Version classiqueVersion mobile

Bulletin de la Maison des études éthiopiennes | Décembre 1992. N°1

Jacques Bureau

Anthropological and ethno-historical research in South-West Ethiopia: the need for integrative synthesis

Jon Abbink

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

  • 1 Existing surveys on Ethiopian social studies include Mäkonnen Bishaw 1988 and Triulzi 1987.

1This brief and general survey of anthropological and historical work in Ethiopia will evaluate some of the lines of research and writing on Southern Ethiopian rural society in the last two decades. Ethiopia is a complex and varied country in its ethno-cultural diversity and its differing paces of development. This especially holds for the South-West, with its broad range of ethno-linguistic groups as compared to the larger populations in the north and centre of the country. At this occasion, I will not undertake the presumptuous task of treating in detail the achievements and shortcomings of anthro-historical research on Ethiopia. Rather it is tried to highlight some general characteristics and to identify some trends in the social and historical study of the southern part of the country at the present juncture (especially the Käfa and Omo regions). In this area, anthropologists have been particularly active in the past two decades1, and the research has received a new impetus and relevance with the development of the new MA program in Anthropology at Addis Ababa University. This article will primarily addressed to ‘insiders’, i.e., ethno-historians and anthropologists working on Ethiopia, and obviously reflects and personal view.

2The time-span to be considered was a remarkable but transient phase in Ethiopian history. The ideological orientation and the policies pursued in this era have obviously had a deep impact on Ethiopian society and culture, not only in the urban sphere, but also – and this is what we are mainly concerned with here – in the rural. The political climate has of course, in a general sense, also influenced the way research in the country was done, both that of Ethiopians and of foreigners. In addition, research itself, compared to that of the pre-1974 period, changed in emphasis and in choice of topics due to the wide-ranging social developments in the wake of post-revolutionary policy. The Dergue-WPE regime itself stimulated research on the ‘nationalities’ of Ethiopia within the framework of the Institute for the Study of Ethiopian Nationalities (see for instance, Bureau 1988). It was not principally opposed to ethnological research into minority groups. The work of the Institute was, however, largely political in nature, not easily accessible and did not engage in debate with academic research.

3The period after the Ethiopian revolution of 1974 saw a notable growth of studies on developments in the political and especially in agricultural sphere. This is understandable in view of the radical changes and ambitious schemes initiated by the authorities, such as land reform, collectivization, resettlement, development projects, etc.

  • 2 Cf. already Taddesse 1984, and also recently Shiferaw 1992a.

4Although they are not all novel2 I start with a few suggestions on the future direction that ethnological and historical studies of Ethiopian society might take, on the basis of the assumption that ethnographic and ethno-historical data-gathering will continue:

1. Method:

  • 3 However, the study of, e.g., an ethnic group only by an educated member of that group – a so-called (...)

5a) research in the fields of history and anthropology/ethnology would benefit from closer cooperation, in the sense that anthropology should become more historical and history more anthropological; b) field-research should be a long-term collaborative effort between academically trained researchers and members of the populations studied, i.e., in a kind of dialogue3. In contemporary anthropology in general, several interesting approaches have already been offered.

2. Theory:

6a) research results on the various ‘tribes’, ‘societies’ or ethnic groups should be interpreted within a more integrated framework: regionally, thematically (politics, economics, socio-cultural life, etc.) or theoretically (through comparisons), because there are much more similarities than is commonly thought, and any ‘essentialist’ notion of ethnic groups is questionable; b) explanations of the observed phenomena and developments should be strived for with much more reference to current theorizing in anthropology and history. This, in short, amounts to a call for more integration of research efforts in the data-gathering phase (preferably, collaboration of, e.g., ethnologists, sociologists, geographers, agronomists, and the people studied) and in the writing and reporting phase. Apart from having theoretical advantages, such an approach may also more easily allow the formulation of conditions for successful socio-cultural and economic development in Ethiopia.

3. Themes:

7a) study of the origins, forms and development of contact-situations between groups, like, e.g. the gäbbar-system (for a good example, see McClellan 1988), forms of political dispute-settlement, modern political/ethnic organizations and their ‘constituency’; b) study of trans-group religious and ritual complexes; c) comparative study of ecology and social organization of groups, which may show many structural similarities; d) social mobility: the patterns of trans-regional movement of people in an economic, social or political sense.

2. The anthropological point of view: theory and practice

8Anthropology is a trans-cultural, comparative study of humans and their social behaviour in the widest sense. At its basis lies a systematic, holistic attention for the constitution of socio-cultural behaviour and its natural and societal preconditions. The research focus is on the relationship between tacit cultural assumptions, social structure and human agency. An important aim is that of describing, reconstruction and explaining the workings of culturally constituted views and social practices. In this venture, one may search for the expression of cultural specifics, looking for the different ways in which people have created solutions to the classic problems of social life, or emphasize the common structural elements in the cultural functioning of humans (cf. Sperber 1985: 2). This points to the philosophical roots of anthropology: the interest in problems of universality and of divergence in culture, whereby the focus on ‘tribes’ or ethnic groups or sub-cultures is ultimately not an end in itself but a means to be able to answer wider questions. In recent decades, anthropological work has also been ‘historicized’: culture and society are embedded in history and have to be understood as such (cf. Sahlins 1985: vii).

