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Tl1e Dynamics of Cognatic Descent



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The University of Chicago Press Chicago and London


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TJ1is volume is presented also as volu111e 4 in tl1e series MONOGRAPI-IS IN ETHIOPIAN LAND TENURE, sponsored b)' tl1e Jnstitt1te of Etl1iopiat1 Stt1dies and tl1e Fact1lty of Law of Haile Selassie I University, Addis Ababa. All other volumes in tl1e series are {Jt1blisl1ed by tl1e sponsoring institutions.


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The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 1973 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Published 1973 P'rinled in the United States of An1erica . .ln ernat1onal Standard Book Number: 0-226-34548-3 � Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 72-97666

This book is dedicated to the n1any good people of Dega Damot wl10 gave me l1ospitality a11d l1elped n1e with study, in tl1e hope that tl1is presentation of the knowledge with whicl1 tl1ey entrusted me will contribute to the wise and just adn1inistration of their beloved land, and to my teacher and friend Lloyd Fallers.




List of Tables a11d Illustrations/ix Note 011 Amharic Transcription/xi Preface/xiii 1. Introduction/! 2. The Setting/32 3. The Hot1sel1old/43 4. The Con1munity/66 5. Local Lege11d and National Traditio11/82 6. The Desce11t Co1·poratio11 a11cl Its Estate/98 7. I11dividual Rigl1ts in Land/130 8. The Acquisition of Rist Land/144 9. Social Stratification and the Co11trol of Land/ 182 10. Cha11ging Patter1Js of Land Te11ure i n Dega Dan1ot/204 11. Co11cl11sio11/233 Appe11dix: An1haric Titles/249 Glossary/ 253 Bibliography/259 Index/267 ,



tables and illustrations

Tables 1. Distributio11 of Shoa Hayl's Fields/92 2a. Social Status a.11d Landl1olding i11 Shoa Hayl/93 2b. Residence of La11dholders in Sl1oa Hayl/93 3a. Tl1e Fejsrtips of Shoa Hayl/128 3b. The Fejships of We11din1/129 4a Fields Held by Molla a11d Dersil1/ 196 4b. Co1npariso11 of Activities of Molla and Dersih/198

Maps 1. Etl1iopia /33 2. Parishes i11 Area of Inte11sive Study/87 3. Ho111esteads a11ci Fields i11 Shoa Hayl/91 4. Divisio11 of \Ve11di111's Gra Midir Lancl Section/96 5. Divisio11 by Father i11 Shoa I-Iay1 / l 05 6. Lru1d Sectio11s i11 Shoa Hayl/111

Figures 1. -Major Seasonal Agricultural Activities on the High Plateau/55 2. The Genealogical Charter of Shoa Hayl/ 107 3. The Genealogical Charter of \Ve11di1n/ 109 4. ·The Pedigrees of a11 Elder from Dereqe Marya111/ 133 JX

Tables and Illustrations

5. The Pedigree of a11 Elder/ 134 6a. Fields Acquired by Inheritance/ 183 6b. Fields Acq11ired from Fej of a Descent Corporation/ 183

note on amharic transcription

The tra11sliteratio11 of Amharic terms and na1nes in this book utilizes an orthography i11te11ded to be readable for non­ specialists. A1nl1atic is written i11 a syllabary alphabet pri­ marily co11sisti11g of thirty-three basic characters representing conso11ants, eacl1. having seven variant for1ns, referred to as ''orders," to express tl1e seven vowel pho11emes of A111haric. These vowels have bee11 rendered in the following n1anner: Order in. EthioJJic sc,·ipt

First order Second order Third order F ourtl1 order Fifth order Sixtl1 order Seve11 th orcler


e u


a e• �




as as as as as as as

1n ever in rude in elite i11 father in to11cl1e i11 fit 111 hatJe

111 tl1e tra11scription of consonants, a dot under {, .f, or c.h indicates that the stop or affricate is a glottalized explosive; in accorda11ce with 111a11y Se1niticists' usage, q has been used to represent glottalized k. The letter j is pronounced as in the word ''judge,'' and z is pronounced like the z of ''azure.'' Palatalized 11 is written ii, as in Spanish ''canon." The rest of the co11sonants have approximately their English values. Double co11s011ants i11dicate geminatio11. For a rigorous phonen1ic descriptio11 of Amharic, see, for exan1ple, Bender (1968). •


Note on Amharic Transcription

The plural of 111ost A1nharic nouns is formed by addi11g the st1ffix -oc/1 ( -J1ocl1 or --i,voch after vowels) to the si11gular stem. However, with Amharic words used as tech11ical tern1s i1 1 the text, such as fej, plurals have been for111ed in the E1 1glish, rather tha11 the Amharic, man11er; for example, fejs instead of fejoc/1.



pre ace

The 111aterial in this book i s based on twenty mo11ths of field­ \vork co11ducted in 1961 a11d 1962 witl1 the ge11erous fi11ancial st1pport of the Ford Founclation Foreign Area Trai11ing Fel­ lowship Progra1n a11d tl1ree 1nonths of additio11al research i11 1966 supported by the Wen11er-Gren F . ou11ciatio11 and the University of Rochester. A limited a1nount of con11)arative data was also gatl1ered between. 1968 a11d 1970, wl1en I \Vas co11dt1cti11g fieldwork in a differe11t area 011 a11otl1er to1)ic. Fo1· its support i11 tl1is last :field trip I a111 grateft1l to tl1e Natio11a] Science Fou11datio11.. I would like to take tl1is OJ)portu11ity to tl1a11k the I1111)erial Ethiopia11 Gover11111e11t for facilitating a11d encot11·agi11g 111y researcl1. I wot1ld also like to eXJJress 111y deep gratitt1de to the Haile Selassie I University and the I11stitt1te of Ethioi)iru1 Studies for tl1e great assista11ce tl1ey have given 111e. It is 11ot possible to 111e11tio11 all those to wl10111 I an1 i11debted. I an1 partict1lar]y grateft1l, l1oweve1·, to Dejaz1natch Tsehay I11qo Selassie, Ato Million Neq11iq, His Excellency Bellete Gebre-Tsadik, Ato Gebre Hiwot Welde I-Iawariat, Ato Ale11111 Ai11be, Ato Tafesse Bekkele, Dejazmatch Desta Bir11, Ato Taye Retta, Fita\\1rari Ayalew Bezabih, a11cl the n1any other oflicials of th.e In1perial Ethiopian Govem1nent wl10 e11abled n1e to live a11d work in Gojjam Province. I am also i11debted to Stanislaw Chojnacki, Abraha111 Demoz, . As1naro111 Legesse, Donald Levi11e, Richard Pankh11rst, James Pa11l, Georges Savard� Ar11old Gree11, Dan Ba11er, f-Iarriso11 Du11ning, Bill Ewi11g, Robert Merrill, and Paul Baxter for tl1eir st1ggestions co11ce.rni11g researcl1 and at1alysis � •••



to Andrea Williruns and Susan Hobe11 for editorial sugges­ tions; a11d to Nicky Harmon, Sandy Sl111fler, David Mallach, and Patty Pessar for their help in the prepa1·ation of the n1anuscript for this book. Finally, I would like to thank my assistant, Tilahun Ingida, for his patient help with research, his constant companio11ship, and l1is suggestio11s for revisio11s i11 the completed manuscript. Tl1e na1nes of livi11g persons who appear i11 tl1is book l1ave been altered. Tl1e nan1es of key ancestors and of descent cor­ porations have also bee11 cha11ged. It is i111possible, however, to disguise entirely the identity of these ancestors and the la11ds whicl1 bear tl1eir names, for 111a11y of the1n are well know11 in Dega Dan1ot. For tl1is reason, I wish to state e1n­ phatically that the ge11ealogical inforn1ation in this book is subject to error a11d sl1ould not, under any circu111stances whatsoever, be i11troduced as evidence in legal disputes con­ cen1i11g la11d.




The subject of tl1is book i s land tenure il1 a remote peasant co111mu11ity on the highlands of the Ethiopiai1 plateau. To all but tl1e died-in-the-wool Ethiopiarust the topic may well sot111d esoteric. For this reaso11 I will begin by trying to a11swer th. e question that should be asked of any antl1ro­ IJological 111onograp. h: what of general a11d co1nparative in­ terest ca11 be lean1ed from this finely focused case study? Tl1e a11swer to the questio1 1, a11d l1e11ce 111y object in writi 11 g this book, is fourfold. First, I believe the book represents a substa11 tial ethno­ graphic co11tribution to our u11derstancling of la11d te11ure, one of the central institutions of A1nhara civilization JJast and prese11t. 111 this respect it will be of interest both to historia11s i11terested in tl1e co111parative stt1cly of fet1dal 1 1. The tern1 "fet1dal" has been used rather loosely with respect to st1b­ Saharan African kingdoms. The Rt1anda (Maquet 1961, 1970), the Ashanti (Rattray 1929), and the Nupe (Nadel 1942), for example, have all been called fet1dal. Recently Goody (1963) and Beattie (1964) have argued that st1ch uncritical usage obscures important institutional differ­ ences between African and medieval European kingdoms. Following Marc Bloch in his disct1ssion of feudalisn1 as a type of society (Bloch 1961: 441-47), these writers hold that to be called feudal a society shot1ld be characterized by: a st1bject peasantry; widespread use of the fief instead of salary; the st1premacy of a class of specialized warriors; ties of obedience and protection which bind n1an to n1an within the warrior class, that is, personal bonds of political dependence; the fragmentation of authority; and reference to the survival in some form of the idea of a former state. Goody and Beattie find that some but not all of these characteristics are found in the African kingdoms with which they are concerned. In the Amhara case, by contrast, it seems to n1e (see also Gamst 1970) that all of then1 fit rather well. An1hara cultivators, unlike most st1b-Saharan African cttltivators (FaJiers 1961), are peasants. The ideal image to



{Jeasa11 t societies and to ai1 yone _i11terested i11 u1 1derstandu1 g cot1 te1uporary rural A1nhara society.. . . Seco1 1d, the book is concerned w1tl1 tl1 e relat 1 0:11sJ1 1p be­ tween social statt1s, land te11ure, ru1 d peasa11 t attitudes to­ wards la1 1d reform. In tl1 is respect I believe tl1 at tl1e study confronts son1 e widely accepted generalizations about pea�­ a11t society, land tenure, and 1 11odernizatio11 . 111 particular �t co11 fro11 ts tl1 e assu111 1Jtio.n of s01ue social scientists and pol1 ticia11 s tl1at JJeasa11 t po1Julatio11s i11 third-world countries inevitably live i11 a de1Jressed co11 ditio11 ,vitl1 respect to la11 cl rigl1 ts; a11 d tl1at sig11ifica11 t eco 1101nic develo_p 111e11 t a11 d social refor111 011 ly await a drastic overl1at1li11 g of tl1e extant rules of la11cl te 11 ure. Tl1 ird, tl1e book is directed towards a11 thropologists i11 ter­ ested i11 cog11atic desce1 1t, for it is througl1 a rather con1plex syste11 1 of cogi1 atic descent groups a11 d their political 111 a11 ipu­ latio11 tl1 at la1 1d is acquired, lost, a11d held. The central pt1zzle in t1 11 derstandi11 g cog11atic desce11 t syste111 s like tl1 at of tl1 e An1 }1ara co11 cer11 s tl1 e restriction of overlap1Ji11 g claims to scarce resot1rces. I believe tl1 e 111ost important contribu­ tion of this book to tl1e com1Jarative anthro1Jological stt1d y of cog1 1atic descent is that it presents tl1 e first well-clocu1 11entecl descriptio 11 and anal;1 sis of this process of restrictio11 in a social systen1 tl1at has 1 1ot bee11 greatly altered by tl1e adn1 i1 1istrative i11 1positions of a colonial regin1e. Fot1rth, tl1ot1gh 11 1y ai1 11 is not tl1eoretical, I think tl1 e book de1no11 strates the t1seft1l11 ess of a particular kind of ,1 1 1thro­ IJOlogical JJerspective. Tl1 e key tJoint of tl1 is perspective is tl1 at the observed JJatter1 1 of bel1 avior in tl1 is case, of la11 d­ l10Iding-can11ot b � understood as the JJroclt1ct of ct1sto111 ar)' rules alone. It must 111 stead be seen as tl1 e cu 1 11t1lative product of a . great 111any i 11 clividt 1 al decisions. The a11 thropologist's task 1 s to un?erstand tl1 e c ?11 texts i11 \\1 }1ich, and tl1 e processes thr�ugl1 _ wl1 1ch, tl1 ese dec 1 sio11 s are reacl1 ed. I 11 tl1 is cl1 ::1iJter I will d1sct1ss furtl1 er eacl1 of tl1ese objectives. which Amhara _ lords aspired was that of the man who \Vas at once a fief­ d in hol�er, a warrior, a vassal, and a governor. (This point is discuss · ·1· e · _ J_ev1ne . . 1965:155-67.) Finally, the high cultt11·e of .Amhara c1v1 1zat1on 1s oriented to the former glory of the Axun1ite empire.


Tl1e Amhara

The Amhara Tl1e A11 1l1ara are a.11 eth1 1ic grot1p witl1 a1Jproxi 1nately five 1njllion men1bers. Toclay they occu1Jy a ce1 1tral positio11 011 tl1e highla1 1ds of the Ethiopian n1assif. Most rt1ral A11 1hara prese1 1tly live betwee11 7,000 a1 1d 12,000 feet above sea level i.11 adjace11t IJarts of four Ethiopia11 provi11 ces: Beoe111 dir, Gojjam, Sl1oa, a11 d Welle (1na1J 1). Culturally and po­ litically, however, tl1e A1 11l1ara are tl1e do111i1 1ant grou1J j11 Etl1iopia as a wl1ole. Su1 ce their e111 erge1 1ce as a self-co11 scious etl111ic a1 1ct linguistic grot1p i11 the begi1 11 1ing of the seco11 d 111illenniu1 11 1-\.D., tl1e A1 11l1ara l1ave bee11 the 1nain political heirs of A-xt111 1, tl1e ancie1 1t Sen1itic ki1 1gdo1n that flourishecl 011 tl1e 11ortl1 er1 1 reaches of tl1e Ethio_pian fJlateau fro111 several ce1 1turies before Christ t11 1til well after the rise of Islam. Of paramot11 1t in1portance i n the heritage of Axu111 were a plow-based, 1nixed-far111 i1 1g agricultural pattern, the EthioJJic Cl11·istian cl1t1rch, a1 1d tl1e ve1 1erated traditio11 of tl1 e I1 n1Je­ rial tl1ro11 e, stancli11 g ,1bove and syn1bolically t1niti11 g tl1e great regio11 al rt1 lers a1 1d their lower vassals. TI1e la11 d-based fet1dal patter11 of social ancl political orga1 1izatio11 with which tl1is book is co 1 1cer11 ecl, however, develo_pecl, or at least took its 1Jrese1 1t for1 11, during the centt1ries of co1 111Jarative isola­ tio1 1 si1 1ce tl1e decli11e of Axu11 1 a11d the e11 1erge11ce of A111 l1ara civilizatio1 1. Traditio11 ally A1 11hara society, 2 like other JJeasru1t societies, was co11 11Josed of a 11 t11 11 be1· of disti11 ct seg111 ents cliffere1 1tiated from 01 1e a11 other by occu1Jation, JJower, and ho11or. Tl1e great 1 11ajority of A111 l1 ara were ( a11d still are) JJeasa11ts livi11g i11 scattered hamlets in tl1e 1nountai1 1 fast11ess of the 2. The changes that n1ark tl1e end of what n1ay be called the traditional period in Ethiopian history began, in most respects, in the last part of the nineteenth centur)' cluring the reign of Emperor Menilek (1889-1913) and have accelerated rapidly since the Second World War. In a sense the very idea of a traditional period is n1isleading in the Ethiopian context, for, at least in its pop11lar sense, the term suggests an essentially static era, ,vhich Ethiopian history prior to the late nineteenth centt1ry was cer­ tainly not. The n1ajor clivisions of An1hara society with which I am con­ cerned here, however, endureci throughout the period of Amhara as­ cendancy.



Ethiopian plateau a11d tilling the soil with iron-tipJ)�d ox­ draw11 plOVl'S. Tl1is far1ning populatio11 supported or, 111 the An1hara idion1, "carried 011 their backs'' a 1nuch smaller rt1li11g elite. The division of Anlhara society i11to tax-payu.1g peasa11ts (gebar, si11g.) and a 11on£armi11g elite ( was crosscut by a distinction betwee11 lay111en and cl1urch111e11. The elite was tl1t1s divided into 111en wl10 held secular, esse11tially 111ilitary, titles on tl1e 011e hand, a11d l1.igl1 ecclesi­ astic officials 011 tl1e otl1er.3 Correspo11di11gly, tl1e farmi11g pOJJt1latio11 was ( a11d is) divided i11to lay peasants ( 11st1ally called c.he-vva in tl1e regio11 I st11died) a11d clergy ( !(al1i11at) wl10 also e11gage i11 agrict1lture. Above both the sec11lar and ecclesiastic bra11cl1es of the elite, at tl1e apex of the stratifica­ tio11 syste1n, was tl1e E1111Jeror, tl1e Co11q11eri11g Lio11 of the Tribe of J udal1, tl1e Ki11g of Ki11gs of Etl1iopia.4 Fi11ally, at tl1e otl1er e11d of tl1e social s1)ectrun1 were endogan1ous groups of artisa11s, slaves, a11d 11011-A111hara JJeoples under A111hara do111i11atio11. Tl1ot1gl1 there were great differe11ces in power, honor, and. wealtl1 between the 1Jeasa11try a11d the elite, tl1e cultural dis­ ta11ce betwee11 tl1e1n \Vas 11ot so great as i11 111ost other agrar­ ia11 civilizations.5 Most in1porta11t, in this regard, was the fact tl1at the elite was not a11 urban elite; for there were i 11 Etl1ioJJia prior to the 1Jrese11t ce11tury virtually no cities, witl1 their atte11da11t occupatio11al specializatio11, their doubting i11tellectuals, their scholastic skeptics, a11d tl1eir i11dependent co111111ercial classes. 6 3. Tl !is ?oo � is conc �rned \vith th e elites only insofar as they are a part of the 1nst1tut1onal env1ro nn1e nt of the peasant comn1unity. An excellent characterization of the elites, past and present, is to be found in Levine ( 1965:chap. 5). Other relevant discussio ns are to be found in Perhan1 (1948), Clapham (1969), and Hoben (1970a). Tirles and their significance are discuss ed in the Appendix. 4. For an excellent discussion of the position of the throne and its sources of legitimacy, see Levine (1964). See also Caquot (1957) 5. 1"his point is elaborat ed in Iioben (1970a). 6. The only exception to this generalization was the city of Gonclar to th� no�·th of Lake Tana \1/her � the court of the Emperors flourished e_ight eenth centuries \Vhile th eir dominions a nd briefly 1n the seventeenth _ _ w�re eroded by sub1n feudat1on, internecine strife, and the inroads of Galla tr1besm � n �rom the south. The absence of t1rban centers since the Axuniite _ period 1s discussed by Pankhurst (1961:chap. 6).


Land Rights in Aml1ara Society: Gwilt and Rist

Nor was tl1 e geographical distance between the peasants and their elites great. The sprawling military camps of the secular elite, witl1 their active courtly life, their displays of 111 artial JJOn1 p, a11d tl1eir extravagant feasting, circulated periodically tl1roughout the real1n; wl1ile i11 old Amhara areas it is seldon1 111ore tl1an a clay's walk to the nearest great n1onastery, a cy11ost1re of the 111 ore quiescent and conten1pla­ tive life a11d a center of religiot1s learni11 g.

Land rights and Amhara society: gwilt and rist Land tenure is of ft111dan1e11 tal importa11ce to any agrarian civilization. It is of particular importance for an unclersta11d­ ing of An1hara civilization, for in traditional A111hara society n1ost kinds of JJolitical an.ct social, as well as material, rela­ tions were expressed through and reflected in the distribution of rigl1ts over la11d. Traditio11ally, there were two basic principles of la11d te11ure: glvilt a11d rist. For the present, gwilt rights may be thought of as fief-holding rigl1ts, a11d rist rights 1nay be tl1ot1ght of as la11d-t1se righ.ts. Gwilt ( fief) rigl1ts provided econo1nic and 1Jolitical st1pport for the elite a11 cl in their territorial aspect co11 stituted tl1e fra111 ework for the adn1in­ istration of tl1 e peasantry. Rist (la.i1 d-use) rights, 011 the otl1er l1and, played an i111portant role in the social and eco­ nomic orga11izatio11 of the local con1n1t1nity. Gwilt rigl1ts over land were give11 to men1bers of the rt1li11g elite as a reward for loyal service to their lord, a11cl to religiot1s institutions as e11 dowments. The individt1 al or i11stitt1tio11 that held la11d as gwilt l1 ad the right to collect taxes fro1n those who far1ned it, and also l1ad judicial ancl administrative authority over those who lived on it. Gwilt rights were thus far 111ore tha11 jt1st a type of land tenure. They were an in­ tegral part of the An1hara feudal polity; they represented the granti11 g away by a regional ruler of an i1nporta11 t part of his taxi1 1g, judicial, a11 d admi11istrative authority. Virtually all arable a11 d inhabited land was held by sorne­ one or son1e i11stitt1tion as gwilt. There was ''11 0 la11 d without a master." Tl1 e individt1al t111 its of land held as estates of 5


gwilt were fro111 011e to three or four sqt1are 111iles i11 area. A IJarticular great lord or 111onastery n1ight l1old 1 11a11y estates of gwilt, and so1ne of these n1ight be co11tigt1ous. However, fro111 an acln1inistrative sta11d1Joi11t, a11d in tl1e eyes of the JJeasants, eacl1 estate of gwilt was a distinct t111it with its ow11 i11ter11al orga11ization. I11deed tl1ese estates were the 1nini111al and 111ost enduri11g t111its of sect1lar ad111inistrative orga11izatio11 i11 traditio11al A111l1ara society. Rist rigl1ts, i11 co11trast to gwilt rights, were ( and are) la11cl-t1se rigl1ts. I11 JJri11ci1 Jle tl1ey were l1ereditary a11d coulcl be ]1eld by lord a11d peasa11t alike. It is of fu11da111e11ta] j 1 11IJorta11ce to re111e111ber that rist a11cl gwilt are 11ot different ty1Jes of la11cl bt1t disti11ct a11d co1111Jle111e11tary tyJJes of la11d rigl1ts. Nor111ally, tl1ey exte11ded over tl1e sa111e la11cl. A si11gle estate of g\vilt land, co1111Jrisi11g a few sqt1are n1iles, i11cluded \vitl1i11 its bou11daries strip fields l1eld as rist by scores or even l1t1nclreds of far111ers. Tl1e gwilt-holder 1night also hold s0111e fields as rist ,vitl1i11 l1is estate of gwilt land. A JJerson who l1eld a field as rist could cultivate it as l1e \Visl1ed, subject 011ly to the li111itatio11s i111posed by tl1e fallow­ ing patter11 of his neigl1bors. I-Ie \vas 11ot a te11a11t. Nevertl1e­ less, his l1ereditary rist rigl1t to use the field was co11ditio11al 011 l1is 111eeti11g tax and service obligations associatecl witl1 it. Tl1e 111ost i1111Jorta11t of tl1ese were to the l1older of gwilt rights over tl1e estate in wl1ich the field was located. Other obliga­ tions 111ight be to l1elp 1 11aintain the local churcl1 or son1e part of its service. Tl1ere were IJrivileges as well as obligatio11s associated with having rist land witl1i11 a partict1lar estate. Para111ount a1110 1 1g these were the rigl1t to hold 11unor offices of sect1lar and ecclesiastical ad111i11istratio11 a11cl the rigl1t to be counted a111011g the elclers wl1e11 n1atters of public co11cer11 were dis­ cussed. Tl1e ft1ll sig11ifica11ce of rist rigl1ts for the A 1 11hara \Vill beco111e clear i11 tl1e following cl1apters. It \VilI be see11 tl1at eve11 today these rigl1ts are of far 111ore tl1an eco1101nic value. A n1an t1ses tl1e111 to select l1is l1ot1se site, to validate }1is clai111 to office,_ to exp�11cl l1is co11trol over la11d and. j)eople, to ft1rther 111s cat1se 1n court wl1atever the SJJecific isst1e at hai1d,


La11d Tent1re and Social Status in Aml1ara Society

and to judge the fit11 ess a11 cl clesirability of his son's or dat1gh­ ter's 111 arriage partner. Land rigl1 ts provicle so111 e of the most basic categories by which Amhara peasa11 ts l1ave conceptt1al­ ized, and to a large exte1.1 t still do, tl1eir political, econo1nic, a11d social relatio11 sl1ips with 011 e a11 otl1 er. Si11ce tl1e Second Worlcl War tl1e fet1dal A1nhara polity has been largely replaced by a bt1 reat1cratic forn1 of gover111ue11 t (see below, chapter 10). I11evitably tl1e role of g\vilt rigl1ts a11d of the gw.ilt-holder l1 as been greatly di1 ni11 ished by tl1ese cha11 ges. This book, however, is 11ot pri1narily con­ cerned with regio11 al gover111ne11 t a1 1d politics, past or JJresent. Its 1nai11 foctts is 1 1ot on the activities of tl1e gwilt-}1olding elite of yesterday o .r tl1e worlcl of tl1e JJrovincial ft1 n.ctionary today. Tl1e 111en1bers of botl1 these groups enter n1 y story only inso­ far as they affect tl1e local com1nu11 ity of inte11sive study. Rist rights, and more generally the co1nplex of ideas and activities wl1ich I will refer to as the rist syste1n, appear to have cl1 a11 ged relatively little si11 ce the war; nevertheless, eve11 the sn1 all cha11ges which have occurred will be exa111 ined. Tl1e rist syste1n is of central i1n1Jorta1 1ce to the social orga 1 1i­ zatio11 of tl1 e co111 munity I stt1died, ancl is the subject of tl1is book.

Land ten11re and social status in Amhara society The close association of I Jolitical authority, social status, a11cl the hereditary co1 1trol of la11 d l1as fosterecl a static i111age of A111 hara class strt1 ctt1re wl1ich 1 11y research does 1 1ot st1pport. Despite the peasa 1 1ts' insiste11ce tl1at all la11cl-t1se rigl1ts, or rist rights, are hereditary, it was found that the an1 011nt of la11 cl l1eld by indiviclt1al l1011sehold heads, a11d tl1e social status of these l1eads, 1nay cha11 ge 111arkedly over the cot1rse of tl1 eir lifetin1e. This fact has in1porta11 t i111 plicatio11s for peasant attitudes towards Ia11 d reform and, at the sa111e ti111 e, raises son1e ap1Jare11 t paradoxes co11 cer11ing the ''hereditary'' 11ature of rist. Social status, as well as IJOlitical authority, l1 as always bee1.1 closely re.lated to la11 d tenure i11 A111hara society (ffoben 1970a). Differe11ces between major classes have cor7


respo11ded to differences i11 tl1e ty1Je of la11� rights potentially available to tl1eir n1e111bers. Tl1us, at least 111 A111l1ara theory, low caste artisans or {ayb (includi11g smiths,. weavers, and tan11ers) have had access to la11d 011ly througl1 tenancy. They have not held rist or gwilt. Ordinary peasa11t far1ners, lay and clergy alike, have held la11d as rist but 11ot as gwilt. Me111b�rs of the elite, or nieklvarzin.t, have controlled land both as r1st a11d gwilt. Moreover, a perso11's standing withi11 his respective class also has corres1Jo11ded quite closely to the extent of his control over land, a cha11ge in l1is social statt1s usually being acco111pa11ied by a cl1a11ge i11 l1is co11trol over la11d. Finally, a11d of great i1111Jorta11ce to tl1is book, his attitude towards cl1ru1ges in the la11d-tenure systen1 has been based, for tl1e most part, 011 }1is assess1ne11t of how tl1ey will affect his status and his cl1ances of improving it. 111 light of tl1is association betwee11 authority, status, a11d land te11ure i11 An1l1ara society it is 11ot surprisi11g that many foreign observers and an increasing nun1ber of educated, urba11 Ethiopia11s l1ave co111e to call the la11d-tenure syste1n feudal, and have cast it somewl1at uncritically i n an image tl1ougl1t appro1Jriate to otl1er fet1dal, agraria11 societies. Tl1is in1age generally rests on four assumJJtions. First, it is assumed tl1at power a11d social status are based on the hereditary con­ trol of la11d. Second, A1nhara society is thot1gl1t to consist of 11un1erot1s land-poor or even la11dless peasant families don1i­ nated by a sn1all, la11d-holdi11g gentry by 111eans of tena11cy. Tl1ird, it is asst11ned that tl1ere is little social 111obilit)r; status is thought to derive fro1n land, and land is tl1ought to be hereditary. A n1an's social standi11g is tl1us presu1nably 111ore far111er ?r less deter1�1i11ecl peasa11t by chru1ce of birtl1. Tl1e _ 1s seen as to1l1ng year after year on tl1e la11ds l1eld by his f �ther befor � 1 1i1n witl1 little ince11tive to i111prove l1is tecl1n1ques and little l1ope of i1111Jrovi11g l1is social standing. Dis­ putes over la11d rigl1ts, wl1icl1 are i11deed frequent, are held ancl w:1steft1l sqt1abbles to ?e senseless rest1lting fro1n inse­ _ �u�1ty of title a11d tl1e abse11ce of a cadastral st1rvey. Fourtl1, It 1s tl1oug�1t to follo,v fro111 tl1ese asst11111Jtions that 111ost peasants will welcorne a tJrogra111 of la11d refor111 once its objectives are JJrOJJerly u11derstood. 8

Land Tenure and Social Status in Amhara Society

My fieldwork does not bear ot1t these assu111ptions. While power and status are certai11ly related to co11trol over land, it is jnaccurate to say tl1ey are based 011 it. It would be at least as true to say tl1at control over land is based on power, for, as will be seen, i11dividt1als who increase their political power are able to increase their holding of ''hereditary'' land. Nor does my research SUJJJJOrt the assu1111Jtion tl1at the A1nhara peasa11try is la11d-poor a11cl tl1at the do111ination of the elite rests i11 large part 011 its control of land-use rigl1ts. With the exception of artisans, forn1er slaves, a11d strangers, all of who1n together ge11erally constitute well tinder 10 per­ cent of the population, most farmers are able to obtain st1b­ stantial an1ou11ts of their land rent-free. Very few are altogether landless. Tenancy arrange1ne11ts are of great im­ portance to some individt1als, but tenants do not constitute a distinct class. Ma11y tenants are yot1ng 111en who \,Vill even­ tually obtain additio11al fields i11 their ow11 right. Others are comparatively wealthy 1nen who, having sufficient oxe11 and labor, rent additio11al land from their less fortt1nate neig11·bors and ki11sme11. ''Landlords," 011 the otl1er ha11d, include tl1e poor, the sick, a11d the aged, as well a.s tl1e great. The assun1ption that there is little. social 111obility, that a n1an ca11 do little to i1niJrove his social statt1s becat1se it is largely deter111i11ed by tl1e an1ount of land J1e i11herits, is also t1nwarranted. On the contrary, tl1ere are 111arked differe11ces in statt1s not 011ly between fatl1ers and their 011ly sons, bt1t also betwee11 full brothers who i11itially i11herited eqt1al shares of land. Most me11 are able gradt1ally to i11crease tl1e size of their landholding as tl1eir l1ot1seholcl grows and 1natt1res. Me11 who gai11 political pro111i11ence acqt1ire additional la11d more rapidly. These spectacular gains are aln1ost inevitably secured by mea11s of litigation. Fro1n tl1e upwardly 111obile man's JJOint of view at least, court disputes over land are not o waste of time. Contrary to the fot1rth asst1mption, the Amhara farn1er does not wa11t to see his rights i11 land modernized. In fact, the vigor with whicl1 tl1e Amhara peasa11ts of Gojjam, tl1e province i11 which I carried ot1t n1y research, oppose land refor1n has been demonstrated by ar111ed rebellion tl1ree times 9


since the Second World War. The n1 ost rece1 1t of tl1 ese violent protests, wl1ich reportedly took the lives of several hu11dred persons in 1967-68, was i1 1 response to tax refor111s re1Jre­ se11 ti11g only a feeble first steJJ towards la11 d reforn1 ( see be­ low, chapter l O). It J1 as bee11 argued by so111e, n1ost notably by officials of tl1 e Ethiopia11 gover11 111ent, that tl1is UJJrising, like those before it, resulted fro11 1 111 is1111 derstandi11 g. The IJeasants, it is argued, did 11 ot 111 1dersta11d the tr11e objectives of gover11 111e11 t policy or the benefits they would ulti11 1ately derive fro1n a cadastral survey, i1 1divicl11al registration of titles, a11 d individt1 al taxation. It is undo11btedly trt1e that the rece11 t revolt reflects, i11 IJart, a lack of co11 fide11ce i11 the gover11111 e11 t. Nevertl1eless, as I believe will beco1 11e clear i11 tl1e followir1g chapters, 1 11any 1Je,1sa11 ts, partic11 larly tl1 ose wl10 are 111ost a111bitio11s ancl wl1 0 are leaders in tl1 eir local co11 11 11t1nities, do OfJJJOSe precisely tl1 e refor111 measures the gov­ ern1 11e11 t actually l1opes to i11 1ple111e11 t. Paradoxically their oppositio11 is based 011 tl1eir fear that the n1easures will bri11 g about tl1 e very state of affairs they are i1 1te1 1ded to correct. I11 partict1lar it is feared that tl1e i11trodt1ction of freehold te11ure a11d la11 d sale will increase the econon1ic domina11ce of powerf11l n1 en and cut off aven11es of 11pward social n1 obil­ ity 11 0w available to every young man. Wl1e1 1 I bega1 1 111 y researcl1 it was 011 ly gradually and after several 111ontl1 s of fieldwork that I beca111 e aware that tl1ere was so11 1ethi11 g pt1 zzling about the se11 se in which rist rigl1ts i11 land are l1ereditary. Fincling the solution to the p11zzle took 1nucl1 lo11 ger a11d led me i11 clirections I l1ad 1 1ot a11 tici­ pated. Duri11 g the first part of 11 1y researcl1 , I fot111 cl little to co1 1t!·adict tl1 e "static'' view of A1 nl1ara society wl1 ich, at tl1at t1111e, I accep!ed as 11 1ore or less acct1rate. Me11 s1Joke fre­ que1 1tly and w1tl1 fervor of their ancestral rist, tl1e land of tl1eir forefatl1ers. Their senti111ents abo11t la1 1d were also evident as a recurrent tl1e111 e in so11g and verse. Above all, the strength of t �eir attacl1 n1 e11 t to land was brougl1 t l1 0111e to me _ _ b)' their w1ll111 gness to figl1 t about it and if 1 1eed be' to die ' for it. 10

Land Tenure and Social Status in An1l1ara Society

People also i 1 1sisted that all rist is hereditary; that it can­ not be bo11ght or sold. My q11estio11s about i 11heritance were met with tl1e a .ppare11tly sin1ple state1nent tl1at when a person dies his ( or her) la1 1d is divided eg.ually amo11g all his chil­ dren regardless of sex or birtl1 order. When I asked abo11t a specific field I was invariably told by the owner that it was his fatl1er's rist, his 111otl1er's rist, or l1is wife's rist. As the 1110 1 1tl1s passecl, however, I found n1yself co1 1fro11ted with an i11creasi1 1g an1ount of anomalo11s data. Despite their stro11g attach11 1ent to a11cestral land, 1 nost }Jeasants did not seen1 to know j11st where tl1eir ancestors, including great­ grandpare1 1ts and often even grandparents, l1ad lived. Tl1ey were eve11 less certai11 as to the exact locatio11 of their an­ cestors' fields. It also became. appare1 1t that a 11 umber of the largest landholders in the area, i11cluding gwilt-holding 111en1bers of the elite, \Vere born of }1u11 1ble parents. Yet they clai1 ned, and others agreed, tl1at all of their la11d, even la11d acquired tl1ro11gh litigation, was their a11cestral rist. Eve11 n1ore ano1 nalous was the fact that al1nost half of all the fields i11 tl1e com1 111111ity I lived i11 had been acquired by thei� present owners fron1 n1en or won1en who were not their pare11ts or JJersons wl1om they co11siderecl to be sig11 ifica11 t ki11sme11 ! It thus beca111e evident that land 1 11ight legiti111ately be co11sidered hereditary rist whetl1er or 11ot it was inherited. More ge1 1erally, I fo11nd that the status a11d legiti111acy of a person's right to a field are 11ot deter1 11ined by the \vay i11 \vhich l1e acquires it or fron1 wl1on1 l1e acquires it. Paradoxi­ cally, a 111an n1ight inherit a field fron1 his father only to later l1ave it taken fro1 n hi11 1 on the grou11ds that it was not his l1ereditary rist; conversely, l1e 1 night obtai11 it tl1rough liti­ gatio11 or cleari11g forest land only to later defend it against the clai111s of others by argt1ing that it was his ar1cestor's rist! T11e 111ore I can1e to apJJreciate the central in1portance of rist i11 the lives of the peo1 Jle I was stt1dying, tl1e 1nore I be­ gan to 11nderstand that the basic ideas, rights, interests, and processes associated with rist differ fundamentally fro111 those associated with freehold tenure in the 111odern West. At the 11


sa1 ne ti111e I fot111d that the rist system, as I came to under­ stai1d it, did not appear to rese1nble systems of 'ki1_1-group or village ownership con11 non in other parts of Africa. Wl1at, the11, are the major characteristics of rist rigl1 ts in contrast with freehold? Most of tl1e distinctive characteristics of rist are related to the fact that a field held by rist right is 11 ot thot1ght of as an e11during unit witl1 fixed bou11daries and a J)er1 nanent loca­ tion. It is not an object, like a cov.1 or a gu1 1, which a l)erson can clispose of as he pleases. I11 stead, it represe11ts a share of a 111ucl1 larger tract of land held corporately by tl1e descen­ dents, throug/1 a11)' combi11atio11 of 1rzale a,zcl fe1nale ancestors, of a lege11clary ·figure who is believed to have first held the tract of la11d as I1is rist. The i11dividt1al's rigl1ts in a JJarticular field are alv.1ays limited by the rights of other descende11ts of tl1 e first I1older, and l1is ability to obtain or 1 11ai1 1tai11 posses­ sio11 of tl1e field is subject to the control of a corporation coin­ posed of all those recognized descendents who hold land in tl 1 e tract. Tl1e rules whicl1 are supposed to deter1nine a de­ scende11t's share of tl1e a11cestral tract, and the orga11ization and regulatory fu11 ctions of the la11dholdi11g corporation will be described in co11 siderable detail in tl1e following chaJJters. For tl 1e mo111 e11t, however, let me anticipate by suggesting, i11 broad ot1tli11 e, how the corporate characteristics of the rist system resolve tl1e appare1 1t JJaradoxes and ai1 on1alies in the data I have discussed in this section. The peculiar se11 se in wl1ich rist is hereditary ca1 1 11 0w be u11 derstood. All land held as rist is held by hereditary rigl1t since the J 1older is ipso facto a descendent of the ancestral first holder. It does not n1atter l1ow the i11dividual actually obtai1 _ 1 ed po� sessio1 1 of the fielcl-throt1gl1 i 11 herita11ce, liti­ gat1 01 1, clearing, or eve11 te11a11cy, so 1011g as I1is JJedigree of descent fro111 the first holder is acceJJt · ecl by tl1e corJJOration leaders. Tl1e flexible relationsl1ip between rist land and social status, the l�igh level of co11 flict over l,1.nd, a1 1d tl1 e JJeasants' deep co1 nm1t1nent to the rist syste1 n are all related to a funda• 1 11 e11 tal a1 11biguity in the co11 cept of rist wl1ich is reflected in


Land Tenure and Social Status in Amhara Society

the semantics of the ter1n itself. In its most general sense, rist refers to the right a person l1as to a share of the land first held by any of his or l1er ancestors i11 ai1y line of descent. In its most restrictecl se11se, by contrast, it refers to a specific field held by virtue of st1ch a recognized right. In this book, for clarity, I shall refer to rist i11 the first sense as rist right a11d i11 the second se11se as rist land. In Aml1aric, however, no lexemic disti11ctio11 is made betwee11 rist rights a person be­ lieves l1e I1as i11 an a11cestral tract of land, and a field he actually possesses. Tl1e co11text in which tl1e ter111 is used n1ay, of course, restrict its mea11ing, but it is striking that it is often impossible to tell whether a JJerso11 is speaking of land he possesses or of rights which he feels n1ay some day enable him or his cl1ildre11 to obtai11 land. The ambiguity of the ter1n ''rist'' is not a mere ethnographic oddity or a sign of conceptual confusion. It is a11 acct1rate reflection of a la11d-tenure system in which it is a person's hereditary rigl1ts, not his fields, which are his most enduring possession, his real birthright. Tl1e dual refere11ce of rist also points to a basic co11clition of the rist system that si 111t1lta11eously creates conflict w.ithi11 it and cornmitment to it. Tl1is is that a person's rist rights al­ ,vays far exceecl his rist lc1ncl. In other words he is always able to trace pedigrees to son1e ancestral first holders in whose land tracts he does not yet have any fields. This is asst1red by the fact tl1at 1Jedigrees are traced bilaterally, that is, throt1gh both 1nale and female ancestors, and are from eigl1t to twelve generations deep. To put it another way, there are always more legitimate descendents of a11 a11cestral first holder than there are 111en who hold fields i11 his land tract. Whenever a rigl1t holder wl10 l1as 11ot previot1sly held rist Janel tries to obtain land, he co111es i11to conflict with the men already t1s­ i11g the la11d. Yet it is precisely by entering into co11 flicts of this type successft1lly that a n1a11 can increase his holding of ''.hereditary'' land and in1 prove his social status. Thus by assigni11g to eacl1 individt1al a large array of bilaterally traced pedigrees tl1rot1gh whicl1 he 111ay be able to clain1 land at the expense of otl1er n1e11, tl1e rist system fosters a pattern of 13


endemic suspicio11 and conflict wl1icl1 tends to n1as� the u�­ derlying com111it111e11t of the peasa11try to 1Jreserv111g the1r la11d-ten.ure systen1 i11 its present for1n.

Cognatic descent groups and the rist system The 111en and women who share an ancestral la11d tract be­ cause they believe they are descendents of its first holder constitt1te wl1at is know11 to a11tl1ropologists as a cog11atic or a111bili11eal desce n t grou1J. Groups of tl1is type, wl1icl1 are fairly co111111on. in the Pacific and qt1ite u11 t1st1al in Africa, [Jresent, i11 JJri11ciple, so111e distinctive organizatio11 al prob­ le111s. Tl1ere are a nu111ber of ,vays i11 wl1ich tl1ese proble n1s are solved. Tl1e A111l1ara solution, wl1icl1 is so 111ewl1at different fro111 otl1ers that l1ave bee11 described, serves the function of allocati 11 g la11d to JJeople more or less i11 accordance with tl1eir acl1ieved social a11d IJOlitical J.Jron1inence, wl1ile at the sru11e ti n1e it is co111_1Jatible with tl1e stabiliz11 g doctrine that on e's basic rights are l1ereditary and inalie11able.

The An1hara cog11atic descent group The nature of the An1 hara cognatic descent group 111ust be u11 derstood i11 relatio11 to the la11d tract over which it exercises corporate control; it is 011ly with respect to their sl1ared in­ terest i n this la11d that tl1 e i11dividt1al la11dholders constitute a group. A desce11t group's lru1d tract is trsually from 011e-half to on e and 011e-half sqt1are 111iles in area. It bears tl1e 11 ame of its lege11dary first l1older, a titled 11oble, a fa111ed warrior, or a JJriest, wl10 is thougl1 t to l1ave received it fro111 his superior wl1e11 tl1e A111hara first settled in tl1e regio11. The Ia11 d tract is divided into sectio11s whicl1 are said to represent the shares of tl1e first holder's so11s and dat1gl1ters. Eacl1 sec­ tion is �amed after on e of tl1ese childre11. The process of _ _ st1bd 1v1s1on may be re1Jeated at tl1e ge11 eratio11al Ie,,el of tl1e first holder's grandchildre11 a11d subseqt1e11t clesce11di1 1g gen­ . erations. Regardless of tl1e 11t1111ber of generatio11s to which subdivisio.n has bee11 carried, tl1e s1nallest u11its of lar1 d divi­ sion are plots a11d strips fro111 011e to te11 acres ( tl1 ree acres is 14

Cognatic Descent Groups and the Rist System

the average and the 111ost co 1 111non size). Altogether, there are several hunclred of these IJlots a11d strips i11 a single first holder's land tract. These are tl1e fields tl1at are individually l1eld as rist, and their holders are tl1e 111e111bers of the cognatic descent grot1p. The size, seg111e 1 1tatio11, and orgai1ization of the desce11t group corresponcls qt1ite closely to the division of its land tract. Typically, tl1e nt1111ber of 1ne111bers i1 1 an A111hara desce11t grot1p, that is, of people who hold fields i1 1 its land tract as rist, varies from 50 to 1 11ore tl1an 150. All of tl1ese IJeople co11sider the111selves to be descendents of the ancestral first l1older. Tl1ey refer to l1im ( or her) as the first fatl1er or ancestor ( J,vanna abbat) of tl1 e land. One of the 111e11 1bers is selected to act as representative (fej) of the group as a wl1ole, or literally of the first father, in situatio11s tl1at i11 volve the la11d tract in its e11tirety. A desce1 1t gro11p is i11ternally divided into seg 1 nents, 0 11e for each of the land sectio11s divided i: n the na111e of the first holder's children. Me 1 11bers of a segme11 t refer to tl1e child wl10 first held tl1eir land section as its divisional father (m.inzir abbat). The seg1ne11ts of the descent group, in tur11, 111ay each be divided into subseg1 ne11ts in the na111e of tl1eir respective first holders' children. Tl1e degree to which the descent grot1p is seg1nented corresponds to the extent to wl1icl1 the land tract is subdivided. Like the descent gro11p as a wl1 ole, each segn1e11t has a represe 1 1tative who acts for it whe11 its sectio11 of land is involved. Tl1 ere is an element of situational relativity i11 tl1e way na1nes are applied to sectio 1 1s of the land tract a11 d segn1e 11ts of tl1e clescent group. A field may be referred to as land of the first holder of the entire tract, or of any of his desce 11dents withi11 wl1 ose section or subsection it happe11s to lie. It 1nay also be referred to as tl1e field of the living holder. Si 1nilarly, a 1 ne111ber of the descent gro11p n1ay refer to hin1self as a descendent of tl1e first holder or of any of tl1e first holder's descendents who founded seg111e11ts of which l1e counts hi1nďż˝ self a 111en1ber. The A111hara clesce11t gro11p differs fro 1 11 most desce11t groups or lineages fot1nd in African societies in five i111portant 15


respects. First, the A1nhara descent group is 11ot a solidary or cohesive group. Its men1bers 11ave no esprit d� corps� 110 �n1blen1s, totems, or honorific naines to syn1bolize their unity. Nor are their relations with 011e another, even ideally, char­ acterized by affect, cooperatio11, or good will. If, upon occa­ sion, they act \vith unity of purpose, it is because they indi­ vidually think it is i11 their best interest to do so, 11ot because of loyalty to the iclea or ideals of tl1e gro11 p. Second, the Amhara descent group is 11ot, except in a 110111inal sense, a ki11ship gro11p. To be sure, tl1e 11 1embers of tl1e group are co11sa11 gui11eal kinsn1e11 by A111hara clefinition since tl1ey are codesce11 de11ts ( dirrib) of tl1e same ancestor; b11 t they are 11ot ex1Jected to behave towards one a11other as ki11 s111e11 (zenied). Son1e 111embers of tl1e descent grotIJJ 1 nay l1ap1Jei1 to be close ki11 and will treat each otl1er accordingly. Most, l1owever, can11ot trace the kind of close ki11 ship ties witl1 011e anotl1er wl1icl1 are of significa11ce in Amhara social life. Si111ilarly, the descent grotIJJ is 11 ot in a11 y way responsible for its 111e111bers' 1narriages, 11or is it, as such, an exogan1011s grOUJ). Third, tl1e An1l1ara descent gro11p is 11ot a ritual groUJJ. Tl1e n1e111bers do 1 1ot constitute a congregatio11 . They do 11ot perfor1n any religious ceremo11ies together. There is no an­ cestor c11lt and no a11cestral shrine. Further111ore, there is no belief that the v,1elfare of tl1e members is affected by their ancestors, a11d no belief that the actions of the living are judged by tl1e dead. Fourtl1, tl1e Aml1ara descent gro11p is 11ot a 111ultipurpose group. It co11trols land a11d the rotatio11 of certain 111i11or ad1ninistrative offices a1 11011 g its me1nbers; it l1as no otl1er func­ �ions. !t is 11ot used as a fra1nework for the organizatio11 of 1nter1n1tte11 t or u11usual coo1Jerative tasks i11 tl1e con1111unity. Fifth, n1e1?bersl1ip i 11 An1hara descent gro11ps is not 111u­ tually exclusive, but overlappi11g. Most 111en are 111e1 nbers of se:er �l desce11t groups. This JJattern of overla1Jping 1nember­ ship 1s closely related to the weak se11timents of attachment people feel towards the descent group a11d towards tl1eir fel­ low 1ne.n1bers, for peoJJle who are united by their interest in 011e descent group's la11d rnay be clivided fro1n one a11other 16

Cognatic Descent Groups and the Rist System

by their interests in other descent gro11ps. Overlappi11g n1en1bership js a cl1aracteristic of cognatic desce11t groups in gen足 eral, ru1d is tl1e sot1rce of the distinctive orga11izational problen1s of systems based on cog11atic descent. The organizational proble111s of cognatic clescent systems Descent is a way of recrt1iti11g l)eople to socially significant gro111)s, groups tl1at serve to order people's relationships to one another a11d to l)roperty. Cognatic desce11t, 11nlike uni足 lineal desce11t, recruits an i11dividt1al to 1nore tha11 one group a11d thus may i11trodt1ce a11 ele1ne11t of disorder, ambigt1ity, or co11flict into social organizatio11. For tl1is reaso11, syste1ns of cognatic descent always restrict 111en1bership in descent gro11ps by some other means in addition to rules of descent. A descriptio11 of a system of cognatic desce11t groups and analysis of their fu11ctio11 is not complete unless it i11clt1des a description of tl1ese additional ways i11 which 111e1nbership is restricted. 7 Tl1e rt1les that antl1ropologists refer to as rt1les of descent are rt1les tl1at place children in social grot1ps i11 accordance with the 111en1bership of tl1eir parents. The groups of living people for111ed a11d 1nai11tai11ecl i11 this way are called descent grOUJ)S because tl1ey are co1nposed, or are thought to be co1n足 posed, of the lineal descende11ts of a particular ancestor. The significance of descent gro11ps to the n1embers of a society depe11ds 011 the exte11t to which a perso11's status as a desce11t group 111e111ber gives hi111 access to scarce reso11rces, such as land, and i1nporta11t rights and dt1ties towards other mem足 bers of his own group and 111e1nbers of other groups. It wot1ld be n1ore accurate to say that descent rules place 7. My object in this section is to place the Amhara descent-group system in a broader comparative perspective and not to engage in a critical or exhat1stive discussion of cognatic descent. Important works that have infltienced my remarks include: Coult (1964); Davenport (1959); Firth (1963); Freeman (1961); Goodenough (1955, 1961); Keesing (1968, 1970); Murdock (1960b); Peranio (1961); Scheffler (1965). The contribution of the Amhara case to the literature on cognatic descent and the analytical t1sefulness of the concept of cognatic descent will be discussed at greater length in the conclusion.



children ii1 social categories or groLl/JS in accorda1 1ce with the categorization or 111en1bership of their IJarents. This distinc­ tio1 1 betwee1 1 desce 11 t category and descent group is required by the fact tl1at, tl1ough bei1 1g ''bor11 i1�to'' the �·i?l1t � ate? ory 1 11ay be a necessary co11 dition for active part1c1pat1on 11 1 a JJarticular desce1 1t group, 8 it 1 11ay not, as in tl1 e A1 11 l1 ara case, be a sufficie1 1t co11 ditio11 . It is 011e tl1 ing to l1 ave tl1e qt1alifica­ tio1 1s for 111 en1bersl1i1J i1 1 tl1e grot1p a11 d it is a1 1other to l1ave the rigl1ts, respo1 1sibilities, a11 d i11 terests associatecl witl1 the statt1 s of grot1p 1 11 e1 11ber. This is precisely tl1 e differe1 1ce, i11 tl1 e An1 l1 ara case, betvvee11 havi1 1g rist rigl1ts a11d l1avi11g rist la1 1d. A11tl1ro1Jologists }1ave disti11 g11ished several classes of de­ sce11t r11les, eacl1 \\1itl1 certai1 1 broad str11ct11ral in11Jlicatio1 1s for social orga11ization. For tl1e IJt1 rposes of tl1is disct1ssion it is useful to co1111Jare a11d co1 1trast t,:vo of tl1ese classes of desce11 t rt1les: 111 1ilineal a11d cognatic. Unili1 1eal desce1 1t r11les are tl1ose wl1icl1 IJlace childre11 (regardless of tl1eir sex) i1 1 tl1 e desce11 t category of JJare11 ts of one sex only. Tl1ere are tl1us two tyJJes of 1111ili11 eal desce11t: patrilineal, i n wl1icl1 cl1ildre11 are IJlaced i11 tl1 e descent category of tl1 eir fatl1er 011 1 )1 ; a11d n1 atrilineal, in wl1icl1 cl1ildre11 are placed in the desce1 1t category of their 111otl1 er only. Cognatic desce11t rt1les, which are also s01 neti111es termed a1nbilineal or nont111 ili11eal, place cl1ildre11 (regardless of their sex) i 1 1 tl1 e desce11 t cate­ gories of botl1 their 111otl1er a11d fatl1er. Tl1e structural sig1 1ifica1 1ce of tl1 e disti1 1ctio1 1 bet,:vee11 t111i­ li11eal a11d cog1 1atic descent is that u1 1ili11 eal desce1 1t is con1JJatible with tl1e partitior1i11 g of a society's 1ne111bers i1 1to 1uutt1ally exclusive grou1Js, while a rt1le of cog 1 1atic clesce11t, i1 1 itself, is not. 1 11 a society witl1 JJatrilineal desce11 t grot1ps, for exa111ple, a n1an's so11 is JJlaced in tl1 e sa11 1e descent cate­ gory as tl1 e 111 �11 l1i111self. Tl1e so1 1 is 11 01 placed i1 1 the clesce11t category of his 1nother, for 1 11e111bershi1J can11ot be passed thro11 gl1 a fe1 11ale. A 1na11's d,111 gl1ter also is JJlaced i1 1 tl1e _ srune category as h1 111se]f. Sl1e cru111ot, l1 owever, JJass 01 1 tl1is 8 · The phrase "b01·� in · to" ?1 us! . be taken 1n a n1etapl1orical sense; many . . ms permit adoption into descent syste the descent group.


Cognatic Descent Groups and tl1e Rist Systen1

membersl1ip to l1er chi1clren who will, instead, be placed ex­ cl11sively in the category of l1er l1usba11d. Unili11eal desce11t th11s 111akes it possible for eacl1 i1 1dividt1al to be placed i11 only 01 1e descen t category a11cl groLlJJ. Cognatic descent places children i11 tl1e desce11t categories of botl1 JJare1 1ts and thus, i11 pri11ciJJle, with exoga1 11y, co11lcl dottble the n111 11ber of de­ scent categories to wl1icl1 JJeOJJle belo11g i11 each ge11eratio1 1. The orga1 1izational sig11ificru1ce of the disti11ction bet \vee 11 t1.nili11eal a11d cognatic clesce 1 1t is related to the way i11 wl1ich the two ki11ds of desce11t strt1ctt1re IJeo_ple's rigl1ts i11 relatio1 1 to pro1Jerty and to 011e a1 1other. By JJlacing .lJeople i11 only one descen t group, 11 1 1ili11eal desce11t gives the 1 11 clear-ct1t rights in the property of their desce 1 1t grot1p a11d u11a111biguous relatio 1 1sl1ips to one a11other eitl1er as me111bers of tl1e sa1 ne group or of differe11t grot1ps. With cog11atic desce11t the situ­ atio11 is differe11t. U11less there is son1e otl1er way in vvl1icl1 1ne1nbersl1iJJ in desce1 1t grot1ps is 1i1nited, _property rigl1ts as­ sociated witl1 each group beco111e so widely difft1sed as to be meani11gless. At tl1e san1e tin1e social relationsl1ips i11 respect to descen.t group n1em.bersl1i JJ beco1ne a111bigt1ous, since i11dividuals 1 nay be related to 011e a11otl1er in several different ways at once. 0 Because of tl1 ese i 11l1erent organizational diffict1lties, cog11atic desce11t syste111s alway restrict n1en1bersl1ip i11 desce11t groups by so111e adclitio11al 111ea11s. Tl1ere is co11siderable variatio11 i11 tl1e ways tl1at restriction is achieved a11cl i 11 the exte11t to vvhich i t recl11ces or eli 1 ni11ates overlapping 1 ne111ber­ ship. Botl1 of tl1ese variables are relatecl to the ft111ction of 9. Tl1ese staten1ents are ideal-typical. They are abot1t the logical prop­ erties of descent rules as recruitn1ent principles and not about ethnographic reality. Men living ot1tside the territory politically associated with their natal patrilineage, for example, may be in a highly ambiguot1s position in relation to their 11eighbors and their agnates, as is the case among the Konds of highland Orissa (Bailey 1960). On the other l1and, a cognatic descent systen1 may structure people's social relationships \Vithot1t am­ biguity if, as among the Iban of Borneo (Freeman 1960), there is an additional rule of restriction based on the choice of residence n1ade by people at n1arriage. !vly staten1ents are about the \Vay descent rules are capable of ordering relationships, "other things being equal.'' Other things are seldon1 equal, of course, because the affairs governed by descent are usually too important to be left to the chance of birth alone.



cognatic desce11t, to its orga11izatio1 1al role i1 1 a IJarticular society. . c sce11 t . . grot1 ps Tl1 e restrictio11 of n1en1bersl11 1J 1n cog11at1 de is ofte11 related to the territorial localizatio11 of each grot11J's eco11 01nic resot1rces, tl1e 1nost commo1 1 resot1 rce being, as i11 tl1e A111.l1ara case, la1 1d. Tl1e clesce1 1t grotIJJ's la1 1d is conce11 trated i11 011 e locality. Me111bers of the descent category as­ sociatecl w.itl1 tl1e land are \videl)' dispersed over a 11 1ucl1 larger area. The JJrobability of their partici1Jati1 1g i11 tl1 e af­ fairs of tl1e desce11t grot1p a11cl l1oldi11 g a sl1are of its lancl de­ creases witl1 the dista11 ce of their resicle1 1ce fro111 the grot1p's lru1cl. Me111bersl1i1J i1 1 tl1e grotIJJ and JJarticipatio1 1 i1 1 its affairs 11 eed 1 1ot be a11 all-or- 11 otl1ing JJropositio11. Tl1ere 111 ay be de­ grees of fJartici1Jation i11 tl1e groLIIJ's political, eco1101 11ic, so­ cial, a11 d ritL1al affairs corres1Jonding, n1ore or less, to degrees of residential dista 1 1ce fro111 tl1e group's la11 d. People wl10 live 1 1ear the lancl, for exa111ple, 111ay still t1se so1 ne of it. PeoJJle wl10 live at a greater dista1 1 ce n1ay attend weddi1 1gs, funerals, a11 cl other social eve1 1ts; while people wl10 live still fartl1 er away 1 11ay 111 ai11tain 01 1ly a ritual con1 1ection with tl1e grot1p's 111ore active 111e11 1bers. Geograpl1ically and socially, tl1 e11, the cog11 atic desce11 t grOUJJ is freqt1e11 tly con1 posed of a series of co1 1ce11 tric. ri1 1gs ce1 1tered 011 the grot1p's estate. The restrictio1 1 of descent group 111e1nbersl1ip by geograpl1ical 1Jroxi111ity, tl1 at is, dista11ce fro111 tl1e clescent grou1J's re­ sot1rces, 1nay rest1 lt fron1 pt1rely prag1 natic consicleratio11s. I11 tl1 e abse11ce of 111 oder 11 tra11sportatio1 1 a 1 1d eco110111ic a11d legal conditio11 s tl1 at 1nake it profitable to re1 1t or sl1 are-cro1J la1 1d, it 111ay be i1 n1Jractical for JJeople to 111ai 1 1tai11 active 1 ne1 11 bersl1i P in desce11 t grot1ps wl1ose estates are very far . fro111 tl1eir ho11 1es. There 11 1ay also be for11 1alized rt1 les restricti1 10 1 ne1 nber­ sl1ip i11 relatio11 to geograpl1ica l 1Jroxi1 11 ity. Reside�1 ce on the desce1 1t grot11J's la1 1cl as well as desce11t fro11 1 its fot1 11der 1 11 ay, �or exa111 1Jle, be a prereqt1 isite to l1oldi11 g la11 cl, as is tl1 e case 11 1 parts of Eritrea i1 1 1 1orther 11 Etl1 io1Jia (S.F. Nade . l 1946). Tl�ere 111ay be restrictive r11les pertaining to genealogical _ {Jrox1 1111ty as well as geograpl1ical proximity. For exa1nple, 20

Cog11atic Descent Groups and tl1e Rist Syste111

there n1ay be a statt1te of lin1itatio11s 011 clairus to land; a rule that li111its peo1Jle's clai1us to land to descent grot1ps where their· JJare11ts a11d gra11d1Jare11ts lived, l1eld la11d, or JJerl1aps JJar_ticiJJatecl i11 grotrp ritt1als. Marriage rt1les favoring or prescribi11g descent-grou1J e11dogan1y also serve to limit or eli1ninate overlaJJJJu1g 111e1nbersl1ip in some cog11atic desce11t syste111s. Wl1ether tl1e result of 1Jrag1natic co11siderations or formal rt1les, restrictio11 of active n1e111bersl1i1J i11 the cog11atic grotrp leacls to restrictio11 of tl1e descent category of wl1icl1 tl1e ac­ tive 111en1bersl1ip is a subset; for desce11t lLnes whicl1 ca11 110 longer be 11secl, have bee11 1011g dormant, or 011ly validate clain1s to distant reso11rces te11d to be forgotten in favor of lines of 111ore im1nediate releva11ce. Through tl1is con ti1111ing process of progressive ge11ealogical amnesia, i11active col­ lateral li11es are lost to me111ory and t11e 1111111ber of re111e111bered descende11ts in a desce11t category, i11steacl of clot1bli11g in eacl1 ge11eration, re111ai11s esse11tially stable. T11ere is m11ch variation. i11 tl1e exte11t to vvhicl1 overlaJJJJi11g 1ne111bership i11 descent grotl.[JS is restrictecl ai1cl i11 tl1e ways this restriction is acco111plished. Eve11 i11 cog11atic desce11t systen1s with 110 overlaJJJJi11g of active 111en1bershiJJ, l1ovvever, individuals l1ave so1ue choice of affiliatio11. 10 Tl1e cu11111lative effect of tl1is cl1oice is to i11trodt1ce a cl1aracteristic ele111e11t of flexibility i11to tl1e f1111ctio11i11g of i11stitutio11s organized by cog11atic clesce11t. Even cog11atic desce11t syste111s tl1at restrict a11 i11clividual to active 111en1bershiJJ i11 only 011e gro111J give l1i111 so111e cl1oice as to \\1l1icl1 gro11p tl1at will be. Less 11arrowly restricted systems give hi111 a wider ra11ge of choice and perha1Js the opport1111ity to be active in 111ore than 011e desce11t group as ell, for the obverse of multiple me111bersbip in gro11ps is 11111ltiple aff1liatio11 of the individ11al. 1


10. This does not mean that the individual himself is always in a posi­ tion. to choose bis affiliation. He may be a n1inor bo11nd by bis parents' decision. A ,voman may be bo11nd by her husband's decision. Furthermore, in a partic11lar case all but one choice of affiliation may happen to be q11ite impractical. The point is that, from a structural point of view, alternatives of affiliation are available.



Cog11atic desce11t is often described as a 1nore flexible f0r1n of social o·rga11ization tha11 t1nilh1eal descent. I11 one se11se this is rnisleading. E11during u11ili11eal desce11t systems are also flexible in response to ecological, de1nogra1Jl1ic, or polit­ ical i111bala11ce, no n1atter 110,:v rigid tl1eir for111al rt1les of re­ crt1it1ne11 t. In a1 1other sense, l1owever, cog11atic descent sys­ te111s do exhibit a cl1aracteristic ty1Je of flexibility or flt1idity. It is a flexibility related to the ability of the inclividt1 al to alter or i11crease l1is affiliatio11s, ratl1er than to grot1p actio11 or tl1e t1 se of ge11ealogical fictio11s. If a 111an's descent grot1p does 11ot l1ave enougl1 la11d, for exa111ple, l1e 1 11ay have tl1e optio11 of reaffiliating l1m1self witl1 a desce11t group with la11d to spare. If l1e cloes not like l1is 11eigl1bors he 111ay be able to cha11ge l1is resicle11ce. A11 able a11d a111bitiot1s perso11 1 11ay be able to JJrofit by obtai11i11g access to econo111ic or political reso11rces i11 several desce11t grotI}JS at once. Tl1e cun1ulative effect of 1nany people 111aku1g cl1oices like tl1ese gives cog11atic descent syste111s tl1eir characteristic flexibility of functio11. In a1 1 egalitaria11 society cogi1atic clesce11t 1nay serve to allocate people n1ore or less eve11ly to available lru1d. In a society 111arkecl by political i11eq11alities it n1ay co11centrate available resot1rces i11 tl1e hands of a power­ ft1l 111i11ority. It 1nay fu11ction to keep the size of descent grot11Js 111ore or less co11stant relative to one a11otl1er or to facilitate tl1e rapid ex1Ja11sio11 of descent grot1ps led by 111 1t1st1 ally gifted and IJOWerft1l 111e11. The fu11ctio11 of a cognatic desce11t systen1, its orga11iza­ tional role in a particular society, 111t1st be t1nderstood through tl1e kinds of 01Jtio11s its mode of restriction n1akes available to individt1als, the kinds of interests these i11dividt1als are pursuing tl1rougl1 desce11t-grou1J affiliatio11, a11d tl1e wider institt1tio11al co11text i11 ,:vl1ich decisions aff:ectmg 111e111ber­ sl1i p in desce11t groups are 111ade. Restrictiorz, OfJtiorz, and fitnction i11 An1lzara descerzt

�en1bersl1i1J �1 A1nl1ara cog11atic clescent grotIJJS is co111para­ t1 vely t1nrestr1ctecl. Tl1ere are 110 for111al cultural rules to pre­ vent a11y descende11t of the fot111di11g a1 1cestor fro111 claimi11 g 22

Cognatic Descent Groups and the Rist Systen1

active me111bershi1J in the clesce11 t grotlfJ a11d a share of its rist la11 d. I-le is 11ot rec1t1ired. to live 011 tl1e land or to far111 it hi111self. Nor is tl1ere a1 1y statt1te of li111 itatio11s 011 the validity of an t111used pedigree. A JJerso 1 1 111 ay clai111 1ne111bershiJJ i11 a grot1p eve11 tl1 ot1gh 11011e of the a11cestors i11 the 1?edigree, ex­ ce1Jt the fot111 cle_r hi1nself, l1 ave done so. Rist rigl1ts do 11 ot die. Tl1ere is a co11 siclerable degree of overlapping 111e111bership i11 desce11t grotlIJS a11 d descent categories. A 1 1 orcli11 ary far111er is a rist la11 dl1oldi11g 111e111 ber of two or three descent grot1ps. An influe11 tial elder 111a.y be active i11 five or te11 grot1ps, wl1ile a leadi11 g political figure i11 tl1e district n1ay be active i11 twe11ty or thirty groups. The 11t1111ber of descent groups in whicl1 a 111a11 thinks he l1as JJOte11tial rights, tl1at is, rist rigl1ts as opJJosed to rist land, always far exceecls the nu111ber of grot11Js i11 wl1ich he is active. 111 fact tl1 ere is virtt1ally no li111it to tl1e 11u111 ber of desce11t grou1Js to which a n1a11 ca11 trace pedigrees \Vith the help of relatives a11d genealogical experts, sl1 ould he tl1ink it in his i11 terest to do so. Tl1ougl1 a11 A111hara's rist rights are al111ost bot1ndless, l1is cl1ances of l1 oldi11g rist la1 1d i11 a JJarticular desce11t grotIJJ or of obtai11i11g it fro11 1 tl1e 11 1e1nbers of tl1e la11dholdi1 1g grotlfJ are, i11 1Jractice, restricted i11 several ways. Most i1n1Jorta11t m11011g these are l1is genealogical JJroxi111ity to a JJreviot1s la11dholcler, l1 is geograJJhical JJroxin1ity to the desce11t grou1J's la11d, a11 d the extent of l1is political i11flt1e11 ce. Restrictio11 by ge11 ealogical JJroxi111 ity refers to tl1e fact that, tl1ot1gl1 a fJedigree does 11ot legally beco11 1e less valid tl1rot1gl1 clist1se, it beco111es less effective. A person can al 111 ost always obtai11 rist la11d i11 a clesce 11 t group i11 which eitl1er of l1is JJarents helcl la11d. Ust1ally l1e does this tl1rot1gl1 si 1 nple i11l1eritance, a 1Jrocess wl1ich 11eed 11ot affect tl1 e la11cl rigl1 ts of other 111 e111 bers of the desce11t grouJJ. A perso11 also ca11 ust1ally obtai11 rist land i11 a desce11 t group i11 which a11 y of l1is gra11 dparents were active 111 e111bers. He 111 ay not choose to do so, hov.1ever, if IJressi11g l1is clai111 brings l1 i111 into con­ flict with collateral relatives with whon1 he or his parents have reached a11 i11for1nal agreeme11t abo11t Janel divisio11. Beyo11d the gra11dpare11 tal level, otl1er tl1 i11 gs being eqt1al, it becon1es increasi11gly clifficult for a 1nan to activate rist rights that l1 ave 23


been unused in the inter 1 nediate generations. His for111al right to rist land, however, is never thought to be extingt1ished, and this is of real sig11i:ficance, for otl1er things are 11ot always equal. Restrictio1 1 by geogra1Jhical proxiluity refers, in part, to the fact tl1at, other tl1ings being equal, a n1an cru1 obtain and re­ tain rist land 111ore easily if he resides in the parisl1 in wl1ich the land is locatecl. This is 1 1ot because of a forn1al rt1le, but because locally resident desce1 1t-grot1p me111bers favor the clain1s of 1 11en who are tl1eir frie1 1ds and neigl1bors and who share witl1 tl1em tl1e collective obligatio1 1s of church su1Jport a 11cl statt1te labor tl1at rest 01 1 tl1e resicle1 1ts of a IJarish. In part, too, tl1e resu·ictio1 1 of geographical proximity is si1n1Jly a ft111ctio1 1 of distru1ce, of tl1e ti111e a11 d effort a 1 uan must ex1Je11d to ct1ltivate distant fields and of the difficulty l1e will l1ave collecting and tra11sportiJ1g his sl1are of the crop, should l1e give tl1e la 11d to a tenant. Political influe1 1ce, us11ally clerived directly or iI1directly :u·on1 political office, 111akes it easier for a 111an to obtain rist lar1d thro11gl1 IJedigrees that l1ave been 11n11sed for n1any ge1 1eratio1 1s or that is dista11 t fro1 11 his homestead. To put it another way, political i11flt1e11ce enables lli1n to exte1 1d the genealogi­ cal and geograpl1ical rru1 ge of l1is ability to obtain rist lru1d througl1 l1is rist rights. Tl1ere are several reasons for this. A IJowerful 1Jerso1 1 can litigate 1uore s11ccessfully tl1a11 an or­ du1ary farmer because of his ability to rnobilize favorable witnesses, inflt 1 e1 1ce tl1e jt1 dge, a11cl s11stai 1 1 tl1e cost, i11 ti 1ne and 1 no11ey, of a protracted cot1rt case. I1 1 s01ne i1 1stances landl1oldi11 g me1 nbers of a descent gro11p are willing or eve11 eager to recognize an i 11flt1e11tial 1nan's clai 1 11 beca11se tl1ey think he will JJrove to be a JJovverft1l ally in tl1eir struggle against a rapaciot1 s local leader or a rival seg1 11ent of tl1e group. Fu1ally, an i 11flt1 ential 111an ca 11 fi11d te11ants to sl1are­ crop l1is dista1 1t :fields-tena 11ts ,vl10 are also, i1 1 a sense, clients and wl10 regard bin1 as a JJatro11 as well as a la 11dlord. To s11111111arize, the Aml1ara cognatic desce1 1t system pro­ vides each j 1 1dividual witl1 a compru·atively wide ra11ge of optional affiliations i11 the form of rist rigl1ts. These affi.lia­ tio11s almost always enable a 1 11an to obtau1 rist la1 1cl il.1 his 24

Perspective, Metl1ods, a11d Data

resiclential 1Jarisl1. They t1s11ally e11able hi111 to obtai11 land in some nearby 1Jarisl1es where his pare11ts or gra11dparents held rist la11d. They also e11able l1i111 to take ttp reside11ce i11 another JJarisl1 \vith tl1e expectatio11 that, as a .resicle11t, he will be able to expa11d l1is l1oldi11g of rist land i11 local desce11t-grou1Js' land sectio11s. Fi11ally, tl1ey e11able hi111 to s11bsta11tially i11crease his holdi11g of rist la11d botl1 witl1in l1is residential parish a11d in otl1er JJarisl1es as l1e i111p1·oves l1is political sta11cli11g. The picture of tl1e rist syste111 I l1ave .[Jrese11ted i11 tl1is sectio11 is, of 11ecessity, inco1111Jlete a11cl oversi111 1 Jlified. It will be filled i11 with 111ore detail i11 tl1e re111ai11i11g chapters. I11 the fi11al sectio11 of this cl1a1Jter I vvoulcl like to con11ne11 t briefly on tl1e poi11t of view I l1a,,e adoJJted i11 this book.

Perspective, methods, and data Tl1e 1Jatter11 of la11dholdi11g i11 the area I stuclied ca1111ot be 1111derstood as the res11lt of custo111ary rules of la11d te111tre alo11e. I11stead, it 11111st be see11 as tl1e cun1ulative JJrocl11ct of a great 111a11y i11divid11a.l decisio11s co11cer11i11g lru1d. My task is to tl1e sit11atio11s in \vhicl1 tl1ese clecisio11s are 111acle a11d tl1e factors that affect the way they are 1nacle. Tl1is IJer­ SJJective, wl1icl1 is partic1tlarly 11sef11l for u11dersta11di11g cl1a11ges i11 tl1e landholdi11g patter.11, l1as i11f111enced tl1e 111eth­ ods I 11sed i11 111y researcl1, tl1e ki11ds of data I gatl1ered, a11cl the way I have orga11ized tl1is book. C11sto111ar)' r11les of lru1d te11t1re, l1owever i1nporta11 t, are 011ly 011e of several co11sideratio11s that i11·f111ence the way people 111ake decisio11s abot1t la11d. 111 respo11se to questions, to be s11re, A111l1ara elders 11s11ally for1n11late tl1e JJri11ci 1?les of tl1eir lai1d-te1111re syste111 as i1n11111table a11d 1111a111big11ous r11les for actio11 ratl1er tl1a11 as a series of co11ti11gent IJOssi­ bilities. It is 1111iversally l1eld, £01· exa1111 Jle, that a 111an's cl1il­ clren inherit his la11.d equally, tl1at a n1a11 cru1 clai111 l1is rist la11cl eve,11 if neither l1e, l1is fatl1er, 11or l1is grand1 Jarents have 11eld it, a11d tl1at a s011 sl1011lcl build l1is ho1nesteacl 11ext to his father's. It is evide11t from eve11 a cursory i11spection of case 111aterial that wl1e11, to wl1at exte11t, and i11 what way tl1ese general rules are i111 1 Jle111ented de 1Je11ds 011 a nu111ber of ad25


ditional co11siderations. An older son wl10 becomes a11 iI1fluential and respected elder 111ay, in fact, hold 111ore of his father's fields tha11 l1is younger, wastrel brotl1er. Wl1etl1er a n1an's clain1s to la1 1d once l1eld by l1is great-gra11dfather or a 1 11 ore re1 note ar1cestor will be recognized depe1 1ds 011 his resi­ dence and his influe11ce i11 regional politics. Wl1ether a son actually builds l1is l10111estead near l1is fatl1er's de1Je11ds 011 the exte11t of tl1e fatl1 er's lands, the 11u111ber of his sons, a 11d tl1e availability of u11cleared or u11L1sed la11d i11 the co111111t111ity. Rules abot1t land are i111porta11t becaL1se tl1ey l1elp define a 11 1an's possibilities and i11flL1ence l1is choice of strategies i1 1 IJt1rsui11g tl1ese possibilities; bt1t, in tl1en1selves, they do not deternu11e tl1e OLt tco1ne of clecisio11s aboL1t la11cl. In orcler to t1ndersta11d how decisio11s aboL1t la11cl are made ru1cl the factors tl1at affect tl1e111, it is also 11ecessary to t111der­ stand tl1e sitt1atio11s or institt1tio11 al co.ntexts i11 whicl1 they are 11 1acle. For exan1 ple, tl1e clecisions that rest1lt in wl1 at I l1ave ter1necl restrictio11 by ge11ealogical proxi1nity are de­ cisio11s abot1t tl1e inheritance and division of IJare11tal la11cls. Tl1ey are 111ade in the context of household and kinsl1iJJ re­ latio11s, a11d tl1ey 1nay be i 1 1flt1e1 1ced by norn1s, interests, and se11time11ts associated with tl1ese institutions. Tl1 e decisio11s tl1at result i11 wl1at I have called restrictio11 by geograJJhical IJroximity a1·e 111ade in tl1e context of l1an1let and JJarish re­ lations. These decisio11s are i11flt1enced by people's id.eas abot1t the a 111ity of 11eighbors, the equity of allowing 1 1011residents to l1old land withot1t shari11 g the bt1rdens of statL1te labor, a11d tl1e expedie11ce of attracting clergy1ne11 who are 11eecled to offer 1 11ass in the parish cht1rcl1. The clecisions tl1at e11able a powerful ma11 to extend tl1e genealogical a11d geogra1Jl1ical rru1ge of his clai1ns to rist la11cl are 111acle ir1 tl1e co11text of regio11al political relatio1 1s. Whe11 co11tested in gover11 111e1 1t court, the decisions are argued in tl1e for1 nal, 1 1arrowly legal­ istic idio1n of desce11t-grot1p rules. The outcome of these co11tests, 11owever, depends on t11 e litiga11ts' ability to 111obilize their sup1Jorters a1 1d i11flue11ce tl1e court. It is tl1e realities of IJower politics in tl1e regio11al are11a a11d not 11or1 11 s or senti111ents abot1t fa111 i]y or con1 111t11 1ity tl1at are of paran1ount i1 n­ {JOrta11ce l1ere. 26

Perspective, Methods, and Data

The decisio11-1naking perspective I have adopted has im­ plicatio11s for the analysis of stability ai1d cl1ange. It cannot be asst1111ed that tl1e landl1oldi11g patter11 I observed in the 1960s is 011e that has 1Jersisted unchanged fro111 the remote past. It is 11ot a patter11 t]1at endures tl1rough the sheer weight of traditio11, bt1t ratl1er is co11sta11tly con1ing i11to being. It is generatecl by a 1nultitude of decisions about land. To the extent that tl1e l1olding patter11 l1as re1nai11ed uncha11ged, it is beca11se the sa111e factors are determining the way these decisions about land are being 111ade. 111 fact, so111e of these factors appear to l1ave cl1anged i11 the prese11t century. Fur­ ther a11d accelerati11g chai1ges seem inevitable in the future. The factors that affect decisions abo11t land can be viewed as tl1� parameters of tl1e land.-holdiI1g pattern. Some of then1, such as 11ormative a11d prag111atic rt1les about la11d, are a part of the cultural traditio11 of the local Amhara co1111nunity. 11 Otl1ers, such as the syste111 of land taxation, the operation of gover11n1e11t courts, a11d the penetration of national 1narkets for agricultural prodt1ce, exogenous to the local social system; the conditions wl1ich affect these factors are national conditio11s, a11d the decisions which co11trol tl1e111 are macle iI1 Addis Ababa by tl1e national governn1ent. Fi11ally, there 11atural parameters, such as the density of po1Julation ai1d tl1e fertility of tl1e soil, which also affect tl1e way people make decisio11s co11cerni11g la11d. Changes i11 a11y of tl1ese paran1eters ca11 bri11g abot1t changes in tl1e JJatter11 of la11dholding. They ca11, for exa111ple, alter tl1e size or frag111entatio11 of the typical household es­ tate. Tl1ey can affect the relative freque11cy of land acc1uisition tl1rougl1 i11l1erita11ce a11d litigatio11. They can increase the i1u­ porta11ce of te11ancy or lead to a greater concentratio11 of land i11 the 11ai1ds of the pov.1erful. Wl1e11 I 11ndertook to write this book, one of my objectives was to explore these relationships of change in greater de­ tail. I \\1as particularly interested in tl1e effects that changes 11. The distinction I have in mind here is between rt1les which are con­ sidered 01orally or legally sanctioned on the one hand, and those which are purely pragmatic guides abot1t the selection of effective strategies on the other. The distinction is based on Bailey ( 1970: 4-6).



in land law, land taxation, market co11ditions, a11d populatio11 density have had or will have on tl1e la11dholding pattern iI1 the area I studied and hence 011 the lives of its people. The results of my inquiry, which are presented in cl1apter 10, are tentative and st1ggestive rather than co11cl11sive, as they 111ust be in the absence of far more quantitative data than is cur­ rently available. Nevertheless, I believe they will be of botl1 practical and a11alytical interest. Much of the material iI1 this book is based 011 tl1e i11tensive study of a few co1n1111111ities rather tha11 on a11 exte11sive sur­ vey. Tl1is 1netl1od of research, which is consiste11t with my a11alytical perspective, was dictated by the abse11ce of govern­ ment records about land and the difl1c11lty of gatheri11g ac­ c11rate data fro111 IJeasants tl1rougl1 interviews or questionna1res. •

Tl1e com111w1ities I st11died 111ost inte11sively are a cluster of parisl1es located 150 air 1niles to the northwest of Addis Ababa in Dega Da111ot district of Gojja111 province. My first period of fieldwork lasted eigl1tee11 montl1s, begi1111i11g in the fall of 1960. I was able to return to tl1e area in April of 1966 for tl1ree 111onths of additional research. Fi11ally, betwee11 Noven1ber 1968 and Ja.nuary 1970, I was able to gather ad­ ditional data used in this book, althougl1 I devoted most of my ti111e to fieldv,,1ork in a11otl1er Amhara region. At tl1e beginni11g of my first field trip I had 011ly a rather unfocused interest i11 An1hara peasant social organizatio11 a11d its relationship to churcl1 and state elites. I was not specifi­ cally interested in land te11ure and was not even aware of the cognatic descent groups, which had not previo11sly bee11 de­ scribed in the literature 011 the Amhara. Nevertl1eless, I spent more and more of my time investigating tl1e d.esce11t system as I came to u11derstand its central role i11 A111l1ara social and political organization. During the first period of field research I relied l1eavily 011 the IJarticipant-observer tecl1niques ordi11ar.ily 11sed by a11tl1ropologists in intensive microstudies. I spe11t n1ost of my tin1e in the srune co1ru11u11ities a111ong the sa111e people and tried to establish personal ties witl1 as many of tl1e111 as was 28

Perspective, Methods, and Data

practical. I talked with far1ners a .nd priests, with low-caste artisans a11d titlecl gv.1ilt-holders, with govern1nent officials and lear11ed 111onks, with wo1ne11 a11d children. I asked them abot1t the111selves and about each other, about what they did and thought a11d felt ancl l1oped ru1d feared. Most i111porta11t, IJerhaJJS, I tried to relate people told n1e abot1t the111selves with wl1at they did. S01netimes I cot1ld do tl1is by participati11g i11 their activities, as when I attended a weddi11g, a la11d dispt1te, or cl1urch festival. Son1e­ times the best I could do was to record case histories of events fro111 v.1l1at various people told 1ne. In this way, I was able to gather a large fund of iI1formation about the lives and actions of a li111ited 11umber of JJeople. As I did so, I began to see 110w people were constrained by custo111ary rules and how tl1ey were able to n1a11iJJt1late th.em. I was able to see 110w tl1e total comJJlex of rights and duties, of interests and se11time11ts a perso11 had iI1 virtt1e of all his n1any roles could affect his decisions in specific situations, includiI1g sitt1ations involving la11d. Indeed one of the major goals of the partici­ pant-observer tecl111ique a11d the microstt1dy 1netl1od is to e11able the analyst to u11derstand the pomt of view of the i11 dividual actors i11 the society he is stt1dying-to t111derstand the way they classify their experie11ce, evalt1ate it, and make decisio11s co11cerni11g what to do abot1t it. When I rett1rned to Dega Da1not i11 1966 111y specific goal was to gather n1ore data for tl1is book. My main objective was to obtain n1ore qua11titative data concerning the ct1mt1la­ tive effects of tl1e kinds of decisions people make with regard to lru1d under various social, demographic, and economic circun1stances, effects on both i11dividual holdings and on the ge11eral distribution of land among people through time. It was very difficult to get accurate information abot1t land­ holding in Dega Da1not, as in all traditional Amhara areas with the rist systen1. There has been no cadastral st1rvey. There are no land n1aps and there is no i11dividual registra­ tion of title. Government tax records in Dega Da1not do not list individt1als or their holdi11gs, but i11stead contain only the na1nes of tl1e founding ancestors of descent groups or their children. Similarly, court records do 11ot indicate the



size or exact location of disputed la11d but 011ly its ''genealogi­ cal position'' within the descent group a11d tl1e locality i11 which it is situated. People were very suspicious of inquiries about tl1eir lru1d. Attempts to count or n1easure fields are seen, at best, as the prelude to higher taxes and, at worst, as tl1e l1arbingers of dreaded land reforn1. It was necessary to gai11 each farmer's confidence before qt1estioning l1im in any syste111atic fashion about his fields, a circt11nstance tl1at severely limited tl1e nt1111ber of interviews conducted. Insofar as I could, I tried to cross-cl1eck the information abot1t la11d gathered in interviews against n1a1Js constructed fTom aerial photographs and against unofficial tax lists kept by desce11t-group represe11tatives. Tl1ese atte1npts were only JJartially st1ccessft1l, particularly with res1Ject to fields held in dista11t JJarishes whicl1 I was u11able to study or 111a1J. There are unclot1btedly many errors i11 tl1e quantitative data I l1ave bee11 able to gather. These will be corrected, I hope, by fur­ tl1er research in the future. For the present, however, I be­ lieve that the quantitative information I have used n1 this book is co11siderably more co111plete a11d acct1rate than that wl1ich }1as been previot1sly available for Amhara rist-holding areas. The organization of the followi11g cl1apters is intended to reflect tl1e goals, interests, and analytical perspective I have ot1tlined i11 this introductory discussion. Chapters 2 through 5 provide an introduction to the geographical and institu­ tional setting of the book. Chapter 6 is abot1t tl1e desce11t group a11d its estate. Chapter 7 is concerned with tl1e way the individual landholder conceptualizes a11d classifies his .rist rights in 1na11y estates and tl1e seco11dary rigl1ts througl1 which the use of rist land can be te111porarily transferrecl. Cl1apter 8 is about the diverse processes and strategies through which a 1na.n can acquire rist land and bt1ild tip l1is perso11al house­ hold holding. Cha1Jter 9 exa111ines the dyna111ics of social stratification, la11d, a11d power. Cl1apter l O is concerned witl1 problen1s of cl1ange and land · reform, and chapter 11 re30

Perspective, Methods, and Data

turns to some of the comparative isst1es raised in this intro­ dt1ctory discussio11 and atte1npts to assess the general signifi­ cance of tl1e detailed case stucly presented in this book.


