Ensete as Food in the Horn of Africa
with Antonio Palmisano
Like the Oromo, Afar, Somali and Hamar people, the Guraghe have also structured their society in a segmented way, taking advantage of the dynamics of splitting and merging of lineages, without developing the same social features of those groups. Unlike those groups, however, for the Guraghe pastoralism and seasonal migration with herds of livestock have not represented an ideal way of life to be maintained at all costs. Instead, like the Amhara and Tigrini, the Guraghe also belong to the Semitic language group and have oriented and structured their society around an agricultural form of production. But this form of production is not characterized by plows drawn by oxen: The Guraghe way of marking space and defining it in opposition to the space of centralized societies is expressed through the cultivation of a very unusual plant: ensete, or the false banana. It is in this relationship between the segmentary structure of lineages and the cultivation of ensete that the distinctive nature and identity of Guraghe society is formed, a migratory identity with an extension of the rural environment into the urban one: a kind of migration of the countryside into the city.
Thus at the base of Guraghe society is an unusual form of agriculture and horticulture: the cultivation of ensete. For the Guraghe, this plant represents a point of cultural and even emotional reference, shaping the economic, political, cultural and even religious organization and structure of their society and defining it compared to others.
The food produced from the plant, wusa (koccho), is nourishment not just for the body of the individual but also for the social body, impregnating with its characteristic scent the political, economic and symbolic universe of the Guraghe.