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Grass-roots Justice in Ethiopia

Alula Pankhurst
Getachew Assefa


Texte intégral

  • 1 AA = Addis Ababa, AF = Afar, AM = Amhara, AR = Argobba, BE = Berta, DA = Dawro, HA = Harari, NU = N (...)

Abatachen1 (AM)

Literally ‘our father’, title given to the Wofa

Abbo Gereb (TI)

System of dispute settlement managed by a council of elders, which is practiced in Rayya and Wajirat districts of southern Tigray, mostly used to resolve conflicts that arise between the Tigreyans and the neighboring Afar people. The word Abbo-Gereb means father of the river Gerewo

Aboch (HA)

Men’s Afocha

Abwaan (SO)

Person with an extraordinary capacity of solving problems and considered to be very intelligent, who serves as an advisor to the Xeerbeegti

Aadaa (OR)

Custom, tradition

Ada (HA)

Custom, tradition

Adis gebiwoch (AM)

Newcomers seeking justice at the wofa’s court

Affini (SI)

Common word in debate or dispute conversations among the Sidama which means ‘have you heard what some one has said or have you understood’

Afocha (HA)

Neighbourhood, association for mutual assistance.

Agafari (AM)

Gatekeeper, assistant at the wofa’s court

Akako (SI)

The ancestral spirit of the leader of the Hollo clan

Al-Berik (SH)

Traditional pot used for investigating a crime.

Arraba (AF)


Ateetee (OR)

Women’s spirit cult

Ayido (SH)


Baklo (AF)

kid of a goat

Balagara (AM)


Bayito (TI)

System of administration and justice in Tigray that was based on participation of the people practiced during the days of struggle of TPLF against the central government

Bedel (AM)

Harm, injury

Beeldaajiye (SO)

Clan leader who is selected from the members of certain families, who are hereditarily selected as clan leaders

Bit (NU)


Bir (NU)

Letting the blood of the slain from the slayer

Burra (SH)

Type of ‘first instance’ court presided by one judge

Buryan (NU)

Asistant to the gaat tutni

Cieng (NU)

Local units of social identification

Ciekjaaka (NU)

‘Ghost’ wife

Cuong (NU)

To be on the right

Gadaa (OR)

Age grading institution of the Oromo that has a complex system of administration, law making and dispute settlement.

Damina (HA)

To see blood and decide; to consider grievances and decide on the deserved judgement.

Debo (OR, AM, SH)

Traditional collaboration system for economic activities

Dagn Abbo Shera (TI)

Group of people selected and assigned to carry out the duties of protecting grazing area and dealing with disputes that are related to the areas

Dem Adirq (AM)

Literally ‘blood dryers’, spiritual leaders involved in reconciliation

Demer (ΤΙ)

Council of elders of ‘isira amba’ of Wajirat

Dej teniwoch (AM)

Those seeking justice at the wofa’s court

Dia (SO)


Dil (NU)


Diw (NU)

The process of appealing to the Bok (Nuer ‘high court’)

Duer (NU)

To be in the wrong

Edde Haysit (AF)

Person against whom an allegation is made

Elih (AM)

Grudge leading to refusal to negotiate

Endoch (HA)

Women’s Afocha

Erq (AM)



The highest traditional judicial organ in Shinasha presided by only one ‘judge’

Fetia (HA)

Traditional rite that accompanies settlement of disputes

Fird (AM)


Gar (NU)

Initiation mark for the Nuer men

Gar (TI)

The practice of killing a bull for expiation of the families of both the criminal and that of the dead person

Gaatjooka (NU)

Child of the ghost marriage

Gaat tutni (NU)

Children of the bull

Gaatniyat (NU)

Sons of daughter of the bull

Gaba (AF)


Gadh-cas (SO)

Literally ‘red bearded’; elders who have their beard red-coloured by immersing it in a red substance, called hina

Gafia (GU)

Magico-religious leader in Gumuz

Gan (AM)

Big jar of local beer

Garro (SI)

Clan chief or leader

Gat ter (NU)

Child of feud

Gayibora (SH)

Highland Shinasha

Gidya guday (AM)

Homicide case

Giligil (AM)

Convincing the two parties to abandon the conflict

Gossoate (SI)


Gubae (AM)


Gudumalle (SI)

Justice Place

Gudumaalee Moticha (SI)