9Traditionally, anthropologists have emphasized the study of specific, non-western cultural contexts as they play a role in the conditioning of human behaviour. The anthropological perspective has, however, now been generalized, and is being applied to behaviour in any type of society.

  • 4 See Jensen 1959, Haberland 1963, Straube 1963.

10In Ethiopia, professional anthropologists have been studying culture and society on a more intensive level only since the late 1950s. Almost inevitably, the initial emphasis was on ethnography, the description of specific customs, cultures and ways of life. There was also an aspect of ‘salvage ethnography’ (e.g. in the valuable work of the Frobenius Institute research team4).

11Ethiopia being a multi-ethnic, intricately structured society with notably different and often contesting identities, anthropology has often presented its results in a fairly delineated form, focused on a certain group, region or institution, and usually in a ‘monographic’ fashion. A theoretical emphasis on ‘bounded ethnic units’ for instance, was dominant in the 1950s and early 1960s, not only in southern Ethiopian ethnology but in anthropology in general. Ethnography was concerned with ‘one group’ at a time. This mono-ethnic discourse has now, however, largely been abandoned: while an ethnic group setting may provide the unit of observation, it is certainly no longer the unit of analysis.

12There is nothing against the ethnographic approach in itself: it will always be a necessary, even indispensable, condition of research. The noted American anthropologist G.P. Murdock once even remarked that ethnography, in the midst of all theoretical uncertainty, has proved to be the “crowning glory” of the discipline. But when no effort is made to place findings in a somewhat broader view, to advance bold new ideas and speculations, to point at revealing parallels, or to connect the ‘facts’ with wider processes of, e.g., state and collective identity formation, economic and political change and of mutual cultural cross-linkages, anthropology will not have lived up to its promise, which is to reach a wider understanding of social and cultural processes. Such an understanding will be grounded in comparisons in space and time (cf. Holy 1987). It will also require a greater deal of epistemological reflection on the practicing of anthropology, and re-establish the link with philosophical and psychological questions. One of the current challenges of Ethiopian ethnology and ethno-history is to not only pay lip-service to need for this wider comparative endeavour but to actually practice it.

3. Lines of research on South-Western Ethiopia: a brief look

  • 5 It has to be noted that in the bibliography no references to linguistics were included, although th (...)

13Ethiopian ethnology/anthropology falls within the scope of what is always called ‘Ethiopian Studies’. This concept may seem unambiguous: all studies concerned with the society, history, religions, cultures, languages, literary traditions, and even natural habitats of the country called Ethiopia. As such, Ethiopian studies of course comprise much more than will be touched upon in this article. Indeed, if one looks at recent bibliographies on Ethiopian studies (e.g., Abbink 1990b), one notes that the majority of published work is on the ‘general Ethiopian’ subjects (e.g., agriculture, politics, political and economic history, ethno-regional conflicts, international relations, demography, economic developments, are, high religions, religious texts, education, health-care)5, and a much smaller part specifically on ‘ethnology’ and ‘ethnic groups’. However, this latter work is often less repetitive and more original than that on the more general subjects.

  • 6 This is a minimum number. The list is not exhaustive (e.g., many AAU theses have not yet been count (...)
  • 7 In linguistics, however, most of them have been studied.

14In the Bibliography (Abbink 1990b) and in the Supplement to it on which work is now in progress, I count 629 items on Ethnology published since 1974.6 Of these, 198 (which is ca. 1 in 3) deal with South-West Ethiopia (i.e. roughly the Käfa and North and South Omo Regions, with a few groups crossing the boundary with another region). On virtually all the different groups found in these areas some study (in anthropology and ethno-history) has been published. In Käfa: on the Majangir, Käfa-Gonga, Bench, Sheko, Shekatcho, Dizzu, Tishana-Me’en, Dizi, and Suri. In North Omo: on the Wolayta, Gamo, Dorze, Konta, Oida, Galila, Gofa, Basketto, Dime, Maale, Borodda, Gawwada. In South Omo and its environs: on the Hamar (and Banna and Bashada), Tsamai, Nyangatom, Dassanetch, Muguji, Burji, Konso, Mursi, Bodi-Me’en, Koegu-Kwegu, Ari, Shangama, Zala, and Zayse (But there are still groups ‘not covered’7, e.g., the Kullo, the Ch’ara, the Kara, the Arbore, the Olam, and various small Omotic-speaking groups like Zargulla or Gidole, and others have been neglected since the pioneering work of the Frobenius Institute team in the 1950s).

  • 8 In order of magnitude.

