Introduction: Aims of Visit and Itinerary

Our first-ever visit to Ethiopia began on Sunday 14th and ended on Monday 29th September 2008. Prior to arrival, much communication had been exchanged between us, Paul Rankin and Nicolas Villaume, and our Ethiopian collaborators especially with Darout Gum’a and Wondimu Gaga from the Initiative for Community Action NGO (ILCA) to make our brief time productive and relevant. The purpose of the visit was to create exposure and facilitate experience sharing between the LCS team and their potential Ethiopian collaborators and communities in order to look for possible ways of expanding LCS missions to Ethiopia.

Several destinations in Southern Ethiopia were included in the schedule to meet communities and cultural organizations as per the original proposal of Dr. Wolde Gossa Tadesse, Program Officer of The Christensen Fund (TCF) for the African Rift Valley (see ). Ethiopia, especially the Southwest is a a hotspot of cultural diversity- see for example the map of language groups,

We started with a meeting at Shiromeda near Addis with the Gamo weaver cooperative.Our journey then from Addis in a rented 4x4 took us South along the main tarmac arterial road, past fertile green plains near the Rift Valley lakes, with an excursion to the university of Awasa, then SW from the junction at Sheshamanee in a loop W of large lakes, along rather variable roads via Sodo to the lovely southern 'mosquito capital' of Arba Minch, some 220 miles S. of Addis. With Arba Minch as our base, we continued S to see communities around the crossroad town of Konso, then W along a surprisingly good new road under construction to Woito. From Woito we made a short visit to meet herder communities in dry hot Aerbore in the Stephanie Wildlife Reserve near the Kenya border.

Returning Arba Minch, we made several trips N on difficult roads, even for a 4x4, into the highland cultures in the chilly and sometimes very rainy mountains around Chen'cha before returning to Addis Ababa. At the end of the trip we were fortunate to be able to witness some of the Mesqala festivities that are an important and colourful celebration in Ethiopia at the end of September. (Mesqala, or Meskel meaning cross, is a huge feast celebrating the legendary finding of the True Cross on which Christ is said to have been crucified. It was reputedly first celebrated in AD 326.)

During the visit, opportunities were taken to make audio recordings of some sample stories from storytellers and take their photos, after explaining the reason and getting their permission of course. These story samples can be helpful to explain the possibilities for LCS work in Ethiopia, but also to show a model of how LCS tries to work respectfully with young and old alike.

This blog records our daily experiences. Much of the text has been written by our friend, Darout Gum'a. Some conclusions are drawn at the end.

Notes: Clicking on any image should open a magnified view.

Click on 'Older posts' at the end of this page, bottom right
to see all the blog and our final conclusions

© Living Cultural Storybases 2008. All the published material presented or displayed in this blog including text, images and sounds is copyrighted. Please do not use this material without written consent, by contacting the authors or via

Sept 13th: Arrival in Addis Ababa

Addis seen from the Entoto Mountains

The LCS team arrived in Addis Ababa on Saturday 13 September 2008. Darout and Wondimu met Paul Rankin who arrived earlier in Ghion Hotel, and had a talk on LCS’ and ILCA’s missions with him that evening. Nicolas Villaume arrived late in the evening, and joined the team the next morning. The visit began on Sunday 14 September 2008 and ended on Saturday 27 September 2008. The whole program was planned on a daily schedule. Each day’s accomplishments are described below.

