Ethiopia glossary

Haji Zekiy







Qadi (Muslim religious leader)


Tcherqos village (highlands)


December 1996



Section 1
When were you born?
When the Italian occupation began.

What was this area like in the past?
We used to lead a good life. The population was small. There had honey and cows to milk. Goats bred well and people ate meat. The land was productive.

What about the forest? How was it different then?
There were a lot of trees and the forests were preventing flooding. The land was left fallow and then cultivated.

What brought about the present condition?
This was because the trees were cut down, the land was overgrazed and the population grew. When the forest was cleared, the soil was washed away by the flood, the productivity of the land decreased.

Is there a difference in your income from what you used to earn?
Yes, there is a lot of difference since our income has now decreased very much. The clearing of the forest, the erosion of the soil, the failure of the rains and the decrease in productivity have all affected our income.

How much livestock did you have in the past?
I had two pairs of oxen, some three or four milked cows, and goats and sheep during the time of Haile Sellassie.

Why did their number decrease now?
The livestock had nothing to graze because of the drought.

What about the diseases?
In the old days we used to move them from one place to another to avoid infection. Now it doesnít make any difference where we take them and the disease is not easily cured by the modern medicine.
Section 2
Is there a change in the type of crops you cultivated?
We used to cultivate a lot of white teff (staple crop), but now we cultivate a brawny teff and fesh (?).

What about your landholding now and in the past?
In the old days one household used to have about ten plots of land. Now the population has grown and the land holding has decreased to three or four plots of land.

Did you use irrigation in the past?
In some villages we applied irrigation to produce red pepper and coffee. Now, however, the number of people using it has increased while the size of irrigable land per farmer has decreased so much that it is not as productive as it used to be. Now there is scarcity of land and very little irrigation is being practised.

How did you control pests? Were there a lot of pests then?
In the old days there were only locusts and gimie (crop pest). The crop grew even after being eaten by the locusts which appeared only once or twice. But we beat the gimie and destroyed it. So it has disappeared now. At present, the pests have multiplied. We learnt from the Holy Koran (Islamic sacred book) that when people commit adultery and theft, there is an increase in pests such as locusts and deyiri (army worm). The pests have now decreased the production of peas and lentils. Deyiri and other worms appeared in the middle of the Derg (military regime 1974-89) period.

What was the impact of the land redistribution?
The land has been fragmented and reduced to two or three plots of land. We are anxious that there will be another round of land redistribution which might reduce the size of our holding to perhaps one or two plots of land. When the size of land cultivated by a household is reduced the yield from the land also decreases and this is harmful.

What are the changes in the market condition? What has become cheaper or more expensive?
During Haile Sellassieís period, everything was cheap and our fathers used to buy two qunnas (large grass basket holding about 10 kg) of red pepper for one birr. It was slightly more expensive during the time of the Derg, but still it was not difficult to get money then. The farmers did cultivation, the weavers stuck to producing clothes and the black smith to making the tools and thus each one earned sufficient income then. Now during the period of the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peopleís Revolutionary Democratic Front), there is plenty of money, but it can buy very little because things are very expensive.

What about new things for sale now?
Sometimes the contrabandists hide and bring new clothes here which people can buy cheaply. So the poor can now wear the type of clothes that did not exist here in the past.
Section 3
The government has introduced a lot of new things which are thought to be beneficial for the development of the area. What such new introduction do you find most useful for your area?
When there was drought and the crop was destroyed, the government distributed food grain to everyone without distinction during the Derg period. That was very helpful to overcome the hardship. We used to pay only one birr and fifty cents in land taxes. Now we got a health clinic.

So, which one did you find most useful?
We have now a clinic.

Which change in your area has had the highest impact on your life?
S.O.Sís credit facility has now enabled us to help ourselves; otherwise there isnít much change in our life.

