Published On  Jan 15,  2012






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Even if the trend is declining in city centres, the close relationships of neighbours still prevail in rural towns. As far as Ethiopian culture goes, neighbours are not just people living next door. Instead, they are people to lean on in bad times and good.


Always Lending Hands

Neighbours in Ethiopia are not just people residing next door. Their social interactions transcend that.

Neighbours are accepted as part of the family, irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. They eat together, sip coffee together, and work together.

This relationship is evident even more strongly in times of grief and pleasure. Close neighbours come to the rescue faster than a blood relative living far away, as the Amharic saying goes. Neighbourhoods are also considered institutions in rural Ethiopia.

When a young man grows old enough to live by himself, neighbours play a major role in getting the ball rolling, as it were. They build a thatched roof hut in a matter of hours and jointly plough a small plot of land to help him start his new life as a farmer.

The young man also has the responsibility to reciprocate by joining others in communal farming.

For all intents and purposes, neighbours reside closely. An 80-year old man who lives in a village near Jima, 352 kilometres southwest of the capital, Aba Fogi Aba Nemo, was in Addis Abeba last week for a medical check-up. In talking to him, while he was paying a visit to his great-granddaughter, he seemed almost shocked and surprised by the reluctance he observed in the neighbourhoods of Addis Abeba.

Trying to greet people warmly in the wake of Christmas celebrations, he expected impulsive retaliations.

“Back home in Jima, greeting is one of the ways through which a good relationship with neighbours or even anybody who happens to pass by is expressed,” he commented. “In fact, mixing with other people without paying due respect through warm greetings is tantamount to reducing a human being to the level of an animal.”

Greetings in rural Ethiopia are expressed in greater detail, to the extent of inquiring, not only about every member of the family, young and old, but, also, about domestic animals, including kids (young goats) and kittens.

Every evening, after long hours of communal ploughing, harvesting, or grazing cattle in distant pastures, people in a neighbourhood retire outdoors in their compounds and chat about their experiences and encounters of the day. They start by exchanging greetings. If any of the neighbours has been to court for some reason or another, he would have to do a lot of talking about the hearings or the process of litigation.

In another instance, a father may have been summoned to school to have a talk about his child with the school’s principal or any one of the teachers. These experiences engage neighbours in discussions and knowledge sharing.

In times of holiday celebration, relations are even more emphasised through feasting together. Members take turns inviting each other, regardless of their differences in prosperity or social standing. The invitation starts when the members first go to the house of the most senior person in the village to express their pleasure and well wishes.

Every member brings some food or drink to be shared by all. “Coffee sipping” is the name of the game, but there is more to it. The occasion is used to get everyone together to share thoughts and personal experiences along with food and drink.



The culture of eating and spending time together (top) has become rare as few people are upholding the culture while some separated themselves using electrified fences to keep there privacy. 


The next round takes the neighbours to the next senior person. In many instances, oxen are slaughtered to be shared by the neighbours. In the sharing process, chunks of lean meat, particularly liver, are chopped to be consumed by participants and downed with araqe, a local drink, usually consumed with raw meat.

As a member of a group, it is important to know the different organs of animal. The dismembering measures need special skill, so that cutting the flesh follows a pattern that provides every stakeholder bits of all of the organs, equally.

In other cases, fattened rams or goats are slaughtered inside individual dwellings. The fate of a ram in every village is known ahead of time. Children, unlike urban kids, feel sorry for the animal to be slaughtered because every animal that satiates is considered a member of the village.

This of course does not mean that all urbanites are not sympathetic towards animals. It is just that many city children get excited and yearn to see rams with bigger horns and hoarse voices slaughtered at their respective homes.

Should any member of the village fall sick, there are traditional healers, dubbed wugeshas, who come to the rescue of the sick person. Herbs are used as emergency cures. If a sick person or a delivering woman has to be taken to the nearest clinic, the neighbours make a stretcher-like contraption, on which they carry the patient all the way to the hospital.

Thus, in Ethiopia, neighbours are not just people living next door or people who wine and dine together in times of merrymaking, only. They are there for almost everything. That is why the neighbourhood is of utmost priority, even if elders like Aba Fogi see it declining in the city centres.

BY Girma Feyissa




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