The Gabra People: Background information when reading The Names of Things

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Names of Things

by John Colman Wood

The Names of Things by John Colman Wood
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Apr 2012, 276 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Gabra People

Print Review

The Names of Things is set in the Chalbi, a desert in northern Kenya near the border with Ethiopia (marked "A" on the map below).

mapThe Chalbi, which means "bare and salty" in the local language, was once part of Lake Turkana, the largest permanent desert lake in the world. It is an immense flat expanse of clay and white salt stretching approximately 62,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers), surrounded by volcanoes and ancient lava flows.

Kenya's only true desert, the Chalbi is one of the hottest and most arid regions in the world. The area receives less than five inches of rain in a standard year, but even that is sporadic; some years only a trace of rainfall reaches the desert floor. Whatever little rain falls arrives during one of two "rainy seasons" -- a longer period in March and April and a shorter one in November. During these periods, large shallow lakes form across the former lakebed. February is the warmest month with an average temperature of 98 °F, but temperatures can top 140 °F.

It is home to lions, ostriches, oryx (a large antelope) and the Grévy's zebra (the largest and the wildest of the three zebra species).

The Gabra people (pronounced GAH-brah and also spelled Gabbra and Gebra), who feature prominently in the novel, call this wasteland home. They are a tribe of camel-herding nomads closely related to the Rendille (of Eastern Kenya) and Somali peoples, all three of whom are referred to locally as the warra dassee -- "people of the mat" -- in reference to the mat-covered, portable tents they use. In addition to camels, the Gabra also rely on sheep and goats for food and for religious sacrifices.

camel The Gabra are traditionally monotheistic, worshipping a god they call Waka (also spelled Waqqa, Waaqa or Waaka). The religion is influenced by Islam, and shows many similarities to it.

The Gabra's population is difficult to determine, with estimates ranging from 30,000 to 90,000 individuals. A group of about 75 people (10 to 15 families), makes up a village or ola. Each ola has approximately 25 houses, called mandasse, which are light, dome-shaped tents made of acacia roots and covered with grass mats and camel hides. The mandasse are owned, cared for and moved by the women of the tribe, and can be quickly disassembled and stowed on a camel for transport (the ola may move up to twelve times a year in search of water and better grazing for the animals).

The men are responsible for herding, feeding and watering the camels, while children care for smaller animals. Watering may be a very complicated affair, particularly during the dry seasons, as wells can be very deep, requiring up to eight men in a sort of "bucket brigade" to bring water up.

Men are also responsible for governance. Based on his competence and leadership qualities, one abba-olla - "father of the village"- is selected to lead. Elders gather in assemblies to discuss problems and make decisions related to the community, but the abba-olla generally makes the final decision. The tribe functions communally; no one is permitted to go hungry, be without animals, or is refused hospitality or assistance.

You can take a virtual trek through the Chalbi by following the video below:

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article is from the July 25, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice


Book Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

"A powerful, provocative debut ... Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental." - Kirkus, starred review

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Never Coming Back
    by Alison McGhee

    A moving exploration of growing up and growing old, and the ties that bind parents and children.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.