For much time I didn't focus on the social – cultural life of the brave Sidamas, a highly cultured and ancient Kushitic nation of Eastern Africa that has been subjugated for ca. 110 years by the uncultured and barbarous, bellicose and racist Amhara and Tigray Abyssinians.
In the present article, I am glad to offer space to a Sidama intellectual and scholar, Mr. Mulugeta Bakkalo Daye, who illuminates the richness and the noblesse of the Sidama culture, which proved to be the best means of determined resistance against and irrevocable rejection of the imposed barbarous Abyssinian (fake Ethiopian) rule.
Fast Disappearing Social Capital among the Sidama of Southern Ethiopia and its implication on Food (in)security
By Mulugeta Bakkalo Daye (17/06/2010)
I use a social capital framework to better understand the social ties of the Sidama case study. It is important to distinguish among several different concepts. While there is some inconsistency in the literature, social networks, social support, and social capital are quite distinct (Putnam 2000; Portes, 1998). For Cleak and Howe (2003: 21) a is "all those people with whom we have ongoing relationships and through which people are linked into groups and society. Tracy and Abell (1994:56) portray social networks as "the number and structure of relationships with others," while they define social support as "the amount and types of supportive that take place among network relationships". Others have viewed social support similarly, with Findler (2000) defining it as the extent to which an individual receives assistance and help (e.g. emotional encouragement, advice, information, guidance, concrete aid, etc.) from others. Lastly, some researchers combine the two concepts to describe a "social support network" (Peek & O'Neill, 2001; Jankowski, Videka-Sherman, & Laquidara-Dickinson, 1996), making little or no distinction between the terms.
Many researchers draw on Coleman's (1988) understanding of social capital as a by-product of social networks and social support systems that exist within a community, both inside and outside of the family. According to Coleman, within the family, social capital refers to the cooperative relationships among family members as well as the time and attention each member pays the others. Outside of the family, social capital includes the social relationships that exist among individuals, , and institutions that create opportunities for consistent positive expectations and experiences.
Debate continues, however, about how social capital should be defined. Some view the concept as existing only as a by product of membership in a larger community, not as an individual resource (Lochner, Kawachi,& Kennedy,1999; Carpiano 2005) Others view the concept in broader terms, as an element that operates both at the individual and family level as well as within communities( Portes, 1998; 2000; Coleman,1990; Pootinga, 2005).
Each perspective integrates the individuals, families, and surrounding community institutions that comprise social support networks, role models, and information channels. (Portes, 1998; 2000; Putnum, 2000)While recognizing that definitions of social capital vary, in this article I am primarily concerned with social capital as an individual resource.
Other researchers have moved beyond the positive vs. debate to refine the concept. One useful model was conceptualized by Gitell (1998) and expanded by Szreter and Woolcock (2004). These scholars identified three kinds of social capital: bonding, bridging, and linking. Bonding social capital refers to relationships among members of a group or network who see themselves as relatively equal, for example, neighbors or schoolmates. Bridging social capital refers to relationships among people and groups of people who are fundamentally different such as age, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, or education. (Szreter& Woolclock, 2004). Linking social capital the extent to which individuals build relationships with the institutions and people who have relative power over them (e.g., to provide access to services or jobs) (Szreter & Woolclok, 2004; Woolclock, 2001)
Finally, in this article, the Social Capital can be defined as those methods of mutual assistance that are inherent in a given society during crises; it represents a sustainable and long-lasting system, woven into the social fabric of the people. People's entitlement to food is assured during various crises through this mechanism. In this article the attempts shall be made to show the organic social practices and institutions that enhanced the ethic of co-operation and mutual assistance among the Sidama of Southern Ethiopia. Drawing on the experiences of the Sidama I endeavour to substantiate or else challenge what the literature says, or does not say, about the role of organic social practices and institutions in preventing the encroachment of famine. Famine is one of the abnormalities and crises faced by vulnerable groups in society. If intervention by an external body during such crises does not materialize, the degrees of suffering and of survival of these vulnerable groups depend on the ethic of co-operation operative in the society to which they belong and their coping strategies against the threat of famine (Becker 1986: 73; Fox 1975: 82; Sahlins 1965: 141, 148; Scott 1976: 2, 4, 5, 9, 27). In the following section I discuss communal food consumption, and those forms of reciprocity and sharing among the Sidama that prevented drought being converted into famine in the Sidama for many generations.
