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The Ethno-history of Baske Nationality


By: Zerihun D. Doffana, Assistant Professor (B.A., Sociology
and Social Administration; M.A., Social Anthropology)

August 2010
I am incalculably indebted to the following individuals whose contributions have enabled this
project to come to fruition:
Ato Gebrekristos Nuriye for his patient, wise and courteous cooperation and
facilitation of the work;
Ato Tadese Legese, for his humble and dedicated efforts in making administrative
and financial matters smooth to the point of going down at the lowest level possible;
Ato Benyiam Worku for his obedient spirit and committed and respectful stance as
my field / research assistant during the Baske Fieldwork;
Ato Hailemariam Tekle, my able, committed and patient field guide, key informant
and interpreter for the Baske fieldwork
Ato Mesele Getachew, Basketo Special Woreda Administrator for his help and
understanding when we faced some administrative and financial hurdles during the
fieldwork; and
Ato Husen, the Institutes driver who made it possible for us to go deep into the
community, enduring the dangerous, slippery and muddy roads.

I say thank you very much! I also want to thank the finance department people at the
Institute for their kind and cordial approaches and facilitations.

Zerihun Doda, Assistant Professor (B.A., Sociology and Social Administration; M.A., Social

August 2009
Hawassa, Ethiopia

The Department of History and Heritages of the Institute of Nationalities Language,
Culture and History Studies, SNNPR won a fund to enable it to carry out its project on the
development of ethno-history on two ethnic groups in the Region, namely, Baske and
Meenit. This ethno-history study project on the Baske nationality was initiated by the
Institutes noble aim of filling some disturbing gaps in the ethno-historical literature and
documentation on the peoples of southern Ethiopia by conducting sound and systematic
research. The Baske ethno-history study project was thus commenced with this general
goal of rectifying the ethno-historical and historiographical gaps and shortcomings.

The Project thus began the work aiming at producing research- based document on the
Nationality, which hitherto has not been duly considered for such noble task. The Project
entailed critical assessment and evaluation of the existing ethnographic and historiographical
works on the ethnic group, if any, and in-depth collection and analysis of field data to come
up with a balanced ethno-history.

The Department has sought eligible researchers who would take up this challenge and
conduct scientifically sound ethno-historical and historiographical research both in the field
and in the libraries and documentation centers in the bid to come up with a balanced,
systematically worked- out document on the ethnic group. The History and Heritages
Department contacted the Anthropology and Sociology Departments of the Social Sciences
Faculty, Hawassa University wherein it has identified one eligible researcher-consultant. The
principal researcher/ consultant undertook all responsibility for the design, data collection,
analysis and report write-up task for the project. He worked in close collaboration with the
Institute and the Department.

The expected outcomes of the project included:
Making critical assessment of the existing ethnography and historiographical
literature on the peoples of South Ethiopia in general and on the Baske Nationality
in particular;
Conducting field-based research to generate data on the ethno-history and related
issues of the ethnic group; and
Coming up with a systematically written book on the Nationality;
The Institute believes that the present document that is produced on the ethnic group in
question will play crucial role in filling some gaps in the historiography and ethnography of
the peoples of South Ethiopia in general and the Baske people in particular.

Gebrekristos Nuriye, Director General

Writing ethno-history of a traditional society whose tradition has never enjoyed a written
form of communication has been indeed proven to be very challenging if not totally
impossible. The task of producing scientifically valid ethno-history work on such peoples
was generally disregarded for so long by the historical scholars. The extreme dependence
on written source of documents for history writing has helped generate this sense of
disregard. However, in the past recent decades, this tendency has a bit been in decline and
it has now become very important tool and methodology among the scholars to use the
peoples own unwritten sources of information, those orally handed down to the present
generation in the form of folktales, mythologies and oral accounts.

This ethnohistory study project on the Baske has thus utilized the ethno-historical
approaches and theoretical frameworks when conducting this study. We are obliged to call
this work an Ethno-history study rather than a purely history or ethnography study in that if
we take it in its conventional, purely historical study and approach it might not satisfy the
demands of some groups of people who have tended to depend too much on written
source of documents for their history study. We call this work an ethno-history work for
another even more salient reason that the work has of necessity treated the history of
Baske in light of the ethnographic present as well as the ethno-graphic present in light of
the historical past. We obviously understand that whatever traditional socio-cultural forms
of life, whatever material and non-material heritages of a people that exist today are the
imprints of the past people passed down to the progeny. Whatever historical aspect we
examine in a society cannot be well dealt without looking at its present day manifestations.

So in this study, the culture in the ethnographic present is inextricably tied to the historic past.
In fact, it becomes very difficult to draw a line between the culture and the history
component and content if we do not treat the two phenomena in a linked and
interdependent manner. So we call our method and approach the ethno-historical approach
and in line with this we have utilized the ethno-graphic methodological techniques when
collecting data on the historical past. This was supplemented with the analyses of archival
materials however scanty they were. Our approach also involved the empirical observation
and photographic and video-graphic documentation of historically important heritages; and
natural, topographic, and socio-cultural aspects of the society.

Out principal approach when we worked in the field to gather information thus involved
talking to the key, knowledgeable community members both as individuals and in group
discussion formats. Apart from interviewing respected older persons, clan and traditional
religious leaders and local intellectuals, we have also interviewed younger community
members, both females and males, to ensure fair community participation. Our treatment of
ethno-historical issues was in such a way that a particular topic was raised and information
was sought by focusing on the origins and changes over time. For example, when we
treated the history of marriage in Baske, we focused on the origins of such an institution,
how it worked and looked like in the past and how it changed over the centuries and its
present state of affairs. We did not thus discuss an issue for the purpose of understanding
its dynamics, contents and salient features as it stands today.
Reviews of literature work were conducted at AAU libraries in June 2008. The fieldwork
began by making reconnaissance, orientation and rapport building visit to the Special
Woreda in the second week of August 2008. This visit was meant for setting up a committee
of representatives from the Woreda Administration to own and facilitate process of the
fieldwork. Principles and criteria for community members participation in data generation
was discussed and facilitating local agents (interpreters, field guides, cameramen etc were
also recruited at this stage. Actual data collection was conducted first and second weeks of
October 2008.

This report is structured and organized into eight chapters. The first chapter deals with the
critical evaluation of the theoretical and methodological approaches utilized in the
ethnohistory and historiography of the peoples of Ethiopia and south western Ethiopia in
general and Baske in particular. Chapter Two discusses the general profile and background
of Baske: the people, the Woreda, its location, topography, demography, social amenities,
etc. In Chapter Three, we describe the origins and pre-history of Baske. We discuss the
various legends of ethno-genesis that tell us the whence of Baske people. Chapter Four
focuses on the social and cultural history of Baske. We treat here such topics as mate
selection, marriage, family, and wedding; costumes and beatification; house making and
household utensils; origins of naming, pregnancy, child birth; origins of music, dancing,
musical instruments, games and sport activities; origins and development of social amenities

In Chapter Five, we discuss the history of religious beliefs and traditions in Baske, with
focus on how the ancestral religion developed, changed and was affected over time; and the
introduction of alien religious forms; the link of religion to economy and politics in the past.
In Chapter Six, economic and livelihood history of Baske is discussed. Issues covered
include: origins of economic activity; indigenous food crops cultivated from the beginning;
the introduction of alien crop items; agricultural implements used in the past and how they
are modified; introduction of the plowshare agriculture and the weakening of hoe-based
horticultural mode of production; history of trade and market system, etc

Chapters Seven and Eight deal with political history of Baske and the historically important
sacred natural and cultural heritages, respectively. The political history covers such topics as
origins of concepts, ideologies, practices and institutions of traditional political system; the
katiship as a divine ordained, clan based system of politics; the politico-religious offices of
the traditional rulers; the katiship and its resilience over the centuries and across the various
central government regimes; the introduction of the central government and its impact on
the people; the Italian war and occupation of Basketo; etc.

The book ends with providing conclusion and recommendation.

Note to the reader:
Determining exact (or even rough) time frame for some aspects and events in the
ethno-history of Baske was very difficult for us due to the lack of documented historical
sources and the fact that Baske legends did not give us a specific clue to time reference.
Due to this, a reader with purely historical science training or inclination might find some
aspects contained in the material as lacking historical validity. We hereby urge our readers
to provide us with any useful comment to rectify any gaps in terms of time frameworks and
chronological order of events. Other comments are also welcome.

Unless and otherwise indicated, calendars used in this document are in Ethiopian format.

Comments on this work may be sent to the author via the Institutes address or directly
using the following:

Zerihun Doda Doffana, Assistant Professor,
Hawassa University, Department of Sociology,
P. O Box 1401, Hawassa, Ethiopia
Email: or

Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ................................................................................................. 2
PREFACE ............................................................................................................................ 3
Introduction .......................................................................................................................... 4
Note to the reader: ................................................................................................................ 6

1.1. Background Issues: Methodology Employed ......................................................... 11
1.1.1 Ethno-history as a General Methodological Approach ..................................... 11
1.1.2. Ethno-genesis: The Problematique of Writing Ethno-history ......................... 11
1.1.3. Theoretical Model adopted in Writing about the Identity of Baske ............... 11
1.2. Problems of the Historiography of Ethiopia: Some Misconceptions and
Preconceptions ............................................................................................................... 13
1.2.1. Critique on the Historiography of Ethiopia ..................................................... 13
1.2.2. Do Ethnic Minorities Have and Make Their Own History? ............................ 15
1.2.3. Theoretical and Methodological Approaches in Studying and
Writing about the Peoples of Ethiopia ....................................................................... 15
1.2.4. The Image of Ethiopia as Ethnic Museum: Problems of ................................. 16
Ethnohistory of the Southwest ................................................................................... 16
1.2.5. Neglecting the Local and Small Social Units: Another ................................... 18
Problem in Methodological and Theoretical Approaches ......................................... 18
1. 3. General Background History Of Ethiopia .............................................................. 18
1. 3.1. Introduction ..................................................................................................... 18
1.3.2. The History of Ethno-historical Study of Ethiopia: Various ........................... 18
Images and Portrayals of Ethiopia and Its Peoples .................................................... 18
1.3.3. The Prehistory of Ethiopia in General and the Southwest in ........................... 20
Particular .................................................................................................................... 20
1.3.4. Classifying the Peoples of Ethiopia ................................................................. 21
1.3.5. The Importance of Inter-ethnic Relegations .................................................... 21
1.4. The Peoples of Southwest Ethiopia In the History of Ethiopia .............................. 21
1.4.1. Ethnohistorical Scholarship on Southern Peoples ........................................... 21
1.4.2. Flaws of the Existing Scanty Accounts on These People ................................ 21
1.4.3. The Omotic People and the Beginnings of Southwest..................................... 22
Ethiopia History ......................................................................................................... 22
1.4.4. How the Peoples` Ethnic Identity is Shaped and Affected by ......................... 23
Incorporation into the Central Rule ........................................................................... 23
1.5. The Baske In Ethiopian Ethnography ................................................................... 23
1.6. Issues Of Ethnic Identity Across The Various Regimes Of ................................... 24
Ethiopia: Policies Of The Governments ........................................................................ 24
1.6.1. The Making of Imperial Ethiopia and the Incorporation of the ....................... 24
South-Western Peoples .............................................................................................. 24
1.6.2. Ethnic Identity Consciousness in Post-Dergue Era(1991 to the present) ........ 24
1.6.3. Nation Building or Nation Destroying? ........................................................... 25
1.6.4. The Context for and the Making of Southern History ..................................... 26
1.6.5. Abyssinanization of the Southern Peoples ....................................................... 26
1.6.6. Becoming Ethiopians Vs, Being a Particular Ethnic Group ............................ 26


2.1. Introduction ............................................................................................................. 28
2.2 Basketo Special Woreda .......................................................................................... 29
2.2.1 Location, Topography, Agro-ecology and Social Amenities ........................... 30
2.2.2 Traditional Weather And Annual Calendars..................................................... 31
2.2.3 Natural Resources ............................................................................................. 31
2.2.4 Demographics ................................................................................................... 34
2.2.5 Social Services .................................................................................................. 36
CHAPTER THREE: .......................................................................................................... 39
ETHNO-GENESIS OF BASKE ...................................................................................... 39
3.1. Origins of the Various Nomenclatures ................................................................... 39
3.1.1. Baske versus Basketo ..................................................................................... 39
3.1.2. How the Derivatives, Basketo and Masketo Came to be Used ........................ 40
3.1.3. The Concept of Shanquilla .............................................................................. 41
3.2. The Origins of the Baske: Views on Ethno-genesis .......................................... 42
3.2.1. The Gamo Origin of the Baske........................................................................... 42
3.2.2. The Endak-Gamonde Myth.............................................................................. 44
3.3. The Major Clans, Other Marginalized Clans and Their Inter-relations .................. 46
3.3.1. Marginalized Clans and Their Origins ............................................................. 47
3.3.2. Inter-clan Wars and the Origin of Laska .......................................................... 48
3.3.3. The Latter-day Comer Groups ......................................................................... 49
3.4. Perceptions of Baske Identity ................................................................................ 49


4.1. The Baske and Their Neighbors ............................................................................ 51
4.1.1 The Baske and the Boddi................................................................................. 52
4.1.2 Basketo's Other Ethnic Neighbors .................................................................... 54
4.1.3 Baske War Instruments ................................................................................... 56
4.2 Childbirth and Indigenous Person Naming and Origins .......................................... 56
4.2.1 Childbirth .......................................................................................................... 56
4.2.2 Origins of and Changes in Personal Names ...................................................... 57
4.3 The Origins of Costumes and Historical Trends in Introduction
of Modern Costumes ................................................................................................... 59
4.4 Household Utensils .................................................................................................. 60
4.5. Dwelling Houses: Structure and Architecture ........................................................ 61
4.6 Mate Selection, Marriage, Wedding and the Family ............................................... 63
4.7.1 Mate Selection and Engagement: the Su Tukire Institution ............................ 63
4.8. Diseases, Death, Mourning and Funeral Rituals ..................................................... 67
4.8.1 A History of Diseases and the Medical System ................................................ 67
4.8.2 Baske Bereavement and Mourning Rituals ..................................................... 69
4.8.3 Burials, Funeral Songs and Dances .................................................................. 70
4.9. Music, Musical Instruments, Dances, Sports, and Games ...................................... 71
4.9.1 Music, Musical Instruments and Dances .......................................................... 71
4.9.2 Traditional Sports and Games ........................................................................... 72
4.10. Urban Development, Social Amenities and Infra-structure .................................. 72

5.1. The Origins and Concept of ossa .......................................................................... 75
5.3. Religion, Natural Resources and the Religious Leaders as Stewards of Forests .... 79
5.4. The Origins of the Dadda Worship and the Rain-making Ritual............................ 83
5.5. Women and Traditional Religion............................................................................ 84
5.5. The Introduction of New Religious Forms and Impact on the
Traditional Religion ...................................................................................................... 85
5.6. Religion and Public Festivals.................................................................................. 88
5.7. Basketo Traditional Religion and the Central Government .................................... 89


6.1. Origins of Agricultural Activities: from Horticulturlaism to
Oxen-Drawn Agriculture .............................................................................................. 90
6.2. Origins of Various Crops ........................................................................................ 92
6.3. Indigenous and Imported Varieties of Seed Crops ................................................. 94
6.4. Basketo as a Cash Crop Area .................................................................................. 96
6.5. Origins of and Changes in Farming Tools .............................................................. 97
6.6. History of Livestock Domestication ....................................................................... 98
6.7. Indigenous Religion and Production Practices ....................................................... 98
6.8. Natural Resources and Their Conservation ............................................................ 98
6.8.1. Wild Animals ................................................................................................... 99
6.8.2. Forests and Trends in Deforestation ................................................................ 99
6.8.3. Traditional Religion and the Religious Leaders as the Stewards of Forest ... 102
6.8.4 Introduction of Alien Trees and the Future of Forests .................................... 104
6.9. History of Famine ................................................................................................. 105
6.10. History of Resettlement ...................................................................................... 106
6.11 History of Markets and Commerce ...................................................................... 106


7.1. Introduction ........................................................................................................... 109
7.2. The Katiship: Its Origins and Basic Elements and Changes over Time ............... 110
7.2.1. A Genealogy of Baske Katis ........................................................................ 111
7.2.2. Hallmarks of Baske Katiship ........................................................................ 114
7.2.3. The Hierarchical Ranks in the Traditional Political System and Key
Roles of the Various Political Offices .................................................................... 115
7.2.4. Criterion of Eligibility, Appointment and Power Transfer ............................ 116
7.2.5. The Special Lifestyles and Privileges of Kati ................................................ 119
7.3. The Status of Women in Baske Politics and across the Various Rgimes .......... 121
7.4. The Baske and Their Kattiship across Various Political Rgimes ...................... 122
7.5. Origins of Feudal System and Conditions of Life in Pre-EPRDF Baske ............ 125
7.6. Trends in Socio-political and Economic Changes ................................................ 127
7.7. History of Administrative Structure of Baske ..................................................... 129
7.7.1. The Basketo Special Woreda Question and Improvements since the Special
Woreda Status .......................................................................................................... 130
7.8. Contributions of the Baske to the Making of the Ethiopia .................................. 131
7.9. The Baske during the Italian War and Occupation (1936-1941) ....................... 131


8.1. Introudcution ......................................................................................................... 134
8.2. Soina Gawee ......................................................................................................... 134
8.3. The Enda- Gamonde Sacred Site .......................................................................... 135
8.4. Tikil Dingay .......................................................................................................... 136
8.5. The Historical Heritage of Laska .......................................................................... 137
8.6. The Sacred Site of the Dhoko Kati Spiritual Forest ............................................. 137
8.7. Godarsa kea (Lit. the House of Hyena) ............................................................... 137
8.8. Gawee Galla (the Galla cave) ............................................................................... 138
8.9. Sirso Waterfall ...................................................................................................... 138


8.1. Summary ............................................................................................................... 139
8.2. Conclusion ............................................................................................................ 139
8.3 Recommendations .................................................................................................. 141
REFERENCES................................................................................................................. 142


1.1. Background Issues: Methodology Employed

1.1.1 Ethno-history as a General Methodological Approach
The phrase "ethno-history" is roughly and diffusely used in this work. The title of the
present work may be referred to as Ethno-history of the Basketo.

Here, we want to make it clear that the term ethno-history is used in its sense of
methodological approach or tool employed in studying the history, identity, ethnicity and
culture of the ethnic group in question. Ethno-history in its more general and technical
sense is a field of methodological and theoretical approach combining history and
anthropology. Historical anthropology, as it is sometimes called, combines a cultural
anthropological theoretical framework with historiographic research procedures for the
study of culture and cultural process (Spores, 1980: 575).

Here, to accomplish the task of writing a history of the peoples of Baske, I have used the
ethno-historical approach in a loose sense, not in its more technical sense. Here, the
methodology involved critical use of written documents, conventional ethnographic tools
and oral history.

1.1.2. Ethno-genesis: The Problematique of Writing Ethno-history
One of the methodological hurdles facing social anthropologists and ethno-historians in
writing on the ethno-history of an ethnic group is presenting a proper picture of the group
studied. The question of ethno-genesis ad ethno-historical reconstruction is proved to be
very challenging (Turton, 1977). The methodological problem particularly becomes even
more formidable when writing on peoples of non-western ethnic groups where the culture
of written form of historical documentation is non-existent.

1.1.3. Theoretical Model adopted in Writing about the Identity of Baske
The dynamic of being and becoming a certain ethic group member has assumed important
significance in ethno-history and writing about the ethnic identity of people. The question of
ethnic identity and how individuals wish to view and identify their ethno-historic identity is
affected by multiple internal and external factors. It is not a fixed thing. It is often fluid. As
the transactionalist model shows, it is determined by the dynamic socio-cultural and
politico-economic transactions between members of the interacting groups of people over

The peoples of southwest Ethiopia used to hold, it may be argued, a more or less fixed
image and view of their ethnic identity before their encounters with the central Ethiopian
government. Following their encounters and transactions with the ruling class and their
incorporation into the Empire, the local peoples image of their identity became diffused and
intermingled with various confusing elements. They were made neither to boldly proclaim
their original identity, nor claim to become the proper citizens of the central government.
Their identity was made to hang in the air. Few members of the local people through
patronage and marriage ties could claim to have become members of the dominant ethnic
group. The people were confiscated their original identity and were given derogatory names
such as the Shanqillas, Wollamos, Tishana, Janjero, etc (Donham, 1986).

From their incorporation into the Abyssinian Empire in the turn of the 20
c to the demise
of the Imperial Rgime in 1974, the peoples of the south were made to be subjected to
derogatory ethnic identities- not fully treated as equal citiznes. On the one hand, the people
were not allowed to express their ethnic identity and on the other, they were not accepted
as full members of the larger Abyssinian Empire, as equal citizens with the ruling group.
Their identity was further crushed to the ground even in the post - 1974 era, although the
Dergue Rgime fared better in terms of fighting against the derogatory ethnic identities. In
the name of creating a unified all-encompassing single national identity the ethno-linguistic
and cultural mosaics of the south and southwest were not allowed to proclaim and develop
their ethnic identity.

With regard to the post-Dergue era, one may argue that a most favorable atmosphere has
ushered in. The here-to-fore stifled voices of the ethno-linguistic mosaics begun to be
heard, making use of the new era of ethnic consciousness. The peoples of south-west
Ethiopia began to rise out of the ashes and to hang up their heads which were made to bow
down under the plethora of derogatory treatments. People began to reclaim and proclaim
their crushed identity, history, culture and ideologies. There is now no need to squabble for
patronization to become like one of the members of the dominant class.

An ethno-history on a southern Ethiopian people group such as Baske should show how
the dynamics of the transactions between the various ethnic groups on the one hand and
the minority- dominant relations on the other have affected the shaping and making of the
ethnic identity of the south-western peoples.

The ethno-history of the peoples of southwest Ethiopia may be divided it into three distinct
epochs: (1) the pre- Abyssinian contact era, when the people have enjoyed their pristine
identity and history; (2) the period of domination notably from 1880s to 1974- when the
ruled, peripheral groups were brought under intense subjugation and derogation; (3) from
1974 to the demise of the Dergue era (1991)- when a relative respite was offered to the
marginalized peoples, at least in terms of deleting some explicit elements of derogation; (4)
post-Dergue era, the era of resurrection for the buried cultural, linguistic identities of the
peoples of south and south west.

1.2. Problems of the Historiography of Ethiopia: Some Misconceptions
and Preconceptions
1.2.1. Critique on the Historiography of Ethiopia
Since time immemorial, Ethiopia had been known to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Indians,
Chinese, Arabs, Armenians and Europeans. The documentation of the history of Ethiopia by
various foreign writers has had different problems. According to Pankhurst (1990), Ethiopia
was known to the outside world often imprecisely. The historical accounts of Europeans on
Ethiopian began in the middle ages, during which time Christian missionaries learnt of
Ethiopia and came to the country. As Pankhurst points, The coming of Portuguese Jesuits
towards the end of the sixteenth century and the resultant expansion in travel literature
was a land-mark in the growth of European knowledge and historiography of Ethiopia.

From the early medieval times down to the 19
c, the historiography of Ethiopia by
European scholars mainly focused on the Semitic ethno-linguistic groups. Of a legion of
foreign scholars who came to and wrote on Ethiopia, only very few visited beyond the
central region to the southwest parts and peoples. Most of the notable European historians
and other scholars of worldwide fame, such as Contti Rossini, Ignazio Guidi, James Bruce,
etc, generally tilted towards the study of the prehistory and history of the Semitic ruling
class. A limited shift of interest began to be manifested in the late 19
c and early 20
c by
some European scholars, such as Enrico Cerulli who wrote on the peoples and cultures of
southwest Ethiopia.

Bahru Zewdie (1990: 89) criticizing the Ethiopian historiography the historical works on
Ethiopia by Ethiopians notes on the shortcoming of the traditional historiographers: i.e.,
their ``excessive adulation of the kings and their proclivity to supernatural explanations.
Bahru evaluates the contributions of Ethiopian historiographers beginning from the medieval
times: including notable chroniclers of the emperors and individual historians. Some of these
national historiographers such as Alaqa Taye, attempted to combine ethnography and
history. Although his attempt was praised, Bahru noted ``the excessive reliance of Taye on
the scriptures to describe the different nationalities of Ethiopia has made it some what
suspect to the not so credulous readers of today. `` (P.90)

The historical wittings of Ethiopia by such well-known national historians such as Tekle
Tsadic Mekuria are generally biased to the history, genesis, and traditional achievements of
the Semitic Ethiopia. Even after the foreign dominated Ethiopia historical scholarship began
to be replaced by what Bahru calls a nucleus of national historians in the 1960s, the
Semitic bias in Ethiopian historiography and ethno-history continued. In Bahru`s (1990:93)
evaluation of the Ethiopian historiography, one obvious weakness of the historiography has
been the Semitic bias. This bias continued even after the ``Ethiopianization of historical
research. The Ethiopian historiography has had suffered from very narrow scope and
hence some attempts seem to have been made to broaden the scope of Ethiopia
historiography, taking it out of the Semitic mould within which it had stuck for so long in
the past.

According to Bahru (ibid.) There is now greater understanding of the historical process in
the areas of Ethiopia outside the Semitic core which had previously been the subject of so
many investigators. In other words, Ethiopian history has become truly Ethiopian, including
the southern as well as the northern peoples of present day Ethiopia. But one still may
ask to what extent the historiography of Ethiopian has attained truly Ethiopian nature. To
date, the paucity of balanced, truly scientific historiographical and ethno-historic works on
the southern peoples of Ethiopia is clearly known and the often piecemeal such woks on
various ethnic groups by expatiates and persons of the ethnic group often do not satiate the
question of fully scientific and detailed historical accounts.

The undermining of oral literature and folktales as historiographical methodology and the
heavy dependence on written literature has itself created a near- total focus on the Semitic
group which has the written culture. The hosts of non-Semitic groups of south Ethiopia
which lack written literature have been ignored. According to Bahru, the inclusion of oral
historical sources as a historiographical methodology since 1970s and 1980`s has made a
broadening in the scope of Ethiopian historiography.

Bahru rightly calls for the de-Semiticization of Ethiopian historiography, noting that the
future of Ethiopian historical scholarship should be brought in tune with historical
research on non-Semitic peoples and their cultures. This process of de-Semiticization and
Africanization of Ethiopian historiography calls for bold Ethiopian scholars who should not
cling to the old shell and broaden their interests.

A similar problem of Semitic bias prevails in the studies of the languages of Ethiopian
peoples. According to Habtemariam (1990:103), `The most studied Ethiopian language is
perhaps Amharic, followed by Tegerea, Oromo and some of the Gurage languages. The
other languages of the country are not adequately described.

The same problem has haunted scholars in the areas socio-cultural studies in Ethiopia
(Mekonnen, 1990). Mekonnen (1990:105) further notes:
The beginning of socio-cultural studies in Ethiopia may be traced to the accounts
and descriptions of early travelers, missionaries and pure adventurers. These
accounts served as rich sources of cultural and historical information on the
various peoples of Ethiopia even though by current standards they may be
criticized as lacking in scientific methodology, objectivity and theoretical
direction. Professional anthropological studies of the peoples and cultures of
Ethiopia are a much more recent phenomenon, spanning only the past [sixty]
years or so Traditional Abyssinia and its people, the Amhara and Tigray, were
the primary focus of [the various writers]. Until very recently this limitation
continued to be reflected in resulting in a serous gap in our knowledge, especially
about the non-Semitic speaking peoples of the country.

1.2.2. Do Ethnic Minorities Have and Make Their Own History?
It was believed that non-European societies had no history of any worthwhile significance.

It was noted that the minorities could not have and make their histories. The historiography
of Third World societies was thus flawed in this manner.

However, a younger generation of scholars had become engaged in the study of the
peoples and cultures of Ethiopian, with a relatively new rethinking of the older approaches
(James, Wendy: 1986, xiii). A new awareness of the part that humbler peoples could play in
history began to shape the work of both Ethiopian and foreign researchers (ibid.). In
Ethiopian historiography and ethnography, as highlighted by Wendy James, what she called
the `humbler` peoples, the numerous ethno-linguistic groups particularly in the south and
southwest were thought of as having no real histories of their own. They were consigned to
oblivious periphery being considered as having or making no history. Although such an
ethnocentric orientation was very staunch in the pre-1974 Ethiopia, it continued with little
modification until the downfall of the Dergue Regime in 1991. Thus, it may be argued that
the ethnographical and historiographical scholarship in the pre-1991 Ethiopia was generally
very unfavorable to the `humbler`, minority groups of the south and southwest Ethiopia.
Gradually and hesitantly, submitting to the new emerging realities both globally and
nationally, historians and ethnographers began asking questions which took them from the
royal chronicles and capitals which had the locus of their predecessors` enquiry into the
exploration of local sources and even face to face enquires in the field (ibid).

1.2.3. Theoretical and Methodological Approaches in Studying and Writing
about the Peoples of Ethiopia
Analysis of existing anthropological and ethno-historical sources show that description of
the peoples and cultures of Ethiopia by foreigners began quite early, at least as early as the
century, when the country began to open its doors to the foreign missionaries,
travelers and other interested persons.

The first accounts of the peoples and cultures of Ethiopia by foreign writers were done by
missionaries, travelers and adventurers. However, the writings and descriptions of these
writers lacked any systematic theoretical and methodological directions (Fekadu, 1990).
Systematic, theoretically and methodologically sound study approaches to peoples and
cultures of Ethiopia was a recent phenomenon. It dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, when
significant systematic efforts were made by the Germen based ethnographic expedition
(Fekadu, 1990).

More professional-oriented ethno-historical works on the peoples and cultures of Ethiopia
began from the 1950s and 1960s when large number of western scholars descended on
Ethiopia. The strong points of these latter categories of ethno-historical works were their
methodological and theoretical sophistication. They approached the study and writing of the
peoples and cultures of Ethiopia using a number of paradigms and theoretical models. The


(Personal communication, Professor David Anderson, Director of the Center, at our discussion meetings with senior
professors of history and anthropology, at Oxford University, UK, the Center for African Studies, May 2008).
problems in the methodological approaches, however, to the study of the ethno-histories of
Ethiopia failed to take into account the historic multi-faceted dimensions in the intricate
inter-plays between the peoples of Ethiopian and the central-- periphery interactions. There
have been disjoined efforts by historians and ethnographers all following their own
traditions and models of approaches. As Donham (1986) argues, "until recently, northern
society has been analyzed, mostly by historians, in terms of the structures of its imperial
center while southern societies have been studied, mostly by anthropologist as if they had
few links with that center" (p.4).

Another conspicuous aspect of the weakness of the methodological and theoretical
approaches in writing about the ethno-identities of the peoples of south Ethiopia has been
the fact of un-representativeness in the sense of not showing the real picture and image of
the people as understood and lived by the peoples. The ethno-historical accounts were thus
flawed with ethnocentric assumptions.

Writings on Ethiopia and its peoples are also critiqued by some as being affected by the
uniqueness of Ethiopia in many respects compared to other African societies. Writers were
criticized for not applying similar conceptual tools and theoretical approaches to the study
of Ethiopia and its societies. Many writings were just too much emphasizing the political
power and charisma of the ruling emperor and the social political institutions of the ruling
class. Thus writes Markakis, (1975:1-2):

both lay and scholarly writings on Ethiopian politics generally eschew the conceptual
tools and theoretical apparatus that govern inquiry into social processes in developing
countries and discard the conventional standards and criteria normally applied to
other African societies. With precious few exceptions, such writings are devoid of
critical analysis. An attitude of forbearance characterizes most, while eagerness to
praise the Ethiopian state and its longtime ruler, Emperor Haile Selassie, is the
hallmark of many.

Such hallmark of many ethno-historians did much injustice to the realities and detail aspects
of the majority of Ethiopian peoples. Many writers, while eulogizing the ruling class, have
contributed a lot to the dearth of appropriate ethno-historical information on the various
ethnic groups.

1.2.4. The Image of Ethiopia as Ethnic Museum: Problems of
Ethnohistory of the Southwest
The ethnocentric and pejorative description of the Ethiopian peoples gradually faded when
more scholarly professional historians and ethnographers began writing. The Germen
Universities of the late 19
c were highly motivated by the assumption of Ethiopia as a
Semitic race and their writings neglected or even continued to derogate the non-Semitic
groups. However, beginning from early 20
c, scholars from Anglo- American universities
began focusing on the peoples and cultures of southern Ethiopia being motivated by the
assumption of Ethiopia as an ethnic museum. They made efforts to focus on "the social
organization of discrete tribes. Their contribution has been to provide ethnographies of the
relatively unknown peoples of these areas (Ibid: 20).

With this rather relatively more professional and less ethnocentric efforts, the histories and
cultures of the hither-to unknown peoples have been accounted in decades that followed.
However, the ethnographic accomplishments of the foreign and national scholars were by
no means sufficient and complete. They still suffered from elements of ethnocentrism,
unrepresentative descriptions and pejorative accounts. One major problem in the
ethnohistoric account of the scholars in the Ethiopia as ethnic museum approach was their
too much focus on what is called the "ethnographic present" and neglecting the past
histories of the people.

Other writers have neglected the necessity for describing each ethnic group as a historic
unit in its own right. They focused on depicting the image of a greater Ethiopia (as in Levin,
1974) where the large-scale inter-ethnic and inter-societal interactions have produced the
present day Ethiopia. Levin (1974) criticized the Ethiopia- asethnic- museum approach,
saying it failed to account for the dynamic of large- scale inter-social interactions. He labeled
the view of functionalist ethnographers erroneous, the view that "before the conquests of
Menilik II in the late 19
c, the other peoples of Ethiopia had lived independent and self
sufficient lives...." (Levin 1974:21). Levin argued that "the image of Ethiopia as a collection of
distinct peoples neglects what these people have in common, how they interact and the
nature of Ethiopia society as a whole" (P. 21).

Levins paradigm appeared to in line with the ethos of the existing political and cultural
ideology of the time. It was the time when the one nation, one religion, one language
ideology was reigning high. It is in fact desirable, when writing the ethnohistory and identity
of an ethnic group, to take in to account how the large level societal interactions have
shaped the identity of a group. However, it would be even more important to recognize the
fact that the large picture-- the Greater Ethiopia-- does not exist apart from the individual
groups who form the larger picture. The individual culture groups and their identity should
not be sacrificed for the sake of the large whole. Individual groups have primacy over the
larger whole.

The idea of greater Ethiopia overshadowing the unique identities, histories, cultures,
languages of individual nations, nationalities, and people groups to the extent of crushing
their identity is not in line with the current objective socio- political realities of the country
as well. The post- 1991 paradigm is in line with this spirit. It dose not negate the idea of
what peoples have in common, how they have interacted and continue to interact and how
they all together contribute for the greater Ethiopia.

Some writers implied that the only groups in Ethiopia having a tangible, worthwhile history
are the Semitic groups. Some scholars (like Levine, 1974) argued to the extent of implying
that the only useful attempt in studying history of Ethiopian peoples is to focus on the
Semitic group. in his earliest work, Wax and Gold (1968) he used the phrase "the Semitic
past" depicting assumptions that other non-Semitic groups are devoid of any credible
history at all. The phrase tempts one to wonder and ask, Do the non- Semitic peoples of
Ethiopia have no past at all? Is describing them only in the framework of the ethnographic
present truly logical, ethical and scientific?

It is thus time to go beyond the notion of the Semitic past and the ethnographic present
and take the challenge of describing the history; culture and identity of ethnic minorities by
taking into account their own views.

1.2.5. Neglecting the Local and Small Social Units: Another
Problem in Methodological and Theoretical Approaches
Scholars writing about the dynamics of social and political identity of a place over a time
period have for long neglected the analysis of small social units, local events and processes.
There has been a tendency to assume that the only social unit worth-studying is the largest
units (Donham, 1986:94). The details of what happened in one small community were
neglected and local events were generally undermined and regarded as determined by large
scale processes. Such an approach was particularly dominant among the historians and
ethnographers of the Ethiopia political and social histories. Recent approaches in ethno-
history have stressed the fact that every small social unit, every group and people has made
its own histories; they should not be necessarily analyzed in light of larger processes.

1. 3. General Background History Of Ethiopia
1. 3.1. Introduction
Ethiopia is a country located in the horn of Africa northeast side. The country is bounded
by the Sudan in the west, Eritrea in the north and north-east, Kenya in the south, Somalia in
the south-east and Djibouti in the east. Ethiopia has been known to the outside world as
Abyssinia, a name which apparently derived from Habashat`, one of the tribes that
inhabited the Ethiopia region in the pre-Christian era`` (Bahru Zewdie 2002:1). The present
day Ethiopia is located between longitudes 33
and 48
E and Latitudes 30 and 15

Ethiopia presents a mosaic of nationalities speaking a multiplicity of languages. Linguists have
divided these languages into four groups, three of them tracing a common ancestry to a
parent language called Proto-Afro-asiatic. The three language groups of the Proto-Afro-asiatic
family spoken in Ethiopia are known as Cushitic, Omotic and Semitic. Cushitic and Omotic
are the most ancient in the Ethiopian region; the Semitic languages are the most recent. A
forth group of languages belongs to an independent family known as Nilo-Saharan (ibid. p.

1.3.2. The History of Ethno-historical Study of Ethiopia: Various
Images and Portrayals of Ethiopia and Its Peoples
A conventional, popular version of the beginnings of Ethiopias history relates the folk-tale
of queen of Sheba from Ethiopia visiting king Solomon of Israel in the 10
c. B.C is the
beginning. However, this view lacks many scientific credits. The beginnings of Ethiopians
history is to be found in pre-historic times far more ancient than is thought, based on the
archaeological and linguistic evidences (Bahru Zewdie, 2002).

