Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Svein EGE, Department of Social Anthropology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim

The eder (funeral association) is generally recognized as one of the key local organizations. In the peasant communities studied (T’arma Bär wäräda, Northern Shäwa), this is certainly the case. The first eders were founded in the late Haylä-Selasé period, they operated on a fairly modest scale under the Därg regime, but under the EPRDF they expanded both in numbers and functions. There is now often a main eder of the household heads (the original eder), a women’s eder, and perhaps one or more youth eders. The original role of the eder was to organize the local community to provide both mourners and specified monetary and food support (nefro) for those who had lost a close relative, with detailed rules and strict enforcement. This was an important change from kinship and neighbourliness (gurbetena) to collectivity — formal organization with rules and a fixed leadership to enforce those rules. The modern eder goes far beyond this. It has taken it upon itself to enforce holidays, property rules, security, religious uniformity, and to limit the competition for land. The expansion of the roles of the eder has sometimes been stimulated and sometimes been resisted by the state. One of the most fascinating aspects of the eder is its enforcement capacity. Non-compliers can be expelled, which does not only mean exclusion from the eder per se, but ostracism from the local community. The remaining members are prohibited from any cooperation (weleta) with the expelled member, such as to rent land, borrow oxen, cooperate in work, or associate in any way, even if they are close relatives. Members who disobey, may themselves be expelled. Due to these draconian measures, the local administration has found the eder to be more efficient in enforcing compliance than their own web of organizations, which raises some interesting questions about legitimacy.