Without a shadow of doubt, all Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia possess their own common values and assets, which have been winning the hearts and minds of most people. They as well possess their own unique manifestation of cultural values. Among all Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia, the people of Gurage possess their own distinctive features.
The Gurages traditionally inhabit a fertile, semi-mountainous area in southwest Ethiopia, about 155 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa. They lead a sedentary life anchored in agriculture. More often than not, the people of Gurage are known for their traditional foods and drinks, religious holidays’ celebrations and what have you.
In reality, most people in and out of Ethiopia are on familiar terms with the different tangible and intangible heritages of the people of Gurage. In their research works, researchers have cited the abundant resources of the area. Most of the resources have got their own unique features.
As the people of Gurage depend on agriculture, they have been carrying out various activities over and over again. At this moment in time, some cultures of the people of Gurage have grown to be the culture of the entire Ethiopia. Just to mention a few, Equb and Edir have been playing a major role in the midst of the community. To cut a long story short, the people of Gurage possess a lot of tangible and intangible cultural resources.
Recently, a discussion forum had been staged in Wolkite town in collaboration with the Gurage Zone administration and Gurage Devel opment and Culture Association. The discussion was held with the intention of revealing and sustaining the great diversity of the interactions between the community and their environment, preserving and promoting the living traditional cultures associated with Jefoure, protecting and reviving those cultural Jefoure landscapes, which have been damaged, planting selected horticultural crops on each side of the Jefoure to improve the food and nutrition security and increase hous- ehold income of the rural com munities without encroaching much on the communal land resource.
Gurage people settlement pattern is so unique that it makes the landscape beautiful. The word Jefoure is defined in various ways as it serves different purposes. To begin with, one of the definitions of Jefoure is a cultural road engineering, a pecuilar art of the people of Gurage. To be quite honest, it is not possible to find the exact time when Jefoure was introduced in Gurage. All the time, it has been helping people economically and socially.
Most rural communities in the Guraghe zone, notably in Sebatbet Guraghe, have a unique land use system, popularly known as Jefoure. Jefoure is cultural design via which houses and trees flank roads left and right. Jefoure could be an open space between lines of villages. It could serve as a public gathering place for different occasions like holidays and grazing. It serves like a map or a compass to go to different places or sites, among others. Some say Jefoure is a stretch of land of varying lengths and widths depending on the locality.
Recent trend shows that the Jefoure landscape is on the verge of disappe- arance. It as well is changing its peculiar features for quite a lot of reasons: the ever increasing road networks in every locality associated with urbanization, overgrazing, expanding agricultural land, cutting down of the endemic old-age trees and so forth. This being the case, the Gurage Zone administration and the Gurage Development and Culture Association have taken the initiative with aview to protecting and preser- ving the originality of Jefoure, apart from maintaining its unique charac- teristics of the Guraghe community.
On the occasion, Tesfaye Goyte, Guraghe Development & Cultural Association Director said, “Because of shortage of agricultural land and other related reasons, the people of Gurage have been dwelling in the left, right and center of the country. They all accept as true that hard work changes the lives of anyone in a little while. However, some of them have been distancing themselves from their own language and cultures. They are throwing away their own cultures as buckling under the influence of other cultures. The influence is not that easy. Some of our heritages have been eroded. Unless we place much emphasis on our culture, they may get out of our hands.
“Currently, mother’s day, girls’ day or week, and cultural sports commonly known as Zore Keyo and Wanzen are on the verge of extermination. They really play a great role in generating huge income and thus we should be able to give due weight and attention to the culture under discussion. As Jefoure plays a major role in generating income, we should place much emphasis on the culture,” he added.
Guraghe people settlement pattern is so unique that it makes the landscapes of the area eye-catching. Most rural communities in the Guraghe zone for the most part the Sebatbet Guraghe have a unique land use system, which is commonly known as Jefoure. It is an open space between lines of villages which serve as a public gathering place, mourning area, square for bonfire, wedding places, playground for kids, among others.
Furthermore, without road signs and traffic symbols Jefoure helps people take a trip wherever they would like to go. As a general rule, junc- tures/joints which are made using bamboo, grass and dry false banana ropes or creeper (without using metal and woodwork products) last for a long time. At the present time, with no trouble people from all walks of life can identify the fact that the hut belongs to the Gurage ethnic group.
Similarly, road networks (Jefoure) has been giving multifaceted purposes for the entire people of Gurage. Above and beyond, they serve as a stepping stone for other infrastructure develo- pment, which has been carried out across the country. That is why Jefoure is used as manifestation of road engineering and establishment of villages in the midst of the people of Gurage. People have been securing a lot of benefits out of Jefoure at this point in time. Sadly, most of the significant benefit of the people of Gurage has been serving the people plentifully.
Jefoure makes obvious the collective values as well as social cohesion of the community. Furt- hermore, it gives evidence to the social growth and the inventive and religious liveliness of the community. It associates the minds of the comm- unities with powerful beliefs, artistic and traditional customs that embody an exceptional spiritual relationship of the people with nature. The other thing is, Jefoure guarantees and sustains the community to land use system biological diversity.
While we are on the subject, Jefoure is exclusively communal. The number of households in the perimeter of a Jefoure is dependent on its size. There are a lot of distinguishing chara cteristics of the Jefoure. Just to mention a few, they are based on long-standing traditional practices and the right of using Jefoure resources with the exception of economic trees is communal. In the case of planted trees, economic, preemptive right is acco rded to a household whose land lies adjacent to the tree’s specific location.
Similarly, direct and indirect revenues accruing to assets located in a Jefoure land area are free from government tax regulation. Utilization of Jefoure for private production is neither widely practiced nor encou- raged and sanctioned by the communal laws. The laws still govern rural communities though they are increas ingly being destabilized.
The Jefoure land has multiple uses although modernization has under- mined several of the uses at the present time. The most common ones, while not an exhaustive list, comprise forum to transact traditional court functions. Also for holding leadership meetings, public gathering—although a declining trend of this use is evident- and public celebrations, forum to carryout activities connected to mourning and other similar aspects. Likewise, Jefoure provides aesthetic value to villages; public outlet/road for people and transport-animals moving to markets and social events, playground for some traditional sports and children, communal grazing, comm- unity drinking water point, among others.
Among the unique assets and values of the people of Gurage, Jefoure is given due weight and attention time and again. The economic and social benefits of Jefoure are very huge. Hence, it has been used by most people in the area over and over again. Jefoure is an outstanding example of traditional human settlement and land use, which is representative of a culture or human interaction with the environment when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
Through road networking art, the people of Gurage possesses a number of social and economic affairs. Jefoure has been passing down from generation to generation. Nowadays, because of the flourishing of modern roads for construction and other related services, the traditional and natural asset of the people of Gurage has been missing the intended target. To put it briefly, a threat has been posed on Jefoure at this point. A remedial solution must be sought before it is too late as Jefoure is losing its target.
Concerned bodies should do something to bring to an end the problem within the shortest time possible.
BY ADDISALEM MULAT