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  • The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia: Essays in History and Social Anthropology
  • James Quirin
Donham, Donald L., and Wendy James , eds. 2002. The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia: Essays in History and Social Anthropology. Oxford: James Currey; Athens: Ohio University Press; Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University Press. 308 pp. $24.95 (paper).

This book is the unrevised and reissued edition of the Cambridge University Press publication of 1986, which was itself based on conferences held in 1979 and 1982. This "new" book, therefore, goes back more than two decades in its inception, and is based on research carried out no later than the 1970s. It is, however, not out of date, and is still an essential resource in trying to understand the nature of historic Ethiopia, including the postDerg regime, since 1991. As explained in the preface to this edition, it has been republished as a companion volume to the new volume, Remapping Ethiopia (2002), by the same publishers.

Chapter 1, by Donald Donham, remains a brilliant tour de force, attempting an analysis of the social history of "Old Abyssinia and the new Ethiopian empire," focusing on the institutions of the northern core regions (Abyssinia) before the end of the nineteenth century, and an explanation of the creation of the new empire incorporating vast new regions in the south during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Ethiopia). The use of geography to explain not only the crucial differences between highland and lowland regions (though the description should have included more strictly geographic data, such as elevation and rainfall), but also to elucidate the boundaries of "macro-regions" based on watershed areas, is innovative and convincing. The use of selected political-military-economic information, including the mention of key trade routes and three military conflicts, [End Page 116] is good, though incomplete. The major caveat I would have with this chapter is the rather sanguine view of the cultural and ethnic unity of the northern "Abyssinian" regions. The chapter, perhaps in part due to its limited time depth, completely omits consideration of northern highland social and ethnic minority groups, such as the Beta Israel (Falasha), Kemant, Muslims, Wayto, the Agaw of Wag-Lasta and Agawmeder in Gojjam, and others. All of these groups were conquered beginning in the fourteenth century, but only partially incorporated and acculturated into "Abyssinian" institutions as late as the nineteenth and on into the twentieth century. An analysis of their diverse experiences could have formed a useful comparison with the groups of the south, which are the main topic of this book.

The eight chapters in the remainder of the book are case studies of various groups in the southwestern part of the country (including one in the southern Sudan), in terms of their relationships with the emerging imperial Ethiopian regime. They can be fit into three categories of relationship: semi-independent enclaves, which paid tribute directly to the imperial state; the areas characterized by the gebbar (landlord-tenant) system; and the distant lowland peripheries, characterized by the often more direct and violent exploitation reserved for hunters, pastoralists, and small-scale cultivators (pp. 37-43).

The case study of Nekemte is the only one in this book that illustrates the "semi-independent enclave" type of relationship. Alessandro Triulzi effectively uses correspondence between the local ruler and the various powers at the center to show how the actual complexities of this relationship as power situations, both at the center and in the province, fluctuated over time (chapter 2).

Three cases discuss the second type of relationship with the imperial state, that of the gebbar (neftennya-gebbar) system. These are the cases of the Maale (chapter 3), the Gedeo (chapter 7), and part of the Maji (chapter 8). Of course, the individual cases have their own nuances, which is one of the strengths of this book. Essentially, however, this type of situation was characterized by northern settlers being granted the right to collect tribute on the lands taken over by the state, and eventually by an increased degree of control over the area by the central state. Donald Donham explains "the progressive undermining of the power of the Maale elite along with the increasing exploitation of the...


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