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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TSEGAY Berhe, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
SINTAYOH Fisseha, McEwan University, Edmonton, Canada

Paper presenters:

SAMUEL Kidane; TSEGAY Berhe; SINTAYOH Fissha; MULUWORK Kidanemariam; Jon ABBINK; MAHARI Yohans;
YOHANNES Gebreselassie; HASSEN Muhammed

Several Scholars emphasize collective identities and ethnicities are subject to changes in many parts of the world today. Through this panel, we wish to examine those changes, particularly the new forms and meaning given to ethnic identities, belonging, economic interactions(such as land transactions, off-farm trading and entrepreneurship) etc. in various parts of Northeastern Ethiopia, as well as look at practices related to the impacts of ethnicity and cultural identities on the neighboring communities. "Northeastern Ethiopia" is assumed more of as geographic than a political unit of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, that includes parts of two adjoining Regional states (Tigray and Afar), or parts of Eastern and Southern Tigray Zones and Zone two of Afar.

In the 1970s, Frederick Barth and his critics resumed an interesting debate that enabled us to comprehend that changes connected to ethnicity, culture, and collective identities, are not a result of the disappearance of culture, but a much more complex phenomenon. The political economy of ethnicity and cultural identities have been much discussed in academic circles but not so much with particular reference to Northeastern Ethiopia. Thus, we propose to join this debate with empirical studies and observations on Northeastern Ethiopia, as a starting point for comparison to a wider area of Ethiopia and the Horn. Changes related to negotiating ‘ethnicity’, ethnic identities, 'culture' and socio-economic interfacing, raise several questions and this panel will attempt to reflect at those crucial issues.

A set of questions looks at how 'transformations' of 'cultural identities' can be analyzed: Do new forms and meanings given to 'culture' link to politics and to the socio-economic spheres in Northeast Ethiopia, and how? How do we account for past historical, cultural and socio-economic interactions between the Afar and Tigrayan communities contributed to ethno-centric identity and/or competing if not contesting nationalisms? What has competitions for resources (eg. land, livestock asset accumulation (esp.camels), salt, forest, taxes) to do with this trend? What federalism, decentralization and governance practices relate to new forms given to ‘culture’ and ‘identities’ in Northeastern Ethiopia today? Has knowledge of local language a guarantee for enjoying rights enshrined in the constitution? Or Does ethnicity factored more than nationality in terms of exercising rights and meeting obligations on equal terms? How are customs, culture and identity related to the religious sphere and to rituals? The role of customs, rituals and religion is of particular importance, and the processes of turning culture into an ‘object of cult’ and otherness and preferential treatments need to be studied further, as well as the practice and performance of cultural production. Aside from these questions, what is the place and role of commodification in the changes of 'ethnicity' and 'culture'? People are certainly not passive in the processes of changing the forms and meaning of collective identities, and attention should be given to the ways they accompany, reinforce, use, contest, and divert, those changes. Power relations, hierarchy and gender must also be taken into account.

This panel seeks to promote an interdisciplinary forum and invite proposals from scholars working in a variety of disciplines, including, but not limited to, history, sociology, economics, political science, law, anthropology and cultural studies to submit research abstracts. We invite cross-theoretical examinations of the recent transformations of cultural identities and ethnicity in relation to the dynamics of inter-ethnic and inter-state relations, borders, politics, economics, agency, migration, and tourism, etc. including comparative perspectives over the last half a century or so.

We call upon interested scholars to join our panel and contribute greatly to the enhancement of scholarly research.



SAMUEL Kidane, Aksum University, Ethiopia
TSEGAY Berhe, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
YOHANNES Gebreselassie

The province of Agame has been a melting pot of different cultural groups in Tigray. As the seat of prominent provincial leaders, Agame, hosted a catholic sanctuary place at Gual’a next to Fremona in Adwa. Catholic missionaries who embarked up on the establishment of a Catholic Church in Agame purchased land at Gual’a, in the capital Adigrat, through their native ally Abbā Takla Haymanot. In spite of this, the Catholics in Agame have continued to be religious minorities. This was manifested in the prevalence of love and hate relation between the Catholics and the state qua the Catholics and the ruling houses in Agame/Tigray. Their conflicts at times include persecutions and devastation of catholic holdings located at Gual’a (in 1847), Alitena (in 1851) and Aigā (in 1901) respectively. In the attempt to legitimatise catholic holdings at Enda Mukneyto, Aigā and Alitena, different correspondences exchanged between the catholic fathers and state officialdom indicates that there was an issue of territoriality, identity and legitimacy against stiff sense of local resistance in various levels. Besides, the issue has also drawn the attention of a foreign power, Italy as the work-horse of the Catholics in their endeavors to secure their holdings in Eastern Tigray. Thus, the study attempts to revisit the history of the catholic communities in Tigray by analyzing different letters which were produced during the period in settling the litigations over legitimatizing catholic holding in eastern Tigray.



