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>Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Günther Schlee 2008


It is the Orthodox Easter Sunday. Those who have fasted can eat meat again, and those who have not join them. We are invited at four o’clock in the morning to go to the private house of the hotel owner, a friend of Tadesse’s. A priest stands up and says the prayer. Tadesse’s elderly friend is a northerner and celebrates the glories of the Orthodox Church and the Semitic core of the Ethiopian empire. Konso men have to hold the chunks of raw beef, from which we take slices.

We go through Tadesse’s comments on my paper "Redrawing the Map of the Horn" (see Schlee 2003). We already discussed his paper on Gamo for Changing Identifications and Alliances in North-East Africa (see Tadesse 2009) in Arba Minch.

For the first time, we make good use of the letter from the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. It saves us the 30 Birr which are demanded from tourists who want to visit Konso villages. We take an officer from the Department of Culture along, have a look around, visit a poqalla (ritual chief, owner of the land) known to Tadesse from an earlier stay (like the officer), and later move on to Woito (see map 12). Tadesse leaves the officer with the task of making a count of craftsmen and farmers in order to determine the ratio between the two (a point he has to clarify for his paper on fund’o, the traders’/craftsmen’s association).



Picture No.


Waypoint 247



Lat. 5° 19' 49.27" N / Long. 37° 24' 59.91" E

Village of Macalla; terraces

Waypoint 248



Lat. 5° 19' 52.17" N / Long. 37° 24' 4.77" " E

Mora (assembly place) of the poqalla Wolde Dawit

Waypoint 249



Lat. 5° 18' 54.73" N / Long. 37° 23' 15.76" E


Waypoint 250



Lat. 5° 22' 22.86" N / Long. 36° 59' 36.84" E


The name "Woito" has been given to the area by northerners and is reminiscent of Gojjam. The real name of both the area and the huge the plantation located here is Birale. The river, also called Woito on some maps, is the Limo, in Arbore: Dullay.

The cotton plantation was privately owned, and after some mismanagement and defaults on loans, was taken over by a bank. The bankers did not fare any better. They kept the stores full because they speculated on rising cotton prices. Instead prices declined sharply. A lot of cotton and no money. For one year now nothing has happened. The 30 giant tractors stand idle.

Originally, the investors had bought the land from the state. The local Tsamako, of course, thought that the land belonged to them. The first investment was in living quarters for the police. At one point nine Tsamako were executed by a firing squad without a trial. Another major emphasis was on pesticides. The area was sprayed by air. Some of the workers who held the flags to mark the areas to be sprayed died at the first impact of the poison cloud. Other workers who later collapsed in the fields were taken to the dispensary and given aspirin. We have seen the now abandoned "housing" of the workers. One would rather be a Nuer cow; the Nuer cattle byres are of a much more solid construction. Next to these "houses" there were huge deposits of 200 litre barrels, presumably 'empty'. No one wants to know about the long-term health effects of these pesticides, here and elsewhere, if they were to get into the waters of the Limo.

Now weeds are slowly reclaiming the plantation, and the Tsamako goats are following them. The remainder of the staff, including administrators and technicians, are afraid of the revenge of the Tsamako. One Tsamako qawot who had received 100 Birr and four bottles of liquor per month has died, and his son has rejected any such arrangement with the plantation.

We share a goat with some Arbore, who have come here with their cattle camps. They all speak good Oromo. I can also guess the meaning of half of what they say to each other. The words of their language that have not close cognates in Oromo, have cognates in Rendille. The Tsamako language seems to be quite different. But I heard one Tsamako address an Arbore as abiyo, meaning MB (mother’s brother), as in Rendille and Samburu. To have the same word for MB across languages and language families and to be able to appeal to uterine links might increase life expectancy in a warlike environment.

The fashion for young Arbore men is to have half a metal chain bracelet from a wrist-watch dangling from their necklaces in front of the Adam’s apple. A new form a recycling.

There is an NGO, which has organised a peace meeting between Boran and Arbore. There have not been any raids between the two recently, and people think that the 80 invited elders and local officials mainly attend the meetings for the per diem. Maybe in future they will raid each other a little bit just to have another conference.