Ethiopia glossary








farmer/ female head of household


Meqerqeriat (lowlands)


May 1997



Section 1
I began my interview by first introducing myself and telling her where I came from as well as the aim of the interview. At this time the lady expressed to me her willingness to cooperate with me by telling me all that I wanted to know. Accordingly she treated me very well and gave me the required information. She told me that she thought it would help the community to lead the kind of life our fathers led in the past if there are other persons who are ready to do a comparative study of this locality. She explained that such a study would show how our hardship came about and point out the solutions to our problems.

How did this locality change and what caused the changes?
In the old days the forest was well kept and we used to go there and get a load of firewood from just one tree. Now you may travel a long distance and get not even a single load of firewood in a whole day. The trees were cut down and the land made barren. So even the wild animals have disappeared. The soil was exposed to erosion by the floodwater and there are large gullies now where there were none before. The population has grown and the land is not producing at all.

Can you tell me more about the land, the crops and the animals?
The livestock have nothing to graze and spend the whole day lying on the barren land. They are dying of hunger and disease. In the days of our fathers, one could reap about ten donkey loads of crop from a small plot of land ploughed with just two pairs of oxen. Now you cannot reap even three aqmada (sheepskin bag or weight equivalent of 50-60kg) of crop from the same size of land. Some people may be called rich now, but all they are left with is their big one-storey house and their fence. The dagusa (finger millet) we didn’t know before is now brought here by the traders and consumed as food. The irrigation has been reduced due to the shortage of rains. The number of children is increasing and people’s resources depleted. Livestock production has been replaced by the production of children.

What kind of livestock did you produce in the past?
Forage was abundant in the old days and the cattle grazed that without denuding the grass. The forest was not cleared and there was something for the livestock to feed on there. So it was easy to raise livestock then. There was also a lot of land that was left uncultivated. The size of the population was small. Now nothing you buy lasts for long. The animals do not even have a shed to lie under to protect themselves from the fierce sun. So they cough themselves to death.
Section 2
What about your landholding?
Now they distributed the land by measuring it with ropes, and what a farmer gets is inadequate to sustain his family. Children do not get land. The land is not producing crops. Three aqmadas of crop does not last you for a year. From June to September it is a period of misery and death. You have to run up and down and sell a sheep to buy dagusa to bear the hardship. We could do nothing to get ourselves out of this misery.

What was the negative change in your life?
When I grew up, one could buy seven laden (sheepskin bag or weight equivalent of 30kg) of grain with one silver thaler (old currrency). You could also buy one or two ladens of food grain for fifty cents. Now it costs you 3.50 birr to buy one tin (less than half a laden) of dagusa. A tin of teff (staple crop) costs five or six birr and that is not enough to feed a family of five or six members from Monday to Friday. If I cannot buy a soap for cleaning myself and the family, there will be illness. I think all this hardship is frustrating me and making me ill.

What kind of useful development activity goes on in this village?
A health clinic and pumps for clean water were built for us. They have also begun building a road and bunds (embankments) on the farmland. A school has also been built. We are also receiving training in weaving sisal fibre and sheep wool so that we can produce carpets and bags to earn an income and support ourselves.

Do you think this will help you improve your life?
The bags and carpets we produce will be sold for us through the SOS officials in the Woreda and we will get our dues. We are hopeful that we can alleviate our problems then.

How do you expect this locality to change 20 years from now?
I am happy now that things are being done to change the area. Bunds are being built and tree seedlings planted to stop the erosion. I think that when the gullies are filled by rocks and the eroded soil deposited there and seedlings grow and control the erosion, you can use such land for cultivation again and the locality will be transformed.

Meqerqeriat appears to me to be green and fertile. How do the farmers use this situation?
Yes, Meqerqeriat is beautiful. They used to praise its beauty by saying:
Meqerqeriat, land of life
Land of paradise

I wish I were born here
Or married here
It is a land of [beautiful] women
Get your children married in Meqerqeriat.
When I was a child they used to say:
Where did you get your daughter married?
In Taguba.
Why in Taguba when you could do it in Meqerqeriat!

