African Journal of
History and Culture

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Hist. Cult.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-6672
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJHC
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 173

Full Length Research Paper

Women empowerment through ‘Abegar’ in South Wollo: A critical ethnography

Rukya Hassen
  • Rukya Hassen
  • Department of Applied Linguistics, Ethiopian Civil Service University, Ethiopia.
  • Google Scholar


  •  Received: 21 March 2017
  •  Accepted: 15 May 2017
  •  Published: 28 February 2018

 ABSTRACT

It is the objective of this study to describe, explain and critically analyze the role of the traditional social practice of ‘Abegar’ to empower women in South Wollo, Ethiopia. Data were collected through participant observation, record of social events and in-depth interview. The study was conducted from April to June 2014 E.C. Five social events known as ‘Wodaja’ were recorded. The result of the study showed that females were empowered through the practice of ‘Abegar’ in Wodaja sessions. During female group prayer sessions, females assume the position of leadership which empowers them. Being ‘abegar’, they are able to do many things which were impossible otherwise. Through their discourse, the females express their power as mothers, sprit possessors, and smart personnel who are empowered to do many things which even men couldn’t. The discourse of ‘Abbəgarness’ (leadership) is used as an expression of power in the community. Females became leaders or ‘Abbəgars’ and are empowered through ‘dua’ (prayers). 

Key words: Women, ‘abegar’, wodaja, empowerment.


 INTRODUCTION

South Wollo is the study site. Wollo is bounded by Tigray in the North, Gojjam in the West, Shewa in the South and Afar in the East. The capital city, Dessie, is 400 km away to the North of Addis Ababa. In Wollo, Muslims and Christians live together peacefully (Amsalu and Habtemariam, 1969). The community has a unique history of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. This community consists of a large number of Muslims and Christians. There is a thick historical record that this community exhibits a harmonious and peaceful contact and an intense sense of belongingness. The Wollo community is far more than mixed. There is a strong blood tie as there is intermarriage among Muslims and Christians. There is also cultural diffusion, and a strong sense of togetherness that has been held for generations. Many significant cultural and historical contexts tie the Muslim-Christian Community to a great extent. Wollo is one of the sub regions of Amhara Regional State which is also known as Region Three. Wollo is bounded by Tigray in the North, Gojjam and Gonder in the West, Shewa in the South and Afar in the East. The central town, Dessie, is 400 km away from Addis Ababa.
 
Topographically, the region is mountainous and cold in the Western and Northern part. In the East, it is very hot. In the population senses of 2007, the population of Wollois 4, 022, 733 and more than 62% of this live in South Wollo Zone. This in figure is 2, 519, 450. In South Wollo, the Muslim-Christian mix is high and there are considerable Muslims in this zone as compared to the rest of the Zones of the Amhara Region. From the 20 Weredas of South Wollo, the researcher conducted the study in Tehuledere (Sulula, Gishen), Dessie Zuria (Bilen, Kelem, Boru, Gerado), Kutaber (Alasha and Kutaber), and Dessie. Moreover, the researcher had co-researchers who helped collect data from Ambasel, Kelala, Jama, and Debat. Particularly, the areas where large data were collected are Alasha (Kutaber Wereda), Sulula (Tehuledere Wereda), Boru (Dessie Zuria Wereda), Bilen (Dessie Zuria Wereda), Gerado (Dessie Zuria Wereda), Kelem (Dessie Zuria Wereda), and Gishen (around Hitecha, Tehuledere Wereda). Wollo is a place with rich historical and cultural assets. The area is claimed to be the origin of the Amhara ethnic group (Getachew, 1984). According to Getachew (1984), the first original home of the Amhara is Amhara Saynt (Ibid: 12). He claimed that Amhara means ‘agrarian’ and Saynt ‘a place where harvest is collected’ in Arabic. He further states:
 
Though the Agew people is mixed and so it is named as Agew Midr Begemidir, and though because of Oromo it was named Wollo later; Bete Amhara includes the areas bounded by Tigray in the North, Begemdir and Gojjam in the West, Shewa in the south. In the middle was all the area of Bete Amhara (Wollo) (Getachew, 1984).
 
