Ethiopia glossary










Filaqit town (midlands)





Section 1
How did the changes in your locality come about?
As you know, the country was led by the Derg (military regime 1974-89) until some five or six years ago, and there was an endless war then. Now various development agencies such as SOS [Sahel] and ADA (Amhara Development Association) have come here and through them a number of trainings were given to the farmers so as to improve their farming methods.

What kind of farming methods did you use in the past? What was your life like then?
At the time of Haile Sellassie, land was under the control of a few landlords. The tenants took just one-fifth of their produce and gave the rest to the landlords. Then there was a popular uprising which removed these people from power and resulted in the formation of the provisional military government. There was a reform in [the land tenure] although it did not fully achieve its objectives because of the war. Despite this there was a redistribution of land and a considerable number of farmers were able to be liberated from the burden of the landlords. I had come of age then and know that the crop was attacked by pests. However, there were only the employees of the Ministry of Agriculture working with us and there were no other development agencies in this woreda (administrative district) at the time to help the farmer. The agricultural agents were not effective in controlling the crops pests especially in the lowlands. The veterinarians were also too few to look after the livestock in the woreda. However, fertiliser was provided then, but the farmers lacked the know-how for its application and wasted it even by using it as a paste for the floor of their houses.
Now the ADA agents have given training to the farmers and this is having a positive effect on the farming methods. SOS animators are also posted in various stations and giving training to the farmers. Although they have to pay higher prices now, farmers are queuing up to get fertiliser for their farm plots. Previously, there were only 17 schools and about two or three clinics in the woreda. At present there are 21 schools and more health services in each sub-district. SOS is also helping the farmers by introducing better methods of livestock production and the formation of credit and savings associations.

What changes do you expect to see here in the next 20 years?
If the current programs continue, I think that the development agents will enable the farmers to be considerably more productive. The building of more schools and health service centres will improve the social life of the rural community. We used to have a serious problem of communication here because of lack of roads. SOSís rural road project has now enabled us to take the sick quickly to the health stations. The construction of the roads have also enhanced the supply and exchange of goods.
Section 2
What kind of social institutions are found here? To what extent do you participate in them?
We have Idir (Qires) for funerals; the Idirs were previously found mostly in the towns. Now the farmers are organised into Idirs. In the old days, parents used to arrange the early marriage of their daughters even before the latter reached the age of 15 and exposed them to various social problems in addition to contributing to population growth. In the urban areas, however, the people are more enlightened and generally early marriage is not widely practised. SOS is also trying to organise Idirs in order to create better social relations which enhance development.

What are the changes with regard to marriage and divorce?
In the old days, marriage was highly valued. If there was a divorce, the couple held a meeting with a council of elders and decided to share their properties fairly equitably. Nowadays, the spouses went to court and spent a lot of time and money trying to get a divorce. The disagreements within the family also led to divisions among their children, with some siding their father and the others their mother.

What about keeping concubines?
During my lifetime, I was able to note that keeping concubines was allowed even by wives. When the husband came to the woreda town for litigation or some other business, he informed his wife that he was going to stay with his concubine. The wife tolerated this because she thought that this was better than letting her husband go to the home of an unknown person. The man looked after his concubine by giving her support and providing for the education of her children as if she were a member of the family. Now the men do not stick to one lover. They keep moving from one house to another and risk catching this new disease called AIDS. Their love does not last long as in the old days.

What are the changes in the transfer of family history to oneís children?
As I said earlier, the community made its living on land and it was inevitable that the ownership of land tightened family ties. It was hence common practice for fathers to sit with their children in the evenings and tell them who their aunts were, who their uncles were, and who descended from who. Now that the land has been redistributed, there is little ground for tracing oneís lineage because there is no question of land inheritance from relatives. So fathers only try to improve their childrenís livelihood and there is less emphasis on maintaining and strengthening extended family ties.

