Konso

Situated on the banks of the seasonal Segen River, the town of Karat-Konso, has roughly 3,000-4,000 inhabitants. It is perched at an elevation of 1,650m and is 90km far from Arbaminch.

Although, it is undeniably the case that the town boasts little to distinguish it from a hundred other comparable tiny Ethiopian settlements, equally true, however is that the Konso people of the surrounding hills adhere to a unique and complex culture every bit as fascinating as that of the more popular lowland peoples of the Omo region. It is a place of old walled or fortified villages, complex and fascinating cultures all of its own. 

Konso region is full of rugged land which is predominantly composed of many hills. Through time the people have devised their own mechanism of retaining their fertile soil by developing complex and yet entirely their own, terracing system. Extensive and intricate, this system preserves the fertility of the friable top soils and prevents them from being washed down in to the valleys below. The people are so hard working that one can hardly see untraced hill. They grow sorghum, wheat, barley, maize, peas, beans, bananas, cotton, tobacco, coffee and root plants.

In addition to wood (which is used for building huts, meeting houses and fences) ,stone, according to one anthropologist, is “as much a part of Konso life as soil.” because it is used for grinding grains, sharpening knives and spears, making anvils, lining wells and constructing dams. Archaeologists concerned with broadening our understanding of stone tools in the ancient past, however, have found studies of modern populations producing and using stone tools invaluable. The Konso are the only remaining stone tool-using culture, where women predominantly make and use stone-tools.
The Konso love music and make use of a wide range of instruments for spiritual and ritual purposes and for amusement. Young children play bullroarers, while a lot of woman and boys of Konso people are skilled flute players. The Kirar, (is related to the lyre and is used in different forms in all parts of Ethiopia), is popular among males, as is the five string dita (which somewhat resembles a guitar)
When a hero or important man dies, waka figures are carved in his honor. They are placed in and around the fields where the man has been buried. The dead is usually represented in the center of the waka group and flanked by his wives. On the surroundings stand any enemies he may have killed carved in an abstract and phallic fashion. Fierce animals he has slain , such as a leopard , a lion, or crocodile will also be depicted and placed at his feet. Usually on the forehead of the wooden waka a phallic symbol is carved. This is similar to the one made of iron or aluminum and worn on the foreheads of elders during ceremonies.
The main tourist attractions at short distance from Konso are Chief Walda Dawit Kalla compound.

To even add to its importance as interesting tourist site, Konso has been registered as World Heritage sites by UNESCO in 2011; makining it the latest addition to Ethiopian's already recorded (eight) Wold Heritage sites.

Dekatu

As you go from Konso to Jinka , at about 2 Kms , on the right side of the Monday/Thursday market, you will see Dekatu . Since it still functions as a self-standing traditional society, the village of Dekatu can be regarded to be a separate entity. Enclosed within Dekatu's village walls are 21 sub-communities, each of which has its own mora (community house), making this one of the largest traditional villages anywhere in Konso. Also, the village is known to host one of the regions best waka makers.

Mecheke

Mechekie is regarded to be the best known and most regularly visited of the traditional Konso villages. Mecheke lies on a tall hill some 13km from Karat-Konso. Judging by the number of generation poles, the town is at least 400 years old, and today it supports about 3,000 people split into about ten sub-communities. There are four groups of waga statues left in Mecheke, some of them estimated to be more than 150 years old.

Gesergiyo

Gesergiyo lies 17km from Karat-Konso by road, and is easily visited in combination with Mecheke. Gesergiyo attracts attention primarily for the adjoining formation of sand pinnacles sculpted by occasional water flow in a normally dry gorge. It is a magnificent and very unusual natural phenomenon. Rock formations of similar character can be found in other parts of the world but the fact that they are made entirely of sand makes them incomparable. The external resemblance to a row of 'skyscrapers' led some local people to rename the entire village 'New York'

Oral tradition has it that New York is of supernatural origin. The story is that a local chief awoke one day to find his ceremonial drums had been stolen during the night. He prayed to god, who swept away the earth from where the thieves had buried the drums, creating the sand formation in the process. To this day, Konso youngsters are taken to Gesergiyo as a reminder that god doesn't like thieves.

Chief Walda Dawit Kalla

Isolated on a hill and surrounded by juniper forest, the compound of Chief Walda Dawit Kalla lies some 7km from Karat-Konso off the road towards Mecheke. It's a fascinating and atmospheric place, cluttered with venerable chiefly artifacts ranging from beer vats to furniture, and the chief himself is a gracious and welcoming host . In the forest outside the compound stand several waka statues, marking the graves of earlier chiefs and their wives.

Chief Dawit is the paramount leader of the Kertita clan. The clan is an important patrilineal unit of Konso society - members of the same clan, for instance, are forbidden from marrying - and each of the nine clans is represented by an elected local headman in every Konso village. The paramount chief of any given clan acts as a spiritual guru as well as in a judicial role; he and his immediate family live in total isolation, in order that he has no involvement in the day to day life of a community. The idea is that this will ensure his impartiality when settling intra-clan disputes and crimes, which are still often dealt with by the chief rather than national government.

The title of clan chief is strictly hereditary, and Dawit is 19th in a line that has lived in the same compound for about 500 years. Sadly, the Kertita lineage is one of only three of the original nine clan chieftaincies to survive into the present day - with six adult sons to Chief Dawit's name, however, it is presumably not in any immediate danger of extinction.

It is customary in Konso for the death of a paramount clan chief to be denied after the event. Instead, the chief is tended (for which read mummified) by an official embalmer, and word is given out that he is very ill. Only after nine years and nine months is it finally announced that the chief is dead, with full blame falling on the embalmer, who - poor sod - is heavily fined for his predetermined failure.

How and why this unusual custom arose is unknown. It has been suggested that a delayed announcement will allow time for a relative of the chief to remedy the problem should he have died without male issue. A more plausible explanation, given that it is tacitly realised that any chief being attended by an embalmer is unlikely to make a full recovery, is that the charade softens the blow of the departure of a popular and respected leader.

This custom was followed in 1990, when Kalla Koyote, Dawit's father and predecessor as chief, died at an age of more than 100 years. The chief was duly embalmed, and confined to his compound with influenza. This, however, was a difficult time in Konso, due to a severe local drought and the ongoing civil war, and it was felt that a living chief was better equipped to navigate any crises than a terminally ill one. Kalla's death was announced seven months after he had died, his embalmed body was buried in a ceremony that lasted for eight days, and Dawit was installed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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