15If we look at the subjects which are most popular in the study of these South-western groups, we see that the larger part of work has been done on8 1. Social structure and social organization, 2. (ethno-)history, 3. general surveys and monographs on a group, 4. religion, world-view, magic, cosmology, etc., 5. oral traditions, 6. politics (traditional and modern), 7. cultural habits and customs, and 8. socio-economic organization. Surprisingly little has been done on ethnic relations, inter-ethnic war and conflict, gender studies, material culture, demography and on cognitive anthropology: subjects which usually demand some comparative and theoretical perspective.

16The disciplines which have, next to linguistics, contributed most to the study of South-West Ethiopia are history and anthropology.

a. History

17Ethiopia is fortunate in having an excellent centre for historical research in the Department of History of Addis Ababa University. In the past two decades, a series of remarkable studies by staff and by students (in their BA and MA theses) has been produced, a growing number of them on aspects of Southern Ethiopian society. Increasingly, the themes of the theses have been concerned with ‘ethno-history’, i.e. history from a local and/or indigenous view (cf. Shiferaw 1992b). This has either resulted in very valuable additions to what was already known in outline from written documents or traditions from dominant groups, or in new and more profound views on historical developments constructed from the statements of local informants. This second line of research evokes the question of how to capture real alternative modes of ‘history’ and group experience, even when they may seem to have no direct relevance for the ‘public record’, i.e. the common historiography denominator of the overarching state. Some BA and MA theses of history students have made significant advances in this field, although more theoretical elaborations of the material would sometimes be welcome.

18For both foreigners and Ethiopians it seems to me that the Ethiopian archival material seems not to have been fully utilized, perhaps partly because of restrictions on the use of the archives, and the lack of knowledge of what is actually in them. About their richness, however, there can be no doubt. As an example of what can be achieved in integrating archival material and local oral history, one might mention the recent brilliant study by John Lamphear on the Turkana (1992).

19But not only the methods of oral and archival-written history can be utilized. Also the infusion of social theory, e.g., on kinship and social organization, cultural ecology, processes of hierarchisation and/or social inequality, political organization and the fast-growing field of cognition and culture, is directly useful for interpreting historical processes.

20A milestone in the study of Ethiopian social history, seeking a rapprochement between history and anthropology was – and still is – Donham & James’s book of 1986. This is a rich and stimulating collective work centred on the notion of ‘frontier’, in a geographical and socio-cultural sense. The book marks a fruitful interdisciplinary outlook in Ethiopian studies. Two recent articles by Taddesse Tamrat (1988a and 1988b) are in the same line, offering an interesting and remarkable contribution to Ethiopian ethno-history.

b. Anthropology

21As the MA programme in anthropology at A.A.U. is only two years old, the institutional context for the practising of anthropology in Ethiopia has been less important than that of history. Most of the past research was also carried out by foreign researchers. The amount of work done by them is substantial. The Ethiopian component of anthro-historical investigations will nevertheless steadily increase, hopefully also on the applied side.

22An important programme envisaged in 1983 by the then director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies was the Ethnographic Survey of Ethiopia. Although the program was meant to develop future Ethiopian research potential, several foreign researchers have tuned in to this programme and contributed notably to filling the, what have been called, ‘gaps of knowledge’ in the ethnology of Ethiopia.

23Specifically looking at the work on the South-West, we see that it has been characterized by good empirical ethnography and by a variety of theoretical frameworks.

4. South-western Ethiopia as a field for theoretical contributions in anthropology/ethnology

24Social anthropology, as a scientific discipline of about a hundred years old, has been built upon ethnographical material from many areas of the world. Some of these areas have had an extraordinary share in its ‘theory-building’: think of the data of Australian Aboriginal societies on theories of kinship and of primitive religion, the Nilotic (Nuer-Dinka-Shilluk) data on political anthropology (segmentary lineage systems, divine kingship), the West African material on theories of social and economic organization, ‘primitive’ religion or of ‘tribal’ art, the Papua New Guinea data on the development of cultural ecology, etc. But how has Ethiopian case material figured in general anthropological thinking? One would expect that it might have played a substantial role, the country being a complex array of fascination and diverse but inter-connected natural habitats, modes of subsistence, societal types, political and religious traditions (ranging from monotheism to ‘tribal’ beliefs). However, the opposite is true. Perhaps partly because of the fact that, as Wendy James has suggested in her perceptive article (1990), the Western study of Ethiopia was long dominated by an ‘imperial’ tradition – attention was paid chiefly to the particulars of Highland culture. One must also note that for foreign visitors it was simply easier to move in the central domains of the existing state. But indeed, in the Western historical imagination, Ethiopia was often seen as a remote part of the Christian realm, dominating or overshadowing societies or people in its vicinity. In addition, Ethiopia, not being colonized, also escaped the impact of a Western style of colonial administration and of a ‘hegemonic’ written discourse (including partly the academic one) on its native peoples/tribes. In the case of Kenya or of Sudan, for instance, it is very obvious that the colonial outlook and the demands of military and civil administration often created ‘tribes’ or ethnic groups as units and drew boundaries between them which were not there before. In this respect, we can note the difference between the situation of ethnology in Eritrea and Ethiopia before World War Two: the Italian colonial administration in Eritrea stimulated ethnological researches on ‘native societies’ (like they did on geography and natural resources), while in Ethiopia things moved slower. There was of course pioneering research by European and Italian researchers (Cerulli, Conti Rossini, Moreno). But during the Italian occupation in the 1930s there was an upsurge of social (and other) research in the country, indeed surprising in its quantity given the brief span of time.

