African Journal of
Plant Science

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Plant Sci.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 1996-0824
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJPS
  • Start Year: 2007
  • Published Articles: 761

Full Length Research Paper

Ethnobotanical study of indigenous knowledge of plant-material culture in Masha and Yeki Districts, Southwest Ethiopia

Seada Yassin
  • Seada Yassin
  • Department of Biology, College of Natural Sciences, Jimma University, Ethiopia.
  • Google Scholar
Balcha Abera*
  • Balcha Abera*
  • Department of Biology, College of Natural Sciences, Jimma University, Ethiopia.
  • Google Scholar
Ensermu Kelbessa
  • Ensermu Kelbessa
  • The Ethiopian National Herbarium (ETH), Department of Plant Biology and Biodiversity Management, College of Natural Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.
  • Google Scholar


  •  Received: 03 November 2014
  •  Accepted: 28 January 2015
  •  Published: 28 February 2015

 ABSTRACT

Plants have been used throughout human history as a source of food, medicine and material culture. Several studies on plant material culture from Ethiopia, were limited to a certain geographical areas and ethnic groups. The purpose of this study was, therefore, to investigate the plants and associated indigenous knowledge of three ethnic groups (Shekacho, Sheko and Mejengir), residing in the Masha and Yeki Districts of Sheka Zone, southwest Ethiopia. A total of 80 informants between the ages of 20 and 80 were selected by the help of local administrators and knowledgeable elders. Ethnobotanical data were collected through semi-structured interview, guided-field-walk and field observation. Simple statistical methods such as percentage, ranking and comparison were applied for data analysis. A total of 113 plant species distributed in 91 genera from 48 botanical families were reported by informants of three ethnic groups used in making plant-based material culture. Of the 19 use categories recorded, the highest (69; 49.3%) were reported by Shekacho followed by Mejengir (38; 27.1%), and Sheko (33; 23.6%) ethnic groups. Preference ranking and direct matrix exercises on selected plants used for construction and as multipurpose indicated the highest preference of people for Arundinaria alpina and Cordia africana followed by Ficus ovata, Baphia abyssinica and Cyathia manniana. According to priority ranking, agricultural expansion was identified as the most destructive factor of forest plants, followed by illegal wood harvest and construction. The current study recommends the establishment of plant material culture centre. Ex situ and in situ conservation measures should be taken in the study area for sustainable use of plant resources and preservation of indigenous knowledge.

 

Key words: Ethnobotany, preference ranking, direct matrix ranking, paired comparison, Ethiopia.


 INTRODUCTION

Plants have been used throughout human history as a source of food, medicine and material culture (Schlereth, 1982; Balick and Cox, 1996; Sophia, 2005). Plant material culture varies enormously and depends on the availability of plant species, specific environmental condition, and indigenous knowledge of a particular ethnic group (Cunningham, 2001; Terashima, 2001; Tika and Borthakur, 2008). In developing counties, the diversity of plant species remain vital in material culture for making homesteads, agricultural tools, fences, household furniture and/or utensils amongst the others (Parezo, 1996; Wiersum, 1997; Turner, 2000; Choudhary et al., 2008; Hattori, 2006). According to Cotton (1996), plant-based material culture of a given society refers to the total range of objects produced from the plants by that society including functional items such as tools, shelter and clothing, as well as more decorative arts and crafts. A range of plant extracts and exudates have provided pigments, dyes, resins and adhesives which have fulfilled a variety of functional and aesthetic requirements (Dunkelberg, 1992; Johnson, 1992; Miller and Tilley, 1996; Aumeeruddy and Shengji, 2003). For instance, Cotton (1996) mentioned that fibrous stem, roots and leaves have also provided materials for basketry, cordage and textiles; specific types of wood have been used for both construction and manufacturing of a wide range of tools, toys and small utensils; seed and flowers have been used in making necklaces and ceremonial garments.

Ethiopia is a land of topographical and climatic diversity suitable for the distribution of diverse plant taxa (Gebra-Egzabher, 1991). There are about 6,000 species of vascular plants in the country, out of which 10% are endemic (Gebra-Egzabher, 1991). Ethiopia has also diverse ethnic groups and varnishing cultures that possess a wealth of knowledge in the utilization of plants in material culture (Bahru et al., 2012). Although, there is a high utilization of in-county produce and imported synthetic industrial products in Ethiopia, much of the rural human population still depends on plant-based material culture due to a number of factors including the accessibility, economic affordability, and cultural acceptability (Hadera, 2000; Tamene et al., 2000; Jotte, 2007; Institute of biodiversity conservation (IBC), 2008; Abera, 2013).