SINTAYOH Fissha, MacEwan University

Ethiopia is a stable county in the horn of Africa. Its relative stability is a result of its unique structure as a multicultural federation. In 1994 the country restructured into different regions and states based on the language called Ethnic Federalism led to the creation of the nine ethnic based regional states (African report, 2009). This federal system granted inter-regional integration and appeared to have ethnified Ethiopian politics (Vaughan, 2003; Abbink 2011). In addition, in some of the states, ethnic groups occasionally reworked their ‘ethnicity’ to match their new interests within changing conditions, and primordialist ideas (Vaughan 2003; Kefale 2010; Abbink 2011); however, today, Ethnic Federalism has also created conflict (Young, 1999; Mulugeta and Hagmann, 2008; Beyene 2009). In Aba’ala agro-pastoralist area unlike the old times societies lack consensus and common understanding on matters of economic, social, and political affairs. This justifies how Ethnic Federalism entails winners and losers, in some state fuelled local level antagonisms, strained national unity, and undermined socio-economic development of the locals. Two countervailing perspectives dominate the debate over constitutional design and conflict management in divided societies. Integration seeks “a single public identity coterminous with the state’s territory” whereas accommodation encourages “dual or multiple public identities” as well as “equality with institutional respect for differences” (McGarry, O’Leary and Simeon, 2008: 41). Despite both accommodation and integration see merit in federalism for managing diversity but a federation inspired by accommodation designs sub-units in such a way as to secure self-rule for minority groups in their own units while maintaining shared rule between groups at the centre, as it was applied in other countries. Therefore this study was conducted to evaluate implication of ethnic federalism in their socio-economic space of the minority groups of Aba’ala; and identify the disincentives of the local minorities following federalism. Accordingly, it will try to look to the best alternative that complements the current institutional through minimizing of exclusion criteria.



MULUWORK Kidanemariam, Mekelle University, Ethiopia

Before the 1974 uprising in Ethiopia, Hamushte Zufan was a woreda of the former Adwa Awraja. During the period of military rule, the name Hamushte Zufan was changed to Endaba Tsahma since the meaning of the word was directly related to the monarchical idea which the leaders of the Derg were distasteful. Later, after military rule has come to an end however, Endaba Tsahima was joined with adjacent Embasneyti and Endafelasi woredas to form the present Werie Lekhe wereda of the Central Zone of Tigray with its capital in Edaga Arbi. Hamushte Zufan literally means five thrones (crowns).It is derived from a designation given to the five prominent brothers and sisters in connection to their lineage to the then imperial dynasty. Their father, Azmach Teklegiorgis of Gelebeda (Tembien) is one of the heroes of the battle of Feres Mai that was waged against the Ottoman Turks and their local collaborator Bahri Negasi Yishak by Emperor Sertse Dingel in around 1569. His father Azmach Sibhat Le'ab was also one of the heroes of the war against Ahmed Gran. The five children of these important gentries crossed the Werie River from Gelebeda in Tembien towards the North West and settled around the Aba Tsahma monastery. The name of the three men and two women brothers and sisters is Aboli, Illos, Sutafe, Amete sellassie and Wolletesellassie respectively. Due to their descent from the leading houses of Tigray, Gojjam and Shoa, they wield an important social position in their new area which was later called as Hamushte Zufan. Owing to their family roots and the locational favor of their new settlement at the heart of Tigray, they built an important power center that continued to be influential for a number of years later. This power house thus, threw its weight on the unity, strength and cohesion of the Tigrean polity for longer period after. The descendants of the Hamushte Zufan were intermarried the rulers of distant and nearby ruling elites in Tigray. They claim to have descent from Emperor Seife Arad. This includes the lineage from the power centers of Gojjam through Awlanya, who is an offspring of the royal houses of Shoa and Tigray. Moreover, Azmach Teklegiorgis as a husband of Hibresemai was the son-in-law of Gebru Gembela of Enderta i.e., son of Emperor Seife Arad and the brother of Emperor Dawit. By virtue of this royal lineage, the latter rulers of Tigray such as Ras Woldesellassie(through his father Dej. Kifleyesus), Ras Mengesha Yohannes(through his mother W/ro Tekhle) etc. belong to the Haushe Zufan families. Thus, the purpose of this study would be to dig out how this genealogical line has in the first place established itself in the area by looking at the justification of the time. Moreover, the study will make an effort to understand how this genealogical establishment spread out to the nearby and distant power centers or houses of Tigray in accordance with the then maintained social and political traditions.



