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Woman the toolmaker

Woman the toolmaker - Article 1-f Woman the Toolmaker A day...

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Unformatted text preview: Article 1 .'-f_ Woman the Toolmaker A day in the life of an Ethiopian woman who scrapes hides the old-fashioned way. STEVEN A. BRANDT AND KATHRYN WEEDMAN n the edge of the Western escarpment of the Ethio- pian Rift Valley. we sit in awe, not of the surrounding O environment—some of the world’s most spectacular scenery—but of an elderly woman deftly manufacturing stone scrapers as she prepares food. answers an inquisitive child, and chats with a neighbor. She smiles at us, amused and honored by our barrage of questions and our filming of her activities. In our world of electronic and digital gadgetry. it is surpris- ing to meet someone who uses stone tools in their everyday life. Yet, over the past three decades, researchers have identi- fied a handful of ethnic groups in Ethiopia’s southern highlands whose artisans live by making stone scrapers and processing animal hides. In 1995, with colleagues from Ethiopia's Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage and the Uni- versity of Florida, we surveyed the highlands and. much to our surprise, identified hundreds of stone tool makers in ten differ- ent ethnic groups. The Konso. one group we surveyed, grow millet and other crops on terraces and raise livestock that provide the skins for the hide workers. While hide working in virtually all of the other groups is conducted by men who learn from their fathers, among the Konso the hide workers are women, taught by their mothers or other female relatives. In archaeological writings, scholarly and popular, stone tool- making has generally been presented as a male activity; Man the Toolmaker is the title of one classic work. This is despite the fact that Australian Aboriginal, North American Inuit (Eskimo), and Siberian women. among others. have been reported in recent times to have made flaked-stone artifacts. The Konso hide workers are probably the only women in the world still making stone tools on a regular basis. They provide a unique oppor- tunity for ethnoarchaeology, the study of the material remains of contemporary peoples. In the past two summers, our team returned to study the women hide workers, following them with our notebooks and cameras, and observing them as they went through their daily lives. One Konso woman we studied is Sokate. a respected and energetic grandmother now in her 703. Our many questions 68 amuse Sokate. but she is polite and patient with us. When we ask why only 31 of the 119 Konso hide workers are men. she can only laugh and say that hide working has always been wom- en’s work. village's terraced millet fields to the same riverbed in which her mother and grandmother searched for chert, a flakeable stone similar to flint. She uses a digging stick to pry stones loose. After almost an hour. Sokate picks up a small nodule of chert. She places it on a large, flat basalt rock. Lifting another large piece of basalt, she brings it down onto the nodule several times. striking off many pieces. Sokate selects ten of the flakes and places them into the top Mile of her skirt. folding it into her waistband. She also tucks in three pieces of usable quartz. found with the aid of accompanying children. Returning home, Sokate is greeted by children, goats. and chickens. She picks up the iron tip of a hoe, and, sitting on a goat hide in front of her house. strikes flakes at? a chert nodule she collected earlier. She then picks up a wooden bowl filled with scraper components—wooden handles, used stone scrap- ers, small, unused flakes-and puts the new chert and quartz flakes in it. M0ving to the hearth area in front of her house. she takes a flake from the bowl. Resting the flake directly along the edge of a large basalt block that serves as a hearthstone and an anvil, she strikes the flake’s edges with the hoe tip, shaping it into a scraper that will fit into the socket of the wooden handle. Although she has access to iron, Sokate tells us that she prefers using stone because it is sharper. more controllable, and easier to resharpen than iron, or even glass. But not all Konso hide workers share her opinion. and in fact, there are now only 21 of them who still use stone regularly. She places the handle, passed down to her from her mother. into the ashes of the hearth. warming the acacia tree gum (mas- tic) that holds the scraper in its socket. When the mastic becomes pliable. Sokate pulls the old, used-up scraper out of the socket, then places the end of the handle back into the ashes. After a few minutes. she takes it out and removes some of the old mastic a fter an early morning rain, Sokate strides through her with a stick. On an earthenware sherd, she mixes fresh resin she collected earlier in the day with ashes and heats it. Winding it onto a stick, she drips it into the