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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Marion LANGUMIER, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre (France)

My contribution looks at the practice of scarification among the inhabitants of a Mursi village which I call Bholi, where I conducted three months of ethnographic research. At a crossroads between communities from distant countrysides, urban and state ahmaric-speaking entrepreneurs and worldwide travel circuits, this settlement, built on the sides of the very new road that links Jinka to the Omo river, is a priviledged place to observe the evolution of local aesthetics along with the increasing circulation of newcomers. I will argue against a common hypothesis suggesting that this evolution is the result of the unilateral influence from outsiders. I will show that, one the one hand, scarifications are less affected than body paintings by photographic tourism. On the other hand, since they can be found elsewhere in all Ethiopia, scarifications hardly encounter governemental condemnations, contrary to other adornments such as lip-plates. Yet, scarification in Bholi today is far from being independant from social changes. Evidence of it can be found through a comparison of names and patterns of incision across different periods of time and various generations. The comparison further shows how scarifications are a tool used by subjects to situate themelves in reference to different worlds: whether inspired by traditional cow-herding, religious conversion or dreams of national job careers, they reflect the village, the town, or the wider world. Further on, I will show, through the observation of three operations, that each part of the process implements the society’s perceived identity and fundamental values, including bravery through pain and the primacy of individual will. Hence scarifications appear as a specific Mursi way to assimilate change. While producing an embodied knowledge deeply appropriated as part of an individual’s affirmation and definition as a person, its evolutions reflect the way Bholi villagers enter into Ethiopian citizenship.