The dependence of plant-based material culture by three ethnic groups (Shekacho, Sheko and Mejengir) could partly be attributed to underdeveloped infrastructures and expensive industrial products (Gemedo-Dalle, 2004; Anonymous, 2008). Unless the indigenous know-ledge on plant-based material culture is documented and the potential plant species conserved both plant and knowledge sources, the knowledge could be lost forever especially in the current fast-growing and expansion of agriculture, urbanization and modern life style that leads to more acculturation. It is surprising that only two studies (Bahru et al., 2012; Abera, 2013) have been reported on plant-based material culture limited to a specific geo-graphical location and ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Furthermore, due to the remoteness of the Masha and Yeki Districts and lack of well-established infrastructure, the indigenous knowledge of Shekacho, Sheko, Majengir ethnic groups remained unexplored.

Therefore, this study aimed to assess and document the plant species, and associated indigenous knowledge and practices related to plant material cultures among ethnic groups in the Sheka Zone, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS), southwest Ethiopia. The study was expected to play a role in prioritizing plants used in the manufacture of material culture in the districts for further evaluation and conservation.

 

Description of the study area and people

Sheka Zone is located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS), southwest Ethiopia. Sheka Zone covers about 2387.54 km2 [(Sheka Zone Finance and Economy Development Department (SZFEDD, 2012)]. The administration center of Sheka Zone is located 676 km southwest of Addis Ababa. Geographically, the Zone lies between 7°24’-7°52’ N latitude and 35°13’-35°35’ E longitude and consists of three districts, namely the Masha, Andracha and Yeki (Figure 1). The Zone is bordered by Oromia Regional State to the North, Gambella Regional State to the West, Kaffa Zone to the East and Bench Maji Zone to the South. In total, there are 45 rural and 2 urban Kebeles (Kebele-The least administrative hierarchy in Ethiopia) in the two districts; Masha (town name, Masha) and Yeki (town name, Teppi) consist of 21 and 26 Kebeles, respectively.

 

 

According to Central Statistical Agency, CSA (2009), the total population of Sheka Zone was 226,090 residing in urban and rural areas with 114,661 males and 111,429 females. Of the total population of Sheka Zone (226,090), 27,406 (12.12%) live in Andracha District (14,000 males, 13,406 females), 122,469 (54.16%) in Yeki [(62,333 (50.89%)] were males and 60,136 (49.10%) were females and 37,983(16.79%) live in Masha District [(18,660 (49.12%)] were males and 19,323 (50.82%) were females. The rest 29,540 (13.06%) and 8,692 (3.84%) live in Tepi and Masha town administrations, respectively (CSA, 2009). Of these, the study was conducted in Mesha and yeki Districts.

There are different ethnic groups in the Sheka Zone including Shekacho, Sheko, Mejengir, Kafficho, Amhara, Oromo and Guraghe. The first three are indigenous peoples. According to Central Statistical Agency (CSA) (2009), the ethnic composition of Sheka Zone is 34.7% Shekacho, 20.5% Kafficho, 20.5% Amhara, 9.6% Oromo, 5.0% Sheko, 4.8% Bench and 2% Mejengir. These people do have their own culture, language, and life styles.

The Shekacho and Sheko were from Omotic and Mejengir from Nilotic language origins. This study focused on two selected districts (Masha and Yeki) of Sheka Zone, inhabited by three major ethnic groups namely Shekacho, Sheko, Mejengir [(Central Statistical Agency, (CSA, 2009)].