Eastern Gojja1u province, iI1 which Dega Drunot is located, is bou11ded 011 tl1ree sides by tl1e mile-dee1J canyon of the Blue Nile (1ua1J 1). Tl1e Bl11e Nile leaves Lake Tana near Bal1ir Dar a11d flov,1s to tl1e soutl1 east for ni11ety 1niles. It then tur11s to tl1e soutl1 for sixty 111iles and fmally swi11 gs arou11d to the west wl1ere it leaves the Ethiopian higl1la11 ds and enters tl1e Sudan. Tl1e region tl111s e11folded i11 the great bend of the Bl11e Nile is bisected by a 1nou11taino11s plateau rum1ing from a peak to tl1e soutl1 of Lake Tana to a11other peak seventy miles to the southeast. At its higl1est poi11t i11 tl1e southeast the n1assif rises to over 13,000 feet above sea level, and its sle11der central plateau is ahnost everywhere over 10,000 feet. Lo11g ridges drop away on both sides of this central plateau spine, exte11 di11g as m11ch as tl1irty miles into the plaii1s thousa11ds of feet below. The high plateau, the ridge tops, the valley floors, and the plains beyond are a patchwork of field, fallov.,, a11d pasture. The steep 111ountain slopes between higl1land a11d lowlru1d are blanketed with scrub tl1or11, and the r11sl1i11 g rivers u1 the narrow valley headlands flow through a dense growtl1 of moss-coated rain forest. The color of tl1e landsca1Je varies witl1 the season. During the rains, from May tl1rough October, the land is a lt1sl1 green. During the dry seaso11, fron1 Nove1nber t111til April, it gradu­ ally chru1 ges fron1 green to gold to brow11 v,1ith tl1e harvest of the grai11s and tl1en the gradual dryu 1 g of the soil. Te1n­ perat11re varies with both season a11d altit11de. In the lowlands, just before the rains begi11, daytin1e temperatures are often 32


. .


Na-tional boundary .•..• ···--•

•. • • d., • • ••


River . . . . . . . . · · ·--Road . . . . . . . . . . . . -·-----r

:;:: �.. . . . . .. . . .

Red Sea

•WELLO • •



0 p



Map I. Ethiopia


The Setting

over 90 ° F. 011 the high plateat1 tl1ere is frost on cold Dece1 n­ ber nigl1ts, a11d even at noonday tl1e wiI1d carries a chill. Dega Dan1ot district straddles tl1is ce11tral mountai11 pla­ teau and extends into the plains 011 both sides. Its altitude ranges from ut1der 6,000 to over 12,000 feet above sea level. Its area is approxi1 nately 700 sqt1are miles a11d it has an es­ ti111 ated population of betwee1 1 50,000 and 60,000. The over­ all population density is tl1t1s around 80 people per square n1ile, but there is co11siderable local variatio11; i11 so1ne densely settled a11d inte11sely farn1ed localities it was fou11d to be over 130 per square n 1ile. 1 With very few exceptions all tl1e i1 1l1abitants of the district s1Jeak only A111 I1aric, are strict adherents of tl1e Etl1 iopic Cl1ristian church and consider the11 1selves to be 1ne111bers of tl1e A111l1 ara etl11 1ic grot1p. At tl1e prese11t ti1 11e ( 1970) Dega Dan1ot is one of six ad111inistrative districts that 111ake up Qolla-Dega Da 1 11ot st1b­ JJrovince of Gojja1 11 province. It is divided into four st1bdis­ tricts: Feres Bet, Berqefi, Arefa, and I11amora. Eacl1 of these subdistricts, in turn, is divided for ad1ninistrative IJt1rposes into fron1 t,venty to forty "neighborl1oods'' ( a(lbya, sing.). Neigl1borhoods are ct1rrently the mini111al territorial u11its of govern1 11ental adn1i11istration. They are ordinarily fro1n two to tl1ree sqt1are miles in area, and t1st1ally have a popt1lation of fro1 11 150 to 250 people. Neigl1borhoods were given tl1eir present na111es a1 1d administrative statt1ses i1 1 1947 by a cen­ tral govern1 nent proclamation establishing a nationwide sys­ tem of neighborhood cot1rts.2 In Dega Datnot, l1owever, 11 eighborhoods correspo11d exactly to tl1e estates of gwilt la1 1d formerly held as fiefs or be11 efices by 111e1 nbers of tl1 e ruling n1ilitary elite and monasteries. Approxi 1nately one-third of the neigl1borhoods of Dega Da1not are coextensive witl1 a parisl1 , the minin1 al territorial unit of ecclesiastic adn1i11istra­ tion. Most of the others consist of sorne JJart of a lJarish, 1. There has been no census in Dega Damot, nor has its land been measured. The figures I have used here are based on projections of data I gathered, made with the aid of aerial photographs. The figures are thus only crude approxin1ations useful in that they indicate an order of magni­ tude. 2. Proclamation 90 of 1947.



The Setting

while in a few exce 1)tional cases a single neighborhood e11co1npasses 111ore tl1an one parisl1. The present-day district of Dega Da111ot represents the last rem11a11t of a larger, ratl1er little know11, ki11gdom called Da1not. The first reliable 111e11tio11 of tl1e ki11gdo1n of Da111ot, made by the Portt1guese 111onk Frru1cisco Alvares who visited Ethiopia in tl1e first quarter of the sixteenth century, places it to the west of tl1e kingdo111 of Shoa, soutl1 of tl1e Blue Nile (Alvares 1961: 455). As the rest1lt of Galla i11vasions, Da111ot as a political entity retreated to the 11orth of tl1e Blue Nile to its JJresent 111ountai11-backed JJOsitio11. Ja1nes Brt1ce, who visited Ethiopia i11 the last qt1arter of the eightee11th ce11tt1ry, a centt1ry a11d a l1alf after Alvares, reached tl1e springs of Gish Abbay i11 Agau country 011ly thirty n1iles 110.rthwest of the present ad1ninistrative center of Da1not. 3 Brt1ce places Damot in its prese11t locatio11 and esti­ mates it to be forty 111iles by twe11ty 111iles i11 size (Brt1ce 1790: 3: 257). According to l1i1n, Damot was in his time tributary to the imperial tl1ro11e at Gonda.r across Lake Tana to the nortl1. Nevertl1eless, becat1se of its locatio11 on tl1e southern 111arcl1es of An1hara don1inatio11 a11d becat1se the n1011archy was nearing the 11adir of its i11flue11ce, Da111ot see1ns to l1ave e11joyed so111e degree of auto110111y i11 Brt1ce's day. Tl1e fertile regio11 of Agat1 Miclir to the sot1tl1west of Lake Tana, for exa1nple, JJaid tribute to the gover11or of Damot as well as directly to the emperor. Duri11g 111ucl1 of the troubled ninetee11th century, 111ost of Gojjam, inclucli11g Da111ot, was virtually i11depe11dent of polit­ ical co11trol fro111 the centers of A1nhara power beyond the Blue Nile. More than 011ce during tl1is period Damot servecl as a retreat for tl1e great indepe11de11t lords of Gojja111 and their ar111ies whe11 invaders fro111 the 11orth of the Blue Nile 3. Bruce's avowed purpose in visiting Ethiopia was lo discover the source of the Nile. His visit to the Gisb Abbay springs, the source of a tributary of Lake Tana known as the "little Blue Nile" to the people of Gojjam, was tht1s the high point of his entire six-year jot1rney. In reality the Gish Abbay had been "discovered" a century earlier by the Portuguese. This fact, which Bruce never accepted, fortt1nately did not deter him from recording his in1pressions of Ethiopia, or as it \Vas then known, Abyssinia, in fot1r fascinating volumes.


The Setting

occu1Jied tl1e plains below;·1 its rugged clo11d-enshrouded terrain offered IJrotection and 1 11ilitary advantage to those wl10 k1 1ew it well. Today Dega Da 1not has lost 111ost of its for1ner }JOlitical autono1ny. It has not, l1ov.1ever, been very effectively inte­ grated i 11to tl1e IJolitical a1 1d eco1101 11ic i11stit11tions of 1noder11 Etl1io1Jia. Modern for 1 11s of com1 nu1 1icatio11 and tra1 1sporta­ tio11 do 11ot JJresently JJe1 1etrate t11e district, a11d. tl1ere is no road or track co1 111ecting a11y JJart of the district with the 11ewly rebuilt all-weat11er road tl1at skirts tl1e 1 11assif to the so11th 011 its ,,,ay fro11 1 tl1e IJrovincial ca1Jital at Debre Markos 5 to Bahir Dar 011 Lake Ta11a. No for111 of telecomm11nicatio11 • or JJOstal service li11ks Peres Bet wtl1 the rest of the co11ntry. Tl1e district gover11or, the judge, the police chief, a11d tl1e tax collector wl10 re1Jrese11t the ce11tral ad1ni11istratio1 1 i11 Feres Bet are l1a1111Jered i11 their work by their depe11dence on l1a11d­ carried 111essages for routi11e co1n111 1111 icatio11 with tl1eir supe­ riors at the sub1Jrovi1 1cial ca 1Jital of Fi11 ote Sela111 on tl1e road beyoncl Jiga. For tl1e outsider who wisl1es to travel to Peres Bet, the trip begi11s in Debre Markos. The first JJart of tl1e trip, a 1 1d the easiest, is 111ade by car or bt1s to tl1e roadside 111arketi 11g a1 1d ad111i11istrative ce11 ter of Jiga. For the 111ost }Jart the road runs straigl1t tl1ro11gl1 ope11, flat, or ge11tly i11cli11ed plai 11 s. At sev­ eral JJoi11ts it s11akes lIJJwards to cross tl1e outer111ost exte11sio1 1s of tl1e ridges reacl1ing down from the distant 111ot111tain 111assif that do111i11ates tl1e skyli11e to t11e 11 ortl1. At Jiga tl1e traveler 111ust JJrocure a saddle horse or 1nule, a11d, if he l1as a11y baggage, he 0111st asse111ble pack a11i1nals a11d 1ne11 to drive tl1e111. U11less arra11geme11ts l1ave been made 4. Gojja1n here refers lo the modern province. Formerly it \\'as re­ stricted to the region to the north of Damot. 5. The present isolation of Dega Damot represents, in some respects, a regression from earlier days. During the brief Italian occ11pation, a cantonn1ent in the Dega Dan1ot district ce11ter of Feres Bet ,vas supplied by truck.s brougJ1t over a rough track fron1 Debre Iv1arkos. Yet earlier in the 1920s, wh �n Gojjan1 \\'as under the rule of its last independent governor, Ras Ha1lu Tekle 1-Iaymanot, Feres Bet ,vas connected to Debre Markos by telephone. The telephone operator's en10Iun1ents characteris­ tically included a land grant.


The Setting

in adva11ce, orga11izi11g tl1 e pack train 11sually takes a day or two of negotiation and harcl bargaining. On tl1e n1orning of the jot1rney to Fe1·es Bet everyone 1 11ust be UIJ early, pref­ erably before st1nrise. Tl1ere is 11 1ucl1 to be done and tl1ere are ma11y opinions abot1t how best to do it. The loads n1ust be apportio11ecl an1ong the pack animals by rival o,v11ers, each vying for tl1e lightest loads. T11 is acco1n1Jlisl1ed, tl1 e foreig11ers' oddly-sl1apped packages ru1 ci boxes 111 t1st be slu11g a11d strapped :in equal loads 011 botl1 sides of the traditional packsadclle. Tl1 e clelays a11d tl1e confusion seem e11dless, but at last, by eigl1 t or 11i11 e i11 the mor11ing, all is i11 readi11 ess. Tl1 e last of ma11y kind offers of coffee and breakfast has bee11 decli11ed and the _procession files out alo1 1g Jiga's 111 ain trail. Soon the rows of sqt1are, tin-roofed wattle-a11d-dat1b hot1ses have bee11 left behind. The trail rises ge11tly through tl1e less de11sely pO.[Julated groves of et1calyptt1s trees tl1at surrot1 11cl 1 11ost 111 oder11 Ethiopian tow11s, providi11 g a ready supply of :firewood a11d buildi11 g timber. Leav.i11 g tl1e trees, tl1e broad earthe11 trail co1nes ot1t on the ope11 far111la11cls. The air is clear ai1 d cool. Spirits are high. The trek across the low plains to the footl1ills will be over before 111idday, when the heat of the s111 1 beco1nes inte11se a11cl tl1e ever-JJrese11t flies 111ost botl1erson1e. If all goes well, tl1e party will reacl1 Peres Bet before dark; and a11 1111 comfortable 11igl1t in the open or on the floor of tl1e l1t1t of so1ne half-t1 11willing 1Jeasa11t will be avoided. This thougl1 t cheers tl1e 111ercl1a11ts wl10 have joi11ed tl1e party to enjoy tl1e safety of 11t1111bers, for i 11 DegEt Damot ba 11 ditry is not yet a thing of tl1e IJast. 0 The pace is brisk. A driver to tl1e rear sings out at a laggard pack horse tryu1g to supp1e111ent his breakfast fro1n a farmer's t111fenced barley field. 6. The leading bandits in the Dega Damot region at the time of .fielcl­ \vork were outla\vs (shif1a, sing.); tlsually men who bad fallen afoul of the law ,,,hile defending their property or their honor. Not all outlaws, to be sure, engaged in banditry, some being content to stay l1ome and tend their farms, secure in the knowledge that they could slip off into the forested ravines in the t1nlikely event that the t1ndermanned police force should actually venture otit of Feres Bet in search of tben1. During the entire period of my field\vork a pack train carrying n1y goods ,vas robbed only once. According to custorn, I was fully recoo1pensed by the n1embers of the comn1unity ,vhere the robbery occt1rred.


The Setting

A 111ile or so ot1t of J'iga tl1e processio11 IJasses a recently bt1 ilt church s11rrounded by a grove of you11g e11calyptus trees. The churcl1 is rou 11d, as are all the cl1urches of Gojjam, but its ti1 1 roof testifies to its recent origin. It was b11ilt by a 1nan of Jiga who attai11ed great success as a 1nerchant. For111erly n1ost cl111rches \Vere b11ilt by successful 111ilitary lords. The 1Jrocession travels 011 across tl1e rolling plain. The sun is well above tl1e riclge that rises across tl1e Silver (Birr) River to tl1e east. Tl1e 11101111tains aheacl do 11ot see111 to get 1n1 1cl1 closer. Here and tl1ere a111idst the far111la11ds and 1Jastures are scattered ha111lets, tl1e l1011 ses set apart fro1n one anotl1er bj' from fifty to a fe,v l1u11dred yards. Most of the ho11ses are rou11d 110w, with tl1atcl1ed roofs, b11t a fe,v glj11tu1g tin roofs are still to be see1 1. Fewer tl1a11 tl1e l1a111lets are the plun1es of sacred trees, ofte11 cedar, tl1at 1nark tl1e presence of a. 1Jarisl1 cl1t1rch. Tl1e trail does 11ot ofte11 aJJJJroacl1 a settle111e11t, for Gojja1n far1ners do 11ot like to build 11ear a n1ajor thoro1 1 gl1fare t1 11less tl1ey are forced by 11ature to do so. Someti111e before noon tl1e travelers ford tl1e Silver River near tl1e site where British a11d Italian forces skir1nished d11r­ i11g tl1e liberatio11 of Ethiopia in 1940. Tl1e ''tin1e of tl1e ene1ny," as it is known, is past but 11ot forgotte11. 1 11 1966 five people were killed by a bo 111b tl1at l1ad lain in the soft grouncl near tl1e Silver River for a quarter-ce11tury before the farmer ,vl10 discovered it tried to ope11 it witl1 l1is ploughshare. Tl1e war ,vas a period of critical i1nportance i11 Gojjan1, for its end 111arked the e11d of traditio11al rule a11d the begi 1 111i 11g of 111od­ ern ad111i11istratio11 i11 the province. It was also a political!)' for111ative period, for 111a11y of the n1e11 who l1ave held political power i11 the postwar period as district governors, subdistrict governors, a11d neighborhood jt1dges are 1nen wl10 carried on guerrilla warfare agai 11st the Italia11s ancl v.,110 were rewarded v,1itl1 rank an? o!fice by E1111Jeror I-Iaile Selassie 11pon his re­ tur11 fron1 exile 111 E11gland. After· crossi�g tl1e Silver River, the trail rises ge11tl)' i11to a valley lying betwee11 tl1e stee l) sloiJes of two 111011ntau1 deep _ ridges. The valley floor 1 1arrows and the trail passes close to 38

Tl1e Setting

a nt1mber of ho1nesteads. A trail brancl1es to the left, to Mahidera Niaryam, one of Dega Da1not's nun1erous sn1all monasteries, perched on a leclge l1alfway up the ridge. Tl1e 1nain trail slopes u1J 111ore steeply, passes the last settle111ents, ancl enters a forested ravi11e tl1at rises abrt1ptly fron1 the end of the valley floor vvl1ere tl1e two ridges 111eet. In the forest it is always dark and cool. Sl1aggy gray 111oss hangs fro111 the li111bs of tl1e giant trees, a11d fer11s aboL111d on. the gro1111d. Tl1e bird calls are different l1ere fro1n those of the open countryside. Tl1e. colobt1s 111011key 1nay be seen, and the leopard tl1011gl1 11ot seen is prese11t. The Aml1ara, l1ow­ ever, are n1ore apprehe11sive of the i11visible beings they be­ lieve inhabit the forest thai1 of its animals. Tl1ese inclt1de tl1e invisible spirit-people ( zar, si11g.) wl10 occasionally leap 011 hu1nru1s i11 wild places like forests, and possess them; a11d anchoritic 1no11ks wl10 have becon1e so holy that they ca11 turn the111selves into animals.7 111 the presence of the forest, men are less given to sl1011ting a11d singing out the so11gs of tl1e trail. They are also sl1ort of breatl1; the trail is too steep and slip1Jery for a 1no1111ted horse or m11le, a11d everyone n1ust proceed 011 foot. After a11 l1our or so of steady climbing, tl1e trail emerges fron1 the valley 011to tl1e slopes of the central platea11, a11d the heavy forest ends. There follows w11at seems like a11 endless successio11 of farmed terraces a11d steeper slopes of scrub thorn. 011 the terraces are isolated ho111esteads, each well guarded by a dog or two wl1icl1 raise tl1e h11e and cry vvith their barking at the approach of the travelers. Eacl1 steep incli11e see111s the last, b11t proves not to be once the terrace edge is reached. At last, as the after110011 \\1ears on, the trail co1nes 011t 011 the high plateau, 9,000 feet above sea level a11d 4,000 feet above Jiga. For the first time on the trip there is a se11se of 7. There are countless tales of bunters whose rifles refused to fire upon an unusually colored animal, often a white bushbuck or a colobus monkey, therefore presumed to be in reality a transformed monk. Considering the state of some vintage rifles in the area, the frequency of these tales shou]d perhaps not be s11rprising.


The Setting

co111plete 01Jenness; there is 11 0 lo11�er a�y �igher ground al1ead. The v;,ind is chilling a11d carr1es w1tl1 1t 1 1011e of the rich odors of the lowlands or tl1e forest. To tl1e south, the view is 1 nagnificent. The sprawling han1lets, the patchwork fields, tl1e 1011g ridges all spread out below. I11 the distru1ce tl1e ti11 roofs of Jiga gli11t i11 the late after11oon su11 , ,vl1ile etcl1ecl agai11 st the southern l1orizo11 are the Galla-i11l1 abited 1not111 tains of \Vellega provi1 1ce. Tl1e settlen1ent IJattern 01 1 tl1e l1igl1 plateau is tl1e sa111e as tl1at 011 tl1 e plai11 s below; agai11, 1nost l1 0111 esteads are away fro11 1 tl1e trail. Tl1 e patter11 of fields is also si 1 11ilar iI1 aJJpear­ a1 1ce bt1t tl1ere is lusl1 JJasturage along the 11u1nero11s riv11 lets a11d strea 111s that drain off tl1e JJlatea11 i11to the wooded • rav11 1es. Tl1e trail tt1r11s to the east a 1 1d co11tinues over rolling cou 1 1tryside cut tl1rougl1 at several JJOi1 1ts by the waterco11rses of larger strean1s. Finally, in the late after110011, or, if tl1e trip l1as bee11 a slow 011e, after su11set i 11 the gatl1ering dusk, Feres Bet co1 11es i11to view. Whe11 I first saw it i11 1960, Peres Bet with its 101 thatcl1ed 1n11d huts l1 t1ddled together 011 a knoll astride the platea11 watershed was l1ardly an in1pressive sight. Yet it was and still is tl1e 011ly 11ucleatecl settle11 1ent in Dega Damot. Tl1 e town \:\'as "founded'' i11 the early part of tl1is century as a storage center for grai11s raised on state fields (hilclad, sing.) i11 the region. Duri 1 1g tl1e Italian occupatio11, Peres Bet was a walled canto1 11ne1 1t from whicl1 Italian soldiers sallied forth to skir1 11ish inco11clt1sively witl1 the patriots. It was 011ly after the war tl1 at tl1e town beca1ne an effective ad1uinistrative center. By 1961 Peres Bet, v;1ith a total 1Jopt1lation of just over three ht1nclred peo1Jle, was beginning to 011tgrow its low stone walls. Only its five governn1ent b11ildi11gs l1 ad tin roofs. About 011e-tl1ird of tl1e town's housel1olds were those of ad­ n1iI1istrative officials, policeme1 1, or schoolteachers. A1 1other tl1ird of tl1 e l1ousel1olds belonged to tailors and n1arket traders, wl1ile the remaining households were those of single wo111e11 cateri11g to tl1e 11eeds of n1en wl10 ca1 11e to town 01 1 adrni 11istrative 1 11atters. Tl1ere were no stores or shops in the 40

·r11e Setting

town, a·ncl the weekly 111arket, held every Sat11rday, met, as it still does, on a 1·ocky l1iJlside l1alf a mile 011tsicle to\v11. When I ret11r11ecl to Feres Bet i11 1966 ' tl1e town l1 ad expru1ded well beyo11cl jts walls; tl1ere were a doze11 or so sq11are, ti11-roofecl 11ew buildi11gs along its 11 1ai11 trail, and several self-stylecl sl1opkee1 )ers wl10 sold goods in their ho111es. Most striking of all was a thick growtl1 of twenty-foot-higl1 euca­ lyptus trees, for111erly abse11 t, whicl1 gave the town a 111oder11 cast. For the 111ost part, l1owever, tl1is book is 11ot concernecl \\ 1ith tl1e peo1)le of · Feres Bet but \vith the far11 1ers who live in the co11ntryside beyond its walls. An elder o:f Dega Da1not 1naki11g tl1e journey fron1 Jiga to Feres Bet can see i11 tl1e natural ru1d ma11-1nade features of tl1e local landscape 111a11y tai1gible 1nanifestatio11s of tl1e instit11tio11s tl1ro11gh wl1ich he a11d his 11 eighbors are t111ited witl1 and divided from one a11other, as \veil as 111anifestations of the lege11dary eve11ts which they believe account for tl1e origins a11d i11terrelatio11s of these i11stitutio11s. To hi111 each homestead is a housel1old, the 111ost i111porta11t unit of social a11 d eco11omic orga11izatio11 i11 the day-to-clay life of tl1e peasa11t. Each grotIIJ of scatterecl ho1nesteads is a 11runlet (1rzencler), a clL1steri11g of 11eigl1bors bo1111d to 011e a11otl1er by 111 a11y i11terwoven ties of volt1ntary cooperatio11, friendsl1ip, a11cl god-JJare11thood. Eacl1 cl1 t1rcl1 represe11 ts to J1i1n the abode of a holy ark. sy111bolizing one of the religio11s fig11res of tl1e Etl1iopic ch11rch a11cl i11f111e11cing by its JJect1liar character tl1e te111po a11d quality of life in tl1e parish it de­ fines. In a barre11 rock-strewn 11.illside he sees an importa11t n1arketplace wl1ere once a week great thro11gs fro11 1 tl1e 1noun­ tains a11d tl1e plai11s gatl1er to excl1a11ge their prod11ce, their greetings, a11d their news. 111 the 11etworks of broad ancl nar­ row paths tl1at i11te1·lace ho1nestead, hamlet, ch11rcl1, and 1narket he sees the repetitive n1ove1nent of J Jeople as tl1ey ebb and flow across the co1111tryside i11 accordance with tl1e daily, weekly, 111011tl1ly, ru1d yearly cycles of their lives. Finally, if he knows the locality well, a11 elde1· can see in tl1e paths, streams, ancl otl1er featt1res of tl1e la11dscape the .historically 41

The Setting

cl1artered boundaries of parishes, neighborhoods ( corre­ sponding to estates of gwilt), and tl1e co111plex, 11esting la11d divisio11s of the rist system. Not all of these i11stitutions throt1gl1 v.1l1ich Da111otians are tied to 011e a11other are equally relevant to a discussio11 of the rist systen1, tl1011gh. few are u11touched by it. 111 the following two cl1apters, l1owever, I an1 particularly co11cer11ed with an elder's positio11 i11 tl1e l1ousehold and i11 the institutio11s that defi11e his relatio11ship with the local con1munity, parish, a11d 11eighborl1ood. My 1Jri111ary object tl1rot1gl1out the discussion is to sl1ow how l1is positio11 i11 eacl1 of tl1ese ¡fields of social relatio11s ge11erates a11d sl1apes his interest in acq L1iri11g rist lane! and sets bounds 011 l1is ability to do so.



Tl1e hot1sehold is the social grotIJJ that most affects the per­ sonal welfare, the day-to-day activities, a11d the con1111uni ty sta11ding of the JJeople of Dega Da111ot. It js of 1Jartic11lar importance to this book because it is the organizational 11ni t by wl1icl1 land is 111anaged and exploited. I11 Amhara land­ theory, of course, rist rights are ultimately vested in the desce11t group and are held by its i11.dividual livi11g 111e1nbers. In JJractice, ho�1ever, it is nor1nally 011ly those 1ne1nbers wl10 ho11sehold heads who actually control the 11se of rist la11d. Tl1e A111haric \vord beteseb, which I am tra11slating as household or clo1nestic gro11p, literally 111eans ''ho11se of JJeople. '' 111 Dega Damot it refers to any gro11p of people who live together i11 a si11gle ho1nestead and who depe11cl 011 a co1n1no11 so11rce for food. I-Iouseholds, i11 this 111ost ge11eral se11se, vary considerably in size, co1nposition, a11d source of i11come. It n1igl1t be possible to co11str11ct an ''average'' or "typical'' hot1sel1old 011 tl1e basis of this observable variatio11, but to do so wou1cl be to n1isrepresent the A111hara view and, I believe, social reality as well. In an i1111 Jortant se11se, the 011ly type of ho11sehold considerecl co1nplete is the far111ing l1ousel1old with its own l101nestead, oxen, eq11ipment, lands, and labor force. fI011seholcls which lack one or 111ore of these elen1ents beca11se of poverty or position in tl1e do1nestic cycle n1ay still be 11ouseholds i11 the n1ini111al sense of the word, b11t they are inco111plete. A si11gle ho11se is su·fficie11t to co11stitute a hon1estead, though two or tl1ree are IJreferred. A yoke of oxen ca11 plo11gl1 the ordinary I1olcli11g, b11t unless tl1e l1ousehold has other 43

The Household

cattle, iJ1cl11ding calves a11d perhaps a third ox as well, its aaricultural sit11ation is precarious. Tl1e 111ost expensive a11d i;IJOrtant agricultural i1nple111en.t is tl1e iron-tiIJJJed scratch­ plow, though th� ho1nestead 11111st be fitted out with the n11n1erous 111ortars, 111ills, baskets, 1nats, jars, pots, ancl otl1er 11tensils 11ecessary in food pre1Jaration. It is 111ore difficult to specify 111i11i111al la11cl req11ireme11ts, b11t I wo11ld esti1nate tl1at tl1e produce of betwee11 two ru1d a l1alf and tl1ree acres of land is req11ired to SLIJJport an ad11lt for a year i11 a l1011sehold. 1 Tl1e 1ni11i111al labor force req11ired by a co1111Jlete far111i11g l1ousel1old 111.ust i11cl11de a 1na11 wl10 is responsible for plough­ i11g ru1d 111ost otl1er agric11ltural tasks, a11d a wo111a11 wl10 is respo11sible for tl1e 111anage111e11t of food preparatio11 a11d 111ost otl1er ro11ti11e activities at the ho111estead as well as for the 1Jrovisio11 of fu·e,:vood a11d water. If the ho11sel1old is to tl1rive ru1d its head is to take his JJlace in tl1e co111111unity as a11 elder, it is only slightly less essential tl1at tl1e l1011sel1old l1ave three otl1er positions in its labor force. It sl1ould have a boy be­ tween tl1e age of seven and twelve ( a girl, tho11gl1 not favored, can be s11bstit11ted) to herd the housel1old's livestock; a girl over seven or a you11g divorcee to help the 1nistress of tl1e l1011se ,vith her v.rork; and a you11g 111a11 betv.1een tv.1elve a11d abo11t twent)' to assist tl1e 111a11 of the l1ouse witl1 tl1e a1·d11011s year-ro1111d task of IJloughing. Ideally, the l1ousel1old is also the type of kinship u11it an­ thropologists call a n11clear family. First n1arriage, the onl)1 111arriage v.1hich is marked \Vitl1 a large celebration, is ex­ IJected to res11lt i11 tl1e creation of a 11ew l1011sel1old tl1ro11gl1 �l1e pooling of tl1e 11ew co11ple's labor, tl1e cattle give11 to the1n 1n equal value by t11eir res1Jective pare11tal l1011seholcls, a11d eventually by tl1e JJOoli11g of their rist rights as well. The master and mistress of tl1e ho11sehold are tl1us expected to be ht1sband a11d wife. Tl1e l1erdboy and tl1e }Jlowboy are ideally .1: T ?is �stimate is based on observatio11s of J1011sehold size and land

u �ili ��tion 111 households that appeared to b e near the lower limit of vi �bility,- It was not base� on the estimated consumption of food since tbis �1ethod would result 111 an unrealistically low figure v. hicl1 does not _ 1eflet:t the n1any otl1er expenses involved in s11pport. 1


The Householcl

sons, a11d tl1e girl who l1el1Js the 1nistress of the hot1se is l1er dat1gl1ter. Otl1er childre11 1nay, of cot1rse, be born to the couple, but the fa111ily re111ai11s nuclear in st1·t1cture, for mar­ riage is n1011ogamot1s; married cl1ildren, with a few excep­ tions discussecl below, do not re111ain in the hot1sehold of their parents. 2 Des1Jite the fact that tl1e core members of a hot1sehold are ideally, a11d ofte11 i11 reality, the me111bers of a 11uclear fa111ily, there are several reasons wl1y it would be 1nisleading to 111erge tl1e conce1Jts a11d refer to the Da111otian household as a fa1nily.3 011e reaso11 is tl1at, as will beco111e clear, the A111haric ter1n beteseb has 110 direct refere11ce to kinship ties or to a tmit witl1 transgeneratio11al co11ti11uity. A11other reason is that fa1nilial kinsl1ip roles 1nust be a11alytically disti11g11ished fro111 J1ousel1old roles eve11 thotigh the for111er frequently serve as recr11itme11t roles for the latter. A boy bro11gl1t into a hot1se­ l1old to fill the vaca11t role of l1erdboy 111ay hope to be ge11er­ ously rewarded for his service whe11 l1e 1narries, bt1t he cloes 11ot, by the l1ousehold, beco111.e the so11 of the ho11se­ hold's head. A fi11al, closely related reaso11 for not ide11tifyi11g tl1e l1ot1se­ l1old as a fa1nily, and 011e that is tJartict1larly ger111ane to tl1is book, is tl1at tl1e compositio11 of a l1011sehold, the stre11gth of its labor force, a11d its co111111u11ity stancling in relation to otl1er l1ot1seholds are 11ot deter111i11ed or li1nitecl by fa111ilial or ki11sl1iJJ consideratio11s. The composition, the stancli11g, a11d, to so111.e degree, tl1e size of the household are depe11cle11t 011 tl1e managerial tale11ts of its head, on l1is ability to 111ai11tai11 orderly relations among its n1embers, to organize its agric11ltt1ral activities, a11d to gai11 a11d retai11 control over rist land. 2. Tl1e neolocal resi.dence pattern of Gojjam contrasts with that of son1e other Amhara regions st1ch as the Menz distinct of Shoa province, where patri-virilocal extended families predominate. 3. The confusion of household and fan1ily in the anthropological litera­ ture is widespread. It is \veil exemplified in G. P. Murdock's influential discussion of the 11uclear family (1949: 1-12). At the same tin1e the in1portance of maintaining the distinction bet\veen family and l1ousehold has been noted by a number of writers including Fortes ( 1966) and Bender (1967, 1971).


The Household

No matter }1ow tale11ted its head n1ay be, a far1ning house­ hold does not becoine very large. In a group of 282 house­ holds representi11g e11tire ha1nlets from four parishes it was found that only six, or slightly over 2 perce11t,4had 1nore than seven members; none had i11 ore tha11 twelve. The fact that 1narried children do 11ot re1nai11 in parental l1ouseholds con­ tributes to the li1nitation of l1ousel1old size, but it does not accot1nt for it.' since housel1old heads witl1 sufficie11t resources ca11 bri11g additio11al 1nembers i11to their housel1olds if they wish. Nevertheless, even l1ousel1old l1eads with fron1 two to tl1ree ti111es the 1nea11 or 1nodal l1olding of rist land and two or 1nore good teams of plow oxen seldo111 l1ave hot1seholds exceedi11g seve11 men1bers. Most 1ne11, i11cluding lay far1ners, clerics, and even neigl1borl1ood jt1dges, hope to head the type of con1plete farn1ing housel1old I have clescribed; i11deed many n1en realize tl1is aspiration duri11g at least a part of tl1eir elderhood. Nevertl1eless, tl1ere is a11other type of housel1old that is far n1ore admirable a11d prestigious in the eyes of Da1notians than the farn1ing l1ousel1old. This is the household of tl1e otficeholding lord. Traditio11ally these vastly expa11ded hot1se­ holds, 111odeled ulti1nately on the courtly household of the emperor, had a central place in Amhara political organiza­ tion. They varied fro1 11 scores to ht1ndreds of 111embers, ac­ cordi11g to tl1e autl1ority a.nd l1e11ce the greatness of the house­ l1old's 1naster, a11d their inter11al organization was inti1nately bound tip with tl1e way l1e administered the la11d a11cl people under his co11trol. Today these vast don1estic establish111ents, like tl1e tribute syste1n that supported them and the political syste111 of wl1ich t �ey were an i11tegral part, are but a fading men1ory. At the t11ne of my fieldwork the 011ly l1ot1sehold i 11 Dega Da111ot tl1at took the great inan's l1ousehold as its 111odel was tl1at of the district gover11or, and it, witl1 its two doze11 or so n1en1bers 4. In a survey of 282 housel1olds, it was found that 12 had 1 01en1ber, 58 had 2 n1embers, 60 had 3 men1bers, 63 ha d 4 memb ers, 49 had 5 members, 17 had 6 members, 12 had 7 n1en1b ers, 3 had 8 men1bers, 1 had 9 members, none had 10 or 11 members and 2 had 1?- or more ' n1embers.


Tl1e Housel1old

ancl its sporadic feasts, was often tl1e object of invidious con1parisons with the hot1seholds of prewar gover11ors. It .is tl1t1s the less gloriot1s farmi.11g household that is of prin1ary i11terest in tl1is book. The re111ai11der of this sectio11 IJresents a 1nore concrete eth11ographic picture of the f armi11g l1ousehold; of its ho111estead, of its lru1ds, of its farming, of tl1e routine activi­ ties of its 111en1bers, and of its cyclical developn1ent through time. Tl1ough geogra1Jl1ically son1e l10111esteads stand in isola­ tion, most are loosely grotIJ?ecl or stru11g ot1t along some 111inor }Jath\\1ay. 111 a11y case ho111esteads are set apart fron1 one another beyo11d the range of normal conversation. Usu­ ally, too, tl1ey are so situated that tl1eir dooryard areas are hid.den fro111 011e a11other by a grove of trees, a rocky out­ cropping, or tl1e orie11tatio11 of their buildings. Tl1e hon1estead of a successful elder ideally includes three buildi11gs: a cattle l1ot1se (yekebt bet), a reception hot1se (ilfiii), and a livi11g house (menoria bet). Ust1ally, however, the fu11ctions of all three bt1ildings are combinecl i11 tl1e livi11g house. Tl1is circular, wattle and daub, all-pt1rpose structure l1as two conce11tric ,valls dividi11g it into an i1111er room ru1d an outer doughnut-shaped area between the walls. Tl1e i11ner roon1 serves both as a general living qt1arter a11d as a recep­ tion room. The outer area is clivided i11to sections used for sl1eltering livestock, storage, cooki11g, a11d slee1Jing. At1 aclt1lt 111ust stoo1J to e11ter the doorway in the 0L1ter wall of the l1ouse, for tl1e eaves of the tl1atched roof are brot1ght low agai11st tl1e drivi11g da111pness of tl1e rai11y-seaso11 winds. Inside tl1e ot1ter doorway to the rigl1t is the e11trance to tl1e gJ,vacla, tl1e sectio11 of the outer area where calves, la111bs, and other yot111g livestock are hot1sed. To the left is the entra11ce of the gat, the section wl1ere the larger a11in1als are kept at nigl1t. Ahead is the windowless, di111ly lit ce11tral roo111 where the 1nen1bers of the household spend most of their indoor hours. A heartl1 st111ken i11 the earthen floor 1narks the center of the room. Beyond it, recessed in the wall opposite the doorway, is the bed where tl1e hot1sehold 11ead a11d his wife sleep. A low mt1d bench ru11s alo11g the wall, from tl1e right of the doorway to tl1e bed halfway arot1nd the roo111.


The I-Iousel10Id

It is on this bencl1 that visitors are carefully seated in ac­ cordance with their sect1lar autl1 0.rity, their churcl1 office, and their age, the l1ighest-ranking guests nearest the bed a 1 1d tl1e lowest near the door. Whe11 l1011ored guests are present, me1nbers of the housel1 old other than adult men leave the area between the bench a11d the central l1earth. You11 g 1nen 1nay 111ove across to the less J)restigiot1s "lower'' be1 1ch that ru11s a quarter of tl1e way arot111 cl tl1e roo111 to tl1e left of the door. Wo1ne11, cl1ildre11 , a11d young boys retreat into tl1e kitche11 area of the roo1 n, tl1e quadra11t rt 1 ru1i 1 1g fro1n tl1e bed to the e11 d of tl1e lower-ranking bench. In part this sy1n­ bolizes the lower statt1s of wo1 11 e11 and cl1ildre11 in for1nal situatio11s, a 1 1d i11 J)art it is required by the fact tl1at, wl1e11 gt1ests visit, a 111eal 111t1st be prepa.recl for then1 . In tl1e kitcl1en area of the house a11 d i11 tl1e sectio11 of the ot1ter roo1 11 adjacent to it, foodsttrffs ancl tl1e 111a11y t1te11sils em1)loyed in tl1eir pre1)aratio11 are keJ)t. Here, too, are tl1e ,vater jars tl1at must be filled daily at tl1e 11earest SJJri11g a1 1d, in festive seaso1 1, a great jar of barley beer or of hydro1nel. A few l1u11dred pou11 ds of grai11 ,1re also kept i11 the kitchen area ready to be ground into flot1r a 1 1d bakecl ir1to the thi11, flat, J)at1cake-like bread tl1at, alo11g with 111a11y varieties of stew, constitt1tes the 111ajor part of the hot1sehold's diet. Most of tl1e household's grain supply, l1owever, is stored ot1tside the house i11 small tl1atched granaries a11d subterra11 ean stor­ age pits. Tl1e la11d cultivated by a housel1old consists of a 11u1 nber of diSJ)ersed strip-fields scattered over the countryside withi1 1 two or three n1iles of the l1omestead. Most f arn1i11 g l1ouse­ l1 olds ct1ltivate at least fot1r fields that average about tl1ree acres each. 5 One l1ousel1old i11 four ct1ltivates 111ore than eighteen acres, and 011e out of seve11 cultivates 111ore tl1an thirty acres, while probably not more tl1a11 011e ot1t of fifty households cultivates n1ore tl1an forty-five acres. The significance of a field to the housel1old deJJends 011 whether the field is l1eld i1 1 te11ancy a11d 011 tl1e qttality of its 5. By farming �ousehold I 111ean a household \Vith at least an adult man and wo �an, a �arr of oxen and a plough, and one wl1icl1 derives the 01ajor part of its subsistence from farming.


The Hot1sel1olcl

soil, as well as on its size. For most farmi11g l1ouseholds te11ancy is 11ot of great i1n1Jorta11ce; i n a given year only 011e hot1sehold i _n fot1r cultivates a11y fields in te11a11cy.6 Thus for 111ost far111i11g l1ot1sel1olds la11d cultivated and la11d held do 11ot differ greatly. For so111e l1ousel1old heads, l1owever, ten­ a11cy arra11ge111e11ts assu111e greater i111portance. Yot1ng 1ne11 who l1ave 11ot gau1ed co11trol over mt1ch land, a11d energetic 111e11 witl1 healthy oxen and perl1a1Js a JJlowboy to l1elp the1n, 1nay ct1ltivate several fields in te11a11cy, wl1ile l1ot1seholds without oxe11 or a plot1gh1na11 are forced to give their fields to tenants. Me11 with large l1oldi11gs characteristically give 1nuch of tl1eir lan.d to tenants. The 111ai11 clisaclva11tage of ct1l­ tivati11g la11d in te11a11cy is, of cot1rse, tl1e lower rate of return. 111 the co1nn1011est arrange111ent, the tena11t, who 111t1st supply half tl1e seed, both oxen, ru1d all the labor, receives fro1n one­ l1alf to three-qt1arters of the harvest depending on the ty1Je of grai11 bei11g raised. The far111ers of Dega Damot, like farn1ers everywhere, carefully disti11guish differe11ces i11 tl1e fertility, c1t1ality, clrai11age, a11d ex p. ost1re of their fields. Here, however, I am co11cerned with ortly those Damotian categorizatio11s of la11d which have 111ajor ecological sig11ificance ru1d whicl1 are ex­ plicitly recog11ized in custo111ary la11cl law. Tl1e 1nost i111IJOrtant disti11ctio11 i11 tl1ese respects is between fertilized ( kels) la11d whicl1 has been e11riched with 111ant1re, asl1es, and other hot1se reft1se, and t111fertilized or uni1111Jroved land ( boclcla) . Fertilizecl fields are t1st1ally located i11 tl1e vici11i ty of ho111esteads i11 lo11g-settlecl ha111lets, \Vhile unfertilizecl la11d is ust1ally farther away from l101nesteads, often i11 for111er pastt1reland tl1at has n1ore rece11tly been brought into cultj­ vatio11. In the higl1la11d area I surveyed, 30 percent of all fields were fertilized a11d 60 perce11t were t111fertilized. Abot1t half of the other fields are 11ewly cleared la11d on which trees have beee11 felled and bur11ed to produce a soil that is very IJroductive for a few seasons. Such land co11sti­ tl1tes a distinct category, ter111ed jibasicl after tl1e grain which 6. Young n1arried sons often cultivate fields of their father in return for a share of the crop. Following Amhara usage, I an, not considering this arrangen1ent tenancy.


The Household

is 11orn1 ally grown on it. Jibasicl is of ecological i111porta11ce 011ly in those few parishes whicl1 are still partly forested,_ and today is usually fot1nd only 011 slopes too steep to ct1lt1vate exce1Jt with the hoe. Most of the ren1aining fields ( only about 3 percent of all highla11d fields) are kitcl1e11 gardens adjacent to ho1nesteads and sn1 all, spring-irrigated 011ion JJatcl1es. The ecological importa11ce of fertilized land to the house­ l1old rests 011 the la11d's higher an11t 1al yield and the fact that it ca11 be cultivated conti11t1ously, without fallowi11g. Far1ners esti111ated tl1at the type of barley they usually sow 011 their fertilized fields in. tl1e l1igl1lands yields from five to seven ti11 1es tl1e seed sow11 iI1 a year, while tl1e 011ly kincl of barley that will grow on u11fertilized fields yields tl1ree to five ti1nes the seecl sow11. Fertilized la11d thus produces on tl1e average about one and 011e-l1alf ti111es n1ore barley, the staple crop used for both bread and beer i11 tl1e l1ighla11ds, tl1a11 u11fertilized la11d. Tl1e 111ost in1portant aclva11tage of fertilized land is that it ca11 prodt1ce a crOJJ every year wl1ile unfertilized land must be fallowed every otl1er year or, if the land is very poor, two years ot1t of tl1ree. Fertilized la11d thus contributes more to 111ost l1ot1sel1olds' grai11 supply over the years than u11fertilized land. Tl1ere is variation i11 tl1is respect, however, fron1 hot1se­ l1olcl to l1ousel1old, and there is also variation i11 some l1ouse­ holds fro111 year to year as tl1 ey alter11ately have tl1e larger JJOrtion of their unfertilized la11d i11 cultivation or in fallow. Tl1is is dt1e to the fact tl1at a farmer ca11not cl1oose when to fallow a field but must st1bn1it to the regi1ne of fallov. i11g es­ tablished for the larger tract in whicl1 his field is located. A final advantage of fertilized land is tl1at in recog11itio11 of the value added by the holder it is not as likely as is u11fertilized la11d to be reassigned to sorneone else by descent corporatio11 leaders. The crops a Da111otian hot1sel1olcl grows 011 its la11d vary with soil type, drainage, expost1 re, ai1d, above all, altitt1 de, but t ?e ?asic JJattern of agrict1lture is tl1e sa1 11e tl1rot1ghout tl1e d1str1ct. Staple cereals are ct1ltivated everywhere 011 land that _ l1a� been plowed tl1ree or fot1r ti1nes to e11 st1re cleptl1 of cult1vat1on a11d sttfficient granulatio11 of tl1e eartl1. In tl1e low­ lands the successive plowi11gs 111 t1st follow t 1po.11 011 e a11otl1er 1


Tl1e Hot1sel1old

withi11 a fe,�, weeks or the grot111d will beco1ne caked a11d l1ard again. In the highlands, where I carried ot1t 111ost of 111y i11tensive research, tl1e }Jreparation of a field 111ay be spread over as 1011g as te11 111011tl1s i11 u11fertilized fields. Weeding n1ost cro1Js 011ce or twice dt1ri11g tl1eir growth is held to be desirable, but 111a11y housel1olds do 11ot weecl their fields at all in a normal year. After they 1natt1re, tl1e cereals are reaped by grotl}JS of men and \V0111en t1sing ha11d sickles, tl1resl1ed t111der tl1e feet of oxen or horses, wiI111owed, and stored. In Dega Damot, as everywhere in A1nhara cot1ntry, three altitt1de zones are recognized: lowlands ( qolla), 111idla11ds ( 1-ve)111a clega), a11d higl1lands ( clega).7 In the lowland zone the staple crops are 1naize ( zea m.Cl)'S), pearl 1nillet ( pennise­ tu,ri f)1p/1oicleit11i), and sorgl1u1n (.s-orghitni vulgare). I11 the midlands tl1ese crops give way to wheat ( triticitm sp.); nt1111erot1s varieties of barley ( l1orclei.t1n sp.); and reff ( eragros­ tis tefj), a type of do111esticatecl grass seed t111iversally favored by up1Jer-class A1nl1ara for bread flour. In tl1e highla11ds sev­ eral species of barley a11d the Irisl1 potato reig11 s11pre1ne. 111 additio11 to the cereals and the potato, a nt1111ber of pt1lses, oil seeds, vegetables, a11d spices are grown in Dega ·na1not, the higl1la11d zo11e 011ce agai11 havi11g tl1e least variety. Higl1er-statt1s l1ot1sehold l1eads try to obtau1 fields i11 1nore than 011e altit11de zo11e i11 order to cliversify their cro1Js and add va1·iety to tl1eir 1neals. Less fortunate l1ot1sel1old l1eads obtai11 some prod11ce fron1 otl1er zo11es at tl1e weekly 111arkets and througl1 IJrivate excl1ange agree111ents with trade part11ers. Tl1011gl1 a housel1old heacl's statt1s is closely related to his control over land, a11d l1is diet to the types of crops l1e raises, l1e is accot1nted wealtl1y ( l1abtam) or poor ( cleha) JJri1narily by his livestock. 111 part tl1is is because livestock are a 1nore visible and ta11gible 1nai1ifestatio11 of n1aterial st1ccess than wiclely scatterecl plots of land. 111 part it is clt1e to the fact that livestock, t111like land, ca11 be readily converted to cash 7. All the land of Dega Damot district falls into these three zones. In addition to tl1em, ho,vever, two other zones are recognized: choqe, the frequently frost-covered high mountains to the east; and berha, ,vJ1ich i11 Damot refers to the S\Veltering climatic zone found at the floor of the Blue Nile gorge.


The IIousehold

tl1rough sale. Wealth, or 1Jerha1Js 1nore � c� uratelr ri� �es, is . desired, but is considered in a se1 1se to be 11l1c1t or 1lleg 1 t11nate t1nless it is accom1Ja1 1iecl by higl1 status based 01 1 the posses­ sion of authority a11d, usually, of la1 1d. Tl1e most i111 porta1 1t type of livestock, as has been 11oted, are cattle, withot1t wl1ich a bousel1old ca1111ot plow its la 11ds. Tl1ey are kept at all three altitude zo11es of Dega Da 111ot. The l1erds of far 1 11ing l1ot1sel1 olds are s111all; a 111a11 wl10 l1 as two JJairs of oxe11 a11d t11ree or fot1r cows is accounted wealthy in cattle. It is 11 ot cattle, l1 owever, but sl1ee1J and goats tl1at are 111ost co111 1no11 ly solcl for casl1. Both ki11 ds of a11in1als are kept i 11 all JJarts of the district, but sl1eep preclon1inate 011 tl1 e grassy l1 ighla11 ds wl1ile goats tl1 rive on tl1e browse of tl1e 1 11iddle and lower zo11 es. I-Iousel1old flocks of these a11 i111als co1 11111011ly vary fro111 five to twenty l1ead. Donkeys, \:vl1icl1 are t1sed as JJack a 1 1i111als, a11d l1orses, t1secl for IJack a11d saddle, are kept by so1ne l1 ot1sel1 olds, wl1ile 1 11 ules are regt1larly kept 011ly by n1e1 1 of substa11ce. Chickens, cats, dogs, a11d bees are also kept b)' 111ost l1ot1sel1 olds thougl1 they are of mi11 or i 1n1Jorta11 ce. Ma11y housel1olcl l1eads keep a s1nall stretch of la11 cl near their hornesteads i 1 1 1Jastt1re for tl1e st1 pplemental grazing of tl1eir cattle, particularly of tl1 eir plow oxen during periods of l1 ard work. J\1ost pastures, however, are t1sed in co1n111on by all tl1e l1ot1seholds of a l1amlet. Tl1ese larger pastures al\vays belo11g to the estate of a descent grot1p but they are usually land \\1hich l1as not been divided i 11 tl1e 11 a111e of tl1e first a11cestral 11 older's children. Sucl1 t1 ndividecl descent-group la1 1ds are referred to as shI belo or "[tl1at wl1icl1 is] eaten b)' one thousand." Finally, in additio11 to arable la11d for cultivatio1 1 and pastt1rage for its livestock, a l1ot1sel1 olcl 111t1st ]1a,,e access to wood for cooki11g and co11strt1ctio11. Wood fron1 tl1e thor11 forest of tl1 e 111 ot�ntai1 1sicle n1a)' be ct1t b)' a 1 1yo11e reside11t in _ _ tl1 e parish 111 wl1 1cb the forest is located. Trees a11d ba111boo planted 01 1 tl1 e cleared la11d, ofte11 11ear l1011 1esteads are l1eld by i11dividual l1ousel1 olds. Most firewood is gatl1 er�d in tl1 e forest, a11d n1ost of the larger trees t1sed i 11 l1ouse construction have been planted. 52

The Ho11sehold

As an econo111ic 1111it tl1e l1ousel1old is depe11de11t 011 other l1ouseholds for tl1e excl1ange of labor a11d 011 tl1e 1narket for the excha11ge of goods. At the ti111e of my fieldwork, the l1011sel1olcl had 11ot yet bee11 caught up to a.ny great extent in the cash nex11s of the 111oclen1 Ethio1Jiru1 econon1y. Most of tl1e staple cro1Js raised by a household are co11s111ned by its members and their guests. The sale of crops has 11ot been regarded as an i111porta11t source of casl1 in most of the dis­ trict because of the l1igl1 cost of tra11sportatio11 by pack train. 011e of tl1e most s11ccessful elders in the Feres Bet area, who cultivates over seve11ty acres, reported that he had sold Eth. $80 ( $32 U.S.) worth of barley in 1961 b11t added ruefully that l1e did not ex1Ject to sell 111ucl1 in 1962 ''beca11se it is a good year and everyo11e will have e11ough. ''8 The n1ost in1porta11t so11rces of cash in Dega Dan1ot are ho11ey, hides, skins, a little seed ( an indigeno11s oil seed), and, at tl1e approach of major l1olidays, sheep and goats. These forms of produce are bought by local part-tin1e traders and sold either i11 tl1e towns alo11g tl1e road or, in tl1e case of ho11ey, directly to traders i11 Addis Ababa. The cash ex1Je11ditures of most ho11sel1olds are ratl1er low even by African sta11dards. 011e of the few fixed ex1Jenses for most l1011seholds is tl1e la11d tax, of whicl1 more will be said iI1 chapter 10. The principal n1anufactured ite111s bought by the ordinary l1011sel1old are soap, a few utensils, and, for me11 and boys, pru1ts ai1d jackets. Most l1ouseholds l1ave one or two glasses, a few s1Joons, a demitasse or two for coffee, a11d an iro11 disl1 for cooking stew. In 1960 only governn1ent officials, teachers, and a few 11oble1nen had diesel fuel burn­ ing lrunps, fashioned of tin cans, a11d only the district gov­ er11or had a radio, which did not work. In 1966 there was a marked increase i11 the number of oil la111ps and there were perhaps a dozen tra11sistor radios, most of them ow11ed by gover111ne11t workers i11 tl1e tow11 of Feres Bet. S1nall runounts of cash are also req11ired for certain other ite111s, the 111ost i1111Jorta11t of which are bars of rock salt and coffee bea11s. Casl1 is also used to buy baskets, pottery, co11di8. One Etbopian dollar was worth $.40 U.S.


The 1-lousehold

111e11ts, cotton ( fro111 the lowlands), a11 d other regio11al prod.ucts. The cotto11 is carded, co111bed, and sp1111 by the wo111en of rnost ho11seholds in tl1eir s1Jare ti111e. TJ1e tl1read tl111s produced is the11 take11 to me1nbers of the low-statt1s weaver comn11111ity wl1ere, i11 retur11 for a JJayme11t, it js wove11 into the white cloth invariably 11sed for \Vo1ne11's cloth­ ing a11d 1nen's capes. TJ1 e ho11sehold l1ead 1nust arra11ge i11 siinilar fashion to l1ave his leather work do11e by a tan11 er ancl l1is iro11 work done by the local s111ith. The claily activities of tl1e l1011sehold l1ead a11cl l1is de1Je11dents are sl1a1Jed by the de111a11ds of agric11lture ai1d by tl1e l1oliday cale11dar of tl1e parish ch11rcl1. 011 a11 ordi11ary week­ day a 1na11 rises betwee11 six a11d seve11 i11 the 111orni11g. If l1e attencled cl1t1rcl1 school as a boy a11d is tl1erefore g11asi-liter­ ate, l1e 111ay begi11 l1is day by reading a J JSal111. After this l1 e sends J1is livestock to pasture with his l1erdboy or, if he l1as 11one, drives tl1e111 to joi11 tl1e larger ha111let hercl l1e te11ds by tt1r11 with l1is 11eigl1bors. U1Jo11 ret11rni11g to his l1omestead, l1 e takes l1is breakfast, 1111less it is a Wednesday, a Friday, or one of the n1a11)' other fast days p1·escribed by the ch11rch. 9 By eigl1t or 11ine o'clock l1e is ready to prepare for the 1nain work of tl1e day. If he goes to the fields to JJlO\V or reap, or to the forest to c11t wood, he is likely to re1nain away fro111 the home­ stead until tl1ree or four i11 tl1e after110011. He 111ay have his n1idday 111eal brougl1t to hi1n in the fielcls or he may eat 11po11 l1is retur11, b11t in either case he is likely to rest for a wl1ile after returni11g to his l1011se. 111 tl1 e late after11oon or earl)' e,1e11i11 g he 111ust see to tl1e retur11 of the livestock. He takes l1is eve11ing 1neal after dark ancl 11s11ally retires for the night by ni11e or nine-tl1irty. There are n1a11)1 da)'S 011 whicl1 plowi11 g, rea1Ji11 g, c11tti11g \vood, and diggi11 g in the grot111d are forbidclen by religious 9. The Wednesday and Friday fasts as well as the Lenten fast are kept by everyone above the age of about twelve except new mothers and the sick. There are a nun1ber of other n1ajor fasts that are kept only by clerics and older people. Those who adhere strictly to all the fasts of the Ethiopic church mus� fast over two hundred days a year! On a fast day no n1eat or other animal product, including milk, butter, ancl eggs, ma y be taken . at any time, and no food at all n1ay be eaten before abotit one in the afternoon.


T11e Hot1sel1olcl

rules. These i11clucle every Sat11rday a11d Su11day, the 11ine 1najo1· s,1i11ts' days a 111011th, tl1e saint's day of tl1e local parisl1 even if it is 11ot 011e of tl1ese 11i1.1e, a11d the 111ajor a11nual holy­ clays. I-leavy work is also forbidde11 withi11 a parish frorn tl1e time a11y parisl1io11er dies u11til l1e is buried, which should be 011 the day of death if JJossible. 011 tl1ese days a man may occupy l1i1nself i11 1u,111y ways. He may attend church or go to 1narket. I-le 111ay e11joy l1i111self as a spectator or advisor at some local 11eighborhood judge's cot1rt. I-le may atte11d 011e of tl1e frequent la1·ge 111ourning cere111011ies l1eld on holidays to co1111ne111orate rece11t deaths in a11 area of five or te11 }Jarishes. He 111ay also go to disc11ss 111atters of b11si11ess with 011e of his artisa11s, visit witl1 l1is frie11ds, or simply do light work arot1nd tl1e ho111estead. .







I I'

I I•





HARVE5T 11:<,-, (




PLO�·/ IN,..





<'-PLOl·ll/lG w-PLANTltlG--�









nasno barley


I '

<--PLANT ING--> comron barley







ve rainfall






Fig. 1. Major seasonal agricultural activities on the high plateau

The rl1ytl1n1 of social life, like agric11ltural activity, changes witl1 the seasons a11d is p1111ct11ated by the annual cycle of re­ ligious fasts, feasts, a11d l1olidays. The 111ajor seaso11al division of the year is i11to a clry season ( bega) and a rainy season ( kren1t) ( see fig. 1). In the clega, or highlands, showers 1uay occ11r i11 any n1011th, b11t rai11fall is i11significa11t for agricultural


The 1-Iousehold

purposes until sometime in late April. By t�1e latt�r part �f June the l1eavy rai11s have co111menced and will co11tmue until mid-September. Rainy season dow111)ours are not usually violent in the highla11ds, but tl1e rair1 falls for weeks on e11d with little respite. Warmer, 111oisture-laden winds fro1n the lowla11ds swee1) up the valleys a11 d co11dense i 11to a thick 1nist, precipitating a steady, bone-chilli11g drizzle, eve11 on days wl1en the sun is shir1iI1g below. In the lowla11ds there is seldon1 rai11fall before April. Fro1n 111id-Jt1ne 011, it 1nay rain co11 ti11t1ously for several days at a ti1ne, but 11or1nally 1 11orn­ ings a1·e su1111y, \vitl1 l1eavy downpours in the afternoons and • eve11111gs. The onset of the rai11s 111 arks the end of tl1e post-Easter JJeriod of feasts a11d weddi11gs. Tl1e first part of tl1e rainy sea­ so11, fro111 111id-May till early J·t1 11e, bri11gs with it a ti1ne of l1ard \Vork. The fields \vl1icl1 are to receive co1n111011 barley l1a\1e already bee11 plo\ved three or four ti111es i11 the dry sea­ s011 111 011 tl1s (see fig. 1). Now they mt1st be !)lowed agai 11 in JJreparatio11 for sov,1i11g. Wl1e11 tl1e soil it ready, a strip of la11d ten feet wide and as long as tl1e field is n1arked out with the IJlow. Members of tl1 e l1ousehold 1nove down the strip, break­ i11g large clu1 11ps of soil and spreading the barley broadcast. After two or tl1ree traces have been sow11, tl1 ey are plowed agai11 to cover tl1e seed. Even before all llis con1n1on barley is in tl1e grot1nd, a farmer 1nt1st begin J)lowing other fields i11 J)reparation for planting his otl1er i111porta 1 1t staple crop, rnesrzo barley. At the heigl1t of the rai11s, duri11g Jt 1ly a11d At1 gt1 st, \Vork is lighter. Tl1e 011ly in1porta1 1t agricultt1ral activity is plowing la 11d for mesno barley. Flatla11ds turn to n1ud, n1arsl1 lands are .flooded, each ravi11e becon1es a brook, a11d e1:1ch brook a rag­ ing torrent to be forcled 011ly i11 tl1e right places and witl1 care. Travel is difficult and t111pleasa11t, tl1ougl1 never i111pos­ sible. There is 111t1cl1 less visiti11g tha-11 dt1ri11g tl1e dry season. 1:,011g hot1rs are s1)e11t j11 tl1e s111oky ht1t enjoyi1 1g tl1e co1111)ara­ t1ve warmtl1 of tl1e s111all fire i11 tl1e 111iddle of tl1e dirt floor. The only_ n1ajor religiot1s l1oliclay tl1at 111arks tl1 is period is the Ass �mpt1on of the Virgin Mary, !)receded by sixteen days of fasting and worship. 56


T11e Housel1old

In poorer ho11sel1olds tl1e latter part of tl1e rainy season is a l1u11gry tin1e of year; there 111ay be 011ly 011e 111eal a day. Potatoes, not a l1ighly favored foocl, constitt1te an i1nporta11t part of tl1e h11111ble hot1sehold's diet. 111 Septe1nber tl1e rai11s begin to abate. I-Ieavy showers con­ tinue sporadically ttntil Nove111ber, or eve11 December i11 the highlai1ds, but their freque11cy and duration decrease. Food is still 11ot abu11da11t. The joy expressecl on the two great holi­ da)'S that fall at tl1is ti1ne of tl1e year, New Year's, or St. J oru1's, day and Mesq_el, the celebration of the fi11di11g of tl1e trt1e cross by St. Helena, is associated 1nore witl1 a sense of relief and of renewal "with the ftovvers," tha11 with the feast­ ing tl1at 11or1nally accon1pa11ies all major holidays. In the midla11ds and lowlands the harY-est has already begun. Fro111 1nid-Nove1nber u11til Febrt1ary is tl1e coldest time of the year. At 11,000 feet in Peres Bet, ice is occasionally found 011 pools of water 011 crisp Dece1nber n1ornings. With the end of the rai11s tl1e crops n1ature, a11d by 111id-Nove1nber tl1e first fields of con1111on barley are ready for reaping. Fro111 the11 11ntil 111id-Febrt1ary, when the last of the ,nesrio barley has bee11 harvested and tl1e potatoes JJlanted, is tl1e second period of h,:1rd work in the year. The early JJart of this 1Jeriod is 011e of l1ard work a11d little festivity, for Decen1ber is the 111onth of the Christ111as fast. After Christ111as, by co11trast, tl1e JJace of social ancl festive life i11creases greatly. Tl1ere are 1najor holidays for JJarishes dedicatecl to Mary and Micl1ael, l1olidays ge11erally attenclecl by people from otl1er parishes as well. The religious climax of this 1Je.riod is E1Jipha11y, when the ark of each cht1rch is take11 i11 sole111n procession to the nearest river, where it is watched tl1roughout the 11ight by joyful, singing clergy. Tl1e l1arvest is 111ostly i11, the weather is clear, tl1e trails are dry. This is a seaso11 for visiting friends and relatives and for horse racing and jo11sti11g (gugs) among the young n1e11. It is also a ti111e of early weddings. Most wecldings, however, take place later, after Lent. The rot111d of feasts and festivities comes to a dramatic halt vvith tl1e begi1111i11g of the fifty-seven day Le11ten fast son1eti111e i11 FebrL1ary or early March, depe11ding 011 the year. 57

The llouseholcl

Tl1e Lenten fast is the longest and n1ost strictly adhered to of all the fasts. It is kept by virtually all perso11s above the age of eig1 1 t or te11 a11d, like all fasts, prohibits tl1e co11s11n1ptio11 of 11 1eat, 111ilk, eggs, or a11y otl1er ani111al prod11ct a11d also prohibits eati11 g anything before noon. With Easter and the e11d of the Lente11 fast there begins a second J)eriocl of u1 te11se social activity. Tl1 ere are no fast days, 110.t eve11 tl1e Wed11esclay a11 d Friday fasts wl1icl1 occ11r throughout tl1e rest of the year. Eating a11d dri11ki11g are heavy, quarrels are co111111011, a11d wedding fe,1sts freque1 1t. U11 til the rains begi11 , agrict1ltt1ral \\1ork is light. Ft1lly as 111ucl1 ti111e is spe11t 011 hot1 se-buildi11g as 011 all for111s of agriculture; olcl l1 ot1ses 111ust be replaced, all l1ot 1 ses m11st be readied for the co1 11 i11 g rai11s, a11d 111arried so11 s vvho l1ave bee11 livi11g ,vitl1 their fatl1ers for two years 11 0w 111ove out a11 d establisl1 tl1eir own l1omesteads. With the renewal of tl1e rains tJ1e te1111)0 of social life dwi11dles and the work load i 11creases. Tl1e agrict1ltural cycle has beg11 n 011 ce agai11. Each year tl1e seasonal activities of the hot1sehold are re­ peated. Gradt 1 ally, however, with the passage of tl1e years, tl1e strt1ct1 1 re of the l1ousel1 old cl1a11ges; for its co1n1)ositio11 ru1d con1plete11ess as a far111ing u11 it are a fu11ction of tl1 e do1nestic cycle tl1at begins witl1 tl1e 111 arriage a11d e11ds with t11 e death or se11ility of its head ,ts well as a f11nction of his success ,1s an elder in the con11n1111ity. Tl1 e first 111 arriage of a boy a11d girl is exrJected, if success­ ful, to lead to tl1 e fot1ndi11g of a 11ew l101 1sehold. Tl1is ex.pecta­ tio11 as ,,lell as the bilateral character and co111 1)arative flexi­ bility of ki11ship ties in Dan1 otian social organizatio11 is re­ flectecl i11 the way first 1narriages are arranged a11cl celebrated. Boys first n1arry in their late teens or early twenties; girls at twelve or thirtee11, ideally jt1st before 111enarcl1 e. Ust1a1 ly tl1e bride a11 d groo111 are 11ot acq11ai11ted prior to tl1 eir weddi1 1g; thot1gl1 there is no forn1al rule of ha111let or J)arisl1 exo00ar11y, . 111arr1ages between ho11seholds of the sa111e co111111u11 it)' are no t favored. 10 111 any case first marriages always arranged. I 0. In part this is so that d isputes following divorce will not d isrupt the . _ co�1n1unit y and 1n part, as ,vill be come cl.e ar in chapter 8, it is so that the b�ide and grooo1 and their ch ild ren ,:viii have access to a more widely d ispe rsed set of rist rights.


The Household

There are tl1ree pl1ases i11 t11e arrange111ent of a first 1nar­ riage. Tl1e :first is tl1e 111atcl1i11g of tl1e bride a11d groo111. Here the 111ain co11cer11s of tl1ose respo11sible for the arrange111ents, in additio11 to observi11g church rules of exoga1ny ( discussed in cha_pter 8 below), are tl1at their child's 1nate sl1ot1ld be fro111 a housel1old of good character, sl1ot1ld be u11tainted by leprosy or the st1spicion of witcl1craft, a11d should have rist land or at least _potentially useful rist rigl1ts. Once tentative agreen1ent 11po11 the 111atcl1 has been reached, negotiations enter tl1e seconcl IJhase, the JJrorJerty agreeme11t. Tl1e object here is to make certain that equal a111ounts of n1oveable property ,.vill be give11 to tl1e bride and groo1n to enable the111 to start their 11ew ho11sehold. Cattle are the most important forn1 of property, but horses, donkeys, mules, sl1eep, a11d small sums of 111oney ( ru1d, i11 the past, slaves) may also be given. 11 After th.e JJroperty agreement has been reacl1ed, two 1nen are chose11 to re_prese11t tl1e interests of the bride and groo111 re­ spectively it1 f11ture 111arital disJJUtes or divorce proceedi11gs: a11d the ba.nns are read after 111ass in the ch11rchyard. There re111ains only tl1e final JJl1ase, the wedding. The \veddi11g is a11 occasio11 for feasting on a scale sur­ passed 011ly at 1nen1orial feasts for the d.ead. Si1nultaneo11s but separate feasts 11111st be give11 at the ho111esteacls of the bride a11d groo111. To each are i11vited frie11cls, kins111e11, and: above all, neighbors. Most of tl1e guests contrib11te food a11d dri11k to the feast, a11d these co11tributio11s are careft1lly 1·e­ corded agai11st the day wl1en they 111t1st be reciJJrocated. Guests wl10 do 11ot expect to reciprocate the invitatio11, es­ pecially l1igl1-stat11s g11ests, l1elp defray the ex1Jenses of the wedding witl1 gifts of n1011ey. The pri1nary res1Jo11sibilit)' for arrangiI1g the 1narriage, JJrovidi11g the dowry of cattle, ancl sponsoring the wedding feast falls t1po11 the l1eads of tl1e ho11seholds i11 \vhich the bride and groom have bee11 raised since the age of six or seven. Ideally, of course, tl1ese l1eads are the res1Jective fathers. The 11. The formal agreen1ent concerning property is made outdoors on 11eutral grot1nd and is witnessed by a nun1ber of elders. At a later date, after tbe wedding, the elders n1ust gather again to view the livestock in question and make adjustments for minor discrepancies in their apparent worth.


The Household

n1others, if still marrjed to the fathers, are also very actively i1 1volved in decisions concerning the n1arriage of their chil­ dre11. I11deed l1alf of tl1e cattle e11dow 111e11t given tl1e n1arrying child is co11sidered to co1 ne fro1n tl1e 1nother's l1alf interest i11 the household herd. A pare11t with whom tl1e IJrospective bride or groon1 is 11ot livi11g whe11 tl1e 1narriage is arranged should be consulted, bt1t he ( or sl1e) can11ot override tl1e gt 1ardia11's decisions u11less J1e is prepared to asst1n1e a share of tl1e 111arriage costs. I do not l1ave st1fficie11t data 01 1 tl1is point b11t it is my in1pressio11 tl1at 111otl1ers are n1ore apt tba11 fatl1ers to exercise their op­ tion to take an active part i11 arrangi11g a11d spo11soring the 111arriage of a child wl10 l1as not lived with tl1e1n very much since tl1e age of six or seven. Men ge11erally say tl1at they ex1Ject to spo11sor tl1e marriages of 011ly those cl1ildren who l1ave "served'' tl1e111 i11 tl1eir l1ot1 sel1olds, regardless of whether tl1ey are their own children. 12 Tl1e bilateral cl1aracter of A1nhara ki11ship is reflected in tl1e equal a11d nearly sy111111etrical roles played by the parental l1ot1sel1olds of the bride and groon1. 13 At the sa111e time the 12. Service in this sense is something a man's own children also owe hin, and son1ething a n1an owes his lord in expectation of eventual rev;,ard rather lhan salary. Well-to-do holtseholds so1netimes hire a poor boy or girl to do n1enial tasks in return for board and keep and in son1e instances a yearly sun1 of money. Such servants, ltnlike children fl1lly incorporated into household work roles, cannot expect the l1ol1seJ1old head to n1arry them off. 13. The bilateral nature of Amhara kinship is reflected in Ambara kinship tern1inology. In referential tem1inology for consanguineal kinso1en (given belo\v), for example, generation and lineality are always dis­ tingi.1isbed, sex is distinguished only i 1 1 ego's own and the first ascending generation, and no distinction is ever made between ego's mother's and father's kinsmen. The consanguineal kin terms of reference are: lij (ego's son or daughter) (brother) Jve11di111 ihit (sister) abbar (father) • 11111at (mother) aggot (father's or mother's brotl1er) akist (father's or mother's sister) ayat (father's or mother's fatl1er or motl1er) qecln7ayat �any �f the eight great-grandparents) For an extended d1scuss1on of An1bara kin terms and their use, see S. Hoben ( 1972).


Tl1e Household

deg·ree to wl1icl1 rules of kii1ship govern marriage arrange­ ments is lo,v i11 comparison with most other African societies. The fatl1ers or gt1ardians of tl1e bride a11d groon1 are 11ot ex­ pected to co11sult their ki11s111e11 abot1t tl1e IJrospective n1ar­ riage except to ascertai11 that it cloes 11ot violate rt1les of ex­ ogamy. Ft1rtl1er111ore, ki11s1ne11 are 11ot co11cerned witl1 tl1e transfer of 111arriage cattle, 11or do they play any special role i11 the actt1al celebratio11 of the wedding that distingt1ishes the111 fro111 close friends a11d 11eigl1bors. Tho11gh n1arriage in. Dega Dan1ot is certainly of i11terest to kinsme11 it is not primarily the co11cern of kin grot1ps. It does not, as in ma11y other Africa11 societies, celebrate tl1e ·transfer of reproductive rigl1ts in and jural control of tl1e bride fro1n her ki11 gro11p to that of the groo1n. In a li111ited sense, tl1e right to disci 1Jli11e a woma11 for 111is­ conduct is tra11sferred from her father or gt1ardian to her husbai1d at marriage, b11t with regard to tl1e ownershiJJ of lru1d ai1d 111oveable property ai1cl the right to i11stitt1te divorce the wife is very n1ucl1 the equal of l1er husband. I11 fact tl1e type of 111arriage arrange111e11t I have described, vvhicl1 is al­ ways used for first marriages, is termed bali/<,ki1l or ''eqt1al 1nasters'' 111arriage. Nor does 1narriage greatly affect the statt1s of cl1ildre11 born to a t1nio11. Chilclren born ot1t of wedlock are bastards ( cliqala) but they stiffer no disability with regard to inl1erita11ce. Eve11 i11 cases of ad1nitted adt1ltery tl1e acl11lter­ i11e child inl1erits land rights fron1 his ge11itor a11d 11ot fro111 his pater, a11d this fact can11ot be altered by any process of adoption. If first marriage cloes not celebrate a major rearrange1nent of relatio11s between ki11 groups, it is nonetheless a 111ajor celebratio11. Most im111ediately it marks the tra11sitio11 to social ad11lthood for tl1e bride a11d groo111. It also antici_pates the formatio11 of a 11ew hot1sehold, at first as a budding do111estic group witl1in tl1e groom's parental household, and the11, if it e11dures, i11 a new homestead of its ovvn. Dt1ring the first year and one-half or two a11d one-half years of 111arriage the newlyweds live in tl1e groom's parental ho1nestead. They clo not yet constitute an independe11t house­ hold with its own econo111ic interests. The groo111 farms along 61

The I·Iousehold

witli his fatlier or guardia 1 1, and tl1e cro1Js tl1ey produce, at least iii the first season, are 1Jut i 11 t� e fatl1er's storage bins. The bride }ielps lier female affines w1tl1 tl1e household work 1 11uc11 as would a11y fe1uale child her age, exce1Jt tl1at she is expected to be more sl1y and reserved, at first, towards the 1 naster and 111 istress of tl1e ho11se. At the e11d of the second or tl1ircl agric11ltL1ral seaso1 1 the yo11ng couple take their live­ stock, tl1eir share of tl1e grai11 tl1 ey have l1elped to produce, a11cl 1 nove away into a new l10 1 11estead wl1ere tl1ey establish a11 i11 cle1Je11de11 t if i111 1Jecu1 1io11s l1ousehold. Not every yoL11 1g n1arried 1na11. 11.1oves out of the pare1 1tal l1ousel1 olcl a11 d establisl1es a 1 1ew l10 1 11estead in this way. A yo11tl1 wl1ose father or guardia 11 is 1 10 lo11ger livi1 1g may stay 011 vvith tl1e wido\\,, gradually replaci1 1g her in the mai1age11 1e11 t of the 11011sehold a1 1d perha1Js raising a11d n1arryi11 g off I1 is yo11r1ger sibli11gs as well. A yo11ngest son, if l1is fatl1 er is old, 1 11ay also stay 01 1 in tl1e l1ousehold, ass11n1i11g autl1ority witl1 l1is fatl1er's senesce1 1ce or death. In tl1e years tl1at follow 1narriage it is l1 oped that tl1 e live­ stock will 1 11ultiply, childre1 1 will be bor11, and the household ,vill obtain control over a11 i11creasu1g an1ou11t of rist land. If all goes well, tl1e ho11sehold will co1ne to approxi1 nate the ideal of tl1e cornplete far11ling household. Soo11er or later, l10\\1ever, because of ill l11ck ' death ' divorce ' or the 1 narriage ..., of l1is sons, a ho1 1 sel1old l1ead \\'ith an1ple resources i11 la11d and cattle is likely to fi11d hi111self witho11 t cl1ildre1 1 to fill the positions jn his l1 011sel1olcl. It is tl1 en tl1 at he seeks to bring in c]lildre1 1 fron1 otl1er ho11seholcls, 1Jarticularly l1011seholds of ?is or his wife's kins1ne11, to fill these {Jositio11 s. Tl1e 111ost 11 11portant positio11 of all is tl1at of tl1e plowbO)', for u11less a 111 a11 has t1 111e to atte11d 1 noo ts ru1cl cot1rts freqL1 e1 1tly, as a spectat�r �nd a 1Jarticipa1 1t, he cru111.ot hope to defe1 1d and ex­ pai1.d his interest i 1 1 rist la 1 1d. The followi1 1g cases illustra�e soine of the ways 1 11e1 1 recrL1it additio1 1al 1ne111bers to tI1 e1r l1ouseholds: 1:foll�, a 111iddle-aged 111a1 1 of 1nodest 111ear1s, lives witli his wife and his brotl1er's te1 1-y y ent l JJre s Mo lla ear-old so11.


The Housel1old

plows joi11tly with l1is own so11, who has 111arried a11d established l1is l10111esteacl i11 a 11eighbori11g JJarish; but a11ticipati11g tl1e clay whe11 tl1e son will seek greater at1ton0111y, Molla has taken in a son fro.111 his brother, who i s poor a11cl l1as 111a11y cl1ildren. Wale is twenty-five years old and is livi11g with his sixth wife a11d l1er twelve-year-old brother. Tl1e boy l1elps Wale witl1 tl1e far1nwork. Wale, who has bee11 t111t1sually successftrl in land litigatio11 for a 111an of l1is age, says tl1at, shot1ld tl1e boy re1n.ai11 witl1 l1i1n, he will spo11sor l1is marriage. ,vale's ow11 cl1ilclre11, who are yot1ng, are living wi tl1 11is fifth wife elsewl1ere. Debtera Gete, a n1a11 of co11siderable i11fluence and property, is fifty-five years old and lives with l1is third wife, two daughters aged seve11 and te11 by l1is second wife, l1is fatl1er's brotl1er's deceased son.'s wife, her seve11tee11year-old son and his wife, and his 1notl1er's fatl1er's brotl1er's thirtee11-year-old illegiti1nate son. Debtera Gete sponsored t11e weclding of the seventee11-year-old boy a11d expects to 1narry off the thirtee11-year-old as well if l1e re1nai11s i11 the hot1sehold. Old age i11evitably brings tl1e household heacl greater re­ spect i11 ter111s of eati11g and seati11g JJrecedence ancl greeting for1ns, bt1 t it does not bri11g l1i1n increased affit1e11ce o. r at1thor­ ity. 011 the contrary, it is 11or111ally a JJeriod when I1is house­ hold eitl1er decli11es as a far111i11g establisl1111ent or is gradually taken over by tl1e growi11g do111estic grou J) heacled by a yot1nger 1nan. A11 old 111a11 too feeble to effectively n1anage the far111i11g activities of his l1011sel1old 1nay allocate to his children tl1e re11t-free use of so1ne of his fields in a11ticipatio11 of his death. However, he does 11ot legally relinqtrish his rights until he dies. If he has no JJlow111an livi11g in his ho11sel1old, he must give even the fields he retai11s to l1is sons or tenants i11 rett1rn for a share of the crop. U11der these circun1stances, living as a JJe11sio11er, l1e no longer 11eed trot1ble himself with keeping 111any livestock or 1nai11tai11ing a large housel1old. If the olcl l1ot1sel1olcl l1eacl has a you11g 111arried 111a11, perhaps a 63

The Household

youngest son, staying 011 witl1 hi111, tl1e housel1old n1ay con­ tinue to 1Jros1Jer as a far 1 ning u 11 it b11t the young 111a.n will gradually assu11 1e more authority and the l1011sehold will gradually change from one identified \Vith the old man to one identified with the young. Tl1e ritual stat11s felt to be n1ost ap1Jropriate to a 1 1 old 1 nan ( or \Vo 1 na 1 1) 110 longer master of his ow1 1 affairs or i1 1terested in conjugal life is 1 11 onkhood. Tl1e old 111a11 who be­ co1 11es a 111 011k ends l1is life 1Jre1Jaring for death. He 1n11 st lear 1 1 wl1at is required of hi1 11 fro111 the book of 111onkhood a1 1d l1e 1 n11st give up 11is worlclly interests. 01 1ce 1 11ore he is allowed to take co1n111t11 1ion at cl11 1 rcl1, for lJOst-pubescent 1ue11 a11d wo1ne 1 1, exce_pting 011ly tl1e clergy, are by custon1 11onco1 11111 1111ica 1 1ts for fear tl1ey will violate rt1les of sexual purity. An old 1 11a 1 1 t11r11 ed 111 onk 111ay also give 11p l1is life u1 tl1e l1ousel1old ,111cl wa11der fro 1 11 parish to parisl1, slee1Jing i11 the fu11 erary huts fou11 d in cl111rcl1 yards. Most old 1nen who beco111e mo1 1ks, however, co11tinue to live with one of their cl1ildre11 or a you11ger sibli11 g. Tl1e final clissol11tion of a n1a11 's ho11sehold 1 11ay be more or less dra 1 11atic de1Je11di1 1g on l1is positio11 in it at tl1e tin1e of l1is deatl1. I 1 1 so1ne cases the passi1 1g of a. se1 1ile old mai1 1 nay be for the 111ost part a rit11al occasio11 with little im1necliate co11sequence for tl1e distribution of property or authority. 11 1 other cases tl1e sudde11 death of an elder 1nay bring about tl1e com1Jlete break11p of his ho11sehold, eve1 1 to tl1e destrt1 ctio11 of l1is homestead so that its ti1 nbers 1 nay be divicled an1011g l1is l1eirs. 111 a11y case, a 1nan's death signals the fi 11al dissol11tion of tl1e estate of rist land which he has succeecled i 11 bring­ ing togetl1er d11 ring his lifetime. 'fhe clo1 nestic cycle in some form, of co11rse, IJlays a11 in1 portant part in every peasant society's social organizatio1 1. \Vhat is 111 ost distinctive, though by no 111eai1s u11iq11e, about t�e Damotiai1 don1estic cycle I have clescribed is its co1111Jara­ t1vely low degree of transgenerational contint1ity. I l1ave tried to 111ake it clear tl1at neitl1er the l1011 sehold ' nor tl1e ho1 nestead, 11 or th � estate of �ist la11d u1Jo1 1 \Vl1icl1 they de1Je11d, are _ en?�r1n� u11 1ts of soc1 ,1l organization i 11 Damot. Equally str 1 k111g 1s the weak sense of transgeneratio11al co11ti1 1uity be-


The Ho11sel1old

t\veen tl1e kins111en who 1nake tip a hot1sehold. As I noted previously, tl1e An1l1aric term beteseb (literally, ''l1ot1se people''), which I a1n glossi11g as ''l1ot1sel1old," has 110 direct reference to ki11ship or to a11 e11duri11g transge11eratio11al kin­ shlp u11it. Tl1e weak sense of identity and tra11sge11erational con­ tint1ity betwee11 the ki11s111e11. in a hot1sel1old is also reflected in tl1e abse11ce of ru1y enduri11g ''fa111ily 11ame." Cl1ildren of either sex are addressed by tl1eir give11 na1ne and are distin­ guished fro111 otl1er people of the sa111e name by the addition of their father's given 11an1e. 14 To address someone by his fatl1er's name alone is a g1·eat insult, implying tl1at the perso11 has no social existe11ce in his own right. Since a household is referred to by tl1e given name of its l1ead and there are a rather li111ited 11umber of popular 11ames, ho11sel1old na1nes tell little abot1t transgenerational kinship ties between hot1se­ l1olds or their h.eads. The Damotian do1nestic group or housel1old is not IJri­ marily a kinship group witl1 a se11se of identity and co11tint1ity serving as a transgenerational repository of statt1s-ho11or a11d eco11on1ic assets for tl1e n1e1nbers of the co1111n1111ity. Nor is it a ''11atural'' fa1nilial t111it whose size a11d fortunes are de­ ter1ni11ed pri111arily by tl1e facts of 111arriage, birth, deatl1, a11cl inl1erita11ce, for 11either the 111en1bers of wl1ich it co11sists nor the la11d on ,vl1icl1 it st1bsists are bound togetl1er by invariant rules. It 111.ust rather be regarded as a11 e11terprise basecl i11 a group of peo1Jle preclon1inantly li11ked by ties of kinshiJJ, wl10 live together i11 a si11gle l1on1estead u11der the at1tl1ority of a head a11d work togetl1er t111der l1is a11d his \vife's directio11 to exploit the land a11d livestock u11der l1is control. 14. A child initial}}' takes as his father's name the name of his pre­ sumed gcnitor, even if he is an ackno\vledged adulterine child. He may, ho\vever, subseqt1ently become identified with the name of his guardian, often a stepfatl1er, an uncle, or a grandfather, if he is raised in his l1011se from an early age.



Tl1e interest a 111a11 l1as j11 acc1 t1iri11g rjst land for the use of I1is l1ousel1old co11flicts \vitl1 tl1e interests of otl1er hot1se­ l1old l1eads. I11deed, witl1 regard to JJroperty rigl1ts, relatio11s betwee11 the l1ot1sehold l1eacls i11 a. co111n1unity are, to a 111arked degree, cl1aracterized by co111peti tiveness, st1spicio11, and a stro11g sense of privacy. There are, however, several i11stitt1tio11s tl1rougl1 wl1icl1 tl1e co111111u11ity's hot1sel1old heads are tied to one another, j11stitt1tions wl1ich tl1t1s serve to limit tl1e divisive forces ge11erated by each household's quest for land. Tl1e 1nost i111porta11t of these are the parisl1 a11d the neighborl1ood ( the former estate of gwilt). Together they define the territorial comn1u11ity and are the subject of this cl1apter. 111 a se11se it is n1isleadi11g to speak of the local con1n1unity as a bot1nded unit i11 Amhara society, for, ir1 tl1e absence of 11t1cleated villages, the diverse tyJJes of ties tl1rot1gl1 which hot1sel1old l1eads are related to 011e another are 11ot circt1n1scribed very clearly by a11y single physical or social boundary. In tl1is se11se tl1e "local co111111unity'' cot1ld be defined differ­ ently fron1 the JJerspectives of different hot1sel1old heads. Nevertheless, parisl1 and neighborl1oocl give s0111e territori al focus to local Da111otia11 social organizatio11; the JJarish by providi11g a focus for religious affairs, ancl the neigl1borl1ood by providing a foct1s for sect1lar ad111i11istratio11.

