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Published: September 17th 2011
ETHIOPIA...Ensete Culture...THE DORZE T'was quiet a climb up into the Guge Mountains...dirt roads all afternoon then up & up. Then at the top there is a plateau...like its own little region... rolling green hills up here... bamboo... views of Lake Abaya...isolated from the lowlands below.
But dangers lurk at every corner...as we zig-zag up...
"Watch out ...it's a rump-shaker" someone screams.
Hit the brakes... squeeze past..."That was close!"
Next corner twice as many... another close call... phew.
Welcome to the home of the highland Dorze people... Orthodox Christian... own language... predominately farmers... exponents of the Ensete Culture.
And the rump-shakers?...young children...gymnasts all... somersaulting, gyrating, shaking their booty... hands outstretched... demanding benevolence.
Was late afternoon so straight to the market... down a narrow track...to the clear side of a hill...dotted with traders & populous.
I felt somewhat self conscious. Four Aussies did kind of stick out...so I wandered with many eyes following. A Rasti man joined us, assisting our passage.
Of our travels in Ethiopia, North & South, this market sticks out as possibly the least pressure to be benevolent ...quite a contrast to the rump-shakers on the road ...so Denise got
a bit adventurous.
Spices, vegetables, cereals, tobacco and piles of glutinous ensete...female vendors in their exotic garb...men dressed very casual.
What's attracting attention ahead? A crowd is gathering...so I'll have a look. Many faces smiling...laughing...mmm...Den is entertaining the throng!
A chunk is ripped off a brown round block...like a round of cheese...he breaks it into a pottery burner...the end of a hollow bamboo rod about a metre long inserted in the side ...voila... smoking Dorze style. A man and a woman puffing away.
Someone sits Den down...she's a non-smoker...but what the hell...we're in Ethiopia ...to connect with locals you join in.
She coughed and spluttered ...their best entertainment in months.
My Rasti friend explains it is tobacco, locally grown, cured, compressed then buried.
They grab me, sit me next to her...looks like I'm getting a go...I'm fit...shouldn't hurt ...wooah...feeling dizzy...time to go.
Thought Mike and Ros would be lining up for a go..."No thanks"
was all they could say as Den and I stagger away...laughing to ourselves!
Next we see how the Dorze live. A local guide takes over...highly lucid and handsome as always. Shows us a large domed hut made
of vertical hardwood and bamboo poles, bound with twine and bamboo slivvers, covered with what looks like banana leaves...but they are not...they are ensete.
The huts are often described as resembling large bee-hives. However, I heard from them that they are in memory of the elephants that once roamed the region...the entrance awning resembling a trunk.
These huts can be 60 plus years old. As the termites eat from the bottom, the huts initially about 3 metres tall, shrink and are lifted and relocated. The smaller the hut, the older it is.
Go inside...very spacious...reminds me of the Tardis...but cowhide beds and chairs on wooden frames...and the animals live in that side-room there.
The Dorze are known for their vivid textiles. Women spin and men weave...Denise impressed to see men working. Children learn to spin from age seven and to weave from age nine. Special designs for special occasions.
We all eat bread, cereals and other grain products...but have you eaten bread made from the sap of a tree? I was about to.
Welcome to Ensete Culture...where the cultivation of a tree similar to a banana tree forms the basis of a complex culture
in S-W Ethiopia, that is unique in Africa.
The tree is the ensete edulis
a.k.a. the false banana...the main subsistence crop of the region. The fruit is inedible but the products from these trees the Dorze eat, drink, build with, burn for fuel, wear and are sustained.
It is said 10 to 15 trees can sustain an adult annually. As a result they occupy an important place in every Dorze backyard...or more accurately, they are everywhere!
Ensete grows in semi mountainous areas between 1,500 and 3,000 metres above sea level and is indigenous and only grows in SW Ethiopia.
So sacred are they that the leaves are only harvested at night!
A pretty woman in turquoise with tight braided hair scrapes and pulps the stem of the leaves, kneads the sap to a whitish gluttinous mass, then wraps it in ensete leaves and buries it.
But as I recall, she extracted some from between the leaves before burying it...flattened it like a large pancake, cooked it on a large hot pan like flat bread...and guess what? We then ate it! Sort of tasted like banana...but not really.
Another woman extracting clay and dextrously
building a pottery utensil...smiling as only Africans can...her eyes alight, her skin glowing.
And as we eat the ensete bread we are introduced to ensete white spirits...time for a toast or two.
We got up to go...we are staying in Arba Minch tonight.
The others walk to the textile market area. But I loiter outside our drinking hut...wooah...head spinning...feel very nauseous...oh no...too embarrassing to throw up!!!
The nausea passes and no-one is the wiser. Phew...that was close.
Zig-zagging down the mountain...stop for textiles...but not for the frenetic rump-shakers at every bend. "Bang"
...that girl threw a rock at the 4WD...brake hard to a stop...I jump out...two girls fleeing into the scrub...100 metres away...amazed at their speed.
An old lady by the roadside indicating displeasure...assures Gobeze that they will be chastised later. "Sure, sure"
I surmise..."This is Africa."
A poignant ending to a unique visit...must be time for a coffee!
Relax & Enjoy,
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