Ethiopia glossary








farmer trained in beekeeping




October 1998



Section 1
I had a hard time when I conducted this interview. The interview was made in the town of Dibko on Wednesday - the day of the local market. We had some difficulty in choosing a suitable place for the interview. We commenced the interview at the home of the interviewee, but soon it was interrupted when the owner heard that his tenants were leaving his house. He became very angry and started heatedly arguing with them. Then we left for a house on the outskirts of the town. However, there was a disturbance there too and many persons were going in and out of the house. I waited patiently for 45 minutes, persuading the man not to abandon the interview. Despite the distractions by the incessant chirping of a bird perched on the roof, I was finally able to conclude the interview.

This man has a household of nine members, including his wife, one maid, one farmer, one cowherd and four children. Although the interview took a long time, the man was able to respond to all my questions.

What were the causes of the environmental changes around here?
Our locality used to be productive in the old days. Now we donít harvest as much as we cultivate. This is because the cultivation is destroyed by hailstorm and failure of the rains. Also, the flood has washed away the top-soil, exposed the sand and rocks, and cut through the land thereby forming gullies. The farmers could have got some benefits from their livestock, but the latter have nothing to feed on and could not give any yield. One canít even collect sufficient honey because there are no trees for the bees.

You have mentioned about the animals and grazing. Could you tell us about livestock diseases in the past and now?
Now we have veterinarians around here who give pills and injections to our animals when they fall ill. So the agricultural bureau is helping us in this respect and the health of the animals is improving. In the past there were no veterinarians. Regarding irrigation, we do not have sufficient water. Our people are hard working and have made a lot of preparations for irrigation farming, but the water dries up. Down there in the place called Warkaye, you find five to six thousand stems of coffee grown by irrigation and the farmers have got some benefits from them, but the water is now drying up. Had it not been for the scarcity of water, you can grow papaw, lemon, orange and banana here.

What are the changes in land tenure? What impact did the land redistribution have on your life?
In the old days, one bore such titles of nobility as Grazmach and Qegnazmach and held land. The land was cultivated by tenants who also performed menial labour for the landlords. The noblemen even used to prevent other people from setting foot on their land. The present government redistributed land in such a way that everyone received an equal amount of land regardless of status. So the people are grateful, but there isnít enough land and the rains do not come regularly.
Section 2
What are the changes in the market condition?
The market has died. There is nothing profitable.

What are the things that are not sold or exchanged now?
In the old days, you could buy an ox for seven hundred to one thousand birr (unit of currency). I myself had bought one cow for 1200 birr in the old days. Now, no one will buy it even for 200 birr because the hardship is forcing everyone to sell his animal.

How do you expect in your locality to change in the next 20 years?
I have four children and they were born four or five years apart. I sent them to school one after the other because very little yield could be got from farming. If everyone is educated there is hope for development and the market will expand. The health station built near our gate is giving us a lot of benefits. The malaria that used to attack is now being forgotten. Our doctor, Mulugeta, called us and took us to show us how the insect that causes malaria breeds and how to eradicate this. So, through our development activities, we have now become our own doctors against malaria and are destroying it. Agricultural workers have also taught us how to destroy crop pests such as degeza (Wollo bush cricket), fenttera (grasshopper). Our only problems now are birds which eat away the sorghum in the lowlands, the hailstorm and the drought.

What kind of social institutions are found here? To what extent do you participate in these?
There is wedding, Idir/Qire, Iqub, Tezkar and Senbetie. When there is a wedding, one invites his sister, brother, aunt, uncle, his own kinsmen as well as that of his wife and shares his joy with them. One brews tella (locally brewed beer) for the Senbetie and shares this with his members at the church [usually on a Sunday]. The poor are also allowed to share the drink. In the Tezkar, you invite the clergy of the churches in the area and prepare a feast for them by slaughtering a bullock. In the Iqub, close friends come together and save money and also drink together on the day of the meeting.
Idir serves both the rich and the poor by preparing the funeral and the feast for the mourners. The marriage practice in the old days was harmful. As soon as the daughter is five years old, the parents of the couple arrange the marriage, but it doesnít last long. Now the authorities advise against early marriage. When the girls marry at the age of 15, they tend to stick to their husbands.
Section 3
What about divorce?
Divorce is harmful. Either the man leaves his wife or she divorces him and the parentsí resources expended on the wedding are thus wasted. The divorcees go to the towns and form concubines. Their male lovers bring the women gifts of sheep, teff, sorghum and honey. Then the men divorce their wives and decide to live with their lovers. But the women also have other lovers and the men start fighting each other. In this way marriages are destroyed.