What is the nature of the relationship between lowlanders and highlanders, Christians and Muslims, urban and rural dwellers?
Artisans were not highly regarded and did not even own land in the old days. It was the same with Muslims, who had to make their living by weaving clothes for the wealthier households. Muslims and Christians did not have a positive attitude towards each other. The improvement in communication, the building of roads within the woreda, has enhanced their interactions and improved their attitudes to each other. Nobody now tries to insult one of them by calling him a Muslim. There are now Muslim cadres. SOS has built an office and a meeting hall for the blacksmiths so that they can make better contributions to the community. This has demonstrated to the community how respectable their profession is.
Crime, especially in the lowlands, is not decreasing. There are conflicts arising from boundary disputes, rights over grazing grass, and illicit relations with women; these clashes result in murders and the inflicting of brutal injuries.
Unlike in the past women are not restricted to the kitchen now. They can participate equally in local meetings and other development activities as well as the trainings prepared by SOS. The men do not try to discourage them from taking part in such non-domestic activities.
Section 3
What is the attitude of the community towards the handicapped and weak?
I remember that when a weak and elderly person without any close relative...children or supporter arrived at oneís home, the owner gave him/her food and lodging for some period and then passed him/her on to the next neighbour, and in this way the community took care of such persons who are known as ilf (literally, person passed around). Nowadays, these elderly persons are seen gathering at churchyards and mosques to beg or at food distribution centres to get food aid. Most of these people come from the lowlands where they lost their relatives because of diseases. The government occasionally gives them aid, but it is not enough and some of them hence go to the towns. People here are too poor to support them as in the past. So I think the problem is bound to be aggravated.

What makes Meket different from other places?
The terrain is different since the land is flatter here. There is some irrigation farming and nursery stations have been set up. The dances, songs, and costumes are slightly different. There is a difference even in the costumes of the people of the lowlands and of those in the highlands. The young men in the highlands wear trousers, gabi (white cotton cloak), shoes and turban while the women wear embroidered cotton skirts or long dresses especially on holidays. In the lowlands, the young men wear mainly shorts. Unlike in the highlands, the women wear their hair long and often dab it with butter. Because of the heat the people tend to wear light clothes. The old men in the highlands are often seen wearing gabi and carrying fly-whisks as well as long wooden staff while the Muslims carry staff tipped with metal at the top. The temperament of the lowlanders and highlanders is also different. The lowlanders tend to be quick tempered and easily pick a quarrel. They are also better armed than the highlanders and even the sticks they carry with them are sturdier.
In August the young men from one village have a match of endurance with their other counterparts by flogging each other. I think this practice is unlikely to continue for long because I even seen young men losing their sight in such matches and some running into other personís homes and breaking household goods or pushing old persons into the ravines in their attempt to flee their assailants. There is also horse-riding competition on holidays and ghenna (Christmas game similar to hockey). These are not common in the lowlands.
Section 4
Which of your customs do you give more value to?
I like the horse-riding game, ghenna and the way women and the youth celebrate Epiphany with songs and dances at the churches. I like the traditional wedding songs and dances. I donít support the funeral dirges in which some men sit on horses and glorify the deceased while deflating others. I support the continuation of the joyous cultural practices.

Are there places of worship here?
There are churches for the Christians and mosques for the Muslims. Also, on holidays, some persons come together, slaughter a goat or sheep and worship the qole (guardian spirit). On New Year or Meske, people used to go to the hilly places in Flaqit and Geregera and make sacrifices of sheep or goat or areki (alcoholic spirit made from dates and sorghum) to fulfil their earlier pledges or make new vows. This practice is now dying out because of the dissemination of education in all quarters. In fact, this year I did not notice this practice in Geregera.

