Saturday, Feb. 16th [From Addis Ababa to Welkitie]
On the 16th of Feb. 2008, we departed from Addis Ababa at around 9:00 am and traveled to Welkitie which is 150 km south of Addis Ababa. We reached Welkitie around noon. Welkitie is the zonal town of Guragie area. The scheduled purpose of our visit to Welkitie was to visit home garden and a school.
After having lunch in Welkitie, we traveled on a rough road constructed by the Gurage Road Association in cooperation with the Ethiopian government. Ato Nasir, who is the secretary of the Association, and one other man accompanied us. Our destination was Agena town which is 35 km away from Welkitie.
On our way to Agena I was talking to Ato Nasir and he related a lot about the association. He mentioned founders of the association such as General Welldeselassie Bereka, Ato Yirga Haile, Captain Admassu Haile-Mariam, Haji Miftah Ahmed, etc. When I asked Ato Nasir whether the community is still actively participating in the association, he said people are no more contributing money. The association is somehow ‘dominated’ by NGOs nowadays. He also noted that if there is any community participation in the road construction, it is restricted to villages. Villagers could cooperate in maintaining a road that passes through their villages. The association is currently engaged, in cooperation with NGOs and government bodies, in the capacity building of health and education sectors. Ato Nasir stressed that there are certain matters for which the community would be consulted: When NGOs are interested in launching new programs, this is done in consultation with the community; it is with the approval or blessing of the community that new programs could be started. The association has therefore the responsibility of intermediating between NGOs and the community.
On the way to Agena we also came across villages and fields. According to Ato Nasir, people have started to plough the land and grow teff and barley in small portions next to Enset. In an area known as Gubre there was resettlement program recently. Ato Nasir told us this when we saw apparently abandoned huts. He said that the settlers, who in fact came from another Gurage area, left the settlement and went back to their original place. But there are a few who settled there permanently and some who came back for the second time. The other information that Ato Nasir accounted was that there was a religious conflict in the area when a mosque was built. But it soon subsided.
The area has also attracted investors. We came across two fenced and expansive fields. One is labeled as ‘Begenenda Vegetable and Fruit Farm’. The other is reserved for a flower farm, known as ‘Tinaw’. The investors of both farms are from Addis Ababa but they are originally from the area. The very names of the farms seem to witness this. ‘Begenenda’ literally means ‘on our own land’ and ‘Tinaw’ means ‘He is one of us’.
Before we reached Agena, we saw (on the left side of the road, a little removed from it) a forest. That was, according to Ato Nasir, grown during the Derg. More particularly, Gesgis was responsible for it because he was forcing the people of Cheha to plant trees (Cheha is one segment of Sebaat bet Gurage). Nasir therefore praised him for this. However, Nasir also told me that Gesgis who is a Cheha himself was also responsible for murdering a lot of people in the area during the Red Terror period of the Military Government. He is now in prison, probably given death sentence recently.
One last thing before we arrived in Agena, Nasir related that the Gurage people have a long standing tradition of making roads. “Centuries before this association was established,” Nasir related, “the Gurage were known for leaving space between villages so that it can serve as road/path. People give in their lands for the sake of the common space. Thus the culture is not new.” He also said that the Gurage has a long tradition of living in villages. The houses are not located scattered from each other as is the case in other areas. The Gurage were not therefore forced to settle for they were already settled, Ato Nasir said.
In Agena, we stopped in front of a compound labeled as “Gurage Development Association, Ezha Wereda Office.” Ato Nasir tried to reach Ato Wudneh and Ato Mengistu, using his mobile phone but they were not in a position to come at that time. We were informed that they were waiting for us sometime ago.
We first visited the school, a comprehensive and preparatory school for the area. It was inaugurated around 2001. The school has a workshop for technical education: wood work and metal work. The building for the workshop was built by the support of the Japanese Government and the equipment in there were also bought by the same support. We were told that, in the past students used to go far off to Endibit for secondary and preparatory school.
Visiting a preparatoryschool
Our next visit was a home garden, where the plant is Enset (there are also a few newly grown coffee trees). Enset (or ?set in Gurage) has a lot of varieties, according to our informants. It is estimated that there are more than hundred of them. In another area, we are told that there are more than twenty of them. The major ones are: Guareye, Astara, Qebnar, Yeshiraqinqe, Fereziye, Yeqeswe, Nech’wo, Qanch’wo, Uret, and Yiregye. According to the farmers, the first three are medicinal in addition to their use as food. While telling us the process through which the Enset should pass through until it is ready to processing food, the owner of the garden and a couple of agricultural experts noted that the Enset, especially since recently, is suffering from an unidentified disease. There are worms attacking the root of the Enset. In such a case, the only thing they managed to do so far is to pull out the whole Enset and burn it far from the area in order to protect the other trees from being infected.
