GALLAS, or more correctly Galla, a powerful Hamitic people of eastern Africa, scattered over the wide region which extends for about 1000 m. from the central parts of Abyssinia to the neighbourhood of the river Sabaki in British East Africa. The name "Galla" or "Gala" appears to be an Abyssinian nickname, unknown to the people, who call themselves Ilm' Orma, "sons of men" or "sons of Orma," an eponymous hero. In Shoa (Abyssinia) the word is connected with the river Gála in Guragie, on the banks of which a great battle is said to have been fought between the Galla and the Abyssinians. Arnaud d'Abbadie says that the Abyssinian Moslems recount that, when summoned by the Prophet's messenger to adopt Islam, the chief of the Galla said "No," - in Arabic kal (or gal) la, - and the Prophet on hearing this said, "Then let their very name imply their denial of the Faith." Of all Hamitic peoples the Galla are the most numerous. Dr J. Ludwig Krapf estimated them (c.1860) at from six to eight millions; later authorities put them at not much over three millions. Individual tribes are said to be able to bring 20,000 to 30,000 horsemen into the field.
Hardly anything is definitely known as to the origin and early home of the race, but it appears to have occupied the southern part of its present territory since the 16th century. According to Hiob Ludolf and James Bruce, the Galla invaders first crossed the Abyssinian frontiers in the year 1537. The Galla of Gojam (a district along the northern side of the river Abai) tell how their savage forefathers came from the south-east from a country on the other side of a bahr (lake or river), and the Yejju and Raia Galla also point towards the east and commemorate the passage of a bahr. Among the southern Galla tradition appears to be mainly concerned with the expulsion of the race from the country now occupied by the Somali. Their original home was possibly in the district east of Victoria Nyanza, for the tribes near Mount Kenya are stated to go on periodical pilgrimages to the mountain, making offerings to it as if to their mother. A theory has been advanced that the great exodus which it seems certain took place among the peoples throughout eastern Africa during the 15th century was caused by some great eruption of Kenya and other volcanoes of equatorial Africa. As a geographical term Galla-land is now used mainly to denote the south-central regions of the Abyssinian empire, the country in which the Galla are numerically strongest. There is no sharp dividing line between the territory occupied respectively by the Galla and by the Somali.
In any case the Galla must be regarded as members of that vast eastern Hamitic family which includes their neighbours, the Somali, the Afars (Danakil) and the Abyssinians. As in all the eastern Hamites, there is a perceptible strain of Negro blood in the Galla, who are, however, described by Sir Frederick Lugard as "a wonderfully handsome race, with high foreheads, brown skins, and soft wavy hair quite different from the wool of the Bantus." As a rule their features are quite European. Their colour is dark brown, but many of the northern Galla are of a coffee and milk tint. The finest men are to be found among the Limmu and Gudru on the river Abai.
The Galla are for the most part still in the nomadic and pastoral stage, though in Abyssinia they have some agricultural settlements. Their dwellings, circles of rough stones roofed with grasses, are generally built under trees. Their wealth consists chiefly in cattle and horses. Among the southern tribes it is said that about seven or eight head of cattle are kept for every man, woman and child; and among the northern tribes, as neither man nor woman ever thinks of going any distance on foot, the number of horses is very large. The ordinary food consists of flesh, blood, milk, butter and honey, the last being considered of so much importance by the southern Galla that a rude system of bee-keeping is in vogue, and the husband who fails to furnish his wife with a sufficient supply of honey may be excluded from all conjugal rights. In the south monogamy is the rule, but in the north the number of a man's wives is limited only by his wishes and his wealth. Marriage-forms are numerous, that of bride-capture being common. Each tribe has its own chief, who enjoys the strange privilege of being the only merchant for his people, but in all public concerns must take the advice of the fathers of families assembled in council. The greater proportion of the tribes are still pagan, worshipping a supreme god Waka, and the subordinate god and goddess Oglieh and Atetieh, whose favour is secured by sacrifices of oxen and sheep. With a strange liberality of sentiment, they say that at a certain time of the year Waka leaves them and goes to attend to the wants of their enemies the Somali, whom also he has created. Some tribes, and notably the Wollo Galla, have been converted to Mahommedanism and are very bigoted adherents of the Prophet. In the north, where the Galla are under Abyssinian rule, a kind of superficial Christianization has taken place, to the extent at least that the people are familiar with the names of Maremma or Mary, Balawold or Jesus, Girgis or St George, etc.; but to all practical intents paganism is still in force. The serpent is a special object of worship, the northern Galla believing that he is the author of the human race. There is a belief in were-wolves (buda), and the northern Galla have sorcerers who terrorize the people. Though cruel in war, all Galla respect their pledged word. They are armed with a lance, a two-edged knife, and a shield of buffalo or rhinoceros hide. A considerable number find employment in the Abyssinian armies.
Among the more important tribes in the south (the name in each instance being compounded with Galla) are the Ramatta, the Kukatta, the Baōle, the Aurova, the Wadjole, the Ilani, the Arrar and the Kanigo Galla; the Borani, a very powerful tribe, may be considered to mark the division between north and south; and in the north we find the Amoro, the Jarso, the Toolama, the Wollo, the Ambassil, the Aijjo, and the Azobo Galla.
See C.T. Beke, "On the Origin of the Gallas," in Trans. of Brit. Assoc. (1847); J. Ludwig Krapf, Travels in Eastern Africa (1860); and Vocabulary of the Galla Language (London, 1842); Arnaud d'Abbadie, Douze Ans dans la Haute-Ethiopie (1868); Ph. Paulitschke, Ethnographie Nord-Ost-Afrikas; Die geistige Kultur der Dan'akil, Galla u. Somâl (Berlin, 1896); P.M. de Salviac, Les Galla (Paris, 1901).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)