What do you think your area would be like in the next twenty years?
In view of the increase in the size of the population, I expect that there will be another round of land redistribution in which we will receive an even smaller plot of land. When the farmland decreases in size, the amount of yield also decreases and this will lead to hardship. If you have just one or two small plots of land you will get very little or nothing by apportioning that for cultivating peas on one piece, teff on another, and sorghum on another.

What are the cultural institutions in your area? How are the Muslim community organised?
The religious holidays that we Muslims celebrate are Arefa (Eid el Fitr) for which one goes to Mecca and Medina when we break our fast. There is also Mewlid (celebration of the birth of Mohammed). Those who have the means slaughter sheep or a goat and prepare a feast for their guests. After feasting we pray.

What are the institutions that you have built since the old times?
We have Tertim. This means that every day we go to the mosque where the women are seated in rows on one side and the men on the other side. We make coffee and have breakfast together. Then we pray collectively praising the Prophet. When that is finished we bless each other and part. That is what we call Tertim. When someone dies we have Qire (traditional funeral association) through which we contribute money for the funeral.

What is your personal role in the Tertim or Qire?
At the woreda (administrative district) level, I am head of the Muslim Committee. Earlier I was the Qadi (religious leader or representative) of all the three woredas. Now the Awraja division has been abolished by the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peopleís Revolutionary Democratic Front), but I am still the Qadi of my woreda. In this capacity, I reconcile women who have quarrelled with their husbands, oversee new marriages, divorces and inheritances and other religious matters.
Section 4
What about in the Tertim?
I am the Chairman of the Tertim in our PA.

What kind of participation do you have in the Qire?
I participate in the Qire together with the community.

What are the changes in the activities of Qire and Tertim?
There are no changes in the Qires and Tertims; they function the way our fathers organised them. The only change in the Tertim is that there are now more members and we prepare bread for breakfast on a bigger stove plate.

How useful are these social institutions?
When we have a problem, we discuss it after coffee. When there is a guest who has no relatives he will have breakfast with us, drink the coffee together and leave. That is good for him.

What about Qire?
The Qire serves to host the mourners.

What was the initial purpose of Qire?
It is to feed the guest so that he would not curse us and leave. If he did not eat his lunch or dinner, we take bread to the mosque and we feed him.

Are there other social institutions apart from Qire and Tertim?
No, except that now we join hands and cultivate land for the benefit of the mosque. This is a new practice.

Are there no other institutions which have died out?
No, there arenít any.

Haji, I would like you to tell me now about marriage and divorce. What were marriage and divorce like in the old days?
These are not any different from the days of the Prophet Mohammed. Our guideline is the Holy Koran. However, there are now some people who marry and then disappear leaving their family behind. Since the women were facing hardship under these circumstances we are now creating for them securities or guarantees. In the old days, if the husband deserts his wife, nobody would marry her again unless he came back and divorced her properly. Now we make him divorce her before he leaves her.

At what age did a woman marry in the old days?
In the old days the girl was not married until she was nine or more years and the man waited until he was 20 or 21 years old. Now the girl marries at the age of eight or seven and the man at the age of 17 or 16 years.
Section 5
How were they married? What was the ceremony like?
Until the girls came of age, the men were prevented from coming close to the women (i.e. no sex was allowed).

What about wedding gifts or dowries?
There was no such thing as a dowry in our area, but we hear about it from other places.

Could you explain to me about the wedding ceremony and the manner in which one makes a marriage proposal?
In the old days, the woman has to be paid one hundred birr when she is divorced. Now there is equality, and she gets an equal share of the property.

If someone wants to marry your daughter, what does he do? Does he send elders to you?
He has to send elders to me and ask through them for the hand of my daughter. Then I express my consent and we fix the date of the wedding.

When spouses live together, they may divorce and then reconcile again. What is the practice in this respect in your area?
Our Muslim laws forbid remarrying the same person after divorcing him thrice, but she can marry another person.