Sept 14th: Shiromeda (Addis), Gamo weavers' cooperative

The team traveled up to Shiromeda district of Addis to visit the Entoto settlement. In the weavers’ cooperative office, we met five men and two women elders accompanied by eight members of the itinerant weavers cooperative from the Gammo highlands.
The two parties talked about the LCS mission, life and work in Addis Ababa, and the weavers’ connections with their region of origin. Eight of participants in the discussion, namely Dejene Malie, Malke Mammo, Dabala Damota, Atsede Dangarssa, Goqa Goamasha, Motche Mokonnen, Ayele Arja and Goashu Goabaze contributed their reflections and understandings on the issues. Points raised in the discussion are summarized below:

The mission and work of LCS were highly appreciated by the cooperative participants, who expressed that the community would be happy to cooperate with LCS if the activities related to traditional stories and other folklore could be done in their current place of residence as well as in their original regions.
There are many itinerant weavers in Addis, who have lived on weaving for more than 50 years. Pride in their high-quality work, designs and skills was very evident. The weavers are very rich in the skills of the weaving art and possess traditional knowledge that has been passed down through many generations and shared among the community members. Many of these weavers are also very capable in both adapting and inventing various new weaving designs. But often when their newly created designs are sold to a retailer, the retailer hires other weavers than the inventors, and they then plagiarise the Gamo designs at cheaper prices.
Capital for investment in looms is also difficult to accumulate. Microfinance loans (3% per month interest) are possible, but even the minimum deposit eg of 1000 Birr for 5000 Birr credit is difficult.
Though the weavers endure time consuming, back breaking and often exhausting labour to create their weaving craft, they do not benefit fairly from their products. Much of the benefit goes to the middlemen engaged in domestic retailing and export. The weaver doesn't control the price for his product; rather it is the retailer. This is mainly because the weaver is very poor with hardly adequate financial power to cover even the daily living expenses for his family. This situatation deprives him of any negotiation power in the value chain of the products' market.

Atsede Dangerssa, a wife of a weaving designer, for example, quantified the exploitative relationship between weaver and retailer as follows. Her husband would have to pay about 100 Birr (nearly 10 USD) for labour, materials, electricity, water and house rent in order to produce a complete women’s dress in a week. He would sell this dress for 150 Birr (about 15 USD) to the retailers whereas the retailers who have shops, would then sell it for 500 Birr (about 50 USD). In another example, the raw material for a dress costs 20Birr, the weaver invest 6 hours of work and sells the fabric to the retailer at 30Birr, who in the end sells it at 70Birr.

Even more galling, there had been attempts to plagiarize the Gammo Weaving Communities’ designs in the past which have even been awarded first prize at an International World Trade exhibition. A weaving products export company had publicized on a magazine page that the highly attractive and expensive designs it collected through purchase were the sole property of that company and even stated that no other entity would claim copyright. Luckily enough, this ownership claim was disproven by actions some weaver cooperative members then took.
Because of such unbalanced trading conditions, the weaving community members have remained and still stay extremely poor. As a consequence, many are looking for a way out of weaving and abandoning the activity altogether in the face of rapidly rising, current living costs, compounded by a rapid population growth that weaving income cannot support.

A participant in the meeting, Goqa Goamasha stated that he joined weaving in his later years pushed into the work by the conditions of agricultural land shortage and infertility in his place of origin (the Gammo highlands). He colourfully expressed the failure of some modern farming approaches saying, “The agricultural land has been known to collect bribes!” (referring to the continued artificial fertilization that the land needs after fertilizer introduction). He had been advised by agricultural development agents to use the artificial fertilizer if he wanted large harvests. Accordingly he introduced the fertilizer on his land but couldn’t continue to use it next season, as the prices of artificial fertilizer escalated. He also had stopped producing the traditional manure fertilizer in the hope that he would be using the new artificial fertilizer. Thus the farming cycle was disrupted, pushing the peasant farmer into the weaving work in Addis Ababa.

This weaver (Goqa Goamasha) was lucky enough to join a weaving-art training program organized and conducted by Dr. Nitty (An Indian). The latter had trained some weavers in innovative design and entrepreneurship. Dr. Nitty had also facilitated an international market for those weavers and promoted their products. During this period Goqa Goamasha earnt a good income. However, after the relation with Dr. Nitty ended (probably along with his international outlets), the weaver’s favourable income also stopped, returning him to poverty.

