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Moges Gebreegziabher Woldu

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Degrees BA: History


PhD Research Information

Tradition and Changes
An Ethnographic Account of the Irob People in Northern Ethiopia

Brief description:

This work is a thematic area inception in setting the focus of my synopsis in progress. In these pieces, the contents are about the themes with a little tuning to the research proposal scope, the literature about the Irob people, methodological approaches and some preliminary secondary data are considered in this revised document. The review work has been arranged in a deductive analysis approach, with the aim of locating the themes of the research from a global, to regional and finally into national and district level approaches or in a ‘glocal’ conceptual settings. Therefore, the goal of this research to look at accounts, social structure, function of a social system in the tradition and changes of the Irob people. These include (1) the patterns of (social) changes- aligning into the expected practical process of change as part of the social system or particularly induced change, (2) the source of social change- internal/external or both combined internal and external, and (3) the implications of the social changes.
Geographically, Irob (also called Erob) land lies in the steep mountainous escarpment of the eastern Tigray Plateau (Asfaha and Waters-Bayer, 2000:1; Boven et al., 2001:98). The total area of the district is 1,532.64 square kilometres (CSA, 2007). The district is named after the Irob people, who are the predominant ethnic group living in the district, located at the eastern escarpment of the Ethiopian highlands. The special administration of Irob district is bordered by two districts of Tigray (on the South, Saesi Tsaedaemba and on the West by Gulomakada) Afar on the East and Eritrea on the North. The district is divided into three patterns of settlements. These are Buknite-Arae (Waraatele, Harze Sebaata, Agar Lekoma and Edamossa kebele s, Adgadi-Arae (Edalgeda) and Hassaballa (Arae) kebeles. Landmarks in Irob district include the Assabol Dam near Dawhan (present capital of the district), and the monastery of Gunda Gundo. Both Assabol and Gunda Gundo sites and its former capital Alitena were occupied by the Eritrean army during the early months of the Ethio-Eritrean War (1998-2000). The Eritrean army damaged Alitena and at the aftermath, the centre of the district has changed to Dawhan (Irob District Administration, 2004).
The ‘Irob saho occupy’ the valley of Laasigeda and expand to the foothills with their flocks as far as Debra Damo and the upper course of Belesa, at the western direction of Zalambssa town. They are Saho speaking group that belongs to the Christian faith and were living in the Abyssinian territory, located south of Debri-Mela and the Endeli rivers and seasonally move as far as the Debre Damo sanctuary (Lewis, 1998: 174-176). The people were totally pastoralists and moves to the neighbouring areas for pasture to their cattle. According to Conti Rossini, cited in Lewis (1998:176), the name Irob was coined after the connotation ‘the European who come by the sea’ to the present day land of Irob, and the local meaning is ‘Oroba’ meaning ‘get in’.
Sometimes, there is confusion among the neighbouring people about the two terms-Saho and Irob. While Saho is a linguistic category, Irob is the name of the ethnic minority group of the general Saho speaking living in both countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea. However, from personal experiences, I observed the Irob people hated to be called Saho, though the neighbouring communities have been considering the names can be used interchangeably at the same time. In fact, the meaning of Saho for Lewis is ‘a cultural minority group living in the east African country Eritrea. They belong to the widely spoken Cushitic speech families of east Africa, which includes Oromo, Afar and Somali. The word Saho refers to both people and language (Lewis, 1969:11:74)’. Therefore, the Saho people are linguistic minority groups (Lewis, 1998). Tesfay summarizes the above paragraph stating:
‘The Irob are mainly a Saho language speaking and an ethnic minority dominantly Roman Catholic by religion and considered as the first Catholic Community in Ethiopia after the visit by st. Justin de Jacobs of Italy in 1848 and later appointed by the church as Saint to prize his missionary life contribution in Ethiopia.’ As part of the process of Catholic expansion ‘the first Catholic Church Built in Ethiopia (1846) is Alitena’’ which is the centre of Irob Community settlement (2006:7)’.


