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Intermarriage between Conflicting Groups: The Case of the Arsi Oromo and the Sidama
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Ethiopia
2.16 Intermarriage between Conflicting Groups: The Case of the Arsi Oromo and the Sidama

(Girma Negash)

The basic objectives of this study can be summarized as follows:

      1. To bring to light and properly document the age-long intermarriage between the Arsi and the Sidama about whom little seem to be known thus far.

      2. To investigate the puzzling paradox how two peoples who perceive one another as enemy, and often at war with each other, happen to intermarry.

      3. To identify specific reasons that induced Arsi-Sidama neighbours to look for a partner from a hostile group.

      4. To analyse the attitude of members of the two respective communities towards such cross-border marriages.

      5. To examine the progress of the intermarriage issue in a time perspective.

      6. To investigate the possible impact of this intermarriage on the conflict between the Arsi and the Sidama.

In pursuance of the outlined objectives of the study, a qualitative method of research was employed. Historical sources of three categories were carefully collected and analysed: oral data, archival data and previous literature. Oral data are of great value where relevant written materials are few or hard to find. The oral data used in this study were collected through several trips to different localities along the Arsi-Sidama border. Despite the current dismal condition of our provincial archives, attempts have been made to get access to pertinent materials. The archives of Zeway Warada provided some valuable data to corroborate and countercheck the oral information. Relevant secondary written materials (published and unpublished), though very few, were also consulted. The following were the findings.

      1. Despite incessant and still active conflict between the Arsi and the Sidama, a large number of people belonging to the two hostile groups are knitted together by cross-cultural marriages.

      2. The most important factor for the ever-increasing rate of Arsi-Sidama intermarriage is the extremely high rate of the Arsi gabbara (bride-wealth or bride-price). In consequence, those Arsi who either are unable or unwilling to pay the rather high Arsi gabbara have made it a strategy, since the distant past, to look for their partner in life among their southern neighbours (the Sidama) for a tolerable bride-price.

      3. Owing to the gabbara factor and other established traditions, intermarriage between the two has always been of the pattern that the Sidama almost exclusively provide the bride and the Arsi the bridegroom, and not vice versa.

      4. Intermarriage between an Arsi and a Sidama has never been an object of social disapproval. Arsi young men have been taking the hands of Sidama girls for marriage just as they would take those of fellow Arsi girls.

      5. There has been a considerable rise in the number of Arsi-Sidama marriages in the wake of the Second World War. The state of affairs during the Derg regime (1974-1991) seems to have created an environment conducive to the further growth of the rate of Arsi-Sidama intermarriage.

      6. At a given locality, the extent of intermarriage and the intensity of the conflict are mutually interdependent. As one goes to the east, the relationship between the Arsi and the Sidama appears to be relatively more cordial than conflictive. Similarly, it is in this part of the common border that intermarriage between members of the two groups is rife. On the contrary, the western borderlands, where tense relationship and a high frequency of conflicts are inherent features, show a very low record of cross-border marriages. In sum, wherever there is a high rate of intermarriage the relationship is friendlier, and a low rate of intermarriage presupposes strained relationships.

From the history of the conflict during the past fifty years alone, the western borderlands to the west of the Addis-Awasa road have been haunted by frequent Arsi-Sidama conflicts. The realities in the east have been quite the opposite. The eastern borderlands have experienced major conflicts between the two groups in about fifteen years' intervals. Marriage ties and settled way of life seem to have been the most important contributing factors for the relative peace that the Arsi-Sidama neighbours of the east enjoy, as opposed to their western counterparts. This evidently is a substantial revelation, pertaining to the overall Arsi-Sidama relations, which can serve as a principal stepping-stone for policy makers, experts and civil servants ready to partake in any endeavour aimed at enduring peace and development in the region. For instance, the government can devise integrative projects that would narrow the distance between the two peoples and promote a sense of amity and togetherness. One such project could be poly-ethnic settlements at some volatile sites along the common border. The experience of Shamana, a locality exactly on the Arsi-Sidama border about 35 km to the west of Lake Awasa, is a useful lesson in this regard. Shamana, which used to be a traditional battle ground for the two peoples, dramatically changed to become a peaceful area following as resettlement scheme carried out by the Imperial Government in pursuance of the " Third Five Year Plan (1968-1973)". Establishment of commonly shared social services, such a schools and medical institution, at some border localities can gradually erode feelings of animosity and bring members of the two communities closer. Furthermore, as far as resource, particularly land, has increasingly become the most conspicuous cause of disagreement, the government should facilitate grounds for equitable utilization of resources.
 

 

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