WSU Anthropology–Ethiopia Partnerships

Barry Hewitt and Dr. Damtew Darza Sozo.
Dr. Damtew Darza Sozo, president of Arba Minch University (right), exchanging a signed MOU renewal with Barry Hewlett for WSU Anthropology.

Southern Ethiopia is known for its cultural, linguistic, and human biological diversity; at least 52 ethnic groups live in the region and the Rift Valley was home to some of the earliest humans. WSU Anthropology is fortunate to have formal partnerships through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with each of two of the region’s leading universities: Hawassa (HU) and Arba Minch (AMU). Both universities have about 32,000 students apiece and each has a school of medicine, law, and public health. In February, the WSU Department of Anthropology renewed and extended its MOUs with both universities for another five years.

WSU Anthropology initiated scholarly relations with Ethiopia in 2010 when faculty members Barry and Bonnie Hewlett received Fulbright scholarships to teach and conduct research at HU. While there, Barry wrote and received a grant from the U.S. Department of State to provide seed money to start collaborations between WSU Anthropology and HU. The grant enabled fellow faculty member Rob Quinlan and graduate student Adam Boyette to travel to Hawassa where Rob presented lectures and Adam taught for a semester. The grant also enabled HU to purchase computers for an anthropology graduate student lab. In 2013, Barry started to teach an anthropology graduate course at Arba Minch University, and this led to the development of a MOU between WSU and AMU.

Large group photo.
Barry and Bonnie Hewlett (center) with Hawassa University anthropology majors at Lalibela monolithic churches

WSU Anthropology and the Ethiopian universities have benefited enormously from the collaborations.

Group photo.
Cougar fans: Awoke Assoma (WSU PhD ’17, cultural anthropology); Akmel Nur Negash (faculty research collaborator, biological anthropology); and Ato Amalo Sooge (faculty research collaborator, cultural anthropology)

First, WSU Anthropology has contributed substantially to the growth and development of Ethiopian anthropology departments. Three HU faculty have completed their PhDs at WSU: Samuel Dira (cultural, 2016), Awoke Assoma (cultural, 2017), and Ashenafi Zena (archaeology, 2019). Four other Ethiopians are currently in the PhD program and should finish in a few years: Mulye Tadesse (cultural), Wolayte Gessamo (cultural), Mesganaw Mihiret (cultural), and Addisalem Sugamo (archaeology). WSU Anthropology is currently training more Ethiopian graduate students than any other U.S. university. Also, in part due to the WSU connections, HU offers the only 4-field BA degree in Ethiopia (all other universities use a European model where social anthropology is a separate department from archaeology or biological anthropology), and it will start to offer its own PhD program in anthropology in 2020. WSU faculty have advised HU and AMU in the development of their BA, MA, and PhD anthropology programs.

Group photo.
Samuel Dira, his wife, Fasika, and son, Erko, in Hawassa. Later that year he started his doctoral studies in Pullman and welcomed two more children.

Second, the partnership has enhanced faculty and graduate student research opportunities. In addition to the Hewletts, Rob and Marsha Quinlan, Andrew Duff, and Courtney Meehan have also conducted research in southern Ethiopia. The universities facilitate the research authorization process and often help with logistical arrangements and identify local research assistants. In addition to the seven Ethiopian graduate students conducting research in country, more than 10 U.S.-based WSU anthropology graduate students have conducted field research in Ethiopia including: Courtney Helfrecht (now at University of Alabama); Adam Boyette (now at Max Plank Institute); Zach Garfield (now at Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse); Mark Caudell (now with WSU Vet Med); former MA students Courtney Malcom, Jessica Collins, and Avery Lane; and current PhD students Katie Flores and Scott Calvert. WSU Anthropology has more anthropological research taking place in Ethiopia than any other U.S. university. Research topics range from social learning, ethnobotany, and responses to environmental shocks to leadership and evolution of megalith stele. Ethnic groups covered in the research include the Hamar, Sidama, Gedeo, and Chabu.

Finally, faculty and graduate students who have conducted research in Ethiopia have developed new and independent collaborations there. Former graduate student Zach Garfield is working with Luke Glowacki (Harvard University) to write an NSF grant to conduct a multi-site evolutionary anthropology project in southern Ethiopia (tentatively called the Omo Valley Research Project), and Barry Hewlett has worked with geneticist Brenna Henn to establish a MOU with University of California, Davis to expand genetic studies in southern Ethiopia.

The research projects of faculty and graduate students have led to more than 10 peer-reviewed journal articles. Below is a limited sample of collaborative publications generated by the WSU–Ethiopia partnership:

Dira, Samuel & Barry Hewlett 2018. The Chabu hunter-gatherers of the highland forests of Southwestern Ethiopia. International Journal of Hunter-Gatherer Research 3.2

Duff, Andrew I., Ashenafi Zena, Addisalem Melesse, John A. Wolff, Neill K. Owen, & Steven Shackley. 2018. Recent research on megalith stele sites of the Gedeo Zone, Southern Ethiopia. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 19: 856-863

Gartstein M., Wolayte Bogale Gessamo & Courtney Meehan 2016. Adaptation of the infant behavior questionnaire-revised for use in Ethiopia: Expanding cross-cultural investigation of temperament development. Infant Behavior and Development 45:51-63.

Quinlan, Robert., Marsha Quinlan, Samuel Jilo Dira, Mark Caudell, Amalo Sooge & Awoke Assoma Amzaye. 2015 Vulnerability & Resilience in Sidama Enset & Maize Farms in Southwest Ethiopia. Journal of Ethnobiology 35:314-336.

Quinlan, Marsha., Robert Quinlan & Samuel Jilo Dira. 2014 Sidama agro-pastoralism and ethnobiological classification of its primary plant, enset (Ensete ventricosum). Ethnobiology Letters 5:116-125.