The term 'sharing' is associated with the ethics of co-operation and assistance aimed at mitigating crises and abnormal occurrences that go beyond the capacities of the victims. In the words of Dessalgn Rahmato: 'The spirit of co-operation, of sharing assets, resources and services and reciprocal support shown in the rural communities during food shortages plays a vital role in peasant survival strategies' (Rahmato 1991: 30).
Sharing habits that are deeply rooted during normal times as a way of life can be extended and intensified during times of crisis. Such habits may originate in the very practice of the communal consumption of food. Whenever a meal is served, the members of a household may be grouped together in a circle or row, according to their age and sex. Children of both sexes may be grouped together. The father, as the head of the family, and young boys eat together, while the mother and young girls also eat together. In each group, every member takes from the same plate (tilte, saffe, hokkicho) and drinks milk in turn from the same cup (qooncho, finincho). If someone outside the household arrives while a meal is being served, he or she will join the group in the according with his or her age and sex.
The second example that helps to elaborate the way of sharing to explain how the communal entitlement for cooked food among the traditional Sidama is associated with the time food is served. Every morning there is a coffee ceremony, in which the mature members of neighbouring households join together for coffee (buna) and light food (bunu, qurse). In this ceremony each household calls on another, depending on the proximity of their houses, regardless of the wealth and status of the individuals. Everyone attending the ceremony takes light food from the same plate, known as gabate or saffe, which is passed round by a child from the host household. In the evening, every mature is expected to time with a family headed by a reputable male elder, to chat and exchange information (oddoo) and ideas about issues of different kinds. This is called waare. This visit to an elder always concludes with a dinner that provides an opportunity for those who might face a food shortage back at their home to have access to food.
Using the same plate and cup means, for traditional Sidama, first of all enhancing access to food for those who might be facing a food shortage. For those who do not have enough food in their home, eating from the same plate and drinking from the same cup enables them, first of all, to get through hard times. Secondly, it is highly associated with the notion of the covenant that binds people together in normal and abnormal times.
Sidama women always keep prepared foods (boqicho) for unexpected hungry outsiders. The ethics of caring for those who are hungry is deeply inscribed in everyday discourse in the Sidama language itself. For outsider guests, the very words of greeting they may give a host are linked to the question of food availability. If it is morning, he or she will call those inside and say 'Ayiide! Magalo?', meaning 'What is left over from the night?'. If it is evening, the outsider will say 'Ayiide mahonso?', meaning 'What is the left over from the day?'. The host will respond to the greetings by saying 'Wo'mino', meaning 'Abundant', 'Plenty', or 'Our house is full of food', and then the guest will be invited to enter and share what is available.
Although, he has not observed seriously the nature of the organic social structures and institutions of other southern Ethiopian societies, it is clear to him that most have organic social structures enabling diverse applications during crises. However, on the basis of what he has observed in Sidama he can say that even the most cohesive and co-operative community can still suffer famine if external forces (natural or man-made) such as drought, war, the pursuit of profit at the expense of community, bad governance and the like are serious enough.
During periods of crisis and abnormal times, this spirit of sharing is extended in more consolidated and organized ways. The Sidama have various systems of intervention for various types of crisis and abnormality faced by individuals or groups of individuals.
Table 1 shows some of the Sidama names for the various types of crisis and the various forms of intervention and action.
|Sidama name||Type of crises and abnormalities faced by|
|Actions that community takes to assist individuals|
|Kayiisha||Unexpected death of cow, ox, bull, heifer not by|
diseases but by other accidents
|The meat of animal divided among neighboring|
households, then money is raised for the owner to replace animal.
|Foocho||Crop failure||The household that faces crop failure is entitled to a|
small amount of crop from each of those who have had a good harvest when
they collect their crops from the fields.
|Aewo||Massive cattle loss by diseases or raids||The household facing such a crisis will be given|
lactating animals by those who have many cattle on condition that
offspring are returned to the donor.
|Jirte||Human death||The community has a responsibility to bury the dead|
body (madarasha), to feed surviving members of the household until they
recover from stress, and to feed the guests who join the mourning
|Dhiwamoha la'a||Sickness||Neighbors visit and give money, food and other basic|
|Dartu mana adha||Refugee||Sharing displaced people among society and giving them|
accommodation, food and other basic needs.
|Seera||Homelessness||Those people whose houses are ruined are helped to|
construct a new one by the community, which is divided into teams to
construct walls and roof and cover the roof with the grass.
|Xaare/ Sicho||Crop theft||Rituals are performed to protecting the crops of|
individuals. Putting specific leaves and grasses on the property of
someone symbolizes that it should be left untouched.