  • 9 Cf. Bureau 1975, Turton 1983.
  • 10 Cf. Triulzi 1987: 219-220.

25The fact of Ethiopia being ‘underrepresented’ in the comparative study of society and culture is thus partly the result of the old tendency – already present in early European historiography on the country – to interpret its history and societies as unique and relatively incomparable. This outlook began to broaden in the era of the western traveller-scientists, especially the late 19th century, when many other language groups and cultural traditions were ‘discovered’ (d’Abbadie, etc.9). But well into the 20th century, much of the historiography remained captive of the ‘highland bias’10, which led to relative neglect of those groups which were seen as peripheral to it in terms of power structure and culture.

26In later years, some topics in South-West Ethiopian socio-historical studies have been placed in a wider theoretical perspective, and made original points of wider significance which sometimes received attention from outside the circle of Ethiopianist scholars. This usually happened on the basis of the ethnographic uniqueness of the data, not (yet) on that of systematic comparison, except in the case of a) and b). A brief overview follows.

27a) The study of age-group organization. After Asmarom Legesse’s influential work (1973), the Boran, Sidama, and Konso age-systems have been treated in, for instance, the important comparative monographs of F.H. Stewart (1978) and of B. Bernardi (1986).

28b) Social division of labour and craft organization. David Todd (1977) has addressed the question of the origins of ‘castes’ in Ethiopia. In 1990, the German ethnologist H. Amborn published a major theoretical work dealing with the question or societal differentiation and craftsmanship, based on Burji and Konso data.

29c) In the field of ‘ethnic warfare’ and socio-cultural ecology, interesting work has been done by Fukui and Turton (1979), although the theoretical ambitions of this book (see their Introduction) were limited – while factors like resource competition and cultural values related to war were referred to, the emphasis was on ethnographic description. Later articles by Fukui (1988) and Turton (1985, 1991) also address socio-ecological issues.

30d) In linguistic and cognitive anthropology, South-West Ethiopian material has been used by U. Almagor on the Dassanetch (1985), I. Strecker and J. Lydall on the Hamar (1978, 1979, 1988), and S. Tornay on the Nyangatom (1978, 1982). Important is also Fukui’s work on the Bodi-Me’en (1979, and especially his (Japanese) article, 1988b), Sperber’s article on the Dorze (1975), and Turton & Ruggles’s article (1978) on Mursi ‘time-reckoning’.

31e) On social organisation, U. Almagor (1983, 1989) has put forward original insights on the basis of Dassanetch data (moiety system, age organization), while Tornay offered a major contribution with his study of the Nyangatom (1989a). One might also note Hallpike on the notion of reciprocity (1975).

32f) On political anthropology, we have studies of the political dynamics of Gamo societies by several French scholars who worked in the area almost simultaneously: Abélès (1981, 1985), Bureau (1978, 1981) and Sperber (1974). This work lends itself for comparative study, also with Wolayta data. Todd has written on the Dime (1978), Tornay on the Nyangatom (1989a). Strecker has recently offered an interpretation of Hamar political discourse which has the potential for comparative use (1990). A more general study reflection on ethno-political data of Southern Käfa is Abbink 1991.

33g) in economic anthropology, one has to point to the already mentioned work by Donham (1981, 1985) on the Maale, whose production system and social organization are interpreted with the help of neo-Marxist theory. This was later elaborated in his ambitious theoretical monograph of 1990.

34Surveying the relationship between case material and theory-building in anthropology/history in general, one must conclude that South-West Ethiopian material has, in the past few decades, not been utilized on a large scale in theorizing, despite the fact that many invaluable new insights on general questions have been contributed.

35The strength of anthropology and ethno-history has been the clarifying of local contexts – in their own right, or as they relate to larger politico-economic wholes. It is here that the practical relevance of the discipline stands out most clearly. In this respect, anthropology will become increasingly important in the field of Ethiopian studies. However, this is not to say that its theoretical role and potential is unimportant.

5. Recent theoretical approaches and Ethiopian social studies

  • 11 The works of all these authors will be mentioned here.

