Ethiopia glossary










Guranboba Monastery (highlands)


December 1997



Section 1
Were you born and brought up in this locality?

What was this area like during your days?
It was all right. It used to produce crops well, but now the erosion caused gullies and this, coupled with the failure of the rains, has made it difficult to produce crops. So we are facing hardship.

Why was the soil washed away?
As the terrain is rugged, the flood washes away the soil when it rains.

Was there a forest in this locality in the past?
Yes, it used to have some forest, but now the trees have been cut down by the people.

What about water? Were you using the same source of water then? Are there no springs which have dried up because of the drought?
Some springs have dried up and others have not, but after a while some of the dry ones give water.

When did you have shortage of water, now or in the past?
We had no problem in the past. Since it rained well then, the springs flowed. We also used it for growing plants. Now gullies have eaten up the land and the springs are inaccessible and could not be used for growing plants.

How much household income did you have from food crops and livestock in the past and now?
There is a lot of difference. We had better income then than now. We had good crop and livestock production then. There are no trees and leaves now and the livestock are not giving birth.

Why do you think is your income low now?
The cattle are not reproducing; the water has washed away the soil and the rains have failed, so the land is not producing crops. Even when the crop comes out of the ground, the drought destroys it. So we have food shortage now.

What was your land holding like in the past?
In those days, our fathers reclaimed new land and they paid tax for it or got it for their service to the Church. So we used that for our livelihood. After the land reform and the distribution of land to the tiller, we lost the land we owned and we were give a smaller plot of land.
Section 2
When did you have the largest number of livestock?
During the time of Emperor Haile Sellassie. I had two pairs of oxen and two or three cows. Now, I have just one cow and one ox.

What caused the reduction in the size of your livestock?
The drought killed them because there was no grass to graze.

Is there any change in livestock diseases?
When the old disease broke out it killed some while others recovered after we treated them and made them stay in the shades. Now there is a disease called tunfesa, which breaks out suddenly and kills them. It is difficult to cure the sick livestock now.

Is there any change in the type of crops you cultivated? For instance, is there a type of crop from the past which has disappeared now?
In the past we used to cultivate mainly teff (staple crop), sorghum and chickpeas. In the lower elevations we cultivated peas, beans, barley and linseed. Now it is difficult to produce crops such as peas, beans, and lentils because they are attacked by army worms. Teff and sorghum are slightly better. Even sorghum is under attack by pest and also gives poor yield due to the failure of the rains.

Was the land under cultivation bigger than the present one?
It is the same, but all arable land is now under cultivation although the yield is smaller. In the past only some of it was cultivated.

Did you use irrigation in the past?
No irrigation was used either in the past or now.

How did you control pests around here? What about now?
In the past the crops were attacked by Wollo bush cricket and it was only the wild birds which destroyed the pest.

Was it only Wollo bush cricket in the past?
Yes, but it still exists.

What are the pests which destroy crops now?
Wollo bush cricket, locusts, and army worm; they have their own time of appearance.

How do you control them now?
We use pesticides, but there isnít enough amount for everyone. So we couldnít destroy them all.

Land was nationalised following Haile Sellassieís removal from power. How did the land reform affect you?
We had no problem as the land was distributed with our agreement.
Section 3
In the old days, you sell or exchange your land because you owned it. Now, however, it is declared to be owned by the State. Did this cause you any problem?
No problem except the committees did not distribute the land fairly. They gave more land to their friends and relatives and less to others.

Is there any change in the size of land you had during the time of the Derg (military regime 1974-89) and the time of the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peopleís Revolutionary Democratic Front)?
Our PA is called 028. During the distribution there was some adjustment, for some land was taken from the larger area and added to the smaller area.
[It is not clear whether the respondent is talking about adjustments in the area covered by the Peasant Association or the individual householdís landholding.]

What is the market condition like? Do you have market places?
We have markets in Dibiko, Geregera, and Serko but these are too distant for us. We set up a market called Arebal, but people are not coming to it and we are now facing a difficulty. When we go to Dibiko the morning sun beats us and when we return the afternoon sun beats us. The other two are far away.

Is there any change in prices?
Everything, including livestock and crops, is expensive nowadays.

What was grain measured with and sold in the past?
We used laden (sheepskin bag or weight equivalent of 30kg) and qunna (large grass basket holding about 10kg) in the past, and tins now.

