony also signifies the roles of men and women in the tribe. The Borana are a patrilineal society, meaning that men are dominant providers while women maintain a subordinate role.


During the Gadamojji ceremony, several contests between the older Gadamojji and his sons depict a tug-of-war over the power exchange in the tribe. The contests also show the capabilities of new warriors to protect the tribe. In one activity, the warriors fight to protect a milk vessel. The contests also show that the Borana are a predominantly militaristic society.


The Borana tribes spread out between Kenya and Southern Ethiopia. Changes in religious practices and decreasing land availability limit the Gadamojji ceremonies. Islam and Christianity filtered into the Borana tribe in the late 19th century, changing the historical cultural values for Gadamojji ceremonies. Land usage and increasing populations also limit where the ceremonies can be held, which prevents less fortunate Borana tribes from participating in the ceremonies.


Gubbissa (Namegiving among the Boranas)

Naming of children amongst Ethiopians is a major part of the process of incorporating new arrivals into the extended family. Among the Borana Oromos, the process, called Gubbisa is more elaborate and out of the ordinary as Ton Leus wrote in Aadaa Boraanaa, a Dictionary of Borana Culture.

Gubbisa is the elaborate name giving ceremony for a first born(angafa).Traditionally the ceremony was held when the boy was two or three years old, after he was able to walk but before he grew too big. Nowadays the timing is more contingent upon the family’s economic situation as a boy may have his Gubbis while still a babe in arms or several years old. Whenever, because the ceremony is so important, the precise day is carefully calcualted, the father consulting an astrologer over this.

Gubbis should be held when the Pleiedes (Buusani) are visible early morning, which occurs in the month of Caamsa. This is the last month of the long rains and thus a time of plenty. Ideally the ceremony is timed so the ox is sacrificed just as the Pleiades appear before dawn. Families who are ilmaan Kormaa should hold their Gubbis during the waxing moon on the Adullaa ayaana days. If this coincides with the full moon, then theqootii branches should be collected that evening. Those who are ilmaan jaarsaa can hold their Gubbis any time. But none of this is so strictly adhered to nowadays and especially every eight years there is a rash of name givings (and weddings) around the time of Jila Gadamoji, the months of Wacabaji and OBora Gudda, in order to beat the deadline of the moratorium on such ceremonies that starts with Godryna ceremony (when the gammee have their heads shaved) and continues for about two years.

The ceremony normally lasts five days, which require the building of ceremonial house (galma). The name giving (maqaa baasaa) caries out on the third day, the father shaves his son’s head (mataa buufata), while this is being done the child is fitted not only with the little bracelets, michiraa and irroo, that all Borana wear but also a small metal bell (hagaloo) that is tied round his upper right arm and special bead (ciru’aana, gagaafii) that is tied round his neck. If the grandfather is still alive then aada decrees the boy be named after him, otherwise any other name that is suitable for a first born son, e.g. the name of a ceremonial site (ardaa jilaa) such as Boru are also suitable

After the name giving, the father spreads his cloth over his knees and takes the twowadeessa sticks. He stripes off the bark and trims the two ends, putting all the bark and shavings into his cloth. This he folds up and places near the madaala. This trimming is referred to with the seeda euphemism mataa haadani (lit they shave the head) instead of the normal qunqumani, they trim. When the ceremony is over he plces the two wadeessa horizontally above the milk pots in the baroo manaa.

The singing that follows the name giving must continue throught the night, the torbaanare not permitted to leave, nor allowed to sleep. They take turns holding the little boy. Then, before dawn, they wake the rest of the people for the sacrifice of the ox.

(Aadaa Boraanaa, a Dictionary of Borana Culture, published in 2006 by Shama Books Pages 709, Price 221.00.The author, Ton Leus was born and educated in the Netherlands. After finishing his philosophical and theological studies, he went to Tanzania and worked there for more than ten years as a priest of the Spiritian Missionary Society. He was then assigned to Ethiopia, to Borana where he has been living for the past 25 years. He studied the language and customs by living and working wit the Boran. Twice before he published a Borana-English dictionary, the second, on which this one is based, in 1995.He also published a collection of Borana sayings and proverbs. He prepared the book with Cynthia Salvadori. )

Rad more 

  • Gubbissa
  • ulluqoo
  • Chonii
  • Sodduu
  • Fudha
  • nyachissa
  • Ya’a
  • Mogassu kormaa
  • Kormaa Korbesa
  • Sorio
  • Goola
  • Muuda
  • Baalli
  • Hayyoma
  • Raboma

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