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The Yakka Punishment: Sidama women resistance to patriarchy

Sidama People, that hail from the Kushitic ethnic group, inhabit the north east of South Nation, Nationalities and People State marked for unique natural, economic, political and cultural settings. Amongst the Age Grade system, Luwa is an ancient administrative and cultural practice of the Sidama people. It is believed to date back to the 9th century. It is indispensable to interrogate the Luwa system of the Sidama as it is an epicenter of sundry Sidama social, political and economic lives. 
The Yakka Punishment: Sidama women resistance to patriarchyMainly dealing with defense, Luwa system excludes women from participation. More over, the patriarchal power of the Sidama is reinforced and consolidated by the Luwa System. Even if the Sidama women were excluded from political and other privileges, they have managed to find some ways to maintain their respected social status.

In this article, this writer presents the precis of , The Yakka Punishment, a very interesting story of Sidama women's system of resisting the well-established patriarchal system. The precis is extracted from Article written by Ambaye Ogato Anata with the title of “Navigating and Defying Patriarchy” in 2016.

Paradoxically, the very institution – Luwa – that promotes males to a higher status, and in effect institutionalize male supremacy, also promotes the status of certain women. When a man passes through the different initiations in his Luwa set and by doing so consolidates his status.His wife experiences a similar increase in her status. As such she is accorded respect as the wife of a respected elder (cimeessa). She is second in the rank of importance to a Qarichcho (‘first lady’), who is the wife of a clan leader or Luwa leader (Gadana).

While primacy and seniority therefore are always granted to the wife of a clan leader or the Luwa leader (Gadana), the wife of a Cimeessa always retains the respect that comes with the promotion of her husband to Cimeessa. In that role, her blessings are sought after from the outset and highly regarded in the case of planning feasts (Safa). Her blessing is also sought in the inauguration of a newly constructed house. Cattle will be slaughtered by a Cimeessa as a sign of happiness. The practice is also believed to chase away ‘evil spirits’ and give thanks to the Creator (Magano).

When a woman becomes a Qarichcho ( wife of Gadana) through her husband’s position as a clan leader or Luwa leader, she gains the ‘right’ to organize other women. As a Qarichcho she gathers women together to pray for fertility and rain in times of drought. More significantly, a Qarichcho can initiate a rally to protest against a man who has humiliated or harshly abused his wife or women. This does not mean that a Qarichcho simply interferes in the internal affairs of a household; rather, she is at the forefront of exposing intolerable abuses against women in male-dominated Sidama society. This act of protest is called Yakka.

There are three major areas of abuse that prompt a yakka. One action that can trigger a yakka punishment is insulting a woman by referring to her sexual organ, whether the insult is delivered by a husband or any other man. This sort of insult is perceived as a total denigration of the woman as a mother. As such it is regarded intolerable. The Yakka punishment that attends the offense aims at creating embarrassment on the man.

The Sidama people have respect for women in their roles as mothers. An elder woman is respected and given due respect as a Randicho, who commands fear for her power to call down curses. If a Randicho call down curses on someone, there is a frightening fear that that bad luck will haunt the person and make his/her life miserable. Moreover, a Randicho is highly esteemed for her role in conflict resolution, as she is the one responsible for wrapping up the last reconciliatory phase by sprinkling water.

Another action that may invoke Yakka involves the domestic relationship between a man and a woman (i.e., a husband and wife). A Sidama woman generally takes rest quite late after making sure every household chore is in order. She also wakes up early in the morning to make sure that food is prepared for her husband and the family. She shoulders the burden of milking and many other domestic chores. If the husband, who spends most of his time on the farm looking after his cattle, or in a Songo (council of elders) meeting, were to come home and wish to go to bed early, his wife may be late to join him in bed because she has a lot to do before retiring. Should the husband lose control of himself because she is not in bed with him, and starts to insult her with demeaning words,which she finds unbearable to her, or even try to beat her, she can then seek Yakka punishment.

A third action that can invoke Yakka, which is often mentioned, is the insulting or beating of a woman while she works in the backyard in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘false banana’ (Ensete ventricosum) farm. Among the Sidama, women assume the sole responsibility for preparing food from Ensete ventricosum. Thus the backyard is considered to be their private area (space). If a man insults her or beats her in that area, she can enact a Yakka punishment.

Whenever a woman is abused in any of the above situations, she opts to go to a Qarichcho. These offenses are considered to be offenses against all women, and the Qarichcho will utter ‘aliwelo masange Oso’ (which literally means, ‘a woman is unnecessarily abused and disgraced’) and start to shout. When she shouts she usually holds her breasts, signifying that she who gives birth has been unfairly abused. Women from different groups will hear the persistent shouting of the Qarichcho and come out to express solidarity with her. Led by the Qarichcho, they add to the volume of her shouting so that all women folks could come out from the neighborhood and join them. At this point, the insult or abuse by the man is no longer considered offense done against that particular wife or woman alone, but rather is considered as an insult or abuse against all women.

During such a rally a husband cannot force his wife to stay at home. The women rise to a state of defiance against any authority that attempts to stop them. Once, all of the women have assembled, they march to the house of the man who humiliated the woman. Upon their arrival, they demolish everything in their path, including the hut itself. If they manage to capture the culprit, they strip off his clothes, beat him, and make him carry ‘Mocaa’ (a juicy fluid that comes from the preparation of ensete ventricosum) through the village. When a man carries Mocaa in Sidama, it is a sign of humiliation and disrespect.

In other words, such situations would empower women to take the upper hand in punishing and taking the matter in their own hands. In the face of such dramatic actions by the women, elders try to calm the rage by calling a meeting among themselves and taking matters into their own hands. Although women cannot directly participate, their cause and concern will be seriously discussed in the Songo (council of elders) meetings and the offender will be punished.

A last issue with regard to the status of women in Sidama society concerns a woman’s burial ceremony. As mentioned above, the promotion of a husband through one of the rituals of Luwa elevates wife’s status accordingly. For a wife whose husband has gone through the Luwa rituals, upon her death there is an elaborate mourning ceremony and her grave is fenced in a distinctive way. This level of mourning and style of grave demonstrates how the Sidama adapt funeral rites to accord with a woman’s social worth and status.

Generally, we can observe how Luwa institution that grants high status to a man also elevates the status of his wife or women with regard to certain activities. Although, the status of women in Sidama society is subservient to the status of men, women have recourse to the Yakka punishment against men who denigrate or abuse them to an extent that is considered intolerable in Sidama society.

This writer hopes this article inspires researchers to investigate and write on unreached indigenous culture Ethiopians Nations, Nationalities and Peoples have regarding women in particular and system of administration in general. The writer also recommends women activists and others to scout for such literature,dig deep and make them enjoy limelight.

(Source: This article is found in American Journal of Sociological Research 2016, 6(3): 61-65
DOI: 10.5923/j.sociology.20160603.01 and belongs to Ambaye Ogato Anata. The writer of this article just shortened the story to esteemed readers so as to offer a window to a new culture.)


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