Schlagwort-Archive: Ethiopian Studies

Video Online-Presentation: „Why old maps of Northeastern Africa are not old: Cartographic collections as a repository of local territorial knowledge and practice“

Online-Presentation by Wolbert G.C. Smidt on 14 April 2022:
Why old maps of Northeastern Africa are not old:
Cartographic collections as a repository of local territorial knowledge and practice

Islamic Scholarship and literary traditions in Wollo

Andreas Wetter

Abstract of the Online-Presentation on 18 May 2022, 18:00

Since late 18th century Wollo has become a hot spot of Islamic scholarship in Ethiopia marked by a network of lslamic learning centers and highly respected scholars. The centers in Wollo became the main destination for Muslims from central and southern Ethiopia to conduct higher Islamic learning since the 19th century. 

Although the crucial role of local Muslim scholars played in the “development of Islam and an indigenous Muslim culture“ particularly during the 19th and early 20th century has been stressed in historical research (cf. Ahmed 2001, etc.) the actual products of their activities, i.e. their literary works and their intellectual contributions to the development of local Islamic thought have largely remained unstudied until this day.
In the presentation I try to give a a concise overview of historical dimension and background of Islamic scholarship in Wollo, based on available literature and my own research and, thus giving an outline of the context in which Islamic literature in Wollo was produced and used. 

Amharic manuscript in Arabic-based orthography
Amharic manuscript in Arabic-based orthography, Hijira 2004.

The Islamic literature of Wollo consists of works in Arabic as well as in local languages. While my focus lies on Islamic literature written in Amharic and Argobba, I had the opportunity to conduct some digitization work on Islamic manuscripts in Arabic as well (for the project IslHornAfr). Based on this work I will present a preliminary overview of the type of manuscripts and the genres represented in the digitized corpus and outline the chronological development of the literature from copying classical Arabic works in the earlier periods to the creation of locally authored works. 

Coming to the focus of my own research I will briefly describe the development of Islamic literature in local languages, describe some features of this literature and its linguistic relevance as well as the repercussions of linguistic analysis for the understanding of the local society.

Ahmed, Hussein. 2001. Islam in nineteenth-century Wallo, Ethiopia. Revival, reform and reaction. Leiden: Brill.
IslHornAfr: Islam in the Horn of Africa, A Comparative Literary Approacho. ERC project based in Copenhagen.

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„Muslim by Day and Christian by Dawn“: The Religious Experience of Ethiopian Migrants to Sudan

Kiya Gezahegne

Abstract of the Online-Presentation on 4 May 2022, 18:00

The border is recognized as a fundamental space that captures the social process of identity construction and deconstruction. Through cross border mobility, different recognition of identities within the different cultural contexts takes place, unfolding through and with the border. One such identity is religion. Situated between two countries that is dominated by two different religions, Orthodox Christianity and Islam, the Metema-Gallabat border between Ethiopia and Sudan is a fertile thinking ground to study religious identity (re)construction. Recognizing the need to study religion and people on the move along and across the borders, this dissertation explores the practicalities of dealing with religious differences between the two countries.

This study mainly tried to investigate religious identity construction and re-construction of Metema Yohannes residents and Ethiopian Christian migrants as they move along the Ethiopia-Sudan border towns of Metema Yohannes and Gallabat and further to other parts of the Sudan (for Ethiopian migrants). The main objective, hence, was to explore the dynamics between gender and religious identities as they play out in the process of migration and borderlands. The study found out religious identification goes beyond its metaphysical value and puts into network social, cultural, economic, political and historical elements. Through social and economic interaction, for the borderland people, religious divide seems to be insignificant compared to the socio-economic interaction across the border. The importance of religion, however, sometimes outweighs other factors. 

For Christian female migrants, fluid religious identity, fitting to the context, is preferred. This is achieved through conversion, improvisation (role play), and adoption of transcultural religious identity. These processes of identity (re)construction are mostly noticeable among women who are more visible and ‘most likely to adapt’. Further, the data shows, for both cases of borderland residents and migrants, religious identity negotiation is not a process that is limited to times of interaction with ‘others’. The process continues among their own communities through reintegration of individuals into the religious community in a ritual of cleansing such as baptism. The issue of impurity and recognition resulting from conversion or improvisation of change in religious affiliation is mentioned in this study. What is more important is the religious identity (re)construction process affects and is affected by gender, economic interdependence, generational divide, historical narratives, and state politics, among others.

Kiya Gezahegne is an assistant Professor of social anthropology at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. She researched her PhD on migration and religion along the borderlands of Ethiopia and Sudan. Her research so far has focused on migrants and refugees from and to Ethiopia, focusing on gender, religious identity, conflict, social integration, and migration management. Kiya has done extensive fieldwork in different parts of Ethiopia, Sudan and Spain.

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“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.


Why old maps of Northeastern Africa are not old:
Cartographic collections as a repository of local territorial knowledge and practice

Wolbert G.C. Smidt

Online-Vortrag am 13. April 2022, 18:00 Uhr, Zoom

Old maps of Northeastern Africa have still to be re-discovered from an anthropological perspective. Especially maps dating from the 19th century contain a wealth of information on toponyms, regional names and the territorial extension of groups, local concepts of boundaries and of routes, overlaps of political claims, ethnic tensions and interactions, and even ecology and archaeology. However, they have almost not yet been subject of systematic studies. They are loved by collectioners, in some cases used as a rather anecdotal reference in academic works, while anthropology, especially ethnohistory, could still make much out of them, especially in combination with other sources on territorial traditions and local socio-political practices.

Old map Northern Ethiopia

This paper presents several examples from old maps from the 17th to 19th centuries, which show that they were not simply „external“ products of travelling cartographers and researchers, but rather results of an intense local support and communication with experienced local partners, who were specialists for territorial knowledge and socio-political practices. Despite simplifications and incompleteness, the „indigenous“ information stored on the maps is extremely rich and helps to understand political and cultural-territorial processes. In numerous cases the territorial realities we find on old maps are part of ongoing and unfinished processes until today and have effects on local identities and territorial self-definition. That is why the re-reading of old maps can be fruitful as an additional instrument to interpret modern political and political-cultural processes in a both highly dynamic, and highly conservative Northeastern Africa, whose regions, populations and cultures are marked by strong local identities.

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Panel for Junior Scholars at the ICES20 in Mekelle

WAKHVA will organize a panel during the 20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20) held at Mekelle University, from 1-5 October 2018.

During their phase of academic qualification junior scholars usually do not have sufficient opportunities to build up networks outside their affiliated institution and hardly get access to academic congresses to present their research results and expertise. Especially during the phase of work in progress external feedback and support on the project from peers and professionals as well as getting connected to other researchers is highly valuable. Thus, the German based Horn of Africa Research Association (WAKHVA) offers an organized workshop panel for PhD students with a regional focus on the Horn of Africa. Weiterlesen