Report from Gemechu Jemal Geda, Master in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Financial support for the project: “The Faraqasa Indigenous Pilgrimage center: History and Ritual Practices.”
The whole process for the writing of this paper as the fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Philosophy degree in Indigenous studies at the University of Tromsø, Norway, started in February 2006 with the writing of the thesis proposal. The course that we are offered in the department usually treats indigenous peoples, institutions, and issues related to indigenousness and with indigenous nature. As a student of the department, the first issue that came to my mind when I thought of my master’s thesis was the issue of the Faraqasa pilgrimage center, situated only 22 kms north-east of Abbomsa, my home town. Even if I was born and grew up in such proximity, I have never been to this place, mainly because of lack of curiosity. Since my child hood and then to my adult hood, I grew up watching hundreds of public buses and automobiles flowing on the direction of the pilgrimage center at least four times a year, especially in October. I had the faintest idea of where and why people are going but I did not really know any thing about this indigenous institutions.
After the approval of my project proposal and acquiring of financial support from NORAD, the Center for Sámi Studies, and SEMUT, I flew to Ethiopia to start my project and therefore, I left Tromsø for Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia on 3 May, 2006.
I arrived at Addis Ababa Bole International Air Port early in the morning of 5 May, 2006, where I was greeted by my family and friends. I subsequently stayed in Ethiopia between 5 May and 13 July 2006 collecting data for my master’s thesis in Indigenous Studies.
In Ethiopia, there is a viable tradition of welcoming some one who stayed away from home town for a relatively longer time. Since I was away for about ten months, I had to pass through this procedure. I stayed at home meeting friends and relatives for one week. Many people who knew my parents also came to see me and congratulate my parents on my safe arrival. During this time, I had to answer many questions of how life had been in Europe. Every body asked questions of his own which I had to reply patiently. As I am from that same community, I know the consequences of failing to give them answer and satisfy their curiosity. Failure to do this would let the community brand me a different person-arrogant-, than they actually knew a year ago. Some might even have thought that I was then looking down on them. Yet, even if I tried hard to eliminate the above threats, the first few days were uneasy for me. I found my self in cultural shock. When I was here, I have almost forgotten the tradition of shaking someone’s hand and also giving hugs as these things are almost non-existent here. However, in Ethiopia, failing to do this is a sing of arrogance and I had to try hard not to forget shaking hands and giving hugs for all who came to visit me. After the first two days, it became very easy to practice my cultural way of greeting.
My success in attempting to keep and practice the norm of my community helped me get good response from the people. It became very easy for me to contact people and they were also very open in their approach with me. Finally, some even dare to comment on me that I am just like the olden days in Ethiopia-communicative, respectful, humble, and unchanged by life in the west.
This first week also gave me the chance to think of people who might help me, places where I might get information and list making telephone contacts with my possible interviewees.
I have used five different types of methodologies. These are:
- Participant observation: I took part in some of the spiritual ceremonies at the pilgrimage center. I have taken part and observed when pilgrims gave votive gifts as a result of their claimed fulfillment of their prayers, healing of patients, and the spiritual leader’s mediation between the spirit and the possessed. I have also attended the coffee ceremony which was usually held three times a day. This helped me to meet some of the leaders of the different spiritual ceremonies. But it was not allowed to talk at all until the coffee ceremony was over. The basic benefit of observation is its straightforwardness; it is easy for the researcher to study behavior in its entirety.
- Interviews: – I have interviewed interviewees from diverse back grounds from the leader of the pilgrimage center to his assistants who lead different ritual ceremonies, adherents of the center, and even people from other religions. I found this very important as it gives a diversified perspective about the center. I have employed four different types of interview for this purpose. These are structured interview, semi-structured interview, unstructured interview, and group interview. Structured Interview is the most commonly used methodology in survey research.
- Archival studies: – I have also conducted archival studies in various administrative archives located in different parts of the country. Here I have managed to find some information pertinent to the pilgrimage center. Most of the archival resources I got deals with issues such as the relationship of the pilgrimage center and its leaders with the various governments through time and the contributions of the pilgrimage center for the development of the area. The Merti woreda administration and the Merti woreda finance office archives are the archives where I got the information on the issues mentioned above.
- Library works: – I have also conducted library research to look for possible published sources which might help me to cross check and corroborate the sources which I got from my oral informants. What ever scarce they are, the written sources on a topic related to the project are found in the library of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, situated at Addis Ababa University. I have also consulted other books written on related topics in neighboring countries, such as the Sudan and Egypt.
- Taking still pictures: – I have also taken still pictures of the various houses at the pilgrimage center and the pilgrims.