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Cultural Traces Around the World

The Resourceful Dorze People of Ethiopia

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The Dorze live in the Gamo Highlands of Southern Ethiopia and have a population of about 30,000. Living approximately 2,600 meters above sea level, this hospitable community is renowned for its creative members who are skillful cotton weavers and builders. The Dorze are famous for the architectural design and construction of their homes. The residences are 6 – 12 meters high and are made in the shape of an elephant’s head, often with two holes at the top that resemble the pachyderm’s eyes. Leaf sheaths of the enset, or the false banana plant, are used on the structures and can last a remarkable 10 – 20 years! The previously mentioned enset is a highly versatile plant that is much utilized by the Dorze. Although it doesn’t produce bananas, every part of it is still used in various practical ways. For example, the women prepare kocho, a type of flatbread, from the trunk and stem. Bula, a starchy white powder that can be utilized to make dumplings or porridge, also comes from the plant. The fibrous strands of the trunk are employed in the creation of houses, ropes, and a musical instrument known as the krar. The Dorze people show such remarkable resourcefulness and ingenuity by using this plant in such varied means! The Dorze love to sing and dance and have a deep appreciation for music. Their songs use polyphonic multi-part vocals where all members of the community are actively involved in the process of singing, clapping and celebrating. It is also a custom that the whole village sings before, during, and after funeral rites. The Dorze are also highly expressive in their weaving. In fact, their workmanship is admired so much that they have earned the reputation of being the finest cotton weavers in Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, the word Dorze is actually used as a synonym for weaving! Indeed, the Dorze people are skilled in many areas of life and are able to express themselves creatively through activities such as building and weaving as well as performing traditional songs and dances.
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