The Amhara ethnic group lives in Lasta, Wadla Delanta, Woreilu, in large numbers, and in Dessie area, Yeju, Ambasel, Raya, Kobo, Borena and Worehimeno mixed with other ethnic groups (Kidan, 1981). Ethnic groups that reside in Wollo are Amhara, Agaw, Argobba, Oromo, Warra Sheikh and Mamadoch (Edris, 2007). Wollo was known as “Bete Amhara” (house of Amhara) before it was named Wollo (G/Kidan, 1981; Edris, 2007). After Gragn, according to Getachew, because of the Oromo’s movement to the area of Bete Amhara, the name was changed to Wollo after the name of the governor of Bete Amhara who came from the south and central part of Ethiopia (Ibid). He was the son of Kereyu and the grandson of Berentuma. Wollo had children by the names Bukon, Woregura, WoreIlu, Wore Kereyu, WoreAlu (Ibid). Because of him, the name of “Bete Amhara” ‘the house or homeland of Amhara’ was changed to Wollo and the sub regions were also named after his children.
 
Historically, both Christianity and Islam have lived for long in Wollo. Of all the Amhara region, Wollo is where a large number of Muslims live. Islam faced difficulties in the reign of Tewodros II (1855 to 1868 E.C.) and Yohannes IV (1872 to 1889 E.C.). Wollo Muslims became victims of power and suppression especially during the latter’s reign (Getachew, 1984). According to Getachew (1984), of the four schools of thoughts in Islam (Mezhabs) known throughout the world, two are found in Wollo. These are Shafi which was established by Abu Abdela Muhamed Ibn Idris (767 to 870 G.C.) and Hanefiya established by Abu Hanifa Al Nueman Ibn Sabit (699 to 767 G.C.). The former school has great followers in Dewoy and Yifat. The second school that is Hanefiya is common in Kalu, Borena, Worehimeno, Worebabo and Yeju. Wollo is also a place where great Muslim scholars who have done a lot to teach and sustain Islam in Ethiopia originated (Ibid). There are many places of pilgrimage among which Jema Nigus, Geta, Dana, Deger, and Chale are most known (Ibid).
 
Wollo is a place where people of different ethnic groups, beliefs and cultures are believed to have coexisted peacefully. The languages spoken in the region are Amharic, Agew, Oromo, Tigray, Afar and Argoba (G/Kidan, 1981; Getachew, 1984). The people are known as ‘Wolloyye’. The people do not want to identify themselves by their ethnic groups but by the place, ‘wolloyye’ (the Wollo person) (Ibid: 18). The four musical melodies of Ethiopia, Anchihoyelene, Tizita, Bati, and Ambasel, are found in Wollo. Tizita was known as Wollo before it was renamed as such (Ibid). The melodies are named after the names of places of Wollo. This shows that the people are accustomed to expressing their culture, history, love, and overall lives through their music (Getachew, 1984). Menzuma is a major artistic work performed by Wollo ‘Ulemas’ (Muslim religious scholars). The people of Wollo have used Menzuma for many years for different purposes. They use it for prayer, and for teaching their religion. Among the well-known Menzuma performers are Sheikh Husen Jibril, the Arsi Emebet (Yejuye), the Mersa Aba Getye, the Guna Nigus (Yejuye), the Dessie’s Tengego Sheikh and the recent Sheikh Mohammed Awol.
 
