Living Terraces in Ethiopia

Living Terraces in Ethiopia

Konso Landscape, Culture and Development

Elizabeth E. Watson


James Currey



Living Terraces is both an ethnographic and historical account of the terraces of Konso in southern Ethiopia.
Terraced agricultural landscapes in Africa are remarkable feats of human engineering and social organization, enabling the conservation of soil and water and the cultivation of food. Indigenous terraced landscapes are all the more valuable because they have been produced by the people themselves and maintained for several hundred years, evidencing a valuable degree of sustainability. Yet until this book, there have been few accounts of how such landscapes in Africa are produced and maintained over time.
Taking a period of approximately a hundred years, Living Terraces is both an ethnography and history of the terraces of Konso in southern Ethiopia. It traces the way Konso agriculture and landscape has been produced and managed in close relationship with broader changes in Konso political and cultural lives. In shedding new light on the relationships between landscapes, livelihoods, culture and development, the book demonstrates the embeddedness of social institutions in areas of social, cultural, religious and political life, showing that social institutions cannot easily be abstracted, replicated or used instrumentally for development purposes. The result is a call for an approach to social institutions, so vital to development, which centralizes a study of culture, history and power in the analysis.

ELIZABETH E. WATSON is a Lecturer in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

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August 2009
35 black and white, 8 line illustrations
256 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
Eastern Africa Series
ISBN: 9781847010056
Format: Hardback
James Currey
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Konso Landscape, Culture & Development
Konso Intensive Indigenous Agriculture
Social Life of Agriculture
Ritual Life of Agriculture
Political Life of Agriculture
Modernity & Christianity
Revolutionary State
Ethnic Decentralization & Self-determination
Conclusion: Landscape, Meaning & Development


This book is well written, thoroughly researched and coherently organized. [...] The book raises critical issues for research in indigenous knowledge and practices in developing societies. It is of timely interest to students of economic history, geography, anthropology, cultural studies, and the environment. [...] Watson is to be commended for a work exceptionally well done. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW

An admirable book of both local and regional significance [and] a valuable historical ethnography. [...] It is well researched and scholarly but also endeavours to proffer practical insights to conservationists and strategists. JOURNAL OF AFRICAN ARCHAEOLOGY

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