The scholarly images of Ethiopia have been varying and never fixed. The most commonly
cited images included Ethiopia as an ethnic museum and Ethiopia as an outpost of Semitic
civilization (Levin 1974). The common, conventional images of Ethiopia had also varying
applications. According to Levin (1974:1), Ethiopia has been looked upon as a terribly
remote land, a home of pristine piety, a magnificent kingdom, on out post savagery or a
bastion of Africa independence.

Although interest in Ethiopia by the outside world span as far back as ancient times,
foundations for the disciplined study of Ethiopian society and culture were laid by two sets
of travelers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. On several missions to Ethiopia sent
by the kings of Portugal and the popes at Rome, a number of Portuguese and Spanish
clergymen collected basic information on the languages, cultures and history of the country
(Levin, 1974: 16).

By the early twentieth century, the study of Ethiopian culture had been institutional on a
modest basis in a small number of academic settings in Europe and the United States. First
through philology and history, then through archeology and anthropology and more
recently through political science, sociology and Economics.... (Ibid: 17). In all these, the
scholarly account of Ethiopian studies was fraught with assumption which led to the over-
emphasis of few people and ethnic groups and the neglecting of other groups (Ibid).

The first generation of Ethiopianist scholars essentially worked under the assumption of
Ethiopia as an outpost of Semitic civilization and saw their works as a branch of Semitic
studies. Hence, there was a huge Semitic bias which continued until another approach came
up, whose assumptions viewed Ethiopia as an ethnic museum. The phrase Ethiopia as ethnic
museum was first introduced by Carlo Conti Rossini, an Italian scholar and diplomat. Thus
argues Levin (op cit) The view of Ethiopia as a museum of peoples is implicit in the work of
a number of anthropologists who have worked in the country. The chief assumption
associated which this view are (1) that Ethiopia is a country of extra-ordinary ethnic
diversity, and (2) that each of its divers peoples deserves to be studied intensively, on its
own terms, as bearer of a bounded system and a unique culture (Ibid: 20 ).

Ever since European travelers, adventurers and missionaries began coming to Ethiopia,
accounts of the peoples, geographies and cultures of Ethiopia began to appear. However,
the accounts were scanty at best. Even in those scanty accounts, the foreign writers
portrayed very ethnocentric and pejorative images of the peoples and cultures of Ethiopia,
particularly in the south. Almeda, the Portuguese missionary had described "barbarous
customs of some Ethiopian tribes notably the Janjero" (Levin 1973:10).

Even the often favorably described Semitic Amhara were not spared the ethnocentric
accounts of some European writers. According to Levin (ibid), for example, major
Cornwallis Harris set the tone for [the ethnocentric] orientation in the 1840s by describing
the Amhara as "abject slaves to superstition" possessed by unscrupulous greed and
possessing, neither amusements nor intellectual resource... Such ethnocentric accounts of
the Ethiopian peoples continued further in the 19
c. The writers declared Ethiopia to be
"an uncultivated mass of mingled race imbued with the characteristics distinguishing the
least civilized being" (Ibid: 11).

1.3.3. The Prehistory of Ethiopia in General and the Southwest in
Scholars generally make conjectural statements when writing about the prehistory of
Ethiopia. Levine (1974:27) states very little is known about the prehistory of what he calls
greater Ethiopia as a whole. The question of how and where first emerged the various
inventions and innovations such as agriculture, system of administration, technology, etc,
remain unanswered. These and many other questions about the origins and pre-histories of
the different Ethiopian peoples, their interactions, their population movements, etc, await
extensive archaeological, paleo-anthropological, anthropological- linguistics and other
scholarly researches.

However, according to Levin (1974:27) there are some established facts on the origins and
prehistory of Ethiopia.

It does seem to be established that by the beginning of the late stone age, about 9000
B.C. there were at least two distinct tool making cultures in the area ... the human
remain associated with these industries appear to be of a long-headed type that has
been described as Afro-Mediterranean; there is no evidence of Bushmanoid or
Negroid populations in the area at that time. It is not clear when and by what
processes these early people turned from hunting and gathering to agriculture and
husbandry, but by the third millennium B.C. their successors must have done so. ...
Rock paintings of human and animal figures in Harerge and Eritrea provinces indicate
the domestication of cattle; and relics of hand axes, hoes, grinding stones and
decorated pottery attributed to the late third millennium B.C. in many parts of
western Ethiopian reflect the rudiments of agriculture.

There are also linguistic evidences to the origins and prehistory of the Ethiopian peoples.
Levin (ibid) states that the analysis of linguistic distribution suggests that "the proto-
Ethiopians of the third millennium B.C. spoke languages derived from a single stoke known
as Hamito-Semitic or Afro-Asiatic. In the 1950s it was established that Afro-Asiatic was the
ancestor of five major language families: ancient Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, Semitic and
Cushitic. More recent works by Harold Flaming and others indicate that there may be six.
What previously had been classified as the western branch of the Cushitic language should
be considered separate language family, one that has now been given the name Omotic.

Taking this linguistic evidence, Levine speculates that the present day southwest Ethiopia
may be the original homeland of the Afro-Asiatic and hence for Greater Ethiopia as all the
Omotic and nearly all of the many Cushitic languages are concentrated here.

1.3.4. Classifying the Peoples of Ethiopia
To see the larger context in which the Baske need to be situated, it may be important to
look at the various classifications of Ethiopian peoples. A number of classification
approaches have been used, and the classification depended on varying criteria such as
genetic, regional, religious, ecological, social structural. The idea of Ethiopia being museum
of ethnic groups in often narrated with a sort of clich. According to most accounts, there
are more than one hundred ethnic groups with in Ethiopia (Markakis, 1975; Levin, 1973).
Most of the ethnic groups are numerically small.

For our present purpose, the relevant means of classification is that which used genetic and
ethno-linguistic criteria. The most commonly accepted and popular way of classifying the
peoples of Ethiopia seems to be one which is based on ethno-linguistic criterion. Hence, we
have four major ethno linguistic groups on this criterion: Omotic, Semitic, Cushitic and
Nilo-Saharan. According to this classification, the Baske people belong to the Omotic
group. However, in Levins work, the Baske are not the direct elements of the Omotic
group; rather, they are the offshoots of the intermarriage between the proto-Omotic and
pre-Nilotic ancestors. This hypothesis, however, needs to be further verified.

1.3.5. The Importance of Inter-ethnic Relegations
One of the dominant frameworks used by scholars when describing about the ethno-history
of peoples of Ethiopia is seeing the present people's identity as being shaped by inter-ethnic
relations. According to Levin (1974:40), After they had separated into different tribes with
distinct cultures, the peoples of Greater Ethiopia did not live as discrete isolated units. For
the last two millennia, at least, they have been in more or less constant interactions through
trade, warfare, religious activities, migration, intermarriage, and exchange of special

1.4. The Peoples of Southwest Ethiopia In the History of Ethiopia
1.4.1. Ethnohistorical Scholarship on Southern Peoples
Ethno-historical accounts on the peoples historical identity are scanty at best. The question
of the availability of written sources on these peoples is very difficult. When we come to
the Omotic group, there seem to be a serious under-representation of these groups. They
have not enjoyed the attention of the national and expatriate scholars. These groups are
even far more under-represented even when compared to the Cushitic groups such as
Sidama, Kambata, Boran, etc which have captured the attention of notable ethno-historians
and anthropologists. The peoples of Baske from Omotic groups have been basically
forgotten; no focused major works have been made on these people.

1.4.2. Flaws of the Existing Scanty Accounts on These People
While the more or less virtual absence of a focused major ethno-historic work on these
peoples is one thing; the acceptability, veracity and representativeness of the scanty existing
accounts itself is questionable. The Omotic groups in general and Baske and ethnic group
in particular have been studied in piecemeal manner. The latter groups are particularly
described by ethnographers as passing remarks. The question is to what extent are the
existing scanty accounts on these peoples are truly representative in the sense that they
show the true images of the peoples? If some one of the writers was required to defend the
descriptions to the people themselves, to what extent would it be acceptable? This question
needs to be raised because in much of the existing ethno-historical accounts, there exist
incorrect and often derogatory descriptions of the peoples identities.

The story of the 'lesser' peripheral ethnic groups have not been told and in cases when it
was told, it was not often accurately told. It has remained to be told especially the stories of
Baske until today. These peoples whose stories have either been silenced or told in an un-
representative manner have played their own roles in the making of the 20
c Ethiopia
(Donham, 1985:3). Donald Levine (1993, vii) argues, Ethiopias historic depth stands as a
testimony to the centuries of experience in which peoples of differing language, religion,
regional identity and ethnic affiliation worked out the lineaments of a genuinely multiethnic

1.4.3. The Omotic People and the Beginnings of Southwest
Ethiopia History
The Omotic speaking people derive their name from their location on both sides of the
Ommo River, situated exclusively in south-western Ethiopia. They have been distinguished
by two important features: the large-scale cultivation of ensete and the evolution of highly
organized politics`` (Bahru, 2002:7).

Recent archaeological findings in the Ommo valley support the depth of history in south-
west Ethiopia. The discovery of human skeletal dating very long years, the existence of
manifestations of pre-historic culture such as cave paintings, the domestication of plants and
animals, etc, attest to the beginning of prehistory to some six thousand years ago (Bahru,

The proto-Omotic linguistic groups, it is argued, had origins in Ethiopia as ancient as the 3rd
millennium B.C. According to Levine (1974:28), people speaking the Prot-Omotic language
and proto-Cushitic separated as groups with distinct languages by the fifth or fourth
millennium B.C. and began peopling the Ethiopian plateaus not long after." Levine concludes
the prehistory and Ethiopia as follows.

As a baseline for reconstructing the history and Greater Ethiopia... we may consider it
plausible that by the end of the third millennium B.C. its main inhabitants were dark
skinned Caucasoid or "Afro Mediterranean" peoples practicing rudimentary forms of
agriculture and animal husbandry and speaking three branches of Afro-Asiatic:- Semitic,
Cushitic, and Omotic.

The proto-Omotic people groups of Ethiopia are thus, according to Levin, one of the five
core groups that constituted Ethiopia. "The Omotic speaking peoples settled in the
southwest practiced, the hoe cultivation of cereal grains and tubers and organized a number
of sacred monarchies. The most diversified of all the core Ethiopian population, they are
divided into about fifty small societies with distinct languages and cultures." (p29).

According to Huntingford, cited in Levine (1992:2), south-west Ethiopia was occupied by
the ancestors of the present day Cushitic and Omotic peoples (before the Oromo invasion
of the area). The first inhabitants of the area were believed to have been the Nilo-Saharans,
which Huntingford calls Negroes and gives the Amharic equivalent of the name Shanquilla.
However, this view negates with Levine (1974) who argued that the ancestors of todays
Nilo-Saharan peoples of Ethiopia were pre-Nilots and Nilots who came to Ethiopia after the
Afro-Asiatic or Hamitic Cushitic groups- and interacted with them.

Huntingford argues that the early Hamites under which he includes the Sidama as a generic
term to cover all the south-western peoples came to Ethiopia prior to the wave of in-
migration of the other Hamitic movement, the Semitic peoples. According to Huntingford,
the Sidama group is classified into six categories: (A) Sidamo, [Gedeo], Hadiya, Kambatta,
Tambaro, Alaba, (B) Wolayta, Goffa, Kullo, Konta, Zala, Kuera or Baditu, Haruro, Kucha,
Gammo (C) aara (D) Basketo, Zaiyse, Doko (E) The Gonga groups: Kafa, Shinasha, Bosha
or Garo, Mao or Anfillo, Sheka or Mocha (F) the Gimira group: Sheko, Benesho, She or
Dizu, Kaba, Nao, Mazhi or Maji (G) Yamma or Janjero. (Ibid. p. 3). Some of the
terminologies here are outdated and derogatory.

1.4.4. How the Peoples` Ethnic Identity is Shaped and Affected by
Incorporation into the Central Rule
The social and cultural identities of the peoples of the south and south-west have been
shaped negatively or positively by the politico-economic processes that began mainly with
Menlik II empire building marches to the south (towards the midlle of 1880s). The political,
socio-cultural and economic interactions between the ruling group and the minorities in the
periphery played significant roles. The interaction between the expanding imperial state on
the other hand and the peoples of its new southern frontiers on the other . have shaped
the present day society of places and peoples throughout the regions south of the old
Abyssinian kingdom and indeed far beyond the borders of the modern state (ibid. xiv).

1.5. The Baske In Ethiopian Ethnography
The Baske are the least studied people in the ethnography and historiography of Ethiopia.
The meager information that exists on them is made just as passing remarks by some
foreign ethnographers who were doing in-depth studies of other groups or doing some
other things. What follows is a scanty description made on the people.

The Baske are categorized in Bender (1976) under the North Omotic or Ometo language
group. The local dialects of Baske language, which is their mother tongue, were identified
Doko, or Dogo, Dollo and Dolla. (As shall be shown, our fieldwork does not reveal such
dialect differences in the Baske language.)

They are categorized in Cerrulli's ethnographic survey of the southwest Ethiopia under
what she called west Sidama or the Ometo group. The Baske are described as living on
the bank of Ommo River between Dimme and Goffa (Cerrulli, 1956). The principal crops
grown in Baske are maize, millet, dates and coffee (ibid. 99). This Cerrulian literature again
ignores the staple crop , the ensete false banana)

A 16
c. map of Ethiopia mentions the Baske as situated in its present day geographical
location. The map was prepared by Donald Levine from the works of Almeida, the 16
Portuguese missionary to Ethiopia

1.6. Issues Of Ethnic Identity Across The Various Regimes Of
Ethiopia: Policies Of The Governments
1.6.1. The Making of Imperial Ethiopia and the Incorporation of the
South-Western Peoples
Existing literature show that the empire building agenda of the Ethiopia central government
efforts began with Thewodros II (r. 1855-68) and continued with Yohannes IV (r. 1871-89),
and finally culminated by Menlik II (r. 1889-1913) The late 19
c saw the vigorous process of
consolidating power at the center and the effort by Menlik was more or less complete by
the turn of 20
c ( Donham 1985).

The here-to-fore independent groups and kingdoms of these southwestern Ethiopian
regions were brought under the subjugation of Menlik II beginning from the 1880s. These
people have thus more or less two distinct epoch of history: pre-incorporation and post-
incorporation. When we attempt to construct the ethno-historical identity of Baske
therefore we need to the take into account these factors and processes which have shaped
the peoples history and identity.

1.6.2. Ethnic Identity Consciousness in Post-Dergue Era(1991 to the
The period after 1991 has been a time of political change in Ethiopia. It encouraged a
process of ethnification. This process revitalized all that is traditional and specific
(Aadland, 2002:31).

There are obvious difficulties in nomenclature regarding the ethnic identification of the
various ethnic groups in south and southwest Ethiopia. The Ethiopia constitution offers
similar definition to all the three terminologies. A nation, nationality or people is a group of
people sharing common culture, psychological make up, mutually intelligible language and
live in a definable, contiguous territory (The Ethiopian Constitution, Article 39(5)).

The languages of ethnic groups, as well as their cultures and histories were not given any
chances of development in pre-1991 Ethiopia. The language policies in pre-1991 Ethiopia
prevented the development of written forms of any Ethiopian Languages other than
Amharic (Cohen, 2006).

The demise of the Dengue Rgime has ushered in a new era for ethnic identity
consciousness in Ethiopia. In deed, the transformation that has taken place in the political
structure of Ethiopia since 1991 has been both radical and pioneering, in the words of
Turton (2006:1). It has been radical and pioneering since it elevated ethnic identity issue to
the highest standards in proffering each ethno-linguistic group fundamental rights of
reclaiming, proclaiming and developing its identity, history, culture and language.

The heightened ethnic consciousness among the various ethnic groups in the country which
now reigns high was stifled during the pre-EPRDF era. Such consciousness was very weak
during the Semitic domination. Due to the stupefying ideologies and systems, the people
held false consciousness and although the peoples no doubt retained a belief in the worth of
their own cultures, there seems to have been little development of a political critique of the
interior position they occupied vis--vis the Amhara " (Donaham, 1986:34). The lack of such
a reaction must have been related to the processes of incorporation themselves- the fact
that women of these groups often married Amhara and that men, particularly high status
men with land often become Amhara (ibid, p 35).

The idea of derogation endured by ethnic minorities following their incorporation which
lingered until 1991 was characterized by cultural superiority which was imposed on the
southerners. "The northern colonists viewed southerners as primitive, without culture
and effective government; and a lazy, dirty and warlike heathen who needed the word of
God (Donham, 1986:41).

1.6.3. Nation Building or Nation Destroying?
The case of pre -1991 Ethiopian state regimes in attempting to build a one-nation, one
language nation was analogues to what some western nations did to the indigenous ethnic
minorities in the name of nation building. As Turton (2006: 3) argues, most modern western
states were built on the attempted destruction (in some cases going as far as genocide) of
any sense national identity amongst minority groups.

In pre-1991 era and following the incorporation of the ethnic minorities in to the central
state in the country, what may be described as `a near-nation-destroying was practiced by
the dominant groups. Minorities were not allowed to claim, proclaim and build up their own
ethnic identities, their histories, languages and cultures. In the name of nation-building, the
ideology, religion, language and institutions and histories of the ruling class were given
primacies over, and superimposed on, those of the minority groups. The experience of the
country has been comparable to nation-building in the west which typically involved the
imposition of the language and culture of the dominant group over the rest of the
population. Pre-1991 Ethiopia ``owes its existence to western style dominant group
nation-building by an ethnonational group, the Shewa Amhara`` (Turton, 2006:4; Merera,

1.6.4. The Context for and the Making of Southern History
We need to put the ethno-history of the Baske in the general frameworks of the socio-
political transactions that obtained in the 19
and 20
cc. Here the dynamic of the center-
periphery, dominant- minority transactions and linkages play crucial roles in the making and
remaking of the 19
c ethno-historical identity of the southern peoples in general and the
Baske in particular. As Donham (1986:44) argues this general context was a context in
which southern peoples "struggled, acquiesced and simply lived their lives. Central
institutions and types of center-periphery linkages provide the background against which
southern history becomes intelligible." However, this context and process should not be
taken as the necessary and sufficient condition for the understanding of the ethno-history
and identity of the peoples. It covers just small portions of the vast history of the peoples.

With the downfall of the Imperial Rgime and notably following the demise of the Dergue
Rgime, renewed ethnic identity consciousness swept across the country, notably the here-
to-fore dominated groups of people in the south. The old notions of national identity and
consciousness of citizenship have replaced with new forms of national identity, with "new
notions of the worth of different cultures (Donham, 1986:48).

1.6.5. Abyssinanization of the Southern Peoples
Donald Donham in his Southern Marches writes of what he calls as the Abyssinanization of
southern peoples. These process of Abyssinanization of the southern peoples began quite as
early as the late 10
century and which continued with intensity in the 19
c culminating in
the political domination of the peoples by taking over their lands and incorporating them. It
involved multiple events and phenomenon notably the social, cultural, linguistic and
ideological domination of the ruling class over the locals. It played important roles in
transforming the linguistic, ideological, and cultural map of the southern region, thus
creating its own imprint on the shaping of the ethno-historic identity of the southern

The spread of rist system of land tenure, the spread of Amharic and the expansion of
Orthodox Christianity were the three components of the Abyssinanization processes which
have significantly affected the identity dynamics of the peoples of southwest Ethiopia.

1.6.6. Becoming Ethiopians Vs, Being a Particular Ethnic Group
How do the southwestern ethnic groups view their identity in terms of being and becoming
Ethiopians? What is being an Ethiopian for them? Existing historiographical record show the
lesser ethnic groups of the south have `recently `become Ethiopians` (James, ibid.). Wendy
James puts become Ethiopians in quotations. It may be ambiguous, being open to
interpretation. How are these peoples viewed in terms of their rights of Ethiopian identity
before they were incorporated in to the larger political system? Were not they Ethiopians

When writing about the ethnic identity of a minority group in the context of the larger
Ethiopian societal context, it is difficult. There are varying views and understandings from
different angles. Outsiders may view it as becoming Ethiopian for the minority groups. This
assumes that they were outside of the mainstream Ethiopian society and thus were not
considered as Ethiopian in their identity. But what do the people themselves believe and
view about their own ethnic identity? What is `being` and `becoming` an Ethiopian to them?
How this is rated vis--vis being their own particular ethnic identities; example, being a
Baske? In any case, it is very important to give due regard to the peoples own
understanding of their ethnic identity consciousness- first giving priority to what and how
they believe and know about their particular primary identity. Then the question of being
and becoming an Ethiopian comes next


2.1. Introduction
In this Chapter, we will try to describe the general background and profile of Baske. Our
description begins by mentioning the ethno-linguistic identity of Baske and followed by a
number of important points such as location, geography, topography, administrative status,
demographics, social amenities, etc. But first we make a general introductory description of
the southern, Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional (SNNPR), the Region where
Baske is located.
A wikipedia source ( opens its description of this Region by stating that
the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Regional (often abbreviated as SNNPR )
is one of the nine ethnic divisions (kililoch in Amharic) of Ethiopia. It comprises the former
Regions 7-11. Its capital is Hawassa. The SNNPR borders Kenya to the south, the Ilemi
Triangle (a region claimed by Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan) to the southwest, Sudan to the
west, the Ethiopian region of Gambela to the north, and the Ethiopian region of Oromia to
the north and east.
The SNNPRG, being an amalgam of the main homelands of numerous ethnicities, contains
over 45 indigenous ethnic groups. The 1994 census reported that the predominantly spoken
languages include Sidamigna (18%), Guragigna (14.72%), Wolayta (11.53%), Hadiyigna
(8.53%), Keffigna (5.22%), and Kembatigna (4.35%). Other languages spoken in the State
include Gamoigna, Mello, Goffa, and Gedeo; because of the relatively few number of
speakers of most of the languages in the region, the working language of the state is
Amharic (the most widely spoken language in Ethiopia and formerly the only official

Map 1: Map of Ethiopia highlighting the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's region.
(Source:, Nationalities-
However, this internet source is not an updated one and in view of the relatively longer
period of time elapsing since 1994 (it is about 14 years), we expect significant variations and
growth in the statistic. The most recent national populating and housing census (2007) is
not yet accessible publicly and thus we could not include this most recent data here.
2.2 Basketo Special Woreda
Basketo Special Woreda is one of the 134 woredas in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and
Peoples' Region of Ethiopia. It is named after the Baske people, whose homeland lies in this
Special Woreda. Basketo Special Woreda as an administrative unit was included within the
former Semen Ommo Zone and some internet sources use this data which they claim to have
taken from the CSA source. However, the Woreda has been restructured as a and granted a
Special Woreda status since 2001. As such Basketo as a "special Woreda", has maintained its
own administrative autonomy without being part any Zone

1 - Alaba SW
2 - Amaro SW 3 - Basketo SW 4 - Bench Maji 5 - Burji SW 6 - Dawro
7 - Dirashe SW 8 - Gamo Gofa 9 - Gedeo 10 - Gurage 11 - Hadiya 12 - Keffa
13 - Konso SW 14 - KT 15 - Selti 16 - Sheka 17 - Sidama 18 - South Omo
19 - Welayita 20 - Yem SW
Map 2: Map of SNNPR depicting the zonal and Special Woreda SW) administrative divisions (Source:
Google Earth)

Special Woreda

Map 3: Map of Basketo Special Woreda (Source: SNNPR Livelihood Woreda Reports,
The Baske people are an Omotic-speaking ethnic group who were part of the former
Semien (North) Ommo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region.
The Woreda is named after this ethnic group.
The Baske have belonged to the Ensete Culture Complex area in the southwest where the
cultivation of this tuber crop has been dominant for millennia. They also cultivate ensete
and, additionally, tuber roots, maize, millet and vegetables. They also keep domestic animals
in small numbers.
As we will discuss in detail later in the appropriate section, the Baske were organized as a
segmentary clan society headed by a divine king, the kati. According to a wikipedia web
source, the ethnic religion of the Baske knew a duality of the sky-god Tsosii (the proper
term however is ossa and the earth-mother Qacharunde. Under Ethiopian rule they mostly
adopted Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. However, the informants did not make any
mention of the name Qucharunde. Rather, this so-called earth mother was known be
another name, Enda-Gamonde considered as a female deity.
The Baske speak a family of Afro-Asiatic language family called the Omotic language. The
language in a formal Amharic usage, Basketoa is basically akin to the Gammo Goffa dialect
of the Omotic language group spoken in the former North Ommo Zone. Despite the
informants claimed a distinct linguistic identity for Baske, one could observe a close link
between the Baske and the Gamo Goffa language. The language also has a distant affinity to
the Wolayta language. I (as a native Wolayta) could make a sensible communication with
the Baske in many situations such as in markets.
2.2.1 Location, Topography, Agro-ecology and Social Amenities
Basketo Special Woreda is located some 564 k.m. from Addis Ababa and at a distance of 340
k.m. from Hawassa, the regional capital. The Woreda is bordered with Mello Woreda (of
Gamo Goffa Zone) in the north, Semen (North) Aarri Woreda (of South Ommo Zone) in
the south, Selamago Woreda of South Ommo Zone in west and Geze Goffa Woreda of
(Gamo Goffa Zone) in the east.
The highest altitude point in Baske is measured around 2500 meter. The highest peak is
Tsite mountain (Interview with Mulu). The land and topography are characterized by steeply
mountains and gorges in between mountain ranges. The Woreda is characterized by roughly
divided into highland and plain agro-ecological zones; two major agro-ecological zones exist
in the land: zaree (Low land) and gheze ( High land). It has long period of rainfall about eight
months of the year.
2.2.2 Traditional Weather And Annual Calendars
There are two main seasonal calendars in Basketo: bargi (summer, rainy season: from May
to September) and setta (winter, October to April). For example, the locals say bargi kabbi,
setta kabbi (meaning, summer maize, winter maize). The ancient Baske had their own
annual calendars. Thus, the months of the year are the following: Guaa (September),
Wogazza (October); Oydda (November), Ezina (December), Lftna (January); Odna
(February); Wozina (March); Gustama (April); Wutgama (May), Qorqata (June), Balbala (July),
Lamma (August) and Qogma (Pagumen).

The Baske indigenous day names included Aatabo, Giyabo, Yenta, Yenasa, Yemalqa, Yena,
Yenena- seven days. Atabo means today or this day; Giyabo (Tomorrow), Yenta (the day
after tomorrow), Yenasa (the day after the 2nd day), Yemalga (5th day), Yena (6th day) and
Yenena (7th day). It is like beginning from Monday. Moreover, the reference point is always
the day on which one stands. So any day could be Aatabo.

But these indigenous calendars have almost become museum bound. They are very rarely
used in every day usage, even that among old people the calendar has become Amharanized.
Informants did not know on what the names of the days of the week were based. The
months were counted when the moon appears and fades away. They months are counted
as, one moon, two moons, etc.
2.2.3 Natural Resources
Basketo Special Woreda is characterized lucrative, dense remnant forests and very rich
natural resources. The land hosts numerous small pockets of remnant, traditionally
maintained forest areas which teem with many indigenous tree species and serve as the
contexts for the spiritual activities. The estimated forest coverage in the land was about 16
682 hectare according to figures provided by the Woreda Agriculture and Rural
Development Office.
Photo 1. A view of the topography, mountainous features and forests
The Basketo Special Woreda hosts a number of river bodies some of which serve as
boundary markers between the Woreda and the others neighboring woredas. The three
major river bodies include: Ergino, Sanka and Sirso. Ergino River is a bigger one dividing
Basketo and Goffa. It creates a number of waterfalls as it flows over the steeply mountain
escarpment in some areas.

Photo 2. Ergino River and the bridge

Two very big waterfalls that form part of the river bodies are Berso and Sirso falls. There
was no eco-tourism and investment venture operational up to the time of our fieldwork.
The rivers drain into Ommo River.

Photo 3. Ergino River Bridge dividing Basketo and Geze Goffa Woreda (Standing is our driver Husen)

Photo 4. One of the Water Falls (Sisro Water Fall)
2.2.4 Demographics
As for the most recent demographic characteristics of the Woreda are concerned, it was
estimated that based on the 1994 population projection of the annual rate of growth of
2.7%, the 2006 estimate was 50, 335. According to this projection, the current estimate for
the total population size is close to 75,000. An internet based source sites the CSA 2005
data and states that based on figures published by the CSA in 2005, this Woreda has an
estimated total population of 48,316, of whom 23,990 were males and 24,326 were females;
3,970 or 8.22% of its population are urban dwellers, which is less than the Zone average of
8.5%. With an estimated area of 114.8 square kilometers, the Woreda has an estimated
population density of 420.94 people per square kilometer ( Here,
what is called the Zone represents the former Semen Ommo Zone. However, it is now
over almost four years since this the 2005 estimate of CSA was made and that the Woreda
has attained its own Special Woreda Status even before 2005. Some informed and
intellectual informants made an educated guess of about

Photo 5. A cross section of Basketo neighborhood
75,000. (The guess was based on the information from health office; there are three health
centers (not all of them operational at the time of fieldwork) and that a heath center was
meant to serve about 25000.

The Woreda Health Office used the calculation that for every
25000 population one health center is required. This estimate thuso gives as the 75000
figure. We could not access the most recent population census (2007) result for the
Basketo Woreda due to a number of reasons.

Photo 6. A cross section of The Town of Laska

The Woreda is classified into 32 kebeles with 12,663 households with average family size
being 7 per household
. Additional kebeles were also included through the establishment of
resettlements villages (about five such kebeles.) since 2003/2004. The resettlement kebeles
are inhabited by those who have come from Wolayta, Konso, Hadya, Kambatta; internal
resttlees also inhabit some areas in the resettlement zone.
2.2.5 Social Services
Regarding the various social services and their coverage in the Woreda, there is a gravel
road which is currently in bad shape that connects the Woreda with Sawla; the Woreda
center, Laska Town, is connected to the rural kebeles by informally cleared and constructed
mud roads. The current road that links Baske to Bulqi and Sawla was built in 1996
(G.C.).The Baske had for millennia used foot paths to walk on foots and ride mules to go
to Bulqi and Sawla and other places. Plans were under way to build a gravel road by up
grading the current poorly built; bad road that would link Basketo to the Zone and regional
centers the road would link Baske to the Zone and regional centers. The road would run
(Mello) to Maji in Bench Maji Zone.

This is most the current figure. It represents the figure for the time of our fieldwork period, October 2008.

Photo7. The gravel road that connects Laska to Bulqi and Sawla; Note also the serpentine
nature of the road and the rivers Ergino and Usino
Due to the bad shape of the gravel road which was constructed in 1996 G.C. the Woreda
center does not get any formal public transport service and the people opt for various
informal transport options.
The Woredas educational coverage was such that at the time of our fieldwork there was
one high school, one preparatory school was under construction, about10 second cycle
schools and over 20 first cycle schools. The total number of elementary school enrolment
in the year 2000 E.C. was about 12332, and there were about 829 high school level students
in the same year. Due to its long years of isolation and poor opportunities of modern
education, the number of Basketo men and women who have attained high level of
schooling was very low; for example, in the year 2000 E.C. there were only 30 diploma
graduates and 10 degree graduates. The participation of female students was close to 41.26
% (2000 E.C. figure).
There were two health centers and one was under construction; 20 health posts; access to
hospital service was limited; the nearest hospital was at Wolayta Soddo at 200 k.m
. The Woreda has become a beneficiary of hydroelectric power electricity service
as of 2000 E.C. and hence there is a 24 hour electricity now. However, the tap water

After our fieldwork period, a district hospital was built at Sawla Town.
service was at a very insipient stage. There is high level of dependence on sprigs which are
Photos 8, 9. and 10 The Basketo Special Woreda Headquarters


In this Chapter, we discuss issues of identity conception, legends and models of ethno-
genesis. The Chapter goes great length to address the question, Who are the Baske and
what is their origin ethno-genetically? Our discussion begins with the issue of
nomenclature: how the various terminologies that represent the people have come to be
used and how they changed over time.

3.1. Origins of the Various Nomenclatures
3.1.1. Baske versus Basketo
When we look at the ethnonym, according to what informants have said, there are two
dominant models that emerge from the study. One is the baske (an indigenous sorghum)
model and the other is the bassa ke (literally a forest house) model. Informants invariably
agreed that todays name Basketo (as used and pronounced by outside communities) and
Baske (as used and pronounced by the people themselves) derives from these origin myths.

Thus, as informants stated, when the ancestors first came, the land was very thickly covered
with forests (bassa). The ancestors, who came as fugitives, from the Gammo-land, they had
no house to dwell in. They first used bassa as a living home. They called the bassa. Kesa,
meaning house in Basketo. They called it baske, meaning, a house of forests. They gradually
cleared the baske. They planted a sorghum called basske. This basske gave a very
bounteous produce. This is how the ethnonym arose. The name is thus composed of two
terms, bassa meaning forest and ke meaning, house.

When first the ancestors came here, this area was full of thick forests; there were no any
other people living in the land. Thus, the forest is bassa in Basketoa... they cleared this
bassa, asked among themselves what shall we plant? They agreed, we shall plant baske.
When they planted the baske it gave bounteous produce. They saw this and decided to
name the land let this land be called Baske.
Informants maintained that their ancestors and they themselves have called their names
Baske, from time immemorial. As discussed below, such nomenclature was however
gradually corrupted and various derivatives emerged due mainly to the influences of
elements of so-called modernization and notably the policies maintained by the central
government agencies.
As common elsewhere, neighboring groups may call each other in different names. The
name which a people identify themselves may be different from that which a neighboring
group calls them. Thus, the neighboring groups have called the Baske people using various
designations such as Basketo; Masketo; etc The Baske people themselves use various
designations to call their neighbors. The Aarri are called Galila or Gaila, for example. Thus
on old man said, Basketo means the land that is bordered by Bulqi, Bala, Dimme, and
Galila This center bordered by these people is called Basketo. They call us Basketo.
There is no other name which they use to call us. A person coming from Mello, when
asked, Where do you go? he says To Basketo. A person coming from Galila, when
asked, Where do you go? He says, To Basketo. Here it is interesting to note that even
the local people themselves are too much influenced by the influence of outside factors that
they themselves use a modified term, Basketo. The original name Baske seem to be used by
very older or more culture sensitive persons.

3.1.2. How the Derivatives, Basketo and Masketo Came to be Used
I asked my informants, If the ancestral and now older persons call themselves Baske, then
where do the names Basketo and Masketo come from? There were a number of
hypothetical views on this issue. Some argued, regarding the origin of Masketo that when
the ancestors brewed a local beer from their baske crop and drank it, they got drunk and
begun fighting each other with clubs. This intoxication was called Maasisne. That is why it is
also called Masketo. This name was given by the people themselves. People from far away
localities when they saw them intoxicated, they called them, Masketo, said one informant.
However, such a hypothesis was not supported by many other informants. The derivative
Masketo was simply a creation of the outside people, notably the Amhara rulers.

According to many older people whom I interviewed, the changes in the naming were
basically exogenous- oriented. As on informant argued, The ancestral people called
themselves Baske. Then when gradually, modern education and administration system
were introduced, they began to write in documents as Masketo. One well informed
informant, Ato Adisu Tekle, a Gurage origin settler whose grandparents came as pioneers
to the Basketo land, argued as follows:

The original name from the beginning has been "Baske. But of late when the Amhara
came they modified the name to Basketo for ease of usage. It is around 1920s. Another
variant name which was in vogue during the late Haile-Sellasies and early Dergues Regime
was Masketo. Some people, especially outside the Basketo area such as in Goffa, still use
this name. The name Masketo was in official usage even in official letter exchanges when it
was said, 'Banka Masketo Woreda. This Woreda included Mello as well. The name,
Masketo was officially dropped since 1969 E.C.

It is interesting to note that the central governments agents had freely concocted any
designation that suited their purposes to the local people. The Baske people had also
another name which was in vogue for some years during HIS Regime. According to
informant Adisu Teklu, the Basketo Woreda was also called Firehiwot, meaning fruit of life.
The name was given by the then administrator of Goffa Awraja (todays equivalent to Zone),
Colonel Demeqe Tessoma, in 1958 E.C when he came to visit the land. When he went to a
locality called Dunkey he warned the people not to call the place Dunkey any more since it
smacks of 'Donkey' in English. So he changed the name and gave Firehiwot- this name
replaced Laska until 1969 E.C after which time it was reverted to its original name.
Informants also disclosed that the name dunkey was associated with potato (dunkey meant
potato in a neighboring Ari area), which was rampantly produced and sold at markets.

3.1.3. The Concept of Shanquilla
Of all the names proffered to the Baske people, the worst designation was the Shanquilla
concept which was a common designation summarily given to all dark skinned peoples in
southern and south western Ethiopia. It parallels a model of the western colonizers
designation of the black people in the continents of Africa and elsewhere. The designation
roughly equates with the Negroes. Such a naming had a very strong psychological and
ideological powers attached to it by the conquering Amhara settlers.

