Tigray - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The most significant unit beyond the household is the h'agareseb (lit., "farm people"), which is the parish or local community. It is at the parish meeting, held on Sunday mornings after church services, that all important community decisions are made, whether they be religious or civil, whether to add a new saint to the local church calendar or to repair a path. Parish meetings are presided over by a secular community leader, or "manager." In nucleated parishes, village wards are significant and have informal leaders. Neighbors participate in one another's life-cycle ceremonies and have the legal duty to respond when a neighbor raises a hue and cry. Descent groups have little relevance outside of land-tenure issues. Most adults belong to "twelve apostle" eating clubs, consisting of men or women or couples who meet once a month for feasting and discussion.

Political Organization. When the Ethiopian state was functioning well, the Tigray of Tigray Province were full participants in politcal life and on several occasions provided emperors. This relationship was interrupted in Eritrea by the long Italian colonization. After the 1974 Revolution, many of the Tigray in both areas rose in rebellion. Nowadays the state organization involves provincial, district, and subdistrict governors. Each parish has an official, appointed from above, who owes loyalty to the subdistrict governor. The official at each level of government owes loyalty to the official immediately above him, not to the central government. Parish priests are responsible to the bishops.

Social Control. In native theory, people are "good" because they fear what their neighbors will think, what the courts will do, and what God will do. Beyond this, the parish chief is an officer of the court and has the responsibility to handle minor cases and to carry more serious ones to higher courts. The institution of awu ha h requires all members of the community to assemble for three days or until someone confesses knowledge of a crime.

Conflict. The Tigray see conflict as a natural consequence of weak authority. Conflicts occasionally transpire, ranging from those at the the intervillage level to rebellions against the state, as happened in the 1940s and again since the Revolution. Outlaws with a large following are sometimes later made part of the state, and state officials sometimes become outlaws.

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