Accepted paper:

Shape-shifting spirits and genuine fakes: vindicating indigenousness through culinary themes and variations in Hadiya, southern Ethiopia


Valentina Peveri (The American University of Rome (AUR))

Paper short abstract:

In Ethiopia the geography of landscapes goes hand in hand with maps of likes and dislikes in terms of politics and food. This paper analyses how the Hadiya people taste modernity in small bites, inside and outside the kitchen, and cleverly cruise through the spatial and eating practices of the State.

Paper long abstract:

After being conquered by Emperor Menelik II, the Hadiya, herdsmen and breeders, semi-nomadic warmongers, were forced to adopt agriculture. Since the occupation, many southerners have shared a strong antipathy towards the system of the conquerors. The political situation in present-day Hadiya is punctuated by repression and suffering; and their seeming passivity is to be understood not as apathy but as an expression of a political stance.

In addition, issues of food and cuisine are fraught with inequality and political domination. Since national products and dishes contain painful memories of imperial conquest and evoke the power of the northerners, food taboos and preferences become a sensitive marker for understanding what people conceive to be civilized or barbaric. What is the logic of place-making for people whose move was forcibly prevented? How does a sense of belonging develop if ancestral spirits are dead, migrated or constantly shape-shifting? It is through the rhetoric of food that the Hadiya vindicate their indigenousness and keep their ancestors' memory alive; local recipes provide an underground device for taming exotic foods and rephrasing the national idiom of modernity.

People are selective in their appropriation of things that they consider as national or alien; but also systematic in indigenising ingredients, in adulterating 'authentic' recipes, and merging together the traditional and the modern. I will therefore look at this Hadiya combinatorial attitude of tasting modernity in small bites, and making it local/palatable, while at the same time contesting the nation-building project which lies behind the official hierarchy of 'good' and 'bad' cuisines.

panel P31
"Indigenous" space and local politics