The Orma are semi-nomadic
shepherds, well known from their tall, slender physiques and handsome
features. They live in the south-eastern deserts of Kenya except during the
rainy season when they move their herds inland.
The Orma are remnants of the once
powerful "Galla nation" of Ethiopia and northern Kenya. In the late
nineteenth century, wars with neighbouring tribes forced the Orma to migrate
south. Some moved to the rich delta area of the lower Tana River, and others
settled west of the river.
The Orma also go by the name "Galla,"
which is widely used in Ethiopia. They do not call themselves this, however,
since it is considered to be derogatory.
Herding cattle is their basic means of survival. Their distinct breed of the
white, long-horned zebu cattle are among the finest in Africa. Zebu are used
as a "bride price" and are slaughtered at weddings and funerals.
Though the Orma basically survive
by raising cattle, they also raise goats and sheep. Men who own more than
1,000 head of cattle are granted special recognition in their communities.
Meat is the main food of the Orma, supplemented with milk or cow's blood.
They also eat maize, rice, beans, and drink tea. The arid Tana region is not
favourable for growing produce; therefore, they have few vegetables in their
diet. Any produce they obtain must be bought from another tribe. This is not
an easy task since the shortage of watering holes often leads to bloody
clashes between tribes.
The Orma live in round,
wood-framed huts built by the women. The huts are covered with woven mats
and grass. When the family migrates with the herds, the homes must be
dismantled and put on pack animals, along with the household goods. A larger
version of these huts is built for those who live in permanent villages.
An Orma man typically has only one
wife, even though polygamy is allowed. Special ceremonies are performed at
the birth of children. Babies are dedicated seven days after they are born.
A woman stays secluded for forty days after giving birth. Then, a feast is
held with the other women in the village and the baby is dedicated a second
time. If the child is the couple's first, the parents take on the child's
name, preceded by aba (father) or hada (mother).
Orma funerals are also interesting events. The family members sometimes
inflict wounds on themselves, scratching their cheeks and bodies to indicate
Among the Orma, the line of
descent is traced patrilineally, or through the males. Masculinity in
attitudes, rituals, and symbolism is customary. Such things as bravery and
warrior ethics are also stressed.
Riding, spear throwing, and
fighting are admirable skills among the men, and those who have killed
dangerous animals or human enemies are honoured.
The Orma are almost 100% Muslim,
and have been so for three or four generations. They are devoted in their
faith, observing all the rites and religious festivals of Islam. Most of the
Orma have never heard the name of Jesus. If they have heard His name, it has
been through the Islamic teachings that Jesus was simply a prophet, teacher,
or good man, but not that He is God's Son.
The original religion of the Orma
included belief in a creator God associated with the sky. They recognized
the existence of many spirits and associated them with various locations in
nature such as mountain tops, trees, groves, rivers, and wells. These
beliefs have now apparently been combined with their Islamic beliefs.
The Islamic religion is very
difficult to penetrate. Five missions agencies are currently targeting the
Orma, but there are still only four known believers. Portions of the New
Testament are available in their native language; but less than 5% of the
population can read, so understanding of the Scriptures is limited.