People and cattle in Mursi land
CFEE Seminar on Contemporary Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa (2014-2015)
9e séance / 9th session : Beyond symbolism and economy: the attachment of people and cattle in Mursi land (Omo Valley, Ethiopia), par / by Jean-Baptiste ECZET
Cette séance est organisée en partenariat avec le Département d’anthropologie sociale de l’Université d’Addis-Abeba / This session is organised in partnership with the Department of Social Anthropology of Addis Ababa University.
Mercredi 6 mai 2015 (14h) / Wednesday, May 6th 2015 (2:00 pm). Attention : Lieu / Venue : Bibliothèque d’études éthiopiennes Berhanou Abebe (CFEE) / Berhanou Abebe Library of Ethiopian Studies (CFEE).
Beyond symbolism and economy: the attachment of people and cattle in Mursi land (Omo Valley, Ethiopia)
The relation between cattle and Nilotic people in East Africa is characterised by the intermingling of two collectives (humans and animal) commonly designated as “cattle complex”. Subsistence relationships and poetic practices are the two aspects of this complex. One exists through the other and can thus never be observed separately. The existing literature however reduces the cattle to two equally reductionist functions, either as symbol or as resource. These two functions are then linked through a mental disposition of herders : obsessiveness. This disposition permits, it is suggested, to justify one by the other: either the symbolic idiom is so important that it permeates recurrent practices, or the productive resource is so necessary that it produces social and religious matters. Against this analysis, I argue that cattle in Mursi land offers people an ubiquitous aesthetic matter. I thus suggest that paying attention to the processes through which these forms are produced allows to account for pastoral relationships. In this article, I aim to show different “cattle forms” (e.g. names, poetries, plastic forms) and their involvement in everyday life by Mursi agro-pastors who live in south-western Ethiopia. I will show how the attachment between humans and their cattle is a disposition which emerges from an array of practices through which people relate to each other, i-e participate in the economy of interpersonal relations.
Jean-Baptiste Eczet is anthropologist and a regular collaborator of CFEE. He is presently a Fyssen-PPGAS post-doctoral fellow, working at Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Crédit photo : Jean-Baptiste Eczet