Wednesday 16 April 2014

The Ensete Eating Dorze People of Ethiopia in Their 'Beehive Huts'

‘The tribal warfare amongst the d’Scarlett clan teenagers seems to be dissipating, though the Monkey still suffers from conversation interruptus, much to her extreme annoyance. Yesterday, Occy declared it was Day 4 with no internet and a meltdown was imminent.
As the sun rises over the mountains surrounding Lake Chamo, bathing the Monty Pythonesque sweeping plains below in golden sunlight, the animals begin their morning rituals. The Monkey cries for food, the Pindl-cat photographs the surrounds and the Occy writes the words that will go down in family history.’
Characteristic Dorze Hut
So began my journal on the morning we left Arba Minch, Ethiopia and set out to visit the Dorze tribe. This tribe is characterised by their tall Beehive shaped huts – this of course is our western interpretation as you have seen in my previous posts the Ethiopian beehive looks nothing like our beehives! The huts actually have two windows set high and a doorway placed to emulate the elephants that used to roam the area.
Inside the hut with a cow peeping - half of the hut is for the animals at night
We climb the side of the Guge Mountains in our four wheel drives til we reach the Dorze village. It is significantly cooler up here, especially compared to the searing of the Omo Valley plains below. We leave our vehicles at the edge of the village and follow a winding path through false banana plants and other flowering bushes til we come to the first characteristically shaped hut. The hut stands at 12 m high, it is constructed with vertical hardwood poles and woven bamboo (this bamboo is for some mysterious reason cut in the moonlight only!) and it’s topped with a thatched roof of ensete leaves. Over time termites eat away at the base and the hut gradually gets lower and lower until eventually a new hut is needed but this process usually takes about 80 years.  

A Dorze woman sits outside scrapping ‘Ensete’ the false banana plant – the pulp is fermented for three months under bananas leaves in the ground in an anaerobic process that produces, when finally baked, the most delicious tasting flat bread called kocho I’ve ever eaten. It is typically eaten with a spicy paste of chilli and oil or fresh honey. While ensete is extremely valuable for food security, it is used for more than just food – the fibrous leaves and stalks are used for production of clothing, shelter, and baskets, as well as for ceremonial practices. Parts of the plant are also used to promote maternal health by aiding in stimulating placental discharge, and traditional practitioners use it to help heal broken bones and reduce swelling of joints in both livestock and humans. 

When I was a teenager I owned an Ashford spinning wheel and regularly spun wool. I thought I’d give the hand held spindle the local ladies were using a twirl and spin out some cotton yarn – um, not so easy! I felt like a retarded Klutz-bum!
The Dorze also make a liquor called Araki similar to the spirit the Ari tribe produce only the Dorze version is flavoured with garlic (which makes it oily and disgusting and it being terribly strong I proceeded to get quite tipsy on the three traditional welcome shots which had the added effect that I then proceeded to try and buy everything in the village!) The Dorze people are famous for the traditional 100% Ethiopian cotton cloth called a Netele or Gabi, usually with the colourful border called a Tibeb and of course I have to have one.
Most of the huts have their own gardens containing ensete, vegetables, spices & tobacco. We leave the Dorze to visit with a much poorer tribe in the lowlands - next blog post.

Friday 4 April 2014

Konso Tribe of Ethiopia - Two peoples perspective

Diary writing in Ethiopia
' Ethiopia gets under your skin ...' I wrote in day 10 of my diary. Occy started his with 'Before leaving Jinka we had picked up two boxes of 50 pens...'. I found it completely fascinating to compare diaries for the same day amongst us and find quite different observations. Indi-pinds had kept her diary in point form with drawings; Monkeybuns had kept a video diary; Lionboy kept a photographic diary & the Goddess prefered to live in the moment.
Page from my diary Day 10 Ethiopia
'At first it's so like outback Australia it seems familiar with it's eucalypt scents. Then it becomes too hot in the arid Omo Vally to be bearable for more than short stretches of time. Next minute you're driving past the endless red and green landscape dotted with those incredible termite chimneys, acacia trees decorated with oblong beehives, majestic mountains sweeping over te rivers and plains below, reaching up to vast, intense blue of the cloudless Ethiopian sky.'
Beehives in the trees Ethiopia

Termite empire Ethiopia
Another day of driving over dusty rods with the inevitable flat tyre, past women carrying the ubiquitous yellow water containers in the goatsin backpacks or huge loads of wood or hay. India had bought a hundred pens, some for the Aari tribe children and some for the Konso village school children we were yet to visit. The Konso have managed to get their land listed with UNESCO as world heritage due to impressive stonework fortification in a terraced system dividing the village.'
Konso woman wearing a typical Konso skirt design and carrying a goatskin back packpack with yellow plastic water container

Pages from Occy's diary Ethiopia Day 10
'Back the way we came,' wrote Occy, 'Down and across the huge fertile valley where it was 5-7 degrees hotter (30-32 degrees). Passing many herds of goats and cattle. The standard yellow water bottles or bundles of sticks.Wherever we had been I had noticed there was electricity cables. In fact, all of their electricity comes from hydroelectricity generation and there is an excess, sold to neighbouring countries. Also ever present were mobile phone towers and although uptae was not high, there was signal almost everywhere we went.'
 'At the Konso village it was acomplete contrast to previous villages that we had seen. Built up over several generations it was an incredible ants nest of stone walls, pathways and thatched huts.'

Stone fortified pathway into the Konso village

Konso Village Huts
Konso Village steps to ceremonial meeting area with 'wagas' or  statues commemorating chiefs that have died as heros killing men or animals. The Konso had an interesting tradition of taking the tibia of the dead enemy, burning it to ashes and dancing around it.
Generation Ladder of the Konso Tribe
'Every 18 years they add a large log to the generation totem. There was a large stone also to be lifted and thrown over a males head three times when he had reached manhood.' Occy wrote.
Lionboy lifting the manhood stone

Occy about to throw the stone over his head
I had drawn a picture of the village with notes to remind myself that they grew sorghum, maize, moringa leaf, corn & sunflowers. I noted 'The initiation into manhood rock - pick it up and throw it over head behind you - very heavy - Occy was trembling and turning red with the effort.'
 I then went on to note that to be called 'a clitoris' is the ultimate insult because all respectable women have been circumcised.

by Dorit d'Scarlett