The social categories in the ethiopic chronicle of the 16 – th century “the history of galla”

The Ethiopic chronicle ‘’The History of Galla” was published in the first time by the German scientist August Schleicher from the parchment manuscript has been found by himself into the collection of the Ethiopic manuscripts in British Museum[1] . Secondly this manuscript was published in 1907 by the French investigator used in this publishing not only the manuscript of London but the second manuscript of the Chronicle, has been found by himself in Vienna[2]. This manuscript there is the comparatively small text in Gez. The authorship of “ Zenahu .la Galla,, (The History of Galla) is attributed to monk Bachrey, the chronist of Negus of Ethiopia Sertse Dengel Melak Seged (1563-1597). The date of the creation of this chronicle is considered 1593 year.

In the fate of this manuscript there is the interesting fact that from the beginning this chronicle has become as the source of information about the history of Ethiopia.

 First of all this manuscript turned out the summary of dates for the period of intensive penetration onto Ethiopia of the nomads Galla (ethnonim Oromo today). Moreover the dates of factological history the Bahrey s chronicle contains  the valuable ethnographic material. From known in science it is the single detail description of the social order of Galla in 16 century, was distinguished by the ,,Age class  system” there is the system of social ties that with the tribe structure there were in the basis of their social organization. The Age class system reflected the social stratification of the primitive society of Galla of the epoch of their  penetration in Ethiopia. In real life of this people the norms of Age class system realized through the acting of principle of differentiation of the social labor correlated with the level the historical development of this society. This chronicle contains  sufficiently complete and terminology clear description of the social organization of primitive society based on social age stratification correlated with the functional differentiation of social labor.

Especial interest was excited by the last chapter  of this little chronicle where the chronist had described the ierarchial feudal system of Ethiopian society of 16 century and comparatively with it the democratic classless social structure of Galla of the same time. All social terms without exeption in this description sufficiently lightly are translating and interpreting that gives the clear understanding of social layers of Galla society. There is such traditional estimation  in the science literature this text the 20 chapter of the chronicle.

However I mean that this chapter contains the information what insufficient or quite did not consider by the scientists from the definite point of view.

Factually the chronicle covers  the period from  the beginning and till the end of 16 century, that is from the governing of Negus of Ethiopia David Wanag Sagad Lebna Dengel (1508-1540) till the Negus Sertse Dengel, so or otherwise connected with  nomads Galla. Galla is the writtenless people in the past. The information about them there is dispersed in Ethiopic and Arabic manuscripts. Because ,,The History of Galla” is especially valuable of full dates about this people.

With the Bible tradition the chronist Bahrey  gives the detail genealogy of Gakka tribes, from the mythological ancestors of them Baraituma and Boran. This important ethnohistorical material reflecting the ethnic differentiation  of Galla, it s ethnic tribal structure. In this problem there are no  the same valuable evidences. The most of all foe the investigating of ethnic and social history of Galla are presented the description of social sides of Galla life. The author of chronicle  belonged to the society so different from the nomads Galla that in compare Bahrey himself was surprised the differentiation in social organizations of these two societies. Without respectof all troubles and harm what Galla have  brought to his country by their invasion, the Ethiopian chronist detailly and objectively what was noted by all scientists as far as his knowledge was permitted to him described this strange to him the warlike nomad people.

First of all the Chronist has  paid attention to the special character of authority and rule in Galla society, absolutely another than it is in Ethiopia. Galla had no indivisible authority, their public ruling organ was shaped in the form of social group what changed the preceeding one in each 8 years[3].

Then the Chronist describes social strata of Galla society, public division of labor, their war organization, analyses the reasons of their war successes, draws their nomadic life, the mobility of their social age organization [4].The author of Chronicle notices not the only one time that the regular Ethiopic troops suffered failures in fight with Galla very often, in spite of the superiority in arms and quantity, because of hangry, tiredness and exhausting routs in porsuit for the constantly slipping away enemy – detachments of Galla warriors, what always attacked suddenly and the same disappeared quickly, going to their camps with prey. In these historical events collided two social economic systems of different levels, in which Ethiopic feudal one yielded in fighting efficiency to patriarchal nomadic Galla one. The Galla tribe structure as of all nomads was so dynamic and flexible that in any case of vital necessity it quickly transferred from the common nomadic peace aggregative state into the war nomadic state [5], that provided them very often war success. From this the Chronist makes the bitter conclusin, that in his sedentary society there is only one stratum participates in war matters, while Gallas all can be at war from children to elders[6].

The Chronicle ,,History of Galla” gave to the science the possibility to investigate the social age system in it s historical development and to reconstruct this tipe of public organization in it s more archaic form.