Even today people from Jiribe and Qelabas are envious of it. The water here is good and the ground is wet. You can grow onions, green pepper, chat (plant chewed as a stimulant), abish (fenugreek) and hop in your backyard when other people have to buy these from the market. All we need from the market in this respect is salt. Besides, when it is developed it will be as fertile and productive as in the old days.
Section 3
So if conditions improve, do you mean you can get everything from your backyard?
Yes. In the towns you have to buy even a handful of cabbages for ten cents, but we can get that from our backyards. If things improve, we can support our selves within three or four years and save ourselves from migration and starvation. There are a lot of leaves which can be consumed here. For example, there is a leaf called sama (nettle) and you can consume that. But if you go to Arebal, you see nothing green. It is only the growth of the population, the change in the climate and the erosion of the soil which has affected Meqerqeriat. The gullies on the slopes cause avalanches of rocks and we are worried that the goats might be struck dead by these rolling rocks. When the tree plants grow, however, all that will be controlled.

What kind of useful social organisations are found around here?
I am a member of the St. Mary Mahber. The men are members of the St. Michael Mahber. When we commemorate our patron saints through our Mahbers we invite our relatives and neighbours to share our feast. We sing and the azmaris (minstrels) praise us when they are entertained at our homes. If I have no children, for instance, they sing by saying:
She knows how to gin cotton
She knows how to weave baskets
She knows how to bake
What she lacks is how to produce children

Then the minstrel is given a gift for this and we enjoy the entertainment for three days with our relatives who part on the fourth day. Now, as if we had not prepared such feasts for entertaining our friends and relatives, we are worried about what to feed a single guest. In the old days people loved each other, but now the younger generation have no such bonds. Now Christians are limited to participating only in the Senbetie at church since no one can afford to prepare feasts for the Mahber. There may be just two or three households who prepare feasts for the Mahber; otherwise the practice is dying out.
Section 4
How were you organised for the Mahbers and Senbeties?
Fifteen members came together and formed the Mahber. Then friends and relatives were invited and animals slaughtered for the feast just as in Christmas. It was like a holiday, for it was a means of getting together. Now, however, we have nothing even for our daily consumption let alone for preparing a Mahber feast.

Is there any change regarding marriage and divorce?
In the old days, girls with rich parents were sought after. I, for example, was born in this village and I married someone from Taguba, but I never asked for dowry or demanded that my husband be an owner of livestock and plenty of crops. Everyone was dreaming of being married to the daughter of Sandul. I gave up a home with plenty of honey and milk and I left it empty-handed. We didn’t stay for even a month after a divorce before suitors came for us again. Nowadays, the husbands ask whether we have crops, livestock or other property before making a marriage proposal. In the old days you went to your husband’s house empty handed and they sang at the wedding:
She is not yours when it comes to prices
She demands that you buy her shoes, trousers, bracelets
She is not yours when it comes to prices.

[Meaning you cannot afford her taste as she cares little for other property]

Regarding passing on the family history, what is the relationship between children and parents?
My mother used to tell me that she was a ten year old girl during the Italian invasion, and that she was taken captive with her mother and later released. Now except for the hardship, we have not suffered from war. When the Derg (military regime 1974-89) fell and the Tagays (TPLF/EPRDF fighters) took over, there was no fighting here and nobody died from the conflict.

