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Living Terraces in Ethiopia

Living Terraces in Ethiopia: Konso Landscape, Culture and Development

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Living Terraces in Ethiopia
    Book Description:

    Terraced agricultural landscapes in Africa are remarkable feats of human engineering and social organization, enabling the conservation of soil and water and the cultivation of food. Indigenous terraced landscapes are all the more valuable because they have been produced by the people themselves and maintained for several hundred years, evidencing a valuable degree of sustainability. Yet until this book, there have been few accounts of how such landscapes in Africa are produced and maintained over time. Taking a period of approximately a hundred years, ‘Living Terraces’ is both an ethnography and history of the terraces of Konso in southern Ethiopia. It traces the way Konso agriculture and landscape has been produced and managed in close relationship with broader changes in Konso political and cultural lives. In shedding new light on the relationships between landscapes, livelihoods, culture and development, the book demonstrates the embeddedness of social institutions in areas of social, cultural, religious and political life, showing that social institutions cannot easily be abstracted, replicated or used instrumentally for development purposes. The result is a call for an approach to social institutions, so vital to development, which centralizes a study of culture, history and power in the analysis. ELIZABETH E. WATSON is a Lecturer in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-741-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Photographs
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. List of Maps, Tables & Figures
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. Introduction Konso Landscape, Culture & Development
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book is about the construction of a landscape. The landscape in question is the intensive agricultural terraced landscape of Konso in south-west Ethiopia. The book focuses on the role of culture in the construction of the landscape, and explores the significance for development of the landscape itself, and the social and cultural institutions that construct and maintain it. Through this study of one landscape and one people it is hoped that the processes and connections between different aspects of people’s lives and their environments will be better understood, contributing to understandings of landscape production in general, and generating insights...

  7. One Konso Intensive Indigenous Agriculture
    (pp. 25-53)

    The Konso people live on and around a small range of mountains, some 600 km south of Addis Ababa, in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia (see Map 1.1). These mountains rise to a height of 2,500 m, and from above 700 m they are scored with neat, dry stone terraces (Amborn, 1989). To the outsider, the area is distinctive in many ways: the terraced landscape marks it out as different from the hot lowlands that surround the mountains, and from the other cultivated mountains in the area. In the area marked on the map, they also speak their own language,...

  8. Two Social Life of Agriculture
    (pp. 54-79)

    The customary agricultural practices and institutions that are described in this Part of the book are those practices and power relations whose legitimacy is grounded in the claims to tradition, to the ways things have always been and should be. Using Bourdieu’s terms, this represents the orthodoxy in Konso. The title of this specific chapter is borrowed and developed from Appadurai’s edited book, The Social Life of Things (1986). Others have taken up his approach before now, for example Nyerges (1997) uses his ideas to talk about ‘the social life of resources’, and Longley (2001) uses his ideas to talk...

  9. Three Ritual Life of Agriculture
    (pp. 80-110)

    The poqallas’ control over larger amounts of land gives them access to more labour, which allows them to invest in the construction of the landesque capital. As institutions, the poqallas are structures of power, and the material presented in the previous chapter suggests that their power is derived mainly from their economic control, and that a poqalla can be perceived as a kind of landlord. The revolutionary Derg government certainly took this view when it assumed power in 1974, and accused many poqallas of being landlords who exploited the people. The extent to which the poqallas can be justifiably viewed...

  10. Four Political Life of Agriculture
    (pp. 111-146)

    In this chapter, the study of the poqallas is developed further to examine more critically the nature of the power relations that exist between the poqallas and others. The previous chapters have demonstrated that the poqallas play a role in turning the stony grounds into fertile ones, which means that they exist as a form of institution central to the intensive agriculture. Development organizations have ‘discovered’ the importance of the institutional dimensions of environmental management in recent years, and indigenous institutions are seen as particularly valuable resources because they are considered to be already existing institutions that can potentially be...

  11. Five Modernity & Christianity
    (pp. 147-172)

    Chapters Two, Three and Four examined the way in which the production and reproduction of the landscape in Konso is part of a social, cultural, ritual and political process of which the poqallas are at the heart. The power of the poqallas rests in their control over and embodiment of forms of social, symbolic and economic capital. The study of the poqalla shows that the institutions for managing land and labour are embedded in other aspects of society to the point that the economic, the ritual, the judicial, and the political cannot be separated. This raises questions about the usefulness...

  12. Six Revolutionary State
    (pp. 173-192)

    The 1974 revolution heralded the beginning of a new period in Ethiopia. The Derg government penetrated the structures of government more deeply into the grassroots communities of southern Ethiopia than any regime that had gone before. In this chapter, the general history of the revolution is reviewed, setting the context for the discussion of the experience in Konso. As well as exploring the way the revolution impacted on Konso, the way in which the ideas and practices associated with the revolution combined with those of Protestant Christians, described in the last chapter, is examined. The combination of the modernizing forces...

  13. Seven Ethnic Decentralization & Self-determination
    (pp. 193-216)

    The previous two chapters explored the way in which the values and practices of the Derg government and Protestant Christians intersected. The relationship between these two bodies was not straightforward as they did not share the same values, but they shared some of the same goals. They shared a desire to eradicate aspects of culture they found harmful, and they were both modernizing in their own ways. The outcome of this convergence of aims was a ‘discourse coalition’ (Hajer, 1995). The Protestant Christians became some of the main supporters of reforms brought in by the Derg. As a result Konso...

  14. Conclusion Landscape, Meaning & Development
    (pp. 217-224)

    The last three chapters focused on the changes that have unfolded in Konso, and the way they have impacted on the institutions that are central to the production of Konso indigenous agriculture and landscape. Together with the earlier chapters, they emphasize the way in which material struggles over land and labour are played out in discursive struggles over the legitimacy of different beliefs and forms of identification (Konso ‘custom’, Protestant Christian, Orthodox Christian). In this conclusion, I return more explicitly to the landscape and examine what can be learnt from the material presented here about how landscapes like Konso are...

  15. References
    (pp. 225-234)
  16. Index
    (pp. 235-243)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 244-244)