Volltext: Anthropos, 101.2006+Ind.1906-2005(CD-ROM)

101.2006: 379-402 
Order in a Disordered World 
The Bertha House (Western Ethiopia) 
Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal 
Abstract. - The structuring of domestic space among the Bertha 
P e °ple of the Sudanese-Ethiopian borderland is described. The 
^ e rtha are one of the largest Nilo-Saharan groups currently liv- 
ln g in Ethiopia, and they stretch out further west into Sudan. 
The overwhelming majority of the population lives in traditional 
r °und houses made with bamboo and straw. Despite their mas- 
Slv e conversion to Islam, they still have a number of pre-Muslim 
Practices, some of them clearly reflected on the use and or 
ganization of the house. The relevance of domestic space for 
Ordering the world and its relationship to the body are stressed. 
'■ u dan-Ethiopia borderland, Bertha, Nilo-Saharans, domestic 
s Pace] 
fredo González-Ruibal received his Ph.D. in Prehistoric Ar- 
^ aeology from the Complutense University of Madrid (2003). 
e is now a MEC/Fulbright visiting scholar at the Stanford Ar- 
aeology Center (California). - He has carried out archaeolog- 
A an d ethnoarchaeological research on domestic architecture 
11 (Alicia (Spain) and in Benishangul-Gumuz (Ethiopia). - His 
hcations include: “Etnoarqueología de la emigración. Terra 
j^ e ^°ntes (Galicia)” (Pontevedra 2003) and “The Need for a 
paying p ast An Archaeology of Oblivion in Contemporary 
Jcia (NW Spain)” {Home Cultures 2005), both focus on the 
anings of the destruction of vernacular architecture. - See 
s ° References Cited. 
r oduction 
Rthropologists have pointed out on several occa- 
n . s ^e enormous symbolic relevance of houses, 
r hcularly in premodem communities. Houses are 
, a simple reflection of social values; instead, 
ue y play an active role in their materialization, 
w hen i 
and reproduction. This is especially clear 
Se nse, 
h comes to notions of order. Houses, in this 
act as an organizing structure that allows 
their occupants to sort out the world, to distinguish 
the domestic and the wild, death and life, female 
and male, clean and dirty by means of a few simple 
principles, such as in/out, right/left, up/down, and 
front/back (Bourdieu 1970: 746, 748). As Cunning 
ham (1973; 204) states, “order concerns not just 
discrete ideas or symbols, but a system; and the sys 
tem expresses both principles of classification and a 
value for classification per se, the definition of unity 
and difference.” In some cases, buildings can en 
capsulate very complex cosmological and mytho 
logical meanings, such as origin myths and ge 
nealogical information. Some of the best examples 
explored to date come from sub-Saharan Africa 1 
and, meaningfully, the most complex cases of space 
organization come from equally complex societies: 
the Swahili and many Madagascar peoples (Bet- 
sileo, Sakalava, Merina) are paradigmatic. In this 
article, a house of an egalitarian group of slash- 
and-bum agriculturalists from western Ethiopia, the 
Bertha, is studied. The main issues that will be dealt 
with concern the regional variations of the Bertha 
house, the rituals surrounding the house, and the 
relevance of space and the human body for ordering 
the world. 
Between 2001 and 2005, four archaeological 
and ethnoarchaeological fieldseasons were car 
ried out in Benishangul-Gumuz National Regional 
State, in western Ethiopia, along the Sudanese bor 
derland (Map 1, Map 2), by the Department of Pre- 
1 E.g., Feeley-Harnik 1980; Preston Blier 1987; Donley-Reid 
1990; Beidelman 1991; Hahn 2000; etc.


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