Ethiopia glossary










Meqerretcha/Denkenna (highlands)


June 1997



Section 1
Mesay Getaye is a young and intelligent farmer who discontinued his studies and formed a family.

What are the changes in this birthplace of yours?
Life is deteriorating in my birthplace because the soil has been eroded by flood and wind and the yield of the land has been decreasing from year to year. Drought is also aggravating the situation and as a result the community is exposed to hardship.

Why do you think is the soil eroded?
This is because the land is constantly cultivated; it is never left fallow. Also the farmers do not use bunds (embankments) or terracing to prevent soil erosion by flood and wind. As a result the crop production decreases and the farmers face hardship.

What was the forest cover like around here?
There was no forest in this area. In 1995, SOS [Sahel] came here and mobilised the people for development work. Since then men and women have been participating in such activities as planting tree seedlings.

What was crop production like in the past?
In the past there was no land shortage and for this reason part of the farmland was left fallow while the other part was cultivated. When the fallow land was cultivated a year later it became productive. Now no land is left fallow and the ground has become too soft and vulnerable to erosion. So its productivity is low. The shortage and fragmentation of land is exposing the farming community to hardship.

Why is there a shortage of land?
This is due to the growth of the population. In the past the Derg (military regime 1974-89) reduced the size of the farming community by taking some of them and resettling them in fertile areas. Now these resettled farmers have come back and thus a scarcity of land was created.

What about market conditions?
There is a market here and another one a bit far away from here. Though these markets are old, it is recently that they were expanded and brought all the necessary goods to the buyers. Now people work hard and bring all the things needed by their customers.
Section 2
In the past where did you used to get the essential goods you needed?
From wherever it was found - for example, from Woldya, Gerager, Flaqit, Dessie and Addis Ababa. Teff (staple crop) is not available in our locality, so the traders bring it and the farmers buy and consume it.

What kind of crops are produced here?
Barley is widely produced around here because other crops are damaged by the frost since this is a highland area. We also produce linseed.

After you grew up, what kind of useful development work was carried out here?
The community has been planting tree seedlings and different varieties of grass, and building terraces and bunds to prevent soil erosion. They also produce nurseries for afforestation. When the trees grow up, the forest brings rain and also prevents erosion by floods. But the frost and biting cold are slowing down the growth of the trees. Since SOS came here people are actively participating in development work.

How do you expect your locality to change within the coming 20 years?
In the last few years I myself have seen a lot of change. Last year and the year before that, for example, there was adequate rain even during the belg season, in December and January, and we had good harvests in June. Now there was no rain in May. So there is a climatic change and a fluctuation in the amount of rain we get.

If this situation continues in the future, what kind of impact will it have on you?
The farmers have to till their farmlands and prepare the soil for sowing as soon as the rain comes. It is also better if the farmers use fertiliser, for the crop will easily grow even when there is just a little rain. So one has to use modern farming methods to get better results.

What kind of useful social organisations do you have around here?
We have Qire, Sembetie, and Mahiber.

For example, what is Qire? What is its purpose?
People may have a lot of relatives or just a few relatives. The Qire serves to bring people together like brothers and to help with the funeral of a deceased person. Everyone in the Qire cooperates like brothers, without any distinction between the poor and the rich.

Is there any contribution that you make for the Qire?
No, I havenít seen any. Of course, when a member is absent he is penalised and the penalty varies according to the area and the gravity of the offence. If someone stays at home when there is a funeral, this is a serious offence and the person will be punished likewise. He will be criticised for being absent from a funeral or for failing to carry the corpse. So the offender will admit his mistake and pay what the members decide; if he refuses, however, he will be expelled from the Qire.
Section 3
What is your responsibility in the Qire?
I am the head of the parish committee. I reconcile those who have quarrelled and give advice to such members. Last time for instance, I went and reconciled such Qire members.

Could you tell me about divorce and marriage around here by comparing them with past practices?
When a person wants to make a marriage proposal, he sends an elder to the parents of the girl. Then the elder goes there and asks the parents to offer their daughter in marriage. The parents may agree and fix another appointment. Then a loaf of bread is baked and they take that away. The next time they bring a ram to the parents of the girl and they fix the date of the wedding. Then the feast for the wedding is prepared according to the local custom and friends and relatives are invited. These relatives bring gifts of food, drinks and even a goat or a sheep for the wedding. The members of the Qire are invited to the feast and the wedding ceremony is thus conducted.

