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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BELETE Dawit, Wolaita Sodo University, Ethiopia

The marginalization of artisans is the ubiquitous phenomenon in Ethiopia, and its occurrence is true from countryside to towns and from past to present. In the Konso case, there are two social groups: Farmers (Etenta) and artisans (Xauta). The artisans include blacksmiths, butchers, tanners, potters, weavers and traders. Xauta have been considered subordinate to Etenta; they were people without land and ‘poor’ and their occupation was regarded as impure. The irony is that though Xauta are labeled as impure and landless groups, almost all items Etenta use in everyday basis such as hoe, pottery, cloth, iron tools, hide bags and so on are produced by Xauta. The main thrust of the study is to examine critically to what extent the socio-economic status of Konso’s artisans is impacted due to their involvement in tourism business. To achieve this objective, I employed qualitative research strategy with ethnographic research approach. The tools used to collect data were participant observation, informal conversations, key informant interviews and case studies. The data was analyzed using Bourdieu’s Practice theory. The study shows that the growth of tourism business along with the free-market policy in post-socialist Konso brought about new opportunities to artisans. The Xauta took advantage of these opportunities to earn more income from selling handicrafts for tourists, and they became major suppliers to souvenir shops. Artisans’ involvement in the tourism industry extricated them from the poor economic status. The Etenta came to understand that it is the works of artisans that attracted the tourist. The economic benefits the Xauta gained from tourism have a direct impact on their social integration into ‘mainstream groups’. The Xauta are now invited to social meetings of the farmers, and intermarriage becomes common among these groups. Overall, the findings reveal how the involvement of artisans in touristic business help them preserve their skill from extinction, revive the cultural heritages of Konso and enhance their socioeconomic status, thereby ameliorating their marginalization.