Parish and church For. 1nost me11 i11 111ost contexts, the parisl1, a 11amed, bou11de ? territory under tl1e ecclesiastical jurisdiction of a cht1rch, 1s


Parisl1 and Cl1urch

the 111ost i111portant territorial t111it of affiliation and identifi­ cation. Fellow parishio11ers have a se11se of co1nmon identity in OJJIJositio11 to people fro111 otl1er parishes; tl1ey have a sense of t111ity an1011g the111selves based 011 their coIUI11011 de­ pende11ce 011 tl1eir churc11's ark, a11d tl1ey are n1t1tt1ally inter­ clepencle11t i11 their differentiated JJOsitio11s as lay111e11 a11d clerics. Physically, JJarisl1es vary in size fro111 tinder two to over five sqt1are 111iles, a11d, thot1gh they also vary considerably in sJ1ape a11d topogra1Jhy, it is seldon1 more tha11 a11 hot1r's walk fro111 tl1e farthest hon1estead to the church; t1sually it is much less. Parish bot111daries, whicl1 consist of ravines, strea1ns, a11d patl1s, are usually clearly defined, a11d bou11dary dispt1tes are unco111111on. The average population of the fourtee11 parishes I crudely ce11sused was 450 persons with variations fro111 t111der 150 to over 1,600. Today the partitio11ing of the la11d ai1d pOJJulatio11 of Dega Da1not i11to parishes is complete. The religious a11d social ce11ter of a parish is its cht1rch, a circular stone ru1d wood buildi11g co11sisting of tl1ree con­ ce11tric roo111s. The bt1ildi11g is surrot111ded by a ,vooded churcl1yard which, i11 tur11, is e11circled by a low sto11e wall. Usually there is also a s1nall building 011 the eastern side of tl1e cl1urc]1yard for the storage of churcl1 JJroperties a11d an­ other s1nall buildi11g or sl1elter over the gateway to the cht1rchyard, wl1icl1 is always on the west. Parishio11ers attribt1te tl1e sacred11ess a11d t111iqt1eness of their cl1t1rch to tl1e fact tl1at, l1idde11 away in the in11er111ost of its tl1ree roo111s where only the ordained clergy 111ay see it, is tl1e 11oly ark or tabot, a wooden tablet sy1nbolizing the religiot1s figt1re to wl10111 the cl1urcl1 is dedicated. I11 its 1nost ge11eral aspect ru1 ark re1Jrese11ts the ark of the covenant a11d tl1e u11ity of all Etl1iopia11 Christians. In a 111ore partict1lar aspect it sy111bolizes the sai11t, angel, or aspect of divinity to whicl1 the parish, alo11g witl1 n1a11y other parishes, is decli­ cated. Fi11ally, in its 111ost JJarticular aspect, the ark repre­ sents a refraction of tl1at religious figure which is u11iquely associated with the JJarisl1. It is in this as1Ject that it syn1bol­ izes the ide11tity of a partict1lar parish against all other parishes, a11d it is tl1is as1Ject tl1at is represe11ted i11 tl1e parish 67

The Community

name. Tl1is name is compounded of a place na111e and the ark name, for example, ''Horse Country Mikael." Parish names, carrying with them the i1nplication of the ark's uniqt1eness, are frequently used. In replyi1 1g to a questio1 1 about his birth­ place, his residence, or his destinatio11, a man is likely to give the name of a parish. In its unique aspect the ark is personified; it is S{)Oken of as having a IJersonality, 1noods, a11d prerogatives. To some extent the nature of its personality is deter111i11 ed by tl1e re­ ligious figure of whicl1 it is a refraction; thus arks of Mikael are vengeful wl1 ile arks of Mary are co.mpassio11ate, but even arks dedicated to tl1e san1e sai1 1t differ fron1 011e anotl1er i11 their ability to l1 ear 1ne 1 1's prayers a11 d i11 tl1 eir \villingness to ru1swer them. Parisl1ioners attacl1 great i111porta11ce to the mood or te1nper of tl1eir ark, for tl1 ey believe it affects tl1e fertility of tl1e soil, tl1 e abt1ncla11 ce of tl1e l1arvest, and the fecu11dity a11d health of 111 a11 a11d beast. If the 1nood of the ark is to be benefice11t, its bt1ildings a11 d its properties must be kept i11 good repair and its 111asses 111t1st be celebrated regularly according to the exacting rite of tl1e Etl1 iopic cht1rch. I1 1 tl1is respect the ark is a perpetual property-holding cor­ poration wl1ose trustees, at any given ti1ne, are the parish­ ioners. Tl1e ark is spoken of as owning the cht1rch a11d its books, vestn1e1 1ts, t11nbrellas, sistra, censers, crosses, and n1any otl1er ritual objects. It also has 111onies wl1ich it re­ ceives fro111 the occasional sale of trees fro 1 11 the cl1 t1rch) ard, from grateful st1pplicat1ts, and fron1 wealthy J)atrons. It is owed a 11umber of services and fees by all IJarishioners, it has the equivalent of gwilt rights over so111e of the parisl1's Iru1ds, ancl it l1as tl1e rigI1t to receive ritt1al 111i 11 istratio11 s frorn qualified clergymen. The organization a11d ma11age111ent of tl1e ark's affairs is in the ha.11ds of two represe 1 1tative officials: the lay gebez, a11d tl1e priest gebez. Tl1 e lay gebez, who 111ay be a. lay11 1an or a cleric, i. s chose11 a11nt1ally fro1n ru11ong tl1 e l1olders of the parish's "priest la11cl'' (see belo,v). It is J1 is respo1 1sibility to oversee the secular ru1d fisc,tl 1nanagement of church affairs and J)fOJ)erties. It is ofte11 held that one of l1is 111ai1 1 tasks is to 1


Parish and Cl1urch

suppress pect1lation by the clergy. The priest gebez i s chosen from a111ong tl1e cht1rch's clergy by the lay gebez. He is re­ spo11sible for tl1e orderi11g and orga11izatio11 of the church's ritual activities, and l1e 111ay be sued i11 churcl1 cot1rt by parisl1ioners or l1igl1er cl1t1rch officials if l1e is found 1·e1niss i11 carrying ot1t l1is duties. Tl1e ob]igatio11 to st1p1Jort the ark and its church falls on parishioners i11 several ways. All household heads resicle11t in the _parisl1 are obligated to help witl1 the n1ai11tenance and co11strt1ction of cht1rcl1 buildi11gs. Those vvho fail to do their part n1ay be fi11ed. Eacl1 hotisehold head 1nust also provide a basket or two of wheat a11n.t1ally for tl1e pre1Jaration of the et1charist a11d a few baskets of barley for the preparatio11 of a soggy, coarse bread eaten by all who attend cht1rch, con1111unicant a11cl noncon1111unicru1t alike, after the conclusion of the n1ass. Fi11ally, all resiclent household heads must baptize their babies a11d bt1ry their dead at the parish cht1rcl1 and pay for the 111asses that these ritt1al services require. The obligatio11 to support tl1e regular celebration of mass, i11 co11trast to tl1e obligatio11s already 111entioned, rests on land rather tl1a11 resicle11ce i11 the }Jarish. In 1nost parishes tl1e la11d tracts of 011e or n1ore descent grot1ps are classified as "priest la11cl'' ( c1es meret) a11cl the i11dividt1als ,:vl10 hold fields in these tracts are obligated to su1JJJort the celebratio11 of 1nass in proportion to the amou11t of the IJarish's priest la11d which tl1ey co11trol. 1 Fields of priest land are acquired like any other rist la11d and 111ay be l1elcl by parish reside11ts and 11onresi­ dents, layn1en ru1d clerics alike. If the l1olcler is a cleric l1e n1ay ft1lfill tl1e la11d's service obligation l1i111self; if not, he n1ay have a 111e1nber of his household who is a cleric celebrate the reqtiisite 111asses in l1is stead. Failing this, he must ar­ ra11ge to l1ave anotl1er clergy1nan perform the service for him as a favor, for IJay, or, n1ore con1n1only, in return for tl1e rent-free use of a part of tl1e field upon which the obligation rests. Des1Jite its service obligation, priest land is 1nuch de­ sired, for it is free of the largest part of the government lancl 1. A detailed description of the \vay the obligation to st1pport the cele­ bration of mass is divided among the holders of priest land is found in Hoben ( 1963: chap. 4).


The Community

tax, the gibir, a tax wl1ich represe11ts a con1111utatio11 to cash of the payment in grain forn1erly paid to tl1e gwilt-holder. The religious status of hot1sehold l1eads affects tl1e roles they take i11 pa.risl1 affairs a11d towards one a11other i11 n1any ways. The 1nost ft1nda1ne11tal distinction in religiot1s statt1s is betwee11 lay1ne11 ( c.l1ewc1) 2 wl10 l1ave little or 110 cht1rcl1school edt1catio11 and clerics ( kahinat) 3 who l1ave attai11ed at least tl1e educational level of the diaconate. I11 Da1not ap­ proxi111ately one 1nan i11 ten is a cleric. Tl1e clerics, i11 tt1rn, i11 accordru1ce witl1 their edt1cational level, tl1eir ordi11ation, and tl1eir ritt1al purity, are divided into cleacons (diyaqon), priests ( qes), and chorister-scribes called clebtera. A boy wl10 l1opes to beco111e a deaco11 joins one of tl1e 11u1nerot1s cl1t1rcl1 scl1ools i11 Dega Da111ot between tl1e ages of seven ancl te11. He lives 11ear tl1e cl1urch with his teacher ( a priest or clebtera wl10 l1as attai11ed tl1e eclucatio11al level of nier1getc1 or meml1ir) and fellow stt1de11ts, beggi11g food for l1is st1stenance a11d. followi11g an arduot1s cot1rse of day a11d 11igl1t st11dies. If he is successful i11 1ne111orizi11g tl1e n1ore tl1an two hundred cl,aracters of tl1e Ethiopia11 syllabary and in lear11ing to sing a11d cha11t JJarts of tl1e scriptt1res and n1ass, all in Ge'ez ( Gi'iz), a churcl1 la11guage he does not under­ sta11d, he wi 11 be ready to go before the provincial bishoIJ at tl1e en.d of abot1t fot1r years' stt1dy for ordination as a deacon. After a11otl1er tl1ree years or so of additional stt1dy and service as a deacon l1e 111ay go before the bisl1op again to seek ordination as a priest. S0111eti1ne before his ordi11ation as a priest he sl1ould be 111arried according to the rite of tl1e cl1t1rch, for either 111arriage witl1 011e won1an u11til his death or celibacy is reqt1ired of hi111 if l1e is to 111ai11tai11 his ritual ptirity; celibacy, tl1ot1gl1 a11 ideal, is thougl1t ratl1er i111prob­ a?le . for a y�u11g ma11. Lastly, a deaco11 or priest v,,)10 loses his r1tt1al pt1r.1ty through adtiltery, re1narriage, or per111anently 2. Tl1e tern1 c.l1etva has several other n1eanings in other contexts. It is used, for example, to refer to nobles as opposed to con1n1oners, affluent farmers as opposed to poor farmers, and me11 of excellent character as opposed to n1en of poor character. 3. � hen contrasting Jayn1en and clerics in casual conversatio n, niost Damot,ans refer to any cleric as a priest or qes even 1ho11gh he n1ay, at a _ lo\.ver taxonomic level, be a deacon or ,lebtera.


Parisl1 and Cl1urch

dis:figt1ri11g disease loses l1is ordi11atio11 and becon1es a clebtera. Priests ancl deacons, the11, have learnu1g, ritt1al purity, and ordinatio11 a11d are i11ter11ally ra11ked by tl1e degree of their edt1catio11. Debterct/, have lear11i11g, but l1ave lost their ritual p11rity or ordi11atio11. Aged lay111e11 wl10 have taken vows as 1no11ks a11d 11t111s ( 111e11elvkse) l1ave ritual purity but lack edu­ catio11 a11d orcli11atio11.4 They shoulcl be accorded ho11or be­ cat1se of their l10Iiness but tl1ey are not fully 1nembers of tl1e clergy. Most deaco11s a11d JJriests are affiliated witl1 particular churches wl1ere tl1ey partake of tl1e 111a11y baptis1nal, fu11er­ ary� and holiday feasts provided by laymen, and celebrate mass for a set nt1111ber of weeks or 111011ths a1111ually.5 Tl1e a111ount of their service obligation is deter1ni11ed by the pro­ portio11 of the cl1t1rch's priest la11d for which they are doi11g service. A cleric 1nay be afliliatecl with more tl1a11 one cl1urch, provided l1e ca11 111eet the service obligations tl1is entails, a11d l1e ca11 celebrate mass as a substitt1te as often as l1e pleases, so 1011g as he 111aintains the 11sual rules of ritual IJt1rity. In adclition to servi11g in the JJarisl1 cl1urcl1, 111any priests are tied to i11dividt1al lay1ne11 on a 1nore 1 Jerso11al basis, for each hot1sel1old 1n11st ]1ave a JJriest to act as a co11fessor for its 1nen1bers. Debteras· are also affiliated with partict1lar cht1rcl1es \vl1ere they IJarticipate i11 tl1e 1011g ho11rs of da11ci11g a11d si11gi11g that JJrecede tl1e 111ass on each 111ajor 11oliday and join i11 the feast­ i11g tl1at follows it. Ma11y of tl1e111 also act as scribes for illiter­ ate lay111e11, a11d s01ne of the111 turn tl1eir rept1ted arca11e k11owledge to IJersonal advantage as astrologers, fortt1ne­ tellers, l1erbalists, a11d \vizards. Differe11ces betwee11 layn1e11 and clerics go beyond tl1ose I have describecl i11 tl1eir for111al ritt1al roles a11d are evide11t in tl1eir life-styles i11 1na11y \:vays. The cleric's religiot1s stat11s is sy1nbolizecl i11 tl1e disti11ctive head coveri11g he ofte11 wears, 4. Essentially, uneducated layn1en ,,.,ho take vows as monks in their o]d age must be distingt1ishecl fron1 the highly educated celibate monks wl10 are fot1nd in great monastic centers. 5. The Ethiopic n1ass is celebratecl by five ordained clerics of ,vbom at least two n1ust be priests and three may be deacons.


The Comn1unity

and he is honored, even 011 e11tirely secular occasions, with special greeting for111s ru1 d seati11g arrangen1e11ts, a11d with precede11ce in eating. There are also differe11ces j11 the type of personality thought ideal for tl1e lay111a11 and tl1e cleric. In a lay111an aggressive11ess, even viole11ce, i11 defe11se of JJroperty or honor is a 1nuch adn1ired qt1ality, ru1d sexual ex­ ploits, if carried ot1t discreetly, are 1nore of a co111ple111e11t to the con1plete n1ale personality than a vice. I11 a cleric, by co1 1trast, aggression is la111e11table a11d illicit sex is 11nfor­ givable. r. S0111eti111 es the priestly life is ridict1lecl by bru1teri11g lay111e11, as wl1e11 one of 1ny infor111ants co1 1siste11tly co11 trasted tl1e status of a priest witl1 that of a 111a 11. In tl1e past, sec11lar ru1d religioL1s ideals ]1ave occasionally co111e i11to ope11 con­ flict, as wl1e11 a 111ilitar)' lord violated the cl1urcl1's right to give aS)'Iun1, and when a11 e1nperor p11t to death a group of recalcitrru1t 1nonks. Most of the ti11 1e, however, the ideals of lay111an and priest are seen as con1ple111entary a11d 11ecessary to one a11otl1er. Layi11e11 1n.ay criticize their priests for faili11g to exen1plify tl1e priestly ideal and the priests, i11 tur11, may criticize tl1e Iay1nen for faili11g to st1pport the church, but all are in esse11tial agree1nent 011 the i1 11portance of their inter­ deJJendence. 7 Because tl1 ey create a sense of interdepe11dence, the ties between parisl1ioners and their ark and betwee1 1 lay111e11 and the clergy are an1011g the most important tl1at bind men to one anotl1er in Dega Da1not and help to contai11 the divisive te11dencies generated by tl1eir 011going competition for rist land a11d political office. The parisl1 as a bou1 1ded territory ce11teri11g on its cht1rch gives a geograpl1ical focus to these ties and l1e1 1ce to local Damotian social organization. The churcl1 a 11 d churchyard are the setti 11g for a variety of reli­ gious a11d sect1lar activities. I-Iere 111en co111e to vvorsl1ip tl1eir 6. For an exce llent discussion of personality ideals in 1\n1hara ctilture, see Levine ( 1965: chaps. 6 and 7). · 7. These �ontrasting but com plementary personality ideals of the active f �rmer-\ �arr1or and th e n1ore passive and contemplative priest are con­ _ sistent with and a reflect1on of the re lationship that is found n1ore generally _ throughout A?'lhara society between the ideals of the military and those _ of the Eth1op1c church.


The Neigl1borl1ood or Estate of G,vilt

God; they con1e togetl1er collectively or individt1al1y with their troubled prayers and, wl1en tl1eir prayers are answered, witl1 their gifts of gratitude. Within tl1e sacred precincts of the grass-carpetecl, shady cl1t1rchyard, parish1011ers also gather to clisc11ss tl1eir JJt1blic affairs a11d co1n1non JJroble1ns, to settle tl1eir n1i1101· disputes, to baptize their babies, pt1blisl1 tl1eir banns, a11d bt1ry tl1eir dead. Des1Jite tl1e i1111Jorta11ce of the legal, 1noral, and ritual ties that biI1d a ma11 to his cht1rcl1, tl1e parisl1 does not co1nmand tl1e degree of prirnordial attacl1111e11t, of deeply rooted sen­ ti111ent, tl1at is clescribed as characteristic of the local village con111111nity in 111a11y other peasa11t societies. 8 In IJart this is beca11se, except for JJersonal ritual services, men are not bot1nd to atte11d their own parisl1's churcl1. Due to tl1e dis­ persed settlen1e11t patte.rn characteristic of Damot, for 111any n1en tl1e closest ch11rch to their homestead lies in a neigl1bor­ i11g JJa1·isl1. I11. part, too, the solidarity of tl1e l1ot1sehold l1eads in a parisl1 is lowered by the fact that over 50 perce11t of thetn are not living i11 tl1eir 11atal parish. Finally, the cohesive11ess of parisl1io11ers is weakened by the many other types of institutional ties a11d i11clividt1al i11terests 111en have tl1at are 11ot based on JJarisl1 1ne1nbersl1ip. Pro111ine11t a111ong tl1ese are the ties 1ne11 l1ave as reside11ts of a 11eigl1borhood.

The neighborhood or estate of gwilt J11st as the parisl1 JJrovides a territorial fra111ework for re­ ligio11s orga11ization, tl1e 11eighborhood, corres1Jondi11g to the traditio11al estate of g\\ ilt la11d, provides a territorial fra1ne­ ,:vork for secular ad1ni11istratio11. Affiliation with tl1e neigl1borhood syste1n defi11es me11's j11ral relatio11ship with govern111e11t a11d affects their n1aterial i11terests in n1a11y ways. It does 11ot, l1owever, give the l1011sel10Id heads resident in a neighborhood a well-developed sense of common identity in oppositio11 to men fro111 other 11eighborhoods or strong senti­ n1ents of solidarity runongst themselves, for the obligatio11s men have in virtue of tl1eir affiliation with the neighborhood 1

8. An excellent description of such villages is fo11ncl in Pitt-Rivers (1961).


The Commu11ity

have been defined prin1 arily by their i11dividt1al relatio11ship "''ith its CYwjlt-holder and 011ly seco11 darily by a se1 1se of col­ lective r;SJJ011sibility. For for111al obligation.s tl1is relatio11shi p between tl1e l1ousehold l1eads and tl1e gwilt-l10Ider has been greatly altered and weake11ed by the ad111inistrative cha11ges of tl1e past four decades describecl below ir1 chapter I 0. For i11formal exJJectations a11 d respect tl1e relatio11ship has cl1a11ged mt1ch 111 ore slowly. For tl1is reason I will describe botl1 the older and 11 1ore fully develoJJed relationsl1ip between d l1ot1sehold head ancl tl1e 1nore li111ited ties CYW r::, i lt-l1 older a11 tl1at 11 0w bi11d tl1e gwilt-holder, as 11eighborhoocl jt1dge, to the 111en under his jurisdictio11. As a territorial t111it, a neighborhood co1 1s i sts of a parish or 8 JJart of a pari sl1, bt1t it is always comJJosed of a11 integral nt1111ber of clesce11t-group estates. 9 Contigt1011s neigl1borl1oods n1ay be t111der the co11trol of the san1e gwilt-l1older, b11 t ad­ n1i11istratively they rernain distinct. Tl1e limited extent to wl1i ch n1e11 identify witl1 the territo­ ri. al 1111it I 8111 c3Jli 11 g an estate of gwilt, or a 11eighborhood, is reflected in 110111enclat11re. The 1111it can be referred to as tl1e gwilt of a particular perso11 or institution, but tl1ere is 110 si11gle generic ter111 i11 A111l1aric for the lru1 d 1111it held as g,,., ilt. If it is coter111i11ot1s with a par.ish, or if it consists of a part of a _p8risl1 including tl1e parish church, it bears tl1e sa111e prOJJer 11ame as the parish. If it includes 011ly a part of the parisl1 but does 11ot i11clucle the cht1rch, it ca11 be referred to by the ge11eric ter1n go/ and has a pro·per na111e wl1ich is different from tl18t of tl1e IJarish as a w11ole. The ter111s afbrya, which I 8111 tr811slating as ''neigl1borhood," was 11ot applied to �dm i 11istrative u11its i n Dega Da 1 11ot JJrior to tl1e pro1nul­ gat1on of Procl81natio 11 90 of 194 7 wl1icl1 establisl1ed neigh­ borhoo�l judges tl1rot1gl1out Ethiopia. Eve11 toclay it is not se111a11t1cal� y correct, i11 Dega Da111ot, to say tl1 at s01neo1 1e holds a ne1gl1borhood ( c,fbiya.) as l1is gwilt. }:.'or tl1e sake of In a_ su rvey of 66 JJari shes con1posing one of Dega Dan1ot's sub­ . 9 .. di �tricts , it ,.vas found that 40 pari shes were coextensive with a single neighborhood, I 6 included 2 neighborhoods, 4 included 3 neighborJ1oods, _ _ 4 neighborhoods, 3 included 5 neighborhoods none included 6 2 1ncluded _ neighborhoods , I had 7 neighborl1oods. There were 110 p�rishes with n1ore _ than 7 neighborhoods.





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Tl1e Neigl1borhood or Estate of Gwilt

siIDJ)licity a11d clarity, however, I will refer to a11y territory held as a11 estate of gwilt, regardless of its relationship to a parish, as a11 estate of gwilt or a 11eighborl1ood. Traditionally, estates of gwilt were classified according to the statt1s of tl1e gra11tee wl10 l1eld tl1e111 a11d accordi11g to the ter111s of tl1e grru1t. Tl1e broaclest disti11ctio11 \Vas betwee11 gwilt granted in per1)ett1ity to a religiot1s i11stitutio11, which was called betekal1irzat or ''l1ouse of the clergy," a11d gwilt l1eld by a sect1lar official, whicl1 was callecl betenierigist or "l1ouse of tl1e gover11111e11t.'' G\vilt held by secular officials was st1bdivided i11to g\\ ilt held directly by tl1e provit1cial ruler, or ga11ageb, a11d gwilt l1eld by lesser officials, wl1ich in tl1e co11text of tl1is co11trast was si1np1y called gwilt. Fi11ally, gwilt l1eld by lesser officials was agai11 subdivicled i11to rist­ gwilt, wl1ich was in pri11ci 1)le hereditary, 10 a11d macleriyc1gwilt, \vl1icl1 was give11 on a temporary basis or for life. 111 Dega Da111ot a 1)proxin1ately 011e-third of all arable land was classifiecl as tl1e gwilt of religious i11stitt1tio11s, a11d two-thircls as tl1e gwilt of secular officials. Of tl1e gwilt held by sect1lar officials, 011ly a s111all 1Jortio11, ]Jrobably less tl1an 5 {Jercent, \\ as held clirectly by tl1e ruler. Tl1e cht1rcl1 official i11 cl1arge of a religiot1s i11stitt1tion was respo11sible for the o,1erall 111a11agement of its widely scatterecl gwilt lat1ds, 11 bt1t he clelegated l1is at1thority over each estate to a locally resicle11t bailiff or 1,ve!(tl. The rt1ler cle]egated l1is 1


10. "I-Iereditary" in this context did not mean that there \vas a fixed rule of succes�ion. It n1eant rather that a close kinsman, usually a son, a brother, or a brother's or sister's son, \vbo distingt1ished himself in the ruler's court, \vould probably be confirn1ed in the deceased holder's posi­ tion. 11. There are t\vo kinds of n1ajor religious institutions in Dega Dan1ot, as else\vhere in Ethiopia: the monastery or gec/a,n and the endo\vecl church center or {!ebir. The monastery is ideally a perpetual community of monks living and \Vorking toget11er 11nder the direction of their teacher and leader, the 111e111!,ir. The endo\ved churcl1 center is a large and \Vell-built cht1rch ith daily services and a 1111mber of specially endowed ecclesiastical posi­ tions not founcl in ordinary ch11rches. The official in charge of the endowed church center is, in generic te11ns, kno\vn as an aleqa, and also has a specific title \vhich is uniq11e to each church center. Both n1onaster.ies ancl endowed cl1urches are ce11ters of advanced learning, calligraphy, and the illun1ination of manuscripts. There is also much specialization in ex­ cellence, and aspiring ch11rchn1en travel h11ndreds of miles to attend a particular religio11s center. The best-kno\vn 01onastery in Dega Dan1ot, \\



The Commu11ity

administrative a11 d. jtrdicial respo 11sibilities as gwilt-holder to a local representative with the special title of bilaten,geta. The remaining secularly l1eld estates of gwilt were either ad­ miI1istered directly by the gwilt-l1 older, who was titled tl1e 12 crwilt gez, his appoii1ted bailiff. or by 0 Men who lived 011 estates of gwilt held by religiot1s insti­ tt1tio11s were often exempted fron1 certain 1nilitary a11d labor services ( tl1 ey owed special services instead), but in n1ost other res1Jects all peasa11ts' obligations to their gwilt-holder were essentially similar. Indeed, the classification of tl1e gwi1t la11d 011 which a 111an lived was usually of less conseqt1ence to l1i111 t11 an the character and clisposition of tl1e official who exercised the at1tl1ority e11tailed iI1 the gwilt rights, for a l1 ot1sel1 old head's bo11d with tl1e gwilt-l1older or l1is steward te11d.ed to be [Jersonal in nature and difft1se in co11te11 t. Prior to t11e Seco11d World War, tl1e gwilt-holders of Dega Da111ot a1 1d tl1 eir bailiffs were al111ost tl1e sole i11 ter111 ediaries betwee11 tl1e fet1dal provincial govern1nent and the peasants witl1 regard to the ad111 inistratio11 of jt1stice, tl1 e 111aintenance of civil order, the orga11izatio1 1 of statute labor, and the col­ lection of tax a11d tribt1te. 111 his jt1dicial capacity tl1e acting gwilt-holder l1ad the rigl1t and the obligatio1 1 to i11vestigate a11d arbitrate minor disputes in wl1icl1 persons reside1 1t 01 1 his estate of gwilt stoocl acctrsed. I11 return for this service he re­ ceived a pledge i11 currency or kind forfeitecl by tl1e losing party regardless of \.vhether he was tl1e plai 11 tiff or the ac­ ct1secl. If a crime was conllllitted on his estate, the g,�ilt­ l1older was bouncl to i1 1vestigate it ancl, if 1 1ecessary, to co11vene a public inqt1est, or iwis, to apJJrehend the cri111iI1al; or, failing tl1at, to levy a collective fi11 e· to be paid by all hotrse­ hold I1eacls t111 der his jt1risdiction. Washera Maryam, for example, is nationally known for studies in qi11e, an abstruse form of religious poetry (see Levine 1965). 12. The gwilt gez(s) of Daga Dan1ot \Vere .Primarily soldiers and mili­ tary leaders. M _ost of them enjoyed grants of rist-gwilt in return for which they \vere required to perforn1 annual guard service in tbe "Damot guard" at �he �ler's court and to accon1pany him on military campaigns. The gvvil,t gez expected to provision himself and his entourage when in his _ lord s service.


Tl1e Neighborhood or Estate of G\vilt

If there were a procla111atio11 to be made, the gwilt-holcler was responsible for its reaching llis JJeasants. Ofte11 these proc­ lan1atio11s concerned gover11111ent works, for the household l1eads fro111 each estate of gwilt were ordered ulJ by turn to help n1ai11tai11 111ajor trails, to work 011 tl1e constrt1ction of fortifications, bt1ildings, a11d storage bi11s anywhere in Dega Damot, a11d to l1el1J with tl1e ct1ltivation of fields k11own as huclc1cl, whicl1 were worked for the personal benefit of the provit1cial ruler or his regional gover11or. 13 Tl1e gwilt-holder was also res1Jo11sible for l1is peasants providing govern111ent officials a11d guests passi11g throt1gh his gwilt with such food, drink, a11d lodgi11g as 111ight be reqt1ired. The 1nost i1nporta11t benefit accrt1ing to the gwilt-holcler was tl1e la11d tax or gibir. 14 111 111ost estates of gwilt tl1e la11cl ta,"< co11sisted of one-fifth of all the crops grow11. 011 so1ne estates, however, tl1e la11d tax was co111mt1ted to a si11gle type of prodt1ce st1ch. as white feff or l1orses, for which tl1e regio11 was re11ow11ed. Still other estates had their land tax co11unt1ted to ge,neta c.l1ei-v, a fixed a11nual pay111e11t in salt bars. Fi11ally, as has bee11 re111arked, estates classified as "priest la11cl'' bore the obligation to support cht1rcl1 service i11 liet1 of la11d tax. Tl1e land tax was JJaid to tl1e gwilt-11older of tl1e estate i11 wl1ich a field was located, regardless of where the rist-holder, or tl1e ct1ltivator if l1e were differe11t fro1n the rist-l1older, 1night I1ap1Je11 to resicle. It was tl1t1s co .m111on for a si11gle farn1er to pay land tax to two or three cliffere11t gwilt-holders. The gwilt-l1older was assisted i11 carryi11g ot1t l1is work by a 111i11or official k11ow11 as the c.l1ic1a shlt111 or, literally, tl1e "mt1d cl1ief." Tl1is official was nominated for a one-year term from a111ongst tl1e l1ot1sel1old heads who held rist la11d in the 13. H11clacl is no longer found in Dega Damot though there are still numerous han1lets that bear this name. Apparently in Dega Damot ht1dacl \Vas land that by govemn1ent decree \Vas tenJporarily set aside by the rist­ holders in a descent grot1p as a ,vhole. 1-\fter a few seasons it reverted to the rist-holders ancl a ne,v ht1clacl was created else,vhere. Not every parish had a hue/ad in a particular year but all n1en ,vere within working distance of: a huclacl in a nearby parish. 14. This tax was of such in1portance that peasants are still often referred to in Ethiopia by the derivative term gebar. In parts of sot1thern Ethiopia the term has the pejorative connotation of serf. In Damot it simply means a taxpaying peasant farmer.


The Community

estate, a1 1d he was co11firn1ed i11 his office by tl1e gwilt-holder. Usually the JJosition rotated to all elder rist-holders before a1 1y of the1n had a second ter1 n. The c.hiqa shit111's main tasks were to act as messenger a1 1d to help supervise tl1e assess 1 nent of the la11d tax in the fields at harvest tin1e. For his services the c.liiqa sl1u111 L1s11 ally received no re 1 1111neratio11 other than tax relief, but in some estates tl1ere were special fields set aside for tl1e i 1 1cu1nbe11t c.l1iqa's personal 11se. It is also said tl1at 1 11a 1 1y 1 ne1 1 did 11ot scr11ple to 11 se tl1eir li1 nited a11 tl1ority in \vays tl1at bro11gl1t them extra rewarcls. Tl1e office of c,hiqa slzrt111. still exists today but it is regarded as onerous si11ce it l1as bee11 largely stri1Jped of its for111er e 1 11olt1111ents. For so111e admi1 1istrative JJUrJJoses, sucl1 as the recrt 1 it1ne11t of statL1te labor, a large estate of gwilt la 1 1d was divided. i1 1to a 11u111ber of l1a 11 1lets, a11d a. represe11tative (111ender fej) was clesig11ated for eacl1. Tl1is re1Jrese 1 1tative, a leading elder, took orders fro111 tl1e c,l1iqa shi.,m a11d was responsible for see­ i 1 1g tl1at the reside11ts i1 1 l1is l1a111let carried the111 ot 1 t. Tl1e gwilt-I1older, and to a lesser exte11t tl1e bailiff he 1nigl1t a1Jpoi11t, vvas a sy111bol of secular at1 tl1ority i 1 1 1 11ucl1 the sa 1 11e way tl1at tl1e cht1rcl1, or its ark, is a symbol of religious a1 1 tl1ority. A1 1 elaborate etiquette of deference governed all p11blic relatio11s between tl1e gwilt-holder ancl l1is 1Jeasants. Tl1is ,vas evide11t i1 1 the way tl1ey l1ad to draJJe their cotto1 1 capes, i11 the way they l1ad to bow to l1im, and in tl1e li1 1gt1istic forms witl1 wl1ich tl1ey addressecl hin1. A special place was reserved for hi1 11 in the parish ch11 rch, if tl1ere was one i11 the estate, a11d at feasts he l1ad to be served first. Assessi1 1g tl1e gwilt-l1older's actual i 1 1fl t1 e11ce and control over his s11 bjects is n1ore difficult than describing for1 nal obli­ gatio 11s and r11les of etiquette. I-Iis power was i 11 so111e reSJJects greater a 1 1d i11 s0 111e res1Jects less than tl1e for 111al rules wot1ld suggest. I11 JJart it depe11cled 01 1 tl1e size a11 d i1 n1Jortance of l1is estate of gwilt, in JJart 011 l1is 1Jositio1 1 in tl1e church or 1nilitary' r11li11g grotIIJ, a 1 1d i11 part on l1is IJerso11al abilities a1 1d i1 1cli 11atio11s. It is clear, l1owever, tl1at des1Jite tl1e ,vide scope of his autl1ority, tl1e gwilt-l1older was 1 1ot tyJJically a tyra11t, for his freedo111 of actio 1 1 ,vas li 1 11ited by tl1e ex1Jecta­ tions and reactio1 1s of l1is st1 bjects. I-Ie 111igl1t violate tl1e tra78

Otl1er T)1pes of Co111mt1nity Ties

ditional ex1Jectations of so111e of his peasa11ts occasionally, but he cot1lcl 11ot afford to co11sister1tly a11tago11ize a 111ajority of tl1en1. A 1111ive rsally 11r1pop11lar g\vilt-holder soo11 fot111d tl1at l1is peasa11ts or their ox e11 were ''ill'' whe11 l1e 11eedecl the111 111ost, a11d tl1at _eve11 tl1e si111plest task req11iring orga11i­ zatio11 see111ecl 11ever to get do11e. Tl1e 11]ti111ate sa11ctio11 held by tl1e JJeasants, J10\\1ever, \Vas tl1eir rigl1t a11cl ability to 1nove away a11d establish tl1eir l10111esteacls in otl1er estates. At tl1e tin1e of 111y field\vork a ce11tralized bureat1cracy l1ad begu11 to tak.e over 1na11y of the responsibilities that hacl for111erly bee11 carried 011t by tl1e gwilt-]1olcier (see b elow, cl1apter ] 0). Gwilt-holdi11g religious ir1stitutio11s, in particu­ lar, 11ave lost al111ost all of tl1eir former secular at1thority, though tl1ey still receive a portion of tl1e la11cl tax fro111 tl1eir estates of gwilt. Sec11lar gwilt-holders, by contrast, l1ave bee11 able to retai11 111ore of tl1eir traditio11al authority as i11c111n­ bents by fiat of tl1e office of neigl1borl1oocl jt1dge. Officially the 11eigl1borl1oocl j11dge (afbiya dc1iii1a) is e1n­ powered to hear civil dis1Jt1tes i11volvi11g clai111s of 1111der $ I0 U.S. ( $25 Et11.) a11d cri111inal clisJJUtes in wl1ich tl1e da111ages are less tha11 $6 U.S. ($I 5 Etl1.). He 111ay conduct l1e arings at a11y co11ve11ient ti111e a11cl place:-ust1ally 011tdoors•-ar1cl he n1ust be acco111pa11ied by two e lders who are to assist a11d advise hi1n. Insteacl of the pledges or wagers 11e for111erly re­ ceived fro1n litiga11ts, tl1e 11eigl1borl1oocl juclge receives only small, fixed fee s. 111 Dega Da111ot, l1owever, 11eigl1borl1oocl judges are still i11 a11 i111 1Jorta11t inter1nediary JJositio11 betwee11 tl1e IJeasa11try a11cl t11e acl111i11istratio11, for tl1e ha11df11l of gov­ ern111e11t \\1orkers wl10 re1 Jrese11t tl1eir resJJective 111i11istries i11 the district capital of Feres Bet can11ot ft1nction witho11t their assista11ce. 111 recog11ition of tl1is, 11eigl1borhoocl juclges who occtIJJY tl1eir office i11 virt11e of their possession of gwilt rigl1ts are give11 a re bate of about 10 percent of the Janel taxe s collected on tl1eir estate.

Other types of community ties House11old 11e ads are related to 011e anotl1er by n1any tyJJes of i11stitt1tio11al ties i11 adclitio11 to those tl1at are based on


The Community

men1bersl1ip i11 parish and 11eigl1borl1ood. Characteristically, however, these other ties are voluntarily entered i11to or acti­ vated and are maintained only so long as all parties con­ cerned deem them advantageous. Ties based on kinship, vici11age, and friendship, for exa111ple, are all utilized on a reciprocal basis to organize sucl1 cooperative ve11tures as gettit1g i11 the harvest, b11ilding a house, and staging a wed­ di11g feast. 15 Such ties li11k n1e11 togetl1er in u11bounded net­ works, for each household mobilizes a uniqt1e constellation of friends, 11eighbors, and kinsn1e11 to help it with its majo1· tasks. Tl1ere are also several ty1Jes of volu11tary groups s11ch as tl1e religious sodalities or n1ahibers that bri11g a dozen or so 1ne111bers togetl1er for a feast eacl1 111ontl1 011 a partict1lar sai11t's day; the senbete or Su11day feasting society, and, arno11g tl1e salaried officials of Peres Bet and a few well-to-do peasru1ts, tl1ere is the recently introduced rotati11g credit asso­ ciatio11 or iktlb. Finally, tl1ere are tl1e type of l1ierarcl1ically strt,ctured 11etworks of patro11-client ties that Adrian Mayer calls qt1asi-grot1ps (Mayer 1966), linki11g govern1ne11t offi­ cials and otl1er i11flue11tial 111en with their supporters. Thougl1 all of these institutional ties affect the ways in hich ancl tl1e exte11t to \vhich household heads co1npete for rist land, the parish a11d tl1e neighborhood provide the most enduri11g a11d legally binding territorial framework of local Damotian social orga11ization. This organizational impor­ tance of parish and neighborhood is, of course, a reflection of the fact that tl1ey are the local institutions througl1 which tl1e elite groups of traditional An1hara society, tl1e cl1urcl1 a11d the nlilitary, exercised administrative control over their sub­ jects. \�1

15. There are comparatively few ties based on kinship in Aml,ara society that are jurally or morally binding. Aside from the rights and obligations already mentioned in connection witl1 l1ousehold and n1arriage, the n1ost important tie is the obligation of sons, brothers, and, some say, t1ncles to avenge murder. Parents and cl1ildren have a n1oral obligation to assist one another in time of trouble, and siblings v.,iJI often help one another if they are on good terms, though there are no sanctions that can be brought to bear on them if they fail to do so and cases of sibling enmity are numerous.



Otl1er Types of Con1mt1nity Ties

Togetl1er the parisl1 and neighborl1ood definecl the politi­ cal, economic, a11d c11ltural i11con1plete11ess of tl1 e local co111n111nity, its relationsl1ip of depe11dence 011 other seg1nents of society tl1at n1akes it appropriate to speak of Aml1 ara far111ers as peasants. 10 Politically tl1e local co1n1111111ity was i11co1nplete beca11se tl1e authority with which its me1nbers do1ninate one anotl1er was largely derived fro1n political office granted by me111bers of the elite. Econo1nically it was i11co111 plete because a portio11 o:f the tax a11cl tribute paid by its me1nbers was used to s11pport the elites. Cult11rally tl1e co111111 unity was inco1nplete beca11se tl1e sa11ctity of its priests a11d, 111ore ge11 erally, 111a11y of the standarcls by wl1ich its 1ne111bers j11dgecl one a1.1other had reference to the icleas and ideals of tl1 e mo11astic a11d co11rtly life. Damotian peasa11ts l1ave bee11 \veil aware of tl1e incom­ plete11ess of tl1eir commu11 ities, of their depe11de11ce on the elites, a11d, for tl1e n1 ost part, have accepted these co11ditions. Occasionally they have rese11ted particular i111 positio1.1s of their feudal 1 11asters, but they l1ave 11ever questio11ed tl1eir rigl1t to r11le. Si1nilarly, tl1ey l1ave taken pricle in tl1eir dis­ tinctive local custo111s a11d i11 the uniq11eness of each locality's history, but they have always recog11 ized the validity ancl s11periority of tl1e higl1 c11ltural traditio11 bor11e in purest forn1 by their elites. The peasants' acce1Jta11ce of their lowly position i11 tl1e social order as 11at11ral a11d i11evitable l1as been fostered by a partic11lar view of history, la11d, a11 d polity, a view \Vhicl1 relates the i11stitutions of Dan1otiru1 social orga11ization to the historical traclitions of A1nl1ara civilization. 17 16. Thus Alfred Kroeber, whose descriptio11 of peasants is widely cited, remarks that "[peasants] form a class segment of a larger popt1)a­ tion .... They constitute part-societies with part-cultures (Kroeber 1948: 284)." Fallers (1961) has discussed the use of the word "peasants" in sub-Saharan African kingdoms, and Gamst ( 1970) bas cornn1ented on the applicability of the term in Ethiopia. 17. Brief accot1nts of these historical traditions are to be fot1nd in Levine (1965), Perham (1948), and Trin1inghan1 (1952). Some of the traditions are m) ths and legends, others are well documented. My con­ cern here is not with their historicity but only \Vitb their impact on the consciousness ancl social organization of Dega Damot. 1



Tl1e territorially based 111stitt1tions described in tl1 e previo11s cl1 a1)ter a11d tl1e la11dl1 oldi11 g desce11t corporations clescribed in tl1e followi11 g cl1 a1)ters can11ot be 1111derstood in ter1ns of rigl1ts, duties, a11 d co11stellatio11s of i11terest alone, for each of tl1 e11 1 l1as a conce1)tual or ideological di1nension as well. Tl1 is conceptt1al di11 1ension is e11caps11lated i11 a cycle of lege11ds wl1 icl1 at once account for the origins a11d interrela­ tio11s of parisl1, 11eighborl1 ood, and clescent gro111) and i11 ft1se tl1em with an. aura of legiti111 acy b)' linki11g them with tl1e A11 1l1ara great tracliti.011. History to tl1e ordi11ary folk of Dega Dan1 ot is 11 ot a con­ tinuot1s 1)rocess. It co11sists of a 11 111nber of isolated a11d· es­ se11 tially 11nrelated eve11ts tho11ght so1newl1at vagt1ely to have occurred i11 "ancient ti111 es," a period stretching back fro11 1 just beyond the 111e1nory of tl1e oldest livi11g 111 en, wl1ich J)resently n1eans beyo11d tl1 e reig11 of E111 1Jeror Yol1annis (1872-89). The events of this hazy past are related to tl1e n1ost im­ J)Orta11 t places, periods, a11cl J)erso11ages of Etl1iopia11 tra­ ditio11: the a11 cie11t city of Ax11111 , center of tl1e old e111 1)ire and l1 01ne of the first Ethiopian e111 peror, Me11ilek, son of Ki11 g Solomo11 , wl1 0 had the ark of tl1 e covena11t brot1gl1 t from Jert1salen1 ; the golde11 age of A1nhara. civilizatio11 fol­ lowi11g tl1e restoration of tl1e Solo111 011 ic line by E 111 peror Yek11110 A111 lak ancl Abu11 a Tekle I-Iayrnanot i11 tl1 e latter JJart of the thirteenth centt1ry, a tin1 e ,vl1 e11 a series of e111per­ ors led their victoriot1s ar111 ies 011 seaso11al ca111 1)aig11s ctgainst the M t1sli111 states to tl1 e southeast, J)t1shi11g back the infidels,


Local Legend and National Traditio11

buildi11g ch 11rches, a11d endo\.ving 1no11asteries; the destruction of th e land ru1cl its cl1t1rcl1es by a M11sli111 jil1ad tinder Mo­ hamed Grru1. in the seconcl qt1arter of th e sixteenth century; and the glorious days of t11e court at Gondar in th e seve11tee11th cent11ry. Most A111hara little co11cer11ed with the past as such. W.hat is i111.porta11t to tl1e111 about tl1ese 111ajor eve11ts of tra­ ditio11al history is their re1)rese11tatio11 011 the present-day landscape ru1d tl1eir 1)rojectio11 i11to ct1rrent administrative and social relationsl1ips. Co11 te111porary relatio11ships are justified witl1 refere11ce to tl1ese historical representations, and cl1anges i11 tl1ese relationships, JJarticularly changes hav­ iJ.1g to do witl1 la ncl rigl1ts, ust1ally involve ch a11ges i11 the in­ terpretatio11 of "h.istory." According to legend, the fo11ndi11g a11cestor of Dega Damot as a whole was Ki11g Tekle Hay111a11ot who ca1ne \Vith l1is 1 \\ ife, Ge11net, fro1n Jert1salen1. Infor111ants are 1111clear as to wl1etl1er t11ere were already people living in Dega Da111ot wl1en Ki11g Tekle Hay111a11ot arrived, but it is 11ot a 111atter of great in1por ta11ce to the1n, for legends of tl1is type are 11secl prim arily to account for t he origi11s of la11d 1111its a11d rights vested i11 them, 11ot for t he origins of people. Ki11g Tekle Hay1na11ot h ad tl1ree so11s a11cl fot1r dat1ghters, 011e of wl1on1 is said to l1ave 1narried tl1e mayor ( !{erzflba) of Go11clar. Two of the s011s settled in tl1e distric t to the east of Dega Da111ot. Each of tl1e other childre11 are associated i11 legend with th e fot111di11g of one or more of tl1e regiona l subdivisio11s of Dega Da1not whicl1 toclay have beco111e s11bdistricts. At a 111ore JJarocl1i al level eacl1 parish also l1as a fot1ncli11g a11cestor and a lege11d tl1at relates l1ow l1e estab]isl1ecl its ch11rch. 2 Ma11y of these parisl1 fot111clers are co11sidered to be desce11dents of Ki11g Tekle Hay1na11ot. Fou11ders not of th is 1

I. Informants are adan1ant that this was not the King Tekle Hayn1anot who r11led Gojjan1 at the turn of the present century, of whom they are well aware. Nor, they insist, ,vith less vehemence, could it be one of the Gondarine emperors ,vho bore the name; their Tekle Haymanot, they in­ sist, came fron1 J erusalen1. 2. This founding ancestor, wl10 nJay be a man or a ,von1an, is son1e­ tin1es spoken of as the first father or principal ancestor of the parish ( ivanna abbat) and sometimes as the ark planter (ye ta bot tekay).


Local Legencl and National Tradition

royal lineage are identified i11 111a11y insta11ces as frie11 ds a11cl followers of tl1ose wl10 were. There are 110 benefits otl1 er tha11 nostalgic pride associated witl1 the parisl1 es fot 111ded by de­ sce11dents of Tekle Hayn1anot, bt 1 t tl1e lege11ds associated with these parishes })rovide a ge11ealogical a1.1d geographical skeleto11 for Dega Dan1ot as a whole. Tl1e foundi11g legend of a parisl1 accou1 1ts for the origi11 of desce11t-grot11J land tracts, the basic land t111its of tl1e rist syste1 11. It recot1nts tl1e circt1111stai1ces tinder "''l1ich tl1e parish fot111der first settled, fou11ded a cl1urcl1, a11d a1JJJOrtio11ecl rist rigl1ts over large tracts of la11d to hi 111self, his 111ajor retainers, a11d to tl1e priests a 11d deaco11s ,vho \Vere to celebrate mass i11 the cl1t1rcl1. Eacl1 of tl1ese tracts is ide11tified witl1 one of tl1e IJrese11t-day clesce11t-grot11J Janel tracts, a 11d tl1e i11diviclt1al to wl10111 it ,vas first gra11ted is regardecl as tl1e first holder or "first fatl1er'' ( 1,11a11na abbat) of the corporation l1olding it as rist. Most descent-group la1 1d tracts are thot1gl1t to have origi11atecl at tl1e ti111e wl1e11 tl1e parish i11 wl1ich they are located was founcled. S0111e, l1owever, are said to be of 1 11ore rece11t 01igi11. They are thought to re1Jresent tracts of i11itially u11cleared Ia110 granted to a forceft1l 1nilitary leader or simply settlecl b.)' hi111 s01 11e ge11eratio11s after tl1e fot1ndi11g of tl1e IJarish, i11to wl1icl1 tl1ey \Vere incorporated for purposes of ecclesiastical administratio1 1. The founding legencl and st1bseqt1ent "history'' of a JJarish also accou11t for its relatio11sl1ip to estates of gwilt, the n1od­ er11 11eighborhoods. In 1 11ost cases the parisl1 fou11cler l1i1nself is co1 1siderecl to l1ave been tl1e first gwilt-l1olcler. The parish as l1e founcled it, the11, is coter1 11inot1 s witl1 a si11gle estate of gwilt or neigl1borhood. The additional estates of gwilt fou11d today within so 111e large parisl1es are 11st1ally ide11tified as la 1 1d tracts i11cor1Joratecl into tl1e parisl1 subseque11t to its foundi11g. Again, the first gra11tee of st1cl1 la1 1cl tracts is co11sidered to l1ave been its first gwilt-l1older. The same Iege1 1ds tl1at accot111 t for the origin of parisl1, land tract, a11d neighborl1ood as territorial u11its also accou1 1t for tl1e associatio11 of partict1lar rights and obligatio11s witl1 each of tl1en1. Tl1e fou11 cli11g lege1 1cl of a parisl1 is tl1t1s, i 11 a11 84

Local Lege11d ancl National Traditio11

i1nporta11t se11se, a cl1arter for prese11t-day social relatio11shiJJS. Ideally, for example, tl1e obligatio11 to stipport tl1 e celebration of 111ass i11 the parish churcl1 rests 011 those wl1 0 J1old rist la11cl iI1 tl1e land tracts i11itially gra.nted to its first clergyn1e11. The obligatio11 to st1pport the gwilt-holder rests 011 those who hold rist land i11 tl1e la11d tracts grantecl to the first gwilt-holder. Si111ilarly, eligibility for tl1e office of lay gebez rests 011 t11e possessio11 of rist Janel i11 the la11d tract l1eld by the first lay gebez, a11d eligibility for the office of c.l1iqa shi1m, tl1e peasa11 t assista11t to the g\vilt-]1 older, rests 011 the JJOssession of rist la11d i11 the land tract held by tl1e first c,l1iqa s/1um. The foregoi11 g accot111t is idealized in that it prese11ts an oversi111plified picture of _parisl1 organizatio.11. Tl1ere are 111a11y deviatio11s fro111 tl1is ic1ealized picture ancl hence mt1ch or­ ga11izational variatio11 betwee11 parishes. 111 some parishes today, tl1e obligation to supJJOrt the celebration of the 1nass rests in part 011 land tracts wl1ich are 11ot believed to have been first l1eld by clergy, while i11 otl1er parishes la11d tracts first held by clergy have bee11 absolvecl of their service obli­ gatio11s. In still other parishes there are today no la11d tracts that are considered to be cl1urcl1 land a11d the obligatio11 to support tl1 e celebration of the 111ass falls eqt1ally on all tl1e parish's la11d tracts. Estates of gwilt believecl to have bee11 distinct i11itially l1 ave, i11 so111e i11sta11ces, been 111erged u11der tl1e jurisdiction of a si11gle g'A1ilt-holder, \:vl1ile other estates of gvvilt first held by secular lorcls have bee11 tra11sferred to tl1e control of n1onasteries. Fi11ally, the offices of gebez a11d c_hiqa shum are in n1a11y cases associated witl1 la11d tracts otl1er tha11 tl1ose of their first l1olders. Stich deviatio11s fro111 the ideal order do not strike the elclers of Dega Da111ot as a11omalous, for they are viewed simply as pertt1rbatio11s in tl1e original order of the parish that have bee11 brot1ght abot1t by the great 1nen and great events of the i11terve11ing years. If a parish has no designated church land, the explanatio11 may be that tl1e la11d was lost in the hardship a11d conft1sion tl1at follo,:ved tl1e bt1rning of the church by the Musli111 i11vader Moha111ed Grafi. If a la11d tract has lost its pre-emptory rigl1 t to an adn1inistrative office, 85

Local Legend and National Traclition

tl1is n1ay be attribt1ted to the scurrilot1s 1Jerfor111ance of one of its for111er incun1be11ts. If gwilt rigl1ts over a 1Jarish have bee11 tra11sferred fro111 the origi11al holder's line to a 111on.­ astery, this n1ay be accounted for by a miracle perforn1ed for s01ne great military lord by tl1e IJatron sai11t of tl1e parish. 111 a11 i1nporta11t se11se, tl1e11, it is 11ot n1eaningft1l to speak of a11y type of parish as typical, for it is typical of the 1Jarish that tl1e exact interrelations of its com1Jo11ent instit11tions are u11ique. For tl1e sake of clarity i11 prese11tatio11, however, I l1ave tried to draw 111ost of the necessarily detailecl a11d com­ IJlex illt1strative 111aterial iI1 this· book from two parisl1es located near the ad1ni11istrative ce11ter of Peres Bet a11d from 011e desce11t groLIIJ's la11d tract \Vitl1i11 eacl1. Tl1e parishes, tl1ot1gl1 adjace11t to 011e another, are very different. 011e of tl1e111, Peres Bet Mikael, is large, po1Julous, JJOlitically cen­ tral, a11cl ,1cl111i11istratively co1nplex. Tl1e other, Dereqe M,1rya111, is s111all i11 area a11d 1Jo .pt1lation, has 11ever been tl1e seat of gover1.1111e11t, a11d is ad111i11istratively sin1ple. Peres Bet Mikael (111a1J 2) is located 011 tl1e l1igh JJlateau at a11 altitt1de of abot1t 11,000 feet above sea level. 011 the sot1tl1 it is bou11ded b>' a ridge-top trail that n1arks tl1e ce11tral Gojja1n watershed. 011 tl1e 11ortheast it is bou11ded by a s1nall all-year creek, a11d most of its 11orthwestern boundary is a steep cliff that drops away to tl1e Gt1mara River valley. Witl1 a populatio11 of 1,374 people (exclusive of tl1e tow11 of Peres Bet) livi11g in 372 l1ot1sel1olds, Peres Bet was the 1nost 1Jop11lot1s parish censused. Accordi11g to lege11d, Peres Bet was founded by tl1e son of Ki11g Tekle Hayma11ot, Dejaz1nach Asibo, who cam1Jed 11ear tl1e present location of tl1e cl111rch 011e 11ight on l1is way to battle. The next 1norni11g, the virgi11 1no11k who, as was c11sto1nary, always carried tl1e dejazn1acl1's ark was overco1ne with a mysterious drowsi11ess. Se11si11g a 1niracle, tl1e dejaz1nach bt1rnt i11ce11se, J?rayecl, a11d remained i11 Peres Bet an­ otl1er night. 011 tl1e followi11g 1nor11ing the 111011k awoke withot1t difficulty and set off carrying tl1e ark. Suddenly he was swept off his feet by a wl1irlwind and set down again unl1ar1ned 011 the site where tl1e JJarisl1 church of Peres Bet


�------•nl Io



P�rlsh church ...•.•. ..•


P.:Jr I �h boundary •..••...

�ounc�ry ot l�nd 1rilct



-Prlo�;-� lond ............

Cll!f ••..••...••••...•. ,, " fl

" r�e :n



Ec.roro of She.a

H.:,y I •• , , • , • , , .• , • , ••••.


of \iontJ 1� . .......



\,, . ·�� ..... . ',_,, .


• •• ,. ··�·


. .. . . . . .. . . . . . . ..

_,,,.'-=v.-,:. ..· •


,:.., . ',y._ ' ,� ,_..-·



. '• \









' , ,......


,• ,,






,' , ,



E) ,'

---..._ __ .. '·

\: ,




. '-'!-..1. , • ,,

• ,•




''· .


.',,,. �,, )' ,.1 ,,;.. ,;.,; , . ,,..

• •'

,. ,.







. · :...J

.. -· . .. -,•

•• ,•,

,-· ;....--�


f·V\RYAl;l..,-i • • .... .. / '\.



e \ GE SAG I S �\.'.RYAM


-- --Iv'


'• '


, .... �.....

• ••



'' ' '1•






Map 2. Parishes i11 area of intensive study





Local Lege11d and National Tradition

11ow sta11ds. Tl1e dejaz1nach t1nderstood the 111ea11i11g of the 111iracle a11cl bt1ilt a h11t to hot1se tl1e ark te1n1Jorai·ily t111til a proper cl111rch cot1lcl be bt1ilt. A11d tl1us tl1e parish of Feres Bet Mikael was founded. The clejaz1nach a1Jpoi11ted five clergy111en to serve the newly "pla11ted'' ark. For their service he is said to have give11 eacl1 of the111 a tract of la11d. Today, of cot1rse, tl1ese five clergy1nen are co11sidered a11cestral first settlers and tl1e land tract eacl1 of the111 was give11 is the tract of rist land sl1ared by l1is desce11de11ts. Tl1e clergy in Peres Bet are well e11dowed. Toclay tl1ey i11clt1de twe11 ty IJriests, te11 deaco11s, ancl one teacher. The cl111rcl1 itself is well built a11d well decorated \Vi t11 wall 1Jai11ti11gs. Tl1e rest of tl1e la11d arot111d the place wl1ere the ark was IJlaced was allegedly give.11 as rist a11d gwilt to tl1e clejaz1nacl1's sister, Qefiaz111acl1 Kolet, who eventually gave it to l1er dat1gl1ter, Q11sqwan1aw1t. Dejaz111acl1 Asibo, Qefiaz1uacl1 Kolet, or Qt1sgwa111awit are all, at different ti111es, referred to as the "cl1ief a11cestor'' of the parisl1 as a wl1ole, depe11di11g 011 ,vl1etl]er it is tl1e SJJeaker's in te11 tio11 to stress tl1e closeness of Feres Bet to the a11cient fo11nding king or to differe11tiate it fro111 all or son1e of tl1e otl1er parisl1es said to have bee11 fo11nded by Dejaz1nacl1 Asibo and l1is sister. It is said that gv.1ilt rights over Feres Bet ,vere retained for s01ne ge11eratio11s by desce11dents of Qt1sqwa1nawit. EventLI­ ally, ho,vever, tl1e gwilt-l1older, or gwilt gez, of Feres Bet atte111pted to \vitl1l1old fro111 tl1e king at Go11dar a part of tl1e tribt1te of l1orses paid a11n11ally at that ti111e. As a result of tl1e e11suing cot1rt i11trig11e, tl1e gwilt rigl1ts over Feres Bet were taken a,vay from tl1e li11e of Qusqwan1awit ru1d kept by the ruler-first by the rt1ler at Go11dar a11d later by tl1e ruler of Gojja111. Tl1ese eve11ts are saicl to accou11t for the fact that i11 rece11t ti111es Feres Bet l1as bee11 the ga11ageb or JJerso11al gwilt of tl1e r11ler of Gojja111. Lege11d also recou11ts tl1at at tl1e ti111e wl1en gwilt rights were taken away fro111 tl1e desce11tl1ese descendents were give11 tl1e ex­ de11ts_ of (?t1sqwa111awit _ clt1s1ve pr1v1lege of holdi11g tl1e office of c_l1 iqa sl11,tn1 . Today 011ly a descende11t or, 111ore acct1rately, a desce11dent wl10 88

Local Legencl and National Tradition

holds rist Janel i11 Qt1sqwa1nawit's land tract, is eligible for the dubio11s ho11or of bei11g aJJIJointed to this office. At one ti111e tl1e parisl1 is saicl to l1ave i11cluded a portio11 of the adjacent lowlands i11 tl1e Gt11nara valley to tl1e 11ortl1. It is said, however, tl1at tl1e lowla11clers fot111cl the steep cli111b to the cl1t1rch 011 the plateau tireso111e, a11d that whe11 tl1eir popul,ttion hacl i11creased s11fficie11tly tl1ey built a11other church, received a11 ark fro111 the bisl101J, a11d fou11ded their JJresent parish, Qolla Feres Bet Marya111. Today, i11 adclitio11 to the five la11d tracts i11itially gra11ted to tl1e clergy a11d tl1e la11d tract retained by Q11sqwa111aw1t, there are, i11 Feres Bet, 11ine otl1er first settlers' land tracts said to have been gra11ted as u11cleared land to great n1e11 a11d warriors in later years. Such lancl tracts are ofte11 referrecl to as gashsl1a n1eret,'i, an a1Jpellatio11 wl1icl1 refers to the gra11tee's n1ilitar)' service a11d is 11ot, as in Shoa, a 1111it of la11d measure111ent. In all, tl1ere are fifteen first settlers' es­ tates b1 the parisl1 of Feres Bet Mikael, five of whicl1 bear tl1e obligatio11 to s11pport the celebration of mass (see 111aJJ 2). Detailed ill11stratio11s of la11d divisio11 a11d land dis1Jt1tes will be drawn fro111 011e of tl1ese estates, tl1at of a settler na111ed Shoa Hayl. Thougl1 it is ge11erally asst11ned fro1n his 11a1ue tl1at Shoa Hayl can1e fro1n tl1e province of Sl1oa, 110 011e is certai11 jt1st when or fro111 whe11ce he ca1ne. What is believecl to be i1n­ portant abo11t l1i1n is that he settled i11 the vici11ity of Feres Bet and l1acl childre11. The estate of Sl1oa Hayl covers an area of 011e ai1d a half sq11are n1iles at the extre111e eastern end of Peres Bet Mikael and i11clt1des tl1e tow11 of Peres Bet, the admi11istrative center of all Dega Da1uot. Perchecl atop the highest knoll i11 Shoa Hayl 011 tl1e Dega Dan1ot divide, tl1e walled to�111 has a con1111a11di11g view of tl1e st1rrot1ncli11g cou11tryside. Ridges rt1nning 011t fron1 tl1e to�111 divide the estate of Sl1oa Hayl i11to tl1ree watersheds. Excelle11t all-year spri11gs, believed to be the abodes of evil spirits, are located in eacl1 of these watersl1eds. Lowla11ds along tl1e strea111s that bot1nd Sl1oa }Iayl to tl1e 11ortb and west and clepressions rt11111ing fron1 spri11gs to tl1e strea111s provide past11rage duri11g 89

Local Legend and National Tradition

the dry seaso11 a11 d are too wet for ct1ltivatio1 1 dt1ri11 g tl1 e rai11 s. Most of tl1e re111ai1 1i11 g land in Sl1 oa I-Iayl is cultivated, tl1 ougl1 the land to tl1e soutl1 of bal1i1· mesk sv.,a1np is of sucl1 low quality tl1at it is tilled but 011e year i11 tl1ree. Becat1se of its altitude and expost1re, common barley, mesno barley, a11 d potatoes are tl1e 011 ly i11 11Jorta11 t sta1Jle crops grown i11 Sl1 oa Hayl. Exclt1sive of the tow11s1ne11, few of wl1 0 11 1 directly e11gage i11 agricr1Iture, Sl1 oa I-Iayl l1 ad a JJOIJulatio1 1 of t1nder tl1ree l1t1n­ clred people living in seventy .l1 0 1nesteacls i 11 1962 (111a1J 3). Collectively, tl1 ese J1 0111esteads are co111 11 1only referred to as the nierzder, or l1 an1 let, of Shoa I-Iayl. Tl1 e ter1n me11der, l1owever, is a relative 011 e a1 1d n1ay be t 1sed for any grouping of home­ steacls \Vitl1 i11 a JJaris 11 ; i 11 tl1e lin1iting case, a man's ho111e­ stead 111 ay eve11 be referred to as his niencler. Whe1 1 a greater degree of s1Jecificity is desired, tl1e 111e11cler of Shoa Hayl is ofte11 broke11 down into lay me11.der ("t1 p1Jer l1 a1nlet'') a11 d tay 111e11.der ("lower hamlet''). It is also cl1aracteristic of A111 hara social orga11 izatio11 tl1 at the area included in the l1amlet of Sl1oa I-Iayl does not correspond exactly to the es­ tate of tl1e :first-settler Shoa Hayl. As a ha111let, represe11ted in parisl1 affairs t1po11 occasion by a si' 1 1gle n1a11, Shoa Rayl in­ cludes a sn1all group of ho1nesteads i 1 1 its 11orthwest corner which are 011 the neighboring estate of D1mo; at tl1 e sa1ne ti111 e, the sot1tl1western cor11er of tl1 e estate of Sl1oa Rayl is said to be a IJart of the neighboring l1 a1 nlet of Sew Argif, a co111 mt111ity largely 111ade UIJ of weavers. It is the estate of Sl1 oa I-Iayl, rather than tl1 e han1let, that is of pri111e co11cern here. I11 1962 fifty-fo11r of the seventy-011e household l1eads liv­ ing 01 1 Sl1 oa Hayl's estate were far 1ners. Six of these were also priests. 011 e hot1sehold l1 ead was a weaver, one was a s1nitl1, ancl one was a ta1 1ner. All of tl1 ese me11 e11 gaged i11 agrict1ltt1re as well. Ten l10111 esteads were l1eaded by \vo11 1e11. Fot1r l1ot1se­ l1old l1 eads were titled. 011e of tl1 e111, a grazmach, was tl1 e a{bl)1a clafiiia of tl1 e e11 tire parisl1 of Feres Bet. A11 other was a11 olcl 1!1 a11 wl10 was in cl1arge of gt1arcling JJriso11ers under Ras Ha1lt1, tl1 e last i11 clepende11 t rt1 ler of Gojjan1 before the Seco11d \Vorld War. The tl1 ird \\'as a11 old ma11 who attai11ed




Map 3. Homesteads and fields in Shoa Hayl ,,

I Ll6


1 .,;3

ro·,,'N oF FERES BCT


,· . ···· W.• .,· , ,. · 1

\ ,If ( ,1 I •


1", ''• " ·', ',,, ••-L',_t·, 1 1 1 1 ' I

6 ,-,\,,,•,


r,.:__',•. '. ' ' .•

I -,




1 �•\ I� � ,1µ1-,-1--1---v • 1. 2

. -- -


ctions Ooundarles between se


. .. . . .


of eoundario� botweon flold� _ ........... _ _ .. Shoa Hay I's chi ldron

ltouso ....

1-lolla's f lclcls



.'-1----f--,. • •


:-12, oic . .••..•••.•....••.•• 1.11,

... ,·. ,·,. ,.



. .•..•.....DI, 02 , o lc .. .. .. .. s Id lo f s ' ih Ovrs 1S llolcls ·········Al , A2, oic.. �0 l"<l /\C ch r,-.:, Graz c. ds ...... LI, L:' I ui ol I f gu'� sc As l na hl Llqaki> , ...,,.,. ..."'· r:--:,




lo Ids he I oJ Bounoar I cs bo'l·�ccn f ············--- by lndlvlclual !armors

...... , , • • • • • • • • • • · · · · · ·

Lo /L1 /LS !Le





,, •. I

' ff (

---:;--· � -.-· : -. -· � � -::_-::,_- .:_ ::-_:. ; _ , R H -- - .. .. A - S.. •.. ..-.. _..... --... ... . j . ... ·-.....·----- ...-..-_- "'--:·..�- .... ---.. - ­. :-- --. -;?

............ • • •, • •, •

... , .• .. • • • • l�rsh ................

, I •( o • 1 l, 'o 'f ..._ � ,::


,.._ -.......:,. ... .

- ..


•• ' 0

1/2 ml lo



Local Legend and National Tradition

the ecclesiastic title of l1qekc1hirzat ancl tl1e secular rru1k of grazm.aclz. I-le served as chief clerk of Dega Da111ot under Ras Railu and u11der the prese1 1t regime, u11til he was st1c­ ceeded i11 office by his so1 1. The old ma11 was a large land­ holder, possessing n1ore fields in Shoa Rayl th�n a11yone else. At the time of the study there \Vere 329 fields 1n the estate of Shoa Rayl ( 1nap 3). The patter11 of landholdi11g i11 Sl1oa Hayl has t1ndot1btedly been inflt1e11ced by its JJroxi1nity to tl1e political and acl1ninis­ trative center of Dega Damot. Me 11 of political importa11ce, who are ofte11 titled, have sought to obtai1 1 rist la11d i11 Shoa I-Iayl i11 order to provide a co11ve11ient SUJJply of grai11 for tl1e ''town'' reside1 1ce they 1 naintain in Peres Bet. Co11seqt1ently, tl1e pro1Jortion of land held by titled 111en and the proportion of land worked in te11a11cy are above average, probably as l1igl1 as anywl1ere i11 Dega Damot. Des1Jite tl1is co11centration of la11d i11 the hands of titled 111en, tl1ere �,ere, at the tin1e of the stt1dy, 153 people who l1ad a direct interest i1 1 the la 1 1d of Shoa Hayl, of whom not less than 119 held at least one field rent-free. Not less than seve11teen JJeople held la11d in tena11cy only. Sufficient data conce1-i1ing the other seventeen people's clai111s were not ob­ tained. Tl1e distributio11 of fields a111ong the 119 known hold­ ers is show11 in table 1. In all, abot1t one-fourth of tl1e fields i11 Shoa Hayl's estate �,ere worked by tenants. TABLE 1


Fields held

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

No. of holders

Fields held

62 25 11 4 3 6 3 2 1 1

No. of holders

0 11 0 12 0 13 0 14 0 15 0 16 0 17 0 18 1 19 0 19-1Total holders 119 Total fields 287*

,:,111ere is insufficient data for the other 42 fields.


Local Legend and National Tradition

Available data concerning tl1e relatio11ship between social stat11s a11d la11d l1oldi11g in Shoa Rayl are sun1marized in table 2a. It is evident that titled 111e11 as a group are 14 per­ ce11t over-represe11ted in landl1o]di11g, ordi11ary far1ners are 11 perce11t under-represented, and clerics as a group are represented in prOJJOrtion to their 11u1nbers. The residence of the 119 people ki1ow11 to hold land i11 Shoa I-Iayl is shown by stat11s in table 2b. TABLE 2a Status


Holders of this status Nuniber % of Total

13 9

Titled Cleric Farmer Other':' Totals


13 119

Fields held by them Nun1ber % of Total


75 24 179


71 11 101

25 60 6 99



,:,Includes merchants, nontitled government officials, and others resident in the to\vn of Feres Bel. tThere were 33 fields for which this data was not available. TABLE


Titled Cleric Farmer Other



Resident in Slzoa Flay!

3 5 38 0

Resiclent ill Tolvn

1 0 0 13

Resident outside Shoa Ha}'[ or town

9 4 46 0

Across the creek, to the 11ortheast of Feres Bet Mikael, lies the parish of Dereqe Maryan1 (n1ap 2). The arable lands of Dereqe are divided into a highland and a lowland section, separated by a belt of cliff and forest. The larger section, where most of tl1e l1on1esteads ru1d the church are located, lies on the platea11. Bo11nded by the creek on the southwest and by trails and a rocky outcropping 011 the northeast, tl1is sectio11 rt1ns fro111 the watersl1ed, at its s011tl1ern tip, to a jutting promontory in the north where its walled churchyard comma11ds a broad view of tl1e Gt1mara valley. The 1nore re93

Local Legencl ancl National Tradition

ce11tly settled a11d not yet ft1lly cleared lowla11d sectio11 to the north lies at the foot of the steep slo1Jes 111ore tl1an a thousand feet below. At the time of a censt1s take11 i11 I 962, Dereqe had a total populatio11 of 011ly 177 people livi11g in u11der sixty homesteads. In keeping with its s1nall size ru1d relative political uni111portance, the fot111di11g lege11d of Dereqe is 111ore hu 111ble than tl1at of its neighbor, Feres Bet Mikael. The legend recou11ts 110w a 1 1011titled man 11a111ed Ze Sellase fot111ded Dereqe son1e ge11eratio11s after Dejazmach Asibo ''planted the ark'' i11 Feres Bet. Soon after fou11di11g tl1e JJarish, Ze Sellase is saicl to have give11 some land west of tl1e cl1urcl1 to a certai11 We11dim. In public, We11din1 is said to have bee11 Ze Sellase's brother; in JJrivate, influential n1e11 \:vl1ose i11terests are stro11gly identi­ fied witl1 Ze Sellase's estate say that \Venclim was only Ze Sel­ lase's serva11t. Thjs disagree 111e1 1t, and a certai1 1 amou11t of associated rancor, is tl1e residue of a JJrolonged a11d bitter la11d dispute wl1icl1 took place a few ge11eratio11s ago. Tl1e dispute \:vas ope11ed by a gwilt gez of Dereqe who clai111ed desce11t fron1 Ze Sellase. He clai1ned that, as Wendim had been 011ly a serva11t of Ze Sellase, the for1ner's descendents had 110 legal rigl1t to tl1e land to the west of the churcl1 vvl1ich they held a11d clai111ed �s their rist land. The 111ajor ]a11d­ holders in Wendim's estate countered tl1at Wendi111 was 11ot Ze Sellase's servant or even l1is loyal follower bt1t l1is brother. As l1is descende11ts, they contended, they were entitled to a full half of all the JJarisl1 lancls, not just the 111eager portio11 they tl1e11 held. The case dragged on for years a11d was finally decided in favor of Wendi1n after tl1e death of the g\vilt gez who l1ad first raised the isst1e. Tl1e ct1ltivated lands of tl1e pa1·ish \Vere then divided egt1ally i11to a 11t1111ber of sectio11s for Wendi111 and Ze Sellase. As additional Ia11ds were brot1ght �111der cultivatio11, the process of divisio11 conti11t1ed, prodt1c111g tl1e patter11 of division sl1own on n1a1J 2. Dereqe co11stitutes a si 11gle estate of g\:vilt. Gwilt rig11ts over the estate are associatecl witl1 Ze Sellase's li11e. Indeed, all re111en1bered for111er gwilt gez are said to have bee1 1 desce11dents of Ze �ellase. The current gwilt gez, a powerft1l old 11_1an who was chief clerk of Dega Da111ot for 111a11y years, claims


Local Legend ancl Na tio11al Tradition

descent from We11cli111. Give11 tl1e degree to wl1ich bilaterally traced pedigrees ra1nify i11 111ore tl1an te11 generatio11s, it wot1ld appear, l1owever, that tl1e wily gwilt gez fou11d it politi足 cally expeclient to identify l1is i11terests with those of me11 ,1/110 held 111ost of tl1eir la11d throt1gh Wendi1n. As neither We11di111 11or Ze Sellase is said to have been a priest, all the la11cls of tl1e }Jarisl1 111t1st bear the obligation to support celebratio11 of mass eqt1ally. The clergy i11cludes only seven priests a11d five deacons. Si111ilarly, tl1e offices of c.hiqa shi11n a11d c.lze1,va gebez rotate a1111ually between 111en l1oldi11g rist la11d i11 tl1e two first settlers' estates. Tl1e estate of Wendi1n is divided into eleven sectio11s of land. 011ly one of these sectio11s will be used for illt1strative 1Jurposes. It is tl1e section which lies to the west of tl1e parisl1 church in the area wl1ere We11din1 is said to have first settled ( 1nap 2). It is bou11ded on the 11orth a11cl west by forested bluffs. Its sot1tl1ern a11d eastern bou11daries are largely n1ade tip of strea111s. Tl1e low la11d alo11g these strea111s a11cl a 111eadow just outside the church gate provide tl1e JJrincipal per1nanent pastt1rage in tl1e sectio11. The cht1rcl1 cl1aracter足 istically occu1Jies tl1e highest ground i11 tl1e parish. Tl1e la11ds of We11di1n's sectio11 fall gently away from it i11 all directio11s. The fiftee11 ho1nesteads located i11 the sectio11 (1nap 4) 111ake tIIJ tl1e l1a111let of Gra Midir. The l1a111let of Gra Midir ca1111ot, however, be ide11tified with the estate of Wendi1n as a wl1ole, for tl1ere are a nt1111ber of l10111esteads located 011 the other sectio11s of Wendi111's estate wl1icl1 fall withi11 tl1e ha1n足 lets i11 Dereqe. The social co111positio11 of Gra Midir, like the fot111di11g lege11d of Dereqe, is co1111no11place. Eight of its l1ousehold l1eads are ordi11ary far111ers, five are clerics, three are si11gle wo111en, a11d one is a weaver. There are 110 titled 1nen resident in Gra Midir. The Gra Midir sectio11 of We11di1n's estate was divided at the ti1ne of stt1dy into fifty-six fields. Altogether twenty-eight 111en l1ave a11 active i11 terest in the land as lru1dl1olders, ten足 a11ts, or botl1. All of these l1old at least one field rent-free. The n1ost striki11g differe11ces between the landholding IJattem of Gra Midir and Sl1oa Hayl concer11 the statt1s of landholders, tl1e proportio11 of 11011resident holclers, a11d the rate of ten95

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Local Legend and Natio11al Traditio11

ancy. 011ly two ot1t of tl1e fifty-six fields are held by a titled 1na11. Fifteen of tl1e fields, or 27 percent of tl1e total, are held by 11011residents, a11d 011ly four of the fields are workecl in tena11cy. 111 part, tl1ese differe11ces are d11e to the political un­ i1nporta11ce of Dereqe, as compared with Peres Bet. In part the)' reflect tl1e fact tl1at Gra Midir is tl1e 111ost densely set­ tled sectio11 i11 Wendi111's estate. No11resident landholders, a gro11p wl1ich always i11clucles a relatively l1igh proportion of titled n1en, l1old a so111ewl1at l1igl1er pro1Jortion of the land i11 the other sections of We11din1's estate. Thougl1 the patter11 of la11dholding found i11 Wendi111's Gra Midir tract is 1nore freque11tly encountered tl1a11 that of Shoa I-Iayl, it is 111isleacli11g to co11sider a11y specific patter11 of la11d­ holdjng ''typical'' in Dega Da1not. As has already been noted, wl1at is co11sta11t from JJarish to parish is the set of processes, sucl1 as inherita11ce, litigatio11, clearing, a11d cl1urcl1 se1-vice, througl1 which people acq11ire, defe11d, and lose co11trol of land. Tl1e relative i1nportance of tl1ese processes cl1a11ges over ti1ne a11d varies \.Vitl1 sucl1 factors as populatio11 density, avail­ able la11d for clearing, political JJro111inence, a11d tl1e c11rative reputatio11 of the local ch11rcl1 or its associated s1Jring of }1oly water. The pattern of l1oldi11g fou.11d i11 a particular {Jarish at a partic11lar ti111e th11s represe11ts tl1e cu111t1lative ef­ fect of tl1e processes tl1at are c11rre11tly operative ancl l1ave bee11 OJJerative i11 tl1e past i11 tl1at JJarish.


The A11tl1ara cultural paradigm or theory of land te11ure witl1 wl1ich I am concerned here is in1portant, 11ot because it directly determi11es the decisions of living 1nen or produces tl1e observed patter11 of landl1oldi11g, but becat1se it serves to define a.11d li111it people's choices, to shape their strategies, and to rally others to st1pport their positions. It IJrovides the1n witl1 tl1e sole idio1n i11 terms of which they can legally justify tl1eir claims to rist land. It would be a mistake to tl1i11k that these cultural pri11ciples of land tent1re con1pletely account for the process of land allocation in Dega Damot, but it wot1ld be an equally great n1istake to co11sider them unreal, irrelevant, or less im1Jorta11t than the needs and i11terests which n1otivate men to manipulate tl1en1 to their own ad­ vantage. The scope of this chapter, then, is limited in two respects: first, it takes as the u11it for analysis tl1e desce11t corporatio11 a11d its estate rather tha.11 the individual and his rights; a.11d second, it is prin1 arily concer11ed with the pattern of land cli­ visio11 and with its 111ea.11i11g for Da1notia11 s bt1t 11ot wit 11 tl1e ongoi11g processes whic11 create or cha11ge this patter11.

The division of the first settler's estate and the genealogical charter Tl,� Da1:1otian theory of la11d te11ure is a theory of descent. I? It, �s 1n 1nany other tl1eories of desce11t, ge11ealogical rela­ tio?sh1ps play a crucial role i11 the structuring of peo1Jle's re­ lat1011s to property ancl to 011e another. Tl1eir funda111ental 98

The First Settler's Estate a11d tl1e Genealogical Charter

importance i11 the A1nhara case derives fron1 tl1e basic cul­ tt1ral postt1late tl1at a perso11's la11d rigl1ts shot1ld be divided /Jer stirpes· among all of his or her clescende11ts. Re1nen1bered genealogical relations a111ong a first settler's descende11ts serve as a charter for tl1e clivision of l1is or her land tract ( the desce11t cor1Joration's estate) a11d l1ence for the i11 ternal struc­ tt1re of tl1e grot1p of 11Je11 ai1d wo111en wl10 sl1are it ( tl1e 1ne111bers of tl1e desce11t cor1Joration). Amhara ge11ealogical cl1arters are i11 part a record of past events, of 1narriage a11d birtl1, frag111e11ts of history, and in part they are tl1e product of 111e11's atte111pts to manipulate the institt1tional relatio11sl1ips tl1ese charters are believed to gov­ ern. What I a1n co11cemed with here, however, is not their l1istoricity but tl1eir relatio11ship to the pattern of land divi­ sion in first settlers' land tracts. This relationship, as will be see11, is 1nore co111plex tha11 is suggested by tl1e sin1p1e postu­ late of per stir/Jes land division; for the observed pattern of division cannot be accot111ted for by reference to the charter alo11e, and 11ot all of tl1e re1ne111bered genealogical relatio11ships in the cl1arter are represe11ted i11 tl1e divisio11 of tl1e la11d. This lack of corresponde11ce, this partial i11de1Je11de11ce beween the pattern of la11d divisio11 a11cl tl1e genealogical char­ ters tl1e pattern is tl1ougl1t to represe11t, plays a vitally i1n­ porta11t role in the ft1nctio11i11g of the rist syste111 a11d will be illustrated i11 detail. The /Jrinci/Jles of clivi:;ion b)' fc1ther ancl clivisiori by allot111ent There are two ct1ltt1rally recog11ized 111odes of la11d division through which tl1e first settler's la11d tract, the estate of tl1e desce11t corporation, is sttbdivided and allocated to living men: division ''by father'' ( beabbat) a11d divisio11 by "al­ lotn1ent'' ( beme{en.). U11derstanding the ways these two types of divisio11 are i1n1)le111ented a11d 110w tl1ey differ fro1n one another is of the t1t111ost i111portance. Divisio11 by fatl1er is a way of dividing land bearing the nan1e of a 1·e111ote a11cestor (i11cluding tl1e first settler hi1n­ self) into equal shares in the na1nes of his reme111bered chil-


The Descent Corporation

clre1 1. Divisio11 by allot111e11t is a \\,ay of assigning the s111allest shares of land producecl throt1gh divisio11 by fatl1er directly to the livi11g descende11ts of tl1e a11cestral sl1are l1older with­ out regard for the exact structt1re of tl1e i11ter1 11ecliate ge11ea­ logical ties. Divisio11 by father is used to divide a first settler's land tract i11to sn1aller sections in accordance with the [Jer stirpes rule of divisio11. The la11d tract ( or sectio11s of it) is tht1s di­ videcl i11 to equal sl1ares i11 tl1e 11a111es of his pt1tative cl1ildre11, or, 111ore IJrecisely, in tl1e 11a111es of all those of l1is cl1jldre11 tl1rougl1 v,1ho 1 11 livi11g la11dl1olders trace t11eir desce11t. The cl1ildre11's sl1ares ( or, as will beco 1ne clear, sections of the111) i11 tur11 are eacl1 st1bdivided into equal sl1ares i11 the 11a1ne of tl1ose of tl1eir resJJective childre11 tl1rough \vho1n living land­ l1olders trace tl1eir desce11t. Tl1is process of divisio11 by father 111ay be carried do\:v11\vard any 11umber of generations, but i11 Dega. Dan1ot it is 11ot t1st1ally car 1·ied i1 1 111ost li1 1es beyond the tl1ird or fot1rtl1 desce11ding ge11eration fron1 the first settler; that is, it is not t1st1ally carried out beyo11cl tl1e ge11eratio11al level of his great-great-grandcl1ildren. Living landholders ust1ally place the1nselves so111ewhere betwee11 tl1e seventh and eleve11tl1 genera tio11. Tl1rougl1 division by fatl1er tl1e 1 1ames of the first settler's clesce1 1de11ts 111 the first few desce11ding generatio11s con1e to be associated with IJarticular IJieces of land; the l1igher ge11erational levels of the desce11t cor1Joration's ge11ealogical charter are, in t11is way, \vritte1 1 on the la11d. Divisio11 by fatl1er is also of crucial i111portance to t11e strt1c­ tural differe11tiatio1 1 of tl1e descent corporatio11 tl1at holds tl1e la11d tract as its estate; for the land tl1at l1as bee11 divided by father i11 the name of a partict1lar ancestor beco111es tl1e focus of i11terest to those of l1is desce11dents wl10 l1olcl it and the ancestor hi1nself beco111es a syn1bol of tl1eir cor1Jorate identity. Tl1e a11cestor is tl1us a poi11t of strt1ctt1.ral segmenta­ tio11 i11 t11e ge11ealogical cl1arter a11d tl1ose wl10 l1old his land co11stitute a segn1ent of tl1e larger desce11t cor1Joration. The structural sig11ifica11ce of a 1 1cestors i11 wl1ose 11aroe land has bee11 divided by father is reflected i11 li11guistic t1sage.


100 I ◄

Tl1e First Settler's Estate and the Genealogical Cl1 arter

Tl1e elders of Dega Da1not refer to a first settler, i1 1 the co1 1text of la11d divjsio11, as a chief fatl1er or a1 1cestor ( 1,va11n.a abbat). 1 A1 1y of tl1 e chief a1 1cestor's clesce11 de11ts i11 whose 11a111e la1 1d has bee11 divided by fatl1 er are ter1 11ed divisio11 al a11cestors or n1in,zir c,bbat (si11g.) while all I1 is other de­ sce11de11ts are si111ply called ancestors or abbat (si1 1g.). This point js of great i1n1Jorta11ce a11 d bears repeati1 1g. An ancestor is ter111ed a 111i11zir abbat if, a11 d 011 ly if, land has bee11 as­ sig11ed to l1in1 tl1rot1gl1 clivisio11 by father. If 1 10 land has been divided i.t1 l1is 11a111e, a11 a11cestor is 11ot co11sidered to be a 1 11i11zir abbat eve11 if he is ,1 li11 k in the chain of a11cestors,-the descent li.t1e1-tl1rot1gl1 wl1ich people validate tl1eir right to rist land. The disti1 1ctio11 i s critical, for 011ly tl1e mi11zir abbat ( and of course tl1 e first settler or chief a11cestor) has la11 cl beari11g his na1 ne, a group of people who use tl1at Ia11cl as rist, and a represe11tative, or fej, to look after the group's collective i11 terests. It is esse11tial to re1 11e1 nber that division by fatl1er is a11 01 1goi1 1g process ancl not a1 1 accot111t of l1istorical events. It is a IJriJ1 ciple of A1nl1a1·a la1 1d law used by livi1 1g 111en to divide, st1bdivide, a11 d redivide tl1e estates of first settlers i11 response to changi1 1g political a1 1d den1ogra1Jl1ic pressures. Tl1e observ­ able IJatter1 1 of division an1 ong tl1e 1 11i1 1zir abbats in a land tract rest1lts fro1 11 tl1e way thjs pri11ciple has bee11 a1JfJlied, tl1rot1gh ti111e and t111 der sucl1 JJresst1res, to decisions co11cern­ ing land disputes; the patter11 does 11ot rest1lt from a11 actt1al divisio1 1 of la11d carried ot1t 101 1g ago betwee11 the l1eirs of re1note ancestors at tl1e ti1ne of their cleaths. Moreover, as js ex­ p]ainecl in tl1e followi11g sectio11, tl1ere are variations in tl1e way clivisio11 of land by fatl1er is i111pleme11ted. The fields of a 111i11zir abbat that have not been f11rther sub­ divided (or, as is explained below, assig11ed) by father are referred to as the yedenb or u11divided portion of tl1at 1 11inzir abbat. It is tl1 ese fields, or parts of them, that are assigned di­ rectly to livi11g JJeople tl1rot1gh tl1e other basic process of di­ vision, that of allot111e11t. I. There is considerable variation in the tern1inology used to describe ancestors in other Amhara areas I visited.


