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George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.


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Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Galla mind-mapping diagram

Part Nine
East African Pastoralism
— 42 —
Galla

The Galla, who evolved an independent pastoral economy at about the same time as the Afar and Somali, seem to have lived originally on the southern edge of the Ethiopian plateau on the slopes which descend thence into Somalia. Here they had as their neighbors two peoples of kindred Eastern Cushitic speech—the ancestral Somali on the east and the Konso cluster of presumptive Megalithic Cushites (see Chapter 25) on the west. The modern Ittu and northern Arusi tribes still inhabit this area.
Like the Somali, but apparently slightly earlier, the plateau Galla who had adopted independent pastoralism descended into the savanna and steppe country to the south, where they displaced or absorbed the indigenous Bushmanoid hunters. We can fix the approximate date of this advance by the fact that they found the Northeast Coastal Bantu already firmly settled in and cultivating the valleys of the Tana, Juba, and Shebelle Rivers and the arable land between them. Medieval Arabic sources, indeed, indicate that the Bantu had entered into symbiotic relationships with the indigenous hunters of the bush country prior to the arrival of the Galla, which can be tentatively dated at about A.D. 1000. Like the Somali, the Galla reduced the Bantu in part to a dependent status. However, they intermarried with them to a greater extent, and many Bantu fled southwestward into Kenya. The Gosha and Shebelle tribes of Somalia, as we have seen (Chapter 39) , constitute surviving pockets of comparatively unmixed Negroes, who are still basically agricultural though they have recently exchanged their original Bantu language for Cushitic.
The pastoral Galla did not long enjoy the fruits of their victory, however, for they were soon to encounter pressure from their nomadic cousins to the east, the Somali. By the end of the fourteenth century the Hawiya had occupied the coast of Somalia as far south as the Shebelle River, and during the following century the Somali displaced the Galla even on the upper Shebelle. When they were defeated in their effort to conquer Ethiopia in the first half of the sixteenth century, the Somali again turned against the Galla, extending their occupation from the Shebelle to the vicinity of the Juba River. The displaced Galla, in their turn, invaded highland Ethiopia, occupying extensive tracts of territory west and northwest of their original homeland. They infiltrated parts of the Sidamo country before 1550, wrested western Ethiopia from the Prenilotes, and had occupied substantial sections of former Agau and Semitic country in central Ethiopia by 1600. Back in the highlands, they rapidly reverted to their earlier sedentary mode of life. The Gibe, who became assimilated to Sidamo culture, have already been considered in Chapter 23. The Macha, Tulama, Wataga, and Wallo adapted rather to the Semitic Amhara, but they still retain many of the most distinctive features of traditional Galla culture.
The Somali renewed their pressure in the nineteenth century. Between 1842 and 1848 they drove the Galla across the Juba River, and in the years following 1909 they consolidated their control over all the country as far as the Tana. It thus happens that the first modern ethnographers to study the inhabitants of the country between the Tana and Juba Rivers found Galla peoples in possession, whereas more recent students have encountered only Somali there. The tribal map at the end of the volume attempts a compromise; the region labeled “Bararetta” was G alla territory at the beginning of the present century but is held today by the West Somali.
The pastoral Galla are largely pagan, but many of the tribes in highland Ethiopia have accepted either Islam or Christianity. The major ethnic groups are identified below.

  1. Arusi (Arsi). This group is largely sedentary in the north, pastoral in the south. few are Moslems, but the great majority are pagan. Though specific population data are lacking, the Arusi, Bararetra, and Boran combined probably number between 200,000 and 300,000.
  2. Bararetta (Baole, Kobaba, Tana Galla, Wajole, Wardai). This pagan group is the principal Galla tribe in the region between the Tana and Juba Rivers occupied by the West Somali during the prcscnr century.
  3. Boran (Borana). These pagan people, in addition to the territory m<tppcd for them, fom1crly occupied the northern portion of the region recently preempted by the West Somali.
  4. Tttu (Itu), with the kindred Ala, Ania (Ennia), Babile (Babulli, Bajabili), Jarso (Djarso), and Nole (Nola, Noli). Largely Moslem, except for the Nole, they number about a million, a figure which may include some of the Arusi.
  5. Macha (Metja). A preponderantly Christian group, they also include a fair number of Moslems and pagans. Together with the Wallaga, they probably number about 600,000.
  6. Rendile (Randili). The language of rhis tribe is allegedly an arehaic Somali rather than a Galla dialect.
  7. Tulama (Shoa Galla). These people, who are considerably mixed with Amhara, are predominantly Christian. With the Wallo, they number about a million.
  8. Wallaga (Walega). This group is predominantly pagan.
  9. Wallo (Wollo). They are strongly mixed with Amhara, and most are Moslems.

