Tigray - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activity. The Tigray practice plow cultivation of primarily cereal crops: wheat, barley, t'af (Amharic: tyeff; Eragrostis abyssinica ), and sorghum. A second crop per year is risky or impossible in most areas. Legumes, primarily garbanzos, are included in the croprotation cycle. After several years, weeds become too strong for competition, and the field is fallowed until grasses choke out the weeds and the turf can be removed again, bringing the field into cultivation. Flax is grown for linseed oil. In some zones, frankincense figures prominently. For those living near the eastern escarpment, transportation of salt from the Danakil Depression for sale in the highland markets is an important source of income. In addition to the salt trade, individuals earn some cash by purchasing cattle and small animals in the lowlands and selling them further into the highlands. Cattle are important as plow animals. When population density is high and pasturage is in short supply, plow animals are the most critical variable in the agricultural process.

Industrial Arts. Crafts are associated with pariah "castes" of artisans who are believed to be witches. Blacksmithing, pottery making, tanning, weaving, and music making fall under this stigma. A person with a physical disability, however, can engage in weaving without being regarded as a witch.

Trade. Markets, shops, and mills are associated with towns. Shops are often run by Arab merchants. Products of artisanry (pottery, hides, metal tools), herbs and spices, coffee, salt, and bread are sold. Towns, especially those associated with administrative offices, have mead houses; each quarter of a village has at least one beer house.

Division of Labor. For nonartisans, sex and age account for most of the division of labor. Men are responsible for nearly all agriculture and husbandry. The sole exception is weeding, which is done by women. Once the grain has left the threshing floor, its storage and processing into injera (the crepelike staple) and bread is also the province of women. Boys, after the age of about 12, begin herding and helping with plowing and planting. Girls help with food preparation and child care. At least one herd boy is needed if a household is to be independent. If there are more herd boys than necessary, some may go off to study the Bible to prepare for careers as deacons, with the eventual possibility of joining the priesthood. Priests, like other male heads of households, are farmers. As many as 10 percent of a parish's households may be headed by priests. Most curing, which depends heavily on ecclesiastical training, is done by defrocked priests and deacons; most treatment of spirit possession is done by women. Artisans sometimes form their own villages, where they also practice agriculture; however, in other villages, they are found interspersed in individual households with nonartisans. Elders and powerful men are designated as "recognized men" and "big-men."

Land Tenure. Land tenure is complex and governed on a parish-by-parish basis. Each parish chooses from permutations of two basic forms: ristî (hereditary) and igurafgotet (communal). To make a claim under ristî, a person must trace descent from a parish founder through any combination of males and females. The system has inherent contradictions: all plots of land potentially have multiple claimants, giving rise to a political as well as a genealogical component to land claims. igurafgotet land tenure, unlike ristî—which can be used to restrict the inflow of new farmers—encourages newcomers and becomes salient after a drought depopulates an area. Because the choice of land-tenure systems affects the size of the holdings of many people, parishes switch from one system to the other only under extreme ecological and demographic conditions. The two land-tenure systems are not associated with settlement patterns; nucleated and dispersed forms of settlement are found with both types.

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