Is keeping concubines practised in your area?
There are such practices among Muslims. We hear that well-to-do Christians have concubines, but our religion forbids such a practice.

What kind of relationship exists between children and their parents? Do todayís youth try like your generation to inquire about their family lineage?
In the old days the children respected their elders and their parents. They did not marry without the consent of their parents. Now, however, the children do not give much respect to their fathers or mothers. They donít ask their parentís permission for marriage.

What do you think is the cause of this change?
I hear that those who go to school in the towns just propose to each other in writing and then they get married. They say that they must marry whom they like.

What kind of relationship exists between Muslims and Christians?
In the old days the Muslims and Amharas (Christians) lived separately. Now the Muslims and Christians work and live together and love each other like children of the same parents. They have a better relationship today.
Section 6
Why was there a division in the past? Were you quarrelling with each other?
In the old times, they used to say that ďthe country of the Muslims is Mecca and that of the bird is warka (oak tree)Ē. They claimed that Muslims have no land. When our children quarrelled sometimes, they used to tell us to go and find our country. Now all that has changed and we live together in peace.

What kind of relations do you rural folks have with the town folks?
We donít have a close relationship with the town folk.

What about your relationship with the artisans? What was your attitude towards them?
You mean blacksmiths? Well we do our work and they do theirs. Of course, we look down on them; that is inevitable.

Why do you look down on them?
It is a cultural prejudice. People say they eat other people (they are evil-eyed) and so we fear them.

What about the role of men and women? What did the women used to do?
We worked in the fields together. When we sat at home they got up early in the morning and ground the grain and they prepared our meals. Their workload was heavier than ours. Now it is slightly better because there are flourmills although they are a bit far away.

Who was the head of the family in the old days?
This depends on the family. In some families the women were strong and they became the heads of the family; in others the man was the family head. There isnít much difference now from the past.

Your area is lowland and you are often referred to as lowlanders. What is your relationship like with the highlanders?
We donít have a close relationship with them. Their work is simpler than ours. We buy their grain from the market and we sell to them our goats. Thatís the kind of relation we have with them.

What happens when someone quarrels with another person?
He goes to the elders and appeals to them to reconcile him with the person he has quarrelled with. Or the community or the judge will detain the offender for a night and they will reconcile him with the other person by making him pay compensation to the victim. I myself have reconciled others in this manner. This practice exists even now.

Were there bandits in your area?
Yes. When a bandit comes the community will feed him while at the same time sending a message to the local authority. But if the bandit starts firing at people they will shoot him dead.
Section 7
There are blind men and beggars in your area. What do you do to support them?
We give them breakfast and coffee in the morning at the mosque. We contribute one tenth of what money we have and we give this to the weak and disabled. Our religion requires that we do this and it is forbidden to use this money for ourselves. This kind of cooperation still exists.

What makes the people of Meket different from people in other places?
The only difference is that women here have equal rights with the men.

Now for example there is a place called Wadla and there is another one called Shedeho. What distinguishes those of living in Meket from the people in these places?
There is no difference between us except that they produce more crops than us and have more money than us.

You are telling me that there is hardship in this area. If you were to get an opportunity to for a better life elsewhere, would you be ready to leave this place and live in another place?
If I get the chance to live a better life with my children in another place, yes, I am willing to leave this place.

Why would you like to leave this place?
I am getting older and weaker. So I would like to get the opportunity to work something simpler and live a better life.

In you culture, what is it that you give the greatest value and respect to?
We give the greatest respect to our religion.

Why do you give such great respect to your religion?
Because that what we are left with.

I see that mosques and churches are built in this area on hills. What is the relationship between hills and your faith or spiritual life?
We donít mind if the place is flat. The only thing the matters is the suitability of the location.

So, why do you build mosques on hills?
Because the central location is convenient for the community.