As we have seen Galla public ruling organ in it s composition was grouping, and of it s character was changible in succession. The period in the course of time the group of persons was in power it was one of links of five grade system in which the order of dividing of labor realized in constantly repeated cycle of public functions, transferred from one social age class to another one automatically in each 8 years. All public classes have passes from I grade to V one, raising their social status, and all classes in their turn reached to IV grade – of the public authority and rule.

The principle determined the belonging of members of the society to the Galla age class system (,,Gada’’ in science literature) was the accounting of age of children and juveniles in the moment of their simultaneous initiation in groups of social coevals. These groups consisted one social age class, it had for the all it s members the common name, the common elected leader, the homogeneous composition concerning the physical possibilities of their members, the same functions and what must be noticed especially, all members of each group had one ,,Social” age counted of the moment of the initiation of each class. By this the biological age of the class members varied in the limits of eight years, because during this period children bore and waited the next common initiation in age class system. Eight year period there is the interval between the next initiations. Each new class began it s way from the first grad – ,,preparatory” – for the children and juveniles. Then the class through eight years passed to the second grade  – ,,young warriors”, further – to the third  – ,,senior warriors’’, and then – to the forth  – ,,public leaders’’, and after all to the fifth  – ,,the council of elders’’ with the consultative voice. All way of classes in the social system ,,Gada’’ realized during 40 years  (8 x 5 = 40).

In process of researching of these systems the main moment became the question of the age as a criterion of the belonging to this social institute. This problem arose because of the accessible to science the late ethnographic facts reflected the state of age class systems when it was obvious there is the discrepancy of the institutional structure and it s public functions, the age composition of classes was so nonhomogeneous that it could not be in life of society as a labor, productive collective. In the result of the reconstruction of this institute on base of the late historical facts, reflected transformed and destroyed age systems in the process of the historical development of society were made by some authors incorrect conclusions about the initial first nonplus, unable to work and purposeless of this social institutions. In ethnographic literature this paradox turned out  ,,Age has no significance in age class system’’. By this the age was realized as a biological category[7]. The solution of the traditional paradox about the age in Age systems became possible only by the recognition that the sign defining the belonging of members of the society to age classes was the social age actually but not the biological one. In the connection with it the chronicle ,,The History of Galla’’ became the most important source of the ethnological data.

The interpretation of the data of the 20th chapter of Bahrey s chronicle has the direct relation to the problem of Age as a social category, determined the place in the age class system for each member of society of Galla type.

For the real estimation of the sense and meaning of these chronicle s data we ought to pay attention to the notions of Galla of that times about the Time and the System of units of the Time. It was the original system of the calculation, reflected in the world outlook of this society. It was realized in their  life activity on the level of  the knowledge of their history in everyday calendar and through the regulation the productive actions and in the limits of ,,Gada’’  system, and consequently, it was realized in the understanding and using the category of ,,age’’ as a social criterion.

Eight year period of staying of age classes in each of five grades is called by Galla –  ,,gada’’. This word is not translated to another languages, but as the another terms from the nomenclature of the Galla age class system it meets at another East African peoples in the same meaning usually. It is interesting to notice that in this nomenclature is absent the word ,,year’’ in general. In the same time all calendar correlations,, the calculation of Time, the determination of any dates in the course of events in the limits of function of age class system, and consequently in all life activity of society  – all of this is realized by means of the only one unit of Time.  Eight year period ,,gada’’ was the base of the count of Time. When the Galla man told : ,,I have 3 ,,gada’’ already’’, it must be understood that the age of this man is 24 years[8].

It was mentioned early that Galla e in the periods ,,gada’’ expressed first of all the time of stay in the Age class system, there at this age was the same for all members of one age class, that is the group category. The individual biological age of each member of class it can be calculated by addition of the collective age of class with the years of life of the concrete individual before the moment of this initiation, that is till his entry into the ,,Gada’’ system. As it was noted highter the biological age of members of one class distinguished in the limits of eight years that is the period during of which gathered each new group for the initiation. Thus in the time of transition of each individual through the group initiation into the social significant being that is into the Age class system, he get the group sign – the ,,social’’ age, calculated not by the european system, but in the system of periods ,,gada’’. All members of each age class in ,,gada’’ system were the social coevals and their group was homogeneous in it s composition.

The question came up how the biological and the social signs correlated in the category ,,Age’’, why just the social age was  the fundamental structural criterion in the Age class system in the period of the prosperity of this institute.