According to informants, the Amhara rulers never called the locals in their proper names,
Baske people. Rather they gave a summary derogatory name Shanquilla. They called them in
Amharic, ve? hpKA. All the people in this area including the Aarri, Dimme and others
in far south were called by this derogatory name. Such derogation continued until the
deposing of Emperor Haile Sellasie I (1974). In Dergues time (1974 to 1991) it subsided and
waned in usage, but it is in the wake of the Dergues demise that all these derogations
ceased. As one informed Baske informant, a government official, passionately noted, the
gravest of all oppression was the dehumanizing derogatory designation given by the Amhara
feudal lords to the people. The informant said, "There is no clan or locality in Basketo
known by this name [Shanquilla]. It was meant to show the alleged superiority of the rulers
physically, socio culturally and militarily.

I had an opportunity to conduct an interview session with a very old Amhara settler whose
father came to the Baske land in the 1880s. This informant said he fought during the war of
Ogaden (c. 1934). He was over 100 years old during the time of interview. He was very
active and still vigorous. One of our questions to him was what he thought about the
derogatory name Shanquilla. He managed to dodge away the issue by providing logic of his
own. I asked, It is said that he Amhara rules had utter contempt for the southern people;
they gave them versions derogatory names. They called the Baske Shanquilla what do you
think of this? His responses were, 'Who says this? Now we are intermarriedAmhara
settlers settled in urban centers and the locals settled in rule areas. I don't think there is a
name Shanquilla representing a person or groups of people; rather it is the designation of
the land. We called this land is called Shanquilla ' What do you call Galila? What do you call
Boddi? It is these lands we called Shanquilla. No one directly addressed any single individual
person as Shanquilla.

Although the man made a clever attempt to dodge the question, it shows that as the man
himself made it clear, the Amhara settlers designated the lands where the conquered, black,
dark skinned people lived as Shanquilla. What this informant said as the land is not just the
physical topography or the mountains and rivers, etc. The land is none other than the

The term Shanquilla was pregnant with many ideological meanings. One of my key
informants (who was a sort of Baske elite) described what he understood when the then
Amhara rulers designated the locals as Shanquilla. Thus he defined: 'Shanquilla is one who
never cleans up when washed, so dirty; one who does not look good when wears; one who
is so idiot that no amount and education changes him; one who can't aim at a target and
shoot a gun; one who is created to serve others as a dumb lamb, getting done nay orders
without any complaint. One may regard such a description as a bit politicized and smacks
of extreme sensationalism, yet it reveals the state of mind of the then rulers and settlers
towards the locals. But it was also implied in literature. For example, according to Donham,
(1986:41), "The northern colonists viewed southerners as primitive, without culture and
effective government; and a lazy, dirty and warlike heathen who needed the word of God

3.2. The Origins of the Baske: Views on Ethno-genesis
3.2.1. The Gamo Origin of the Baske
Informants invariably attest to the Gamo origin of the major stem clans that today make up
the population of Baske. Information gleaned from the informants and various written
sources locally available all attest to this. However, the present population of Baske is also
composed of groups whose ancestry does not, in the views of informants, is traced to the
Gamo land. Thus, it may be safely argued that todays Baske population is built up on
people groups which may be classified into three convenient categories: The first is people
groups whose ancestry is traced to the Gamo land; the second is those whose ancestors
were believed to have been in the land from the very beginning, just popped up from the
soil itself, as some informants noted; and the third are those whose ancestry may be traced
to other parts of the country, notably central and northern Ethiopia.

The first category of Baske people notably comprises what informants called the dominant
stem clans, namely, Goirenaa and Goshanaa and Shimenaa (added sometimes among the
dominant ones). The second category comprises of the original, non- emigrant
inhabitants, the Khalmanaa clan. The third category consists of those whose ancestors
came to the Baske land following the opening up of the land for the central Ethiopian
government rule. These include the Amhara of various branches, the Gurage, among others.
Now les us look at these three categories by providing descriptions form informants

According to informant Ato Adisu Tekle (a settler Gurage whose grandparents emigrated
to the area in the 1880s, the first wave of migrants came to this land during the time of
Ahmed Ibrahim ( commonly known as Gra, first half of 16
century.) Thus, the Goshanaa
and Goirena'a came from Gamo land. These comers were the first pioneers and
conquerors, who came to the land at least according to some informants, although the
pioneers and conquerors were often those who came late with the annexation of the land
into the central government

When the ancestors of Goirenaa and Goshanaa came, they settled at a land called Purza.
Other accompanying groups also came with them. Some of those who came included the
Ganza, Mitsna, Zangana'a, and other related clans. One common legend which revolves
around this ethno-genesis goes like this:
The new comers settled in a great forest. They had two dogs with them. When they saw
the dogs were hungry, they went hunting a goiree (colobos monkey, Gureza in Amharic)) by
trapping. They killed it and fried the meat on fire and fed the dogs. When the smoke from
the camp went high the indigenous inhabitants saw it and told the Khalmanaa ruler. He
sent his people to see what was happening, when the messengers came, they saw the new-
comers camping, stretching the monkeys skin; when the messengers saw that the new
comers were frying the monkey's meat, and touching their mouth with their hands, they
mistook it for these people eating the monkey's meat. The messengers then went back and
reported to the Khalmana'a Kati (King of Khalmanaa) saying, "The new comers ate
monkey meat." Then the Khalmanaa' Kati came to see what was going on for himself. He
brought a goat and gave it to the new comers to kill it and eat. The new comers brought
muutsi (a salt like substance)with then and rubbed the meat with it and gave to the
Khalmanaa Kati which he tasted and found it very interesting and he addressed the two
new-comer brothers (Goshana'a and Goirena'a), "Kauta!" Kauta!" ("Be king! Be king!) Then
the two brothers said among themselves, Now that the Khalmanaa has enthroned us both
kings. Let us therefore divide among ourselves the land. They thus agree that one of them
go to Bala land the other remain in that place. The big brother went to Bala and become
king at Dokke Qoa.

There is a variant narration to this ethno-genesis, however, particularly regarding whether it
was the Khalmanaa who witnessed the drama of the trapping, killing and dog feeding of the
monkeys meat. Some narrated it saying that, it was after the two stem ancestors migrated
and settled in and around the Baske land that the two made a formal separation. The
ancestor of Goshanaa was an elder brother to the Goirenaa and it was he who gave this
name, Goirenaa. The following is how an old informant narrates:
The two major clans, Goirenaa and Goshanaa, have migrated from a place called Gama
Qarra in todays Gamo. The place is sometimes termed as Gammo Birbire. The first two
persons who came from Gamo land were Enda- Kati and Boralle. They came and settled at
a place called Dojo in Bala. Before they arrived to Basketo, they settled at Bala. After
some time, the younger, Boralle went for hunting. He hunted Goiree; (Colobos
monkey).Boralle took his dog with him. When his dog was hungry, he cooked the meat of
the Goiree which he killed and tried to give the meat to the dog. Just at that moment the
hot meat burnt his hand and he touched his mouth as an attempt to soothe the pain. At
that moment, people around looked and saw the drama and told it to the big brother, Enda
Kati. When the big brother heard this, that Boralle ate the meat of Goiree, he was upset.
He was waiting for his brother to come to conduct the ritual together. He then chased
Boralle away saying, how this debases himself to eat the meat of Goiree? From that day
onward, the offspring of Boralle came to be called Goirenaa (the Sons of colobos monkey)
the big brother pronounced, You shall be called Goirenaa since you have eaten the meat
of Goiree. Enda Kati remained there at Bala and came to be known as Goshanaa.
Rejected and chased by his older brother, Boralle came to this land and settled here, taking
the name Goirenaa (the son of a Goiree)) and his descendants came to be called
Goirenaa. When Boralle came here, he then begged his brother to give him one of his girls
and then married her. From that day onward he became in-law to his brother. That is why
now members of Goirenaa and Goshanaa marry each other. Now both Goirenaa and
Goshanaa live in Baske as the majority clans each maintaining its own katiship.

The ethno-genesis of the two major clans is rich. There is still another narration to it. I call
it the Enda Gamonde Myth

3.2.2. The Endak-Gamonde Myth
The Gammo Goffa origin of todays major Baske clans is often expressed by what the older
persons used to say, Maye Gammodo, meaning, my root father from Gamo. They evoked
this name and phrase when they conduct their traditional rituals. At the center of the Enda
Gamonde or Maye Gammodo story was a female figure: There was this woman called Endake.
She came and gave birth to all the first ancestral Katis of the land. She came from Gammo.
When she came she brought with her two children. She entered a land called Boralle. She
dwelt in forest with her two children. That forest was called bassa. Those who accompanied
her brought Wolee (a tree cutter) and ubee (a knife). They cleared the forest using the Wolee
(hatchet) and ubee. When they cleared the bassa, they said, What shall we now plant?
They said, Let us plant baskes. When this baskes gave high yield, then they said, What
shall we call this land? They answered, Since we planted baskes by clearing bassa, we shall
call this land Basketo.
There are conflicting ideas in the above narratives. One of the confusions for example is
whether the name Boralle is the name of a place or of one of the ancestral fathers. The
narrative also does not make it clear whether Endak-Gamonde gave birth to all the first
ancestors or she brought them from Gammo land as fugitives.

A more or less related story revolving around the Endak-Gamonde Myth is also narrated by
some informants. This slightly differing narration goes like this:
The ancestors of Goshana'a and Goirenaa came from a place in Gammoland. Boralle and
Endakata came from Gammoland. Their mother came with them. They settled at a shore
of a river called Ergino. There was a cave near by the river and she dwelt there. But as she
saw a tree called boralle, whose trunk was very thick, having a big hole, clean and neat she
wanted to live inside that hole. As they lived there, Endakata departed and left for another
area called Bala beyond the Baskets land, He rested at a place called Zigadana. There
was Buzea Kati (the Kati of Buzan land) nearby. He saw a smoke went up. When they
came to see the newcomers, he saw that the new comers were camping and fire burning
he got angry, saying "who is this encroaching into my land?"
In earlier narrative versions we saw that the Buzan Kati was impressed by the charismatic
stances of the new comers and welcomed them. But in this version, he was painted as being
indignant with the new comers. In earlier versions, the name Boralle was taken as a name of
one of the brothers coming form Gammo land, but here it is also taken to be the name of a
tree. In other narratives, it was the name of a place where the new comers rested. In the
above narration, the term Enda Kati appears to be confusing too; since in earlier stories the
ancestral woman came and gave birth to the ancestral Katis of Goshanaa and Goirenaa. In
this narrative it appears that the woman came with fully grown up and already enthroned
Thus, now there is a ritual which honors Enda-Gamonde in Basketo. This ritual is Endak-
Gamonde. When they conduct the ritual of worship they invoke first Maye-Gammodo and
then Endak-Gamonde. Today one of the most sacred historical places in Baske land is a
place where this female ancestress (now regarded as a deity on her own right) where they
conduct solemn worship and rituals in her honor, equating her to St Mary of the Orthodox
Christians. (We will come to this point later.)

Another yet probably more convincing and valid narrative regarding the origins of the
dominant Basketo clans goes like this: As the population of the original Gamo Land became
too large the apical ancestors of all todays what I call Gammoid groups dispersed in different
directions. As one of my key informants narrated,
The first original ancestor of all the Gammo groups including the Basketo is called Gammo.
People say Maye Gammodo, meaning, our fore father Gammo. This ancestral Maye
Gammodo ordered his sons to go and occupy the lands. Accordingly, some came and
remained in todays Gammo Goffa areas, Mello, Zalla, Goffa, Qucha, etc. Three sons, of
which one called Boralle, the other called Ergadao and the third Kuuti, came and began
living. But two of these, Boralle and Ergadao, established the two big clans of Basketo,
Goirenaa and Goshanaa [in Baske proper and environing areas]. The third son Kuuti
departed and went to Ghimira area in Bench Maji Zone. His descendants came back
through Dimme land to this area. Of these descendants, one called Shimenaa came and
fought with Goshanaa and became one of the major clans.

Corrective information on the above paragraph was obtained during review workshop from
Baske elders. According to them, due to skirmishes among the various clans-
folk in Gamo land, called Birbir Mariam the first Baske ancestors came to this
land. The names of these founding fathers of the current major clans were
Wolako, Wocho and Kuuti. The reasons for the in-coming of the major ancestral
Baske groups from the Gamoland were not exactly known by informants. However,
informants hypothesized that there was population pressure leading to war. As one
informant notes, There ware war and conflict during those times. They migrated to this
land due to these conditions. From available historical documents we may argue that the
time was probably c.a. mid 16
century, as this is the period of intense ethnic
movements and migrations in the country, including southern Ethiopia due to
the direct and indirect influence of population increases and Ahmed Gragn

One of my key informants also hinted that the first wave of population incoming movements into the present
Basketo land was during and following the period of Ahmed Ibrahim (Gragn) Wars, i.e. 1530s to 1550s).
According to various historical scholars, many of the major population/ ethnic movements and migrations in
south Ethiopia took place following the two great historical events of this period, namely, Ahmed Gragn Wars
and the Great Oromo population movements of the 16
century. Also,` according to these scholars, the oral
traditions of many southern Ethiopian peoples point to the time framework dating back to the last 400- 500
years, based on genealogical studies. (see, for example, Dr Lapiso, G, Dilebos works (1999, 1996, 1991); also see
Braukamper, 1973; Tesfaye Habis aaaaand Daniel Haile Magicho, 1993)
A further note is interesting here regarding one of the dominant clans, the Goshanaa. Some
informants argued that came from Deramalo area in Gamo and his progeny now
encompasses all areas in Arbaminch and Qucha. Its progeny even stretch as far as Wolayta
so there are Goshanaa seeds there as well. The veracity of this view however needs to be
further verified.

3.3. The Major Clans, Other Marginalized Clans and Their Inter-
Interview after interview has made it clear that the Baske proper of today first and
foremost comprises the two major clans; namely, the Goshanaa and Goirenaa and then the
Shimenaa and the indigenous Khalmanaa. Goirenaa and Goshanaa stand out as the most
dominant in terms of demographic preponderance as well as socio-political and ideological
Thus, from what informants knew based on folktales, there used to live a group of people
called Khalmanaa. The land was theirs. They were already maintaining a katiship and their
king was called Buzzan Kati, (The king of Buzzan.). There were conflicting views regarding
the ethno-genesis of the Khalmanaa, although all informants agreed that Khalmanaa is the
most indigenous clan in the land. One informant said, The first ancestors of Khalmanaa
came in twos and threes and others gradually built up on it. But we do not know where
they came from. Most informants have argued that the Khalmanaa was in this land from
the beginning. But others said that, even the Khalmanaa too came from other areas. They
are not indigenous to this land. Most agreed, however, that what makes the Khalmanaa
unique is that they predate all other comers to the land; all informants confirm that the
Khalmanaa were the first to establish the katiship system, that their katiship was superseded
by Goirenaa, and Goshanaa came later; that their numerical ad socio-cultural stance had
already been decimated.
Some informants enumerate four major katis in Baske congruent probably with this four
stem clans. The Goirenaa clan has two katiship: Oolla Kati and Gezhe Kati. The Ooolla
Goirenaa; is more dominant here in Baske proper. There are in general four katis: Olla
Kati, Gezhe Kati, Buzzan Kati and Dokho Kati. Goshanaa also is divided into two: one
resides in Balta and the other lives in Baske proper.
However, these four Katis according to some informants are derived from only three clans:
Goirenaa, Goshanaa and Khalmanaa. In fact one old man argued the different Katis we find
in Baske today are the divisions of the two clans, Goirenaa and Goshanaa. However this
argument was not supported by most of other informants. They all agreed that the only
other clan which has maintained its katiship is Khalmanaa. No other groups, such as for
example, Minaa, have had run katiship. But some of these clans have had played important
roles in conducting ritual performances.
There are many other clans which informants identified. These are believed to be those
who had come accompanying the Gamo- origin clans. However, it was not made clear by
informants how many of these have originally came from Gamo land or just whether many
other marginalized clans already existed in the land or came from other places other than
Gamo land. To mention some of the clans other than the four often mentioned major clans:
Aaji, Gudaratti, Sandi, Zagni, Marinti, Sobba, Gammali, Aami, Zsnaganaa, Zarzara, Zadiyi,
.Kaysii, Sozinii, Zaaginaa, Gidintii, Minaa, Aassa, Aybii, Sozima, Zaginaa, among others.
Some of these mentioned clan names might be in reality lineages. The conceptual confusion
between clans and lineages was evident among informants. However, during review
workshop, it was noted that these mentioned names were clans.
There are certain myths regarding the origins of some of these clans. For example,
according to one old key informant, while the Khalmanaa was created in this land itself,
the Zhanganaa was popped out of a sorghum called Zhanga. The Minaa was said to have
popped out of a certain tree. (In Baske Miti means a tree). According to informants some
of these clans have emigrated from Galila (Baske term for the Aarri,) Dawro and the like
apart from Gamo. There are many others who came from Galila, Mello, Dawro, other than
Gamo. Their time of arrival was not known by the informants.
As for the total number of stem clans that now have populated Baske, exact and proven
number of clans could not be obtained. There were problems in terms of mixing lineages
with clans. One learned Baske key informant argued over all there are over 45 major clans.
Another old man said there were over fifty such clans.
Quite in congruence with the overall state of affairs in other ethnic groups in the south,
there have been tendencies of ideological struggles among the various clans for social,
spiritual, political and other supremacies. In this regard, the two clans, Goshanaa and
Goirenaa have had gained a supreme ideological, demographic, socio-political positions in
Baske history (just disregarding the latter coming and rule of the Amhara and other
northern ethnic groups). It was noted that these two have come and dominated the
indigenous group of Khalmanaa who ever since had given up the supremacy t them.
3.3.1. Marginalized Clans and Their Origins
There have as well been marginalized and stigmatized groups in Baske. Some of these have
had occupied inferior positions and were assigned what might be regarded as menial
occupations such as tanning, iron making, pot making, ritual performances, etc. Some of the
lowly clans are called Manna (potters) and Kaysisi (tanners). Members of the Goirenaa
and Goshanaa particularly have had socially and ritually detached themselves form these so-
called inferior groups. They do not eat or drink in their houses. It was believed that
these outcaste groups have come from the Gamo land where their ancestors lived,
accompanying the Goshanaa and Goirenaa. They used to have internalized and accepted
their marginal statuses. But now such derogation is not legally acceptable. It was also noted
during review workshop that nowadays, there seems to be growing tolerance and
acceptance among the various clans and social categories due to the influence of
Christianity and modern ways of thinking.

As for the ritual performance roles of the marginal, caste groups on key informant had
pointed out:
when the ancestral Baske major clans came here they also brought with them other
lesser groups of people who have come down in the history of Basketo as the Kaisi, and
the manna. These specialize in making pots and tannery. Also brought with the ancestral
fathers were various groups of people who perform certain menial jobs during the
performance of religious rituals. The Ajji and Sandi clans are those who do these jobs during
the ritual performance. The Kaysi groups were very much despised groups. They were never
allowed to sit together or be in a presence of the kingly groups. In gatherings, they would
not eat or drink from the same table with other people. They would not use water drinking
cups used by others; instead, they would drink using the false- banana leaves. These groups
occupy the ritual positions of Zorssi, Chomachi and oyti; Persons holding these titles are
the servants of the Kati. They are responsible to execute the rituals under the Kati. The
Kati does not for example slaughter the sacrificial sheep or cow, nor does he spill the beer.
One of these for example carries the beer, the other calls the name of ancestors, the other
spills the beer, and the other still slaughters the cow.

There are also other groups of people called ayla, literally slaves. It appeared that these
groups have been even much more stigmatized and marginalized. The exact ethno-genesis
of these groups is also not known. However, some informants said they had come from the
Gamo land like the others. While other informants said they have attained this status of
slave hood due to a number of socio-economic and political factors such as being war
victims, utterly poor to own a land and thus becoming willing servants for the landowners,
etc. Now the atmosphere has changed; they are being empowered and being given land of
their own. The ayla did not own their own land but totally served their lords on whose
lands they lived.

3.3.2. Inter-clan Wars and the Origin of Laska
The term Laska stands as living testimony to the inter clan conflicts and wars going on in
time past. If one has reasons to believe what one settler Amhara key informant
hypothesized, the pre-Amhara Baske land was characterized as often engaging in bloody
wars and clashes among the various clans. The coming of the Menlik II (1889-1913) rule to
this land has ushered in a new era of peace and stability, argued this informant. We cannot
begin to consider this view as a valid explanation and a fact. It is tainted with ideological
biases. Inter-clan or inter- neighborhood or other forms of intra-community clashes have
always existed in all societies either before or after the instituting of the central
government. However, we cannot deny that brutish, frequent inter or intra clan wars have
declined in our present times, and this is not necessarily due to the institution of better,
superior systems of politics and conflict management by outside forces.

When we come back to this story of inter-clan wars, there one famous such event which
informants mentioned often. It goes like this:

This land, the present urban site, is now the land of Goirenaa. There dwelled another clan
called Shimena'a at Qaitsa. The Shimenaa, as they became numerous in number, their
land could no more hold them. Then they sent for the Goirenaa Kati to give them some
land, which he refused. Then the two fought a fierce war. The Shimenaa won the war.
After the war ended, the Kati of Goshana'a sent for messengers to evaluate what
happened. When the messengers came and saw, there was a horrible scene. A heap of
mutilated human corpse! They went back and reported, "Laski laski ashide! Meaning,
"They mutilated them all!" Hence the name Laska. The Woreda center is now called by this
name. There is now a town center where stands a memorial picture. This site is historically

As for the chronological order of this event, informants could not provide actual date.
However, some noted that it was during the time of Menlik II. But as some informants
noted, if we accept that the town of Laska was established in 1941, then this event might be
early years of Haile Sellasie I (1930-1974).
3.3.3. The Latter-day Comer Groups
As for the various latter- day comers apart from the major Baske clans, and the Gammoid
groups, what we denoted earlier as the third category of Baske population notably
comprise the Amhara groups who generally came following or accompanying the
conquering Menilik IIs army starting from the mid 1880s. According to informants, there
are various Amhara groups who have come to Baske from different parts of the country.
There are those who came from Gondar, Gojam, Wollo, Gurage, and Shewa. Some
informants considered the Gurage as Amhara. Some of these Amhara groups have come
probably even before the Menlik II era as long distance itinerary merchants. Oromo of
Shewa and Selale have also come here There are those who have come from Wolyata.
The most recent event in this procession of the in-coming of different people groups to the
Baske land is the resettlement (see below) of people from Wolayta, Konso, Hadaya and
Kambatta. These recently settled groups (who arrived in 2004/ 2005) have now made up
the legitimate peasant kebeles, totaling about five. These new comer groups have been given
such names as Garra Wolayta, Garra Hadya, Garra Konso and Garra Kambatta.
3.4. Perceptions of Baske Identity
I was interested to know what the informants thought of whether and how the Baske in
any unique sense differ from other neighboring ethnic and administrative groups such as the
Mello, Bala, Aarri, Goffa, etc. I understand it is a conceptually slippery question and very
difficult to provide any concrete view on this. The response of informants was generally
passionate determined when they react to this question. The general agreement was that
the Baske have had their own unique ethno-historical identity, language and other socio-
cultural features that set them apart from other neighboring people groups. Thus said one
What makes us unique or different from others is that we have our own language, food
habits, costumes, and in general our own ways of life. It had been so from the times of
ancients We are called from the beginning, Baske. Those who are in Galila are Galila,
those in Sawla are Sawla, and those in Mello are Mello. We are Baske. The land is called
Baske. The people are called Baske. Our language is different; our way of dressing is
different. Basketo are different in their way of cultivating the land, in the way they conduct
their mourning and funeral rituals, also in the way they conduct their religious rituals.

This is an intelligent and logical way of depicting Baske unique identity. However, although
some of the views here may not be contested, others may not stand further and deeper
testing. For example, it might not be possible to delineate a very neat and clear- cut
demarcation in certain socio-cultural features and life ways between the Baske and some of
its neighbors, say for example, the Mello, Goffa or Galila.

As summary, we may argue that the chronological events surrounding the origins and
establishment of the major Baske clans, excluding the indigenous ones, may be traced to a
rough time period by using the genealogical approach. The longest line of generations was
14 in the Goshanaa clan. Assuming that a generation would last for maximum 40 years, it
amounts to about 540 years. When we reduce this to 25 years, it amounts to 350 years.
Thus, at most, the origin of the first founders of the major clans goes to 450 years back (to
1470s) and at least to 350 years, 1660s. If we take the average of the two, the time falls
somewhere within the documented historical framework of the Gran Wars and the great
ethnic movements of the 16


This section deals with the historical origins, developments and changes registered in what I
have designated as the social cultural life of the people. We make attempt to present our
findings from field interviews and document reviews on various dimensions of life including
costumes, personal beatification and body marking; personal and place naming, mate
selection, marriage and wedding; health/ medicine, death, mourning and funeral rituals;
sports, games, dances, music and musical instruments; markets, trade relations and money
systems; housing architecture and household utensils; social amenities and infrastructure,

It may be difficult to cover all these issues under one rubric, Social History. However, our
aim is to present what we found in these dimensions; some of the dimensions treated here
might be incorporated better under different titles.

4.1. The Baske and Their Neighbors
The Baske have had lived in close proximity with a number of neighboring ethnic groups.
The Baske ethno-linguistic and historical identity was shaped by, among other things, the
forces emanating from the conflict and peace relations with its neighbors. It may be argued
that no ethnic group is an island, so isolated from any other group that it had no relations
whatsoever with other groups. It is noteworthy that the historical processes that shaped
the identity of one ethnic group were/ are both internal, i.e. that emanate from the groups
own internal forces and its interaction with its own environment and natural forces; and
external, i.e., what had happened or happens to another ethnic group or what another
ethnic group does directly or indirectly affects its neighbors.
The Baske have had both friendly and hostile ethnic neighbors that co-existed with it for
millennia. They had shared socio-cultural, political, economic and ideological relations with
these neighbors. Some of the ethnic neighbors of the Basketo were and are those who
might be said to be their distant "blood relatives", i.e. those whose ancestors sprang from
the same apical stem. These ethnic groups include the Mello, Bata, Goffa, Qua, among
. Other ethnic neighbors are those who did not share common ancestral roots
(although all groups of people in the final analysis share the same ancestral root). These

A repeated cry from review workshop participants was to put time frame for the social events and
institutions and make the narration more historical. I agree that the text presented here and elsewhere in the
document may sound more of ethnographic and less of historical. The problem arises from lack of written
sources in illiterate societies such as Baske; putting time framework for events and other aspects in this study
demands in-depth archeological and related studies. However, we have attempted to put events and other
aspects in time framework when and where possible.
Some of these, for example, Mello, Balta, are not ethnic groups in an independent sense, as they are part of
the Gamo- Goffa nationality.
included the Boddi, Dimme, Aarri, among others. The Baske also did have some level of
relations with other geographically distant ethnic groups such as the Konso, Tsara,
Wolayta, etc.
We thus argue that today's ethno-linguistic and ethno-historical identity of the Baske had
been the result of complex inter-ethnic relations socio-culturally, economically and
politically for millennia. Below we discuss the findings on such inter-ethnic relations the
Baske had maintained with its neighbors for millennia.

4.1.1 The Baske and the Boddi
The name Boddi is popular among the Baske. The Boddi, whom the Baske call Oodi, are a
Nilo-Saharan ethno-linguistic group who inhabit the River Ommo basin in today's South
Ommo Zone of Ethiopia. The Boddi/ Oodi as called by its neighbors such as Goffa, Baske,
Konso, etc, are a progeny of one of the founding stems of the Me'enit ethnic group who are
found towards the north-west of Baske in Bench Maji Zone, Southern Region. The Meenit
people call these Boddi people as their kinsfolk who divided away in the past as the
ancestral fathers of Meenit marched in different directions. The Baske regarded the Boddi
as their enemies who had been bent on raiding their cattle and killing whenever the
opportunities permitted.

The Baske and the Boddi neighbor each other and they have had strenuous relations for
millennia. Even young people know this fact, as this 24 year old youth narrates:

Even though I am only 24 years old, I know and hear that most of the time our people
have been the victims of the Boddi people. I know that Baskets clash with the Boddi. The
latter often came and wrought havoc on the Basketo land, and raid the cattle and kill
people. There have been significant eventful wars when the Basketo clashed with the Boddi.
One of such was in 1983 (E.C.). In a kebele called Obaa; the Boddi came and descended
suddenly on the Basketo and massacred over 93 people. They also made repeated raids
and took away many cattle. Another time, they came to a kebele called Garrra and
massacred over 60 people and raided cattle. They even ripped the stomach of pregnant
woman and took out the fetus." I know this has happened in my age.

Informants often used terms like thieves, surprise attackers, ambushers, etc, to describe the
actions of the Boddi people as they come and attack the Baske in a stealthy manner. As a
thief would often come and take away possessions in darkness at night time or other
convenient time, the Boddi, according to the informants, would come at night times or in
times when the victims are unaware. They suddenly would descend on their victims
unawares and make raids or killings. The Boddi often also come as surprise attackers, during
times of insecure political events such as election events or government unrest. They often
make surprise attacks; they do not engage in a planned, face- to- face war with the Baske.
One informant's description of the Boddi may help us to understand the general attitude
and perception the Basketo have towards the Boddi:

In 1983 [E.C.], these nomads came to our locality. These Oodi people are called
nomads. They came during times of government unrest. The Oodi are otherwise
like thieves. Because, if there is any one who confronts them face- to- face, they do
not dare to come here and fight. A Boddi fighter comes as a thief suddenly and kills.
If he sees that he is being watched, he does not dare to come. He comes in
unexpected times. In 1983 (E.C.) they came when the local people were all engaged
in their religious ceremonies: the Orthodox Christians in their churches, the
Missions [Protestant Christians] in their church services. It was around 7 o'clock in
the evening. They came and raided cattle. They did not want other things. When
they take cloths, they tear it and deck themselves by tying around their necks. They
consider it as a strange thing. They go naked... They love cattle. Because they are
cattle herders, they love cattle.... They did not kill older persons. They respect
older persons. In our locality, they did not kill my great grand father who was 115
years old at that time. They entered home and took cattle...

This was further attested to by another older man: "The conflict was common. It was like
theftThey came like thieves and raid and took away our resources. They do not cultivate
the land. They tend their cattle. They kill zebra and slaughter it and use the skin to make
small tents and live therein."

The above quotes show some important points regarding the Baske views of the Boddi.
One thing, their nomadic life style is seen as something lowly and backward; that they go
naked and are lagging far behind in 'modernization' aspects such as wearing cloths (going
naked is viewed as backwardness in popular perceptions, although it may not be as such for
the doers). Another very important point that emerges from the above quote is that the
driving force behind the Boddi's action of stealthy raids and killings was their desire to
amass livestock: "they love cattle!" To satiate this thirst for more and more cattle, they are
motivated to make raids on their neighbors. The Boddi hold enmity not only against the
Basketo but also other neighbors such the Dimme.

There was thus no any other substantive reason for the enmity between the Baske and the
Boddi, especially on the part of the Basketo. It was driven by the nomadic pastoral drives to
accumulate livestock, as informants implied. Informants said there was no other reason and
hence the Basketo did not go to war with the Boddi in any planned or organized way. If
they fought with them, it was for the sake of defending themselves. As another key
informant said, "The conflict, thus, between Basketo and Boddi was not in such a way that it
was confronted squarely. The Boddi often descended up on the Basketo unawares. They
crept in like thieves and raided cattle. The conflict was not one willed by both parties or
one caused by in search of or conflict over lands and other resources."

The Boddi often over-powered and inflicted more harm on the Basketo as they came
unawares on the one hand that they were fully armed with firearms which the Basketo
never owned. Thus, said one old man,

How can Baske match with the Boddi? Basketo has only spears. The Boddi have
firearms. They have different types of firearms such as menshig, rezhim albem, achir
albem, and demotifer. [These were famous firearms in feudal Ethiopia.] All firearms
were with them that which they got from the Italy war period. The Baske had to
hide away in bushes and dugout tunnels when the Boddi came to raid. They
defended themselves by taking refuge in thick forests.

Informants told that this ancient enmity between the Baske and the Boddi has now
subsided since the downfall of the Dergue (1991). The last major raid and war the Boddi
waged on a section of the Basketo land was back in 1982/ 1983 E.C. No significant war or
conflict event took place from that time onward. Thus said one key informant:

It is only recently that the Boddi settled into peaceful relations with the Basketo
when the present government took drastic measures. Now, there is peace. They
come to our land and participate in markets. Since the coming to power of EPRDF,
the conflict has subsided and the Boddi have now begun dealing peacefully with us.
They come to our lands sell and buy in the markets and make commodity
exchanges. Baske people also go to their country and buy cattle.

4.1.2 Basketo's Other Ethnic Neighbors
According to informants, no other neighboring ethnic group had ever waged any planned,
organized war against the Baske; neither had the latter had any such relations with its
other neighbors. Informants generally were very composed and appreciative when they
mentioned the names of their other ethnic and administrative neighbors such as the
Dimme, the Gaila or Galila, the Mello and Bata.

The Baske have had and continue to have peaceful relations with these neighbors.
Informants consider the Dimme as one of the most peaceful neighbors to them. They have
been part of the Banka Basketo Woreda during the times of the Dergue, (1974- 1991) when
they were in the same administrative structure, together with Mello, Gelila and Dimme. The
Dimme have been very crucial economic allies to the Baske. The latter have had depended
on the former for their iron material works. The Dimme land has been well known for its
land teeming with varieties of minerals such as iron ore. The Dimme were thus famous for
their ironsmith works. The Baske have had depended on the Dimme for the various
agricultural and warfare implements which were made of the iron ore. The Dimme on their
part had also recourse to the Baske for various items. They came and sold and bought
various items in the weekly markets in Baske.

The Gaila or Galila (Baske designation for Aarri), have also been Basketo's peaceful
ethnic neighbors to the south direction. They have passed generations together building
social, cultural, political and economic alliances with the Baske. The Aarri are sedentary
agriculturalists like their Dimme neighbors. The Basketo had passed various politico-
economic hardships together with the Aarri during the Imperial and Dergue regimes. They
used to be structured under the same Awraja and Woreda administrative sphere during the
previous regimes.

As for the other ethnic neighbors, the Mello and Bata of Goffa Nationailty, they were
originally of the same stock, and the Baske have had shared similar socio-cultural and
historical patterns with them. The closest ethnic neighbors to the Baske are of course
these ones. Mention of names like Bata, Mello, Goffa/ Sawla were quite in everyday
language among the Baske.

Informants mentioned of a certain hazily remembered time when their ancestors, of course,
clashed and fought with the Mello people. This time might be following the 16
ethnic groups movements into the present day lands. This was a fight over land and
boundary issues. In fact, however peaceful these other ethnic neighbors might have been,
there were times of small-scale skirmishes and conflicts. Informants mentioned times of war
between the Basketo and the Mello. According to one old informant, there are today some
evidences of those wars. One such evidence is the defense tunnels, holes or fences that
were built. Although there are no defense walls, there is a ditch toward Mello border. It
was dug when Mello and Baske fought. The ditch is located at Gazda. It is now partially
visible still today. Another old man had the following to say, regarding the frequent conflicts
between the Baske and its neighbors:
Definitely there were wars and conflict between Basketo and its neighbors. Even
there were inter-clan wars. Mello used to fight Basketo. Dimme used to fight Baske.
It was said they used to force Basketo to pay tribute. The place where they received
tribute was cold Mandita Qulgala. Thus Baske was a tributary to Dimme for some
time. But this rule ended when a brave Baske man made mutiny and skillfully
massacred the Dimme people who came to collect tax. This brave Baske man who
used to live away in an Oida land away from Baske was called Dengho. He killed
innumerable Dimme and cut their genitalia and brought to the Baske. Thus it was
called naa laskinebe, meaning, "He has massacred them." Hence, the name Laska.
In this narration, there is one interesting point in relation to the ethno-genesis of the name
Laska. As stated elsewhere, the name of the Woreda center, Laska, is historically important.
Divergent historical narratives exist regarding the origins and the massacres happened in
today's place in Laska. Some narratives relate that it was the war between two big clans, the
Shimena'a and the Goshanaa who fought and that the Shimenaa dealt a deadly blow to the
Goshana'a, laskitine, literally massacred; hence the name, Laska. But in the above quote it
was stated that it was the war between the Basketo and the Dimme and that the Baske
massacred the Dimme and hence, Laska. This narration, however, conflicts with what many
accept as a story of the clash between two major clans within Baske, Goirenaa and
Shimenas during 1930s.
Informants also implied that inter-ethnic and inter-clan wars and skirmishes were more
common in the past than they are today. The question, "are inter-ethnic and inter-clan wars
more rampant in the past or are they getting more common today?" seems to be a difficult
one to address. As far as the general global conditions are concerned, from what we hear
and observe, we may argue that the world now is far better and more peaceful than it was
in the near and distant pasts. Whether we can conclusively apply this statement as a fact to
the Ethiopian condition is a difficult task. However, we may safely hypothesize that the
farther away we go back in time in Ethiopia, the more frequent becomes wars and group
conflicts of various categories. According to some informants thus, inter-ethnic and inter-
clan wars were quite common in Baske area in the past and they argued the instituting of
the central government had brought a relative stability and peace to the area.
4.1.3 Baske War Instruments
Although informants painted the Baske as most peaceful, no ethnic group was so peaceful
that it had altogether no need for defending itself from likely attacks. All ethnic groups have
had their own history of defending themselves or offending others in their efforts to
maximize their benefits. Economic and political survival and identity maintenance necessarily
demand that any group of people fight for its survival, otherwise they would be wiped out.
Might it not be probably due to this fact that in all societies we find, as ethno-graphical
researches show, vocabularies of war, fighting, defending, offending, etc; and that one of the
notable technological possessions of any ethnic group had from the very beginning been
those related to warfare?
Thus, as archaeological and ethno-historical studies show, the first set of technological
developments of human societies was warfare tools. The Baske have had used a number of
warfare technologies. Some of the most important warfare tools included: torra (spear),
gitimi( shield), alisit (sharpened wooden tool), and worra (bow and arrow). This worra was a
tool with which they threw stones at the enemy. The Basketo also used rolling huge
stones; by standing in high levels they would roll stones over the enemies below. Another
war technology of ancient Basketo was mat ( bees). The Basketo would use bee swarms as
war agents. They would un-open the beehive when the enemy came and the bee would
protect the family. This latter warfare defense strategy was also said to have been one of
the key strategies used by the Kawo Tonna of Wolayta during his fight with the Menlik II's
army. Probably this warfare had been of, what I call, the Gammoid origin, that it must have
been practiced by the ancestral Gamo.
The Basketo also used to dig tunnels. The term Kaffire nagide was common in the past; it
meant, watching for the enemy coming. During the Italian war, they dug ditches where they
hid and watched the movements of the enemy.

