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How Borana community uses traditional ways to predict weather

A prominent Ethiopian Ayyaantuu, clad in white Borana attire, during an indigenous weather forecasting ceremony in Moyale in May 2020. He played a critical role in harmonising the traditional and scientific weather forecasting methods. Jacob Walter | Nation Media Group

By Jacob Walter– Courtesy of the “Nation Media Group”

The Borana, like many other pastoralist communities, have gone through a significant number of drought cycles that negatively impacted their lives and livelihoods.

Due to the severe droughts, the community has over the years developed various mitigation and coping strategies.

The community’s ‘weather experts’ have been using indigenous knowledge of forecasting systems to guide important social, cultural and economic decisions affecting their daily lives.

The indigenous Borana weather forecasting systems help to enhance preparedness and to lessen the impacts of intermittent droughts on people, their livestock and environment through strengthening efficient and effective early warning and response mechanisms.

According to Guyyo Sora, a prominent indigenous weather expert from SololoIo, Borana custom Ayyaantuu (the indigenous time reckoning expertise) is a gift from God to certain Borana families, which hold and pass it over from generation to generation through senior male-line descendants.

“This Ayyaantuu gift is God-given. I can’t credit anything to myself and I have used it for the benefit of our community for many years now,” Mzee Sora explains.

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However, the gift can sometimes be transferred to their extended families who are non-Ayyaantuu.

Ayyaantuus are highly respected individuals in the community and are often consulted by individual community members and leaders of customary institutions to carry out ceremonies and forecast weather.

The major indigenous weather forecasting systems of the Borana community include counting of days of months or seasons, relating the position of constellation stars with the moon, observing nature, reckoning drought events, interpreting spirit or dreams and reading intestines of some animals such as goats, sheep and cattle.

The Ayyaantuus play great roles in counting the days of the months or seasons, relating the position of constellation stars with the moon and observing nature.

They then share the information with other forecasters who include those who read the entrails of the livestock (uuchuu), those who interpret spirits or dreams and prophesy (ragaa) and the historians who reckon drought events (jaarsa argaa-dhageettii).

Weather forecasting

The information from the indigenous weather forecasting of the Borana can be disseminated at various community events.

For instance, uuchuu can be invited and consulted when livestock are slaughtered in a village, clan meetings, ceremonial grounds and pastoralist coordination units to purposely read the entrails and forecast the weather.

Mzee Sora told the Nation during an interview that a Borana uuchuu usually does weather forecasting systems about the major regions inhabited by the Boranas.

Uuchuu enables the experts to foresee the upcoming long rains (Ganaa), which are sufficient to feed water sources and regenerate grasslands, to establish the upcoming good body condition of livestock (Finna), the state of grazing zones in the near future or impending dry seasons and livestock ailments.

For instance, Mzee Sora revealed that he predicted in July 2020 that there would be short rains between October, to end in the first week of December 2020.

Ayyaantuu is often consulted many times in public or private for forecasting the weather based on counting days, interpreting dreams or spirits, reckoning drought timelines, watching stars’ constellations or nature.

The Borana calendar has been very critical in aiding them to memorise the day, month and year and the community leaders (Gadaa) period.

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The calendar has been claimed to be based on the declination of seven stars and bears similarity with the earlier Cushitic calendar invented around 300 BC at Namoratunga around Lake Turkana (Doyle, 1983 cited in Bassi, 1988).

The Borana time reckoning is based on lunar rather than solar cycles and is similar to Chinese, Mayana and Hindu calendars but ignores the sun.

Marsabit County Documentation Officer Rehman Moghal notes that prediction of the weather based on the study of the animal entrails was hinged on the myth that the Borana community once had a sacred book, which was chewed and swallowed by livestock, thus making their entrails sacred and capable of signalling the nature of times ahead.

Marsabit County Documentation Officer Rehman Moghal during an interview with the Nation on November 16, 2020. Jacob Walter | Nation Media Group

“The livestock entrails hold a very dear place in the hearts of the Borana community as it is postulated that their sacred book just like the Koran or Bible was chewed and swallowed by an animal,’’ Mzee Moghal said.

There is a difference of two weeks between the date of a lunar month beginning of the Borana calendar from that of a solar month of the Gregorian calendar, thus making the Borana lunar months to begin with December instead of January.

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For instance, December (Abraasaa, first), January, Ammajii, second), February (Gurraandhalaa, third), March (Bittatteessa, fourth), April (Caamsaa, fifth), May (Buufaa, sixth), June (Wacabajjii, seventh), July (Oboraa Guddaa, eighth), August (Oboraa Diqqaa, ninth), September (Birraa, tenth), October (Ciqqaawaa, eleventh) and November (Sadaasaa, twelfth).

With regard to the Borana time reckoning, there are up to 15 days of waxing moon (adddessa) and 15 days of waning moon (dukkana) for a month. Months are named depending on the waxing moon.

The Borana days of a year are 354, which is 11 days less than those of the lunar year.

Months are also named after events and are used in weather forecasting, for instance, Abraasaa named after a flowering plant that annually sprouts out of the ground in the middle of severe dry months indicating that there are still 30 days remaining ahead of the rainy season.

Rainfall season

Ammajjii is the time when different trees regenerate their leaves without receiving rainfall, indicating that long rains are near.

The experts are also able to predict the weather by using the days of the New Moon appearance since, instead of the community counting all the 12 months of a year, Borana astrologers can tell the name of a month with reference to the moon appearance (aayaana) or constellation day (dhawaa).

The date on which the first moon appears has its own significance in the rainfall season or the severity of a dry season.

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For example, when the new moon appearance falls on the second alternative day, the ayyaantuus say Waaqii ayyaana ballaa jira, loosely translated as the new moon appears on the second day. This indicates that there would be adequate rains ahead.

And when the moon appears on the first alternative day, the ayyaantuus believe the next dry or rainy season would be abnormal and the community should brace for hard times ahead.

The Boranas also have seven main constellation stars that are used to guide them in determining the calendar days in the indigenous weather forecasting system namely: Lamii (Triangulum), Buusan (Pleiades), Sorsa (Aldebrran), Algaajima (Bellatrix), Arba (Central Orion), Walla (Saiph) and Basaa (Sirius).

Based on the star constellation with the moon, the indigenous astrologers can predict the forthcoming main or short rainy seasons five months ahead.

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Forecasting can also be associated with the livestock and bird behaviour or actions, which can signal the probability of bad or good happening ahead.

For instance, Roob-dha’eessa is a type of an eagle that produces whistling sounds just like herders while they are watering their plants, indicating that there would be rains over that area within a few days.

Cattle bats normally fly in the sky to signify a long dry spell but fly very close to the ground when heavy rains are forthcoming.

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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