Regardless of whether it was done by the government or a foreign organisation, which development activity designed to benefit you have you found most useful?
There was no such activity to date. Our PA did not make requests. There may be some in the woreda (administrative district) Centre, but they say they want to help the poor. However, everyone is poor and nobody gets anything. They borrow and are told to bring ... to the hills and they go there... and it is easy ... food aid (?).

What did you do when you fell ill in the past?
There was no medical care in the past. Nobody [medical doctors] came to this desert land. God willing, we were either cured or we died. Since the health centres were too far away, we couldnít carry the sick to Lalibela or Geregera or Woldiya.

What about now?
There is no medical service here and the one in Dibiko is too far away.

You know the situation here so far. How do you think this area will change in the coming 20 years?
Only God knows that.
Section 4
If things continue as they are now, what do you think they will lead to?
The crop production is less than that of last year and if it continues this way we may suffer more. The Book says, God gives and God denies. God knows everything. It is difficult to enquire into his ways and predict the future.

Among you Christians, what are the cultural associations through which you come together for certain occasions?
We gather at the church and decide to do development activities for the benefit of the church. We plough the land, weed the plants, harvest and thresh the crops if we get land. This year we have began building a church and we are holding meetings for this.

What other institutions do you have?
Once in a month we gather for the Senbetie (community association responsible for preparing church feasts) on a Sunday at two places. We also have Mahbers (community association for those who share the same patron saint) for commemorating St. Michael and St. Mary.

Do you have Qires (traditional funeral associations)?
Yes, we have Qires for contributing injera (thin pancakes of teff)and stew to be served to the mourners on the occasion of a funeral.

Was there an other association like Qires or Senbetie or Mahber during the days of your fathers, but which has been abandoned now?
None, we only inherited what they used to practice.

How useful are these associations to you?
They serve us for consulting each other, for chatting together and enjoying ourselves, for the redemption of our souls. We receive and entertain guests, and these things forge a closer relationship between us.

What was marriage like in the past and now?
There is no difference except no presents were given in the past. Now the father of the bride buys a coat, a white cotton cloak and trousers for his son-in-law while the father of the bridegroom buys for the bride a new dress as a wedding present. However, since the poor cannot afford to buy these things, their children are unhappy. In the old days, you married into the household of a landlord, now you focus on the financial income. Now it is difficult for a woman to get a husband who is her equal.

At what age was a girl married in the old days?
The law says 15 years, but they were married between the ages of 9-11 years. The man marries at the ages of 18-20.

Does it mean there is no difference between the past and the present practices?
More or less the same except that now they tend to marry when they are a little older.

When was there more divorce?
It depends on the life, comfort and love of the spouses. There is no obligation to divorce.
Section 5
When were there more unattached women? [The interviewer uses the word setadari, which could mean either a woman living alone or a prostitute.]
It is all the same. There were unattached women then as there are now.

What are the common causes for divorce?
Due to disagreements or nagging or shortage of money or hardship within the household, they say let us divorce and each go our ways.

What about reconciliation? In Arebal or Tcherqos (lowland areas where there are more Muslims), for instance, they can be reconciled for up to three times, but they do not allow divorce for the fourth time. Is this the case here?
There is no such limit here. It is up to the spouses.

Do people keep concubines here?

What kind of difference is there between children in the past and now? Do present-day children try to find out about their family history and other kinsmen as the children did in the past?
The children in the past tried to learn about their relatives and lineage, but now they are not that keen. Todayís children are more knowledgeable, but care little about who their kinsmen are.

What kind of relationship exists between highlanders and lowlanders, rural people and townfolks, Muslims and Christians?
Christians and Muslims did not have a harmonious relationship in the past, but now they are like children from the same mother. They do not quarrel with each other now.

Why did they quarrel in the past?
During the Christmas game (similar to hockey), they quarrel over which way to drive the ball.

What kind of relationship did the highlanders and lowlanders have?
There are no highlanders here.

What about your relationship with the people in Filaqit and Istayish?
We have no relationship because we live too far away from each other. We only meet on market days.

What about your relationship with the townfolk?
The town is too far away from here.

What sort of relationship do you have with artisans?
In the past they made pots and farm implements for us. We cultivated the land of the blacksmiths in return for their services. We bought the pots with our money and brought them home. Some people still cultivate the blacksmithsí land while others pay them with crops.
Section 6
Was there any hatred between you?
There was no hatred.

There is some talk that they eat people. How is that?
That is nonsense. We donít believe that.

Was this view held since the old days?
People talked, but we found no proof.

