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Pastoral Experience - Ethiopia

Vincent Mutebi
        Borana Children at Home

The Borana are among the pastoralist and nomadic tribes of Ethiopia. They are found in its southern part, the Oromiya Zone and also extend to the northern part of Kenya. My experience with them as a Spiritan student on Pastoral Experience Programme (PEP) puts me in concrete touch with the incarnation of Christ among them.


My experience with the Borana is so rich an experience: their life, customs and rituals on which their belief system is built. They have a great attachment to animals especially cows whose shed is built before their own dwelling and has the main entrance to the homestead. They are peaceful only when their animals are peaceful. They depend on them for milk and meet which is their special diet. 

The first word I learnt in the Borana language is Nagaa which means "peace". It is used in all salutations and  expressions of benevolence. Unfortunately I did not find their homes that peaceful.


The Borana house, a hut for that matter, is where everybody and everything finds its home from the new-born child to the new-born calf, kid or chicken. In the coldness of the night they all warm themselves from the cooking place in the house, and it serves as the shelter from the burning sun of the day or from the rain on the rare occasions it comes.    
Besides, the most precious thing to be offered in a Borana home is  Itituu or Buna meaning "curdled milk" which stands for coffee that is so ceremonial and at the heart of all Borana rituals. This was so nice for me but not the "curdled milk". The latter, in my Ganda culture is literally dead milk “amata amafu” only fit for dogs and cuts. To make the matters worse, the flies were e also struggling to get a share from the same cup. It was breath-taking to accept this cup of communion however significant it was in showing solidarity with them. However, after a couple of times seeing the elder confrere enjoying with them, I cast off my prejudices and joined the wholeheartedly.
The aridity of the place was another challenge that shattered my expectation of peace. In the draught, which is the longest period of the year, they walk for long distances in search of water and pasture for their animals. For instance, the girls have to walk for at least five kilometres to get a 20-litre-can for home use while the boys take care of the animals.
 With this comes the perpetual shortage of food which leaves the people at the mercy of external support from non-governmental organisations and Religious missions.
In such circumstances, the sacramental role of a religious leader is overshadowed by the humanitarian needs which are more immediate and pressing than faith and morals. For the Borana a Farenji, "foreign man" especially a priest, is one who knows everything and able to offer whatever is asked of him. It is not strange that one can even bring  a wounded animal to be treated by the priest. Pastoral activities are also further affected by their movements that make it difficult to establish permanent Christian communities.
Where is Peace in all of this? I kept on asking myself. The land so dry, a very low turn-up in and participation in church activities, let alone the low level of socio-economic development. I only find the answer in their day-to-day life and the young generation who are the seed of  hope for tomorrow. Gradually I have come to realise that the God of the Borana is not so much to be found in a structured church but in their daily life and activities. They have a deep-rooted trust in God thats why He is daily invoked to bless the animal for slaughtering. The animal blessed is God’s gift to them to nourish their bodies and strengthen their souls to serve God and one another.
The happiness of the pupils I have met in our Spiritan schools is nothing but the true peace given by Christ who chose to be born in similar circumstances. To me they reflect the seed of hope for the future sawn in the ever fertile soil of  education. Some of those who have been assisted by and gone through  the Spiritan education system have proved this by serving in different social and political positions.
    A Borana House
Through these and other encounters I see myself growing into a spiritan missionary as I face the challenges to broaden my mind and adjust my scale of values to fit into different societies. At times, I have to put up with what would rather be inconveniencing to me in order to understand, accept and respect their customs and culture in all its depth. This puts me in a better position to learn more from them  so that together we can establish a better vision for their  physiological and spiritual needs. This is in line with the Spiritan approach to mission.