GLOSSARY
Ethiopia glossary

Berhanu

(ETHIOPIA 5)

Sex

male

Age

70

Occupation

farmer

Location

Flaqit (lowlands)

Date

E

 

transcript

Section 1
Could you tell me about your area - about crop production, whether there are changes, any problems related to the changes, about agriculture and the market?
When I was able-bodied, I used to sow one kilo of sorghum and reap14 quintals of yield. Now the repeated drought and the depleted soil have decreased production and people are suffering from hardship.

What is the cause of the drought? What about the market?
The cause of the drought is the disappearance of the forest and the erosion of the soil. In the past everything used to be cheap. Oxen, cows, goats and sheep were cheap. I have seen people buy an ox for eight birr then, three goats for one birr, five chicken for 50 cents. Now, however, money has lost its value and things have become very expensive. A chicken is now bought for up to ten birr, an ox for 1,000 birr, a goat for 150 birr. One used to buy ten laden (sheepskin bag or weight equivalent of 30kg) of grain for one silver thaler (old currency). Now the population increase has brought hardship and suffering.

If things continue as they are now what will your area be like in the coming twenty years?
If the Agricultural Bureauís advice is applied and flood controls are built to prevent soil erosion, if the felling of trees is prevented, I think the situation might improve. The land will be productive and give more yields.

What kind of social organisation is found here? What is your participation in these? What about marriage and divorce?
To commemorate our patron saint we used to organise into a group of 12. We loved each other just like children of the same parents. We became best men for each other. Some organised in a group of 15 members. We organised according to our favourite saint: Holy Saviour, St Mary, St Michael, St Gabriel, etc. We learnt from the scriptures how the disciples Peter and Paul loved each other, and we took their example.
Regarding marriage, we married early. Our parents used to say that they did not want to die before they saw their childrenís marriage. So men married at the age of 15 and girls at the age of eight. Some used to die from premature sexual relations because their body was not strong enough. The Book says that men should marry at the age of 30 and women at the age of 15. And they begot children immediately. So the old type of marriage was harmful. Nowadays, the couple choose each other and then ask the consent of their parents for marriage. They marry after they get a job. Adultery was common in the old days. Women were few in number and one had to travel long distances to get a woman. However, their love lasted longer.
Nowadays, they say that if the couple meet in the morning, she rejects him in the evening. Also as a result of unfaithfulness, a disease called AIDS was created. According to our faith, since this disease is a result of adultery, the victim would not get a cure on earth and redemption after death. What is pitiful is that though people now have close relations with the government, earn a salary, wear good shoes and clothes, and lead a better life, there is too much adultery. This has made God unhappy and He has created this disease. The disease doesnít show on the victims, but we see them die. Many adulterous people have died in our country and in neighbouring countries. Adultery is shameful and in future we should live as in the past by taking the sacrament and maintaining a union of just one man to one woman. Even when they die their soul will get salvation.
As the Book says everything has its time. Matthew 24 says: people will rise against people and government against government. False prophets will come in my name, so donít trust them. Brother will betray his brother and father his son to death. This age appears to me like the time foretold by the Book. The millennium is arriving, for it is now 7989. There remain only 5011 years until the end of the world.
Section 2
What is the attitude of the Christians towards the Moslems, the rural community towards the urban community?
It is like the wolf and fox and antelope. When the wolf sees the antelope, it runs to eat it and the antelope flees to save its life. Nowadays people are like this, too. The highlanders have a low regard for the lowlanders and vice versa. They quarrel with each other.

What is the reason for the quarrel?
Though we havenít been able to see with our eyes, they tell us the cause is the devil. The Book says that there are devils incarnating human beings. They have flesh like humans and live amongst us. Earlier, 300 religious scholars came from Egypt and condemned them. They forbade them to commit sins. Now they have been released they have become our enemies. There are too many diseases because of them.

What is the attitude of the community towards the weak?
People do not think that they will one day become like them. They ignore and pass them. Our Lord has ordered us to help the disabled, to share with them what we have, yet people do not want even to set eyes upon them. They cover their noses and pass them. In the old days there werenít so many disabled people. People then were energetic, for they fed on honey, milk and meat. There was plenty of love. We used to travel and pass three, four, parishes in search of our kinsmen. And when we parted we escorted each other, kissed one another and cried. When we meet nowadays we turn our faces away. We have come to such a time. We get no response to our greetings. We are acting like barbarians. They regard us, the weak, ones like the disabled ones.
Section 3
Who is doing that?
It is the present generation.

What makes the people of Meket different from others?
The people of Meket are strict Orthodox Christians. They also claim to be the descendants of a Dejazmach (feudal nobleman). In the old days a person would never betray his friend to death. One sacrificed his life for his friend for the sake of his love. These are the distinguishing traits of the people.

If you had an option would you like to live somewhere else?
I would love it if it improves my present life. I would like to live in cities such as Addis Ababa, Asmara or Gonder if I could get a home.

Why do you say that?
It is because of my hardship. It is not just me; I have children. I exhausted my money in an election campaign to become inderaise (administrator). I had some houses, but they were burnt down by my enemies. When the Derg (military regime 1974-89) came, it said that the land and property was not ours and took away my land and plants. Now I live in a kebele house. Now I serve the church because of my former [traditional] education, but I have no pension. So if I and my children can get a better life, we would like to leave this place.

What does inderaise mean?
An elected public servant who discusses matters with the king, who brings the problems of the people to the attention of the king. He is someone at the service of the people.