 MATERIALS AND METHODS

Ethnobotanical inventory and informant selection

This study was conducted in eight Kebeles (Achani, Addis Alem, Bechi, Kubeto, Depi, Kura, Kubero and Yeki) of Yeki and seven kebeles (Abelo, Beto, Chago, Gatimo, Masha, Yena and Yego) of Masha districts inhabited by three indigenous ethnic groups (Shekicho, Shako and Mejengir) between December 2011 and March, 2012. Prior to data collection, an official letter was received from Jimma University Ethical Review Committee (ERC) while verbal informed consent was obtained from each informant who was participating during the study period. In addition, proposal write-up was guided under the supervision of advisor and co-advisors, evaluated and endorsed by two examiners and graduate committee of the College of Natural Science after public defense. The informants who participated in the current study were identified and selected with the help of Kebele leaders, Developmental Agents (DAs) and knowledgeable elders. A total of 80 informants (50 males and 30 females) between the ages of 20 and 80 were identified, of whom 50 were randomly selected from the community by asking every individual in the house and working fields (30 from Shekicho and 10 each from the rest). The rest 30 informants were key informants (20 from Shekacho ethnic group and 10 from the rest two ethnic groups based on the number of population). An interview was conducted in the presence of principal investigator (translating the questionnaire from English to Amharic) and then by three local knowledge translators. Data were collected based on a checklist of questions translated to the local languages of the three ethnic groups (Shakinono, Shekogna and Mejengiregna). Essential information about the plants such as local name, growth forms, and plant parts used were recorded during field survey whereas degree of management (wild/cultivated), and other related ethnobotanical data (plants which were employed in the manufacture of particular items for construction, as a source of handcrafts and arts) were documented by asking informants.

 

Specimens collection and identification

Voucher specimens were collected, preserved, pressed and dried for identification. Preliminary identification was done in the field by using manuals and unidentified specimens were identified using herbarium materials, experts, and taxonomic keys in the various volumes of the flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea (Edwards et al., 1995, 1997, 2000; Hedberg and Edwards, 1995; Hedberg et al., 2006). The collected specimens with voucher numbers, family, species, vernacular names, dates and sites of collection were recorded and deposited at the Jimma Herbarium (Jimma University) and National Herbarium (Addis Ababa University).

 

Preference ranking

Martin (1995) noted preference ranking (PR) techniques as useful for gathering information on the different needs, feelings and priorities of different categories of individuals within a community and a numerical value was assigned to each item. Preference ranking was conducted for nine plant species out of the total plants selected based on their cultural value, strength, durability and their ability to protect themselves from termites. Of 30, 15 representative key informants were randomly selected to identify the best-preferred plant species for house construction and house hold articles. Each informant was provided with nine plants reported to be used for these purposes and asked to assign the highest value (9) for plant species best preferred, against these materials and the lowest value (1) for the least preferred plant and in accordance of their order for the remaining ones. These values were summed up and ranks were given to each plant species. In addition, PR was also applied to determine and rank the threat factors for the plant species in the study area following the same procedure stated above for nine plant species.

 

Direct matrix ranking

Direct matrix ranking technique was conducted for eight chosen multipurpose species out of 113 (Appendix 1) based on their cultural value, strength, durability and their ability to protect themselves from termites and seven use-categories from each ethnic group in order to evaluate their relative importance to the local people and the degree of the existing threats related to their use values (Martin, 1995). Thereafter, the plant species were listed for 15 randomly selected key informants to assign use values to each species. Each chosen key informants were asked to assign use values (5 = best, 4 = very good, 3 = good, 2 = less used, 1 = least used and 0 = not used). Using numerical scale in which the highest number is equal to the most preferred item whereas, the lowest to the least one. Then the informants were asked to rate their preferences. Finally, the values of each species were summed up and ranked. For the Mejengir and Shako ethnic groups, the ranking was done together because the most useful plants used in both of them were similar.

 

Paired comparison

Pair comparison was used for evaluating the degree of preference of 8, 5, 5 selected plants by Mejengir Shekacho and shako ethnic groups, respectively. Based on the information given by each ethnic group, availability of the plant species in the area, cultural value, strength, durability and their ability to protect themselves from termites for house construction. In this study, 15 selected informants of each ethnic group were asked to choose the best item from every pair according to personal perception. A list of pairs of selected items with all possible combinations was made and sequence of the pairs and the order within each pair was randomized and presented to selected informants following Martin (1995) and their responses were recorded and total scores were summed using the following formula:

n = the number of medicinal plants being compared.

 

Data analysis

Ethnobotanical data were analyzed using both quantitative and qualitative methods as recommended by Martin (1995) and Cotton (1996). Direct matrix ranking, preference ranking, and paired comparison were used to analyze the data. All the data was compiled, organized and entered into SPSS version 16 for Windows and a descriptive statistics (percentage and frequency) were computed to describe the ethnobotanical information on the plants used for material cultures, associated knowledge and conservation. The qualitative data obtained from the focus-group discussion was subjected for thematic analysis. Finally, all the results were presented in tables and figures.