The head (chief) of the Office of Gudumaalee

Guk (NU)


Guk Kwoth (NU)

Spirit of the Sky God

Guma (HA, OR, SO)

Compensation paid to (families of) victims of crimes, blood wealth, blood money

Gurtong (NU)

To blunt a spear to symbolise inter-ethnic peace making

Habi (AF)

Family member or sub-clan chief who guarantees the good behavior and acceptance of the ultimate decision by a party to the allegation

Harafo (SI)

Serious injury involving bleeding or/and bone breakage

Haysit (AF)

Person who brings a complaint against another

Higge Libona (AA)

Literally ‘law of one’s spirit’

Hirud (TI)

Money or ox or any other property reserved/taken away from a person, who fails to obey the rules/orders of elders in the ‘Wajirat’ system of dispute settlement

Iddir (AM, AA & TI)

Funeral association

Injera (AM)

Local bread

Iqessa (SH)

Spiritual leader in Shinasha

Iqqub (AA)

Rotating savings group in which the sum of members’ regular contributions is given to each member, in turn, in a sequence to be determined by lot

Isira Amba (TI)

Literally ‘twenty villages’; traditional system of justice and dispute settlement in Wajirat

Jang (NU)

War captives who have not yet fully become Nuer

Jaarsa Biyyaa (OR)

Elders of the land/soil

Jillib-carro (SO)

Complex case that requires longer time and greater care as well as deliberation to resolve

Jiter (NU)

People who are in a feud

Jithunge (NU)

Kinsmen of the slayer

Jiran (NU)

Kinsmen of the slain

Ji Wall (NU)



Secondary cases

K’addamayi Weyyane (TI)

Precursor of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front

Kadi (H)

Judge, expert in Shari’a Law

Kasa (AM)


Kebele (AM)

Peasant’s association, lowest tier of administration

Kebt (AM & AA)

Cattle (theft of)

Kege (SI)

Killing a person unintentionally

keZemed mewled (AM)

Having incestuous progeny

Kidoaba (AF)

Sub-clan chief who sits in judgment on conflicts that arise within a sub-clan

Kimir Qatelo (AM)

Burning of harvested crops

Kir (NU)

Mythological ancestor of the Jikany Nuer

Kiir (NU)

The spirit of Kir

Kuac (NU)

Leopard skin

Kuec (NU)

Land marking by the leopard skin chief while settling dispute

Kuaar moun (NU)

Leopard skin chief

Kume (NU)


Mada (AF)

Afar customary law

Mahber (AA & TI)

Religious association which meets on a particular saint’s day once a month to feast together at the house of members who take turns preparing the feast. The members form a sort of spiritual brotherhood and/or sisterhood; also known as yetsiwa Mahber

Makaban (AF)

Clan chief who sits in judgment on disputes that arise within a clan or between different clans

Maro (AF)

Gathering of makaban, chiefs, elders, observers and disputants to resolve conflict

Meftihe (AM)

Literally, ‘solution’, judgement

Min Shie (TI)

Compensation made for a damage caused by beating a person

Michu (SH)


Moti (SI)

Clan leader

Neger abbat (AA)

Literally ‘father of the affair’; elder involved in reconcilation.

Nek’ash/Neqash (TI)

Witness in isira amba CDR

Nemma (SH)

Traditional court system presided by two ‘judges’

Nihinaa/Qolla (SH)

Clan from which the judge of ‘falla’ is nominated

Odayaal (SO)

Elders who settle dispute arising between members of different clans or sub-clans

Peth (NU)

Evil eye

Qaalluu (SH and O)

Religious leader

Qatelo (AM)


Rafato (SO)

A simple case that can be resolved in one or few sessions

Rayyaa Anbbaa (OR)

Elders or Jaarsa Biyyaa that settle homicide disputes

Refisa (HA)

Something given to calm or stabilize a person until final remedy; to keep cool.

