“All that nonsense that comes with a life insurance is not there” – Insurance associations in the Ethiopian diaspora in southern California

Sophia Thubauville

Update: The Online-Presentation on 29 June 2022, 18:00, will be postponed.


Southern California has an Ethiopian diaspora population that goes back to the socialist revolution in Ethiopia in the early 1970s. Because of political and economic reasons, this population increased immensely around the turn of the millennium. With around 50,000 members, this is one of the largest diaspora communities in the US, the country that hosts with 500,000 the largest Ethiopian diaspora worldwide.

One of the central and most celebrated life rituals in Ethiopia, is the funeral service. For most members of the community it is important to hold this important celebration in the USA according to cultural norms or to repatriate the deceased to their home country. Both options are very expensive and require the help of others in implementation (be it in the preparation of Ethiopian food or knowledge of American export laws).

From the beginning of their settlement in southern California, Ethiopians organized their own insurance associations. At that early time they were few in numbers and in size, more informal and intimate. Around ten years ago, once many members of the population became more settled, many new insurance associations were established to give a culturally appropriate farewell to deceased members of the community. Apart from being more formalized, these new organizations are much larger and therefore more anonymous. In my presentation, I would like to trace the development of these informal associations and their adaption to their host society.

Sophia Thubauville is a research fellow and head of library at the Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She has earned a PhD at Mainz University, for which she conducted extensive field research among the Maale of southern Ethiopia. Her interest in the anthropology of southern Ethiopia led her to the edition of unpublished ethnographies within the publication series “Southern Ethiopian Studies at the Frobenius Institute”. Her recent areas of research are Ethiopia and its diaspora, anthropology of the future, and higher education.