The answer we find just in 20th chapter of the chronicle ,,The History of Galla’’. Here the Ethiopian chronist gave very curious characters of different corporative unions in which the Galla society is stratificated[9].  The analysis of this text shows that the author of the chronicle did not possess the information enough. It is seen from the next. He enumerate the social subdivisions of Galla society, differentiated by their functional sign but this groups do not compose full set by the single criterion. All list gave by the author it can be subdivided in any groups. The first one includes  four units of persons stratificated with their physical state. The second one consists of two social significant units, entering in ,,Gada’’ system structure. The third one includes eight units of persons differentiated strictly by their economic functions. The united persons in the first group described in such manner: ,,Little children they call as ,,muchae’’, and who elder were called as ,,elman’’. And who more elder were called as ,,gorbae’’. These begin to take part in war … And old men were called ,,melgudo’’. As we see in this group persons of different biological age, differentiated between them physically are named in definite terms. With grate part of probability we may assume that ,,muchae’’ are newborn children and babies. ,,Elman’’, obviously, are weanlings, but they are not yet independent. ,,Gorbae’’ are boys which the warriors take with them in raids, probably, of 8-10 old years. Further in chronicle follows the interruption in the enumeration of groups according to physical state up to the last category ,,melgudo’’ –  old men. Why is there such interruption in the enumeration? What groups of persons are placed in the description of the chronist between the children and the old men? It turns out the next unit after the children are youth not yet are exposed to the cutting off  – ,,Kondala’’. But the ,,Kondala’’ this is the third grade of the ,,gada’’ system. Beside with ,,Kondala’’ the author of chronicle calls the ,,Luba’’  – this is the forth grade of the ,,Gada’’ system. The author gives the names of only two from five social grades, probably, from the lack of information. About this testifies witness brought by himself enough detailed enumeration of society functions what were fulfilled by different age groups, but by which, in what grades the chronist does not inform.

In spite of the incomplete description of groups, united on base of different criterions it is possible to make some conclusions. In the first, without doubt, infront of us there is the  evidence, had fixed the differentiation of Galla society in age groups. In the second, from the matter of each of enumerated age categories of physical state of persons are forming groups is bringing to light the criterion of the biological age and also the criterion of the maturity appears as a sign meaning the transition of persons in another social state. So, the Galla categories ,,Muchae’’, ,,Elman’’, ,,Gorbae’’, ,,Melgudo’’ consist from persons united according to the criterion of their physical state. These groups of persons there are of different biological ages, moreover it is importantly to notice that these four age categories do not have the social significance.

The first three ages there are the units  of noninitiated children. The fourth age there is old men probably completed the cycle of ,,Gada’’ system, they as the excused from social duties are associated with children. These four subdivisions are united by Galla with term ,,mutes’’, that is they are without the vote suffrage in society. All four terms in the chronicle there are undoubtedly the distinctive signs of age correlation, containing the indication to the concrete state of persons. By these terms are named noncorporative groups, as they are not yet conclude in social life or they have come out of it already, therefore they are not invest with public functions from their physical incapacity.

Apart from three indicated categories the next two –  ,,Kondala’’ and ,,Luba’’ are represent the age units of initiated persons have included in the system of social grades ,,Gada’’. These are corporative groups invested with the definite public functions (warriors, leaders), and had the social status. According to their physical maturity, have passed the initiation, they received the social rights and duties of the group character. They are successively older of the preceding ages. But as we see from the chronicle text, there are no for the groups, entered in the ,,Gada’’ system, special terms, marking their biological age according to physical signs (which there are for the noninitiatings). The terms ,,Kondala’’ and ,,Luba’’ have already the distinct social sign. The chronist tells about them as about having the right to the marriage –  there is the obvious sign of the social status. So, these groups have the physical full value and the social well-off, moreover the determing in this category there is the social sign. In the firm belief we may say that ,,Kondala and ,,Luba’’ there are so the marking signs of age  containing the indication on the physical state and that is the most significant, on the social status of persons, putting together groups in these grades. Behind limits of System, after the coming out from it, we see again the age sign ,,Melgudo’’ – old men, that is return to the marking of age according to biological sign absolutely fore persons who have no social state.

In the contemporary society the idea of the age of the individual takes into consideration two qualities – biological and social. By this the calculation of age made in chronological system, where the one of dimension there is the calendar year, permits simultaneously and equally to mark these two qualities. So, the category of age in high developed societies combines two signs, giving the idea about age state of the individual –  biological and social. So, the terms ,,youth’’ and ,,girl’’ usually do not perform simultaneously concrete physical and social loading. But the fixed in figures age, for example, 16-18 years old, indicates as the physical state of the individual and so his social rightability, that is the chronological dimension of age permits to combine in this character the biological and social criterions.

The analysis of Galla material shows to us that in their idea of age there are also two signs – biological and social. However unlike from contemporary societies in Galla traditional society there is the manner of the definition of age assumes as though the dismemberment of these two signs.

The counting of age have based on not number system but on the system of terms, oriented to the social organization of the society. The groups are socially insignificant mark by the age terms only according to the biological sign. The groups of persons, have included into the mechanism of the social system, mark  with the social age terms in  the first order according to the social sign.