4.2 Childbirth and Indigenous Person Naming and Origins
4.2.1 Childbirth
In the past when a woman approaches labor time, a special hut called wadga was built (as a
make-shift house). The husband built it; she would enter into this house when labor
approaches. The husband would not accompany her especially more so if he was a ritual
leader. However, the labor event was attended by women traditional mid-wives from the
marginal clan of manna (potters). It would not be appropriate to give birth at home since it
was regarded as tuna or sin. If the woman delivered at home it was believed to result in
grave danger on the family. They would be hit by diseases. The belief and norm was
particularly very stern and serious among the ritual leaders. The wives of Kati (a Kati often
had multiple wives) would even stay at the separate hut up to 4-5 months; intercourse was
never allowed before this time. This was a must for allowing the infant to grow its first
tooth. Until the infant grows its first tooth, the women would not make sex with the kati.

Such belief system surrounding the birth events, however, has drastically changed with
particularly the coming in to the land of the Protestant Christianity. It still continues with
those who maintain the traditional worship.

4.2.2 Origins of and Changes in Personal Names
From the very beginning, people used to give local names with local meanings for persons.
But this trend has changed since the introduction of modern education into Baske land.
People began feeling modern when they proffered Amharic names for their children.
Personal naming in Baske has been based on symbolic attachments. Parents used to give
name for their children by attaching some symbolic significance to the babys birth. Events
surrounding the birth of a baby, and circumstances occurring during the events of the birth
usually determined the kind of name offered to a baby.

Ancestors used to give names for their children to signify an event that affected the parent.
The name was used as a reminder of the event. One youth informant said,
For example, my father gave me the name Geresu because before I was born he was
traumatized by a local Amhara ruler known by the name Geresu. This man, named
Dejazmach Geresu, planned to whip my father (was not whipping a customary punishment
in the past?) but my father managed to skip the punishment by some means. So he took
the name of his assaulter so as to remind him of the traumatic event.

Ancestral people thus used to give names to remind them of a particular event or problem
they faced prior the birth of their children. The indigenous Basketo person naming
depended on the circumstances surrounding the event of the birth and the parents
experiences. For example, if a person is poor or wealthy or a known warrior the child
would be given the name reflecting these various condition. Or if the parent faces any
unique problem preceding the birth of a child, the child would be given a name reminiscent
of the problem. As the circumstances go, so goes your name, in ancient Basketo tradition.
The naming tradition followed the same pattern for the ritual kings. A man who would
become a Kati would be given a name, after being deprived of his former ordinary name
(every Kati has had an ordinary name and a ritual name; for example, one of the current
active Katis in Basketo was, at the time of our interviews, Ato Mesfin Garda, which was his
given, ordinary name, but when he was enthroned as a Kati, he was given another kingly
name, Kati Mazgo Garda), he would be given a name which signifies the circumstances of his
life. However, a slight difference between names of ordinary persons and that of kings is
that the king may be given a name based on his unique characteristics and traits.

This ancestral personal naming seems to be declining or even getting forgotten. With the
coming into Baske of Christian religion, people now also give bible- based names. They
think that indigenous names are backward and meaningless. They prefer to give names for
children depending on what they learn from others in markets and churches. A good
example was what one of my informants argued.

I have changed, of my own free volition, my fathers name from Balasho to
Belachew. I thought the name Balasho doesnt have any meaning. It has meaning in
our language, but it has no meaning in Amharic. I changed my fathers name when I
first joined school in 1981 [E.C].[When asked whether Basketo students during his
time were influenced to change their names from Basketo to Amharic or Biblical
names, he said there was no such coercion.] We used to do this of our own free
The original indigenous names given for persons in Basketo, thus, gradually faded away and
were replaced with Amhara and Biblical names. This begun with the coming of the Amhara
settlers to the land and the introduction of different Christian religious sects beginning form
late 1880s and early 1890s. It particularly begun from the time of Haile- Sellasie (1930s).

It appears that the same patterns of history had also merged elsewhere in almost all of the
Amhara rule dominated regions of the country. Our study of the Meenit ethnic group also
yielded similar results in this regard. The influence of religion followed the pattern of which
major religion dominated in a particular. Fr example a formerly traditional religion
dominated area would embrace Muslim naming patterns if Islam becomes the dominant
religion in that area. In most of Protestant Christianity dominated areas of south and
southwest Ethiopia, we see biblical names dominating, besides the Amharanized names..

One of the most visible influences of Amharanization and Christianization processes in
south and south west Ethiopia appears to be that of personal names. This influence is most
evident in the names held by the generation of people that correspond with the
introduction of such influences. In our filed interviews what we observed was the extremely
Amharanized and Christianized name patterns ( both person and place names as well).
Some of the informants bore non-indigenous names up to their great grand parents. When I
conducted field interviews I had to go as far as great grand parents name to find out the
original , indigenous name. In most of the case however, it is the first person who bears the
non-indigenous names. Those bearing original, indigenous names right from the first name
were in most cases older persons.

Even with the highly motivated ethnic consciousness, cultural reclaiming and proclaiming
opportunities that ushered in with the downfall of the Dergue, there appears to be little or
no de-Amharanization and de- Christianization processes in personal and place names
among the studied communities. Indigenous and place names as historical and cultural
heritages need to be well protected and much work needs to be done in this regard to
bring about the required level of awareness and practice as well as attitude change among
the people.

4.3 The Origins of Costumes and Historical Trends in Introduction of
Modern Costumes
General observations and deductive logic make it clear that in Ethiopia there occurred a
sort of mini- revolution in the way different ethnic groups make and dress costumes. A
general statement might be made: in more or less most of the regions in Ethiopia,
indigenous costumes have had witnessed a drastic decline.
Historical trends in costumes technology and utilization in southern Ethiopia seem to
display certain general patterns. Until the dawn of the 20
century, people in this region of
the country have had utilized their own culturally adaptive and workable technologies in
costumes. Since that time, drastic changes have ushered in. The change had been drastic and
in some instances seems to have reached point of no return. However, there appears to be
a resurrection in the forgotten and obsolete indigenous costume technologies and
utilization patterns. The re-indigenization of costumes has been taking shape since the
coming to power of EPRDF (1991) although it appears to have been very limited and not in
any sense leading to a reverting to the original.
Our studies of the costume technologies, dressing styles and costume categories displays
similar pattern of history in Baske. The informants views generally fit into the above
scenario. Informants noted that in ancestral times there were no costumes like the modern
ones. Wherever people went be it to the market, social gatherings, or funeral ceremony,
females used to put on a handmade cover formed into a kind of apron made from the dried
leaves of the false banana (called out in Baske). It appears that the first technological
prowess of the people utilized the enset (Amharic term for false banana) plant as a source of
costumes. Another important source of cloth was animal hides. People thus made cloth
coverings from tamed and wild animals. For males, their main costume was made from
animal hide.
Men used to put on pieces of animal hide on their buttocks up on their genitalia. Women
used to gird a cover made from tattered, dried leaves of false banana. Some older women
wore goatskin. Other went naked. Informants mused in retrospect that going naked
partially or totally was not quite uncommon. An old informant said:
Ancestral Baske wore cow hides. They made the hide very smooth by carefully
scrubbing. They would mend three or four hides and used it as bed cloth in the
night. To go out in a day time, they would wear this cowhide. Women would wear
beads of cloths brought from Kulo Konta in exchange of a cow. They also wore
sheep hide. Small children would go totally naked. Gradually after the Amhara came
[beginning from 1890s], cloths made of woven cotton which was made by the
Dorzees were introduced. Sometimes the Dorze would come to Baske and would
make the cloth by receiving good hospitality from the ones who needed the cloth
and sponsored its production. They would stay in their house. Then a cloth called
merdoffa came eventually [c.a. 1940s and 1950s], It cost 1 and 50 tagara birr, The
merdoffa trouser was brought by the neftegna traders.
The above quote reveals the importance of trade and significance of costumes in trade and
economic as well as social relations between Baske and its neighbors on the one hand and
Baske and the merchants from the central and northern Ethiopia, on the other.
Another informant added, In the past, women used to wear a home made cloth called
woshinta; which is made from the dried leaves of false banana. They dried it in the sun which
made it smooth. Our ancestors did not wear at first any cloth. Even when wearing animal
hide and dried false banana leaves, cloths were not commonly worn by all people. Those
who could afford wore animal-hide. Now we are in a better modern age when the clothing
system has entirely changed.

Some informants noted that the introduction of modern costumes coincided with the
Italian Occupation (1936-1941). However, some noted it predates this, that modern cloths
began to be introduced into the area since the opening up of the land to merchants and
central government agents from the north. The Italian occupation might have brought about
the intensification and massification of the modern costumes. As for the chronological
events, one informants noted, Until the beginning of Haile-Selassies rule in Baske there
was no any formal clothing. Women would go even with a small piece of leaves as covering
over their sex organs. Males of all ages would go naked. But those who could afford
managed to put animal hide as cover; there was no feeling of shame in those times. Then
came merdofa, cotton cloth brought by the northern merchants.
According to informants, indigenous Baske costume technologies and utilization have more
or less disappeared. And it appears that there is no reverting to them in the foreseeable
future. However, it might be important to note that these technologies are crucial historical
and cultural heritages and thus there must be some mechanism to give some life to them at
least by reserving and preserving them in museums. This would help the younger and future
generation to appreciate their roots and the development and historical unfolding of
costumes in Basketo.
4.4 Household Utensils
Similar historical processes and patterns seem to have operated on household utensils in
Basketo. The ancient Baske used the leaves of ensete as a plate to put cooked food on. It is
interesting to see the versatile use to which the people put ensete to. The fresh cut leave of
this plant was thus a very adaptive and workable plate to put food and to eat food from.
The leafs broad shaped structure was fitting for this purpose. The use of ensete I leaves was
crucial when transferring hot cooked food from the pot. They used it as an intermediate
transfer place. Such a practice has still continued in rural area.

The people also made a saera( flat shaped mat made of bamboo barks) was used. The
people produced other more complex technological objects such as lemata (mesobe in
Amharic), a table shaped object on which food was served. Modern trays have gradually
begun to be used

The major water drinking utensil was called shorqa, made from dried gourd. Coffee drinking
cup was called wane which was made of earthen-ware by potters; but these artwork now
has become obsolete.
Food was cooked in earthen pot called Oot...It was said, Oot katre, meaning, cooked in a
pot. Water was drunken using shorqa, a water containing cup made of dried gourd. Local
bear called farsi was brewed in bigger pots and stored in especial huts made for this
purpose. Those Baske who have not succumbed to modern technologies and ideas in rural
areas still use these utensils. This is particularly true of those who have not been
proselytized into Protestantism. Some have tried to maintain the indigenous household
appliances that are related to their ancestral values and norms.
These indigenous household appliances used for coking, storing, drinking and related
purposes are also historical heritages and thus should be preserved for the future
4.5. Dwelling Houses: Structure and Architecture
It goes without saying that one of the typical features of a certain ethnic group is the way it
builds living houses. One of the fundamental basic needs of human societies has been the
need for making a shelter to protect oneself from various natural and manmade hazards,
notably rain, wild animals, heat, etc. If a shelter to a satisfying degree meets these needs it
might be called a home or a house. Archeological and anthropological studies indicate that
ancient human societies had begun living in caves as their shelters from various dangers.
Historical trends in house architecture in Ethiopia seem to follow some pattern. Indigenous
technologies applied in making a living home have been generally, at least in the context of
south and southwest Ethiopia, limited to wooden walls and thatched roofs. The roof made
of corrugated iron and the wall structures made of earthen or stone bricks was practiced in
some parts of the country.
In Baske, informants did not know whether there was a time when ancestors lived in caves.
The myths told about the ethno-genesis of the Baske had some relevance for the origins of
Basketo dwelling homes. In the Enda-Gamonde myth, it was noted that the ancestress and
her sons first dwelled in a make shift large hole naturally made in a big tree. Ancestors also
dwelt in a thick forest bassa before thy built ke. It is interesting to note that the very name
of the people Baske had its original meaning of a house of forest. Thus it is probable that the
ancestors used the thick forest as their houses before they developed a more habitable
house using better technologies.
According to informants, the Baske ke is a hut which is made of thatched roof and
wooden walls, as common in the rest parts of the region and beyond. Informants argued
that the current typical hut is the one which has been in existence from the very beginning.

Photos 11and 12 Basketo Traditional Houses (Above and below)

Using corrugated iron roofed houses is a recent phenomenon. It is generally agreed that it
begun as of the time of Haile Sellasie I. It began when wealthy individuals first introduced it.
It appears the first corrugated iron roofed house was built by the non- Baske notably the
Amhara rulers. It is only very recently that such house making begun en-mass. One old man
noted, Original Baske house is called matta keti (grass house). It is made of bamboo tree.
This is also the same today. The roof is grass. Corrugated iron house was a recent
phenomenon. When Haile- Selassie came to Sawula, there were corrugated iron houses far
and few in between. I do not know the time when he came
The term matta keti stands in clear contrast with the corrugated iron roofed house. Matta
is grass. It was and is still a typical way of doing: that the wall first framed from bamboo
trees is covered with grass and also the roof similarly covered with grass. The structure and
shape of the traditional grass house seems to have evolved over time, initially it seems it had
hemispherical shape (which was also a typical structure and shape in other parts of Ethiopia
such as Wolyata. A light seemingly a bit non-ndiegneouns technological advancement in the
shape is the jegira house which is common in the rest of the country. The jegira house is
shaped not hemispherical but roughly triangular with earthen brick walls and the roof
covered with grass.
4.6 Mate Selection, Marriage, Wedding and the Family
One of the most visible non-material dimensions of a peoples way of life is the institution of
marriage and the family. Ethnological and ethno- historical studies indicate that all societies
irrespective of their levels of development and mode of production have some forms of
family and marriage. As is the case with other dimensions of social institutions, the
institutions of marriage and the family have undergone significant changes over time in
Ethiopia in general. The south and southwest of Ethiopia is no exception. Although elements
of indigenous values, practices, norms and beliefs that are associated with these institutions
are still persistently and resiliently going on, it may be argued that their basic contents and
structures have undergone important changes.
When we come to the Baske case, we see that historical trends in the institutions of
marriage and the family display some important patterns. The general pattern looks like the
following: The Baske had maintained a thickly rich indigenous marriage and family
institutions without any element of the exogenous influences (particularly the so-called
modern elements) until the land was opened up for the influences of the alien religious,
cultural and social systems, notably with the introduction of the central government rule
(c.a. 1890s) and the Protestant Christian religion (beginning from c.a. 1940s). The thickly
rich indigenous institutions of marriage and the family have gradually become thin and more
and more Amharanized and Christianized. Elements of indigenous traditions have become
resilient in mainly rural sections and among those communities who have tenaciously stuck
to the traditional religious and ideological systems. Despite the re-indigenization and
ethnicization spates in the present time, it appears that the thick and rich indigenous
institutions of marriage and the family have substantially weakened.
4.7.1 Mate Selection and Engagement: the Su Tukire Institution
In the past indigenous patterns or mate selection and marriage establishment was basically
communal oriented, although individuals often had chances for expressing their attraction
and love for each other before they begin a marriage and establish a family. A form of
engagement practice was commonly practiced. The bridegroom would give mirqa (an
ornament made of iron and put on hand) to the bride. He then would send elders to the
bride's family. The father of the bride would receive ganna (bride wealth). This ganna would
include money and other material objects such as cloths.

Then they conduct the su tukire ceremony (a traditional time keeping method where by
the bride and bride groom would take a rope made of leaves of the ensete. This rope would
be tied on the hands; if the appointment for the wedding ceremony is three months they
would tie three ropes and remove each trope after a month. After the rope tied on the
hand is untied completely, the day for the wedding preparation has approached. On the
wedding day the bridegroom and his party would come in the evening to the girl's family.
The bride would also go over up to some way and they would then meet at a certain point
and then go to the boy's family.

This wedding ceremony and the resultant marriage form was called issen dagasine or isse
lukire (meaning, She went to marry." This mode of wedding and marriage form has had
occupied a dominant and more formal position in Basketo. The ancestors had begun it and
passed down the practice which still takes place in certain sections of the rural community.

The Baske people had also practiced a number of other forms of marriage arrangements.
One type of marriage arrangement is called gelli lakire, meaning, "She went to marry him by
loving him." Here, the two individuals did not care about and want to pass through the
longer and more formal procedures of the issie lukire marriage. It was often an alternative to
the relatively more expensive form of the issie lukire and hence, those who were relatively
poor chose this option. This form does not involve any wedding ceremony. The woman
would simply agree to go and live with her lover man. No food preparation was involved.

A third form of mate selection and marriage arrangement was called gochiree or gochaa,
roughly form abduction. If a man loved a woman and he could not take her in any formal
way because of various obstacles, and if he was determined to marry and she refuses, he
would then look for some favorable means and time would ambush her somewhere
together with his accomplice and use force to take her to his home. Several days of weeks
after this abduction, the man sought means of reconciliation with the girls family.

There was also a fourth of marriage where by a man would coax a girl and by some mischief
take her to his house and marry. This involves a sort of cheating and deception on the part
of the man. Without the girls informed concept, he and his or her accomplices would look
for some favorable time and place and take her to his home. This is different from gella. In
this case the girl accompanied with her friends would go to the man's home and marry him
without the consent of her or the boys families.

Another form of marriage called, mahire also used to exist. It corresponds to what cultural
anthropologists call levirate marriage, a form of marriage whereby a man would take as his
wife when her husband, his brother or close relative, dies.

It appears that there had been four indigenous forms of mate selection and marriage
arrangement among the Basketo. However, some argued one of these was not really a form
of marriage in its own right and hence they make the major marriage arrangements into
three categories. All of these forms of mate selection and marriage arrangements have faced
a veritable decline, and the gochire form has above all become obsolete as it is now illegal to
take a girl by force and make her a wife. The following is a summary of what two women
informants described:
From the beginning there have been three types of marriage. The first is a sort of
faked abduction whereby the two first agree with each other for marriage and the
man abducts her takes her to his house in an arranged form of abduction. It is an
informal kind of marriage.. Another type of marriage arrangement is gella. In this
form, the two love each other, they make appointments. He makes the necessary
preparations. Beer is brewed. Food is cooked. She comes to him accompanied by
her friends carrying cloths, and other articles. When she arrives towards the mans
neighborhood, she gets into a separate home made for this purpose. There are
feastings in the mans parents home for one day. After this a grous of elders are
sent to the girls family whereupon a small feast is prepared,. He offers some cloths
such as buluko [a traditional cotton spun sheet
The third type of marriage arrangement is called Issie. This involves a lot of
preparations. It is a sort of arranged marriage. Both the boys and girls parties are
aware of and agree to the marriage. They make investments in the marriage.
The boys family formally sends a group of elders to the girls family two to three
times after which they settle by ordering the boy to bring buluko and other cloths
and money. The cloth taken as bride price is carefully evaluated before it is taken.
Then the girls family sends her accompanied with her friends by giving her necessary
household items. The boy also comes out and waits for the girls party on the way
accompanied with his friends. The girls party returns back after giving the girl to the
boys party. They then head for the boys house. On their way if she faces a river,
she refuses to cross upon which the boys party gives her compensation money. This
may be repeated as she faces other rivers. When they reach at the boys compound,
the girl refuses to enter up on which the boys mother would come out and offer
necklace to her. When they enter home, the girl is made to sit in a separate home
with the friends of the boy. The boy sits in another room until the girl and her
friends eat and drink. They eat amicho (a diet made form ensete crop) and drink
specially made beer. Then the boy is searched and brought forth to the room
where the girl is and he sits down. Then they bring a younger sibling of the boy and
give the bride and this sibling gourd of beer which they drink together form the
gourd as single person by putting their mouths concurrently on the gourd. They
drink this gourd of beer .mouth to mouth. The girl offers two gabbis ( a form of
sheet made from cotton) to the boys father and the she kisses the knees of her
mother- in- law and gives her another gabbi. All the younger siblings of the bride
groom drink the beer with the bride connecting their mouths together onto a beer
gourd. Then finally the bride drinks the beer with her bridegroom mouth to
mouth. And give him another gabbi. (Initially the bridegroom gives her father
money and other articles. Buluko, and Gabbi.
The issie mate selection and marriage arrangement has had an important place in the
Basketo history. However, many of the rich and thick values and norms that have been
developed with it seem to have been declining. Informants told that sweeping changes were
introduced into all dimensions of this institution. Food and drinks preparation and the types
of foods that were of the nucleus of the institution have particularly been highly modified or
completely changed. It has become Amharanized.
An important factor of change apart form Amharanization is the protestant Christian
religion. The believers [as they are called in Baske], those who have changed their
religion to Protestant sects conduct their wedding differently. They do not prepare the
indigenous beers and other alcoholic beers. Instead of amcho, injera is prepared. Even in
rural areas, the food type has become Amharanized. Some of the rituals mentioned earlier
are also changed.
Some of indigenous songs were used to be sung during the wedding by females and males.
Some music was sung both during funerals and weddings. But now the traditional music are
also changed. They now sing modern Amharic music. The believers sing their own
Christian songs. Some of indigenous dancing forms are also now changed and abandoned.
Some traditional musical instruments which were played during wedding ceremonies include
zimbi (kirar in Amharic, a guitar like stringed instrument). There was another music
instrument similar to zimibi called akosse.
Baske marriage and family system had been essentially polygamous. The form of polygamy
that had been practiced from time immemorial and is still being practiced to some extent
was polyginous marriage and family. Ancestral Basketo males used to marry as far as seven
wives. Some even married up to twelve wives. Polyginous marriage and family arrangement
had been based on the need for increased fertility and creation of large family size which
was generally a valued social asset. Informants indicated that polygamous marriage and
family arrangements have been dealt a deadly blow from the forces of modern religious and
political systems that came to the Baske land beginning from the time of Menlik II. The
Dergue Regime followed a generally anti-polyginous marriage policy and it highly
discouraged such practices. The greatest death blow of course was from the Protestant
Christianity which demanded its adherents a strict monogamous marriage and family
arrangement. Another factor in the historical processes that led to the decline of
polyginous marriage and family arrangement was also economic. As the population size
increased natural resources such as land also became scarce and it became more and more
difficult for a man to maintain several wives.
Some older persons whom I interviewed were indignant at the present political and
religious forces and policies that have weakened the polyginous marriage and family
arrangement and the large sized family form. One old man had a scathing comment:
A man could marry up to five wives. If he lacked enough number of male children he
would add many other wives. It was very rejoicing event when a woman bore many
children. Now this is being discouraged. They are forcing us to take only one wife. This is
illegal. It is meant to decrease the seed of men. Why is the government propagating these
birth controls? The ancestral Baske would marry as far as ten wives; they would give birth
to as many children as possible.
Putting chronological orders of time for these various forms of marriage is difficult.
However, it may be stated that these marriage forms coexisted, the most ancient of them
probably being the Lukire.

4.8. Diseases, Death, Mourning and Funeral Rituals
4.8.1 A History of Diseases and the Medical System
An ethno-historical study of the history of diseases, death, mourning and funeral rituals
addresses, among other things, how a certain ethnic group had endured various types of
diseases, what types of diseases prevailed in the past and what changes have been registered
and why; how the ancients used to manage bereavement; how they theorized about death
and what changes have occurred in these ideologies and why; how the ancients conducted
mourning and funeral rituals and what changes have been observed, etc.
Richard Pankhurst's Medical History of Ethiopia (1991), among other things, describes the
state of disease conditions and categories of diseases that prevailed in Ethiopia and what
factors were associated with these health problems. In general, the peoples of Ethiopia had
maintained a traditional, non-scientific views of diseases and their causations as well as their
management. The prevailing disease conditions in the country were generally associated
with the social, ecological, economic, religious and spiritual factors that prevailed in the
country. The levels of morbidity and mortality were very high in the past in general and until
the mid 1950s in the country due to various factors.
In south Ethiopia in general and in Baske in particular, similar conditions prevailed for time
immemorial. The people had recourse to traditional, indigenous means of disease
management. Informants did not provide clear information on the state of disease
conditions and the prevailing causes of diseases in the past. However, they indicated that
maternal, infant and child mortality rates were very high and problems of malnutrition and
related health disorders were rampant. There were no endemic health problems in
Basketo, though. Some common health problems that prevailed in the land had been
intestinal parasitosis, coughing, diarrhea, and malaria, to mention some.
Diseases had been managed by non-scientific mechanisms. The kati and his retinues were
responsible for the overall physical, psycho-spiritual, social and economic well being of the
people. One of the salient tasks and responsibilities of the kati and his retinues had been
thus to conduct regular and on -the demand rituals that had preventive, promotive and
curative elements as far as diseases were concerned. The Kati was concerned with the
holistic well-being of the people, the livestock, the crops and the land and the environment
in general. Thus, the people's health was treated under the general context of the well-being
of the entire human- animal- plants and environment system.

Photo 13. Kati Mazgo Gaarda, beside his ossa, where prayers and rituals of healing are
carried out for human, animal and crop health one of the Spiritual Healers of the Baske
Human, animal, crop and land health problems were all understood and interpreted in
spiritual context. The entire key to all the problems and thus the solution was believed to
be found in the hands of the deified apical ancestors whose spirits were and are still
believed to have, indwelt the ossa, literally God, but in reality the forest where ancestral
spirits dwell. Problems of diseases and death had been thus analyzed, understood and dealt
with in this context. Being at ease with the ancestral spirits had been regarded as the key to
all health and well being, of humans, animals and plants. Diseases and death of humans,
animals and crops could be prevented and averted by maintaining the appropriate ethical
behaviors and living standards. In the event of a disease striking a person or family
treatment was sought in the traditional healing rituals.
Such indigenous medical systems and beliefs had been the prevailing mode of life until the
introduction of modern systems of medicine. According to informants, the first modern,
western- based systems of medicine was introduced with the coming to the Basketo of the
Protestant missionaries and the evangelical preachers from the neighboring Wolayta area.
Existing documents indicate that it was the evangelical missionaries who had brought the
modern systems of medicine to those parts of the country such as Wolayta where they
brought the evangelical Christianity to (c.a. 1940s and 1950s).
In Baske, we could not find out the exact time when the modern systems of health care
were established in a meaningful and substantial way. The instituting of the central
government in the area beginning from the 1890s, through Haile Sellasie I (1930 to 1974),
to the Dergue (1974- 1991) and now the EPRDF (1991 to the present) must have had each
its own contribution in this regard. But we do not know whether modern health care
system was instituted during the time of Menlik II (1889- 1913). But we guess that it did not
in all likelihood since this time was only a beginning time for the modernization efforts of
the Emperor. Sparkles of modern health care systems by government- based agents must
have been begun during early period of Haile Sellasie I (1930-1974) but even it did it was
very insignificant at best. Informants did not even talk about the Haile Sellasie I government
bothering about providing the locals with modern health care services, even if such existed
they catered for the settler non-Basketo population. The Dergue Rgime did make no
significant attempt in putting in place the modern health care systems.
Informants noted that it was following the downfall of the Dergue (1991) and more recently
in the last few years that concerted efforts have been made to establish modern health care
institutions. Thus, different types of health care facilities have been built including three
health centers and a dozen of health posts in the past ten or so years, particularly since the
Baske got their Special Woreda status. A number of private health care centers have also
been started. Accordingly maternal, infant and child mortality which had been high in the
past have now been relatively decreased.
4.8.2 Baske Bereavement and Mourning Rituals
Bereavement and mourning are quite natural human reactions to a deceased person. All
societies have instituted norms, beliefs and practices that guide bereavement and mourning
the dead in socially and culturally acceptable ways. From among all God's creations it is the
human being, so argue theologians, and social scientists, that has the capacity to bereave and
mourn the dead in a symbolic, socially learned manner. Other animals may also express
bereavement, some may even "mourn" their dead, but theirs is, as social science and socio-
biological researches show, is generally instinctual, not socially learned.
Human societies from time immemorial have expressed their bereavement for the deceased
ones and they have conducted their mourning in ways that display behaviors and practices
that are culturally acceptable in each society. Bereavement and mourning in traditional
societies had been generally conspicuously expressive as available ethnographic studies
show. Such practices have also been generally conducted in ways that inflicted some form of
visible physical harm to the bereavers and the mourner.

When we come to south and southwest Ethiopia in general and Baske in particular, it
appears that this conspicuous expressiveness and self-inflicting dimension of bereavement
and mourning have existed from the beginning. According to informants in Baske history,
there used to be a self- inflicting, body- cutting and bleeding habit to express sadness for the
dead person (up to the recent times, until Christianity and modern state interventions came
to the scene). Mourners would fall down and engage in a sort of traditional gymnastic; some
would even cut their bodies with spears and razor blades. Women would grow their finger
nails and scratch themselves on their cheeks until it bled. Both women and men would also
roll over on the ground. Males also scratch themselves with their nails. This is done when
close blood relatives died. Mourning in the past was thus accompanied by severe self-
harming (bleeding, falling down by throwing oneself on the ground, etc). It also occasionally
involved damaging ones crop field by crushing the crops.
According to informants, bereavement and mourning had various degrees of intensity
depending on the age and social status of the person who died. Thus, when the traditional
religious leaders such as a kati died, a high degree of bereavement and mourning was
involved. Self- harming was also most possible in this event. But the death of infants,
children and other ordinary persons was not attended to by conspicuous bereavement and
4.8.3 Burials, Funeral Songs and Dances
The death of great persons such as katis and other adult persons was attended to by various
forms of funeral songs and dances. When traditional kings died, their bodies were kept for
a number of days before burial. In some cases, in fact, the body would be laid in a hut for
over months. It might even take a year! According to one informant, "In the past, if
renowned persons like a kati died, they would not bury him for one year if there were no
crop or no sufficient food for funeral feast. The copse would be kept in separate home."
This was because kingly funerals often involved tremendous level of food and drink
preparations to feed the multitudes of mourners who had come from all over the land.
Keeping and tending the kingly corpse was in fact one important source of ritual
occupations for certain groups of people in the past.

When ritual leaders (kati, danna, etc) died, they would mourn by singing certain songs
which eulogized the deceased. The mourners would mourn in groups and circular
movements, dancing and singing. Both men and women would participate in the mourning.
These songs were sang on the second day. Official and organized mourning, dancing and
singing would not be allowed immediately following the man's death until all people became
aware of the information. The burial time for these categories of people was at night. This
was believed to add dignity to the king. Only ordinary persons were buried at day time.
When ordinary persons died, they would burry the corpse within one day.

According to informants, a great deal of change has occurred in the bereavement, mourning
and funeral patterns, procedures and practices in Baske particularily since the 1940s
and 1950s. Factors that contributed to the decline of other institutions discussed earlier
had also done so in theses cases as well. The highest tribute goes to the introduction of
Protestant Christianity. A great deal of decline and may be even virtual abandoning has been
registered in self- inflicting mourning procedures and behaviors, funeral songs and dances
and the manner of corpse keeping for long time before burial.

Such kind of tradition particularly self- hurting habits such as bleeding oneself by cutting,
falling down and rolling over on the ground have more or less been abandoned, except that
they are occasionally practiced in some rural corners by the adherents of traditional
religion. Funeral songs and dances are practiced in rural areas where they maintain the
traditional religion. But those who have abandoned the traditional religion and joined new
religions have dropped this practice. The keeping of the corpse for a number of days has,
however, been totally abandoned.

Some dimensions of the above practices and institutions might well be considered for a
preservation for the future generation as they definitely constitute important historical and
cultural heritages. While doing away with beliefs, behaviors and practices that inflict physical
and psychological harms on the people might well be justifiable on the grounds of abiding by
the fundamental human rights, some of the benign and culturally rich beliefs and practices
might well be reclaimed and developed. It is thus important to document, make inventory
and preserve those elements of funeral, bereavement and mourning rituals that have been
handled down to the present generation from the ancestors. It would be doing injustice to
the ancestors if the "baby is also thrown away with the dirt."

4.9. Music, Musical Instruments, Dances, Sports, and Games
Cultural anthropologists argue that music, dances, sports, games and musical instruments
constitute one of the most visible aspects of a people's socio-cultural ways and their identity
markers. Every society has, as an ethno-linguistic group , ahs developed its own systems of
music, musical technologies, dances, sports and games. These constitute the cultural
universals, those practices and technologies which are found in all societies. Although there
are inter-cultural borrowings between different ethnic groups, all ethnic groups have their
unique contributions which they have invented by using their own local resources.
In Baske, as in the rest of the country, these aspects of life have been exposed to different
forces that have brought about elements of change and modification. Like in other
dimensions, the Amharanization and Christianization processes have significantly affected
these aspects too beginning from the incorporation of the people into the central state,
1890s, but more so beginning from the 1940s and 1950s in relation to evangelical Christian
influences. Ancestral music, dances, sports and games have been woefully decimated, only
being limited to some rural communities. However, some of these indigenous music, dance
and music instruments have endured forces of change.
4.9.1 Music, Musical Instruments and Dances
The Baske have had various tonal music that were sung during various occasions. Of these,
the most significant were those sung during wedding and funeral rituals. Various musical
instruments were invented and the technology has passed down to the present generation.
The indigenous musical instruments include shunshula ( a kind of wind blown music
instrument like a flute), zayya, ( a big sized wind blown instrument made from bamboo
tree); zimibi (a stringed instrument, like a guitar), zaymuta ( a musical instrument like a
saxophone, again made of bamboo), watsisa, ( a sort of harmonica), among others. Some of
these instruments are still known and in use. Most of the musical instruments were made of
bamboo tree and hence there appears to be a preponderance of wind blown music
instruments. The Basketo topography is suitable for bamboo tree. The zayya musical
instrument was made by a minority clan called manna; they are called zayee manna.
In the past, ( pre- Amhara and Christian, particularly evangelical contact, i.e. 1890s and
1950s, respectively,) during wedding, people would sing indigenous songs; but now,
indigenous songs and dances have declined. Some traditional songs have totally disappeared.
Some have been Amharanized, and some have been replaced with Christian songs. Those
who have converted to evangelical Protestant Christianity have totally rejected their
ancestral songs and dances, as these are strictly forbidden in the circle. However, some
people have attempted to blend their traditional music and dances with newer elements .
The songs sung during mourning and funeral rituals have not been changed among those
who have maintained their tradition. It was interesting to note that some "feminine songs
and dances especially those used during wedding events have persisted while other
"masculine" songs and dances have disappeared. This might be due to the fact that women
have been less likely to be exposed to foreign cultural elements and were closer to their
indigenous ways of life where as males often go out and get more opportunities of
"modernization" elements through modern education.
4.9.2 Traditional Sports and Games
There used to be many types of sports and games used by ancestral Basketo. One of such
games was what called balla wonqile (Genna Cewata, Amharic equivalent) It is a kind of a
rugby game. Its Amharic equivalence by no means suggests that this game was borrowed
and adapted from the Amhara. The game had been in existence from time immemorial.
Another game was called kulintsi, a form of gymnastics whereby both males and females
would make acrobats.) This kulints is common during mourning events. Another ancient
game was called boqatsa, a kind game whereby two males would try to fell down each other
by holding each other and trying to throw down on the ground. It may be called netsa tigil
in Amharic, meaning a "free hand-only physical struggle." Another game was called trii, a
jumping over ropes. This is played by both males and females. There was a game called
oytsei, a kind of game hunting. They would go hunting into the forest. They would kill
different beasts such as porcupines, monkeys, hares and the like A game called etse kulinse,
involved rolling over the ground by holding one's feet and forming a circular form of body
shape. A game called geen, literally, ox involved fighting each other like oxen would do.
Two males would fight each other like as oxen would do, by pushing each other on their
heads. Some of these games ar still going on in some rural areas. However most of them
have been forgotten in most areas.

4.10. Urban Development, Social Amenities and Infra-structure
An ethno-historical study of an ethnic group must provide, however brief, a description of
the origins of urban centers, introduction of various social amenities such as education,
telephone, electricity, tap water, postage, etc; and infrastructural development such as
roads. Although these issues are treated earlier, I want to present some more point
focusing on the historical development.

In this sub section, we will try to address such questions as: when and how did urban
centers like Laska come into being? When did modern system of education, electricity. tap
water, telephone, etc begin? When did the road system that connects Laska to other zonal
towns begin?

