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.

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