What about divorce? What are the causes of divorce?
The causes of divorce are firstly hardship and secondly disagreement between the spouses. When the head of the family couldnít get any yield and there is nothing to feed his many children, he asks his wife for a divorce so that they could both go their ways and find a means of livelihood. The other reason is when the man begins to keep a concubine and makes his wife jealous. Then his wife nags him about why he was going to other women and wasting her money. Or may be the wife has a lover who visits her when her husband is away. So in both cases they would quarrel and divorce each other.

What kind of relationship exists between children and parents? To what extent do children try to learn about the history of their family?
In the past children demanded to know from their fathers about their ancestors and where their kinsmen lived. When their father died, they used that information to trace their lineage and to demand a share of their fatherís land.

Could you tell me about the kind of relationship between men and women, the highlanders and the lowlanders/Muslims, the farmers and the artisans?
In the old days our relation with the lowlanders was based on land. For instance, the highlander may have some land in the lowland and he may not be able to cultivate it. Then a lowlander who wants to use that land will cultivate the land as a sharecropper. On top of such a relation they may create friendship and a family bond with the sharecropper becoming the Christian father of the landownerís son.
Section 4
What about the relationship between men and women?
In the old days the women were backward. It was the men who were the breadwinners and the heads of the family. Now both the men and women are equally clever and both strive together to win their bread. They consult each other and jointly decide how to lead their family. So the women are also the heads of the family nowadays.

What kind of support do you give to the poor, the weak and the disabled?
If the blind and the deaf have children they will support them. If they loose their sight, their children take them to the hospital. If they cannot regain their sight their children will look after them until their death.

What about those who have no children?
These may have their own land and they would adopt someone as their son. He would use the land for supporting the disabled person. When the old man dies the adopted son inherits the land.

What distinguishes the people of Meket from those of other places?
There are a lot of features which distinguish the people in Meket Woreda. These are our manners of speaking, food consumption, and dressing. But just because people live in Meket it doesnít mean that they have the same dialect, the same type of food, the same style of costume, or even the same manner of walking. There are differences.

For instance, how does the lowlander differ from the highlander?
Yes, for instance, you can tell the highlander from the lowlander even by the complexion of his face.

What about their food consumption?
Yes, there is a difference in that too. The lowlanders have pulses, teff, oats, and wheat, but in the highlands you can only grow barley. So there is a difference in the foods they consume.

If you have the option, would you like to live in another place?
It is difficult to conform to life in another place. I want to live like my people here, wearing the same type of costume, consuming the same type of food, and leading the same style of life like them. There is no possibility of living in a different social environment.

Have you ever thought of living somewhere else if you could get the opportunity?
If I get the opportunity for living a better life, yes, I would like to live somewhere else.

You people have a lot of customs. To which one do you give more importance?
Our greatest respect is for our religion. We donít want our religion to be diluted by others.

How did you acquire your present knowledge?
My parents sent me to school, but I left school before completing my studies. If I had completed my studies I would have improved my life greatly. When you are educated, you do not try to fight with someone who quarrels with you. Education makes you take things patiently and helps you to cool down the other person and to restrain him from resorting to violence. I came to understand through education that it is better to teach others than to quarrel with them.
Section 5
How were you able to learn? Was there a school here?
I attended a school called Delenta. Then I went to Istayish and studied until I finished the sixth grade. In Flaqit I attended until the eighth grade. When I was promoted to the ninth grade, there was a change of government and my parents could not support me any longer. So I discontinued my education.

Do you know of anyone here who has attended school and reached a high level?
No one has completed the high school here. I only know of someone who completed the eighth grade and he is working in the Woreda Administration.

How useful is education? What advice do you give to your brothers and sisters in this regard?
Education provides you with knowledge and it helps you to improve your livelihood. It also restrains you from talking or arguing too much and from hurrying to quarrel with people. It enhances your enthusiasm for learning more. So I always advise people to get education.

How do you learn of events outside your village?
In the old days the level of civilisation was low. People learned of new events when they went to the towns for court litigation. When they returned to their villages they disseminated the news. There were no radios in the villages then. It was the travellers who reported to their folks what they saw in their journeys.

What about now?
Now there is a civilised society. Even the women are civilised let alone the men. They listen to the radio and learn what kind of problem has occurred and where it has occurred.