Haji, when there is a holiday, you wear your best clothes and ornaments. You apply lotions or other make-ups. Is there a change now in the way you are dressed for a holiday?
There are changes now. In the old days, we were not dressed especially for a holiday; we just wear our shawls and loincloths. Even trousers were not common then. Now we wear clean and special clothes for a holiday.
Section 8
Did you put any marks on your body? Were there any special ornaments?
The witchdoctors wore those; other people didnít.

What were the holidays that you celebrated?
The break of our fast was celebrated well. We also celebrated Ashura.

What do you do when you celebrate your holidays?
When we celebrate the break of our fast we eat [a thicker] porridge and have drinks. The village prepares bread and relatives and entertained for breakfast. When we celebrate the Arefa (Eid el Fitr), even single women will slaughter a goat for a feast. So we feed the poor folks in the village and then our children when we prepare such a feast. We also wear our best clothes on such occasions.

What about those who cannot afford to slaughter something for the holiday feast?
Those who have slaughtered something will invite that person for the feast. For five days after the break of the fast nobody does any work. You just eat from night to day break with your neighbours and friends.

How did you acquire your present knowledge?
My father and mother died before I got any education, but I learned some farming and weaving skills from my relatives. I learnt these mostly through observation. I also thought myself how to read and write in Amharic and Arabic. I did not receive any modern education.

How did you learn Arabic and the Koranic education?
When my parents passed away, I faced hardship. Then I went to Yeju and Dawunt, where I learnt Arabic and the Koran. After I returned to Meket I learnt farming and weaving clothes.

What is your view of illiteracy?
Education is very good and useful. When you are educated you get respect. If one receives modern education and completes the university, the government will give him a job.

Do you know of anyone here who has received modern education?
Due to the distance of the school from here, those who started receiving modern education discontinue it at the third or fourth grade. There are some persons from this area who received modern education and went to Egypt for further education. They became ministers and diplomats.

How did they come to reach that level?
One of them can be regarded as my brother. When his parents died, he went to Yeju and studied the Koran. Then he went to Egypt during the time of Jemal Abdel Nasser and studied further. When he came back he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and worked as a diplomat for a long time. Now things have become a little tighter and those who left their area are coming back without getting a job.
Section 9
So how useful is modern education?
Modern education gives you respect and enables you to sit and eat (get an income without hard labour).

What do you think of providing modern education to your children?
I want them to finish the Koranic school first and then I will send them to a modern school.

What do you feel about your not getting modern education?
I regret it very much. I am a little proud that at least I am not illiterate.

How do learn about events outside your village or your country?
We learn about the events by listening to the radios of our neighbours.

When some problems occur in your area, how do you communicate this to others?
We write a letter to the Peasant Association (PA) describing the problem and they will communicate it to the woreda administration.

How did you learn of events in the old days?
We learn about them from the merchants who travelled to the towns or from the woreda or Tchiqa Shums (local officials).

What are Tchiqa Shums?
They are officials appointed by virtue of their lineage to administer the smallest locality.

What kind of news do you consider as most useful to you here?
We want to hear whether there is a land tax, or land redistribution or food assistance from the government.

Where have you travelled to outside your birth place?
I know Addis Ababa and Mecca and Medina very well. I have also travelled to Asmara and Gonder. I went to Mecca and Medina for the Haj (Muslims pilgrimage to the Holy Land). I went there to see the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed. I wen to Asmara in transit to Mecca because I travelled by ship. I went to Gonder to visit a relative of mine, but I got a job and stayed there for ten months.

What kind of job did you get there?
It was weaving clothes. Threads were very expensive then.
Section 10
Haji, how far the Chinese-built road changed your life?
We had to travel on foot for a long time before the road was built. Now we can easily travel by car to Addis Ababa, Gonder or Asmara. The road has been very useful to us.

Could you tell me about the community health in the past and currently?
There were many diseases in the past. For example, there were epidemics in 1949 and 1966. The government brought DDT 1964 and sprayed it in the lowland areas. Since then we have been relieved of diseases (malaria epidemics). But in 1997, there was an outbreak of the old type of disease.

