Women Builders of Mana: The Story of the Great Women Architects

The Gabbra Women Builders of the Mana (Gabbra community) (2020) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

The Gabbra Women Builders of the Mana (Gabbra community)

The Gabra Women Builders of the Mana
The Burj Khalifa, the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House and the Mana. What do all of these buildings have in common? Well, they all boast of great architectural prowess and engineering ingenuity. Still, the Mana stands out from the rest because of its superior adaptability to the environment.

The Mana is so adaptable that it can be dismantled at a moment’s notice and carried along to a new destination! What’s more? The Mana is designed and constructed entirely by women.

The Gabbra Women Builders of the Mana (Gabbra community)

The Mana is a traditional Gabra hut. It is the Gabra dwelling unit in which members of a household reside. It is a portable dome-shaped structure about three metres in diameter and can be dismantled at a moment's notice by skilled Gabra women.

In building the Mana, Gabra women use a framework of poles, firmly fixed about thirty centimetres into the ground and bent at the top to make the roof. They tie thin sticks to these poles, horizontally and at intervals, using cowhide thongs.

On top of this framework of poles, rests a covering of dasse (sisal mats), ithile (goat or sheep skins) and sometimes old pieces of cloth. These are held in place by ropes which tie everything down. Dried shrubs are used to cover and surround the part of the hut that touches the ground. This helps to ward off sand particles that may be blown in by the wind.

The Gabbra Women Builders of the Mana (Gabbra community)

As is the tradition of the Gabra, the women ensure that all Gabra huts are similar and all have their doors facing the west. The reason for this is to prevent the wind from blowing dust and sand into the houses. The wind blows from east to west.

The Gabbra Women Builders of the Mana (Gabbra community)

The Gabra live in settlements known as olla or sometimes manyatta. An olla is a unit of huts (Mana) with people who choose to live together. There may or may not be kinship. An Olla does not have a set number of people and the settlements are usually far from one another. During the dry seasons the Mana will concentrate around wells. Most Gabra olla’s change sites after every three or four months in pursuit of good pasture.

The Mana shows that traditional African architecture was not only full of ingenuity but was also extremely functional in every aspect.

The legacy of the Gabra lives on
The great women architects of Gabra had thought of sustainable housing before it became a modern trend. As we face environmental issues like climate change and scarcity of natural resources, the cost of building and maintaining various buildings has become more costly. People are looking at ways to create living spaces that are not harmful to the environment and also save money in the process.

Eco-friendly trends and practices in architecture are already being implemented all over the world. These practices save money and the planet.

Credits: Story

Credits: Story
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 40 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team. The illustrations were done using digital media by Shujaa Stories Limited.

National Museums of Kenya - Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) - Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) - Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega - Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere - Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu - Art of Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki - Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga - Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii - Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti - Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga - Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria - Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba - Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo - Education Officer
Eddy Ochieng – Photographer/Videographer

Concept Developer:
Shujaa Stories Ltd

Creative Direction:
Tatu Creatives Ltd
Shujaa Stories Ltd

Shujaa Stories Ltd – Contributors
Masidza Sande Galavu - Illustrator
Jeff Muchina- Editing
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Illustrator
Brian Kiraga – Research and Writing
Daisy Okoti - Editing
Shani Mutarura - Editing
Juelz Laval – Photography/Videographer
Linda Tambo - Photography

Other Contributors
Nature Kenya- The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)
Spellcast Media

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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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