Social Exclusion and Integration In Ganta (Gamo) of South Western Ethiopia: A Study of Descent Based Slaves

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This Thesis is about descent based social exclusion and integration of slave descendants in Ganta (Gamo) of southwest Ethiopia. It looks at local explanations for exclusion of slave descendants, the areas of their exclusion from the mainstream society, different integration mechanisms and a description of how the situation of slave descendants has changed during successive political regimes of the country. The data used for this study is based on three months of fieldwork during which 40 key informants from different categories (including slave descendants and descendants of slave owners with different educational and religious backgrounds) were interviewed. The finding of the study shows that exclusion of slave descendants is deeply embedded in the local ideology of slavery. In Ganta slave descendants do not only belong to the lowest social class, they are also considered as impure. Their impurity is hereditary through the mother's and the father's line and transferable to non kin through close social contact during rites of passage (marriage, funeral and child delivery). The ideology of impurity is rooted in the local mythological justification that slave descendants inherited the dehumanized attributes of their ancestors. In the past slave ancestors were treated below human beings; they were exchanged like animas and commodities; they were sold, bought and given as gifts. Today slave descendants are considered as "impure" and "inferior creatures " because they are believed to share the dehumanized traits of their ancestors. Therefore, the ultimate assumption behind excluding slave descendants during rites of passages (in marriage, mourning and fune ral, and child delivery) is that close intimacy with them during these situations automatically turns a free born into a slave. To escape exclusion slave descendants have been integrating into the mainstream society through the indigenous mechanism called wozzo ritual. The wozzo ritual fully integrates slave descendants who can then freely intermarry with the free born and experience no exclusion in the above mentioned rites of passage. The high cost of the ritual leaves slave descendants economically broken. In addition to the indigenous mechanism, the Synods of south western Ethiopian have introduced a new approach to eliminate the situation of the slave descendants in recent time. They convinced ritual experts to publically renounce the practice of slavery. The study has shown that the community does not have full trust and still wavers to closely participate with unredeemed slave descendants, so that the exclusion which has existed during the last twenty century and survived different regimes continues to exist until today.