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Topography and landscapesEdit

Major mountainsEdit

Mount Gumawta, one of the peaks of the Tsatsen mesa, the highest location of Dogu'a Tembien

Lowest placesEdit

The lowest places are where the main rivers leave the district. They are often located not far from the highest points, what indicates the magnitude of the relief

Mountain passesEdit

Maintenance of footpath towards Ksad Addi Amyuk

Since ages, major footpaths and roads in Dogu’a Tembien have been using mountain passes, called ksad, what means “neck” in Tigrinya language.


Place names show that the Tembien Tigrayans or Tembienot were partly Agew in the past; still nowadays, there are Agew speakers in Abergele, directly southwest of Dogu’a Tembien. The population of Dogu’a Tembien is composed of the original population with a certain admixture of descendants of slaves and serfs who were brought from southwestern Ethiopia, and were in the service of bigger land owners. There is no formal discrimination, and all have adopted Tigrinya language and identify as Tigrayans today. However, when it comes to marriage, in-laws may informally verify the ancestry of bride or groom.[2][3][4][5]

Administrative divisionEdit

Landscape in Hamushte Kebeb

Dogu’a Tembien comprises 24 tabias or municipalities (status 2019)


Some 127,000 people live in Dogu’a Tembien, with 56% below the age of 20. There are almost equal numbers of men and women. The population density is 122 people per km² (2010 data).[6][7] As in many low-income countries, he population pyramid has a wide base. There is however a timid onset of a demographic transition, in relation to the changing position of women in the society and improved health services. The Family Code of 2000 advocates gender equality; hence, the marriageable age was raised from 15 to 18 years old. Women rights impose sharing the assets that the household has accumulated. Female genital mutilation, child marriage, abduction and domestic violence are now considered to be crimes. Almost all children are scholarised but girls may interrupt when reaching the age of 13 to 15 years, in relation to absence of facilities for menstrual hygiene management in the schools.[6]

Based on the 2007 national census conducted by the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (CSA), this woreda had a total population of 113,595, an increase of 28% over the 1994 census, of whom 56,955 were men and 56,640 women; 7,270 or 6.4% were urban inhabitants. A total of 25,290 households were counted in this woreda, resulting in an average of 4.5 persons per household, and 24,591 housing units. The majority of the inhabitants said they practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, with 99.89% reporting that as their religion.[8]

The 1994 national census reported a total population for this woreda of 89,037, of whom 44,408 were men and 44,629 were women. The largest ethnic group reported in Degua Tembien was the Tigrayan (99.87%). Tigrinya was spoken as a first language by 99.89%. Concerning education, 7% of the population were considered literate, which was less than the Zone average of 14%; 8% of children aged 7-12 were in primary school; 0.14% of the children aged 13-14 were in junior secondary school, and 0.21% of the inhabitants aged 15-18 were in senior secondary school. Concerning sanitary conditions, about 29% of the urban houses and 15% of all houses had access to safe drinking water at the time of the census; 6% of the urban and 2.4% of the total had toilet facilities.[9]



The East African Orogeny led to the growth of a mountain chain in the Precambrian (up to 800 million years ago or Ma), that was largely eroded afterwards.[10][11][12] Around 600 Ma, the Gondwana break-up led to the presence of tectonic structures and a Palaeozoic planation surface, that extents to the north and west of the Dogu'a Tembien massif.[13]

Subsequently, there was the deposition of sedimentary and volcanic formations, from older (at the foot of the massif) to younger, near the summits. From Palaeozoic to Triassic, Dogu’a Tembien was located near the South Pole. The (reactivate) Precambrian extensional faults guided the deposition of glacial sediments (Edaga Arbi Glacials and Enticho Sandstone). Later alluvial plain sediments were deposited (Adigrat Sandstone). The break-up of Gondwana (Late Palaeozoic to Early Triassic) led to an extensional tectonic phase, what caused the lowering of large parts of the Horn of Africa. As a consequence a marine transgression occurred, leading to the deposition of marine sediments (Antalo Limestone and Agula Shale).[14]