What is the relationship between the highlanders and the lowlanders?
In the old days we didn’t even want to see the lowlanders. We saw and passed them at the market place. We went to their place only when we had to have a cloth woven for us. Now Amharas and Muslims call each other “dear, dear”. The towns’ people come to us and we go to them. For example, I had never seen Geregera Market. Now I am happy that I have been able to see it and make an acquaintance with many persons. In the old days we were limited to the kitchen and never dared to leave the house. We spent the whole day grinding grain and doing other house chores. When our husbands came home they demanded that we wash their feet regardless of whether we were busy. We women were oppressed then.
With the Derg came literacy schools, and a few women who got education left the place to find a job. The rest of us were envious of them and began to attend school. Our men too wanted to be educated. They didn’t want to be left behind their women and to sign with their thumbs. In the past the women’s burden at home was great. Apart from the house chores the main burden was begetting children. Now education has made life better for mothers and children and I am happy for this even though I have no children.
Section 5
What about conflicts?
The cause of conflicts is often the water used for irrigation. People quarrel over diverting the streams for irrigation since they have to compete for this scarce resource. They also quarrel over boundaries and grasses for their livestock. Each one wants to cut the grass for his livestock and they start fighting over this.

What is the attitude of the community towards the disabled?
The community cultivates their farmland, builds their homes, and contributes money for their funeral.

What differentiates the people of Meket from people in other places?
We observe our fasts, we go to the church, and there friends meet and chat for a long time. There are holidays such as Epiphany and Sebere’attimu in January and these are celebrated very well, with songs and dances. When the Holy Ark is carried by the priests around the church building three times, the women sing:

How can you be proud when it is the Holy Ark?
What for is the pride when it the great master St. George?
Were you not singing even for the king’s servant?

May we meet next year in good health
May we meet next year in good health
Without you dying, without us dying
May we meet next year in good health.

When the Holy Ark is moved to the inner chamber of the church guns are fired and every one who came to celebrate the holiday is invited to drink tella (locally brewed beer) prepared by the community. So we respect our saints and the Holy Ark. We have churches called Kidane Mihret (Our Holy Lady) and Medhane Alem (Savior of the World). We respect and honour these because that is the mark of our Christianity.

So what is the identity of Meket?
That is our identity.
Section 6
Can you tell me about education and relationships?
In the old days, one travelled on foot, climbing the steep slopes and carrying a sack to visit one’s relations. Now the road has been built. You carry your money with you and go by car wherever you want, dine in the hotels and fulfil your business. Furthermore, in the past it was the men who received education. In education the women was thought to be of no use and our fathers and husbands did not let us out of the house. Now the women have been given the right to get education and we go to school with our children. We are taught how to keep our hygiene. We wash our bodies, clean our houses, relieve ourselves far away from our homes and thus our life is being rehabilitated.

Can you elaborate on the personal hygiene and sanitation?
Sanitation is what I just said. In 1985 many people died of starvation right on their very doors. Then the road was built and people began to move around and were exposed to diseases that we didn’t know - to AIDS and TB. You can’t assume that anyone is healthy nowadays. The sick person has dysentery, coughs a lot and looses weight. It is humiliating even for the relative to look after the infected person. Now people feel uncomfortable even to go to the towns and drink tella. It is a disease without cure. Those who have lost their parents go to the towns and they come back with AIDS. Besides, the population multiplies and children are born one on top of the other. If I wash my body and clothes and clean my house as well as compound, I may not catch cold, but this disease called AIDS is coming through the new road and spreading.

You have told me that there was drought in 1985. How did you and your family manage to cope with it?
My husband was a soldier and he was staying in Filaqit. I was here and I consumed whatever food was available at home because he only came for a while and left soon.

How did you exchange messages?
When there is a wedding we send a message to our relatives telling them to come and bless their son or daughter on such and such a day. When someone dies, we announce that so and so has had an accident and that they should come and mourn him. During the funeral, the deceased is praised as a hero who is still armed and ready for combat from within the grave. People sing for him such funeral dirges, fire their guns and bury him amidst wailings. Nowadays, everyone is equal, so there is no such ceremony.
Well thank you for asking me about the past. I have nothing more to add to what I have already told you. It is getting dark, so I must leave now. Goodbye.