These people are known even outside of Wollo by their Menzuma chants.Wollo is rich in natural resources. There are many rivers, lakes and minerals in the region. In Wollo, Awash, Mile, Miowa, Chireti, Ala, Hormat, Tiratina Zamra, Tekeze, Borkena, Abay, Becho, Wayeta and Gerado rivers flew (Getachew, 1984). These rivers flow all year long. The lakes are Loga Hayk, Ardibo, Abi Gurgura, Afanbo, Ashenge and Maybar (Ibid; 53). Among the minerals are iron soil, marble, green soil, salt, red sand, coal, and others that can be used for production of cement, paintings, and jewelries (Ibid; 58-59). There are different archaeological findings in Wollo that provide valuable information for genealogical studies of human beings (Ibid). There are scriptures of Christian and Muslim traditions that reveal the spirituality of the people. The one significant history of Wollo that the people are not proud of but legendarily stereotyped is drought and famine. The description of Wollo barely completes without the description of the effect of famine that has affected the people. In fact, Ethiopia is known for the same mainly because of its impact on the people of Wollo. Wollo is a place where many times famine has had its bad effects on the people. The drought has had unforgiving effect to the extent that the image of Ethiopia has remained a symbol of famine until now (Getachew, 1984).
 
Sadly, the damage of the famine had been known first to the rest of the world before it was known by Ethiopians. This is because the ruling elites of the time wanted to keep it secret to safeguard their interest. Many blame the government for this and it became a case for its downfall. Apart from this, there are many things that place Wollo in historical times among which are its historical places such as Lalibela which is one of the wonders of the world. It is one of the things that identify Wollo as a unique area (Ibid; 21). Beauty, love, kindness and innocence are traditionally associated with Wollo people. The following appreciations are often heard about Wollo and Wolloyye.
 
battinna komboləčča kämisenna härbu
yänäšäggyä ʾäggär yännayyt' t'äggäbu
Bati Kombolcha Kemisie and Harbu, (names of Wollo places)
The country of the beautiful and the ever-wanted,
 
Also, Wollo is known for love. This is explicated in many traditional Wollo songs.
 
yäfəqqr ʾəngočča yämiqqwaddäsubš
yähullu ʾäggär ʾəkul yäwbät ʾäddaraš
A place where people share love,
A place for all equally, a parlor for beauty,
 
It is generalized that the men and women of Wollo are love addicts. The Wollo people are also known to be kind and innocent. This is also indicated by the popular saying ‘Wollo the barley’. The Wollo people are also known to be not trust worthy as the proverbial saying ‘an empty neighbor house is better than a Wolloyye neighbor/ käwälo goräbet yšalal bado bet’ has it. Wolloyyes, however, do not accept this stereotype. Like any traditional society, in the target community women are disadvantaged groups. Although it is not mentioned as such, there are some social practices that empower women in this particular community. This study focuses on this traditional social practice.  The objective of this study is to critically analyze the role of the traditional practice of ‘Abegar’ to empower female in South Wollo Zone, Tehuledere Woreda, Ethiopia.


 METHODOLOGY

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) and critical ethnography (CE)
 
In order to critically analyse the role of the traditional practice of ‘Abegar’ to empower female in the target group, CDA and Critical ethnography were employed. Critical ethnography developed from critical social theory that resists hegemonic ideas that impose suppressive power over the world. Critical ethnography studies issues of power, empowerment, inequality, dominance, repression, hegemony, and victimization (Creswell, 2007). Critical discourse analysis and critical ethnography are both methods of part of critical social theories that employ theory at different stages of analysis. Madison, (2005:13) explains critical ethnography as follows:
 
The purpose of this (Critical Ethnography) is to single out and analyze the hidden forces and ambiguities that are behind the real practices; to help examination and judgment of discontent; to focus our attention to the critical expressions of different communities in their different systems and languages; to demystify the inequality and magnitude of power; to initiate and inspiring just; to name and analyze what the people feel about it.
 