36In recent years, several new paradigms or research programs have been emerging in anthropology: evolutionary human biology (M. Borgerhof Mulder11, L. Betzig, N. Chagnon’s recent work), ‘practice’ theory (following P. Bourdieu), symbolism and discourse analysis, gender studies/feminist anthropology (J. Collier & S. Yanagisako, M. Strather, F. Errington & D. Gewertz, M. di Leonardi). Also, much work subsumed under the labels ‘experimental’ or ‘post-modern’ has been produced, especially in the last ten years (S. Tyler, G. Marcus, J. Clifford, R. Rosaldo, S. Feld, many others). All this has produced a vast array of rather specialized, often confusing, but also exciting work. Alongside this, the more traditional paradigms like the interpretive approach (Geertz), cultural materialism (Harris) and symbolic anthropology have maintained their core of practitioners. Neo-marxist anthropology, however, seems to be on the wane.

37In most of this new work, Ethiopian material does not specifically appear. Except when problems of war, famine, environmental problems etc. are discussed, Ethiopia and other countries of the Horn figure prominently, e.g., in the field of political economy, social history, disaster analysis, and development studies. The most interesting contributions here are those which take a more long-term view of developments: e.g., the historical-ecological studies such as those found in Johnson and Anderson (1988), or McCann (1986).

  • 12 This book is unfortunately not yet available in a commercial edition.

38Neither has much of this new theorizing been put to use in Ethiopian Studies itself, although there are exceptions (again, focusing only on the South-West): Donham’s interesting book History, Power, Ideology (1990), an effort to develop (or to salvage) the neo-Marxist approach for anthropology, on the basis of Maale ethnographic material. Few books of this scope have been emerging from scholars who did their fieldwork in Ethiopia (See also his 1985 monograph); Strecker’s stimulating study (1988) of Hamar ritual and discourse, in the framework of ‘politeness theory’. This theory (originally formulated by socio-linguists Brown & Levinson) has the potential of wide applicability and of forming the basis of a more general theory of social life; Tornay’s innovative study (1989a), describing a new political form and the native theory behind it: the Nyangatom generational system. It is set in a comparative perspective by looking at the systems of related peoples in the area, like the Toposa and Turkana12; Abélès’s book on politics (1981); Amborn’s work (1990) on social differentiation, inequality and division of labour; various articles (Abbink 1990a; Tornay 1986, 1987, 1989b, 1991) taking inspiration, respectively, from historical anthropology (E. Wolf), comparative religion and the discussions on individuality and representations of the ‘other’.

6. Toward synthesis

39When a plea is made to extend the ‘monographic perspective’ (see section 2) to other, neighbouring groups or overarching cultural complexes, this is indeed easier said than done. There are of course institutional and time limitations on the researchers and students, especially in Ethiopia. My point is therefore a general one, a kind of ideal which, in certain cases, might be strived for. It might perhaps be illustrated with reference to research done by the present author on the Tishana-Me’en and Suri (Surma) peoples of South Käfa, which also falls short of the ideal: I do not claim to have realized the work of systematic trans-culture or trans-group comparison and integrative synthesis. But I may perhaps briefly indicate along which lines this might be done. The starting point is the article on the Me’en burial ritual (Abbink 1990b).

40The rituals around death and burial are well-studied in anthropology, and are eminently suited for wider contextualization and comparison. I have not (yet) done this, although a first attempt at theoretical interpretation was made. But the ethnographic analysis as it stands is insufficient: the data and the interpretation only get its full meaning when the Tishana-Me’en ritual is seen as one particular variation of the ritual of burial as a structural ‘model’ present among the Ethiopian ‘Surmic’ groups (Suri, Mursi, Bodi), among the Sudanese Surmic groups (Didinga and Murle), as well as among Dizi and Bench pople. Reason: the first five (Surmic-speaking) groups, because of their historic-cultural similarity, will show ‘transformations’ of an underlying common ritual basis, while those of the last two (Omotic-speaking) groups will appear to have significantly influenced the Me’en form of it (the forms of those Omotic-speaking groups themselves also have notable similarities). The basic form of the Me’en funeral ritual is shared with the Bodi and Suri (e.g., the killing of cattle with stone, the symbolic use of various parts of the cattle body, the composition of the parties of mourners/participants, the position of the grave and the corpse, the style or mourning dances and songs). In other respects, however, the Tishana have definitely altered the structure or the ‘script’ of the ritual, e.g. by taking over certain musical instruments played during the ritual, by altering the sequence of performative acts, by the use of certain plants, by following certain ‘new’ taboos also found in Dizi or Bench ritual. These alterations come as a result of differences in ecological and social organization not to be explicated here, but which are in some measure predictable from these changed circumstances. They also can illustrate patterns of ‘ethnic change’ actually in progress. This, incidentally, also shows that the concept of ‘Ethiopian Studies’ is a relative one: developments in the border areas (Sudan, Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia) form part of the unit of analysis (cf. section 2, p. 5).

41The challenge for comparative anthropologists is thus to explain how and why such transformations have taken place. For the Suri and Me’en case this would perhaps yield interesting results, reflecting the different paces and patterns of adaptation of these two groups – with a fairly common historical-cultural basis – to varying environments, and also showing an autonomous cultural-ideational element, a changing emphasis of ‘meaning-creation’ on the basis of symbols and ritual notions taken over from neighbouring groups. In social anthropology there are several related examples of such a more theoretically informed approach, e.g., Fredrick Barth in his study of Mountain Ok cosmologies in Papua New Guinea (Barth 1987), and, in the sphere of social organisation, Peter Rivière’s book on Guyana societies (1982).