 RESULTS

Plants diversity in material culture

In this study, a total of 113 plant species were recorded, being distributed in 91 genera and 48 botanical families. The family reported with the highest number of plant species was Rubiaceae (11 species, 9.7%), followed by Euphorbiaceae (8 species, 7.1%) and Astraceae (7 species (Appendix 1). Of 113 plants species used for material culture, 47(41.6%) were tree species, 28(24.8%) Trees/shrubs, 15 (13.3%) herbs, 13 (11.5%) climbers, 9 (7.9%) shrubs and 1 (0.9%) was a fern (Figure 2).

 

 

Source of plants used in material culture

Of the 113 useful plant species reported, 93 (82.3%) species were obtained from wild, 9 (7.9%) species were found in cultivated fields and home-gardens, and 11 (9.7%) species were obtained from both wild and cultivated fields (Figure 3).

 

 

Plant part(s) and mode of preparation

A total of 13 plant parts were reported to be used to produce various kinds of plant-based material objects in Masha and Yeki districts. The most widely used plant part for the preparations of materials was the stem, which accounts for (86; 62.8%) followed by leaves (20; 14.6%) and branch (6; 4.4%) (Table 1). However, the same plant parts (stem, leave and branch) were also reported to be used for a number of materials while various parts of a plant may be used for a single material. As a result, the total number of plant species increased from 113 to 137 (Table 1). Out of the preparation methods, a large number (59; 49.6%) of plants were reported to be prepared by carving followed by wrapping (15; 12.6%) and splitting (9; 7.6%) (Table 2). The use of similar preparation methods for a single plant increased the total number of plant species from 113 to 119 (Table 2).

 

 

 

Plants condition

A large number (44; 4%) of plants were identified to be used in dried and fresh forms in material preparations. Relatively few plants (41; 36.3%) were used in fresh form and the rest plants 23 (23; 20.4%) were reported to be used as dried forms (Figure 4). As informants indicated a substance like cold water, ash, clay and animal dung was reported to be used for wetting, washing and decoration during the preparation of materials.

 

 

Comparison of plant material culture among ethnic groups

The result of this study indicates that the three investigated ethnic groups (Shekacho, Sheko and Mejengir) are entirely dependent on plant-based material cultures for local kitchen utensils and/or household furniture, agricultural tools, fences, and musical instruments and others. Although there are some common plant species and plant material cultures reported by three ethnic groups (due to the similarity of the topography and cultural knowledge), this study also revealed that there is a significant difference (P<0.05) in the type of plant used and plant-based material culture between Shekacho and the rest but with no significant difference (P>0.05) between Sheko and Mejengir ethnic groups (Table 3). Of 19 uses recorded in this study, Shekacho ethnic group contributed a significantly higher (49.3%) as compared to 27 and 23.5% reported by Mejengir and Sheko ethnic groups, respectively. The difference is highly observed not only on the numbers but also on the kind of plant-based material cultures produced by these ethnic groups. For example, different kinds of house construction (oval vs. round, one pole vs. two poles), musical instruments and household furniture (Appendix 1). In addition, in this study, there are several material cultures (such as ornaments, handcraft, Coffin) that were not reported by Sheko and Mejengir ethnic informants but only by Shekacho informants (Table 3).

 

 

Plant material culture categories versus number of plants reported by three ethnic groups

Of the 19 major use categories of material culture items reported by all ethnic groups about 38% of the plant species were used for house construction and to make utensils and house hold objects. However, the majority of the plant species (69%) were reported by Shekacho ethnic informants followed by 43 (48%) and 39 (43%) from Mejenger and Shako ethnic groups (Table 4). Moreover, this result showed the use of several plant species for the production of one or more plant-based material cultures mainly reported by Shekacho ethnic informants.

 

 

In addition, the difference was observed between Shekacho and the rest ethnic groups that there are plants that were reported by Shekacho informants but not by the rest for the construction of fence, ornaments, making of handcart and coffin. On the other hand, even though the number of plant species reported to make a specific item varies enormously, about 84% of 19 material cultures were reported by all ethnic groups.

Out of these, higher significance differences (P<0.05) was observed on the number of plant species used for house construction, and household furniture and/or utensils between Shekacho and the rest (Shako and Mejenger) ethnic groups (Table 5). For example, 34 and 32 plant species were reported to be used by Shekacho for house construction and household furniture and/or utensils making, respectively compared to 8 to 10 plant species reported by Shako and Mejenger ethnic groups for the same purposes.