Atsede Dangarssa, a wife of a weaving designer also emphasized the women's issues in the weaving community. She pointed out that both girls and women of this community would walk to the eucalyptus plantations around the suburbs to cut down trees, carry firewood to the city and sell it - after considerable searching in the city for buyers. These females are often attacked by vagrant rapists. Many community girls, engaged in firewood collection at the expense of school time, are not sufficiently competent to continue their further education. Consequently, either they stay as wood collectors, run into a marriage or fall into risky activities in the city.

As final comment, the weavers hoped that the visiting LCS team could work to help restore the pride of the weaver community, attempt to establish known brands for the weavers’ products, open up an international market for the weavers’ products and revitalize the weaving craft that is presently at risk of abandonment. They spoke of the young people's disinterest in continuing the hard work of the weaving tradition, which can conflict with education time.

In response, the team suggested to the cooperative that a clearer market focus (mass low-price items vs. niche high-price or even commissioned artwork), with a clear brand labelling to mark authentic products and their own organised distribution might increase their share of the value chain. They warned that online sale of craft work over the Internet is not so simple, because of the logistics of fulfilment, export/import regulations and promotion required, although online craft sale aggregators like the Community Friendly Movement might assist ( Finally, LCS are developing some novel new ways in which the stories of the weavers and the meanings of their designs could add value to their products, especially for commissioned items or some of their newer Gammo designs which tell a (moral) tale, just like the concepts which LCS are currently exploring with a similar weaving community in Peru.

Concluding the meeting, the team visited the weavers' working premises and saw samples of their fine high-quality products in the weavers’ cooperative shop.

Sept 15th: Meeting with a master weaver;
LCS Talk at Hawassa University

The journey South along the main Ethiopian arterial tarmac road via Shasamene to Awasa is easy, passing through wide fertle pastures of green injera grass, the staple food of Ethiopia which is made into rather grey-looking pancakes on to which the meal is heaped. Along the road, we were surprised to pass an airliner!

In Awasa the team met Ato Hailu Mekuria, Board Member of the Association of Indigenous Knowledge and Culture NGO, ARCIKCL. We also met Dr. Ferdu Azerefegne and Associate Professor Ato Zerihun from Hawassa University. All parties were introduced to the LCS mission and the arrangements for the LCS talk at Hawassa University in the afternoon were discussed.

Reflections of a Master Weaver

Then the visiting team headed to Ato Habtemariam Doyya’s house at Yirgalem, about 40km S. of Awassa. Ato Habtemariam, former head of the itinerant weaver’s association in Awassa, was at his weaving premises. On the arrival of the team to Habtemariam’s house, all the family members gathered in the salon room to receive us with much hospitality into their friendly family. Our introductory exchanges went into LCS’s mission, as well as life and work for weavers. Nico showed LCS work with Quechua Peruvian mountain weaver communities, eliciting a strong resonance for the Ethiopian weaver. Ato Habtemariam expressed his view that the LCS mission and methods are very useful in order to maintain communications between the older and the younger generations.

He was then happy to narrate some of his life story as a weaver for recording, after prompting by the visitors. He has been a weaver from the age of 10. In the beginning he was an apprentice to a master weaver. He made rolls of weft and learned how to weave ‘Dantcho,’ a thick and narrow strip of cloth that is worn in several rounds around the waist, especially by women in order to keep the full body garment in place. Afterwards he progressed to learn how to make ‘Bulluko’, a garment which is traditionally used by women to cover all their bodies , as over wear for men, and night wear for the family.

The third stage in his occupational career has been designing and weaving those designs and others in his products. He creates new designs from his conceptions of people, places, events and nature. As a master craftsman, he doesn’t have to start by drawing new designs; rather he simply uses his metal images and goes straight to the cloth. As a model, he showed the visitors two of his designs named The Queen of Sheba (an ancient Ethiopian queen said to have relations with king Solomon of Israel) and the Flowers of the Heaven.

