Earthen houses in Ethiopia against backdrop of sky and mountains.

Khat Time and Earthen Houses: Reconnecting to Oromo Sacred Knowledge Traditions

Galaan Hayle is a History PhD candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on indigenous technologies of the Oromo and the legacies of the Ethiopian empire. In this conversation he shares his experience visiting the warraa ayyaannaa (custodians of Oromo indigenous medicine) and the intergenerational conversation between the dead and the living that opened up.

Reflecting on his journey from the village to becoming a modern, Christian, colonial subject, through accessing Western education across three continents, he shares what it means to now return and relearn the ancestral Oromo practices he was taught to forget. In particular, we discuss what it means to disentangle the syncretic exchange between the Oromo traditional religion and the demands of “angry Middle Eastern gods” and the village’s earthen houses as a counter-cosmology to the concrete structures our people pay smugglers to take them on the old slave routes in order to acquire. This conversation is about Galaan’s experience, but it is also about the core principles of the sacred knowledge traditions of the Oromo in East Africa.

Galaan Hayle: I grew up in a liminal zone between the town and the countryside, attending school at the end of the Marxist Derg regime and into the beginning of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, after Mengistu Haile Mariam was deposed via an armed coup. My siblings and I were part of the second generation of school goers, and the expectation, especially from my father’s side, was that I would overcome every vestige of the rural—and, therefore, every vestige of the traditional and “the past.” From the beginning of my life, I was taught that it is through going to school that I can redeem myself and become a modern, colonial, Christian subject who lives in the present. I first left the village for the capital in order to get my undergraduate degree from Addis Ababa University. Later, I went to India and Europe for master’s degrees. Moving through these geographies in search of economic mobility, I was also time-traveling, because arriving to the city meant arriving to the future. I learned English and studied Kant, Heidegger, Descartes, Aristotle, and Plato—in other words, Western philosophy, Western theory, and Western social science. I have now achieved the highest level of modernity one is supposed to achieve by becoming a Western subject who is studying Africa in the UCLA History Department.

But as I marked my fortieth birthday, I began to reckon with how my so-called modern education displaced everything that I had come to know in my childhood. I am only now returning and relearning some ofthe things I have forgotten. What do I mean by this? I am at this place in my life where I am trying to renegotiate life to be on my own terms. I want to live. I have lived life thus far with the terms that were set for me. As Marx would say, people make history, but they will make it within the conditions and the constraints that are set by a particular society and structure at a given time.

My fortieth birthday also marked the end of my first “round of time” in my life, or what the Oromo call maraa.1 Unlike Western conceptions of segmented and linear time in which atomized individuals march toward progress, within Oromo cosmologies time is a series of concentric circles and is measured through Ayyaanaa.2Stellar, solar, and lunar movement governs a set of cyclical measurements from the twelve-hour period dividing a day into light and dark, a thirty-day month (ji’a or baatii). Twelve rounds of the ji’a or baatii is marked in the highlands of the Oromo land by what we call the rituals and colorful celebrations of the ayyaanaa waggaa (ayyaanaa of the year).3 The next significant round is an eight-year cycle, which we call gadaa. That is when a power transfer happens from one gadaa—one peer (hiriyaa) or generational group (luba)—to another. So this reckoning with my entire life is coming at a time that corresponds to the generational transfer of power in the gadaa system. After nine gadaa rounds, or 360 years, we reach a saglii, or catastrophe, in which the entire system has to be reconceived.4

I am beginning to live my life on my own terms—for the first time—and in relation to a catastrophe my elders have anticipated. No UCLA clinician could understand why my body ached and dragged as the program wore on. It’s so easy for them to conclude this Black African man must have imposter syndrome or anxiety because they see me as a body out of place. But I knew that I needed more than an SSRI or once-weekly counseling sessions; or, rather, I remembered what it felt like to be in a place that I belonged and the rhythmic, ecstatic sound of drums and joy from my childhood. So I decided that I needed to go back home, to the village, to visit the warra ayyaanaa5 (the custodians of Oromo indigenous medicine).

Khadijah Abdurahman: I feel like our audience might not have any visual referent for the African countryside beyond National Geographic and its white anthropological curiosity. Can you give us a sense of what the village looked like and what was going through your mind as you got there?

