History and Identity in Northeast Ethiopia with Particular Reference to Raya-Azabo, 1543-1974

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Addis Ababa University


This paper is an ethnographic study of the peoples of Raya-Azäbo sub-province situated in northeastern Ethiopia. It deals with why, how and when each section of the study area was settled/ resettled by about half a dozen peoples namely the Dobe‟a, the Tegreña, the Oromo, the Amhara, the Agäw and the Afar beginning from the middle of the sixteenth century well up to the second half of the twentieth. The other vital theme discussed in connection to this issue deals with the sort of interethnic relations that have existed between each one of the aforementioned groups and how they gradually transformed themselves from a discordant connection to an amicable one as viewed from the vantage point of time and space. The next relevant problem dealt with in this paper is that the key role of the Ethiopian state played in shaping intergroup relations. Heads of states ranging from Zära Yaeqob cum his son/ successor, Bä‟edä Mariam, in the fifteenth century, to Eyasu II in the eighteenth and Yohannes IV at the end of the nineteenth century are, in this case, worth mentioning as the prominent ones. In connection to this point the study shows that the emperors at times to protect their own economic interests meaning either to collect annual tribute or to keep open the long range caravan trade traversing through the region or else to provide security to the Christian Amhara/ Tegrean highland cultivators, who were repeatedly menaced by the incursions of the adjacent Dobe‟a, Afar and Oromo pastoralists groups, led them to involve deeply in matters of communal strife and thereby they played a crucial role in shifting the balance of power in favor of the former. The concluding point of discussion in this study is the issue on how the multitudes of peoples of Raya-Azäbo have managed to overcome the earlier mutually hostile inter-group relations as well as how they steadily come together to constitute a community of identical socio-cultural make up. In this regard, agrarian transformations on the side of the pastoralist lowlanders and acute shortage of land and oxen on the side of highland cultivators are considered as the main catalysts that facilitated a continued economic and social interaction between the members of the six groups in the Fertile Valley. Thus, the aforesaid symbiotic economic and social relations, in time, gave rise to exogamous intermarriage and other forms of social contact between each one of them and thereby prompted them to form a collective identity termed as Raya.



History and Identity in Northeast Ethiopia with particular Reference to Raya-Azabo