African Archaeological Review

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 301–326 | Cite as

The Technical Style of Wallaga Pottery Making: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of Oromo Potters in Southwest Highland Ethiopia

  • Bula Sirika WayessaEmail author
Original Article


Pottery making is still practiced widely in parts of Ethiopia but variations in its technical practices are poorly documented. This study presents an ethnoarchaeological investigation of the technical style of pottery making among the Oromo of western Wallaga, located in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia. The Oromo are a Cushitic-speaking people who occupied Wallaga as part of a massive expansion that occurred between the early sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This resulted in the Oromo settling among Omotic and Nilo-Saharan peoples in Wallaga. Oromo pottery production in the region is passed down through family lines, and these potters use specific technical styles, which are distinct in material properties and production processes from the surrounding non-Oromo communities. Documentation of the technical styles of contemporary potter communities provides a material means for archaeologists to investigate the history and interaction of social groups in the past. Specifically, this study is relevant to investigating the poorly documented history of the Oromo expansion.


Ceramic ethnoarchaeology Chaînes opératoires Southwestern Ethiopia Oromo history Wallaga 


La poterie demeure pratiquée de manière courante dans plusieurs parties de l'Éthiopie mais les variations techniques de cette pratique sont peu documentées. Cet article présente une approche ethnoarchéologique du style et des techniques céramiques chez les peuples Oromo du Wallaga occidental (pays montagneux du Sud-Ouest de l'Éthiopie). Les Oromos, qui parlent une langue cushite, se sont établis dans la région du Wallaga pendant les grandes migrations des 16ème et 17ème siècles. Les Oromos sont donc installés parmi les peuples de souche omotique et nilo-sahariens du Wallaga. Les familles oromos se transmettent l’art de la poterie de génération en génération, et leur style très frappant est distinct de celui des communautés non-Oromos. La documentation du style et des techniques de la poterie contemporaine offrent des indices matériels qui permettent aux archéologues d'enquêter sur l'histoire et les intéractions entre les groupes sociaux qui ont peuplé le Wallaga. La présente étude est donc pertinente à la compréhension de l'histoire de l'expansion des Oromos, qui reste très peu documentée.



This study benefitted from the generous support and assistance of a number of institutions and people. I am very much grateful to Addis Ababa University Research and Publication Office and Kabana Adventist Mission School for funding this project. I am grateful to potters and farmers of West Wallaga among whom I conducted the research and Dr. Diane Lyons whose comments alerted me to many errors I may well have otherwise overlooked. Her unfailing support has been a source of inspiration. She also contributed immensely to the improvement of my English. I am also very grateful to anonymous reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments. I also thank Dr. Gerald Oetelaar and Jean-Blaise Samou for their kind support in translating the abstract into French.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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