Galaan: For me, this is a very important milestone—spiritually, politically, intellectually—in all kinds of ways. Because, number one, I’m returning to this village which has given rise, or which has given birth to my mother, my grandfather, and my ancestors from my mother’s side. This is also a place where my grandfather from my father’s side is displaced from. When I think of home, one of the places that I think of is this place. So I went to this place, and in many ways, there is a jarring contrast between the so-called modern life that we live in here and the kind of life in there. So what stood out for me? Remember, all these years, I’m talking about earthen structures, technology. I’m talking about how our indigenous technologies are technologies of the future.

I get to Addis (the capital of Ethiopia) where my youngest brother picks me up. My mother is also with him, and we drive from Addis to the village where the warrra ayyaanaa lives. We first make a stop at my aunt’s house, who lives nearby. We get out of the car and enter this earthen house where she prepared us this very good—in many ways organic—food. Sitting in this earthen structure, you feel like you are being held; or rather, it’s like you’re being hugged by this circular house. My aunt is making coffee. Afterward, my mother had some araqe (traditional East African vodka made from barley),6 we were having some discussion, et cetera. The neighbors came to say hi, and I’m just sitting there reminiscing about my childhood, when I went to my grandfather’s qe’ee (ancestral home).

But what I see in my mother’s eyes and my brother’s face is desperately wanting to get away from this place as fast as possible. Also, my aunt is really, really trying to impress; because she was like, The modern urban subject has arrived. And it’s kind of awkward because I am just in awe of the structure; the way the house is built, the compound, and all those things. But my aunt is talking to me about how the wind just blew off the grass-thatched roof. She’s launching into this very detailed explanation about how she’s going to install a corrugated metal sheet roof, and I’m like, “No, there’s nothing wrong with this. We can renovate this.” But she didn’t get it. A lot of things, you know, got lost in translation. I have this sense of belonging and yet inability to speak or be heard as we then make our way to the galma (temple) where the warra ayyaanaa lives.

Khadijah: That’s heavy, and brings back memories of visiting my grandfather’s qe’ee in Saqaa. I remember how repulsed, or maybe ashamed, my uncle was of the earthen house he grew up in. The field surrounding the house used to grow coffee, but nowadays it’s overgrown and neglected because my family is just trying to get as far away from the countryside as possible.

Galaan: Returning to the village after so many years, the two tallest buildings that I see are the Orthodox church—the concrete structure—and also the school, another concrete structure. Concrete, and concrete structures, and corrugated iron or aluminum roofs, have become signposts of modernity, of the future of development, of civilization.7 That my folks, to whom the civilization that the Abyssinians or this settler colonial structures are trying to impose, have finally seen the light. They are literally, slowly—because of course they are lagging behind—walking toward modernity.

The well-to-do farmers and families still don’t have concrete structures; maybe concrete is beyond their income because the material is not affordable. I see earthen houses with a corrugated sheet, which is considered a sign of advancement, of civilization, wealth, and status. Meanwhile, I’m remembering how I learned about the thermal properties of earthen houses in the West.8 They stay cool during the day by absorbing most of the heat from outside and release that heat slowly during the night.9 Pyramid roofs atop the circular structures are designed to ventilate smoke from whatever is being cooked inside.

While we are abandoning it, researchers based in the University of Plymouth, for instance, are promoting these very earthen structures as eco-friendly alternatives to existing structures that require expensive heating and cooling.10 Simultaneously, my cousin is sending money to her mother because she feels ashamed that the house that her mother lives in is a grass-thatched earthen house. The little money she earned working in the city she decided to spend buying corrugated sheets—to please me! This is a subject of so many ironies, and it says a whole lot about colonialism, the libidinal economy, and knowledge.

Khadijah: Can you just share a little bit more about the relationship between Oromo cosmologies and the architecture of earthen houses?

Galaan: There might be regional variations from place to place, but the central principle is the same. The design of the house is deeply intertwined with the cosmology. For instance, Oromo houses are built around a central pillar that holds the structure together. The Oromos call it utubaa, which roughly translates to “a pillar.” The breadwinner of the family (who can be of any gender) is considered the pillar of the house. The head of the household usually plants the first stick used to render the perimeter of the house.

The house must always face the morning sun; the morning sun is mild. Folks usually assemble in front of the house to enjoy the morning sun while getting ready to face the chores of the day. Cows, goats, sheep, humans, dogs, and the whole household—in all its complexity—assembles in the yard. The yard is a social space. Men feed the cows. Women milk cows while the younger kids play with their peers from the neighborhood. It is also the place where the people assemble in the evening with the herd. The house basically serves as a shield against the heat of the afternoon and the late evening as the sun sets. This is where elders transmit their wisdom about the knowledge of trees, animals, birds, seasons, climate, how to tend for animals and the crops.