The history of urban centers in Ethiopia in general and southern Ethiopia in particular was
generally associated with the advances of the central government. In the southwestern
Ethiopia, the military conquest of Menlik II (1889-1913) beginning in the late 1880s various
urban centers were established. The establishment of these urban centers was primarily
necessitated by the demands of the advancing military power of the government. Many
urban centers were built as garrisons where the soldiers were stationed.
In Baske, there are obviously not many urban centers to talk about in the first place. The
only center which has an urban nature is Laska, the Woreda center. Laska was founded
during the reign of Haile Sellasie I (1930-1974), ; some informants told it was founded in the
year 1941). It served as a sub head quarters for the Amhara rulers whose main head
quarters was Bulqi in Goffa. Laska did not receive a significant focus as ahead quarter and
hence it remained in its nascent and humble form until recently. According to key
informants, an central government agent known by the name Bashaa Wolde-Mariam,
ordered the laying of the grounds for the town. However, another key informant gave a
conflicting information regarding the identity of a person who played key roles in
establishment of Laska. He said, " The man who was responsible for this was Barambras
Zewdie." The old man simply guessed the town was built some 50 years ago, which meant
around 1951 E.C.

Photo 14. A cross section of Laska Town

The introduction of modern social amenities such as flour mills, education, etc were said to
have their beginnings in the time of Haile Sellasie I (1930- 1974). The first flour mills begun
during Haile Sellasie I regime as well. It was one called Ao Zeleke Abaye who brought the
first flour mill, followed by Tesfaye Belete, Tilahun Belete and Tefrea Mitiku," according an
old key informant.

Informants complained that the Haile Sellasie Rgime did not generally permit the Baske
people to go to schools. So even if certain modern schools were built, they were not
accessible to the locals. According to informants, the term shnaquilla meant, among other
things, "one who cannot receive modern education." Elementary level schools were built
and became accessible to the locals during the Dergue's regime. A massification of modern
education making it accessible to the locals in large numbers begun with the downfall of the
Dergue. Now there is a high school, dozens of what is called second cycle schools and
numerous first cycle schools in Baske which have been built in the last decade and more so
since 1993 E.C. when Baske gained the Special Woreda status.

The town got a 24 hour electricity service in 2000 E.C. Institutional setup for digital
telephone service is underway at the time of our study. Postal service is functional. The
town gets banking service from Sawla, some 48 kilometers distance.
Regarding the road service, the first road from Baske to Bulqi was cleared during Haile
Sellasie I's time. According to one old man, "A man called Bekele Begna came from Bulqi
and organized the people to clear the road and thus the road from Bulqi to Basketo was
cleared. " This was however, an informal, sub standard road. The first modern attempt to
build the road from Laska to Sawal was in the EPRDF regime. The road that connects Laska
with Sawla was built in 1991. But it is not a standard road. One of the main problems of the
Basketo people is the road transport. There is no official road transport from Sawla or the
regional center, Hawassa, to Laska. The people use informal mechanisms of transport.

In this section, we are going to look at the origins, developmental changes and syncretism of
religion in Baske. Salient issues we will raise in this section include: What did the ancestral
Baske believe in? What concept of the supernatural did they hold? What are the basic
principles and features of the indigenous religious beliefs and practices? How have the
ancient religious traditions changed over the year and how has it maintained its uniqueness?
What impacts have occurred that brought about the decline, modification, and change in the
ancestral religion of Basketo? What roles did religion and the religious leaders play in other
spheres of life? If these and related questions are addressed we will be satisfied. We will
begin by describing the concept of ossa. We are not, though, making any attempt to
present and detail and in-depth treatment of religious history in Baske.
5.1. The Origins and Concept of ossa
It would be very crucial to understand the concept and origins of ossa if we want to
capture the real essence of Baske traditional religion. Baske traditional religion and its
origins might be stated as being generally similar to the traditional religions of Africa and
other tribal societies where the ancestors occupy a much venerated place in the every day
lives of the people. The idea of what social science literature calls ancestral worship as a
major form of religious belief and expression is central to the understanding of traditional
religions in Africa.
The concept of ossa literally signifies god or God. ossa is a supernatural being who is
believed to be the creator of heaven and earth and who resides in the celestial bodies. The
concept is generally sort of a pan-Ometo theme, widely known in many other Omotic
speaking groups. However, the specific application of the concept may vary from society to
Among the Baske, then, ossa had come to obtain the meaning of the ancestral spirits who
inhabit the material world and communicate with the living progeny. It appears that the first
ancestral Basketo might have worshipped the sky God, the actual ossa Himself. Then,
although this was not supported by informants, the subsequent generations began to bring
down the high, celestial being into their practical levels and it appears that the celestial ossa
had delegated His powers to the ancestral spirits. According to informants, the original
ancestral spirits had over the generations come to occupy deified status in the minds of the
people, and in the real sense of the term religious worship they have come to receive the
worship of the people. Informants were not sure whether these ancestral spirits received
the worship of their subjects and then transferred it to the celestial being.
In the most mundane, concrete sense, the Baske ossa had come to be defined as the
ancestral spirits who are believed to have indwelt the dense forest. It is equally interesting
to note that over the generations, the original celestial being whose powers seems to have
been delegated to the ancestral spirits once again re-delegated His power through the
ancestral spirits to the material world itself so that the material forest had come to be
conceptualized as the ossa itself. Thus, over the years in Baske religious tradition, ossa
has come to be equated with the dense forest. Although the Baske common term for the
forest is bassa, in terms of the spiritual ecology, the forest has come to obtain a new more
sublime and almost a defied name and status.
Informants, however, did not equate the material trees/ the forest, in and of themselves, as
the ossa itself. Upon further and deeper analysis, one gets to the idea that since the
ancestral spirits are believed to come and live in the forests particularly during the time of
religious sacrifices, the forest has obtained the status of a temple where the ossa dwells.
When the Baske traditional religious leaders offered animal and beer sacrifices to the
ancestors sprits under big trees in the forest, they believed, and those who do today
believe, that the big tree on whose trunk beer is spilt or animal blood is painted is not in
and of itself the ancestral spirit or the ossa. The big tree and the dense forest in general,
although they hold the literal name of ossa, are nonetheless the temples and the points of
contacts where the living physical human agents enter and communicate with the spirits and
receive guidance.
Thus when I asked my various informants questions like, What is Baske original religious
belief? The responses I got were generally those which point to ancestral worship. One old
key informant said,
ella yafessal, meaning literally, pouring down beer... This is sacrificial ceremony
where they spill local made beer under tree in the thick forests. They do this in their
temple (debir). When they do this all the lineage members congregate and celebrate.
The beer is spilled under the tree, over its trunk or stem. The priest does this by
summoning the names of all the dead ancestors. They slaughter goat and make
sacrifice. Then they drink the beer together. They play there. There are many debirs
(thick forests) in several sections of the land. There are priests with their own titles
and duties: ghudda, bitania, murra, they spill the beer. Bitania spills the beer,
Ghudda also does this; he also tastes the beer. He first tastes it and then gives to the
people. Kati is the overall ruler in the hierarchy. When he goes to the funeral events,
he is highly respected. His coming is rewarded by the people throwing money under
his feet. . He does not pick up the money. His aides pick up and put into his pocket. .
He drinks bear at the event, but he does not drink if the lineage is a lowly one like
Kayissa, Manna....
The above quote raises important points regarding the manner of the traditional religious
ritual, the various offices and titles held by religious leaders, how the Kati, the highest leader
in the hierarchy and the way he is treated by the people, the worship place and the criteria
for who may participate in the worship, etc. Thus, like any other religious organization, the
ancestral religion of the Baske has had all the elementary hallmarks of a religion: it has had
its own religious beliefs and philosophies; the religious priests; the religious temple and the
religious rules and norms, etc.
The underlying philosophy of Baske traditional religion is the idea that the physical human
beings can, if they fulfill certain practical criteria together with a sublime faith, communicate
with the spiritual world of their ancestors who are deified beings and who occupy the status
of the ossa. The ancestral spirits could be accessed only through the sacred, holy servants
who are the human mediums between the ancestral beings and the ordinary folks. Above
all, the supernaturally deified beings can intervene into the every day lives of the believers
for the better or worse.
The temple or house of worship in the traditional Baske religion was from the beginning
the ossa. The dense forest and the bigger tree within it had come to occupy the prestige of
being the worship places. Except for very rare cases, all formal sacrifices and the annual and
half- yearly religious festivals are all conducted within this temple. It is this temple where the
ossa, the ancestral spirits, come to manifest their will and power. Some informants believed
that this temple (there are many such temples in various localities and hence there is no
one all-encompassing temple) was first erected by the apical ancestor. The first ancestor
planted the first tree and spilled beer over it and the subsequent ancestors also added more
trees and spilled the beer. Then it grew to its present denseness. The ancestors were
buried in the spots there. No one dared to touch the trees. It is respected because they say
it houses their ancestors. One of my key informants, Kati Mazgo Garda, the last living Kati
of the Goshanaa clan, had this to say:
We perform our rituals not in a house. But we do it in the forest. This is from the beginning.
It is the ancestral law to do this. As the Orthodox or Protestant believers perform their
rituals in their temple, we also believe that our gods live in the forest. But we dont believe
that the trees are themselves gods. We perform all our rituals inside the trees. We believe
that the forest serves like a temple where we meet with our god. I have not gone and seen
the rituals of the other religions. I know my own religion. We sacrifice the goat and we read
the intestine where our god would reveal to us his messages. We communicate with our
god through this.

Photo 15 Kati Mazgo Gaarda and his guardian tree in the ossa
The religious priests in the ancient Baske religion are drawn from a line of Kati (supreme
leader) as well as a line of other lower ranks. The three other offices in the hierarchy
included the Danna, Ghudda and Bitania. Under these again, there have been those lesser
servants whose assigned occupation has been to do all the menial jobs in the sacrificial
activities: these included the oyti, Zorsi, omach, Azhii, etc. These latter office holders were
drawn from marginalized groups of people whose ancestors were believed to have come
accompanying the original kingly clans.

Photo 16 Kati Mazgo Garda Placating his ossa
The ancestral Baske prayed, saying, Tababa osado, Taene osado, meaning The God my
father The God of my mother. When they prayed they went to the ossa and spilled beer.
The ossa (God) dwelt in the ossa (the thick forest). So whenever the need for prayer
arises, a household head my go to his own small ossa in the front or back yard of his farms
and offer the sacrifices.
Closely related to the idea of ossa, was the concept of Maye Gammodo. According to
some informants, the Baske used to evoke Maye Gamodo when they prayed or
worshipped. Since the ancestral Baske (the major ones) have come from the Gammo land,
there used to be what they called Maye Gammodo, which means the ancestor/ great -great
father of the Gamo. This Maye Gamodo was considered like a god. The ancestral Baske
used to believe that it was this Maye Gamodo who has created the sky and the earth. What
does ossa mean? ossa is one who has created human beings and all things. The forest big
trees are called ossa. This is because they believed that when the preset goes and makes
the sacrifice inside the think forest under big trees, they god comes down and accepts their
sacrifice. Thus they thought this god dwelt among the forest.

5.3. Religion, Natural Resources and the Religious Leaders as Stewards
of Forests
These forests which the people called ossa are found in many places in Basketo. One
important point to be clarified is that the concept of ossa was applied not just to a single
tree, but the whole aggregate of tree. The entire forest is called ossa. It is the whole site
where the trees are found. The entire spiritual ecology that is created by the trees and the
land where these trees stand represents the ossa. As informants noted, since the
traditional priest makes sacrifices in the forest to placate for diseases, and other problems,
they think the god dwells in those forests.

Photo 17. Kati Mazgo Gaarda with his guardian tree in the ossa
These forests are found across the land. Each main clan maintains its own forest where the
Kati offers the sacrifice. For example, the Khalmanaa clan has its own ossa. Goshanaa has
its own forest; Goirenaa has its own forest. There are many such kinds of forests. Even at
sub-clan and household levels in some cases forests have been maintained.
Since the Khalmanaa has been in the land before all other clans, the forest of this clan is
said to be more renowned. However, it is not that there is one universal site where all the
Baske come and conduct this sacrifice; it is divided among the various clans.
It is protected by the ritual leaders such the Kati and his aides such as the danna, gudha, and
Bitanna. The traditional religion had had created a number of laws regarding the forest. No
one ever dared to touch or cut the trees in the forest. The forest site is a venerated place
where the ancestral rituals are performed. If someone gets into the forest and cuts he is
sanctioned. Now the modern legal bodies also prosecute the law breakers. At the higher
level was the Kati who oversaw the forest under his clan. Under him were different
authorities who performed the rituals. When they detected some one taking tree from the
forest, they would bring the person to the traditional tribunal overseen by the Kati. This
tribunal was highly feared and venerated. The Kati was aided by his ritual authorities under
him: Danna, Gudda, Bitanna, omachi.

Photo 18. Key informant interview session being conducted with Kati Mazgo Gaarda.(Kati
sitting on his kingly stool; clockwise: hi son, who has converted to Protestant religion; my
field guide and interpreter; assistant interpreter)
The forests are owned and kept by a number of major Katis who represent various clans.
The main Katis who run these ritual forest based worships are Buzzan Kati, Enda Kati,
Dokho Kati, Kamor Kati, Gezhe Kati (Kati Hachi). These have maintained their own ossas.
Smaller forests are also run by individual households. It is also called ossa. They conduct
the rituals annually. They take the first fruits of the new crop harvest just immediately the
crop ripens. The crops are teff, sorghum, maize and barley, among others. The Gammo
origin clans used white sorghum; they brew beer by pressing these fresh new crops; goats
were also slaughtered. The ritual was conducted in the debir (ossa). The peripheries of the
forest host the burial sites. The ritual was conducted inside the big trees under which the
ground was cleared neatly. A makeshift house was also made of wood and grass. The Kati
enters into this house.
As stated earlier, the traditional religious rituals were full of strict rules and restrictions. No
ordinary persons were allowed to enter the worship house. Women were generally not
allowed to enter. This was because it was believed if they entered the worship ritual and
the temple of worship would be defiled. Married males and married women were not
allowed. Unmarried, sexually inactive males and women may enter the compound of the
worship site. Those who were not in their menses entered and they ground flours and
brew beer, The worship was conducted in this manner.
The relationship between the forest and the religious beliefs and practices was historical
and inextricable. One could not have thrived and survived without the other. For the
continuity of the traditional religion, the forests have had historically crucial roles and the
traditional religious beliefs and practices have engendered conducive and friendly context
for the survival and protection of the forest. Informants explained the necessary and
important ties between the two in very emphatic ways. It is in the indigenous forests under
the big trees that the rituals of first fruits and others are performed. The beer and the
sacrificial animal blood are sprinkled under the stems of big trees in the spiritual forests.
The forests are also places of burials. The rituals are not performed in any fields. We may
not however take the argument that the traditional religious belief and practice could not
have survived and will not survive without the forests without critique. We must note that
it is the culture that shapes and reshapes nature and as such the religious beliefs and
practices will not vanish if forest vanishes. This was in fact what some informants argued:
Even if the forest vanishes the ritual can be conducted in the field.
The big sized trees were like adbar, (places of worship or temple). During assembly rituals,
beers were brewed and they took it to the ossa, where the ritual leaders performed and
they spilt beers on or under the tree. They drank the beer communally sitting under the
shadow of the tree. Aside from the beer, they also killed a sheep or sheep and took the
blood and spilt/ smeared the blood on the trees (bigger ones) thereby placating their god
ossa. The trees are basically many, but when the ritual was conducted, they selected one
bigger tree and smeared it with blood and spilt the beer on or under its trunk.
The specific tree chosen for this purpose varied from place to place. It could be any kind of
tree in the forest. There is for example a tree called marra (A tree which produces milk like
secretion); there is also zigga (Zigba in Amharic, Podcarpus tree?); there is wolla (Sycamore
tree). But in most cases the zigga tree was preferred. The main reasons why this tree was
prefaced was because one thing it is very big in size; it grows to become very big, tall, wide
and broad covering large area; thus creating very favorable condition of shadows. It thus
engenders very cool setting and air. It was also preferred for its aesthetic value. Mogos alew,
meaning it is of regal, good looking stature. Also for another practical utility they preferred
it: that since it thicker with its leaves and branches, it does not allow rain and water during
rainy season thus making it possible to get a dry place under its surface. So it is conducive
to sit under. But a given person may also choose other types of trees depending on the
abundance of a tree specs in his area.
Every household maintained some tree in its compound. Thus there was a mini- spiritual
ecology within in the compound or back and front yards of a household. The main tree
species were zigga (podocarpus), marra (Tiqur inet, literally black wood) wolla (sycamore), Ooch
(Doqma, English name not known. Within one ossa (set of tree or forest, there may be
many tree species; also many in terms of number. Although the trees were maintained by
each household, the ritual of sacrifice was not necessarily run by each household. The ritual
was done by the man who was authorized by the people to conduct it: Gudda, Bitanna, and
omachi. Every household contributed the measure of new crops and they took these to
the house of the ritual leader where the beer was made and the ritual was conducted. This
was done in the ossa maintained by the ritual leader. In other cases, when a household
faced some trouble, the household leader entered into his ossa and prayed there and made
oaths to his God. This was done by the male head, not the female.

5.4. The Origins of the Dadda Worship and the Rain-making Ritual
One of the related religious beliefs and practices which existed in Basketo from time
immemorial and which continues to be practiced in some areas is what might be called the
worship of the dada, a concept signifying the spiritual significance of rainfall in Basketo land.
The dadda institution involves the belief that certain persons have the power to manipulate
the natural powers of the dadda (the atmospheric phenomenon related to rainfall) and that
they had been granted the power from ossa both to make rain fall and prevent it from
falling. The person with this power was called Era Kati (literally, the Rain King). The dadda
was venerated as a deity.

Era Kati was believed to have the power of making rain fall and dry. In times of rainy season
when the rain becomes too heavy and persisted so much so that it interferes with
agricultural activities, the locals would pay visit to the Era Kati and pay him some
appeasement and ask him to stop the rain. He would perform certain magic rituals that
were believed to have the power to dry up the rain. In times of low rain he would also
perform another ritual that was believed to bring the rain down.

The Basketo have had thus two distinct categories of katis: one was the Kati proper (the
politico- spiritual leader of the people), and the other, the Erra Kati. The Kati proper was
responsible for the fertility, prosperity, safety and well being of the people and the land. To
do this, the people bring first fruits of crop and cattle for sacrificial offering. The Erra Kati
did not hold equal power with the Kati proper. The authority of the two was not equal.

It was believed that when the ancestors first came from the Gammo land, the ancestor of
today's Erra Kati brought a special cable stone that was believed to manipulate the rain. This
stone was called lefi shucha (sharpening total). The Erra Kati went to a river when he wanted
to make rain fall, he made sacrifice of an animal. He mumbled certain spells, and added the
stone into the river. On the other hand, when the people went to him complaining that the
rain was too much, he again received cattle for offering form the appellants, killed the cattle
and prayed, and took the stone out of the river and the rain stopped. The gods to which
the Erra Kati and the Kati proper prayed to were not the same.

Informants noted that this rain making institution and the dadda worship ritual was in a
drastic decline. The main factor behind the decline was reported to be the introduction of
Protestantism. The people who changed their religion to Protestantism no more believe any
human has any power to make rain fall. (I asked informants for the sake of curiosity
whether the Erra Katis succeeded in making rain fall in 1977 (1984), the year of severe
drought, and they said, ". he said it was beyond his capacity."

5.5. Women and Traditional Religion

Patriarchal societies across time and space have offered women lesser, demeaned and
inferiors status for women. The inferior, oppressed status and role of women in such
societies have pervaded all areas of life. Women have occupied through out history a
similarly and disturbingly inferior positions in religious organizations. This state of affairs was
observed both in modern and traditional religious institutions. The opportunities of
exercising power and authority in religious affairs and the chances for active participation in
leadership roles as priests, healers, preachers, managers, prophets, shamans, etc, has been
limited to adult males.

This phenomenon was all true when we consider the realities in Baske. Women in Basketo
traditional religion were made to occupy a marginalized and subservient positions thought
out history. Their roles have been limited to certain backstage duties and their active, direct
involvement in religious ceremonies as leaders and organizers was unthinkable. The
following interview results confirm how this was true.

According to informants, the role of women was to execute the orders given them by their
husbands. They were responsible to brew the beer. The food and drinks preparation was
thus their pivotal duty. If her husband wanted to perform any religious ritual the wife was
responsible for preparing foods and drinks. The women had no direct role in the rituals. It
was considered a sanne, meaning if woman approached the ritual place, ossa, it would get
impure and unholy. It was considered as sin and a taboo. As regards prayer, the woman did
not directly engage in prayer. If she wanted certain thing get done (e.g. if her husband was
sick) she might call a oiti, (one of the lower serving priests under the Kati) and entreat him
perform the ritual.

All the ritual and placation ceremonies would be performed by the male ritual leaders. The
women had no ritual leadership position in pre-EPRDF Baske history.
Women were not permitted to enter into the forest. This rule was instituted by the ancient
Kati. If women entered into the forest, the ritual would be of no effect. If a woman entered
into the forest, she would become hurt and sick. When she passed byu the forest she mad
it use she was not looking at the forest. If in case this happens, the Kati must make sacrifices
to placate the ancestral spirit Women could not enter the house where the Kati dwelt.
One key informant said, Women are not permitted to do this. It is males who know the
honor of trees. Females are barred from even entering or touching the trees. It is men who
also take care of the trees. You tell them, this is a place of respect and honor where our fathers
father spirit dwells. Do not touch it. They have to respect this rule.
Among the Sidama where similar forest-based spiritual ecological institution prevails women
had no leadership role whatsoever in the traditional religious rituals (Zerihun Doda 2008).
Among the Meenit ethnic group, however, although a woman could not hold the katiship
position, she enjoyed at least some leadership roles in the traditional religious practices. For
example, she could serve as a rainmaker. The leadership role of women in traditional
religious practices in other societies in Ethiopia such the Oromo and Amhara was not
totally exclusive to males. Women could serve as traditional religious healers, prophetess,
etc. It may be due to partly this factors that women in Baske are converting to new
religious forms particularly Protestantism. Here they could participate directly in some of
the leadership positions. The male, adult and old persons favoring religion of the Basketo (at
least in terms of proffering them all the crucial leadership power and authority) might also
have led to the desertion of the religion by young people as well. In my interview sessions
with the Kati of Dokho locality, I found that one of the sons of the Kati and the wife of his
lower serving oyti was concerted to Evangelical Christianity in the preceding recent years.

5.5. The Introduction of New Religious Forms and Impact on the
Traditional Religion
The Baske ancestors of even the latter half of 19
century never dreamt of a barrage of
new religious forms coming to their lands and begin to assume sweeping dominance and
hold over the local people. This dream became gradually a reality during the generation of
Basketo living towards the end of the 19
century. It may be safely argued that the first set
of new form of religious ideas might have begun coming to the Baske area in congruence
with the occupation of the land by eh Menilik II army, in late 1880s. But we may also
surmise that prior to this time the first sparkles of new religious idea might have already
reached the Baske area through the long distance traders who might have reached as far as
We did not find written document sources on the chronological evens surrounding the
introduction of new religious forms. According to informants, however, Orthodox
Christian and Muslim religions were the first to arrive at the Baske. This coincides with the
arrival of the Menlik IIs central rule beginning from 1890s and the subsequent coming of the
settlers from the north and central Ethiopia who held Orthodox Christian faith and some
Muslim faith. It is however not known when the first organized Orthodox Christian religion
started and when the first such church was built.
One old man told me who the first person was that became an Orthodox Christian in
Baske and who christened him. He said, responding to my question, When Orthodox
Christianity was first introduced? It was when Dejach Beyene christened Erasha Pudruko.
He changed his name into Gebre-Egziabher. They brought an ark named after Saint Mary
from a place called Debre Tsehay. According to this key informant, the Islam faith was also
introduced to the Basketo at the same time with the Orthodox Christianity: The Muslims
also came with Amhara. The Muslims and Amhara came together, he said. The idea hat the
first person to embrace Orthodox Christianity in Baske was Erasha Pudruko and that he
was christened by Dejach Beyene was not attested to by other independent sources. The
man Pudruko was one of the well known local leaders and officials who later received the
feudal title of erasha (one who administered in a locality. The circumstances surrounding the
introduction of the Muslim faith were not pinpointed by informants. One informant gave me
his own story of the Muslim religion in Baske: These Muslims came during the Hail Sellasie
I time. They came together when anew type of cloth called merdoffa was introduced. Here
the Muslims arrival was linked to the introduction of new forms of cloths, a point
suggesting their role in trade relations, particualrily beginning from the 1940s and 1950s.
The introduction of evangelical Protestant Christian religion was a recent phenomenon. It
was during the 1940s that the first ever attempt by Protestant Christians was made to
reach the Baske area. Although the late comer, the Protestant Christian religion seems to
have brought about far more sweeping impacts on the local traditions and religion than the
long standing Orthodox and Muslim religions. The common local term used to designate
evangelical Protestant Christianity was eminet, literally the belief. And the adherents of the
new religion were called the believers. Some informants tried to depict the specific
personalities who played some roles in the introduction of Protestant Christianity.
According to one old man, Protestantism was first introduced during Dejach Merid who
ruled the land [1940s]. However, the time was not known by this old man. This Amhara
ruler was said to have invited some white men. It was said the Ferenji (white men) deceived
Dejach Merid and brought the religion. When they brought this religion, they tried to make
people abandon their usual norms and practices. They tried to proselytize the people. But
later, Dejach Merid forced the preachers out. The preachers attempted to proselytize the
people by assembling them in mass, by touring the land, including Mello, and Balta. The
Ferenji taught the people to abandon spilling beer in the forests, to deny the traditional
religious worship and other practices. However, other informants did not confirm the
coming of the ferenjis in to the area. There were no foreign preacher, but preachers from
Wolayta and other areas came and preached the gospel. But the orthodox Christian rulers
were hostile to Protestantism, as one old man said.

Evangelical Christianity was, as was the case generally elsewhere severely harassed and
undermined during the times of Haile Sellasie I and more so during the Dergues regime..
During Dergues Regime (1974- 1991), there was severe persecution of believers and many
church buildings and Bibles were burnt. "I myself stole two bibles and hid, when they were
burning," said informant Adisu Abebe.
Proselytization into evangelical Christianity in large scale is only a recent phenomenon;
particularly it is associated with this present government. This period witnessed a sweeping
conversion into Protestant Christianity with resultant socio-cultural changes in Baske.

With the introduction of new religious beliefs and practices coupled with the forces of
modernization, urbanization and politico-economic developments, it is legitimately worried
and expected that the indigenous ancestral religious beliefs and practices might decline in
the further with increased trend. This decline has without a doubt been progressively
registered. As informants noted, the adherents of the new religion despise the traditional
religion. They say the forest is devilish, the beer sacrificial offerings in the forest are devilish
and those who have converted to the new religion sometimes cut their trees.
Informants had however mixed reactions when they were questioned on the future of
traditional religion and their forests as sacred temples. Te current status was described as
being very optimistic with better favorable policies. One of the Katis noted and hoped that
Even now, no one can go and encroach the forest. The traditional rituals will continue
when one ruler dies and another replaces him from his own clan or family. Even if there are
those who oppose, the adherents do not care about that. They mind their businesses. This
time in EPRDF, better conditions exist the constitutionals rights of the minorities or any
person to adhere to any faith I do not think it would disappear, as long as some of the
people are sticking to the traditional. The government is also now giving attention to the
traditional bicultural diversity conservation and protection Kati Mazgo further added, I
do not think our traditional belief will vanish. It will vanish if only all the people vanish.
Otherwise, the tradition goes on with those who adhere to and maintain it The Kati was
hopeful that there will always be people who wont desert their ancestral religion.

Other informants were not as such very optimistic. One informant said, But now, since
the new religion has become widespread in the land, the kings of the crops [i.e. .he Katis
have declined in their importance. Some of the preachers of the new religion resist and
oppose them. They tell them to stop their rituals and join the new faith. Now the Kati have
lost their charisma because of this problem.

One of my key informants, an old man had a scathing criticism on the new religions and he
yearned for the good old days:
There was blessing and bounteous productivity in those times. Now, when other
new religions such as the alian religion [Catolisims], Kalehiwot [Word of Faith..
Protestant Church], qidisina (Full Gospel Church), Mekaneyesu [another protestant
church], these have pressurized against the Basketo indigenous religion. The
Orthodox Christians do their own ritual. Now they are very many. These new
religions have affected the traditional religion. The new generation has been
deserting the traditional religion. When they abandon their ancestral religion, they
show no more respect and veneration to it. They defecate inside the forest. They
undermine the religion saying, this is witchcraft and of the devil. This is destroying
the culture. There is a big war going on between the traditional and new religions.
There are those who have still maintained their traditional religion performing their
usual rituals. . . In the past, when the people adhered and respected their religion,
there were no social injustices and immoral acts. Theft was rare. If you stole
something, they would take you to the tribunal of the Kati. The Kati would challenge
you to bet and make oath that you did not steal. If you insisted in your stubborn
position then you will be judged. But if the thief accepts his mistake then he was
punished. No one stole the crops. In those times, the coffee, yam, maize and other
corps would fill the land. Now there are problems.

This tradition is still maintained among those who have stuck to their indigenous tradition.
But those who have joined new religious sects have abandoned these traditions. The fate of
these indigenous traditions is that it will continue, according to the informants, since there
are those who will stick to the tradition. It is abandoned among those who have joined
new religious sects. Those who maintain the tradition will pass it to their children and the
children to their children and thus it will continue in this manner, said one informant.

It is interesting to note that in Baske, as elsewhere in many other traditional societies,
there emerged forms of religious syncretism. It is very difficult to find clear cut ideological
boundaries between the traditional religion and the new religions at least as far as the local
people are concerned. Some local people managed subscribing to both the traditional and
modern religious beliefs and practices. Among the some Katis there was a tendency to mix
elements of the own religious organization with their indigenous religious beliefs and
practices. This was particularly true regarding the Orthodox Christianity. One of key
informants, Kati Mazgo Garda argued he and the orthodox Christian priests were similar
because he like them also fasted. I made my father be buried in the farmyard. I called an
Orthodox Priest to come and spray holy water in the site and now my father lies resting in
this site. Both I and they fast.

5.6. Religion and Public Festivals
Public festivals and religion had quite natural and longstanding connections. Of the holy days
commemorated in our contemporary world some are religious oriented. To mention few:
Easter, Christmas, Holy Cross, Thanksgiving, Ramadan, Ed Al Fetir, etc. In Basketo currently
a number of the Amhara and Christian based public holidays and festivals are well known.
The indigenous public festivals have progressively become abandoned. The indigenous public
festivals in Basketo were also inextricably linked to religious beliefs and rituals. The festivals
also revolved around agricultural periodicity and fertility.
The month of October was a new years entry point for the Baske. The main festival was
the ceremonial of getting together to feast on beers and meat. The beer was prepared by
the peoples contribution from their newly harvested crops (called the first fruits). The beer
would be drunk in the worship site, the forest, where the Kati would conduct the ritual.
This festival might be called the first fruits feasting. This is the New Year. Maximum care was
made so that no new fruit or its part was mixed with the food or water or beer the Kati
drinks, before the first fruits ritual was conducted. The Kati would never drink any water or
beer in any house before the ritual was performed. He would fast all the new fruits and
crops. The Kati would sit in a sacred place called wozza in the worship site. All the people
from the Katis clan groups and others would come and feast on the beer. The people then
would begin eating the new crops beginning from the month of October.
Then before the crops come to an end in the barns or other containers, they would not eat
the last crops; they called this pash patre. They would make beer from this crop. Then
they would again feast on the beer where the Kati performs the ritual of bargi (the summer
festival). The Kati, as well as Danna, Ghudda, ad Bitania begin their one month long fasting.
The setta festival (that which was conduced in October) was very significant. During this
ritual and feasting the people would carry the Kati on their heads as sign of renovating the
kings authority, power and a show of their re-commitment to the king and re-instituting his

5.7. Basketo Traditional Religion and the Central Government
How did the various regimes of Ethiopia (the central government) treat the Baske
traditional religion? This is an important historical question. Obviously, the various
successive regimes did not hold similar attitudes and policies towards the Baske traditional
religion. The first central government which the Baske met was the Menlik II regime. We
do not know what kind of policy the Menlik II regime did pursue regarding Baske
traditional religion. However, we can at least surmise that the regime did not hold a
favorably accepting and sympathetic policy. There was obviously a general tendency of
contempt and downgrading the religious beliefs and practices of the Baske. In fact this was
what the feudal regimes generally pursued regarding traditional religions in the society
where they occupied. There were cases of forced, coercive proselytization of the local
people and a general direct and indirect influence on the people to abandon their
indigenous religious beliefs and practices. The first and most important symbolic policy of
the conquering Menlik IIs army and administration was to erect an Orthodox Christian
temple at a strategic location in a conquered land.
During the time of successive feudal rgimes, particularly Haile Sellasie Is regime, a
relatively accepting and tolerant policy was pursued. According to informants, the Amhara
settlers and administrators tried to tolerate the traditional religion and allowed the local
people to pursue their indigenous beliefs and practices. Thus the Orthodox Christian
religion and the traditional religion of the land co-existed. However, the implicit
understanding of the ideological superiority of the Orthodox Christian religion was still
dominant and those who had converted to the religion were regarded as more modern
and decent. Those who clung to their traditional religion were considered as the heathens
and backward.
The Dergues Regime brought about a fiery test and precession to religion in general and
particularly the traditional religions and Protestant Christianity. Traditional religion declined
during the Dergue Regime. They ordered the people to cut the trees and forbade the
people practicing their rituals in the forest. The Dergue cadres attempted to desecrate and
defile the traditional sacred and holy grounds and worship sites. Many forests were
destroyed then. The offices which are now located here in the town were also originally
places of burial sites with dense forests. According to Agidew, an old aged key informant,
during the Dergue regime, there was huge harassment of the Katti and his forest. Many
forest tracts were cut. There was huge suffering; they would put him in prison. Hey would
threaten him to confiscate the forest
The informants generally held a very appreciative and thankful tone when they talked about
the present government and its policies towards their traditional religion. The EPRDF
government ushered in a new era of freedom and confidence to the local people to practice
their indigenous beliefs and practices, including religion. There is now no form of
harassment on local people and their traditional priests which was common during the
Dergues regime.

In this section, we make attempt to provide description of Baske history focusing on the
origins and developments of economic and livelihood conditions as well as historical trends
in the natural resources status, conservation and management. We will discuss the historical
roots of the Baske economy and livelihood system and the changes registered in these
spheres across time.
Some of the issues we will be dealing with in this section include: the origins of economic
and agricultural of activities, of various types of root and tuber crops, cereals, vegetables,
fruits, etc; domestication and introduction of various livestock varieties; introduction of land
cultivation practices and oxen- drawn plowing; livelihood challenges and food security
problems across history; natural resources such forests and trends in deforestation; links
between livelihood/ economic activities and religious beliefs and how this link has been
affected over the centuries, etc.