To what extent are concubines valued now?
Such practices are dying out now because of infectious diseases such as TB, AIDS, and because the farmers are too poor to support two households.

What are the changes in the relationship between children and their parents? How much of his family history has your father passed down to you? What about you?
In the old days there were the Qegnazmach, Grazmach, and Dejazmach. Then the Derg (military regime 1974-89) came and removed them from power. It also began imprisoning and killing people and persecuting others. Furthermore, it destroyed our houses by burning them down. It too passed and we now have an other government which tells us that it has a better system. Of course we can participate in meetings and express our views. We are optimistic about the future.

Could you tell me about the interactions between lowlanders and highlanders, Moslems and Christians, town dwellers and rural people?
People did not closely interact with Muslims and artisans, who were discriminated against. The Christians considered themselves superior to others. People did not dine with them and they were oppressed. Now, however, there is equality and their rights are protected.

What about the relationship between highlanders and lowlanders?
The lowlanders used to produce chickpeas, peas, teff (staple crop), and sorghum while the highlanders produced just barley. The lowlanders used to exchange their pulses with barley.
Women used to be regarded as servants even when they were wives. Her husband made her wash his feet and beat her without provocation. Now her rights are recognised and she is the mistress of the house.

How far is crime regarded as a serious problem in your community.
When someone caused an injury to another person during a quarrel, the Netch Lebash (plainclothes security man) or local chief would order that he be tied and beaten. If the brother of the victim arrived at the scene first, he would shoot the aggressor in vengeance. Now you cannot take the law into your hands. The offender should be arrested and detained, not killed. The offender would be handed over to the kebele officials and the woreda police.

Is there any change in the attitude of people towards disabled persons?
In some towns the government is putting the blind and other disabled persons in a home and supporting them. In the old days, there were old persons without support whom the households of the village took turns to feed and look after for a while and then passed on to the next household. At present, however, farmers are reluctant to look after such helpless persons because of the general poverty prevailing among the rural community.
Section 4
How do the people of Meket differentiate themselves from others? What feature of identity makes them different?
The people of Meket are active. They have prestige symbols such as guns and mules, which the owners show off on holidays. At home, though they are now getting poorer, their hospitality, songs, musical instruments and minstrels have a distinct quality of their own. Now the burden of poverty is weighing down on the people. Songs and dances are not reviving the spirit of families at home. Mothers have very little to feed their children and familial ties are loosening. People live in the hope that God may reconcile with them and bless them with a better crop harvest.
It is on such holidays as Epiphany that one sees people dancing and singing, playing horse-riding games. On weddings [especially when the bridegroomís best men and friends go to the home of the bride] they sing:
Plenty are the beautiful, plenty are the brave in our land
Itís for the gun we have come to you, itís for the gun
Reward us, reward us, reward us our lord
Our son is handsome, our son radiant
When the bridegroom takes away the bride and the ladies and elderly women see them off, they sing:

I saw her off, saw her off
I saw her off, saw her off
I gave away my silver chalice.
So the people of Meket have a rich tradition for festive occasions.

If you had the choice would you like to live elsewhere? If so, why?
If I were educated, I would like to go to a land where the soil is fertile and gives a high yield from whatever little you cultivate, to a place where the farmers could easily buy camels, or a flour mill, or a vehicle. Here, the land has exhausted its fertility and cannot even give you back what you have sown.

