African Archaeological Review

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 169–201 | Cite as

Perceptions of Consumption: Constituting Potters, Farmers and Blacksmiths in the Culinary Continuum in Eastern Tigray, Northern Highland Ethiopia

  • Diane LyonsEmail author
Original Article


Despite the integrated and co-dependent nature of crafting vessels and tools and the production of cuisine, the entangled identities of artisan, farmer and cook are rarely envisioned as part of a ‘culinary continuum’ in which the production of culinary equipment, food and cuisine constitutes different categories of people. Studies of cuisine tend to focus on the role of cuisine in negotiating social status and power in feasting contexts or in constituting normative social identities of gender, personhood and ethnicity. Presented is a study of potters, blacksmiths and farmers in eastern Tigray, Ethiopia. Similar to marginalized and casted occupational specialists in many societies across Africa, eastern Tigray’s potters and smiths are marginalized, avoided and demeaned in contexts where food, drink or sex is shared. Normative gender identities are constituted in the enculturation of boys as they learn to grow food and in girls as they learn to cook. Men and women perform these gendered tasks in daily life using separate gendered technological practices and spaces. Potters and blacksmiths transgress normative gender expectations by using technological skills and space differently. The embodiment and performance of their respective crafts are perceived to transform them into different ontological categories of men and women who also are attributed with the dangerous capacity to consume fertility, landscape and people.


Tigray Potters Blacksmiths Gender Caste Cuisine 


Malgré la façon intégrée et codépendante de la production des réceptacles et outils et la production culinaire, les identités entremêlées de l’artisan, le fermier et le cuisinier sont rarement perçus comme partie du même « continuum culinaire » dans lequel la production des instruments culinaires, de la nourriture et de la cuisine constituent diverses catégories de personnes. Les études concernant la cuisine mettent le point soit sur le rôle de la cuisine aux négociations du statut social et du pouvoir en contextes des festins, soit sur la constitution des identités normatives sociales du sexe, de l’état de personne, et de l’ethnicité. Ce qui est présenté ici est une étude concernant les potiers, les forgerons et les fermiers du Tigray oriental, Éthiopie. Semblable aux professions marginalisées ou des castes inférieures de nombreuses sociétés africaines, les potiers et forgerons de Tigray oriental sont marginalisés, évités et avilis dans les situations ou la nourriture et les relations sexuelles sont partagées. Les identités normatives de genre sont constituées dans l’acculturation des garçons et des filles pendant qu’ils apprennent à cultiver des aliments et à cuisiner, respectivement. Les hommes et les femmes effectuent ces tâches genrées dans la vie quotidienne utilisant des pratiques technologiques et des espaces également séparés et genrées. Les potiers et forgerons transgressent ces attentes normatives genrées par l’utilisation des compétences technologiques et espaces différemment. L’incarnation et l’effectuation de ses métiers respectives sont perçues comme servant à les transformer en catégories ontologiques différents des hommes et des femmes qui sont aussi attribués avec la capacité dangereuse de consommer la fértilité, la paysage et les personnes.



I am indebted to the generosity of the farmers, potters and blacksmiths who participated in this study and shared their experiences. Permission for research in Tigray was facilitated by the kind assistance of the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage in Addis Ababa, the National Regional State of Tigrai Tourism Bureau in Mekelle and the Woreda Saesie Tsaeda Emba office in Sinkata. Further permissions were obtained from the Tabia chairs of Mai Maghelta, Hadush Adi, Marium Agamat and Ra Ilhe. Research was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Killam Foundation and the University of Calgary. Many thanks also to the following people who participated in field and laboratory research: Dr. Joanna Casey, Dr. Andrea Freeman, Mulubrhan Haile Sellassie, Degol Fissahaye, Negussie Gebreselassie, Daniel G/Kidane, Abrhaley G/Libanos, Atakilte G/Tsedik, Goitum Fitsom, Diana Harlow and Autumn Whiteway. Thanks also to Kees de Ridder for the French translation of the abstract. A version of this paper was presented at the Society of Africanist Archaeologists meeting in Toronto in June 2012. I thank Amanda Logan and Cameron Gokee for organizing the SAfA session and this collection of papers.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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