Enset plantation in the Gurage Homegarden
We finished our visit to Agena around 5:30 and went back to Welkitie.
On our way to Sodo, we stopped by some places. We first stopped when we came across bundles of processed Enset fibres. It is known as kacha in Amharic and kancha in Gurage. Some of the bundles are good quality, according to the owners. The lower quality, they call it andarge in Gurage. The price of a bundle ranges from 150.00 to 100.00 birr. As Dr. Shigeta noted, the area has a great potential for industry. He commented this in relation to the fibre. The area may also have, I would add, potential to food processing industry.
Bundles of processed enset fibres
Still on our way to Sodo, we came by one village. Dawit, one of the drivers, led us to one house so that we can see the inside of a typical Gurage house. The house we visited has a place for cattle and other animals and a corner where people sit and sleep. We were told that people have started to build separate houses for cattle since recently. The garden that belongs to the house is really impressing. It is a well cultivated garden. We met the owner of the garden, who generously answered our questions.
The Gurage house
It was at this moment that I was wondering if there has been any attempt to adapt the Enset to drought and famine prone areas, especially to the northern part of Ethiopia and speculating the possibility of making it a project, a project of two or three decades probably; for it would take so much time not only to grow the Enset but also for taking it up as a culture . The Gurage land is one of the few areas which has not been affected by famine in Ethiopia.
The next place of our visit on our way to Sodo was Ajamuazer. We went to the house of one blacksmith and found three men working.
We stopped bye Hosaena for lunch at 2:20 in the afternoon. Hosaena is a town of Hadiya zone. We had a little disappointment because the hotel where we ate lunch made us pay unfairly.
Late in the evening we arrived in Sodo and spent the night in Bekele Molla Hotel.
[these were planned for Sunday, 17th of Feb. in the original plan]
By the next day, 18th of Feb. in the morning we visited one blacksmith, Mr. Guna Gochoro and one weaver by the name of Ato Tilahun. The blacksmith, in his 30s, told us that he made different tools, largely on the basis of order from merchants. He has got two workers. One of them is his own father and he is mostly engaged in blowing the fire using a sort of plastic pump. The other man is a man from the neighborhood and he is paid 10 to 15 birr per day.
In the weaver’s place, we spent quite sometime again. The weaver has got two other weavers, both are his relatives. He came from Dorze area (Chencha) about twenty years ago. He is married with four children. Tilahun said that he will apprentice his own children when they are 12 years. Each of the weavers will mostly produce three gabi each week and sell them on Saturday. When we asked if he has anything now, he said no because he finished all on last Saturday.
The weaver from Dorze
We gave photos and a small gift to both the blacksmith and weaver.
On our way to Arbaminch, we left the main road to the right and ascended the road to Dorze area. The first we visited was Dorze market. It has kocho products, salt, tobacco, shema clothes (clothes which are made by weavers), etc. We have even come across a special kind of soil known as Bole, salty soil used as cattle feed. Then we moved to Chencha. This is the place of weavers. The Gamo are the people who live there. We visited Chencha Weavers Association. There are more than ten members. They weave in a house constructed for the purpose. (We paid sixty birr to visit the workplace.) According to the chairman of the association, they take products to Addis Ababa four times a year. Each time, they take around 400 products, which include gabi and other smaller materials. The members share from the profit.
View of Dorze market
We arrived in Arbaminch on the 19th in the evening and spent the night in Swaynes Hotel.
In the morning, we went to Konso land, south of Arbaminch. In Konso town, we made an arrangement with the office that organize trips to the villages. We drove into the villages and first visited the place of the chief, or the king. His name is Kala Gezahegn. Trained as an engineer in the College of Engineering of the Ethiopian Defense Force (graduating with a diploma) a few years ago, he inherited the position from his father five years ago. Because of his academic qualification, he speaks very good English. He also seems to have studies well what should explain to visitors by heart as he seems to receive guests every day.
Besides this, he is not there merely to be visited; he actively encounters his visitors and acts both as an informant and interpreter himself. Thus, as soon as we arrived in his compound, the king introduced his name and started to describe the whole tradition. After a lecture of 15 minutes or so, he started to answer our questions. According to his account, he cannot leave the place more than a few weeks; he can be out of the village for a maximum of four weeks. He depends on local products. He cannot consume ‘manufactured’ things. His food is totally local. His cloths were however not locally made. In any case, there could be a discrepancy between what he says and what happens on the ground.