Ring (NU)

Diversional right

Rual (NU)


Ruech-wec (NU)

Influential people of a village

Rul (NU)

Nuer immigrants

Sammo (AF)


Seb-Zengi (TI)

Disputants in isira amba CDR

Sefershum (NU)

Syncretic court combining the customary law and modern system of law enforcement agencies

Senbete (AA)

Similar to a mahber but meets at local church instead of at members’ households

Shanko (AM)

Name of spirit

Sharinge (DA)

Person acting as ADR institution in Dawro area

Seqay (AM)

Person who did the ‘siqlet hanging’

Serra (SI)

Social sanction against a wrongdoer who refuses to accept elders’ decision

Sherra (SH)

Exiling a criminal who committed homicide or sexual intercourse with a relative

Shimagillé (AM)

Elders involved in dispute resolution

Shimgilinna (AM)

Literally ‘eldering’, the process of dispute settlement

Shirkana (AM)

Partnership cases

Shiyabe (BE)

Elder in Berta society

Siqlat (AM)

Literally ‘hanging’, placing a cloth symbol on a tree to make the opponent come to the ‘court’ and ‘bind’ him/her till the resolution of the conflict

Sirat Wajirat isira amba (TI)

The system of justice/dispute settlement practiced in the twenty villages of Wajirat

Sir neqel (AM)

literally ‘radical’ justice, getting rid of the root causes

Sirrit (TI)

Customary law in Northern Tigray

Sola or Kukht (TI)

Feast given after settlement of a murder dispute

Songo (SI)


Sorra (SI)

Minor injury (without bleeding and bone breakage)

Sultan (AF)

Traditional leader of the Afar people

Tabot (AM)

Ark of the Covenant

Taribora (SH)

Lowland Shinasha

Tella (AM)

Local beer

Τilet (AM)

Literally ‘decorated cloth border’, tied in the siqlet

Ter (NU)


Terra/Tsera (SH)

Traditional court system presided by three ‘judges’.

Timihirt (AM)

Literally ‘teaching’ instruction given by the Wofa

Tinchaye (AM)

Literally ‘my stone’, the way the Wofa refers to his compound

Tuda (SI)

Intentional murder

Tuur (NU)

The process of appealing to Kaar

Tsala (SH)

Ostratization of the criminal in Shinasha

Wajirat (TI)

District in south Tigray

Watngomi (NU)

First-comers among the Anywaa

Wece’o-/Wac’O / (TI)

Black wool put on by killer to show that he is mourning for the death of the person; also signifies the taking an inferior position or being at the mercy of the dead man’s family

Wenfite (AM)

Literally ‘my sieve’, reference to the Wofa’s compound by his assistants

Wereda (AM)

Administrative unit above kebele

Wic Luaok (NU)

Primary cases

Wofa (AM)

Tide of spiritual judge

Woma (SI)

Similar in meaning to Garro and Moti; clan leader

Wuelo (TI)

Public gathering place for dispute settlement

Wuqabi (AM)

Spirit involved in finding culprits through medium

Wuqabiw eskiwerd (AM)

Literally ‘until the spirit descends’, when the medium is possessed

Wut ghok (NU)

Man of cattle

Xeer (SO)

Literally ‘treaty’; Somali traditional law made by representatives of different families or clans

Xeer-beegti (SO)

Traditional judges that were very active during the first half of the 20th century, but whose role is believed to have diminished

Xeerdaarood (SO)

The Daarood treaty; a treaty agreed by the Xeerbeegtis of daarood clan during 1940s

Xumayn (SO)

Moral compensations

Yadera Genzeb (AM)

Debt cases

Yebeteseb Guday (AM)

Family cases

Yemeret guday (AM

Land cases

Yenegade Guday (AM)


Yeqimya (AM)

Kidnapping cases

Yeselam komite (AM)

Peace committee

Yesirqot (AM)

Theft cases

Yetabot sirkot (AM)

Theft of tabot

Yetuaf masfecha, (AM)

Literally ‘for untying the taper’, judicial fee

Yewiha fird (AA)

Literally ‘justice of water’. Decision made by elders in the community which is believed to reflect justice

Yewonz Lijoch (AM)

Literally ‘children of one river’, dispute resolution institution in Gojjam

YeWuqabi bet (AM)

House of the spirit

Yezemed Lijoch (AM)

Literally ‘children of kin’, dispute resolution institution in north Wollo

Zirfia (AM)



1 AA = Addis Ababa, AF = Afar, AM = Amhara, AR = Argobba, BE = Berta, DA = Dawro, HA = Harari, NU = Nuer, OR = Oromo, SH = Shinasha, SI = Sidama, SO= Somali, TI = Tigray.

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 2008

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