The Descent Corporation

In clivisio11 by allot111 e1 1t tl1 e exact 11 att1re of the i11 terve11 i11g oe11 ealooical li11 ks is ig11 orecl ( tl1011gl1 tl1ey 111 ust be li11ea]), :11d fields are alloted to tl1 e n1i1 1zir abbat's acceptecl desce11d.e11ts ·by his reJJrese11 tative or fej i11 accorda11 ce with a 11 t11nber of less forn1 al and 111ore 1)rag111atic co11 sideratio11 s, st1cl1 as l1ow n1uch of tl1e 1ni11zir abbat's la11d tl1 e reciJJie1 1t already holds as rist, tl1e locatio11 of l1is l10111 estead i11 relatio11 to the land i11 questio11, l1is sta1 1di11 g i11 tl1e local co1 111nu11ity, a11d l1is regio1 1al political i11flt1e11 ce. Divisio11 by fatl1er a1 1d clivisio11 by allotme11 t co11trast i11 several in1 1Jortant res,1Jects. Divisio11 by fatl1er pote11tially in­ volves tl1e redivisio11 of a large portion of a first settler's es­ tate a11 cl is tl1erefore a 111atter of JJoli tical co11cer11 to 1na11y 1Jeo1J]e. Divisio11 by allot111e11t does 11ot :reqt1ire 1 11 ajor cha11 ges i11 tl1 e 1Jatter11 of la1 1d divisio11 a11d is l1ence a n1ore private 111atter, co11cerni11g 011ly a few landholders. :rvroreover, divi­ sio11 by fatl1er re1Jrese1 1ts a rigorous a1)JJlicatio11 of tl1e ideal ct1 lt11 raJ JJOStt1late tl1at a perso11 's rist shot1 lcl be divided eqt1all)' a11 1ong all I1is cl1ildre1 1. Division by allot111 e11 t, 011 the other ha11d, follows 011 ly tl1 e spirit bt1t 11 ot the letter of this postulate; for, tl1ougl1 it allocates lane! only to desce11 de11 ts of tl1e aJJJ)rOJ)riate a11cestor, it does 11 ot do so /Jer stir1;es. For this reaso11 clivisio11 by fatl1er is co11 siderecl by Damotians to be legally bi11cli1 1g a11cl pern1a11e1 1t, while division by allotment is considered to be less for1nal a11d 111ore st1bject to change. Divisio11 by fatl1 er is also considered less a1nicable beca11se it al1nost always re1Jrese11ts the result of a 1?rolo11gecl co11flict over la11d that could 11ot be settled tl1rougl1 ft1rtl1 er adjt1st" 1 11e11 ts in t11e less for111al {)rocess of divisio11 by allot11 1ent. To tl1e ot1tsicle observer tl1 ere aJJ,l)ears to be mt1ch variatio11 i11 the way i11 whicl1 first settlers' la11 d tracts l1ave been divided a11cl JJarce]led out to cor[)Oration 111 e111bers. To Da111 otia11 eld" ers, however, tl1e patter11 of divisio11 is everywl1ere esse11 tiall)1 tl1e sa !11 e,_ si11ce it re1)rese11 ts to the111 tl1 e applicatio11, i11 so111e co11 1b11 1at1on, of the princi1)les of divisio11 by fatl1 er a11d di­ visio11 by allot111ent. �t 01�e _e�tre111e are land tracts in lo11g-settled parisl1es in wl11cl1 d1 v1 s1011 by father (st1 bject to certai11 Ii111itatio11 s tl1 at \vill be eXj)lained JJrese11tly) has bee11 carried do�111 to tl1e




Tl1e First Settler's Estate a11d tl1e Genealogical Charter

generatio11 of livi 1 1g 111e11. 2 At tl1e otl1er extre111e are land tracts ii1 wl1icl1 divisio 1 1 by fatl1er has 1 1ot yet begt11 1 a11d wl1ere land is allocated e11tirely by allot111e11t. In tl1ese tracts, which i 11 variably occt1 py partly t111clearecl 1no11ntai 11ous :forest land, eve11 tl1e req11ire111e 11t of clesce11 t fro1n tl1e first settler n1ay be suspendecl a11d all co 111ers give11 la11d to clear so long as tl1eir reqt1est l1as bee11 approved by a co1nn1ittee of reside1 1t elders k11ow11 as )'elrverzz clai1.i1c1. It is 1111iversally l1eld, l1owever, that wl1e11 1111cleared la 1 1cl is 110 lo11ger available in these tracts tl1ey \vill be divided by father i 1 1 tl1e 1 1a1ne of tl1e first settler's childre11, v;,1 10 are i11 cleed re111e 11 1bered, a11d tl1at only JJersons wl10 are able to trace desce11t fro1n tl1e1 n will be allowed to retai11 tl1eir la11d. The vast 111ajority of land tracts, however, are " 1 11ixed" tyJJes i 1 1 which tl1e 1Jatter 11 of divisio11 is the res11lt of botl1 division by fatl1er and divisio11 by allot111e11 t. The two cases ,vitl1 wl1icl1 I will now illustrate la11d divisio11 i11 greater de­ tail are of tl1is 111ixed ty}Je. Even i11 tl1is type of la11d tract tl1ere is considerable variatio11 in tl1e patter11 of divisio11, vari­ atio11 that reflects flexibility in tl1e vvay the pri11ciples of Janel division are i111ple 111e11tecl. The i111.1Jlen1.entatiori of lane! clivisio11 The la11d tracts, or desce1 1t corJJOratio11 estates, I l1ave chose11 for ill11strative {Jt1r1Joses are, 011ce ,1gai11, tl1ose of Shoa I-fayl i11 the parish of Feres Bet Mikael, a11d Wendin1 i11 tl1e parisl1 of Dereqe Marya 1 n ( n1a1J 2). Tl1e way Sl1oa T:-Iayl's land tract l1as been divicled by fatl1 er is sl1own on 1 11 ap 5. The tIJJper generatio11al levels of tl1e ge11ealogical cl1arter this pattern of divisio11 by fatl1er is tl1011ght to represe11t are show11 i 1 1 figt1re 2. The way tl1e 1Jortio1 1 of Wendim's la11cl t1�act ( disct1ssed above, i11 cl1a1Jter 5) has bee11 divided by father is sl1 ow11 011 2. In some other parts of Ethiopia, such as the Gera Midir district of the subprovince of Menz in Shoa province, which I had the opportt1nity to study in 1968-70, the process of division by father is usual_ly carried d_O\Vn to the present generation. Beyond the first few descending generations, however, fields are not acttially subdivided but assigned in their entirety to one or another of the ancestor's children. This type of division also is found in Dega Dan,ot and is discussed below. �


The Descent Corporation

4, and tl1e 11pper ge11eratio_11al levels of the charter it is tl1 ought to represe11 t are shown 111 figure 3. 01 1ly. tl1?se ai1ces­ tors i11 fig11res 2 and 3 who are sl1aded are m111z1r abbats, w11 ile all other a11cestors are of 011ly pote1 1tial significa 1 1ce to divisio1 1 by fat11er si11ce lancl n1ay be divided i11 tl1eir names at so1ne ti111e i11 tl1e future. At first gla11ce tl1e corresponde11ce between la11d divisio11 and cre1 1ealogical c]1arter is not obvio11s for eitl1er Shoa Hayl or Wendi111. I11deed, tl1e act11al patter11 of divisio11 is i11 some ways 1nore con1plex and in some ways less co1111)lex tha 11 tl1e ge11eral rule of /Jer stirJJes divisio11 ancl the struct11re of the c]1arter alo11e would. suggest. The 111ost i111po_rtant reaso11 for t11e greater co1n1)lexity is tl1at in. tl1ese la11 cl tracts, as i11 1 11ost first-settlers' la11d tracts, tl1e sl1are of each 111iI1zir abbat con­ sists of a 11u111ber of dispersecl fields rather tl1a11 a sj11gle large 011e. As is ust1ally tl1e case, tl1e land tracts of botl1 Sl1oa Rayl a11cl ,ve11di111 are co111posed of a 11u111ber of s111aller sections (n1afefi),a, si11g.), a11d it is tl1ese sectio11 s wl1ich are i 11clividu­ ally divided i11 the nan1es of their respective first settlers' cl1ildre11. Shoa I-lay l's la1 1d tract's tl1irty-tv,10 sectio1 1s ( 111ap 6) are n1assed togetl1er, wl1ile Wendi1 11's eleve11 sections ( 1 11a1) 2) are separated fro1n 01 1e another by sectio11s of a11 other first settler's tract. This differe11ce is not regarded by tl1e elders as sig11ifica11t. The size a11d shape of these la11d tract sectio11s are in­ fl11enced by the distrib11tion of tl1e 11atural features, such as trails, stream beds, and rocks, tl1at 1nark tl1e sections' bound­ aries,3 by historical factors, a11d by the elders' desire for tr11ly equal division. Most sectio11s are said to represe11t land tl1at was dividecl by father 011 a JJarticular occasion after havi11g bee11 brought 11 11cler cultivatio11 on ru1 acl l1oc basis by those men wl10 had the e11ergy a11d the 11eed to clear it. At the sa111e time, each section tends to l1ave a t111iqtte agricultural JJO­ te11tial, 01 1e prod11ci 11g a fi11e crop of J)Otatoes i 1 1 a wet year,



- Such featt1res ' !r e visible on aerial pl1otographs, bt1t ascertaining � _ h of them ons 1tute boundaries reqt1ired n1t1cl1 tin1e-const101ing and \vhi � � � . susp1c1on-provok1ng investigation on the ground.



Map 5. Division by father in Shoa Hayl

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The Descent Corporation

another a good sta11d of barley ju a year wl1en the r�ins begin early but abate for a few weeks before co111111e11c111g agai11 i 11 ear1 1est. Assig11i11g the first settler's cl1ildre11 land in each section thus assures then1 ru1 eq11al share of each type of soil i11 the entire land tract. 4 The division of the first settler's land tract i11to sectio11s and tl1e consequent dispersal of eacl1 111inzir abbat's share of t11e tract indirectly i11troduces yet ru1other variation a11d co1n­ IJlexity into the pattern of Ia11d div:isio11. Tl1is is that each sectio1 1 of the tract and eacl1 field of a 1ni11zir abbat 111ay be treated as a separate unit with respect to division. Co11se­ q11e 1 1tly, son1e of a la11 d tract's sections 1nay be divided in tl1e 11 a1ne of t11e ·first settlers' cl1 ildre11 while others are not, and so1ne of a 111i11zir abbat's fields 1nay be divided by father i11 the 11a1 11e of l1is cl1ilclre11 \vl1ile otl1ers are 11ot. So 1011g as even 011e fielcl l1as bee11 divided i11 a11 a11cestor's name, }1owever, l1e is co1 1sidered to be a minzir abbat; l1is seg111ent of the de­ sce1 1t corporation l1as corporate existence a11d a representative to look after its affairs. Tl1e exte11t to ,vhich a11 d the way i11 which tl1e thirty-two sections tl1at 1nake up Sl1oa Hayl's land tract (map 6) have been divided by father i11 the nai11e of his six cl1ildre 1 1 (fig. 2) ca11 be see11 011 map 5. Two sectio11s, Q a11 d R 011 Map 6, are still i11 permane 1 1t past11re, thougl1 I was told tl1at the way they will be divided has already been agreed upo11. T\vo other s111all sections, V a11 d X 011 Map 6, are tl1e I1ouse sites of old people who maintai11 that their land is still the 1111divided portio11 or yecle11.b of Sl1 oa I-Iayl. Tl1 e twe11ty-seve11 otl1er sec­ tio11s for whic11 I ,,,as able to obtai11 sufficie11t data have each bee11 dividecl i11to six eq11al shares in tl1 e na1ne of Shoa Hayl's six children: Gebre, Tekle, N11de, Qusqo, Se11beta, and Kokeba. 5 A child's share is referred to as his lot land ( {tti n1eret) because it is assig11 ed to l1i1n by casting lots. 4. The f�ri:ne!·s' ltnderstandab]e desire to l1ave land in 111any sections in order �o m1111m12e tbe 1isk of total crop failure is a factor tl1at n1ust be taken rnt� account in any land reform program that atten1pts to consoli­ date holdu1gs . . S. � ection Y has been divided b y father, but I did not succeed in niap­ ping it. I do not know the status of section GG.



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Fig. 2. The genealogical charter of Shoa Hayl


,.fhe Descent Corporation

The sl1ares of Sl1oa Hayl's cl1ildre11 in each section are j11 tl1e for111 of long 11arrow strips of lru1d which i11variably rt111 fro1 n the high ground to tl1e low grot111d, 011ce again to en­ sure that tl1e division of eacl1 type of soil will be as equal as possible. Tl1e six strips of sec� ion K ( n1ap_ 6) sl1own on 1nap 5, for exa1n1)le, rt1n fro111 the ridge-top trail tl1at se1)arates sec­ tio11s A, B, a11d C fro111 sectio11s J, K, a11d L, down to t11e 1narsl1. Most fielcls are divided i11 tl1is way. The 1111t1st1al 1)at­ ter11 of divisio11 i11 section T ( 111a1) 6) is dtie to tl1e fact that it is a basin slopi11g do\v11 fro1n all sides to the poi11t wl1ere it intersects tl1e bo1111 dary of sectio11s O and U. Tl1e order of tl1.e cl1ildre11's striJ)S in each sectio11 \\1as es­ tablisl1ed b)' casti11g lots at the ti111e wl1e11 tl1e section was dividecl by fatl1er. It t11erefore varies fro111 sectio11 to section. 111 sectio11 1·, for exan11)le, fro1n left to right tl1e order is Sen­ beta, Kokeba, Gebre, Qt1sqo, Ntide, a11d Tekle, while i11 the adjace11t sectio11 K it is Kokeba, N11de, Se11beta, Gebre, Qusqo, a11d Tekle. The bo1111daries betwee11 the strips are IJoorly n1arked. Oc­ casio11ally tl1e)' are separated by a dead ft1rrow or a 11arrow stri1J of untilled la11d. Us11all)', however, their borders are re111e111bered with refere11ce to but a few rocky outcroppings, boulders, and tl1e odd bot111dary sto11e. It is difficult or i1n­ possible for anyo11e wl10 does 11ot k11ow the sectio11 well to discer11 these bou11daries, a11d, even a111ong those who do, disputes are 11ot unknown. Indeed, charges of ''pt1s]1i11g" tl1ese mi11i111al boundaries are freq11e11tly heard i11 1noot a.nd court, a11d occasionall)' the diSJ)t1tes rest1lt i11 viole11ce. The abse11ce of clearer, n1ore i11delible bot111daries betwee11 Shoa Hayl's childre11's strips is also consonant witl1 tl1eir in11)ern1a11e11ce; for, as will be ex1)lai11ecl later, tl1ey l1,1ve bee11 redra,vn tl1ree ti111es si11ce 1920. The divisio11 of We11di1n's Gra Midir la11cl sectio11 ( 011e of his eleve11 sectio11s) betwee11 l1is two cl1ildren, De111e a11d Gu�e110 (fig. 3), is sl1own 011 111ap 4. Probably because tl1e _ sect1 o1 1 1s larger, tl1e 1)atte111 of divisio11 i11 it is 111ore co1nplex tl1a11 i11 a11y of S11oa. Hayl's sectio11s. The pastt1re to tl1e sotith of tl1e cl111rcl1 near the 1narsl1 l1as 11ot yet bee11 divided by fatl1er ai1d is tl1erefore co11siderecl tl1e portio11 or )Jedenb of







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The Descent Corporation

We11din1 bj111self or, rather, sj11ce it is u11ct1ltivated, the shI belo. Tl1e grassy 1neadow i11 fro11t of tl1e cht1rcl1yard is tised for stagi11g churcl1 processionals 011 111ajor holidays and for JJUblic ceremonies 111our11ing the. dead. Tl1e cl1t1rchyard itself lies between tl1e land of Wend1111 a11d tl1e la11d of Dereqe Marya111's otl1er first settler, Ze Sellase. It is 11ot co11sidered to belo11g to ei tl1er of tl1e111. T11e re111ai11der of the sectio11 l1as bee11 divided i11 to sixteen fields, eigl1t for eacl1 of We11di111's two sons, De111e a11d Gt1be110. Tl1e object of tl1is elaborate patter11 of st1bdivisio11 is agai11 to 1nake certai11 tl1at tl1e n1i11zir abbats receive truly equal sl1ares. The fields, wl1icl1 a1·e 111ore irregt1larly sha1 Jed tl1a11 tl1ose of Sl1oa Rayl becat1se of lancl for111, rt111 fro111 tl1e c11t1rcl1-to 1 Jped .knoll dow11 to a steep blt1ff i11 tl1e 11ortl1, a dee1J ravi11e i11 tl1e west, a11d a 111arsl1y creek botto111 i11 the sot1tl1. As 111aJJ 5 i11dicates, 011ly a few of Sl1oa Hayl's cl1ildren's fields ]1ave bee11 st1bdividecl i11to even 11arrower bt1t equally 1011g stri,1J fields i11 tl1e 11an1e of his gra11dcl1ildren. Tl1e fielcl of Sl1oa Hayl's claughter Kokeba i11 sectio1.1 K ( m,lJJS 5 and 6), for exa1nple, l1as bee11 divided i11to tl1ree striJJS i11 tl1e 11a111e of l1er tl1ree cl1ildre11 Ag11e, Ye111a11aw1t, a11d Si11a Hey\\1et ( fig. 2); a11d tl1e field of Shoa Hayl's son Gebre i11 section H l1as been clivided i11to two stri 1 Js i11 tl1e 11a1ne of his dat1gl1ters Abeba and Asrat. Most of Sl1oa Hayl's cl1ildren's fielcls, l1owever, l1ave 11ot bee11 subdiviclecl despite tl1e fact that, as figt1re 2 i11dicates, al111ost all of I1is gra11dchildren and two of l1is great-grandchilclren are 1ninzir abbats. I11 JJart tl1is is an acct1rate reflection of the fact tl1at divisio11 b)' fatl1er a11d he11ce the strt1ctt1ral differe11tiatio11 of the desce11t corpo­ ratio11 a11d its me111bers' interests l1as 11ot JJroceec1ed ,,ery far at tl1e ge11erational level of Sl1oa Hayl's gra11dchilclren. Tl1e abse11ce of ft1rther st1bdivisio11 of tl1e fielcis of Sl1oa Hayl's childre11 is i11 1Jart 111isleacli11g, l1owever; for so111e of tl1�se fie�ds h�ve bee11 assig11ecl i 1 tl1eir entirety to Sl1oa Hayl's � _ ch1ld1 e11 s cl11ldre11. Tl1rot1gl1 tl11s IJrocess, for exa111ple, eqt1al 11uinbers of Kokeba's fields, and prest1111ably eqt1al a111ot1nts _ o! la11d, are ass1gi 1ed tin clividecl to Ag11e, Ye111a11a,:vit, a11d Si11a Heywet. Assigt1i11g fielcls in tl1is 111a1111er is not felt to be fully in kee1 Ji11g witl1 tl1e rt1le of eqt1al divisio11, a11d it is re110



TJ1e First Settler's Estate and tl1e Ge11ealogical Cliarter



D C ic"'n


of foros OG:






KEY It.� rsh

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Ma1J 6. Land sectio11s in S110::1 I -Iayl garded as ten1porary, but it is freqt1ently e1111)loyed at tl1e lo\ver generational levels of clivision by fatl1er to avoid ft1rther red11ctio11 i11 tl1e size of fields that are already no11e too large for efficie11t c11ltivatio11 . Because 110 11ew bou11d­ aries are drawn to 1nemorialize the a1·ra11ge1nents macle i11 divjsio11 by fatl1er wl1e11 fields are assig11ed i11 tl1eir entirety to a� a11cestor's childre11 , tl1e practice ofte11 leads to later a111biguity a11cl co11flict. Tl1is is ill11strated in case 4, chapter 8. 011e of the eigl1t fields of \Ve11 di111's so11 Den1e, show11 011 inap 4, has been subdivicled i11 tl1e 11a111e of his childre11. �elde Sellase ancl Musi11a; tl1ey 11ave also l1ad land cliviclecl Jn their 11a1ne s in other sectio11s of Wendi111's land tract a11d are, as figure 3 indicates, n1inzir abbats. Divisio11 by father has proceedecl farther i 11 the fields of We11clin1's other so11,



The Descent Corporation

Gube1 10. Five of l1is fields l1ave bee11 divided i11to strips in the nai1 1e of l1is four childre11: Marta, Akule1 11 a, Tadira, and Welde G.1org1s. The greater extent of division a111011g Gu.­ be11 o's children is the result of a la11 d case s0111e years ago i11 wl1ic1 1 a priest 111 ovi11g into Dereqe successft1lly clai111 ed land i1 1 tl1e nan1e of Welde GTorgTs, who l1 acl 1 1ot previot1 sly been considered a 1ninzir abbat. In princi1Jle, the lower ge11eratio11al li 1nits to wl1icl1 divi­ sio11 by father l1as bee11 carried i11 a la11d tract a11 d l1e11ce the degree of seg111entatio1 1 of tl1e corporatio11 shot1ld be quite clearly defined. A fielcl, it \VOt1ld see11 1, has eitl1er been sub ­ clivided ( or assigned in its e11tirety) or it l1 as 11ot, a11 d a1 1 a11cestor is eitl1er a 1 11ir1 zir abbat witl1 a re1Jrese1 1tative or he is 11 ot. Yet i11 reality, becat1se tl1is ge1 1eratio1 1al level-this cut­ ti11g eclge of divisio1 1 by fatl1er-is also tl1e ge11eratio1 1al level of 11 1axi1 11al clisJJltte over lancl it is ofte11 t11 1clear, a 111biguous, a11cl t111 stable. S111 all 11arrow fields st1cl1 as tl1ose that l1ave bee11 clivided i11 tl1e 1 1a1 ne of Shoa I-Iayl's gra11dcl1ildren are so111eti111es 111 erged agai11 gradt1 ally to lose tl1eir separate identity. Often tl1is l1a1Jpe11 s wl1en tl1e i11 diviclual who l1olds tl1e field of 011e of tl1e n1i11 zir abbats (for exa1 11 ple, a field of Kokeba's child Agne, in figt1re 2) obtai1 1s control over the adjace1 1t fields of tl1at 1ni11 zir abbat's sibli11 gs (in tl1is insta11ce tl1 e fields of Yen1a11aw1t ai1cl Sina Heywet) tl1rougl1 011e of tl1e arrange1 ne11ts described i 1 1 tl1e next cl1apter. It is to tl1is i11dividual's advantage to 11 1ai1 1tai11 that the la11d never was divided by father, that it is really the 1Jortio11 of tl1e sibli11g's JJarent (in this case the portion of Kokeba), for if it is undi­ vicled he has a rist rigl1t to all of it, whereas if it was divided he n1ay have a rist right in only 011e cl1ilcl's sl1are. \Vitl1 tl1e IJassage of ti1 11 e the statt1s of the la1 1cl beco111es l1azy and, ti n­ l �ss !estecl in a land dispt1te, re111 ai11s indeter11 1i1 1ate. yYhe!1 _ d1�s101 1 b)' fatl1er is carried ot1t b y assig1 1ing fields in their _ entirety 111stead of by subdivisio11 ' a111biot1ity ca1 1 arise even . 0 more quickly, for there are 110 bot1 ndaries to be erased or forgotte1 1. 11ot her di­ sou rce of � of 1 1 a 1 nit s big t1it 1 y li abo low ut er tl1e . vision by fatl1er is that a 1011g ti 11 1e 111a)' IJass, s0111etimes years, between the for1nal agree1 11e1 1t to divicle land, tl1e cast112

Tl1e First Settler's Estate and tl1e Genealooica l Cl1arter 0

i11g of lots, a11d tl1e actt1al 111easure111e11t or assig11atio11 of fields. I11 sucl1 a situatio11 011e infor1nant 111ay say the la11d has been clivided becat1se the lots l1ave bee11 cast. while another 111ay say it l1as not beca11se l1e l1as 11ot yet received his sl1are of tl1e land. Finally, tl1ere is a degree of relativity abot1t tl1e way an­ cestors' 11an1es are aJ)J)lied to fields that contributes to the l1azy defi11itio11 of the lo\ver li111its of divisio11 by father. A field of Asrat ( fig. 2), for exa1111)le, 1nay be referred to as the la11d of Asrat, of Gebre, or of Sl1oa I-Iayl, depe11ding 011 \\ l1ether tl1e co11trast i11te11ded is with Abeba, Tekle, or 011e of the otl1er first settlers i11 tl1e parisl1 in Feres Bet. The cl1oice of 11a111es is deterr11ined i11 11sage by the generatio11al level at whicl1 tl1ere is actual or potential conflict and by tl1e self­ interest of the s1)eaker. Tl1e s1nallest fields 1)rodt1ced tl1rot1gl1 clivision by fatl1er, or pieces of tl1e111, are the fields l1eld by living individt1als. It is said tl1at there are a fe\v land tracts in Dega Damot where these fields are held e11tirely tl1rough divisio11 by father; tl1at is, as I 11oted previously, where division by fa.tl1er has bee11 carried dow11 to tl1e ge11eration of livi11g 111e11. 111 111ost la11cl tracts, however, includi11g tl1ose of Sl1oa Hayl a11d Wendi1n, tl1ey are held 011 tl1e basis of clivisio11 by allot111e11t rather than divisio11 by father. I11 otl1er words they are l1eld by de­ scendents of the 111i11zir abbat wl1ose portion tl1ey represe11t, subject to the regulatory jttrisdiction of tl1at 1ninzir abbat's representative but witl1ot1t regard to the exact strt1ctt1re of intermediate ge11ealogical relationshiJ)S. Tl1e relatio11sl1ip betv/een the patter11 of la11d division pro­ duced by clivision by father a11d tl1e patter11 of i11diviclual holding in tl1e la11d tract of Sl1oa Rayl can be seen by com­ pari11g 1na1) 5 witl1 1nap 3. Note tl1at some 1ni11imal 111inzir abbats' fields are helcl undivided by living JJerso11s while others are s11bclivided i11to fron1 two to six s111aller fields. For exa111ple, tl1e field of Kokeba ( fig. 2) iI1 section O ( 1nap 6) .is held by one 1)erso11, wl1ile Kokeba's field in section W 11as been clivided into fo11r separate plots. Cl1aracteristically, tl1ese s111aller plots are cross sectio11s of Kokeba's field rather than eve11 11arro\ver strips rt11111i11g its ft1ll le11gth; for in divisio11 by 1



The Descent Corporation

allot1ne11t equal divisio11 is 11 0 lo11ger a11 overriding co1 1cern. The horizo11 tal boundaries separati11 g the plots in a n1i11zir abbat's field are usually pathways, a11 d it is becat1se of this that they te11d to crossct1t several fields. Since 11either of Kokeba's fields in this exan11Jle have been divided by father-that is, they are botl1 considered his por­ tio11 or )'edenb·-tl1eir disposition a1uo11g living desce11de11 ts is by allot111ent. Tl1is n1ea11s that descent fro1n Kokeba in any line is sufficie11 t to justify possession of eitl1er Kokeba's field i11 O or a11 y of the plots in V It does 11ot 111atter whether this descent is traced tl1 rougl1 Ag11e, Yen1anaw1t, or Sina Heywet. Kokeba's field i 1 1 section K, by co1 1trast, has been divided by father. To assert a rist rigl1 t i11 tl1e strip of this field assig11 ed to Kokeba's cl1ild Agne, an individual 111t1st trace his clescent fro1n Kokeba tl1 rot 1 gl1 Agne. It does 11ot matter, however, tl1 rot1 gl1 which of Ag11 e's tl1ree cl1ildren l1e traces his pedigree, for tl1e structure of tl1 e i11 ter 1 11ediate c}1arter is 11ot releva11t to divisio11 by allotment. The relatio11sl1ip betwee11 division by father and tl1e patter11 of individual holding in the Gra Midir land section of Wen­ di111 is sl10\vn by 1nap 4. 0 1 1ce agai11, so11 1e of the 1 ni11 i111 al n1 inzir a.bbats' fields, for example, Deme's field labelled F 0 11 1uap 4, are held i11 tl1eir entirety by a single person, wl1 ile otl1ers, st1cl1 as Derne's field including JJlots A through E 011 111ap 4, are divided into 1nany plots. This co111pletes the illustrative descriptio11 of tl1e pattern of land division in tl1e estates of Shoa Hayl and We11di 1 n, a11d of the way it is tl1ougl1t to represe11 t the application of the principles of division by father and divisio11 by allotme11t to the estates' respective genealogical cl1 arters. The discussio11 bega11 with tl1 e first settler's land tract, the corporatio11's es­ tate, and ended with tl1e sn1all fields held and ct1ltivated by living individt1als. It should be clearer 11 0w \\'l1y, i I1 A111 hara land theory, these i11diviclt1ally l1eld ·fields are not tl1 e basic or immutable t1 nits of the rist syste111, bt1t only shares in the estate of a des �e11t-chartered landl1olding corporation. _ It 1s also ev1de11t fro1n the foregoi11g descriJJtion tl1at the rule of eqt1al inherita11ce on \Vhicl1 the elde1·s i 11 sist that tl1eir land tenure syste111 is based, does not, i 11 itself, account for 1



Tl1e Ge11ealogical Cl1arter

tl1e patter11 of land division i11 a first settler's estate. It is 11ot a descriJJtion of the way lane! is actt1ally clivided but a ct1l­ tt 1ral pri11ciple e111bodied. i11 s1Jecific nor111s releva11t to s1Jecific contexts. The \Vay i11 whicl1 tl1e pri11ci1Jle of eqt1al i11heritance is i11stitutionalized i11 tl1e co11texts of la11d divison witl1 w]1icl1 I ]1ave bee11 concer11ecl i11 tl1is sectio11 deserves a final co1111ne11t. First, it sl1ot1lcl be noted that, si11ce the rule is /Jer stirpes a11d 11ot per cczpita, it is 11ot eve11 ideally clirected towards creati11g a11 eqttal clivision of la11d a111ong desce11dents of any generatio11al level below that of the first settler's cl1ildre11. For exa1111Jle, De111e's dat1ghter Musina l1as tl1e right, accord­ i11g to tl1e /Jer stir/Jes rt 1le, to 011e-fourtl1 of all '\Vendi111's la11d tract, wl1ile Gt1be 1 1o's dat1gl1ter Marta has the right to 011ly one-eigl1th (fig. 3). Similarly, Kokeba's dat1ghter Ag11e l1as the rigl1t to 011e-eigl1teenth of Sl1oa Hayl's land tract, b t1t Gebre's daugl1ter Abeba has the right to one-twelfth. Seco11d, wl1ile the eqt1 al divisio11 of la.nd is a 1natter of n1etict1lot1 s co11cern in division by fatl1er it is a 111atter of co1nparative i11differe11ce i11 division by allot111ent. To pt1t it anotl1er way, in tl1e context of dividing land betwee11 the seg­ me11ts of a clesce11t cor1Joratio11 (the n1inzir abbats) eqt1ality is crt1cial; i11 the co11text of allocating the )'eclerib la11cl of the seg1ne11t to livi11g i11clividt1als it is 11ot. Fi11ally, si11ce divisio11 by fatl1er, with its i11tense concer11 for eqt 1ality, 111ay be a1Jplied to eacl1 of a11 a11cestor's fields i11dividually, the resulti11g JJatter11 of division so111eti1nes appears to be far fro111 eqt1al. An exa111ple of this is fou11cl in Wendi 1 11. 011ly a few of De111e's fields l1ave been clivided i11 the 11ame of l1is cl1ildre11 Welde Sellase a11d Mt1sina. Due to circt1n1sta11ces tl1at \vill be explai11ed i11 tl1e next chapter, all of De1ne's other fields are held by JJersons tracing their desce11t tl1rot1gl1 Musina. Tl1e clescendents of Welde Sellase, tl1erefore, te11cl to regard De111e's fields as fields that l1ave in fact, if 11ot for111ally, been unfairly assigned to Mt 1sina.

Tl1e genealogical charter 111 the previot 1 s sections of tl1is chapter I took tl1e JJatter11 of Janel divisio11 in tl1e desce11t cor1Joration's estate as a give11 115


4 I



Tl1e Desce11t Corporation

a 1 1d sl1owed how it is tho11gl1t by the elders to represe1 1t t11e applicatio11 of the two pri11ciples of clivisio 1 1 to the cori)ora­ tio1 1's genealogical cl1arter. I11 doi11g so, I i11evitably, like the elders, stressed the correspo 1 1de1 1ce betwee11 the JJattern of la11d division and tl1e str11ct11re of tl1e charter, a11cI I ignored discrepancies bet,vee 1 1 tl1e111. Yet there are 111any discrepar1cies, and tl1ey !)lay a n1ajor part i11 co11flict over la 11cl a11d l1 ence i11 tl1e dy 1 1a1 11ics of tl1e rist syste 11 1. I 1 1 this sectio11 I sl1all exa111i 1 1e tl1 ese discre1)anc.ies. I take the charter as a starti1 1g poi 11t a11d focus attentio1 1 011 those J)arts of it wl1ich, for 0 1 1e reaso11 or a 1 1otl1er, are 11ot reJ)rese11ted i11 the patter 1 1 of la11 cl divisio1 1 a 1 1d tl1erefore are 11ot tl1e basis of struct11ral seg111e11 tatio11 i 1 1 tl1e clescent corporatio 1 1; I tl1e11 exa1 11ine tl1e closely related J)roble1 11 of tl1e exte 1 1t to whicl1 k11 owledge abo11t tl1e cl1 arter is widely held a 1 1d agreed 1 1 1Jo11. D isc1·e1Ja11cies betl-vee11. t/1e c/1arter ancl la11d divisio11

111 1 11ost desce 1 1t corporatio 1 1 estates, as i 1 1 those of Shoa Rayl and. Wendi11 1, division by fatl1er l1as not even beg11 n below tl1e tl1ircl or fourtl1 ge11eration of the corporatio 1 1's genealogi­ cal cl1arter. Tl1e a 1 11bilaterally tracecl pedigrees through wl1ich living 1Jeo1Jle clai11 1 rist land are 11sually from eigl1t to ten ge 1 1eratio1 1s deep or at least five to seve11 ge 1 1eratio11s below the lowest 11 1i 11 zir abbats. TI1ere are thus a great n1any re­ n1e 111bered ge1 1ealogical relationsl1ips which 11ave 11ot yet been "\\1ritte11'' on the first settler's land tract throt1gh division by father. Most of these relatior1ships are of little JJt1blic con­ cern, si 1 1ce tl1ey are of 110 i111111ecliate releva1 1ce to tl1e cli,1isio11 of land or tl1e seg111e11tatio11 of tl1e corporatio11. Nor 11 1all)1 it is the ancestors i 1 1 the ge 1 1eratio11 j11 st below tl1e lowest 1 11i11zir abba.ts who are the subject of controversy a 1 1d w110 f)l�y a JJart i11 litigatio11 over la11cl. There are also, l1owever, i 11 111ost desce11t cor1Joration charters at tl1e gener,1tion:1l level of tl1e 1 11i 11 zir abbats a11cestors i 11 wl1ose 11a 111e no la11cl l1as bee11 clividecl: for tl1011gh 1deall)1 divisio11 by fatl1er, insofar as it is carri�d ot1t, and l1ence tl1e seg 1ne 1 1tatio11 of tl1e clescent corJ)Oratio11, sl1ou!d corres1Jond to tl1e struct11re of tl1e ge11ealogical cl1arter, 11 1




The Genealogical Charter

practice it selclon1 does. Tl1ere are, i11 fact, 1nany discrepa11 cies betV11een reme111bered ge11ealogy a11 d the way in which land js divided by father; 111 ost of tl1 e111 are related to tl1 e fact that a11 a11cestor is 11 ot give11 his sl1 are of la11d in divisio11 by father t111less �1 living JJerson traci11 g a pecligree tl1 ro11gl1 hin1 successfully presses a clai111 to l1 is sl1 are of tl1e land. Dis­ crepancies at tl1 ese higl1er ge11 eratio11al levels of the charter are usually at tl1e heart of n1ajor land dis1Jt1tes, for tl1ey involve a correSJJOndingly higher prOJJOrtio11 of tl1e desce11t corporatio11's estate. Not i11 freqL1ently a cl1 ild or gra11 dchild of the first settler is ren1en1bered for wl1 0111 no la11d l1 as been divicled, eve11 tho11gh the IJrocess of divisio11 by father has been carried OLit con1 pletely amo11gst tl1e ot]1er sibli11 gs at that ge11 erational level. The A111 hara ex1Jlanation of tl1is, of co11rse, is tl1 at no11e of l1is desce11de11 ts have asked for, or, literally, s11ed for his sl1 are of the la11d. It is said of s11cl1 landless ancestor that . e l1as not bee11 ''brot1ght i11 yet.'' Until recently, for exa111 ple, h De1ne's so11 Welde Sellase had not been brought i11, tl1 at is, he had 110 land anci l1ad not beco111 e a mi11 zir abbat. Since ac­ cording to tl1e per stirpes rule vVelde Sellase is e11titled to 011e­ fourth of all We11di111 's la11d tract, atte111 1Jts to bri11g hi111 i11 have bee11 tl1e foc11s of intense legal a11 d political activity. \Vhen a11 a11cestor sucl1 as Welde Sellase is brougl1 t in, l1e ca11 cl1 a11ge tl1e str11ctural sig11 ifica11 ce of his sibli11 g. Th11s before Welde Sellase was a 111 inzir abbat, M11si11a l1 acl 11 0 structt1ral sig11ifica11ce because she was 11 ot a point of seg­ n1entation. She \:ti1as 11 ot us11ally cited as a11 ancestor, ancl those of De111e's fielcls wl1 icl1 \Vere divided were dividecl di­ rectly in the 11a111e of Mt1sina's children Miskab, Welette Rufael, Irite, a11d 1\1etr11. 111 t11 is vvay a.ncestors \Vl10 l1ad no siblings, or at least 110 sibli11gs for who111 land l1 as bee11 divided, are ofte11 telesco1Jecl 011t of the charter for 111ost JJurposes. It \Vas only after I had been i11 vestigati11g tl1e charter of Wendin1 for some 1nontl1s that I lear11ec I fro1n the elders that We11di111 is i11 a ge11 ealogi­ cal but 11ot str11ctural se11 se believed to be the gra11 dfather, not the fatl1er, of De1ne and Gube11 0. We11 din1 , accordi11g to this accot111 t, had 011ly one cl1ild, a so11 nan1 ed Yol1an11 is,


------------- ------------... The Descent Corporation

w.ho, i 11 tur11, was tl1e father of De 1 11e a1 1d. Gt 1 beno. Tl1e idea of a Yohan1 1is is, however, regarded witl1 s0111e a 1 11bivale11ce. 01 1 the 011e ha 1 1d, tl1e shadowy Yol1 a11 nis 1nay have l1ad siblings, and shot1 ld even 011e descende11t of 011e of tl1en1 JJress l1is st1it, he would have a formal rigl1t to one-l1 alf of We1 1di111's land tract! On tl1e other l1and, Yoha1111is, if he existecl, must I1ave had a wife througl1 wl101n all of the descenden.ts of De1 11e and Gubeno have JJOte11tial clai 111s to la 1 1d in other JJarishes.


Krzo•·vleclge of tl1e ge11ealogical charter Tl1e genealogical structure of a clesce11t corporation's charter is a 1 11atter of great concer11 becat1 se it greatly affects 1 11e11's i11terests i 11 la11d. K11owledge abot 1 t tl1e cl1arter is a 1 natter of crt1cial i 1 111Jorta11ce. Tl1ere is 1 11t1ch variation i11 tl1e exte1 1t to wl1ich tl1is k11owledge is widely disse1 11inated and agreed UJJ01 1, variatio11 wl1ich is related to the ge11erational level con­ cerned and tl1 e degree to whicl1 la11d has bee11 divided by fatl1 er at tl1at level. Des1Jite tl1eir im1Jorta11ce in la11cl dis1Jutes, or perl1aJJS be­ cause of tl1is in1porta11ce, genealogical charters are 11 ot writte11 do\:vn i11 any official or systen1atic fashio11. Ma11y 111e11 l1ave 11otebooks co1 1tai11i 1 1g tl1eir pedigrees, lists of li 1 1eal a11cestors reacl1i 11 g back to tl1e first settlers of several estates in v.rl1ich they hold or l101Je to hold rist land. Often tl1ese lists i11clt1 de the sibli 11 gs of a11cestors, partict1larly i11 l1igher gen­ erations, bt1t there is no atten11Jt by tl1e cor1Joratio1 1 fejs a1 1d their i11fluential frie11 ds to write down an at1 tl1oritative a11 d bi11ding version of eve1 1 tl1e higher generatio1 1al levels of tl1e charter. My atten1pts to record charters freqt1e11tly arot1sed suspicion. As 0 1 1e elder re1 11arked, only l1 alf i 1 1 jest, ''Toclay you write down all ot1r a11cestors, in te1 1 years yott'll l1ave all our rist. '' Tl1e na1nes of first settlers are wiclely k11ow1 1 a 1 1cl generally �g�eed t1pon; ind�ed, son1eti11 1es, as witl1 Sl1oa I-Iayl, l1is na1ne 1s 1ncorJJOrated into the 11 a 1 11e of tl1 e l1a 1 11let most closely asso�iated witl1 tl1 e la 1 1d tract. The 11a1nes a1 1d ge11ealogic�l _ relat 1 01 1sh 1 ps of \Vell-establisl1ed 111i11zir abbats, tl1 at is, n1i1 1z1r 118

Tl1e Ge11ealogical Charter

abbats who l1ave received a large JJOrtion of tl1e la11d to which they are entitlecl, are k11ow11 a11d agreecl t1pon by 111ost hot1se­ hold l1eads wl10 hold rist la11ci .i11 the la11d tract, and by many other lJeOJJle \\11 10 have rist rigl1ts i11 the estate through whicl1 tl1ey ho1Je to clai111 la11cl i11 tl1e ft1tt1re. Below the level of well-established 1ninzir abbats, the charter is less widely k11ow11 a11cl less well agreed t1pon, for it has 11ot yet bee11 clearly writte11 on tl1e la11d throt1gh divisio11 by father. K11owleclge about a fJartict1lar a11cestor i11 this i11ter111ediate ge11eratio11al level is held, for the 1nost part, by those n1en who l1old or l1ope to holcl rist land by a JJedigree traced tl1rot1gl1 l1i111 or one of his siblings. Ofte11 the right to speak about l1i111 ( or l1er) a11d his offs1Jri11g, at least in public, is considered the prerogative of tl1e 1nore influential of these 1ne11. For exa111ple, 011 one occasion I asked a grot1p of elders who l1ad asse111bled to arbitrate a bot111dary dispute to tell me abot1t tl1e desce11de11ts of Sl1oa Hayl. One of then1 oblig­ i11gly told 111e the 11a111es of Shoa Hayl's six cl1ildre11 a11d was well into l1is fiftee11 gra11clchildre11 wl1e11 he was stopJJed by a growing 1nt1r111ur fro1n tl1e otl1er elders, \vho objected tl1at it was all very well to talk abot1t Sl1oa Hayl's children, bt1t that disct1ssing their descende11ts was a delicate 1natter. 011 an­ other occasio11 I recited the names of a certain ancestor's cl1ildren to a wily old 1na11 who l1ad .Professed to know noth­ i11g about the111 tl1ot1gl1 11e hi111self was the a11cestor's fej. }le drew l1imself tIJJ a11grily a11d tl1t111clered, "vVl10 J1as bee11 tell­ i11g yot1 about 1ny a11cestors?'' }le tl1e11, witl1 a vengea11ce, gave 1ne tl1e ge11ealogical i11formation I sot1ght, prest1111ably to make certai11 tl1at I \\1ould not give crede11ce to so1ne jealot1s rival's versio11 of tl1e charter. As this se11se of secrecy, a11xiety, a11cl possessiveness st1g­ gests, genealogical relatio11sl1ips i11 tl1is regio11 of the cl1arter, where clivisio11 by fatl1er is jt1st begi1111ing or is just abot1t to begi11, are st1bject to n1anipt1lation. Indeed, atte111pts to 111anipulate the cl1arter play a ce11tral role in the politics of A111hara land te11ure. Alteri11g a clescent cor1Joratio11's charter at this genera­ tio11al level, l1owever, wl1ile possible, is not as easy as it 111.ight seem to be i11 ligl1t of the secrecy witl1 whicl1 it is disct1ssed; 119

The Descent Corporati


i al sh on gic ati alo rel ne ge ps of which d an rs sto ce an e 1 tl of ost 01 1 e cl1 arters of other desce11t cor­ tl i11 ed cat pli du are ts 1sis cox it porations. Tl1is is because �11cestors, like living 111 en and women, can be ''affiliated'' w1tl1 n1ore than one descent corl)oration. While 111ost first settlers, or ''chief fathers'' as they are called i11 a genealogical co11text, are uniquely associated witI1 a single descent corporatio11 's cl1arter, n1ost of their desce11. 6 ter. one char an 1 tl 1 For exa1nple, 1ore with 1 d ciate asso dents are Shoa I-Iayl's son Tekle ( fig. 2) is said to have 1narried Mis­ kab, great-grandclaugl1ter of Wendim (fig. 3), and to have J1 ad two cl1ilclre11 by l1 er, Welde Nata11 a11d Welde Raguel. Tl1 ese cl1ildre11 are re1ne111bered in botl1 Sl1 oa I-Iayl's and Wendi1n's charters. S01ne a1 1cestors l1 ave l1ad la11d clivided i11 their na111es in more tl1an 011e Ia11 d tract a11d he11ce have attained tl1e status of 111i11zir abbats, witl1 cor1Jorate seg1nents in 1nore than one corporatio11. WI1e11 this occ11rs, tl1e a11cestor must be regarded as tl1e a1Jical ancestor or symbolic l1ead of a disti11ct corporate segn1e11t i 11 each of tl1e desce11 t corporations i11 w·hich l1e l1as l1 ad la11d divicled i11 l1is na111e by father. Each of these cor­ J)Orate seg111e11ts, in l)rinciple, has its ow11 land, its own n1e111bership, and its ow11 represe11tative or fej. The fact that a 111 an holds rist la11 d by virtue of a pedigree traced througl1 the ancestor i11 011e desce11 t corporation may be used in court as presu111ptive evidence of desce11t when he clai111 s rist la11 d through the sa11 1e ancestor in anotl1er descent cor1)ora­ tio11 ; it does not, in theory or in practice, assure l1 i111 tl1at ]1is claim will be recog11ized or that l1 e will be given tl1e la11d. At the sa 111 e ti1ne tl1ere is 110 for111al rule to preve11t an i11 dividtial froin l1 oldi11 g rist la11d i11 1nore tl1a11 one of the a11cestor's corporate seg111ents, or, if he is i11flt1ential, fro.r11 re1)resenting n1 ore tha11 one of these seg1ne11ts as tl1 eir fej. Tl1e degree to

?· The n1ain exceptions to this generalization are the children and gran�­ childre id n of the legendary King Tekle Ha ,vhoo1 are sa of son yn1 1e ano t, to have founcted many paris}1es ers settl first as of and are spok henc en e o f n1any corpo1·at·tons. In the eacI1 0f the ever, contex t ho,\ of rist rights descent corpor·"'t'tons f ound '. . us ancesto· rs 1s ed by one of these 1llustr1o usually treated as a separate entity. 1


The Genealogical Cl1arter

which the 111e111bersl1i1J a11d leadersl1i IJ of a11 a11cestor's cor­ porate segment in differe1 1t cor1Joratio11s are i11 fact distinct or overlaJJpi11g is tht1s a11 e111pirical qt1estion; analytically, l1owever, si11ce tl1e seg1 11e11 ts are parts of clifferent corpora­ tions with differe11t estates tl1ey are disti11ct from 011e a11other. Men wl10 trace their rist rigl1ts through the sa111e ancestor but in cliffere 11t desce11t cor1Jora.tions freqt1e11tly disagree on crL1cial ge11ealogical isst1es-a 1najor reason wl1y sucl1 issues are avoided i11 polite co11versatio11. The extent of tl1eir dis­ agree1nent is ge11erally related to whetl1er tl1ere are also in­ flt1ential 111e11 \\1110 11old rist la11cl throt1gl1 tl1e ancestor i11 both corporatio11 s; ancl the e111otio11 it arouses is related to the i 1 11n1 ine11ce a 1 1d 111ag11itude of the Ia11d dis1Jt1te it tl1reate11s to trigger. Of partict1lar in1porta11ce i1 1 this last respect is wl1etl1er tl1 e a11cestor is a 111 inzir abbat in the corporatio11s co1 1cerned. Three cases vvill help to illt1strate tl1ese poi 1 1ts. TJ1e re111e11 1bered descendents of the 1narriage between Tekle a11d Miskab citecl above are ide11tical, at least in the first fe\v ...,ge11erations. This is co11siste11t witl1 the fact that several i11flL1ential 111e11 hold land i11 the land tracts of botl1 SJ1oa I-Iayl a11d We11di1n (the la11d tracts are adjace11t) tl1rougl1 clescent fro 1 n tl1e cl1ildre11 of this 111arriage. Tl1e cl1ildre11, vVelcle Nata 1 1 a11d \Velde Ragt1el, have 1 1ot yet at­ tai11ed tl1e statt 1 s of 111i11zir abbats i1 1 the corporatio11 of eitl1er Shoa Hayl or We11di111; sl1ould tl1ey do so i11 tl1e near ft 1 tt 1 re, l,owever, it ap1Jears tl1at the sa1ne 1 11an, a11 old r1oble111a11, \vill beco111e tl1e fej of botl1 the corporate segments of Welcle Ragt1el. Tl1e sitL1 atio11 is so111ev.1l1at differe11 t with respect to tl1e mt1ltiple affiliatio11 of tl1e cl1ilclre11 of Sl1oa I-layl's clatighter, Kokeba, vvl10 is saicl to J,ave 111arried Priest SergL 1 Mesqel, the first settler or cl1ief fatl1er of a desce11t cor1Joratio11 i11 tl1e parish of Sl1a11 gi Marya 1 11 so1ne two 11 1iles away ( maJJ 2). There are few 11 1en \vl10 prese11tly holcl rist la11cl tl1rougl1 Kokeba's childre11 i11 botl, Shoa Rayl and SergL1 Mesqel. Tl1ere are significa11t cliffere11ces in tl1e way the desce11de11ts of this 111 arriage are re111e111bered by tl1e elders of Feres Bet a1 1d Sl1a11gi Maryan1. 111 tl1e Sergt1 Mesqel versio11, helcl by the elders of Sl1a11gi Maryam, Agne, Sina 1 Ieywet, and 121

< The Desce11t Corporation

Ye111ana�,It are the great-gra11 dchildren of Sergt1 Mesgel and - l version, he ld by the elders Kokeba wl1 ile i11 tl1e Sl1 oa IIay of Fered Bet, the tl1ree are t11eir chilclre11 . Tl1 is cliffere11 ce cloes not affect land divisio11 1111 Jess it is asserted in tl1 e f11 t11 re t11 at the i11 ter1nediate a11 cestors i11 the Sl1 a11g i versio1 1 hacl sibli 11gs, a possibility tl1e Sl1oa I-Iayl versio11 of tl1 e cl1 arte1· wo111cl JJre­ cl11 de. Tl1 ere is also a cliffere11 ce in tl1 e sex of Ag11 e and Si11 a et wl1 ich is of 11 0 strt1ct11ral sig11 ifica1 1ce. T11 e 111ost T le)'W striki1 1g contraclictio11 bet�1ee11 tl1e cl1 arters, l1owever, is in tl1e cl1ildren of Si1 1a I-Iey\vet, wl1 0 are not tl1 e sa111 e in 11a11 1e or 11t11 11ber. T11is co11 tradictio11 is still late11 t i1 1 a se11 se, be­ ca11se, tl1 011gh Si11 a J-Ieywet's cl1ildre11 are 111 i11 zir abbats i11 Sergu Mesqel, they are 1 1ot yet 111inzir abbats ii1 Shoa Rayl; in fact, di\,isio11 betwee11 Kokeba's chilclre11 l1as 01 1ly been JJartly carriecl 011t. Tl1e elclers are ,vell aware of tl1ese dis­ crepa1 1cies a11d of tl1eir 1Jote11 tia1ly clistt1 rbi11 g effect 011 la1 1d clistribt1tio11. Co11 sequently, eac11 side took great JJai1 1s to asst1re n1e of tl1 e a11 tl1e1 1ticity of tl1 eir versio11 of tl1 e cl1arter. Disagreen1e 11 t witl1 regard to tl1e ge11 ealogical status of .Sega, tl1e son of Q11sgo (l1i111 self tl1e son . of Shoa Rayl), is eve11 greater. UJJ to tl1 e ti111e of 111 y fieldwork, this s011, $ega ( fig. 2), l1ad not bee11 bro11gl1t 111 as a 111i11zir abbat, a11d no 0 11e l1ad bee11 able to clai111 rist la1 1d in Sl1oa I-Iayl by virtue of a clescent li11 e traced tl1 rougl1 hi1 11 . 111 a parisl1 beyo11cl Sha11 gi Marya111, in the Io,vla11 ds to the nortl1 , Sega is a 1 11inzir abbat by \1 irtt1 e of descent fro111 his 111 other, Q11sqo's vvife. 111 1101Jes of protecti11 g tl1 en1 selves agai11 st fut11 re clai1ns, the in­ terested. elders of Sl1oa I Iayl l1 ave go11 e ft1 rtl1er tl1a11 i11 the case of Kokeba a11 d 110w 1 11ai11tain that Sega v,1as l1 is 111otl1er's cl1 ild by a11 otl1 er n1 a11 a11 d he1 1ce was not really e11 titled to share Q11 sqo's land witl1 his sibli11 gs Fasil and Telay (fig. 2) • . � �low the crucially i1111Jorta11 t genealogical regio11 , \�l1ere d1 v1s1 01 1 by father is begi1111 i11 g or a .bo11t to begi11 , is a vast 1nor�ss of an1bilaterally traced ge11 ealogical ties. Knowledge of th� s low-level genealogy is of little JJL1blic co11cer1 1 11 1ost of tl1e time. Me1 1 k110�, 011 ly the frao1 11 e11 ts or rather st1·ands, of ge11 ealogical i11for1 natio1 1 that is ;ertine{1 t to tl1eir pedigrees and he1 1ce to tl1eir personal i11 terest i 11 la11 cl. Ma11 y ancestors are u11 do11btedly forgotte11 i11 tl1 is lower regio11 , tl1ougl1 not 122

T11e Orga11 izatio11 of tl1e Descent Corporation's Landl1olders

as many as wot1ld be conve11ie11t for the antl1ro1Jologist. I was able to collect the 11ai11es of 11early t\vo thot1sa11d livi1 1g persons wl10 were considered clesce11cle11ts of one first settler (less t]1a11 011e l1t111clred of the111 acttially held la11d i1 1 tl1e first settler's la11d tract) before I bega11 to a1JJJreciate l1ovv useless it was to gatl1er sucl1 data. The ce11tral role of the descent corporatio11's ge11ealogical cl1arter in la11cl divisio11 ai1d la11cl dis1Jt1tes raises qt1estions abot1t tl1e relatio11sl1ip betwee1 1 ge11ealogical kno'A1leclge a1 1d power. Genealogical k11owledge is t111doubtedly a11 asset for tl1e 111a11 wl1 0 seeks to beco111e an i11flt1e11tial elder. A 111a11 \vitl1 a11 t 1 11usually rich fu11d of ge11ealogical infor111atio1 1 is tern1ed a ''father cot1 11 ter'' ( abbat qotc1ri) or a "rist counter'' (rist qotari). }Je is called freque11tly to testify as a ,vit11ess in lar1d dis1Jt1tes, 'A1hich may bri11g l1i111 profit as vvell as prestige, and he is able to watcl1 careft1lly over 11is own i11terests i 1 1 land. Exte11sive ge11ealogical k110\vledge abotrt a particLtlar descent cor1Joratiot1's cl1arter, or a part of it, also in11Jroves a 111a11's cl1a11ces of bei11g selected as fej for the corporatio11 or 011e of its corporate seg111ents. It wot1ld be a 111istake, l1o'A1ever, to exaggerate the role of genealogical i11for111atio11 in the politics of A 1 11hara lane! tent1re and to st1ggest tl1at k11ovvledge is power. Ma11y 111e11 \Vitl1 ge11ealogical ex1Jertise are witl1out political infttrence be­ catrse they lack the otl1er attributes of Ieadersl1i1J. and 111a11y men witl1 i11flt1ence- l1ave attained tl1e office of fej, tl1ot1gl1 their k 110,vledge of tl1e a11cestors is li111ited. I11 tl1e last a11aly­ sis, JJarticularly i11 111ajor la11d clisJJUtes i11volvi11g clai111s tl1rot1gl1 di,1isio11 by father, it is 11ot so 111ucl1 that k11owledge of tl1e ge11ealogical charter is power, as it is that fJOwer en­ ables tl1 ose wl10 wield it to ent111ciate a11 at1tl1oritative version of tl1e charter.

Tl1e organization of tl1e descent corporation's Ja11dholders Earlier I JJOi11ted out tl1at the individt1als wl10 1101.d rist la11cl i11 a descent corporatio11's estate do not constitute a cohesive� n1ultipL1rpose kinsl1ip group. I11 tl1is section I first clarify this {Joint i11 light of tl1e JJictt1re of descent corporation strt1cture 123

' The Descent Corporation

JJrese11 ted i 11 tl1 is cl1 apter, a11 d_ tl1 e 11 I clescri �e the or� a1 1iza­ tio1 1aI role of desce11 t corporat1011 reiJrese11 tat1ves or feJs. Tl1e lancll10/clers The 50 to 150 or 1nore 111e11 a 11 d wo1nen v.1 11 0 hold fielcls i11 a first settler's land tract as tl1eir rist are, i11 a sense, sl1are­ holclers i11 a ge11ealogically chartered, internally seg111e11 ted Ja1 1dl1olding corporatio11 . Like tl1 e shareholders of a joi11 t stock con11 Ja11 y, they 111ay l1 ave little to do witl1 0 1 1e a11other exce1 Jt i11 relation to tl1 e propert)' i 11 wl1 icl1 tl1 ey sl1 are rigl1ts. It is for tl1is reaso11 tl1at I began tl1is discussio 11 by describi11g tl1e cor1Joratio1 1's estate a 1 1d tl1 e 1Jri11 ciples accorcl ing to wl1ich it is subdividecl, ratl1 er tl1 an by describi11 g tl1 e cor1 Joratio11 's la 1 1dJ1 olclers a1 1d tl1eir interrelatio11 s. DesJJite tl1eir belief i 11 co1n 111 0 11 desce11 t fro1n the first settler, tl1e cor1Joratio11 's la11 dl1olclers do 11 ot have an icleology of ki11 shiJJ soliclarity; i11 fact, i 11 tl1e pedigrees tlrrot1gl1 wl1ich tl1ey validate t]1 eir rigl1ts to rist la11 d, 1 11 ost of tl1 e 111 are 11ot related to 011 e a 11 other by the type of close ties to wl1icl1 the An1l1ara co11 ce1 Jt of ki11 sl1i1 J or zitnc/irzna. l1 as pri111ary refer­ e11 ce. �rl1 is is becat 1 se close ki1 1s111e11 fi11d it advantageous to 11 1ove a1Jart fro 1n 011 e anotl1 er a11 d to establisl1 their l1 on1 e­ steads and rist landl1oldi1 1gs i 11 cliJierent estates tl1rot 1 gl1 dif­ fere 1 1t lines of clesce11t, or, at least, to JJress tl1eir clai111 s to rjst Ja 1 1d tl1rougl1 differe11 t 1 11i1 1zir abbats of tl1 e sa111e cor­ poratio1 1. Figure 3 sl1 ows the JJedigrees tl1 rot1gh \Vl1icl1 tl1ose of \Vendi111 's la 11 dholclers wl1 0 were reside11t i 11 tl1 e village of Gra Miclir i 11 1962 valiclatecl their right to share l1is estate. If a cor1Joratio 11 's la 11 dl1olders are 11 ot, for tl1e 111 ost part, close ki1 1sn1en, 11either are tl1 ey 11ecessarily 11 eigl1 bors or friends. 0 11 ly 46 of tl1 e 119 JJeOJJle wl10 I1 olcl rist lancl in Shoa Hayl's estate, for exa111JJle, are reside11 t 011 it; a11otl1er 14 la11d. l1olders clwell i 11 tl1 e tow11 of Peres Bet �,11 ile the re­ n1 ai11 i 11 g 59 are resicle11 t elsewl1ere. Nor are tl1 e landl1olclers �rou�l1� togetl1 er by co11 111 1011 ritt1als or social obligatio11 s. I11 fact, it 1s 01 1ly for JJllfJ)oses of la11 d divisio11 ru1 d taxatio11 that tl1ey 111 t1 st asse111 ble, a1 1cl eve11 011 tl1 ese occasio11 s 111 ru1 y of thei1 1 delegate a kins111a11 to represent tl1 eir i 11 terests. Ma11)1 . of a corporat1011 's ]a11 dl101clers, ust1ally a 111 ajority, are at 124

The Orga11 izatio11 of the Descent Corporation's La11d}1olders

least acqt1ainted witl1 011e a11otl1er, for tl1e social worlcl of the A1nl1a1·a peasa11t is 11ot, after all, u11bot111cled; bt1t some of tl1e111, partict1larl)' tl1ose wl10 are 11011reside11t la11dlorcls, have 11ever 111et. Finally, fello,:v la11d}1olders have little se11se of co1111no11 ide11t.ity throt1gh their co111n1011 descent. Tl1ey l1ave no ct1lt of a11cestral worsl1iJJ, 110 i11sig11ia, so11gs, or other sy111bols of unity. Tl1ey do .11ot icle11 tify tl1e111selves by the name of tl1eir co1n1no11 ancestor, as \X/e11di111s or Sl1oa I-Iayla11s, for exa1111Jle, but ratl1er as tl1at a11cestor's clesce11clents (te1rvella­ jocl1, pl.) or rist-l1olders (r;.�tefioch, JJl.). This lack of identi­ ficatio11 ,:vitl1 a JJarticular a11cestor, except occasionally i11 the l1eat of a la11d dispt1te, is, of cot1rse, a reflectio11 of the fact tl1at n1ost 1nen l1ave rist rights i11 111a11)' estates and rist land in several. Si1nilarly, 111a11y 111e11 holcl la11d tl1rough 1nore than one corporate seg1ne11t within. a particular clesce11t corpora­ tio11. Of tl1e ni11ety-two landholders i11 Sl1oa I-Iayl for \Vho1n st1fficie11t data is available, fifty-five hold rist la11d i11 011ly 011e of Shoa Hayl's six cl1ildre11's corporate segments, twe11ty-two 11old rist land i11 two of tl1ese seg111e11ts, seve11 1101 d rist land in t11ree seg111e11ts, eigl1t l1olcl rist la11d iI1 fot1r seg1ne11 ts, one holds rist la11d i11 five seg111e11ts, a11d none hold rist la11d i11 all six segn1e11ts. It is clear tl1at 111a11y of tl1ese la11clholders \vill not fi1.1d tl1eir i11terests t111a1nbigt1ot1sly ide11tifiecl witl1 011e 111inzir abbat or a11other i11 interseg111e11tal la11d dispt1tes. Occasio11ally it l1a1Jpe11s that la11dl1olders wl1ose i11terests are strongly ide11tified witl1 a IJarticular cor1Joratio11 or 011e of its cor1Jorate seg111e11ts fi11d the111selves united by the con11no11 need to JJrotect tl1eir la11d against tl1e clai111s of otl1ers. In the abse11ce of ''outsicle'' tl1reats to tl1eir la11d, however, a11y sense of solidarity ge11eratecl upo11 these occasions of conflict is quickly lost, a11cl 111e11's relations as la11dholdi11g codesce11dents are overridde11 i11 social interaction by 11u1nerous other t)1pes of relationships. Tl1e role of tl1e fej The real JJroprietors of a desce11t corJJOration's affairs are the i11flt1e11tial elders ' tl1e titled 111en a11d tl1e officel1olders vvho are electecl fro111 an1011gst its Iandl1olders to re1Jrese11t tl1e


The Descent Corporation

corporatio1 1 and each of jts cor�orate se�1 ne11ts as fe_!s·. The fej has both exter1 1al re1Jrese11tat1 ve a11 d 1 nter1 1al adn111 11 stra­ _ tive responsibilities. As represe1 1tat 1 ve, l1e 11 1ust defend his a11cestor's estate against e11croach1nent on its boundaries and, if the corporation he represe1 1ts is that of a 1 ninzir abbat, he n1ust 1nake certain tl1at it is equal to those of tl1 e a1 1cestor's sibli1 1gs. At the ti111 e of 111y first fieldwork, for exa1 11ple, there was a dispute between the landholders of De111 e a11d Gubeno as to wl1etl1er the land of We11di1n had bee11 diviclecl eqt1 ally between the111 ( tl1 e i 1 11111ediate issue was wl1ether field G on 111 a1J 4 belo11ged to De 111e or Gt1 beno). 111 tl1is dispt1te Den1e a11d Gube110 were re1Jresented by tl1eir res1Jective fejs. It is also the fej's reSJJOnsibility as re1Jresentative of his a11cestor to receive all 11ew clai1 11 s for rist la11d i11 tl1e an­ cestor's estate, both througl1 divisio11 by father a11d divisio11 by allotn1 e11t. If 11e rejects the validity of the clai1na11 t's JJedigree, tl1 e fej can be sued by the clai111a1 1t. If l1e acceJJts the validity of tl1e 11ew clain1, the fej 11 1ust asst11ne his responsibilities as tl1e estate's adn1i11istrator, for 1 1e n1 t 1st eitl1er reallocate to tl1e clai11 1ant land l1eld by s0111eo1 1e else, or, if the clai1 n re­ qujres divisio11 by father, J1e 111 t1st st1pervise tl1e clivision or redivision of l1is a1 1cestor's estate by lot. Here I an1 concer1 1ed JJri111arily witl1 the fej's official responsibilities; a n1 ore de­ tailed description of ho\v the fej 1 11akes decisio11s is fou1 1cl in cl1apter 8. Tl1e fej must be a landholder or tl1e l1usband of a land­ holder i11 tl1e corporation or corporate seg1 11 er1 t he is to reJJ­ resent. Iclea]ly, l1e is supposed to be chosen by the other la11d­ holders a1 1d co11fir1 11 ed i1 1 l1is office by the ex1Jlicit a1 1d JJUblic recognitio1 1 of all of tl1e 1 11. I11 the JJast, I was tolcl, each land­ l1older was required to step forward i11 front of tl1e gwilt­ l1older a1 1d two elders and to swear that he would accept the ne\\1 fej as his representative a1 1cl arbitrator. Since tl1 e Second World War, tl1 e la1 1dholders ust1 a1ly i1 1dicate tl1eir asse1 1t by �igni 11 g or 1 11arki11 g a paper i 11 front of wit11 esses. The paper 1 s then kept by the fej. At tl1e ti1 11 e of l1is apJJOint111e1 1t tl1 e fej should choose a11otl1 er res1Jectecl elder to be l1is gt1 ara11tor ( -i,va.s·), a procedure followed i 11 all traditio1 1al contractual ar­ ra1 1ge �11 ���s. Should tl1e fej defat1lt in l1is fiscal or legal re­ SJJons1b1l1 t1es, tl1 e guara 11tor is held ft1 lly res1Jo11sible. 126


The Orga11izatio11 o[ tl1e Descent Corporation's Landl1olders

In practice the JJrocess tl1rot1gh which a 1na11 is selected to be fej is 11 ot always so for111 al. Followi11 g the death of a fej, his respo11 sibilities 1nay clevolve 011 to a capable and respected so11 or 1nay be taken tlIJ witl1out for1nalities by an elder who is obvio11sly the only qualified candidate. It is only whe11 a 111ajor disp11te occt1rs, JJartic11larly one that goes to govern1nent court, tl1at tl1e acl 110c fej is req11ired to for111alize l1 is positio11 by 1Jrovi11 g tl1at he l1as the co11 se11 t a11 cl st1pport of the other landholclers. Tl1 e :fej's positio11 gives l1i111 a d.egree of discretio11ary power to influe11ce the outco1ne of la11cl disp11tes, a11d other la11 d­ holders ofte11 suspect that l1e 11ses tl1 is IJOwer to I1is and his frie11ds' advantage. So 1011 g as l1is decisions are 11 ot grossly t111 reaso11able, however-that is, ot1t of keeping with JJolitical reality-the otl1er landholders are u11likely to actively oppose his decisio11s. In part, tl1is reflects tl1 e lo\v col1esio11 of the landholders, but it is also related to tl1 e fact that tl1e fej is usually a 111an of influence and authority i11 his ow11 right. Individual } 1olders are 1 1ot a11xious to antago11ize l1i111 , for his SUJJJJort, or at least tl1e abse11ce of his oppositio11, 111ay so1ne­ day be esse11tial to their i11terests. Tl 1e above average political status of 1nany fejs, partic11larly those wl10 represe11t 1ni11zir abbats i11 tl1e higher gener­ ational levels of the ge11ealogical charter, is 110 coi11cide11ce, nor is it primarily attributable to tl1eir control of clescent corporation affairs. Me11 are asked to become fejs JJrecisely beca11se tl1ey already are influe11 tial and respectecl elders or titled 1ne11 and beca11se they l1old positions of a11tl1ority i11 sec11lar ad111i11ist1·atio11. It is felt tl1at witl1i11 the descent cor­ poratio11, as i11 any An1hara sec11lar grot1pi11g, 011Iy a "big 111an'' can st1ccessft1lly arbitrate the quarrels of others. It is also recog11 ized tl1at a powerft1I fej can best defend tl1e es­ tate of tl1e corporatio11 i11 major la11 d disp11tes. In fact, a cor­ poration's la11 dl1 olders so111eti111es choose a 11 ew and more influential fej in the 1 11idst of a serious land dispute, as oc­ curred, for exa1nple, i11 tl1e case of Mt1sina vs. Welde Sellase disct1ssed i11 chapter 8. The structure of ,t clesce11t corporatio11's fejships corre­ sponds, by definition, to tl1 e strt1cture of its corporate seg1ne11tation. There is one fejship for each 1ninzir abbat and 011e 127

The Descent Corporation

for tl1 e first settler. Tl1e 1 1u 111ber of fejsl1ips i 11 a cor1Joratio11 , however, al\:vays exceeds tl1e nt1111 ber of 111 e11 \\1l1 0 occu1Jy then1, since some 1 11en act as fej for 11 1ore t]1 an 011e ancestor. Tl1 e relatio11 sl1i1J between fejsl1ips a11d tl1eir incL1 11 1be11ts j 11 Sl1 oa Rayl a11 cf We11 di111 ca1 1 be see11 i11 tables 3a a11d 3b. I11 Sl1oa 1--Iayl both. Gebre a11d his daL1ghter Asrat are re1Jrese11ted by Bilata TirL11 1eh, wl1ile Asrat's sister Abeba a11 cl 011e of l1er claugl1 ters are represe11 ted by priest Asris. Si111ilarly, i11 \,Ven­ di111 011 e 111an, Wibe, re1Jrese11ts We 11cli111 , De111e, Mt1si11 a, ancl Miskab. Altogetl1 er, Sl1oa Hayl's twe11 ty 1 11i11zir abbats are re1Jrese11ted by fot1rtee11 111e 11 , a 1 1d We 11cli1n's fot1rtee11 111 inzir abbats are re1Jrese11ted by te11 11 1e11 . There is tl1t1s a1 1 even greater conce 11 tratio 11 of clecisio 11 -111 aking J.JOwer in the

·rABLE 3a




----------- - -------l�cjsltip Fej Residence No.,:, Title -------- - --------------

Gebre Abeba An1anrt Tergrs Asrat 1�ekle Nude Ayo Dinasr,vos Matebe Weld Qusqo Telay Pasrl Senbeta I-fiywetua I-Ietnora Kokeba Agne Yen1ana,vrt Sina Heywet

Bilata Tiruneh Priest Asris Adegeh Priest Asris Bilata Tiruneh Liqekahinat Assege Grazmach Anniley Mengiste Gete Neguse Ayale,v Yigzaw Ayale\v L'fqekahinat Assege L'fqekahinat Assege Aleqa Desta G razn1ach Penta Ba1ambiras Anteneh Yigzaw Grazn,ach Fenta

I 2 4 2 1 3

5 6

7 8


10 9 3 3 11 12


10 12



no no yes yes yes no no no no no no yes yes


yes yes no yes

---- ----------------

Feres Bet Peres .Bet Feres .Bet Feres Bet Feres Bet Feres Bet Feres Bet Feres Bet Peres Bet Peres Bet dist.ant parish Dereqe distant parish Feres Bet Feres Bet Ziq\valla Dereqe Peres Bet Dereqe Dereqe


At the time of fieldwork Sho a I-Iayl did not have a fej because liis corporation had not been involved in ation for cor a dis po pu r an te oth wit er h 1nany years. ·.· ·,.N urn bers are coded lo figure 2 to ind icate the ancestors lbese individ uals represent. · sf111111 · · tThc term alec.7a is a' 1 1·11e glven lo m.1nor · of11. ceholclers such as the cl11qa •n t h_ e pre_ sen� c�se . The Saine ter m is used for the official in �harge �f a major _1cr1g,1ous 1n sutut1on (see 1-\ppenclix). NOTE:_


I I'


The Organizatio11 of the Desce11t Corporation's Lanctl1olders

"fABf�E 3b




Wibe \Vibe Wibishet Wibe and Lrqekahinat Assege We]lele Rufael Priest Berhane Miskab Wibe I rite Taddese 11etru Mengistu Gubeno Yigzaw v\1elde Grorgrs Priest Alen1u Akulen,a Yigza\v 11arta Priest Asris Tadira Desta

Wendim Den1e Welde Sellase Musinat

N0 ....... I


2 1

7 8











no no no no yes no no no no no no no no no

Dereqe Dereqe Feres Bet Dereqe Feres Bet Dereqe Dereqe Shangi (Maryan1) Gicliliri Dereqe Dereqe Dereqe Feres Bet Fercs Bet

• Nun1bers are coded to figure 3 to indicate the ancestors these individuals represent. tThe second fej listed, L,qekahinat Assege, represented Musina in the dispute ·

discussed in case 5, chapter 8.

descent cor JJOratio11 than tl1e 11t1111ber of fejsl1ips alo11e wot1ld st1ggest. Powerft1l 1ne11 ofte11 }1olcl fejsl1ips in 111ore than 011e cor1Joratio11. L1qekal1i11at Assege, the for1ner churcl1 oflicial and cl1ief clerk of Dega Da111ot t111cler its last great i11depende11t rt1ler, Ras l-Iailt1, l1olds the fejsl1ips of Tekle, Senbeta, a11d Hiywetua i11 Sl1oa Hay1 a11d, duri11g a dispt1te, for Mt1si11a i11 We11di111. l-le l1olcls fejsl1ips in 1na11y other corporatio11s as well a11d l1olcls t\\10 JJarishes as l1is gwilt, one of wl1ich is Dereqe Marya111. This overre1Jresentatio11 of powerful 111e11 in the fejsl1i 1Js, JJartictilarly of higher generation 111i11zir abbats, is evide11t i11 Sl1oa Hayl. Four of Sl1oa I-Iayl's six cl1ildre11 (Tekle, Nt1cle, Se11beta, a11cl Kokeba) are re 1Jre­ sentecl by titlecl 1ne11, while 011ly three of his twelve grand­ cl1ildre11 and 11eitl1er of l1is two great-grandchildren who are 111i11zir abbats are rep.rese11ted by me11 with titles. Here, once agai11, I a111 co11cer11ecl 011ly \Vith the strt1ct11re of descent cor­ JJOration leadershi JJ; tl1e effects of this overrepresentation of powerful 111e11 tl1at rest1lts i11 a11 interlocking directorate of clesce11t corporatio11s is consic1ered at greater 1engt11 111 cl1apters 8 a11d 9. 129

M>C074'7Nw; 8tli


I 11 tl1 is cl1 apter the perspective of a 11 alysis shifts fron1 the clesce11t corporatio1 1 a11 d its estate to the Iivi11 g individt1al and l1is la11 ds. The ce11tral :isst1e is no lo11ger tl1 e way i11 wl1 ich the estate of a first settler is divided a1 no11 g many hot1sehold heads; it is ratl1 er the way in which a single l1 ot1sehold head co11 ce1Jtt1alizes a 11 d classifies the rist rigl1 ts by which he is able to clai111 rist land i11 111 any estates, and the ,:vays i 11 which 11e is able to obtai11 the use of lands i11 wl1 icl1 l1 e l1 as no rist r.igl1 ts.

Rist rights I11 its 1 11 ost general se11 se rist refers not 011 ly to the rights an i11diviclual believes he l1 as throt1gl1 know 11 descent lines but also tl1ose l1 e feels vaguely he 111 t1st l1 ave througl1 yet other li11 es k11 ow11 to l1is ''relatives." Rist, in tl1 is general se11 se, is a basic valt1e for the free 111 a11 of Damot. I 11 additio11 to its eco11 0111ic significance it contributes to l1 is sense of i11 dividual­ is1n a 11 d liberty. Wl1 en asked where his rist is, a n1 a 11 in an expa 1 1sive n1ood 111 ay reply, ''everywhere i n Dega Da1not." If pressed ft 1rther, he 1 11 ay tell of his rist i11 tl1 e JJc1risl1 wl1 ere he subotl1er lives, i 11 nearby JJarishes, a11 d perl1 aps i 11 eve1 1 · districts or districts. In this 111 ost ge11eral se11 se, rist ust1ally l1 as as n1ucl1 JJsy­ cl1 ological as eco110111ic significa 11 ce. Nevertl1 eless, wl1e11 a11 i 11 d �vidual fi 11 �s. it ex1Jedie11 t to take LlIJ residence u1 a 11ew parish for pol1t 1 cal or IJersonal reaso11 s, l1 e 111ay be able to obtai11 rist la11 d by investigati11 g a 11 d JJUrsui11 g his rist rights. 130


Rist Rights

Sin1ilarly, a 111an who attai11s office 111ay expa11d his holdings by claimi11g land tl1ro11gh previot1sly late11t rist rights. Tl1e ter111 rist 111ay be tised in a so1newhat 1nore restricted se11se to refer to desce11 t corporatio11 estates where a11y of an individt1al's li11eal a11cestors in rece11t ge11erations are know11 to l1ave l1eld land as rist. In this se11se a J)erson is likely to say, "I have rist in Wendi111 but I do11't J)low it," or ''I have rist in \Vendin1 bt1t 111y relatives are J)lowing it." Tl1e 111ost restricted and i1111nediate reference of rist, of course, is to land over wl1ich a11 i11dividual has effective co11trol by virtue of his recognizecl clai111 to clescent fro1n the appropriate n1inzir abbat. The variot1s 111ea11ings of rist 1nay be disti11guisl1ed by the con.text in wl1ich tl1e ter111 is used, bt1t it is ofte11 11ecessary to ask the speaker for ft1rtl1er clarificatio11 if tl1e details of the sitt1ation u11der disct1ssion are 11ot already know11. Tl1e te11de11cy of 111e11 of authority a11d office to use rist i n its n1ost ge11eral se11se whe11 speaki11g of their personal rights has given 1nore tl1a11 one cast1al visitor to Gojja111 the incorrect i111pres­ sion tl1at la11d is co11centrated i11 the l1ai1ds of tl1e "ruling class.'' There is a striki11g co11tradictio11 betwee11 the Aml1ara postt1late tl1at rist rigl1ts are i11herited equally through 111en and won1e11 and tl1e way in whicl1 J)eo_ple co11ce1)tt1alize tl1e pedigrees tl1rot1gl1 which they validate tl1eir claims to rist. Accordi11g to the /Jer stir/Jes rt1le of inl1eritance, rist rigl1ts pass to a child fro111 l1is n1otl1er ancl fatl1er, throt1gl1 then1 fro111 l1is fot1r grandpare11ts, a11d throt1gl1 tl1e111, in tt1r11, fro111 his eight great-gra11dpare11ts. Significa11tly, l1owever, people never tl1i11k of their pedigrees or ascent li11es as bift1rcating in each ascendi11g generatio11. Even elders wl10 J)ride themselves on their ge11ealogical expertise aln1ost never trace pedigrees tl1rot1gl1 all of their great-gra11d1)arents. I11deed, few 1ne11 ca11 say how n1a11y gra11dpare11ts tl1ey l1ave witl1out cot1nting tl1e111, a11d 011ly 011e elder questioned was aware of the fact that he had eight great-grandparents. Discussio11s on � he st1bject t1sually lead to co11siderable co11fusio11; a confusion wl1ich is co1111)ot111ded by tl1e fact that 111ost 1nen do not know the na1nes of all tl1eir great-grandparents. '--


Individual Rights in Land

Tl1is cultural bli1 1dspot JJrevents 111ost me11 fro 1 11 realizing that al1nost everyone j11 Dan1ot 1 11ust have rist rigl1ts i11 al1nost every descent corporatio11. Stich a realizatio11, by exposing the flexibility and a.rbitrariness of tl1e rist syste111, would un­ do·ubtedly red.t1ce tl1e elders' com1nit1ne11t to it; for, at present, tl1ey firmly believe it to be logically consiste11t a11cl legally based. Pedigrees ancl their classification

The crucial poi11 t is not tl1at Damotia11s fail to t1nderstai1d the full in1plications of bilateral descent. It is tl1at tl1ey co11sider st1cl1 issues irrelevant to their perso11al i11terests. Wl1at a11 elder is co11 cerned witl1 is a series of pedigrees, or li11es of descent, tl1rougl1 of whicl1 he l1olds rist la11d or ho 1Jes to clai111 it. Eacl1 JJedigree co11sists of a chain of lineal ancestors of eitl1er sex wl1ich li11ks a ma11 ( or his childre11, tl1rough l1is wife) to a 111i11 zir abbat a11d, tl1rot1gh l1 i111, to a first settler. Ust1ally an elder w]10 takes pride i11 his ge11ealogical ex_pertise also k110\1/S tl1e na1nes of at least tl1e 11u111ber of his a1 1cestors' sibli11gs as well; for they are actt1al or potential points of segmentation u1 the corporation a11d may l1ave a crucial beari1 1g 01 1 la11d dis1Jt1tes. Pedigrees may be recited either fro111 tl1e speaker ''t1pward'' or fron1 tl1e ancestor "down­ ward"; l1owever, they te 1 1d to be longer (ge1 1erationally deeper) i11 the for111er case than i11 the latter. This clifference is related to the co11 text in which tl1e pedigree is being re­ cited. Wl1e11 an elder recites a pedigree LlfJWard he te11ds to i 11clude as 1 nai1y li 1 1eal ancestors as possible, since each is a fJOte11tial brancl1ing JJoint wl1ere he may be able to trace out anotl1er li11e to validate ft1rtl1er rist rigl1ts. WJ1e11 he recites a pedigree downward it is 11 st1all.y i 11 t11e context of validating a clai111 to land i 1 1 a partict1lar corporatio11, ar1d a1 1cestors ,v110 are structt1rally irrelevant to tl1e existi11 g pc1ttern of la 1 1cl di­ visio11 are ofte11 0111ittecl. The pedigrees tl1rough which two i 111portant elclers vali­ date tl1eir clai111s to rist land are shown i 1 1 figt1res 4 a11d 5. Pedi­ grees through whicl1 they clai1n to J1ave rist rigl1ts bt1t through



132 I


Rist Rigl1ts

• ♦








L - .. - -


,_ --------1--- --







�,--'---, ' 1-4----, .b 40


---l�l .



/t.i nz i r abbat

...... .. ......

