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ABWALAD: A KINSHIP-BASED ASSOCIATION FOR HORIZONTAL COOPERATION AND MUTUAL HELP AMONG THE AMHARA OF BORANA SAYNT [Abstract ID: 1202-06]
A number of anthropologists have argued that unlike other ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, the Amhara people lack kinship-based mechanisms, such as lineage corporations, for horizontal cooperation and mutual help. Instead, the Amhara are said to be traditionally organized hierarchically, along dyadic, patron-client, ties. However, actual observation of Amhara social organization proves the prevalence of strong kinship-based vertical ties and social cooperation, which challenges this presumption. The Amhara people have a distinct descent corporation for mutual help and cooperation; locally known as Abwalad, literally, “children of the same father.” Named after the founding apical ancestor, the Abwalad consists of all descendants related to each other through a line of ancestors, either through the mother’s or father’s lines. The Abwalad in contemporary Amhara communities provides culturally enforceable solutions for governing social conflicts, sharing natural resource and coping with natural disasters. In the past, the Abwalad was the basic sociological unit through which individuals claimed and acquired rist rights to land previously held by both maternal and paternal ancestors. This paper discusses salient features of this previously neglected and misunderstood institution by drawing on ethnographic data recently collected from Borena Saynt, a sub-region in southwestern Wollo where the Amhara culture and Amharic language are believed to have been originated. My central thesis is that Abwalad, while organized on principles of cognatic descent, shows strong resemblance with unilineal lineage corporations widely prevalent in the rest of eastern Africa.