What kind of relationship was there between men and women? When did male and female supremacy exist?
The men held the upper hand and the women were subordinate in the past. Now they are equal.

What was their life like in the past?
The man gave the orders; he told her to wash his feet or to fetch him water and she obeyed him. It is the same now although they talk about equality.

Who had the say over the household property?
The man.

Both now and in the past?
Yes, he asks and she consents.

When two people quarrelled in the past what happened?
They were told to be reconciled and they did that.

Didnít they try to turn into bandits when they quarrelled?
No, they disagreed and quarrelled. Then the elders came between them and reconciled them. No one went to bushes to become a bandit because of the quarrels.

When was there more crime?
They commit crimes even nowadays, but they are a little restrained now. When a person killed another person in the past he fled the area and kept away until he requested for forgiveness. It is more peaceful now.

Are there any changes in the roles of men and women? What did women do in the past?
The women removed the dead roots of grass and weeds from the farms; they harvested the crops, prepared feasts and got their harvest threshed. They ground the grain and baked it for the familyís meals.

What about the men?
They ploughed the farm, sowed the seeds, harvested and threshed the crops and stored this in the granary.
Section 7
What kind of support do you give to the weak and the disabled who are unable to work?
Now everyone is impoverished and cannot support them. This responsibility falls on the shoulders of their relatives.

Was support given in the past by other community members?
Our fathers told us that the blind and the crippled or other disabled persons who couldnít support themselves went from house to house and were fed by turns.

What makes you different from the people in Bugna or Wadla Woredas, for instance?
We the people of Meket are very pious; we pray and fast regularly.

What other cultural identity do you have?
There are a lot of them.

If you had an alternative place for living a better life, would you leave this place?
I canít abandon my children here and leave. I donít want to leave my birthplace. They used to tell us [during the time of the Derg] that the seffera (resettlement) was where you could get plenty of food and drink, but we preferred to die here from starvation rather than go there. I donít want to be separated from my children and my people. It is our culture.

What is it that you give the greatest respect to in your culture?
We respect our superiors, we respect each other. We revere our religion and we donít want any interference with our religion.

What is the relationship between your faith building churches on top of hills?
No relationship. With the will of God, churches can be built on top of hills, on flat land, in a valley or any other place.

What prompted the highlanders to settle in the highlands?
I donít know. They were there for many generations and we are here in the lowland. Some lowlanders thought that the cool, breezy air was good for health and moved to the highlands, just the way some people move to the towns from the rural parts.

How did you celebrate the various traditional holidays?
We slaughtered sheep or goat, brewed tella (locally brewed beer), invited our children and together we celebrated them.

What kind of garments did you wear at this time?
We wore clean, white, holiday clothes.

What about now?
We celebrate the holidays although not with so much festivities.

How did you acquire your knowledge?
When I was young, I learned the alphabet and the scriptures under a local tutor. Then I became a deacon. Then I went to Debre Tabor and studied qinne (religious poetry). When I returned here I got married and later I was ordained as a priest. My wife passed away and since then I have remained a widower, refusing to marry again.
Section 8
Why did your wife die?
She died of an illness.

Is there anyone here that you know very well and who has received modern education?
No. There are some who have literacy education, but nothing more than that because there is no modern school around here.

What is you view about being uneducated?
It is harmful; you become ignorant. You donít know how to read or write. You lose a lot.

Do you want to provide modern education to your children?
One of my sons has attended church school and was a deacon. He divorced his wife and writes to me. The other one has completed grade 12 and he lives in Addis Ababa.

You told me that there is no modern school here. So how did he study up to grade 12?
He went to Addis Ababa soon after his mother died and joined a school there.

Does he have a relative there?
Yes, there is a relative there, but he supports himself by working as a labourer during the daytime and by attending school in the evening.

How useful is modern education?
He earns an income, buys his own clothes, keeps himself neat and clean. The government provides him with his meals. So I am envious and sometimes I wish I had learnt like him. It is better than priesthood. Secular education is useful.

How do you hear about the events taking place outside your village?
We have no telephone. We may hear of events just by chance.

When the traders go to the towns and come back, donít they bring news with them?
Yes, they tell us about the increase or decrease of prices and the likes - but nothing else.

If you want to send a message to the government or the townfolks, how do you do it?
In the old days, we selected someone and dispatched the message through him. We put our seal on the letter and we send it. We do the same thing now as well.

If you had a radio, what kind of news would be most useful for you to listen to?
We want to hear about what is going on in Ethiopia so that we will be happy with satisfaction or take precautions.
Section 9
Doesnít anyone have a radio in your village?