Marriage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Numbers indicate descent corporation location:

I •• 2 ..... 3 .•... 4• 5 ..... I


o o






1 -� -


l ___










Fig. 4. The pedigrees of an elder fron1 Dereqe Maryam

wl1ich they do 11ot prese11tly l1old rist land are not shown. The elder whose pedigrees are shown i11 figt1re 4, Yigzaw, 1Jres­ ently lives in a l101nestead of three huts to the east of tl1e churcl1 in the parisl1 of Dereqe Maryam. In 1962 his house­ hold it1cluded i11 aclditio11 to hi111self: his prese11t wife; his 133

r I

. -'

0-, \



\ \

-, -,













UJ :,c

( 0-J I






I 0 0) --+ -<l'w

- -- -- - - - --- --I



\ I




' ' ' '\

I :I






: - r-<!-' :-<-..>---1


• • •




• •

• •

• •

◄� • • • • • • • • • • • •

➔ ro .0 .0 ro I.. N C

l.. I.. l'O �

1--1 Q)

i= �


6h :a Q)








l I

Rist Rigl1ts

wife's sister's daugl1ter's two dattghters; his wife's sister's so11; his wife's brother's so1 1; l1is so11's son (by a for1ner 111arriage); and a female serva11t ( of slave origin) who receives food and ann11 al presents of clotl1es for l1er service. Yigzaw's 111 1us11 ally large l1 011 seholcl is con1me11surate with his 1111 11s11ally large l1oldi11 g of rist la11d. Altogetl1er, in 1962, he }1eld twe11 ty fielcls i11 fo11r parishes. Tl1ree of these fields, i11 cl11diI1g l1is l1on1este:1d site, are rist la11d he l1olds tl1ro11gh his pedigree to Ze Sellase's so11 4A (fig. 4). I-le holds a11 other fo11r fields in a11 otl1er segrnent of the sa111e corJJOratio1 1 tl1rougl1 Ze Sellase's da11ghter 4B, a11d he l1as yet a11 other field i 11 anotl1er seg111e1 1t of tl1 e corporatio11 througl1 4C. Yig­ zaw l1as three 111ore fields in the nearby parish of Gidilifi Med­ l1ane Ale111 in the corporatio11 of Melko. It sho11ld be notecl that tl1e ·field held tl1rougl1 4C a11d those l1eld t11rough Melko are validated by a IJedigree traced tl1ro11 gl1 Yigza\v's for111er (now divorced) wife. Yigzaw clai1ns custodial rights i11 tl1ese fields because they are traced through l1is son's so11 (by tl1e for111er \Vife) who is still living witl1 hi111 . Yigzaw l1as a1 1 otl1 er five fields in Dereqe Marya1n in tl1 e corporation of We11di111, two in Teli111 Mikael i11 tl1e cor 1Joration of Fikro, and two in tl1e JJa1·isl1 of Peres Bet Mikael i11 the cor1Joratio11 of Shoa Hayl. The elder wl1ose pedigrees are show11 i11 fig11re 5, Neg11se, lives in Mesk K1da11e Mihiret, a 1Jarisl1 so111e fiftee11 111 iles to tl1e nortl1east of Peres Bet. Neguse l1as bee11 pro1ni11e11t in the local ad111inistratio11 of his parisl1 a1 1d has l1eld 1ninor acl­ mi11istrative office every few years. As fig11re 5 i11 dicates, l1 e holds rist la11d i11 eigl1t different 111i11i111al seg111 ents of a single desce11t corporatio11 . Since t11e parisl1 has only one descent corporatio11, there is a se11se m which its segments are struc­ turally a1 1alogous to tl1e disti11ct corporatio11 s that n1ake lIJJ a parish like Peres Bet. Not all 111e11 are eq11 ally proficie11t at recou11ting their lines of descent. You11g 111en and 111 1ambitious 111en are often con­ tent to indicate a IJedigree by listi11g a few i1111nediate lineal forebears and tl1e11 asserti11g tl1at tl1e most re1note of these is a11 accepted desce11de11t of the appropriate mi11zir abbat. Should sucl1 1 11e11 beco1 11e en1broilecl i1 1 land litigation, they


Individual Rigl1ts in Lancl

must call in and const1lt elders who k11ow 1 nore about the pedigrees in question. Today it is i1 1creasingly com 1non for 1 nen wl10 do not consider the1 11selves to be experts 0 1 1 rist to have their lJedigrees written i11 a notebook ,vl1ich they guard jealously against the day whe11 it may be of so111e t1se. A 111a11 classifies his rist la11d a11d his potential rist rights into three types i1 1 accordance with the way he traces the validati11g 1Jedigree. Thus he refers to all tl1e rist la11d and rist rigl1ts he validates with JJedigrees traced tl1rough his father as "father's rist''; he refers to all tl1e rist la11d and rist rights he validates with JJedigrees traced tl1rough l1is n1other as "111other's rist''; a11d l1e refers to all the rist la1 1d and rist rigl1ts l1e validates with pedigrees traced throt1gh his wife as "wife's rist." It is i1n1Jorta11t to 1 1ote that this sche1na classifies rist la1 1d i11 accordance witl1 t]1e way the perso11 in qt1estion. traces his IJedigree a11 d not i11 accordance with his relation­ sl1i1J to the JJerso11 fro1 11 ,vl1on1 l1e acquired the la1 1d. Thus, a n1an classifies a field as ''1notl1er's rist'' eve 1 1 though he re­ ceived it fro111 l1is fatl1er, provided, of cot1rse, tl1at the n1a11 traces his validati1 1g IJedigree to the land tl1rough his n1other ( in otl1er words, provided that the 1 11a 11's fatl1er helcl the land as l1is ''wife's rist"). Tl1e en1pl1asis placed on tl1e proxi1nate genealogical lu.1k i11 tl1e pedigree by this systen1 of classification reflects tl1e fact that there are sig 11ificant differences i1 1 the customary rules governi1 1g tl1e acquisitio11 of "father's," ''mother's," a.nd "wife's'' rist. The 1 11ost importa11t differe1 1ce betwee11 "fatl1er's rist" and ''mother's rist'' i1 1 this regard is tl1at the forn1er can1 1ot by custo1n be clain1ed fro 111 the ,vidowed n1other so 10 11g as she co11tinues to head l1er deceased l1usba1 1cl's l1ot1 sel1old, while the latter ca11 be claimecl fro1 11 tl1e fatl1 er 011ce the rnother is clead. 011 tl1e other ha1 1d, a 111an can clai111 "wife's rist'' only after l1 is wife has give11 l1 i1 n a cl1ilcl and ca11 keep it 01 1ly so long as l1e conti11ues to support that cl1ild. 111 otl1er words, a 1 11a1 1 cloes not have a11y rigl1ts to rist i 11 virtt1 e of l1is marriage to l1is wife bt1t 01 1ly as trt1stee or custod.ia11 for tl1e children he has with l1er. For this reaso11, wife's rist is also referred to as "childre11's rist. '' Tl1ese differe11ces betwee11 the three tyJJes of rist and their structural in1JJlicatio11s for inter-


Rist Rigl1ts

perso11al conflicts of interest are disct1ssed at greater le11gth i11 tl1e followi11g cl1apter. Seco11clary lancl rigl1ts

Seco11dary land rigl1ts are tl1ose tl1ro11gh wl1ich a JJerson ca11 defe11d l1is r.igl1t to l1old or cultivate land even tho11gl1 it is not ack11owleclged to be his by rist rigl1t. Seco11dary rigl1ts include tl1ose of te11ancy a11d variot1s ty1Jes of loan a11d exchange. Tl1ere is 110 one A111l1aric ter111 wl1ich covers all of these types of rigl1t. They have bee11 gro111Jed here for l1et1ristic purposes a11d becat1se, in tl1e co11text of litigatio11, they are similar in an i1nporta11t res_pect: tl1e holcler of seco11dary rights in a fielcl ca11not defend l1is rigl1t to tl1e field l1imself but 1nt1st call a person \\1ith rist rigl1ts i11 the field to defend it for l1in1. The person called is ter111ecl the l11ab1, or "giver," of the secondar)' rightholcler. Unless tl1e l·vabI co1nes to cottrt, defencls his rist rigl1t a11d agrees that he l1as tra11sferred it to tl1e seco11dary rightl1older, tl1e latter will lose the case a.11d tl1e land in qt1es­ tio11. Te11ancy. Te11a11cy is considered a joint agricultL1ral ve11ture in wl1icl1 a shared crop is prodt1ced by co111bi11ing in various ways the la11d, oxe11, labor, and seed of tl1e two or 1nore persons co11cernecl. Though tl1e statt1s of the la11clholcler and tl1e te11a11t ( te{e111aj) are 11ot 11ecessarily eqt1al, the ten­ ancy arrangen1e11t is regarded as a 111utually advantageo11s, volu11tarily entered co11tractt1al relationship. It 111t1st be stressed tl1at tena11cy i11 Dega Da1not does not i11volve the type of s11bordi11atio11, depende11ce, a11d 011e-sicled co11trol that it does in 111a11y other traditional agraria11 soci­ eties. Tena11ts, as was 11oted JJreviot1sly, do not co11stitt1te a distinct class of la11dless people. 011ly a few n1e11 ( with tl1e exceptio11 of artisa11s) are totally dependent on land they ct1ltivate i11 tenancy. Moreover, eve11 tl1ese n1en are seldo111 deiJe11de11t for all tl1eir la11d 011 a single landlord. A "big n1an'' n1ay have 1nany te11a11ts working l1is scattered fields, bt1t tl1ey do not for111 a reside11tially, socially, eco11omically, or politi­ cally i11tegrated t1nit. Eacl1 of tl1em has a bond with tl1e large la11clholder, but tl1ey have little relationship and no obliga­ tions to 011e another by virtt1e of their i11divid11al ties to hi111. 137


Individual Rigl1ts in Land

Several types of te11 ancy arra11 ge 11 1e11 ts ca11 be clisti11 gt1ished accordit1g to tl1e ty1Je of contrib11 tion made by eacl1 of the co11 tracting JJarties. I11 the con1 t11011 est for1n of tenancy the la11 dholder co11 tributes the la11d a11d half of tl1e seecl; the te11a11 t co11 tribt1tes the rest of tl1e seed, l1is ow11 oxe11, and his labor. Tl1e crOJJS are divided i11 tl1 e field at l1arvest ti111e. Tl1e te11a11t's sl1are va1·ies from tl1ree-qt1arters of tl1e croJJ for con1111011 barley to 011 e-half for 111es110 barley. If tl1e te11a11 t has 011 ly 011 e ox a11d tl1 e la11dlord su1Jplies tl1e otl1er, the tenant's share clro1Js so1newl1at-fro1n 011e-half to 011e-tl1 ird, for ex­ an11Jle, i 1 1 several cases recorded. St1ch ox-sl1ari11g arra11ge1 11e11ts are ofte11 111acle after the cleatl1 of oxen, 1 1 eitl1er tl1e te11a11 t 11or tl1e la11dl101cler l1 avi1 1g e11 011gl1 a11 i1nals to plow by 11i111 self. Te11ancy arra11 ge111 e11ts betwee11 an ordi11 ary 111a 11 a11d a 111a11 of IJower a11 d at1tl1ority may have a ''political" as well as a11 eco110111 ic cli111 ensio11. Tl1e tena11 t 1nay beco1ne the la11 d­ lord's "follov. er," visiting hi111 often witl1 s111 all gifts of liqt1or, beer, or li,,estock, escorti11 g l1i 111 011 jour11 eys, a11cl attencling churcl1 festivals i 11 his retinue. I11 this, as in any IJatron-client tie i11 Dega Da111ot, tl1e la11dlord gai11s l1onor and SLlIJport wl1ile tl1e te11ant ex1Jects l1elp i11 court, or protection and a.11 occasional gift. Tl1e sl1 are of the crop paicl to the la11 dlord is son1 etimes less tl1a 11 the c11stomary amou11 t when the "1Jolit­ ical'' aspect of tl1e relationsl 1ip is JJara111 ot1nt. Tl1is is partic11larl)' trt1e wl1en the fielcl held by tl1 e te11ant is at a great dis­ tance fro111 the la11 dlord's reside 11tial JJarisl1. I11 yet a11 otl1er arrangen1e11t, a great 111aJ1 1nay give la11d re11t-free to artisa11s i1 1 rett 1 rn for tl1eir skilled labor. Loan. Tl1 e right to ct1ltivate rist la11d 1nay be loa11ed or given i11 a kind of re11 t-free te11 ancy to ft1lfill IJolitical, eco­ no111 ic, or social obligatio11 s. A powerf11l leader 111ay loa11 la11d to a s11 pporter. There are 111 a11y circ111nstances under \Vl1icl1 land is loa11ed to less fortt111ate ki11 or, 1111der so1ne circu111stances, 11 011ki11 as a co11 tributio11 towards tl 1eir stipJJOrt. A well-to-do 111 a11 ofte11 allocates tl1 e use of a field or two to a div�rced wif� if sl1e has cl1ild.re11 by hi111 a11d l1 as 11ot 1narried agai11 . Sl1e, 1n tt1r11, gives the la 11 cl 011t i11 te11 ancy. Several 1


Rist Rig11ts

cases were recorded i11 whicl1 a 111a1 1 l1 ad loa11ed a field he l1eld as ''n1otl1 er's rist'' to J 1is _pater11al 11alf-brotl1er, v,1ho, of course, l1ad 11 0 rist rigl1t i11 tl1e fielcl l1 i11 1self, since l1e l1 ad a different set of rist rigl1 ts tl1rot1gl1 11is ow11 111otl1 er. A n1a11 wl10 raises a11 cl 111arries off a boy wl1 0 is 11ot 11is ow11 so11 11or 111ally loa11s tl1 e yot111 g 111 a11 a few fields wl1e11 l1 e es­ tablishes l1is O\v11 l1 0111esteacl. Si 11 ce rist rights can11 ot be passed to I1i111, the yot111g 11 1a1 1 will 011ly be secure i 11 }1 is te1 1ure so long as tl1e 111 a11 who raised hi111 is alive, t111less he ca11 co11 trive to trace a11 aJJfJI'O{Jriate pedigree to l1 i1nself or I1is wife. Lan cl n1ay be loa11ecl for a 11 y 11t111 1ber of years. WI1 en j t is loa11ed to tl1e agecl it is trstra]ly held u11 til tl1e death of the re­ ci_pie11t. \V}1 en it is loa11ecl to tl1 e yot111g it is trstrally helcl t11 1til the deatl1 of tl1e do11 or, at which ti111 e tl1 e reciJ Jient trsua]ly tries to retai11 tl1 e la11d as rist, if cl1 alle11ged. If la11cl l1 as bee11 l1 eld for 111 a11y years by loa11 a 11 d J Jerl1aps l1as even JJassecl to the so11 of the first reciJJient, tl1e clai111 by wl1icl1 it is held 111 ay be i11 deter11 1i11ate t11 1til tl1ere is a clispute. A 111a11 n1ay also obtain tl1e tise of a field 11ot co11siderecl to be his rist by excha11 gi11g for it a field of l1 is rist: la11d wl1 icl1 lie 11olds i11 a less co11 ve11ie11 t locatio11. I-Ie 111ay fi11d st1cl1 a11 excl1a11ge aclva11 tageor1s becatrse l1e l1 as i11 herited a field i11 a JJaris}1 clista11 t fro111 l1is reside11ce a11cl vvishes to consolidate his la11cls i11 to larger tracts tl1at are closer to l1is l1on1estead. Alter11ativel)', l1 e 111 ay for111ally agree to a11 excl1a 11 ge i11 orcler to retai1 1 a co11 ve11ie11tly located field ,vl1 ich is already i11 }1is possessio11. Tl1is occt1rs after a n1ajor la11d clisJJtrte whe11 the la11ds l1eld by the seg111e11ts of a cor1Joratio11 are relocatecl. TI1ot1gl1 the inclividt1al in questio11 l1as bee11 alloted a fielcl i11 l1is segn1 e 11t's 11e\v .la11cl he prefers to "excl1a11 ge" it for tl1e conve11ie11tly located fielcl l1e l1as l1 eld all alo11g w11 ich l1 as 110w bee11 assig11ecl to s0111eo11e fro111 anotl1er seg11 1ent. A1 1 excha11ge is a JJrivate agree111e11 t betwee11 t,vo JJarties. It cloes not co11cer11 the otl1er la11clholclers or tl1e fej, since i11 princi1Jle it is orily the use rigl1 ts a11 d 11ot tl1e rist rigl1 ts whicl1 are bei11g excl1 a11gecl. I11 fact� l1owe, 1er, if the excha11ge en139


lndiviclual Rigl1ts in Land

dt1res for 1 11any years it is not t111likely that tl1e 111e11 or their heirs \vill 111ai1age to trace a JJedigree to tl1e n1inzir abbats i11 whose estates the fields are locatecl. Te,nporar)' r;gf1ts establisl1ecl throug/1 cleari1ig lane!. A par­ ish reside11t 1nay, \vith the tacit per1nission of l1is 11eigl1 bors a11d of the gwilt-holder, clear and bri11g i11to ct1 ltivatio11 avail­ able forest la11ds. 011e wl10 obtai11s la11d i11 this way l1as the right as tl1e "cleari1 1g far111er'' ( 11ient,·o a1·ash) to t1se tl1e land for a fixed period of ti111e. Tl1e exact 1 1t1111ber of years varies fro1 11 JJarisl1 to JJarisl1, btrt tl1ree is 1nost co111111011. After the te1111Jorary rigl1ts of the far111er wl10 has clearecl the la11d ex­ IJire, the la11d is i11cor1Joratecl i11to the parisl1 1·ist system. If it lies \, itl1i11 a clescent cor1Joratio11's estate, it is si 111ply absorbecl i11to tl1at estate. If it is located ot1 tside the bot11 1claries of existi11g coriJorations' estates, it 1nay be incor1Jorated i11to 011e of the111 or it 111ay be divided UJJ and apportio11ed to sev­ eral estates, as •\Vas the case witl1 tl1e rece11tly cleared lowlancls of Dereqe Maryan1 \\1hic]1 were eve11tt1ally divided betwee11 the parisl1's two cor1Jorations, We11di1n a1 1d Ze Sellase. St1bseqt1e11t to its i 11 cor1Joratio1 1 i11 to tl1e parish's rist systen1, tl1e 11e\\1ly cleared ]a11d is st1bject to division by fatl1er a11cl to allot 1 11e11t by tl1e fej, like any other land. The inclividt1 al ,vho cleared it has 110 stronger rights in it tl1a11 a11y other recog1 1ized rist right-holder but, t111less l1e ca1111ot establisl1 a IJedi­ gree to tl1e a1 1cestor to who1n it has bee11 assig11ed, he is ust1ally able to retain JJOssessio11 of at least s0111e part of it. 1

Possession l'vitl1oi1t rigl1t Over 15 perce1 1t of tl1e 282 fields in Sl1oa J-Iayl's estate for whic!1 sufficient data were gathered were helcl by IJeople ,:vl10 h�d 111 the1 n 110 recog11izecl rigl1t of a11y type. St1cl1 fields are said to be l1eld by possessio11, or be),c1zi:,l1 . A perso11 111a)1 co111e to l1ave JJossessio11 of a 'fielcl in whicl1 l1e l1as 110 rigl1t in several ways. I-Ie 111ay l1ave first obtai11ed tl1e field throt1gh t� 11a11cy or loan a11d st1bseqt1e11tly retai11ecl it free of obliga­ t1 01 1 after tl1e donor's deatl1. I-Ie n1ay I1ave acqt1irecl tl1e field as ''\\1ife's rist'' a11d retai11ed it after the death or divorce of his \\1ife, eve11 thot1gl1 l1e cloes 11ot SlI[J}JOrt a11y of tl1e childreri 140


Rist Rights

.he has had by her. I-le n1ay have brougl1t the land i 11to culti足 vation ancl retainecl jt beyo1 1d tl1e recognized period of ti 1 11e. Alternatively, fields l1eld beyazis/1 are ofte1 1 fields in wl1ich the holder forn1erly l1ad a rist rigl1t but whicl1 have been "left bel1i11d'' in a reallocation of 1 11inzir abbats' land follow足 ing a major la 1 1cl disJJlite. Tl1is is n1ost likely to occur if tl1e holder is an elderly and res1Jected parishioner and the field in qtiestion l1as bee1 1 fertilizecl over the years with asl1es a11d dt1ng fro.n1 his l10 1 11estead. U_po1 1 l1is death, however, l1is heirs 1 nay be asked to give u_p tl1e field. Regardless of l1ov;, he 11as co1 11e to l1ave a field beyazish, a n1an's cl1ances of retai11ing it are 1nuch better if it is tl1e site of I1is l1on1estead tl1a 1 1 if it is 11ot. For this reason 111en often b11ild their l10111esteads on wife's land, exchangecl la 1 1d, loa 1 1ecl la1 1d, or other la11d i1 1 wl1icl1 tl1ey l1ave a te1 11 1011s clai 111 i11 order to "bole! it dow11. '' Sig11ifica 11t as it is in ter 1ns of freq11 e11cy and strategy, the holdi1 1g of land beyazish, or 1nere possession, does 11ot co1 1stit11te a legally recog1 1izecl type of land rigl1t by wl1ich a field ca11 be defe11ded. To s11 1111 11arize, tl1e rights thro11gh wl1ich a ma1 1 is able to obtai 1 1 a11cl defe1 1cl tl1e 11se of far1n land i11 Dega Da1not i11cl11de rist rigl1ts wl1icl1, in JJrinciple, are l1ereditary, inalien足 able, ancl i1 1extinguisl1able, a11d otl,er rigl1ts to la11d vvhicl1 are, in JJrinciple, 1101 1hereclitary, alie 1 1able, a11d te 1 11porary. I11 a se11se, tl1ese otl1er rights are derivative of rist rigl1ts; for tl1ey are invariably rights i11 la11d wl1ich is eitl1er sorneone else's rist or lar1d over wl1icl1 110 i11divid11al, 011ly a descent cor1Joratio 1 1, prese11tly l1as rist rights. Rist rigl1ts c1nd rist lane!

I111porta11 t as tl1ey are in establishing a legal clai1n to la11d, rist rights do not, in tl1e111selves, ensure their l1older JJOssession of a partic11lar field of rist la11d, or, indeed, of any la11d at all. I11 fact, wl1ile the 11ature of la11d rights and of the la1 1d ten1 1re syste1n i11 general are considered pate11tly clear and unam足 biguot1 s by all i 11terested elclers, the right tl1at a particular perso11 has to a particular field is ofte1 1 subject to 111t1ch doubt 141

" Individual Rig.lits in Land

and djsagreeme11t. Tl1is is 11 ot sttrJ)risi11g i11 ligl1 t of tl1 e great 11t11nber of perso11s who a .re eligible, accordi11g to ct1sto1n ary law' to clai1n a11cl l1 old tl1e fields of each n1inzir abbat. U11der tl1ese circumstances, possessio11 is of tl1e l1t111ost i1n1)ortance. U11ti] there is a dispt1te over a field, tl1e rigl1t by whicl1 it is helcl is of little i11terest to the co1111nt1nity as a whole; i11 fact, tl1ere is often co11siderable disagree111en.t be­ tween the holder a11d otl1 er IJerso11s abot1t jt1st wl1at kind of a rigl1t, if any, l1e l1as. It is 011ly when djsputes arise over tl1e 1)ossessio11 of a field that land rigl1ts are of crt1cial i111porta11ce, btit tl1e11 tl1ey are for1nally treatecl as the only releva11t -issue. Ma11y otl1er factors 111ay deter111i11e wl1ether there will be a dispt1te over a par­ tict1lar fielcl and wl10 will SUJJl)Ort tl1e litiga11ts whe11 a clispute does arise, but i11 tl1e co11text of litigatio11 tl1e rigl1 ts described i11 tl1is cl1 a1Jter co11 stitt1te the 011ly legally bi11di11 g idio1n of discot1rse. An i11teresti11g a11d in1portant conseque11ce of the ''periodic relevance'' of la11 d rights to the possession of a field is that, as I re111arked i. 11 the first cl1apter, a 111 a11 1nay acqt1ire a field tl1rough 011e type of right a11d yet defend it at some later date tl1rot1gh a11otl1er type of right. Regarclless of wl1ether l1e -i11itially gained co11trol over a fielcl tl1 rough i11heritance, gift, loa11, clearing, te11 ancy, or si111ply plowi11 g tip the co1n111011 IJasture, tl1e field v;,j]] re1na i n his until so111eone asks l1ir11 to gi ve it UIJ or share it. A11other co11seqt1ence of tl1e relatio11ship between rist rights a11d possessio11 is that the tyJJe of rigl1t ·:b y wl1icl1 a person clai111s or defends a field does 11ot inclicate fron1 wl1 om l1e acqt1ired it or by wl1at process. 111 a survey of 93 fields stated by the holder to be ''fathe1·'s rist," 49 ]1 ,1cl bee11 acqt1ired fro111 the father or a gt1ardia11 by inherita11ce or as a gift in a11tici­ IJatio11 of i11 heritance. A11other 39 fields I1 ad bee11 acquirecl fro1n JJeople 11 ot co11siderecl significant kins111en tl1rough actio11 brot1gl1t agai11st tl1 e descent cor1Joratio11 fej. In a survey of thirty-eigl1t fields l1eld as '' 1 notl1er's rist," it was found that eightee11 l1 ad bee11 i11l1 erited or received as a gift froo1 the 1nother, her ki11s111e11, or a guardia11; thirteen l1ad bee11 acqt1ired fro111 JJeOJ)le 11 ot co11siderecl significa11t kin l42


Rist Rigl1ts

throt1gh actio1 1 against the desce 1 1t corporatio11 fej; tl1ree had bee11 acqt 1 ired as gifts fro 1 11 affi 1 1al ki 11 s111e11 ; and fot1r had bee 1 1 acqt1ired by otl1er 1 11ea 1 1s fro 1 11 1 10 1 1ki11. 111 a survey of fort),-two fie]cls l1elcl as "wife's rist," it was found tl1 at eleven }1acl bee11 receivecl fro 1 11 wife's ki11s 1 11e11 throt 1 gl1 i 1 1l1erita11ce or gift; t\\1e1 1ty-two I1 ad l1ee1 1 acqt1ired fro111 JJeo1Jle not co11 siderecl to be sig1 1ifica 1 1t ki11 by actio11 against tl1e descent corporatio 1 1 fej; tl1ree l1ad bee1 1 i 11herited fro 1 11 tl1e 1Jerso11 's own 1 11other or fatl1er; a11 d six hacl been obtai1 1ed i1 1 other ways. 11 1 view of tl1e wicle range of rist rigl1ts traced by 1nost 111en a11d tl1 e evide11t a111biguity e11cot111tered i11 deter 11 1ini11 g wl1ether one of tl1ese rights validates a clai111 to a particular piece of la11d, it is essential to i 1 1vestigate 11ot 011ly how 11 1e11 obtai1 1 rist rights, as has been done i11 this cl1apter, but also to ask l1ow 1 11e1 1 ca11 actually obtai11 a11d hold rist la1 1d i 1 1 re­ spect of so111e of their rights. This question i 1 1for1ns tl1e dis­ ct1ssio11 of the followi11g cl1 apter.




The la11ds on which each l1ousel1old depends for its livelihood do 1 1ot co1 1stitL1te a clearly deli1 nited estate which passes i1 1tact fro111 tl1e l1ousehold l1ead to a pri1 1ci_pal heir. Tl1ey ratl1er re1)rese1 1t a collectio11 of fields brougl1t together u11cler the n1a 11age1 11ent of tl1e l1ousehold l1ead tl1rough diverse processes and strategies a 11d validated through diverse types of land rigl1ts. Tl1e most i1111)ortant ways in wl1ic}1 n1en acquire rist land are by inherita1 1ce or by gift in a 11ticipation of i11heritance, a11cl by prese1 1ti11g clai111s to tl1e representatives of desce11t cor1)oratio11s. In the for1 11er case the land is actually received fro 111 a close kinsn1an, in tl1e latter it is ust1ally, though not always, received. from so1neone who is not considered to be a significant kins 1nan. Less i1n1Jortant ways of acquiring rist la11d include clai1 11ing it fron1 wife's kinsn1en, taki11g it i11 tenancy in anticipatio1 1 of establisl1ing a rist clain1 after the death of the landlord, clearing forest la11d, plowing up pasture land, and taki 11g over la11d abandoned by son1eone who l1as left tl1e area. I1 1 a survey of 206 fields l1eld as rist by twe11ty-six house­ hold l1eads resident in S11oa Rayl, it was found tl1at 44 percent of the fields l1ad bee11 acq L1irecl by i11l1erita11ce or by gift i11 anticipation of i11heritance, 43 J)erce11t by clairns !)resented to the descent corporation; 5 percent were acquired fro111 wife's ki11, 2 percent had bee1 1 take1 1 first in te11ancy, a1 1d 4 perce1 1t had bee1 1 take11 as forest ' pastL1re ' or aba1 1do11ed la11 d. The relative in1porta 11ce to an i11divicl ual of tl1ese various ways of acquiring la11d de1Je11ds 0 11 11is position in the do144


Inl1eritance, Gift, and the Domestic Cycle

111 estic cycle, l1is sta1 1ding i11 l1is local corn111unity, and l1 is status in the \1/ider S{Jhere of regio11al politics. A yot1 ng marriecl 111an t1st1ally obtai11s 111ost of l1 is la11d througl1 i11 1 1erita11ce or tl1 rot1gl1 gift i1 1 a11tici patio11 of i1 1l1eritance. The social setti1 1g i11 wl1icl1 st1cl1 la11cl tra11sfers occt1r is largely de:fi11 ecl by tl1e 11or1 ns, i1 1terests, a1 1d se1 1ti1 11e11 ts of l1ot1 se­ l1olct m1d ki11sl1ip relatio11s. S01 newhat older me11 whose fathers are clead or wl10 live i11 a different co1111 11t111ity fro1 11 tl1eir fathers try to obtai11 aclditio11al fields fro11 1 the repre­ se11 tatives of desce11t cor 1Joratio11s by JJressi11g clain1s for la11d tl1rough divisio11 by allot1 ne1 1t. Sucl1 clai1ns are formally argt1ed in ter111s of desce11t rules, but tl1eir success or failt1re is stro11gly influe11ced by i11terests relating to co1n1 11u11ity or­ ga.nization a1 1d leadersl1i1 J. F.i1 1ally, tl1ose elders a11d office­ holders who attai1 1 JJro1 11i11e1 1ce in the \1/ider political co1 11n1L1nity of Dega Da1 1 1ot try to clain1 additional land by de111a11 ding a ft1rtl1er division of la1 1d by fatl1er; tl1at is, by "bringing i11 a 11ew n1i11 zir abbat.'' Stich clai111s are forn1ally argt1ed i1 1 ter111s of desce1 1t cor1Joratio1 1 ideology a11d rt1les, bt1t their st1ccess clepe11ds heavily 011 tl1e JJlaintiff's ability to n1obilize support for his cause tl1rough his IJersonal political ties.

Inheritance, gift, and tl1e don1estic cycle This sectio1 1 is abot1t the JJrocesses of i11 l1erita1 1ce ancl of gift i11 antici 1Jatio11 of i11 l1eritance tl1 rougl1 ,vl1icl1 rist la11d JJasses fro111 tl1e IJeople of 011e generation to tl1eir offspri11g i11 the next. It is thLts co11cer1 1ed witl1 the do111estic cycle, disct1 ssed in relatio11 to tl1e hot1sel1old in cl1apter 3; with tl1e way i11 \Vl1icl1 tl1e cl1ildre11 of a l1ousehold 11 1arry, 1nove out, estab­ lish tl1eir ow1 1 l1 ot1sel1olds, a11 d l1ave tl1eir own childre1 1; a11d with the \vay tl1ey obtai1 1 rist land throt1gh the dissolution of the parental hot1sehold. The ritles of inl1eritc111ce The rules governing the inl1erita11ce of rist la11cls ca1 1 be stated quite briefly. The 111ost basic rule, and the one i11vari­ ably cited, is tl1at a JJerso11 's rist land must be divided equally 145


The Acquisition of Rist Land

a 1 11 ong all his (1nale and fe111 ale) cl1ildre11. To tl1is general rule 1 nt1 st be added the followi11 g 1)rovisos: ( 1) cl1ilclren 111a), not inl1 erit their father's rist la1 1ds ,1t his deatl1 so long as their 1 11 other is alive a 11 d co11 ti11 ues to reside i 11 tl1 e parental ho1 11esteacl as the J1ouseholcl head; ( 2) rist la11d inherited by cl1 ildren who are 111i11ors n1ay be t 1sed by the kins1nan wl10 acts as gt1ardia11 tintil they n1arry and establisl1 their ow 11 11 ousel1 olds. These rules define enforceable rigl1ts tl1rot1gl1 which per­ so1 1s ca11 cle1na11 d tl1 eir rist land. They cio 11 ot, l1owever, i11 tl1 e111 selves cleter1ni11e t11 e acttial disposition of a parent's rist la 1 1cl; for a 1Jerso1 1 1 1eed 11 ot i11sist on obtaini1 1g or retai11 i 11 g l1is rig11tft1 I rist la11 d. A father, for exa111 ple, 111 ay give rist land to l1 is cl1ildre11 before his death. A widow 111 ay give her late 11 usba11cl's rist la1 1cl to ]1 er cl1 ildre 11 , tl1ot1 gl1 she conti1 1t1es to resicle as tl1 e l1ead of l1is hot1sel1 old. A cl1 ild 11 eed 11ot insist 011 receivi11 g l1is or lier sl1 are of tl1e 1)are11 t's rist even after tl1 e deatl1 of botl1 JJare11ts. The way i11 wl1icl1 these rules are i1111Jle111ented and tl1 e exte11 t to v\1hicl1 tl1 ey are followed are affected by variatio11 s i 11 tl1e do1 11 estic cycle, J)artict1larly by the cl1 ildren's age, 1narital statt1s, a 1 1d residence at the ti11 1e of tl1 eir pare11 ts' deatl1 s. The effects 0f st1cl1 variations rec1uire son1 ewl1 at n1 ore exte11 ded co111 n1 e11 t. For tl1e sake of expositio11 it is co11 ve 11ie11t to first co1 1sider a l1ousehold in \vhich tl1e chilclre11 all grew tip before tl1e ho11sehold l1ead's deatl1 , a11 d tl1 en to consider variot1s alter1 1ative tyJ)es of develoJJ 1ne11 t. There is 110 se11 se, l1 owever, i11 wl1icl1 tl1e cor11 pleted do1nestic cycle is 111 ore typical or 1 1or1nal than the others. A \Veil-to-do JJeasa11 t 1nay give l1is t1n1 11 arried teen-age s011 tl1e respo11 sibility of cultivati1 1g a ·field or two witl1 tl1 e expec­ tation tl1at tl1 e fields will eventt1ally be tl1e s0 1 1's, bt1t most youtl1 s are not seriot1sly co11 cer11 ed \Vith obtai11ing or 1 11 a 11 ag­ ing la11 d before tl1 ey 11 1arry a11d, a )'ear or two l,1ter, establish their own l1 0 1 11esteads. Fro111 tl1 e11 0 1 1 ' t,oai 11 i 1 1g a1 1d retair1i11 g co11 trol over rist la1 1cl is a do111 i 11 a 11 t co11 cer 11 of tl1e )'oung hot 1 sel1 old head. A fatl1er witl1 a111ple rist la11 d for l1is ovl11 l1ot1 sehold's 11 eeds 1 11ay give the tise of a field or two to l1 is newly i11 deiJer1 de11t 146


�------In I1eritan ce, Gift, and tl1e Do1nestic Cycle

inarried s011 or, less freqt1e11tly, to l1is son-in-law. Most fathers, 110\vever , are t111able to afford sucl1 ge11erosity aild _ nJust retain partial co11trol over any la11d they give to their sons, eit11er worki11g it witl1 tl1e sons joi11tly a11d dividing the crops or aski11g tl1e111 to pay �he nor1nal tena11t's share of the _ crop. If the fatl1er l1as little .r1st la11d and 1na11y cl1ildre11, the contribution of i11l1erited land to tl1e cl1ilclren's J1ouseholcls' estates v.1ill never be great, a11d w1less tl1ey are successft1l in obtaining la11d i11 other ways it 111ay be years before they are self-sufficie11t. In tl1e 111ea11ti111e tl1ey 111ay have to depe11d on land worked in te11a11cy and send so1ne of their childre11 off to live \Vith a 1nore fortu11ate ki11sn1an, t1sually the childre11's grandparent, au11t, or 1111cle: Rist land tl1at 11as bee11 given to so11s ancl sons-in-law dur­ i11g tl1e father's lifeti1ne is usually retained by tbe1n at his death. Tl1e dispositio11 of the rest of his rist lands deJJends on the stat11s of l1is widow a11d the type of rigl1t by whicl1 he held tl1em. If tl1e widow is the 1nother of l1er late l111sba11d's cltildre11 and co11ti11t1es to reside in his ho111estead as tl1e head of his l1011sehold, she is entitled to retain co11trol over all of l1is la11d. Norn1ally she gives the land to l1er grown so11s \�/ho, in retur11, pay her a sl1are of the crop as re11t. If she wisl1es, she 111ay, of cot1rse, give so1ne of the la11d to l1er so11s ancl sons-i11-law rent-free in anticipation of eve11tual i11heritance. If the sons do 11ot wa11t to use the la11d in tenancy or sl1e does 11ot want to give it to the111, the v. idow 111ay give it to otl1er tenants. If tl1e widow ren1arries, her grown s011s will aln1ost 11ever IJermit l1er to re111ain in her forn1er husband's l101nestead; for they say the ne�, husbancl is tryi11g to steal fro111 the111 their fatl1er's rist. St1bseqt1e11t to her re1narriage a11d co11seqt1e11t re1noval to her 11ew l1t1sba11d's l10111estead the widow can11ot retain control over any of her deceased l1usband's rist la11d wl1icl1 he held as his ''father's'' or ''1nother's'' rist; that js, tl1rough descent lines traced through his mother or fatl1er. It may be clain1ed i n eqt1al shares by all of the dead man's children. Those fields wl1ich are her own, fields wl1ich her deceased ht1sband l1eld as ''wife's'' or ''childre11's'' rist, can11ot be taken fro111 l1er and are cultivated by her new husba11d. 1



The Acquisition of Rist Land

Upon her death these fields ca11 be clai111ecl equally by all her cl1ildren by either ht1sband. If the widow is a11 old won1 a11 or for a11 y other reaso11 chooses to live with one of her so11s as a de1Je11de11t n1 ember of his housel1 old, she relinquishes l1er rights to her late husband's land and it may be clai11 1ed i11 equal shares by all of his childre11. If the wido\v is 11ot tl1e 1nother of a 111an's childre11 she l1as no right to sta)' 011 i11 his household or to co11tro1 his rist land. The childre11 's 111 otl1er, l1owever, eve11 though sl1e has been divorced for years, l1as the right to re­ turn to the deceased n1 a11's l1on1estead to control his rist. She 111ay 11 ot, of course, bri11g a new l1t1sba11d i11 \\ ith her. S011s a11d daughters ,:vl1 0 ha,,e 11ot yet n1arried at the tin1 e of tl1 eir fatl1 er's deatl1 ust1ally co11 tinue to live with tl1eir 111other if s11e 11 1aintai11s tl1e l1ot1seholcl. It is co111 11 1011 for a 111arried son to stay 011 i1.1 his father's l1ot1sehold under st1ch circt111 1stances, gradt1ally co111ing to act as guardian for his younger sibli11gs. He or 011e of his yot111ger brotl1ers is likely to take over tl1e leadersl1ip of the l1ot1sehold as the 111other grows old. If tl1e l1ead of a l1ot1sel1old dies before a11y of his so11s l1ave reached their 111ajority, his widow 111ay ren1arry and bring l1er ne,v ht1sba11 d to live i11 her ho111 estead as l1 er children's stepfatl1er. Wl1en her sons by her first 1narriage reach the age of 1narriage, ho\vever, they 11 1ay and ttsually do force tl1eir stepfather to leave the hon1 estead ancl give up tl1 e fields he has been cultivating to st1pport the household. The s011s' 111other 111 ay divorce l1er husband or acco1111Ja11 )' hi111 , bt1t the former alternative is the more co111n1on. If the widow remarries while l1er childre11 are s111all a11d goes to live witl1 her new ht1sband, l1er childre11 by tl1e first 1narriage are likely to go to live with a guarclian who 1na)' be their father's b.rother, 1nother's brotl1 er, or gra11dfather on either side. The gt1ardian takes JJossessio11 of tl1e fields of the deceased fatl1er and ct1ltivates tl1 e111 t111til tl1 e cl1 ilclre11 reacl1 tl1 eir n1 ajority a11d 111arry. A11 older brother wl10 has 1narried ca11 also act as a gt1ardia11 for his you11ger siblings. He, too, is respo11sible for givi11g the111 land as they 111arry. 1


�---------Inl1eritance, Gift, and the Don1estic Cycle

Guardiai1s of all ty1Jes are said to be remiss in giving land back to tl1eir wards. Should tl1e motl1er clie before the fatl1er, 111arried cl1ildren have the right to clai111 equal sl1 ares of her rist land; that is, of all the rist land 11eld by their father as his "wife's'' rist. This .is trt1e whetl1er tl1e fatl1e.r i11itially obtained the la11d r 11 ki s111en, f. n1othe r's o111 the descent cor1Joration, or from the i11 any other 111 a 11ner. The so11s 1 nay allow their father to re­ tain all or a pa.rt of their 111otl1 er's rist after her death if they "love" l1i111. There is a te11dency, however, to agree with the proverb tl1at wl1ere is rist there is no love. Due to a con1paratively higl1 rate of divorce and ren1ar­ riage, it is 11 ot u11 t 1sual for a 1nan or a womru1 to have chil­ dre11 by several spot1ses. I1 1 such cases all children retai 11 tl1e right to clai111 a11 equal share of tl1e pare11t's rist la1 1d. Legiti­ macy of birth is irreleva11t so long as pater11ity is recog11ized. Bastards stiffer 11 0 disability i11 the i11herita11ce of lancl. As had bee11 re 1 11 arked, cl1ildre 1 1 are not required to clai 1 n their share of a parent's rist la11d. A son who has established his 11on1estead far fro1n his natal area or who l1as left Dega Damot 1nay choose not to claim l1is rist. In most instances, though, it is tl1e daugl1ter who does 11ot receive her sl1are of the rist lru.1d. Unless there is great need, her ht1sband hesi­ tates to clai1n her land; for to do so is considered greedy a11d creates strains betwee11 him and l1is brothers-i11-law tl1at the fragile 111 arriage bo11d ca11 ill afforcl. If the dat1gl1ter's hus­ ba 1 1d bt1ilds l1is l10111estead 01 1 l1is wife's land near l1 er parental ho1nestead, he can obtai1 1 her rist land witl1out difficulty, but such depende11 cy 011 and 1Jroxi11uty with tl1e wife's kin is con­ sidered highly undesirable.

The divisiorz of parental la11ds Through the processes of inherita11ce and gift in anticipation of inheritance tl1e parent's rist lands eventually pass, t1st1ally in more or less eqt1al a111ot1nts, to those of their childre11 who lay claim to the111. Not all of their fields, however, are divided equally a1no11g all of the cl1ildren, as is st1ggested by the ideal rule of division most often cited. On tl1e contrary, in practice 149

The l.\cquisition of Rist Land

it is t1 sL1ally only large fields located 11ear the parental ho1ne­ steacl that are subdivided a111011 g tl1e cl1 ildre1 1. Other fields are allocated undivided to one or a11 other cl1ild, tisually to a cl1 ild to whose l1omestead a field is most co1 1venie1 1tly located. This tende1 1cy to a1Jportio11 all or n1 ost of the fields i11 011e locatio11 to 011e cl1 ild and those i11 another locatio1 1 to a11other child is of cr11 cial i111portai1ce; it 111ea1 1s that though tl1e JJarents' rist land a11cl tl1eir I JOte11tial rist rigl1ts pass to their cl1ildren eqt1 ally, their rist la11 ds a11 d associated i11terests i11 specific desce1 1t cor1Joratio11 s do 1 1ot. It is thro11gl1 tl1is process of divisio11 a11 d the reside1 1tial serJaration \vhicl1 acco1 111Janies it tl1at the cl1ildre11 's rist-holdi11gs a1 1d active i11 terests i11 desce11t cor1Joratio11 s begi.i1 to beco1 11 e clifferentiated fro1n 011 e a.11otl1er. Tl1e dis1Jersal of so11s a\:1lay fron1 tl1e pare11tal ho111 estead is related to tl1e desire 011 tl1e IJart of father ancl son alike to maxi111ize tl1e a1110L111 t of rist la11 d controlled by tl1eir respec­ tive ho11sel1olds. TI1e father al1 11ost invariably holds n1ore rist la1 1d in the first settlers' estates of the JJarish i1 1 which l1e is resident tl1an he does in first settlers' estates located else­ wl1ere. Tl1is is i1 1 large part becat1se as a local elcler I1e has been able to participate to advantage i11 the process of "divi­ sio11 by allot1 ne11t." If l1e l1as 1 na11 y sons, a 111a11 will try to "s1Jread'' tl1 e1n 011t over tl1e rist land whicl1 l1 e holcls i1 1 n1ore clistant estates, that is, those in which he l1 as consider­ abl;' less land tl1an he could obtai11 if he were a reside11t. flis sons, as reside1 1ts, ca11 1101.Je i1 1 ti111e to ex1Jand tl1eir 1 1oldings st1bsta1 1tially witl1out f11rtl1er depleti11g tl1e la11d st1pply avail­ able to tl1eir fatl1er or their sibli1 1gs. At tl1e san1 e ti111e, i11 tl1e final divisio11 of tl1 e fatl1er's rist la11ds each so11 �,ill try to obtain at least so11 1e fields or JJarts of fields i1 1 IJarisl1es other than his own. Tl1 is is 11ot 011 ly to 1 11eet 11 is .i111111ediate eco11omic 1 1eeds but to e1 1able hi111 , i1 1 l1is t11 r11 , to SJJreacl his sons _ away fro111 l11 s own ho1nestead . tl1e of locatio11 Tl1e s011's l1011 1estead is st1bject to co1 1tra­ . d1ctory !1 or1 ns .. Wl1ile it is recog11ized tl1 at, if la1 1d is in sl1ort �u�ply 11! relat1 011 to the 1 1L11 nber of so11s to be provided for, it 1s cles1rable for s0111e s011 s to 1 11ove away, it is said tl1at 150 I


--I11heritance, Gift, a11d tl1e Do111estic Cycle

ideally a son sl1ould live 11ext to his fatl1er so tl1 at lie can co11tint1e to work with hi11 1, to l1 011or l1 in1, and to 11elp him in l1is old age. Reside11 tial decisions are tl1 t1s affected by several factors. Older so11s of orcli11 ary far111ers ofte11 build tl1eir 11e\v ho111e­ steads at so111e dista11ce fro111 tl1 eir father's. You11ger so11s are 1nore likely to be fou11d near tl1 e pare11tal ho11 1estead. On tl1e average it was fot111d tl1at in . lo11g-settled a11 d densely populated JJarisl1es one out of every two 111ale ho11seholcl heads \vas not liv.i11 g in 11is natal parish. In JJarisl1es wl1icl1 have large a111011nts of 1111cleared b11t potential})' 11tilizable la11cl, tl1ere is a 11otable exception to the dispersal pattern. !11 tl1 ese JJarisl1es additio11 al la11d ca11 be cleared i11 pro1Jortio11 to the a1not111t of labor available. Under such co11clitions, a n1an's so11s clear new Janel i11steacl of 111 ov­ ing away to compete for land wl1ich is already tinder cL1ltiva­ tio11. I11 JJarisl1es witl1 1n11ch t1ncleared land, it is not u11usual to find a ]1 a111let 111ade tlJJ of a half-dozen or n1ore patrili11eally related ki11 , JJerl1 aps tl1e offsJJri11g of a single gra11 dfatl1er or great-gra11clfather. Tl1ese are tl1 e parisl1es me11tioned above in wl1icl1 land is clivided 011ly by allot11 1e11t and 11 ot by "fatl1er." As tl1e available t111cleared la11 d di111i11ishes, tl1e 111ore co11 1111011 rist system is i11stit11ted and the localized clusters of patri-ki11 break ·up. Acqi1iring rist tl1roi1gl1 r11arric1ge Wl1 ether or 11ot a. 111a11's sons re111ai11 i11 tl1eir 11atal parisl1, eacl1 of tl1e111 acq11ires a 11ew a11d distinct set of rist rights a11d related i11terests tl1rougl1 each wo111 a11 with who111 l1e l1as chil­ dre11. Tl1 at tl1ese rigl1 ts \vill be disti11ct fro111 those acqt1ired tl1rougl1 tl1e JJare11 ts is e11 s11red by churcl1 rL1les of exoga111y whicl1 forbid 111arriage with a wo111an who shares a co1n1no11 a11cestor i11 a11y line i11 six or fewer asce11ding gen­ eratio11s ( that is, 111 arriage is per111 itted witl1 sixth cousi11s bt1t prohibited witl1 all closer kin). While no one is able to trace all l1is k.i11sl1ip relations to tl1e "seventh house'' as is required by tl1is rL1le, it is JJrecisely those ge11ealogical links whicl1 are associated witl1 la11d rights that are re111en1bered. If it is known tl1at a f)rospective bride a11d groon1 l1ave rist rights


The Acquisition of Rist Land

througl1 the sa1 11e 1 11i11zir abbat, then it is known t11at they have co1nmon lineal ancestry. It re1 nai1 1s 011ly to trace out the exact degree of li1 1kage. Marriages do occasio11ally occur between persons k11own to be related in less tha 1 1 seven de­ grees or "houses," but people ''1 11urmur about it." In most instances the exogamy rule is observed with suffi­ cient rigor that the bride a1 1d groom have at least a large part of tl1eir rist rights through different 1ninzir abbats. The re­ ligiot1sly sa1 1ctio11 ed rule of exoga1ny tl1us 11ot 01 1ly gives the so11s potential access to 11ew rist la11ds but it also ft1rther differentiates tl1e bt111dles of rist rights that will eventually be available to their ch.ildren. Fat1 1ers are kee11ly a.ware of tl1e aclva1 1tages tl1 at can be derivecl fro1 n the careful selection of tl1eir so11s' brides. 11 1deed the father's co1 1cern that the prospective bride have ack 11owledged rist rigl1 ts ranks 011ly after his co11cer11 tl1at her fa1 11jJy backgrot111d be t1ntaintecl with tl1e SUSJJicion of leprosy a11d tl1e evil eye. Tl1rot 1gl1 n1arriage or, more accurately, through fatl1eri11g cl1ildren ,vl1on1 l1e sup1Jorts, a 111a11 thus gains access to a new set of rist rights. Wl1etl1er l1e will be able to obtain rist land i11 virtue of these rights is another question. Fron1 a tactical poi 11t of view, the land he 1 nay l1ope to obtain falls into t,vo classes. The first co1 11 prises la1 1d given to hi1 11 by his wife's kins1ne 11. The other, and statistically by far the more in1portant, con1prises la11d which he 1nay clai 1 11 i11 his wife's 11an1e fro1n the fej of a descent cor1Joration.

Obtaining land through the descent corporation With tl1e passage of the years a1 1d t1 1 e growth of l1is house­ hold, a 1na11 graclually attains the statt 1s of elclerl1ood. Ile acts as arbitrator whe 1 1 his neigl1bors quarrel with their ,vives or with eacl1 other. He gives cou1 1cil to others at the inforn1al 1noots held in tl1e churcl1 yard after Sunday 1 11ass. He speaks _ tip at meet111gs convened to discuss the re1Jair of the churcl1 or the i111plementation of a gover1 1111e 11t order to clear a trail. He l1elps to conduct a11 jnquest l1eld to i 11vestigate an un­ solved cri1ne in l1is own or so111e nearby parisl1; a1 1d he fre-



Obtaining La11d Tl1rougl1 the Descent Cor1Joration

que11ts tl1e local a{biya clanfia's cot1rt, liste11ing to the dis1Jutes alo11g vvitl1 the jt1clge ru1d offeri11g the litigants his advice freely 011 substa11tive a11d legal {JOi11ts. To tl1e exte11t tl1at he beco1nes a successful elder a 1na11 tl1us beco111es in,1olvecl i11 a wide11i11g circle of con1mt1nity ai1d i11ter1Jerso11al affairs. A111ong tl1ese are the affairs of descent co.rporatio11s througl1 which he atten1pts to acquire additio11aI rist land. For 1nost 1ne11 these atte111_pts meet with at least so111e st1ccess; for, 11ext to i11l1eritance, tl1e 1nost in1porta11t way i11 whicl1 n1e11 acqt1ire rist land is by claims made througl1 the desce11t cor1Joration. 111 all, a little t111der one­ l1alf of tl1e fields st1rveyecl l1ad passed to tl1eir present holders as the rest1lt of sucl1 action. For u1Jwardly 111obile 111en, claims througl1 the desce11t corporatio11 asst1me a particularly great i1n1Jorta11ce, ust1ally accou11ti11g for 1nore of their fields than all otl1er 1neans co111binecl. Fields acqt1ired tl1rot1gl1 the descent corporation, tinlike fields acquired tl1rot1gl1 i11heritance, are al1nost invariably acquired fro111 111e11 or won1en wl10 are 11ot reckoned as close kin a11d wl10 are 11ot 1noved to give lIIJ the Ia11d by kinship obligatio11s or perso11al se11ti1ne11ts. The basic qt1estion is 110 lo11ger, "\.Vl1at right does the clai1na11t l1ave to the land?" for each 111a11's rist rights are very exte11sive and far exceecl his l1oldi11g. It is rather, "For what reaso11s a11d u11der what con­ ditions does the previot1s holder or 'clefe11cla11t' relinqt1isl1 l1is la11d to the clai111a11t?'' The ki11ds of co111munity interests, legal 11or1ns, and politi­ cal realities that e11able 011e 111a11 to take rist la11d fron1 an­ otl1er 1nust be t111clerstood in relatio11 to the two types of clai111s tl1at ca11 be lodged agai11st the fej of a desce11t corpo­ ration: clai111s for land through division by a]lot111ent; a11cl clai111s for la11d tl1rot1gh division by father. Clai1ns for la11cl through clivision l;y allotment

A clai111 for land through divisio11 by allot111e11t is a clai1n for a share of the yecle11b la11d of a 111inzir abbat. It does not re­ quire a ft1rtl1er subdivision or a redivision of a la11d section by fatl1er. It 111ay be unco11tested, it 1nay rec1t1ire the arbitra-



The Acquisition of Rist Land

tio1 1 of elders, or, all else failing, it 1nay be taken to court. In any case, a clai111 for la1 1d through division by allot 1nent involves at most a few fields and is generally a 1natter that co11cerns only a few people. It n1ay be brougl1t by an es­ tablished elder, and its success de1Je11ds in large part on the support l1e can 1 nuster in the co1111 11t11 1ity where the la11d is located. A clai1 11 for a share of tl1e rist la11d of a 111i11zir abbat by a]lot111ent is first presented to tl1e fej of tl1at 1ni11zir abbat. At least son1e of the 1 11i1 1zir abbat's land 1 11ust still be )'eclenb la1 1d, that is, land which is 1 1ot divided by father. To JJrese1 1t 11is clai111, the clai111a 1 1t tells tl1e fej tl1at l1e is a desce11da1 1t of the 1 ninzir. abbat. If requested, he n1ay back UIJ his clai111 by reciti11g l1is desce 1 1t li11e back to the 111i11zir abbat or 0 1 1e of l1is ack11owledged desce1 1de1 1ts. If tl1e fej de 1 1ies tl1e regt1est, the clain1ant 1 nay take him to cot1rt. If, as is 1 11ore co1 11mo11 i1 1 reqt1ests for la11cl througl1 divisio11 by allot 1 11e 1 1t, the fej recog11izes the clain1 as legiti­ mate, l1e assig 1 1s one or 1 11ore fields already held by a1 1other perso11 to the clai 1 11ant. The fej is asserti 1 1g tl1at the perso1 1 or perso11s ,vl1ose land has bee11 designated either l1ave no rist right in tl1e la11d or tl1at, tl1ough they have a rist right, tl1ey prese1 1tly hold "too mt1cl1'' of the la 1 1d. Accordi11g to custoru 011ly u 1 1fertilized land should be designated for reallo­ catio11 by the fej. \Vhile this rt1le is ge11eral1y followed, ex­ ceptio11s are so111eti111es 1 11ade if all or 111ost of the clesig11ated holder's land is fertilized. The clai1nant the1 1 approacl1es the desig11ated l1older, i 1 1for 1 11s hi1n of the fej's decision and asks hi 1 11 to give tip tl1e la11d either in11 nediately or, if it is t111der ct1ltivatio11, after the harvest. The holder has the optio11 of givi 1 1g U[J t]1e la11cl, of­ feri1 1g to co1 11promise by givi 1 1g UIJ s0111e fraction of the an1ount requested, or refusi11g to give lliJ a 1 1y la11d at all. U1 1less l1is position is extren1ely weak, the defe1 1dant will not take tl1e first OJJtion, for he 111ay fare better and ca11 fare 110 worse if l1e st1bn1its the issue to arbitratio11. For sinular rea­ sons tl1� clai 1 nru1t seldom will accept a co1 11pro 1 11ise or a re­ fusal without recourse to arbitratio11. 154

Obtaining La11cl Tl1rougl1 tl1e Descent Corporation

Any respe_cted elder,. i 1 1cl11di11g tl1 e fej himself, 1 11ay be asked to arbitrate the clisp11 te. If the ii1itial atteinpt fails, a yet 111ore respected elder 111 ay be sot1ght 011t or tlie clisptite inay be take 1 1 before a � noot of �lders l1eld in the cl111rchyard after 1 11ass. If all else fails, tl1e d tSJJUte goes to tl1 e co11rt of the a(bi)1 a clai1iic1 or, if the an1ot111t of lai1cl i 11volved is k11 own to be too great, to tl1e cl istrict cot1rt. Tl1011gl1 tl1e desire of tl1e disputants to 1naxi i 11ize their l1oldings of rist la11cl is esse i1tially 11ncl1angecl whether tl1ey are before the elders or i11 govern1 ne11t court, there are sig11i­ ficat1t cLiffere11 ces ii1 tl1e for111al objectives of the elclers and the cot1rt a11d .in tl1e 11or1native 1Jri11ciples to which they look for gt1ida11ce. Tl1e elders will 11ot award tl1e claimant a11y la11d t11.1less they accept tl1e validity of l1 is pedigree, b11t tl1eir pri1nary objective is reco11ciliation-to fi11d an an1icab1e a11d reasonable solution wl1 icl1 will e11able tl1 e dispt1tants to live togetl1er peaceably as n1embers of the sa111e co111mt1nity. Becat1se they seek reconciliation a1 1d I1 ave 110 1 11eans of e11forcing their reco.m1 11endatio1 1s, other tha1 1 by rather cliffttse co 1umu11ity JJresst1re, tl1 e elders m11st take into co1 1sideratio11 1 11a11y as1Jects of the disputants' statt1s i11 the co 1 11m11nity. The most i1 11porta11t of tl1ese have to do with whetl1 er tl1e clispu­ tants are resicle11t m e1 11bers of the JJarisl1, wl1etl1 er tl1ey really "need'' the la11cl, wl1etl1er, as clergy, they JJerfor 1 11 a religiot1s service to the co1111 11t 1 nit)', ai1d whetl1er tl1ey l1ave tl1e social prestige that accrues to leadi11g elders. Tl1 e elders' final as­ sessment of a 111a1 1's co111m1111 ity standing in tl1ese respects is expressed in ter111s of whetl1er l1e has too 1 1111ch rist land in the estate i11 qt1estio11 . The significa11ce of reside1 1ce i11 tl1e parish where the land bei11g clai111ed is located is not due to any for111al or legal rt1 le b11t to tl1e fact tl1at the elders are inclined to recog11ize the claims of their frie1 1cls a 11 d neighbors wl10 share with the1 11 tl1e burden of collective service to tl1 e gwilt-holder and the local cht1 rch. Nonreside1 1ts deJJlete the land available to resi­ dents bt1t do 11ot contribt1 te to tl1e discharge of tl1ese respo11 sibilities. TJ1e clai111s of 1 1011 reside11 ts are accordingly looked 11pon with less favor tl1a1 1 tl1ose of residents. Tl1 e distinctio11 155

< The Acquisitio11 of Rist Lancl

bet"veen residents and 11onresident la11ciholders is recog11ized in tl1 e A1nharic distinction bet�1ee11 )1eclarI czras/1ocl1, or "out­ side far111ers," a11d ye111ist arasl1ocl1, or ''insicle far111ers. '' Tl1 e 11otio11 of "need" is less precise tha 11 that of reside1 1ce. Basically, the 11otio1 1 is that it is wrong to cleprive a resicle1 1t 1nen1ber i11 good standi11 g of la11d wl1icl1 l1e 11 eecls for the sup­ IJOrt of l1is l1ousehold men1 bers. It is less often invoked to aid a claima11t \vl10 is a new resident, 1nore or less a stra11ger, tl1 a11 it is to JJrotect a lo11 g-time reside11 t defe11cla11t whose pligl1t is of greater concern. Ofte11 it is tacitl)' i11 voked by tl1 e fej before a dispute ,1rises, \,V)1 en l1e passes over the fields of tl1e [Joor, the ,:veak, a11d the aged, wl1 0 co11lcl 11 ot clefe1 1d tl1eir last lands well i11 litigatio 1 1, a1 1d desig11ates tl1e fields of those wl1 0 are better off. Were it 1 1ot for this notion that it is ,:vrong to take fro 1 11 a fello"v 1Jarisl1io1 1er his last few fields, it see 111s likely, i 1 1 light of tl1 e fierce co1 111Jetitio1 1 for lancl a11d the role of {Jo,ver i11 tl1is con1petitio11, tl1at there wot1ld be a 111 t1cl1 larger la 11 dless JJOJJt1latio11 in Dega Da1not today. Tl1e la11d clain1s of a JJriest or cl1urcl1 schoolteacher 1nay be looked LlfJOn with SJJecial favor if tl1e la1 1d sectio11 concerned o,ves services to tl1 e parisl1 cl1 urcl1 \.Vhich tl1 e la11dholders are Linable to 1neet aclequately. Under tl1ese circu1nstances 11ot 011 1)' are 1011 g late11 t rist rigl1 ts recog11 ized withot1t objection, bt1t so11 1eti1nes a priest or teacl1 er is actively sot1gl1t out a11d offered la11 d and IJerhaJJS a house site. The 11otio11 of ,;i,,hat co11stitL1 tes holdi11 g too 111t1 cl1 lancl is related to JJrestige a1 1d is even more difficL1lt to defi11 e tl1a11 tl1e notio 11 of 11eecl. Inasmt1ch as social statt1 s i 1 1 the con1n1unit)1 is i11 part a 1Jrodt1ct of tl1e amot111t of land held, tl1e co11 cept of l1avi11g too 111ucl1 la11d for 011 e's statt1s is son1e­ v.,}1at circt1lar. There are, l1owever, otl1er in11Jorta11t factors wl1icl1 affect a n1 a11 's status a1 1d co11 co1 11itant estin1ates of tl1e a 1 11ou11 t of la11d l1e should e11joy. Para111ot11 1t a1no1 1g tl1 ese are tl1e freque11cy witl1 whicl1 a 1 11a11 is asked to arbitrate the dis­ putes of l1is fellows a11 d is ap1Joi11tecl to t111official or official posts of }Jarisl1 and 11eigl1borl1ood ad 1 11i11istratio1 1. It is ge1 1erally accepted as a PIJropriate or at least i 11 evitable tl1 at st1cl1 a 1 na11 , a leader i11 l1 is co1 11111t1nity, sl1ot1ld holcl more la11d. i11 local clesce11 t cor1Joratio11s' estates tha11 lesser 111e11 l1 olcl. 156

Obtai11i11g Land Thro11gl1 the Descent Cor1)oratio 11

The converse of the ge11eral te11de11cy for 111en of stand i11 g to obtain a11cl l1old la11d is that it is so111etimes difficult for a 111a11 of low standi11g, perl1a1Js a you11g 111an wl10, as a11 only son, has inl1eritecl 11111cl1 land fro 1 11 l1is father, to retain his land. Partic11larly if l1is fatl1er l1acl 110 recog11ized rights i11 so1ne of l1is fields, tl1e s011 is likely to be si 1 1gled 011 t as a holder with "too n1ucl1'' la11d. I11 gover11111e11t co11rt, i11 contrast to arbitration by the elders, tl1e objective of the JJroceecli11gs is 11ot so 1 11t1ch to con­ ciliate tl1ro11gh co111pro111 ise as to reacl1 a legally correct, i111personal jt1dg111e 11 t tl1 rot1gl1 the ap1Jlicatio11 of tl1 e rules of the rist syste111 . Fro1n tl1e iJOint of view of the litiga11 ts, however, court proceedi11gs serve pri111arily as a battlegrot1nd 01 1 which to figl1t a war of attritio11 , to wear 011e another dow11, each hoJJing eve1 1tt1ally to reacl1 a 111 ore advantageot1s out-of-court settleme11t. This tactical or political, ratl1er tha 1 1 legal, use of the courts ca1111ot be overstressed; for except i11 1 11i11or disptttes, st1 ch as disputes over bot111daries and cattle JJaths, la11d liti­ gatio11 is a forn1 of politic::11 activity, and the cotirt syste111 serves as a political are 1 1a. Cases broi1ght cLga;nst the defenclarzt l1olcler. I11 cases in wl1icl1 tl1e plai11tiff is clai111i11g land fro 111 tl1e present holder designated by the fej, rather tl1a11 fro111 tl1e fej l1i1nself, tl1e strict adhere11ce of courts to tl1e icleal rt1les of tl1e rist syste111 te11d to give the IJlai11tiff a11 i11itial tactical aclvantage; l1e 11eecl 011ly establisl1 11 is desce 1 1t fro111 the appropriate n1i11zir abbat to validate his rigl1t to at least so 1 11e share of the la11cl. Given tl1e ra1nificatio11s of all 111e11 's rist li11es, tl1is js seldon1 diffict1lt. Once tl1e clai111 of tl1e plai11 tiff is establisl1 ecl, tl1e clefe11da11t has OJJe 1 1 to l1i 1 11 several li11es of defe11se. First of all, if he is not to lose the fielcls in g11estio1 1 ot1trigl1t, the defe11da 1 1t 111ust prove that he has rist rigl1ts or seco11dary rights i11 the fields. Rist rights are, 011 ce 111ore, established by calli11g witnesses. Eve11 if tl1e defe11da11t can establish that l1e has rist rigl1ts to tl1e lancl, l1owever, he 111ay be ordered to sl1are the fielcls witl1 the clain1a11t, for l1as 11 ot tl1e latter also rist rights? As a11 alternative to sl1 ari1 1g tl1e land, the defendant ca11 now clai1n that he cloes not have too 1 nt1ch of the mi11zir ab­ bat's lane:! and tl1at tl1 e fej was t111jt1st or in error in givi1 1g his 157


The Acquisition of Rist Land

land to tl1 e plai1 1tiff i11 tl1e first place. Tl1 is 1 11 a11 et1 ver, if suc­ cessft1l, tur1 1s tl1 e case back Ll}J011 tl1e fej a1 1d reqt1 ires a re­ vie\\' of all la11 dholdi1 1g in tl1 e estate. Si11 ce this strategy pits tl1 e defenda11 t agai11 st the fej a11 d perl1 aps tl1 e 111 ajority of tl1 e n1ore i1n1Jorta11 t 111 en holdiI1 g lru1 d i11 the estate, it is 1 1ot to be t111 dertake11 ligl1tly. Ft1rther11 1ore, the clefe11 dant often is i11 a weak JJOsitio11 , if 11ot because of l1is desce11 t clai111 at least be­ cat1 se of l1 i.s ability to st1 pport }Jrotracted litigatio11 a11cl 111ake 11 t1 111erot1 s e1 1e1 11 ies. After all, it was for tl1is reaso11 tl1at tl1 e fej desig1 1ated l1 is la1 1ds to begi1 1 witl1 . If tl1 e defe11 dant is 11 ot able to establish a rist clai111 tl1 rot1gl1 wit1 1esses ,vl10 will SLIIJIJOrt l1is ge11 ealogical right, he 111ust call tl1 e JJerso11 ,vho l1 as give11 h.i11 1 tl1 e la11 cl or wl1 0 l1as rist rights i11 it as 11is 111abI. Tl1 e latter 111 t1 st ass t1 111 e the IJlace of the defe11 da11 t if l1e ,.visl1es to l1 e] 1J l1in1 retai1 1 JJOssessio1 1 of the la1 1d. Several ki11 cls of out-of-court tactics are t1secl by both JJlain­ tiffs a1 1cl defe11 da11 ts. Tl1ese are ai111 ed at l1 arassi11 g tl1e op­ po11 e11t i11 to a favorable out-of-cot1 rt settle111e11 t. The strategy 11 1ost ofte11 t1 sed by tl1e defendant, wl1 0, of course, has 1Jos­ sessio11 of tl1e field, is si111 ply stalli11g so as to prolo1 1g the JJro­ ceecl i11 gs. One way he does this is by calling ma1 1y witnesses who are sick, far a\\1ay, or occ t ttJied witl1 i 111portant bt1 siness 011 the day set for the heari1 1g. Alter11 atively, tl1 e defenda11t l1i1 11 self 111ay be "u1 1able'' to atte11 d the proceedi1 1gs 01 1 the a1)­ JJOu1 ted day, but l1e r t1ns the risk of a fine for 11ot a1JJJeari11g. Co1n111 u11icatio1 1s are slow ancl t1 11certai1 1 i11 Da1 11 ot a11 cl tl1 e st1 ccessive heari1 1gs tl1at t1sually are required for a si11 gle case are ofte1 1 several 111 011 ths apart. U1 1der tl1 ese conditions it is 11ot t111 t1s t 1al for a la11 d case to drag 01 1 for a year or n1ore. B)' tl1is ti111 e tl1e IJlai1 1tiff 111 ay be willi11 g to settle for less of tl1 e la11d l1 e claims i1 1 order to get on witl1 tl1e bt1 si11 ess of JJlo,vi1 1g and planti11 g. Tl1 e plai1 1tiff, too, 11 1ay try to prolo11 g tl1 e case if l1e l1as otl1 er 111 e11 i1 1 l1 is hot1sel1olcl who ,�,1ork l1 is la11 d a11 d if l1is oppo11ent does 11 ot; for tl1 e clefe11 da11 t \vill weary of the .i 11convenie1 1ce of goi11 g to cot1 rt. If tl1 e plaintiff is a 11 1a1 1 of sta11 dir1 g a11 d st1bsta11 ce, his best strategy is to increase tl1 e cost of tl1e case for l1 is less well-off O{)IJ011 e11 t. He does tl1is by JJrolo11 gi1 1g tl1 e case, by a1Jpealing 158

Obta.ining Lancl Tl1rot1gl1 tl1e Descent Corporation

it to a l1 igl1er a11 cl 1 11ore �ista1 1t cot1 rt, if aJ)propriate, ar1d by trying to l1 ave cot1 rt hear111gs set for days wl1en he knovvs tl1 e defenda 11 t will be t 11 1able to co11 1e a1 1d will l1 e11 ce be fined. Litiga11ts, J)artict1 larly clefe1 1da11ts, freque11tly clai1 n tl1 at tl1 eir OJ)po1 1e11 ts l1ave give1 1 bribes (gltbbo) to tl1 e jt1dge 1 1ot so n1t1 ch to inflt1e1 1ce l1is clecisio 1 1s as to affect the ti1 ni11 g of the st1bsegt1e1 1t heari1 1g. A fi11al tactic t}1 at 11 1ay be t1sed by either party but is 11 1ost ofte11 tised by defe1 1cla.11ts is to threaten a cot111 ter-st1it for fielcls i11 a11 otl1er la11d sectio11 tl1rot1 gh a1 1otl1 er 111 i11zir abbat. The tactics, J)ri11ciples, a11 d J)rocedures e111 ployed i1 1 litiga­ tio11 co11 cerni11 g clai111s for rist la11 d ca1 1 be best illt1 strated by exa1ni11i1 1g several cases from the records of the atbiya dafifia of Feres Bet Mikael. In 1966 tl1 e afb1yc1 clafiiia held his cot1rt so 1 newl1at irregt1 larly i1 1 a woocl-a 11 d-grass structt1 re which he referred to as his office. Tl1e 1 11ajority of Cl{bI)1a courts are still l1eld i1 1 t}1e ope1 1 air. Present with the afbiyct claii11a was his clerk, a1 1 un.i)aicl and u11 official appoi11 tee hopi11 g to gai11 a gover1 1111e11t positio11 i 11 the future, a1 1d at least two elders, wl1 0 are reqt1ired by law. Dt1ri1 1g tl1e J)er.iod of about 01 1e year tl1e cLtbiya cfaiiiicL heard 176 cases of wl1ich 78 co11 cer11 ed rist. Fot1r of tl1ese cases are JJrese11 ted here. Case 1: Gellew 1Js. Getal1un Augitst 27 Tl1e elders prese11 t at the court were B'itew a1 1d Graz1 11 ach An11iley. Tl1 e plai11 tiff, Gellew, 11 1ade the follovving plea: "P1·iest Getahut1 1 ·eft1secl to give me my rist fro111 Matebe \Veld, Denas'iwes, a11d A.yo [the three cl1ildre1 1 of the 1 11i11zir abbat Nucle i 1 1 figt1re 2], which was designated as 1ni1 1e by tl1 e fejs of tl1ese three 1 ni1 1zir abbats [i11 whose 11a111es tl1e la1 1d of Nt1 de is inco111pletely divided]. If the accusecl agrees witl1 n1e, let hi1 n give me the la1 1d. If he does 1 1ot agree with me, let me I)rove n1 y case. The esti­ mated valt1e of tl1e land is $23." (This last i1 1for1 11ation is sL1p1)lied becaL 1 se the jurisdictio11 of the cot1rt is li1 11ited to cases which do 11 ot involve more than Eth. $25).



The Acquisition of Rist Land

Tl1e accused, Priest Getal1un, 1 11ade the followi11g reply: "The rist of Matebe Weld a11d Ayo is my own. I clo 11ot know whether the JJlaintiff is a rist-l1older [1¡isteiina] or not. Let hi111 count his ancestr)' and tell 1ne how he is descencled fro111 tl1e 1 ninzir abbats. Tl1e11, if I agree with. l1i111, I will sl1are tl1e la11d with l1i111, but if I do 1 1ot agree with hi111, let l1i 1n 1)ro,,e l1is case i11 court. I a111 not, l1owever, tl1e ifa meret of De11asiwes [tl1at is, the la11d assig11ed by lot to Denas1v.,es in tl1e divisio11 of Nttde's la11d by father]." The juclge ordered that tl1e val11e of tl1e rist land 111t1st be esti111ated, a11cl tl1e following elders were cl1osen to do tl1is: Debtera Gete, tl1e judge's brotl1er; Ato BTresaw, tl1e cl1iqa sl1itn1. of tl1e parish that year; a11d Ato Kasa. Tl1ese elders were orclerecl to bri11g a writte11 esti111ate of th.e value of tl1e la11cl to the court at tl1e followi11g l1eari11g, wl1ich was set for October 3. October 3

Tl1e plai11tiff a11d the acct1sed were 11ot prese11t. The l1eari11g was rescheduled for Nove1nber 20. No,1e11iber 20

Tl1e elders J)rese11t at tl1e court were Chekol a11d Tirt1nel1. Tl1e {)lai11tiff a11cl tl1e accused were Prese11t. Tl1e esti111ate . of tl1e ,,alue of tl1e la 11cl hacl not been se11 t to tl1e cot1rt. The cot1rt again ordered tl1at the la11d 111t1st be esti1 11,1ted. Tl1e 11ext heari 11g v,1as set for Dece1nber 2. December 2

Tl1e plai11tiff a11d tl1e acct1secl were abse11t. Tl1e court ordered tl1e plain.tiff a11d tl1e acct1secl to co111e to tl1e 11ext heari11g, which was set for Dece1nber 20. Dece111.ber 20

The plai11tiff \Vas 1Jrese11t bt1t the accused was absent. The cot1rt ruled tl1at if tl1e acct1sed did 11ot con1e for the next heari11g 011 Jant1ary 8 tl1e case would be conclt1ded a11yway. 160


Obtai11i11g Land Tl1ro11gl1 tl1e Descent Corporatio11

Janilal)' 8 Tl1 e elders prese11 t at tl1 e co11rt were Graz111 acl1 Ye11 e11 el1 ancl Teferra. Tl1 e plai11 tiff was prese11t, but the acc11sed \vas absent for 1111 k11 ow11 reaso11s. Tl1 e coL�rt ordered tl1 at tl1e acc11secl 111ust pay Etl1 . $2 kisara 1 to tl1e plaintiff. Tl1e ]Jlai1 1tiff was told to take a 11 ote fro11 1 the co11rt to tl1e accusecl to 111ake hi1n appear i 1 1 co11rt at the 11 ext heari11g, \v}1icl1 \Vas set for January 31 . Jarzi1ary 31 The elders present at court �1ere Tirt111 el1 and Teferra. Tl1 e JJlaintiff a11d the accused were present. The accusecl \Vas asked by tl1e cot1rt if l1 e had hacl tl1e land esti111atecl. He a11swered tl1 at l1 e had 11ot been a\vare of the ti1ne whe 11 the esti11 1ate ,vas to take place (l1e was st1pposecl to ac­ co111pany the elders who act11ally make tl1 e esti1 11ate). The co11rt decided that a11otl1 er date 11 1ust be set to have tl1e la11 d estirnated, ,111 d anotl1 er co11rt heari11g was set for Febrt1ary 14. Febri,ar)' 14 Tl1 e plaintiff was 1Jrese11 t, b1 1t the acct1sed was abse11 t. Tl1e co11rt gave tl1e following decisio11 i11 tl1e case. "Tl1e acc11secl l1as 11ot co111 plied witl1 tl1 e orclers of tl1e court. I-Ie was told to l1 ave tl1 e lancl estin1ated (req11iri11g its 111easure111e1 1 t), b11t lie did 1 1ot. Further 1 nore, l1e clicl 11 ot apJJear i11 court 011 tl1e ap1Jointed days. Si11 ce tl1 is is a civil case tl1 e acc11 sed 11 111 st give the rist to tl1e plai11 tiff. 111 adclition, l1e 11 1t1st pay the plai1 1tiff $5 lcisc,ra. If tl1e ac­ ct1sed wants to 01Jen the case agai1 1, lie ca11 do so by paying tl1e regtilar $10 fee. Tl1is case is hereby co11cluded and e11tered into the archives [a wooden box tl1at 1111fort1 111ately did 11ot prove i1npervious to the depredations of rats]. Writte11 11otice that the case l1 as bee11 tht1 s co11 cl11ded is to be isst1 ed to the plaintiff and to the accused." 1. A small fine the court can impose on the plaintiff or the accused for failing lo appear on ihe appointed day.


'fhe Acquisition of Rist Land

The case of Gellev.1 vs. Getaht111 illustrates well the tactic of stalling. The defenda11t clid little in his own defense and tl1warted the measure1 ne11t of the land whicl1 1 1ugl1t have pt1t the case i11to a higher and 1 nore expensive cot1rt. He suc­ ceeded, however, in postponi11g what he felt was an i 1 1evitable decision for 11alf a year. Furtl1er111ore, tl1ere is no asst1ra11ce that tl1e JJlai11tiff actually received the land. In the absence of a stronger civil ad 1 11inistratio11, the court l1as 110 direct way of e11forci11g its decisions. If the defe11da11 t reft1ses to give tip tl1e la11d, tl1e plaintiff may open a cri1ni11al case against hi111. More often, havi11g establisl1ed his position 1nore sot111dly, tl1e JJlaintiff will agree to settle for a sl1are of the la11d }1e l1as clai111ed: a share wl1icl1 is s111aller tl1a.n the cot1rt award· bttt larger tl1a11 l1e cot1ld l1ave received without going to court. ,

Case 2:

!liv11eti1 v.r. Tegefifie

No date gi,1en

Tl1e elders IJresent at court were Tese1111 na and Berhane. The IJlai 11tiff, Iw1 1etu, 111ade the following plea. " refused to give 1 ne my cl1ildre11's Kokeba: Yema11avl1t: Welde Han11a [tl1e upper part of his desce11t Jine fron1 the 1 11inzir abbat Kokeba-.see figure 2] ancl my Sina Heywet [anotl1er cl1ild of Kokeba] rist. Let l1im come and speak for hi1 11self. If lie agrees witl1 111e, let hi1n give 111e tl1e land. If 11e derlies 1 11e, let n1e prove 111y case.'' The accused, Tegefifie, gave tl1e follo\vi1 1g reply: "I l1a,,e a i,vc1b1 for tl1e Ye1nanaw1t rist; my 1r11ab1 is Im111ahoy Shashitt1. I ca 11 bri11g her to court. Tl1e Si11a I-Iey"",et rist is 1 11ine, ho\vever, a11d I will defe11d it 111yself." TJ1e court ordered the acct1sed to bring his ,,vabr for the heari11g set for June 2.


June 2

The plai1 1tiff a1 1d tl1e acct1sed were abse11t. A11other bear­ i11g was set for lttne 26, a11d it was decided by the court 162


Obtaining Lanci Througl1 tl1e Descent Corporation

that if tl1e litiga11 ts clid 11ot apJJear 011 tl1at date tl1 e case ,vould be closed.

litne 26 TJ1e elders JJrese11t at cot1rt were Wetadir Nt1 re a11d Molla. Tl1e JJlai11 tifI a11cl tl1e accused were JJreser1 t. The -i,vabI of the acc1rsecl was also JJrese11t. \,VI1e11 tl1e judge asked the l-vab7 if sl1e wot1 ld acceJJt the case fro111 tl1 e defe11da11t she said sl1e v.,oulcl ( tl1is applies 011ly to tl1e Ye111anawit la11d). The co11rt ordered tl1at tl1e i11abI be given a copy of the origi11al co111plai11t a11cl set the 11ext heari11g for July 26.

July 26 The IJlaintiff, tl1e accused, a1 1cl the jt1dge were all abse11 t. The l1eari11g was reschedt1led for At 1gust 14.

Artgust 14 Tl1e JJlai11 tiff m1d tl1e accused were abse11t. Tl1e jt1dge said that if tl1e litiga11ts did 11ot atte11 d tl1 e next l1 earing tl1e case wot1ld be closed, a11d the next l1eari11g was set for October 9.

October 9 Tl1e elders jJresent at cot1rt were Minayyel1 u a11cl Graz111ach Ye11 e11el1. Tl1e plai1 1tiff was prese1 1t, but tl1e acct1 sed was abse11t. The cot1rt gave tl1e following rt1 li11g: "The acct 1secl a11cl l1is 1-vc1b1 did 11ot co111 e to cot1rt for tl1 e last tl1ree l1eari11gs. Tl1e case is a civil 011e; tl1e plai11tifI has wasted his ti1ne atte11di11g court. He11ce it is hereby orclered that tl1e acct1 secl give the la11d in question to the plai11 tiff. If the accused objects becat1 se tl1e case was closed i11 his abse1 1ce, l1e ca11 reopen it by IJaying the ust1al $ 10. fee. This case is l1ereby closed and placed i11 the archives.'' Once agai11 the prin1ary objective of the defendant a11d his . wabI was to stall. By doi11g so, tl1ey have 111a11 agecl to reta111 163

The Acql1isifion of Rist Lancl

tl1e la11 d lo11g e110L1gh to sow it. Tl1 e harvest is tl1eirs, regard­ less of t11e co11rt decisio11. They l1ave th11s exte11ded their con­ trol for at least one agric11ltural seaso11 . In fact, the land i11 qt1estio11 was eve11 tt1ally clivided i11 a11 out-of-court settle111ent. Cas·e.'J broi1gl1t c1gainst tl1e fej. Cases in wl1 ich the fej hi111 self is the defe11 dant differ i11 t\VO i1 11porta11 t respects fro1n tl1 ose i 11 whicl1 tl1e defe11 dant is tl1 e landholder designated by tl1 e fej. Fjrst, as is ill11strated in case 3, tl1e clai1na11 t 11s11ally l1as a 111 uch l1arcler time obtai11 i11 g a favorable de­ cisio11 both because tl1e fej is ipso facto a leading elder witl1 inflt1e1 1ce, a11cl beca11se t11 e fej has tl1 e st1p 1Jort of other rist­ l1olders who fear tl1at t11ey 1.11 ay be asked to give UJJ land. Seco11 cl, as is ill11strated i11 case 4, cases brougl1t against the fej ofte11 lead to 11 ew JJressures for a ft1rtl1er division of the 111 inzir abbat's la11cl by fatl1er. Cas·e 3: }/ilm.a a11cl T1T1eyzero Wi1clcli11esh vs. Priest Asris a11d Oeiic1z111acl1 Melal<u


No date

Tl1e plai11 tifrs, Qefiaz1nacl1 Yil1 11 a ancl \Veyzero \V11ddi11esl1, 111 ade tl1e following JJlea. ''Qefiazn1 ach Melakt1 [\v: ho is also a cl1 urcl1 oflicial with a co11siderable a 1 11 0111 1t of secular power over the clergy of Dega Da1not] a11 d Priest Asris [tl1 e fej of tl1 e desce11 t cor­ JJOratio11 co11cer11ed] refuse to give us 011r Gebre: Abeba: An1 a111t rist [see tl1e ge11ealogy, fig11re 2]. We accused tl1e111 i 1 1 a 11other case [tl1 at is, acct1sed tl1em of keeping the la11 d the111 selves, rather tl1 a 11 divicli11 g it for tl1 e plai11tiffs], a1 1d tl1 ey agreed i11 court to give 11s a sl1 are of tl1e lancl. A judge was cl1ose11 to l1elp ap1Jortio11 tl1e la11d a 11 d tl1e case was closecl. Tl1 e t\-\'O 1 11 e11 ,ve ]1 ave 11 1e11tio1 1ecl have not yet dividecl the la1 1cl for 11s. Let the111 co1ne to cot1rt now a11 d give tl1eir reJJly." Copies of tl1 e co111plai11t 'i ere se11t to tl1 e defe11dants a11d the 11 ext l1eari11g v. as set for April 13. 1



Obtaining Lane! Tl1rot1gh the Descent Corporation

A1;ril 13

Tl1e elders prese11t at tl1e court \Vere A1eqa Mersha a1 1d Zelleke. Tl1e JJlai11tiffs a 1 1d tl1e clefenda 1 1ts were prese11t. The first defe11cla1 1t, Qefiazn1ach Melakt1 , seve 1 1ty-five years old, gave the followi11g reply. "Priest Asris gave 1 11e tl1ose tl1ree fields of A1nanit-or ratl1er, he sl10\ved 111e wl1ere tl1e tl1ree fields were [the pro1Jer dt1 ty of tl1e fej] but I have 11ever JJlowed then1 [that is, never }Jreve1 1ted tl1e clefe11da 1 1ts fro111 t1si 1 1g tl1en1]." Tl1e seconcl defe 1 1da11t, Priest Asris, 1nade the follo\ving report. "I did not plow tl1at land I sl1owed to Qefiaz1 11acJ1 Melakt1 eitl1er. '' The plai11tiffs were tl1en orclered to prove tl1eir case (by calli11g wit11esses to testify i11 tl1eir bel1alf) at the 1 1ext hearing set for May 12. May 12 The IJlai11tiffs were abse11t. Tl1e clefe11da11ts were present. Tl1e judge rt 1led tl1at, si11ce tl1e plai1 1tiffs cot1lcl not prove tl1eir case, the case wot1ld be closed. If tl1e plai11tiffs can fi11cl \Vit1 1esses, tl1ey n1ay open the case agai1 1. It is striki 1 1g ho\v q11ickly1 tl1e case was closed in this i11sta11ce, co11sideri11g l1ow 111a 1 1y hearings were set in s0 1 11e of tl1e other cases. T.he j 1 11plication that tl1e plaintiffs are havi11g difficulty in fi11di11g 1 11e11 wl10 wot1ld wit11ess in tl1eir behalf is also sig11ifica 1 1t. The defe1 1dants in this case are 1 11e11 of great i11flue 1 1ce, one of them in the SJJhere of parish affairs ancl of desce1 1t cor1Joratio11 affairs. Tl1e other, through l1is office, has i11fl11e1 1ce throughout tl1e district. Case 4 OJJe11s \\'ith a simple req11est by a claima 1 1t for la11d fro111 the fej of tl1e 111inzir abbat's desce1 1t corporation. By the e11d of the proceedings, however, it appears that tl1e cl1ain 165

The Acquisition of Rist Land

of events started l1ere 111ay restilt in further subdivision of l,tnds by father. Cas¡e 4: Fente vs. Bala,nberas Anterze/1 No clc1te Tl1e plai11tiff, Fe11te, 1nade tl1e following plea. ''Bala111beras A11teneh has ref11sed to give n1e 111y sl1are of tl1e Kokeba rist [the Bala111beras is tl1e fej of tl1e 1ninzir abbat's cor1Joration co11sisti11g of l1olders tl1ro11gl1 011e of Kokeba's three cl1ildre11, Agne; for the genealogy relevant to this case, see figure 2]. Let l1i1n co1ne to co11rt and S{Jeak. If l1e agrees witl1 1ne, let l1i1n give 1ne the la11d. If he does not agree with 1ne, let 111e prove 111y case." (Tl1e J)laintiff \\/as clai111i11g land througl1 a descent line \Vl1icl1 traces back to Sl1oa Hayl, Kokeba, and Agne throt1gh AderTt, 011e of Ag11e's_ children. Unbeknown to the plaintiff, the division of Agne's land by father had be­ gt1n ancl Acler'it hacl acl1ieved the statt1s of 111inzir abbat a11d 11ad a fej. The plai11tiff sl1oulcl have taken l1is clai1n to tl1is fej i11 the first place. He might have done so, except tl1at, as \vill beco111e eviclent, there \Vas so111e co11ft1sion about the status of the fej-ship and the clegree to which tl1e la11d had been divided.) Tl1e fej for Ag11e, Balan1beras Anteneh, gave tl1e following defence. ''I am 11ot the fej for Ader'it. Let Qefiaz1nach \\'endi111 co1ne to tell us abo11t the rist." The jt1dge ordered Bala1nberas A11te11eh to aJ)pear at the next hearing 011 March 29 witl1 the fej of Ader1t, Qefiaz111ach. We11di111. March 29 The _J)laintiff and t11e defe11da11t were prese11t. Qeiiaz111ach We11di1n was also tl1ere, as ordered. The defendant said: 166

aâ&#x2013;Ą =

Obtaining Land Througl1 tl1e Descent Cor1)oration

"If tl1e fej of Aderit agrees with tl1e plai11tiff, let him give tl1e plai11tiff la11cl. If he cloes not, let l1in1 present his case.'' Qefiaz111acl1 vVe11clin1 gave l1is age as seve11ty-six, l1is occupation as far111i11g (l1 e l1ad not l1elcl J)t1blic office si11ce the Seco11cl World vVar), a1 1d his ho111e J)arisl1 as Peres Bet. Ile - said jt \Vas trt1e that l1e was tl1e fej for Ader1t, but tl1at 110 011e (tl1 at is, the others usi11 g tl1e la11d) hacl officially a1JJ.)Oi11 tecl hi111 to the office. }Te had si 1 nply taken tl1e job becat1se 11obody else 'vvas doi11g it. Tl1 e1 1 he gave tl1e 11a111es of all tl1 e people land tl1rougl1 Aderit a11d tl1e location of each field. (Tl1ere follows a list of eight 11a111es in tl1e court record.) He the 1 1 said tl1at l1e l1ad 11ot receivecl the rest of Ader1t's lancls frorn tl1e higher fej ()7elay fej), tl1at is, tl1 e fej of Agne, Ader,t's 111other, bt1t tl1at he recog11 izecl tl1e plaintiff's clai1n a11d ,vot1ld try to give l1i1n J a11d from Ader1t's sl1are. The judge ordered the fej of Ag11e, Bala111 beras A11te11eh, to give the rest of tl1 e la11d, according to the rule of divisio11 by fatl1 er, to tl1 e fej of AderT.t ( that is, one-third of the total), a11 d he ordered tl1 e fej of Ader,t, vVe 11 di11 1, to give the plai11 tiff land fro1n tl1is additio11 al Slll ) lJly. The allocatio11 of la 1 1d to tl1 e plai11 tiff by Ader1t's fej \\1as to be carried ot1t i11 tl1e JJrese11ce of tl1e fej of Ag11 e. Tl1e next l1earing was set for May 7. May 7

The elders present at tl1e cot1rt ,vere Aclegel1 a11cl Ala111i11ih. Tl1e plai11 tiff was 1Jrese11t bt1t tl1e defe11dant was not. The plai11tiff re111i11 ded the court that the fej hacl bee11 ordered to divide the la11d for him bt1t saicl it l1ad not yet bee11 clone. The court ordered: tl1 at the fej give the plaintiff l1is la11d; that the fej pay the plaintiff $5 lcisara for causing him to waste l1is time; a11d that tl1 e fej pay cot1rt costs for tl1e plaintiff u_po11 prese1 1tatio11 of his receipts showi11g these costs. â&#x20AC;˘ 167

The Acquisition of Rist Land

Part of tl1 e difficulty everyo.11 e is l1aving i 11 this case arises fro1n tl1e fact that the divisio11 of Kokeba's la 11ds a111 ong her tl1ree cl1ildre1 1 and of Ag1 1e's land a111 011 g hers was carried out by assig11ing fields i11 tl1eir entirety rather tl1an by st1bdi­ visio11. Instead of all thirty-t,vo of Kokeba's sl1ares being divided i11 to tl1ree strips eacl1 , so111e of them ha've been assigned u11 divided to one or a1 1other of her cl1i]dren. For this reason it is not always clear wl1etl1er a partict1 lar share is the )>eclen.b la1 1d of Kokeba or l1as been assig1 1ed to Agne or, i 11 tt1rn, to Ader 1 t.