So, we see that the general category of age in the code of the public standards of archaic societies decomposes in two subcategories. As common category of age it expresses the biological and social natures of individuals, forming public groups, stratificated in accordance with the historical phase of the development of the society.

The first subcategory of the category of ,,age’’ is the biological age that is the sign, on which base individuals according to their physical state unite in groups are not corporative and have no social functions. The idea about physical state of individuals is situated in base of the subcategory of the biological age expresses the grade of the development and display of the society on the biological level.

The second subcategory of age – is the social age that is the sign on base which individuals according to their physical readiness to the social activity have organized in socially significant corporative groups, functioning in the limits of  the system of the social organization.

The idea about the social group capacity of individuals, consisting the base of subcategory of the social age, expresses the grade of the development and display of the society on the social level.

We have told already that there is on the historical phase of the activity of age system as the base of Galla social organization the biological age is not significant criterion in limits of the ,,Gada’’ system. It was shown on the example of the definition of age of individual entering into the age group, according to his record of service in ,,Gada’’ system, that is according to the quantity of ,,Gada’’ periods have passed by him. The biological age, as rule, does not coincide with the social one. It is connected with that the birth of child itself was socially significant for his parents only. For the children there is the first social significant moment in their life was their initiation into the age system. This moment associated with the birth of new members of the social system, and everything that there was before this moment has no any public significance. Therefore the social age was began to count not from the moment of the person s birth but there is from his birth as the member of the society through the initiate rite.

In the definition of the social age enters the criterion of the physical state of the maturity, indicating the transition of individuals in group social state. Every period of the concrete physical and social state, defining age, has the strict scale of terms. Each term there is the marking sign of the age period of the individual and his age group. So far as the social significant for the society, about which we speak, there is not exact data or the exact quantity of years, expressed in numbers, but the periods of the ripening, preparation, functioning that is the states are longing in time, and the transitioning from one stage into another but its no breaking therefore we have in this society there is not number s definition of age, but there is the terminological one, where by means of each term the time interval is marked that is the period what is the social significant mark of time. By this mark is measuring all life of members of age groups in the System;  everything apart from it s limits expresses by means of another terms, containing only physical characteristics of the state of individuals and groups.

Like that the data of the chronicle ,,The History of Galla’’ gave the possibility to understand and to formulate the historical category ,,Social age’’ and to reconstruct the rightness of the scientific marking of this social phenomenon as the Age Class System.


[*] Ученая степень: д.и.н. Ученое звание: с.н.с. Научные интересы: Этнология Африки. Кочевые общества Азии и Африки. Традиции и современность. Музееведение. История материальной культуры народов мира. Дополнителная информация: член Производственного Совета Института и Специализированного Совета ИЭА РАН по защите кандидатских диссертаций, а также Научного совета по проблемам Африки РАН. Является иностранным членом-корреспондентом Лондонского института заморских исследований. глав. науч. сотр. Этнографический кабинет имени Н. Н. Чебоксарова


[1] Schleicher A.W. Geschichte der Galla. Berichte eines Abessinischen Menschen über die Invasion der Galla in Sechzehnten Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1893.

[2] Guidi I. Historia Gentis Galla. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Scriptores Aethiopici, series altera. T.3. Parisiis, 1907.

[3] Beckingham C.F., Huntingford G.W.B. Some Records of Ethiopia (1593-1646). London, 1954; Kalinovskaya K.P. Vozrastniye gruppi narodov Vostochnoj Afriki. Moskva, 1976, s.134-136; idem. Skotovodi Vostochnoj Afriki. Moskva, 1989, s. 4-30

[4] Kalinovskaya K.P. Vozrastniye gruppi …, s.136-143.

[5] Markov G.E. Kochevniki Azii. Moskva, 1976.

[6] Kalinovskaya K.P. Vozrastniye gruppi …, s.141

[7] Kalinovskaya K.P. Kategoriya ,,vozrast‘‘ v predstavleniyah nekotoryh narodov Vostochnoj Afriki.. – In: Trudi Instituta Etnografii, Novaya seriya,tom 109, Leningrad, 1980; idem. Skotopvodi Vostochnoj Afriki, Moskva, 1989.

[8] Paulitschke P. Beitrage zur Ethnographie und Anthropologie der Somal, Galla und Harari. Leipzig, 1886.

[9] Kalinovskaya K.P. Vozrastniye gruppi …, s.142-143.

KALINOVSKAYA KLARA PETROVNA. Doctor of sciences, Senior Scientist. Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of Academy of Sciences of Russia.

Leninski Prospect, 32-a. Moscow, 117334. Russia. Fax 938-06-00.

Private address: Chelomeya street, 10, flat 501. Moscow 117630.