Esset: Soul Of The Gurage

Filmmaker:  Seifu Woldeyohannes Haile

Year of production: 2009
Location: Gurage, Ethiopia
Duration: 33 minutes.
Sound: mono
English Subtitles

Esset resembles a banana tree. Because of the resemblance, it is so called false banana. It has ever green long leaves, a big stem and edible bulb like root.

As compared to other plants, Esset is not grown for its fruit. The whole plant, the stem or trunk and the root, is used as food after careful preparation.

Growing this plant is a tiresome venture. From birth to harvest it takes long years. Meanwhile, since it doesn’t require a large area of land it remained the major means of livelihood to the Gurage people.

Esset serves as vehicle for the social organization of the people. Acquisition of wealth, rank, and gender roles are associated with the plant. For example, the wealth of a family is exhibited by number and the quality of Esset they own. In addition, it also serves as a milestone in the description of the Gurage identity.

Copyright: 2009 Visual Cultural Studies, University of Tromsø

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ABSTRACT I have been working as a project coordinator for a local NGO at the Cheha Woreda of the Gurage zone. In addition, my grand families and all my relatives are living in this area. Therefore, the experience I have triggered me to conduct this study. The study focuses on an indigenous food plant, esset, and its relationship with the people; focusing in understanding the plant, its role in ethnical identity of the people and gender issues associated with it. Wesa bread, which is the main food product of the esset plant, is the staple diet for them. The leaves of the plant are used as food for the animals. The root of the plant is boiled and eaten. Some of the species of the plant contain special chemicals in their roots that can cure diseases, and some may cause abortion for women and animals as well. For this study I have used Participant observation and semi-structured interview, and found that Esset is a means of Existence for the Gurage people. All the ranks and gender roles are associated with the esset plant. Esset plays a role in the identification of the Gurage identity.

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