Khadijah: What was it like when you arrived at the warra ayyaanaa’s house?

Galaan: The galma of the seat of ayyaantuu is a circular house made of earth, grass, and wood, like many of the houses in the village. The floor is filled with freshly cut green grass, which we consider a sign of good omen and prosperity. As we approached the house, I heard several people talking but discovered the chorus of voices was actually the ayyaantuu sliding between different registers as she personified the dead, the living, and the spirits. In this visceral mediation, the ayyaantuu moved between us and her, between her and the spirit world, and between good and evil.

Multiple things are going on in my head while my brother is laughing at the ayyaantuu continuously changing registers of the voice. Fanon is at the back of my mind: Am I romanticizing this thing? Is there a romantic past to go back to? Will I get healed? What did I expect when I got here? I started paying attention when this guy ahead of us in line said he had lost all his cattle and fallen on hard times. He was told that he had to seek an advice from the ayyaanaa of the ancestors. He asked the ayyaantuu to facilitate a dialogue with the ancestors.

And the ayyaantuu asked him, “Who would you like to speak to?”

He said, “My grandmother.”

She asked him, “Why?”

“Because she used to be the custodian of the ayyaanaa of our ancestors. So I want to know,” he responded.

“Like, why? Why do you want to talk to her? And what would you like to say to her?”

“I want to tell her that I had fallen on hard times. My father is ill. He’s in bed. He is paralyzed. I don’t know what to do. And I really would like some insight into my situation.”

Personifying the voice of his ancestor, the ayyaantuu asked him, “Do you know there is a person in your house who actually hit your grandmother, and that waaqaa (god) has seen this act of abuse? And do you know who that person is?”

He responded, “No.”

Then the ayyaantuu told him, “Your grandmother was unhappy with you, with your family, when she was alive. Go back home and figure it out and come back.”

What I understood is that there is this intergenerational conversation happening, whether you believe in talking to the dead or not—that’s a completely different thing. This reminded me of a scene from Hollywood movies where the grieving protagonist carries on a lengthy conversation with a grave as if the dead can hear them. The only difference here was that that conversation was mediated by an indigenous medicine woman who made a set of concrete demands on the person speaking with the dead.

Khadijah: There’s a prescription now that requires them to investigate what was the generational fracture with this person who he’s saying is a custodian of the sacred knowledge traditions.

Galaan: Yeah. Here is a practice in which intergenerational repair, talk, understanding, and conversation is happening right in front of my eyes via this medium,11 which is also a really important moment for me. That is when I realized, whatever functionalist view I have about this, I have learned something very important: that within the Oromo cosmology, life in all its complexity is not just about the present; it’s also about the past and the future in this cycle we call maraa. And the past is here with us, in the relationships we have with our ancestors—but not only with the dead; also the relationship we have with the weather, the relationship we have with the environment and this institution, which in many ways is denied what Johannes Fabian calls coevalness and named “of the past, the dead, the traditional, et cetera.”12 Right in front of my eyes, the ayyaantuu is having multiple conversations and vocally sliding between different registers of time.

Khadijah: In a way, this reminds me of my own childhood, when my family would practice Islam in the tradition of Dirree Sheikh Hussein.13 It’s only recently that I have learned that the way the dua is performed with rhythmic chanting and the centrifugal role of khat (a flowering plant native to Eastern and Southern Africa) within our ceremoniesdoes not mirror Islamic practices in other regions. When we lead dua,people may begin with bismallah arahman arahim, but then everything that follows is in Afaan Oromo, with Oromo pedagogy until we end, with ameen. Now, as an adult, I can appreciate how deeply rooted these practices are in waaqeffannaa, the Oromo sacred knowledge traditions.14

Galaan: Faraqasaa is just as popular. But, as opposed to Dirree Sheikh Hussein, this place is considered to be founded by an ayyaantuu named Aayyoo Mominaa(Mother Mominaa). My entire childhood, I witnessed pilgrims going to Faraqasaa, which is about a day’s walk from where I was born.15 They used to take a break in our house; my mother would make coffee, they’d get out drums, and there was all kinds of mesmerizing chanting and songs. People would get into a state of trance. One of the things that used to really excite me was, there would be plenty of food, plenty of coffee; you’ll be around all these people, everybody will kiss your cheeks, you are loved. And there is joy—like, pure joy—in this place. Imagine a whole month in which pilgrims pass. At my Muslim friend’s house, they used to host lots of people, back to back. At our house, we’d host, especially those who are going to Faraqasaa. I also went with my father to this qaalluu (a person in charge of the rites and rituals of the Oromo religion). I have known about these practices; I’ve known how people talk about this thing. People talk figuratively; there’s a way in which you communicate. It’s not enough to know the language. You have to achieve a whole other register and tone in order to communicate.