 

 

Comparison of plant species for construction purposes

Arundinaria alpina (bamboo), Cyathea manniana and Syzygium guineense were ranked, first, second and third, respectively by key informants of Shekacho ethnic group for construction (Table 5). However, Cordia africana, Baphia abyssinica and Malotus oppositifolius were ranked first, second and third, respectively for con-struction purposes as reported by key informants of Sheko and Mejengir (Tables 6 and 7) differing from Shekacho ethnic group.

 

 

 

In house construction, Cyperus dichrostachyus, Cyprus spp., Eagrotis teff, Psychotria orophilia, Rhamnus prinodes, Ricimnus communis, and Pennisetum sp., are used in roof thatching. The fibers obtained from the bark of Clematis longicauda, Combretum paniculatum, Dombia torrida, Jasminum abyssinicum, Justica schempriana, Oncinotis tenuiloba, Landolphia buchanani provide as ropes for tying the roofs, walls and fences during construction.

 

Comparison of multipurpose plant species (Direct matrix ranking)

The highest values was assigned by key informants of Sheko and Mejengir ethnic groups to Cordia africana as the most multipurpose plant species followed by Ficus ovate and Pouteria adolfi-friederici in the study area.

Diospyros abyssinica, Baphia abyssinica and Manilkara butuji were the other multipurpose species ranked, respectively. The least ranked species in multipurpose aspect varied between ethnic groups (Table 8, 9). This does not mean that the least ranked species are the less in multipurpose but either threatened and/or less preferred compared to other species. Thus, according to this rank, the survival of the most multipurpose species is under question due to the daily demand of the ethnic groups, which is not supplemented with follow-up and regular planting.

 

 

 

The highest value with the sum of 51 was given to Arundinaria alpina as one of the most multipurpose plant species in the area by key informants of shekacho ethnic group followed by Cordia africana and Galiniera saxifraga (49 and 40 in the 2nd and 3rd places respectively) Ficus sur, Hallea rubrostipulosa and Hippocratea africana are the other multipurpose species ranking 4th, 5th and 6th respectively (Table 10).

 

 

The least ranked species in multipurpose aspect from the selected species were Croton macrostachyus and Maesa lanceolata. According to the informants, the least ranked species are the less threatened and the dominantly distributed species in the area however, the survival of the species with the highest rank is under question, especially Arundinaria alpina, which is locally threatened as it is dying because of aging (Table 11).

 

 

Some studies made in Ethiopia (Tamene, 2000; Hadera, 2000; Hundei, 2001; Berhanu, 2002; Amenu, 2007) have used the method of pair wise ranking where informants made their choices on individual basis.

 

Paired comparison on plants used in material culture by the Mejengir ethnic group

In this study, 10 informants from Mejengir ethnic group were asked to indicate the efficacy and popularity of species used for construction and house hold equipments and they did paired comparison of five plants by using (N (n-1)/2, 5(5-1)/2 =5x4/2= 20/2= 10) formula (Table 12). Cordia africana, Hippocratea africana, Baphia abyssinica, Diospyros abyssinica and Ficus ovata were ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively.

 

 

Paired comparison on plants used for material culture by the Shako ethnic group

The same to the above ethnic groups, 10 informants from Mejengir ethnic group were asked to indicate the efficacy and popularity of species used for construction and house hold equipments and they did paired comparison of five plants (Table 13). C. africana, Hippocratea africana, Baphia abyssinica, Diospyros abyssinica and Trichilia prieuriana were ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. Most of the results among the Sheko and Mejengir ethnic groups are similar.

 

 

Local threats of plants used for material culture and indigenous knowledge in the Study Areas

It was observed that plants species in the study area were being threatened. The major threat factor with the highest rank assigned by informants was agricultural expansion followed by illegal wood harvest and construction (Table 14). The informants reported that there are beliefs, which have played great role for the preservation of plants. To cut a plant part is not allowed, even a climber. Hence, spiritual and religious beliefs of the three ethnic groups in Sheka, especially the Shekacho ethnic group have developed strong effect on its use and conservation. As reported by informants there are powerful beliefs, rituals and spirits and taboos for each ethnic group in Sheka zone. They believe that people who violate these taboos will die but there is high violation of these traditional rules by dwellers from other parts of Ethiopia, mainly in Yeki district.

