The Borderland. Ethiopia.

Slavery/Fascism/Colonialism: Landscape in Gubba.
In a hill over the border town of Gubba, very close to Sudan, stand the remains of a small palace. Its owner, Hamdan Abu Shok, was an infamous slave trader in the late 19th and early 20th century. The surviving brick arcades are redolent of Islamic architecture elsewhere. The ruins look vaguely medieval and out of place – too ancient and too modern at the same time. When the palace was constructed, it was the only permanent building in the region of Gubba.
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The place is linked to slavery from another point of view. In the 17th and 18th c. the Sinashas, an isolated Omotic group, found refuge from slave raiders in the rock shelters dotting the steep mountains around the palace.
Hill and palace were occupied by Mussolini’s army between 1936 and 1941. British Blenheim bombers razed the place in October 1940. In and around the bomb craters we found porcelain from Abu Shok’s service, stucco from the walls, a copper shower head, an Italian bayonet scabbard, food cans stamped “Roma” and “Eritrea”, an 8 mm shell casing from a Breda machine gun, indigenous hand-made pottery. A few paces away, a rusty and hollowed Ford 1927 Model T, probably used by the Italian officers commanding the base – 60 years afterwards, cars are still something futuristic in Gubba.
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Not far from the hills, close to a centuries-old baobab, two ruined brick structures: the remains of a school built by the British after the invasion of Ethiopia in 1941, when they thought they could annex the Ethiopian borderland to Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.
Feudal monarchy/Marxism/Post-industrial energy crisis: The road between Gubba and Gilgel Beles.
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A dirt road, the main route through Metekel. It is probably not different to that used by 19th century travellers and elephant hunters, by slave raiders and gold traders well before (the Axumites came to this area for gold in the 6th AD) and by the King of Kings Haile Selassie in January 1941.
Not far from Gubba, four shattered trucks and a Soviet ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun, all torn apart by several RPGs and landmines. The red star on the ammunition box. Many 23 mm shell casings on both sides of the road. An ambush on a government convoy in the late 1980s. All the grasses and bushes around are burnt by swidden cultivators.
The local inhabitants are the Gumuz, a Nilo-Saharan group. Men walk around with bows and arrows, women with carrying sticks, transporting calabashes and plastic jerrycans. Amidst the dense savannah forest a few bamboo huts and mud-covered granaries appear here and there. Most villages are located far from the road to avoid slave raids – that only ended in the 1940s.
A savannah woodland of 85,000 Ha, formerly belonging to the Dach’igra clan, has been deforested by a European multinational for producing biodiesel.
The textures of daily life/The Fall of Berlin: A Gumuz village near Gilgel Beles.
An inventory of artefacts inside a Gumuz house:
-5 Pots for making and storing sorghum beer (tich’a).
-1 Pot for storing water (kula).
-1 Beer filter (dinga).
-4 Pots for making and serving porridge (antersa, mashiakwa).
-12 Calabashes for storing things and drinking (nekwa, baggha).
-1 stick for removing the stew (yinge).
-2 baskets for sieving grain (kakea).
-3 storing baskets (dikufa).
-2 beds – Sudanese style (intertwinned leather strings).
-1 wooden stool (dugu).
-2 plastic jerrycans.
-6 plastic and aluminium glasses.
-1 electric torch.
-2 grinding stones (gisha).
-2 hoes (t’äba).
-1 digging stick (gombe).
-1 axe (dela).
-2 bamboo carrying sticks (ndigha).
-1 net for fishing made with vegetable fibers (igha).
-2 bamboo bows (yedegwa) and seven arrows.
-1 PPS 43 Soviet sub-machine gun (Pistolet-Pulemet Sudaeva), dated 1944.
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One thought on “The Borderland. Ethiopia.

  1. Alfredo,
    organizing a workshop about colonialism an civil war over here in Germany, we’re really grateful finding your work here. We’ll quote you as academic source for our paper.

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