When you were attacked by the disease where did you go to?
There were no doctors then; so if you caught the disease you just died or got cured. Now people go to Dibiko get injections or the government sends the pills here.

Did you have a traditional medical treatment?
We used the wagimt for treating ourselves (you put the horn on the place of your pain and suck it up). We got relief in this way.

Is there a change in sexually transmitted diseases here?
There used to be syphilis, which killed people. Now it has been eradicated with injections. We hear about AIDS now, but it found in the towns only.

How do you expect to prevent AIDS?
One should abstain from women. You should also avoid drinking in glasses which are not clean or which have been used by others.

Has household size decreased or increased?
The population has grown. As a result this small area which used to be cultivated by three households is now cultivated by 30 households.

What is the cause of the population growth?
The diseases have decreased and people are just begetting too many children.

In the old days you used to practice early marriage. Did the woman give birth earlier or later than is now?
There is no change in this respect. The women gave birth earlier.

What do you think should be done to decrease or control births?
I think everyone should reduce births. Otherwise what will you feed the population?

Personally, what have you done to reduce births?
I have done nothing. Some of my children died of diseases and the remaining ones are few in number. We stopped begetting children after that.
Section 11
As a Tertim leader, what messages did you transmit to the community to control births?
We teach the community to raise their family in accordance with the Holy Koran and to refrain from causing anguish to their wives.

They say that there was drought in this area in the past. When did drought occur here?
There was drought in 1966 and as a result many people migrated to Gojam and Gonder and returned after a year. At the time of the drought I and other persons went to Dessie and Addis Ababa to appeal to the government to provide assistance and save lives. There was also drought in 1974 and 1975.

What was the cause of the 1966 drought?
There was famine and an outbreak of epidemic. In 1985, a pest called deyiri destroyed the crops. People again migrated due to the food shortage. The disease and famine killed many people.

Is it the death of people that differentiates drought from other times of food shortages?
The drought prevented the cultivation of crops and caused food shortages. People were also too poor to afford to buy food. They were also physically too weak to work and earn an income.

How did you and your family manage during the drought?
During the 1966 famine I didnít have a wife or children. In 1985 I had a few children. I got some assistance from my relatives in town and because of this I didnít migrate. We managed during the rainy season just by feeding on cabbages which we ate with salt and oil.

What do you do cope with the problem of drought and famine?
Nothing, we just waited for government assistance. When no assistance came, people went to Mekele to weave clothes and sent some of the money they earned for their children back home.

Have you received government assistance so far?
The government provided us with assistance in 1985. Food aid was better at the time of the Derg. More people would have died otherwise.

Was the assistance in the form of food for work or just food handouts?
Food handouts were given to save the peoples lives.

What was the food distribution like? Was it satisfactory?
It was satisfactory. There was distinction between the rich and the poor. Nowadays anyone who has some livestock doesnít receive food aid. It is not at all satisfactory now. If someone has an ox or a cow or a goat, he gets no assistance. They give one small bag of grain to four people and that is not enough even to feed them on the road. The rest of us get nothing.
Section 12
You have told me that members of the community migrated in 1966, 1974 and 1985. What was it like when they came back?
When they migrated they tried to make a living by weaving clothes and working as daily labourers. When it rained and those left behind cultivated their crops, the others returned. The community supported each other, shared what little they had.

Is there any change in your food consumption habit?
People in the old days consumed meat, butter, honey, milk and such tasty food. Now there is no milk, no butter; everything is consumed dry. In the past there was plenty of grass the cows gave milk. There was honey because there were trees.

You have said that there were forests in the past. Did you hunt any thing in the forests?
We used to hunt feqo, midaquwa, and sess and consume their meat. There were also lions. We even fished in the big rivers like Tekezie. Now the fish have disappeared.

Why did the fish disappear?
I donít know.