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Social institutions

Systems of mutual assistance are being seriously eroded because of the general poverty.

As a mother of six separated from her husband, Chuqulisa benefited from the community’s sense of responsibility for those who are less well off: “I have five goats and a camel. The clan offered me the animals.” But she says the tradition of collectively “rehabilitating” someone who has suffered serious cattle losses by giving him cows is being weakened.

Chuqulisa also sheds light on the community system of managing and protecting the clan’s animals, explaining that traditionally, a person who sold cattle frequently would be questioned by the elders and reminded that his cattle do not belong to him alone but are also the property of the clan. The clan had the power to “excommunicate” the man from customary activities. Now the traditional rule “is still there, though it is not as seriously followed”.

Unlike Chuqulisa, who feels that “love is lacking among people now”, Arima says that in Boran culture they still support one another, and that the tradition of those in a better situation helping those who have less is how they “balance life”.

Duba explains how difficult it is to fulfil their old rituals and customs that involved the slaughter of many livestock now that they have so few animals. One of these ceremonies takes place at the changeover of the gadaa system, under which groups or age-sets assume different responsibilities in Boran society every eight years.

The gadaa system guides religious, social, political and economic life, and appears still to be functioning but less strongly than before. Many narrators, especially the older ones, date events in the past in terms of these eight-year gadaa periods, rather than by calendar years.


Social institutions is a key theme of the Desert voices: Ethiopia oral testimony project.


Arima: punishment from God

Chuqulisa: love is lacking

Diramo: tied to our cattle

Duba: solutions to problems

Gurracha: conflict devastated it

Huqa: pleasure from family

Ibrahim: the crazy heat

Iyya: conserving the forest

Loko: farming from necessity

Rufo: goodbye to farmland

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Food security




Social institutions

Government assistance