Gwama: Introduction to the Language and Sociocultural Aspects

Author: Andargachew G. Gebeyehu (University of Gondar, Ethiopia)
Speaker: Andargachew G. Gebeyehu
Topic: Language Documentation
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Ethiopia is a mosaic of 80 plus languages that can be categorized into two broad classifications: Afroasiatic and Nilo-Saharan. The vast majority of these languages are Afroasiatic: Semitic, Cushitic, and Omotic. Only few residing along the Ethio-Sudan border land speak Nilo-Saharan language. One of the Nilo-Saharan sub-groups is the Koman that contains four living languages like Gwama, Opuo, Komo, and Uduk. This research work is part of the Documentation and Grammatical Description of Gwama. The language and culture of the community residing in Beni-Shangul Gumuz region along the Ethio-Sudan border land has not yet been thoroughly studied and introduced to the international community. There are only a handful of research reports on both the language and the sociocultural aspects of this speech community. This portion of work is part of the dissertation that focuses on the Documentation and Grammatical Description of Gwama. The data for the analysis were collected within four different fieldwork periods in which the researcher has spent much time with the speech community to collect stories, riddles, process of doing things, etc. This abstract focuses on introducing the language and sociocultural aspects of the ethnic group. This ethnic group has long been there in Mao-Komo district villages together with other ethnic groups including Mao, Komo, Ganza, and Oromo. The Gwama lead their life in small scale farming and hunting. Men clear fields and dig the land for planting seeds, and women, usually wives, burry samun “maize” and/or dulbu “haricot bean”. Women whose husbands died usually do both the digging of the field and the burial of the seeds in the pit alone. The cultural heritage of the community that I learned and observed can be classified into intangible and tangible heritages. The former includes division of labor, performing art, marriage, hunting, and honey collection are all intangible heritages, and the later encompasses brewing alcohol, making beehive, building house, pottery etc. As I noticed at Zebsher and Tongo and heard from one of the consultants, men are engaged in outdoor jobs that require physical strength including cutting bamboo and making beehive for sell as well as for personal use, collecting wild honey, and hunting. Gwama women, on the other hand, make all things that involve household tasks such as cooking, fetching water, and making local alcohol. Nearly all the Gwama are followers of Islam (cf. Zelealem, 2005:2), but there are indicators that they had traditional belief system.

Keywords: Gwana, Opuo, Uduk, Komo, Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan