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head of household


Gala Dejen (highlands)


December 1996


Ayichesh, although a relatively young woman, talks about things being better in the old days and seems to be relaying what members of the older generation have told her as much as drawing on her own experience. Many of her comments (for example about gender roles and religion) reveal generally conventional attitudes. Her responses to questions are fairly brief although she is forthcoming with some personal information – including the fact that her mother committed suicide when she was a baby – which the interviewer does not follow up on.

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Section 1  Talks regretfully about declining land productivity (because of insufficient rain) and food production: “Food production? What food production? There is nothing”’ Yields also less because of population growth since the Derg introduced land redistribution.
Section 2  Usefulness of fertilisers but not affordable by the poor. Land productivity problems - soil erosion owing to forest being cut down for firewood and construction. Only eucalyptus trees being planted.
Section 3  Sources of income (general rather than personal) – farming, trading and breeding animals. Decline in numbers of livestock: “There used to be 40 or 50  newborns at a given time. Now not many people have even one cow for milking.”
Section 4-5  Mentions the time of ‘pestilence’ - presumably the famines - many died. Mother’s suicide during narrator’s infancy: “I was told that my mother hanged herself when 31 of her animals died.” Crops grown. Leaving the land fallow as alternative to using fertiliser. Changes in land tenure system – poor people get land but plots too small.
Section 6  Things that would improve life in the village - factory or flour mill, being able to buy fertiliser, education and health facilities being set up. Narrator mentions that she and two others established the village/settlement.
Section 7  Talks briefly about Qire, and says: “Both the Mahber and the Senbetie (other community associations) are practised for the salvation of your soul.” Traditions still the same but scale of festivities/size of meal have changed.
Section 8  Marriage – girls now not married off before puberty. Keeping concubines – not a common practice – “… has no use except to break up marriages. Infidelity – man may be required to compensate wife with gift of a cow or sheep, and wife has right to divorce husband.
Section 9  Supportiveness of community, including between Muslims and Christians and towards the sick/physically weak. Changes in roles and relationships between men and women – “greater love and affection … Now this thing called equality has come and if he tells her to do something, she will tell him that she won’t take orders from him.”
Section 10-11  Importance of religion. Church ceremonies, processions with the Holy Tablet. Importance of formal education. Literacy classes introduced by the Derg – most people now literate.
Section 11-12  Communications – mostly oral, via markets and churches. News passed on from village to village – “they will climb a hill and announce in a loud voice.” No radios owned by villagers. Importance of road built by the Chinese.