How did you communicate your messages in the old days?
In the old days our fathers travelled on foot because there were no vehicles. So they took the verbal or written message and delivered it by travelling on foot for two or four days. Now progress and the availability of vehicles has made it possible to dispatch you messages without spending a lot of energy or money. You can send your message by post or by asking a driver to deliver your message for you or by travelling by car and personally delivering the message.

Have you ever travelled outside your village?
I didnít travel on foot. In 1989, I went to Addis Ababa by car and learned the cost of transportation, the size of the population, the cleanliness of the city.
Section 6
Is there anyone in you village who has travelled to Addis Ababa on foot?
I havenít heard of anyone, but when there no cars in the past one just went on foot regardless of whether it took a month or so.

Did the construction of the Chinese road bring any effect on your life?
Yes, the construction of the road has given us a lot of benefits. The traders used to bring food grain from Raya, Qobo, Addis Ababa, Dessie and Wodiya on pack animals. Now it is here on to our very doorsteps by vehicle and the community can buy and consume that. So it has helped us to save a lot of energy in this way.

What is the condition of community health around here?
At present diseases are killing a lot of people. There are too many illnesses, but we donít know the nature of the diseases. There is no health centre here and this is enhancing the spread of diseases. So we have to go to Istayish by walking for three hours to get medical treatment. Some die and others are cured.

Are the diseases worse than were in the past?
I used to hear that not many people died of diseases as at present. Now the rate has increased and, at times, two or three people fall ill in one household alone.

Where were you taking those who fell ill?
Although I didnít see it, they say that the sick were taken to traditional healers. He prescribed that such and such type of chicken be bought for the sick person. Then a white or red chicken was rotated round the head of the sick person. If a sheep which was prescribed, it was rotated round the person. Our fathers used to say that after this the person may get well.

What else was done?
The sick person would be taken to church and she/he would be rubbed with the cross or consecrated soil, or perhaps made to bath in or drink from a holy spring water. Our fathers believed that the holy spring water cured more than the healers.

Have sexually transmitted venereal diseases decreased or increased around here?
In the past there was syphilis, and they said that it was no transmitted if the infected person was injected. They used to prevent drinking from the cup used by an infected person.

What kind of disease exists now?
I donít know of any now. Syphilis has disappeared and people are also taking greater care by sticking to one partner.

Why are people sticking to one partner?
There is a new disease called TB and they say if one sticks to a single partner, the disease will not spread to others.
Section 7
What about the other new disease called AIDS? Do you know anything about it?
I donít know anything about it. I am not aware of how it is transmitted or how it affects one. I was afraid to ask people, but I am trying to be careful.

What is the solution for preventing AIDS?
The solution is for one woman to stick to one man.

Is there a change in the size of the household?
The newborn would grow somehow, but more are born now and there is a scarcity of land.

Why is there a population growth?
The reason is that one person begets four or five or even ten children who grow up, get married and then beget children. Thus the population increases.

What lesson would you like to communicate to your community regarding household size?
Family size should be balanced and the birth rate should not be too big or too small.

Has there been drought in this area?
When I grew up I used to hear that there was drought here, but I never asked when it had occurred. They said that at that time they were forced to boil and eat hides. They had also eaten also eaten a plant called magett, which the animals too used to eat. This is just what I heard, but I didnít see with my eyes.

What is the situation like since you became an adult?
There was a terrible drought in 1984 which killed a lot of people and livestock. It was because of the drought that the Derg took many men and women for resettlement in Bale and Metekel.

What is that makes the 1984 drought different from those of other times?
Drought itself is not something new since the problem occurred every four years. However, the farmers donít seem to realise this and hence they become vulnerable.

How did you and your family cope with the problem in 1984?
I was a student at that time and dependent on my family. We coped with the problem by selling our livestock and buying food grain, but in 1985/86 we got a good harvest.

During the drought was food assistance given freely or was it given on the basis of participation in a food for work program?
There were free food handouts and even shelters. Those who were physically able were fed for a while at the shelters and then moved away for resettlement. Those who were too weak were looked after in the feeding centres.
Section 8
You have told me that barley and linseed are produced here. What is you food consumption like?
Our fathers did not face any problems in this respect. Now however, one has to budget ones resources. Some of the educated tell us that they have budgeted their money for fuel and other necessities. Even the uneducated have to decide that they would use such and such for these months and that such and such should be used economically. If one consumes everything he has at one time it wonít last him even for a month let alone for a year. So one has to consume according to a plan.