A fragment of the explanation to the LCS team by Ato Habtemariam about his designs, interpreted by Darout can be heard using the play button below.(You will need the Adobe Flash Player installed, see )

He bitterly expressed that weaving is a very hard work and a time consuming activity without appropriate return for its investment. Therefore, he had decided that none of his children should be engaged in the weaving trade. Similarly none of his children are willing to engage in it. Amazingly this reflection of the changing world coincided with the prophesy of abandoning weaving by the Shiromeda weavers on the preceding day.

As an aside, table tennis is surprisingly popular in Ethiopia, on the way we often passed people playing on tables on a village green or on the town streets. Ato Habtemariam Doyya’s daughter, Birtukan proudly showed us the medals she had won as a champion player in the sport.

LCS Talk at Hawassa University

In the afternoon, after a very hospitable welcome by Dr Ferdu, head of the Institute for Society and the Environment, a presentation on LCS was given by Paul and Nicolas to the Hawassa University community. The 1.5 hr talk began at 4:00pm with 130 participants attending, thanks to the promotion and organisation work of Ato Zerihun. The global background of rapidly disappearing minority languages and cultures was explained, followed by LCS's mission to revitalize cultures using modern technology to carry traditional narratives, connecting the generations and linking traditionally-living people with their urban diaspora again. The organisation and its first two years' activities in the Peruvian mountains and Saharan desert in Mali were highly appreciated by the audience, agreeing its importance and a lively discussion ensued. Several young men and women expressed their interest in the LCS work, for example posing the following questions:

  • Is there any possibility to use this technology and approach in Ethiopia?

  • The work is marvelous; but how can its sustainability after introduction to communities be assured?

  • As the technology and methodology are very relevant to Ethiopia, how can they be linked under the government constraints and national interests in fostering cultural diversity ?

The joint presenters, Paul Rankin and Nicolas Villaume responded for example as follows:

  1. LCS is visiting for the first time to look for possibilities of introducing their methodology and technology to Ethiopia as encouraged by their sponsors, The Christensen Fund. This university audience as a community in a higher education institution and especially the new Hawassa Department of Anthropology can help LCS in researching possible entry routes and in proposing collaborations. Other Ethiopian friends working with LCS such as NGO’s like ILCA are expected to establish a cooperation with LCS to guide, strengthen and help find funders for an introduction of the LCS approach.

  2. As to the question of sustainability, this is a question for people on the ground. As the determinants of sustainability, they are more responsible than anyone. The communities would have to value their culture and sustain the system of LCS methods and tools. Certainly LCS has novel ideas about how indigenous knowledge and cultural narratives can add value not only to craftwork, but to the wider society. But the LCS approach throughout aims at community empowerment - encouraging ownership, not only of their traditional knowledge, mores and narrative content, but also of choices and the whole process, including the training of community youth, the selection of content genres of local importance and identification of relevant metrics for impact assessments. In any case, from a global point of view, one might question the long-term sustainability of the Western majority cultures of competition, greed and resource consumption!

  3. Of course LCS must also assess the compatibility of its mission and work with government interests in Ethiopia. The balance between national state interests and minority cultural interests is often difficult. The LCS team therefore would expect some government representatives in planning talks and needs their guidance and comments. Ethiopia's recent declared national policy to foster cultural diversity and value the diversity of its Southern 'nations' opens the way for cultural actions like LCS.

As a relaxing finish to a long day, before returning to the Rastafarian-owned hotel in Shashemene, the LCS team were able to visit the shore of Lake Awasa as the sun started to set. There courting couples were eating popcorn or strolling hand-in-hand along the bank past the painted tour boats and a fisherman's reed boat tied up for the night.

People sat and chatted watching the golden sunset across the shimmering wide waters of the lake, which is rich in fish and birdlife such as kingfishers and herons.