Khadijah: By “register” here, do you mean metaphorical?

Galaan: Metaphorical. Yeah. For instance, one of the things I remember from my childhood is that they never address you by name. They’ll never say “So-and-so.” Rather, they’ll say, “You, who came from the east; your house is in this or that direction; you have come because you have this problem. Get up and speak.” So that is how the ayyaantuu addressed me, and I panicked. I looked back to my mother, and she’s also panicking, so my aunt has to interfere. This is what I call forgetting what you already knew. Not knowing how to communicate about the very thing that you care about. I ran away from Christianity; I ran away from Islam; I’ve ran away from all kinds of Western bullshit. I am trying to return to our indigenous spiritualities, including having the wadaajaa ceremonies, because it belongs to me ancestrally and it’s what makes sense to me right now. Christianity, Islam—all these angry gods from the Middle East—they expect you to suffer. This suffering is supposed to be the way to God.

The indigenous spiritualities I grew up with, especially waaqeffannaa,are based on this concept of joy. You can speak to the supernatural or the spirit world—only within this state of joyous transcendence fostered by the wadaajaa ceremony. You’re chewing khat, drinking traditional coffee—which is like espresso—and the combination of all these stimulants, rhythmic drumming and chanting, catalyzes a state of trance. It’s within this context that you acquire the ability to speak in multiple registers, to do things that you would normally not do and speak to your ancestors with the guidance of the ayyaantuus. All of these things I have known in childhood but I am now confronting as this Western subject.

I used to think that I am an Oromo when I am in the West—that I am not a Western subject—but in this space, I am the most Western subject that one can find. The university, the education, the nomadism and all of those things have transformed me into this thing that does not even know how to talk to my mother or my aunt about practical things. Earthen houses are becoming very popular in the West.16 For example, Burkinabé architect Francis Kéré received the Pritzker Architecture Prize for the earthen structures he designed. Meanwhile, we are building concrete structures with corrugated iron sheets literally, as you say in the tropics, to burn. There is no language in which I can articulate this to my family. There’s no language for me to speak to the ayyaantuu. I don’t know the metaphors, nor did I understand most of the things that were said to me—even though, literally, the language, Afaan Oromo, is my mother tongue.

Because of this incident, I’ve been thinking a lot about what colonialism is and our very definition of what constitutes colonialism. What is a colonial subject? I’m thinking about the question of indigeneity, knowledge, and all of these things that, in many ways, are the raw materials of our day-to-day discussions.

Khadijah: In the end, what did the warra ayyaanaa direct you to do?

Galaan: What’s very interesting is that she requested I go to tsebel, holy water named after an angel or a Christian saint.What I don’t understand about this so-called tsebel—the practice of using holy water to exorcise demons from the faithful in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church—is not part of any of the doctrine and practice of Christianity elsewhere.17 Where did they bring it from? Why is this ayyaantuu,who is considered evil in Christian and Islamic discourses and earmarked for annihilation, telling me to go to tsebel, which is controlled by the Christian Church? When I think about it deeply, it appears to me that back in the day, these so-called tsebel are places where Oromos and other Indigenous people used to practice their traditional sacred rites and rituals. Tsebel, named after one saint or another, have become a place where priests holding a cross exorcize the so-called pagan gods.

The appropriation of Indigenous religious practices is also manifested in the realm of commerce. The now-Christianized hora is bottled and sold as sparkling water in urban Ethiopia. I am drinking Ambo mineral water. You know what it says on the bottle? It says Ambo tsebel, as in, “the Christian holy water.”18

When you introduce a new religion, one of the things you do, of course, is curse it, and then take on all the most important instruments that attract people to it.19 One of these very important instruments is the knowledge of medicine. Muslim sheikhs20 and Christian priests21 are now the healers, in contradistinction to the qaalluu orthe ayyaantuus of the traditional Oromo religion. This tells me that this physical elimination22 also goes hand in hand with violent epistemic displacement and dispossession of knowledge.23 Anyone who possesses knowledge of medicine and these healing practices is powerful. That’s how you keep people in line, because anyone who knows how to heal also knows how to kill.

