Nilo-Ethiopian Studies vol.13 (2009)

Nilo-Ethiopian Studies No.13 (2009)


This research involves the fields of socio-cultural anthropology, material culture studies, andmuseology, and employs a multifaceted conceptual framework to view the nature of transactionsbetween people and the objects in their environment. Specifically, this research documents the interactions among community members pertaining to the cultural objects managed by the museums ofHarar, Ethiopia. In Harar, the multi-ethnic community has worked cooperatively and with limited resources to effectively manage tradition and modernity in the museum context. Based on case studies of four museums, the findings illustrate that the management of material culture in local Mrican museums need not be storehouse practices, without intended goals, at both the individual and communal levels. The objects in Harar’s collections are, in fact, catalysts through which people define and redefine themselves. The present analysis also demonstrates that not all Mrican museum collections have been initiated or maintained with Western models in mind. Instead, the present study reveals that the formal and informal activities that were initiated indigenously and integrated into the custodianship of local museums in Harar exemplify contemporary adaptations of cultivating practices that were built upon indigenous aesthetic preferences and local systems of alliances.

Keywords: museums, heritage, community participation, Harar, Ethiopia


This paper explores how new possession cults in an agro-pastoral society have appropriated idioms from alien cultures and constructed a new identity based on a geographical image of state rule that had been repressed by their traditional ideology. The Hor is an agro-pastoralist group residing in the South Omo Zone. During the1960s, the ayana possession cult, originating in Borana, was introduced to the Hor and spread rapidly. Despite oppression during the Derg regime, this cult has steadily expanded its sphere of influence. Notable features of ayana cults include: 1) their adoption of the cultural idioms of Ethiopian highlanders in rituals, even though these are considered as abhorrent according to aada (tradition), and 2) the fact that their membership consists of more than 80% women. Although the cult has its own social organization constructed with idioms appropriated from the age system of the Hor, it violates such Hor patriarchal systems as lineage, clan, territorial group, and age. By holding seances, rituals, and divinations, influential female mediums and their followers can cross these traditional social boundaries. In the past, spirit possession had been interpreted as possession by ancestral spirits and treated with rituals intended to soothe ancestors, thus consolidating the patriarchy. However, most ayana spirits are reported to come from outside the Hor people. Indeed, reports of spirits of the Amhara (Sidaama) and of white men (Farenji) have been increasing recently. Thus, the ayana possession cult has offered an alternative interpretation of possession by introducing alien spirits and has restructured the imagined space that represents the foundation of the Hor patriarchy. These features are closely intertwined and give followers the basis for resisting tradition. The cult provides not only a social space in which they are liberated from patriarchal rule, but also a symbolic space in which they can imagine the vast world outside of the patriarchal community.

Key words: Southwestern Ethiopia, Arbore, Hor, ayana, spirit possession, resistance, space


Ya’a, an Oromo village located in Beni Shangul and Gumuz Regional State in Ethiopia, is one of the most significant Muslim pilgrimage centers in Ethiopia. Ya’a became a pilgrimage center when a Tijani shaykh,AI-Faki Ahmad Umar, died there in 1953. This article is about the process of making the film titled Pilgrimage to Ya’a. Matsunami, the filmmaker, participated in the pilgrimage ritual and involved the residents of Ya’a in making the film. We describe how Matsunami accompanied a group of pilgrims traveling on foot and how the festival performed at Ya’a was organized by the residents. The film was screened at Ya’a in October 2007, and we also detail how the viewers, the residents ofYa’a, reacted to the film. This study reconsiders the collaborative approach to making ethnographic films and examines the possibility of a participatory filmmaking.

Keywords: Oromo, participatory filmmaking, pilgrimage, Tijaniya, Ya’a


Studies of interethnic warfare in the Lower Omo Valley have explored relationships between ethnic identity and culture and between society and ecology. This paper is the first to add ethnographic information about myth, clan classification, and interethnic warfare among the Banna to academic discourse. It also clarifies how Banna people construct their “ethnic” identity: they identify themselves as members of the Banna through a various forms of recognitipn and narratives, but these everyday activities do not guarantee a discrete Banna land, language, and culture. Research has revealed that, contrary to the group’s assertion, Banna identity has no discrete unity. Appadurai (1996) theorized that locality is a “phenomenological property of social life,” which might be discovered through description of neighborhoods as “the actually existing social forms in which locality, as a dimension or value, is variably realized.”

Keywords: Banna, clan distribution, identification, locality, warfare


Peripheral mountain farmer groups in the middle Omo valley have met sporadic yet massive violent conflicts assumingly brought by lowland agro-pastoralists in the lower Omo valley since the 1970s. This paper focuses on conflicts in Malo, south of the middle Omo River. In March 1976, immediately after the collapse of the imperial regime, nearly half of the Malo land was invaded by unidentified armed attackers. The attacks were totally one-sided. Settlements were heavily devastated and cattle completely looted; more than 1,000 farmers were killed. Similar attacks have ensued over the years. Local farmers claim that the main perpetrators are golde, Surmic-speaking agro-pastoralists from the lower Omo valley, with whom they formerly had little connection. As a result of the attacks, numerous settlements and fields near the river have been permanently abandoned. Differential state rule over the lower and middle Omo valleys since the imperial conquest at the end of the 19th century have shaped a great imbalance of power in terms of modern arms possession between these peoples. Continuous state intervention is needed to prevent future conflicts.

Keywords: herder-farmer conflicts, Malo, golde, middle Omo valley, southwest Ethiopia

Book Reviews

Gen Tagawa
Mamo Hebo. Land, Local Custom, and State Policies: Land Tenure, Land Disputes and Disputes Settlement among the Arsii Oromo of Southern Ethiopia, Kyoto: Shoukadoh Book Sellers, 2006,
186 pp.

Takeshi Fujimoto
Ren’ya Sato and Shinichi Takeuchi, eds. The Story of Land and People: Africa I. (Asakura World Geography Series, Vol. 11) Kazunobu Ikeya, , Asakura Shoten, 2007,435 pp. (in Japanese)