The Antalo Limestone cliff at Mishlam in the southeastern part of Dogu'a Tembien

At the end of the Mesozoic tectonic phase, a new (Cretaceous) planation took place. After that, the deposition of continental sediments (Amba Aradam Formation) indicates the presence of less shallow seas, what was probably caused by a regional uplift. In the beginning of the Caenozoic, there was a relative tectonic quiescence, during which the Amba Aradam Sandstones were partially eroded what led to the formation of a new planation surface.[15]

In the Eocene, the Afar plume a broad regional uplift deformed the lithosphere, leading to the eruption of flood basalts. The magma followed pre-existing tectonic lineaments. A mere thickness of 400 metres of basalt indicates that the pre-trap rock topography was more elevated in Dogu'a Tembien as compared to more southerly areas. Three major formations may be distinguished: lower basalts, interbedded lacustrine deposits and upper basalts.[16] Almost at the same time, the Mekelle Dolerite intruded the Mesozoic sediments following joints and faults.[17]

A new magma intrusion occurred in the Early Miocene, what gave rise to a few phonolite plugs in Dogu’a Tembien.[16] The present geomorphology is marked by deep valleys, eroded as a result of the regional uplift. Throughout the Quaternary deposition of alluvium and freshwater tufa occurred in the valley bottoms.[18]


In Dogu’a Tembien, there are two main fossil-bearing geological units. The Antalo Limestone (upper Jurassic) is the largest. Its marine deposits comprise mainly benthic marine invertebrates. Also, the Tertiary lacustrine deposits, interbedded in the basalt formations, contain a range of silicified mollusc fossils.[19]

In the Antalo Limestone: large Paracenoceratidae cephalopods (nautilus); Nerineidae indet.; sea urchins; Rhynchonellid brachiopod; crustaceans; coral colonies; crinoid stems.[20][19]

In the Tertiary silicified lacustrine deposits: Pila (gastropod); Lanistes sp.; Pirenella conica; and land snails (Achatinidae indet.).[19][21]

All snail shells, both fossil and recent, are called t’uyo in Tigrinya language, which means ‘helicoidal’.

Natural cavesEdit

The vast areas with outcropping Antalo Limestone hold numerous caves.

At Zeyi (13°33′N 39°9′E / 13.550°N 39.150°E / 13.550; 39.150), the monumental Zeyi Abune Aregawi church holds the entrance to Northern Ethiopia’s largest cave. The 364-metres long oval gallery displays stalactites, stalagmites, decametre-high columns, bell-holes following joints, and speleothems on walls and floor.[22]

The 145-metres long Zeleqwa horizontal gallery is located in a cliff nearby the river of the same name (13°38′N 39°7′E / 13.633°N 39.117°E / 13.633; 39.117). At the upper side of the cliff, there is an alignment of cavities: the “windows” of a gallery parallel to cliff and river. The cave floor holds with clay pots that would have served as food containers for villagers who went there hiding during an early 20th C. conflict.[23]

The Tinsehe caves, a cave system opening into the Upper Tsaliet River gorge near Addi Idaga (13°42′N 39°12′E / 13.700°N 39.200°E / 13.700; 39.200). The entrance near a small church is behind a waterfall 100 meters high.[24]

The May Hib’o cave (13°31′N 39°14′E / 13.517°N 39.233°E / 13.517; 39.233), a 70-metres long horizontal gallery, holds underground springs.[25]

Numerous other unexplored cave entrances are visible in Antalo Limestone cliffs.[23]

Rock-hewn churchesEdit

Dabba Selama monastery on an mesa - the visitor will walk over the narrow ledge and then climb the vertical cliff

Like several other districts in Tigray, Dogu’a Tembien holds its share of rock-hewn or monolithic churches. These have literally been hewn from rock, mainly between the 10th and 14th centuries.[26][27][28]

The almost inaccessible Dabba Selama monastery (13°41.67′N 39°6.03′E / 13.69450°N 39.10050°E / 13.69450; 39.10050) is assumed to be the first monastery established in Ethiopia, by Saint Frumentius. The intrepid visitor will climb down, then scramble over narrow ledges along precipices, and finally climb an overhanging cliff. The mesa also comprises a church hewn in Adigrat Sandstone, in shape of a small basilica. The carvers attempted to establish four bays as wel as with a recess. The pillars are rounded (which is uncommon) and expand at either end, supporting arches that appear as triangles. Women are not allowed to do the ascent, nor to visit monastery or church. Independently from the difficult access to the monastery, the surrounding sandstone geomorphology is unique.[26][28]

