12 February 2018

Ethiopia: Indigenous Knowledge, the Key Vehicle for Critical Transformation

As one of the world oldest nation that has its own calendar and alphabet, Ethiopia has various indigenous knowledge that the people have been using for various purposes for a long period of time. The knowledge touches almost every part of life cycles from food preparation to drug experiment.

It also serves in the areas of resource management, agriculture and education. Observing this wide and deep intellectual property, one can easily understand that the knowledge is strongly linked with ancient life styles of Ethiopians. The country's indigenous knowledge (IK) dates back to the long lived collective culture and religion of the people and has been playing a crucial role in their daily routine.


Food preparation is a unique feature of Ethiopian indigenous knowledge. And some of the foods have become the unique meals of the country. The meals such as Injera and various stews are the best examples to this regard. Even the liquors prepared by Ethiopian women (mothers) are pretty experimented upon the scientific procedures but in a traditional scheme. Here, the case of the long lived Ethiopian alcohol liquors preparation is very interesting. Traditional liquors such as Tela, Tej and Areke are well known Ethiopian alcoholic drinks. The food preparation follows its own unique proceedings than that of other countries. For example, the process of cooking 'Doro Wot', a special chicken stew and meal for holidays, bears its own sole character of Ethiopian IK. There are also various Ethiopian daily meals such as Injera, Kitfo, Kocho and Chechebsa among others. Ethiopians know about how to cook pasta well but they also know how to live with Shiro stew an Injera better.

Traditional Medicine

Health care is one of the subdivisions that the Ethiopian IK dealt with. Here, it is possible to mention that the traditional medicines have been and still are in use to protect the health of the public. The drugs are mainly originated from religion and culture. Ethiopians collect drugs comprised of plant and animal body parts. They also used hot spring water to be healed from their sickness. Using these medicines, they heal cough, wound, and other inner diseases caused by bacteria, virus, fungi or parasites. The recent initiation in exploiting the traditional medicines in the modern pharmaceuticals would help the country to use its IKs in a modest way. Here, the effort of Debre Birhan University could be an instigating move to the sphere that should be expanded across the country. The university is in pharmaceutical trial in testing four herbs including Eucalyptus Globules, Chamomile, Thyme and Rosemary in-terms of oil, cream and herbal soft to cure skin disease.


The traditional mediation is very supportive with the court system. It mainly relies on moral accountability that could change the mind of the wrongdoers. Papers also discover the value of these traditional mediation systems as supportive instruments to the modern court system. The systems including Shimgilina, Gada,Yajoka and other traditional mediation have been a critical social tools that the people has been practicing to settle peace and experience toleration among generations. Therefore, preserving and implementing these tools could be a significant measure to the current instability of the country caused by various clashes,among ethnics.


Ethiopians are among the ancient civilizers who have used oxen to plough their land. And many of the norms implemented in this traditional agriculture are just breakthrough regardless of their backwardness. Ethiopians also use their IK to preserve natural resources. In this regard, the Konso Traditional Terracing, which was inscribed as one of the world's intangible heritages by UNESCO, is the best example.


On the other hand, the traditional education system that Ethiopians have been practicing has played a significant role in equipping generations with knowledge of mathematics, medicine, history, astrology and so on. The education has been given through religious institutions of both the Christianity and Islam. This has helped the country to preserve its culture and IK for a long period of time. In fact, Ethiopia is among the few countries in the world that have their own alphabet and calendar. And this is the output of the long lived stance in keeping its own sovereignty and closely related to its own culture and IK.


Today the expansion of modernization and cultural contamination of the globalization might spark critical damage on the IKs of this country. Currently, the world entities are claiming for/ fall under material and intellectual property theft. We have already witnessed as the Ethiopian originated coffee is now being called 'Coffee Arabica'. In addition, the country is negotiating with world toughest company to return the patent of its Teff product back. What is worse is witnessing the patent of the IK about the process of preparing Injera that is taken by selfish company that has nothing to do with the process in the first place. Therefore, preserving and rehabilitating the knowledge and norms of the country should be the major role expected from the people, institutions, government and other stakeholders.

As most of the IKs have been transferring through books, proverbs, and other oral traditions, it is a must to expand the way to duplicate and disseminate IKs across the country. It is also a big challenge to inscribe and translate the proverbs quoted by various ethnicity languages of the country. Here, using the modern technologies might ease the problem related to inscription and distribution. It is possible to use ICT in this regard so as to access the knowledge easily regardless of time and place. Translating the previous Geez language that has contained the knowledge of ancient inscriptions ought to be the first step in bringing the knowledge into practice. It is constituted within various books written about medicine, agriculture, food preparation and ritual performance of the people.

Here, the effort taking place by the ministry of Culture and Tourism could be a good motive. The ministry is working to rehabilitate endangered languages and taping their value through practicing them within educational career. Among the languages are Hintagna, Zeyse and Oyda among others. The effort is all about identifying and documenting the languages and enabling them for pubic usage said Zemedkun Abebe, Ministry's Public Relations Expert.

According to him, the Ministry is also working in coordinating the initiation to identify, document and promote national proverbs that reflect the lifelong norms and philosophies of Ethiopians. As Geez language is the one that depicted the long lived history and knowledge of Ethiopians, various conferences has been taking place in universities to discuss on the possibility to discover and utilize this national antiquity. In the conferences, several papers had been presented and identified the inevitability of the language as a document of the history of the country, knowledge of medicine, cuisine and astrology and others.

Efforts are still underway to translate Geez books into Amharic and incorporating the language within the academic schedule. Even this academic year, Bahir Dar University is striving to realize this endeavor. The university is playing due role to give Geez course in MA level.

Today the country is spending a huge amount of money to import medicines. The same is true for imported agricultural and foreign packed meals. If the nation produces the imported products using IK in the country, it could help its people to consume it with catchpenny price, it would also help to substitute import and earn more foreign currency by increasing export.

Therefore, assigning intellectuals and finding solution would help to use the IKs in various careers. Furthermore, including the knowledge in the regular educational career would be a key scheme in casting the generation for all-rounded worldwide thought.


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