Have you ever travelled to other places?
Yes, in the service of the church.

Where to?
I went to Addis Ababa on some errand.

Have you travelled to other places apart from Addis Ababa?
No, I havenít.

How useful has the Chinese road been to you?
Very much. We used to travel on foot and I myself have travelled for 10 days on foot to Addis Ababa. Later the road was built up to Geregera and we travelled via Desse to Addis Ababa by car.

What about diseases? Were there more diseases in the past?
Yes. We had malaria here and we had to harvest our crop before ten oíclock in the morning and then early in the evening for fear of catching it. DDT was sprayed and it had disappeared, but now it came back again in 1996. The epidemic spread throughout this village and was only controlled by the government by bringing tablets for us.

Now you control it with drugs, but what treatment did you use in the past?
You either died or recovered in the past.

Was there no traditional treatment?

What kind of venereal diseases existed around here in the past?
We heard people talk about syphilis and gonorrhoea in the towns, but not in the rural areas. We used to advise people going to the market not to go to towns or to have sex with the women in town. So there are no such diseases now. We only hear of a new disease called AIDS.

What is you view of this new disease called AIDS?
The best thing is not to have sexual relations. Otherwise they should find a medicine to prevent people being infected by it.

Is there any change in the size of the household?
I think there is a larger population now.

Why has the population grown now?
There are more births now.

What do you think should be done to control births?
I would have liked to see the government check it by providing medicine. I donít like more children being born before the others grow up. It grieves me. So it should be controlled at the level of the government.
Section 10
What kind of control should the government use?
It should make sure that the population does not grow too much or decrease too much. I donít mean that they should ban births.

Do you want the government to provide education or medicine?
Medical treatment so that people would give birth at long intervals.

When did drought occur here?
There was drought in 1984, 1985, 1986. There was intermittent rain only. Since it doesnít rain in September nowadays, the crop dies. This is our problem.

When did you have the severest drought?
In 1984 and 1985. People were forced to migrate for lack of food then. It is the same now.

What distinguishes drought from other times? Why did you call it drought?
We called it drought due to the failure of the rains. Since the crops also fail, that makes it different from other times.

How did you and your family cope with the problem in 1985?
I sold my livestock to feed my family. I also received food aid from the government. When other people migrated to Gojam, I stayed here.

Why did they go to Gojam?
In search of food and employment.

What did they do in Gojam?
I donít exactly know what they did, may be manual labour. I donít really know. They wrote to us saying that there was plenty of food grain in Gojam and invited us to join them there.

Did a lot of people migrate then?
Except for very few people remaining behind, most people left, i.e. both Christians and Muslims.

In 1985, did you receive the food aid in the form of free food distribution or through food-for-work?
Each household received one sack of food grain freely.

What is the difference between the food distribution in the past and now?
It is smaller now. In fact what food aid is there now? In the old days everyone was given aid. Now they say it should be given only to those who have nothing to eat, but it is so small that it doesnít sustain them for long.

Are people migrating now?
No, they go seasonally for work and they come back with their earnings and buy food.
Section 11
Where do they go to?
They go to Raya, Gojam, Gonder; I donít know all the places except what they tell us.

Does anyone settle there?

Is there any change in your food consumption habit?
There is no change. Honey, butter and meat were consumed in the old days. Now although they raise goats, they use that for selling and then buying food grain and clothes. You donít consume as lavishly as before.

Did you hunt wild animals in the past?
In the old days they used to catch antelopes and fish sometimes, but there werenít many wild animals even then.

What about now?
There are none now.

Why did they disappear?
There are no antelopes and no fish in the rivers.

Is there any change in the way you cook your food?
We baked injera, made stew, and brewed tella, that is all. It is the same now too.

What did you use for fat [oil] in the past?
Cow butter, but now the cows have nothing to graze and they donít produce milk.

What do you use for flavouring your stew nowadays?
We donít have much fat. We use sunflower oil, but it is disappearing now.

How do you prepare sunflower oil?
The seeds are roasted and pounded. Then this is put in a bowl and it is sifted into another container.

What do you think should be done to make this area as fertile as before and to enable the people to live happily?
We wish that God will be merciful to us and send us the rains. I donít think there is any other solution which man could bring about. If the trees were not cut down, they could create the clouds and might bring the rain. Still, we have not stopped our farm work, but unless God sends the rains, man can do nothing about it.