This research is being conducted by Birhanu Mekonnen at the University of Addis Ababa. 

My study explores the indigenous conflict management practice of the Negede Wayto community, which is found in the Amhara Regional State in Ethiopia. Specifically, the community lies at the shores of Lake Tana. The history of the Negede Wayto community and its cultural practices has been silenced for many years. Surprisingly, members of the community are socially and economically marginalized to the extent that they couldn’t be entitled to land in their place of origin.


Conflicts arise frequently in the Negede Wayto community from members getting drunk on local beers (Tela and Tsiray ), children’s quarrels, competing over such resources as (farmland, pasture and drinking water, and Dengel and Telis) and thievery of fishnet and Tankwa. Interpersonal conflicts such as verbal abuse, physical fighting, and wife battering are prevalent within the community. However, inter-group conflicts like conjugal conflicts are triggered by extra-marital relationships and familial conflicts owing to children’s skirmishes.

The community manages conflicts through a group of four elders composed of the four clans, namely Shilo, Dembakura, Fuga and Gerwa. The leader of Shilo clan leads this eldership group. The reconciliation process starts when leaders summon conflicting parties and their respective supporters to socially or religiously valuable places such as shades of large trees or shrines (Mosque). After reaching the said place, both parties to the conflict or their delegates sit in opposite direction with leaders being in the middle. Before the actual reconciliation commences, a specific part of the reconciliation arena used are covered with wet leaves where an animal, usually brought by the offender, is slaughtered. Before the parties to the conflict or their representatives verbalize their ideas or arguments before the leaders in an orderly manner, each side swears an oath of loyalty to the decision reached by the leaders in the name of their clan and their leaders. At the close of the hearing, the elders discuss together for some time with the Shilo leadership and announce their judgments to the audience.

The conflicting parties or their delegates are then asked to trample on the sprinkled wet leaves and the offender or his representative puts a piece of raw meat first in the victim’s or in his representative’s mouth, and then the victim or his representative does the same in return. Finally, the elders order the parties in the dispute first to bow to each other and then to hug.

ውሳኔያችሁን ብጥስ የሽሎና የደንባቁራ አምላክ ነገን አያንጋልኝ።
(May the Lord of Shilo and Denbakura punish me if I defy your decision.)
An interviewee from Delgi

The social fabric of Negede Wayto community is central to the prevention of conflicts. This includes creating cohesion among members, socializing young members to develop a bond of sympathy and a sense of togetherness with the other members of the community. In addition, the community’s strong sharing culture and Islamic teachings which preach against morally bad behaviour such as stealing, murder and violence have helped the community prevent conflicts. Moreover, the egalitarian communal structure and the fact that the community is not highly stratified based on social dimensions like economic status, occupation and religion play a key role in the prevention of conflicts.

The Negede Wayto community prefers traditional conflict management mechanisms to legal systems, whether to manage conflicts arising among members or between the community or the larger ethnic group. This is because going to court may require large investments of money, unnecessarily prolonged disputes, and it can also create disharmony within the community because of the win/lose nature of court cases. This can impact future relationships within the community.

While the community places value on handling cases with their traditional conflict management methods, there are cases that are taken to courts. First and foremost, this stems from the entrustment of the court to handling serious offences like murder. Secondly, the unfairness of verdicts reached through traditional conflict management systems induces a party who doesn’t feel comfortable with the decision to take the case to court. People who are dissatisfied with a verdict can take it to court.

It is important to record the history of this community in digital form and make it available on digital platforms where it will be accessible to the local community as well as international ones. I am collaborating with scholars in Addis Ababa University to establish an online journal of ethnographic articles from Ethiopian Studies. Here the role of DH is key to this publication endeavour.