The Amani’el church in May Baha (13°40′N 39°5.4′E / 13.667°N 39.0900°E / 13.667; 39.0900) has also been carved in Adigrat Sandstone. Behind a pronaos (1960s), the rock church has cruciform columns, flat beams and a flat ceiling, a single arch, and a flat rear wall without apse. Windows give light to the church itself. Emperor Yohannes IV was baptised in this church.[26][28][29]

The Yohannes rock church at Debre Sema’it (13°34.62′N 39°2.24′E / 13.57700°N 39.03733°E / 13.57700; 39.03733) is located in the top of a rock pinnacle that overlooks Addi Nefas village. This church has also been hewn in Adigrat Sandstone.[29]

The Lafa Gebri’al rock church (13°35.87′N 39°17.25′E / 13.59783°N 39.28750°E / 13.59783; 39.28750) is now disused. It was hewn in a tufa plug. The church boosts a semi-circular wooden arch of approx. 1.5 metre across (in one piece).[29]

Ruba Bich’i’s village church (13°36′N 39°18′E / 13.600°N 39.300°E / 13.600; 39.300) is also an ancient rock-hewn church in freshwater tufa, and still in use.

The church of Kurkura Mika’el (13°40′N 39°9′E / 13.667°N 39.150°E / 13.667; 39.150), in a very scenic position in a small forest behind limestone pinnacles, is some 30 years old (File:Antalo_Limestone_at_Kurkura.jpg). Behind it, the remnant of the earlier church established in a natural cave of 20 metres by 20 metres. The roof of the cave is covered with sooth, evidencing the fact that the villagers took cover here, during the Italian bombardments of the Tembien battles in the mid-1930s.

The Kidane Mihret rock church at Ab’aro (13°44.5′N 39°12.06′E / 13.7417°N 39.20100°E / 13.7417; 39.20100), is surrounded by tufa plugs, springs and a cluster of trees. The church was established in widened caves of the tufa plug.[29]

Just outside the district, on the western slopes of the Dogu’a Tembien massif, there are seven other rock churches.

Mika’el Samba (13°42.56′N 39°6.81′E / 13.70933°N 39.11350°E / 13.70933; 39.11350) is a rock church hewn in Adigrat Sandstone. It holds grave cells off the main space. As Mika'el Samba is not a village church, priests are only present on the monthly Mika’els day, the twelfth day in the Ethiopian calendar.[26]

The Maryam Hibeto rock church (13°42.67′N 39°6.44′E / 13.71117°N 39.10733°E / 13.71117; 39.10733) is located at the edge of a church forest. It is hewn in Adigrat Sandstone, with a pronaos in front of it. On both sides of the main church, there are elongated chambers, maybe been the beginnings of an ambulatory. To enter the church, one has to go down a few. Remarkably, at the entrance, a pool of water is fed by a spring.[26]

The Welegesa church (13°43′N 39°4′E / 13.717°N 39.067°E / 13.717; 39.067) is hewn in Adigrat Sandstone. The entrance to the church is part of the rock, forming two courtyards, both hewn but not open at the upper side. The first courtyard holds graves; between the two, there is a block of stone with a cross in the window opening in its centre. The three-aisled church has a depth of four bays. There are entrances on both sides through hewn corridors. The church ceiling has a consistent height, holding cupolas, arches and capitals in each bay. The hewn tabot is in an apse. The sophisticated plan comprises a central axis and two open courtyards that cut deep into the rock.[26]

The newly hewn Medhanie Alem rock church in Mt. Werqamba (13°42.86′N 39°00.27′E / 13.71433°N 39.00450°E / 13.71433; 39.00450) is in a central, smaller peak (in Adigrat Sandstone).[29]

