Gabra – Well Songs

22-Sep-21
Aneesa Kassam
GABRA — Well Songs

Here’s a program from our archives.

Ambience: Well Song
The Gabra are nomadic herders who live in the desert which straddles the border between Kenya and Ethiopia. It’s dry season now in the desert and, though the land is parched, the Gabra survive on water from their wells. The wells are off- limits during the rainy season, but this month will become the site of a ritual gathering of work and songs– such as the one we’re hearing right now. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Aneesa Kassam is a professor of anthropology at the University of Durham in England.

“The Gabra wells are normally very deep. So in order to reach the water, the men descend into the well and stand on ledges inside it. They form a human chain inside the well. The man at the bottom scoops up the water in a giraffe skin bucket and passes it up to the man above him. The song is sung when this is being done. The melody or rhythm of the song unfolds within this chain like activity.”

Outside the wells, a separate group of men take part in a complex and efficient system for the watering of the animals. The order is kept by the song that they sing, each verse signaling the moment when the next group of animals may be lead to the well.

“There is a set day for each category of livestock. While the younger herders watch their stock at a short distance from the well, the men clean and prepare the mud troughs. Then they descend into the well and pass up the water, singing as they do so. When the troughs are full, a signal is given to the herders, who let the animals go in small groups to prevent a stampede being made on the water troughs. This continues until all the animals have been watered.”

Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Gabra - Well Songs

Amongst the Gabra people of northeastern Africa, the dry season provides an opportunity for a ritual gathering of work and song.
Air Date:09/22/2021
Scientist:Aneesa Kassam
Transcript:

22-Sep-21 Aneesa Kassam GABRA -- Well Songs Here's a program from our archives. Ambience: Well Song The Gabra are nomadic herders who live in the desert which straddles the border between Kenya and Ethiopia. It's dry season now in the desert and, though the land is parched, the Gabra survive on water from their wells. The wells are off- limits during the rainy season, but this month will become the site of a ritual gathering of work and songs-- such as the one we're hearing right now. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Aneesa Kassam is a professor of anthropology at the University of Durham in England. "The Gabra wells are normally very deep. So in order to reach the water, the men descend into the well and stand on ledges inside it. They form a human chain inside the well. The man at the bottom scoops up the water in a giraffe skin bucket and passes it up to the man above him. The song is sung when this is being done. The melody or rhythm of the song unfolds within this chain like activity." Outside the wells, a separate group of men take part in a complex and efficient system for the watering of the animals. The order is kept by the song that they sing, each verse signaling the moment when the next group of animals may be lead to the well. "There is a set day for each category of livestock. While the younger herders watch their stock at a short distance from the well, the men clean and prepare the mud troughs. Then they descend into the well and pass up the water, singing as they do so. When the troughs are full, a signal is given to the herders, who let the animals go in small groups to prevent a stampede being made on the water troughs. This continues until all the animals have been watered." Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.