6.1. Origins of Agricultural Activities: from Horticulturlaism to Oxen-
Drawn Agriculture
The Baske are settled agricultural people as far as their main economic and mode of
production are concerned. We do not know for sure what the ancestral Baske engaged in
for their economic life. However, all the information gleaned from the informants show that
the Baske have been settled land cultivators with a bias towards the hoe based agriculture
as far as the distant past.
The Baske, like many of their near and distant Omotic neighbors in what scholars call as
the Ensete Culture Complex area, have been particularly horticultural peasant people.
Horticultural societies are described in social science literature as those whose main means
of cultivation and farming technologies are basically simplistic and the use of animal-power
drawn plowing or tilling of the land and use of complex land terracing and fertilization
inputs are very limited or generally absent (Hammond 1971)

Photo 19 The Ensete crop along with other crops in Basketo
From what we understand in our field study and interviews of the locals, it is now known
that the Baske ancestors were basically horticulturalists and this horticulturlaism was
handed down over to the present generation and it continued until very recently as the only
means of land cultivation. Use of oxen drawn agriculture as we will deal later in detail was a
recent phenomenon and such technological advancement was a distant dream for even the
Baske of the 19
Informants generally and bluntly put it that farming (i.e. land cultivation with livestock
rearing) was their economic activity from the beginning. As one old man puts it, It just
came down to us from ancient times. As noted elsewhere, it is difficult to determine time
frame for this the beginning or ancient time.
Thus, to the question, What was the original work and/ or occupation of the Baske? the
informants all invariably argued it was land cultivation and that the ancestors were farmers.
By farmers, they meant those who cultivated their land, sow crops, and reared livestock.
Description from informants clearly shows that horticulturlaism was the livelihood and
mode of production. Thus, said one old man, They used to dig the land using simple tools.
Informants all pointed out that the ancestral Baske did not plough the land using animal-
power driven plowing technology.
It was naturally interesting to addresses the issue of how and when the oxen-drawn plowing
technology was introduced to the Baske area if they were horticulturalists from the
beginning. This relatively advanced farming technology had to be either invented by the
people sometime in the past or it must have been borrowed from other groups of people
who had this technology. Informants generally did not subscribe to the hypothesis that the
oxen-drawn technology could have been invented here by the people. The argument was
that it was not an indigenous technology. The general consensus among the informants was
that it was brought into the land with the Amhara settlers who came before, during or after
the Menlik IIs occupation of the Baske land, (end of 1880s and beginning of 1890s). One
old man simply in a matter of fact manner said, When the Amhara came they taught them
how to plough the land using oxen drawn plows and yokes.
There was no agreement as to when the technology first was introduced. It was probable
that the first settlers who came from the various parts of the country as agents of the
advancing and occupying Menlik II regime began to teach the locals how to till the land using
oxen drawn technology. Hence, the origins of this technology can probably be traced back
to the late 1890s when the Menlik IIs army occupied this area as part of its overall
occupation strategy of the south and southwestern Ethiopia.
6.2. Origins of Various Crops
Today the staple food crops for the Baske are generally similar to those produced and
used in other Ensete Culture Complex areas. All manner of crops, from root and tuber
crops to cereals, vegetables, fruits condiments, etc, are produced in Baske. The land, in the
views of informants, particularly an old Amhara settler informant, Ato Adisu Tekle, is
favorable for all varieties of crops.
As this is a history study project, we need to address the roots and origins of these various
kinds of food crops be it domesticated or wild plants as far as they are edible. Which of
these domesticated and wild edible plants have been in the land from time immemorial and
indigenous to the land? Which are alien comers, introduced in to the land at sometime?
How and when? And who introduced them? These and related questions were raised to the
informants and we came up with the following findings.
Of all the indigenous crops, the root and tuber crops were dominant for the ancestral
Baske, and they continue to be so even today. Crops which were used and cultivated by
the ancestors included: out (Ensete, commonly false banana), buyee (yam) sharka (taro),
dona (potato). Although we may not be sure whether donna (potato) was original to the
area, we might be sure that the others, false banana, yam and taro seem to be indigenous.
Thus the most staple food crops for the ancestral Baske were out , buyee, sharaka and

Photos 20 to 24 Some agricultural fields and livestock in Basketo
The ancestors also produced and ate other cereals. Informants mentioned such seed crops
as maize, sorghum, barely, teff, etc as very known in the land from the beginning. All of
these crops have indigenous, local terms: kabbi ( maize), gosse ( barley), gashe ( teff) ,
zerghi ( wheat), yeringa ( peas), omira ( beans), mossi (sorghum) among others.
6.3. Indigenous and Imported Varieties of Seed Crops
Informants identified various types of seed crops which were indigenous to the land from
those which were introduced at various times. Thus, the ancestral Basketo cultivated
different varieties of eff. Indigenous eff variety includes duffa and damma gashi, uha gashi,
akka dararrai... The other white teff variety came with the Amhara. The indigenous eff
varities are very dark or brown in color. Indigenous sorghum varieties include: zangha,
borada and baske. The latter, baske, the black sorghum, is the most ancient of sorghum
varieties, cultivated by the first ancestors. It is this crop which gave rise to the very name of
the people, Basketo. Other new varieties have also come. The indigenous zangha and gerzha
sorghum varieties can be eaten raw. Fitinga (wheat) was indigenous to the Aarri ethnic
groups; our ancestors also used it for food. Other white wheat varieties have come
recently, said one informant. Probably the sorghum crop was very important from the
beginning compared to others seed crops such as maize. One informant said, Ancestral
Basketo did not like maize as they did sorghum. I do not know why. . .
Various types of condiments were/ are also cultivated in Basketo from the beginning. One of
the most common such condiments is kororima. It is very dominant and one would observe
the condiment field wherever one went in Basketo land. It has been a dominant cash crop. I
was wondering that on the one hand informants claimed this plant was original and
indigenous and on the other, they said the condiment has no other term. The term kororima
is just a variation of the Amharic korerima. Other condiments cultivated in Basketo from the
beginning included: jalma (ginger), karkala (tiqur azmud), okala (ne azmud, tuma (garlic),
shinkurta (onion), among others.

Photo 25 Baske Artwork? A view of crop field
Imported crops include chick peas; white varieties of sorghum, eff, and wheat; ground nuts,
etc. The exact time of their arrival of these various crops was not known. Some of them
such as white wheat was said to be introduced by the Italians during the Italian occupation.
Other varieties of eff, wheat, sorghum, etc, were brought with the Amhara rule, most of
them during the early years of Haile Sellasie Is time.
There was also some hypothesis among the informants that some of the root and tuber
crops were introduced from other areas. Thus, buyee (yam) and dono doqna (sugar beat)
were said to have come from other neighboring areas. This, thus, casts some doubt over
the indigenousness of these root and tuber crops. One informant (a Baske old man) even
hypothesized that out (ensete) itself was also introduced from the Sidama area. However,
this view was immediately discarded by other informants. Some of these more informed
informants argued that the false banana was indigenous to Baske but once up on a time
during the Italian occupation (1936-1941), there occurred severe loss of all crops resulting
from halted cultivation due to the war and after the war some crops were reintroduced
from other areas. In this sense, false banana might have also been re-introduced from
The ancestral Baske also cultivated sugar cane. Latter in time, other species of sugar cane
were introduced from Wonji area. Hence, the Wonji sugar cane species is now very
common and popular. The indigenous variety was less succulent.
While the indigenousness of certain root and tuber crops as well as seed crops was
generally claimed by most informants, I was, however, surprised to find out that during our
focus group discussion session with women, the indigenousness of many of these crops was
challenged by some of the women informants. I was surprised because, these otherwise
often unexpected members (often marginalized in male dominated society) of society hold
such a rich idea; I was also surprised to find out their original and un- faked attitude in that
they did not think or worry about what they said might offend some other sections of
society, especially those who claim indigenousness of the crops. These women informants
were the Baske people, not settlers and above all they were young in age. I obtained very
important information from them regarding the indigenousness of crops and the way how
food stuffs were prepared from the various crops.
The main, staple food has been false banana. We say, Out katsire, meaning cooking
false banana. The false banana has a tuber below the ground. This as cut by digging
out the plant first; the tuber is scrubbed and cut into slashes and cooked n a pot. It
is cooked with cabbage. There is donno (potato). This is also cooked in a pot. Our
ancestors ate only amicho / Out and black sorghum. Others, such as potato came
later. Even sharka (yam) came alter. This staple food which is eaten at all occasions
be it in funerals, weddings or ordinary household consumption, was amicho. The
black sorghum was also ground into flour and it is cooked after being doughed into a
small hemispherical shape. Maize also came later. The other various root and tuber
crops and cereals came lately. Many types of crops have been incorporated later
from other areas. There was also a black teff in the past. It is indigenous. But as of
late, white teff and white sorghum were introduced. Also introduced was wheat.
Root and tuber crops such as sharaka (taro), buyee (yam), potato, etc came lately.
Equally interesting point was that the ancestral Baske did not have the technology of
producing qoo ( a typical bread made from teh dough of ensete powder). They ate the
underground tuber of the ensete which was dug out, scrubbed, sliced and cooked in a pot.
Qoo, a very common and staple cuisine in the ensete culture complex societies of
southwest Ethiopia for millennia, was not an indigenous entity to the Basketo. It was
introduced lately. Qoo, called wassa in Baske, was probably introduced from some other
ensete cultivating groups. But it was not known among the informants as to when and from
where the technology of wassa making was introduced. The term wassa does not appear to
be a Gammoid language. It appears to be more of Cushitic term, more likely of Sidama
language. I have reason to suspect that wassa and the technology might have been
borrowed from Sidama because, it was already noted and hypothesized by some informants
that ensete was re- introduced at some time from the Sidama following the virtual loss of
most crops during the Italian war (1936-1941). Probably when it was re-introduced, the
technology of wassa was also introduced together.

6.4. Basketo as a Cash Crop Area
Apart from the household food crops produced for subsistence, the Baske also produced
other non- food crops. The idea of producing crops for market purpose was quite a very
recent phenomenon. Cash crops teemed in the fertile lands and forests of the Baske for
millennia before they were tapped as market sources. The land of Baske had been known
for its rich non- food crops such as coffee, various condiments (notably kororima,
cinnamon), Coffee was a naturally grown forest crop/ plant for millennia before it was
known for its cash value. The Baske called bunna bassa, meaning, literally, coffee forest, to
signify the forest teeming with coffee trees. The coffee fruit was not known for its value as a
drinkable entity. The ancestors did not use the coffee fruit to make coffee and drink.
Instead, they drank the coffee leaves, which were collected, washed, pounded in a mortar,
the pounded matter mixed with water and the justice was boiled in a pot and drunk after
being mixed with various condiments. This leaf coffee as it might be termed is common in
the southwestern Ethiopia. The art of using coffee beans for coffee making was thus a
recent phenomenon, not indigenous to the Baske. It was introduced later; although we do
not exactly know when it was and who did introduce it. We surmise that like other
technologies, it might have been introduced during the Amhara occupation of the land

The Baske had thus for generations produced valuable cash crop products such as coffee
and kororima (cinnamon). However, the land did not benefit as such from this bounty.
According to one informant, the development of Sawla town in neighboring Goffa had
been based on the cash crop resources of Baske. Coffee and cinnamons are the two
important cash crops of Baske. Throuout the time of the feudal Amhara rulers (1890s to
1974), these resources were produced in Baske and were transported on human backs and
mule backs for sale at Sawla markets. They sold them for very cheap price which the Sawla
merchants sold for higher prices.

6.5. Origins of and Changes in Farming Tools
Quite in congruence with the basic mode of production, the agricultural implements in use
in Baske from time immemorial included those linked to the horticultural activity. Thus, the
most important agricultural tools were those used for digging the soil, planting crops,
clearing forests, cutting grasses, slashing bushes, mowing crops when ready for harvest, etc.
The most important ones included shorqa, a one- thronged digging tool used to dig the
ground/ soil; kutta, a two- thronged digging tool; a smaller version of this was used to dig
the soil by women, the bigger one was used by men to cultivate root crop plots. Shorqa is
used to dig as well as cut. Its handle is wooden and its end point is iron. Salla was a one-
thronged tool made of iron with wooden handle to dig. Baida is used to dig the land. Kusha
kassa, is a tall digging tool, with wooden handle and iron end. Sensella is a similar tool, also
used to dig the land for heavy digging. It is a tool with much of its part being iron. Kusha
kassa is with small iron in its end and other large portion is wood. Bei is a tool, used to cut
and split big, thicker woods. Lashlaqa (hatchet) is used to split smaller, thinner wood.
The iron is imported from Dimme land which was with iron. They have had traditional iron
refinery technology. The Baske used to buy these iron tools from the Dimme. But now,
iron tools come from markets and bought from the modern shops. Some of these
traditional tools are being replaced. Other agriculture tools related to plowing using the
oxen arent indigenous to the Baske. According to informants, these were introduced by
the Amhara settlers. Ancestral Baske never ploughed the land by using draught animals.

Photo 26 Some farming tools displayed

6.6. History of Livestock Domestication
Beginning from the time immemorial the Baske raised such livestock as dori (sheep), dorti
(goat), mize (cow), genz (ox), ooke (heifer), and kuta (hen). But kuta was said to have come
lately from other areas. Equines such as of horse, mule, and donkeys came late with the
Amhara. These beasts of burden were thus unknown to the ancestral Baske. If what the
informants claimed was true, that the beasts of burden were not original to the Basketo,
then we assume that the ancestral Baske used their own feet and their own backs and
heads to transport themselves and their materials from place to place.

6.7. Indigenous Religion and Production Practices
In Baske, economic activity and the processes of production, cultivation, exchange,
distribution and consumption were all accompanied by deep religious beliefs and rituals. The
Kati was regarded as the Lord of the Crops and the peasants had inbuilt sense of obligation
o ask the blessing of the kati on their production activities. The Kati was also responsible
for blessing the first new fruits when eh sown crops ripen. Before the people begin using
the newly harvested crops, they had first to collect first fruits of all new crops and livestock
and take them as offerings to the Kati. He would conduct the appropriate rituals whereby
the ancestral spirits who are believed o watch closely over the fertility of the land, the
crops and animals are placated by the beer and animal offerings. One informant narrates this
phenomenon: Those people who maintained their traditional religion would take the first
ripen crops of the new crops to the Kati for ritual blessing.. He would conduct a big such
crop productivity ritual annually. It is done twice per year in summer and winter. But the
biggest is in summer. Many cattle are slaughtered under the huduma ( the spiritual forest).
This explicit link between traditional religion and economic production as seen a drastic
decline. Some of older men whom I had interviewed claimed that this decline was mainly
due to the influence of Protestant Christianity (beginning from th 1940s and 1950s). One of
these old men complained,
Now this is leading to decline in productivity and increase in famine. There was no
famine in the past. If famine occurred, the people prayed and rituals were made by
the traditional leaders. Many people would attend it. Those who have abandoned the
traditional religion would not attend the ritual. They despise it. Because of the
religious division in our land there is the wrath of God and livelihood crisis.
Such views may, however, generally represent individual opinion and need no to be taken

6.8. Natural Resources and Their Conservation
By natural resources, I mean rivers, wild animals, forests, land and the soil, and the
environment in general. However, in this sub-section, I want to deal with wild animals and
more so with forests.
6.8.1. Wild Animals
According to informants, the Baske land hosted varieties of wild animals. A practical
evidence for this might be the fact that there exist local terminologies for the various wild
animals. Although the existence of a local term (in its un-adopted sense) for a certain entity
may not be an evidence for the indigenousness of that entity, it might a least tangibly suggest
the existence of that entity in a given area for a considerably long period of time.
Wild animals of the Baske as of old include: Maahee (tiger), maazha (leopard), qaariay
(monkey), yirshe (porcupine,)genaa (hare), gabar (deer), zhobb (lion), woshi (antelope), to
mention few. All these were present in Baske from the beginning.
An old man argued these wild animals have now decimated in number. Particularly some of
them such as lions, elephants, and tigers, etc, have become rare. One reason which the old
man suspected and which I also subscribe to might be deforestation. I do not know may be
now due to increasing population settlement in the forest areas, some of the wild animals
have fled away to other area, the man said. Water borne/ aquatic animals have also existed
in Basketo. These included: molla (fish), dawu (crocodile) and yerins (hippo). There are a
number of big water bodies in Basketo to host such aquatic animals. However, hippos are
not found in smaller river bodies in the land; they are found in River Ommo.

Other wild animals which used to exist in the past in good numbers but declined gradually
due to various factors not the least of which being deforestation, include: menta (buffalo).
Dogga (qorke, in Amharic, kudu), gena (rabbit), gabar (dikula, in Amharci), girshe (porcupine),
and gaya (monkey). These still live in the low lands but are decreasing as population
settlements are increasing. Around Ergino River in Baske, there were thick forests. There
use to dwell many wild animals such as tigers, wild pigs, and elephants but now the area is
cleared for cultivation. Now the land is more or less cleared particularly for maize

6.8.2. Forests and Trends in Deforestation

We are not in any sense trying to provide a historical analysis of forest coverage and
gradual decline of forest in Baske. This is beyond our purpose. We want, however, to
depict a small picture of what forest and their coverage looked like and some of the trends
in deforestation.

Once again, we want to invoke the name, Baske, which is very relevant in relation to
forests. It is thus interesting to note that the very name of the people was from the
beginning closely and inextricably tied to forests. Needless to mention, the name is based
on bassa meaning forest, and ke, meaning house. There was a natural linkage between the
ancestors, their ways of lives and their livelihoods on the one hand and the forests on the
other. Forests for the Basketo have been the life-blood and continue to be the most
defining elements in their entire psycho-social, spiritual and socio-economic spheres.
Deduct the forest from their lives and the traditional Baske would amount to nil.
Talking about trends in deforestation, informants often refer to the progressively increasing
population and urban settlements as well as elements of new forms of religious outlooks
which discouraged the traditional religious rituals conducted in forests and at least indirectly
led to the weakening of the strong motivations found in the traditional religious principles
which forbade the cutting of trees. Thus said one key informant,
In the past, there was very thick forests; the whole land was covered with forests.
Now it declined, because the population size increased. Now people are going to
own lands and making settlements there. Now the lowland where elephants, lions
and other wild animals inhabited is occupied by human settlements. The various
government offices, buildings and schools were sites for burial and covered with
forests; but these were cleared and houses constructed.
Another factor in deforestation process is the introduction of timber works. According to
informants, now timber works is expanding and people cut the big tree or timer.
The impact of new forms of religious systems was also not a small matter. According to
informants, when the new religious sets came here, the rituals and rules surrounding the
Tsossa began to be challenged. The new religious preachers declared, There is no Tsossa in
the forest. Tsossa resides high above in the heaves. It will not kill you if you use the tree by
cutting. Due to these and other related factors, informants argued there happened a
noticeable decline in forest coverage in Baske. As gradually the forests began to be
exploited and cut, you notice the marks of these human actions on the natural forests of
Basketo, said one key informant.
The conditions of forests as far as their traditional conservation practices in relation to
religious beliefs and practices, during the various government regimes varied to some
extent. The feudal government did not inflict any significant change and loss on the forests,
and it did not impose its own rules on the traditional forest conservation practices. During
the Dergue regime, informants told that there were significant moves on the part of the
government cadres to impose their own policies and rules which pressurized the traditional
religious forest-friendly practices and beliefs. This has to some extent led to the cutting of
the forest. The traditional religious leaders who have been the custodians and stewards of
the forests were harshly maltreated and persecuted being tagged as elements of the feudo-
bourgeoise class.

Informants were generally thankful and appreciative when they talked about the present
governments policy and strategy regarding the value of the indigenous ways of lives and the
forests. Now, in this government, there is a resurgence of our old rituals. This is helping in
reforestation, they are teaching the people to renew their cultures and plant trees in their
ossa (forests),said one old man

Now recently in the past three to four years, there begun a reforestation effort by planting
indigenous tree varieties. This effort is run by a local association established to conserve the
local culture and natural resources. In fact, there appears to be a promising move in the bid
to reinvigorate the indigenous values and knowledge systems relating to natural resources
conservation, particularly forest. One of my intellectual Baske key informants described the
current progresses in reclaiming the natural forests and indigenous cultural values of the

But now, there is move to reinvigorate the natural forests and the indigenous
values by establishing a self-help organization, by the name of The Cultural and Natural
Resources Protection Association of Basketo. This is a non-governmental body, but its
activities are overseen by the Basketo Special Woreda Administration. The
Department for Culture and Information is responsible for coaching its activities.
The basic principle of the Association is that even though one may disdain the rituals
associated with the forest, the forests are the resources of the entire Basketo and
the country at large and as such they should not be cut down. So the Association is
offering these awareness teachings to the people. Efforts are also being made to
replant trees in the place of those cut down. In a household where the family
becomes divided over faith matters when some one converts to the new religious
sects, there arise conflicts over the question of using the tree by cutting. Those who
stuck to the traditional ancestral religion would not allow the new converts to cut.
Thus many such cases would come to the Woreda Administration for settlement.

In general, the present government has empowered the traditional religions
adherents and is supporting the people to continue their rituals. This trend in the
cutting of the traditional forests has particularly become widespread since the fall of
Dergue, as the new government declared all religions equal status. In the time of
Dergue, it was difficult for the people to advance any religious faiths. The new
religious movements begun in Baske beginning from the [1940s and 1950s]. It was
serenely suppressed in Dergue regime [1974- 1991]. Now In EPRDFs time, it has
increased very significantly.

Regarding the Association, however, the key informant had his own reservation. There is a
complaint that when the Association, supported by a charity organization, was established, it
was not done in a representative manner, representing all the relevant actors and all the
sections of the Woreda.
The natural forests of the Baske teemed with varieties of tree species. These species are
generally rapidly disappearing outside the religiously protected zones elsewhere in other
parts of the country. In fact, the Basketo natural forests may be considered as one of the
most endeared natural repositories of these indigenous tree species. The main indigenous
species in the forest varieties which were said to have been handed down from the
ancestors include: wolla (sycamore,), zigga ( Podcarpus) , oocha (Doqma), jangarsha (tiqur
enet a type of olive tree), garra, bitsi, kalsha, batta (bissana), quph ( a tree which they sued to
hang beehives etc.
The natural forests house a number of wild animals such as monkey, colobos monkey, and
many other bird species. Many other small animals also live in the forest. These all tree
species are indigenous. Inside the forest you would find no alien trees such eucalyptus tree.
Eucalyptus tree is rampant out side the traditional tsossa sites.
There seemed to be various views regarding the origins of the tracts of natural forests that
exist in Baske. One view was that the natural forest existed from time immemorial, even
when the founding ancestors first came they found these forests which they called, bassa. It
was in these bassa where they lived as their houses for the time being. Another view was
that the forest was initially planted by the ancestral katis. When a Kati dies, his sons plant
more tree on the burial site and after this initial action of man made planting the forest
began to expand through natural processes whereby birds bring various seed and take them
and multiply. In short, the general agreement regarding the origins of the natural forests was
that it is not like a one time event. Informants generally subscribed to the view that the
trees were first planted by ancestral fathers and then gradually they would propagate by the
actions of birds. Some trees in the forest are very old. According to Kati Mazgo Garda, who
is one of the last living Kati in a locality called Dokho, and who maintained a large tract of
natural forest, his ossa, some of the trees in his forest were equivalent to the ages of his
great, great, great grandfathers. He claimed in fact some trees were planted by the very
first Kati.

6.8.3. Traditional Religion and the Religious Leaders as the Stewards of
Traditional religious beliefs and principles of the Baske have been generally forest friendly.
The religious leaders were the custodians of the forests. In the past, forests were highly
protected. The people had the traditional religious rituals where by they offered beer and
animal sacrifices to the ancestral spirits. Now due to the introduction new faiths, many
forest tracts have been cut. There are still some who have well taken care of the forests.
Some forests protected by the Kati. There are also tracts of forests protected by Dannas
and Gudddas.
One of the sources of power in forest protection in Baske has been the indigenous
religious idea that relates the supernatural beings the ossa, literally God, to the forests. The
relationship between the forest and ossa was/ is that the ancestral spirits who were
regarded as the mediums between the human agents and the supernatural beings and
mediated by the priesthood of the Kati, are believed to indwell the forest. According to the
informants, it was not that the people worshipped the forest or the trees; rather ossa for
the Basketo worshipers represented the sprits of the ancestors. The spirits of the ancestors
were believed to dwell in the forest. The big trees in the forests were the medium or points
of contacts or revelation whereby the human agency the Katti met the spiritual entity. The
ancestors thus would carry out the sacrifice in the forest. They would not conduct the
sacrifice in other places. They believed that the god they worship dwells in the forests.
The Baske have had indigenous laws regarding the forest conservation. There were and
are, of course, no formally codified rules or laws. But the people just want the forest to be
thick and dense forest and they want this denseness be maintained. This denseness of
forests is of aesthetic value to the neighborhood it self; they also use dried woods for
firewood when the kati permits. Some of the traditional rules include: no one may enter
into the forest and cut or pick up any dried tree without the Katis permission. The Katti
would say that if in case clearing the inside of the forest is needed, there must be a sacrifice
and spilling of blood before such actions are taken. Any clearing of dried fallen wood items
in the forests is thus done by sacrificing an animal; otherwise it would be a gomme, a great
transgression. So no ordinary person can enter into the forest. If one enters, the forest
would become defiled. No man who has committed sexual intercourse within the preceding
hours before the visit to the forest may enter. No women may enter into the forest,
especially the married ones. Even the dried woods were not collected without the Katis
Particularly women were never allowed to enter the forest. It was regarded as sin and
defiling. If she entered she would incur the wrath of the ancestral spirits. The spirits would
get angry at the Kati. The women themselves reverently believed in this and will never try
to trespass the rule. Furthermore, the women paid extreme ovation to the Kati. They
would never greet him never touch his hand, they would never even pass by walking along
the forest. When I interviewed the Kati of a locality and the other two women, the women
refused to sit near the Kati as well as near the forest boundary. We had to go away from
the forest. The women have already internalized the belief that if one entered into the
forest one may die. But those who have converted into other faiths, they are no more
afraid of the rules. According to the informants, those who believe in the ossa, it works
and if they trespass the rules it would be dangerous. It is believed the spirits would come
when the sacrifices are made.
One of the noble tasks of the traditional religious leaders has been to take care of the
forest. The local people have had recognized this and respected it for millennia. However,
informants noted that now, there are rapid transformations in the traditional rules
governing the forest conservation. One of my key informants argued as follows:
It was the Kati himself who would take care of the forest. No one would dare to
come and cut the trees. Of course, now and then some would come and steal dried
tree trunks and branches. But if the Kati was around no one would dare. The
members of the Katis lineage will never touch the tree. Those who would touch or
steal may be those who are not members of the other lineages. The women of the
lineage were particularly never allowed even to look at the forest and pass closer by
the forest, let alone going inside and cutting the tree. But now, due to the weakening
of the traditional religion, this traditional rule is now being trespassed. In the past,
no one would dare to break the rules, because they fear that if they trespass the
rule they are invoking the wrath of the ancestral spirits upon themselves. The
kinsfolk of the Kati extremely feared the rules, because it was like committing a great
sin. But when the new religious sects were introduced, the former strict rules are
now being considered as of no power to do any harm even if you go and cut the
There used to exist many clan- based and owned ritual forests in Baske. There is no one,
all encompassing Baske -wide ritual forest. The most important such ritual forests are four
which are linked to the four major ritual clan kings. One is maintained by Kati Mazgo Garda,
(belonging to the Goshanaa clan) ; the other is called Buzzan Kati (The king of Buzan), this is
the most ancient and indigenous Katti belonging to the clan called Khalmanaa; the other is
Oolaa Katti, belonging to Goirenaa clan; the fourth is the Katti of Gezhe land. Apart from
these, there are numerous other tracts of such ritual forests owned and maintained by the
low ranking ritual leaders (the Danna, Gudda, and Bitanaa). These lesser rank ritual leaders
conducted the rituals in their own areas first and then for the major twice per year ritual,
they would all gather together and collecting the offerings, bring to the Kati. The Kati is the
representative of all the people in his clan. When the Kati conducts the ritual it is for the
entire clans- folk. Below him, the next leaders below the spiritual hierarchy would conduct
the ritual in their own neighborhood; this time it is not representing all clam members but a
section or sub- section of the clan.
Apart from the traditional religious leaders, the indigenous religion of the Baske demanded
that every household head should plant and maintain his own tracts of forests. It is thus
common to observe tracts of trees and forests. In the past trees in front ones houses were
not cut. It was called uduma (the tree of fathers and grandfathers). Thus the uduma was
never allowed to be cut. Every household thus maintained a small tract of tree which he
would run for ritual purposes; burials also were carried out inside these trees when
ordinary people died. There was what was called Gadaaiqas, meaning the guardian spirits of
the farmyard and the neighborhood. Thus they would plant tree in their farms and conduct
the rituals and use it as a burial site. For those who have converted to new religious sects,
they have been given their own burial sites by the government.

Hence, a cursory walk or drive across sections of neighborhoods in Baske land would
reveal the preponderance of mini- forests group of frees around the households or in the
farmsteads of individual farmers. The "forests" were basically meant for spiritual purposes.
The forests are generally handed down from the former generations and are well taken care
of by the household head. The forests most of the time are dominated by ziga
(podocarpus). Ziga was generally preferred and cherished tree among the Basketo from
time immemorial.

6.8.4 Introduction of Alien Trees and the Future of Forests

Eucalyptus trees are very dominant in Baske. They have been introduced to the area with
the opening up of the area to the central government in 1890s. The trees are cherished by
the people for their practical purposes, not spiritual, cultural values. They have become
important sources of cash as well as fire wood and house construction inputs. Almost every
house hold seemed to have these trees in its farms side by side with the local frees. As to
when and how these alien, non-indigenous trees were introduced, the general agreement
was that they were brought about during the Amhara occupation of the Baske land, 1890s.
One of my key informants argued, I think it came together with the Amhara. The tree
in this area is affecting the soil fertility. But the people now like it for its multiple uses. The
people have become so used to it that some cut the indigenous trees used for lumbering
such as wnaza, zigba, and instead plant the eucalyptus tree. But now following the
governments Two Tree for 2000 project, the people have to some extent been motivated
to plant indigenous trees.

I was curious that supposing that traditional religious beliefs and practices appear to be on
the decline, what would happen to the forests in the future since the survival of the forest
have for millennia depended on the belief and practice of traditional religion. One of key
informants, Kati Mazgo Garda of Dhoko locality, was optimistic. Suppose the indigenous
trees disappear, what would happen to the traditional religious rituals and suppose the
traditional religion gets even more weakened what would happen to the forests? I asked
him. He answered that he did not think it would disappear, as in any generation there would
remain some people who would stick to the traditional religion. The Kati, above all,
optimistically hoped as long as the government supported the forests cause, the forests
would continue.
6.9. History of Famine
Baske as a land of root and tuber crops has enjoyed centuries of food security. This
appears to be in line with the strength of the Ensete Culture Complex areas in southwest
where famine was not generally known for millennia until very recent times. Literature in
food security issues indicate that famine and food insecurity became a problem in
southwest Ethiopian beginning from the last recent decades (See for example, Desalegne
Rahmato, 1991).
In Baske, my informants noted that some of the famine episodes were recorded in the first
half of 20
century. Informants mentioned two episodes of famine during the time of Haile
Sellasie I (1930- 1974) and the Italian Occupation (1936-1941). During the early years of
Haile Sellasie I there was famine due to the damage made to the crops by grasshopper
infestation. One of my key informants narrated:
I remember when there was severe famine when crops were destroyed due to
drought and grasshoppers. It destroyed all the green trees. The people chased away
a Kati known as Kati Mazzo. They told him it was him who brought this famine.
They told him, When you became the Kati famine came to our land. He was chased
to Goffa. Then settled there for three years. Then they again discussed among
themselves and brought back the king paying a tribute of an ox to the Goffa ruler. . .
They conducted the ritual and carried him on their shoulders and enthroned him
again. When Kati Mazzo died, they enthroned Kati Darpho. He died fighting the
Ougaden war

The time of the famine might be inferred from the above narration. If Kati Darpho died
during the Ougaden War (this was a popular war just before the Italy occupied Ethiopia in
1936. The time may be about 1936. This famine might thus had occurred in or before the

One of the severest famine was, according to the key informants, was in the wake of Italy's
war of occupation (1936-1941). The main reason was there was no regular, proper
agricultural activity due to the war related unrest. During the five years occupation, there
was no proper farming. The people ate what they produced in the previous years, until the
crops were exhausted. All the cereals and root/ tuber crops were totally extinguished. All
livestock were extinguished. It was said that the people ate the upper part the stem of false
banana, lacking the tuber. They also ate certain grass varieties, If it did not taste sour, they
ate any grass or plant. After the war, they made great efforts to get seeds for the
extinguished crops and animals.

Otherwise, there were no other recorded famine in Baske even during the famed famine
episodes of 1960's and 1980's. During the 1984 famine, the Baske people did not suffer
from any significant famine. The reason as informants noted was the people's dependence
on root and tuber crops. The presence of marshy areas helped a lot. False banana, potato,
yam, etc, all helped a lot. No human or animal died due to famine.
6.10. History of Resettlement
Baske land with its richly gifted and vast fertile soil in the lowland areas had made it eligible
as a host area for resettlees. The first batch of resettlees was dispatched to the Baske land
in the 2003- 2004 period. (Wolde Sellasie Abute, 2004). Initial surveying of the land was
done during the Dergue rgime, but the Dergue rgime step down before implementing it.
Presently, there are resettlements villages in Baske, where people coming from Konso,
Wolayta, Hadya, Kambata and also from densely populated areas of Baske inhabit. The
place they were inhabiting was formerly an area which was serving as a bone of contention
in the sense of the pastoral communities using it as a pasture area and using this place they
also would encroach to the settled communities of Baske and often made raid killing
people as well.
According to informants, there are elements of these pastoral communities who kill and
raid. The main pastoral groups are the Boddi. The places known as Angilla, Dunare, Garra,
Oba, and Bunna Bassa are these places of contention which now resettles live as farmers.

6.11 History of Markets and Commerce
Some rudimentary form of exchange always existed in all human societies. The first mode of
exchange called the barter system involved exchange of goods. The idea of buying and
selling an article for a symbolic money valued item was not known for long period of time.
The system of money marketing was introduced into the southern Ethiopia probably in
relation to the commencement of the long distance trading that may be traced back to the
medieval period, and particularly during the second half of 19
century when long distance
caravan trade routes, bringing salt, cloths, soaps, medicines, and other European goods and
taking in exchange slaves, coffee, hides, etc, that joined south and southwest Ethiopia with
north and the Red Sea and Metema ports. Salt as a highly desired commodity and a symbol
of money value in the form of a bar (called amole) was particularity highly cherished in the
country and in the south (Bahru, 2008).

In Baske, informants mention the barter system as commonly practiced by the ancestors.
One form of article was exchanged for another form by moving from house to house.
Those who wanted a certain article went in search for it from house to house holding their
own exchangeable items. There was no organized sophisticated permanent market system
as such.

