Role of Indigenous Knowledge in
The First General Conference of the Association for the Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge in Ethiopia was recently held at the Ghion Hotel. At the conference, sponsored by the British Embassy in Addis Ababa, a number of papers were presented.
One of the papers with the above headline was presented by Ato Yohannes Berhane, a social anthropologist and dramatist now working at the National Theatre.
Ato Yohannes' paper is a background sketch to the current major features of the rural Amhara Shemgelena (moot) structure as well as the ideas relevant to the administration of conflicts outside the court. The most prominent and indigenous institution of the rural Amhara in resolving conflicts is Shemgelena. It is the assembly of Yehager Shemagelle (elder of the land) by which the services of a third party is used as a means of helping the conflicting parties to reduce the extent of their differences and disagreements, and arrive at an amicable settlement.
"Shemgelena, as the most prominent institution," said Ato Yohannes, "has always been employed to settle serious disagreements that rapture to threaten peaceful relationship among/ between friends, neighbours, spouses and communities. It is indigenous and has a long evolution within the history of the rural Amhara people."
In his paper, Ato Yohannes has attempted to explain the following questions: Why do the rural Amhara prefer Shemgelena to the court? Who are the people in the local community who employ these mechanisms on litigants? What is the basis of
their ability to do so? What precise steps do litigants follow from the beginning of a conflict to its settlement? What are the major criteria for an individual to be selected as Yehager Shemagelle? What is the attitude of the entire community towards this mechanism? What basic role do religion and kinship play in Shemgelena?
Ato Yohannes also argues that conflict resolution in rural Amhara is based on public opinion and cultural consensuses.
"Shemgelena," noted Ato Yohannes, "is patrimonial, it is a male dominated institution. The participation of women in Shemgelena is insignificant in the Amhara rural areas. But, nevertheless, women can participate in Shemgelena as witnesses or representing their own case. Culturally, membership for women in Shemgelena seems inadmissible. In spite of this, it has got its own constitution or law known as Yabat Hager Hig (law of the land)."
He also said Yabat Hager Hig that is applied among the rural community is not reduced to writing. It is transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth. It is a law that is inherited from our fathers and forefathers. It is not articulated
neither defined nor formalized. But it is inextricably entwined with the religious, the cultural, the political and the socio-economic structure of rural community. It has become a purpose of function because of the fact people live in it and practice it.
Yabat Hager Hig is a set of norms crated as a distinct system for actors by actors who involve in it. It is not static but flexible. Whenever any socio-economic change appears in the society Yabat Hager Hig has also the chance to change in accordance with the prevailing socio-economic changes that takes place in the society.
Shemgelena is private and confidential. It is conducted at a private place like the churchyard. And it has iconic and indexical relationship with the church conducting Shemgelena in the churchyard has a lot to do with the symbolic interpretation of
the society. It is not only representational. it is also existential.
Shemgelena is voluntary. Although it is sometimes initiated by friends, neighbours, kin groups or the elders themselves continuity in Shemgelena needs voluntary basis "The Other thing" observed Ato Yohannes, "Shemgelena is also informal. Members use day-to-day language. They do not need to trace over tools that are practiced in the juro-political institutions."
The other point that Ato Yohannes mentioned is that Shemgelena is not negotiation. It is neither mediation nor arbitration or adjudication. It is rather reconciliation. Therefore, the final result of Shemgelena is reconciling the contending parties.