11 May 2018

Road trip: Eldoret to Moyale, Ethiopia - Third leg, Marsabit and Bubisa

Amina (in yellow dress) took us to Bubisa (30 miles north of Marsabit) to visit her father and his second wife. 

The Gabbra, a nomadic tribe of approximately 30,000 people, live in northeast Kenya and across the border with Ethiopia. They are an eastern Cushitic (Oromo) speaking people who originated in southern Ethiopia and are closely associated with Borana. Pastoralists with a strong attachment to camels, the Gabbra developed a rich culture stemming from the harsh environment in which they live.

We walked across a dry seasonal river bed, in order to reach the grand-father's house.

Because the women cook - and make chai - inside the small houses, they are quite smokey.

The Gabbra's culture is similar to many other Cushitic-speaking camel herders. The latter include the Rendille and Somali, all of whom the Gabbra describe as warra dassee (people of the mat), in reference to the mat-covered, portable homes which accompany their nomadic lifestyle. The Borana, on the other hand, are described by the Gabbra as warra buyyoo (people of the grass), in reference to the grass huts that characterize their sedentary lifestyle.

Gabbra homes, called mandasse, are light, dome-shaped tents made of acacia roots and covered with sisal grass mats, textiles, and camel hides. Each one is divided into 2-4 rooms. A mandasse can be completely disassembled and converted into a camel-carried utfa (litter) in which children and the elderly travel.

Gabbra live in small villages, or ola made up of several mandasse. An ola can be moved short distances up to twelve times a year, in search of better grazing for the camels and other livestock. They migrate to the highlands during the rainy season to allow the dry season pasture to replenish its water resources.

This is a brand new home for a new bride. Notice the all the volcanic rock in the village.

The weather pattern, in conjunction with the pasture needs of the Gabbra's herds, largely determine migrations, birthing patterns, and the timing of initiation rites. For the Gabbra, to live in balance with a trying environment is to protect land, animal, and fellow Gabbra. They practice certain food and plant taboos, preserve full-grown trees called korma (bulls), and revere pregnant women and pregnant animals.

Perhaps most symbolic of the Gabbra's identity is the proverb: 
"A poor man shames us all." 

Since mutual support is imperative for their survival as nomads, no Gabbra may be allowed to go hungry, be without animals, or refused hospitality or assistance. A person who refuses to help others is labeled al baku, a stigma that stays with the family for generations.

Drawing water from a pan (a small reservoir excavated to hold rain and runoff water) 

Mohammed, who is quite fluent in English, and I became buddies

Beauty and a splash of color in the midst of a harsh environment

Amina's father with his second wife and his last-born child

Another round of chai, served after lunch in the 'store', which was not smokey and had more light

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Amina's father and his family! They insisted I visit them again, and I certainly hope that will happen!

All along the way, both going and coming, we encountered many camels crossing the highway.

Isiolo to Marsabit (170 miles)

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
   ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910), American writer

No comments: