Ethiopia glossary















Section 1
What are the changes in your locality?
We found the land very exhausted because of poor management. In the old days some land was left fallow. The size of the population was also small. So they produced plenty of crops. Now the water has eroded the soil and the land has formed gullies. Furthermore, the land is cultivated every year without rest. The population has also grown. So the yield is small. Due to the decrease in food production the government has now began assisting some farmers to apply fertiliser, improved seeds and different farming techniques. These are the changes in our locality.

How have these changes affected your life and your income?
Although not all farmers have benefited from the changes, some farmers have doubled their production by applying fertilisers as well as improved seeds and by using the support of agricultural extension workers. It is the professional support and agricultural education which has made this increase possible.

How many and what type of livestock did you raise in the past? What about now? What are the changes in the management of grazing land?
In the old days, one household did not have just four or five cows as in the present time. Our fathers used to say that so and so was “wearing a stomach”, meaning he had 50 or 100 cows for milking. So this shows that they raised a lot of livestock in those days. Now there is no fodder, nor sufficient grazing land for the livestock, because the growth of the population has led to the expansion of settlements and the scarcity of land. This has forced some people to adopt modern methods of raising cattle in a small area and feeding them bran from flourmills.

What are the changes in livestock diseases?
In the days of our fathers there were diseases such as zihone and there were no medicines then. So if a disease caught one animal it quickly changed into an epidemic. Now there is veterinary service and this coupled with the smaller size has contributed to better quality livestock.

What are the changes in farming methods?
In the past the farmland was not repeatedly cultivated and the population was also smaller. So there was a better yield. Now the growth of the population and the scarcity of land, means the repeated cultivation of the land and poor crop production. But the planting of trees, the use of terracing and check dams to control erosion, the application of agricultural technology has helped the farmer to raise his production. In the old days they used twigs for beating and destroying pests such as diri (army worm) and degeza (bush cricket). But because this method was not effective they are now spraying pesticides with the help of extension agents. The extension agents are also helping the farmers to divert streams for irrigation use and to grow vegetables such as green pepper and onions as well as maize.
Section 2
What were the changes in land tenure and what is their impact on you?
The distribution of land by measuring it with ropes does not serve to support a large household because the land is almost barren, full of gullies and small in size. You have to have sufficient money to use fertiliser. The best solution would be to find ways of expanding the land holding of households or to use family planning and control the growth of the population. Otherwise there can be little improvement with the small size of land holding.

What are the changes in market conditions and how did these come about?
In the old days you could buy a lot of things for a small amount of money. For instance, you could buy a good ram for 30 birr, but now it costs you up to 300 birr. 50 kilos of teff (staple crop) cost about 15 birr; now it costs 100 birr or more. A farmer used to pay 10 cents for a bar of soap then; now he pays one birr. A child’s shirt was bought for just one birr then; now it is 10 birr. Why were prices of agricultural products so cheap then? Because crop and livestock production were higher. Now industrial production has increased, but prices have also shot up. So there is inflation of prices now.

What kind of useful development activities are going on in your locality?
Health stations and schools are being built in the Peasant Associations and gotts (small villages). Veterinary services are beginning to reach our homesteads. With the participation of the community, feeder roads connecting the villages with the main roads are also being constructed. So these activities are facilitating the economic development of the locality.

How would you expect your locality to change in the coming 20 years?
If the previously mentioned development activities are stepped up and modern technology is applied to enhance productivity, we can achieve revolutionary changes within the coming 20 years.

What kind of useful social institutions are found in your locality?
Since the previous regimes did not pay much attention to the development of the locality and agri-based cottage industries and health services were not developed, we don’t have useful institutions.

What are the changes in marriage and divorce, and what were the causes?
In the old days it was the parents who arranged the marriages of their children. After deciding on who their children should be married to, they kept the whole thing secret from them and prepared the weddings. It was during this time that the children began to suspect that they were going to be married off. Now it is the young couple who choose each other as marriage partners and then inform their parents about their engagements. At this point the parents propose to prepare the wedding feast. In the old days just as the marriage is concluded through the elders, so the divorce is done through the arbitration of the elders or the family council. Then with their consent the semanya (marriage contract) is terminated. The main cause of divorce is adultery and the begetting of an illegitimate child by the husband. The other reason for divorce is when the man keeps a concubine from whom he contracts a venereal disease and then transmits it to his wife. It is possible that it may be the wife who transmits the disease from her lover to her husband.
Section 3
Is there any change in the relationship between parents and their children?
In the old days the parents sent their children to traditional church schools and the latter become clergymen and served the church when they completed their studies. If the children were not sent to school, they followed the footsteps of their parents and became farmers. Nowadays some parents send their children to modern schools and when the latter get a job after school they support their parents. They are blessed children and they want to improve their parents’ life before they get married because they are well aware of the hardship their parents went through and the sacrifices they made to bring up and educate the children. Some children, however, say that they want to use their income for buying clothes, ornaments and cars for themselves and for leading a comfortable life. They don’t want to help their parents and some even deny their parenthood.

What is the attitude of different people to each other and how do they treat one another?
Since the people live in the same area and share the same language and culture, they are not evil to each other. The Muslims weave their clothes, the blacksmiths make their articles and the Christians do their farming. The Christians farm the land of the Muslims, the blacksmiths make the farm implements for the farmers and the farmers become the Christian fathers of the children of the blacksmiths. And the highlanders interact with the lowlanders.
The farmers and the artisans have close relationships; they invite each other for weddings, christenings and commemoration of saints’ days. However, some people say that the blacksmiths eat other people, but I have never come across such a thing where I leave and I don’t believe the story. The people here are religious, respect their customs and have a friendly relation with each other.

Is crime a problem in this village?
Yes. Some people easily quarrel over petty matters. For instance, if I take away the rock on which you are sitting, someone might come and claim that it is his and beat me or kill me. This is a result of immaturity. It is criminal to kill or seriously injure someone. It is a cultural weakness that some people are ready to harm their brethren over trivial matters instead of trying to show them why it is petty. Instead of trying to beat or kill your brother and then migrating, it is better to settle the dispute through the arbitration of elders as is customary. Such a quarrel is still a harmful tradition.

During the past years, were there any changes in the roles and responsibilities of men and women?
In the old days women used to be regarded as equal to men because they fought against foreign invaders together with the men. Some men regard women as inferior to men both physically and mentally, but now the women have proved themselves to be equally productive in work and as educated as men. Women have now shown a rapid progress as they have benefited from science and modern education. They can support themselves and their country and they can make contributions within and outside their households.
Section 4
What is the attitude of the community towards the disabled?
The Ethiopian people have failed to train and make the disabled persons productive citizens. I am not denying that some disabled persons are supporting themselves through the skills they got on their own initiative and with the assistance of some charitable persons. The community is sympathetic to the disabled, but it lacks the means to train and make them self-sufficient.

How do the people of Meket differentiate themselves from others?
One feature is their religion. Everyone knows that the people of Meket are very religious. They don’t tolerate any offences against their country, women and religion. These three are fundamental and influence everything else in their life. When they are attacked they call for each other’s help. They are hospitable people and like to share their food with their guests and are offended if the guests refuse to eat their food or drinks. When they prepare a feast they don’t eat it alone. They like you to kiss their newborn babies. They marry their children with each other and become Christian fathers or mothers to the newborn babies. So these customs make them different.

If you had the option, would you like to live elsewhere? Why?
Yes, if I am faced with hardship I may be forced to migrate to where I can get a better life. Why would one leave if he is comfortable where he lives?

Which aspect do you give more respect to in your culture?
I respect more the tradition passed down to me by my mother and father. I abandon the harmful ones and keep the good ones.

What do you consider as the major cultural change during your lifetime?
The major change is in marriage. In the old days marriages were arranged by parents and the marriage without one’s volition was economically wasteful. Now we are first well acquainted with our would-be partner and then we decide to marry. Also there is a realisation now that education is useful and people are turning to education.

What is the main custom which is dying out now?
There is none as far as I know.

How did you acquire your present skills?
With the educational opportunity my parents opened up for me I learned the benefits of education, of supporting oneself and one’s family, of how to read and write. Science created the alphabets and we in turn gained knowledge using them.

Is there anyone in your locality that has received modern education and whom you know very well?
Yes there are some intellectuals in our village who have been educated and who are also making others receive the same. And we are all envious of his knowledge. When there is even one man in a village who is educated everyone tries to follow his example. So the availability of such people motivates others to follow his ways and improve their lives as well as develop their area.
Section 5
What is your view of giving education to your sons and daughters?
Let alone for the children you have begotten, education is good even for those who are not related to you. Not only this, even other members of the local community should be given education. When men and women are educated they become equals. When my children are educated those of my relatives are also motivated to learn. So people must be encouraged to receive education.

How do you learn of events occurring outside your village? How do you receive and send messages?
Since there are some educated persons in the vicinity one can use letters to send or receive messages. One could also use the radio and telephone to get news when these amenities are available.

What kind of message would be most useful to you?
Learning skills, trade, social activities are useful.

Is there anyone in your village who has a radio? Do you regularly listen to the radio?
I myself benefit from the radio and there may be others in the village who do the same. Your question seems to be how useful the radio is. Listening to the radio is like receiving education in a school.

How many times have you travelled outside your village and why?
There is no limit; it depends on the business I have to accomplish. I may travel for a day and return the same day or the next day. We may walk on foot from village to village for one or two or three hours for social purposes or to buy things for our needs.

What impact did the building of the Chinese road have on your life?
It was one of the major changes in my life. One of the things which made our area backward is the lack of transportation. Due to this, many historical sites which could be regarded as important next to Lalibela (the rock-hewn churches) are hidden here unknown to the outside world. These include Debre Abnorem, Tebiqot Monastery, Imamoz Monastery. Thanks to the Chinese road, they can now be visited by local and foreign tourists. This was because one has to travel to Lalibela Churches through our woreda (an administrative district). Therefore the road has opened up the way for development.

What is the community health care like in comparison with the past?
Unlike in the past there are now health clinics giving service near the homesteads and it is possible to control diseases now because the sick have easy access to medical services. In the old days these services were not available to many farmers and this had affected the food production.
Section 6
Where do you go when you fall ill? How does what you do in this situation differ from the past?
The difference is that there are health services in the villages now. When someone falls ill he goes to the health clinic because he wants to be cured quickly. In the old days one went to the witch-doctors or the holy springs to get a cure. The witch-doctors prescribed red or white chicken and the man was not cured often. Now people have realised that the modern doctors are more effective.

Have venereal diseases decreased or increased? If they have decreased, why so?
Venereal diseases existed and expanded in the past particularly in the large towns for lack of medical services. In the rural areas it was very difficult to get a cure for such diseases. Diseases such as gonorrhoea, banbulie, kerkir and especially syphilis used to cause physical disability. Syphilis could destroy your sight or make you a cripple. Now you could easily get medical treatment for these. However, there is a new disease called AIDS or HIV. There is no treatment for this to date. Smallpox was without a medical cure for a long period of time and it could destroy one’s sight, but now there is a medicine for it. It is only this AIDS which doesn’t have a medical cure yet. People sarcastically call it “emaciator”. The other venereal diseases are now being eradicated.

What are the changes in the size of households?
Household size has grown very much because of ignorance of family planning and birth control methods on the part of the uneducated population. The growth of the population has in turn caused scarcity of land, the problem of bringing up healthy children, and the increase in the cost of living.

What is your view of birth control?
With the support of health officers, families should be guided to adopt strategies of giving birth at long intervals and using birth control medicine.

When did famine or drought occur in your village?
There was a severe drought before 1966. There was no road transport for delivering food to where I lived in those days. One had to travel on foot 200-300 km to go to the nearest town. In 1985, there was again a major drought, and famine killed many people as a result. Although there were roads for transporting relief food in 1985 and saving may lives, the operation was still a difficult one. There were no relief NGOs in 1966 and people were starving and waiting for the next harvest.

What are the features which distinguish famine from drought?
Famine occurs due to lack of knowledge and the inability to use the local plants. Failure to use even backyard gardening and relying on just one crop precipitates famine. You can prevent famine by growing various vegetables in your garden.

How did you and your family cope with the famine?
By supporting each other. Still we couldn’t completely avoid suffering from the famine due to lack of skills, scarcity of land, and shortage of water.

Did you receive free food aid or did you participate in the food-for-work program?
There was no such thing as food-for-work in our area then. We received free food handouts.
Section 7
How was the food aid distributed?
It depended on the size of the households.

What was the migration like during the famine?
People migrated twice during the famine in search of employment as manual labourers because the food aid was inadequate.

What are the changes in the food consumption habit?
The food was good simply for keeping oneself alive; it was not appetising. In the old days, young men captured antelopes and ate them. During holidays they consumed wildfowl, too. There were also cabbages and green maize from the garden. From the farms one got wheat, teff, sorghum, etc. Now, however, the erosion of the soil has made the production of these crops difficult.