socket. Sokate then puts a new scraper into the socket, patting the resin down around it with her index finger. making certain that it is set at the proper 90-degree angle to the haft. Local farmers and other artisans bring Sokate hides to scrape, paying her with grain or money. The morning she is going to scrape a cow hide, Sokate brushes it with a mixture of water and juice from the enset plant, or false banana. If the hide is too dry, removing the fat from its inner side is difficult. After the hide is saturated, she latches one end of it to a tree or post so the hide is slightly above the ground. Squatting or kneeling, she holds the hide taut with her feet to facilitate scraping it. Then with both hands holding the wooden handle, she scrapes the cow hide in long strokes, using a "pull" motion. Goat hides are laid flat on the ground with Sokate sitting with one leg on top of the hide and the other underneath to keep it taut. She scrapes a got hide with short strokes and a “push” motion away from her body, giving better control of the scraper with the thin goat skin. Sokate removes the fatty inner layer, shaving off long strips in a rhythmic motion. When the edge of her too] becomes dull, usu- ally after about 60 strokes, she resharpens it. Most of the small chips she removes from the scraper to resharpen it fall into a wooden bowl or gourd. Her barefoot grandchildren periodically dump the sharp chips onto the communal trash pile just outside the village. Sokate uses the scraper until it becomes too dull for scraping and too small to resharpen further. She’ll wear out two or three scraping a single cattle hide, one or two for a goat hide. ...,(H,.:::savanna-mac..- .. .. . ,._.. . .. Many hide-working activities take place In Konso compounds, which are often surrounded by stone walls. A broken pot on the roof indicates the father of a household is a first-born son, a person of higher status. EYEme RISK-175:2." '. .7312“. f . ‘57}??? 'I' 3. '.' $75.". I.‘ 175‘: ‘ ..:;T‘.;:.:;"' 2 ' .- J 1 . 7: After Sokate scrapes the hide. she spreads a reddish, oily paste of ground castor beans and pieces of red ocher over it. She then folds the hide over and works the mixture into it. After a few days, the skin is soft. Cow hides are then made into bed- ding, sandals, straps, belts, and musical instruments, while goat Article 15. Woman the Toolmaker hides are made into bags and (now much more rarely) cloth- ing. During harVest time, the demand for goat hides increases because more bags are needed to carry agricultural goods. Sokate then sends her granddaughter to tell the hide‘s owner that it is ready. proud of their profession, as they play important eco nomic and social roles within their villages. In addition to hide working, they may also be responsible for announcing births, deaths, and meetings, and for performing puberty initia— tion ceremonies and other ritual activities. Despite the useful- ness of their craft and other duties in the community, Konso hide workers and other artisans, such as ironsmiths and potters, have low social status. Farmers hold them in low esteem and consider them polluted, probably because their crafts involve contact with items that are thought to be impure, like the skins of dead animals. They cannot marry outside of their artisan group, usually cannot own land, and are often excluded from political and judicial life. Clearly, the Konso hide workers are a rich source of informa- tion from which we can address a range of questions: Can exca- vations of abandoned hide worker compounds provide insights into the identification of social inequality and ranking? How and in what social contexts is stone toolmaking learned? Can we differentiate women's activities from men's on the basis of stone tools? There is a sense of urgency in our work. Many of the hide workers are elderly and have not taught their children their craft; the influx of plastic bags and Western furnishings have greatly reduced demand for their products. And many of the hide work- ers have abandoned the use of stone in favor of bottle glass: why hike two hours for chert when you can just walk down the road and pick up pieces of glass? We want to complete our study of the Konso hide workers as soon as possible and begin studying other groups in southem Ethiopia whose hide workers are still using flaked stone, for after 2.5 million years of stone tool use and probably more than 100,000 years of scraping hides with stone, humanity's first and longest-lasting cultural tradition is rapidly being lost. S okate and the other Ethiopian hide workers say they are ______________._————-— STEVEN A. BRANDT and KATHRYN Weenmn are in the department of anthropology at the University of Florida, Gainseville. Their work is supported by funds from the National Science Foundation. ...
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Woman the toolmaker - Article 1-f Woman the Toolmaker A day...

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