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).

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