Claims for land through division by father A clai 1 11 for ]a11 d tl1rot1gl1 division by fatl1er, if s11ccessful, 1 nay eve11tt1ally reg11ire tl1e redivision or st1bdivisio11 of a first settler's estate or a 11 1i 11 zir abbat's la11d sectio11 i 1 1 tl1e na111 e of a 11 a11 cestor who l1as 11ot J)revio11 sly l1ad la11cl or been co11sidered a n1inzir abbat. This process is a1)tly termed ''bri11g­ i11g in'' a (new) n1i1 1zir �bbat. Since it i11volves a large amount of la11d, an atten1pt to "bring i 1 1'' a new n1 i11 zir abbat is always a matter of co11cern to 111a11 y people. Tl1e exact an1 0111 1t of la11 d is detern1i 11 ed by tl1e accepted ge 11 ealogical relations between the relevant n1i11zir abbats. A clai111 to tl1e la1 1d of a seve 11 tl1 a11 d JJre­ ,,io11 sly unrecognized child of Shoa I-Iayl, for exa 1 11 ple, is a claim to one-seventh of eacl1 of Sl1oa. I-Iayl's sectio1 1s. Only' a powerful i11dividual or a coalitio11 of i11 f111e1 1tial elders will atten1 pt to bri 1 1g i11 a new n1i11zir abbat; for, if t11e clai 1n is to be successful, it is 11 ecessary to overcome tl1e co1 11bined efforts of all the 1nen wl10 currently 1101d tl1e Ia11d i1 1 question. It is tl1t1s al111ost inevitable tl1at a. clai 111 for land through divisio 11 by father is s00 11 er or later draw11 i11to tl1 e wider arena of i11 terparisl1 a11d district-wide IJolitical activity. A c]ai11 1 for the la11 cl of a 11ew 111i11 zir abbat is first pre­ se11ted to the fej or fejs ,vl1ose desce11 t corporatio11s IJresently co11trol tl1e land fro11 1 ,vl1 icl1 tl1e 11 ew "estate'' 11 1ust be aJJ­ JJOrtioned. Tl1e fej ap1)roached 1nt1 st represent a 11 a1 1cestor who is either tl1 e sibli 11 g or the pare11t of tl1 e ancestor i11 whose 11 a1 11e the clai 111 is bei11 g n1 ade. If tl1 e sibli 11 gs of tl1e a 11cestor the clain1 a11 t is trying to bring i 11 l1 ave already 168

==•-nrasr;n➔•➔H dM

Clain1s for Land Througl1 Division by Fatl1er

acl1ieved the statt�s of n1i 11zir abbat, tl1en tl1e clai 1n is JJre­ _ sented to tl1e1r feJs. TJ1t 1 s, wl1e11 a clai 1 na1 1t asked for the J a11d of Welde <?IorgTs, child of Gt1be11 0 ( fig. 3) he ap­ proacl1ecl tl1 e feJS of Gube 1 1o's otl1er childre1 1, Akule 1 11a� Ma1·ta, ancl Taclira, in \vl 1 ose 1 1a 1 nes 111 a 11 y of Gt1 be11 o's lands had already been cl.ivideel. If no11e of tl1e sibli11gs of tl1e a11 cestor the clai 111a 11t is try­ i11g to bri 1 1g i11 have beco 1 11e 111 i11zir abbats, that .is, if their pare11 t's lane! is still all )'ecler1b, tl1e11 the clai1n 1 11t1 st be JJre­ sented to the fej of the pare11 t's corporatio1 1. I11 the case of \\'elcle Sellase vs. Musina ( case 5) discL1 ssed below, the clain1a 1 1t, a desce11da11t of Welcle Sellase hacl to ap1Jroacl1 the fej of De 111e since Musi11a hacl 110 fej or estate until after the dispute arose. A clai 1 11 for divisio11 by fatl1er neecl not be lodgecl at the lo\vest ge11eratio 1 1al level at wl1icl1 divisio1 1 l1as IJreviot1sly bee11 carried ottt. In general, however, the l1igl1er the ge 11 er­ ational level at \vl1 ich tl1 e clai1 11 is 1 11ade, tl1e 1nore la1 1d is i11volved a11d l1e1 1ce tl1e more people will op1Jose the actio1 1. 011 ly a 111a11 of great power wot 1ld atten11Jt to OJJen sL1ch a clai1n. All of the clai 1 11ants instrt1me11tal in the reclivision of Shoa I-Iayl's la11d ( case 7) were titlecl 1 11e11 a1 1d hacl tl1e at1 tl1ority of gover1 1111e11 t office. The fej to wl10111 the clain1 is prese11ted 11 1ay cleny its validity 011 ge11ealogical grot111ds. If l1e does so, tl1e clai 1 11a1 1ts 1na)' take h.i 1 n to court or, if their positio 11 is weak, tl1ey n1ay drop tl1e n1atter altogetl1er. Alter 1 1atively, tl1e fej 111ay recog­ nize tl1e ge11ealogical validity of the clai1n bt1 t atte111pt to f 1 nake a con1tJro111ise settle111 ent witl1 clai1na11 ts by of ering then1 a few fields i 1 1stead of tl1 e full share to whicl1 they are entitlecl. Tl1e fields offerecl are 01 1ce agai11 those of l1olders who are said by the fej to have no rist rigl1t in the la11d, or to l1ave too 111uch of the la1 1d. If tl1e clai1 11ants accept tl1e co1 11promise offerecl b)' tl1e fej they n1ust approach tl1ese holders, reacl1 a settle111ent w.ith tl1e1n or take the1 n to court. By effecti11g a co111pro111ise tl1e fej can, for the ti 111e bei1 1g, shift the b11 rde11 of la 1 1d loss away fro111 l1 i111self a11d his i11fluential fellow lancll1olclers. Tl1e clai111a11ts, for t11eir part, by acce1)ti11g less tl1an their rigl1tft 1 l a111011nt of rist la 11d, are able to avoid a 101 1g a11d bitter fight.



-The Acquisition of Rist Land

A co1111)ro 111ise is always regarded as a tentative arra11ge1 11e1 1t, however, for 011ce tl1e validity of the clai111 l1as bee11 recog11ized in principle it is i11evitable tl1at soo1 1er or later otl1er clai111ants tracing their descent fro1n tl1e 11ew 111i11zir abbat will ask for tl1eir share of his land a11 d th11s force furtl1er divisio1 1. For tl1is reason, a new mi11zir abbat's cor­ poration is co1 1sidered to have been created as soo1 1 as the clai111 has bee11 recognized, regardless of how 11111ch or little la11d the clai111a11ts ,1re i11itially given. The leader of tl1e clai111a11ts beco 111es tl1e fej of the 11ew cor1)oration. It is his res1Jo11 sibility to represe11t the corporatio 11's i11terests i1 1 e 11s11ing dis1)utes a11d to co1 1sider tl1e subseq11ent clai 111s of other JJerso11s for a share of tl1e ne\v 1ni11zir abbat's la 11d tl1ro11gl1 divisio11 by allot111e11t. Witl1 tl1e JJassage of ti111e and cha11ges i11 personal power a11 cl interests, con11)ro111ise settle111e11ts prove to be 11nstable. New clai111s are 111ade a11d a 11ew settle1 nent 11111st be fo1111d. S0111etirnes it is fot111cl by si 1nply reassigni1 1g a few 1 11ore fields to tl1e ne\v 1ni 11zir abbat; s01netimes, if tl1e position of the defendants is strong, tl1e validity of tl1e clai1n is clenied al­ togetl1er, as i11 case 5; so 1neti111es, if the JJOsition of tl1e clai111ants is stro11g, the land is redivided so that the mi11zir abbat's cor1Joratio11 at last receives l1is ft1ll sl1are, as in case 7. The clai 1na11t's decision to ask for the lm1cl of a 11ew 111i11zir abbat, tl1e fej's decision to recog1 1ize the clain1, and both parties' v-.1il 1ingness or 1111willi11g11ess to co1 11pro111ise are de­ ter111i 11ed in large part by their respective political positio11s, by their ability to e11gage in JJrotracted litigation, and by their willi11g11ess to antago1 1ize IJOvverf11l 111e1 1 or large grot1ps of landl1olders. Tl1e dy11amics of this relationship betwee11 genealogical cl1arters, la11d divisio11, a1 1d JJOlitical IJower can be u11derstood more f11lly by exa111ining disp11tes that l1ave taken JJlace clL1ri 11g tl1e past few decades i 11 Dereqe Marya 1 11 and Feres Bet Mikael. Case 5: W elcle SellaJ·e vs. M i1.s·irza

Tl1e case of \Velde Sellase vs. Mt1si11a co11cerns two atte111pts 1nade by descendents of Welde Sellase to obtai11 170


Clain1s for La11cl Througl1 Division by Fat11er

his share of his fatl1er's l �nd, a sl1 are whicl1 l 1ad previotisly been l1 eld by people trac1 11 g descent throt1gh the father's other chilcl, M11sina (fig. 3). Until after tl1 e Italian occupatio1 1 11 0 011e held rist la11 d i 11 De1 11e by virtt1 e of a recog11ized clai1n tl1 rough De111e's cl1ild Welde Sellase. Tl1 e la 1 1ds of Den1e \Vere 1nostly yederrb, 11 11 divicled, b11 t in so111e co11texts they were s1Joke11 of as belo11 ging to i11cipie 1 1t cor1Jorations fo11nded by De1 11e's fot1 r "chilclre11," Miskab, Wellete Rufael, Trite, a11 d Metrt1. Si 11 ce tl1e i11terve11i11 g ai1 cestor, M 11 si11 a, the child of De1 11e and tl1e 111other of the four, was of 110 structural in1portance ai1 d had 11 0 fej, she was usually 11 ot n1entio11ed in traci11 g clesce11t li11es. Her four children were referred to as Deme's children ratl1 er t11 an his gra11dcl1 ildren. Tl1e situatio11 cha11ged whe11 a no11 resident 1 nan, t111titled bt1t infl11 e1 1tial, ca 1ne to the fej of De1ne, a wealtl1 y far111er 11an1ed \Vibe, and asked hi111 for tl1e land of Mt1si11 a's brotl1er Welde Sellase. The twenty-four n1 e11 who held the la11d of De111 e, all of wl10111 traced descent tl1rot1gh Mt1 si11a, held a 111eeti1 1g. Tl1ey did so as 1ne111 bers of a new 1ni 11 zir abbat's corporatio11 , tl1at of M 11 si1 1a, which had 11ot previously l1ad corJJorate existe11 ce, si11ce it l1acl 110 01Jposed seg111e11 t. The new corporation, subs11 111i11 g tl1e fot1 r corporations of M11si11a's cl1ilclre11 i11 tl1e co 11text of tl1is case, needed a fej to represent tl1 eir interests agai11 st tl1e clain1 for Welcle Sellase's s11are of the la11d. Wibe, \\ ho was already the fej of De 1 11e a11 d wl10 was 111 1officially co1 1sidered tl1 e fej of Miskab as well, ,vould 11or 1 11ally have bee1 1 a logical cl1 oice. The 1 11a11 selected to represent Musina, l1 owever, in tl1is instat1 ce \\'as Assege, a 1 1 agi11g 11onreside11t wl10 l1acl both genealogical expertise a11 d political inftt1ence derivi1 1g fro111 l1is years of service i11 the ad111inistratio1 1 of Dega Da111ot under Ras T-Jail11 . 1

Tl1e fej a1 1d tl1 ose he represe1 1ted were facecl witl1 a seriot1s proble1 n. If they recognized the new clai1 11a11t's 171


The Acquisition of Rist Lan


rist rights tl1r�ugh Welcle Sellase, tl1ey 111igh� e:ve11tually _ 11ave to give h1111, and perha1Js otl1er 111e11 cla11n1ng similar desce11t, 11ot a twe11ty-fiftl1 of De111e's la11d, since l1e v.,as · o1 1e of twenty-five clai1ning n1e111bers, but one-l1alf of tl1e lai1d, as he wo11ld be tl1e sole active 111e1nber of the cor1Joration which stands i11 a sibli1 1g relatio11ship to that of Musina. The Musi11a fej l1ad either to call into q.11estio11 the legiti1nacy of the claima11t's rist right or to con1e to son1e co1111Jron1ise settlemen.t with hi111. Si11ce the clai111a11t already Vi1as JJlowing la11d held by a corporation of Welde Sellase i11 a nearby JJarish, the fej dicl not argue tl1at the clai111ant was 1 1ot a \Velde Sellase desce11clent. A co1npromise agree 1 11e11t was reached 011t of court. All of De111e's sections of la11d wo11ld be divicled eq11ally for M11si11a and Welde Sellase i11 the fut11re; for tl1e JJrese11t, l1owever, 011ly two of Den1e's twenty-five fields would be clividecl, and Welde Sellase's share of each of tl1ese fields wo11ld be given to the clai111ant. Two of De1ne's hitherto u11divided yedenb lands, held by me11 witl1 questio11able clai111s, were 111easured i11to equa.1 sections, a11d tl1e appropriate sl1ares \Vere allottecl to tl1e 11ew claima11t by lot. He, being an i1nportant 1nan, pro111ptly allocated his newly wo11 land to tenants fro111 Dereqe Marya1n and frie11cls fro111 tl1e 11eigl1bori11g parisl1. I-Iis friends, i11 t11rn, bei11g i1111Jortant 111en then1selves, allocated the land to te11ants resident i 1 1 Dereqe Marya11,. T l111s al111ost all tl1e land co11tinued to be IJlowed by previous l1olders, b11t tl1ey were now JJaying rent 011 tl1e la11d that s0111e of tl1e111 11ad held before as rist. The clai111a11t, of co11rse, beca1 11e tl1e fej of the 11ew 111ir1zir abbat's cor1Joratio11 of Welde Sellase. For the tin1e bei11g the disp11te was settled ancl the corporation of Musi11a l1ad 110 affairs. Its tVi enty-fo11r active n1e1nbers individ11ally plowed their lands a11d cle�oted their� litigatio11al tale1 1ts to figl1ting otl1er case s_ 111 wl11ch they haJJpe1 1ed to be i11volvecl thro11gh 1ne1 nbersl11P 1



---------Clain1s for La11cl Throt1gl1 Division by Fatl1 er

i11 other desce11t cor1)orations. Even while the case was being diSJ)Uted, tl1e soliclarity of tl1e 1 ne11 plo\\,ing Musi1 1a la11 d had 1 1ot bee1 1 very great. Son1e of the1n lived in other J)arishes ai1cl l1 elcl 01 1ly s111all a 11 101111ts of land i1 1 M11si11a i 1 1 a11 y case. Tl1e 111ai11 burde11 of tl1e diSJ)Ute had bee11 carriecl by four or five elclers. The years r)assed a11d tl1e clai111 ant gre\\ old a1 1cl died, leaving 11 0 l1eir of equal l)olitical pro 11 1i11e1 1ce. Tl1 e 1ue1 1 to ,vhon1 l1e hacl. give11 l1 is Welcle Sellase fields co11ti11 ued to J)low tl1e1 11, b11t tl1ose wl10 l1 acl bee1 1 his direct te11a11ts clid 11 ot l)ay re11t a11 y lo 1 1ger. Matters 1nigl1t l1 ave rested as tl1ey were, l1ad 1 1ot fot1r 1 11e.11 1bers of the mi11zir abbat's cor1)oratio11 of \Velde Sellase from tl1 e nearby J)arish 111entio11ecl previo11sly co111 e to clai 1 11 la11 d thro11gl1 Welde Sellase. 1


011 ce agai11, tl1e i1 1terested 1ne111bers of Musina rallied. This tin1e tl1ey ,vere faced witl1 ,vhat ap1)eared to then1 as a 1nore seriot1s threat. The 111e1 11bers of the corpo.ratio11 of Welde Sellase i1 1 the 11 earby parisl1 had been i11 creasing i11 1 111mber. It see1ned t11 1likely tl1 at tl1ey ,vot1ld 1011 g settle for a s1nall fraction of tl1e land wl1ich was 110,v legally tl1eirs, should they b11t co111e to clai111 it. Thot1gh tl1 e conseque11ces of the 11 e,v clai 1 11 were more seriot1s, the clai 1 11a11 ts \\,ere i 1 1divicl11ally of lower stat11s tl1a11 the 1)reviot1s opJ)011e11 t. It was deciclecl to use a differe1 1t li11e of defe 1 1se. Assege, the re1)rese11tative of M11si11 a, decided to re,1erse the positio11 take11 earlier. I1 1stead of tryi11g to co111pro 111 ise witl1 the clai1na11ts, he brougl1t i11 to q11estion the legitin1acy of tl1eir clai111 by an ingeniot1s ploy. As in tl1e earlier case, there was no legal dot1bt t11at tl1e clai1 11a 11 ts ,vere really desce11clents of Welde Sellase. Tl1e fej tl1erefore took tl1 e 011ly alter11ative J)Osition ancl saicl tl1at vVelcle Sellase was not really tl1e child of Den1e after all. He alleged that Welcle Sellase was the cl1ilcl of De1 11e's wife by a previo11s 111 arriage. SL1rely, he ad111itted, Welde Sellase l1ad been raised by De1ne a11d was co11siclered "as l1is child," b11t, accorcling l73


The Acquisition of Rist Land

to tl1e rL1le of la 11d division a1 1d i11herita11ce, a ''n1other's child'' could 11ot inl1erit rights fro111 l1is stepfather. Tl1e clain1ants fro1n Welde Sellase l1ave 11ot yet taken the case to cot1rt. Nor do they seem eager to do so before the old fej of Musi11a dies; for proving the biological 1Jater1 1ity of a 1na11 who, if l1e ever existed, died perhaps a century and a half ago is a rather subjective and diffict1lt task. 011e suspects, witl1 tl1e clain1a1 1ts, tl1at it woL1ld prove a le11gtl1y a11d expe11sive lJrocess, difficult to wi 11 against an 01Jponent of Assege's experience a11d re111ai11i11g inftt1e11ce. Case 6: Het11ora vs. Hi)ri,vetita Tl1e case of Hetnora vs. I-Iiywetua concen1s a protracted atte111pt by 11ontitled elders to have the )'edenb lands of tl1e 111inzir abbat Se11beta in Sl1oa Rayl (fig. 2) di, ided a1uong l1er children. Tl1e case is complex because of the 11t1n1ber of elders involved and because two disti 11ct clain1s, 011ly 011e of whicl1 co11cerned Se 11beta, v,1ere eventually 1 11ade i 1 1 a si 11gle cot1rt action. The object of the plaintiffs i 11 openi1 1g a double case was to save court costs. 1

U11til 1942 the lands of Senbeta ( see 111ap 5) were all )7edenb, or undivided. Tl1e more tha11 three doze 11 n1en a_nd wo 1 11e11 v,1ho held the lands as rist traced tl1eir descent li 11es tl1rough Hi)rwett1a, Hetnora, or botl1. Thot1gl1 there had been no for.n1al a1locatio1 1 bet\\1een these childre11 of Senbeta, it ,vas e, ident to tl1ose v. }1 0 cared to find ot1t tl1at the desce11clents of H.i)'''"ett1a held far 1 11ore of Senbeta's )'ecle11b la11ds than tl1 ose of I-Ietnora. It was tl1t1s to tl1e adva11tage of a11 a 1 11bitious desce11dent of Hetnora to pusl1 for di, isio11 b)' fat11 er bet\�,1een Senbeta's cl1ildren. 1



In 1942 Aleqa Desta, ai1 i11fluential elder fron1 tl1e neigl1boring pa.rish of Ziq\:vala Arba),t t1 I11sesa� ap1J.roacl1ed the fej of Se11beta, \\ ho at tl1is ti 1 11e ,,,as Asseoe the san1e aging 1 1oble who figured as the fej of 1'tft1si11 a in 1




�---------Claims for Land Tl1rougl1 Division by Father

case 5. Aleqa Desta, tl1e clai 1 11a 11t, asked for the land of Hetnora throt1gl1 forn1al clivisio11 by father. It \Vould have been diffict1lt to deny tl1e legiti111acy of the clain1, for it vvas basecl 011 the fact that Se11beta ,vas the \vife of Akale Kristos of Ziq\vala a11d 1not]1er of his two childre11, I-Iiywett1 a a11d I-Ietnora. I11deed, tl1e land of Akale Kristos ]1ad bee 1 1 clivided between tl1eir chilclren for several clecacles. After co11st1 ltatio11, the fej agreed to give the claimant tl1ree of Se11beta's tl1irty-odd ·fields as a co1 11pro111ise i11 liet1 of dividing all the yederzb la1.1ds, as required by t11e strictest i11terJJretatio1 1 of the rule. Tl1e rest1lting sitt1atio11 was so111ewhat a110 1 11alot1s, for tl1ough tl1e for111al divisio11 of Se11beta's la 1 1ds l1ad begt111 a11d t}1ot1gl1 tl1e clai 1 11a11 t was now tl1e fej of t.Ietnora's corporatio11, not a si11gle strip of Senbeta la11d had actt1a]ly bee 11 111east1 red into two JJarts. ( Sucl1 sitt1atio11s cat1 se endless co1 1fusio11 duri11g interviews concer11i 11g tl1e state of la11d divisio11 i11 Dega Da1not.) After s01ne )'ears, Aleqa Desta, the claimant, grew ill a 1 1d died, leaving the tl1ree fields in tl1e ha11ds of his tenants. I11 1965, sl1ortly after 11is death, a 11ew actio11 was i1 1stituted by five 110 1 1titled elders, four of the1n resident on Sl1oa I-Iayl's la11cl a11d tl1e fifth from Ziqwala Arbaytt1 I11sesa. Tl1e five clai111a11ts first asked the fej of Hiywett1a, who ,vas the sa1 11e old 11oble tl1at representecl Senbeta, for the rest of f-Ietnora's lands through clivisio11 by father. Tl1ey also asked the fej of Nt1de, a graz 111ach witl1 no ct1rrent office, to divide land for tl1e111 i1 1 t11e 1 1a111e of Ayo. Nt1de's la 11 d l1ad not previously been divided officially by fatl1er. The leader of the five clai111a11ts, the n1an from Ziqwala Arbaytt1 Insesa, assu1 11ed the position of fej for ·Hetnora and also beca111e fej for Ayo. After deliberating with other leadi11g 1 nen co11cerned, the fejs of Nt1 de and Hiywetua designatecl the lands held by te11 111en for divisio11 or outrigl1t assign111e11t to the clain1a11ts. Three of the desig 1 1ated 111e11 were ordered to give tip :fields they held in Se11beta 011ly, three were told to give up fields they 175

The Acquisition of Rist Land

held in Nude only, and the other four were ordered to give up fields of both Senbeta and Nude. Two of the men asked to give up fields were former titled officeholders, long retired from official service and with the dwindling housel1olds that usually accon1pany old age. A11other was the so11 of a titled forn1er officeholder who once held extensive lands in the area. A fourth desig11ee was tl1e full brotl1er of the atbI)1a dafi.,"ia of Peres Bet, the parish i11 which the la11d of Sl1oa Rayl is located. A fifth was the elder ft1ll brotl1er of one of the claj111a11ts. Tl1ree 111ore were elderly men who had den1011strated little acun1en at amassing la11d or attai11i11g leadersl1i1J, a11d the re1nai11i11g two were yot111g n1en wl10 l1ad inherited an un11s11al a111ount of land but l1ad 11ot yet achieved the sta11di11g i11 tl1e co1n111unity that wot1ld e11able them to easily defend tl1eir rights i11 it. It is i11teresti11g that neitl1er of tl1e largest holders of Senbeta la11d were asked to give UJJ any fields. 011e of tl1em ,vas the fej l1imself, who is reported to have ''begged" tl1e clain1a11ts to leave l1im alone on the gro11nds that he would die in a year or two anyway and they co11ld then take l1is land. This type of req11est is regarded by others as a veiled tl1reat that the dying 111a11 will curse his you11ger oppone11ts. At the sa111e tin1e, it sl1ould be borne i11 111ind that the old noble was not yet devoid of influence i11 Dega Da1not. Tl1e other large holder of Senbeta la11cl was the leading priest who stood accused as fej i11 case 4. In response to questio11s, i11for1na11ts said that tl1e priest served the ark well and acted as soul father for 1nany of the parisl1ioners resident i11 Shoa Rayl. Since all priests in good standing JJerfor111 these services, it may be sur111ised that his wealth. and influe11ce were in11Jorta11t factors in protecti11g the priest fro1n loss of la11d. One of the elderly 1ne11 a11d tl1e two for111er officeholders agreed to divide s01ne of their la11d \vith tl1e claimants. The other seven n1en ref11sed, were accused, and we11t to 176

--------Claims for La11d Tl1rot1gl1 Division by Father

court. There eacl1 was asked, as defe11dant, to defend his right to tl1e la11cl he l1elcl. No11e of tl1e111 claimed to hold the land by their O\V11 rist rigl1t. The first older 111a11 saicl that he l1ad a l v, abI for tl1e land ' l1is wife's brotl1er, a 1na11 who ha_p1Je11ed to be the clerk of tl1e Dega Da111ot district tax office. The otl1er elder defendant said tl1at l1e \\1oulcl 11ot give t1p tl1e la11d becat1se l1e l1acl 11ot agreed to the a1Jpoi11t111e11t of Assege as Se11beta's fej. As far as he \\1as co11cer11ed, 110 one had been give11 the office legally si11ce the death of the f1talvrar1 who l1ad first brought Senbeta i11to Sl1oa Rayl ( see case 7). The defe11dant wl10 was a brother of one of tl1e accusers said his lvabr was his former wife's father. Tl1e la11cl was his, l1e said, because of his so11 by the for111er wife. The wife's fatl1er was tl1e frtavv rarI and for1ner officel1older wl10 brought in Qt1sqo in case 7. One of tl1e young clefenda11ts said tl1at he had a qeiiazmach for a 1>vcibI 011 l1is Nude la11d and that the Senbeta land not only l1ad bee11 IJlowed by his fatl1er before hin1 but was fertilized la11d a11cl he11ce cot1ld 11ot be divided. The other three clefe11dants called l11c1bis of lesser disti11ctio11. Tl1e juclge ordered the l¡vab7s to appear i11. cot1rt a11d said the lands concer11ed sl1ot1ld be esti111ated. Tl1e higl1-ra11ki11g 1-vc1b7s dicl 11ot appear a11cl tl1e esti111atio11 took tl1e better part of a year to con1plete, since tl1e clefe11da11ts 11ever see1necl able to get to cot1rt. Eve11tt1ally tl1e jt1dge a\vardecl all tl1e land to tl1e claimants a11d closed the case. Tl1e defe11da11ts, 110\vever, refused to co1nply with the cot1rt order and wot1ld 11ot pern1it the claima11ts to plo\v the la11cl. Tl1e clai111an ts then OJJe11ed a criminal case agai11st the defe11da11 ts for illegally t1si11g their new lands. Tl1e jt1dge decided in favor of the claima11ts 011ce n1ore, ordered the defe11da11ts to give tip tl1e la11cl i111111ediately a11d to JJay a fi11e of $2 5 eacl1. The defer1da11ts appealed tl1eir case to tl1e higher cot1rt some seventy 1niles away. 177

Tl1e Acquisition of Rist Land

After i11currjng heavy expe11ses atte11di11g the higher court, tl1e plaintiffs and defendants agreed to an out-of-co11rt settlement tl1at was to incl11de tl1e selectio11 of new fejs to replace the fejs of Nude a11d Senbeta, a re111easure111ent of all Senbeta's a11d Nude's lands, a11d the allotme11t of land to the claimants. This agree111ent was being i1nplen1ented at the ter111inatio11 of fieldwork i11 Dega Damot. The speed ai1d tl1e co111iJlete11ess of land division by fatl1er is largely a functio11 of the 1Joli.tical power at tl1e disposal of the [Jlaintiff or plai11tiffs. Both of the clai111s discussed above, for exa1n1Jle, were opened by influential 111e11 witl1011t l1igh office a11d res11lted at first i11 con1pro1nise settle1nents. I11 each case tl1e clai111s were raised again years later by a coalitio11 of leacling elders. Men witl1 great sec11lar power, by co11trast, are 111ore likely to force a11 i1111nediate and co1nplete reclivi­ sion of tl1e land, as i11 the tl1ree disp11tes disc11ssed below. Tl1e swift a11d dra111atic e11try of a 11ew 111i11zir abbat, a11d the atte11da11t major redivisio11 of desce11t corporatio11s' es­ tates, is a11 i1nporta11t political event 11ot only because it is effected througl1 the use of political power but also becat1se it results i11 a resl1uffiing of the political loyalties of land­ holders as mt1ch as it does in a reallocatio11 of land a111ong people. The JJOwerful men ( or n1a11) who control the fejsl1ip and tl1e estate of the 11ew corporation treat their newly ac­ quired land more as a for1n of political patronage than as a potential source of econo1nic JJrofit. Tl1e fej soo11 begi11s to parcel 011t the cor 1Joratio11's land to those wl10 have supported hin1 i11 the past and to those whon1 l1e }1opes will s111Jport hin1 in the future. By recognizing re1note a11d long-dor111a11t pedi­ grees, tl1e fej is able to give 011t the land as rist. Tl1e recipi­ e11 ts, for tl1eir 1Jart, express tl1eir gratit11de by s1nall · cash pay1nents to the fej ''to l1el 1J defray his co11rt costs," and by s11pporting l1i111 as their perso11al benefactor and patron. 111 some instances n1any of the 111en who receive rist la11d in the 11ew corporatio11's estate l1ave JJreviously held la11d in the estate fro111 whicl1 it l1as been created. For the111, tl1e drarnatic shift i11 the structure of the first settler's descent corporation 178




Claims for Lane! Tl1rough Division by Father

a11d .in la�d clivisio� _e11tails little 111ore tha11 the pay1 ne11t of a s 1 11all fee 1 11 recogn1t1on of de1Je11cle 1 1ce on the individual who is the new fej. That tl1e la 11cl of a 11 e\:vly created 1ni11 zir abbat is "'idel)' clistributed rather tl1a1 1 given o t1t i11 tenancy is at­ tested to by tl1e fact that toclay tl1e 11u1nber of rist-l1olders in Shoa I-Iayl's tl1ree new cor1Joratio 1 1s.-those of 1 ni11zir abbats Senbeta, Kokeba, a11d Qusqo-is ap.1Jroxin1ately the same as those holdi11g the la11cl of Shoa 1-Iayl's three olcler nlinzir abbats, Tekle, N11de and Gebre. Tl1e circt 1msta1 1ces st1rrot1nd­ i1 1g the er1try of these three 111u1zir abbats serve to ill t1 strate well tl1e role of JJolitical office a11d poiitical power i r1 clai 1 ns for tl1e division of land by father. Case 7: The erztra11ce of three minzir cLbbats in Sl1oa Ha)1l

Previous to abot1t 1930 tl1e estate of Shoa 1-Iayl was clivided into 0 1 1ly three sl1ares for Shoa Hayl's tl1ree presu 111ed childre1 1: Tekle, Nt1de, and Gebre. In about that year, a certai11 fita1,,vrarI who l1ad rece11tly been give11 t11e court title of agc1farz, or 111ajordomo, and the office of bilaterzgeta, or steward, over tl1e gwilt lands perso 1 1ally helcl by the fJrovi 1 1cial rt1 ler, Ras I-Iailt1, approacl1ed the fejs of Tekle, N tide, ancl Gebre. I-Ie saicl he was a desce11de11t of Sl1oa l-Tayl thro t1gh a fot1rtl1 cl1ild, a daughter 1 1a1ned Se11beta, and tl1at he wantecl l1er sl1are of the la 1 1d-one-fo t1rth of all Sl1oa trayl's Ia11d section. Tl1e IJar. ish of Feres ·set in wl1icl1 the la 11d of Shoa l-Tayl 1 a11d is fou 1 1cl was at tl1at ti111e tl1e gc1rzageb of Ras TIai]t hence uncler the j t1 risclictio 11 of tl1e fitcz1,vrarI wl10 now sot1ght land. His authority was similar to that wielded by a1 1y gwi1t gez, tl1ot1gl1 l1is te 11t1re in office was less certai11. Tht1s 111a 1 1y of tl1e 111en who l1eld the land of Sl1oa T-Jayl a11d who stood to lose la11d were st1bjects of tl1 e clain1a11t. .

Despite this tactical disadvantage, the fejs of Tekle, Nude, and Gebre refused to give tl1e fita1, vrc1. rI the land of Se 1 1beta, and tl1e dis1Jute we11t to court. The case was heard by another powerf t1l noble, also a fita,,vrarI, \vho _ was gover 1 1or of tl1e clistrict, which included what ts now 179


The Acquisition of Rist Land

Dega Dainot. Tl1e claimant a1 1d the defe11 da1 1ts each pledged a large container of honey to tl1e judge, sl1ould tl1e)' lose the case, as was tl1e custon1 before tl1 e n1oder11 cot1rt syste1n was jnstituted. Tl1e clai1 11a 11t called as wit11esses rist experts fron1 the acljace11t parisl1 of Ziqwala Arbaytt1 Insesa. Tl1ey testified tl1at 011e of their a1 1cestors, Akale Kristos, had n1arried Senbeta, tl1e dat1gl1ter of Sl1oa I-Iayl, ancl l1ad two cl1ilclre 1 1 by l1er, I-Iiy\vett1a a11 d 1-Ietnora. Tl1e clai1nant was also able to proclt1ce witnesses descendecl fro1n two of tl1e recog11izecl 1ni1 1zir abbats, Gebre and Nt1de, \Vl10 ack11ow]eclged tl1e legiti111acy of the clain1 through Se11beta. Prest1111ably tl1ese 1 ne11 were i1 1flt1enced by the clai 1 11a 1 1t-lord, or tl1ey wot1ld 11 ot have testified agai1 1st what wot 1 ld otl1erwise have been tl1eir own interest. Tl1e judge ruled i1 1 favor of tl1e claimant, the latter beca111e tl1e fej of tl1e new corporatio11 of Senbeta, and l1e was able to obtain 011e-fot1rtl1 of all tl1e lands of Sl1oa I-Iayl. 1 1 1 tl1e years after the dispt1te, the win1 1i11g lord let 1 11a1 1)' of the IJrevious holders stay on eitl1er as rist­ holders or as l1is tena 1 1ts. He gave other fields to 1nen who clai111ed to be descended fro111 Senbeta. In recent years, si 1 1ce the reorganization of Gojjam ad111i1 1istratio1 1, the eclipse of Ras Hailu, a11 d tl1e death of the clai1 11ant, still otl1er 1 11e1 1 have st1ccessft1Ily asked for a sl1are of Senbeta's yecle11b lands. A year or two after the st1ccessft1l e1 1try of Se11beta into Shoa J-Iayl, a 1 1other land dispt1te \Vas brot1gl1t by two titled o'fficel1olclers. Both 1 ne1 1 }1ad the ra11k of graz1nacl1. 0 1 1e of the1n was the co 1 11ma1 1cler ( azzaz) i1 1 cl1arge of supplying Ras Hailu's ar1ny witl1 provisio1 1s whe11 it can1ped periodically 1 1ear Feres Bet, v. here tl1ere were state storage bins. 1

Tl1e clai1nants said that tl1ey were clescencled fro 1 n a fiftl1 child of Sl1oa I-Iayl a1 1d were l1e11 ce e11 titled to one-fiftl1 of all l1is land. 011ce agai1 1, tl1e clai111 was disputed and once agai 11 the clai 1 na11ts fJrevailed. The sa1 ne gover11or 180

Clain1s for Lancl Tl1rougl1 Division b )' Fatl1er

judged the case, tl1ot1gl1 tl1is ti1ne sitti11g in the town of Adet, s0111e tl1irty 111iles away, wl1ere he J 1aJJpe11ed to }1ave l1is military ca1111J. One of tl1e clai111a11ts beca1ne the fej of tl1e new corporatio11 of Kokeba, a11cl the clain1a11ts a1Jportio11ed the la11cls a111011g tl1e111se]ves, tl1eir followers, and tl1e JJrevious holclers. Over tl1e years this la11d has passed into tl1e l1a11ds of ordi11ary far111ers asserting rist rigl1ts tl1rot1gh :Kokeba. Tl1e old lord wl10 beca111e fej has clied. Tl1e otl1er lord, tl1e for111er co1111nander of provisio11s, has beco111e fej, bt1t today l1olds 110 n1ore Ja11cl tl1a11 otl1er elders. I-le often dwells sadly 11pon tl1e glory tl1at once was Dega Dan1ot a11d laments the clark days tl1at l1ave befallen it now that it no lo11ger sees tl1e te11ts of the provi11cial ruler. Two years later a noble \Vitl1 the ra11k of f1tal1Jrar1, gwilt rigl1ts, a11cl a post i11 tl1e regio11al ad111inistratio11 OJJe11ed a case agai11st the five fejs represe11ti11g the five 1ninzir abbats' cor1Jorations a11d asked for one-sixtl1 of the la11d of Sl1oa I-Iayl in tl1e 11a111e of a sixtl1 cl1ild, Qusqo. I-Te eve11tt1ally V/On the dispt1te, tl1ough the case was ap1Jealed to Ras Hail11 hi111self when }1e sat i11 B11re. DisJJt1tes i11volving a11cestors at st1cl1 a higl1 genealogical level, a11d hence so 1nucl1 la11cl, are 111t1cl1 less co111111011 tha11 lower-level dis1Jutes. The rasl1 of clain1s in Shoa liayl JJrobably l1ad to do \vitl1 tl1e fact that Feres Bet, tl1e paris11 i11 wl1icl1 it is located, l1ad beco111e a 111i11or political center i11 Dega Dan1ot tinder Ras l"'.lail11. Not only was it tl1e Ras's perso11al gwilt ancl the site of gover11111e11t gra11aries, it was also the locatio11 wl1ere tl1e gover11ors of Dega Da111ot 1nost frequently sitt1atecl the ci11asi-1Jer111anent 111ilitary ca1n1Js where they held court. Land in tl1is JJolitically ce11tral location seems to l1ave bee11 stro11gly s011ght after by officials stationecl in the area. Indeed, a rece11 t district governor resident in tl1e town of Peres Bet fo1111d it expedie11t and possible to clain1 his rist land througl1 five of Sl1oa Hayl's six cl1ildren, though he had held no la11d prior to his aJJpointment. Three years after his departt1re ( t111cler sometl1ing of a cloud), he hacl lost aln1ost all of tl1e la11cl.


Tl1 at social 1 11obility is a real possibility for tl1e people of Dega Dan1ot is i 11 dicated by tl1e fact that a l1 igh proportion of tl1e fields l1elcl. by large l1 olders are acquirecl by n1 eans other tl1 an i11 l1eritance. Figt1re 6a, which shows the relation­ sl1 i1) betwee11 fields l1eld as rist a11 d fielcls i 11l1erited by the n1 e1 1 reside1 1t i11 Sl1 oa Rayl abot1t wl1 ose land tl1e 1nost co111plete and reliable data were collectecl, supports the opi11ion of A 1nhara elders a11 d tl1e writer that large holders l1 ave ob­ tai11ed a J1igher J)roportio11 of tl1 eir land throt1gl1 their ow11 efforts tl1 an have s 111 all 11 olders. Tl1 e most in1 portant way in wl1ich t1pwardly 1nobile i11di­ vidt1als acqt1ire additio11al land is by st1ccessfully pressing clai1ns lodged with a desce11 t cor1)oratio11 . The i111porta11 ce of st 1ch clai11 1s to the l1olders represented i 1 1 figt1re 6a is i11 dicated in figure 6b, \Vhicl1 sho\vs tl1 e relationsl1ip between fields 1 1eld a11d fields acquired fro 11 1 a fej. Si 1 1ce a 111a1 1's ability to obtai11 la11 d from a fej is closely relatecl to l1 is ability to press 1 1is case in court if necessary, it is to be expected that large holders are 1nore litigiot1s thai1 sn1 all holders. Tl1 is ex1)ecta­ tio 11 is supJJOrted by data fro1n i11 te 11sive i11 terviews \vitl1 twe 11ty-five household J1 eads resident in Sl1 oa Hayl. It was fou11cl that of the eleven large l1olders ( clefi11 ecl J1 ere as 111e11 with n1ore tha.11 seven fields) eight l1 acl bee11 i1 1volved in two or u1ore court cases concer11 i11 g la 11d dt1ri11 g tl1e t\velve 111onths prior to the i11terview; of the fot1rteen s11 1all l1 olders 011 ly 011 e had bee11 involved in two or 111ore cases dt1ring tl1 e san1e period. It cot1ld be argued that large l1olders are i 11volved in 111 ore litigatio11 over la11d si111 1Jly becat1se tl1 ey control 111 ore 182

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Each <JOT represcn t,; ,:, house ho Id hcJd.

Fig. 6a. Fields ,1cqt1ired by ii1heritance

Fig. 6b. Fields acquired fron1 the fej of a descent corp oration

Social Stratification and Control of Land

fields over which dis1 Jt 1tes arise at a 111ore or less co 1 1sta1 1t rate. That tl1is is 11ot so is suggestecl by tl1e fact that of the six s 1 11all holders ir1volved i11 at least 011e la1 1d case dt1 ring tl1e one-year IJeriocl, only two \Vere involvecl in a11y case as JJlaintiff; of tl1e 1 1i1 1e large holders involved i11 at least one la1 1cl case cl t1ru1g tl1e sa111e periocl, seve11 were i11volved i11 at least 01 1e of these cases as JJlai1 1tiff. It is 11ot, of co11rse, a 1 11a1 1's willing11ess to litigate that en­ ables l1in1 to obtai1 1 land fro111 tl1e desce11t cor1 Joratio 11, bt1t rat11er his ability to litigate s11ccessft1lly. Tl1is ability is pri1 narily a ft111ction of l1is political i11flue1 1ce a11d JJower, that is, of l1is ability to i11f111ence wit11esses, fejs, a 1 1d j1 1clges. It is tl1us cr11cial to exa111i1 1e closely the dy11a1nics of tl1e re1 atio1 1sl1ip betwee11 political JJower a11d tl1e co11trol of la 1 1d. More specifically, it is i1 111Jorta11t to investigate how 1 11e1 1 ca 1 1 attai 1 1 political JJower, how tl1ey ca 1 1 obtait 1 addi­ tio11al la.11d. witl1 tl1is JJower, l1ow they ca11 11 se tl1e la11d to furtl1er enhance tl1eir JJower, what IJreve11ts tl1em fro 1 n ob­ taining n1ore land, a 1 1d wl1at ha1JJJe11s to their la11cl wl1e11 they die. The political i1 1f111e11ce tl1rougl1 wl1icl1 so111e elders are able to clain1 111ore rist la11d tl1an their fellow far111ers is difft1se, localized a11cl perso11al. 111 large IJart, it is 1 1 s11 ally based 01 1 tl1e respect they l1ave won over tl1e years as arbitrators, cou11sel­ ors, a11d go-betwee 1 1s in local com1nunity affairs. Partict 1 larly in tl1e case of a clebtera JJolitical inf111e1 1ce 1 11ay also be e11 ha11 ced b)' a11 ele 1ne1 1t of fear. A11 elder 111ay also obtai11 in­ fl11ence by beco 1 ni11g a JJerso1 1a] follower of a 111ore JJowerft1l 11 1a1 1 suc1 1 as a local gwilt gez. Leadi 1 1g elclers are freqt 1 e1 1tly appoi11ted to tl1 e 1 11ii 1or ad­ .111i1 1istrative JJOsts of c_!1;c1a sl1i111i a 1 1d c_h e •-v a gebez, b11t tl1is is �s _m11ch a sig11 of tl1e i11 f111er1ce tl1ey have alreacly achieved as 1 t is a so11rce of aclclitio1 1al {JOwer. I11 a 1 1y cas e, apJJOint1 11e1 1t to tl1ese offices is, i 1 1 111ost JJarisl1es, for a per.iocl of only 0 11e _ _ year. A 111ore s 1 g 111fica 11t sign of success, a11cl 011e wl1icl1 is of greater 11tility i11 tl1e quest for la11d, is selection as fej i1 1 0 1 1e or 11 1ore clesce11t cor1 Joratio11s. 11is i:1bility to st1sta.i 1 1 Iitigatio11 a 11cl to i1 1fluence Th ro ug l1 . _ directly or 1nclirectly t11e allocatio1 1 of descent cor1Joratio11 184


Social Stratificatio11 and Control of La11d

}ai1d, a leadi11 g elcler 1 11 ay obtai1 1 lll) to tl1ree or foL1 r ti1 11es as inL1ch rist la1 1d as tl1e ordi1 1ary far1 11 er. To so111 e extent ' the possessio1 1 of tl1is la1 1d i11creases tl1e l101der's political i11 flt1ence or at least l1is litigational effective11 ess a11 d his ability to obtai11 a1 1d l10I cl yet 1 11ore rist la11cl. It e11ables ]1in1 to bri11 g a poor boy i1 1to l1is l1ot1sel1olcl to l1e] 1J witl1 the agrict1ltt1ral work, tl1t1 s freei1 1g l1i1nself to atte11cl cot1 rt 11 1ore freque11tly. It also 111akes it easier for hi1 11 to {)ay cot1rt fees, to n1ake judi­ cio11s gifts to cot1rt J)erso111 1el, a11d to s11p1Jort the cost of ap­ peali11g a case to a co11rt clista11 t fro1 11 l1is a11d his oppo11e1 1t's l10111e. There are li1nits to the a1noL11 1t of Ia1 1d an elder without political office ca1 1 acqt1ire i11 tl1is way; for i1 1 juclgi11 g ,vl1etl1er J1e 11as too 111t1 cl1 of a local desce1 1t corJJOration's es­ tate tl1e otl1 er la11 dholders are pri1 11arily co1 1cer11 ed witl1 I1is sec11lar at1tl1ority a11 d 1 1ot witl1 11 is wealth i1 1 la11 d or 1no11ey. After i 11itial st1ccesses i11 obtaini11g acld'itional la1 1d from a desce1 1t corporation, a ma11 will fi11 d his clai1 11 s 01)posecl by a11 i11 creasi1 1gly t1nited group of la11 dl10Iders who feel that he already l1as too 1 11L1 ch of the 1a11d. I-Iis clai111 s for la11 d i11 more distant cor1 Joratio1 1s' estates also bring l1i111 i11to conflict witl1 an i1 1creasi11 g 1 1t11 11ber of widely scattered oppo1 1e11ts. Ft1rthern1 ore, eve11 if l1e obtai11 s fie]ds i1 1 so111e of tl1 ese cor­ poratio1 1s' estates, l1 e 1 11 ay fincl it diffict1 lt a11 cl even da11 gerot1s to collect re1 1ts fro111 l1is 1 1ev.1 tenants. 011e resicle11 t of Sl1oa Rayl wl10 has acqt1 ired throt1gl1 litigation 1 1umerot1 s fields tl1at 011 ce v.1ere l1 eld by l1is fatl1 er's fatl1er, bt1 t 11 ot by l1is fatl1er, re­ ports tl1at l1e is u11able to collect re11 t 0.11 fLtlly l1alf l1 is 11ewly wo11 fields and tl1at he is afraid to travel through tl1 e forests alo11e for fear of l1 is e1 1en1 ies. I-Te is also, i11teresti1 1gly e11 0L1gl 1, 011e of a s111all nt1111 ber of 11011 artisa11s ge11 erally said by his fellow paris11 io1 1ers to be a witcl1. The estate bt1ilt up by a st1ccessful elcler does 1 1ot generally outlast l1 is lifetin1e. If l1e l1as several l1 eirs it 1 11 L1st be divicled an1 011g tl1e1 11. Eve11 if he has bt1 t one heir, it is u11 likely tl1at tl1is l1eir will have tl1 e respect a.nd tl1 e 11 etvvork of JJersonal ties that e11abled his fatl1er to acc1 t1 ire and defend so 1na11 y fields of rist la11d. Inevitably s01ne large holders IJass to tl1eir childre11 not 011 ly tl1 eir la1 1d but also so1 11e of tl1e special


HM "TMli

Social Stratification and Control of La11d

k11 owledge or skill 'A'l1 icl1 e11 ablecl the111 to obtair1 it. Tl1e s011 of a great wizard 1na)' beco111e a wiz,1rd. The son of a fej well versecl in ge11ealogy 111 ay l1 ave a11 adva11tage i11 obtai11ing his deceased father's office. Eve11 i11 sucl1 exceptio11al cases, how­ ever, it is 111ore likely that the so11 ,vill eve11tually build UIJ a11 estate co111111e11sL1rate Vlitl1 tl1at of l1 is father tl1a11 it is tl1at he will si11 11Jly take over 11 is fatl1 er's la11 ds a11d st,ltL1s intact. The 111ost in1 1Jorta11t source of the sect1lar }JOWer wl1 ich l1as e11 ablecl n1e11 to obtau1 large l1olcli11gs of rist la11 d has bee11 political office, IJarticularly the office of tl1e local gwilt-l1older, or g\vilt gez. Traclitio1 1ally, the JJower of tl1 e gwilt gez was [Jer,1asive a11 cl i111 11 1ediate si11ce he served at once as jL1dge, 1Jrinci1Jal tax collector, a11cl gover1 1111ent reJJresentative. Eve11 toda)', backecl by tl1e at1tl1 ority of tl1 e gover11111 ent fro111 above ancl SUJJported by l1 is }Jersonal follo\vers, tl1e gwilt gez is able to exert co1 1siderable i11 flt1e11ce over tl1e JJeople reside11t v-.1ithi11 his 11eigl1borl1 ood. Tl1is i11 flue11ce rests 11 ot only 011 tl1e clearly JJrescribed dt1ties of l1is office btrt also 011 l1is ability to l1elp or J1 ar111 l1is subjects \\1l1e11 he carries out his dL1ties. A 1nan ,vho l1olds tl1e JJOsition of gwilt gez for so1ne years L1st1ally comes to hold 111 ore rist ]a11d i11 l1 is 11eighborhood tl1an anyo11e else. Eve11 if he held 110 fielcls i11 the 11eigl1 borhood at tl1 e ti111e of his ap1Joint111e11 t, l1e ca11 quickly bt1ild a re­ SJJectable estate both withi11 and outside of l1 is 11eighborl1 ood, JJrovjded, of course, that l1 e l1 as recog11ized rist rigl1 ts i11 tl1 e area. It is relatively easy for ]1in1 to obtai11 rist land for l1is rist rig1 1 ts eve11 tl1ro11g]1 re111ote a11d 1011g t111used JJedigrees. The elders a11d fejs wl1 0 11 1a11age the affairs of s0111e of tl1e local desce11t corporatio11 s are eager to l1ave tl1 e ne'.� lord join their ra11ks; for he is s11re to be a stro11 g a11 d effective sup1Jorter of their cause i11 ft1tt1re litigatio11. I-lis stlpJJOrt is partict1larly usefLtl if tl1e 111 i11 zir abbat thro11gl1 \Vhoin l1 e is claimi11g la11d has 11 ot yet bee11 give11 the fL1ll sl1are of the Iat1 d to whicl1 l1 e is ge11 ealogically e11 titled through clivisio11 by fatl1 er. 111 st1ch cases, tl1e 1ne11 wl1 0 holcl tl1 e la11 d of tl1e descent corporation's estate 11 1ay be able to i11crease tl1eir in­ dividual l1oldings throL1gl1 recog11 izi11 g tl1 e clai1 n of tl1 e gwilt gez. The g'A1ilt-l1 older can also obtai11 rist la11 d ot1tside of his neigl1borl1oocl throt1gl1 desce11t corporatio11s tl1at willingly 186


Social Stratificatio11 and Control of Lai1d

recog11iz � his cl�i111 i11 order to e11I ist l1is SUJJIJOrt i11 defendi11 g or e111arg111g tl1 e1r estates. The gwilt-holder ctiltivates IJart of his la11cls witl1 his own oxe11 a11cl IJart ,vitl1 tl1 e aid of the labor a11cl oxen provided a1111 11a]ly by those f,1r111ers resiclent i11 l1is neighborl1 ood. Still other fields 111ay be give11 to te11 a11ts or, occasio11 ally, to a poor n1a11 \vho lives i11 a l1 0L1se belonging to tl1e g\vilt-holder a11d wl10 works as a te11a11t. Traditio11ally, the gwilt gez also received a lancl tax i11 ki11 d fro111 all tl1 ose wl1 0 .ct1 ltivated la11d u11der J1is j11risdiction. The prod11ce tl1 at tl1e gwilt gez ob­ tai11ed fro111 l1 is rist la11d, togetl1er witl1 tl1 e produce l1 e re­ ceivecl as la11cl tax, v. as esse11 tial to tl1 e 1nai11te11 ance of his prestige a11 d power. It Sll[JIJ]iecl JJrovisions for hin1 a11d his follo\vers whe11 l1e atte11 cled l1 is lord's court or acco111panied l1in1 to war. It also enabled tl1 e gwilt-holder to provide for the 11eeds of l1is large housel1 old a11 d the 111a11y feasts which, as a big 111 a11, l 1 e was ex1Jected to give. Tl1e ability of tl1e gwilt gez to acq11ire rist la11 d sl1 011lcl not be overesti111 ated, for it was a11d is li111 ited. The san1e type of descent groL1p politicki11g \vhicl1 e11ables a gwilt gez to obtai11 la11d i11 other 1ne11's 11eigl1 borl1 oods enables the111 to obtai11 lai1d in his. Me111 bers of desce11t cor1Joratio11s wl1 ich are i11 da11ger of losi11g la11cl to corporatio11 s wl1 icl1 the gwilt gez is st1JJporti11g ca11 actively seek to recr1 1it po\verft1I me.11 fro111 other 11eigl1borhoocls. Tl1 ese powerful 11011 -reside11 ts, ofte11 the111selves gwilt-l1olclers, ser,re to reestablish a bala11ce of power a11 d {Jreve11t or forestall further shifts in Janel divisio11. Becat1se po\.verful ot1tsiders recruited t111cler tl1 ese circt11n­ star1ces are L1sually asked to reJJrese11.t the cor1Joration as fej, it co1nes about s0111 e\.vl1at paracloxically tl1 at, tl1 ot1gh one of tl1e pri111 ary tasks of a fej is to reject tl1e claims of no11reside11 ts, a great 111any fejs are the111selves no11reside11ts! If, des1Jite these checks, a gv.,ilt gez st1cceeds in manipulating tl1e clistribt1tio11 of desce11 t corporatio11 rist land too flagrantly to his a11 d l1is friends' adva11tage, l1 e \vill fi11d the resident popt1lation of l1is 11 eigl1 borl1ood a11d l1 e11 ce l1 is perso11al JJower and prestige dw.i11 dli11 g. In tl1e last analysis, it is control over 1ne11 a11 d r1ot control over la11 d that gives a n1a11 l1onor a11d power i11 Dega Damot. 1


Ii -


Social Stratification and Control of Land

Tl1e impression that tl1e local gentry is an hereditary group whose status rests on the possessio1 1 of land has been created, in large part, by the tendency of the gwilt gez ancl the IJeople he governs to regard his office as l1ereditary; tl1is despite the fact that provincial rulers have insisted on tl1eir right to give gwilt rigl1ts to the 111 an of their choice. In a sense, both clai1ns are correct; for to have an l1ered.itary right to the office of gwilt gez-that is, to consider gwilt rist-gwilt-one n1t1st only be accot1nted a descende11 t, in any li11e, of the first gwilt­ l1older. Tl1e 11 u1nber of eligible ca11didates fro111 which the ruler can select an ''hereditary'' gwilt gez is thus very great. The critical questio11, the11, is to what extent the office of gwilt gez actually has passed fro1n a man to his son or close collateral ki1 1s1 na 11 . Although a defi11itive ru1swe.r to this question 1n11st await furtl1er research, JJresent evide11ce i11dicates tl1at, in the l)resent century, gwilt l1as passed fro111 fatl1er to so 1 1 less tl1a11 50 1Jerce11t of the ti1ne. Instances in wl1icl1 it passes to either a son or a close collateral ki11s1 11a11 are more comn1 on (Hoben 1970b). Dra1natic changes i11 the dispositio11 of gwilt rights are often associated with n1ajor sl1ifts in the provincial po\.ver structure as a new rt1ler tries to reward the followers wl10 have brought hin1 to power. In unsettled ti 1 11es it is thus more difficult for an hereditary gentry to for11 1. In the prese11t century Gojjam has certainly see11 political tur1 11oil, but 1 1ot more tha1 1 it experie 1 1ced i11 the previous two centuries. It tht1s can be said conservative!>' that great and e 1 1duri11g "fan1ilies," owing their high status to st1ccession to office and tl1 e J)OS­ sessio 11 of rist land, were the exceptio1 1 a1 1d not tl1e rt1le .i11 Dega Damot. As tl1ere has bee 11 raJ)id u1)ward social 111 obility into the gentry, so there has bee11 swift dow 1 1\:varcl n1obility out of the gentry for office holders' so1 1s wl1 0 failed to dis­ tinguish themselves as leaders of their peo1Jle a11 d serva 1 1ts of their lord. Traditio11ally the n1 ost important oflicel1olders i 11 Dega Damot were the governor, l1is court officials, the liqekahinat in charge of church adm·i 11istration, a11d the heads of large . monasteries. Most high secular officials also l1eJd several neighborhoods as their perso11al gwilt or rist-gwilt. Tl1ey were 188

Socia] Stratificatio11 and Contra] of Land

thus ab�e to o�tain wid �SJJread rist land i11 their 11eighbor­ hoods like ord111ary gw1lt-holders. They were also able to obtai11 wides1Jread rist la11ds i11 other 11eighborhoods; for though tl1e power tl1at flowed fron1 the possessio11 of high office did 11ot i11 itself often directly affect the day-to-day lives of ordi11ary peasa11ts, i t e11abled tl1ose who exercised it to e11gage very effectively in tl1e tyrJe of desce11t-group manipt1la­ tions already clescribed. To tl1ese powerft1l a11d la11ded 111e11 of Dega Da111ot, the qt1est for Janel, witl1 its co11stant i11volve111ent in dispute and intrigt1e, l1as bee11 as 111uch a political as a11 econo111ic ac­ tivity; and the la11cl itself l1as bee11 as 1nuch a form of political as eco110111ic capital. I11 order to attract retainers to his court a11d ca11se, a great officeholder had to be able to feast them at his table, to reward tl1e111 periodically with clothes, and e,1e11tt1all)1 , if he °Vl1ere a great 1na11 and they served hi111 well, to helIJ the111 obtai11 co11trol over land, partict1larly gwilt, witl1 \vhich, i11 tt1r11, tl1ey could hope to build a followi11g of tl1eir ow11. \\7itl1011t st1cl1 a cadre of loyal followers attracted by la11d and tl1e fruits of tl1e land, a great officeholder could 11ot e11force his rt1le over those wl10 were 110111inally under l1is juris­ diction, protect l1is i11terests against his JJeers w110 were i11evitably rivals, a11d JJrovide tl1e sttpJJOrt expectecl of 11im by his s11perior lord; for it was cl1aracteristic of tl1e traclitio11al A111l1ara polity that a n1a11's political po,ver derived 111ore fro111 l1is ability to help or l1ar111 i11d ividuals under his con­ trol tl1a11 frot11 his occupa11cy of a clearly defined position of co1nn1and i11 a11 e11duri11g JJolitical orgat1izatio11. Neither a great lord's rist a11d gwilt la11ds 11or the political IJrivileges wl1ich e11abled him to acqt1ire a11d l1old then1 11or111ally passed 1111divided to a si11gle heir; for there was 110 rule of succession by wl1icl1 any of l1is ki11smen were pro111oted to l1is vaca11t position. 011 the co11trary, a po,verful 111an's death ,vas regular})' follo,ved by an i11tense struggle for his court d11ties, prerogatives, e111olt11nents, offices, a11d lands, all of which \VOt1ld probably 11ever agai11 be held i n the same co111bi11ation by a si11gle indiviclt1al. A s011 ' a so11-i11-law ' a brother ' or ,1 ne1Jl1ew of tl1e deceased who s11cceeclecl i11 reco11solidati11g a large part of the de189

Social Stratification a11cl Control of Land

ceased's political base ai1d in attai11i11g his n1ost i1111 )ressive political office is often spoke11 of as l1is heir, a t1sage wl1ich overlooks the competitive ai1d J)r�cariolis 11att1re of An1hara st1ccession. The ideology of li'ere·ditary successio11 is further e11ha11ced by tl1e of Gojja111is to refer to any 1na11 who has risen to power as a n1e111ber of tl1e ''rt1li11g'' fa111ily so 1011g as it is possible to relate hitn tl1rot1gh a bilaterally traced pedigree to Ras Hailu the first, a sl1adowy figt1re who is said to l1ave ruled Gojja111 several ce11tt1ries ago. The following brief life sketcl1es l1ave been i11clt1ded i11 tl1is cl1a1Jter i11 order to illtlsttate 111ore concretely tl1e way. i11 wl1ich the many factors disct1ssed 111ay affect a single ifidivicl:a ual's qt1est for la11cl and i111proved social statt1s; Tl1ree of the s.ketches were selectecl fro1n a series of inte11sive irtterviews v.1itl1 reside11ts of Shoa I-Iayl a11d the fourtl1 is based on i11tervie\:vs carriecl out duri11g a11 earlier J)eriod of research. T\\10 of the 111en are co111n1011ers a11d two are titled. The con1111011ers, Molla a11cl Dersih, were chosen becat1se they are of tl1e san1e age bt1t differ in their ''political standing'' a11d status withi11 the co1111nt111it)' a11d in tl1eir st1ccess at acqt1iring 11e\\, rist la11d. The titled n1e11 are Graz1nach Adn1ase, tl1e a(bi)1a clafina of Peres Bet Mikael, who has tl1e sixth largest holdi11g i11 Shoa Hayl's la11cl, a11d Liqekahi11at Assege, tl1e for111er chief clerk of Dega Da111ot and the largest la11dl1older in Shoa 1-Iayl. Life Histor)' 1: Molla Molla lives witl1 l1is wife and his brotl1er's te11-year-old s011 in a si111ple J101nesteacl 11ear the strea111 tl1at seJJarates Dereqe Marya111 fro111 :Feres Bet Mikael (l10111estead 1, on map 3). I-Ie has one ox, two calves, 011e }1orse, and fiv � sheep, _ a11d by all accou11ts is neitl1er ,vealthy 11or a11 1nflt1e11t1al elder. In 1966 11e reportecl that }1e was forty years old. !'-1°1 Ia _was ?or11 in Sl1oa Rayl, the fourth of eigl1 t child re11 1nclud1ng s1x boys, two of wl10111 were his elders. He lived with his fan1ily i11 Sl1oa l-Iayl t1ntil l1e was te11 years 190


Social Stratification and Control of La11 d

old, when his father clied. Soon after l1er l1usba11d's deatl1, Molla'� mother 1 noved witl1 her children to the nearby p�risl1 of Shangi Maryam i11 order, sl1e said, to be farther fro111 tl1e Italian ca11to11 1 11ent i11 Peres Bet. Durin°o tl1e occt1patio11, Molla ren1ai1 1ed i11 Sha11gi Marya1n t111der tl1e at1iliority of l1is 1notl1er a11d his oldest brother. After the war Molla's 1 11otl1er 1noved back to Shoa Hayl iI1 Peres Bet Mikael. Sl1e never 1narried again. Molla's oldest brotl1er a11d 011e of his sisters had both 1 11arried in Sha11gi Marya111, however, a11d did not return. Soon after the rett1rn to Shoa 1-Iayl, his otl1er elder brother 1narried a11d bt1ilt a l10 1nestead 011 his 1 1ew wife's rist Janel, leavi11g Molla as the oldest 1nale i11 l1is mother's household. A few years later Molla 1narried and, after livi 11g witl1 l1is 1notl1er for 01 1e year, btrilt a new homestead nearby on l1er rist la11 d. Two of l1is you11ger brothers also 1narried, eve11tually, a11d establisl1ed l1omesteads in Shoa 1-Iayl. His yot111ger sister 111arried loca]Jy also, and the other brotl1er died ,1t the age of fiftee11 ,vhile attending cl1 urch sch.ool a11d stt1dyi11.g to beco 1ne a priest. The n11111ber of l1is sibli11gs a11d, equally i1 11porta 11t, their failt1re or i11ability to disperse 111ore \Videly is t111clot1btedly 011e reason tl1at Molla a11d l1is brothers have been notably t111successft1l at acquiring additio11al fields of rist la1 1d. Molla still lives witl1 his first wife, wl10 l1 as bor11e hi 111 a son, a datrgl1ter, a1 1d four other children who diecl in i11fa11cy. I-Iis son has 111arried twice and no\v lives i11 tl1e parish of Dereqe Marya111. The da11gl1ter, 110w fiftee11, is married a1 1d lives 11ear tl1e otl1er e11 d of tl1e parish of Peres Bet. Molla has had 1 10 churcl1 scl1ool edt1catio11, l1as never been cl1ose11 for pt1blic office, s11ch as l1a1nlet re1)resentative or c.hiqa shum, and l1as never served as fej for a descent cor1)oratio11. His 011ly legal activity during the year preceding the study was of bei11g 011e of the clefe11dants in case 6 above. By any 111eas11re, Molla's political sta11di11g in the co1n111t111ity is low. '


Social Stratification ancl Control of Land

The first field Molla acqt1ired is i11 tl1 e parisl1 of Sl1angi Marya1n. It had bee11 used by l1is father, tl1 ei1 by his oldest brother. Whe11 Molla beca1 11e old e11ougl1 to J)low, he cultivated the field for his n1otl1 er's l1 ousel1old, of wl1 ich he was a part. After l1 is 1narriage and de1Jartt1re fro1 11 the house, he co11 tinued to t1se tl1 e land for the exclt1sive benefit of his 11ew ho11seholcl. In 1951 Molla built his prese11t hot1se 011 JJasture la1 1d (field M l 011 1.11 a1) 3) that was considerecl the }1ecle11.b la11d of Qusqo, and began to plow abot1t tl1ree acres of la 11 d arot111cl it. He l1as 11 0 recog 11 ized desce11t li11e fro11 1 Qusqo a11d ad111 its that he si11 1ply has possessio11 \Vitho11t rist rig11t. I-le says tl1at l1is sister l1 as a cl1 ild by a 111a11 witl1 rjghts i11 Qt1sqo a11d tl1at l1e would call this 1 11 an as l1 is vvabI if cl1alle11 ged. I11 1960 Molla asked tl1 e fej of a 1 11i11 zir abbat's descent corporation in Dereqe Marya11 1 for rist land tl1ro11gl1 a descent line he traced through his wife. He 11 eeded the lai1d, l1e said, so that l1is 1 narried s011, Tilahun, cot1ld build a hon1este,1d 01 1 it. The reqt1est was gra11ted. In 1966 Molla a11d l1is son tilled the la11d together and shared tl1e procl11ce eqt1ally. Molla says that the la11 d is really l1is through l1is wife becat1se, after all, it was l1 is reqt1est that obtai11 ed it. The son, Tilahu11, while 11ot ope1 1ly disagreei11g witl1 his father, points out i 1 1 private that it is really his field si11 ce .it is l1is ''motl1er's rist.'' I1 1 fact, the field was previously helcl by a 1nan wl10 was 11 ot co11sidered a ki11 s1 nan of Molla or l1 is wife, tl1ot1 gl1 l1 e was, of course, the latter's clirrib, or codesce1 1de11 t. The 11ext year, 1961, lots were cast to di\,ide a l)reviously t1ndivided, or yeclerib, la11cl of Sl1 oa. I-Iayl. Molla obtai11ed a field (M2) at tl1is ti 111e. He clai111 s tl1 e la11 cl as " 111otl1er's r!st'' buďż˝ so1:1e n1en say l1e really l1 olds tl1 e land for tl1e time being rn the absence of a 1 11 ore i11 fl11ential holder.

!n 19?4 he I?lowed a field

('M3) i11 a co1 11 1Jaratively

infertile section of pasturela11d that l1 ad been assigned to Senbeta followi11g a clis1)ute s0111 e years before. He '


dRriS& I


Social Stratification ancl Control of Lancl

clid 11ot ask the fej for the la11d. The following year the fej told him to give it lIJJ. }le reft1sed a11d beca1ne one of the seve11 Se11beta clefe11da11ts i11 case 6, disct1ssed i11 the previot1s cl1a1Jter. Life History 2: Dersih

Not far to the east of Molla lives Dersih, along witl1 his wife a11d te11-year-old dat1ghter (l1on1esteacl 2 on map 3). With three oxe11, two calves fro111 cows that died earlier in tl1e year, two geldi11gs usecl as pack horses, one 111are a11d l1er colt, Dersil1 is considerably 111ore wealtl1y i11 livestock than MolJa, t11ougl1 the two 1ne11 are of a[JJ)roxi111ately tl1e sa111e age. Dersih also controls 1nore rist la11d tl1a11 Molla a11d co111111a11ds 1nore res1Ject as a11. elcler a11cl arbiter of others' diSJ)lttes. Dersil1 \Vas the last of six cl1ildren a11d l1as three olcler brotl1ers. 1-Iis eldest brother died wl1ile i11 cl1t1rch stt1dies at a dista11t 1no11astery. The follo\vi11g brother is a farn1er livi.11g i11 Shoa Hayl. The 11ext cl1ild, a girl, clied \:vithottt l1avi11g cl1ildre11. The otl1er sister is now a 11t111 a11d tl1e other brotl1er clied after 111arriage bt1t before l1aving cl1ildre11. Si11ce his 111otl1er dicl 11ot have children by a11y 111a11 other th,111 l1is fatl1er, Dersil1 l1ad to sl1are la11d a11 cl la11d rigl1ts witl1 011 1 )' 011e sibling. Dersih was bor11, raisecl, a11 cl 111arried off by his 111otl1er a11d fatl1er i11 Sl1oa T-Iayl. After tl1is co111 paratively uneve11tft1l cl1ilclhood, he n1arried a11d lived witl1 his J)are11ts for a year. At tl1e e11d of this time l1is fatl1er askecl hi111 to buiicl l1 is 11ew l10111esteacl near his ow11. Dersih objected, respectfL1l]y bt1t fir111ly, saying that there was 11ot e11ot1gl1 la11cl 11ear l1is fatl1er's ho1nesteacl and tl1at it Vlot1ld be better for all if he 111oved farther away to tl1e otl1er e11cl of tl1e l1a111]et. His fatl1er eve11tt1ally acquiescecl. Dersil1's new ho111e \\1as bt1ilt 011 la11d held by l1is fatl1er bt1t located at the 01Jposite end of Sl1oa Hayl's estate. 193

Social Stratification and Control of Land

Dersil1 still lives with bis first wife, who has bor11e hi111 six cl1ildre11. The firstbor11 child died i11 i11fancy, tl1e seconcl, a boy, is 111arried and has established I1is ow11 l1ot1sehold. Tl1e third is a stude11t in gover11111ent school at the J)ro­ vincial capital of Debre Markos. The fot1rth, a girl, is 111arried. The fifth lives with l1in1, and the last cl1ild, a boy, died at the age of tl1ree years. Dersil1 \vent to cl1urch school for a total of five years in two parishes before he gave up 11is studies and n1arried. Today l1e is the tax collector, or te{er1 (see chaJJter 10) for Sl1oa I-Iayl; l1e helps the c,hiqa shum a11d afbiya. cla11fia a11d ofte11 arbitrates the 111i11or disputes of others. I-Ie does 11.ot serve as fej for a11y desce11t cor1Joratio11s, tl1ougl1 he says lie l1opes to. During tl1e year precedi11g the study, Dersih was i11volved i11 tl1ree cot1rt cases. Tl1e first was case 6, in which l1e was one of tl1e 1)lai11tiffs. Tl1e second co11cer11ed a11otl1er 1na11't atte1111Jt to plow t1p part of the la11d wl1icl1 Dersil1 ttsed as a cattle path fro111 his home. Dersil1 was tl1e v,1i1111er i11 tl1is case also. 111 the tl1ird case Dersil1 was tl1e defe11da11t as guara11tor for a11other 111a11's busi11ess transaction. He lost and was forced to pay l1is oppo11ent ru1 ox. Dersih was 111ore fortu11ate than Molla i11 inheriti11g la11d fron1 l1is father. He l1as also bee11 1nore st1ccessft1l at acqt1iring additio11al fields of rist Janel. Before his n1arriage, Dersih was assigned tl1e res1)onsibility . of ct1ltivating two fields. One was a fielcl of Se11beta (D 1 011 n1ap 3) which his father had been t1si11g tl1rot1gl1 Dersih's n1other's rist rigl1t. The other was a field in Mal1elbet, a got in the parish of Gesagis Marya111. Tl1e produce of these fields went towards the SUJ)J)Ort of l1is father's household. w¡he11 Dersil1 married a11d established his ow11 l1on1estead, his father let hi1n continue to t1se tl1ese two fields re11t-free and gave hi1n tl1ree Nt1de fields (D2, D3, ancl D4) i11 return for a share of the crop. 011 011e of these Dersil1

I '


194 '




Social Stratification and Control of Land

bt1ilt .his hot1se. At l1is fatl1er's cleat1 1 Dersil1 assu1 11ed ftill co11trol over all tl1ese fields. S01ne years later, i 1 1 ] 951, Dersih asked tl1 e fej represe11 t­ ing Gebre for a sl1are of Gebre's la11cl as his wife's rist. Tl1 e fej ack11 owleclged t11e legiti11 1acy of tl1e clai1 11 a11 d ordered tl1at t\vo n1 e11 share so111e of tl1 eir la11cl witl1 Dersil1. Tl1e designated 1 11e11 stalled for so1 11e ti111 e until Dersil1 tl1reate11 ecl to take tl1e 111 to cot1rt. A1 1 ot1t-of-court settle111e 1 1t was the11 reac}1 ed a11 cl Dersil1 receivecl 0 1 1e field (.D5) of Gebre ]and. In 1956 Dersil1 co1 111Jlai11ed to l1is older brother that tl1e latter 11 eld 111 ore than a fair sl1are of their fatl1 er's lands. After s0111e quarre]i11g, tl1 e brotl1er gave l1i 111 two fields (D6, a1 1d D7) fro1 11 Kokeba. His father l1 ad t1sed tl1e field as wife's rist before Dersil1's brotl1 er had take11 it over. I11 tl1 e following )'ear Dersil1 acqt1ired two 1 11ore fields. The first was pasttireland wl1icl1 l1e sin11Jly plowed witl1 ot1 t asking a1 1yo 1 1e. Later, whe1 1 lots were cast to divide the area, \,,hicl1 .had bee11 Sl1 oa I-Iayl yecle11b, tl1is field was give 11 to Dersil1 as Kokeba la 11 d. He says tl1e elclers gave it to hir11 t111 divided to helJJ hi11 1, si1 1ce it was 1 1ear his l1 ot1se. Dersil1 acquired tl1e other field fro1 11 a stra11 ger by aski1 1g tl1e fej of Nt 1 de's l1 t1sba11d's desce11 t corporatio11 in the go( of Mal1e]bet i11 Gesagis Marya 1n, wl1ere he already held one field l1 e l1 ad acquirecl fro111 his father before n1arriage.

In 1959 Dersih asked tl1e fej for 111ore rist la11 d


Mahelbet. Tl1 e fej told hin1 to take tvvo fielcls t1sed by a certai11 weaver. Tl1e weaver reft1secl to give tit) the la11 d. Dersih we11t al1ead a 11 d bega 11 to IJlow the fields. The weaver st1ed hi1 11 ' and Dersil1 cou1 1terst1ed the weaver. Eve11tua]ly tl1e cliSJJt1te was e11 ded by an out-of-court agreen1 e11t. The weaver retained the larger of the two fielcls wl1ile Dersih took JJossession of tl1e s1na]ler.

In 1963 Dersil1 , togetl1er witl1 t\vo otl1er elders, ope11 �d a

case to brj 11 g i 11 a new mi11zir abbat i11 the got of Ind1bego 195

Social Stratification and Control of Land

i11 Gesagis Marya111. After 111uch litigation, a favorable decisio11, a seco11d cri111i11al case, a seco11d victory, a11d a11 aiJpeal to the st1b1Jrovincial cot1rt, tl1e plaintiffs 111acle a11 out-of-cot1rt settle111e11t and receivecl about ten acres of t111fertilized la11d, fro111 which Dersih obtai11ed 011e field. In 1966 Dersih was actively pursui11g tl1e qt1est for n1ore lancl as a clain1a11t i11 anotl1er case. I-le speaks ho1Jeft111y of the futt1re a11d says l1e will beco111e a rist ex1)ert in ti1ne. He seen1s to take great J)leasure i11 tl1e process of getti11g la11cl as well as i11 its possessio11. Like all 111e11 i11 Da111ot, he regards the fields 11e [tcqt1ires tl1rot1gh litigation as l1is rightft1l dt1e, a11d l1e is 011e of tl1e 111ost ada111a11t defe11clers of the i11l1ere11t jt1stice of tl1e rist syste111 of la11d ten Ll re.


Bec,1t1se Dersil1 and Molla are ordi11ary far111ers of abot1t tl1e sa111e age a11d a1·e reside11ts of tl1e sa1ne l1a111let, differe11ces ir1 tl1eir la11dholdings are i11for111ative. Tl1ese differe11ces are sun1111arized i11 table 4a. It is evicle11t tl1at Dersih l1olcls 111t1cl1 more land for111erly l1eld by l1is father tl1a11 Molla holds of his fatl1er's Janel, tl1ot1gl1 it shot1ld be reme1nbered that, to get two of 11is fields, Dersil1 11ad to qt1arrel witl1 his older brotl1er. It is also eviden.t tl1at Dersil1 has bee11 more st1ccess­ ful tl1a11 Molla 111 acquiri11g rist la11d fro111 desce11t cor1Jora­ tio11s. Ft1rther111ore, while Molla l1as no recog11ized rigl1t in tl1e field l1e l1as bt1ilt his l1ot1se 011 a11d has been tolcl by tl1e fej to give lIJJ tl1e otl1er ·field he si1111)ly 1)1 0,.ved as J)astt1reland ( one of tl1e two fields listecl on table 4a t111cler ''fielcls ob­ tai11ed i11 other wa.ys''), Dersil1 was able to obtain as Kokeba rist a fielcl wl1ich l1e first J)lowed wl1e11 jt was u11cl ivided TABLE 4a


1'otal fields

Molla Dersib

5 12



Fields obtained through /ej Fields inherjted upon request or dircclly or through division Fields obtained by lot through brother in other ,vays

1 7

2 5

2 0




Social Stratification and c011trol of Land

pasturela11d. Fi11ally, 3?ersil1 was e1 1g,1g!11g i11 litigatio 11 to ob­ _ tai11 111ore l,111cl at tl1e t 1 111e ot stt1cly, wl11le Molla \\'as e11gaoed in litigation as a defe11cla 1 1t tryi11g to retain \\1l1at la11cl J1 e h�cl. Sii1ce Dersil1 is tl �e ki11d of elder \\1 ]10 ca 1 1 easily acqtiire additio11 al fields of r1 st la 1 1d a11d Molla is 11ot, it is interesti1 1 o to exan1ine 111ore carefully cliffere11ces in tl1eir JJOsition in th� co111 1 11t111ity as reflected i11 tl1eir claily activities. Records of tl1e major claily activities of Molla a11 cl Dersil1 \Vere kerJt for sixty-t\VO co11sect1tive clays dt1 ring tl1e SJJri11g of 1966. Activi­ ties \vere grottJJed i11to six 111,1jor categories ancl 011e 111iscellane­ ot1s. Tl1e first category, agricultt1re, i11clt1des: plowi11g, ter1d­ i1 1g tl1e village flocks, bringi11 g l1ay or stra\v to tl1 e l1ot1se, tl1resl1ing, worl(i11g 011 irrigation, a11d searcl1i11g for lost live­ stock. Tl1e seco11d category is J 1ot1se-bt1ilding, for tl1 is is tl1 e ti111e \vl1e11 old hot1ses 1 11t1st be readied for tl1 e rains a 11d 1 1ew l1ouses bt1ilt. Tl1e tl1 ird category, ritt1al, i11 cludes: goi11g to 11 1ass; abstai11 ing fro11 1 work becat1se of a perso1 1al religiot1s vow; activities i11 volved with cleatl1 , bt1rial, ar1cl fur1erals; at­ te11ding church feasts. Tl1e fot1rth category, co·111111ercial, i11 clt1cles: going to n1 arket, bt1yi11 g goods for tl1 e hoL1sel10Id, a11 d visits to trade IJart11ers. Tl1e fiftl1 category, legal a11cl acl111i11istrative, i11 clL1des: assisting {Jt1blic officials st 1 cl1 as the c1{bt)1c1 c/c11111c1, the c,!1iqcz .\'l1i11n, or fejs; atte 1 1ding JJt1blic ir1c1uests; aJJJJeari 1 1g i11 cot1rt; acti11 g as arbitrator for other 1 ne1 1's cl ispt1 tes. rf,tble 4b sl1ows the 11u1 11ber of cla)'S on wl1icl1 each n1a11 e11gaged i1 1 01 1e or 111 ore activity i11 tl1 e apJJropriate 111ajor category. Since more tl1 a11 011 e activity n1ay take fJ!ace 011 ,1 si11gle cl,1y, eacl1 1 11a1 1's total activities add U[J to more tl1 1:11 1 sixty-t\vo, the 11L1 111ber of days recorcled. The proJJer way to read the first cell i,1 table 4b, for exa111 ple, is: ''Dt1ring tl1 e sixty-two day IJeriod, Dersil1 engaged in agrict1ltt1ral activi­ ties on 11ineteen clays, Molla 011 eightee11. '' Tl1 e two 111e 11 e11gaged i11 econo1nic ( agrict1ltL1ral ancl co 1 111nercial) a 1 1d ritual activities \Vitl1 approxi111 ately tl1 e sa111e freqt1ency. Dersil1 s1Je11t n1ore time tl1a1 1 Molla hot1se-builcl­ i11g, socializing, a11d i11 legal-acl 1 11i11istrative activity. Tl1e l1igher level of Dersih's l1 ot1se-buildi11g anc1 "socializing'' \Vere related to the preparation of }1is son's \Vecldi11g feast. 197


Social Stratificatio11 and Control of La1td









Molla :;:;





Legal Adn1inis.



