Introduction / History
The Orma are semi-nomadic people, some well known from their tall, slender physiques and handsome features, who live in the southeastern parts of Kenya in Tana River and Lamu districts. They keep cattle and move to the higher grounds during the rainy season when the Tana River floods. They move with their herds inland.
The Orma are remnants of a powerful nation of Ethiopia and northern Kenya. In the late nineteenth century, wars with neighboring 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.
Raising cattle is their basic means of survival. Their distinct breed of the white, long-horned zebu cattle are among the finest in Africa. The cows are commonly known as Borana cows (with a hump). Zebu are used as a bride price and are slaughtered at weddings and funerals.
Where are they located?
Some key Orma cities are Hola (the capital of Tana River District), Garsen, Tarasaa and Witu.
What are their lives like?
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.
They also eat maize, rice, beans and drink chai. The arid Tana region is not very favorable 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 thatched with grass and in some cases with woven mats. In some cases when the family migrates with the herds due to drought, they leave the frame of their homes behind, only carrying the mats. They will often return to the same site when rains return. A larger version of these huts is built for those who live in permanent villages.
An Orma man traditionally has only one wife, even though polygamy is allowed now that the Orma are almost exclusively Muslim. 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. The firstborn child of either sex is named after one of the paternal grandparents.
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. Spear throwing and fighting are admirable skills among the men and those who have killed dangerous animals or human enemies are honored.
What are their beliefs?
The Orma are almost all 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.
* Pray for expatriate and Kenya national missionaries, all of whom are working cross-culturally.
* Pray as other Christian groups come to reach the Orma, that they will not put down the work of those who have been there for years, causing division and confusion for the Orma.
* Pray for the Kenyan Bible translators working through BTL, Bible Translation and Literacy, that they will be effective.
* Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language.
* Pray for the availability of the Jesus Film in the primary language of this people.