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  • Entering Cattle Gates:Trade, Bond Friendship, and Group Interdependence
  • Wolde Gossa Tadesse


This paper is based on data collected among the Hor, a pastoral group in southwest Ethiopia. The focus is mainly on economic interdependence between various groups in southwestern Ethiopia and the paper explores the practices and major current impediments to the traditional practice of trade and ongoing exchange partnerships. Both traditional caravan routes and routes with "modern" road transport are used to affect trade and exchange in the region. The users of caravan routes depend on indigenous institutions of member groups for the protection of their life and property. Meanwhile, modern modes of transport are under the control of the police who are seen as having excessive power in blocking roads, searching for commodities, using the threat of force, and even confiscating goods or demanding bribes.1

Ethiopia's southwest can be seen as a web of trade and exchange routes. A visible interdependence between various groups and autonomous units of groups has been established by the networks of caravan routes that crisscross through the territories. These networks connect regional groups into major open markets that operate according to recognized rules and trade practices and can assure the safe passage of goods and traders.2

Trade networks between the groups follow connections variously known in the region as jala, lagge, or belle.These are ties of enduring [End Page 119] friendship, which are ritually and individually established between members of different groups and within the same group. These relations of friendship serve as conduits for networks of trade and exchange as they exist primarily between the various groups.3

The argument of this paper is that although there is much talk about cultural variation in the region, there is on the other hand also a deep interdependence and an indispensability of the other (group) for the existence of the self. From data on the Hor (and Gamo) it is possible to conclude that the peoples of the region live within networks of multiple interdependencies in major areas such as religion, economy, politics, and warfare. Focusing mainly on trade and exchange, the paper describes its operation and examines the role of indigenous and state institutions in its facilitation.

The Hor occupy the most fertile delta of the Lake Stephanie watershed where they cultivate sorghum on the plots inundated by the flooding of the Limo River biannually. They also herd cattle in the pastures along the foot of the Borana and Hamar mountains and fish seasonally. The Hor have established a wide network of trade and exchange partnerships with people of various neighboring groups; travelers' accounts from the late nineteenth century and more recent studies describe Hor trade connections with the Somali coast and regional trade networks (Vannutelli and Citerni 1899, 354–55; Smith 1969, 262; Sobania 1991).

In the region around the Hor the various groups belonging to the network tend to place a balanced emphasis on age and kinship. These groups are highly patriarchal, making issues of power, property ownership, and control of resources mainly the concern of males, as are issues of clan and age leadership. Religious and ritual leadership exercised by individual leaders goes way beyond the confines of what is usually assumed to be a group's territory. For example, the influence of the senior Hor Qawot goes beyond the limits of ethnic boundaries and hence allegiances to Hor Qawots are drawn from far away. Therefore, allegiances to ritual leaders exist simultaneously within a group but also bridge ethnic boundaries such that people may be loyal to both a leader from their own group as well as one from outside.

Within trade and exchange networks, local group institutions that deal with law and order are also used as institutions of the network. [End Page 120] This is a marginalized region in Ethiopia's south, where after over a century of incorporation into the state system there are still no financial institutions and taxes are frequently collected on animals sold by tax collectors who retain the difference between the tax owed and the price obtained for themselves. Ammunition of various types is the predominant currency used to buy essential services like drinks and small items...


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pp. 119-162
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