Khadijah: I think the power of medical knowledge is not just that someone who knows how to heal also knows how to kill, but that healing itself legitimizes the belief system they’re seeking to impose. The doctors in the West will try to explain how this or that chemotherapy, or how the pharmacological action of an SSRI, operates, right? Half of the time, people don’t know what the fuck doctors are talking about.24 But they believe in it, right? I don’t reject all that falls under the umbrella of Western medicine—in part because we know that some of what goes inside these capsules and are marked as modern are indigenous medicinal plants appropriated and patented in the West.25

Galaan: It’s one of the knowledge systems. It doesn’t have a monopoly, and most of it is stolen, of course.

Khadijah: A monopoly over the capacity to heal is a part of legitimating belief systems,26 in the same way we think about the state’s27 monopoly over legitimate violence.2829 The West tends to demonize30 indigenous medicine practices as “alternative” medicines that are substandard31 today and practices of the past that are not subjected to the same level of rigor as contemporary “modern medicine.” But from the point of view of the Abyssinian conquest, the capacity of Indigenous medicine men to heal and therefore contest the colonial power arrangement was the problem.32 It wasn’t the legitimacy of the knowledge or of the practices of themselves.

Galaan: Exactly. The funny thing is, while I am making sense of my own experience where I was told to do this tsebel, I was also told to see a sheikh, a Muslim cleric with knowledge of medicine. It just reminded me that the system of referrals we fetishize in the West are all part of indigenous practices of healing that are supposedly backward.

1. For a comprehensive discussion of the concept, see Gemetchu Megerssa and Aneesa Kassam. Sacred Knowledge Traditions of the Oromo of the Horn of Africa (n.p.: Fifth World Publications, 2020), 150–56.

2. Megerssa and Kassam, Sacred Knowledge Traditions, 119–21, provide a comprehensive discussion of the concept of ayyaanaa.

3. The Sabbo Gonaa Oromo, in the lowlands of southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya, maintain a slightly different calendar that takes into account the differences in climate, ecology, and the cycles of the rainy and the dry seasons. The essential principles remain the same. For a detailed discussion, see Asmerom Leggesse, Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 2000).

4. “According to Dabbasaa Guyyoo (DG/AK OT1), with the completion of this 360-year ‘Great Round’ of the jaatama, the Gadaa system ‘ages’ and can no longer turn round and must undergo a transformation. This ageing process is caused by the workings of the number nine. At the historical level, this phenomenon of saglii is seen as a force that contains many ‘layers’ or ‘folds’ (sabbaaqa). In addition to the ‘Great Round, which Dabbasaa Guyyoo characterises as being a saglii dheertuu (‘long’ crisis) or saglii gudditti (‘big’ crisis), he distinguishes two other types of rounds, each of which are related to patterns of historical change and causation: (1) saglii gabaabduu ‘short-term’ crises, having a span of up to fifty years; (2) saglii jiddugaleetti, ‘medium-range’ crises with a duration of up to ninety years. Dabbasaa explains that as they turn, each of these rounds accumulate temporal loads, which they attempt to ‘off-load’ (lafa kete) at various stages. When this happens, a ‘break’ (cinna) will occur, resulting in crises of a local or regional nature. Sometimes, however, the cycle will refuse to throw off the ‘load’ that it is carrying and will keep on accumulating more and more detritus until it reaches its maximum extension. At this stage, it will throw off its ‘load’ violently, resulting in systemic crises at the world (adunyaa) level.”

5. The warra ayyaanaa,sometimes also called warra qaalluu,refers to the institution. The individuals holding the custodial power of the sacred knowledge of healing and spiritual guidance involves are called ayyaantuu or qaalluu. They could be of any gender and usually addressed as isaan,ina third, intermediate category that might correspond to the English word “they.”

6. An Indigenous alcoholic drink distilled from fermented barley, wheat, sorghum, or maize.

7. Watts, Jonathan. “Concrete: The Most Destructive Material on Earth.” The Guardian, February 25, 2019.

8. Gross, Michael. “Keeping Cool in a Warming Climate.” Current Biology 31, no. 20 (October 25, 2021): R1363–65.Rivera-Gómez, Carlos, Carmen Galán-Marín, Victoria P. López-Cabeza, and Eduardo Diz-Mellado. “Sample Key Features Affecting Mechanical, Acoustic and Thermal Properties of a Natural-Stabilised Earthen Material.” Construction and Building Materials 271 (February 15, 2021): 121569.

