The Gabbra language is part of southern Galla which belongs to the Eastern Cushitic language sub-family whose homelands extend from south-western Ethiopia in the highland area to the southwest of Lake Abaya across the Horn and over much of North-eastern Kenya, where various Galla and Somali groups have expanded in recent times.

The origin of the Gabbra themselves is not clear. Most of them explain their origins through a myth, one of the myths goes like this … “… A man had three sons. The first born was named Watta, the second Borana, and the third Gabbra.



When the father was old, he was walking one day assisted by his sons and then he stumbled and fell. Watta, the firstborn jumped over his father and stood laughing at him from a distance, Gabbra the third born covered his eyes. Borana took hold of his father and helped him to rise. The father then gave Gabbra his timid son, the camel the strong animal. The Borana who helped him to rise and was strong, he gave him a weak animal, the cow. Watta who laughed, he cursed him and his children and said that all offspring of Watta would have no animal of their own, but that they would have to live from wild animals, as a laughable thing. That day, the three brothers separated to take up the pursuits that the father had given them.”

Even though the Gabbra, the Borana and Watta do have close cultural ties, the three do not share a common immediate origin except for a small section of the Gabbra who claim Borana origin. Each of the Gabbra phratries called the Dibbe Shanaan (five drums) has its own drum and have a different origin.



Gabbra women at Yaa Galbo The Alqana phratry who live in geographical proximity to the Borana, in their oral tradition claim a common origin with the Borana. The Alqana is supposed to have descended from the Qallu (religious leader or diviner) of the Sabo moiety of the Borana. Inspite of any affinities these two shares, they still view each other as separate and distinct.

Of all Gabbra phratries, the Galbo and Odolla phratries are closest to the Somali and Rendille respectively. Among the Rendile, there is found a group known by a similar name which claims kinship ties with Gabbra Odolla. These Gabbra phratries do not claim exclusive rights to an area or territory. Instead, they (members of all phratries) share resources between and in their respective settlements.

What is not clear is whether this group originated from the Gabbra or Rendille. Scrutiny of the Odolla clan of the Rendille based on the Dibbe (drum) which is supposed to be one of the five Gabbra drums signifying the five phratries, suggests a Gabbra origin rather than Rendille. However, this does not rule out the fact that a few groups of people among the Gabbra Odolla claim Rendille origin including one Alqana clan called Helmale or Sale.

It is also believed that some Gabbra is a branch of the Gurreh Somali. About Gabbra origins from Somali, oral traditions show some Gabbra as a branch of the Gurreh Somali who came to live alongside the Borana and adopted the latter’s language and most of their customs. The Galbo phratry asserts their origins to be the Somali, also sections of Gara, and Odolla phratries trace their origins to Somali speaking peoples. Gabbra names for the days of the week resemble Arabic ones and the Somali version of the Arabic Calendar. The origins of the Gabbra phratries, and even clans within phratries, are multiple and therefore there is no single source for all the Gabbra. Like many African societies, the Gabbra are a conglomeration of people having different origins. It is therefore important to understand that many different elements; Boran, Sakuye, Watta, Somali and Rendile have contributed to what are presently known as the Gabbra.


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