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Vülagization in a Growing Ethiopian Town: Kossoge, 1963-1998 Andrew J. Carlson and Dennis G. Carlson Capital University In 1963, Kossoge was a village of 23 extended households and 125 individuals. By 1994, it had become a town with 192 families and 1,008 persons. This article brings together studies from several disciplines conducted over a period of more than 30 years to analyze this transformation from village to town in northern Ethiopia. The thesis is that although population growth and educational opportunities contributed to Kossoge's development, the national government 's vülagization policy of 1986 and 1987 accelerated the process of urbanization far more than all other policies. Moreover, this study suggests that despite many negative and even tragic ramifications ofvülagization, it has been generally a positive experience in Kossoge.1 For in addition to improved living conditions, educational opportunities, commerce, and security, urbanization has fostered the emergence of a pluralistic culture which holds new possibilities for inter-ethnic cooperation and harmony. In the middle of the 1960s, it was easy to imagine that life in Kossoge was much as it had been for centuries. For more than 300 years, people had worshiped at the nearby Ba'ta church, 9,700 feet above sea level, on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the Simien Mountains, 20 miles north of the ancient city of Gondar. The place took its name from its kosso trees, a flowering tree with small berries widely known as an effective traditional medicinal remedy for tape worm infestation and syphilis.2 Several springs flowed throughout the year. A network of long-established trails connected the Lake Tana plateau— the headwaters of the Blue Nile—with the remote and forbidding lowlands,®Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 5, No. 2 (New Series) 1998, pp. 117-133 117 118 AndrewJ. Carlson and Dennis G. Carlson 6,000 feet below. (See Map 1.) And, after 1937, when the Italians built a road connecting Gondar and Asmara (the two largest cities in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea) soldiers and civilians from Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, England, and the United States, as well as Ethiopians from dozens of ethnic and subnational groups, passed by the village. Despite long-held hopes that their village might one day be a town which rivaled Gondar, the national capital from 1632 through the 1850s, in 1964 there was little evidence ofurban development or commerce.3 With the exception of a small hamlet ofFalashas (also known as EthiopianJews or Beta Israel [literally, House of Israel]), all the people in the area made their livelihoods as farmers, pastoralists, or some combination of the two. There were no public buildings, except for the three Ethiopian Orthodox churches of the local parish—which extended over an area of approximately twenty square kilometers. There were no modern rectangular homes with corrugated iron roofs—only round thatchedroof , wattle and daub tukuls. Political representation for the village was limited to a chika shunt, a middleman between the village and regional government whose primary task was to collect taxes, and an atbia dagna, a localjudge.4 Both were appointed positions, but the selection process was informal and consensual rather than formal and anonymous. Kossoge was isolated. Despite the Gondar-Asmara road and the trails connecting the lowlands and the highlands, most villagers had never been to Gondar, 20 miles south by all-season road. Although Kossoge was accessible to the Lake Tana highlands—the homeland of the Amhara—it also abutted the lowlands, an area that remained beyond their reach. This isolation was reinforced by the Simien mountains, some of which stand more than 14,000 feet above the Red Sea, two hundred miles east. (See Map 1.) To outsiders, Kossoge seemed to be a rather typical Amhara village. While other languages were spoken, the primary tongue in all public places was Amharic, the Ethiopian national language. The churches in the parish, many of them located in groves considered sacred by the Hebraic-pagan Kimant, were now the dominant religious presence. If asked, virtually everyone except for the Beta Israel said they were Amhara—signifying their membership in the Orthodox Church as well as their primary language.5 Vülagization...


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