Nov
13

The Ethiopia Book of Travels

In many of my critiques of books written about Qatar I have focused on the almost exclusive reliance upon the British colonial record for history making, despite other sources being available (notably Ottoman records in that case). I was directed to an interesting translation of a travel dairy of an Ottoman dignitary, sent by the Sultan, to meet with Menelik II to explore anti-colonialist alliances in Ethiopia in the years following the Ethiopian defeat of Italy in their attempted colonization of the country. The travel took place in 1904, and draws on Turkish and Arabic source material, and was translated in 2021 as "The Ethiopia Book of Travels". The book is largely a record of travel logistics and experiences along the road. Nonetheless, this is one of many examples where source material democratization can help with the decolonization of history making.

A contextual note about the book: "The Ethiopia Book of Travels takes you to June 1904 to accompany Sadik Pasha on a mission for sultan Abdulhamid II to go before emperor Menelik II, the ruler of Ethiopia. One of the three missions to Africa by Sadik Pasha to counter the scramble for Africa by West European powers, this volume should be considered a companion to Journey in the Grand Sahara of Africa, republished with contributions from his descendants in Journey in the Grand Sahara of Africa and Through Time." (p. vii)

An interesting reflection on modernity, as it was in 1904: "While we were watching and observing the paradise like surroundings and the sunrise from the hill that we were on, numerous young [] girls were passing, singing with a high voice all at once. The mixture of their voice with the echo was creating a nice harmony. Apparently, they were going from the village to the fields. Rising from behind the hill at this moment, the sun combined its rays with the zephyr and dampness of the morning. The song that the girls were singing happily in this way, the charm of the surroundings emerald like hills were forming such a beautiful scenery that only a skilled painter, a skilled poet would be capable of describing this. It can be seen that the health of these girls wearing a tunic each, walking bare feet over the meadows is much better than those of prosperous girls with the pampering and abundance of civilization." (p. 78) 

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Oct
24

Humanitarian Work in Ethiopia's Somali Region

Lauren Carruth provides a useful introduction to Ethiopia's Somali region, to the practices of global health, to 'humanitarianism', and to anthropology / ethnography with her 2021 publication: Love and Liberation: Humanitarian Work in Ethiopia's Somali Region (Cornell University Press). The book helpfully deconstructs international / Euro-Western conceptualizations of humanitarianism and re-orients that within the Somali context (linguistic, socio-cultural, political, historical, religious). The book is accessible and likely will find a home in undergraduate many courses. Additionally helpful for readers is the extensive use of narratives and personal stories, which makes the book very readable. Far too little research focuses on Ethiopia's Somali region, and this is a welcome addition.

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Oct
02

Wax & Gold

Levine's Wax & Gold (1965) is one the 'classics' of Ethiopian studies in the socio-anthropological realm. Much ink has been spilled about his work (including the author himself added a Preface to the 1972 to explain his change of views), much work has also been inspired that draws on the wax and gold concept that Levine describes and employs. 

In many ways, this was a book of its time - similar to other ethnographic type works that emerged in the early decades within the discipline of anthropology. Levine has sections on history, coming of age, adulthood, roles, marriage, individualism, social organizations, psycho-social analysis; all of which focusing on the Amhara. This post won't delve into the content, but instead share his points on the idea of wax and gold:

  • "The apparent, figurative meaning of the words is called "wax"; their more or less hidden actual significance is the "gold"." (p. 5)
  • "This terminology is derived from the work of the goldsmith, who constructs a clay mold around a form created in wax and then, draining the wax, pours the molten gold into that form." (p. 5)
  • The chief delight of Ethiopic poetry is to attain a maximum of thought within a minimum of words. This effect is reached, as we have seen, through subtle allusions and plays on words." (p. 7)
  • "... wax and gold is so important in Amharic that some Amhara maintain that one does not properly speak the language unless he is well versed in the art of exploiting its numerous ambiguities." (p. 8)
  • "Just as the Amhara tends to be tight-lipped and evasive when confronted with questions he does not feel like answering, so he finds pleasure in stubbornly withholding his meaning from his audience through employing figures and allusions which no one can understand. This may be understood as a passive form of oral aggression." (p. 230)
  • "Unless there is some overwhelming personal advantage to be obtained from providing information, the Amhara tend to give answers - when they do not pretend not to understand the question - in terms so ambiguous as to be worthless" (p. 251). 

The 'wax and gold' tradition is one wherein ambiguity is praised as it conveys one's linguistic and intellectual abilities to speak with brevity and offer multiple meanings at once. Literal, straight forward viewed as simplistic and lacking of intellect, whereas the use of 'wax and gold' in communication conveys complexity and intellect.

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Aug
20

Ethiopia & Food Security

QUOTES:

  • "As every farmer will emphasize, there is no average household, average yield, average rainfall or average food security situation. Averages are imposed; they provide illumination but are not lived realities. Instead of focusing on averages, greater attention should be placed on the diversity of ways in which households encounter food insecurity" (p. 25-26)
  • "One of the greatest strengths emerging from the Stages of Food Security methodology is the depth of qualitative insight. The process resulted in a reformulation of questions and metrics, and their co-analysis facilitated the emergence of highly contextualized information about the socio-cultural, economic, political, historical and gendered vulnerabilities to food insecurity." (p. 130)
  • "Fertilizer and pesticide use similarly vary by crop, indicating how typical household questionnaires make invisible the intricate and informed choices that smallholder farmers make within their agricultural practices." (p. 162-163)
  • "Ethiopia is making progress in creating new programs and expanding the coverage of services, yet significant challenges remain. With almost half of all children under the age of five experiencing stunted growth due to malnutrition, the need for action is urgent lest another generation be denied the opportunity to fulfill its potential because it has been limited by food insecurity." (p. 205)


REVIEWS:

  • "Ethiopia and Food Security could not have come at a better time. The author, who has lived, worked and conducted extensive research in the country over many years, brings a wealth of knowledge to the subject, a greater empathy for the rural people who are the chief actors in the book, and a fresh perspective, making the work richer as well as more insightful." —Dessalegn Rahmato, Forum for Social Studies, Addis Ababa
  • "While applauding Ethiopia's remarkable success in drought mitigation and famine prevention, Dr. Cochrane provides a unique perspective on the complex drivers of food insecurity and options for alleviating them. Ethiopia and Food Security is highly recommended for anyone interested not just in understanding and measuring these problems but also in addressing them by designing effective programs, policies and services." —Teferi Abate Adem, Research Anthropologist, HRAF at Yale University
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