 


 DISCUSSION

Although the deterioration of forest species is increasing in the study area due to agricultural expansion and other threat factors, there is still rich indigenous knowledge of making plant material culture by Shekacho, Sheko and Mejengir ethnic groups in Masha and Yeki districts of Sheka Zone, Southwest Ethiopia. A total of 113 plant species that are in use in these districts serve as raw materials for various construction purposes, traditional arts and handcrafts. A study conducted in and around the Awash National Park in central Ethiopia reported 156 plant species (Bahru, 2012).

Another study conducted in Kersa district, Jimma Zone, Oromia Regional State, southwest Ethiopia revealed 46 plant species (Abera, 2013). Most of the plant species reported were also mentioned by authors in studies conducted elsewhere in Ethiopia; 26 plant species in Gemedo-Dalle (2004), 15 in Bahru et al. (2012), 19 in Rainer (2011). The most possible reasons for variations in number of plant species between the current and previous studies are due to difference in topography and traditional knowledge of the study sites.

The majority of plants used in material culture in the studied districts were obtained from the wild. The results concur with that of other studies conducted in Ethiopia (Bahru et al., 2012; Abera, 2013) and in India (Choudhay et al., 2008). Most of the species collected from the wild are highly exposed to various threat factors and as a result many of them including C. Africana, F. ovate, G. saxifraga and Pouteria adolfi-friederici are rarely encountered. Special attention should be given to those more preferred and multipurpose plants that were indicated by preference ranking exercise as the most threatened ones.

Tree was the most common growth habit used in the manufacture of plant material culture in the Masha and Yeki districts. This finding is in agreement with the reported study by Abera (2013) in the neighboring Ghimbi district of Oromia regional state, which may indicate their relatively better abundance in the forest area as compared to other growth forms. However, a study conducted in and around Awash National Park reported the dominance of shrubs used in making plant material culture (Bahru et al., 2012).

Stem was the most used plant part in the manufacture of plant material culture in the present study as compared to other plant parts. A study conducted in Kersa District, Jimma Zone of Oromia regional state in southwest Ethiopia also showed the dominance of woody stem in the manufacture of plant material culture (Abera, 2013). This implies the presence of hardwood plant species and the study area is largely covered by forest.

According to current study results, a large number of plants were identified to be used in dried and fresh forms in material preparations. There were also many plants from which, parts were claimed to either be used as dried or fresh materials. Of the preparation methods, a large number of plants were reported to be prepared by carving followed by wrapping and splitting. This might be due to the wide use of woody trees to make plant material culture in the study area. A substance like cold water, ash, and clay was reported to be used for wetting, washing and decoration during the preparation of materials. Axes, blades, knives, sickle and other sharp materials are used for cutting, carving, peeling and mowing during the preparation of materials from the plants. Similarly, Abera (2013) reported the use of dried and fresh materials, and mainly curving method for preparation.

Of the plant material cultures reported by ethnic informants, Shekacho ethnic group contributed the highest proportion as compared to Mejengir and Sheko ethnic groups. This may be due to the availability of a diversity of plant species and large population of Shekacho ethnic group (CSA, 2009) with a wide knowledge in the study area. A study conducted in and around the Awash National Park of Central Ethiopia also showed that the highest number of plant species and plant material cultures were reported by Oromo informants as compared to Afar ones (Bahru et al., 2012).

Local communities of the Shekacho, Sheko and Mejengir ethnic groups in Masha and Yeki districts of Sheka Zone are highly dependent on indigenous plant species for various construction, household furniture and/or utensils, dry fencing, roofs and/or walls thatching. Similarly, the study conducted in east Shoa Zone, Ethiopia (Bahru et al., 2012) indicated the similarity of the majority of the plant species for house construction reported by Oromo and Afar nationals but with the frequent use of Acacia species (as exotic species) due to the scarcity of indigenous plant species as a result of deforestation for the purpose of agriculture. In addition, the fiber obtained from the bark of several plant species provides ropes for tying the walls and roofs during house construction. Roofs, in turn, were thatched with a variety of grass species in the study area in agreement with the reported studies of Bahru (2012), Jacobs and Schloeder (1993). On the other hand, plants with thorns were reported to be used for fencing house, farmland and animal enclosures in the study area. However, almost all plant materials for house construction including corrugated iron sheets, stand metals and stone blockers are substituting the use of plant species for house construction through time mainly in urban kebeles due to acculturation.