42Certain other fields of regional comparison related to South-West Ethiopian groups thus immediately suggest themselves: the study of ritual and leadership (sometimes called ‘priesthood’, e.g., by Turton describing the Mursi komoru) forms of divination (like entrails-reading), cosmological notions, forms of traditional healing and ethno-botany.

43Another interesting field is that of bride wealth systems and exchange, which are known to be important in the Ethiopian South-West. We have a good example here in the work of Adam Kuper on Southern Africa (Kuper 1982).

44A last example which suggests itself because of the wealth of case studies and theoretical ideas is that of inter-ethnic relations in the south-West: the production and crossing of ‘political’ boundaries between groups. This subject has acquired an urgency today because of the serious deterioration of relations and increased demographic-environmental vulnerability of the area as a whole. For instance, the various peoples in the Käfa-South Omo border area – and extending into Southern Ilubabor (Anuak) and Sudan (Balé, Toposa, Murle, Turkana) – form part of a regional whole connected through basic political-ecological and historic-cultural similarities. Not enough is known on traditional dispute settlement mechanisms which existed, and on which they were dependent. Neither known is the precise how-and-why of breakdown in the ethno-system, apart from the disturbed arms balance and increased resource competitions.

45Another way to advance comparative study and gain trans-group insights is to focus on aspects of the natural environment and see how they have been incorporated into socio-cultural systems: e.g., how is enset-cultivation organized and culturally given meaning across the South-Western region, from Dizi up to Wolayta. An American research project in progress is going to address this question. Also, technology could be a focus: what are the forms and varieties of use of tools, and how does their differential use affect economic productivity, social organization or culture? Types of modes of subsistence, e.g. hunting-gathering, shifting cultivation or agro-pastoralism has neither been sufficiently compared, nor the possible oscillation between various types. Material culture in general has been strangely neglected in recent decades: the lead provided by the Frobenius Institute researchers of the 1950s has not been followed up. In the North Omo Region, an issue of long-standing attention has been that of political traditions of royalty and leadership (in the Omotic-speaking realm). Such work of comparison could be extended to other topic, ritual complexes and oral traditions.

46As the modern political and economic developments in the post Dergue-WPE era yield a new public discourse on history, culture and ethnic difference, old questions will be reformulated and new research emphases will emerge. What seems clear after two decades of social and historical research on the South-West is that future work will, in more theoretically sophisticated ways, investigate the lines of interdependence and cultural contacts which have made the various groups into what they are.


Abbink, J., 1983, “Reassessing urgent research in Ethiopia”, Bulletin of the International Committee on Urgent anthropological and Ethnological Research, 25 39-49.

Abbink, J., 1990a, “Tribal formation on the Ethiopian fringe: toward a history of ‘Tishana’”, Northeast African Studies, 11(2-3): 74-86.

Abbink, J., 1990b, Ethiopian Society and History. A Bibliography on Ethiopian Studies 1957-1990, Leiden, African Studies Center.

Abbink, J., 1990c, “The final rite: burial among the Me’en of South-Western Ethiopia”, in R. Pankhurst et al., eds., Proceedings of the First National Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, April 1991, Addis Ababa, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, 65-75.

Abbink, J., 1991, “The deconstruction of ‘tribe’: ethnicity and politics in Southwesten Ethiopia”, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 24: 1-21.

Abbink, J., 1992, “An ethno-historical perspective on Me’en territorial organization (South-West Ethiopia)”, Anthropos, 86 (4-6): 351-364.

Abélès, M., 1981, Le Lieu du Politique, Paris, Société d’Ethnographie.

Abélès, M., 1985, « Hiérarchie, pouvoir, compétence. Aînesse et générations à Ochollo (Éthiopie méridionale) », in M. Abélès & C. Collard, eds., Âge, Pouvoir et Société en Afrique Noire, Paris, Centre National des Lettres & Karthala / Montréal, Presses Universitaires de Montréal, 122-130.

Almagor, U., 1983, “Alternation endogamy in the Dassanetch generation-set system”, Ethnology, 22(2): 93-108.

Almagor, U., 1985, “Colors that and clash: an explication of meaning in a pastoral society”, Research in Anthropology and Aesthetics, 5: 49-73.

Almagor, U., 1989, “The dialectic of generation moieties in an East African society”, in D. Maybury-Lewis & U. Almagor, eds., The Attraction of Opposites. Thought and society in the Dualistic Mode, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 143-170.

Amborn, H., 1990, Differenzierung und Integration. Vergleichende Unter-suchungen zu Spezialisten und Handwerkern in Süd-Äthiopischen Agrargesellschafte, München, Trickster Verlag.

Asmarom Legesse, 1973, Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society, New York/ London, The Free Press/Collier MacMillan.

