Growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I was always surrounded by works of skilled artisans – weavers, potters, jewelers. They produced everyday utilitarian objects: from pots for making coffee, to wonderfully soft and warm cotton blankets; as well as decorative items. I also watched my grandma – Nunya, as we called her – buy raw cotton from the market, take the seeds out, fluff up the cotton and as if by magic hand spin the cotton into beautiful, little spools of cotton thread. These were highly prized by my mother who would take them to a weaver “shemané” and pick out a design for the border “tilet”. The weaver would promise the design will be exclusive to her and would not make it again. She would proudly wear a dress and a matching shawl “netela” made out of the fabric, to events, big or small, she and my father were invited to.
My sisters and I, who were into “modern” fashion, would not even think of wearing these garments. Until it was high school graduation and my school required us to wear a traditional garb to the ceremony. I took it upon myself to come up with a design for a contemporary dress made with a traditional fabric. The fabric was of low quality and further damaged by a bad tailoring job. An hour before the ceremony, I was a teary mess with an elaborate updo. What saved the day was one of my mom’s dresses. Thereafter, I was a convert.
Every time I visit my family in Addis Ababa, I come home laden with the beautiful fabrics and household items that I grew up with. This collection is from my most recent trip and sourced from the usual haunts, street markets, and the studios of designers and craft boutiques. We are currently working on establishing relationships with local craftsmen to develop an exclusive collection and we invite you to join us on our journey. Welcome to our world, welcome to Haizo!
Haizo is the name of a rural village located in the southwestern part of Ethiopia. Traditional sources indicate this community has been practicing weaving since the 1800s. Haizo is considered to be representative of the core of the bigger Dorze district it belongs to. The Haizo themselves say “Haizo gidho” which means “Haizo is the center”.
Dorze is a region located in the Gamo highlands of southwestern Ethiopia. Though it has so many similarities with other Gamo societies, the Dorze society is different from the others for some reasons. While agriculture is a dominant economic activity among the majority of the Gamo highlanders, the Dorze also widely practice weaving as additional source of livelihood. Both men and women engage in farm work in most Gamo societies while Dorze men predominantly do weaving and the women are engaged in farming. A study done in the 1970s indicates that in the Haizo district of Dorze, 82 percent of the men had weaving skills and 78 percent of them were full time weavers.
The Gamo highlands rise to an altitude of 3000 meters characterized by series of ups and downs. Like other parts of southwestern Ethiopia, the Gamo highlands had been relatively isolated from central and northern Ethiopia for centuries. The highlands were incorporated into the expanding Ethiopian empire in 1898. Through the years, the highland communities were more and more integrated into the Ethiopian state. The construction of all-weather roads hastened the integration process. As transport links improved, Dorze men began to sell their products in Addis Ababa and other urban centers. The Dorze were the trendsetters in this regard and by the 1970s many of them spent most of their years in Addis Ababa, returning home only for ‘Mesqalla’, celebration of the New Year. Migrant weavers who spent most of their lives in urban areas brought money to the highlands.
Haizo weavers became highly sought after in Addis Ababa and other urban centers for their skillful woven goods and intricate designs. A famous weavers’ co-operative was founded in the 1970s in Addis Ababa which was named “Dorze Haizo”. The co-operative has strived to preserve the weaving tradition and skills.
We would like to thank Getaneh Mehari (PhD), chairman of the Department of Social Anthropology at Addis Ababa University, who provided us with such great help as we were conducting research on the Haizo society. Historical references from the above text were extracted from Dr. Getaneh’s MA thesis publication, “The role of women in the household economy – the case of the Dorze”.