On the other hand, the rest of the plants in the study area were reported to be sources of handcrafts and traditional arts while others are used for ritual values, tooth brush, tool handles, household utensils, fencing tool and musical instruments. Likewise, Gemedo-Dalle et al. (2004), Bahru (2012) and Munishi et al. (2006) reported many plant species in Borana and central Shoa of Ethiopia and Tanzania, respectively used as a source of handcrafts, traditional arts, and ritual.

The plant species of material culture in Masha and Yeki districts have also common cultural values for all ethnic groups of the study area due to cultural diffusion and sharing of resources. Similarly, a study reported in Bahru et al. (2012) confirmed such similar use of plant species between Oromo and Afar Nations in Ethiopia; it indicates the existence of common knowledge and cultural diffusion across a range of diverse cultures and geographical areas. In contrast, plants used in material culture also have certain cultural and ritual values within particular ethnic groups, which indicate that IK distribution can be influenced by socio-cultural factors of different ethnic groups.

Of the plant species used as material culture in the study area, some were found to have multipurpose values (use diversity). In this regard, the highest values assigned for the respective plant species by key informants were found to be as the most multipurpose plant species as compared to the least ranked species. However, according to the informants, this does not mean that the least ranked species are the less in multipurpose but either threatened and/or less preferred compared to other species. Thus, according to this rank, the survival of the most multipurpose species is under question due to the daily demand by the local community. A study reported from in and around the Awash National Park, central Ethiopia indicated that out of the total recorded plant species, which serve as a source of material culture, 16% of the species were found to have 4 and 5 distinct uses each, while 34% with 6 uses to the local people (Bahru et al ., 2012).

In this study, the major threat factor with the highest rank assigned by informants was agricultural expansion followed by illegal wood harvest and construction. These were probably due to the fertility of the land suitable for agriculture. Specifically, timber production by business people has severely accelerated the high rate of exploitation of plant species like Cordia africana as suggested from Yeki district informants. As a result, the number of material objects made from plants is decreasing at an alarming rate and is replaced by industrial products extending to the household of the rural communities. The habitat of most plants is increasingly becoming eroded due to over harvesting of trees for fuel, wood and urbanization throughout the region (Adal, 2004). The lack of ownership, diminished role of clan leaders in forest and expansion of private sector investment for temporary benefit have brought cultural changes that alter the importance of traditional resource management practices, exposing the community to various socio-economic problems (Woldemaiam and Fetene, 2007). In addition, as reported in Woldemariam and Fetene (2007) during the last decades several new threat factors, such as investment projects for new coffee and tea plantation development and fast population growth due to immigration related to settlement schemes and the agricultural development projects, have resulted in increasing pressures on the forests.

The informants reported that there were beliefs, which have played great role for the preservation of plants by the three ethnic groups. To cut a plant part is not allowed, even a climber. Hence, spiritual and religious beliefs of the three ethnic groups in Sheka, especially the Shekacho ethnic group have developed strong effect on its use and conservation. In agreement with the present study, Adal (2004) has made similar conclusions in the study conducted in North Shoa Zone Ethiopia, about the roles of magical and religious beliefs and environmental perception on the use and management of plant species. As reported by Woldemaiam and Fetene (2007) there are powerful beliefs, rituals and spirits and taboos for each ethnic group in Sheka zone. They believe that people who violate these taboos will die but there is high violation of these traditional rules by dwellers from other parts of Ethiopia, mainly in Yeki district. However, these indigenous beliefs were dismantled as a result of non-indigenous settlement, agricultural expansion and state-led programme investments in new and fertile areas of the country.


 CONCLUSION

A total of 113 plant species that have 19 major use categories in material culture were reported from three ethnic groups (Shekacho, Sheko, Mejengir) of Masha and Yeki Districts of Sheka Zone, SNNPRS, and southwest Ethiopia. Out of 19 major categories, 49.29, 23.57 and 27.14% were reported by Shekacho, Sheko and Mejengir ethnic groups, respectively. The most potential and multipurpose plant species exposed to a wide human devastation were also documented in this study for urgent conservation plan.


 CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

The authors have not declared any conflict of interest.


 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors would like to thank Jimma University for financial support, Sheka Zone Administration Office, Masha and Yeki District Offices, and local communities for their positive approach and provision of valuable information.


 APPENDIX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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