Asmarom Legesse, 1987, Cosmologies in the Making, Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press.

Bernardi, B., 1985, Age-Class Systems: Social Institutions and Polities based on Age, Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press.

Bureau, J., 1975, « Les voyageurs européens dans le Sud-Ouest éthiopien (1890-1910) », Revue française d’Histoire d’Outre-mer, 62(229): 594-618.

Bureau, J., 1978, « Étude diachronique de deux titres gamo », Cahiers d’Études africaines, 71: 279-291.

Bureau, J., 1981, Les Gamo d’Éthiopie. Étude du système politique, Paris, Société d’Ethnographie.

Bureau, J., 1988, « À propos de l’inventaire des nationalités éthiopiennes de l’ISEN », paper for the 10th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Sugust 1988 (Forthcoming in the Proceedings).

Donham, D.L., 1981, “Beyond the domestic mode of production”, Man, (N.S.) 16(4): 515-541.

Donham, D.L., 1985, Work and power in Maale, Ethiopia, Ann Arbor, UMI Research Press.

Donham, D.L., 1986, “Old Abyssinia and the new Ethiopian empire: themes in social history”, in D.L. Donham & W. James, eds., The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia, Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press, 3-48.

Donham, D.L., 1990, History, Power, Ideology. Central Issues in Marxism and Anthropology, Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press/Paris, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.

Donham, D.L. & W. James, eds., 1986, The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia, Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press.

Errington F. & D. Gewertz, 1987, Cultural Alternatives and a Feminist Anthropology, Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press.

Fukui, K., 1979, “Cattle colour symbolism and inter-tribal homicide among the Bodi”, in K. Fukui & D. Turton, eds., Warfare among East African Herders, Osaka, National Museum of Ethnology, 147-177.

Fukui, K., 1988a, “The religious and kinship ideology of military expansion among the Bodi (Mela)”, in Taddese Beyene, ed., Proceedings of the VIIIth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa 1984, Addis Ababa, Institute of Ethiopian Studies/Huntingdon, ELM Publications, vol. I, 785-792.

Fukui, K., 1988b, “Cultural device for the diversified selection of animal coat-colour-folk genetics among the Bodi of Southwest Ethiopia”, in Report of the Society for Researchers of Native Livestock, 12: 1-46 [in Japanese, with English summary].

Fukui, K. & D. Turton, eds., Warfare among East African Herders, Osaka, National Museum of Ethnology.

Haberland, E., 1963, Galla Südäthiopiens, Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer.

Hallpile, C., 1975, “Two types of reciprocity”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 17(1): 113-119.

Holy, L., ed., 1987, Comparative Anthropology, Oxford, Basil Backwell.

James, W., 1990, “Kings, commoners, and the ethnographic imagination in Sudan and Ethiopia”, in R. Fardon, ed., Localizing Strategies. Regional Traditions of Ethnographic Writing, Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press/Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press, 96-136.

Jensen, A.E., ed., 1959, Altvölker Südäthiopiens, Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer.

Johnson, D.H. & D.W. Anderson, eds., 1988, The Ecology of Survival. Case Studies of Northeast African History, London, Crook Academic Publishing.

Lamphear, J., 1992, The Scattering Time. Turkana Responses to British colonial Rule, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Lydall, J., 1978, « Le symbolisme dans le rituel hamar (Éthiopie) », in S. Tornay, ed., Voir et nommer les couleurs, Paris/Nanterre, Labethno/Université de Paris X, 553-580.

Lydall, J. & I. Strecker, 1979, The Hamar of Southern Ethiopia, Hohenschäftlarn, K. Renner Verlag, 3 volumes.

Kuper, A., 1982, Wives for Cattle. Bridewealth and Marriage in Southern Africa, London/Boston /Henley, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Makonnen Bishaw, 1988, “Current status and future directions of sociocultural research in Ethiopia”, in R. Pankhurst & Taddese Beyene, eds., Silver Jubilee Anniversary of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Proceedings of the Symposium, Addis Ababa, November 24-26, 1988, Addis Ababa, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, 105-119.

McClellan, C.W., 1988, State Formation and National Integration: Gedeo and the Ethiopian Empire, 1895-1935, East Lansing, African Studies Center/Michigan State University.

Rivière, P., 1992, Individual and Society in Guyana: a Comparative Study of Amerindian Social Organization, Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press.

Sahlins, M., 1985, Islands of History, London/New York, Tavistock.

Shiferaw Bekele, 1992a, “Anthropology and history at Addis Ababa University: the need for collaboration”, Sociology-Ethnology Bulletin, 1(2): 98-101.

Shiferaw Bekele, 1992b, “Bibliography of senior essays of the Department of History, Addis Ababa University, on ethno-history and related topics”, Sociology-Ethnology Bulletin, 1(2): 102-110.

Sperber, D., 1974, « La notion d’aînesse et ses paradoxes chez les Dorzé d’Éthiopie », Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie, 56.

Sperber, D., 1975, « Pourquoi les animaux parfaits, les hybrides et les monstres sont-ils bons à penser symboliquement ? », L’Homme, 15(2): 5-34.