Northwest of Abiy Addi, the Geramba rock church (13°38.84′N 39°1.55′E / 13.64733°N 39.02583°E / 13.64733; 39.02583) is hewn in Tertiary silicified limestone, high up near the top to of the mountain. As a roof, a thin covering basalt layer was ingeniously used. The columns have a slightly cruciform plan and hold bracket capitals.[26]

Itsiwto Maryam rock church (13°40′N 39°1′E / 13.667°N 39.017°E / 13.667; 39.017) is hewn in Adigrat Sandstone. The church has a continuous hipped ceiling to the centre aisle. There are carved diagonal crosses as well as a cross carved above the arch into the sanctuary. The ceiling holds longitudinal beams that form a continuous lintel, which is similar to traditional Tigrayan workmanship. The church is at risk of collapse and hence access is not permitted.[26]

The Kidane Mihret rock church of Addi Nefas (13°33.3′N 39°1.44′E / 13.5550°N 39.02400°E / 13.5550; 39.02400) in Adigrat Sandstone is a rather primitive rock church, protected from the weather by a pronaos that surrounds the entrance. The church comprises two circular wel-carved cells that are used for baptisms. Above the sanctuary there is a series of small blind arcades. Beside the ancient church, a new cave is under excavation. Down from the church there are irrigated tropical gardens. Under cover trees, farmers grow coffee, local hops (gesho), and a few orange or lemon trees. Grivet monkeys are common an prevent growing of bananas.[26]

Other hewn cavesEdit

At several places, people have excavates caves in the sandstone. The larger ones, and most known are the TPLF caves in Addi Geza'iti. Here, in the 1980s, the party established underground rooms and offices cut out in sandstone cliffs, the TPLF carried out its political activities, including a major land reform; it was from here that the offensives were organised till the conquest of Addis Ababa in 1991. In nearby Melfa, the Amhara EPDM party had its own headquarters in a cave.

Traditional uses of rockEdit

As Dogu'a Tembien holds a wide variety of rock types, there is expectedly a varied use of rock.

Climate and hydrologyEdit

Climate and meteorologyEdit

Average annual precipitation (in Hagere Selam) is 778 mm. Mean temperature is 13.3 °C, oscillating between average daily minimum of 10.9 °C and maximum of 22°C. As it is common at tropical latitudes, the contrasts between day and night air temperatures are much larger than seasonal contrasts. The rainfall pattern, however, shows a very high seasonality with 70 to 80% of the annual rain falling in July and August. The annual seasons are “hagay” (dry season in winter), “belgi” (spring rains), “kremti” (main summer rains) and “qew'i” (autumn), when the crops are ripening off.[32] In the summer rainy season the dominant wind direction is from the southwest, whereas in the rest of the year winds blow from the east.[32]

The farmers have adapted their cropping systems to this spatio-temporal variability in rainfall.[33] Given the good chilling conditions, it is possible to grow apple at elevations above 2400 metres, such as in Dingilet or Mashih.[34]

Climate models predict intensified summer rainfall in the future, but decreased spring rains.[35]

Mishlam's gully is no longer active because the catchment was reforested


About three quarters of Dogu’a Tembien (800 km²) drains to Giba River, and the remaining quarter (240 km²) to the Weri’i River.[36] The general drainage is westward, to the Tekezze River. Main tributaries in Dogu’a Tembien, from upstream to downstream, are[37]

Karstic resurgencesEdit

At the lower part of the Antalo Limestone, where it lays on the Adigrat Sandstone, there are high discharge resurgences that drain the karst aquifer. The large resurgence in Rubaksa (13°35′N 39°14′E / 13.583°N 39.233°E / 13.583; 39.233) irrigates an oasis in a dry limestone gorge. At Inda Mihtsun (13°33′N 39°21′E / 13.550°N 39.350°E / 13.550; 39.350), the May Bilbil resurgence is inside the bed of the Giba River; in the dry season spring water surges through the baseflow of the river. Also in Ferrey, on the slopes of the Tsaliet gorge, resurgences allow to irrigate gardens with tropical fruits.[38][39]


