|Ilto Indalay and Weaving in Doko Losha
Ilto lives in Doko Losha, a community situated in the central Gamo Highlands, roughly 3,000 meters above sea level, and 500 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. Losha is surrounded on three sides by the steep and barren Sura Mountain Range. From the mountain top above Ilto's home one has a magnificent view of the farms, pastures, bamboo groves, wetlands and forest tracts that comprise the land of Doko. Among the distinctive features of the Gamo area are split bamboo houses covered with wheat straw.
Weavers are members of the mala social class, commoners in Doko society. Unlike blacksmiths, butcher-tanners and potters in Doko society, they are not members of a caste group. Though weaving is a man's occupation, women play an important complementary role procuring, carding, and spinning the cotton used for the weft threads of the loom. Today, the warp threads are generally factory-made and obtained in local markets. Doko weavers use a pit-style loom, named for the hole that is dug in the ground to accommodate the weaver's feet as he sits at the loom. Most weavers have their looms set up outside in their compounds, often near the main house. This presents a challenge when the weather turns bad. Some weavers have a pit dug in their house so that the loom can be moved indoors if it rains.
Ilto is not a full-time weaver. He, like all Doko men, is also a farmer who grows a variety of crops including wheat, potatoes, barley, peas, onion, cabbage, and ensete. Indeed, farming is a Doko man's most important occupation. It is only when weavers move to cities, like Addis Ababa, that they are able to practice their trade as full-time specialists. Ilto produces cloth by order as well as for the market. Most Doko weavers regularly attend local open-air markets to obtain the supplies they need, primarily loom parts and thread, and to sell the cloths they produce. Ilto knows how to weave several types of cloth, but prefers the netala because it is quickly made, taking him one to two days, and it sells well in the market. It is a white (non-dyed), gauze-like cloth, worn by women throughout the Gamo region. It has one of two types of borders, the simple, single-color loomoot or the more complex, multi-color inlay border known as tibeb. Some Doko weavers make the fota, a bright, two-color plaid cloth that does not have decorative borders. Like the netala, the fota is relatively easy to weave. In fact, weavers say that despite its plaid pattern, it is easier to make than the netala because the thread is heavier and does not break as readily; nor does it incorporate a decorative boarder. Currently, a red and blue combination is in vogue in Doko.
Arba and His Sons
The research team also had the opportunity to work with another weaver in Doko Losha, Arba Desta. His story is particularly interesting because he was born in Losha, moved to Addis Ababa as a young man, and returned to the Gamo Highlands in 1983 when he inherited farmland from his father. A number of his sons still live in Addis where they are full-time weavers.
Arba is in his early eighties. He has two wives. His first wife, Kaote Kasa, lives with him in Losha, and his second, Wolete Ika, lives in Addis Ababa. Kaote has given birth to two girls and six boys, and Wolete has had five boys.
Arba began weaving when he was around thirty-five years old. He first learned to make the netala from a neighbor, Dido Dunse. This is unusual, for most Doko weavers learn as youths from their fathers. He began making the fota about twenty years ago. In addition to being a farmer and weaver, Arba also builds split bamboo fences. Five of his sons from Kaote are weavers. Four live in Addis Ababa and the fifth, Malako, lives with him in Losha. All learned to weave from their father. Malako is fifteen and first learned to weave five years ago. His loom is set up beside his father's. Malako recalls that, like all boys who learn to weave, he began his education by working the bobbin winder. He weaves when he has free time, after school and after he has helped his father with the farming. Malako is looking forward to the day when he will be able to join his older brothers in Addis Ababa because he would like to be a full-time weaver.
The research team met with two of Malako's brothers in Addis Ababa, Kalkai and Bekele. Bekele weaves at home and Kalkai joined a weaver's cooperative that was set up by the government in 1976. Kalkai spends most of his time weaving the gabi. He the research team that he does not weave the netala because in the city women wear the netala only occasionally and the demand for it is not as great as the gabi. It costs him about 50 birr ($10 U.S.) for the raw materials to produce a gabi which he can sell for between 80 ($16 U.S.) and 100 birr ($20 U.S.).
1. In the Doko area, a compound is a group of houses that are enclosed within a woven bamboo fence.
2. Ensete is a banana-like plant, sometimes referred to as the "false banana" because it does not bear an edible fruit. A variety of foods are made from the starchy pulp of the plant. It also produces a high quality fiber that has diverse uses in Doko society. For instance, it is the primary material used for lashing together the component parts of the weaver's loom.
3. According to Zelinsky-Cartledge and Cartledge, the fota is a relatively new type of cloth said to have originated in the Gamo Highlands about twenty years ago. It is now the most popular cloth in Doko. (Mary Ann Zelinsky-Cartledge and Daniel M. Cartledge. "Ilto and Arba-Two Doko Weavers." In Ethiopia: Traditions of Creativity, edited by R. Silverman. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998.)