These are just a few of the organic socio-psychological practices based on the ethics of co-operation that operate in Sidama society. These organic social practices are inherent in Sidama culture. However, there are individuals and group of individuals whose economic capabilities are deteriorating, and who consequently are not in a position to practice those traditional values accepted by Sidama society. Those groups, however, are not excluded from Sidama society as a whole on account of their failure to meet the criteria of reciprocity. One can expect social conflict when vulnerable groups fail to give back what they have taken, economically or materially, owing to the circumstances in which they find themselves. However, they give back, to those who have helped them during times of crisis, honor and prestige. It is this exchange of economic, material and social status that maintains the ties of reciprocity between those who render visible economic material assistance during times of crisis such as food insecurity and shortages and who take invisible social status (prestige, honor) from this, and those who are vulnerable
The binding force of this social capital may be the religious philosophy and world outlook of the Sidama. The traditional Sidama religion is monotheistic, entailing belief in one supreme God, but veneration of the spirits of ancestors is also notable in Sidama communal and personal worship. These spirits of ancestors are associated with particular holy places such as ancestral tombs, mountains and hills. All the natural resources around these places are highly respected, and no one dares to use them. This has had a vital influence in terms of the protection of forests.
In addition, trees are highly respected and protected in Sidama society. One reason for this is that it is under the shade of large trees that most gatherings and meetings of the council of elders take place. This veneration of and respect for the natural environment inherent in Sidama religious thinking plays an important part in famine prevention, because large trees and forests are seen as the residence of spirits that bring good fortune to the communities living around. The Sidama conserve and protect natural forests against deforestation, which is one of the main causes of aridity and drought.
Another perspective in which Sidama religion plays an important role in famine prevention is associated with time. Time is one of the most important resources people have in relation to the processes that range from production to consumption. Unlike other religions, the Sidama religion is not time-consuming. For instance, in addition to Sunday which is dedicated to worshipping God, the monthly timetable of Abyssinian Orthodox Church followers contains numerous days dedicated to the devotion, veneration and worship of various saints and angels. On these days no work is done, and this has an immense negative impact on the production of food and other important economic goods and services. In the Sidama religion, by contrast, there are no specific dates for worship, and no giving up of working time for saints and angels. Sidama religious thinking is well-integrated into daily life, but not in such a way that it cuts across working time.
A further role played by Sidama religious thinking in famine prevention processes relates to the spiritual value that derives from the offering of support to those who are suffering problems. This creates not only a moral obligation, but also a kind of reciprocity, not between those who are being helped, but between the helper and God on behalf of the helped. When Sidama religious observers assist those who are experiencing problems they do not expect anything, except for blessings and an abundance of wealth from God.
Those organic Social Capitals are disappearing fast and their survival confined to remote rural areas out of the touch of modernization. At the same time no attention is paid to the role they can play in food security and community cohesion. If attention is paid, the value of organic social capital can be foundation for the ethics of government and non-government grass-root organizations, who strive for achieving food security.
Achieving an understanding of institutional capabilities is one of the fundamental issues in dealing with abnormalities and crises such as famine, since such an understanding enables relief and development planners to identify vulnerable groups and the source of their vulnerability, to explore indigenous ways of dealing with unexpected events, and to tap local knowledge and daily routine than investing large amounts of money in creating new organizations, money that could better be used to fund additional programmes and projects designed to enhance recovery and development.
From the Sidama case study the researcher came to learn that there is divided priority for the successive regimes in Ethiopia, and reciprocally, divided loyalty from the people. For the former, their priorities were enhancing single ethnic dominations over the people who became their subject by force not by choice. For the later, their loyalty is for their own indigenous social structure instead of imposed interest of single ethnic domination. Therefore it appears appropriate to study the indigenous political institution to which the Sidama grass roots pay more loyalties.
Kinship and neighborhood affiliation are the most important aspects of the Sidama political institutions and ways of life, because they form various networks of interpersonal relationships, which lay the foundations for trust, loyalty, commitment, and for communication and mutual understanding. The breadth of the ethic of co-operation is highly correlated with kinship and community. At present there is parallel political capital in the Sidama. Those are modern Ethiopian political structure that is established one hundred years ago. In the following section the researcher will attempt to explore the survival of the Sidama indigenous social asset, its structure, functions and survival.
I will complete the publication of Mr. Mulugeta Bakkalo Daye's study in a forthcoming article.