Modernising Community Values


October 12 , 2019
By Hanna Haile( Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com) is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month. )


A society consensus teaches citizens what it upholds. As one generation replaces another, societies develop and change. While change is inevitable, it is worth taking a moment to ask if we are growing or simply changing. This week has been a burst of joy as the wedding season has officially commenced.

Ethiopian weddings are not a series of celebrations that is just about the two people finding lifetime partners, they are also about the joining of families. In a country that is built on family values, many strive to hold on to these values through reinforcing them.

Growth for a country cannot only be measured by GDP and the raising of concrete jungles alone. We must strive to create a world that we can be proud to hand over to the next generation, not one that is only interested in short-term goals.


As I sat celebrating my close cousin’s many pre-wedding celebrations, I wondered if the time will ever come when we will gather to make his business dream come to life. I wondered if we will come together to help him start a business and celebrate its opening. As we commemorate social achievements like marriage and giving birth we must also do so in helping one another achieve our dreams.

People struggle to make ends meet after hosting an extravagant wedding. A few months ago, chit-chatting with my ride driver, we passed a wedding celebration. He asked if I was thinking about a big wedding in my future. I told him the details of my disdain for big weddings and he began to tell me his story. He detailed a story of betrayal, disappointment and the pressure to uphold societal expectations. At the time of our conversation, in between wiping his tears, he recounted no longer talking to his mother and the borrowed money that years later he is still paying off. His marriage seemed not like a happy one. He was a sensitive man in a world that valued masculine toxicities.


In a time when life in Addis Abeba is becoming ever tougher, the societal expectations are also inflating. Our culture’s demand of others escalates.




Despite all these old-fashioned traditions that hold people back, there is a glimmer of hope in what is changing. Traditions like Tilosh where women receive gifts and the husband-to-be is judged by it and his wealth is passing. Wealth and dowry-style presents are slowly disappearing. Inquiries regarding what the male spouse does for a living so he can support his wife, as opposed to what they can do together, is slowly becoming a question of the past.

In some homes, including mine, when the traditional Shimagile proceedings occur before the wedding, which used to be a meeting of only men, women are now part of that discussion. The shimagile proceedings are really beautiful, as instead of what used to be permission to marry, has now become more of a vouching of character. Including women in this conversation is very important, as they have questions for the family that men in our communities do not think of. My aunt famously asks, “in what way does the fiancé value women?”

A woman's place within a home, marriage and decisions is at the centre. Any action impacts her and today more and more women are earning their fair share. They hold the monetary power of their own lives in some cases. We should rejoice at this as a positive step in the right direction.


As culture changes,we can grow it to make these gatherings more meaningful in the context of today. I like that we champion family structure and thinking. I like that Ethiopia is highly based on community values.

The future of Ethiopia will not be in copying capitalistic culture but creating its own better communal culture. I believe there is so much strength in how we approach our community values, yet it has not evolved thoroughly

For instance, Equb is one of the traditional systems we can adapt to the modern free-market economy. Equb is a pot where people inject money into an agreed-upon amount and frequency. Each month someone’s turn is declared and they get an opportunity to claim the whole pot. People have been able to buy homes, pay large sums of debt, and many other activities. It is a good, interest-free means to find money fast. There is a famous saying, “what has made so many people whole is Equb”. There has to be ways of modernising these ancient pearls of wisdom to the future benefits of Ethiopia.



PUBLISHED ON Oct 12,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1015]



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