The Afar of Ethiopia

The Afar Tribe of Ethiopia continue to live the traditional lifestyles, according to their traditional values, despite the challenges brought about with Modernisation over the last half a century.

The Afar Tribe can be used as a case study in global development to illustrate some of the limitations of Modernisation Theory, along with many other themes in the Global Development module.

There are approximately 1.8 million Afar who are still leading Nomadic lifestyles, mainly in central Ethiopia, though some also live in neighbouring countries (many traditional cultures spread across nation state borders).

The Afar rely on their animals to survive in the harsh dessert climate – camels and goats are the two main animals which afar herd and use for transportation and milk.

Afar villages are generally organised into one extended family, which effectively forms a clan, and it is thus unit which forms the basis of Afar culture and property ownership.

The Afar have a traditional gendered division of labour, in which women do much of the physical household chores, and collect wood and water – the later can take several hours a day in times of drouth. Men seem to spend most of their time looking after the livestock and ‘defending’ the territory.

There are many environmental and political challenges which the Afar face: in recent years, drought has been a severe problem, and in 2019 a plague of locusts came across from Yemen which made matters worse – both food and water are scarce.

Political tensions are also an issue – The Issa people are encroaching on their territory in south, which is an ongoing, centuries old conflict, more recently fuelled by guns from the West, and thousands of Afar have been displaced as a result – nearly 50 000 in 2019.

The Ethopian government turn a blind eye to this as many of the Issa are from neighbouring Djbouti, which is land locked Ethopia’s access route to the sea.

Other challenges include land being given over to Industrial agriculture which encroaches on the Afar’s grazing territories, which are already scarce given the extreme environmental traditions.

The need to adjust to industrialisation/ Urbanisation?

It seems that modernisation and environmental pressures are not making it easy for the Afar to live their traditional lifestyles, so they might not have any choice but to adapt.

The Afar Pastoralist Development Association is already working to drill wells in some afar regions (for which you need heavy industrial machinery) and has suggested that some Afar need to move to Urban areas and find jobs in order to take pressure off the land and support those who remain living traditional lifestyles

Relevance to A-level Sociology

  • This material can be used to evaluate Modernisation Theory (link above) – it shows how modernisation really does put pressure on traditional cultures to adapt. However, the Afar traditional culture has persisted despite modernisation.
  • This is a useful reminder that modernisation might not be a bad thing where the gendered division of labour is concerned, it’s pretty stark in Afar culture!
  • it shows how the governments (Nation States) aren’t that useful to the Afar!
  • There are some useful examples of NGOs working with the Afar to help them maintain their traditional ways of life – innovative uses of technology.
  • This is a great example of how industrialisation, war and conflict (in neighbouring Somalia) and environmental decline are putting pressure on a traditional culture.

The Afar Tribe: Find Out More

This post was mainly written using material from The Traditional Cultures Project – which is a most excellent resource fo finding up to date information on many traditional cultures around the globe.

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