In critical analysis, theory funds the foundations of analyses but there is no single prescribed theory that fits to all research issues. Wodak stated that “…there is no one CDA approach. All CDA approaches have their own theoretical position combined with a specific methodology and methods…” (2007:5). Rogers claims that ‘CDA is both a theory and a method.’ Discourse analysis is both a theoretical and empirical endeavor. CDA is used as a method of investigation in social science research (Fairclough, 2001a,b,c). Wodak (2005) says, CDA might be defined as fundamentally interested in analyzing opaque as well as transparent structural relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control as manifested in language. In other words, CDA aims to investigate critically social inequality as it is expressed, constituted, legitimized etc. by language use (or in discourse).
 
Hence, CDA is a method of describing, interpreting, and explaining the discursive relationship between language and other social factors. It is different from other discourse analysis methods because it provides not only a description and interpretation of discourse, but also explains the why and how of discourses in societies (Rogers, 2004). The major objective of CDA is critique. “To be a critical social scientific method, CDA needs to reflexively demonstrate the changing relationship between social theory and linguistic structures and how this fits into evolving social and linguistic theories and methodologies” (Rogers, 2004). Of all the different research approaches of CDA proposed by different scholars, this study uses a combination of the three distinguished scholars in CDA: Fairclough and Wodak (1997). The most widely used analytical framework in CDA is Fairclough’s (O’Halloran, 2011). Fairclough, after Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics, established that discourse contributes to the construction of social identities, social relations, and systems of knowledge and meaning (Wodak, 2002; Jorgensen and Phillips, 2002; Blommaert, 2005).
 
Hence, discourse has three functions: an identity function, a ‘relational’ function and an ‘ideational’ function. This three dimensional discourse which Fairclough (1995) has constructed is a useful framework for the analysis of discourse as social practice (Jorgensen and Phillips, 2002).
 
“I see discourse as a complex of three elements: social practice, discursive practice (text production, distribution and consumption), and text, and the analysis of a specific discourse calls for analysis in each of these three dimensions and their interrelations” (Fairclough, 1995).
 
Van Dijk offers a more thorough-going theoretical base for socio-cognitive analysis (O’Halloran, 2011). Van Dijk gives special attention to the role of cognition to understand and interpret texts and discourse. Macrostructure and microstructure of Van Dijk is also an important framework for discourse analysis. Macrostructure “is used to account for the various notions of global meaning, such as topic, theme, or gist. This implies that macrostructures in discourse are semantic objects” (Van Dijk and Teun, 1980). Related to Macro and Micro structure of Van Dijk is what Gee calls “discourse” and “Discourse” (1999): the former refers to instances of language in use, actual speech events; the latter to (far more abstract) ways of using language.The discourse-historical approach is associated with Ruth Wodak. Wodak emphasises on considering the wider context of discourse (Wooffitt, 2005). She gives importance on the contextualizing and historicizing of texts (O’Halloran, 2011). An eclectic approach from each of the aforemtioned three CDA researchers were used to analyze the complex construction of discourse as social practice along with the discursive elements of language, ideology, power, identity, solidarity and other elements.


 RESULTS

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) and critical ethnography (CE)
 
In order to critically analyse the role of the traditional practice of ‘Abegar’ to empower female in the target group, CDA and Critical ethnography were employed. Critical ethnography developed from critical social theory that resists hegemonic ideas that impose suppressive power over the world. Critical ethnography studies issues of power, empowerment, inequality, dominance, repression, hegemony, and victimization (Creswell, 2007). Critical discourse analysis and critical ethnography are both methods of part of critical social theories that employ theory at different stages of analysis. Madison, (2005:13) explains critical ethnography as follows:
 
The purpose of this (Critical Ethnography) is to single out and analyze the hidden forces and ambiguities that are behind the real practices; to help examination and judgment of discontent; to focus our attention to the critical expressions of different communities in their different systems and languages; to demystify the inequality and magnitude of power; to initiate and inspiring just; to name and analyze what the people feel about it.
 