19 30.6

12 19.4

11 19.3

I1 19.3

30 48.7

32 5 I .6

9 14.6

14 22.6

13 21


19 30.6

10 16.3



19 30.6





The upper ro\v of nun1bers in each of the cells indicates the nun1ber of days during the 62-day period on \Vhich the n1an engaged in the specified activity. The 101,ver row of numbers in each cell indicates the percentage of days during 1he period in which he engaged in that activity. NOTE:

Tl1e 111ost sig11ifica11t differe11ce i11 activity is in legal and acl 1 11i 1 1istrative activity-a ki 1 1d of activity which, in Dega Da 1 11ot, n1igl1t well be called JJetty politicki11g. Dersil1 was called t1po 1 1 three ti1 11es to settle tl1e disJJt1tes of others; Molla was 11ot asked at all. Tl1js is, in itself, probably the best i11dex available of the l1igher social estee111 i11 which. Dersil1 is l1eld by others i 11 the co1n111t 1 11ity. Inflt1e11tial as l1e is for his age, however, Dersih, trnlike the 1 1ext i11dividt1als to be considered, lacks the authority and ability to obtain rist land that ac­ co1n1Ja11y [Jolitical office. Life Histo,·)' 3: Grazmac/1 Aclmase

Grazn1acl1 Ad111ase is the son of a 1101 1titled co1111 11011 farn1er. The forty-seve1 1-year old Adrnase was bor1 1 i11 Shoa Hayl, tl1e seco 11 d of eight cl1ilclre11 Yet i 1 1 1966 l1e was the a{biya claiifia of the largest parisl1 i 1 1 Dega Da111ot, had a title, a11d lived in a co111plex of three bt1ilcli 1 1gs (hon1estead 3, 011 11 1ap 3) \Vit11 11is fifth wife, her fot1r111ontl1-old baby girl, a fifty-two-year old serva11t \vor11a1 1 �ho is his wife's fatl1er's father's brotl1er's clat1ghter, a1 1 e 1 ghtee11-year-old youtl1 wl1ose JJare11ts were Nilotic slaves and who cloes not expect to l1ave his 111arriage _ provided for by Ad111ase, a 1 1d a bli11 d old nt111 w110 is of 110 service to the l1ousel1old but whon1 Ad111 ase says l1e kee1Js "for his soul." The hon1esteacl also hot1ses t\.\10 198




Social Stratification and c 011 trol of Lane!

oxen, three �o. \vs, four calves, tv.10 J)ack l1orses, te11 shee1), a11 c1 a fi11e r1d111g 111t1le. Tv.10 years after l1is first 111arriage, Ad1nase's fatl1 er clied a11d }1e stayed 011 \;vith l1is wife a11d 1notl1er for anotlier ' t\VO )'ears. After t11is l1e btrilt his 11ew ho111estead i1 11111ediately acljace11t to l1is wiclowecl 111otl1 er's. Whe11 the Italia11s ca111e, Acl111ase took to tl1e forests as a J)atriot. B)' tl1e e11cl of tl1e war lie was tl1e leader of a s111all gtierrilla ba11d a11cl l1acl bee11 give11 the rank of grazn1acl1 by Gojja111's leadi11g patriot. After tl1e occt1J)atio11, the rank was confir111ed by tl1e e111peror. Later, Graz111ach Acl111ase v.1 as apJ)oi11ted to look after Feres Bet Mikael . The graz111acl1 acqtiirecl 011ly 011e field, !)art of Al 011 1na1) 3, at l1is fatl1er's deatl1. All of his otl1er eightee11 fields, 111a11)1 of \vl1icl1 are valL1able fertilized la11cl, were previously held by 111e11 wl10 were not his close kin and \Vere acquired tl1rot1gh litigatio11 or i1n1)lied tl1reat of litigatio11. 111 I 947, shortly after he rose to autl1ori ty, Graz111ach Admase st1ccessft1]ly clai111ed seve11 fielcls in Shoa I-Iayl (A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, and J)art of 1\l). Tl1e fields i11clt1de tl1e la11cl of Se11beta, QL1sqo, and Kokeba, bt1t Adn1ase, wl10 does 11ot fa11cy hi111self a rist eXJ)ert ancl wl10 says sardo11ically, "l l)low \vitl1 111y rifle," states, witl1 ratl1er gra11cl vagt1e11ess, that all of tl1e la11d is Shoa ffayl yeclenb. 111 tl1e san1e year, Adrnase acqtrired six fielcls i11 the par.isl, of Gidilifi Medha11e Ale111 throL1gl1 litigatio11. No11e of l1is a11cestors i11 recent generations had l1eld lane! i11 Gidilifi. In 1953 Adn1ase acqt1ired t\vo 1 11ore fields in a 1 1earby {)arish by aski11g tl1e fej. Tl1ere was no litigatio11. 111 1957 lie received two 1nore fields i11 tl1e parish of Feres Bet Mikael in the land section of Qt1sqwa111aw1t. There was again no litigatio11. Acl111ase says tl1at the fej simply gave it to l1in1, sayi11g, "You are our judge; yot 1 1nust have your la11cl. '' 011e suspects tl1at there was 111ore to tl1e 1natter tha11 tl1is.



Social Stratificatio11 ancl Control of Lancl

Life Histor)' 4: L1qekal1i11c1t A,c;sege i

L :qekal1 i 11 ,1t Assege ( for111 erly reside1 1t i11 ho1nestead 4 011 111 ap 3), like Graz111 acl1 Ad111 ase, was born to a11 ordi i1 ar)' JJeasa11 t fa1 11 ily. Yet i11 1962, so1 11e years after l1 is official retire1 11e11 t fro1n the 1Jowerful office of cl1 ief clerk of Deg,1 Da1 11ot, l1e re11 1ai1 1ed tl1 e largest la11clholder e11coL111 terecl in tl1 is stt1cly and, after tl1 e gover11 or, tl1 e 11 1ost i11flL1e11tial si1 1gle i11clividt1al i 11 tl1e district. Assege was bor11 i1 1 Ziqwala Arbaytu I11 sesa i 11 tl1 e last decade of tl1e 1 1i1 1etee1 1tl1 cen.tt1ry. At tl1 e age of seve11 he bega11 cl1L1rcl1 stL1dies at l1is local parisl1 cl1urcl1. f\s a cl1 t1rcl1 stt1cle11t, l1e \vas occu1Jied literall)' day a11 d 1 1igl1t witl1 stud)' a11cl was 11 ot able to s1Je11 cl 1 11ucl1 ti1 11e l1erdi11g tl1 e fa111ily Ii,1estock, as otl1 er yot111g boys do. Assege s110\ved jJro1nise as a stt1dent, lear11 i11 g tl1 e syllabar)' al1Jl1abet a1 1d 1110,1i11 g 0 11 to stucly tl1e psal111s witl1 i11 11 is first year. 1 Iis - teacl1er, who had bee11 l1ired on a yearly contract by the JJeo1J 1e of tl1 e parisl1, left at tl1e e11 d of tl1 e year, a11 d a11 otl1er teacl1er ca 111e. Assege conti11ued l1is stL1clies. �111e11 tl1e 1 1ev-., teacher also left, Assege we11 t \Vitl1 l1i11 1, le,1,1i 11g l1is fa111 ily bel1 i11 d. For tl1ree years Assege stL1died witl1 tl1e teacl1 er in the JJarisl1 i 11 Teli1 11 Mikael, so1 11e six kilo111eters fro1n l1is ho1ne. At the e11d of tl1 is ti111e he decidecl to go to the 111 ost fa1 11 011s 1 11 011astery in Dega Da 1uot, \Vasl1era Marya 1n, to stt1 dy a l1ighly specialized type of Ge'ez JJOetry callee! qi11e. After two years at Washera, Assege 111 ovecl 0 11 to study i1 1 Gonj v-.1itl1 a teacl1 er wl1 0 was 11oted for l1 is �xcelle1�ce i 11 a bra11cl1 of qin.e JJoetry. Tl1 ree years of stt1d)' 111 GonJ brougl1t Assege hi111 self to tl1 e sta11clards of a teacl1 er. Follov-.1i11g this, Assege rett1r11ecl to l1 is for1 11er teacher i1 1 Teli1 11 Mikael as a11 assista11t teacl1er a11 cl a co11tint1i1 1g "gradt1ate stt1de11 t'' i11 certai 11 books 011 wl1icl1 his �or111er teacher was a,1 expert. WI1 e11 tl1 e teacl1er decided to leave Dega Da 111ot altogetl1er a11d go to a11other JJart of Gojja111 s0 1 11e eigl1 ty kilo111eters to tl1e east, Assege we 11 t with l 1i1n. Dt1ri 11 g tl1 is ti111 e l1 e was 200


--Social Stratificatio11 and Control of Land

trot1bled witJ1 eye clisease, bt1t 1 1e dicl 1 1ot leave I1 is stticlies a11d retL1r1 1 to l1 is 1Jare11 ts' l10 11 1e, as sick cl1L1rcl1 stL1de11ts nor111 c1lly clo. After passi 1 1g six yec1rs away fro1 11 Da111 ot, se.rvi 1 1g as a teac]1er a 11 d {Jt1 rsL1i 1 1g l1 is studies at tl1 e sa1 11e ti11 1e, Assege fi11ally left scl1ool. At the age of t\ve1 1ty-t\VO witl1 fiftee1 1 years of grt1eli11 g stt1cly bel1incl hi 111, Assege set off for Acldis Ababa to see tl1e 011 ly bisl101J i11 all Etl1io1Jia. He carried witl1 l1 i1 11 letters of introdt1ctio11 fro1 11 cl1t1rcl1 a11d civil authorities in Dega - letters, l1 ours of patie11 t vvaiti11 g 11 ear the Da111 ot. IIis gates of i1111Jorta11 t officials, luck, a11 cl l1 is consiclerable ert1dition brot1 gl1t l1 i1 11 st1ccess at last. At tl1e age of t\ve 11ty-tl1 ree, Assege \vas ap1Joi11ted to be acln1 i11 istrative l1ead a 1 1d jt1dge of all tl1 e sect1 lar clergy ( tic1e!{c1hi11at) i1 1 Arefa st1bdistrict of Dega Da1 11 ot. The office was not witl1 ot1t its rewards i1 1 tl1e for 111 of prese11 ts, }Jower, a1 1d ho1 1or. After l1old ing the office for eleve1 1 ye,1rs, Assege \vas able to have l1 i1 11self appoi 1 1ted to tl1 e JJowerft1l office of cl1 ief clerk of Dega Da111 ot, a JJosition wl1 ich l1 e retained L111 til 1954, \vhe1 1 l1 e \Vas succeecled by l1 is so1 1. 1 11 a cot1 11 try wl1ere full literacy is rare, the fJOsitio11 of cl1ief clerk l1as great i 1 111Jorta11ce. In 111a11 y ways it 111igl1 t be 11 1ore acct1rately describecl as cle1Juty gover11or. I11 adclitio1 1 to receivi11 g 111 a11 y gifts, Assege received two parisl1 es as rist-g\vilt. 011 e of tl1 e 1 11 was Dereqe rvrarya111. DL1ri11g his 1 01 1g years of stt1dy Assege held no rist la11 cl. Toclay I1e holds tl1 irty-two fielcls, 11 1any of the 1 11 above average i1 1 size, i 11 seve1 1 J)arishes. Abot1t tvlo-tl1 irds of his fields are in tl1e two parishes wl1icl1 are his gwilt or i11 Peres Bet Mikael, i1 1 which l1 e is reside11t. His holdings in Shoa Hay] are sho,,111 01 1 111 a1J 3. So1 11 e of Assege's rist-l1 olcli1 1gs and 01 1e of his two gwilts ca 1 1 be attribL1ted to l1is late a11d st1ccessful marriage. I-Iis first a11 d 011ly 111 arriage \Vas co1 1tracted whe11 l1e was forty years old. I-Tis JJOlitical ofl1ce a 11d co1 1co111itant wealtl1 enabled hi1n to n1arrj' a noblewo 111a1 1 ,vho wot1ld l1ave been far above }1 is station l1acl he 11 1arriecl at the 201

Social Stratificatio11 and Control of Laiid

- wife's fatl1er was a11 i1111)orta11t 11oble1na11 ustial age. lIis v.,ho clistributed his five gwilts a111011g his cl1ildre11, ir1clt1cling Assege's \vife. Tl1e gwilt tecl111ically re1nai11s I1ers, bt1t 1 1er ht1sba 11d acts for }1er as lord of tl1e parisl1. Most of the la 11cl Assege clai111s throt1gl1 his father is tl1rot1gl1 a si11gle a11cestor, Welde Raguel. I-le is the fej for this ancestor i11 fot1r parisl1es a11d is so stro11gly ide11tiJied witl1 Welde Ragt1el's i11terests tl1at 11one of the less i1111)orta11t landl1olclers clared to reveal tl1e ge11ealogical strt1ctt1re of tl1e cor1)oratio11 for fear of i11ct1rring Assege's \vratl1. Eacl1 111e111ber was willi11g to tell l1is own clescent li11e but woulcl 11ot ex1)a11cl 011 a11y of tl1e collateral li11es. Wl1e11 questio11ed, tl1e 111e111bers invariably reco1n11 1e11ded that Assege be askecl about the ge11ealogy. Assege's te11ants, e\ e11 tl1ose wl10 do 1;ot live i11 his g\vilts. ,ire also his followers, a11d l1e expects tl1e111 to co111e to see l1i11 1 ofte11. If tl1ey stay awa)' for n1ore tha11 a reaso11able j)eriod of ti111e, he \\ ill sus1)ect that they are plotti11g agai11st l1i1n or ct1rryi11g tl1e favor of son1e other ir111)orta11t 111a11. 1


In 1962 Assege, who the11 clai111ed he \\ as seventy-eight, was thi11ki11g of the next world. Des1)ite his faili11g e)resigl1t, l1e wa,s often to be found sitti11g 011 a hill behi11d }1is ho1nestead readi11g the Bible. Once he \1/as fot111d tnusi11g over a writte11 "record'' of l1is pedigree fro111 Ada111 i11 13 8 ge r1erations via n1ost of the pre-GoL1darine i111perial line! Nevertheless, Assege l1ad not dro1)ped out of con11)etitio11 for land. Four ti111es dt1ri11g tl1e two-year period of fieldwork he 1nou11ted his 111t1le a11d 111ade tl1e diflict1lt jot1r11ey, s0111e of it 011 foot, to Debre ·Markos, �lie {Jr?vincial ca1)it,1l, i11 orcler to figl1t ,t la11cl case 111 volv111g a few acres of lancl. 111 1966, during tl1e second {)eriod of researcl1, Assege was fou11d to l1ave aged gre,ttly. TJe - hacl 11 1oved to the tow11 of .Fe res Bet, seldom left l1is bed, a11d \1/as i11 tl1e P:oc �ss of losi11g l1is fej-s11ips. I-le had 11ot lost a11y of 111s r1st la11d; for "wl10 wa11ts to risk a dyi11g 111a11's 1


Social Stratificatio11 a11d Control of Land

ctlrse?'' Nevertheless, tl1ot1gl1 people still s1)oke of 11i1n with great respect, it was clear tl1at he 110 lo11ger exercised his for111er J)Olitical power. Meta 1)l1orically, at least, tl1e old n1a11's clai111 tl1at l1e was 11i11ety-11i11e, a11 i11crease of twei1ty- one years si11ce 1962, was not clevoid of 111eani11g.



Des1Jite tl1e clevotio 1 1 of tl1e IJeOJJle of Dega Da111ot to tl1e rist syste1n, tl1ere have bee11 a 11u111ber of cl1a11ges duri11g the JJast fo1 1 r decacles in tl1e way it fu11 ctio1 1s, a11d still greater c}1a11ges see111 i11evitable i1 1 tl1e ft1ture. The cha11ges whicl1 have already take 1 1 place are related to cl1anges \vl1icl1 ]1ave occurred i11 the 1 1atural a11d instit1.1tio11al e11viron 1 11ent of tl1e rist systern ratl1er tl1a1 1 i11 its forn1al rules. S1Jecifically, they are the result of i11creased po1Julation press11re on tl1e la11cl a.11d tl1e dis1Jlace 1nent of the JJolitical and econo 1nic i 1 1stitt1tio 1 1s associated with tl1e traditional fe11dal order a11d tl1eir replace 1nent by a 1 11odern bureaucratic for111 of gover11111e 1 1t. Future cha11ges 111ay be brot1ght abo11t by reformative legis­ lation directly altering the rules of la 1 1d te11ure. Tl1e object of this chapter is to exa 1 11i11e tl1e effects of tl1ese demographic and instit11tional changes 01 1 the rist syste111, to assess the JJrobable effects on it of f1 1 ture la11d-refor111 IJolicies, a11d to ill111ni11ate tl1e attit11des of the JJeo1Jle of Dega Dan1ot towards these cl1a11ges a11d policies of refor111.

The effects of ecological and demograpltic cl1ange Accordit1g to all reports, the t111cleared forest la 1 1cls of Dega Damot have di111i11ished greatly clt1ri11g the {Jrese11t ce11tt1ry. It is also t1niversally 111ai 1 1tained, tho11gh this is 1nore difficult to ��c11me11t, tl1at populatio11 de11sity ]1as i11creased wl1ile _tl1e fert1l1ty of lo11g-cultivated la11cl l1as decli 11 ed. Tl1e 1 11ost 1n1}JOr �ant effects of tl1is increased JJOIJt1latio11 presst1re 011 available land are greater frag 111entatio1 1 of la 11dl1oldings,



The Fet1dal Orcler, the Bureat1crac)', and Tax Reform

111 creasecl co1 1flict over la 1 1d, a11d a decrease i1 1 tl1e density of kinship bo1 1cls bet,vee1 1 tl1 e 1 11e11 1bers of a local co 1nintinity. As la11d beco 1 11es scarce a11d is no lo11 ger available for clearing, yot111 g 1 11e1 1 are i11creasi11 gly forced to 11 1ove out fartl1er fro11 1 tl1 eir fatl1ers' homesteads a11d to clai1 11 Janel i11 the estates of desce11t cor1Jorations '"'here tl1eir fatl1ers l1 ave not JJreviot1 sly l1 elcl la 1 1cl. TJ1ere is tl1us a11 i1 1crease in the nt1111ber of clai1 11 s for la11cl broug11 t against tl1e fejs of desce11 t cor1)oratio11s a1 1d a co11seqt1e11t rise i11 the freqt1 e11 cy of litiga­ tio1 1. As a rest11t of t11is greater co1n1Jetitio11 for land, the process of div.isio1 1 by fatl1er is carried to lower ge11 ealogical levels, la1 1d becornes ft1rtl1er frag111e1 1ted, a1 1cl the la11 d of eacl1 desce11t corporatio1 1 beco111 es divided a 1no1 1g n1 ore me11 . The dispersal of so 1 1s a,vay fro111 the JJare11tal l1omesteacl also re­ dt1 ces tl1e i11teractio1 1 betwee1 1 JJeople wl10 are close ki1 1sme11 . It is possible, tl1ot1gl1 it is diffi.ct1lt to obtai11 evicle1 1ce of this, tl1 at tl1e red uctio11 i1 1 tl1e exte11 t to ,vl1 icl1 ki11 s]1 i IJ provides a basis for day-to-clay i11teractio1 1 also redt1ces tl1e alreacly ,:veak se1 1se of co1 11n1u1 1ity cohesion still further. Wl1ile tl1 e f)eo1Jle of Dega Da1 11 ot are aware of the i11 creased JJresst1 re 011 la11cl and the rest1lti11 g level of co11 flict. tl1ey ge1 1erally do 1 1ot ex1Jress personal a1 1xiety over t11e effect of ft1tt1re i11creases of JJOIJt1 latio 11 ; as they assure tl1 e i1 1vestigator, tl1 ey l1 ave exte11sive rist rig11ts \Vl1ich tl1ey ca11 t1se to obtai1 1 1 11ore la11 cl \\1l1e11 11ecessary. Even when JJressed 01 1 this J)Oi11t, 1 11en vvere l1 esita 11 t to ad11 1it tl1at a1 1 i11 definite i1 1crease i1 1 JJOpt1latio 1 1 t111 cier tl1e sa 11 1e co1 1ciitio11s of JJroclt1 c­ tio1 1 vvot1lcl le::1cl to i1 1st1r111ot11 1t,1ble diffict1lties.

The breakdo,vn of tl1e feudal order, tf1e gro,vtl1 of bureat1cracy, ancl tax reform Traclitio1 1ally tl1ere vvas very little cliffere1 1tiatio 11 of govern1 11e1 1tal tasks i11 Dega Da1 11ot. Tl1e sa111 e set of t111specializecl C/t1asi-111ilitary officials carried out 1. 11ost of tl1e rather li111ited ad1 11inistrative, jt1dicial, a1 1cl taxatio1 1al ft11 1ctio1 1s of gover1 1111e1 1t. Dt1ri11 g tl1e J)ast four decacles the militar� el� te tl1at _ for1 11erly rt1 Jed Gojja1 11 a1 1cl Dega Da111ot, a1 1cl tl1e 111st1 tt1�1011s 011 \\1}1icl1 it deJJe1 1decl for its st1 1)1Jort, have bee1 1 {Jrogress1vely erodecl anc1 re1Jlacecl by a ft11 1ctio1 1ally differe1 1tiated bti205

Changi11g Patterns of Land Tenure

reaucracy t1 1 1der the clirect co11trol of tl1e ce11tral govern111ent i11 Addis Ababa. This 1)rocess of political a11cl ad111inistrative change, whicl1 is as yet far fro111 co111plete at tl1e local level, has begu11 to affect land te 1 1ure in Dega Da1 11ot in several ways. It has weakened tl1e positio11 of the gwilt-l1olcler, it has .i 1 1creased tl1e eco110111ic a11d decreased the political signifi­ ca1 1ce of land, it l1as affected to so111e degree the circt11n­ sta 11ces u11der which 111e11 ca11 acqt 1 ire rist land tl1rot1gl1 tl1e cot 1rts, and it has raclically cha1 1ged tl1e way i1 1 w11icl1 la11d is taxecl. Dt1 1·i11g tl1e first part of tl1e prese1 1t ce1 1tt1ry tl1e rt 1 Iers of Gojja1 11, Negt 1 s Tekle I-Iay111anot a11cl, after 11im, his so 1 1 Ras I:-Iailt1, e11joyed al111ost co111J)lete auto110111y fro 1 11 tl1e ce11tral gover11 1 11e1 1t i11 the ad111i11 istratio11 of tl1eir provi11ce. Political a1 1d ad111i11istrative orga1 1ization remai1 1ed esse11tially t111affected by tl1e first atte111pts at gover 1 1111e1 1tal 1nodernizatio11 ,vl1ich were jt1st begi11 1 1i1 1g i11 Sl1oa. I11 193 3 Ras Hailu was arrested i11 Acldis Ababa for con­ spiri1 1g agai1 1st tl1e e111 1)eror a11d })laced t1nder detentio 1 1 1111til 11e \,,as freed by tl1e Italia 11s. Ras I 1 11rt1, a Sl1oa11 a11d a rela­ tive of the e1 11peror, beca111e gover11or of Gojja 1n wl1ere he ruled \vitl1 tl1e st1pport of paicl Shoa11 troops rather than tl1e gwilt-holders of Gojja111. The latter were by no 1nea11s 11e­ glectecl. 0 11 the co11trary, to win tl1eir s111)port Ras I111r11 granted 111any of the1 n 1)restigio11s 1nilitary titles. T11ey \-\1ere 11ot, however, give11 co111111e11s11rate offices. It tl1t1s can1e about duri 11g this period and again after tl1e \var tl1at tl1ere was a great increase i11 tl1e 1 1L11nber of titlecl me1 1 a11d a co11seque11 t dissociatio11 of title a1 1d actt1a1 l)OVler. Tl1e Sl1oa1 1 6ccupatio1 1 of Gojja 1n 111ay have co 11tribt1 ted to the later i11trod11 ctio11 of ad 111inistrative refor1 ns by I)t1tting a 1 1 e11cl to provi11cial a11tono1 11y a1 1cl weakeni11g tl1e olcler nobility �hrough ?ilt1 tion, bt1t it did not i11 itself l1ri 11g cl1ange to tl1e 1nter 1 11ecl 1 ate or local levels of provi1 1cial ad111i 11istratio1 1. Only fot1r years after tl1eir occLlJ)atio11 of Gojjarn the Shoan ar 1 11ies lost co1 1trol of the J)rovi11ce to tl1e i1 1vadi11g _ Ital�a11s. The Italia1 1 l)eriod, lasti11g five years, "''as also i1 1. dec 1s 1ve fron1 the point of view of 111ocler 11ization. Partly be­ cause of its terrai11, partly becat1se of tl1e low value of its


-- •�cttr1'111

Tl1e Fe11clal Order, the Burea11cracy, and Tax Reforn1

exports i11 tl1e �yes of tl1e It?lia11s, � 11cl partly beca11se it was tl1e ce11 ter of 111te11se g11err1lla res1sta11ce Gojjar11 re111ai11 ed ad111i11istratively a11d eco11�111ically 1111clevelo1)ed in co111pari­ son \Vith so111e otl1er })rov1 11ces. Of the 11 t1 11ost sig11ifica11ce, hovvever� ,vas tl1e constrt1ctio11 of a road bridgi1 1g tl1e Bltie Nile a11d li11 ki11g tl1e 1)rovi11cial capital of Debra Markos witl1 Addis Ababa i11 Sl1oa. Tl1e i1111)orta11ce of tl1is road to t1 1e .i 11 stit11tio11 of bt1 rea11cratic refor1 11s after the Seco11d vVorld vVar vvas ft1lly appreciatecl by co11 servative Gojja111is so111e of wl101. 1 1 atte111J)tecl several ti111es witl1011t success to dyna111ite jts 1 11ajor briclge. Follo\vi11g tl1e reco11q11est of Etl1iopia by allied forces and the restoration of Haile Selassie to the tl1ro11e, Gojja111 was divided i1 1to its J)rese1 1t ad111i11 istrative 111 1its, a1 1d a bt1rea11cratic for1 11 of ad111i1 1istratio11 \vas i11troduced. Thot 1 gl1 the go\rer1 1or at eacl1 level retains great po\ver, he 111t1st work \1/itl1 officials represe 11ti11g a11d respo11sible to various 111 i1 1istries i11 Addis Ababa. I1 1 Feres Bet, tl1e ad1ni11 istrative center of Dega Da111ot, tl1ese officials i11 clt1 ded, i11 1966, two jt1 dges, a police sergea11t, a tax collector, a sc]1ool clirector, a11cl a n1edical worker. Below tl1e district level of ad111i11istratio 11, l1owever, tl1ere is still 1 10 bt1 reat1 cratic cliffere11tiation. For 111ost peOJ)le 111ost of tl1e ti111e the gwilt gez, i11 J1 is 1nocler11 role as tl1e a{bI)1a claiitic1, re111ai11s tl1e n1ai 1 1 i11ter111ecliary \vitl1 and age11t of tl1e ce1 1tral gover11111e11t. The l ,vea/(e11ing of g,.v;/1 I11 view of tl1e broad !)Owers ancl crt1cial i1 1terstitial role of tl1e gv.1ilt-holder i11 tl1e traditio11al order, it is scarcely st1 r­ JJrisi11g tl1at efforts at b11 reaucratic 111oclernizatio11 l1ave, in JJart, bee11 clirectecl at weake1 1i11g and eve1 1tt1ally at abolishi11 g his positio1 1. Tl1e first ste1) in tl1 is directio11 \Vas tl1e recl11ctio11 in tl1e 111ilitary i1 11porta1 1ce of tl1e gwilt gez already 11 otecl. Eve1 1 111ore ft111 da111e1 1t,1l cl1a11ges were brougl1t abot1t by post­ war cha11ges i11 taxatio11 whicl1 abolisl1ecl J)ay1 11e11ts i11 ki11d and ser,,ice to the g\vilt-holder a1 1cl 1 11ade taxes payable di­ rectly to a represe11tative of the lvfinis try of Fi11a11ce at tl1e district level. The gwilt-I1older \Vas res1)onsible for seei1 1g to it tl1at taxes 011 l1is 1 1eigl1 borl1ood were J)aid, i11 ret11r11 for 207

Changing Patterns of Land Tenure

which he received a sn1all part of the tax 111011ey back fro1n the government, but he 11 0 lo11ger had t�1e JJOwer he l1ad ! or1nerly }1eld as assessor a11d collector. Dur111g the same period, reli­ gious i11stitutions wl1ich l1eld gwilt lost 1n?s� of �l1eir former auto11omy with regard to the secular adm1n1strat1on of those who lived on their la11ds. The sig11ificance of the gwilt-holder \\1as f11rther din1i11ished by Procla111ation of 90 of 1947 whicl1 establisl1ed a system of local jt1dges, or a(bz),a dannas, througho11t Ethiopia. Under Procla1natio11 90 the j11d.icial }Jowers traditionally e11joyed by tl1e gwilt-holder, subject to a fi11.a11 cial li1nitatio11 of Etl1. $25 i11 civil cases and Eth. $15 in crimi11al cases, were placed u11 der the j11risdiction of the 11ewly created office of c1fb1ya claiifia. Ii1 11eigl1 borl1oods \vhich were not ct1rrently rist-g,vilt or \\1l1icl1 were u11der the control of a 111011.astery or a local IJarish cl1t1rcl1, the elders were to elect a candidate for ap­ pointrnent to tl1e new office. Tl1e ft1ll i.111pact of the change was 11 ot im111ediately evide11t since, accordi11g to Article 7 of Procla111ation. 90, the l1 olders of rist-gwilt were auto1nati­ cally appointed as a{b"iya daiinas. The gwilt gez of Dega Dan1ot were thus apparent! )' regranted 1nuch of tl1e judicial authority tl1at tl1ey had helcl all alo11g. In fact, by creating a legal se1Jaration between gwilt a11d the jt1dicial powers for1nerly associated with it, Procla111 ation 90 obviates tl1e 11e­ cessity of appointing a 11ew gwilt gez whe11, after tl1e deatl1 of a gwilt-holder, a dispute arises concer11i11g successio11 to his position. An increasing nu1nber of neighborl1oods wl1ich for­ merly were ruled by a gwilt gez are today u11 der the jL1ris­ diction of a local elder wl10 is afbzya clai1iia bt1t 11ot gl-vilt gez. Despite tl1e eros.io11 of their for11 1er powers, the gwilt gez of Dega Damot still, as has been 11oted, a marked d�­ gree of power and prestige wit11i11 their 11eigl1 borl1oods. It 1s clear, however, that it .is the i11 tentio11 of tl1e gover11111 ent to abolish their positio11 altogether as soon as is practical. 111 fact, Proclan1ation 230 of 1966, v,1hicl1 strips g\vilt-}1olders !hroughout the country of all taxational r.igh.ts, is ge11erally 1e extl for nterpreted as having at1tl1ority re1noved the legal � . 1stence of gw1lt as a tyJJe of la11 d tenure. The provision of _ Proclan1.ation 230 which wotild 110 longer per1nit rebates of 208


1 11e Feudal Order, tl1e Bureaucracy, and Tax Reforni

tax mo11ey to gwilt-l1olders has not yet been enforced j11 Gojja1n where, according to officials of tl1e Mi11 istry of Fi­ nance, their assistance i11 enforci11g tax J)ay111 e11ts is still es­ se11tial. increasing Tl1e • eco11om1c 1m1Jortance of land Traditio11ally tl1 ere was relatively little separation between political po\ver, tl1e control of la11d, a11 d wealtl1. Me11 who en­ joyed h.igl1 positions of secular at1tl1ority 11s11ally controlled 111uch la11d. They were also at tl1e a1)ex of a redistributio1 1al econo1nic orga11izatio11. Tl1 ey collected tax a11d tribute fro111 those over whon1 tl1ey l1eld autl1ority a11d expended a large portio11 of it agai11 011 tl1e feasts a11d followers tl1at were es­ sential to the 1nai11te11 a11ce of their political l)OWer a11d their legitin1acy in the eyes of their subjects. In co11trast to tl,is redistrib11tive econo1nic syste111 i11 which political considera­ tions 11ltin1ately l1ad J)rimacy, trade and volL111tary exchange of goods were co111paratively weakly developed. For 1ne11 "''ho l1ave so11gl1t to i11crease their power and stat11s, la11d l1as bee11 as 111t1cl1 a political as a11 eco11 0111 ic co1n11 1odity .i 11 tl1e \\1ay i11 whicl1 it has bee11 acqL1irecl a11d tl1e way in wl1ich it 11as bee11 used. Today tl1e J)olitically do111i11ated redistrib11tive eco110111 ic orga11 izatio11 of Dega Da1 11ot l1as been greatly ,veakened. The tribt1te a11d tax for111erly received by gover111nent officials fro1n their subjects l1 as bee11 re1)lacecl by a casl1 salary fron1 the ce 11tral gover1 11ne11t. With tl1eir at1tl1ority backed to a greater extent tha11 ever before by the force of the ce11tral gover11 n1ent, officeholders are 11 0 lo11ger willi11g or able to feast their follovvers a11d rewarcl tl1eir favorites as i11 the J)ast. Indeed, n1odern officials are freque11 tly criticized in Dega Da1not for bei1 1g sti11gy a11d selfisl1 as \vell as for being t111 re­ sponsive to tl1 e J)roble111s of their [)eople. La11d, power � nd wealtl1, tinder these cl1a11gi1 1g circt1n1sta11ces, are becom111g increasingly disti1 1ct. A11 officeholder, throt1gh l1is J)Olitical influe11 ce, ca11 still obtai11 111ore land tl1an ordinary n1e11, but t11e control of la11d a11 d its proclt1ce no longer plays its f: orn1er role in t11e 111ai11te11ance of l1is position. •


Changing Patterns of Land Tenttre

TJ1ouoh the breakdow11 of the reclistributive organization 11as 110t bee11 acco1111)a11ied by an eqt1ally rapid growth in the excl1ange econo1 11y of Dega Da1not, there are signs that oradual i 11 creases in the !)rice of s0 1 11e crOJ)S are begin 11ing to ;fiect the ways in which J)eop1e seek and. utilize land. At least in the area fro1n Feres Bet to tl1e road, rents payable to the landholder on both fertilized a11 d u11fertilized land are said to have risen s01 11 e\vhat si11 ce World War II. It was also clai111ed by s0111e a111 bitious a11 d successful far111ers arot111d Feres Bet tl1at tl1 ey are n1 ore i11 terested i11 ope11i11 g cases to obtai11 rist tl1an i11 the past because with these risi 11g rents la11 d is beco111i 11g 1 nore valt1able. It 111 ay also be, thot1gh again it is diffict1lt to doct1111e1 1t, tl1 at tl1 ese a1 11bitious far111ers, ,v110 are ofte11 referred to by otl1ers as rist fellagI or rist-seekers, are relyi11 g i11 creasi11 gly on rno 11 ey rather tha11 l)Olitical in­ flt1ence ,vl1en e 11gagi11g i 11 litigation over la1 1d.

The effect of changes iri the aclministration of ji,stice Paradoxically, the greater i11clepe11 dence of the jt 1 diciary a11 d greater com1nit1ne11 t to legal pri11 ciples tl1a11 to politi­ cal n1 atters see1n to be i11 creasing the a1 nount of land litiga­ tio1 1 a11 d the frag1ne11 tatio1 1 of landl1oldings. As a legal sys­ te111 , the rist system, with its overlap1)i11g and u1 1bot1nded clai1ns, is t1nworkable. The n1ore 111e11 a1·e e11couraged by the greater in1 partiality a11d efficie11 cy of tl1e cot1rts to clairn their "rightful'' land through re1 11 ote desce11t li 11 es, tl1 e 111ore cases are 01)e 11 ed and the farther division by father and fragrnenta­ tion proceed. At present, judges i11ter1)ret the 11 ew Civil Code as con­ grue11 t with ct1stomary la11 d law. Re1note clain1 s are upheld 1 1t, exte long o large as a desce11t line To a can be established. � . it 1s the expe 11 se of litigatio11 a1 1d the i11 ability of t11e cot1rts to e1 1force their decisions tl1 at clisco11rage still 111ore me11 fro111 at­ ten1pting to clain1 the la11d tl1 ey thi 11 k is rigl1tfully theirs through long-u 11 t1sed pedigrees. Future i 1 11proven1e11 ts in tlie _ _ �unct101un � of the co11rts u11 acco 1 npanied by cl1a11ges in tlie 1nterpret �t10 1 1 of the law itself are likely to ft1rtl1er ex,1cerbate the co11f1 1 ct over a11 d fragn1e11 tatio11 of Ia11d.


? I l)

Tl1e Fet1dal Order, the Bureaucracy, an ' d Tax


Tl1e effect of cl1anges in ta.xation

The JJOstwar tax refor111s wl1icl1 weakenecl tl1e positio11 of the uwilt-l1older have also been tl1 e object of great c011cem to the holders of rist; for i11 tl1e_ abse11ce of a11y governinent regis­ tratio11 of la11d ow11ersl11p, the la11d tax co11stitt1tes the sole ]iiik between the gover11111e11t a11cl tl1e la11d t1po11 whic11 the govern111ent's stibjects depe11d for a 111ajor IJart of their st1b­ siste11ce. Tl1e JJay111e11t of tl1e la11d tax l1as traditio11ally bee11 regarded botl1 as tl1e obligatio11 of tl1e rist-l1older a11d evidence of ownersl1ip. 111 light of this close associatio11 of O\v11ership and taxatio11, it is scarcely surprising that the la11dholders of Dega Da111 ot regard tax refor111 as a part of or a JJrelt1de to ]and refor111 a11d that their atti tucles towards cha11 ges in taxa­ tion reflect tl1eir attitt1cles towards changes i11 their syste111 of la11d te11t1re. 111 reality, tl1e cha11ges whic}1 have bee11 intro­ duced i11 land taxatio11 do 11ot, as yet, appear to have l1ad a significa11t effect 011 land te11t1re. They l1 ave, however, i11vari­ ably JJrovoked reactio11s wl1icl1 illt1strate clearly the apJJre­ hensio11s of Da111otia11 taxpayers co11cer11i11g la11 d 111east1re1ne11t, la11d registration, a11d la11d reform. Before tl1e Italia11 occt11Jation there was 110 u11 iform syste111 of taxation i11 Dega Dan1ot. I11 111ost 11 eigl1borhoods tl1e n1ost bt1rde11so111e tax, tl1e gibir, was assessed a1111ually i11 tl1e fields by the gwilt-l1older alo11g witl1 three local elders a11d the c_l1iqct s·hi1n1. I11 otl1er places tl1e gibir for tl1e e11tire 11eighbor­ hood was con1111t1ted to a 1Jay111e11 t i11 salt bars wl1icl1 was fixed a11d did not vary witl1 the l1arvest fro111 year to year. Tl1e obligatio11 to JJay the tax in salt was dividecl a111ong the 11eigl1borhood's desce11t corporatio11s and their respective n1i11zir abbats, accorcling to tl1e _pri11ciJJle of divisio11 by father. The otl1er 111ajor tax, tl1 e asrat, was JJaid everywl1ere by tl1e owners of oxen at the rate of 011e Maria Tl1eresa doJlar per ox. 111 110 i11stance i11 Dega Da111ot was a tax paid in accord­ ance \vith tl1e area of land co11 trolled. Duri11g the occt1patio11 tl1e Italia11 adn1i11istration die! not have st1fficie11t co11trol of the cot111tryside in Dega Da111ot to collect taxes 011 a regt1lar basis. Leaclers of patriot bands 21 I

Cl1anging Patterns o[ Lancl Tenure

exacted tribt1te as best tl1ey co11ld fro111 tl1e 1Jeasa1 1 ts in their locality, a IJrivilege for which they not infreqtiently qt1arreled witl1 one a11otl1 er. After tl1e defeat of tl1e Italians a11 d the restoratio11 of the Ethiopia11 govern111 ent, lar1d taxes were rei1 nposed tl1rough­ out the empire. Tl1e 1 1ew taxatio11 syste111 was radically clif­ fere11t fro1n tl1e prewar systen1. Its 111ajor objectives from tl1e begi1111i1 1g were to co 1 1vert all tax pay1ne11 ts to cash and, as has bee1 1 11oted, to weaken tl1e- JJOwer of gwilt-l1olders ( a11d holders of si 1 11ilar rigl1ts) by l1avi11g taxes JJaid directly into tl1e gover1 1111ent treasury. Botl1 of these objectives are clearly presagecl i 1 1 a IJrocla 1 11ation iss11ecl by the en11Jeror i11 1941, sl1ortly after l1is retur11 to Ethiopia. It is i11teresti1 1g that the JJrocla111atio11 first to11 ches LIIJOn a traditio11 al theme.-tl1at tl1e pay111 e11t of land tax is a JJrivilege, since it co11fir1ns "ownersl1ip'' of the la11d. After tl1e Italians e11tered 011r cou11try, tl1ey co11sidered tl1e la11d of Etl1io1Jia as their ow11 a11d inte11 ded to exter1ni­ nate 011r race, JJUtting their own JJeo1Jle i11 their place. To acl1ieve tl1eir pt1rpose they abolished the payn1ent of taxes. B11t tl1e payme11t of tax in blood was a con1 1no11 oc­ currence. So that your govern111e11t 1nay live long, yo11r liberty n1ay be safeguarded, yo11r sta11dard of living 1 11 ay be raised, a11d your la11d 111ay ren1ai11 i11 your l1 a11 ds, it is necessary to pay taxes to the government witl1out discrin1inatio11 of age or wealth. Whereas we have 11nderstoocl the diflic11Ities tl1at befell you duri 11g the past five years, we are JJer 1 11itti11 g yot1 to JJay 0 1 1ly half the taxes you paid before. I-Ie11ceforward tl1e payn1e11t of tax will be in 1no11ey. Tl1e amot111t to be IJaid will be an11ol1 1 1ced later. Manual labot1r, firewood, grass, coi1trib11tio11 for a1 111ual feast days, a.11d 111iscellaneo11s d11es ancl taxes are abolisl1ed. Howeve1·, clesta, gi11clibel, a11d such other la11ds wl1ich give a tax of n1a11ua] laboL1r will be e11titled to pa)' tax i11 212

---The Fet1dal Order, the Bureaucracy, and Tax Refor111

the san1e \.\1ay as other lanclow11ers. Tl1 e 11ew administratio1 1 entitles all gover1 1ors and gover11111e11t officials to salaries· and the above-111entio1 1ed taxes will be JJaid to the gover�1 11e11 t treas1 1 ry. (Gebre-Weld-Ingida Worq 1962:325) In the first postwar years, taxes were IJaid i n kind a11d sold by gover11111e11t officials to co11 vert tl1e1n to casl1 . Tl1en, j 11 J944, the cha11ges ad111 nbrated i 11 194 1 were systematized i 11 the Land Proclamatio1 1 No. 70. The basic pri11ciple e111bodied in Procla1 11ation 70 is tl1at taxes were to be {Jaid i 11 EthioJJian cL1rrency according to tl1e a111011 11t and quality of land helcl. Tl1e estin1atio11 of area was to be i1 1 gc1sl1sl1a, an u 1 1standardized 11nit of la 11d n1eas11re111e11t i 1 1trocluced i 1 1 1879-80 in Shoa by the Eo11Jeror Me 11ilek. Each. gashsha was the11 to be classified as fertile, se1nifertile, or poor. To 1 11ai1 1tai1 1 a of co11 tin11ity with traditio11 , tl1e tax levied per gasl1sl1a 011 eacl1 qL1a]it)' of la11d was divicled i 1 1to two parts: a tax in lieu of the gibir, wl1icl1 is still co 1 1111 1only called the gibir; a11d a tax in Iiet1 of tl1e c1srat, still com 11 101 1ly ter 111ed tl1e c1srat.1 To these basic taxes an ecl11cation tax was added by Procla111 atio11 No. 102 of 1948 a11d a l1ealth tax by Decree No. 36 of 1959. In recog11ition of eco 11 0111ic a11 cl IJolitical diffic11lties it wot1ld create, tl1e systen1 of taxatio 11 introd11ced by Procla 1 11a­ tio1 1 70 of 1944 was 11ot sta11 darclized tl1rot1gl1 011t Etl1io1Jia. Taxi11g rist la11d see111 s to have 1Jrese11tecl a 1Jartict1larly difli­ cult proble111. S1Jecial low rates were establisl1 ed i11 Procla111a­ tion 70, for exa 1 n1Jle, for what is referrecl to as "la1 1d, k 1 1ow 11 as 'rist' in tl1e district of Sl1oa An1hara. '' Tl1e lands of the 11ortl1er11 provi11ces of Gojja111 a11d of Tigre and Bege111dir, wl1ere rist syste1 ns si11 1ilar to that of Dega Dan1ot are 1 11ost widespread, \:Vere exe1 11pted altogether from 1neas11re1ne11t and classification. Procla1natio11 70 states The tax schedule for Shoa (,vith the exception of the district in ,vhich _ the rist systen1 predominates), Harar, Arussi, and Wei lo \Vas standardt2ed. The rates for fertile land were: asrat $35 and gibir $15. The rates for semifertile land were: asrat $30 ancl gibir $10. The rates for poor land \Vere: asrat $10 and gibir $5. All figures are in Ethiopian dollars.



Cha11ging Patterns of Lancl Tenure

that, ''111 tl1ese tl1ree J)rovinces the tax shall be paicl i11 111oney at tl1e rate whicl1 was i11 force i11 1927 [Ethio_pia11 cale11clar], plus tl1e estin1ated titl1e i11 111011ey. '' Since l1istorical records concer11i11g prewar taxation i11 Gojjan1 are sca11ty, to say tl1e least, Procla111atio11 70 left 1n11ch to tl1e discretion of 1)ro­ vi11cial ad1niJ1istrators a11d the Mi11istry of Fi11a11ce. Tl1e 11ew syste111 of taxation tl1us J1ad Iittle i111111ediate effect 011 taxation in Dega Da111ot. It was 11ot u11til 1950 tl1at tl1e rist la11d of Gojja111 was esti111ated, classified, a11d assessed accorcling to a tax sched11le si111ilar to tl1at i11 use i11 tl1e ce11tral a11d s011thern J)rovi11ces. Curiously, tl1ere is no legal authority i11 the Negarit Gazette ( tl1e Ethio1)ia11 govern111e11t's official repo1·ter of legislatio11 ai1d ad111i11istrative reg11latio11s) for these cl1a11ges. 111 fact, tl1e Healtl1. Tax Decree No. 3 6, written 11i1.1e years later, still exe1111)ts Gojja111 fro111 the 11ew tax syste111 a11d levies the healtl1 tax accordi11g to tl1e J)rewar for111ula laid dow11 in 1944. The tax refor111s of 1950 aroused deep s11spicio11 througl1out An1hara Gojja111 a11d, in son1e areas, were 111et with arn1ed resista11ce. A delegatio11 of Gojja111 elders we11t to Acldis Ababa a11d begged the e1nJJeror to allow their people to pay tl1e tax ''in the olcl way." The governor of Gojja111 was re­ n1oved, n1i11or concessio11s were 111ade co11cer11i11g taxatio11, a11d a11 amnesty was give11 to those wl10 had rebelled; b11t i11 the encl, u11der conti1111ing gover11n1e11t presst1re, the 11ew sys­ ten1 was at least for1nalJy i11stituted. Oppositio11 to the tax cl1a11ge of 1950 was pri1narily based 011 t11e incorrect but widespread belief tl1at the 111eas11re111ent of land wl1ich it was tl1011ght to req11ire was a first ste1J towards the abolitio11 of tl1e rist systen1 and the alie11ation of la11d to outsiders, partic11larly ''Shoans'' a11d ''Gallas." S1Jecifi­ cally, what Gojja111is feared was that tl1eir rist woulcl be re­ classified as qelacl or 5·1so·-types of te1111re establisl1ed by tl1e Sl1oar1 rulers i11 co11guered no11-A111l1ara regio11s of ce11tral a11d southern Ethiopia dt1ri11g tl1e 11i11etee11tl1 ce11t11ry. U11der these syste111s of te11ure tl1e la11ds of JJeo1)les clefeated b)' tl1e Shoan ar1nies were n1easured witl1 a rope, or 111ore crt1dely esti1nated, a11d the resulti11g la11d 1111its, kJ 1ow11 as gasl1sha or qelacl, were apportioned ( s01neti1nes ir1 third.s, or siso) a111ong 214

Tl1e Feuclal Order, the Bureaucracy, ancl Tax Reforin

1 e crovv1 1, a11d selectecl Ieaclers of tile tl soldiers, and cials offi 1 !atio1 1. Tl1 e co1 1querecl com111 on folk ustially popt uished vanq co1 1tinued to cultivate 111ost of the lru1d that tl1ey had helcl be­ fore, bt1t 011 1 11uc�1 of it tl1ey were l1 enceforth share-cropping tena11ts a1 1cl 11 ot 1 11cle1Jende1 1t la1 1dl1olders. Tl1 e way i 1 1 wl1icl1 tl1 e la 1 1cl tax was eve11tt1ally estimated i11 Gojja1 11 servecl to allay tl1e worst fears of tl1e far1 ners. 11 1 tl1e e1 1d tl1ere was 1 10 1 11easure111e11t of Ia1 1cl, a 1 1d the crtide esti111ates of size a11 d qt 1 ality recorcled i11 the gover1 1ment tax records were based 01 1 the estates of first settlers or 1 11i11zir abb ats a 11d 1 1ot 01 1 i11cli,1idt1 a]ly l1 eld fields. 1 1 1 Dega Da111ot the esti111ates \Vere 1 11ade by tl1e district gover1 1or alo11g with his clerk, the district tax collector, represe 1 1tatives of tl1e Ministry of Fi11a11ce fro 111 the subprovi11cial seat at Fi11 ote Sela1n, a11d tl1ree elders, know1 1 as 1nir( or vviclcl, chosen fro111 each of tl1e 11eigl1borl1oods esti111ated. Tl1e assess1ne11 t con1mittee viewed the la 11d. of each 11 eigl1borl1ood i 1 1 turn fro 111 a l1illtop and es­ tunated tl1e area i. n gashsl1as and tl1e fertility of each of its constitue11t first settlers' estates. Estates wl1 ich were con­ sidered large were broke 1 1 clow1 1 i11 to 111i11zir abbats. Tl1 e 1 1a 1 11es of the first settlers a11 d, where releva11 t, tl1 e 1 11 i1 1zir ab­ bats \vere e 1 1tered i 1 1to tl1e tax book according to 11eigl1bor­ hood, a1 1d taxes were assessed accordingly. 2 !11 kee1Ji1 1g \vith traditio1 1, la 11 ds whicl1 l1ad formerly bee11 I1eld as gwilt b)' a 1 11011 astery or whicl1 l1acl been tl1e priest land of a local cl1 t1 rch \Vere classified as cht1rch la11 d. A JJart of t.l1e ta.x assessecl 011 st1cl1 la1 1ds, t1st1 ally tl1e gibir, was tl1e11 grantee{ to tl1e aJJpropriate 1no11astery or church. Tl1 e taxes granted to religiot1s institt1tio11 s are 11 ot, l1owever, t1sually col­ lected by gover11 1 11 e11t or cl1t1rch officials. Tax rates 01 1 la1 1d whicl1 l1appe1 1s to be cl1urcl1 la11d are tl1us lower tl1 a1 1 on otl1er land. It is stlJJposecl that this lower rate of taxatio11 offsets tl1e expe 1 1ses i1 1ct1 rred by the landl10Jder i11 ft1lfilli1 1g l1is special service obligations to the cl1 urcl1 (see cl1apter 4).

2. TJ1e tax schedtde used in Gojjam differed some\.vhat from that used in Shoa, Harar, Arussi, and Wello. The rates for fertile land \Vere: asrat $16, gibir $32, and education $ 14.40. The rates for sen1ifertile land \vere: asrat $11.67, gibir 523.33, and education $10.50. The rates f r poo l nd � � � \Vere: asrat $4, ltibir $7, and education $3.60. All figures are 1n Eth1op1an dollars.


Changing Patterns of La11d Tenure

It is difiict1lt to obtai11 an overall pictt1re of .how accurate!)' t11e assess111ent of la11d in Dega Dan1 ot was carried out. It is also diffict1lt to see how a grot1 p of 111e11, 111ost of who1n had no idea of the size of a gas·l1sl1.a, could l1 ave esti111 ated t11e land vist1 ally with n1uch precisio 11 . On tl1e basis of an aerial photogra1)l1 it appears tl1at 011 e of the 111ost i11tensively studied first settlers' estates, estimated to be 160 acres, in reality cov­ ers 111 ore tl1a11 1,000. A decade after the assessment was carried out, elders ge11 erally 111ai11tai11 ecl that tl1 e new tax syste 111, as st 1 ch, ,.vas good but that tl1e assess111ent was unfair, so1ne esta.tes havi11g bee11 overestin1 ated, some t1nderestima­ ted, and a fe,.v 11 ot recorded at all. Tl1e tax syste 1 n i1 1trodt1ced i11 1950 did 11 ot establish a di­ rect link bet\\,een rist-holders and the district tax collector's office, for a si11 gle i11dividual, a1)J)Ointecl fro111 amo1 1g the rist la11 dholders, is respo11sible for bri11ging i11 the n10 11ey clt1e a1111t1ally fro111 eacl1 estate listed i 11 tl1e tax records. Tl1is ttnpaid official, k11 ow1 1 as the te{er7, or ''one wl10 is called," 111ay or 1 nay 11ot be tl1 e fej of tl1e desce11 t cor1)oratio 11 , bt 1 t, i11 any case, he 111 ust be a respected elder. The position of tl1e te(erI is 1 1ot entire]y e11viable, since l1 e is i 11 11)risoned by the district goven1 or if he is deli 11 qt1e 1 1t i 1 1 payi11 g the tax. 0 11 the otl1er l1a11cl, it is ge11erally suspected that the teter7. i s able to tt1r11 a profit by overcollecti11 g the tax. The tax bt1rde 1 1 falli1 1g UJ)On a descent corporatio11 's es­ tate is divided a1 11 ong its lar1dholders accordi1 1g to tl1e sa111 e two principles tised i11 tl1e divisio11 of tl1e ]and itself. division by father a 1 1cl divisio11 by allot11 1e 1 1t. Accordi 11 g to the first pri11ciple, the n1011 ey owed by the first settler's estate is divided equally a111 011g his 111 i11 zir abbats. Eacl1 1ni11 zir abbat 1 11ust the1 1 also have a11 official res1Jonsible for collecti11 g l1 is sl1are of t]1e tax. The total tax JJaicl 0 11 tl1e land of Wendi1 11, for ex­ a11 1ple, is Eth. $220. The cor1)oratio11s of eacl1 of We 1 1di1n's children, the 111inzi1· abbats Den1 e a1 1d Gt1be 1 10, are tl1 erefore respo1 1sible for $110. Eacl1 of Gt1 be11 o's 11 1i 11 zir abbats' cor­ porations_ are sin1 ilarly responsible for tl1e 1)ay11 1ent of $27 .50. this level tl1 e money is gatl1ered by agree111e11t i11 pro­ Below _ port1 011 to tl1e an1ot1nt of land i11clividually helcl. I 1 1 son1e ,


------a•c--z•zz1 LIii

The Feuclal Order, tl1e Bureaucracy, and Tax Reforni

estates, l1owever, tl1e e11tire tax is divided by allot111e11t in ac­ cordance ,:vith tl1 � way land is held by livi11g 111en, even tl1ot1gl1 tl1e estate itself has bee11 divided by father. I11 Shoa I-Iayl, for exa1111Jle, the e 11 tire tax of Eth. $160 is divided by allot111e11t. Sl1oa I-Iayl's teferI l1as a list of all tl1e peo1Jle who give l1i 1 11 tax 111 011ey, bt1t tl1is list does 11ot i11clude all the land­ holders i11 Sl1oa 1-Iayl's estate, for 110 11reside11ts, wo111 en, and sn1 all l1olders of te11 give tl1eir sl1are of tl1e tax 1no11ey to their ki11 s111en wl10, in turn, give it to tl1 e teterI. Tl1ougl1 tl1ere are 119 n1e11 a11d. wo111e11 vvho hold land i11 Shoa Hayl's estate, only 65 na111es a1Jpear 011 the teferi's list. The exte11t to wl1icl1 the IJeople of Gojja1n fear changes i11 land tent1re a11 d tl1e diffict1lty of ad111i11isteri11 g st1 ch cl1anges vvere again de11 1onstrated by tl1e disturbances tl1at acco111 J)a11ied tl1e abolitio11 of tl1e asrat a11d the i11trodt1ction of a new agricultt1ral inco111e tax in 1968. T11 e object of the tax cl1 a11ge, introdt1ced by Procla11 1ation No. 255 of 1967, was to tax i11dividuals accordi11 g to tl1eir agrict1ltt1ral i11co1 ne rather tl1an accordi11g to tl1e area a 11 d q11ality of the la11d tl1 ey l1 eld. Its JJur1Jose was to increase gover111ne11t revent1 es fron1 areas where casl1 crops, partict1larly coffee, are grow11. It was 11ot inte11 ded to i11crease tax rates in tl1 e agrict1lt11 rally poor areas of tl1e 11 ortl1ern provi11ces. According to Procla111ation 255, a tax is to be paid 011 inco11 1e fro111 all agrict1ltt1ral activities (exclt1cli11g forestry, processi1 1g, a11 d cattle breedi11g) regarclless of wl1 ether sucl1 i11co11 1e is derived fro111 re11t, s11 are-croppi11 g, or a11 i11 cl ivi­ clual's O\v 11 1Jrodt1ctio11 011 his ow11 la1 1d. Gross i11 co 1 11 e de­ rived fro111 "re1 1ti11g'' la11d or givi11g it to a te11a11t for a sl1are of the cro1) is taxed IJrogressively accordi11g to 011e sc11 edt1le (Scl1edt1le B). A seco11 d tax scl1 ed11 le (Scl1 edule D) aJJI)lies i11 a si111ilar \vay to gross i11co1ne fro111 all other agricL1ltL1ral activities, red11ced by: the a111 011 nt of a 11 y la11d taxes payable by t11e tax1Jayer; tl1e an1 01111t of re11 t payable i 11 cash or kind by tl1e tax1Jayer; a11 d a ded11 ction of one-thircl of the gross i11co1ne i11 lieu of a11 assessme11t of production expe11ses. Accordi11g to tl1e procla111 atio11, the i11con1 e of far 1 11ers \:vho are 11ot rec111 ired by lav., to keep books of accou11ts a11d 217

CI1angi11g f>attems of Lancl Tent1re

records-a11d this i11 cludes all the far 111 ers of :oega Dan1ot­ is to be assessed by local co111111ittees. Eacl1 co111111 ittee is to consjst of two 111 en1bers ''elected fro111 a1no11 g tl1e reside11ts of the locality'' and 011 e official of tl1 e clistrict. The 111eetings are to be arra1 1ged and regulated by a re1Jrese11 tative of the Inco111e Tax Authority. The represe11tative of tl1e I11 co1ne Tax At1thority is to {Jre­ se11 t to the local assessn1ent con1n1ittee a list of all tl1e JJer­ sons \Vithi11 tl1e jurisdictio11 of tl1 e co1 11111 ittee wl10 arJJJear to be liable to tax. If it aJJpears to the co 1 11111 ittee tl1at a11 i11 di­ vidual's taxable inco 111 e clerived fro1 11 agricultt1ral activities does 1 1 ot exceed Eth. $300 l1e is to be assessed the 111i11i111t1 n1 tax of $1. 50. If it aJJpears tl1at a tax1Jayer's i1 1co1 11e 1 11ay exceecl $300, tl1e co1 11111ittee is to esti111 ate l1is gross taxable i11co11 1e. Tl1is esti111ate is to be based. 011: tl1e harvest 011 the far111la11d fro111 which tl1e i1 1con1 e is derived; the ty(Jes of crops a11d tl1 e JJroduce fro111 sL1cl1 f ar11 1la11 d; ,1nd local prices of s11 cl1 cro1Js a1 1d JJrodLlce. These esti111ates are to be based 011 a ''norn1al year." This gross inco1ne, red11ced by the de­ dt1ctio11s listed above, is tl1e11 taxed according to tl1 e appro­ JJriate sc11edules. U11 less tl1 e Mi11istry of Fi1 1ance cleter111i1 1es otherwise, tl1e assessn1 e1 1t 111 ade i11 tl1is way is to re111 ai1 1 i11 force for a period of five years. T11e i1 11 1Jle1ne11tatio1 1 of the agricultural i11 co111e tax i1 1 Gojjam was fraught \vith diffict1 lties from tl1 e outset. In s01 ne areas local assess1 ne11t co111111ittees were forn1 ed co 1 1sisting of two elected elders, tl1e st1bdistrict governor, and a repre­ sentative of tl1e Mi1 1istry of Fi1 1a1 1ce se1 1t fro1 11 Adclis Ababa. A . list of residents was obtained fro 11 1 the cz(bzya daiiPia of each 1 1eighborhood. Acct1rately assessi11g i1 1dividt1 al inco111e, however, proved to be diffict11t. Tl1e elclers selected did 11ot have accurate k11 owledge of tl1eir fellO\:V residents' agric11l­ tt1 ral productio.n, partict1larly 011 la11ds whicl1 were located in anotl1er 1 1eighborhood. Many JJeOJJle were registered several times, once for each 11 eighborl1ood i 11 wl1icl1 they farmed. ·Ft1rtl1ermore, l1owever acct1rate the elders' kno\vl­ edge 1 11ight be, it was widely feared and rL1111orecl tl1at tl1e elders, tl1e SLtbdistrict gover11or, ancl tl1 e 1ni11 istry re1Jrese1 1ta­ tive v.1ere accepting bribes a 1 1cl fa,,ori11 g their frie1 1ds. 218

The Feudal Order, tl1e B 1 1reaL1cracy, a11 ct Tax Refor111

In Dega Da1 11ot, as_ in 111t1cl1 ?f A111hara Gojja1n, atte1111Jts to j11 trod11ce tl1e agr1ct1ltural 11 1co111e tax triggered arined resistance ,:vhicl1 conti11t1 ecl i11ter111itte11tly for over a year. There were a 11111nber of seco11clary factors wl1ich contribtited to the readiness of tl1e IJeOJJle to OJJJJOse the 11e\v tax policy. Pro111ine11 t a11 1011g tl1ese ,vere tl1e belief tl1at tl1e district re­ ceives fe,ver gover11 11 1ent services tha11 its tax n1011ey sliotrlcl pay for a11d tl1e co111plaint tl1 at, thot1gh hot1sehold heads have been }Jresst1red by tl1eir gover11ors to 1nake ''vol 1111tary" co11trib11tio11s for tl1e co11strt1ctio11 of a road fro111 Debre Markos to Dega Da111ot tl1ree ti111es, there is, at JJrese11t, 110 sign of the road or of tl1e 111 01 1ey. Fear of i11creased taxatio11 in itself cloes 11ot see111 to have bee11 a11 i111porta11t source of apprel1e11sio11. 011 a 11u111 ber of occasio11s peasant re1Jrese11ta­ tives are re1Jorted to l1ave said, perha1Js with less tl1 an total cru1dor, that they ,,,ould gladly pay higher taxes if 011ly tl1e)' couJ cI IJay tl1e11 1 i11 the "old ,vay. '' \Vhat tl1.ey objected to, they said, was this 11ew tax-it was a dangero 11s thi11 g. S0111e people did voice the sus1 Jicion tl1at tl1e tax would be raisecl inordi11ately i11 the fut11re. "One-fifty tl1is year, 011e 111111clred and fifty 11ext year," we11t tl1e sloga11. The 111ea11i11g behi11cl this phrase, l1owever, was tl1at taxes wot1lcl be raised to a point \vl1ere JJeople would 11ot be able to pay the111, a11 cl their rist lai1d wot1ld the11 be alienated by the govern111e11 t. Tl1ere cai1 be 1 10 doubt, 1,owever, that tl1e JJri111ary and im1nediate cause of the revolt v.,as the co11victio11 tl1at tl1e gover11111ent i11tended to 11 1easure land a11d alter or abolish the rist syste111 of Ia11d te11ure. \Vl1at was 1n.ost tl1reate11i11g about tl1e agrict1lt11ral i11co11 1e tax procla111ation \Vas tl1at under its provisions te11 a11ts were to be give11 tax receipts a11cl that there was to be a1 1 assess111e11t of i11clividual inco1ne, whicl1 was 1 11istake1 1Iy take11 to 1 11ean tl1e 111east1re111ent of jndividt1al lancll1olcling. Tl1e for111er JJrovisio11 was feared be­ cause it was tl1 ougl1t tl1at the tax receiJJts would be used by the te11ants to establisl1 ow11ersl1ip over the land they workecl i11 te11a11cy. Meast1re111e11t was tl1011gl1t a prel11de to tl1e es­ tablish111e11t of the qelc1cl system. Tl1e followi11g s11111111ar_y of the eve1 1ts tl1at acco111 1Ja11ied the i11trodt1ction of t�1e agr1c�l­ tt1ral i11co111e tax i11 Dega Da1not ill11strates the att1t11cle of its 219

Changing Patte1,ns of Lancl 'f e11ure

people toward what tl1ey co11ceive of _ as land refor111. At the _ _ 1 11trod of t1c111g d1ffict1lty sa 11 1e time, it reveals the eve11 1n 1_ 11or changes in 1a11d tenttre t111der prese11t ad111inistrative co11di­ tions. News of the 11ev.1 tax {Jroclan1ation reacl1ed Dega Da111ot early in Septe111ber 1967. Two days later, elders fro111 all parts of Dega Da111ot \:Vere asse111bled 11ear tl1e Feres Bet 1narketplace to l1ear the procla111atio11 read by the district gover11or, tl1e st1bdistrict gover11ors, a1 1cl tl1e clistrict tax collector. Feari1 1g that tl1e rist syste111 \x.1as to be cl1a11gecl a11d t11e c1elacl syste111 introclt1ced, tl1e elclers refused to co1nply witl1 tl1e procla111atio11 witl1out tin1e for ft1rtl1er stt1dy. Tl1e gover11or st1ggestecl they stt1 dy tl1e docu111ent a11d 111eet witl1 l1i1n ,1gain on Se1Jten1ber 16, 1967. Tl1e elders re1Jliecl after consultatio11 that they JJreferred to n1eet JJrivately 011 Se1Jte111ber 16 a11cl to give tl1eir answer to tl1e gover1 1n1ent officials on the twenty­ tl1ird. Tl1e gover11or agreed. 011 Se1Jte111ber 16 tl1e elders 111et and, after 111uch disct1ssion, decided 1 1ot to pay tl1e new tax witl1011t first discussi11g tl1e 111atter wit]1 leadi11g n1en fro1n st1rrou11cling districts. 0 1 1 Se1Jte111ber 23 the IJeOJJle's represe11tatives told tl1e district gover11or of their decisio11. The governor, for l1is part, asked the111 to select two elders from eacl1 1 1eighborhood, in accorda11ce witl1 tl1 e procla111atio11, a11d to have tl1em start esti111ating eacl1 reside11t's agricultt1ral JJrod11ctio11. Tl1e l)eOJ)le's re1Jresen tatives replied that tl1ey cot11d take 110 action before 111eeti11g witl1 111en. fro111 other districts 011 Septe 1 nber 30. On the tl1irtieth of Septe111ber, 111e11 fro111 several districts 1net and swore a sole1nn oatl1 that they ,,,ot1ld 11ot select elders for t11e estin1atio11. Tl1e next day, tl1e district governor was orderecI to go to the st1bprovi 11cial ca1Jital at Fi 1 1ote Sela 1 n, v,1here he was tolcl to JJrodt1ce tl1e elders reqt1 !red for the tax estin1atio11. The district gover11or hurriedly chose five of l1is st1pporters wl10 l1ad acco1 npa­ nied hin1 to Finote Sela1n. Tl1ese n1en were reportedly


TJ1e .Fet1dal Order, tl1e Bureat1cracy, a11ct T , Reo .. ax f· 11n

delighted with their appoint111e11t a11cl its salary of $4 per day. Early i11 November, after traveling to tl1e provincial capital a11d Fi1 1ote Sela111 several ti 1 nes, the clistrict gover11or called a 1 11eeting of atbiya claFiiic1s and leadi1 1g elders i1 1 Feres Bet. Tl1ose callecl reft1sed to asse1nble. The district gover11or re1Jorted to his s111Jeriors that the people had reft1secl to carry ot 1 t l1is orders, had clenied the a11thority of tl1e delegated elders, and 110 lo11ger recog11.ized l1is autl1ority. Sl1ortly after this, l1e was recalled from office, a11d 011e of the s11bdistrict gover11ors was appoi11ted to replace hi111. Tl1e 11ew governor, a 11ative so11 of Dega Dan1ot, was, at first, well received. He s0011 co11firn1ed his pop11larity by preparing a great feast feat11ri11g beer, hydro111el, a11d the slaughtering of a11 ox. For the next two mo11tl1s Dega Da1not ren1ainecl q11iet and the new tax re111ained u 1 1assessed. On Febrt1ary 1, 1968, the gove1·nor asked a11 asse 1 11bly of elders 011ce agai11 to pay their tax. Again they replied that they would not clo so u11til tl1e otl1er s11rrou11cling districts l1ad do11e so. The gover11or thereupo11 se11t tl1e elders wl10 had been cl1osen by the previous gover11or to tl1e subdistricts of Dega Damot to begi11 tax assess111ent. Representatives from eacl1 s11bclistrict were se11t to the district gover1 1or again protesting tl1at tl1ere co11ld be no assessme 1 1t or pay111ent of tl1e tax u11til otl1er districts had complied. \Vhatever tl1e oover 11or's reply to the representatives. may, 0 i11 fact, l1ave been, he is universally quoted as l1av111g said, Sinkl-vczn ,neretun niisti11i asgebrewalli1h, or, "Not only will I 1nake tl1e111 pay tl1eir taxes, but their wives as well!'' Stich 11ostile phrases are normally attribt1ted_ to unpopular fig11res in Gojjam a11d serve as focal points for ra11yi11g oppositio11. 0� Febrt1ary 7 upwards of 011e thousand 111en ar111ed . with spears ancl rifles gatl1ered near the 111arketplace in 221

Changi11g Patterns of J..,ancl Tent1re

Feres Bet to consider their 11ext n1ove. U11der the e111erg i11g Ieadersl1ip of a n1iddle-aged titlel1older witl1 110 office, it \Vas decided to se11cl tl1e 11ew tax collectors out of Gojja111 and to t1rge JJeo1Jle of otl1er districts to do like\,1ise. 011 Febrt1ary 20 anotl1er 111ilitant 111eeti11g was 11eld 11ear Feres Bet. It was atte11ded by 111e11 fro111 a 11eighboring district as well as fro111 all o,,er Dega Da111ot. It was the co11se11sus of tl1e 111eeti11g tl1at tl1e 11ew district gover11or, tl1e s11bdistrict gover11ors, a11d the gwilt gezs sho11ld be re111ovecl fro111 office, tl1at tl1e five elders who ]1ad acce1Jtecl 1 Jositio11s as tax assessors shot1lcl be tried. Tl1e latter were 11otifiecl in \vriti11g tl1at, si11ce tl1ey hacl agreecl to hel1J cl1a11ge tl1e la11d of Dega Da111ot fro111 rist to c1elarl, tl1ey 11111st co1ne a11d sta11d trial before tl1e JJeople. If they clid 11ot surre11cler the111selves for trial volu11tarily, they were told, tl1eir l10111esteads wot1Id be st1rrot111ded, tl1eir l1ouses a11cl cro1Js b11rned, a11cl ,vl1e11 they can1e ru1111i11g out of tl1e fla111i11g hot1ses they wo11ld be shot deacl. 011 tl1e followi11g day the 111e11 a1Jpeared a11d pleaded that tl1ey hacl bee11 tricked into sig1li11g the JJaper on false prete11ses. "If we had 110 cl1ildre11 ancl h.ouseholds," added 011e elder, "we wo¡uld have fled forever i11 sha111e. Bt1t, blessed be the AlJ11igl1ty, we are 110\\' back in 011r cot111try an1idst ot1r 0\\1n people a11d ready to stand trial." The11 eacl1 of the defenda11ts was ordered to give a gt1ara11tor to e11st1re that he wot1ld no lo11ger act as tax assessor. After this s0111eo11e sl1ot1ted tl1at l1e had see11 l1is s11bclistrict gover11or ancl a11other 111a11 esti111ati11g land i11 his ho111e parish. After 1nt1cl1 heatecl clebate ' it was decidecl to marcl1 to tl1e st1bdistrict gover11or's co111pot1nd a11d b11rn his 11ouse down. TI1e 11ext 111or11i11g abot1t five l11111clrecl n1e11 ar111ed witl1 rifles set off for tl1e governor's l10111e so111e twe11ty k !lo1�1eters away. As they left, tl1ey se11t a 111essage to tl1e d1str1ct gover11or, telli11g hi111 that 11111ess 11e left Dega Dan1ot he wot1ld cat1se a ''dist11rba11ce of t11e peace." Upo11




Feudal Orcier,

tl1e Bureaucracy, and Tax


hearing tl1is, tl1e governor arn1ed loyal 111ilitia me11 ( nec,hc.!1 lebash7) a1 1d reacliecl 1 1is troo 1 Js to defend the tow1 1 of Peres Bet. l-Ie cl1so se11t a grotIIJ of elders ancl cl1t1 rcl1111e 11 as i11ter 1 11 ediaries to disst1ade tl1e rebels ai,d tl1eir leader fro111 attacking either tl1e subclistrict oovernor or hi1nself. Tl1e i11ter111ediaries' 1 11issio11 111et ,vith ;_1ccess and tl1e rebels disba11ciecl for the ti111e being. 011 February 25 a 11otl1er 1 11eeti11g was called by tl1e rebel leaclersl1i 1 J at a parisl1 so111e kilo111eters to the east of Feres Bet. After decicli 1 1g to order the peo1J]e of a certai11 parish to l1a11cl over a resicle11t 1nilitia1nan wl10 had st 1p1Jortecl tl1e district gover11 or, the asse 1 nbled n1 e11 decided to elect their own acl111inistrative officials. Eve 11tt1ally the noble ,vl10 had asst 1 rn.ed leadershi1 J of tl1e revolt was elected district gover11or a 11 cl otl1er 111en were selected as subdistrict gover11ors. More tl1an fifty otl1er 111e11 were elected fro111 variotis 11eigl1 borl1oods to re1Jlace the govern1 11ent-a1Jpoi1 1ted a{bIJ,a claiific,s. Tl1ese officials were know11 as gobez alec1as, or ''strong cl1iefs. '' Tl1e 1nai11 gualificatio11s for office see111 to l1ave bee11 the possessio1 1 of a gu11 a11d tl1e vvill to oppose tl1e tax. The first acts of tl1e 11ew ''govern111e11 t'' were to threate11 tl1 ose peasa11 ts, both i 1 1 Dega. Da111ot and i11 st1rrot1ndi11g clistricts, who agreed to pay tl1e 11ew tax. I11 so111e i11sta11ces tl1e peasants' cattle were killed. Tl1e rebel governor a11d l1is followers the11 deciclecl tl1at Dega Da1not ,:vas 1 1ot big e11ot1gl1 for two district governors-and tl1at l1e ( the rebel) vvas 11ot leaving. Tl1e gover1 1111e11t-appointed gover11or reftrsecl to leave Peres Bet. The rebels gave him three clays to cl1ange his 1nj11d. Ot1 tgt1n11ed ancl 11 11der pressure fro111 elders who did not wa11t fighting to break ot1t, the gover11or ,:vithdrew to the st1b1Jrovincial seat at Finote Sela111. Nearly two 111011ths went by before tl1e clistrict gover11or, acco1 npa11ied by a large 11u 1 11 ber of police, rettirned to Feres ¡set. T-Ie e 1 1terecl the to\v11 on Easter St111day. 011ce

Changing Patterns of Land Tenure

agai11, l1e }JreJJared a feast a1 1d killed a1 1 ox. Tl1e gobez c1leqas elected by the rebels ,vere i1 1vited, bt1t tl1ey did 1 1ot atte11d. 011 May 9 tl1e rebels asse1 11bled 01 1ce 111ore a11 d again 01·dered the governor to leave. After fruitless 11egotiation, he took reft1ge i 1 1 the J Jolice statio11 a11d finally agreecl to leave town, which l1e did sl1ortly after 11 ightfall. For the 1 1ext t,vo a1 1d a l1 alf 1 11 ontl1 s tl1e rebel gover1 1n1e11t ruled i11 Dega Da1 11ot. Tl1ere was 011e 11ear-co11fro11tatio1 1 witl1 tl1 e gover11 1 11e 11 t ,:vl1e 11 a co 11ti 11ge1 1t of Da1 11ot rebels set off to preve 1 1t tl1e JJeasa 1 1ts i 11 a 11earby clistrict fro 1 11 1Jayi 1 1g tl1eir tax. The)' were 1 11et by a co 1 nmission i11clt1di11g tl1e bisl101J of Gojja111. A list of co1111Jlaints calling for the re 1 11oval of the JJrovi11cial a1 1cl subprovi 11cial gover11ors was sent to tl1e e111peror. Fi 11ally, after 1 11ore delegatio11 s J1ad co111e a1 1d gone, a co 1 n111ission fron1 tl1e ce11tral gover 1 1 111e11 t was se11t to Peres Bet. 011 August 27 tl1 e co1n1nissio11 , 11eaded by tl1 e Mi11 ister of tl1e 1 1 1 terior, la 1 1ded by l1 elicopter i1 1 Peres Bet. The peasa 11 t re1Jrese11tatives repeated tl1eir dema11d tl1 at tl1e governors above tl1e111 be changed ancl tl1 at they not be forcec1 to _pay tl1e new tax. They said that they dicl not a11t to JJ,ty an "additio11al'' $1.50 i 11 taxes (the 1ninin1 t11n tax). The 111 i11ister replied that tl1e governors wot1ld be re1110,,ed, bt1t that the govern111e 1 1t tax proclamatio11 could 11ot be cha11gecl. An elder is reported to l1ave said, ''Bring an airplane a11d kill us here, as we are asse 111bled; for we will not pay tl1e tax.'' 1


Tl1 e provi11cial a1 1d st1bprovi 11cial gover 11ors were dt1ly ren1oved a1 1d reJJlaced witl1 111e11 1 nore acce1Jtable to tl1 e loc �l people. The new go·ver11or of tl1e sub1Jrovince i11 wl1 1cl1 Dega Damot is locatecl was a. clejaz111acl1 ,vl10 is ·u1 1�lo �btedly the 111ost st1ccessful a11I d powerft1l 1 11a11 cla1 11111 1g Dega Da 111ot as his l10111e. I- e hacl been a. governor i11 otl1er areas a11d a se 11 ior se1 1ate official for a 11t1111ber of years. 224


Tl1e Feudal Order, tJ1e Bt1reat1cracy, and Tax Reforn,

On Septe111ber 2 11 ďż˝ was \Velco111ecl l10111e to Peres Bet with 5 j 11gi11g a11d dancing. Tl1ree clays later he read a procla111ation i11 tl1e 111arket1Jlace gra11ti11g tl1e people of Dega Da111ot a ft1ll a11111esty for what tl1ey had clone proviclecl tl1ey JJaicl tl1eir tax by January 1 O, 1969. I-Ienceforth, 11e asst1recl the1n, they wot1ld be J 1eld respo11sible for tl1eir cri1nes. Tl1ree days later, tl1e great 111,111 IJaid tl1e tax for the fields of rist la11d l1e still JJerso11all)1 helcl i11 a nearby parish. He i11dt1ced tl1e c1{b1)1 a claiiiia of a11otl1er parish to follow st1it. Tl1e rebel leacler, i11ft1riated, gave the clejazmach a11d tl1e st1bprovi11cial police cl1ief wl10 l1ad accom1Janied l1i1n t111til Se1Jte1nber 13 to leave Dega Da1not. They left 011 tl1e fourtee11th. Witl1 the departure of the gover11or the situatio11 deteriorated. On Septe111ber 22 a small grou1J of rebels, along witl1 tl1eir leader, broke i11to tl1e police station a11d took gt111s a11d a1nmu11ition. 011 October 15 a group of rebels orga11ized to attack the JJO]ice station i11 the tow11 of De111becJ1a, son1e fifty 1niles away 011 tl1e road. On October 17 skir111isl1i11g broke out betwee11 the rebels a11cl a s1Jecial l1eavily armed police sqt1a9 se11t fro1n tl1e JJrovi11cial capital of Debre Nlarkos. Bet\vee11. fifty a11cl a l1t1ndred 111e11 were reportedly killecl i11 tl1e fig11ti11g that follo\ved. Eve11tt1ally jet figl1ters were ser1t to disJJerse tl1e rebels. '

In tl1e e11st1i11g two weeks the clejaz111ach recrt1ited additional 111ilitia1ne11, a11d on October 31 l1e reenterecl Peres Bet a11d ordered the people to 1Jay tl1eir tax. People fro111 Shoa I-Ia)rl a11d Dereqe Marya111 began to pay tl1e tax. Tl1e rebels sot1ght to pt111ish them, and fighti11g broke ot1t agai11 011 Dece111ber I 5. The fighti11g beca1ne worse, a11d tl1e clejaz111ach radioecl for jet strikes. 111 the fo]lowin 0o air attacks a doze11 or so houses \Vere bt1r11ed. Tl1e rebels clispersed i11 fear. 011 Decen1ber I 8 an i1nperial procla111atio1 1 annou11cing another a11111esty a11d 225


Cl1anging Patterns of Land Tenure

011 ce agair1 orderit1 g JJeople to JJay tl1 eir taxes was dro1JIJed by air. On Dece111 ber 21 a delegation of notables fro1u Addis Ababa once agai11 lat1 ded by l1elico1Jter it1 Peres Bet. Tl1eir leacler told a large asse11 1bly of peasants tl1at lie, too was a Gojjat11 i a11d tl1 at 11ever wot1ld l1 e sta11 d by idly \vl1ile the rist of l1is 11atal cot1ntr)' vvas cha11ged to qelacl. I-Te also explai11ed that the 11 e\v tax of $1. 50 replaced, 11 ot supple111e11ted, tl1 e c1J'rl1t. Taxes wot1ld, in fact, be lower tl1an before. The qt1estio11 of assess111e11 t was for­ gotte11 for the ti111e bei11g, a11 d tl1 e iJeople agreecl to {Jay their taxes. Withi11 the 11 ext two weeks 111 ost of the111 l1acl do11e so. The i11 1age of a ragged ba11 cl of Da111otian far111 ers, ar111ed witl1 a11 cie11 t rifles, a few rot111 ds of an1 111 t111ition ,111cl s1Jears. setting ot1t to defe11d tl1e111 selves ancl their rist agai11st tl1e mocler11 forces of tl1 e In1perial Etl1iopia11 Gover1111 1e11t 111 ay see111 qt1ixotic. Pathetic wot1ld be a 1nore apt ter111; for tl1e 1ne11 of ·oega Da111 ot clicl not expect to v.1i11 . Their ,1ttitude to­ wards their la11d a11 d tl1eir cha11ces of successft1lly clefe11di11g it were st1111 1ned tip i11 tl1e sloga11 of the l1ot1r: ''Die for yot1r rist! ''


Prospects for land reform in Dega Damot It is evident that tl1e attitucle of peOJJle i11 Deg a Dan1ot to­ v.,ards land .refor1n is infor111 ed by a dee1J-seated, if il1founded, st1spicio11 that tl1eir la11cl will be take11 away fro111 tl1em. It is t1seft1l, l1owever, to ciisregard tl1 is 11 1istrust of govern111 ent i11te11tions a11 cl to co11 sider tl1e prosiJects for the type of land refor111 111 easL1res th,1t are i11 fact co11te111 plated in gover11111e11 t a11 cl advisory circles. Th� 1011 g-ter111 goal of tl1e Etl1 io1)ia11 govern111e11 t, as set !orth 111 the Third Five-Year De,,elo1;n1.ent Plan. ( J 968-73), is to e11cot1rage fJeasants to grow a11cl 111arket 111ore cro1Js so as to raise tl1eir sta11 dard of livi11g, increase their contribution to a11 d 1)articiJJatio11 i11 tl1 e 11 atio11 aI ecot1o1ny, and increase



1 •

Prospects for Land Refor n1 in Dega Damot

governi11e11t tax �eve11ues. Recog1 1izi11g tl1e diffictilties l ll ­ herent i 11 clev_elo1) 1 11g .tl1e 1)easa11 t sector at the preser lt tinl e, tlJe plan envisage s v �rtually 11 0 �)er capita i 111 1)rove11 1ent in the curre11t pla11 f)er1ocl exce1)t 1 n tl1ree Ii1 11ited regions of concentrate�� cle:elop111 e11t (TFYD _ �, p. 193). The pla11 1 ct1011 1s expected to grow by _ states tl1at · s1.1 bs1ste11 �e l)rodt 1.8 % per a11nt 1 11 1 , ,vl1 1cl1 1s abot 1 t tl1 e rate of i 11 crease of tl,e poJJt1lation e11 gagecl i11 this sector'' (TFYDP, p. 44). vVit11 regard to lo11ger ter1n J)lanning, la11d refor111 is singlecl 01.1t as a11 ,1rea of p1·i111e i1111)ortance. It is stated t1 1at: Very little progress i11 agraria11 reco1 1struction a11d develop111ent, JJartict1lru·Iy i11 ])easa11t agrict1ltt 1re, can be ,nade t 111 der tl1e existi11g co11ditions of tent1re a11d farm size. Tl1e i111 111ecliate co 1 1cer11 of land reforn1 is to overco111e the a1J,1thy of tl1e agric1.1lt1.1ral population, cat1secl by traditio11al i11eq1.1itable la11d te11t1re patter11 s, co11centratio11 of land ownersl1ip i11 a s1 11all group, i11sect1rity of te11 ure, a11d exorbita11t rent or sharecroppi11g arrange11 1e11ts (TFYDP, p. 195). \Vith partic1.1 lar regard to the "co111 111 t 111al syste111 of la11d o,v11 ersl1ip J)revaili11 g i11 tl1 e 1 1 orthern {)art of tl1e cou 11try," a refere11ce wl1 icl1 inclucles the A1 nhara rist syste1n as well as several ratl1er different syste1ns fot111 d i11 Tigre and Eritrea, tl1 e pla11 asserts tl1at: [Tl1e S)1ste11 1 of co111111 1.111al tent1re] eli1ni11ates the possi­ bility eitl1er of 1nortgage creclit or of tra11 sactio11s in land. It also seriously obstrt1cts far111ers fro111 i11vesting in JJrod1.1ctive far111i1 1g 01Jeratio11s a11d 1Jartic1.1larly fro111 safegt1arcli11 b0 aoa water erosion. The Mi11istry O i1 1st soi l a11d of Land Refor111 a11 cl Ad1 11inistratio11 d1.1ri11 g tl1e TFYDP period 111 ust co111plete 11ecessary st1.1dies to for11111late a te11 ure J)atter11 \\'l1ich wo1.1ld solve tl1e problem (TFYDP, p. 197). It is also ofte11 said a111 011g pla11 ners i11 Adclis Ab ?a t�1at both � fragme11tation of holdi11 gs ancl tl1 e l1 igl1 rate of l 1 t1gat1on over 227

Changing Patterns of Land Tenute

land characteristic of 1·ist areas result i11 wastecl ti1 11e for 111a11y far1ners. While the object of this cliscL1ssion is to evaluate t11e effects of specific la11d reforn1 1neast1 res in Dega Da1 not and 11 ot the prospects there for general eco11omic developn1ent, several of the pre111ises u1)011 wl1ich la11d reforn1 policy is be­ ing based require co111 1nent. First of all, tl1e asst11nption that land is i11eqt1itably distributed a11 d. that it is co1 1ce11trated i11 the hai1ds of a small groLll) is not applicable to Dega Da111ot. Second, wl1ile insecurity of tenure associated with the rist syste111 111ight discourage people fro111 i1nprovi11 g their land i11 tl1e future, there is no evide11ce that it does so tinder prese11t co11ditions. 01 1 the contrary, the fact tl1 at fertilizecl la 1 1d is 11 ot s11bject to reallocation by the descent corporatio1 1 fej 11nless the l1older has no recogi1 ized rist right in the cor­ poratio11 1 11ay encourage far11 1ers to im1Jrove tl1eir la11cl. Sin1ilarly, the i111possibility of selli11g la1 1d and the consequent diffic11lty of establishing agricultt1ral 1110.rtgage credit will 011 ly becon1e a11 in1pedi111ent to i11vest1ne11t wl1en otl1er bar­ riers to developn1e11t, particularly the inaccessibility of natio1 1al n1arkets, are removed. Finally, while 111 t1 ch ti1ne is certainly spent traveling to ai1d fro1n scattered fields and litigati11g over la11d, it is not clear, t1nder present co1 1ditions of undere1nploy1nent, v. l1ether this ti1ne could be used, in itself, to increase prodt1ction. Proposed policies inte11 ded to i1n1Jlen1ent the goals of land reform i11 areas with co1nn1u1 1al te11ure are, broadly speaki11g, of two types: those whicl1 are intended to establisl1 a 111ore trt1ly co1n111unal, cooperative, or collective syste111 of la11d tenure; and those which are inte11 ded to ''i11dividt1alize'' the rist systen1 ; that is, to replace it with a syste111 in wl1icl1 indi­ viduals wot1ld hold land in freehold te11t1re. Tl1e Tl1ird Five­ :e�r . Dev�lo�111ent Pla11, unlike earlier plans wl1icl1 favored 1nd1v1dual1zat1011, does 11ot favor a11y policy. �hose wl10 favor the first ty1Je of reforn1 policies have var1ot1sly 111ade proposals to establisl1 a systen1 i11 wl1icl1 all members of tl1e _com 1 11t1nity wot1ld be allocated eqt1al shares of the land, as 1s at least ideally the case i11 so1ne Eritrean and Tigrean systems; to e11courage far1ners to cooperate in 1


Prospects for Land Refor1n in Dega Da111ot

111arketing a11d in tl1e 1nechanized cultivatio11 of Iai1.d tl1.ey individually l1old under the present syste111 of tenure· ai1.d to establish collective ow11ersl1ip a11d cultivatio11 over sdn1e tlnit of land, st1ch as tl1e neigl1borl1oocl or parish. Since these rather diverse recon1n1enclations l1ave not been translated into specific refor1n n1east1res or proposed legislation, it is difficult to assess their possible effects. It should be notecl ' however ' t11at tl1ere ap1Jears to be little traditional basis in Dega Damot for collective ow11ersl1ip of land or voluntary large-scale co­ operation i11 agricultt1ral activity. As was noted earlier, group activities, i11 clt1cli11g tl1 e cultivation of state farms, or l1uclacl, were al\vays orga11ized by a powerful at1thority figure ratl1er thai1 tl1rough a volt111tary a11d cooperative effort for the 111u­ tt1al ·be11efit of tl1e n1embers as a group. A 11un1ber of s111all holders \Vith who111 tl1e 111atter was discussed were favorably disJJosed to tl1e idea that tl1e la11d of eacl1 parish or neighbor­ hood be eqt1ally divided a111011g its resident hot1sel1old l1eads. Large holclers a11d an1bitious 111en, l1owever, strongly OJJposed such refor1n. Proposals to individt1alize land te11ure are, i11 effect, pro­ posals to abolish the rist systen1 a11d tl1e descent cor1Joratio11s tl1rougl1 \Vl1icl1 eacl1 perso11 l1 as inalienable potential rigl1ts to a sl1are of 11u1nerous, widely scatterecl first settlers' estates, a11d to replace it witl1 a syste111 of freehold te11t1re u11der which peo1Jle would have alie11able rigl1ts to s1Jecific pieces of la11 d. Tl1e 111easures tl1rough wl1icl1 tl1is cha11ge woulcl be brot1ght about are a cadastral survey, the registratio11 of inclividt1al title to Ia11d, a11cl tl1e instituting of land sale. The attitt1des of farn1ers towards these proposed 1neasures are inco11siste11t. La11d 111east1re1ne11t is, of course, opposed as a prelude to tl1e qelacl syste111. If tl1e possibility that the qelad syste111 will be introduced is ruled ot1t, their respo11ses are differe11t. They generally wax entht1�iasti� over the pro� ­ _pect of l1aving their rist la11d registered 1n their ow11 na111e 1n the govern111ent tax book, si11ce they feel this would help the111 clefe11d it aoai11st tl1e clain1s of others; but they are appalled by the s:ggestion tl1at tl1ey should lose t�eir rist rights i11 estates where they ct1rre11tly do not hold r1s� land. Si111ilarly, tl1ey welcon1e the st1ggestio11 that only their own 229

Changir1g Patter11s of Land Tenure

cl1ildren sl1ot1ld be allowed to inl1erit tl1e la11cls they l1old; but not if legislation to this effect would also preve11t tl1eir cl1ildre11. fro111 clai11ii11g a sl1 are of the la11d held by collateral relatives. Tl1e possibility of la11d sale, on the other ha11d, is al1nost u11iversally opposed. Rist, t111like 11 1oveable JJfOJJerty, it is argued, is tl1e i11a]ie11able birtl1right of every child. It would be a social as well as a 111oral evil .if pare11ts could sell tl1is birthright for the love of 1noney and perso11al adva11tage, a11d it is assu11 1ed tl1at at least so111e of the1n woulcl. An assess111e11 t of the direct a11 d i11direct effects of radi­ cally alteri11g or abolishi11 g the rist systen1 111t1st take into accou11t what it acco111plisl1es i11 its present form. Fro111 a de111ogra1Jl1ic a11cl social .Poi11t of view, rather than a11 i11di­ vidt1al {Joint of viev.1, the rist syste1n is not 1nerely a way of allocati11g la11d to JJeOJJle. It is also a way of allocati11g JJeople to available la11 d i11 accordance with their social a11d JJolitical pro111i11e11ce. It serves to 111ove people from estates and JJarisl1es whicl1 are de11sely JJopulated to 011es which are not, a11 cl, at tl1e sarne ti111e, it allocates to i11 clividuals with u1111s11al political skills lru1ds co1111ne11s11rate with their political attai11111ents. It tl1us adj11sts tl1e ecological realities of an agrarian society to the JJolitical realities of a co111petitive and fluid fe11daJ polity, a11 d does tl1is witl1out producing a large class of landless and alienated peasants. In pri11ciple, the reallocative ft111ctions of tl1e rist syste111 would be replaced by tl1e tra11sfer of la11 d thro11gl1 sale, whicl1 would enable the young a1.1 cl a1nbitious to buy aclditio11al la11cl in accorda11ce witl1 their skill as farn1ers. Tl1e establish111ent of i11 clividual freel1old te11ure wo11ld tl1 11s, i11 tl1eory, replace time-wasti11g political and legal activity ,�,itl1 pro­ �uctive farmi11g activity as the [Jrime 1nocte of acqt1iri11g addi­ tional fields a11cl wo11ld con11Jlete the process of 111aki11 g la11d an econo111ic rather tl1a11 political co111111odity alreacly begt111 by the breakdown of feudal institutio11s. As a part of a co111prel1e11sive IJrogra111 of rural econo1nic develop1ne11t, la11d refor111 111ay be botl1 desirable a11d 11eces­ sary. Tl1ere is 110 evide11ce, l1owever, tl1at i 11 tl1 e abse11 ce of seco11clary roads ancl otl1er 111arketi11 g facilities, cl1a11gi11g tl1 e 230

-Pros1)ects for Land Reform i ii Degp Damot

rules of land te11t1re would, in itself, sti1nt1late prodtictio11 or e,1cot1rage the sale of la11d or e11 able l1ard-worki11g far1 11ers to acqt1ire la11cl. 0 11 the c�11trary, there is a real da11ger that Ja11d refor 1 n, t1nacco111pan1ecl by a st1bsta11 tial growth of the cash eco110111y, vvot1ld l1 ave l1ighly t111desirable effects on the distributio11 of la1 1d a11cl tl1 e welfare of tl1e people of Dega Damot. In the abse 1 1ce of a 1 1otl1er 111echanis1n for allocati 1 1g land to people a11cl peOJJle to la1 1cl, tl1e transfor1natio11 of rist to freehold throt1gl1 a cadastral st1rvey and the registratio11 of i 1 1dividt1al title to la11d as it is curre 1 1tly held would, i 11 effect, freeze a transitory patter11 of la1 1dl1olcli11 g a 1 1d social stratifi­ catio11 at 011e 1110 111e11t in ti 1 11e. It would co11vert a fluid syste 1 11 of i11dividt1al inequalities into a per 1 11a11 e1 1t patter1 1 of eco1 1on1ic a11d social stratificatio11. Followi11g the ''individualiza­ tion" of landholding, demograpl1ic i1 1equalities, differe 1 1ces in net reprodt1ctio1 1, wot 1ld create econo111ic a11 d social inequali­ ties betwee11 fa 1 11 ilies a11d between larger co1 111nu 1 1ities. S011s fro111 large fa111ilies would 1 10 lo 1 1ger be able to 1 nove away fron1 tl1e JJarental ho 1 11estead to a1 1other parish where, by virtt1 e of reside11ce a11d their late11 t rist rigl1ts, tl1ey coulcl co11rn1ence to IJt 1 t togetl1er a 1 1ew }1ousel1 old estate. Nor would the able a11 d a1 11bitious n1e11 be able to acqt1ire aclditio11 al la1 1d a11d i 1 111Jrove their social status i11 their co111111t111ities. Not 01 1ly wot 1ld tl1e restricted i 1 1l1erita11 ce rt1les of freel1old te11t1re increase the 11t111 1ber of hot1sel1 olds JJer111 a1 1e 1 1tly de­ pe1 1dent for 111ost of their livelihood 0 1 1 te 1 1a 1 1cy arra11 ge­ ments, but tl1e greatly i 1 111Jroved security of title to 1a11 d \vould, for the first ti111e, n1ake possible abse 11 tee la 11dlordism 0.11 a large scale. Large l1olclers wot1Id be able to leave their Ja1 1d in tl1e ha11ds of tena 1 1ts, witl1out fear tl1at in their ab­ sence tl1 eir relatives or their tena1 1ts tl1e 1 11selves woulcl claim tl1e la 1 1d as tl1eir o\v11 rist. Unless tl1ere is a ft11 1dan1e 1 1tal cl1ange i11 tl1e opportunities of far111ers to 111arket tl1eir crops and a related sl1i� t i� their _ attitudes towards the sale of la1 1d, it appears that 1 11st 1tut1 11g freehold te11ure 1nigl1 t well res11lt i11: greater a11d 1 11o_re e1 1duri11g i11eqt1alities of la 11dholdi11g than prese1 1tly ex 1 st; _ a 11 increase i11 the j 1 111Jorta11ce of tenancy; a11 i 1 1crease 1n ab23 l

Cha11ging Patterns of Land 1�enure

sentee landlordism; and a possible increase ir1 1nigration out of Dega Da1not a11d IJolitical u11rest on tl1e JJart of people with no land. If the analysis presented here is s11bstantially correct, t11e ''individualization'' of land te11ure througl1 a cadastral survey and the registration of individual title to la11d \Vill 11ot, i11 itself, contribute to increased agric11lt11ral productivity or a 111ore equitable distribution of la11d i11 Dega Dan1ot. What is even 1nore evident is tl1at, at the prese11t ti1ne, a refor1n pro­ grain based 011 the n1easuren1ent of land is unacce1Jtable to the vast majority of Da1notia11s and that it will be met witl1 ar1ned resista11ce. Paradoxically, it a1Jpears tl1at the first step towards attain­ ing the goals of land refor1n i11 Dega Dan1ot is not to reform lat1d te11ure but to e11courage extra prod11ction for tl1e n1arket and thus, over ti1ne, to bring about a cha11ge in the 111eani11g of la11d to fa1·111ers and to create an1ong the1n a de111and for cl1a11ges in the rules of tenure.