In this area with rains that last only for a couple of months per year, reservoirs of different sizes allow harvesting runoff from the rainy season for further use in the dry season. Overall they suffer from siltation.[40] Yet, they strongly contribute to greening the landscape, either through irrigation or seepage water. Main reservoirs are:

  • Chini (reservoir), near Melfa, constructed in 1993
  • May Leiba reservoir, in Ayninbirkekin tabia, constructed in 1998
  • Lake Giba, a reservoir under construction on Giba river, mainly to provide water to Mekelle. This large lake, once established, will strongly impact the livelihood of the inhabitants of Emni Ankelalu tabia
  • Smaller reservoirs (ponds), such as the one in the town of Hagere Selam, or in the village of Addi Qoylo
  • Traditional surface water harvesting ponds, particularly in places without permanent springs, called rahaya
  • Horoyo, household ponds, recently constructed through campaigns[41]




Large mammalsEdit

Large mammals of Dogu’a Tembien, with scientific (italics), English and Tigrinya language names.[42] - Cercopithecus aethiops; grivet monkey, ወዓግ (wi’ag) - Crocuta crocuta, spotted hyena, ዝብኢ (zibi) - Caracal caracal, caracal, ጭክ ኣንበሳ (ch’ok anbessa) - Panthera pardus, leopard, ነብሪ (nebri)[43] - Xerus rutilus, unstriped ground squirrel, ምጹጽላይ or ጨጨራ (mitsutsilay, chechera) - Canis mesomelas, black-backed jackal, ቡኳርያ (bukharya) - Canis anthus, golden jackal, ቡኳርያ (bukharya) - Papio hamadryas, hamadryas baboon, ጋውና (gawina) - Procavia capensis, rock hyrax, ጊሐ (gihè) - Felis silvestris, African wildcat, ሓክሊ ድሙ (hakili dummu) - Civettictis civetta, African civet, ዝባድ (zibad) - Papio anubis, olive baboon, ህበይ (hibey) - Ichneumia albicauda, white-tailed mongoose, ፂሒራ (tsihira) - Herpestes ichneumon, large grey mongoose, ፂሒራ (tsihira) - Hystrix cristata, crested porcupine, ቅንፈዝ (qinfiz) - Oreotragus oreotragus; klipspringer, ሰስሓ (sesiha) - Orycteropus afer, aardvark, ፍሒራ (fihira) - Genetta genetta, common genet, ስልሕልሖት (silihlihot) - Lepus capensis, cape hare, ማንቲለ (mantile) - Mellivora capensis, honey badger, ትትጊ (titigi)

Small rodentsEdit

The most common pest rodents with widespread distribution in agricultural fields and storage areas in Dogu’a Tembien (and in Tigray) are three Ethiopian endemic species: the Dembea grass rat (Arvicanthis dembeensis, sometimes considered a subspecies of Arvicanthis niloticus), Ethiopian white-footed rat (Stenocephalemys albipes), and Awash multimammate mouse (Mastomys awashensis). [44]


Bats occur in natural caves, church buildings and abandoned homesteads. The large colony of bats that roosts in Zeyi cave comprises Asellia tridens (trident leaf-nosed bat), Hipposideros caffer (Sundevall's leaf-nosed bat or Sundevall's roundleaf bat), and Rhinolophus blasii (Blasius's horseshoe bat).


With its numerous exclosures, forest fragments and church forests, Dogu’a Tembien is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Detailed inventories[45][46] list at least 170 bird species, including numerous endemic species.

Species belonging to the Afrotropical Highland Biome occur in the dry evergreen montane forests of the highland plateau but can also occupy other habitats. Wattled Ibis can be found feeding in wet grassland and open woodland. Black-winged Lovebird, Banded Barbet, Golden-mantled or Abyssinian Woodpecker, Montane White-eye, Rüppell's Robin-chat, Abyssinian Slaty Flycatcher and Tacazze Sunbird are found in evergreen forest, mountain woodlands and areas with scattered trees including fig trees, Euphorbia abyssinica and Juniperus procera. Erckel's francolin, Dusky Turtle Dove, Swainson's or Grey-headed Sparrow, Baglafecht Weaver, African Citril, Brown-rumped Seedeater and Streaky Seedeater are common Afrotropical breeding residents of woodland edges, scrubland and forest edges. White-billed Starling and Little Rock Thrush can be found on steep cliffs and White-collared Pigeon in gorges and rocky places but also in towns and villages.[45]

