Written Highlights from Ethiopia Study Tour 2013

TARA hosted eleven Ethiopian cultural heritage professionals representing a wide spectrum of Ethiopian culture during November 11-20, 2013. Participants from the Association for Research and Conservation of Culture (ARCC), the Ankober Museum, the Konso Cultural Centre, the Gedeo Cultural Landscape, Ankober Lodge and The Christensen Fund made up the group. International Journalist, Jessica Hatcher from the Daily Telegraph documented the visit.

Ethiopia Study Tour 2013
PHOTO: Dr. Tadesse Wolde (right) sharing with Miss Serkalem Balcha Abera at the TARA head office.

Ethiopian Experiences
TARA did an excellent job in organising the programme. The visit to TARA’s Headquarters was an excellent introduction and gateway to what TARA is doing and the documentation of enormous wealth of African Rock Art. The documentation facility and the commitment of the staff were inspiring. With support from TARA and others, the local communities have come to appreciate the values of their own cultural properties and engage themselves in the whole exercise of running the management of these delicate cultural properties. It was acknowledged that TARA has a good relationship with the communities in which they work.

The selection of participants was well thought out as different aspects, experiences, and knowledge systems were represented. The collective knowledge base between the fourteen group members was incredible and adds up to many years of wisdom. The group felt they should persevere to do what they can do without being overwhelmed by external forces or discouraged by oppressive political and social interferences. The group was united in their desire to make a contribution to the preservation of cultural heritage; be it through rock art, sacred sites, medicinal plants and ritual, eco-tourism, forest and ecosystem conservation, intercultural festivals, the indulgence of our indigenous foods, restorative farming practices and our traditions as a whole.

Most importantly, the contact with the village elders showed that they were respected and taken as an authority on the history and artefacts of their respective areas. Visitors commented that Ethiopians could learn a lot from this Kenyan approach. Furthermore, the meetings conducted with the communities exposed the challenges and the opportunities that come with the responsibility and the blessing of custodianship of cultural properties. The weaving together of spirituality, local history and tradition, the rock art appears to serve as a foundation and medium onto which local pride, tradition and history can hold onto.

Mawanga Rock Art
PHOTO: Tour guide Daniel Onyango explaining about the rock art of Mawanga.

Participant Feedback
The community in unison with the rock art enhances tourism experiences and portrays a holistic view of the region. The Abasuba and Iteso communities were thanked for their hospitality; their indigenous food, traditional dancing and unique style of music, their stories of origin and the sharing of ideas to overcome their challenges. The participants also thanked TARA for taking the initiative to organise the program. Gratitude was expressed to The Christensen Fund for providing its financial support in order to bring Ethiopian people together from diverse backgrounds.

Kwitone Rock Art
PHOTO: Tour guide George Omugo narrating the history behind the rock art of Kwitone.

Lessons Learned
Lessons learned were valuable in terms of exchanging ideas about what their Kenyan counterparts are doing and to borrow ideas on strengthening and or establishing cultural and natural heritage conservation projects in Ethiopia.

Rock art presents a special but sometimes forgotten or disregarded treasure. Therefore, the building of cultural awareness, the conservation and management of rock art sites is critical for any cultural heritage to survive.

Ensuring the community is included in the formulation and execution of management planning is crucial regarding the management of any culturally important property. TARA was recognised as having achieved this aspect in their community projects with special reference made to their investment contribution towards the Abasuba Peace Museum, the training of tour guides and its mediation with the tourism industry to popularise local history and cultural expression in Kenya.

Thoughts for the Future
“We must endeavour to consolidate and share our Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Culture between Ethiopia and Kenya so as to inform ourselves with greater knowledge, diverse experiences and mutual understanding.”

“Our combined strength and collaboration will serve us well to secure peace and sovereignty in our food, health and environmental conservation for our time and for the time of those who follow in our footprints.”

The knowledge and wisdom of senior citizens in African countries needs to be harnessed if indigenous language/s, myths and stories that are directly linked to rock art sites are to survive.

It is envisaged that members of the Ethiopia group maintain a working relationship with TARA. The Kenya/Ethiopia Intercultural Exchange was an invaluable experience with more exchanges being planned for the future.

PHOTO: Abasuba women leader Mary dancing with Yonas Beyene Gebremichael to Abasuba song.