According to informants, the first organized modern market was instituted during the time
of Menlik II (1889-1913). The first such market was begun in a place called Eellla, as one
informant noted. It was called seo gebeya, the Monday Market. An alternative market was
located far away in Goffa. The physically stronger persons carried their marketable goods as
far as to Bulqi (32 kilo meters) in Goffa
There were conflicting facts about the first market, who instituted it, where it began, etc.
For example, according to one old man, the first market was called Borgala gabya (meaning
the Market of Borgalla). Borgalla market was instituted by Fitrar (Basketos way of saying
Fitawrari, an Amharic term for a feudal time title for a war general) Zewdie. After the
Borgalla market was instituted another followed, called ata Market, by Barmbaras Zeleke. It
was also called Zelebe gebeya, Zeleke Market. There was no other market before the
Brogalla market. People used to barter by going to each others houses, said this old man.
Specific date of establishment is not known.
As for the beginning of using a symbolic object representing money value, instead of
exchanging one article for another, the first form of the nascent money based marketing
appears to have been indigenous to the people. According to one old man,
What I remember is the original money was agara birra It was printed with the photo of
Haile Selassie and the lion. Before that, the people traded with mara. This was made of
iron rod. This iron was obtained from Dimme-land. The iron was mined by the fugga (Iron
makers). They were Dimme people .They used to be under the rule of Basketo. In those
times if you wanted to marry you would give a two and half arms length of this mar a to
the father of the bride.
The mara as a money value object was known across many of the Omotic nationalities such as
Wolayta, Goffa and others (See Tesfay and Daniel, 1992)
However, as for the first modern form of money system, other informants argued it was
not the agara birra which was introduced first. According to another informant, the tamina
was the first ever modern money system, probably in early years of Menilik II followed by
shinka frinca which in turn predates the bobla and lirri. Then came agara birra. He said, In
the past people used to exchange by using what was called shinka frinca, and when Italians
came they introduced bobla and lirri. Before all these there was tamina. Tamina was a white
object like birra. Birra came later. This view was reinforced by another old man:
The first money for exchange was called tamuni or tamina. Five tamina bought
one goat. Ten tamina bought a calf Tamina came with Menlik. His name and
picture was engraved on it. Tamina and agara birra came at the same time.
Before tamina and agara lirri there was tonna which was like a rod of iron. They
used tonna as exchange value. After tamina came lirri and bobla. After the bobla
came this centime [cent] after which came this paper money. Lirri and bobla came
with Italians. Two lirri was equivalent to one bobla
The above quote seems to be more specific and concrete in explicating the chronological
events involved in the introduction of money systems, although it also confuses the money
system that was introduced during the Menlik IIs and Haile Selassie Is times. Other
informants made it clear that the agara birra was engraved with the image of Haile Selassie
I. What the above informant said tonna appears to be equivalent to what other said as
mara. Based on the above information, it may be possible to derive a chronological order of
events as follows:
Bartering ______tonna or mara____tamina______agara birra_____lirri and
bobla______agara birra/ santime______paper money

Informant did no mention of the mar teresa (Maria Theresa) money system which was
commonly practiced in the country sometime during or preceeding the beginning of the
Menlik II era. What one informant talked about the shinka frinka I could not verify its
identity and timing from other informants. It probably referred to the franc. Whether the
franc was widely practiced in the country as a major medium of money exchange needs to
be further studied (it is not relevant here to discuss about it). The salt bar (amole) as an
object of symbolic money was also not mentioned by the informants.
Aside from the local based bartering systems which basically involved the exchange of one
article for another, the exchangeable items expanded after the introduction of the money
system and after the Basketo land was opened up for the outsiders. Various articles were
carried over long distances all the way from the northern parts of the country to the Baske
land. The long distance itinerary merchants brought many articles such as salt, medicines,
cloths, etc, and they bought local products notably coffee, condiments, and related items.
Informants made particular mention of the Wollo Amhara merchants whose role in the long
distance trading was notable. Such merchants became common figures during the 1940s and
1950s. They brought articles on the back of mules. They bought Kororima and coffee from
our land and took it to Bulqi. The nefea collected these articles buying from the people
and sell them in the Bulqi market. The articles were carried on peoples backs and head as
well as backs of mules.
7.1. Introduction
In this section we will present our findings on the origins and historical development of
political system of the Baske, and the introduction of modern political system in to the
land. Key questions we will address will include: what did the ancestral political system look
like? How did it develop? How, if any, did it change over time? How and when did the
modern systems of politics and administration reach into the Baske land? What impacts did
it have on the indigenous systems of politics? How did the traditional political system
manage to maintain its identity and how did it react to the externally introduced political
systems? Etc.
Social scientific literature in general and ethno-historical, ethnographic studies in particular
make it clear that African systems of politics had maintained its uniqueness over the
centuries until it was confronted with the western concepts and methods of politics and
administration. The literature classifies African societies (and other traditional, no-industrial
societies) into cephalous and a-cephalous depending on whether they have developed and
maintained their own centralized systems of politics. Those with a form of centralized
systems of political administration were termed as cephalous and those without such a
system were a-cephalous. Many of the traditional societies which run very simple way of life
such as the hunter gatherers were said to have lacked any centralized form of government.
Their systems of politics were generally tribal, clan or lineage- based. They lacked a central,
all-inclusive strong form of government.
Regarding the confrontation between the traditional political systems with the western
based, modern political systems, available literature shows that such a conformation
generally resulted in the progressive decline and in some cases virtual demise of the political
systems of the traditional societies. Indigenous political ideologies, values, practices and
institutions faced fierce pressure from the politically and militarily more powerful groups
which finally led to the replacement of the former with the modern one, or the substantial
loss of the indigenous political values, norms and institutions.
When we come to Ethiopia, it is a generally welldocumented fact that many of the
societies of the south and southwest of Ethiopia have had their own indigenous political
values, ideologies and institutions for millennia until they faced the challenges from the
empire building and national unification policies of the northern christen emperors, which
particularly began taking roots in the south beginning from the time of the restoration of
the Solomonic Dynasty in 1270, and after periods of disruption from the 16
to 19

centuries due to great historical events of the Gran Wars and the great Oromo
movements, it again reinvigorated following the collapse of the Zemene Mesafint ( Era of
Prices (1769 to 1855) (see Bahru, 2007; Lapiso, 1992). Some of the societies have had a
strong, albeit not strongly centralized, form of political system, (such as the Wolayta
kingdom, Jimma Aba Jiffar, Keffa, etc). Other societies have had less strong and more of
tribally divided political systems. According to existing historical studies of the confrontation
between the political systems of the southwest Ethiopian societies and the Abyssinian
empire, the more or less substantial loss and decline of the indigenous political values,
ideologies and institutions was the fate of almost all of these societies towards the end of
the 19
century (Bahru Zewdie, 1991; Markakis, 1996).
When we come to the Baske political history, we see more or less similar processes and
states of affairs. We do not have any recorded historical document regarding the origins
and developments of political systems of the Baske. Whether the Baske have had a strong
centralized political system cannot be substantiated for sure at the moment. However,
information gleaned from key informants and certain existing ethno-historical literature
show that the Baske unlike its close and distant neighbors such as the Wolayta or Dawro
did not maintain a centralized strong kingdom or political system. The Baske political
system might be summed as one which was based on clan- based a-cephalous political
system. We will below discuss in some detail the origins and development and
characteristics of the Baske political system.
7.2. The Katiship: Its Origins and Basic Elements and Changes over
The concept of Kati is a variant of Kawo (A Wolayta term for king). It is a pan- Ometo
theme in political history which has been the dominant political system of authority of the
Omotic speaking societies. The concept appears to be an equivalent of a king. A kati was a
person of traditional charismatic power and authority with more or less absolute, venerated
position of power over his subjects. The katiship was a system of politics whereby a power
and authority is obtained and transferred based on traditional, hereditary clan based
principles. The kati was a general leader of the people or group under his power being
responsible for the entire political, civil, spiritual, economic and health wellbeing of the
The origin of katiship was traced as far back as the first apical, founding father of the
indigenous clan in Baske. The first Kati in Baske was thus believed to the forefather of the
Khalmanaa clan and the subsequent comers to the land, the Goirenaa and Goshanaa clans
founders also had established their own katiship.
The informants used and Amharic equivalent of the term kati, namely balabat was a leader
who owned land and other means of production and had considerable political power over
the people. So, the Baske have had their own balabats from the beginning. One of my
informants told that the first such a balabat or kati was called Suti Duko. He came from
Gammoland. It was not clear whether this kati was the Goirenaa or Goshanaa clan
founder. But the first original kati the most indigenous was called Buzzan kati the King of the
land of Buzzan). This was the balabat of the Khalamanaa clan. Again, it was not clear
whether the term Buzzan Kati exactly referred to the first king by the name of Buzzan or a
certain unnamed kati of the land of Buzzan. The expression Buzzan kati was very common
when informants talked about the origins of katiship
7.2.1. A Genealogy of Baske Katis
It is very difficult to determine the time when the first Kati of the indigenous Khalmanaa
clan begun and the supposedly late comers Goshanaa and Goirenaa clans begun.
Informants generally trace the time to the very beginnings, but this beginning was not known.
In earlier sections, there was a certain indication, however of when might the Goirenaa and
Goshanaa ancestors first came; that it was claimed by one old man, Ato Adisu Abebe, to
be somewhere during the times of Ahmed Ibin Ibrahim (the Gra), 1531-1552. I made
efforts to determine through genealogical reckoning how many generations have elapsed
since the first kati in the various major clans. The longest line of generations was 14 in the
Goshanaa clan. Assuming that a generation would last for maximum 40 years, it amounts to
about 540 years. When we reduce this to 25 years, it amounts to 350 years. Thus, at most,
the origin of the first political Katiship of the major clans goes to 450 years back (to 1470s)
and at least to 350 years 1660s. Hence, the informants guess is quite logically acceptable. IF
we take the average of the two, the time falls somewhere within the documented historical
framework of the Gran Wars and the great ethnic movements of the 16
century. This time
framework may also apply when we try to determine the origins of the present major clans
in Basketo land, excluding the indigenous ones.
According to the interview session with older persons in group discussions, the first Kati of
the kati of Goirenaa called Enda-Katti. This Enda-kati gave birth to a son called Marintarri.
Marintarri gave birth to Baissa; from Baissa to Baba, then Dengha, then Wodissa, Kaa,
Torra/ Mazza, Darpha, Kusta, Dukha, Zulla/ Haile Mazza, Terefe/ Tamaa, and Gassa: a total
of 14 generations. This is the line of kati for Goirenaa.
There is however some sort of confusion here. The term Enda- Kati was a common theme
in the origin myth of the two major clans Goshanaa and Goirenaa. Above all, this Enda kati
is also meant to refer to the ancestral mother of the two ancestral founders of the clans.
Here, these older persons in the focus group discussion assigned the term Enda Kati only
to the Goshanaa and made it as the founding kati. It is not clear whether the name Enda
Kati is the name for a place, the first male father head and kati or the mother of the first kati
of the Goshanaa and Goirenaa clans. Another important point is that we are not sure
whether or not these 14 lines of katis were all in the vertical progression, thus one giving
birth to the other, or some of the katis were brothers.
The line of katis for Goshanaa commonly called the Dhoko Kati, is as follows: The first kati
was Gaallo, the second Mashmar, the third Hardda, the fourth Katti Yita, the fith Kati
Gassa, the sixth Katti Tamaa, the seventh Katti Gaarda, and the last, the currently in office
Katti Mazgo Gaarda. This constitutes eight generations. We obtained this information from
a group of older fathers in a focus group discussion. We had an opportunity to find the
Dhoko Kati, Mazgo Gaarda (his pre-ordination name being Ato Mesfin Gaarda) himself at his
compound in Dhoko kebele. It drastically differs from what we obtained form the Kati
Katti Mazgo Gaarda was about 78 years old at the time of our interview (last week of
October 2008). He seemed to hide his true age, telling us that he was only 55 years old; we
knew that he did not mean it seriously. His bent-down and worn out physique betrayed his
claim eve if he meant it seriously. He was the last living Kati of the Goshanaa clan. His
katiship was officiated in June 28
, 1985. He claimed he was the 9
kati from the first
ancestor. This contradicted with what the other informants believed: that Kati Mazgo
Gaarda was the eighth kati from the first ancestor. However, we are not sure whether this
first kati was the truly first founding ancestor or that whom Kati Mazgo was able to identify
as the most ancient kati as his memory allowed.
When describing his line of katiship Kati Mazgo Gaarda narrated as follows:
The original kati was Gammodo. Gammodo came from Gammo land. His name was
Gammodo. Gammodo gave birth to Ergado. Ergado gave birth to two sons: Gallo
and Mashmare. Gallo became a kati but he died young and was replaced by his
brother Mashmare. Then Yiso son of Mashmare reined. Yiso gave birth to Tammo,
who gave birth to Doyyo, who gave birth to Ardo, who gave birth to Gaarda, who
gave birth to Mazgo Gaarda. Three sons of Gamodo: Mashamre, Ergdaro and Gallo
all reigned as Kati.
This narration seems to be more plausible and closer to reality in that, first, it was given by
the man who descended himself from the line of katis. Second, it coincides with the other
stories regarding the origin myths of the two bigger clans Goshanaa and Goirenaa and the
third clan Shimenaa. However, it also contains some contradiction. For example, on the
one hand, it was said that Gallo and Mashmare were the two sons of Ergado who was a son
of Gammo. Contradicting this, it was said that Ergado himself was a son of Gammo hence a
brother to Mashmare and Gallo. This narration gives as an important clue that helps us
clarify the information given above regarding the first kati of the Goirenaa. We can
understand that if Kati Mazgo Garda came down from the line of katis from Mashmare, then
the first kati in the line of Goirenaa must have been Ergado. The name Ergado was
commonly mentioned by informants. Following this line of argument, Gallo might have been
the first kati in the Shimenaa clan. However, this was not verified yet.
I had also another opportunity to meet and interview the last living kati in a locality called
Garra Basketo. He was from the Goirenaa clan. Here it is important to note that it was not
necessarily the case that each of the major clans had only one line of katis. The name of this
man was Katti Lua Darpha. He was estimated to be in his late eighties. He was blind (I
could not determine this was due to being stricken with age or other factors). His son also
participated in the interview session.

The interview was conducted at the compound of this old man, the kati (king) of Garra
Baske. The man looked destitute and worn-out. There was no kingly charisma' at all about
this kati. I said this because, according to my leading key informant and facilitator of
fieldwork in Baske, Ato Haile-Mariam Tekle, a kati was easily distinguishable by his kingly
charisma, having commanding and appealing aura about him.

Photo 27 Kati Lusas compound and house. Note the sacrificial stone site(sacred site)

We came to this kati's locality driving some 25 kms long rugged and mountainous, slippery
road which characterized Baske land. Our guide was that able, passionate and committed
interpreter and facilitator, Haile Mariam Tekle. The son of the kati led us to his father's
house; when we arrived at the house the man was inside the house, resting. The son
addressed, "Kauta! Kauta!" as this was customary among the locals to address a kati
whenever they approach him. (It meant, literally, be enthroned! be enthroned!)

Phptp 28 Kati Lusa Darpha: just getting out of his house and squatting

The house, a structure made of wooden, muddy walls and thatched roof, was very small in
size. There was no door, except a window like entrance. A woman was coming and going
through this entrance. I supposed she was the Katis wife. There was a heap of stones under
trees in the compound. There was a big, large branched tree which was full of bird nests.

When I tried to sit down on one of the stones, we were told it was not allowed to do so,
as the stones were sacred. It was the site for performing some rituals by the kati. They gave
me a certain stool and my field guide also sat down a stone nearby. We sat down and the
kati was told who we were, and came out crawling out of the window like entrance.

Picture 29 Kati Lusa Darpha being interviewed. (Squatting at the left; middle: my field guide and interpreter.
Right: the researcher)

We took the pictures of the man and the various scenes at the compound. The man wore a
number of bracelets looking ornaments in his hands. These bracelets, I was told,
represented his ritual powers.

This kati was able to trace his genealogy up to some eight generations. The first kati he was
able to start with was called Kati Maqalsa. This Maqalsa belonged to Goirena'a clan, who
came from Gammoland. The line of descent is as follows, beginning from the present
generation (that is this informant):

Lua ___Darpha____Sawqa____Maqalsa____Bomba____Qea____ Lua____ Maqalsa.

The man could not trace beyond this eighth line. Taking the assumption that a generation
would last 40 years, at most, it goes back 320 years (1690s); taking this figure by 25 years, it
goes to 200 years back (1800s).
7.2.2. Hallmarks of Baske Katiship
I asked informants whether the Baske katiship displayed nay unique feature in comparison
to other neighboring ethnic groups who also maintained similar political institution. The
terminology and the title of Kati are applicable to many other ethnic groups. Although there
were general similarities among the katiship of Basketo and other ethnic groups, there were
certain differences. For example, among the Gelila, when the ruler dies, according to
informants, the mourners mount on the top of the rulers house and mourn. In the case of
the Basketo, when sacrifices were made, the animal was killed and the blood was spilled; in
other ethnic groups, they offered the live animal without killing it.
During the ritual performance, the beer brewed by collecting the first fruits of the crops
was spilled over or under the trunk/ stem of big trees in the forest; but in the land of Gelila
(Aarri), they spilled the beer on the head of the kati. They also made him lie down and
spilled the sacrificial beer on him. In Basketo, when a Kati dies and the new incumbent is
spotted, the people would take the new person and carried him on their heads and
enthroned him by shouting, WozeeWozee! (A kind of ritual song sung during such
ceremonies). They gave him a new name. The name was offered by attaching some symbolic
significance that related to the persons certain special personalities. . For example, if a
heavy rain fell on the day of the enthronement, they gave him a name related to this event.
In some cases, the name to be given for the person was also contemplated before hand long
before the existing Kati dies. They carried him on the day of the enthronement, the moved
him carrying in the neighborhood, around the farmyards. If the incumbent Kati in case shied
away from the title and hid himself somewhere, the people would send a squad of searchers
selected from his clan and they would find him out wherever he went and hid himself. Even
nature itself will find him out: snakes would coil over him or some wild animas would catch
him, or a severe ailment would befall him, said the informants.

7.2.3. The Hierarchical Ranks in the Traditional Political System and Key
Roles of the Various Political Offices
There existed a system of hierarchy in the traditional socio-spiritual and administrative rule
in Baske. A vertical level of political offices existed whereby each knew very well its bounds
of power and authority and each was expected to not encroach the others power. The
highest rank is that of kati. This is the king. The katiship of a kati was for the clans folk of his
own. There was no all inclusive, one strong centrally appointed kati in Basketo.
Below the Kati was Daana, below Danna was Guudha, finally and the fourth rank in the
hierarchy was Bitania. Apart from these major politico-spiritual offices, there existed other
low- ranking positions reserved to those who would serve as the executers of all the detail,
menial tasks in times of public scarifies and festivals. For example, slaughtering the sacrificial
animal, tending the animals, spilling the beers, reciting and calling the names of the
ancestors, etc, were the tasks of these low-ranking officers. They included the omachi, and
oyti. These officers were appointed from certain lowly , marginalized groups. The Ajji and
Sandii clans received the titles of oyti who was responsible for sacrificing animals during
rituals. And omachi was from the Ajji clan.
In terms of authority and roles, it was the Kati who was responsible for effecting the highest
judicial and conflict resolution tasks. The verdict given by the Kati was taken as the final; no
appeal was required and permitted. The Kati could delegate some matters to Danna who
could execute it according to the orders given him. The Kati was responsible for all serious
matters that occur in his entire clan. Very simple interpersonal or inter-group problems
would be taken care of among the groups themselves. Matters of damages involving, for
example, the eye, teeth, ear, etc, were first handled by the omachi, oyti and Ajji. If these
could execute an issue they did, if not, the matter was taken to the Bitania. If he could, he
could handle the case, if not he sent the matter to the Ghudda. Then the matter was taken
to Danna. If even the Danna found it beyond his capacity, the matter was finally taken to the
Kati. A person might not directly take an issue to the Kati by bypassing all the lower
hierarchies. If he did, then a big ransom compensation payment was levied as the
punishment. Even if the appellant paid this compensation, the kati did not see the matter,
the appellant had to go all the way back to the first level.
It was believed that if a person did this kind of bypassing it might lead to a gomme (a big
problem that brings wrath up on the person); so to make this gomme not take effect, the
ransom payment was required. Some cases, of course, might be directly executed by the
Kati. For example, if an appellant came to the king saying that some of the lower ranking
authorities had put a spell on him or his sons or other possessions, the Kati would
perform what is called qi merge (in Amharic, literally kicking ones buttock.) By so doing the
Kati makes the spell put on the person by the lower ranks of no effect, speaking blessings on
him. He says. Let not this be gomme to you; let you live the rest of your life as the goat of
the king. Then the appellant went his way rejoicing.
As stated earlier, oyti was responsible for performing the slaughtering sacrificial animals. HE
was recruited from the Ajji clan. omachi was responsible for executing the ritual of beer
sprinkling and related tasks. They were recruited from Gamma clan. The Kati, among other
things, was responsible for executing the funeral when another Kati dies in other localities.
He would take the oyti with him and execute the funeral ritual.
The homicide case was regarded as a very grave issue. The case would finally come to the
Kati. When finally the homicide case was heard by the Kati, he would conduct the
appropriate ritual. The families of the victims would never receive blood compensation
rather the compensation animal would be taken to the Kati for sacrifice. The aim was to
reconcile the two parties. If the family of the victim took and ate the compensation, they
would face severe stigma.
There were sometimes cases which the lower officials could officiate without bringing it to
the kati. For example, when a woman gave birth to a baby, she would stay in a separate
room until she became clean, by completing designated period of time in separation. But if
the woman accidentally gave birth to the baby while she was in the house, the house would
be rendered unclean. So the husband would never eat in the house until the house was
spiritually cleaned. He would call the Bitania who inform it to the Ghudda and Danna who
would come and conduct the purification ritual.
7.2.4. Criterion of Eligibility, Appointment and Power Transfer
All of the politico-spiritual offices in the Baske traditional political system were obtained on
the basis of traditionally inheritable clan-based system. The rulers were not elected by
discussion from any section of the community. The ruler was recruited from the family and
clan in which the power and spiritual authority existed from the beginning. No one could
just rise up and campaign for leadership and ruler-ship positions.
It appears that the Baske katiship was likened to the divine kingship complex which was
common in other ethnic groups in the country (e.g. in Wolayta, see Remo Ciati, 1986) and
other continents. According to Kati Mazgo Gaarda, for example, he believed that his katiship
was instituted by God Himself. It is the work of God. It is God who instituted orders
whereby one rules and the other serves. It is the people who offered us this title saying, let
you reign over us Here, the origin of the traditional political powers was divine, it was
believed. It was a divine order. This deification of the power and authority of the offices was
thus very crucial in the way the subjects treated, obeyed and respected the leaders. The
ordinary folks themselves also accepted this seemingly divine origin of the political offices.
Thus, when the people wanted to bring a person into the rank of a Katti, after the existing
one dies, the people would gingerly look for charismatic signs, measured in many
traditionally understood and believed omens and symptoms. They would spot such a one
with these charismatic signs and then would go to him and ask him to be their Kati. Even if
he (for any reason, may be out of fear or hypocrisy) hid himself away, the people would
send a squad that would search him and find out, drag him to the scene and forced him into
the position of the king. As they enthroned him a king, the people would shout Oooooo
Woozee! This was a way of offering veneration to the king and also a way of expressing
formal entreats for the willingness of the king. Then the man would acquiesce and be their
king. They would immediately offer him a name which would match with the mans specific
conspicuous charismatic character. The man would be deprived of his former ordinary
family given name and instead be given a new name. They would then shout the name,
saying for example, Woozee. Katti Mazgo! This would sort of sound like, Long Live the
King Mazgo! Some informants commented that, It was like Haile Sellasie getting his throne
name by dropping his given name of Teferri Mekonnen. The Kati was enthroned by his kin
and clan members. All the members of the clan would gather and enthrone the man. They
would enthrone him, by saying in essence, You are our punisher, you are our mediator,
our justice executer, and our high priestYou connect us with the God. You placate our
sins and trespasses. This process and phenomenon was further narrated by a key informant
as follows:
Even if the katiship run in a family, it was not just possible for an individual to claim a
katiship just because he was the son of kati. These political and spiritual titles were
not simply acquired. The first important criterion was that one had to be a member
of the clan. If there was no qualifying person to be a Kati up on the death of the
former Kati in the entire clan the son may become a Kati. But to be a Kati, there has
to happen certain charismatic symptoms on the person. It is believed that if
someone was to be a Kati, certain supernatural symptoms happened, such as, for
example, a tiger may come and seize the person, or a snake may come and sit up on
him; or a swarm of bees would come and rest on him; Or sometimes the person to
be a Kati may be attacked by a very severe disease. Sometimes it was believed that a
special bird called katti kaffii (literally the bird of the Kati,) would just come and
descend upon the person. This kingly bird was a small bird with a very long and
beautiful reddish feather. It was a good looking bird. When the clan-folk recognized
this, they spotted this person for the position of the Kati. Otherwise, it was not that
a son simply takes up the position of his father. Another important criterion was
that the person to be a Kati displayed special personality qualities as well. He was
well respected; he knew how to speak and make wise judgments; how to organize
and convince and influence people. He was also considered as a man of blessing.
These qualities were applicable for all the positions of Kati, Danna, Ghudda, and
In the case of Baske traditional political office transfer system, what is called primogeniture
(i.e., the principle that an elder son must take the title of his father) did not work. A
younger son may inherit the position if he displayed the right charismatic qualities.
Kati Mazgo Gaarda narrated how he was found qualifying the charismatic symptoms
demanded from a person who was likely to be a kati.
I do not know it is the people who enthroned me But one day when I was
coming from the market, as I approached to my house a tiger came and grabbed me
by my foot and dragged me into the forest. I was terrified. He threw me to the
ground; I lay unconscious for some time and went home. This was when I was an
adult with my first wife. When the people spotted me for this position, some who
opposed this died one by one. Now only one of my brothers is living.
This is a practical experience exemplifying what was believed by the people, that such types
of superhuman events surrounded the life of a would be kati. Yet still we are not sure
whether this narration was true or not. But this is not the point of argument for us here.
So according to the kati of Dhoko locality, Mazgo Gaarda, the belief that certain
supernatural episodes surround the life of a would-be kati was true. The people would thus
watch gingerly for such symptoms in a would-be kati. It is the people who chooses and
enthrones one a king. If they would spot a certain charisma in you they would force you to
be their kati, he said. Of course this was so, provided that, in the first place, the person
was from the appropriate clan circle. Not just any person from any clan could rise up
claiming that certain supernatural signs happened on him and want to be a kati. No groups
of people would dare to officiate any individual person claiming that he fulfilled the
supernatural signs. The person to be recruited as a kati or any other lower ranking officer
had, first, to be from an appropriate clan and, second, he must be a male.
The subjects offered venerated respect and ovation to the traditional leaders; the kati was
particularly highly feared and respected. However, the people did not equate the kati with a
divine being. The people believed that the kati was the mediator between the people and
the spirits of his forefathers who are represented by ossa. He was one who took care of all
the peoples spiritual needs. For example, when a cow gave births to a calf, the first taste of
the milk was taken to the katis home. He would take the milk to the ossa (the forests
where the ancestral sprits dwell) and spill the milk in the form of sacrificing it to the
ancestral sprits. He would thus pray for the safety of the cow, the milk and the health of
those who would drink the milk. The owner of the cow couldnt do this by his own.
Similarity, if it was eff or maize the person would pluck the first fruits of the crops, make
beer, the people would come, the ritual leader would take the beer and spill the beer on
the tree. He would spill the beer every time he calls the names of the ancestors one by one,
beginning from the first apical ancestor of that specific clan. The (big) tree in the forest was
regarded as the place where the ancestral sprits would reveal themselves and inhabit it.
7.2.5. The Special Lifestyles and Privileges of Kati
We would assume that as a king, the kati must have had differing life styles in terms of the
house he lived in, the clothes he wore, the food he ate, his marriage and wedding
ceremonies and the funeral rituals, etc. Our interviews and discussions with informants
showed that the Basketo traditional king was identified by a number of the above life styles.
However, there was not an earth- shaking distinctions in many other forms and ways
between the kati and the ordinary persons.
To begin with, the kati would sit on a gitim, a special seat made for kings; he held in his hand
a special spear; he wore a zaitai on his hand (arm ornament); elcha (Ambar, another hand
worn ornament)); and guche (feather decoration taken from a bird called kati caffi, the kings
bird). It took high endeavor to find and kill this bird. All the clan- folk would engage in the
search and hunt for this bird. It was customary to award one who killed the bird.
The king would hold a guya, a kings staff. This staff has lived for long years as passing from
generation to generation. The king also put on elaa, or a torkissa a large overcoat beaded
with various ornaments. The Kati also wore wuarsh (bead). He also wore the hide of the
tiger as a coat. Dumbi and arre were other ornaments worn in the hands
When the kati dies these kings regalia were not buried with the corpse as it was customary
among other ethnic groups. The regalia were kept for the next king. The kati was offered
great honor whenever he went among the public. There were those who would accompany
the kati wherever he went; they would hold an umbrella- like sun cover over the king. This
was called gassha. This umbrella like material was held wherever he went for official tasks.
It was believed that when a man was appointed as Kati, certain special graces would soon
be upon him. His faces and his entire personality would be graceful. Then all the people
would begin to venerate him. Whenever ordinary people approach him they would address
him, Kawuta! Kawuta! meaning, Be king! Be king! This was one of the key distinguishing
feature of the kati when he was in official places such as funerals. For the other lower
officials, for example, for Danna they would address, Damta! Damta!
Regarding marriage and wedding, when a person becomes a kati, he would not go to his first
wife if he was already married. The culture required that a virgin woman must be searched
from a clan culturally reserved for this purpose. It would be from the omachi lineage. They
would bring a very young virgin. This they would do even if the families of the girl oppose.
This new wife was called qashinti maa. The Kati would lie down with this new bride and
perform sexual intercourse as a spiritual ritual. The kati would lie with her and live with her
in a special house called korkessa. This woman was regarded as a cleanser, one who was
believed to empower the new kati to begin to assume his political role and enter into the
spiritual realm which demanded a sacred, holy life. The man was cleansed when he lay with
this new virgin. He would never make sexual intercourse with his existing wife before this
ritual was done. This practice of forcefully taking a virgin girl from a Comachi lineage was
gradually regarded as illegal. Narrating about his own experience, Kati Mazgo Gaarda said,
The difference now is that they do not force the girl as was the case in the past. When I
became a kati, I myself formally searched for this virgin and paid all the necessary bride
price. She is now living with me. I have married overall seven wives. The seventh is this last
one which I married after I became kati. My three other wives are still living.
When a person was appointed Kati, They would also take a goat and kill this goat by hitting
its head on the ground and take the blood and touch the blood with a grass and sprinkle the
blood on the house to cleanse. This was not regarded as a wedding. It was a part of the
enthronement ritual. Such a ritual was performed for the next high rank, Danna, as well.
The yeffi ritual that is, mourning, in the past demanded that when a kati died people would
not begin crying. They would put the corpse in a special house and it would stay for up to
three months. Preparations were made all these times for the funeral. All the people in the
clan circle would contribute foods and beer. In the day appointed for the formal mourning
and funeral, a person would officially start the mourning and then the people would mourn.
Many cattle were also slaughtered on the occasion for feasting. People from Ajji and Sandi
clans would dig the burial hole for the Kati funeral for the entire months. They would stay
there eating and drinking beer and digging. The burial site was also special, different from
the ordinary. The new Kati, who was already selected, was picked out and enthroned on the
same day. Now a day these rituals have been changed. The corpse was made to stay in gaffi
kea, in the worship site of the forest. In the past the mourning and funeral ritual was
conducted by another Kati who would come from other localities. The change in the
duration of stay before burial was due to the influence of Christian religion. The converts
began to criticize saying, why should you stay the corpse for this much time? Why all this
stinking? Now they bury within two or three days. In the past, the kati would be buried in
the night when he dies. This was a sign of respect. Only ordinary people were buried in day
time. Now this has also changed. Those katis who have nominally converted to the
Ethiopian Orthodox Christian religion are buried in day time.
When the kati went to the funeral events, he was highly respected. His coming was
rewarded by the people throwing money under his feet. He did not pick up the money. His
aides picked up and put into his pocket. He drank beer at the event. But he did not drink if
the lineage where the funeral occurred was a lowly one like Kayissa (tanners) and Manna
Regarding food serving and food habits the wife/ wives of the kati would never eat from the
same dish with the kati. He would always eat alone. She would prepare his food and make
his coffee in a separate hut. When she was in menstruation, she would stay in a house called
washarbe. During menstruation, she would never even be in near the sight of the Kati. She
walked and moved very gingerly. She would never prepare food for the Kati during
menstruation. Other (small girls who are in their pre-puberty years) would prepare and
serve the food.
It was believed that if the woman was seen by or saw the Kati during menstruation, it would
lead her to death. The Kati would also be sick if he saw her. It was ordered by god. It came
down from the first ancestors, said informants.

7.3. The Status of Women in Baske Politics and across the Various
Baske traditional politics had had no place of power for women. There never existed in the
entire Baske history (known to the informants) when women had played any form of
leadership role in the sphere of politics: exercising power and authority in the public
spheres of life. There was no equivalent title of kati. In the Semitic and other known political
histories of both distant and recent past in Ethiopia we know that society offered the
position and title of queens for women.
The wife of a kati and the wives of the other lower ranking political authorities in traditional
Basketo had not enjoyed any significant positions of political power. The arena of influence
where political power was manifested, such as those in the public performance of religious
rituals, executing social justice, mediating and reconciling people in conflicts, etc, were all
the patriarchal prerogatives. It might be said that the wives of katis were created for the
sole purpose of serving the katis. The spiritual aura of the political powers of a kati
demanded that women especially those married and in their menstruation cycles should not
show up in the public places and places of worship where politics was mingled with religion.
In the pre-EPRDF rgimes a very lowly status was given for women. For example, during
her menstruation period, she was made to stay for three days in a separate house. Also
when she was in child labor, she was made to stay in a separate home and deliver the baby
there. She stayed for seven days. After these days she didnt directly enter the house where
the husband lived. She stayed in this separate hose. When she finally entered the main
house, she was not allowed to step over firewood around a hearth. It is a taboo. If she
touched or stepped over the firewood, it was regarded as unclean. If her foot touched the
hearth or the firewood, the food being cooked had to be thrown away. Any thing her foot
touched in the house was also regarded as unclean and thrown away. This was not only
during or following her child birth; it was the usual practice. This was so from the
beginning. She was not counted as a human being, said informants.
While this was the tragedy she endured form her own traditional and system of politics and
culture, she was also to endure other problems from the feudal rule. During the reign of
Haile Sellasie, the woman worked not for her husband, but for her husbands lords, the land
lords. She would spend her day grinding flour, clearing the house, doing any other chores
ordered by the mistress of the feudal ruler. The woman should not look the man in his face
directly; she should always bow down when she faces a man. If she looked him directly it
was like a taboo and punishable. The husband spent his time working on the farm fields. The
wife spent her day by working in the house. In those years, the feudal land owner was
addressed reverently as Goddo meaning, My Lord and the mistress was addressed Goddatte,
meaning, my queen or my owner. The time she spent doing her and her own household
duties were very little.

The husband/ father would work for the land lord in all capacities: tend to his cattle and
mules; cultivate the land; carry his firearm and accompany him when he went to markets or
other official places. The wife was on her part would come and serve the mistress in all
house chores. If the peasant had a fair looking virgin daughter the landlord would send
someone and take the girl and deflower her. If the parents opposed they would severely
punished, narrated one informant. According informant Kati Mazgo Gaarda,
The [land lord] would treat the local person 'like a worm'; they gave a summary
derogatory name to the people, Shanquilla The [landlord]r could do anything he
wished; he could send for a peasant's wife to lie with her if he found her fair-looking.
In some cases he even would rape the peasant's daughter in front of him by fettering
him with iron rope.

During the Dergues time (1974-1991), this exploitative life was done away with. The
denigrating stereotypes of the Haile-Sellasie I era were abated when Dergue Regime came
to power. Tenancy was abandoned. The problem was the heavy tax burden levied on the
women, the father, and the youth. Women had also little safely and security during the
Dergue rgime.
In this time (EPRDF), the woman has got lots of rights. Even the younger wife (in
polygamous marriage) is now entitled to own a land of her own. There are now lots of
rights and freedoms in this time, said Kati Mazgo Gaarda.
It might be stated thus that women endured a double burden and exploitation in Basketo
history; on the one hand their own traditional political system did not allow them an active
and direct, front stage political power; and on the other hand, they were exposed to the
exploitation during the rgimes of the pre-EPRDF Ethiopia.
7.4. The Baske and Their Kattiship across Various Political Rgimes
According to informants, the first modern system of politics and civil administration began
following the beginning the occupation of Menlik II in early 1890s. It came with the
Amhara. The first administrator was called Wolde-Mariam, said one old man; but this was
in contradiction with what others said: The first ruler from Bulqi was Qeach Bezabih.
Then he was followed Dejach Geressu. They headquartered at Bulqi and ruled from there.
Then a ruler came from Bala and instituted a system of tax ordering everyone to pay one
Birr each.

Regarding why the Amhara settlers and rulers first came to the Baske land, some non-
Baske but settler Amhara and Gurage argued that the coming was for the benign purpose
of developing the land. According to a settler Amhara key informant, Ato Adisu Tekle
who was about 100 during our interview, My father came when Qeac [Qenazmach] Bedilu
came to 'develop' this land. Before him there came Fitra [Fitawrari] Shewalul; he died at
Dimme. It was this Shewalul who first came to this land.

Here we get some hint on the fact of who first came to the land of Baske as outside rulers.
Another point noteworthy here is that to substantiate his case, this key informant argued
that when their forefathers came to this land, the locals were engaged in intra and inter clan
wars. The locals 'killed each other before the Amhara came, he said.

These non- Baske key informants used the term ager maqinat, literally, to pioneer in
conquering and developing the land. The first Amhara rulers and setters were thus
conceived of as ager aqioch. "Ager liyagenu' mau, he said, meaning, they came to "develop"
the land. The land was without any Amhara at that time, he added. Another key informant
(a non- Baske settler whose grandparents pioneered to come to the Baske land) said,
They came during Menilik IIs reign to ' develop the land'. My grandfather came with his
wife; it was around early 1890s - during Menlik's time. My parents came together and they
were married to each other here. Ethiopia is a vast country goes and develops and
converts it, they were ordered Menilik II.

When added how the locals reacted during the first initial coming of the age aqinoch, this
key informant said that the 'pioneers' fought and killed the locals and overcame them and
settled in their land. The pioneers had firearms, the locals land only spears; and shield.
Qenach Bedlu mobilized the Amhara settlers and invaded the Basketo; he also invaded and
ruled all the neighboring groups including Dimme.

Informants told that the introduction of the central government into the area brought about
a new system of administration and demands on the people. The tax center was first
erected at Bulqi in Goffa. The people went and paid their taxes. After that, it was changed
to Bala.
The reactions of the local people and the kati to the new systems of government and the
burden of tax and other servitude was various and disorganized. They used to kill
themselves by falling into ditches or hanging due to the hopelessness. Some fled to distant
places when the tax system was unbearable. There was no one who wanted to listen to
their cries. The peasantry also paid tribute in kind to the Amhara rulers; they toiled on
Mondays and Tuesdays on the farmlands of the Amhara rulers. The option was to flee away
or to inflict self harm when the tax was unbearable.
Some informants faintly remembered the history of administrative structuring applied on
the Baske since the time of the Haile Sellasie I (1930-1974) and others had a vivid memory
of it. According to one informant, Formerly, during the reign of Haile Sellasie I, this place
was administratively termed as Banka Basketo. It encompassed Baske, Baku Gather, Wubu
Hamer, Shangama, and Guassa, stretching up to the Mursi land. They used to pay their taxes
coming to Basketo. The governor was Grazmach Assefa; the Awraja (todays Zone) was
Bulqi. According to this informant, Banka Basketo derives from, Bako and Basketo. This
political administrative arrangement was abandonment during the Dergue (1974-1991)
Some informants pinpoint the first arrival time of the Amhara rulers during the Italian war
(1936-1941). Thus said one informant, The first time the Amhara settlers came here was
during the Italian war. They came here fleeing the Italian chase. They fought with the Italians
in every mountain, gorge and forest. And finally they managed to defeat it. This was during
my fathers time. However, this view seems inaccurate in that the Amhara rulers were
already in the land of Baske before the Italian war and occupation.
The feudal era brought for the Kati and their people unbearable hardships. As one informant
noted, The people used to toil in cultivating the land for the settlers every Monday and
Tuesday. The husband was forced to till the land; the wife to grind flours. The husband was
made to split fire wood, to clear equine dung it was like being slaves The local people
were apportioned in 20s and 30s as tenants to one Amhara ruler. Every Amhara
administrator according to his title such as barambaras, fitwarari, and dejazmach was given a
measured number of tenants and land. They were given lands according their ranks and
level of appointment, ranging from one gasha (acre of land). Those who registered big
victories in fighting were given big portion of land. The Basketos land was thus apportioned
among these rulers.
The Dergue regime came and demolished this feudal system. It declared, there are no
more lord and tenant. The people accepted and were happy and aligned themselves with
the Dergue, saying they were emancipated from slavery, said one informant. But then, the
Dergue government began conscripting the sons of every Baske forcing theme to fight in
the war fronts. The people began to get discontented. Innumerable Baske sons thus were
conscripted and many perished. They just came and took any able bodied male to the war
front. They took both the unmarried and married males. The people then cried bitterly and
their tears finally dethroned the Dergue regime. It reigned 15 full years, said another old
Informants generally had a welcoming and thankful reaction when asked how they
compared the present government with the previous regimes. According to informants,
Ehiadeg (the local term for EPRDF) came with better promises and some tangible
improvements have been registered in their political, socio-cultural and economic realms.
One of my key informants had this say:
Thanks God it is better. In Haile Selassies time, the problem was segno na meksegno
maskodedu new, [meaning making the people to till the land every Monday and Tuesday]. It
was like slavery. The tenancy was terrible. The rulers bound him and whipped. It was
terrible. In the Dergue regime, the problem was that it took the sons of the people and
killed them in the warfronts. The people hated it because it massacred the lives of the
people through the war. In Ehidaeg, no more such kinds of killings. It made our children go
to schools. Our sons and daughters are being employed after the educationBut many do
not have employments after finishing their education. They are roaming here and there. This
is the problem now.
Reflecting on the above narrations, what can we say about the impacts of the introduction
of modern, central form of government and political system on the Baske traditional
politics? How did the katiship manage to sustain its identity? How did the various rgimes
treat and regard the katis and the katiship? What we can argue here is that the way the
central government treated and the policies they had pursued towards the Baske
traditional political systems was different depending on the particular ethos and times of the
regime. According to informants, thus, pre-EPRDF regimes had generally had a demeaning
policy towards the katiship. However, pre-Dergue regimes had also, according to
informants, did not have a directly opposing and restrictive policy. There was not open
opposition from the Amhara rulers during the Haile Sellasie I time. The katis were allowed
to hold to their traditional political and religious systems. There was, however, an implicit
encouragement and pressure from the regime to attract the local chiefs to the feudal
political systems. Thus, some of the local chiefs and katis were granted Amhara feudal
political offices and titles. Some of such feudal titles granted to some kais and other persons
from the local community included balambaras (literally, the head of an amba, a small ridge
or mountain); fitawrari (literally, one who takes the front stage in army field and conquers;)
dejazmach (literally, one who acts as a backstage protector during war); iqashum (one who
is an appointee on local village,) etc.