Sept 16th: Travel to Arba Minch

Our driver Mesfin took us West from Sheshemene off the main North-South arterial road, through the cross-road town of Sodo.

After savouring coffee which is delicious everywhere in Ethiopia, we then drove southwards, skirting the West side of lake Abaya.

The landscapes are hotter and drier and the journey slows down as the road deteriorates. We passed scenes of a quieter rural life, with people riding in horse-drawn transport rather than cars or walking to markets well-stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Our hotel in Arba Minch has a beautiful clifftop location outside the main lake-side town, overlooking dense jungle below which runs up a facing mountain peak, with the lakes of Chamo and Abaya in the distance. The name Arba Minch comes from the forty mountain springs which converge here.

Sept 17th: Arba Minch, GIAMA and CIQ meetings

The team went to Arba Minch University in the morning to present an LCS lecture. However, the university talk had to be postponed due to the low attendance. We talked with Alemayehu, Vice President in the university administration and the public relations office for a reprogramming of the LCS presentation, as the advance communications about the event seemed to have broken down, so there had not been any wide promotion of the talk. We rescheduled it for Monday 22 September 2008, whilst understanding that this was a difficult period as several staff were away on a curriculum review and many students busy with examinations.

In the afternoon, the team visited the offices of Gughe Indigenous Art and Music Association (GIAMA) and Center for Indigenous Questions (CIQ).

In the office of GIAMA, we met Ato Kata Kelilie, their Executive Director and exchanged ideas on missions of both parties, seeing several possibilities for collaboration. GIAMA has about 5 people in their association, mainly concentrating since June 2006 on the organisation of the celebrated Thousand Stars Festival of Music and Dance. GIAMA's aims are:
- to promote and invigorate the indigenous art and knowledge of Ethiopian Rift Valley communities and cultures
- to encourage and support cross-cultural links and creative exchange
- to further understanding and appreciation of the cultural heritage of the Region locally, nationally and internationally

The imminent Festival on 13-15th December 2008, would include not only the 56 S. Ethiopian 'nations', but performers from Kenya, see . They want to ensure that performers themselves benefit from the sales of videos etc of the event through promotion of copyrights. GIAMA have been building up analogue archives of music and traditional knowledge such as in healing medicine and want to build up a resource centre on traditional cultures for universities and others.

LCS noted the increased potential if archives have been digitized, the attraction of also inviting master storytellers to the 1000 Stars Festival and the LCS methods for including the whole community in a celebration of their oral traditions via multimedia exhibitions, the Internet as distribution and two-way communication medium, and potential use of mobile devices.

Ato Kata posed the following two interesting questions:

  • What is the guarantee for the digital equipment that LCS gives to children or youth in communities for story recording? Can’t it go missing or even get lost?

  • How easy would it be to attract the young generation and get them engaged in revitalizing traditions, as the young are highly attracted by aspects of the stream of modernization ?

The team replied to these questions as follows:

  • From experiences in other communities, LCS has observed that youth recruited for LCS work are very happy with the training and skills they acquire and the whole operation.

  • They are very proud of using the digital gadgets, often several other community members follow them when they are recording, photographing and playing back or exhibiting their recordings. So, they are seen to care for the equipment, do their job with pride and are happy with the recognition they get from their elders for helping preserve their culture.

  • In fact, the strength of the LCS approach is in the trick of combining the interest of the young in using digital gadgets or the Internet with the desire of the elders to have their voices heard and their traditions respectfully appreciated by the young.