In critical analysis, theory funds the foundations of analyses but there is no single prescribed theory that fits to all research issues. Wodak stated that “…there is no one CDA approach. All CDA approaches have their own theoretical position combined with a specific methodology and methods…” (2007:5). Rogers claims that ‘CDA is both a theory and a method.’ Discourse analysis is both a theoretical and empirical endeavor. CDA is used as a method of investigation in social science research (Fairclough, 2001a,b,c). Wodak (2005) says, CDA might be defined as fundamentally interested in analyzing opaque as well as transparent structural relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control as manifested in language. In other words, CDA aims to investigate critically social inequality as it is expressed, constituted, legitimized etc. by language use (or in discourse).
 
Hence, CDA is a method of describing, interpreting, and explaining the discursive relationship between language and other social factors. It is different from other discourse analysis methods because it provides not only a description and interpretation of discourse, but also explains the why and how of discourses in societies (Rogers, 2004). The major objective of CDA is critique. “To be a critical social scientific method, CDA needs to reflexively demonstrate the changing relationship between social theory and linguistic structures and how this fits into evolving social and linguistic theories and methodologies” (Rogers, 2004). Of all the different research approaches of CDA proposed by different scholars, this study uses a combination of the three distinguished scholars in CDA: Fairclough and Wodak (1997). The most widely used analytical framework in CDA is Fairclough’s (O’Halloran, 2011). Fairclough, after Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics, established that discourse contributes to the construction of social identities, social relations, and systems of knowledge and meaning (Wodak, 2002; Jorgensen and Phillips, 2002; Blommaert, 2005).
 
Hence, discourse has three functions: an identity function, a ‘relational’ function and an ‘ideational’ function. This three dimensional discourse which Fairclough (1995) has constructed is a useful framework for the analysis of discourse as social practice (Jorgensen and Phillips, 2002).
 
“I see discourse as a complex of three elements: social practice, discursive practice (text production, distribution and consumption), and text, and the analysis of a specific discourse calls for analysis in each of these three dimensions and their interrelations” (Fairclough, 1995).
 
Van Dijk offers a more thorough-going theoretical base for socio-cognitive analysis (O’Halloran, 2011). Van Dijk gives special attention to the role of cognition to understand and interpret texts and discourse. Macrostructure and microstructure of Van Dijk is also an important framework for discourse analysis. Macrostructure “is used to account for the various notions of global meaning, such as topic, theme, or gist. This implies that macrostructures in discourse are semantic objects” (Van Dijk and Teun, 1980). Related to Macro and Micro structure of Van Dijk is what Gee calls “discourse” and “Discourse” (1999): the former refers to instances of language in use, actual speech events; the latter to (far more abstract) ways of using language.The discourse-historical approach is associated with Ruth Wodak. Wodak emphasises on considering the wider context of discourse (Wooffitt, 2005). She gives importance on the contextualizing and historicizing of texts (O’Halloran, 2011). An eclectic approach from each of the aforemtioned three CDA researchers were used to analyze the complex construction of discourse as social practice along with the discursive elements of language, ideology, power, identity, solidarity and other elements.


 CONCLUSION

Through ‘wodaja’ prayers, females who became ‘abegar’ reclaim, earn, legitimize and exercise power in the social structure as shown in their own discourse versed beautifully during group prayers. The ‘č’at session’ and ‘the dua’ in ‘wodaja’ give females power and authority so that they feel empowered to get things done in their favor. Without assuming such positions as ‘abagar’, they wouldn’t exercise such power to do, undo, order, permit or earn the things they wish to have. The women of the target group expressed their power as mothers. Motherhood was expressed as power. They also expressed their belief as determined power. Through their discourse, they defended the belief that female is powerless and male is powerful. They legitimize their power as an ultimate one which can befall good or bad on others. They become ‘abegar’- leader who is empowered to do anything. 


 CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

The author has not declared any conflict of interests.

 



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