Tsamai People

Ephrem and I drove from Konso to Jinka. On our way we passed fields of sorghum, cotton, and millet. That was already land of the Tsamai people. Ephrem already knew that I was interested in exploring the area. He suggested to make a stop and have a late lunch in the town Weyto. I agreed. We stopped at a small cafe on the main road. As we were sitting at a small table, I noticed that there were only two tables in this café. 

“What should we order?” I asked Ephrem. 

“Have you eaten kitfo?” Ephrem replied with a smile.

 “Probably not, can you tell me about it?”

 “It is minced raw beef, marinated in mitmita and niter kibbeh.” 

“What’s mitmita? “A chili powder-based spice blend.” 

“Oh, sorry! I’m pretty open minded when it comes to trying a new food. But I think I will pass on raw beef. I’d like to have something cooked, not raw.” I told Ephrem. 

“Okay, anything in mind?” 

“I trust you, go ahead and order for me. Just keep in mind, it must be cooked.” Ephrem said a few words in Amharic to a waitress. She glanced at me and laughed loudly. 

“What did you tell her, that farangi cannot eat real Ethiopian food?” I asked Ephrem with a laugh.

“No, the joke wasn’t about food.” 

The waitress brought the food. It was injera with cooked lamb and veggies. And of course with the full range of Ethiopian spices. Ephrem, who had some relatives in the town, knew the traditions and way of life of the Tsamai people. 

“You know, the Tsamai are polygamous, you can marry a local girl, if you want,” Ephrem started laughing.

“Hm. I’ll pass, thank you. I’m just a tourist bro. Anyways… Are they really polygamous?” 

“Yes.” 

“How about women? Can they have multiple husbands too?” 

“Not really. But girls are free to date whomever they want until the official wedding, but she can’t have a child out of a previous relationship. Tsamai culture strictly prohibits that.” 

“Can close relatives get married?” 

“No, marriage between closed relatives is banned.” 

“Can Tsamai marry a person from a different tribe?”

“It depends. For example, marriage with the neighboring tribe Benna is allowed. Many Tsamai women marry Benna men, but never the other way around. At least I’ve never heard about it.” 

The food was absolutely delicious. I live in Washington, DC and was familiar with the Ethiopian cuisine before. My neighborhood has a few Ethiopian restaurants, but the food I ate in Weyto tasted very different. I couldn’t tell how but it did. I felt happy, relaxed and wanted to stay there for a while. But Ephrem hurried, he wanted to reach Jinka before sunset. We were on the road again. 

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