Ato Lemma (Executive Director), Tarekegn Shado and other staff members warmly received the visiting team at the CIQ office. CIQ is a relatively new organisation, fostered by seed capital from The Christensen Fund (who are sponsoring much of the cultural diversity initiatives in Southern Ethiopia through several NGO's). CIQ has been licensed for NGO work since Dec. 2007. CIQ's aim is to provide assistance for indigenous community associations, or ICAs. (In 1997, there were only 3 ICAs, now there are 63.) CIQ provides advocates and consultants. Their goals include running training workshops in technology or finance, helping establish community bylaws, governmental recognition or in application for grants. CIQ will subsume some of the work of the Culture and Arts Association (CASE), which for example have helped build capacity in the Gammo Weavers Association (35% supported by TCF). CIQ have arranged an Arba Minch workshop on biodiversity, seeds and trees, sacred sites and forests. About 7 or 8 ICA's are currently helped by CIQ. Many more in the large Gammo region also want assistance, but CIQ has limits on how fast it can grow.

Both parties exchanged ideas on the missions of their organizations and saw many possibilities for collaboration bringing complementary approaches to cultural re-vitalization. The CIQ staff provided the LCS team with the necessary information to set up contacts for the subsequent visits to Konso and Aerbore communities.

After another productive day with many new contacts, the visitors returned to their Arba Minch eco-lodge for the night.

Sept 18th: Konso, Parka meeting and
Gamole village visit

The team traveled S from Arba Minch to the town of Konso in the morning. Konso is a special Woreda (region) with a population of about 215000 in 200km2 with its own language and cultures.

We had time to sample its colourful market, where everything from grain to cloth, from animals to firewood is bartered.

In the town we visited the office of Parka, a local NGO for Environmental and Cultural Protection which has a strong community base and the support of the Christensen Fund. Parka is committed to preserve sacred sites, a harmonious relationship between environment and traditional community (therefore biodiversity) and the recognition of the value of indigenous knowledge in sustainable development.

Konso cultures are remarkable for the traditional ways that they conserve precious water using wells and soil resources by terraced agriculture - a paradigm of the inter-dependency between traditional practices and environmental conservation. Customary laws reflect the duty of each family to undertake the ardous work to maintain the stone terrace walls. If one generation did not repair the stone walls, then heavy rains would wash the topsoil down from the hill tops and centuries of hillside farming would be lost forever. Sacred forests are protected from wood-cutting by taboos. Another old tradition is that people should only marry between the ages of 18-36, thus limiting population growth until recently to that which the land could sustain. Culture and environment are thus closely linked. The whole agricultural system is therefore threatened by new attitudes, fast population growth, modern education of the young, their movement to urban centres and their disinterest in arduous manual work. It was clear to the LCS representatives that a truly informed balance will need to be struck by the communities between respect for traditions and the changes brought by the 'modern' world.

In our friendly meeting we exchanged explanations of the missions and objectives of the LCS and Parka organizations with Ato Koashona Kollo, the manager and Ato Garmo Qerre, the Parka treasurer. Many parallels were noted between the mountain communities, with whom LCS works in Peru and which also practice terraced farming and weaving, and the hillside communities in Konso region.
In the afternoon, we visited Gamole, a showcase village of a traditional Konso settlement protected by dry stonewalls where various cultural practices are still intact.

In Gamole village, Ato Koashona, the Parka manager briefed the team with the administrative responsibilities arrangement of the Konso generation and the responsible generation’s tree erection.

In the communities of Konso, each generation is assigned the responsibility of protecting and leading the community for 9 or 18 years. The cycle is 9 years in the Kera area and 18 years in the Karat area. Special ceremonies mark the synchronised hand-over of all roles and responsibilities to the subsequent generation. Each newly-responsible generation erects a newly-cut tree against the trees of the old generations to symbolize itself and binds the tree together with the earlier ones. The youngest generation tree is always the tallest.

