Collection Description

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Culture Description

Mao is a collective identity referring to the Omotic-speaking Anfillo and the ethnically-related but Nilotic-speaking Hozo, Sezo, Ganza and Bambasi communities living in scattered, multiethnic villages in Ethiopia’s western borderlands with Sudan and South Sudan. The traditional economy relied on cultivating millet and other staples on periodically-fallowed plots; hunting and gathering were important secondary activities. Political leadership ranged from village councils of elders to chiefdoms encompassing a number of villages. With increasing contact with settled Oromo farmers, some Mao communities adapted plow-based agriculture and aspects of the national political structure, including a land-based governance system of farmers’ associations with elected leadership.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

Documents in this collection mainly focus on the Omotic speaking Anfillo, and the ethnically-related but Nilotic-speaking Hozo, Sezo, Ganza and Bambasi communities. While the historical time span ranges from the early fourteenth century start of the westward migration of the ancestors of Anfillo rulers to the end of Haile Selassie’s reign in the 1970s, the basic ethnographic information draws on fieldwork conducted in the late 1930s when Ethiopia was under Italian occupation.

The most comprehensive sources in the collection are the works of two Italian colonial anthropologists, Vinigi Grottanelli (1940) and Ernesta Cerulli (1956) who held senior administrative positions during Ethiopia’s occupation (1936-1941). Together, these works describe Mao oral history, political organization, ethnic and linguistic relations, settlement patterns, economic activities, and demographic change. The remaining two documents in the collection discuss problems one faces when trying to classify the different language groups spoken by the various Mao subgroups (Bender 1975; Fleming 1984). Some languages (e.g. Anfillo) show clear affinity with Omotic languages, while those of "Northern Mao" peoples belong to the Nilo-Saharan languages.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

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