Following our question in connection to his relation to the administration in the place, the chief said that he is neutral for his very position demands it. He also recounted some of the challenges the Konso faced as a group. One of their ritual sites was dismantled due to road construction despite the discussion and agreement the community, via the chief, reached to respect the ritual site. The other challenge is coming from ‘modernization’. According to the king, people are these days against the tradition “because of modernization.” But, he noted, a person should be oneself before accepting modernization. It is very important to “keep the base, to keep the tradition.”
Other challenges he mentioned are: overpopulation, deforestation, and poor harvest. The king stated that they are following now, with his leadership, the method of “learning and mobilizing.” They learn from the people, and using the knowledge they get from the community, they mobilize the community for work. He said: “If we use things appropriately, there is nothing bad.” To this, Dr. Shigeta told the king that what he says is in line with the project we have, viz. a project on local knowledge.
The king also recounted some of the rituals the community does as a community. The community, under his leadership, prays so that they have good harvest and they curse ‘enemies’, which includes swarms of grasshoppers and other insects that eat up their crops.
Inter-ethnic conflict: there was one in 2001. But they solved it talking to those with whom they had conflict, namely the Borana.
The Konso king (according to some informants, including what I have got from Dillu, he is only chief for his own clan and he is powerless at that) is the 20th. His father was the nineteenth. The king narrated a lot on how diseased kings are mummified and then buried. According to the tradition, a deceased king is kept for nine years, nine months, nine days, and nine hours before he is buried. However, this time could be shortened according to the situation in which the people are. The previous king, for example, stayed mummified only for 4 months.
We have had the chance to visit the tomb of the previous king. On top of the buried ground there is a caricature of the king made from wood and other materials.
Tomb of the previous king
Following this, we visited one typical Konso village. The people there are little bit money oriented. For each photo we take they ask 2 birr, and ten birr for visiting a compound. Anyways, I was not impressed by what I was in village. The story of the Konso must have been exaggerated beyond proportion.
On the 20th of Feb. we moved from Arbaminch (through Sodo) to Awassa. We arrived in Awassa late in the afternoon at Pina Hotel. In the evening, we went to Hotel Lewi for dinner and in order to celebrate Professor Hayami’s birthday. We have had a very good time. We sang Happy Birth Day in English and Amharic.
By the morrow, we visited Awassa Lake fish market, known as Amora Gedel. This was in the morning. We talked to fishermen. Each boat is used by two fishermen. One of the fishermen I talked to is Belachew. Belachew started work fifteen years ago. He owns a boat. He pays to his assistance 10 to 20 birr per day and a day’s catch. He told me that on average he and his assistance catches 50 or more fishes per day. On average, one fish is sold for two birr. The assistant, in addition to the daily pay he gets, he also takes the sell of one day for himself once a week.
Awassa Lake fish market
The other fisherman I talked to started work five years ago, when he graduated from high school, 10th grade.
There is one association which belongs to the fishermen. According to those whom I talked to, the association is mainly there in order to deter thieves from the area and maintain peace and security in the area. If there is conflict between fishermen, the association intermediates and solves the problem.
After our visit to the fish market, we went to to Wondo Genet, the place of Dillu’s Family. We were accepted there very warmly and we were invited lunch. We had dorro wot, traditional food of the area such as kocho, chiko, and bulla. As a desert we had all kinds of fruits that the green Wondo-Genet provides. Finally we had coffee and then, with the leadership of Dillu’s grandfather, we went to the latter’s house and farmland. Before we sat for coffee, we visited his home garden and beehives. While visiting the garden of Enset plants, we were given a demonstration of how the Enset is cut and processed before being stored.
We had also the chance of visiting the beehives and the garden of flowers for the bees.
We then sat in chairs and on benches prepared for us and Dillu’s grandmother offered us kocho made with butter and bananas. We were invited a very tasty coffee with milk, poured from a big pot. Dillu and his family and the research team as a whole had a group photo before leaving for Awassa. What a family this is!! Very rich spiritually, culturally, and what have you.
Kocho offered by Dilu's grandmother
We came back to Awassa around 4:30 and went to Awassa market. We strolled in the market and visited many kind of goods, variety of food items, traditional clothes, etc in the market.
After market we met for dinner at Pinna Hotel. Once we finished dinner, Dr. Shigeta thanked the research team for having the study tour with good spirit.
Before we left to Addis, we had to say good bye to Maruo, Sato and Dillu because the first two are doing some kind of comparative study. Maruo major research site is Tanzania whereas Sato’s is Uganda.
We have had really a very special time together and leant a lot from the areas we visited. I have also learnt a lot from the way the study tour was organized. To my amazement, everything was well organized (maybe typical of a Japanese tour or any task) to very small details, from the very start when we started our trip in Addis Ababa to the last, until we arrived in Addis again. The kind of respect the Japanese students have to us, to each other, and above all to their teachers is very amazing.
A group photo taken in Wondo Genet