Which aspect of your culture do you give more respect to?
I like the horse riding game in the open field once a year, when the ladies and gentlemen come from all around Meket to watch it.

Are there places of worship around here?
We have St. Mary of Dibko, where we come to pray to the Holy Mother to intercede on our behalf so that our sins may be forgiven.
Section 5
How did you acquire your current skills? Which ones are you most proud of?
A trainer of the SOS Sahel by the name of Tilahun gave some of us a one-week training in modern techniques of beekeeping as well as beehive production. Later I began earning an income by giving training to other farmers in modern beekeeping and how to make bee-hives.

Why did you abandon farming for beekeeping?
I used to do sharecropping for women who were short of the labour for tilling the land, weeding and harvesting. However, in the end the yield was not worth the seeds sown by the landholder. But if you keep bees, you can sell a glass of honey for six birr or a pot of honey for up to seven hundred birr without having to bother about the bees trespassing other farmersí land, or putting in a lot of labour. I thought that if I could earn so much money, I could use that money for buying my familyís food supplies for a whole year and send my children to school.

Do you know any well-educated person in your village? What is your opinion of education?
Education is useful. We see educated persons coming from other places and working for the government or SOS Sahel here. They are well-fed and their hands are not made rough by hard labour as ours are. This is our land but we are ignorant and remain farmers here. I say that any man here who begets a child and condemns him to a livelihood of farming is an accursed person.

So, do you want to show your children how good education is?
I prefer my daughter to get married because if she is sent to school, she may bring shame on the family or she may fall in love with someone and run away. I want my son to be educated so he will become an important person and support himself and us. He can later marry anybody he wants.

Is your vision for your daughter one of marriage only?
In our locality, we like to see our daughters get married. We prefer to see them form a family here than be educated and leave us to sell tella elsewhere.

How do you get information about events outside your village and how do you communicate your messages?
We send our messages about weddings and Tezkars through letters. If the messenger is uneducated he may give the wrong message orally. If the recipient lives in the vicinity, we will relay the message by word of mouth.

What kind of news makes you happy?
I want to hear about peace. Last time my brother was conscripted and I had to escort him to Woldya. I like to hear about a good climate and enough rainfall to produce a good crop harvest.

Is there anyone with a radio in your village? Do you regularly listen to the radio?
No we are too poor to buy a radio.
Section 6
How far have you ever travelled outside your village and for what purpose? What impact did the building of the Chinese Road have on your life?
I used to be a trader and it used to take me three days to travel to Woldya on foot. We used to load our goods on donkeys and they used to be exhausted by their burden. I have forgotten when the Chinese built the road, but they did a good job by flattening the gullies. Now I can go by car to Woldya in two hours and come back on the same day after completing my business. We are very grateful for this facility. The opportunity to travel by car has brightened our lives.

What are the changes in community health? What medicines did you take when you fell ill?
There was no clinic in the past and you just died if you fell ill. Now we have schools and a health station. You can get medical treatment if you are sick. People are grateful to the government now. They are sorry for their deceased relatives who passed away without getting such a treatment. Of course the farm plots have shrunk too much due to population growth. The solution for this is education. Some people who are educated became drivers, some teachers, some medical workers, and some government employees, and are moving away from farming. We are sorry that we had not received education earlier, for we wouldnít have been tied to the land. A farmer can do nothing with a plot of land that is no larger than that used for building his residence. So people have now turned to education rather than expect a further parcelisation of land.

Have venereal diseases decreased or increased? What are these diseases?
Sexually transmitted diseases are syphilis, gonorrhoea, and banbulie. I donít know to what extent they exist. The solution for this is to restrain oneís self and, if infected to go to the doctor immediately. Otherwise the person will infect another woman and spread it to others.

When did you have famine or drought in your village? How did you cope with it?
There was a famine in 1984/85. At that time I stayed with a rich family. I had seen then with my own naked eyes my neighbours picking bones from the ground and eating them. Now people try their hands on irrigation and coffee growing, or resort to sharecropping, or send their children to school rather suffer the same hardship again.