The Banna are a pastoral tribe whose culture revolves around cattle. Their harsh environment forces them to be semi-nomadic. During the dry season, the men walk long distances with their herds looking for water and grass, and to harvest wild honey. The Banna have been isolated from the rest of Ethiopia by choice as well as by their remote location in southern Ethiopia and the Kenyan border. They are closely related to their neighbors, the Hammer, in both language and culture.
The Banna live in South Omo Province in the southwestern region of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia—once known as Abyssinia—is a rugged country located on the Eastern Horn of Africa, bordered by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. Its dominant feature is a high, mountainous, central plateau which is split diagonally in the south by the Rift Valley. This region is crossed by a number of rivers, the most notable being the Blue Nile which begins in Lake Tana, and joins the White Nile at Khartoum, Sudan.
The Banna territory remains dry and dusty most of the year, but experiences heavy torrential rains.
It is honorable in the mind of a Banna to remember an offense and take revenge. As a result of this belief, seasonal episodes of raiding for cattle and even killing enemy neighbors is not uncommon. Men are usually heavily armed and tend to be aggressive, and most neighboring tribes fear them.
The Banna king is the respected authoritative voice to whom the people look for leadership. They also look to him for rain during a drought, and for healing from illness. Elders serving under the king act as leaders in their respective localities. These elders deal with most offenses; however, the difficult ones go to the king. The king cooperates with the Ethiopian government enough to ensure that his people maintain their independence and autonomy.
To help reach the Banna and other groups in Ethiopia, SIM works closely with the Kale Heywet Church (KHC), an association with over 7,000 congregations. While Banna are tolerant of outsiders who are Christians, they themselves are resistant to the good news of Christ’s gift of spiritual freedom. One reason for this is the Banna sense of pride and unity as a people. More importantly, however, they fear reprisal from evil spirits and from friends and relatives. New believers face social pressures like beatings or theft of their animals and other possessions.