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Politics and Change in Dimam, South-West Ethiopia

Todd, David Michael (1975) Politics and Change in Dimam, South-West Ethiopia. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94695) (KAR id:94695)

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The Dime number about 8,000 people, and inhabit a series of mountain ranges and surrounding lowland territory, overlooking the lower reaches of the Omo River, in Gemu Gofa Province of South West Ethiopia. They practise slash and bum agriculture on large-scale terraces.

Until the beginning of this century, they were a self-gover­ning people, under a number of chiefs, who had political, jural, economic and ritual functions. They were then invaded by an army of Amharas, who entered the country from the east, and colonised it. A large number of Dime were sold to visiting traders, who re­moved them from the area, and sold them as personal slaves to Amhara land-owners. The land was divided into a number of estates, belonging to both resident and absentee landlords, worked by the Dime in return for the right to use smaller areas of land for their own purposes.

The period of enslavement effectively destroyed the political power of the chiefs, and left them as guardians of rituals concer­ning the welfare of their chiefdoms. Previously, serious legal cases were brought before the chief, who had the authority to pass judge­ments, even in a case of murder, and the power to carry out his sentences, by the use of his own 'bodyguard' of members of a servant caste. If defensive or offensive action was required, it was a chief or chiefs, who decided to call men together, and led them to battle.

In pre-Amhara days, the chief was the focal point of a re­distributive economy. His subjects brought him personal gifts, and were invited at a later date to a feast of his providing. Other gifts which they brought to his compound were offered by him to the gods and spirits, to ensure the well-being of the country and populace. Economics, politics, law and ritual were all part of the same coherent view of the world. Beneath the chief, small-scale disputes were solved informally by village gatherings, tenants payed tithes to Dime land-owners, and local rituals were carried out by lineage heads. Local affairs were pursued in a manner which reflected those of the chiefdom, and there was no discontinuity between the powers of small-scale leaders and those of the chiefs.

The Amhara invasion altered the content of chiefship, by making the chiefs minor political agents of the landlords, with power derived from their masters, no economic function, and greatly reduced religious authority.

In the late 1930's, an Italian force drove the Amharas from the area, and re-instated the Dime as free men. But the Italians were soon removed, the Amharas returned, and began to reconstruct their old system. They were thwarted by the arrival in the Sub-Province of Ethiopian Government officials and policemen, who began to put into effect the abolition of slavery. At this time, economic power went to the landlords once more, while overall jural and political power went to the police force, and Government Courts. For a short time, the Dime had no legitimate leaders, who could organize internal social control.

Into this vacuum came a shaman from the eastern neighbours of the Dime, the Basketo. His practice met with such success that others became possessed by spirits, and began to heal the sick, discover and punish wrongdoers, and restore social harmony. Those shamans who achieved wide acceptance became wealthy and influential.

At the same time, it became obvious to the Dime that they must handle their interactions with the District Government in the most efficient manner possible. "Middle-men" became necessary, and the most successful of these, the Government-appointed "Chikashum" (mud chief), is a Dime who speaks excellent Amharic, and has considerable knowledge of officialdom. He is by far the richest and most honoured member of the society.

Other agents of change are moving into Dimam, notably an evangelical mission, which recently established a church and clinic there. The recent revolution and subsequent nationalisation of land promises an even more radical transformation than has so far occurred.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94695
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
J Political Science
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2022 16:51 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Nov 2022 16:51 UTC
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