GLOSSARY
Ethiopia glossary

Belachew

(ETHIOPIA 18)

Sex

male

Age

68

Occupation

farmer and blacksmith

Location

Geregera (midlands)

Date

E

 

transcript

Section 1
What was this village like in the old days?
When I was a child, there were no houses with roofs of corrugated iron sheets. There were no eucalyptus trees here for construction work. We used natural trees in the old days. Now there are trees planted by people on every homestead. Our income was based on farming, not on trees then.

What brought about this change?
This is because food grain is getting more expensive in the highland areas, and farmers want to supplement their income by selling trees.

How would you compare the differences between the past and present in terms of crop production?
In my younger days everyone was a farmer. Crop production decreased because of over-cultivation. The land was not being left fallow. It was cultivated every year without any letup and its fertility was being exhausted. The population has also grown.

Is there any crop that has now disappeared?
The same crops used to be cultivated in the past; the difference is that fertiliser and improved seeds are used nowadays. Just as in the old days, we still cultivate lentils, horse beans, teff (staple crop), sorghum, and flax.

What kind of animals did you raise?
Chicken, sheep and goats. I was not aware of any livestock diseases when I was young. I have stayed in the town for several years and I am not in close contact with farming now.

What was the land tenure and distribution like in the past?
In the old days one claimed to have been born in such and such a place from so and so, and claimed land for farming as well as building oneís home. The Derg (military regime 1974-89) changed this custom. If I were to go to the rural parts of Gojam and decide to live there I could get a plot of land, but I lived in the town. So it is better now if you want to get land. No one says so and so was not born here or is a Muslim and deny you land.

What about the market condition in the old days?
The richer traders used to be supplied with the grain they needed by the retail traders who borrowed money from them. If one got profits, he could buy his grain from here and sell it in Desse or Addis Ababa. One used the thaler (old currency - silver pieces) in those days as a currency for transactions. They also used various sizes of salt bar as currency before paper money became widely used.
Section 2
Is there any commodity that was not on the market in the past and is now brought from Addis Ababa?
There is no new commodity on the market here except contraband textile products such as second-hand wears.

Are there any associations which are used for helping each other in time of difficulties?
We have the Senbetie and Mahber both in the towns and rural areas. What is new now is the Qire. You participate in the funeral of a member regardless of whether he was rich or poor. You cannot go to your market when there is a funeral because the Qire will oblige you to pay a penalty. So there is no discrimination between poor and rich. Every member has to be involved in looking after the mourners.

What are the marriage practices like here?
In the old days, if I wanted to marry, my father would send elders to ask the permission of the parents of the girl. You had to give presents to the would-be bride.

You told me earlier that you used to live elsewhere for a long time. Could you tell me more about how you left here?
I was married off by my parents and lived here for two years doing farm work. I then decided to go to Gojam to start trading. I took money from rich merchants, and supplied them with the red pepper and honey I had brought. I took the money in the morning and handed over the goods in the evening. I begot two sons and three daughters and sent them to school, but two of the girls discontinued their studies and married. One daughter lives in Addis Ababa and she looked after the education of her brother who graduated in May and is now assigned in Mekele. I became a retail trader and lived in Gojam for 33 years.

Do you think education is good?
If I had lived here all my life, my children would have been married, then divorced and become a burden to me. It is good that I went away because at least I was able to give them education and they now work with important persons. If something happens to me they can also support me. So education is good. Had I lived here, I would have become a farmer and married off my daughters. They would beget children every year and they would never receive education. I lived there for 33 years to make sure that they got some education. The youngest son that I left in my old home is a student in Grade 8. Farmers here suffer from poverty. They quickly give away their children in marriage and then they go on caring for their children after all that sacrifice.

Why do farmers rush to getting their daughters married when they save a small amount of grain?
Because they think they would be fulfilling their responsibility. It is a shame for a family not to wed away their daughters on time. They think they would lose respect in the eyes of their community.
Section 3
How do the people of Gojam differ from people here?
The farmers there started applying fertilisers earlier and get better yields. They use up to 8 sacks of fertiliser bought on credit and pay back their debts after they harvest and sell their niger seed or flax as of October. People here get dagusa (finger millet) produced in Gojam. Apart from this there is no difference between the two communities.

Could you tell me about the health situation here?
In the old days, there was a severe disease in the lowlands and there were no health services then. Now if someone falls ill, the doctors go to the rural areas to treat him. In the past, if someone fell ill, everyone in the household died from the epidemic. No doctor came to rescue them.

You told me that one reason for the decrease in crop production was the growth of the population. How are the two related?
If someone gets married he begets five children, and they in turn grow and each begets three or more children after marrying. In this way one manís family expands into a village and causes shortage of land.

According to you, what is the solution for this?
What other solution is there except to accept the governmentís advice to beget children at longer intervals and to use the birth control pills provided by it?

How do you get information about events outside your locality or about government activities elsewhere?
During the time of Haile Sellassie it was peaceful and there was no civil war. Things went bad later on. In those days a merchant travelled through the wild land, passed the night under the light of the moon, and came back safely after completing his business.

Why do people build their homes and churches on top of hills?
If one built a house in the lowland, it would be flooded.

What is the difference between a lowlander and a highlander?
The differences are that in the lowlands the crops ripen earlier and there are more diseases than in the highlands.

There are other blacksmiths like you here. What is the attitude of the local people toward you?
In the old days, we were the ones who were well off. It was these ignorant people who tarnished our names by saying that we ate people. It was we, the working people and artisans, who built the churches and mended their houses. They began to say that we should not intermarry with them. They have not abandoned this attitude. Even now, though they see such beautiful houses built by us, they turn their faces away when they pass by. If they are with a small child, they shield the child from us. If my wife sells tella (locally brewed beer), a farmer would prefer to go down a long distance rather than come to drink here. They have not seen anything wrong with us; it is just an old custom. It is as if a hyena is tied in the house.
Section 4
So, what do you feel when they act like this?
It is improving gradually in relation to the past. When people become more enlightened, we think this backward and ignorant view would change. They are envious when we become better off in our livelihood. They lack the know-how to produce a long needle; the farmers cannot live without us.

When did you have a famine or drought here?
As I told you, I havenít lived here for a long time. Where I lived people refused to take any aid. They said that they were able to support themselves. But since I came here only recently, I donít know when there was a drought.

What was your food consumption like in the past and now?
If you have the means you can have your breakfast and lunch and dinner, but if you donít have enough you may just have one meal a day. It all depends on what is available in the household.
We have discussed a lot since you started your interview. If I were literate, I would have written down all the answers for you. Now, however, I wouldnít remember any of my answers if you were to ask me tomorrow. You see, that is what we lack because we were not educated. It was a time of ignorance in the days of my father; there were no schools then. I lived for 33 years in other peopleís land to provide education for my children. Even in business, a person is called a merchant only if he has literacy and numeracy skills. When you leave now I will forget everything. We thus become more ignorant.