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Blood, Land, and Sex

Legal and Political Pluralism in Eritrea

Lyda Favali and Roy Pateman

Publication Year: 2003

In Eritrea, state, traditional, and religious laws equally prevail, but any of these legal systems may be put into play depending upon the individual or individuals involved in a legal dispute. Because of conflicting laws, it has been difficult for Eritreans to come to a consensus on what constitutes their legal system. In Blood, Land, and Sex, Lyda Favali and Roy Pateman examine the roles of the state, ethnic groups, religious groups, and the international community in several key areas of Eritrean law -- blood feud or murder, land tenure, gender relations (marriage, prostitution, rape), and female genital surgery. Favali and Pateman explore the intersections of the various laws and discuss how change can be brought to communities where legal ambiguity prevails, often to the grave harm of women and other powerless individuals. This significant book focuses on how Eritrea and other newly emerging democracies might build pluralist legal systems that will be acceptable to an ethnically and religiously diverse population.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Table of Contents

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

Eritrea was the last country in Africa to become independent. From1889 it was occupied in turn by Italy, Britain, and Ethiopia. Eritreans fought Ethiopians for thirty years and overcame their enemy in 1991, when at last they became free to govern their own country. Very few scholars have researched Eritrea since Italian colonization ended in...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvi

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One: Facts and Ideas: The Struggle for Power and Legitimacy

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pp. 1-13

Not surprisingly, pluralism has been at the center of the debates of theorists belonging to different disciplines. It can be used to address ethnic, linguistic, political and religious as well as legal issues. Very loosely, we can describe pluralism as a state of society where different ethnic, social, linguistic, and religious groups maintain their culture...

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Two: From Tradition to Globalization

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pp. 14-38

Tradition and religions have coexisted and merged in Eritrea since time immemorial, and sometimes it is difficult to understand whether a certain rule has a traditional or religious origin. It is easier to isolate the origin of state and international rules because they are more recent and because we have written documents to consult. Moreover, whenever...

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Three: Changing Leadership, Unchanging Law

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pp. 39-56

Traditional rules have proved remarkably resilient to change, to a large extent remaining valid during the Italian and British administrations. Ethiopia’s attempt to weaken local customary laws by introducing uniform state legislation was even less successful in Eritrea than it was in Ethiopia. Even though Ethiopia annexed Eritrea in 1961, its rule prior...

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Four: The Transitional Period and Attempts at Legal Reform

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pp. 57-72

The victory of the EPLF brought about some of the most significant changes to the lives of the peoples of the country. After liberation on 24 May 1991, the EPLF formed the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE). For the moment a transitional system operated, still largely based on the Ethiopian codes of the Empire, together with the...

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Five: From Blood Feud and Blood Money to the State Settlement of Murder Cases

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pp. 73-104

According to Eritrean traditional law, a crime against a person gives rise to a private question, which can be solved with lex talionis (blood feud), or be settled with conciliation and monetary compensation. The essence of the blood feud–blood money system is that the family of the victim has the right to take satisfaction by itself for the damage suffered, either...

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Six: Land Tenure on the Highland Plateau

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pp. 105-130

In this chapter we look at the long, varied, and frequently contentious history of land. Because the topic is so vast, we have restricted our analysis in the first part to just one of the divisions of highland Eritrea and in particular the region known before the administrative reforms of 1995 as Akele Guzai. This is a particularly illuminating comparative...

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Seven: Land Disputes and Conflict Resolution

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pp. 131-164

The written record and oral history shows that Eritrea has been plagued by disputes over land since time immemorial. The need for land was at the root of many of the migrations to the area of present-day Eritrea and Ethiopia. “Whoever studies the history of Abyssinia, without preconceived and predetermined theories, realizes that this is nothing other...

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Eight: The Virgin, the Wife, the Spinster, and the Concubine: Gender Roles and Gender Relations

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pp. 165-193

In this chapter and the one that follows, we look at international organizations and transnational actors working vigorously upon a body of tradition and religious beliefs, with the present state uneasily taking the middle ground. Religion plays a more pivotal role in marriage relationships than in questions of blood, land ownership, and land disputes....

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Nine: Female Genital Mutilation: Symbol, Tradition, or Survival?

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pp. 194-211

During the last two decades there has been an extensive and often heated debate surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM). Most studies on this subject deal with the situation in Egypt, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Djibouti—the area where the practice of FGM may have originated, and where the most radical form—infibulation—is most...

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Ten: Creating Space in a Changing World for Traditional and Religious Law

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pp. 212-226

In our role as actors we enter from stage left and admit that since we discovered Eritrea—at very different times and circumstances—we have both been passionately involved and interested in the country. This love affair may be used by our detractors to devalue or deprecate our work as “idyllic,” “non-objective,” or a host of other epithets. Leaving aside the...


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pp. 227-234


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pp. 235-306

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 307-334


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pp. 335-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780253109842
E-ISBN-10: 0253109841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253342058

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2003