Gadaa System

Borana is part of a larger ethnic group, Oromo.  Oromos are known for their egalitarian ruling system called Gadaa, an age grade system combined with sophisticated socio economic and political system. Gadaa has immense amount of influence on Borana society up to date. Although the power of Gadaa system has been eroded due to introduction of different cultures and successive suppuration by outside political systems, none has managed to significantly impact Gadaa system in Borana society. While Borana people exist in Ethiopia and Kenya, all are equally influenced by Gadaa system.

Gadaa system was established in 14th century under a rule of Gadaayo Galgalo Yayyaa. It is believed that Oromos have been under one rule for about 25 abba gadaas after Gadaa was instituted. This will translate to 200 years, for one abba gadaa will rule eight years. Due to limited resource which resulted from growing population, Oromos decided to expand their territory. It is during this period that Borana headed to the south under rule of Abay Babo Horroo. Despite unprecedented challenges they encountered, the Borana maintained this sophisticated and extremely efficient system as it was instituted by founding fathers up-to-date.

The Gadaa system has served as the basis of democratic and egalitarian political system in Borana society. Under it the power to administer the affairs of the nation and the power to make laws belong to the people. Every male member of the society who is of age and of Gadaaa grade has full rights to elect and to be elected. All the people have the right to air their views in any public gathering without fear. The head of Gadaaa is known as Aba Gadaaa (Father of the gadaaa), equivalent of president in modern governments. Gadaaa has eleven grades. The gadaa classes are recruited on the basis of genealogical generations. Luba can be defined as a segment of a generation that assumes power for a period of eight years, whereas gadaa is the years when the members of the class stay in power as the rulers. The following are the eleven Gadaaa grades and their descriptions.

Grade 1: Daballe


Dabale is the first of all grades and it is always occupied by a class of people sharing a common identity by virtue of the fact that they are all the sons of the gadaa class who are in power as leaders of Borana society as a whole. The dabballe stand out in Borana society because of their striking hairstyle, known as “guduru”.

Grade 2: Junior gamme (gamme didiko)

The transition ceremony by which the sons pass from the dabballe into gamme grade is performed at the shrine of Nura, near the town of Negelle. At the shrine, the dabballes’ shave their hair and given names. The naming ceremony for eldest son is called Gubissa while the naming ceremony for the younger sons is called Moggassa. In the gamme hairstyle, the hair is shaved in the middle, and the rest is allowed to grow long and cure with a regular treatment with better.

Grade 3: senior gamme (gamme gugurdo)

For this age grop shaven (gamme) part of the hair is smaller than previous grade.
The oldest boys in the class are permitted to go on war, parties and hunting expeditions with older gadaa classes. The members of this group also participate in another activity known as fora, which is the time when young men take the family herds into the untamed places far from home. This grade member do also organize in to a small cluster of age mates known as Hariya kuchu. Hariya system is different than Gasaa system and it is organized based on the age of the individual regardless of his grade in the Gadaa system. After being organized a local groups mobilize and go around from camp to camp singing, feasting and collecting members of their class. The ceremony is called wal’argi (to see each other) in the first year and nyachisa (feast) in the last two years. The effect of the hariyya kuchu, wal’argi and nyachisa ceremonies covering the entire eight-year period, is to make the members of the senior gamme (and the age-sets associated with them) acutely aware of the society-wide significance of their class and peer group. The Cusoma will end with celebrations known as “cinna”, which take place at a number of prescribed sites in Borana, during which a hayyu for each site will be selected.  After “cinna” the ijolle kuchu will be known as a hariyya and take a prefix of either Wakor or Dambal. During eight-year period, the local age-set is thereafter named informally after its local leader. In time the name of one of these leaders wins out, and the entire age-set is thus named after him.

Grade 4: Kusa, junior warriors

The gamme to kusa transition rites takes place at the shrine of Dhaddacha Dhera in the vicinity of Arero. At this stage in the ceremony all the boys in the class, including infants, were required to wear shorts. At this place the father will shave the hair of his son/s. The transition rite thus came to an end and the “Kusa” proceeded with the Lallaba ceremony, the grand event in which the “election results” were announced to the assembled representatives of all Borana clans.

During lallaba ceremony, now six boys were elected. These young men were invited in the lallaba ceremony as senior councilors (adula). The highest office is that of the Abba Gadaa “arbora”. He is described as the “adula fite”. The two seniority positions are held by the councilors known as Abba Gadaa “kontoma”. These two officers always come from two specific clans from the two sub moieties of the Gona moiety (Hawattu and Konnitu). The three most senior officers of the council are collectively known as gadaa saden. The remaining three councilors are simply adula hayyu. All the six-adula councilors are required to live and nomadize together from now until the group subdivides sixteen years later. At that stage the gadaa establishes three separate bands (one called olla Arbora and the other two-called olla Kontoma). Each band must continue to operate as an indivisible community for another thirteen years. Throughout this period no decision can be made and no ritual performed without the participation and consent of all the councilors. The adula councilors are assisted by a group of volunteers known as “jaallaba”. The adula council in consultation with the elders of the relevant borana clans does the selection of the jalldhaba.
There is a period of two or three gadaa periods between the time an individual was elected as leader of his luba (gadaa class) and the time that he was invested into office as leader of all the Borana people within all the Gadaa classes. In Borana this period of testing was 21 years and the leaders can be removed from office by the pan-Borana assembly, if they don’t fit. In these period they are judged for their ability to lead in wars, their patience in times of crisis, their wisdom and eloquence, their moral qualities, their skills in mediating or adjudicating cases of conflict, and their knowledge of law, custom, and historic precedence.