How did you acquire your present skills and which one are you most proud of?
I attended a church school where I received traditional education including how to read and write. There was a modern school in Flaqit then and my family could afford to send me there, but they didnít because modern schools were then regarded as mission schools. When a friend of mine who had finished his study there came as a teacher to a new school opened in kebele (smallest unit of local administration) 19, my parents regretted their decision and allowed me to join this school.
When I finished my primary school, my parents decided that I should get married. They were regarded as a wealthy family in the locality and they felt it honourable to see me get married. Marriage was then regarded as a means of strengthening the bond between friends and our parents arranged the marriage with my wife partly to strengthen their own relations. I became a farmer and began supporting my family. I was also a member of the local youth association at my former school and as a result I was elected to work in the woreda administration. This made it necessary for me to pursue my education until Grade Eight.
During the time of the Derg I was elected to work in the Lalibela Awraja Administration. I continued my study in the evenings until I reached the eleventh grade but had to stop there because there was no school there with classes above that grade. So I decided to finish high school through correspondence but did not successfully finish the high school to join higher education institutions. If my parents had been willing to let me pursue my studies instead of making me get married, I would have held a good job like my friends now. However, I was so tied up with farming and running up and down to support my family that I couldnít fulfil my dream. Nevertheless, it is still an improvement that I was able to get this much education despite everything and look forward to getting a job some day.

What is your attitude towards providing education to your sons and daughters?
Education is very useful. Nobody should try to rely solely on farming nowadays. To get employment in various projects one has to be educated. In view of how my friends have excelled me, it would be condemning my children to the same fate as mine to deny them education. I have three children and I have sent them all to school. My daughter is in Grade Six and my son in Grade Eight. My youngest child is in a local kindergarten. I will try to support them until they finish high school if a senior high school is established in this locality. If not I will do my level best to help them attend a high school elsewhere. I am doing all this because I appreciate the value of education.
Section 5
To what extent has the building of the Chinese Road changed the life of the local people? How did people communicate before the Road was built?
As I said earlier, when I first went to school, I had to carry my meals with me and make a dayís journey to school on foot because my parents lived in a remote village. If I want to visit my parents now, however, I can pay one birr and go and come back by car within just a few hours. The SOS, ADA, and the Agricultural Bureau carry out a number of development activities using this road. Clinics, health centres, and schools have now been built along the road between Debrezebitte and Istayish. The staff travel to various parts of the woreda using the new roads and provide speedy services to the community. The Chinese Road, therefore, has a big impact on our lives.
Concerning events within the country, I have my own radio and listen to it to learn about the new developments within the political, economic and social sphere. The woreda and kebele Administrations also have their own contributions to the enhancement of the interactions between members of the community. Various project offices carry out training programs in different fields. To implement government policies and the programs of other organisations, ADA animators, SOS employees, and administrative workers can meet at the halls and transmit the directives from their organisations.

What are the changes in community health over the past years?
Until recently, we used to take a sick person to witch-doctors, traditional healers, and holy springs to get him cured. Some prescribed traditional medicine and others chewing chat (plant chewed as a stimulant). Now, however, people are more enlightened and they take their sick to the local clinics or health stations. If the person is not cured, they take him to a hospital elsewhere.

Have sexually transmitted diseases decreased or increased?
As I have learnt at the health stations, some social institutions and from the radio, these have not decreased. There is even a disease that has not been heard of previously. There has to be wide program for raising public awareness of the risks of catching these diseases. Previously, there were venereal diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, banbulie, and kerkir especially in the lowlands. Now these are going to be replaced by AIDS unless the youth refrain from loose sexual practices.

Is there any change in the size of the household?
Yes, there is a change in the size. Early marriage had made family planning impossible. The girl married before she reached the age of fifteen and soon came back with a child. Before this one grew up, she gave birth to yet another child and this process continued. Except in the towns to a limited extent, birth control methods were not applied. The education in family planning is not widespread in rural areas and, therefore, the size of the household has not decreased.
Section 6
When did famine and drought occur here? How did you and your family cope with it?
In 1973, there was a severe famine. Although I was a child then, I remember that the people went to the woreda Awraja, and Provincial administrationís authorities and requested for food aid from the government. The latter gave them some money and bread. At the time of the Derg, in 1984, there was again another severe famine. People in this and other woredas sold their livestock or ate them and even went to the extent of digging up roots called wushish and fed on them to cope with the problem. People also ate without roasting and baking whatever grain that came into their hands especially in the lowland areas. Although the government at the time tried its best to provide food aid, the problem was of so aggravated that lots of people died as a result. The program of resettlement was initiated to solve the problem and people were again moved to southern Ethiopia where some still died form diseases and an inability to get used to their new environment.