Sperber, D., 1985, On Anthropological Knowledge, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press/Paris, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.

Steward, F.H., 1978, Fundamentals of Age-Group Systems, London/New York, Academic Press.

Steward, H., ed., 1963, Westkuschitische Völker Äthiopiens, Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer.

Strecker, I., 1988, The Social Practice of Symbolisation. An Anthropological Analysis, London, Athlone Press.

Strecker, I., 1990, “Political discourse among the Hamar”, in R. Pankhurst et al., eds., Proceedings of the First National Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, April 1991, Addis Ababa, Institute of Ethiopia Studies, 39-48.

Taddesse Tamrat, 1984, “Research priorities”, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Seminar of the Department of History, Addis Ababa, Department of History/Addis Ababa University, 64-69.

Taddesse Tamrat, 1988a, “Processes of ethnic interaction and integration in Ethiopian history: the case of the Agäw”, Journal of African History, 29(1): 5-18.

Taddesse Tamrat, 1988b, “Ethnic interaction and integration in Ethiopian history: the case of the Gafat”, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 21: 121-154.

Todd, D., 1977, “Caste in Africa?”, Africa, 47(4): 398-412.

Todd, D., 1978, “Aspects of chieftainship in Dimam, South West Ethiopia”, Cahiers d’Études africaines, 71: 311-322.

Tornay, S., 1978, « De la perception des couleurs à l’apperception symbolique du monde. Réflexions sur une conception cognitive du symbolisme », Communications, 29: 119-140.

Tornay, S., 1982, « La dimension cognitive dans la démarche ethnographique », in P. Huber, ed., Feldforschung/Enquête sur le Terrain. Methoden und Erfahrunge/Approches et Expériences. Studia Ethnographica Friburgiensia, 9, Freiburg, Universitätsverlag Freiburg, 85-111.

Tornay, S., 1986, « Une Afrique démasquée. Initiation et sacrifice chez les pasteurs d’Afrique Orientale », in P. Centlivres & J. Hinard, eds., Les Rites de passage aujourd’hui. Actes du colloque de Neuchätel, Lausanne, Éditions L’Age d’Homme, 69-92.

Tornay, S., 1987, « Vivre en société générationnelle : représentations de soi, des autres et des institutions dans une société nilotique », in J. Kellerhals & L. d’Épinay, eds., La Représentation de soi. Études de Sociologie et Ethnologie, Genève, Université de Genève/Département de Sociologie, 145-165.

Tornay, S., 1989a, Un Système générationnel. Les Nyangatom de l’Éthiopie du Sud-ouest et les peuples apparentées, Paris/Nanterre, Labethno, Université de Paris X, 2 volumes.

Tornay, S., 1989b, « Statut individuel et émergence de l’homme exemplaire dans une société sans chef », in Singularités. Textes pour E. de Dampierre, Paris, Plon, 49-63.

Tornay, S., 1991, « Photographie et traitement d’autrui : réflexions d’un ethnographe », L’Ethnographie, 87(1): 97-118.

Triulzi, A., 1988, « La frontiera : note su alcuni recenti pubblicazioni di antropologia e storia etiopica », Rassegna di Studi Etiopici, 31: 219-235.

Turton, D., 1983, “Exploration in the Lower Omo Valley of Southwestern Ethiopia between 1890 and 1910”, in M. Genoino Caravaglios, ed., L’Africa ai Tempi di Daniele Comboni, Roma, Istituto Italo-Africano, 202-216.

Turton, D., 1985, “Mursi response to drought. Some lessons for relief and rehabilitation”, African Affairs, 84: 331-346.

Turton, D., 1991, “Warfare, vulnerability and survival. A case from Southwestern Ethiopia”, Disasters, 15(3): 254-264.

Turton, D. & C. Ruggles, 1978, “Agreeing to disagree. The measurement of duration in a Southwest Ethiopia community”, Current Anthropology, 19(3): 585-600.


1 Existing surveys on Ethiopian social studies include Mäkonnen Bishaw 1988 and Triulzi 1987.

2 Cf. already Taddesse 1984, and also recently Shiferaw 1992a.

3 However, the study of, e.g., an ethnic group only by an educated member of that group – a so-called ‘insider’ – will not always yield the desired results.

4 See Jensen 1959, Haberland 1963, Straube 1963.

5 It has to be noted that in the bibliography no references to linguistics were included, although this is of course a blooming field of Ethiopian studies.

6 This is a minimum number. The list is not exhaustive (e.g., many AAU theses have not yet been counted), but it still gives a representative overview of what has been done in the past two decades.

7 In linguistics, however, most of them have been studied.

8 In order of magnitude.

9 Cf. Bureau 1975, Turton 1983.

10 Cf. Triulzi 1987: 219-220.

11 The works of all these authors will be mentioned here.

12 This book is unfortunately not yet available in a commercial edition.


Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 1992

Conditions d’utilisation :

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search