In comparison with the past, what are the changes in the costume?
In the days of our fathers, up to five persons could wear the same pair of trousers. The trousers were then shorter, as they reached just the knees, not the feet as they are now. At work the men wrapped themselves in their cotton cloaks, with their trousers on their shoulders. There were no shoes nor hats or umbrellas. When we became grown-ups, there were many clothes around. We started wearing the clothes that the enemy (the Italian fascist invaders of 1935) brought with it when it invaded our country. There was also an expansion of modern science education. Emperor Haile Sellassie brought Ethiopians in contact with foreigners and our people were saved from going naked. Wearing shoes and changing oneís clothes became common. People changed clothes three or four times in one day. Their bedding was improved as it had mattresses. We too wear better clothes which are given to us by our children. So our present costume is very satisfactory.

Is there a custom which has disappeared?
Religion is in the process of gradually disappearing.
Section 4
What are the changes?
The culture is changing because of science education. This happened due to love of money. In fact the [young generation] are mistreating their parents and kinsmen and alienating them. They have started denying their fatherhood and motherhood of their parents. All this because of pecuniary love.

How did you acquire your present knowledge and skills? Which one gives you pride? What is your view of modern education? Do you want to send your children to school?
In the old days we enquired where the best teacher was found, whether in Gojam or Gonder, and we carried our bags and scrounged pieces of bread; we sewed our own clothes and we roamed from place to place in search of traditional education. Now we have modern schools in our villages and we have expressed our pleasure to the Ministry of Education last time. The present teachers and education are better than the traditional ones. That is why I have sent my three children to school. This education is good for the future generation too. We heard the prophecy that they fly in the sky and they drive on the road - now we are watching it come true. Seeing this I advise everyone to do like me.
Still I prefer the traditional, spiritual education because we will all die and our soul needs redemption. The Israelis used to say that they lived on manna from heaven for 40 years after the exodus from Egypt. My own experience is that I have no pension and I am not able to work and support myself. I have a small plot of land - just enough to be tilled by a pair of oxen in one day. They said that I have eaten during my days and the piece of land the kebele (smallest unit of local administration) gave me is enough for me. Even that is now rented out to someone else and produces very little. I get a little help from the government and some money from my daughter. My wife sells tella (locally brewed beer) and for lunch we have one piece of bread for four of us. People wonder why my children are not as skinny as those who are fed three times a day. The reason is that God has blessed the food; that is why one piece of bread is enough to feed four of us. So I prefer the traditional religious education.

How do you keep in contact with the outside world? How much have you benefited from the construction of the Chinese road?
I had my own radio in 1946. Now our children have bought their own radios. When I am able to, I go there and listen to the radio. Otherwise I ask for the news on the radio. I am really amazed at the achievements of science - travelling by air and by car, sitting here and speaking to a distant person by phone, contacting daily a government in another part of the world - all these amaze me. In 1937, I had an Italian teacher in Desse at the Negus Michael School. She used to tell us to study well and wait for the Italians as they would come to our country. Our people say the Italians killed us, but they also brought wonders. The way I see it, if the Italians had stayed a little longer, many of our children would have made a lot of achievements.
Having contacts with foreign governments is good, but there are also many non-believers and they are not good for our religion. They carry the Bible, but they donít know its meaning. They ask what happens when a person is baptised. John 1:43 says that those who are baptised are redeemed. Yet 460 religions calling themselves different names have been created. They donít know that their flesh will decompose and turn into dust. Regarding roads, in the old days we used to travel from here to Desse (260 Km) and Addis Ababa on mule back, with our servants carrying our food. When the Chinese started building this road we never thought that we would be able to see its completion. After it was completed it has solved a lot of problems for us. We can now reach our destination without much ado. The Ethiopian Roads Authority has also made a contribution and should be given credit for this. We are now wondering about what the future holds for the next generation.
Section 5
What are the changes in community health care? Where do you go to when you fall ill?
In the old days there were no doctors. The traditional students rubbed leaves and gave them to the sick person and he was cured. There were also psychic cases, those who were possessed, and some claimed to have the ability to cure them. There were not many diseases then because people fed on meat and milk. There was an epidemic of typhoid once in four or five years. In such cases relatives could not visit each other because the whole village caught the disease. The sick lacked people to attend to them. There was also smallpox, which destroyed oneís eyesight. Now the medicine created by science is destroying the typhoid throughout the country. Nowadays, however, there is no healthy person; even those who are walking are not well. Everyone is taking injections. We donít know the nature of todayís diseases. They call it lung disease, kidney disease, stomach disease, but there is no medicine. There are doctors, but they are not able to cure.

Is there a change in the size of the family?
Yes, there are too many family members. I myself have 20-30 children, including my grandchildren. I have 12 children, and they in turn have begotten children. So there are too many of us.

What about food security? When did famine occur? How did the community manage during the famine?
From what our fathers told us, the famine that occurred before the time of Emperor Menelik was due to failure of the rains. They said that there was a time when people ate dry hides because the rain destroyed the crops and only weeds grew up. There was also famine once during the Italian occupation in which many people died. After the Italians left, there was a serious famine in 1964. In the area where I lived, 50 people were buried in the shade of a tree because there was nobody to take the bodies to church for burial. Hunger and thirst forced people to abandon their children and migrate in 1984, but they too did not escape from death.
Now again the problem occurred last year. Though children are not crying for bread, the problem is still serious. They bring finger millet from Gojam and we feed on that, but the problem is getting worse. We are waiting for government assistance, but it has not yet come. We used to cope with the problem with government support during the time of the Derg; however, that is nowhere now. I have five to six family members and I used to get five kilos of food aid for them. That doesnít last the whole family one month. Just like the land redistribution we are being told to swallow our children. Our children have been denied land. They cannot go to their relatives living in other places because everyone is facing hardship. Famine is hovering over our heads, for the food available is insufficient. Everything is going down because of the food deficiency.