  Grade 5: Raba, senior warriors

The Raba age group is considered as the army of the Borana society. Yaya Fulele Yaya, the second Abbaa Gadaa from 1466-1473, pioneer the idea of using the raba age group as the army of the community as all men cannot be warriors. This group has already passed through the early stages of the Gadaa age groups and has acquired valuable lesson about the culture, historical values and the territory of their land. To undertake this responsibly, people in this age group will move to a camp where they will stay together in preparation of any possible offence or defense against any enemy forces. To deter any distraction from the responsibilities these young men carry, the junior rabas are not allowed to have kids at all while the seniors are allowed to have boys. This rule stands until the Raba’s completed this stage. However, this rule is later scrapped is not applied any more.


Grade 6: Gadaa, the stage of political and ritual leadership

 Gada is the age group that assumes the political power in the system. The transfer of power (balli) from one gadaa to other occurs in the month of gurrandhala in the forty-fifth year of the gadaa grade system. It is performed at the shrine of Nura in the eastern corner of Borana land. The most senior man is referred to as Abba Gadaa “arbora” and the other two are Abba Gadaa “kontoma” called collectively Gadaa Saden. The class is required to perform four major ceremonies in the fourth and fifth years of the period. These ceremonies are named Ginda, Gumi Gayyo, Oda and Muda. The gumi Gayyo ceremony occurs in the fourth year of the gadaa period, but it is a ceremony that concerns all Borana, not merely the class in power. The “raba” and all the four-yuba classes are expected to attend. In the fifth year of the gadaa period the class goes once again to the eastern district (Liiban) to perform the muda ceremony. Muda is the occasion when the gadaa class in power makes an offering to the ritual leaders of the moieties, the qallu of the Oditu and the Karrayyu. Customary law prohibits the Gadaa leaders from traveling beyond a defined perimeter within Dirre and Liban. The specific law that constrains the movement of Gadaa councilors is known as Sera Dawwe or Sera Goro. The Abba Gadaa himself is subject to the same punishment as all other Borana if he violates laws. This shows that the law is above everybody, including the Abba Gadaa.  To assure the continuation of agendas started during outgoing government (luba), Garba councillors are elected  from outgoing luba to serve with the incoming government. One of the junior councils of the Gadaa institution, known as the Garba council (hayyu garba) is elected by the outgoing government and serves with the incoming government. This contributes to continuity from one Gadaa assembly (ya’a) to the next and this may help to finish the unfinished job.


            Grade, 7 – 10: Yuba, the stage of partial retirement

Yuba stage covers twenty-seven years from 53-80. There are four yuba stages, Yuba1 (3yrs), Yuba2 (8yrs), Yuba3 (8yrs), and Yuba4 (8yrs). Yuba are retired and they retain advisory authority. The most important residual responsibility of the retired gadaa class (Yuba) is to oversee the political and military activities of the luba in power. The retired Abba Gadaas who oversees the national convention are called Abboti Gadaa “the Gadaa fathers” in contrast to the “Abba Gadaa Qomiccha” who is in power and whose performance is under review.

                         Grade 11: Gadaamojji, the terminal sacred grade.



Gadaammojji is the stage at which one will retire. Oolee Bonayya was a man who came up with the idea. In Borana the very young and very old holds ritual power, whereas the middle generation holds political power. Henceforth, the gadaamojji cannot carry arms, they cannot kill any living creatures, and they are required to use a ritual argot. People seek their blessing and wherever they go they are given food and shelter. Men and women come to them to refuge from misfortune enemies, or angry kinsmen. The transition rite is known as the rite of incense exchange (qumbi walirrafudhu). The men who are leaving the “gadaa mojji” grade are the fathers of the gadaa, the class in power. At this stage, the members of the gadaa class enjoy great respect as ritual leaders of their society but they are deprived of nearly all-secular political and economic power. In the earlier decades of this century they did not only hand over all political authority, and the symbol of active luba membership called the “Kallacha “, they also handed over all their earthly possessions to their sons at the point when the sons were entering the period of fatherhood and the final stage of senior warriorhood. On that occasion, the luba comes together for one final ritual called qumbi wal-irra-fudhani or “the handing over of incense”. At this ceremony they will recite (dhadu) about what they have accomplished.  Not having something to recite is deeply humiliating experience. The outgoing class of gadamojii shaves their elaborately decorated hair and go into final retirement (Jarsa mata buufate) while the incoming class tied the “kallacha” headgear on their foreheads and entered the sacred state.

2 thoughts on “Gadaa System

  1. This is a wonderful work,well done. Its not only entertaining but educative as well.u have managed to be all comprehensive and all rounded.much prayers for all the hardworking people behind this great initiative.God bless.

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