In Gamole village, the team also visited the house where the young men of the village sleep, its impressively-constructed dry stone walls and narrow passages between the huts, the village entrance and exit gates , and the village compound (Moara) where traditional practices are staged and the village court is held. The Moara contains the generation trees, a playing or ritual field and the night-stay house. This house functions both as a guard house and a place for visitors to stay. Through the night stories are traditionally told here. (These special house are therefore very interesting as possible centres in Konso villages for LCS work on digital story recording and exchange). The young men's house at Gamole has been rebuilt recently with the help of Parka and TCF funds. (Many of such traditional houses were burnt during the Derg communist regime, which until the early 90's had banned traditional practices and undermined the inherited authority of the community elders.)
We were also privileged to meet Kalla Gezahegn, the traditional Konso chief of the community at his nearby sanctuary, where he lives near the sacred forest in a compound separated from the village.

Gezahegn can speak both Amharic and English very well. He had trained as a civil engineer, but returned to the village 6 years ago to shoulder his serious responsibilities as the chief after the death of his father. He showed us photos of his father and grandfather, both when they were alive and now mummified, and briefed us on the succession of Konso chiefhood and its associated rituals and responsibilities, eg for local judgements on customary laws. Gezahegn is the 20th chief to have been in the same place - each chief usually holding position for an 18 year cycle. Gezhaegn is also a member of the managing board of Parka. He told the team that there is a very high appreciation of Parka's work from the 6 local communities with which it works, There are 48 villages in the Konso region - other nearby villages are requesting Parka's assistance. However, a shortage of resources constrains the association from accommodating all these requests.

Parka pay some money to village elders to teach children in appreciating traditional knowledge and practices, including storytelling. Both sides saw the strong potential for LCS methods to help Parka on the mission of linking the generations, improving social dialogue/cohesion and the passing on traditional knowledge to the young. Parka could be a collaborative platform for LCS to quickly scale up to reach many communities e.g. via LCS training workshops and multimedia exhibitions.

The team left the Parka personnel with an appointment to come back later in the LCS trip in order to visit some other Konso villages which are more remote and less affected by tourism than Gamole (see Sept 21st below).

Sept 19th: Woito meetings- Tsamako & Birrale communities and CASE

The team traveled to Woito in the morning. Travelling west in the mountains from Konso, parallel to the Kenyan border along a surprisingly wide new road that is being built (not without a few problems, see photo!), the hill landscape changes with views of distant lakes and green cotton plantations below on the plains.

As we descended from the mountains to the plains, the temperature rose radically as we entered a hot flat acacia scrub land, with quite different flora and fauna. Here the cultures and languages are quite different from Konso. Tribal communities mainly herd animals, but may also now find work in the irrigated privately-owned plantations or grow crops suitable for a semi-arid climate.

After unloading the two extra passengers riding in discomfort on the car roof (bought by Darourt and Mesfin for their forthcoming family celebrations of Mesqala festival), we sheltered from the sun and met Horra Galcha, Manager of Culture and Art Society of Ethiopia (CASE) Woito Project and other staff for traditional Ethiopian food served on injera pancakes. The two parties introduced each other and discussed arrangements for a meeting with local community elders.

That afternoon, we had a meeting in the tree shade with 13 male and 7 female elders from the Tsamako and Birrale communities. (The Tsamako tribe has about 10 000 members.) The purpose of our visit, mission and work of LCS were explained for the elders via a translator. The elders, whose contributions were dominated by Gosha Armirie, the tribal leader, appreciated and supported the LCS activity. As they said, tourists come and just want to take photos of us and leave, this is the first time visitors have sat down with us to talk. Continuing about the problem of tourism in the region, they said that some local people come to Woito just to try to be paid to have their photos taken. They advise people to stay at home, and have the tourists come instead to a local community-run lodge where they can buy things and eat local food and watch organised dances, so confining the impact.

On a question from the visiting team about their culture, the community elders tellingly said “You can easily imagine the status our culture is in simply by looking at our environment. You can see that our environment is badly degraded; and so is our culture.”

There are have been problems for traditional herding due to the introduction of enclosures e.g. around the very large local cotton plantation, and the water requirements for irrigating the latter. In the last 10 years, such privately owned plantations may not bring any benefit for local people and so there have been conflicts. (When they were established, workers from the highlands came to cut trees to sell for a quick return as firewood . In the last 5 years there have been attempts to educate for a re-forestation with indigenous trees.)