Species belonging to the Somali-Masai Biome. Hemprich's Hornbill and White-rumped Babbler are found in bushland, scrubland and dense secondary forest, often near cliffs, gorges or water. Chestnut-Winged or Somali Starling and Rüppell's Weaver are found in bushy and shrubby areas. Black-billed wood hoopoe has some red at the base of the bill or an entirely red bill in this area.[45]

Species belonging to the Sudan-Guinea Savanna Biome: Green-backed eremomela and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver.[45]

Species that are neither endemic nor biome-restricted but that have restricted ranges or that can be more easily seen in Ethiopia than elsewhere in their range: Abyssinian Roller is an Ethiopian relative of Lilac-breasted Roller, which is an intra-tropical breeding migrant of south and east Africa, and of European Roller, an uncommon Palearctic passage migrant. Black-billed Barbet, Yellow-breasted Barbet and Grey-headed Batis are species from the Sahel and Northern Africa but also occur in Acacia woodlands in the area.[45]

The most regularly observed raptor birds in crop fields in Dogu’a Tembien are Augur buzzard (Buteo augur), Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo), Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus), Black kite (Milvus migrans), Yellow-billed kite (Milvus aegyptius) and Barn owl (Tyto alba).[47]

Birdwatching can be done particularly in exclosures and forests. Eighteen bird-watching sites have been inventoried[45] and mapped[48].


Highlands (Guyeha ridge) and road in Ayninbirkekin tabia or municipality. At the back Imba Ra’isot mountain

Agricultural systemEdit

The farmlands are clearly demarcated and are cropped every year. Hence the agricultural system is a permanent upland farming system, and the population are not nomads.[49] In 2001, 72% of the farmers both raised crops and livestock, while 28% only grew crops; very few to none only raised livestock.[50] The term mixed farming is inappropriate however; it is rather a grain-plough complex. The first role of livestock is to support cropping.[51]


A sample enumeration performed by the CSA in 2001 interviewed 22,002 farmers in this woreda, who held an average of 0.79 hectares of land. Of the 17,387 hectares of private land surveyed, 91% was in cultivation, 0.6% pasture, 5% fallow, 0.13% woodland, and 3% was devoted to other uses. For the land under cultivation in this woreda, 78% was planted in cereals, 12% in pulses, and 1.4% in oilseeds; the area planted in vegetables is missing. Ten hectares were planted in fruit trees and eleven in gesho. Land tenure in this woreda is distributed amongst 82% owning their land, 17% renting and 0.4% holding their land under other forms of tenure.[52]


Importance of livestockEdit

Livestock are in the first place cattle (especially oxen) and also goats, sheep, donkeys, mules and a lonely horse. An average family owns one or two oxen (six or eight for a rich family), one to three cows with their calf(s) (ten), 5 to 7 goats or sheep (20 or 30), and sometimes a donkey (three or four mules and donkeys for a rich family).[49] Livestock are mainly a source of energy, hence they are part of the permanent farming system: oxen are ploughing and threshing and thus essential for crop production.[49][51] Donkeys provide energy: they transport heavy loads such as crop harvests, large stones for building, and traded goods. Additionally, sheep and goats are considered as an insurance for difficult times.[49] Meat and milk production are only of secondary importance. All in all, livestock productivity is low as there are shortages of fodder (crop residues). No forage crops are grown, livestock access all fallow land and harvested cropland for stubble grazing.[49]

Cattle varietiesEdit

Crossbred Arado x Holstein-Friesian milk cow in Hagere Selam town

Mainly used for draught, there are several cattle landraces in Dogu’a Tembien.[53][51]

Transhumance in the cropping seasonEdit

During the cropping season the lands around the villages are not accessible for grazing. Livestock owners have three alternatives:[55][51]

  • annual transhumance, particularly towards remote and vast grazing grounds
  • daily movements with livestock back-and-forth to the grazing grounds, the “home range herders” – they travel back and forth daily to grazing grounds that are a few kilometres away
  • keeping livestock nearby to the homesteads In some villages most people with not practice transhumance, but even in villages which practice transhumance, some will prefer using the nearby grazing grounds.