Basically the nature and design of the research is explanatory sequential mixed approaches. Many of the elements proposed to be addressed are not handled by comprehensive studies. Therefore, qualitative data collection strategies will be focused on discovering the existing new insights and context of the traditions and changes; and prospects, challenges, and resistances. This supports screening out the particular traditions among the people. In the preface their edited book, Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology, Bernard and Clarence (2015: viii), ‘people constructs their own realities and the process is dynamic, ever-changing’. However, a quantitative data will also be collected from households to substantiate the qualitative data about the livelihood strategies of the families among the Irob people of North-eastern Tigray National Regional State Tigray, Ethiopia. Therefore in one hand, the qualitative data will be collected through unstructured, and semi-structured questions, and observation and transect walks, key informants interview (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD) guidelines. On the other hand, quantitative data will also be collected through questionnaires after the intensive qualitative data collections. Secondary data sources will include, annual and technical reports, project documents, and other published materials will be intensively exploited to understand about the past experience of the Irob people. Because, the mix of the qualitative and quantitative approaches and the repeated data collections are relevant in ensuring the trustworthiness of the data collected. The mixed approach provides an opportunity to compensate the possible limitations in both designs. Bernard and Clarence (2015:1) suggests, the qualitative-quantitative is inappropriate and the boundary is not visible in the practical research applications. These mixed approach strengthens the process of exploring, describing and understanding the nature of knowledge, setting the methodological principles and research application towards addressing the sources of knowledge, and ensuring the trustworthiness of the data collected (Schnegg, 2015). With regard the importance of quantitative data in anthropology, one of the classical anthropologists, Malinowski suggested three essential methodological principles in doing ethnographic accounts as procedural steps. These are: ‘(1) the organization of the tribe, and the anatomy of its culture must be recorded in firm, clear outline. The method of concrete, statistical documentation is the means through which such an outline has to be given. (2) Within this frame, the imponderabilia of actual life, and the type of behavior have to be filled in. They have to be collected through minute, detailed observations, in the form of some sort of ethnographic diary, made possible by close contact with native life. (3) A collection of ethnographic statements, characteristic narratives, typical utterances, items of folk-lore and magical formulae has to be given as a corpus inscriptionum, as documents of native mentality (Malinowski, 1922: 24)’. Besides, Denzin (1970) identified four important categories to the worth and quality of data validity assurance features. These are (1) data, (2) investigator, (3) theoretical, and (4) methodological triangulations. All these strategies show the application of alternatives in handling the research from the beginning to ending. Therefore, I am planning to accommodate to the maximum level of the approaches, except the ‘investigator’ that I am an individual since the purpose of the research is for academic requirement. However, I have another strategy to cover the possible gab that may methodologically appear. One, I will take enough time till the data saturation is explicitly visible. The second strategy, I have ample experiences in methods and data collection instruments in actual field survey researches. Finally, I will stay enough time with my informants and will share the findings with key the informants. The participants of the study will be the native elderly people, native and non-native elite of the Irob people, religious leaders, administrators and others who have ample experiences among the Irob people. Therefore, FGD, KII, Interviews, community mapping and Transect walk will be demonstrated.

Keywords: Tradition, Changes, Transformations, Irob, Socio-cultural

Language(s) of writing: English

Country: Ethiopia
Supervisor: Dr. Jame Nrendra Bondla
Start date: 02-10-2017
PhD current status: PhD Defended
PhD research funded by: Not Yet
Name of grant:

Additional information:

Through the development of the discipline, various writing techniques have been appeared among the anthropologists. The classical ethnographic writing was associated with B. Malinowski (1922) and multiple techniques emerged until the end of the twentieth century anthropology. These four characteristics realistic ethnographic writing suggested by Van Maanen (2011: 46) are: 1. Experiential author(ity): Perhaps the most distinct characteristic of early ethnographic writing is the exclusion of the fi eldworker from the report. Having stayed in the field and collected the data, he or she describes how the people feel and behave. By taking the “I” (the observer) out of the report, worries about the subjectivity of the fieldworker become moot. 2. Typical forms: The second characteristic element of style is the particularized description of details of everyday lives, including events that are at the center of interest for the ethnographer. 3. The native’s point of view is usually transmitted through detailed description or through extensive quotes 4. The interpretative omnipotence of the author refers to the strategy of creating a single line of interpretation of the collected information that oft en links ethnographic details to the concepts of respected heroes of the discipline. Furthermore, a fifth alternative of ethnographic writing was introduced by Malinowski ‘overcoming the separation between the object (people/ culture) and the writer’, after collecting the ethnographic data ‘being there, living with the people, and sharing daily routines (Schnegg, 2015: 28-29)’. As I am planning to write plain ethnographic text, I alternatively will apply all the options, with more emphasis on native’s points of view quoting verbatim of the participants of the study. The applicant is well aware about the conceptual and practical ethical principles of social science research and will be strictly follow all the accepted research ethics guidelines. The applicant will entertain the informed consent approach and abide by Mekelle University Research Ethics Directions, Mekelle University Research Ethics Policy (particularly article 4.3., articles 5-8), and the article 13 of the ‘National Research Ethics Review Guideline’ introduced by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ministry of Science and Technology (2014).