9. Ben-Alon, Lola, and Alexandra R. Rempel. “Thermal Comfort and Passive Survivability in Earthen Buildings.” Building and Environment 238 (June 15, 2023): 110339.

10. BBC News. “University of Plymouth Builds Classroom out of Mud and Hemp.” October 12, 2021, sec. Devon.Akermann, Kristina. Terra Europae: Earthen Architecture in the European Union. Belgium: ETS, 2011.

11. See Aihwa Ong, “The Production of Possession: Spirits and the Multinational Corporation in Malaysia,” in The Anthropology of Organisations (Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, Press, 2017).

12. Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. Columbia University Press, 2014.

13. See Temam Hajiadem, in “Syncretism of Waaqeffannaa and Islam among the Arsi Oromoo of Ethiopia,” Gadaa 2, no. 2 (June 2019).14. See Tesema Ta’a, in “Religious Beliefs among the Oromo: Waaqeffannaa, Christianity and Islam in the Context of Ethnic Identity, Citizenship and Integration.” Ethiopian Journal of the Social Sciences and Humanities 8 (January 14, 2013).

15. See Meron Zeleke, in “‘We Are the Same but Different’: Accounts of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Adherents of Islamic Sufi Saints,” Journal for the Study of Religion 27, no. 2 (2014).

16. Zagorski, Anna. “Why Earthen Architecture May Be a Big Part of Our Future.” Getty.

17. Anderson, Lauren, "Faith as a Means of Healing: Traditional Medicine and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church In and Around Lalibela" (2007). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 25-26.

18. Wonacott, Peter. “SABMiller Taps Ethiopia’s ‘Holy Water.’” Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2011, sec. Business.

19. Workineh Kelbessa writes, “During the Haile Selassie regime, a certain Abbaa Rakot, a Christian priest, came to Illuababorra and launched his devastating campaign against the Qaalluu institution. He tied his body with a chain. He propagated the message that the Qaalluu leaders are worshipping devils and should be avoided. He tried to praise the values of Orthodox Christianity. Muslims also regarded the Qaalluu institution as useless. The followers of both Islam and Christianity destroyed abdaarii trees. Some of my informants in Gumaro Abo, who have recently begun to follow the Pentecostal faith, asserted that Ayyaana and devils belong to the same family. There is no use in Oromo traditional religion. They said that they believe only in God. However, the Oromo regard abdaarii trees as sacred which need respect and protection.” Workineh Kelbessa. Indigenous and Modern Environmental Ethics: A Study of the Indigenous Oromo Environmental Ethic and Modern Issues of Environment and Development. Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change. Series 2, Africa, v. 13. Washington, D.C: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2011. 76.

20. “[In Ethiopia] the more widely known spiritual healers are grouped into two categories according to their religious beliefs. Members of the Orthodox Christian clergy are called the debteras and members of the Muslim community are known as kalichas.” Kassaye, K. D., A. Amberbir, B. Getachew, and Y. Mussema. “A Historical Overview of Traditional Medicine Practices and Policy in Ethiopia.” Ethiopian Journal of Health Development 20, no. 2 (2006): 127–34.

21. Lauren Anderson writes, “The medical practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church undoubtedly have links to indigenous medicine of the country. However, the Church itself refuses to acknowledge its relationship to pre-Christian practices.” Anderson, Lauren, "Faith as a Means of Healing: Traditional Medicine and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church In and Around Lalibela" (2007). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 128.