TSEGAY Berhe, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

This paper analyzes the changing dynamics of Tigray and Afar communities’ memory, settlement history, identity and the making of social boundaries in Ab’ala town and its surroundings. In the early 1960s, Ras Mengesha Seyoum of Tigray(r.1960-1974)designated the malaria-ridden Šekhät (otherwise Ab’ala)-then a no-man’s land to become a demographic outlet of irrigation-based settlement for the Tigray farmers. It appeared as a promising food granary to feed Endärta province, including the Afar community. The latter, owing to their pastoral livelihood, were then reluctant to settle within the evolving agricultural hamlet. In the ensuing decades, Ab’ala was hailed as a model of ethno-cultural accommodation between the Tigray and Afar communities. The 1975 Derg’s land reforms drew more Afars into Ab’ala claiming farm lands on par with the Tigray farmers. This sets the precedent toward the evolution of new dependency relationship between Afar absentee landlords and their Tigray tenants-at a time when the law officially banned tenancy. EPRDF’s federalism project after 1991 exacerbated this process. Ab’ala’s importance tremendously increased when it became the capital of zone two of Afar Region. Contrary to the TPLF’s lobbying, the Tegrayans, who then constituted an ethnic majority in the area voted to put Abala part of Afar Region rather than Tegray Region on an officially held referendum in the early 1990s. The same community regretted their decision and is now pushing for autonomy owing to grievances of ethnic discrimination/marginalization. This longitudinal survey is conducted at an interval of a decade (2006-2016). The data is collected from selected informants through purposive sampling method which has yielded three major findings. First, the two communities held contested layers of narratives partly attributed to shifting economic opportunities. Second, the quest for better shares of the pie precipitated changes in local ethnic demographics through Afar elite’s preferential urban land allocation system. Third, there is a nexus between growing urbanization and diverging perceptions of inter-ethnic relations. The study urges policy interventions towards positive engagement and more inclusive urban development, conflict management and inter-ethnic economic collaborations.



Jon ABBINK, Leiden University

‘Good governance’ has been defined as a necessary condition for (economic) ‘growth’ and ‘development’ not only in in developing world but also in the wealthier, developed nations. The global discussion on it since the 1989 World Bank report Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth is ongoing and has yielded a massive literature. ‘Good governance’ is still a contested concept of unsure definition, although it is held to be for the benefit of as many people as possible and as based on consent and commitment. While economic development has been visible in certain domains and African economies have indeed been growing in GDP, infrastructure building, export and formalizing the informal economy, the political stability and ‘inclusiveness’ of this growth have shown to be elusive. In fact, ‘good governance’ is usurped from above by internationally led ‘donors’ and national developmental narratives, imposed often via authoritarian political management techniques. The concept is thus, in policy practice, being depoliticized as a body of technocratic policy implementations by ‘experts’ directing a national economy. This paper, while recognizing the economic dynamism of Ethiopia in recent years, seeks to sociologically explore the ‘articulation’ of the ideology of good governance (in Amharic: melkam astetader) of the Ethiopian federal state with versions of proper governance, legitimate authority, just rule, accountability etc. as present in some local ethnic societies in Southern Ethiopia. Similarities and differences will be discussed so as to show that the concept of ‘good governance’ is multi-dimensional and evokes notions (and expectations) of just rule and fairness. It has ultimately moral dimensions, not primarily political-economic. The ideal of good governance was been taken up by many, in fact is being internalized, but remains ambivalent for citizens. The analysis reveals good governance to be a cultural concept, the scope, limits and appeal of which need to be constantly negotiated and reconciled in specific local settings. In the context of Ethiopia its constant reiteration as a policy aim also may have contributed to citizens’ renewed claim-making as well as their rediscovering their own (cultural) notions of proper governance.



