Report from Asebe Regassa Debelo, Master in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Financial support for the project: “Ethnicity and inter-ethnic interaction among the Guji and Gedeo peoples of Southern Ethiopia “
The Masters thesis constitutes a significant part of the Masters Degree program in Indigenous Studies at the University of Tromsø. To this end, I planned to conduct my research on Ethnicity and inter-ethnic relations among Guji and Gedeo ethnic groups, who inhabited the southern part of Ethiopia. The research has both anthropological and historical orientations – two of the sister disciplines that make up the Indigenous Studies – and makes use of both secondary and primary information.
The research is so significant in contributing some aspects of knowledge to the understanding of ethnicity, inter-ethnic relations, and the role of the state in instigating and or ‘mitigating’ inter-ethnic conflicts and more importantly in uncovering the place of indigenous methods of conflict resolution used by the groups under study in sustaining their harmonious co-existence for several years until the recent unprecedented conflict between the two.
The fieldwork for my research was carried out from mid May to mid August 2006. During the fieldwork, I employed different techniques of data collection. Above all, since I am not so familiar with the geographical settings of the study sites and the language of one of my subject groups – the Gedeo – I recruited field assistants. Accordingly, I employed three field assistants to use them in accordance with their familiarity of the places and the communities. As it may be well understood from the marginalization that indigenous peoples have been facing and still face, many of these two communities are out of access to transportation service. Fieldwork in such geographically inaccessible and socially marginalized areas is so difficult but at the same time informative in knowing the condition of life the communities are engaged in. concomitant with this, it was a must for me and my assistants to rent motor bicycle, with out which it would have been impossible to reach to villages of key informants.
It is becoming a common tradition for informants to demand remuneration for the time they spend while interviews and group discussions. To meet their demands in quest for getting the valuable information, I also remunerated my informants in different ways; by inviting them lunch or dinner, and some times paying them in cash.
In order to substantiate the information from the informants (primary sources) it becomes important to find out related literature on the topic under study. This took me to the libraries of Addis Ababa University, OSSREA (Organization for Social Sciences Research in Eastern and Southern Africa – centred in Addis Ababa – Dilla University and an ongoing search at the University of Tromsø. During the search for secondary materials from the first two libraries, I rented a hotel and stayed for two weeks at Addis Ababa, the capital city of the country. In the case of Dilla University, I rented a house for the whole time of my fieldwork because the University is situated in the vicinity of one of my study sites, the Gedeo.
I would like to underline that fieldwork is an important part of research in social sciences. It enables researchers to get life experiences of the subjects to be researched rather than only reading about ‘imagined’ group. I can confidently say that it acquainted me with the knowledge of challenges of field work, methods to be used, strategies to be employed and how to ethically approach the study groups without violating their social norms, customs, knowledge, and how to learn from them. So far researchers have been considering indigenous peoples as objects of research but I learnt that their knowledge builds up to the academic knowledge we acquired.
Nevertheless, mention should be made to financial need to undertake fieldwork. To get sufficient data one needs to travel a lot from community to community, from town to town and across different districts all of which consume considerable amount of money. Putting it differently, financial deficiency would have led me to be handicapped in information. But, thanks to the financial support from Centre for Sami Studies and Centre for Environment and Development (SEMUT), I overcame the foreseen financial problems, which would have in turn hampered my fieldwork.