The agriculture of the sedentary Galla differs in no essential respects from that of the Central Ethiopians, described in Chapter 22. Animal husbandry, which is important in all groups, becomes almost the exclusive source of subsistence among the pastoral Galla. Though they do a little gathering, they observe strict taboos against eating fish, game, or fowl and consequently do no hunting or fi shing. All Galla tribes possess substantial numbers of cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys, as well as a few dogs, cats, and chickens. In addition, the Arusi, Bararetta, Baran, and Rendile have many horses and camels. Pigs are reported only for o ne subtribe of the Macha. Milk and meat, along with butter and fresh blood, constitute the mainstays of the diet among the pastoral Galla and are important supplements in the highlands. Men do most of the herding, and women most of the milking, as well as the bulk of the field work where agriculture is practiced.
The Macha and Wallaga live in neighborhoods of dispersed homesteads, but most highland Galla, as well as some Arusi, occupy compact villages. In all sedentary groups the prevailing house type is a round hut with a conical thatched roof and cylindrical walls of wattle and daub. The pastoral Galla wander in nomadic bands, and their temporary camps consist of a number of huts arranged around a central cattle corral and surrounded by an outer enclosure of thorns. The dwelling is typically hemispherical in shape and transportable, consisting of bent poles set in the ground in a circle, fastened together at the top, and covered with mats or occasionally brush or hides. This obviously repre ems an adaptation of the house type of the earlier East African hunters. Some Boran build circular walls of stone and cover them with camel mats, and some Arusi construct conical huts without walls.
Marriage regularly involves a substantial bride-price, usually in livestock. General polygyny prevails, with each co-wife occupying a eparate dwelling, but extended family households do not occur. The levirate is preferential, and the Arusi practice institutionalized cicisbeism, allowing each married woman to have a recognized lover. The Galla prohibit unions between first cousins and favor local exogamy. All tribes follow the patrilocal rule of residence and the patrilineal rule of descent. In addition to exogamous sibs and lineages, which are universal, the Bararetta and Boran are reported to possess exogamous patrimoieties. Inheritance is likewise patrilineal, with males alone participating and the eldest son receiving the major share. Hereditary slavery prevails, and most groups place smiths, hunters, and leatherworkers in the status of despised and endogamous castes. With certain exceptions in the highlands, the Galla are relatively egalitarian, recognizing distinctions in wealth and seniority in descent but not a hereditary aristocracy.
As among the Konso cluster of Megalithic Cushites, government operates through a system of age-grades of the Gada, or cycling, type. With the possible exception of the Rendile, for whom information is lacking, one basic system prevails throughout both the pastoral and sedenrary Galla tribes. This consists of five grades, typically named the Daballe, Folie, Kondala, Luba, and Yuba grades. Age-sets, in which membership endures for life, spend eight years successively in each grade, with a spectacular ceremony marking each transition. In some tribes the fourth, or ruling, grade is divided into two subgrades of four years' duration each, called respectively Dori and Luba. Age-sets likewise bear names, either five or ten in number, which succeed one another in a standard cycling order. Where there are five, a son belongs to a set bearing the same name as his father's, and is initiated into the first grade when his father retires from the fifth, i.e., exactly forty years later. Where there are ten named age-sets, a son enters one which is paired with his father's after the same interval of time, and only grandfathers and grandsons belong to sets with the same name. Circumcision accompanies admission to the first grade among the Bararetta, to the third grade among the Boran, to the second subgrade of the fourth grade among the Macha, to the fifth grade among the Tulama. (Girls are subjected to clitoridectomy and sometimes to infibulation).
Particular functions and stereotyped patterns of behavior are associated with each grade and are essentially similar throughout both lowland and highland tribes. ince, however, they are most fully described for the Tulama, with data suggestive of the possible origin of the system in actual maturational levels, the data for this tribe may be summarized as a sample. During the first grade Tulama males are forbidden to have sex relations. and they wander about begging food, which is always termed “milk,” from married women. This is strongly suggestive of the behavior of infants. During the second grade they become initiated into sexual life but without forming stable relationships, and they engage in masked processions and behave generally in an irresponsible manner suggestive of adolescence. In the third grade they serve as warriors and are permitted to marry. Military valor is encouraged in some tribes, though not specifically attested for the Tulama, by reguiring the taking of the genitals of a slain enemy as a trophy to gualify for full participation in the activities of the next, or ruling, grade. When an age-set enters the fourth, or Luba, grade, its members take over all important administrative, judicial, and priestly offices in the tribe and run its affairs for eight years. Each position is typically filled from a particular sib, but with this qualification the particular incumbent is democratically chosen on the basis of personal merit. The chief of the age-set, elected when it occupied the second grade, now becomes the high chief (bayu) of the tribe. Another man becomes speaker (boku) of the general assembly. Others assume various administrative and judicial offices—chief priest, finance minister, and so on. During the last, or Yuba, grade these men relinquish their posts and become “guardians,” serving the new officials in a purely advisory capacity.

Selected Bibliography