TSEGAY Berhe, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Salt production and trading was one of the ancient activities in Africa as elsewhere in the World. The Afar lowlands (also called Danakil lowlands) were one of the very few principal sources of continued salt supplies in Africa for which long distance trade routes were serving, among others, to conduct the multi-functional rock salt(food additive, medicinal, capital, and ritual) and related much prized exchange items, such as gold and ivory, and slave trading. Global experiences revealed that revolutions were broke out, extensive and long distance trading networks were established, governments have fought and changed in the quest for salt and to ensure a smooth processes of supply, trading and taxation. This study tries to investigate the much neglected thousands of off-farm seasonal labourers whose main stay is rock salt production in Arho salt mines of Danakil Depression of Ethiopia in the period c.1872-2015. It analyses the shifting roles of the Afar and Tigrayan labourers in salt production sub-sectors in the face of deteriorating livelihood from agriculture. While the labour regime became a latent cause for emergent nationalist resentment in the wake of the 1974 Revolution, the Afars slowly but surely dictated the terms of production and trading in the subsequent periods. The advent of Mekele-Arho modern asphalt road has fundamentally changed the political economic structure of salt labour and transport regime for good.



MAHARI Yohans, Mekelle Univeraity

North Eastern Ethiopia is an ideal study area for topics related to intra-religion and inter-religious ties; mainly for studies which focus on Orthodox Christianity and Islam. This section of the Ethiopia state is historic site where both religious coexisted since the early days of their emergence. The geographic region is also known for religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Conflicts in these areas are mainly related to resources sharing and inter-community border disputes. Since recent times, however, if not specific to this area, there are new trends of change on religious identities. The kinds of trends of changes in religious identities of both religions are highly linked to history and new global dynamics than living realities.
Historically, until 1974 Ethiopia was a feudal state where the monarch and the church were joint partners of the system. Since 4th century AD until the demise of the last monarch in 1974, Ethiopia was rhetorically considered as an Orthodox Christian State. The monarch and the church had worked to marginalize Islam and other religions. The military regime the come to power after the last monarch, due to its socialist ideology and dictatorial nature, was indifferently despotic to on all religions.
The current Ethiopian constitution granted equal right and freedom to all religions. But the constitutional freedom and equality of religions have opened new competitions for dominance assertive revivalist sentiments. Since 1991 historical and global factors began fuel revivalism and antagonism in inter-religious ties. The most important changes in inter religious ties are more observable in the two largest religions - Islam and Orthodox Christianity. And such changes are manifested in religions identities which are core elements of the revivalist tendencies in both religions.
Thus, the author will present his investigation and observation on the causes, magnitude, trends and implications of religious identity changes on tolerance and coexistence between Orthodox Christianity and Islam in North Eastern Ethiopia.



YOHANNES Gebreselassie, University of Paris, Panthéon Sorbonne, France
HASSEN Muhammed, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Abeba University

This article aimed to present the translation of three rare pious endowment documents inscribed in the Wängél Zäwärq of the church of Hawzen Täklaä Haymanot(folios 98v-99r) in Eastern Tegray and in Däbra Marqos Täklaä Haymanot church at Addiabeto, (Addi Abun) in Central Tegray. The first document labeled here Hawzen Täklaä Haymanot text (herein after HTHt) contains endowments provided by Djazmatch Sahlu a local ruler under the over lordship of Djazmatch Wube Hayle Mariyam of Wube of Semen and Tegray. This endowment was provided to three churches i.e Hawzen Täklaä Haymanot, Medhane Alem and Tsegereda Mariyam and rim lands to the priests serving them. These endowments were granted in 1570 of the era of Martyrs (1850 AD) when the Metropolitan Abba Sälama was in Tigray. The document labelled here Addiabeto Däbra Marqos Täklaä Haymanot texts (hereinafter ADMTHt) contain four documents. The first (folio-xx, ADMTHt-a) is a reconfirmation document of Abunä Petros (1881-1917), Metropolitan of Ethiopia brought by Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889) to the land endowed to May Ayene by his predecessor Abba Sälama III, Metropolitan of Ethiopia (1841-1867). ADMTHt-b confirms previous endowment granted to Manbärä Marcos at Addabeto. ADMTHt-c is about the book (the book which contains these texts) was donated by the monastery of Waldba to the Mânbärä Marcos church at Addabeto. The last document in Arabic, ADMTHt-d, deals with the consecration of the church of Abba Gäbrä Mänfäs Qəddus and a rym grant to an individual. The last document is also accompanied by an Amharic text presented here as ADMTHt-d (bis).