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  • Kossoye: A Village Life in Ethiopia
  • Jon Abbink (bio)
Kossoye: A Village Life in Ethiopia, by Andrew J. Carlson and Dennis G. Carlson Lawrenceville, NJ, and Asmara: Red Sea Press, 2010; pp. xix + 239. $24.95 paper.

Ethiopian rural society has gone through major, dramatic changes in the past 50 years, from a feudalist-imperial regime to a "socialist revolutionary" one in 1974 and after 1991 to a "revolutionary democratic" one, with deeply transformative impacts on sociopolitical organization, health, food (in)security, population density, employment profiles, and market relations. This fascinating monograph, illustrated with field data tables, maps, and dozens of photographs, tells the story of one location in the north of the country: the highland peasant village of Kossoye (formerly also known as Kossoge), in a mixed Amhara-Qemant ethnic setting and religiously dominated by Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.

Dennis and Andrew Carlson are father and son, and from the earliest contact that medical anthropologist Dennis Carlson made with the Kossoye community in 1963 when he was working as a codirector of the Haile Selassie I Public Health and Training Centre in the city of Gondar, he was involved in researching and documenting the various health and other development interventions in the village. He did this in collaboration with many students and staff from the Gondar Centre (which later became the Gondar College of Medical Sciences), and from 1994 onward with his son, doing additional research. The book covers a period of 44 years, and it documents in substantial detail and in a lively and engaging style the developments and changes that occurred in the village and among its inhabitants. The interaction between local, national, and international factors forms the backdrop of the story, yielding a very interesting and emphatic picture of an evolving community in a conflict-filled and underdeveloped [End Page 127] African country. The book combines a description of factors and structures that shaped and constrained the lives of local people with highlights of the choices and efforts made by various individuals who actively strove for change, seeking modernization and progress. The authors here emphasize the change-accelerating role that some of these motivated and relatively successful individuals played in the community. In this account it is also nicely shown how people, in the course of the developmental and sociopolitical challenges that they meet, often change their points of view and decide to do things differently. The book offers many moments of recognition for those researchers and development workers who are familiar with the problems of rural life in poor, developing countries, and in particular for those who are working or have worked in Ethiopia. In addition, the insights presented here would also be valid for many other regions of the country.

No central research question of the book is clearly spelled out, but the aim appears to be to present a general and multidimensional "biography" of a village in change, with an emphasis on the human factor. The subtitle of the book, A Village Life in Ethiopia, is a bit awkward; a better subtitle would have been "Biography of an Ethiopian Village," or "Changing Village Life in Ethiopia." A key focus is on issues of public health and population growth, and also on problems of "development" in general. But the broad scope of the book makes the account here and there somewhat too exhaustive. Remarkably this does not detract from its readability, as readers are skilfully drawn into the life of the village and the persistent problems of (under)development of its inhabitants.

The book has seven chapters. After an introductory chapter on the "development agenda," focusing especially on the social and medical situation, the second chapter describes the Kossoye village community and its religious, cultural, and ethnic profile as well as the subsistence economy. Chapter 3 treats the sociopolitical situation and the leadership structure of the imperial era (up to 1974). The fourth chapter is on the "health transition," the relatively successful effort to diagnose and mitigate the most common health problems in the area. The following chapters are on the changes wrought by the Ethiopian revolution since 1974 (especially in land holding, land litigation, and inheritance issues), and on ethnic relations and...


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pp. 127-131
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