The elders emphasized that there has been a high rate of deforestation, and a serious shortage of rains in the area. “The last good rain was a year ago, we used to expect two rains a year.” There is therefore a high concern on basic food continuity. Besides, the community members expressed their insistence in their culture. They said. “Though it is the fate of our culture to be degraded, it is inevitable that still we continue living in our culture.”

A serious problem they raised about their livestock was that their traditional vetinary knowledge has become eroded over time and now there are few people with sufficient knowledge of traditional medication (and possibly a lack of herbs). But the number of modern practicians for animal health is also insufficient, thus they lack proper animal health care. The community members often try to imitate some modern procedures when they give medication to animals. They would buy some tablets or injection chemicals from contraband suppliers and try the procedures themselves on sick animals. Many such attempts result in the death of the animals owing to problems related to expiry dates, dosage and mismatch between the medicine and the disease. (LCS noted these symptoms of poor indigenous knowledge transmission between generations).

It was noticeable in this dialogue that not only men, but some women in the gathering spoke out with their views. This was to be the exception during the LCS visit, as most of our meetings were with the elders of male-dominated social groups. (In fact this bias became the reason why the LCS visitors specifically called for a meeting at the end of the trip to hear the views of female community representatives). The meeting closed respectfully with the mantra from both sides: “You are human beings, We are human beings. God bless you”.

After the meeting with the community members, the LCS team met Culture and Art Society of Ethiopia Woito Project Office staff in their office to review the community meeting and learn more. According to CASE staff members, the Woito project is presently coordinating 11 culture and natural resources protection associations in the surrounding area. CASE has been active for the last 3 years in the locality and have also been working with park rangers and wildlife protection agencies to try to stop animal poaching (sometimes using machine guns!) in and around the local Stephanie Wildlife Reserve.

CASE reported their experiences in relation with critical issues of bicultural diversity. They reported that the Tsamako and Birrale communities in the area formerly had a variety of 36 types of crop before the introduction of the modern improved seeds to the land promoted by the Government. Some time after the adoption of the improved seeds, they were left only with the new maize, which requires fertilizer. (Probably a monoculture is more vulnerable to the variability of a semi-arid climate too.) Now, the CASE project office has collected the original types of indigenous crop from various areas and distributes the seeds among the community members.

Returning to the issue of the lack of skilled vets and the misuse of modern medications, CASE staff mentioned that they have also been trying to re-introduce traditional of 'ethno-vetinerary knowledge, for example the use of dog's urine to overcome the problem when a cow rejects a newborn calf. They also confirmed the LCS view that traditional knowledge is transmitted through storytelling and the value of myths and proverbs -there is no written language for some of the local cultures. CASE also mentioned the tribal separation of the male and female societies - boys (should) respect their father's peers, girls their mother's. Women are not the decision makers. When the children go to school they are often left alone at home to do everything.

One aside that was made was that some time ago, people got outside aid for free, but now labour is expected in return. People are sometimes reluctant to work to get this assistance now (dependency syndrome).

The Government priority on education can also bring some conflicts, as the youngsters are more focused on going to urban schools, help less with the farming work and can put their culture aside, e.g. referring to their parents' 'backward attitudes'. In the last year CASE has been trying to address this problem by introducing two or three 45min. sessions a week on local culture and traditions into the local school curriculum. A male and female elder are paid by CASE to give these sessions in the Woito and Aerbore schools. (LCS noted the opportunity here to build on this cultural revitalization bridgehead in the schools - amplifying it via LCS methods, digital equipment and e.g. multimedia exhibitions. Unfortunately, there is no local-language radio station that can be used.).

In all this was a very illuminating day, with strong memories, friendships made and much learned by the LCS visitors.