If the grazing lands are far from the village, deep in the gorge, livestock will stay there overnight (transhumance) with children and a few adults keeping them.[55] Some examples:

  • The cattle of Addi Geza’iti (2580 m) are brought every rainy season to the gorge of River Tsaliet (1930 m) that holds dense vegetation. The cattle keepers establish enclosures for the cattle and places for them to sleep, often in rock shelters. The cattle stay there until harvesting time, when they are needed for threshing, and when the stubble becomes available for grazing.[55]
  • Many cattle of Haddinnet and also Ayninbirkekin tabias are brought to the foot of the escarpment at Ab’aro, with all herds passing through Ksad Azef pass. Cattle stay on there on wide rangelands. Some cattle keepers move far down to open woodland and establish their camp in large caves in sandstone.
    The “red caves” or Kayeh Be’ati in Adigrat Sandstone, a preferred destination for transhumance

Off-farm incomeEdit

Slopes of the Giba gorge at Addi Lihtsi, with incense trees

In the Giba River gorge, the peasants care seasonally for communal incense trees (Boswellia papyrifera). This is a landscape that has been created by close to a hundred generations of peasants for the production of incense. This was already exported to the sea ports and to pharaonic Egypt, and later to ancient Rome. [3][56]

Rural youngsters seasonally migrate also to the uninhabited Wer’i river area, to wash gold out of the sediments.[3]

Additional activities to assure income include trading and daily labour in Hagere Selam, internal migration in the dry season and (until the recent past) salt trade.

The traditional farmers’ homesteads are maybe not luxurious but evidence a quality of life.[3]


Rural sociologyEdit

Cattle ownershipEdit

Cattle, and particularly oxen, traditionally have social, economic and insurance value. This has contributed to wealth differentiation, structuring debts and management of the households.[49][51]

Gendered division of labourEdit

The ox-plough based agriculture, which has characterised Dogu’a Tembien since thousands of years, not only has shaped the agricultural landscape; it also forms the basis of social relationships. There is for instance a gendered division of labour, as women are traditionally focussed on weeding and harvesting, as well as activities at home, and men work in the fields at ploughing and threshing times. Ploughing by women has been (and often still is) a cultural taboo.[49][51]


Music and festivalsEdit

  • Just like Kola Tembien, Dogu'a Tembien is known for the frenetic Awrus dancing style[57][3]
  • Yearly there is the girls’ festival Ashenda. Then, young women dominate the public space with dances and songs which is in strong contrast with the rest of the year. The rural ‘’Ashenda’’ is very different from the "standardised" urban festival.[3]
  • Also in summer, there is the boys’ festival Hawariat, where they clack whips. This lasts for about a week.[3]

The Siwa local beer cultureEdit

In almost every household of Dogu'a Tembien, the woman knows how to prepare the local beer, siwa. Ingredients are water, a home-baked and toasted flat bread commonly made from barley in the highlands,[58][59][60] and from sorghum, finger millet or maize in the lower areas,[61] some yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae),[62] and dried leaves of gesho (Rhamnus prinoides) that serve as a catalyser.[63] The brew is allowed to ferment for a few days, after which it is served, sometimes with the pieces of bread floating on it (the customer will gently blown them to one side of the beaker). The alcoholic content is 2% to 5%.[62] Most of the coarser part of the brew, the atella, remains back and is used as cattle feed.[51]

Siwa is consumed during social events, after (manual) work, and as an incentive for farmers and labourers. There are about a hundred traditional beer houses (Inda Siwa), often in unique settings, all across Dogu'a Tembien.

Surrounding woredasEdit

Dogu'a Tembien is bordered on the south by the Saharti Samre woreda, on the west by Abergele, on the northwest by Kola Tembien, on the north by Hawzen (woreda), on the northeast by Kilte Awulaelo and on the east by Inderta.


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Coordinates: 13°30′N 39°15′E / 13.500°N 39.250°E / 13.500; 39.250