Accepted Paper:

The Amharic oral poetry of Lalibalocc in northern Ethiopia  


Itsushi Kawase (National Museum of Ethnology)

Paper short abstract:

Lalibalocc, the wandering singers in Ethiopia, are said to be condemned to leprosy with their descendants unless they sing, beg and bless for alms. By audio-visual methods, I explore the singers' creativity in their Amharic oral poetry based on the interactions with the audience.

Paper long abstract:

Lalibalocc (singular: Lalibala/Hamina) are the group of wandering singers in Ethiopia who are believed to share the oral tradition, which condemns them and their descendants to leprosy unless they sing, beg and bless for alms in the morning. They usually work in the morning from door to door. Sound instruments are never used by them.

Before Lalibalocc start singing, they ask neighbours the name, religion and occupation of the owner of the house. Thus, the lyrics of their oral poetry are contrived in a flexible way to uplift the feeling of the listeners according to the personal information they obtain from this sort of "research". Once Lalibalocc receive alms in the form of money, clothes and food, they sing particular forms of blessing verse-wishing prosperity to the listener before moving to the next residence. People have variable reaction to Lalibalocc: some welcome them sincerely while others refuse them with deep-seated antipathy.

The paper explores the singer' creativity in their Amharic oral poetry based on the interactions with the audience specifically focusing on the daily activities of Lalibalocc who come annually to Gondar in northern Ethiopia. The paper also examines challenges and prospects for the documentation of Lalibalocc's oral poetry through audio-visual methods including my ethnographic filmmaking practice on their performance.

Panel P135
Sound cultures of Africa (CLOSED)