22. Moses Ochonu writes, “In [European travelogues] the ‘pagan’ communities of the Middle Belt only make occasional appearances as centers for slave raiding by powerful Muslim emirates presiding over the dar-al-Islam (abode of Islam).” “The trope of ‘pagan’ Middle Belt unpreparedness for indirect rule became the overriding rationale for Hausa-Fulani subcolonialism. The logic of subcolonialism was that the more advanced, more indirect rule–ready Hausa-caliphate zone could help prepare the ‘primitive’ institutions and societies of the Middle Belt for a full-fledged implementation of indirect rule.”Ochonu, Moses E. Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria. United States: Indiana University Press, 2014.23. Slavery was an important component of physical elimination and epistemic displacement within Abyssinian Christian Conquest. “Non-Christians, on the other hand, were considered lost sheep and slaves of the devil. The justification for enslaving non-Christians was the mission to bring back the lost sheep through baptism and acculturation. When slaves were captured or bought, the master gave them new names, displacing their birth names. In the Amharic linguistic world, slaves had a particular name with a specific function reflecting power relations between them and their masters. Only when a slave was baptized and enculturated was he or she considered for manumission; one step in this process was renaming the slave using the term barya or gäbr. The freed slave name usually signified the slave’s entry into God’s dominion, like other commoners. The relationship between God and believers is communicated through the word barya. Christian names in different Ethiopian languages signify this subjection to God. In this regard, it is worthwhile to recall a remark made by Emperor Menilk II in his letter to one of the regional rulers, Abba Jiffar of Jimma, that ‘there is no human slave; all of us are the slaves of God.’” From Demisse, Yonas Ashine. “Bringing the Slaves Back In: Captives and the Making and Unmaking of the Premodern Ethiopian State.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 38, no. 2 (August 1, 2018): 261–79.

24. “Hospital surveys indicate lack of patient awareness of diagnoses and treatments, yet physicians report they effectively communicate with patients.” Olson, Douglas P., and Donna M. Windish. “Communication Discrepancies Between Physicians and Hospitalized Patients.” Archives of Internal Medicine 170, no. 15 (August 9, 2010): 1302–7.

25. E.F. Torrey writes, “Psychotherapists are the secular priests of post-industrial societies.” Torrey, E. F. (1986) Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists: The Common Roots of Psychotherapy and its Future. New York: Harper & Row Publishers. “Long histories of Western herbalism illuminate botanical appropriation as a settler logic with important consequences for present-day herbal practices.” From Macey Flood and Natasha Myhal. “White Pine in Time and Place.” History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals 63, no. 2 (January 1, 2022): 302.

26. “Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else than medicine on a larger scale.” From Rudolf Virchow, ‘Der Armenarzt’, MR 18 (3/11/1848): 125.

27. “The failure to locate African perspectives on therapeutic matters that may or may not be important concerns in African societies is the quest for “ethnographic cases” that lend themselves to issues in the field of medical anthropology rather than African knowledge and perspectives of the field (i.e., Africa).” From Konadu, Kwasi. “Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa: Akan Medicine and Encounters with (Medical) Anthropology” 10 (2008).

28. Langwick, Stacey Ann. 2018. “A Politics of Habitability: Plants, Healing, and Sovereignty in a Toxic World.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 3: 415–443.

29. “It was precisely due to biomedicine’s status as a historical-cultural formation comprised of multiple ontological spheres that allowed the West to fashion it so effectively as a tool of colonization during this period of expansion for the capitalist world-system in East Africa.” From David Baronov, “The Role of Historical-Cultural Formations within World-Systems Analysis: Reframing the Analysis of Biomedicine in East Africa,” Journal of World-Systems Research 15, no. 2 (2009), 147–66.

30. The demonization of indigenous religious practices is directly linked to the enslavement of Southern indigenous people by Northern Christians, codified in the church as demonic pagans. “Held to be mere savages and brutish blacks who follow pagan and unholy rituals, Nara people have been heavily raided for slaves for centuries by the Aksumites and later the Amhara, the dominant ethnic group in Ethiopia. The term baria, meaning slave, denotes blackness, racial inferiority and paganism in contrast to the Christianity of the dominant lighter-skinned, red, Amhara.” Ashby, Solange. “From Slave to Demon: Barya in the Ethiopian Prayer Scrolls.” American Research Center in Egypt, December 12, 2020.

31. Waldron, Ingrid. “The Marginalization of African Indigenous Healing Traditions within Western Medicine: Reconciling Ideological Tensions & Contradictions along the Epistemological Terrain.” Women’s Health and Urban Life 9 (2010): 50–68.

32. “Traditional medicine emerges as a particularly generative lexicon through which Africans imagine and challenge sovereignties in Africa today. Contemporary traditional medicine becomes a way to experiment with political and social philosophies, with biological efficacy, and with new forms of wealth and property all at once.” From Langwick, Stacey A. “Partial Publics: The Political Promise of Traditional Medicine in Africa.” Current Anthropology 56, no. 4 (August 2015): 493–514.

Galaan Hayle is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his research focuses on the intersection of African indigeneity, technology and colonial modernity.

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