culture and customs
family life
food security
justice and crime
social institutions
social relationships
spiritual beliefs
traditional skills



introducing the area

 the themes
 the partners
 the testimonies

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Ethiopia contains Africa's largest mountain complex, distinguished by a diversity of climatic conditions and so of both natural and cultivated plant life. The majority of Ethiopia's agriculturally suitable land is concentrated in the highlands and over 80 per cent of Ethiopia's 50 million people live above 1500 metres. The mountains of Ethiopia can be viewed as the heartland of the country. Indeed, African mountains and highlands tend to be areas with more favourable ecological conditions than the often drier lowlands. However, the mountain environment of Ethiopia is rapidly becoming more marginal as a result of both drought and population growth. Ethiopia's forests now cover a disturbingly small area of the country and with such a high percentage of the population being dependent on mountain farming, the implications of land degradation are extremely serious.

village in EthiopiaThe oral testimonies in the Ethiopia collection were collected in the mountainous territory of Meket Woreda, an administrative district of North Wollo in the northern highlands of Ethiopia, which is between 2,000 and 3,400 metres above sea level. Meket consists of a high altitude plateau and the gorge of the Tekeze river to its north. A good all-weather road, referred to as "the Chinese road", links Woldiya, the capital of North Wollo, with Woreta, following the line of the watershed on the plateau. There are several villages and market centres along the road, otherwise the population is scattered in small villages on the plateau, and on cultivated shelves within the gorge.

northern highlands of EthiopiaLike the Mount Elgon region in Kenya, Wollo is relatively densely populated and sustainability of agriculture is the key concern. The people are almost entirely dependent on agriculture and herding, but over the past two decades the land has become increasingly degraded and food production is no longer secure - even in years of "good rainfall". Although development agencies have been working with the people to halt environmental decline and provide other developmental inputs, most people remain extremely impoverished. Not surprisingly, the tone of the testimonies is often anxious and concerned for the future, if also proud of their heritage and identity.

the themes

mountainous territory of Meket WoredaThe overriding preoccupation of the narrators of these testimonies is the diminished productivity of the land. This is variously attributed to poor rainfall, the small size of plots of land resulting from redistribution under the Derg, and population growth. The testimonies highlight the problem of people being unable to leave their fields fallow to recover their fertility. In addition to creating fuel problems, deforestation has meant that the numbers of wild animals and livestock have been severely depleted. The great majority of narrators talk of the hardship they experience, the sharp rise in the cost of living and the need to sell livestock to pay for essential goods. An allied theme is the near-disappearance of time-honoured traditions of generous hospitality and of care of the old and disabled.

Most people look to education, new development activities and training in new skills as the best means of improving their families' and community's prospects; some also emphasise the importance of birth control to curb population growth. Positive changes mentioned by many narrators are the improved status of women, better relations between Christians and Muslims and other groups, better health facilities and improved communications since the building of "the Chinese road". However, many are also concerned that greater mobility has increased the threat of AIDS.

the partners

Panos worked in partnership with SOS Sahel Ethiopia, which has been working in Meket since 1992/93. The area is at high risk of irreversible environmental degradation, and of seasonal food shortages and famine. By linking farmers and research institutions, SOS Sahel aims to assist the testing of technical options and strategies, build up local institutional capacities, and integrate relief and development work.

The testimonies were collected by field workers from SOS Sahel's Wollo Agricultural Support Programme between December 1996 and October 1998. The aim was to strengthen the ability of fieldworkers to carry out participatory research through oral testimony methodology. It was also to create an opportunity for staff to gather, consider and disseminate the views and experiences of local communities on specific themes, including those relating to environmental degradation, seasonal food shortages and famine.

SOS Sahel Ethiopia produced and disseminated an Amharic booklet based on the testimonies for local and national audiences.

Through the earlier Sahel Oral History Project, over 500 interviews were carried out in 8 countries across the Sahel, including Ethiopia. Edited versions of some of these interviews are presented in the Panos publication At the Desert's Edge: Oral histories from the Sahel.


Local language booklet (Amharic):
Voices from the mountain
> Download part 1 (pdf, 4.12 mb)
> Download part 2 (pdf, 2.79 mb)

Voices from the mountain: Ethiopia

A selection of oral testimonies from the mountains of Ethiopia, where over 80 per cent of the country's population live
> Download booklet (pdf, 934 kb)


the testimonies

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1   Ayichesh   female/28   head of household   Gala Dejen (highlands)  
Summary Transcript   10   Hamza   male/28   farmer   Gumar  
Summary Transcript   11   Azenu   female/45   farmer/ female head of household   Meqerqeriat (lowlands)  
Summary Transcript   12   Mesele   male/55   farmer   Jirile (midlands)  
Summary Transcript   13   Mesay   male/28   farmer   Meqerretcha/Denkenna (highlands)  
Summary Transcript   14   Itiye   female/58   traditional midwife   Gebeya Meda (highlands)  
Summary Transcript   15   Muliye   male/37   farmer   (midlands)  
Summary Transcript   16   Mekonen   male/72   priest   Ganchire Gebriel  
Summary Transcript   17   Melku   male/67   priest   Guranboba Monastery (highlands)  
Summary Transcript   18   Belachew   male/68   farmer and blacksmith   Geregera (midlands)  
Summary Transcript   19   Yaregal   male/41   farmer trained in beekeeping   Warkaye  
Summary Transcript   2   Negussie   female/45   market trader   Filaqit, Woina Dega (midlands)  
Summary Transcript   20   Melese   male/45   farmer   Denkena,Wodih Mado Mar Feriche (highlands)  
Summary Transcript   21   Mario   male/40   farmer   Filaqit town (midlands)  
Summary Transcript   3   Lemlem   female/67   farmer/ nun   Woina Dega (midlands)  
Summary Transcript   4   Zewde   female/38   housewife   Highlands  
Summary Transcript   5   Berhanu   male/70   farmer   Flaqit (lowlands)  
Summary Transcript   6   Belay   male/18   student priest   Kurrisa (lowlands)  
Summary Transcript   7   Belay   male/41   blacksmith/farmer   Doba Giorgis (highlands)  
Summary Transcript   8   Yekaba   female/25   farmer/female head of household   Gala Dejen (highlands)  
Summary Transcript   9   Haji Zekiy   male/57   Qadi (Muslim religious leader)   Tcherqos village (highlands)