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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Ruth JACKSON, Deakin University, Australia

Background: Many people outside Africa still visualize Ethiopia through the media lens of a barren landscape, drought and famine. Yet the southwest is renowned for its rainforest and being the birthplace of coffee, for its spices and honey, and for being an important watershed production to the Nile. In 2010, UNESCO added the Kafa Biosphere Reserve—an area of 760,000 hectares—into the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. As one of the world’s vital yet threatened areas for biodiversity conservation, most research about the Biosphere is scientific and technical focusing on biodiversity and climate protection, or on ways to improve the livelihoods of local communities including ethnic minority groups such as the Manjo. The aim of this project is to question ideas and assumptions of what might be thought as ‘mundane’ (food preparation) or ‘banal’ (the taken-for-grantedness of the rainforest as a resource for wood, coffee, spices and so on), by showing how the journey of a chicken—a brown, double-combed chicken that are prized throughout Ethiopia—from a rural neighborhood (kebele), through the rainforest, to the market, and then to the pot, connects a plurality of ordinary people during one of the Ethiopian Orthodox feasts.
Methods: Interviews and participant observation in Kafa Zone will provide narratives, pictures and a story about a woman accompanying the chicken on its journey; women who sell spices mainly comprising chili pepper (berberé) to add to the pot; and, those who make local beer (tella) or honey wine (tej). We’ll also meet some Manjo people who cut firewood and make charcoal to sell to households to cook the food, and women preparing the injera and wat and roasting the coffee after the meal. Discussion: I will be collecting and analyzing qualitative data and subsequently preparing a children's book and a book length manuscript for publication about the project. This presentation will be based on the first draft of the book for children.