The Baske term for a iqashum was Erasha. The Erasha was one of the notable lower level
authorities in Baske as in other places in the south. He was responsible for a number of
duties such as collecting taxes from the people, executing justice at the kebele level, etc. He
was responsible for executing the social- political matters of the local affairs. Whereas the
Kati and his lower level authorities such Danna, Ghudda and Bitania were generally
responsible for executing the affairs of socio-spiritual dimensions, the Erasha would daily sit
down at a dubusha (a tribunal under a big tree and in the field) where he would executive
justice. He was responsible for serving the Amhara rulers. He was reasonable to collect the
asrat (tithe, the one tenth which the peasants collected and gave to the Amhara rulers from
what they produced).
The greatest blow to the katiship and the katis was from the Dergues regime. The Amhara
feudal titles and the traditional politico-spiritual titles all alike were degraded and
discouraged from being used. According to one key informant, During the Dergue regime
it was a very hard time for us. The Dergue did lots of harms to us. They forbade the people
to do their traditional rituals. They forbade the worship in the forests. They forbade the
people to address the kati, Kauwta! [Be enthroned!] This was because they thought it
infringed on their powers.

7.5. Origins of Feudal System and Conditions of Life in Pre-EPRDF
The first information came to Baske on the plans of Emperor Menilik II to restructure the
land and measure it for taxing purpose. According to informants, the first Amhara
administrator to come and lay ground working for this case was Basha Endale. He was
ordered by Menilik II. He measured and apportioned the land among the people. Exact time
was not known by informants.

When he ordered the people to begin paying the tax some of the peasants who were not
able to pay tax were forced to become tenants. They became tenants to the Amhara
settlers who came to Baske land following the defeat of Italy (It was before the Italy
occupation that Basha Endale came and instituted the tax system. This man was, according
to informants, the first Amhara administrator who came to Baske land

The origin of iseinet (serfdom) could be traced, if what informants reported was true, to
this first action and attempt by the central government to institute the tax system.
According to some informants, serfdom was of two types: one was that which already
existed before the Amhara rule. According to informant Adisu Tekle, the local katis
themselves used to hold vast acre of land and they forced the weaker local peasants to
work for them. In fact other informants also confirmed this, saying that the katis themselves
often exploited the local peasants in many ways. The ordinary subjects worked in the farm
fields of the katis. The local kati often would liaison with the Amhara rulers and exploit the
locals. The Amhara rulers were not opposed to the traditional authority and religion of the
Baske. The Kati were not forbidder to execute the ritual. Even though the kati was
enthroned by the people, once enthroned he exercised absolute power. He was revered
and venerated. Ordinary people would not even dare to look him on his face whence
people went to the kati to seek justice they would not approach him carelessly; they should
fear and reverently say "kawta! kawta!". They would bow down humbly and talk very

However, the other type of serfdom was more onerous. It was that which was instituted by
the feudal rulers. It was this latter serfdom which was often spoken of for its debilitating and
dehumanizing characteristics.

Describing how the serfdom and tenancy under the feudal system was terrible, one key
informant said:

Our parents did not willingly accept the tenancy life. The tenancy life was terrible. There
was no peace. The tenants had nowhere to go or so escape. If one tried to escape they
tortured him. The peasant had no right whatsoever. It was a life of affliction. The feudal
rulers had all the rights and privileges; the locals had no right. When you produced honey
the landlord would send someone and order you to give the honey. If you had a good
looking fairly- fed cow or oxen he would to send someone to take. He would take a hen or
a cock if it is good looking; he would take it by force with no payment. The rulers each had
his acre of land apportioned to him (called qelad); the locals would simply acquiesce to the

The land holding system prior to the arrival of the Amhara rulers was that every kati used
to apportion the land to the people and tax the people. The Kati made the people pay
certain amount tax. The kati levied certain amount of tax payment on the peasants and tax
after the Amhara came the tax rate was increased. The increase in the tax rate made some
of those who failed to pay turn into tenants. There was no attempt to rebel on the part of
the people in any organized manner. The people had no power to do so. Paying tax to the
kati was overruled when the neftea came; the people began paying tax to the neftea. Even
the kati himself paid tax, said informant.

The Neftea literally those who own a firearm, but in reality the new comer Amhara
rulers)) used to mistreat the Baske people. It forced them to work as farm laborers,
guards, etc. They had contempt for the Baske. The landlord generally exploited the locals.
The balerist, according to informant Adisu Tekle included those who had land using rights
form the locals as well. The bale qelad (one who owned vast acre of land) was the new comer
Amhara or other non- Baske. The balegelad were thee neftea and land lords. Informant
Adisu Tekle argued they bought land from the local katis.

The tenant, onerously mistreated and exploited, had no right to do any significant task
without getting the permission of the land lord. If he wanted to sell his fattened ox or goat
he could not without permission. There were some opposition movements. Some tried to
seek justice from various higher level offices. But it was to no avail. There were easy
evictions from the land.

There was no organized, direct rebellion against the feudal system. One could not openly
refuse to pay tax or work on the farm field. But there were indirect means of opposition
like, for example, one could hide cattle in forests when the land lord's messenger came.
Another tactic of rebellion was to shift place of residence; the peasant would leave his place
of tenancy and go to other areas and begin a new life as a new tenant. He would take his
family, leaving his home. If there were some individuals who tried to openly rebel, the
landlord would deal a harsh punishment and teach a dear lesson which would serve as a
model for other potential open opponents. They would bind him; confiscate his possessions,
putting him in prison. Some other forms indirect rebellion included siphoning off the work
time, faking as sick; limping on foot as if pierced by some sharp thing; taking poor farming
tools and working less, etc

7.6. Trends in Socio-political and Economic Changes
The way informants describe the trends in the social, economic and political spheres in the
Baske land was interesting. There was quite a clear and lucid conceptualization of the
trends among the informants. From what the informants noted and narrated, it may be
possible to just pick up three key terms and designate socio-political and economic
conditions that prevailing in each major rgime, Haile Sellasie I (1930-1974), Dergue (1974-
1991) and EPRDF (1991- to the present): Slavery, drudgery and derogation representing
the feudal ear; tax, terror and tension, representing the Dergue era; peace, freedom and
empowerment representing the EPRDF era. Thus described Kati Mazgo Gaarda,

It was like our people were living buried in the ground; it was total darkness during Haile
Sellasies time. In Dergue's time the condition changed. But it was when EPROF came that
we began to express our rights our identity. No subjugation, no Amhara rule. The Amhara
rulers used to regard the Basketo with a great contempt. Now this has stopped now we
have begun to speak for our rightsDuring the time of Haile Sellasie I, the Basketo children
were not allowed to go to school. If they go to school they will become a problem to us,
they said. Now this "darkness" has charged in this time. In Haile Sellasie Is time, no one
would hear your cry for justice. The Amhara rulers could do any thing they wished to do
on us. There was no way to appealIf the local person tried to be seen in smart way
wearing good cloths, the Amhara rulers would got envious and upset. They would punish
and beat you to the ground. There we such a notorious Amhara ruler named Feleke who
was very cruel and did such injustice, that the people tortured him and threw him over a
cliff as a vengeance when Haile Sellasie Is rule collapsed So during that time you could
not even have a right to dress nicely by your own money. There was another cruel Amhara
ruler named Tefera Mitiku who cruelly beat a local man named Debo he dressed smartly,
saying how dare you wear as I do? You deserve 7 birr punishment for this act [7 egera birr
1 egera birr was 1.50; =10.50 birr] he stripped him of the cloth and gave it to one of his
servants.when a local person came to the presence of the Amhara, he would bow down
and stand by crossing his feet. The Dergue came and demolished the Amhara landlord
and their systems. Their land was confiscated and was give back to the local people. The
problem with the Dergues rgime was the forceful conscription of the able bodied men for
war. The summary death of innumerable able bodied males embittered the people. Another
problem was the heavy tax levied on people in the name of many tax causes.

Regarding the socioeconomic and political charges brought about following the demise of
Dergue informants generally had very positive altitude. In the words of informant kati Mazgo
Gaarda, it was like a resurrection for us. Now many changes have come in many ways:
education, clothing, women's right, roads, and others It is like being created and born
again for us."

Similar views were reflected during discussion with a group of adult fathers. According to
this group of participants,

In Menilik's time we were considered like animals; people were bought and sold as slaves.
This slave trade stopped in Haile Sellasies time. But there were other equally onerous
exploitations. A Land lord owned up to ten or 20 local tenants. The husband labored in the
landlords farm field. The wife on her part labored in the home work by grinding flour,
cleaning house, etc. The landlord raped her if she was fair looking. The tenant was forced to
carry loads of grass for house making over long distance. There was no freedom. Even
though the buying and selling of the Baske as an animal was avoided, nevertheless we were
considered as slaves.

The landlord would first coax the peasant to come and work in his land, living on the land.
He would first levy small amount of taxi but gradually he would increase the tax. If the
peasant delayed in paying tax, the landlord would imprison him. There were chances for the
peasant to die of starvation in prison. The Dergue's Rgime took of the darkness of the
Haile Sellasie I rgime. It brought freedom to us. But the exploitation continued in other
forms; paying taxes to the landlord was replaced by many other taxes. There were many tax
titles. Dozer tax, road tax health tax, education tax, etc. When EPRDF came to power, the tax
system was eased. We were also relieved of the war; we now enjoy freedom, peace and

Regarding the slave trade, informants did not believe it existed in pre-Amhara contact
period. However, there existed an institutionally accepted form of slave owning in ancient
Baske and there are still some groups of people who had the history of being slaves. But
this indigenous form of slavery was not one which involved the selling and buying of a
person as one would do animals. As far as informants remember, the onerous form of slave
trade was generally introduced with the Menlik II era, although it might have existed prior
to that time in limited manner. One of the virtues of the Haile Sellasie I era (1930-1974)
according to informants was its abolition of the slave trade which was rampant before he
came to power. The informants also noted that the local chiefs and some individuals in
Baske collaborated with the slave traders who came from the northern and central parts
of the country. The traders made secret arrangements and the local accomplices arranged
the number of slaves; physically and economically weak peasants were the usual victim of
the slave raiders. They shaved their victims hair; if someone tried to protect they would
bind and kill him.

In sum, concluding from what informants narrated, the Baske people led politically battered
life in pre-EPRDF era in general and the feudal rgime (1891-1974) in particular. They were
considered as second citizens in their own lands. The people were not allowed to claim,
proclaim and cultivate their own language and culture. They were considered as a people
without any viable and noteworthy ethno-history and heritage of their own. Economic wise,
the Baske people had no power to control the means of production, what they produced,
other material possessions and livestock. The feudal rulers made appalling economic
exploitation of the Baske by forcing them to work as their serfs, over- taxing, taking by
force the livestock if they wished, forcing their wives to work as housemaid, snatching their
wives and daughters if they were of fair complexion, etc. "some order persons who
witnessed the feudal era drudgery recount the condition with tears running on their
cheeks," said one informant. The informants generally regard the EPRDF era an era of
freedom and empowerment.

7.7. History of Administrative Structure of Baske
According to informants, during the regime of Haile Sellasie I, the Baske area was not
initially a Woreda. The new comers of the central government ruled it headquartering from
Bala. It was not clear and exactly known how long did they stay at Bala and in what year
the shift to Bulqi was made. The Woreda center was again shifted to Baske, Laska. They
shifted the center to Baske as it is closer to Goffa and convenient to rule all the
neighboring areas including Galila Wubamer (a commonly used term for areas around Aarri,
Hamer, etc), Dimme, etc. Goffa was Awaraja center. This way so in Dergues time as well. It
continued so until EPRDF came to power in 1991. Baske was then ruled under the hen
Semen Ommo Zone. But in 2001 it got the special Woreda status following the request of
the people who complained they need not be ruled by WoGaGodda. It was key challenging
for the people to get administrative justices due to geographical distance.

One of a non-Basketo key informants provided a more chronologically based information
regarding the administrative structure history.

During the time of Haile Sellasie I, Basketo was a "vice" Woreda, as co-opted to a main
Woreda, the main being Banka Basketo in 1956 [E.C.] The Woreda center was then
transferred to Basketo, dissolving the name Banka Basketo. This time the new Woreda
included other areas including Dime and Wubuhamer until 1970 [E.C. ] Then the Woreda
was divided again, Mello being a Woreda in its own right and Basketo as well until 1982
[E.C.] In 1982 [E.C.] Mello Woreda dissolved. A new Awraja structure was created: Banka
Basketo Awraja; this continued until EPRDF came to power. After EPRDF came Mello
became a Woreda again, and Basketo its own Woreda in 1984 [E.C.] Basketo Woreda
remained under the Gamo Goffa zone. In 1993 [E.C.] the Woreda become a special Woreda.

7.7.1. The Basketo Special Woreda Question and Improvements since the
Special Woreda Status

Informants generally claimed Baske displayed unique features in terms of language, culture
and its historical make up. That is why, they argued, it demanded 'special woreda' status and
separated from Gammo Goffa zone in 1993 E.C This was, they argued, according to the
country's constitutions Article 39 that every ethnic group has the right to administer its
people and proclaim its ethno- linguistic identify. They argued, until the people attained the
status of 'special woreda' there were many administrative, economic and other problems.
Since Basketo became a special woreda in 1993 E.C many socio-economic and political
changes (positive) have been registered.

Before Baske attained Special Woreda status, there were ups and downs. The then ruling
political cadres of the then Semen Ommo Zone (a generic name the zone including Gammo
Goffa, Wolayta, Dawro, Basketo and other smaller groups) concocted WoGaGoDa- a
political coinage that represented an amalgamation of the four major ethno-linguistic groups
north of the Ommo related to each other linguistically, socio-culturally and ethno-
genetically. However, the WoGaGoDa concoction, a language which was forced up on the
peoples in this Zone to serve as school and official administrative language, led to a series of
popular resistance and conflicts culminating in serious bloodsheds in Wolayta area in
1992/93 E.C (Data Dea, 2006). The episode led to the dismantling of the WoGaGoDa
concoction and the then Semen Ommo Zone, leading to the emergence of three zones
(Wolayta, Gammo Goffa and Dawro) and two special woredas (Baske and Konta).

The Baske Peoples' Democratic Organization (BPDO) was under the WoGaGoDa
umbrella until the Special Woreda status was granted to it. The BPDO a political entity
based on ethno-linguistic uniqueness was disbanded and their political party membership
was since been merged with the South Ethiopia Peoples' Democratic Front.

According to key informant Mulu, the Woreda's public relations Head, economic, human and
infrastructure developments have been registered. Social services (schools, health,
electricity, telephone, etc) have been improved and scaled up. The number of health centers
was increased to 3 and many health posts were constructed. A total of 26 schools were
built including a high school; preparatory level school being under construction.

7.8. Contributions of the Baske to the Making of the Ethiopia

The question, What positive contributions, given the drudgery and appalling feudal era
oppressions, did the central government during the various regimes make for the Baske
people socio-economically and politically? may yield divergent responses from different
persons depending on their perceptions and political ideological stances. Our purpose here
is not to dig deep to analyze this issue. Equally important question one may raise is, What
contributions have the Baske people made for the making of the Ethiopian central
government? There are definitely no common agreements among scholars and other
ideologues about the contributions in positive terms of the various ethnic groups for the
making and building of the Ethiopian history. However, there are general agreements at
least on the fact that todays Ethiopia and its politico-economic image and identity has been
forged out of the contributions of the various groups of people in the entire country.

In the political sphere, the Baske people contributed their own share to the making of the
Ethiopian empire. Many had participated in the war fronts during the Ethio-Italian war.
According to informants, many Baske men fought during the Italian war of 1935 in the
Ogaden front. Ethiopia in the Dergue rgime also benefited a lot from the contributions of
the Baske people in terms of their able bodied males conscripted into the military; many
served and died for their country. Economic wise, we may argue that the treasure rooms of
the central government was at least to some extent built up of the treasures taken from the
Baske land.

7.9. The Baske during the Italian War and Occupation (1936-1941)
It may be interesting to note that almost every ethnic group in Ethiopia had its own version
of history on its encounter and experiences with the Italian war and occupation. As this, i.e.
the Italian war and occupation of Ethiopia (1936-1941), was one of the most significant
historical events of the second quarter of 20
century, it affected in many ways the social,
cultural, economic and political lives of the various Ethiopian ethno-linguistic groups.

In Baske, many older persons who were still living during the time of our fieldwork had a
vivid memory of the period of Italian war and occupation either from what they themselves
had personally witnessed as small kids or what their parents narrated to them. The manner
of the then Ethiopian government and the local rulers when they ordered the march to the
front, the fierce fighting that encountered, the might of the Italian army with its modern and
supra power warheads, the braveness and valiance of the Ethiopian solders, the manner in
which the Italian war came and occupied their area, the way they managed to rule for the
five years of occupation, the reactions they faced from the local patriots, etc, were all vividly
narrated by informants during our fieldwork. But we are not here going to present any
detail and deep treatment of this issue.

One of the most dominant themes running in the Baske narration of the Italian war and
occupation was the Ogaden War (c. 1935). One of my key informants, Ato Adisu Tekle, a
settler Amhara whose father came as a pioneering neftea in the 1880s, boasted that he had
participated in the Ogaden war. He claimed he was about 35 years old at that time (His age
as we calculated was around 100 during the interview time in October 2008). It was claimed
that many local chiefs and katis had took part during the Ogaden war (the local term for this
was Wugade). Many died during this war. Some of the katis also lost their lives.
The feudal rulers declared that all able bodied Baske must go for the Wugade war. So many
Baske went for this war and many died during the war. According to key informant Eshetu
Engidayehu, a 76 years old Baske (at the time of our interviews) the Erasha, and the Kati all
ordered under their own authorities every able bodied man to come forward and register
fro the war. Katti Darpha died there at Wugade. Erasha Pudruko died there. The Kati of
Gezhe, named Mazzo also died there. Many others died also. In the words of another key
informant, Many Basketo went to Wugade, and died there. I was only a small baby then. I
was cattle keeper. The whole land was mourning and funeral after the Wugade war.

The Italian war overcame and came up to Bulqi. Informants narrated that when the Italians
came and settled at Bulqi, the feudal lords and neftea in Baske attempted to mobilize again
and went to fight. But the Italians wiped most of the people by its modern warhead. Then
they fled back and dug ditches to resist further. The patriots managed to make the Italian
stay very unstable and it was not a good time of rule for the Italians.. Many local people
from Baske, Mello, and Bulqi entered to the forestry to fight the guerilla war with the
Italian force, too.
They ruled for five unstable years all the area from Baske to Dimme and Galila according
to informants. However, one old man did not agree with this. He said, Not more than
three years did they rule. They ruled amidst unsettled and shaky conditions. When they
were preparing about to rule, they went.
According to informants, when the Italian army finally controlled the Baske area and its
environs (exact date was not known), they settled at a place called Bangisha and declared
the people to bring eggs and honey as tribute. Their manner of coming to the area was
narrated as follows by one key informant: The Italian came to the Basketo land on mule
backs through the informal road of Bulqi, Galila and Mello. When the Italians came, they
pitched a tent in a place here and ordered the people to pay tribute of egg and honey

Some of the arduous times for the local people were the hardships endured when the
Italians forced the people to work in the clearing of roads. One informant said, Made us to
dig ditches, clear roads; they collected the entire firearm from the local fighters and burnt
them. They made us to work for them in the agricultural fields.

One of the good things about the Italian time of occupation according to the informants
was that they built some roads (although by the bloody labors of the local people), they
brought new varieties of crops such as the white wheat, they abolished some residues of
slave trade which at that time was not tonally abolished, etc (see Lapiso,1992).
Some of the evil things according to informants the Italians managed to do was to agitate
the local Baske against the settler non- Baske, especially the Amhara. The Italian white
men came and propagandized the local people to kill and annihilate the Amhara people. In
other parts there were the killings of the Amhara. But in Baske area there was no such
killings. The white men hated the Amhara. Another informant noted that the Italians
divided the people by offering various appointments. They trained the locals and gave
firearms to make the people fight with each other. But the Baske later understood the evil
schemes of the Italians.Then they began fighting them collaborating with the Amhara
patriots, he said.

The informants shudder in dread as they narrated how the Italians forced the local people
to carry heavy load of firearms (in boxes) to take to distant places. They would not serve
you food or water when you fainted they would kill you and replace by any other
passersby said one informant. They also conscripted the locals for labor work in the other
distant areas and took them by force.
The circumstances surrounding the Italian flight after they were defeated was not narrated
well by informants. As soon as the Italian fled, the ousted Haile Sellasie I rgime was
reinstituted in Baske. Some informants remembered the first feudal administrators who
came to the Bulqi headquarter and ruled Baske. After the Italians went, there came a man
called Qeach Worqu. He headquartered at Bulqi. Then came Dejach Bezabih. After him,
came Dejach Geressu. Then came a certain Dejach Sileshi so and so. They all headquartered
at Bulqi.


8.1. Introduction
Every society is distinguished by the presence of a number of historically important
heritages. These heritages are living testimonies of the societys interaction with its
environment, its neighboring peoples, and in some cases, the political and economic
relations it has had with the central government.
A historically significant heritage may include, for the purpose of our present project, any
form of material and non-material objects a society has created and maintained in its recent
and remote pasts; the eco-facts, i.e., the imprints of past peoples interaction with its
environment; natural facts; i.e., natural heritages that were not a creation of a people, such
as water falls, unique topographic features, etc; the values, practices and institutions that
have come down over to the present generation from the ancestors; etc. The material
dimensions of a peoples socio-cultural and natural heritages are usually more prominently
recognizable that the non-material dimensions.
In our present discussion, we would also like to focus on the material dimensions of the
peoples ways of lives in the past and how these material cultural heritages are perceived
and treated today, what continuity they have received in the lives of the present generation.
Our fieldwork in Baske has helped us make an inventory of some important material
cultural and natural heritages and how these heritages are regarded today. We had
opportunities to visit, as much as the geographical accessibility permitted, a number of these
heritages. Our attempt also included a photographic and video-graphic recording of some of
these material and natural cultural heritages. Some of the heritages discussed here under
could not be accessed due to geographical inaccessibility problem at the time of the
fieldwork which was a pretty hard and heavy rainy season. So we could not include the
photographic pictures of these heritages.
The following is a discussion and description of the most important historical heritages in
8.2. Soina Gawee
Soina Gawee was believed to be a place where a fearsome python lived in a cave. No one
would dare to go near the cave. Any one who entered the cave was believed to be lost
here. This site is found in Bayyo Boreza locality. Soina Gawee is alternatively called Dawa

8.3. The Enda- Gamonde Sacred Site
The lady by the name of Enda-Gamonde who was believed to have given birth to all the
Baske Katis is now believed to be alive, residing in the cave in the locality of Garra Baske.
She is believed to be the Saint Mary of the Baske traditional religious philosophy. She is the
supermen deity to whom all the katis of the Baske area go to the site and perform annual
sacrifice. The kati of this area Garra Basketo is responsible for conducting the summative
ritual representing all the katis of the Baske land.
The mythical woman is believed to be so real to the people, that they regard her as the
Orthodox Christian believers would regard Saint Mary. Adherents of traditional religion
believe Enda-Gamonde is not dead. They equate her with St Mary. The cave is found in
lowland part of Baske in Boka Bua kebele.

When a certain calamity hits the land, such as pestilence, famine, etc, the four main katis of
Baske, namely, Dokho Kati, Oola Kati, Garra Kati and Gheze Kati, gather and consult
among themselves about a calamity. When they find that it becomes beyond the capacities
of individual kati, they get black goats and assign a danna to take these goats to the Garra
kati. This Garra kati would thus take these goats on whose necks they tied bells to the cave
where Enda Gamonde was believed to live. The Garra kati would take these goats to the
cave and chase them to the cave making sure that the goat did not come out. The Garra
Kati was said to be more powerful, as he was closer to the Enda Gamonde who was
believed to the St Mary of the Baske traditional religion, one who created the first katis,
one who was able to make life fertile.

When the Garra kati took these sacrificial goats to the cave and offered them, it was
believed that the female deity was placated and the calamity would subside. They would
take the era or ini (the first fruits of the crops and animals) to the Garra kati. All these
first fruits would be taken to the deified Enda Gamonde. The kati would placate Enda
Gamonde, saying, our mother, deity, here we have brought the sacrifices take it"

We had the opportunity to visit and interview the last living kati of Garra Baske in Boka
Bua, Kati Lua Darpha. He was about 80 during that time. Our purpose was to both
interview the man and visit the sacred site and take pictures but we could not succeed due
to the geographical as well as spiritual inaccessibility of the site. It was said the site was no
ordinary place and one must take the sacrificial animals and make placations before visiting

When asked when was the last time he conducted the ritual, he responded, four years
ago. when asked how long it takes to arrive at the site, the man was fearful and began
mumbling, which as I understood through my key informant, meant, "Let me eat soil; for
talking lightly about the deity's sacred site. The site, he and his son told us, was not such an
ordinary one. No one could just simply go and see it. One would bet with his own very soul
to dare go and see or approach the cave without the necessary rituals being put in place.
(Our initial purpose was to go and take pictures of the site. However, we understood that
is not just "spiritually inaccessible" but rather physically inaccessible due to long distance and
inaccessible bushes.

Enda-Gamonde for Kati Lua, his son and the believing clans-folk, was a deity, one with
power and authority over all the fertility of human, animal, plant life.

There were conflicting views as the exact identity of this sacred figure. Some said she was
the woman was the apical mother of the first katis of the Baske land. The cave which is
currently venerated was thus probably a burial site which she was first claimed to have
rested with her sons (the first katis of the Goirenaa and Goshanaa clans). The more
conservative, strong adherents of the traditional religion believed that Enda-Gamonde (or
alternatively also called Endake) is now powerful feminine deity. (Might it not be perhaps
why because he (the Kati Lua Darpha) believed she was a deity that he was so terrified and
immediately confessed his sins when I asked him just how long the place is located and
how could we go and visit it?)

8.4. Tikil Dingay
According to informants, like in other parts of Ethiopia, particularly in south, there is a tikiel
dingay (an erected stone or stele) in Baske. Some conflicting views prevailed. One says the
stone was erected by the missionaries. Others said it was erected by Gra Mohammed.
The educated guess of some learned Baske was that the stone (the stele) was probably re-
erected by ancestral people after it fell down by some natural factor, it being first erected
by Gra could reach as far south west as Baske land. Others still believed that the big
stone which just stood up from the ground by certain miracle. Similar tales regarding these
steles exist in other nationalities folktales.

However, according to an informant, it was not for certain heard among older persons
remembering taking about Mohamed Gra. Even if it was claimed Mr. Gra erected these
stones, such a hypothesis, which was a commonly popularized view in most parts of the
country, was found to be, among historical scholars, a legend and folk-tale rather than a fact.
The popular myth regarding the steles in different parts of the country (there quite many
such steles in Sile, Wolayta, Gedeo, among others) was that Gra Mohammed was so
powerful and gigantic and his left hand so mighty that he could lift huge stones and erected
them (See Tesfaye and Daniel, 1991).
As for the information that missionaries (ferenjies) erected it, it was noted that when the
stone lay falling on the ground, the people had reverently feared the stone, developed a
sense of 'idol worship' for the stone; when the missionaries saw it they took action by
showing the locals that it was only a stone and took it and erected it. The stele is (found)
located at Geze near in todays Semen Aarri boundary. We could not have the opportunity
to visit this site as it was too inaccessible at the time of our fieldwork.
As for the probable time when this stone was erected or re-erected, some informants
claimed it was erected during the early time of Haile Sellasie I; even here the exact period
of the evetn is not knwon, although we may surmsie it might have been in teh 1920s and
1930s as this was atime when missionaries were working in southern Ethiopia befoer they
wer driven out in th 1940s by the Italians. It is believed that during the Haile-Sellasie I the
missionaries planted the stone. It is said they planted it upright which was first lying on the
8.5. The Historical Heritage of Laska
Laska, the Woreda center itself is a historical site, according to informants. Laska means
literally cut into pieces. The specific site in the town is located at the entrance point north-
east direction. The Woreda Administration has erected a green area with some structure
and pictures as a memory for this historical heritage. There is now a town center where
stands a memorial picture. This site is historically important in that two clans long age
fought each other. They were Shimenaa and Goirena'a. They fought for land purpose. They
site was a place of high human causality. The name itself Laska, the town's name, derives
from this history. It signified great human causality. Informants did not give the actual
chronological fact about this historical event. Some informants noted it was during
somewhere immediately preceding or following the Menilik II era. There are no written
documents verifying this history.

8.6. The Sacred Site of the Dhoko Kati Spiritual Forest
My key informants argued that although there are many remnant forests that are kept and
maintained by the katis at various localities in the land, the spiritual forest of the Dhoko Kati
was quite so unique and significant in that it has been maintained quite well and its trees (at
least some of them) are claimed to have been planted by the very first ancestral kati.
Although the veracity and scientific validity of whether there are trees that have spanned so
big an age as this, it is nonetheless culturally and ideologically important. It is the belief that
the forest and its individual trees (some of them) were planted by the distant past ancestors
and handed down to the present kati, which generates the aura and veneration around the
forest. This in turn has engendered positive forest conservation practices and behaviors
among the people.
The spiritual forest is located at a kebele called Wadha Balasha where the currently
Goshanaa Kati lives and maintains it. His name is Kati Mazgo Gaarda.

8.7. Godarsa kea (Lit. the House of Hyena)
This is a natural heritage site in Baske. It is a huge dug out hole or cave under mountain
bed. The people call it godarsa kea. This site was used as a hiding place and a strategic site
of observatory during the war. The Baske hid inside this godarsa kea and used to monitor
the movement of the enemy. It was during the Italian war. The site is located 2 hours
distance on foot (from Laska).

8.8. Gawee Galla (the Galla cave)
The Gawee Galla (the Galla cave) is one of the historical heritage site. It is a cave. This cave
was used as a hiding place where the people hid themselves and their possession during the
Italian war. They particularly hid women, children and possessions in the cave. The site has
been regarded since as a hiding place for thieves and criminals, who use it as a refuge. The
site is covered with bushes.

8.9. Sirso Waterfall
Baske land contains many beautiful waterfalls gracefully strolling over the rugged
mountainous topography, some of them forming being part of locally known rivers. Sirso
waterfall is one of these. It is a natural part of a river which becomes a water fall, as it falls
over the mountain into deep gorge below. From our close distance look, we guessed it
might be about 200 m in length. It is located at Zaaba Shalshala Kebele. The waterfall has not
been put too any economic and eco-tourism purposes. No promotional work has so far
been done.

Picture 30: Sirso Waterfall

8.1. Summary
Baske nationality is one of the nations, nationalities and peoples in the Southern Region
located in its own Special Woreda, following a granting of such status in 2001. It was
formerly one of the woredas in the Semen Ommo Zone. The Baske have had maintained
their own cultural, linguistic, socio-economic and political as well as religious identity since
time immemorial. Like the rest of other peoples in the Region, the Baske were
incorporated into the central governments hegemonic socio-cultural and politico-
economic system following the occupation of the land towards the end of the 1880s.

The ethno- historical identity of the Baske was not rendered any serious, scientific and
sound research and documentation so far. Except for the informal, small- scale, piecemeal
accounts here and there we do not find any systematic, broad- based treatment of their
history and culture. Some of the existing ethnographic and historiographical literature on
the Baske make only passing remarks and often some of the descriptions on the people
were found to be inaccurate and pejorative in some instances.

This final report is a fruit of about eight months painstaking, in-depth and demanding
fieldwork, library and literature reviews, data transcription, analysis and report writing. The
report is an outcome of the efforts of many people and from different backgrounds and
institutions. The report is enriched by incorporating comments from participants of review
workshop done in July 20-23, 2009

This report is prepared following and ensuring the standard scientific research conducting
procedures and formats. Every detail step was seriously undertaken to ensure the quality of
the work. The report is divided into eight chapters dealing with: critical review and
evaluation of existing ethnographic and historiographical literature on southern Ethiopian
peoples in general and the Baske in particular; background and general profile of the
Baske; concepts and views of ethno-genesis; socio cultural history; the history of religion
and introduction of foreign religious beliefs and their impacts on the traditional religion;
economic and livelihood history; political history and a description of some historically
significant socio-cultural and natural heritages; The report contains relevant photographic
pictures and it has standard bibliographic work.

8.2. Conclusion
The conclusion we may draw from our discussion and descriptions of the various
dimensions of Basketo history are the following:
1. That there exist a strong sense of ethno-historical identity conception among the

2. That the present day Baske population is a composition of first and for most two
major clans named as Goshanaa and Goirenaa and then the third dominant clan
known as Shimenaa; however, the Baske also consist of what is called the oldest
indigenous clan called Khalmanaa. Todays Baske population does not have a full
picture without taking into account other late comer groups of people of whom the
various Semitic groups notably the Amhara and to some extent the Gurage are very
dominant. Mnay other groups have also joined the people over the centuries in
various tiems and occasions.

3. Of all themes that appear in the Baske origin account, the Gamo origin theory is
the most important. The question of whether the present day land of Basketo ever
have had an original group of people those who did not have any genetic link with
the Gammo Origin groups, is not conclusively known. The true identity and the
whence of the Khalmanaa is not definitely known.

4. Based on the genealogical and oral tradition of the people, it is estimated that Baske
history as a unified ethnic entity begins somewhere from the mid-16
century, which
time is also corroborated and confirmed by written documents that depict this
period as a time of great historical events, notably the so- called Gra Wars of
1531-1552 and the Great Oromo Expansion (152- 1660s) which set a turbulent
ethnic movements in the country including south and southwest Ethiopia.

5. That the Baske ethno-historical and linguistic identity was shaped and constructed
through processes of centuries old interactions with a number of groups at various
levels; notably their close neighbors and next distant neighbors; and the central

6. That the Baske have had maintained relations of peace and war with its close
neighbors. The Baske have maintained a generally peaceful stance with its neighbors
and the most deadly conflict has been with the Boddi people who have made
occasional raids and attacks on the Baske and other neighbors with overriding
factor being acquisition of cattle.

7. The Baske have had its own distinct, untarnished culture, language, politics, religion
and other features for millennia until they were incorporated into the Ethiopian
empire towards the end of 19
century. The introduction of alien socio-cultural,
politico- economic and religious forces into the Baske land have had significant
effect on the entire life ways of the people. Due to these forces, many of indigenous
value systems and socio-cultural heritages have either declined, been modified,
changed or totally demised. The politico-economic system imposed on the Baske
have brought about grave burdens and harms on the people by imposing demeaning,
derogative and dehumanizing ideological elements; exploitative politico-economic

8. The Baske have had varying experiences during the various central government
regimes; the degree of social, cultural, economic and political burdens and harms
they endured was highest during the imperial regime (Haile Sellasie I, 1930-1974).
The Dergue regime (1974-1991) brought about relative respite in the social and
politico-economic lives of the people but it also resulted in untold suffering due to
the highly taxing demands of the Dergue. The Baske have now come into a more
empowered state of life economically, socially and politically. We may use three key
terms to describe the life conditions endured by the Baske during the three
regimes: darkness and derogation, and drudgery (Haile Sellasie I); terror,
tension and tax burden (Dergue) and peace, empowerment and stability (the present

8.3 Recommendations
The following recommendations are put forward:

The rich and diverse ad ancient ethnohistory of the Basketo is just being to be studied. This
present study is only a small attempt to begin to document this rich ethnohistory. There is
an urgent gap in this study as far as chronological frameworks for many events, personalities
and places are concerned. This derives from the fact that as an illiterate society, written
documents on Basketo ethnohistory are lacking. It is therefore very important if further
efforts and studies are made by incorporating advanced methods of dating and archeological
techniques to enrich this rich ethnohistory with exact tie framework.

The Basketo Special Woreda id rich with many historical, cultural and natural heritages. But
these heritages are not systematically studied, documented, protected and put to use into
the nationalitys and countrys socio-economic development. It is, therefore, important if
the Woreda and regional as well as other concerned agencies make efforts to fill this gap.

The rich and intricate connection between the Basketo and other neighboring nationalities,
particularly the Gammo and Goffa, needs to be studied well to put these related ethnogenic
entities in proper time framework.

The role and contribution made by the Basketo in the Ethiopian politico-economic
development is not well appreciated. It is very important if a further study is made digging
into this theme.


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