KONSO, Ethiopia — The booming drums and lusty singing of Ethiopia's
Konso tribe, celebrating their hometown joining the UN's list of World
Heritage Sites, echoed down the road that winds through lush green
When the revellers came into sight, there was an explosion
of colour -- women in bright orange skirts and men in striped neon
yellow and red shorts, heads topped with decorative feathers and cowhide
Under the blazing midday sun, Konso residents brandishing
animal skin shields chanted as they streamed through the streets,
followed by a full marching band.
Hundreds of Konso people turned
out in their famed town, 600 kilometres (375 miles) southwest of Addis
Ababa, for the recent formal inauguration of their inclusion in UNESCO's
UNESCO chose the stone-walled terraces and fortified settlements in the
Konso highlands -- spread over 55 square kilometres (21 square miles) --
as it represents among other things a living cultural tradition
The Konsos are among the last remaining people to produce, use and discard stone tools on a regular basis.
new status makes Ethiopia the top African country for protected sites
and promises to preserve an ancient culture under threat in a rapidly
"The potential risk is that this is an era of
globalisation... and Konso is not an exception," said Yonas Desta,
general director at the Authority for Research and Conservation of
Cultural Heritage, an arm of the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture.
this urbanisation is harmonised with the essential values of Konso --
that's the clear line that we need to carefully understand and manage,"
he added, standing before one of Konso's towering mountains.
Konso's addition to UNESCO's World Heritage Site list was decided in 2011 but only made official this year.
recognises Konso's centuries-old cultural traditions, namely
sophisticated terracing techniques, cuisine, music, dance and unique
Ethiopia's famed rock-hewn churches in Lalibela and
the towering obelisks of Axum count among the country's other heritage
The South Omo valley has also received recognition, and
several rights groups have accused Addis Ababa of threatening cultural
preservation with the construction of a controversial dam in the region.
a town of 300,000 people where herds of cattle clog the narrow roads,
is the first in the country to be recognised for its "cultural
Dinote Kusia Shankere, a cultural officer in Konso,
said the new title was "marvellous" because it will keep Konso
"Most of the young people are forgetting their
culture... up to now nothing is written about Konso culture," he said at
the town's museum that was built with French funding in 2010.
"I'm happy because this inauguration can change the young generation's mind so they will be devoted to (preserve) the culture."
addition to lively singing and dancing, Konso culture is best known for
the death rites among clan chiefs who are buried with carved wood
statues of fallen warriors called Waka.
The museum also has
several steles, some 150 years old, carved human-like figures which have
been illegally trafficked in the art world in recent years.
terracing also sets the community apart and has allowed agriculture to
thrive in one of the most arid regions of Ethiopia chronically hit with
"They have managed their existence in a harsh
environment, and the social norms, the customs, have truly helped them,"
The World Heritage Site designation also promises to
boost tourism in a country whose image has been tarnished by a deadly
tourist attack in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia in January
that killed five foreigners.
"We have started to develop tourism
in Ethiopia in line with the potential we have and the planned
development efforts," Yonas said.
"We are observing an increasing
number of tourists though that unfortunate accident is clearly not a
merit to tourism," he added.
Tourism brought in $254 million (195
million euros) in the last six months and is part of the government's
overall strategy to boost growth by moving away from raw agricultural
exports as the main revenue earner.
Visitors also boost local employment, Konso resident Kushabo Kalale said.
"On the one side we are getting exposure to the world and on the other, for the local people, there is income," he said.
"It's a very special occasion for our culture to be recognised," he gushed with a smile.
Copyright © 2012 AFP.