In tl1e precedi11g chapters I have describecl and analyzed tl1e interrelated set of Amhara conce1Jtio11s, rights, expectatio11s, interests, a11d actions, wl1ich together I termed tl1e rist sys­ tem, and have exa111ined tl1e practical implications of this a11alysis for la11.d refor111 policy in Dega Damot. In this, the fi11al cl1apter, I wo11ld like to return to so111e of tl1e n1ore general tl1e111es discussed in tl1e i11troduction and to place tl1is 11arro\vly focused a11d detailed case stucly i11 a broader co111parative and theoretical context. The discussio11 l1as three closely related ai111s: to s111111narize the features of tl1e rist syste111 whicl1 are of most i11terest in the co1111)arative study of cog11atic desce11t; to assess the place of the rist sys­ tem in the study of lancl ten11re and social stratification i11 traditional agrarian societies; ru1d to co111ment on the 11tility of the a11alytical perspective I have adopted in writing tl1is book. First, I wa11 t to con1111e11t 011 an iss11e whicl1 l1as receivecl a co11siderable a11101111t of atte11 tion in the literature on descent. Tl1is is wl1ether, and in what se11se, cognatic desce11t is a 111ea11i11gful anthro1)ological concept. I have avoided this isst1e tip to 110w beca11se I believe that prior to the foregoi11g substa11tive analysis of tl1e An1hara rist systen1, treatme11t of the iss11e would have bee11 rather sterile. I raise it now be­ cat1se it serves to focus tl1e discussio11 011 just those as1)ects of cog11atic desce11t syste1ns, or whatever else one may choose to call tl1em, whicl1 fron1 a co1nparative point of view �re �ost i11teresti1 1g: overlaJJping me111bership, choice of affil1a­ tio11, and flexibility of ft111ctio11. 233


Tl1e ce11 tral isst1e underlying tl1 e co11troversy over cog 11atic clesce11t is tl1e questio11 of to wl1 at extent it is co1111)arable to u 11iJineal desce11t and l1 ence st 1sceptible to a11 alysis by tl1e sa111e co11 ce1)ts. Murdock, for exa111 1Jle, l1 olds that cog11atic desce 11t groups (l1e calls the1n a11 1bili 11eal c1esce 11t grot1 ps, or ramages) are ''tl1 e precise ft1 11 ctio11al eqt1ivalents of li11eages" (Mt1 rdock 1960: 11); a11 d Firtl1 ( 1960) speaks of tl1 e Maori /1apu as fu11ctio11ally eguivale11t to a l.i11 eage. Fortes, Free1na1 1, Goody, Leacl1, a11d Scl1 neider, 011 tl1e other ha11 d, con­ sider tl1e differe11ces betwee11 t111ili11eal a11 d cog11atic desce11t to be so great tl1 l1t referring to tl1e 11 1 botl1 as syste111s of desce11t ca11 011ly lead to co1 1ft1sio11 . 1 The differe11 ces tl1 at these latter writers stress are related to tl1e fact that cog 11atic desce 11t sys­ te111 s clo not assig11 people to n1utt1ally exclt1sive categories 0 11 tl1e basis of ki11 sl1 ip JJri11 ci1Jles alo11e. Speaki11 g of cog11atic ki11sl1i p syste111 s, Fortes ,:vrites: I11 tl1 ese societies, kinsl1i1J co11nections, whetl1 e1· take11 in tl1e 11arrow se11se or in the wider co1111otation of i 1 1clt1di i1 g affinal relatio11s, are IJOtentially t1nli111ited in range. Strt1ctL1ral bot111daries ca11not be ge 11erated fro 11 1 v,1ithin tl 1e kinsl1 i1J t111iverse, a11d 11on-don1 estic corporate organi­ zatio11s cleli111itecl by ki,1ship criteria, do 11ot occt1r in st1cl1 syste1ns. (Italics 1 ni11 e.) (Fortes 1969: 122) ''Desce11t," i11 the co1n 1 11011 sense inter1Jretatio11 of taki11g cognizance of perso11al IJedigrees recko1 1ecl by ste1Js of filiation to forbears a11tecede1 1t to parents, is recog11ized. . . . Bt1t tl1is recognitio 11 of ''descent'' cloes 11ot ,1lig 11 / JJerso11s whose pedigrees co 11verge i1 1 co 1 1111 1011 a11cestors into J)errna11e11t a11cl e.>:cl1,1sive it11its of social structt1re. (Italics 111i11e.) (Fortes 1969: 136) Si111ilarly Leach, in a rare 111 0111e11 t of agree 1 11 e 11 t ,vitl1 Fortes, writes: 1. For a con1prehensive recent exposition of this point of vie\V see Fortes ( 1969: chap. 14). See also Schneider (1965).


Conclt1s ion

To be 1Je�la11t�cally acct1ra�e 011e 111igl1t 1Jerl1 aJJS say tllat, j 11 sucl1 s1tt1at1011s [Leacl1 1s l1ere referring to t1 1e Sa1110a11 aigr1 sa a11�I fatelar11 � as described by Dave11 1Jort ( I959)] the pote11t1al1ty of k111-grotI)J 111e111bersl1 ip is based 011 an icleologj' of clesce11 t, but, si11ce clescent cloes 11ot in itself SJJecify wl10 is or wh o is not a 111e111ber of a11y p:1rticular grot11J, it is l1ere 111isleacli11g to clescribe tl1 e OfJer,ltive corporatio11s as "desce11 t grot1JJS. '' For i11 st1ch grotI)JS, 110t 011ly is it tl1e case tl1at 111 e111bersl1iJJ clerives fro111 cl1oice ratl1er tl1 a11 fro 1 11 desce11t, bt1t tl1e 111e111bership itself is at all ti111es a 1 11bigt1ot1s .... It is becat1se this ki 1 1d of an1bigt1itj1 a11d cl1 oice does 11 ot at1to1natically arise i 11 true (tl1at is, i11 t111 ili11eal) clesce11t syste 1 11s that Fortes ancl otl1ers l1a,,e fou11 cl it satisfactory' to analyse t111 ilineal desce11t syste1 11s as strt1ctures of jt1ral obligatio11s. In co1 1trast, tl1 e a11 alysis of a 1 1y ki11cl of cognatic kinsl1iJ J structt1re i11variably e11ds by throwi11 g the e1111Jl1 asis tI)J011 111ecl1 a11is111s of i11diviclt1al choice. (Leacl1 1962: 132) 111 tl1e abse11ce of a 1nore apt ancl \videly acce1Jtecl ter111 I \vill refer to tl1 e rist syste1n as a syste111 of cog11atic desce11t, for, l1 avi11g attai11ed s0111e ct1rre11cy, the ter111 at least has the virtue of i11viti11g co1n1Jariso11s witl1 a broacl ra11ge of sir11ilar cognatic structt1res elsewhere. It shoL1lcl be eviclent fro111 111y i11trodt1ctory disct1ssio11 of desce1 1t, l1owever, tl1at in 111ost res1 Jects I a111 i11 agree111e11t \\'itl1 Fortes a11cl Leacl1 concer11ing tl1e very i111 porta11 t d ifTere11ces that exist betwee11 cognatic a11cl t1nilineal desce11t as role-strt1ctt1ri11 g fJrinci 1 Jles. 2 1 11 tl1at 2. J agree wi1h Lhese ,vrilers Lhal Lhere are in1porLant differences bet,veen unilineal and cognatic descent as forn1al or logical ,vays of assigning people lo categorical n1en1bership, but I find that differences bet,veen the actual operation of unilineal descent systen1s and cognalic descent systems are son1e,vhal less marked. I also find enough sin1ilarities bet,veen both types of descent as indioenous theories or cultural paradigms of social or­ ganization to justify th eir grouping under Lhe san1e very general_ heading. It is ln1e, as Fortes notes, that the active, that is, the landholcltng me�­ bership of An1hara descent corporations is not delimited out of the kin­ ship universe by kinship criteria alone. Neverlheless, it represents a subsel of a category of persons delin1ited by kinship criteria, nan,ely, descent



i1 1trodL1ctory discussion I co1111ne11ted at s0111e le11gth 011 the 1)eculiar orga1 1izational proble1ns of cog 11atic desce11t sys­ te1ns relati11g to overlap1)i11g 1 11embershiJJ, the restriction of from a con1mon ancestor, ancl I ca11 find no ,vay of describing the active n1en1bership of the group without reference to this fact. It is also true, as Fortes points out, that Amhara ,vhose pedigrees con­ verge in co1nn1on ancestors are not aligned into excl11sive 11nits. Nonex­ clusiveness n,ay n1ake An1 hara descent corporations very clifferent from the groupings that interest unilineal descent theorists, b11t it does not cnake then1 intrinsically less interesting. Nor, as Keesing ( 1968:84; 1970) has J)Ointed out and the present monograp. h has demonstratecl, does it make then, "un,vorkable"; for people's roles ancl interests are sorted out in the context of the specific situations in which they are relevant. Leach's contention that the analysis of a cognatic strt1cture thro,vs en1 phasis upon the n1echanisn1s (and, I would add, the instit11tional con­ texts) of choice is certainly borne 011t by the An1hara case. I ,vould 11ot, however, as Leach does, say that "membership derives fron1 choice rather than fron1 descent," for the choices available to the actor are then1selves defined by descent. Furthern1ore, I find that if we consider the way people actually behave insteacl of the abstract n1odels constructed lJy anthropologists, individual choice with regard to sucl1 crucial issues as land utilization, residence, and political affiliation in tin1es of crisis are by no means absent in African such as the Tiv and Ntier in which 11nilineal descent plays a n1ajor organizational role. (1�his tendency of some writers to con1pare cognatic syste1ns as they are observed to operate with anthropologists' idealized models of unilineal descent is dis­ cussed by Barnes [ l 962: 5].) Finally, as a cultural paradign1, as a system of Amhara ideas, the rist system is grounded i11 an ideology of descent. The n1 en and \V001en who use the land bearing the name of a partic11lar ancestor do so because they recognize one another to be l1is descendents (te1•vellaj, sing.), ancl the \vay they divide the ancestor's land is justified by reference to a genealogical charter of descent. Insofar as the issue is tern1inological, I l1old no brief for "cognatic descent," b11t do not find the other tern1s \vhich have been suggested particularly apt for describing tl1e A111hara rist systen1. Cognatic stocks, for example, a term lised by Freen1an ( 1961:200) and suggested by Fortes ( J 969: 287) seen1s appropriate, as these ,vriters define it, for cognatic kinship systen1s like that of the Lozi of Zan1bia ( described by Gluckn1an 1941, 1943, 1950, 1955, 1963), in \\rhicl1 an individual is a],vays considered to belong to eight partiaJly overlapping categories, each com­ posed of the descendents of one of l1is eight great-granclparents. It does not, however, describe tl1e Amhara case, in ,vhicl1 the sarne ren1ote ances . . tors serve as fixed ge11ealogtcal reference points for corporate landho]ding g�·oups gener�tion after generation, and in which a perso11 n1ay trace througl1 only �1 few of his great-grandparents, never hts descent l1 nes _ through all eight of then,. For this reason, I wo11ld prefer to call the �JJ?-hara descent �roups an1bilineal, but I l1ave cl1osen "cognatic" beca �se Lt 1s the n1ost Wtdely accepted tern1 for the general pl,enomenon with which I a1n concerned. .



by criteria other tl1a 1 1 ki 11sl1i1 ), a1 1d the role of cI1oice as it affects tl1e for 111 ancl tl1e ft111ctio11s of cognatic descent systen1s. I believe tl �at tl1e 111ai11 contri�t1tio11 of this 111onograpJ1 to the con11)arat 1ve stt1cly of cog 11at1c desce11t l1as bee11 to show in cletail 110�1 tl1ese orga 11izatio11al proble1 11s are 111et in a co1 1temporary, trtily cog1 1atic desce11t syste1J1 cl1 aracterized by co1111 )arativel)1 great ge 1 1eratio11al de1)tl1, strt1ctt1ral differ­ entiation, a11cl overlap of 111e 111bership.3 The A111hara case is of 1)artict1lar interest becat1se it I1as 11ot bee11 st1bjected to a ce11tury or 111ore of alie 11 political co11trol, jt1clicial refor1 11, and lancl registratio 11. 1 1 1 this respect it cliffers fro1 11 cog,1atic desce11t systems i11 otl1er co111plex societies sucl1 as the 0 11 do Yort1ba of Nigeria (Lloyd 1 962) and the Si 11l1alese of Ceylo 11 (Leacl1 1961; Obeyesekere 1967). 111 a se 11 se it is 1nisleadi11g to say tl1at the rist systen1 has resolvecl the orga 1 1izatio1.1al proble1ns i11herent i11 the over­ la1)J)i11g 111e111bersl1 ip of t 111restric tee! cog 11atic desce 11 t ca te­ gories; as the preceding cha1 )ters have 1nade abt111 cla11tly evident, tl1e a 1 nbigt 1 ot 1s 11att1re of rist rigl1ts fosters chro11ic sus1)icio11_ a11 d e 1 1ge 1 1ders e11de1nic co1 1flict a111011gst ki 11s111e11 and neigl1bors. Tl1e rist syste111 is 1 1ot a syste 1 11 of solidary corporate grot1ps J)rovidi11g 111e 1 1 witl1 a set of 11 esting eco11 0 1 nic, J)s>litical, a11cl ritual loyalties to 0 11e a11otl1er i 11 OJ)l)O­ sitio11 to st 1ccessively 111ore ren1ote grour)s; it is ratl1 er a syste1n of strt1ctured a111 bigt1ities wl1 ich te11ds to kee 1 ) 111en apart fro11 1 011e a11other except to for1 n ten1porary alliances 011 tl1 e basis of fra 11k self-i 11terest. 11 1e1nbersl1ip

3. In their ideology and ren1en1bered genealogy, Amhara descent charters, in contrast to the charters of n1ost other sin1ilar cognatic descent systems, place truly equal emphasis on links traced through males and !e­ males. The Choiseulese and KvJaio descent systen1s, for exan1ple, give ideological en1phasis to the agnatic line but permit the tracing of links through \VOmen. The Sinhalese system, according to Obeyesekere, was not cognalic but agnatic until the British colonial regime enforced the bilateral inheritance rules of Ron1an Dutch ]a\v under the n1istaken impression that their Dutch predecessors had already done so. The cognatic stocks of the Lozi (Gluckman 1941, 1943, 1950, 195�, 1963) and the Iban (Freen,an 1955, 1958, 1960, 1961) are also truly bi­ lateral; in other important respects, however, as I noted above, they are dissin1ilar to the Amhara.



If tl1e rist syste111 fosters a 1 11bigt 1 ity of 111e 1 nbersl1i1) a11d conflict of i11terest, j t also li111its tl1e111 i11 for 1 11al ter1 11s to the 11arrow a11d higl1Jy sr)ecific co 1 1text of la11d te11t1re. As I noted in tl1e i11troductio 1 1, restriction in cognatic desce11t groups is ge11eraJly related to the geographical localization of their estates or territories. Wl1at is disti 1 1ctive of tl1e A111l1ara rist syste 111, in contrast to 111a 1 1y otl1er cog11atic desce11t syste111s, is not that desce1 1t grou1)s are orga1 1ized i11 relation to a JJar­ ticular territory bt1t that co11trolJing la 11d is al 1 11ost tl1eir sole n1a 1 1ifest fu11ction. The rist syste111 is first ancl last a syste1n of la11d te1 1t1re. 111 1 11a11y other cognatic syste111s desce11t grotIJJS l1ave overt JJOlitical, social, and religiot 1s ft111ctio1 1s as well as co11trol over t1 st1frt1ctt1ary rights i11 la11d. 111 the Gilbertese case describecl by Goode11ot1gh, for ex­ a111ple, tl1e 111ost inclt1sive a11d tl1eoretically t111restricted desce11t category, tl1e oo, ft1nctions only 1 1 1 relatio11 to IJrop­ erty. Tl1e s 1 11a]ler grour)s, or bi,voti, whicl1 are co111posecl of 0 1 1ly tl1ose 111e111bers of tl1e oo w110 actt1ally hold JJartict11ar plots of tl1e oo's land, however, ft111ctio11 as for1nalized 111eet­ i 11gl1ot 1 se cot 1 ncils ( Goode11ot1gl1 1955: 73-74). 111 the Choi­ set1 lese case describecl by Scheft�er ( 1965), 111en11Jers of the cognatic descent grotI}J resident in its ter1�itory co1 1stituted a political co 1 nmunity. The co1111Jaratively unrestrictecl cog­ natic descent groups of tl1e Kwaio of Malaita, Britisl1 Solo1 110 1 1 Islands, described by Keesi 1 1g ( 1965, 1966a, 1966b, 1967, 1968, 1970) l1ave in11Jort,111t ritt1al ft111ctio11s as well as fL111ctions relati 11g to la11d use a11d reside11ce. Fi 1 1ally, the cognatic lancil1olcli 11g Si11halese gro11ps of Ceylo,1 clescribed by Leach (1961) a 11d Obeyesekere (1967) are also ki 11shiJJ grouJJS i11 tl1e se11se that their 111e 1ubers are co1 1sjdered to be bou11d by the rt1les a11d se11ti1ne11ts of ki11s1ne11. A111011g the A 1 11l1ara, by contrast, 11eitl1er tl1e people ,vho share a first settler's estate of rist 'la 11cl 11or tl1ose of the111 '"'ho live 011 it co11stitt 1te a 1Jolitical co 1111 11t111ity or a co1 1gregatio1 1. Nor do tJ1ese codesce1 1clents 1n,1ke LIIJ a ki 1 1 grotijJ i11 tl1e t1s11al sense of tl1e ter 1 11. I 1 1 fact, wl1ile relatio11s of ki11sl1ip ,111d desce11t are always a11alytically clisti 1 1ct fro111 011e a1 1other, tl1e djsjt1nctio11 betwee11 cog1 1atically traced ties of ki 1 1sl1i1J ( wl1icl1 have 1 1ot been disct1 ssed at lengtl1 i 1 1 tl1is book) a 11d ::111cestor238


ce11t is a striki1 1g feattire of oriented li11es of cog11atic cles 1 o ti za 11. 11i ga al or A111hara soci Mei11bersl1iJ) i 1 1 A111l1ar::1 cog11atic desce11t corporatio11s is by for111al rt1 les, for rist rigl1ts are, i,1 A rllhara 1 10t restricted theory, inalie11able a11cl inexti1 1gt1isl1able. Nevertheless, it is striki ng tl1at 11eitl1er tl1e active ( tl1at is, landl1olcling) 01e111_ bersl1i1) in a desce11t corJ)Oratio11 11or tl1e 11t11nber of clesce11t J j 11es tl1rough ,vl1icl1 i11cliviclt1al 1 11e1 1 trace their pedigrees to fot111di11g a11cestors 11or111ally i11creases· with tl1e J)assage of Tl1is is a reflectio11 of the fact tliat ' 11s. successive ge11eratio . . thot1gl 1 a 111a1 1's r1 st r1gl1ts are very exte11sive, his cl1a11ces of stzccessfully clai111i11g rist ]a11cl i11 a desce11t cor1)oratio11 are restrictecl by several ki11ds of J)rag111atic co11sideratio11s. Most i111porta11t of these, as I l1ave said, are: wl1ether l1is close ki11s1ne11, JJartict1larly l1is J)are11 ts or gra11d1)are11ts, l1ave l1eld Ia11cl i11 the corporatio11's estate; ,1vl1etl1er he is a resiclent elder i11 tl1e 1Jarisl1 w]1ere tl1e estate is located; a11d wl1etl1er he l1as J)Olitical i11flue11ce or J)Ower. The analysis of tl1ese three tyJ)es of restrictio11 i11 cletail led to a11 exa 1 11i11ation of the i11stitt1tio11al co11texts i11 \\1l1ich decisio11s abot1t rist la1 1cl are 1nade: l1ousel1olcl, co111111t111ity, ancl polity. Tl1e processes tl1rot1gl1 wl1ich 111e111bership i11 clesce11t cor­ jJoratio11s is restricted also sl1a1)e a11d restrict the desce11t li11es or rist rigl1ts available to tl1e indiviclt1al. At birtl1 eacl1 }Jerso11 l1as t\VO arrays of rist rights; 011e tracecl throt1gh 11is fatJ 1er a11cl 011e tracecl tl1rot1gl1 ]1is 111otl1er. Eacl1 co11sists of a set of JJedigrees traci1 1g l1is desce11t fro111 a first settler. 011ly full sibli11gs l1ave icle11tical arrays of rist rigl1ts, a.i1cl even tl1eir rights 11or111ally beco111e differe11tiatecl ,vl1e11 they 111arry ancl gai11 access ( i11 trust) to tl1eir vvife's 1notl1er's and father's rist rigl1ts \\1}1icl1 they i11cliscrin1i11ately refer to as wife's rist. Fro111 a11 a1 1alytical })Oi11t of view, the11, socially recog11izccl procreatio11 bri1 1gs togetl1er fo11 r sets of rist rigl1ts, tl1e 1notl1er 's and fatl1 er's rigl1ts of botl 1 tl1e child's I)arents. Fron1 the child's _poi11t of view, these fou r sets of rigl1ts are recate­ , gorized i11to only two sets of rist rights, 111other's a11d fatl1er s. 4 · An excellent discussion of the distinction bet\.veen co-zn - atic kinship aod cognatic descenl is to be found in Keesing 1970.



as well as 111erged i11 each ge11era­ tte11 forgo are s right Rist : tion, despite the A111hara ideology to tl1e contrary. The process tl1rot1gh wl1ich tl1ey pass i11to oblivion is 11ot, ho\v­ ever, so IJrecise a11d JJredictable as that by which they are 1nerged. Tl1e process begi11s anew in eacl1 generation whe11ever, ti sually· to avoid excessive frag111entation, the land a 1na11 l1olds in a particular descent cor1Joratio11's estate is not apJJOrtionecl to all his cl1ildren. All of the111 still retain rist in tl1e estate, but those wl10 do 11ot hold land lose tl1eir rigl1ts ...., i111111ediate interest in it and take 110 JJart in the clesce11t cor1Joratio11's affairs. Rist rigl1ts for wl1icl1 rist Janel is 11ot l1eld are 11ot i111111ediately forgotte11. If they re111ai11 u11exercised for two or tl1ree ge11eratio11s, 11.owever, they begi11 to IJass 011t of aware­ ness. '"fl1is process of "forgetting'' is closely associated witl1 tl1e fact tl1at, tl1ot1gl1 A111l1ara ki11sl1ip is bilateral, n1ost 111en are 11ot a\vare of tl1e 11u111ber or the 11a111es of all their li11eal a11cestors be ) 011d the gra11d1Jare11tal ge11eratio11. There is 110 definite point eitl1er in years or ge11eratio11s at whicl1 rist rigl1ts are irretrievably lost to 111e111ory. A 1na11 1nay 11ot know of the rist rigl1ts he tl1eoretically l1as throt1gl1 his mother's father's father, bt1t lie n1ay 11ave a 111other's brother wl10 does, or }Jerl1aps there is a rist expert wl10 cot1ld be co11sulted, should the occasio11 arise. 011 tl1e average, however, tl1e ra11ge of rist rights \Vl1icl1 111en are aware of does 11ot i11crease fron1 ge11eratio11 to generatio11, clespite the fact that, accorcling to tl1e basic bilateral rt1le of inheritance, it shot1ld. Viewed abstractly, a 111a11's k11ow11 rist rigl1ts ca11 be tl1ot1ght of as fiber-like descent li11es co111i11g to hi111 in bt1ndles throt1gh some, bt1t not a]l, of l1is lineal a11cestors. The bu11dles of desce11t lines 1nerge witl1 otl1ers as they desce11d to l1in1 a11d fi11ally reacl1 hi1n i11 t\1/0 large bt111dles throt1gh his 111other and father. I Iavi11g JJassecl throug11 him, the bu11dles of desce11t li11es beco111e i11creasingl )' differenti­ ated once agai11 i11 subsec1t1e11t ge11eratio11s as tl1ey are sorted out a1nong l1is desce11de11ts. The clesce11t li11es of greatest in1portance to a11 i11clivid t1al are tl1ose by virtt1e of wl1icl1 he holds rist land. Next in i111porta11ce are those throt1gh whicl1 1



lliS parents a11cl gr�n<:l1Ja1·e11ts l1elcl la11cl bt1t tl1rougl1 whicl1 11e does 11ot. Leas� 1111JJ? rta11t are tl1ose long lliltised desceilt Jines, 1 11a11y of w �11cJ1 will _be ct1t off fro1�1 l1is desce1 1cte11ts by a slowly descencl11 1g ct1rta111 of ge1 1ealog1cal forgetft1J11ess. TI1e rist syste1 11 is a la11cl-te11t1 re syste1n. Becat1se of tl1e central role of la11d i 11 A1 11l1ara social organizatio1 1, however it also 1 1,1s i111porta11t latent ecological, cle1 11ograpl,ic, and I 1 1segt1e1�ces. I1 al! f �l1e111 it exl,ib �ts tlie ty Je of c c olit ! � ?, � l. ? J � . '•flex 1b1 l1ty tl1at 1s cl1a1 acte11st1c of cog1 1at1c desce1 1t· a flexibility that is closel)' related to the ways in whicl, des;ent corpo ratio1 1 111e111bersl1i fJ is restricted. Fron1 a11 ecological JJers1Jective, tl1e Am1 1ara descent system serves to allocate JJeople to available la11d by enabling tl1e1 n to 111ove fro1 11 011e jJarisl1 to a11other a11d still clai111 la11d \1/itl1 con11Jarative ease. Similarly, fro111 a de111ographic per­ spective, it hel1Js to 1nitigate tl1e eco1101nic effects of uneve1 1 popt1latio11 growtl1 by e11,1bli11g so11s fro1n large fa1nilies or men fro1n fertile co1 111 nt1nities to 1nove away a11d clai 111 Janel thro11gl1 other descent corporations. 5 Fron1 a co1 111Jarative poi11t of view, I believe tl1e 111ost i11teresti11g ft1nction of tl1e rist syste111 J1as bee11 to i11troduce a11 ele1ne11t of flexibility into the fet1dal polity a11d its associated syste 111 of social stratificatio11. Tl1is flexibility has bee 11 111a 11i­ fest both i11 tl1e :fltiiclity of ties betwee 11 peasant a11d lorcl, ancl i11 tl1e relative ease of social 111obility. The rist syste111, t11 1like tl1e gwilt syste1n, is not a part of the for111al political strt1ctt1re of Aml1ara. society. 111 proces­ sual ter111s, l1owever, the rist syste111 a11d tl1e traditio1 1al politi­ cal syste1 11 i11ter1Je11etrated 011e a11other. In part, this was be­ cause both systems were grot1nded in the san1e territorial fran1ework. The co1 111Jrel1e11sive divisio1 1 of tl1e co1111tryside into estates of gwilt provided tl1e territorial fran1ework of adn1i11istratio11 i 11 tl1e traclitio11al A1 11hara polity. All the n1e1 1 at1d wo111e11 wl10 held rist Ia1 1cl witl1in a11 estate of gwilt were pr?­ 5. In many other agrarian societies, variations in fan1ily fertility d□ce n1arked intergenerational variations in wealth and hence often in status as well. This process is ,veil illustrated in Bailey ( 1957: chap. 4) ·



obligated to JJay taxes to tl1e gwilt-holder, a11d, i11 so111e cases, to aid l1i111 i11 ad111i11istratio11. All those wl10 livec1 on a11 es­ tate of gwilt were tl1e gwilt-l1older's subjects as \veil. G \Vhe11 a JJerso11 gai11ed or lost rist la11d within a11 estate of gwilt or 1noved fro111 011e co111111u11ity to a11other, l1e 111igl1t vvell alter l1is relatio11sl1i1 J v.ritl1 011e or 111ore gwilt-holders. Fro111 ar1 a11alytical JJOint of view, the11, tl1e rist syste111 distribt1ted JJeople. to the la11cl-based ad111i11istrative strL1ctt1res of the An1hara IJolity. The flexibility of tl1e rist syste111 as a way of allocati11g la11cl to JJeople a11cl JJeople to la11d \Vas tra11slatecl i11to a flexible relatio11sl1iJJ betwee11 the JJeasru1try a11d tl1e gwilt-l1oldi11g officials wl10 were res1 Jo11sible for tl1eir ad111i11istratio11. 111 111a11y other traditio11al agraria11 societies, JJeasa11ts l1ave bee11 bot111d 111ore tigl1tly to a territorially basecl acl111i11istrative fra111ework eitl1er througl1 tl1e law, as i11 parts of fet1dal Euro 1 Je, or becat1se of a la11d-te11ure syste111 t11at 111ade it 111ore di·ffictilt for tl1e111 to cha11ge their residence or sl1ift tl1eir l1oldi11g. Tl1e otl1er way that the rist syste111 and JJOlity l1ave i11ter­ JJe11etrated 011e a11other i11 processt1al ter111s bas been tl1at strategic decisio11s 111e11 111ake as 111e111bers of 011e syste111 are greatly affected by their positio11 and their interests in the otl1er. Most i1111Jorta11t, by seeking rist la11cl and leadersl1ip positio11s i11 a11 i11creasi11g 11t1111ber of clesce11t cor1 Joratio11s, 111en l1ave bee11 able to convert newly acqt1ired political power into a JJerso11al estate of ''hereditary'' la11d co111111e11st1rate with their 11ew statt1s. Tl1e rist syste111 also facilitated do\v11Vlard social 111obility. 111 tl1e abse11ce of a JJolitically st1ccessfL1l l1eir,7 the rist la11d an1assecl b)' a }JOwerft1l indiviclt1al v.,as soo11 broken up by the in11eritance rt1le tl1at gave la11d, at least i11 tl1eory, eqt1ally to all c]1ilclre11. Ofte11 the dissolt1tioi1 of a powerful 111a11's l1olcli11g after l1is cleatl1 v.,as accelerated by tl1e in.ability of his l1ei1·s to hold togetl1er a11d t1tilize his widely scatterecl la11ds. Tl1e 11et rest1It of tl1ese processes \�as 6. In the area I studied in Gojjan1, estates of gv.,ilt are al\vays con1posed of an integral 1111mber of descent corporations' estates. In other areas I visited this is not al\vays the case. 7. :Virtually no offic� and no title was hereditary in a strict sense in _ trad1t1onal Amhara society.



a ratl1er fl11id relationsl1 i1J bet\vee11 la1 1d, {JOwer, a11 d }1onor in Amhara society. TJ1e rist syste111, with its overla1Jpi11 g a 1 1d au1bigt10L1s Ia1 1d rigl1ts, its ever-prese11 t possibilities for UJJ\Varcl 111 obility at the expe11se of others, a 11 cl tl1e pre111iu111 it IJlaces 011 political expertise, proclt1ces wl1at, i11 co1111Jariso11 witl1 111a11 y other agraria11 syste111s, a1Jpears to be a l1igl1 clegree of e11de1nic co1npetition for a11 d co11 'flict over land. I11 tl1 e feudal syste1 ns of western EL1ro1Je, by co11trast, particularly in regio11 s where tl1e 01Je11 -fielcl syste111 of la11 d tenLire prevailed,8 co1111Jetition for lancl ai1d social 11 1obility a111ong peasa11 ts were ct1rtailed by the 1 nore or less well-i11stitt1tio11 alizecl cultt1ral pri 11 ci1Jle that society sl1 ot1ld co11 sist of a fi 1 1ite 1111 1 11ber of strata ancl that jt1rally equal 111e1.nbers of the far1 11 ing class should enjoy eqt1al la11 dl1oldings, or te11eme1 1ts, i11 tl1eir lord's estate. I11 so111e JJarts of Tigre a11d Eritrea, conflict over la11 d is partly li1nited b)' the princip'le tl1at land belongs to the resident me1nbers of a descent cor1Joratio1 1 or of a village a11 d should be IJeriodically redistribt1 ted in eqt1al shares to all house­ hold heads. 9 111 TokL1gawa Ja1Ja11, on the otl1 er ha11d, as in Dega Da111ot. tl1ere were 111a11y gradatio11s i11 peasa11t statL1s corresponding, i1 1 large JJart, at least i11 tl1e earlier part of the JJeriocl, to differe11 ces i11 tl1e a111ot111t of la11cl l1 eld. In the Tokuga\va case, however, upwarcl social mobility was severely restricted by tl1 e fact tl1 at a large part of all the agrict1ltural la11 d i11 1nost villages \vas attacl1ed to a relatively few great and e11clt1ring l1ot1seholds. Co11trol over 1 nost of tl1e la11 d was attached to one of these great l1 ousel1olds, a 1 1cl was }Jassed fron1 its head, the oyakata, to l1 is }Jri11cipal l1 eir. The l1 eir's collateral kins1 ne11 were eitl1er st1pported as depende11 ts i1 1 the great l1 ot1sel1old or were give11 s111all a111ot111ts of land through a process of higl1ly u 1 1eqt1al partitio11i1 1g. 10 8. An excellent disc11ssion of the open-field syslen1 in thirteenth cen­ tur)' England and of its re]ationsbip to social stratification is to be found in I-Iomans (1960). 9. Nadel (1946); Ba11er (1972). 10. For a perceptive discussion of the Tokuga\va village land-tenure system, see Smith (19 59).



In Dega Da1not, by co11trast, 11one of these lin1iting con­ ditions obtai11. Not only is there 110 pri11ci1Jal heir, as in Tokugawa Japan and ma11y parts of feudal Europe, but land must be sl1ared a111ong childre11 of botl1 sexes. Nor is it held, even as an ideal, in Dega Damot tl1at all peasa11t far111ers should have equal status or equal a111ou11ts of land. I11deed tl1eir households' la11ds vary greatly. At the sa111e time, the extensive rist rights held by each individual, far fro111 resigi1i11g l1i111 to l1is 1Jrese11t positio11, or to his father's i11 the co1111111111ity, e11cot1rage hi111 to believe that he holds less than his ''1·ightful'' a1nou11t of rist la11d. The frequency and virt1le11ce of conflict over land in Dega Damot te11ds to obscure the fact that its JJeOJJle, peasant ancl officeholdi11g official alike, are deeply co111111itted to the rist systen1 a11d tl1e polity with which it was until recently asso­ ciated. In the rist syste111 they see the guara11tee of the liberties and 01Jportt111ities tl1ey most cherish. In their eyes tl1e syste1n e11ables tl1em in time of personal adversit)' to 1nove to another parisl1 a11d still be accou11ted hereditary landowners. It e11ables their cl1ildren, no n1atter l1ow nun1erous, to become i11depende11t la11dow11i11g farmers. It enables tl1e1n to i11crease JJersonal estate and co1nmt1n.ity standi11g, and finally it holds before tl1e111 the possibility that they or their children, witl1 good fortu11e, may obtai11 the gwilt rights once l1eld by a re1note ancestor a11cl a11 appro1Jriate large estate of rist land. However unrealistic this assess111e11t of the rist system 111ay ap1Jear to the observer, there can be no dot1bt that at present Damotians do 11ot desire to cha11ge the r11les by which they con1pete with one a11other for land and status. The rist system has also generatecl com1nit111e11t to the traditional polity and enl1ru1ced the legiti111acy of its rt1li11g elites i11 several ways. I-Iisto1·icall)' it has enabled peoples conquered by the ex1Janding Amhara kingdo111's ar1nies to become Amhara rather tha11 re1nai11 etl1nically disti11ct, b­ disadvantaged, s disaffected politically a11d � �cono1nically _ Jects. �1th the_ JJassage of bt1t a few generatio11s a11d witl1 u1� ter1narr1age, 1t beca1ne JJOssible for niost of the desce11clents of the no11-Amhara ( ofte11 Galla) co11quered JJOlJulation to 244


trace pedigrees selectively to Ai11I1ara iI1vaders and he11ce to clai1n rist rights a11cl A1nhara status. 11 The rist syste111 also helped co11111lit the peasants to the political order, �ith its blata11t i11equalities of power and prestige, by hold1ng possibility the forth their or they that _ childre11 n1ay attain office, I1onor, ru1d a11 abu11da11ce of their hereditary rist land. Tl1is belief has been reinforced in the face of statistical probability by tl1e fact that many of the n1ore remote a11cestors tl1ro11gl1 wl1om pedigrees are traced vvere themselves titlecl office l1olders. In this way the rist sys­ ten1 with its v,1.idely ra111ifyi11g descent li11es I1as created a sense of con11non identity between the Amhara within a region, co1n1no11er a11d noble alike. Ulti111ately all tl1e J)eople of Dega Dan1ot have tl1e same a11cestors. It is only chance of birtl1, political aptit11de, and. luck that differentiates the111 fro1n 011e a11otl1er i11 their opi11ion, a11d 11ot i11nate worth. Land tenure ru1d la11d refor111 are widely consiclerecl to J)Ose pressi11g, if little u11derstood, proble111s for Ethiopia11 develo1)­ ment. Co11seque11tly, many ed11cated Ethiopians ancl foreig11 observers took a11 active interest i11 my research. Most of tl1em \Vere kind eno11gh to Sa)' they were favorably i1npressed by the results of 1ny i11-depth st11dy. Almost i11variably, l1ow­ ever, they asked n1e w11etl1er 111y fi11dings are representative of An1l1ara i11 other 1)rovi11ces or even i11 otl1er districts in Gojja1n. I11 order to answer this q11estion, I l1ave tried, rather t1n­ systen1atically, to obtain infor111ation abo11t land te11t1re fro1n other regio11s of 11orther11 Ethiopia. Duri11g the rainy seaso11 of 1962 I spent six weeks traveli11g by car through tl1e prov­ inces of Wello, Tigre, a11d Begen1dir. With the aid of 111ost he]pft1l letters fro111 the Ministry of tl1e I11terior, I was able to i11tervievv oover11n1ent officials and elders fron1 1nany districts in the�e l)rovinces. The data I gath�re� i11 this way were generally qualitative rather than quant1tat1ve. 11. The process of Amharicization continues today i� many parts of Ethiopia. Any child with an 1-\mhara parent can have himself accounted Amhara.



F1·o111 the end of 1968 11ntil the begin11i11g of 1970, I carried out a second inte11sive microst11cly 110 air 111iles to the 11ortheast of Addis Ababa iI1 the Gra Midir district of Menz i11 Shoa provi11ce. Tl1is stt1dy was 11ot pri111arily concerned with land te11t1re. Nonetheless, I was able to gather a con­ siderable a1no11nt of co111parati\re data fro111 several parishes in this regio11. Fi11ally, an excelle11t study by Wolfgang Weiss­ leder ( 1965) l1as provid.ed us witl1 a description of la11d te1111re i11 a 1?arish near A11kober, formerly tl1e seat of Sl1oan 111011archs 011 tl1e soutl1easter11 frontier of the A111hara area. Througl1out 111ost of the lo11g-settled A111hara bea.rtlands I found tl1e rist system to l1ave the srune basic feat11res I ob­ served i11 Dega Da111ot. 12 To be s11re, there are also regional var.iatio11s of several kinds. There are variatio11s iI1 tl1e termi11ology peo1Jle 11se to talk abot1t the rist syste111. Tl1ere are variatio11s i11 the landholdi11g pattern resulting fro111 regional historical differences i11 the ecological, demograpl1ic, and JJolitical para111eters of the rist syste111. Perhaps 111ost im­ JJOrta11t of all, there are variatio11s in the for111al r11les of the rist syste111. A substru1tive discussion of these variations is beyo11d the scope of tl1is book. The poi11t I want _to n1ake here is tl1at u11derneatl1 these regio11al variations i11 forn1, tl1e rist syste111 has the same 13 struct11ral features a11d perfor111s tl1e saine basic functions. it is grounded u1 a syste1n of territorially based cognatic descent corporations. Everywhere cl1ildre11 of both sexes can inherit land fro1n both their 111otl1er and fatl1er. Everywhere 111en 1nost actively 1nust ge11eratio11 each i11 _ strive to put togetl1er a11ew estates of rist la11d to s11pport tl1eir housel1olds. Everywl1ere the rist syste1n f1111ctio11s to create a 12· By An1hara ��artlands, I n1ean a contiguous area co111prisi ng north ern and eastern GOJJan1, northern Sl1oa wester11 v\'ello and southern and �a_stern Beg�n1dir. The Ankober area discussed by \V�issleder is on the fringe of lh1s are_a. Its land-ten11re system differs in son1e in1portant respects fron1 th_e r1st sys�em f?und in the more cent ral regio11s. 13· �o avoid confusion, it sho11ld be remen1be ric tl red 1 at the Amha · term "r1st" · . is · 11sed to mean land l1eld 1n freehold ·111 areas tl1at do not have the rist system as un derstood here.



con1paratively fluid relationsl1i1) betwee11 Iai1d, status ' aild po\\,er i 1 1 A111l1ara social organizatio1 1. Tl1e An1h�ra tl1 e1 nselves clearly recognize tl1 e t1 11 cterlyi11 g ur1ity of the r 1 st syste 1n. I1 1 fac t tl1ey are a_pt to overeinpl1asize it. What aJ)pear to tl1e a 1 1tl1 ropologist to be significa1 1t differ­ ences are eitl1er disregarded or ex1)lai 11 ed away as 111inor deviatio11 s fro111 a for111erly \Videsp.reacl, 111 ore pt1re form of the rist systen1 . In the absence of a 1 1y detailed l1istorical ac­ cot1 1 1ts of A111hara la11d te11t1re, it is i111possible to prove or disprove the last assertio11. Tl1 ere is no reaso.n to co1 1sider tl1e comn111 nities I I1appe11 ect to study .i1 1 Dega Da1 11 ot particularly tyJ)ical A 1 11l1ara con11nu1 1ities; 11 or is tl1ere a 11 y reaso11 to co 1 1sider tl1 e for 1n of the rist syste1n i 1 1 these co111 111t1.11 ities especially typical of the 14 1 a wl1ole. as syste n I wo11 ld argue tl1 at the co1 1rist An1ha.ra ce1Jt of typicality is 11 ot a useft1l 011 e i 11 this context; for An1 hara lru1d te 1 1ure and A111hara social orga11ization, of which the rist syste111 is an i111portant part, exhibit variatio1 1 not 011 ly fro1n regio11 to regio11 but eve11 withi11 a region. \,Vhat are consta 1 1t are not the exact patter11 s of la11 dl1 oldi11g a11d of social relatio1 1sl1ips but the 11nderl)1i 11 g institt1tional features and the processes 011 t of which these patten1 s are ge11eratecl. 15 In this book I l1ave tried to clo two tl1ings. I have tried to describe tl1e land-te11 t1 re systen1 I observed at a partict1lar time a1 1d place. I have also tried to analyze the institt1tio11al ele1ne11 ts 011t of wl1icl1 and tl1e processes throt1gl1 wl1icl1 this systen1 of te1 1t1 re is created a11 d st1stained. Tl1 e detailed de14. The Feres Bet area of Dega Dan1ot \Vas, in fact, selected after a

l\VO-\veek trip by n1ule and on foot, fron1 among several possible sites ­ suggested by Ato Taye Retta, director of the Imperial Ethiopian Gover _ � n1ent Mapping and Geography Institute. The 111ain criteria by which it \Vas chosen \Vere tl1at it be far enough fron1 the road to have escaped the n1ajor impact of tl1e national n1arket systen1 (most of Gojjan:1 i� ),_ h !gh enough to be free of ,nalaria in the rainy season, and under the JUr1sd1ct1on of a district governor \Vho \VOttld not oppose the study. 15. A full analysis of An1hara social organization in these ter�s is b eyond the limited scope of this book. An excellent exan1ple of .th_1s ar­ proach to typicality is to be found in an article on form and variation 111 Baline se village stn1cture by Clifford Geertz (1959).



scriptio11 of la11d te11ure JJrese11ted in the preceding chapters 111ay or n1ay not fit other commu11ities in other Arnhara areas. I am reasonably certain, however, that the a11alytical 1nodel of the rist systen1 whicl1 I have co11str ucted he1·e will be use­ ful to those who wish to i11vestigate fo1·m and variation in the rist systen1 througl1out th.e An1hara region.


appendix: amharic titles

Tl1e An1hara JJencha11t one might al1nost say passioni-for receiving and t1si11 g ho11orific titles ( ,naireg, si11g.) has bee11 noted b)' 1nany observers of tl1e Etl1iopian sce11e past and prese11t. I11deed, tl1is i11te.nse interest has led to a great pro­ liferatio11 of titles and co11siderable variation i 11 their t1sage a11d relative i 111porta11ce fro111 regio11 to region. a11d fron1 epocl1 to epocl1 . Here, l1owever, 111 y ai1n is 11ot to give an ex­ l1austive or co1nparative acco1111t of Aml1ara titles but 011ly to explai11 the sig11ifica11ce of tl1e titles 111e11tio11ed in this book. For present puriJoses i t is t1seful to disti11guish t\vo broad classes of titles: tl1ose which give tl1eir recipient 1ne111bership in tl1e elite a11 d those wl1icl1 do not. Titles whicl1 give elite status, i11 tL1r11, are of three types: quasi-111ilitary titles, cot1rtly titles, a11d ecclesiastic titles. Each of these types req11ires com1nent. Quasi-1nilitary titles have refere11 ce to positio11s of leader­ sl1ip in the traditio11 al ar1nies of the e1111Jeror and the great regio11al rL1lers. They are not, l1 0\, ever, 111 ilitary offices, and the me11 who l1old tl1e1n do not 11 ecessarily have any 1nilitary respo11sibilities. Tl1e qt1asi-111ilitary titles referred to in tl1is book, in order of i1111Jorta11ce fron1 highest to lo\vest, are: 1



Negi1se Negast

ki11g of ki11 gs, or en1peror; he11 ce, coinmander of n1 a11 )' armies l ra ve se of er 11d 1a n 1n co ce en h d an in k o, oarmies




Ras Dejazniach Fita1rv1;arI Qenazniacl1 Grazmacli Balambiras

co 11 1111 ander of a11 ar1ny con11nande1¡ of the (ruler's) gate co111ma11der of the va11guard co111n1a11der of the right \x.1i11g co1n111a11der of tl1 e left wi11g co111111a11der of a fortress

Cot1rtly titles have refere11ce to services performed for tl1 e ki11 g or rt1ler. Wl1 ile tl1 e recipie11t 111igl1t indeed be called 11pon to perforn1 tl1 e services e11 tailed i11 l1is title, cot1rtly titles \Vere 11ot, first and fore111 ost, offices, for a n1 an retai11ed l1is title for life, eve11 if l1 e was no lo11ger servi11 g at court; a1 1d even wl1 ile l1e was a.t cot1rt l1e 111igl1 t be called upo11 for a variety of services 11ot e11 tailed in l1 is title. Tl1e 0111y cot1rtly titles 111e11tioned i11 this book are Bilatengeta, or steward i11 charge of tl1 e rt1ler's estates of g\vilt Ia1 1d; AgafarI, a court official perfor111ing tl1 e ft111 ctio11 s of a m.ajordomo; ancl Azzaz, or co 1n111ander-i11 tl1 is case, the co111 n1ander in charge of pro­ visioning tl1e provi11 cial ruler's arn1 y wl1 e11 it camped i11 Dega Da111 ot. Ecclesiastic titles imJJlied lear11 ing and, i11 some insta11ces, sanctity, bt1t their JJri111ary reference was to autl1ority within the ad 1 11inistratio11 of tl1 e Etl1 io1Jic cl1 t1rcl1 . Like all A 11 1l1aric titles tl1ey are retained by the reci 1Jie11 t for life, wl1ether or 11ot l1 e co11tinues to occu1JY the office witl1 wl1icl1 tl1ey are associated. Ecclesiastic titles 111 entionecl i11 tl1 e text eitl1er in Aml1aric or their English equivale11 t are:




bisl1 01J. For111erly tl1ere ,vas 0 11 ly 011e bisl101J for all Etl1io1Jia. Toclay tl1 ere is a bisl101J for eacl1 JJ1¡ovi11ce, i11 clt1ding Gojja1n. a11 official lear11 ed i 1 1 cl1 urcl1 law who acts as acl111 i11istrator and jt1clge for the clergy i1 1 a clistrict or st1b1Jrovi11 ce.




"N/e1nhir Aleqa

the l1ead of a 111011astery ( also see be­ low). the head of a11 e11dowed cht1rcl1 center ( also see below).

Tl1e sa111e i11diviclt1al 111igl 1 t be l1 011ored with 111ore tl1a11 011 e type of title a11d n1igl1t well l1old office and gwilt la11d as well. All titles were retai11ed for life even if the recipie11t fell ot1t of favor or joi11ed a rival lord. An extre111e test of this principle is an elderly 111a11 of Dega Da111ot who \vas oiven the title of clejazmc1ch ( a11d a trip to Ron1 e!) by the It:iia11s duri11 g the occ11pation as a rewarcl for his collaboratio11. Though tl1e e111peror has 11ot, for obviot1s reasons, confir1necl him i11 l1is title, this elderly gwilt-holder is still referred to as f1ta1-vrarI by Damotia11s, aJJparently 011 tl1e theory that his title is 11ot q11ite as legiti1nate as it shot1ld be. I11 the IJast, q11asi-111ilitary titles were given to few 111 e11 a11d carried a correspondingly higl1 degree of JJrestige. 111 1900 tl1ere was bt1t a sii1gle titlecl 1na11 in all Dan1 ot, and he \Vas only a grazmacl1. 111 the co11rse of the prese11t ce11tl1ry quasi111ilitary titles have been give11 111ore freely, first by Ras Imrt1, Gojjam's first Shoa11 gover11or, i11 tl1e early 1930s; the11 by tl1e Italiru1 s; a11d, n1 ost i11 1porta11 t, by tl1e e111 iJeror, �1 110 co11 fir1necl 11 u111erous JJatriots i11 the titles they had bee11 granted by their own warti111e leaders a11 ci wl1 0 s11bsec1t1ently bestowed titles ratl1 er generot1sly in the decades si11ce tl1 e Seco11d \X/orld War. Tl1is great i11 crease i11. the 1 1 t11nber of 1nen who 1101d qt1asi­ military titles a11d the fact tl1at 111aJ1y of tl1e1n have never held a11y office higl1er tl1a11 tl1at of gwilt gez l1as di11 1i11ished their JJrestige. For tl1e 111ost JJart, the titled 111e11 of Da111ot wl10 are referred to both i11dividually and as a class i11 tl1is book shot1ld be tl1011gl1t of as a local ge11try, ust1ally e11 joying autl1ority i11 their local co11111111nities as g\vilt-holders and ho11or througl1out tl1e district. I11 additio11 to tl1e titles that give tl1eir bearer elite statt1s, there are a 1111n1ber of mi11or titles wl1icl1 appear in tl1e text. Tl1e con1111011 est secular title of this type is aleqa, or "cl1 ief" (not to be conft1sed with tl1 e title of a high ecclesiastic official. 251


discussed above), which n1ay be give11 to any n1a11 wl10 holds or has l1eld the office of chiqa shit1n. 011 tl1e religious side there are the clerical titles discussed in chapter 4: qes (priest), diyakon (deaco11), debte,¡a (chorister-scribe), 1neml1ir or m.erigeta (church school teacher), and qese gebez (head priest of a churcl1).



011ly those An1l1aric �1ords used as tech11ical tern1s in the text or those used in case 1naterial have bee11 included here. abbat agafarI aleqa



a{blya claiiiia ato

literally, "father''; also used for a11y an­ cestor. a court title. See Appendix. tl1e head of a11 endowed cht1rch ce11ter; also, a title prefixed to the na111e of any­ one who holds a 111inor secular ad1nin­ istrative office, such as tl1at of c,lziqa sl1ilm. a tax (literally, a titl1e); in Gojjam com­ n1uted to a tax on oxen. Also used to refer to 011e of tl1e postwar ]a11d taxes IJaid i11 casl1. neighborhood; a recently i11trodt1ced territorial t111it of ad111inistration which, i11 Gojja111, corresponds to a traditional estate of gwilt la11d. a11 u11paid official witl1 mi11or judicial and peace-keeping responsibilities over a 11eighborhood. an l1onorific term corresponding to "Mis­ ter'' which precedes a 1nan's �ame. I�s use i1nplies that the perso11 designated 1s a respected elder or an official. 253


ar1 ra77a 1

azzaz V

bala,nbiras beabbat beyazish bilatengeta

c.hiqa sh1,1m



an ad111i11istrative division of a province. a courtly title literally n1eaning ''co1n1nander. '' See Appendix. a 1ninor quasi-n1ilitary title. See Appen­ dix. refers to tl1e division of land according to the per stir1;es rule. Literally n1eans "by father." refers to possessio11 of lru1d witho11t rist rigl1t. Literally means ''by holding.'' a11 official ap1Jointed by the ruler of Gojjam to look afte1· his estates of gwilt land. See Appe11dix. a 111i11or official chosen an1111ally from an1011g the rist landholclers i11 a parish to look after the sec11lar affairs of the ch11rch. a mi11or official appointed for a one-year term fro1n amo11g the peasant elders in eacl1 estate of gwilt to act as intermediary between the gwilt-holder and the other peasants. Similar to the reeve i11 tl1ir­ tee11th-century England. Literally the ''n1ud chief.'' I) a 1najor religious center with a large ch11rch, daily service, a large n11mber of specialized cl1urch offices, and an e11clow111e11t of gwilt la11d; 2) also used to refe1· to ail)' JJarisl1, par­ tic11larly when it is being distinguished fro1n a neighborhood that does not l1ave a church. a chorister-scribe; a learned but unor­ dained. cleric. Son1e are tl1011gl1t to use their esoteric knowledge for 1nagical JJt1r­ IJoses. 254


tlejazn 1ach

fej fita1vrafi garzageb gashsl1a gasl1sl1a ,neret





g1rvilt g1rvilt gez

a11 honorific quasi-1ni1itary title. See Ap pendix. � represe11tative, Stich as the representa­ t1,1e of a descent cor1Joratio11 or of a l1a111let ()1e1nencler fej). a11 l1 �11ori:fic quasi-111ilitary title. See Appendix. gwilt la11d l1eld personally by the ruler of Gojjam. a Sh.oa11 u11it of Ia11d 111east1re1ne11t used for assessi11g tl1e 1Jostwar land tax. first settler's estate added to a parish sub­ sequent to the founding of the parish, often constituti11g a separate estate of gwilt. eitl1er of two types of 111inor churcl1 offi­ cial: qes·e gebez-a priest res1Jo11sible for the orderi11g of a parish cht1rch's service; e,!1ewa gebez-a cl1urcl1 official cl1ose11 fro1n a111011g the holders of cl1t1rch la11cl to ad111inister the secular affairs of a parish church. a land tax; traditio11ally tl1e tax JJaid jn kind to tl1e gwilt gez. Today, a tax paid i11 casl1 to the gover11n1e11t. a 11eighborhood or estate of gwilt la11d that cloes 11ot i11clt1de a cl1urch within its bot111daries. an ]1011ori·fic qt1asi-n1ilitary title. See A1J­ pe11dix. la11d l1eld as a fief or be11efice. the official who holds gwilt rigl1ts over an estate of eowilt i11 Gojjam. The term is not ge11erally 11sed i11 other provinces. 255



immahoy ita ,neret •

kahiriat kisara

merigeta n1es110

,nikittil }11erecla minzir abbat

qeiiazmac/1 ras rist

statute labor. Also, lru1d ten1porarily set aside fro1n tl1e rist syste1n ru1d worked by statute labor for a few seaso11s for tl1e benefit of a governor. a11 honorific title t1sed for a nu11. la11d tl1at l1as bee11 assig11ed to a11 a11cestor by casting lots. clergy; or pertai11ing to tl1e clergy. a IJunitive pay1ne11t tl1e courts ca11 order a litiga11t to give to l1is adversary when the litigant fails to aJJpear at a hearing on tl1e appointed day. a ch11rcl1 official i11 charge of e11forci11g churcl1 law an1ong the clergy in t11e area under his jurisdiction. tl1e head of a 1nonastery; a type of church-school teacher. a ki11d of church-scl1ool teacher. literally, ''irrigatio11." 111 this book, l1ow­ ever, following 111y i11forn1ants, I 11se it to refer to a species of barley grown on fertilized la11d without tl1e t1se of irriga­ tion. a11 administrative subdistrict. a divisio11al ancestor; a11 ancestor in wl1ose 11a1ne land has bee11 divided by fatl1er and who is }1e11ce the apical an­ cestor of a segment of a descent corpo­ ratio11. a11 honorific q11asi-1nilitary title. See A1J­ }Je11dix. a l1igl1 honorific quasi-111ilitary title. See Appendix. inl1erited land-use rigl1ts. 256


rist-gJ,vilt shI belo ..,vabI

ivan11a abbat ivas 1,vel(7l

'1-verecla J11etadir yederib

a gra �t of gwilt which is, i11 pri 11 ciple, l1ered1tary. A grant of gwilt over land i11 whicl1 tl1e recipie11t also has rist rigl1ts. pastt1re land whicl1. l1as 11ot bee11 divided by fatl1er. 011.e wl10 l1as give11 his rist land to so1ne­ one else a11d who l1e11ce 111ay be callee! to clefe11d tl1e la 11d, sl1ould the recipient's r.igl1t be cl1al]e1 1ged. the a1Jical a11cestor i11 a desce11t corpora­ tion's ge11ealogical charter. The first set­ tler. Literally, tl1e '' JJrincipal fatl1er." a guara11tor. a steward or bailiff. an aclmi11istrative district. literally, ''soldier"; used today as a title for police111en or soldiers. portio11 or sl1are. Land of a11 a 11cestor wl1ich has 11ot been subdivided in tl1e 11a1nes of his cl1ildre11.



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Pankhurst, Ricl1ard 1961 An introclitctiori to the ecoriomic history of Ethio­ pia fr om early times to 1800. Londo11: Lalibela House. Perru1io, Roger D. 1961 Desce11t, desce11t line, a11d desce11t group u1 cog­ natic social systen1s. I11 Sym[Josium: Patter11s of Lancl UtilizcLtio11 and Other Pa1Jers, Viola E. Gar­ fielcl, ed. Proceedi11gs of the 1961 Spring Meeting of tl1e America11 Eth11ological Society. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Perham, Margery 1948 Tl1e governnient of Ethiopia. Lo11don: Faber a11d Faber. Pitt-Rivers, J. A. 1961 The people of the Sierra. Chicago: The U11iversity of Chicago Press. Rattray, R. S. 1929 Asl1a11ti lalv a11cl constitution. Oxford: The Clar­ endon Press. Scheffler, I1arold 1965 C/1oisei1l /sla11cl social structure. Berkeley: U11iver­ sity of Califor11ia Press. Sch11eider, Davicl M. 1965 So111e 111iddles i11 the models: or, hOv\' the syste111 really works. In Tl1e Relevanc·e of Moclels for So­ cial Artthropology, Michael Banton, ed. A.S.A. Monograph 1. London: Tavistock Publicatio11s. New York: Frederick A. Praeger. Smith, Thomas C. 1959 The agraria11 origirzs of moclern Japan. Stanford: Stanford U11iversity Press. Trimingl1a1n, J. Spe11cer 1952 Islam iri Ethiopia. London: Oxford University Press. 265


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Acculturation, of non-A111hara, 244-45 Adn1inistration: ch11rch, 69; divisions of, 34, 66, 74; dis­ r11ption of, 221-25; basis of, in land ten11re, 5, 6, 73-79; sec11lar, 73-78, 181, 205 Aerial photographs, 30, 104 n Afersata. See lwis Agricultural inco111e tax, 217-


Agriculture, 3, 50-58 Altit11de zones, 51-52 Alvares, Francisco, 35 Arnbilineal descent, 18. See also Desce11t, Arnhara; Descent, cognatic An1hara ethnic gro11p, 3-4, 14 Ancestors, ancl la11d clivisio11, 100-101, 115-23. See also Pedigrees Annual cycle, 55-58 Archives, of a{b131a claniia, 161 r\rk, holy, 41, 57, 67, 68 Artisans, 4, 8, 54, 138 Asrat (tax), 211, 213, 217 Atbt)'G clan ii.a: in Feres Bet lvlikael, 159, 198-99; hears land disp11tes, 155, 159-68: introdt1ction of, 74, 208; jurisdiction of, 79; in tax revolt, 2 I 8, 221 Axum, 3, 82

.Bailiff, 75, 76, 78 Barley, 50, 51, 56-57, 90 Bilateral kinship. See Ki11sl1ip Bounclaries, of .fields, 108, 112, 114, 126, 157 Bribes, 159, 218 Br11ce, James, 35 Bt1reaucracy, 111odern, 7, 34, 205, 207-9 Caclastral st1rvey, 29, 229 Cash, Ltse of, 53-54 Cash crops, 53 Cattle, 43-44, L�7, 51-52; given i n 1narriage, 59; shared, 138; tax on, 211 Celibacy, 70 C./1iqa shur11, 77-78, 85, 88-89, 211 Churcl1 land, 69-70, 75; in Dereqe Maryan1, 95; in Feres Bet Mikael, 88, 89; legendary origin of, 85; taxes on, 70-71, 215 Ch11rch studies, 70, 200-20 l Clergy, 4, 70-72; attractecl witl1 land, 26, 156; of Dereqe lvfaryarn, 95; of Feres Bet Jvlikael, 88 Cognatic descent. See Descent, An1hara; Descent, cognatic Cognatic clescent corporation: amot1nt of land obtained


fro1n, 182-83; contrasts with other African descent groups, 15-17; land tract of, 12, 14-15, 98-115, 215; leader­ ship of, 15, 125-29; legen­ dary origin of,15, 82,84-85; mt1lti1Jle affiliation of seg­ t11ents of, 120-21; new minzir abbat brought into, 168-81; organization of land­ l1olders of, 123-29; over­ lap1Ji11g me111bership in, 16-17, 22-24,120,125,233; restriction of 1nembership in, 22-25, 239; rist la11d acquired fro111, 152-81; seg111entatio11 of, 15, 100101, 116-18; solidarity of, 16, 124. See also Descent, Aml1ara; Descent,cognatic Courts of la\.v, 157-59, 210. See also Land litigatio11 Crops, 50-51, 53, 56-57,90, 210 Daily activities, 54-55, 197-98 Damot,ki11gdom of, 35 .Data,sources of, 25-30, 245 Deacon, 70-71 Debtera, 70-71,184 Decision-111aking,effect of, on landholding pattern, 25-28 Dega Dan1ot, 34-36,83; land t �xes in, 29,215-17; popula­ tion of, 34, 204; rebellion in, 220-26; traditional ad111inis­ tration of, 188, 200, 205 Dereqe Maryan1, parisl1, 93-97. See also vVendim Descent, 17-22; Ainl,ara, 12, 14-17, 22-25, 235 n ' 236 n ' -?3 7-41 (see also Cognatic descent corporatio,1; Rist syste111); cognatic, 18-22, 233-38, 239 n; t111ilineal, 18-] 9, 22, 234-36

Desce nt corporatio11. See Cog­ _ nat1c desce11t corporation Developme11t Plan, Tl1ircl Five­ Year ( 1968-73),226-27 Division by allotme11t, 99-102, 153-68; parishes entirely divided by, 151. See also Fej Division by father, 99-102; litigation concer11ing, 168-8I; in Menz, 103 n; in Shoa Rayl, 106-8, 179-81; in Wendim, 108-10, 170-74. See also Fej Divorce, \.Vife's rigl1t to, 61 Don1estic cycle, 58-65, 145-52 Economic developn1ent, and la11d refor111, 232 Education: in Dega Da1not, 40, 219; church, 70, 200-201; tax for, 213 Elders, 152-53, 155, 156, 184, 215; daily activities of, 19798; life histories of, 190-96 Elite, 4, 5-6, 8, 46, 189; l1ouse­ holds of, 46; land rights of, 5-6, 8, 75; power of, to acquire land, 186-90, 24243. See also Gwilt-l1older; Social n1obility; Social stratification Eritrea, 20, 243 Exogamy, 16, 58, 151-52 Fallowing, pattern of, 6, 50 Fa111ily 11ame, 65 Fasts, 54, 54 n Fej, 125-29; as defenclant in la11d litigatio11, 127, 154,158, 164-68, 171, 178; role in la11d division, 154, 168-69; strt1ctural significance of, 101, 102; as tax collector, 216 Peres Bet (st1bdistrict), 34 Fe res Bet (town), 40-41, 89, 19 I


Index feres Bet Mikael: parish,8689; a(biya danfia of ,15 9, 198-99; Ras Hailt1's granaries in, 181. See also Sl1oa I-Iayl fertilized land,49,50, 154 feudal ad111inistration, 1 n, 76-77; basis of,in land tent1re,5,241-42; end of,7, 205-9. See also Ad111inistra­ tion; Elite; Ga11ageb; Gwilt; Gwilt-holder; Rist-gwilt Field research,1nethocls of , 25-30 Fields: boundaries, 108, 114; division at inheritance, 14 950; merged, 112 ; shape of, 108:, as shares in rist systen1, 114; size,48 First ancestor: of cognatic descent corporation,14, 23, 84; of Feres Bet ivlikael, 86-89; of Sboa Rayl, 89; of Dereqe Maryam,94. ,5ee also Genealogical charter First settler's estate. See Cognatic clescent corporatio11, land tract of Firth, Ray111ond, 234 Forests, cleared, 140,204 Fortes, I\1eyer,234,235, 236 Freeman, J. D., 234 Ganageb, 75, 88 Gashs/1a, 213,214 Gashsha 1neret, 89 Gebar, 4, 77 n Gebez, 85 Geda,11 (111onastery),5 ,6,7 5 n Genealogical charter, 99, 11623, 137; of Shoa Rayl, 107; of Wendin1,10 9 Gera Midir (Menz),10 3 n, 246 Gibir (tax), 77,211,2 13 Gojjam (province), 32-33, 206-7, 213, 2 2 4

Goodenot1gh,W . H.,238 Goody,Jack, 234 Government services, in Dega Damot,219 Gra Nlidir (Gojjam),95. See also Wendim Gt1ardian,controls ward's land 146,148-49 Guerrilla, resistance in Gojja1n, 207,211-12 Gult. See Gwilt Gwilt, 5-6, 75-79; in Derec1e Maryam, 94-95; estate of, 5-6,34,73-79,82,84-85, 208, 241-42; i11 Feres Bet ivlikael, 88; successio11 to ' 75 , 188, 201-2. See also Aclministration Gwilt gez. See G\vilt-holder Gwilt-holder: administrative role of, 75-77, 209; first, 84 (see also First ancestor) ; n1i.litary role of, 206, 207; peasants' relation to,2L�1-42; power of, 78-79,186-87; rights of, redt1ced,207-9, 212, 251; succession of, 188, 201-2; support of,79, 85, 155,186-87 I-Iaile Sellassie, 38,207, 212-13 Hailt1, Ras. See Ras Hailu Harvesting, coo1Jeration in, 80 Health services in Dega Dan1ot, 219 I-Iealth Tax Decree No. 36, 213,214 History,1Jeasa11t view of,82 Holidays,religio11s, 56,57, 58 Hot1se building, cooperation in, 80 Hot1sehold, 43-47; dissolution of, 63-64, 148, I 85; land of, 43, 44, 48-49, 147; recrttit­ ment of men1bers to, 44, 62-63



Houses, description of, 47-48 Hudad, 77, 77 n, 229 Illegitin1acy, effect of, on inheritance, 149 Iol1eritance: of rist land, 10, 11, 12, 23, 145-51; of gwilt, 75, 188, 201-2 Inquest, co111n1unal, 76 Italian occu1Jation, 38, 191, 206, 251 Justice, traditional system of, 76 Keesing, R. M., 238 Kinsl1ip, An1hara, 60-61, 80, 80 n, 240; as basis of ho11se­ hold, 44; and land, 23-24, 124, 205, 238-39; obligations, 61, 80, 80 n, 124; and resi­ dential dispersion, 124; ter1ninology, 60 n Land, ch11rcb. See Ch11rch la11d Land, classified for tax assess­ n1ent; 213 Land frag1nentation, 48; avoid­ ing of, 110-11; examples of, 192-96, 199, 201; increasing, 204, 210; reduces risk of crop fai.lt1re, 106, 106 n Lane!, held in common, 108, 110 Land, newly cleared, 11-12, 140, 151 Land, peasants' sentiments towards, 10. See also La11d reforn1, peasants' attitude towards Land division, ambig11ity in, 111-13. See also Cognatic descent corporation, land tract of; Division by allot­ ment; Division by father Landholding pattern, 15, 23, 25, 27-28; social stat11s in rela­ tio11 to, 7-11. See also Social

mobility; Social stratification Land litigation, 157-81; cases of, 94, 159-68, 170-81; fre­ q11ency of, in Feres Bet Mikael, 159; increasing, 205, 21O; and social 111obility, 182-84; tactics in, 157-59 Landlords, 9, 49, 137, 231. See also Tenancy; Tenants La11d measurement, problems of, 30, 113, 213, 215, 219 Land reform: dangers of, 231; peasants' attit11de towards, 8, 9, 10, 229, 232; policy, 22629; prospects for, Dega Da1not, 226-32 Land registration, 211, 227 La11d sale, o_pposed by peasants, 230 Land tax: assessment of, 21416, 218-22, 226; cl1a11ges in, 211-26 (see also Agricul­ tural income tax); 011 ch11rch land, 69- 70, 215; collection of, 216-17; as evidence of title, 210, 211; paid to g\vilt­ holder, 5, 79, 187, 207-8; rate schedule for Gojjam, 215 n; rate scl1ed11le for Shoa, 213 11; traditional, 6, 77, 211 La11cl tenure. See G'vvilt; Rist; Rist land; l�ist right Land tract, of descent corpora­ tion. See Cognatic descent corporation, land tract of Leach, E. R., 234, 235, 236, 237, 238 Lege11cls: as charters, 82-85; in Dereqe Marya1n, 94; i11 Peres Bet Mikael, 86, 88, 89 Legitimacy, cl1ilclren's, 49, 61 Le11t, 57-58 Litigation. See La11d litigation Lloycl, P. C., 237 Lots, land divided by casting, 106, 108, 112-13



NJaclerlya gwilt, 75 ,Nlarriage, 44, 58-62; of clergy, 70; g\.vilt acquired through, 201-2; rist acquired tl1rougl1, 151-52. See also Exogan1y .NIass, celebration of, 68, 71; support of, 69, 85 .N1atrilineal descent, 18 Mayer, Adrian, 80 Nlenilek, En1peror (I), 82 �1enilek,E111peror (II), 213 Menz, Janel divisio11 in, 103 n Jvlilitary service, of landl1older, 76 Mi11zir abbat, 15,101,104, 106, 120-21 �1ohan1ed Gran, 83, 85 Nlonasteries, 5, 6, 75 n, 76 l\1onk,64, 71, 75, 86 l\1onogamy, 45 Mother's rist. See Rist rights, classification of Murdock, G. P., 234 Name, family, 65, 65 n Neigl1borhood, 5-6, 34, 73-79, 82, 84-85, 208, 241-42 No11ttnilineal descent. See De­ scent, A111l1ara; Descent, cognatic Obeyesekere, G., 237, 238 Occt1pational specializatio11, 4. .�ee also Artisans Ordinatio11, of clergy, 70 Oxen, 43-44, 138,211 Parish, 66-69,70, 71, 72-73, 74 n, 82-84, 151 Parish church, 5, 6, 66-73; legendary origin of,83-84, 86 Pasture, 52, 108,192 Patrilineal descent, 18 Patriots, 38, 207, 211-12 Patron-client relationship, 138, 202

Patron saint, 67-68,86 Peasants, .t\n1hara as, 81 Pedigrees, 112, 116, 124, 13237, 239; examples of, 109, 133-34; used to validate rist right, 126,154 Per capita lancl division, 115 Per stir1Jes rt1les of land divi­ sion,99, 100, 102, 115. See also Division by fatl1er; Rist lane!, acqt1ired by inheritance Pledge, jt1dicial, 76, 79, 180 Political power: influence in cognatic descent corporation, 123, 127, 168; rist land acquired through, 9, 24; tra­ ditional maintenance of, 138, 189, 209 Population density, 204, 205; in Dereqe wlaryan1, 94; in Peres Bet Mikael, 86; in Shoa Hay!, 90-92 Power. See Political power Proclamation 90, 34 n, 74, 208 Proclan1ation 70,213,214 Procla111ation 255, 217 Proclan1ation 230, 208 Pt1blic works, traditional organization of, 77,78 Qelacl, 214, 219

Ras rlailu, 179, 181, 206 Ras I111ru, 206 Rebellion, in Gojjan1, 9-10, 219-26 Rents, rising, 210 Residence rules, at marriage, 45, 61, 150-51, 155 Rest. See Rist Risk, minin1ized by land divi­ sion, 106 n Rist: definition of, 5, 6, 12-13 (see also Rist rights, mean­ i11g of); relation to gwilt, 6. See also Rist land; Rist rights; Rist system



l{ist experts, 136 Rist-gwilt, 188 Rist land: acqt1ired through allotment, 153-68; acquired in anticipation of inheritance, 146-47; acquired by clearing, 140; acquired through divi­ sion by father, 168-81; acqt1ired by exchange, 139; acquired as father's rist, 14 2; acquired by inherita11ce, 10, 11, 12, 23, 145-51; acquired by loan, 138-39; acqt1ired tl1rot1gl1 n1arriage, 149, 15152; acquired as mother's rist, 142-43; acqt1ired by secon­ dary right, 137-40; acquirecl as wife's rist, 143; dissolt1tion of large holder's estate of, after deatl1, 189, 242; divi­ sion of parents', 149-51; exogenot1s factors affecting acquisition of, 23-25, 149, 155-57, 230, 239 (see also Rist land, and political power) ; held by guardia11, 136, 146-49; held witl1out right,140; in1portance of pos­ session of, 142; obligations entailed in possession of, 6, 68-70, 73-74, 76-78, 84 (see also Land tax); peasants' sentiments towards, 10, 214; and political power, 24, 77, 127, 130, 131, 138, 15 6, 157, 186, 189; siblings' interests in, differentiated, 150; value of, increasing, 210; widow's rights in,136, 146-48. See also Rist; Rist rights; I{ist system Rist rights: classification of ' 136,239; forgotten, 131,240; inextinguishable, 22-23, 239; inheritance of, 13, 23, 131, 145, 239 (see also Rist land '

inheritance of); and mar­ riage, 59, 151-52, 239; meaning of, 13, 130-32,141 · recognized by court, 157. See' also Rist; Rist land; Rist system Rist system: con1pariso11 with other cognatic descent sys­ ten1s, 22-25, 237-39; flexibil­ ity of, 132, 230, 241, 242; fasters endemic suspicion, 13-14, 219, 237; functions o.f, 230, 241-45; incorpora­ tion of 11ewly cleared land in, 140; peasants' com111itme11t to, 132, 219, 230, 244; regional variation in, 246. See also Rist; Rist land; Rist right Road, built to Gojja111, 207; related to land reforn1, 230-31 Saint, patron, of parish, 67-68 Scl1effier, H., 23 8 Schneider, D. M., 234 . Scribes, 71 Seasons, agrict1ltt1ral, 55-58 Sharecropping. See Tenancy; Tenan.ts Shoa Hayl: collection of Ja11d tax in, 217; division of land in, 92, 103-18, 179-81; fejships i11, 128-29; ge11ealog­ ical cl1arter of, 107, 115-23; han1let of, 90; la11dl1olders in, 93, 124; land tract of, 8990; legendary origin of, 89; overlappi11g n1e1nbersl1ip in cortJoration segn1ents of, 125; popt1lation of, 90-92 Sn1itl1s, 4, 8, 54, 138 Social 111obility: case studie s of, 198-203 ,· effect of land refor111 on, 230-31; and land tenure, 7, 11, ] 57, 182-84,



188-90, 241-44, 246-47. See also Political power; Rist Jat1cl, and political power Social stratification in An1hara society, 3-5, 7-10, 93, 130, 156, 188-89 Soil: fertility affects lane! divisio11, 106; qt1ality of, 49 Solon1011, King, 82 Sowing grains, 56 Spirits, evil? 89 . . Springs, evil sp1r1ts 10, 89 Staple crops, 50-51, 90 Succession to 11igh office,


Tanners, 4, 8, 54, 138 Tax. See Agrict1ltt1ral income tax; Land tax; Rist land, obligations entailed i11 posses­ sio11 of Taxatio11, changes in, 211-26 Tax records, in Dega Dan1ot, 29, 215 Tax refor1ns, 10, 212-14, 21718 Te/J, 51 Tekle Hay111anot, Abuna, 82 Tekle Hay111anot, Ki11g ( of Gojjam), 206 Tekle I-Iayn1anot, King (not of Gojjan1), 83, 86, 120 n Tenancy, 8, 9, 48-49, 137-38, 147, 231 Tenants, 8-9, 137-38, 219 Te(eri, 194, 216 Third Fi,1e-Year Develop111en t Plan (1968-73), 226-27 Tigre, 228, 243 Tithe. See Asrat, 211 Titles, 206, 249-52

Tokugawa Japan, 243, 244 Trees, ownersl1ip of, 52 Tribtite, 35, 88, 209 U11dere1nployn1ent, hidden, 228 Vengeance, as kinshi1) obligatio11, 80 n Vicinage, as basis of cooperation, 80 Voluntary grou1)s, 80 Wabi, 137, 158, 162 Washera .Nlaryam, monastery of, 76 n \i\1 eavers, 4, 8, 54, 138 Weddings, 56, 57, 59, 80 \Veisslecler, W., 246 Wendin1: collection of land tax in, 216-17; division of land in, 103-18, 170-74; fejships in, 128-29; genealogical charter of, 109, 115-23; land­ holders in, 95-96, 109, 124; land tract of, 95; origin legend of, 94. ,'See also Ora w1idir \Vife's rist. See Rist land, acquired as \vife's rist; Rist rigl1ts, classification of; Rist rig]1ts, and marriage \\/om.en, status of, ,�8, 61. See also Rist land, \Vido\.v's rights • 1n \York, forbidden on l1oliclays,


}'ecle11b, 101 Yekuno An1lak, En11)eror, 82 Yoruba, 237

Zar, 39


ALLAN 1-IoBEN is assista11t 1Jrofessor of anthropology ru1d researcl1 associate i11 tl1e Africa11 Studies Center at Bosto11 U11iversity. I-le l1as publisl1ed articles on tl1e A1nhara i11 variot1s scl1olarly jot1r11als. Tl1is is his first book. [1973]

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Land Tenure among the Amhara of Ethiopia by Allan Hoben (1973)  
Land Tenure among the Amhara of Ethiopia by Allan Hoben (1973)