Period: 3 September - 27 November 2005. Country: Ethiopia
(1) Issues of Management, Conservation and Promotion in Ethiopia's Cultural Heritage Policy: Glocalization of Handicrafts in Harar
BELLE Asante  (Division of African Area Studies)
Key Words: Cultural Heritage Policy, Handicrafts, Ethiopia

Photo 1: Harari bridesmaids: The traditional craft culture of the city is displayed in the Ada gar (Culture House) museum --a favorite setting for commemorative photographs during wedding celebrations. The hanging gab'ta (wooden bowls) and ge mot (traditional Harari basketry), as well as the atlas (embroidered silk dress) worn by the bridesmaids in this photo, are all traditional handicrafts whose current production is extremely limited.

Photo 2: Abdela Sherif --owner of the Sherif Private Museum, the last bookbinder of Harar, conservator and amateur archaeologist-- teaches his grandchildren how to delicately clean and repair antique jewelry.

Photo 3: Hamat mot: The complex pattern and tight weave of the hamat mot (mother-in-law's basket) makes it the most highly valued basket of the Harari ethnic group. The weaving of complex traditional baskets in Harar has steadily declined since the mid 1970s.

(2) This research aims to bring to the fore the marginalization of 'culture' by the Ethiopian government, whose budgetary distribution for culture is peripheral, at best. My dissertation aims to encourage policymakers in Ethiopia and other underdeveloped nations to clarify their definition of tangible cultural assets so that craft culture (which benefits local communities in terms of income generation through small cottage industries, provides symbolic embodiments of communal ideals, and often serves as sources of local and national pride) can be represented on a level equal to the immovable monuments which have received such acclaim and financial investment. I shall argue that sustainable socio-economic contributions through craft development programs cannot be guaranteed by large-sum monetary grants alone. Instead, long-term benefits at the local level require the consistent consensual, informed participation of artisans at all levels of program development and implementation. Insofar as economic development and handicrafts are theoretically compatible, it must be emphasized that programs aimed at export market growth (i.e., the globalization of declining local craft industries) may inadvertently diminish the 'authenticity' and production of local traditional craft culture by homogenizing objects to foreign preference. Therefore, I shall argue for new development initiatives which encourage a glocalization of Ethiopian handicrafts: combining local interests with global possibilities.

(3) The present field research was carried out in Harar and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between 3 September and 27 November 2005. The main results of the present field research are as follows:

    (a) The majority of craft industries in Harar are stagnating or declining. Programs to promote craft revival through apprenticeship are strongly recommended.

    (b) A recently introduced craft development project by the World Bank is the first multi-million dollar grant to Ethiopia which is specifically targeted at handicrafts. I have followed this project's development since 2002.

    (c) Ethiopia's national policy on cultural heritage is being effectively interpreted, and supplemental 'unofficial' policies are being developed in the Harari National Regional State. While the national policy on cultural heritage suffers from non-explicitness, the Harari have skillfully adjusted the policy in ways that may serve as meritorious examples for national policy revision.

    (d) The Harari National Regional State administrators, the wider community within the walled city, and individual citizens have demonstrated a commitment to elevating the status of handicrafts of the city. Various activities for their preservation and promotion were recorded.

21st Century COE Program -Aiming for COE of Integrated Area Studies-  HOME