06/22/2013

The Bashagi Goldmines, Suri Tribe, Ethiopia

The Bashagi goldmines are located near Kibish. After a 40km drive on an unpaved small field road from Kibish to the south there is a small police station where it is possible to stay overnight. Basically the 'police station' consists of two small houses and a ranger with a Kalashnikov in the middle of nowhere. The goldmines are very popular amongst young Suri teenagers between 12 and 17 years. They go in groups of a about 9 or 10 people, and after a 1,5 or 2 days hike from Kibish they finally reach the police station where they sleep and eat. 

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Usually they stay up to 10 days at the goldmines, and they work every day very hard. If they are lucky they can earn around 400 Birr in 8 or 10 days, which is something like 20 USD. The money is very important for them. Either it is used for the family to buy seed. Especially the young men also save the money for a new cow, which is important for later when they marry, because they have to pay for the bride, and the family of the bride only accepts cattle for the payment.

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03/24/2013

Monks and novices in Myanmar - the Buddhism way of life

Myanmar is one of the most devout Buddhist countries in the world. About 89% of the people in Myanmar are Buddhist. People in Myanmar practice the Theravada Buddhism, which is more austere and ascetic, but also harder to practice than the Mahayana Buddhism, the other main branch of the Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is also followed in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Laos and Thailand. No one really knows, but experts estimates that in Myanmar live about half a million monks. It's customary for a male in Myanmar to enter a monastery twice in his life. Once as a samanera, a novice monk, between the age of 10 and 20, and again as a hpongyi, a fully ordained monk, sometime at the age of 20. Some might remain a monk for just a few days, while others stay for life.

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Monks hold the highest status in the society of Myanmar. The overwhelming majority of the monks and novives in Myanmar wear maroon-colored robes. Monks receive two meals per day, breakfast and lunch and they are not allowed to eat after 12:00 noon. Early in the morning the monks and novices go out carrying a bowl to get offerings like rice, curry or other food. Usually a monk has his own family where he goes every day. It is not begging, since the family invited the monk to come to their house. It is a ritual that expresses a profound bond between the monks and the ordinary Buddhist and gives the locals the chance of doing the deed of dhana and to acquire merit.

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01/27/2013

Suri people under pressure: The Malaysian Plantation in Koka, Ethiopia

There are serious changes in the south-western part of Ethiopia, which hosts some of Africa's most fascinating and colorful ethnic groups. Things are changing very fast and not everything is for the better for the people there, like for example the Suri people around Kibish, Tulgit and Koka. The Ethiopian Agriculture and Rural Development State Minister Aberra Deressa once claimed: " ... at the end of the day we [do] not really appreciate pastoralists remaining in the forest like this ... pastoralism is not sustainable ... we must bring commercial farming, mechanized agriculture, to create job opportunities to change the environment." In 2011 the Ethiopian government started a 5 years development plan for the region around the Omo River. It covers among others state-run sugar plantations and factories in South Omo, the Gibe III dam, a resettlement program and the Malaysian plantation in Koka.

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In October 2012 I visited the Koka plantation which is operated by the Malaysian company Lim Siow Jin Estate. The plantation was founded almost 2 years ago. Right now around 140 people are working on the farm, among them also a few Suri people. The manager of the plantation explained me the master plan of the 55-year leasing contract between the Malaysian owner and the Ethiopian government, which is quite impressive. The plantation has a size of about 31.000 ha, which is half the size of Singapore. The plantation grows palm oil, sesame and rubber trees. For 2013 an airport is planned, and in the near future a number of factories. The plantation is far away from the harbor (Djibouti), so transportation will be a problem. Since the target of the plantation is the world market, the plantation is planning to process the raw material in new factories directly on the farm, and the transport will be managed by airplane. At the end of the leasing time over 40.000 people should work on the plantation and in the nearby factories.

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