You are here: Home » Resources » Oral Testimonies » Arima: punishment from God

Arima: punishment from God

Arima: 'We pray for peace, and wish for good luck'

As a child Arima tended cattle, making butter to sell in the market. Now she is 65 and the cattle have been lost “due to invasion by Somalis and drought”, as well as being more vulnerable to disease. She also observes that people are far less healthy now that they lack milk and other animal products.

Now the forest and other natural resources are “completely destroyed”, and it takes her from dawn to dusk just to collect water. She also gathers wood, selling charcoal to buy grain, which is three or four times more expensive during periods of drought.

Arima says that large, ancient trees used to have “religious value and were respected”. Ceremonies were carried out under them. She feels that it is those who do not follow traditional customs who cut them down, and sees drought as a”punishment from God”.

I married when I was 14 years old… The number [of children] God gave me was 13; but I lost two of them… [Most] are herding cattle. All my children live in this village; four of them are my neighbours. Three of them are learning in school; two of them are daughters…

When I was a child I tended cattle and calves, and used to milk them… We didn’t know about cultivation before. There was no digging the soil and agriculture. When we needed sugar, coffee and other things, we churned butter, sold it in the market and bought other things from the market. When our cattle decreased in number and our income declined, we started to learn cultivation…we lost our cattle due to invasion by Somalis and drought…

[I grow] wheat, maize, barley and sometimes beans. Our land is not good for teff (staple grain of Ethiopia). The maximum amount obtainable is about 30 local bags (old fertiliser sacks, about 75 kg) from one plot; and when it is not good season we get a minimum of five bags – but on average we get 15 to 16 local bags of cereals.

I’ve also got a few cattle. When the cow is milked, it will be [sold] for food, fuel and tea. When the cow does not give milk, that is it; it just stops. In time of drought the animals stop giving milk – that is the problem

The forest is completely destroyed

When it is dry I collect wood and make charcoal; then I sell it and buy food. When there is rain I buy grain – 1 jog (container, approx 1 kg) for 1.25 or 1.50 birr; but during drought we buy 1 jog of grain for 4 birr…

In previous times, we…got wood and charcoal from the forest. Now it is not so, because it is prohibited to cut wood from the forest. We used to cut wood out of ignorance. We regret that now.

The forest is completely destroyed now. We regret this because we destroyed our own natural resources. [I get water] from a well called Eko. There is also a pond called Kuniche; but that is too far from here. Those people who have camels or donkeys use them to carry the load; others carry it themselves on their backs. It took us a full day – from dawn to dusk – to bring the water…

[Fuel wood?] We are told to cut down small thorny trees, which do not allow grass to grow and which can’t be eaten by cattle. So we break up and collect those plants and we use them to cook our food. But these days the supply is being exhausted…

Broken tradition

A long time ago big and ancient trees had religious value and were respected – they were called adbar. If something wrong happened in the community all its members gathered under the tree and held a ceremony there. We make coffee; we kill an ox and a goat underneath such trees. We pray for peace, and wish for good luck. We also demonstrate our regret for straying from God’s path and pray to God to save us. And we wet the ground with milk.

But now we don’t follow our cultural beliefs because there are religious differences between Christians and Muslims. Because of these differences we no longer make ceremonies under the big and ancient trees. There is a variety of religions [here].

Those that follow old traditions still gather under those trees and do the same ceremony; but those people who do not believe in it are not doing the same. They stopped it. So those who do not follow the traditional beliefs cut down the trees.

Seasonal migration

Now we are about to move because at this time there is little grass here. We must reserve this grass for other times; I mean for the time when the drought becomes very severe. Therefore now we have to migrate and look for a place where there is enough grass. I, my husband, and other children who look after the cattle, will go together… When we migrate, we sell our resources and use some of the money for the rent for our children who are learning in the city…

If we move within Borena we don’t face a problem because people understand our situation and we also explain it to them. But if we go to the Somali Region there is a problem of fighting; people and cattle die…

In previous times, there was no conflict… We used to drink our milk, eat our butter, and grazed and watered our cattle anywhere freely without fear of being killed. We never thought we would be driven away from our place by force. All Boran grazed their cattle freely inside their territory. We lived in freedom together.

“An evil disease”

Many [cattle] die. They died because of the lack of grass and water. Three of my cattle died only this year.

There is a new disease, tetete, which kills the cattle by attacking their backbone. This disease exists both during the dry and rainy seasons. It is an evil disease. It killed my pregnant cow when I went to my friends’ place to bring back water and fodder. The cow was dead by the time I got back. It is like AIDS; it once it catches cattle it kills them.

Drought: “a punishment from God”

A long time ago we had rain continuously. There was no drought. The cattle were fat. We also got large amounts of milk and butter. We didn’t migrate long distances to get to pasture because we had enough in this village; there were also some flowers in the pasture. We did not even move long distances to get water because we had ample supplies in our own village; the cattle drunk from these…

But these days we get rain only for two consecutive months. When we hope for good yields our farm dries up and we don’t get anything. There is a very serious shortage of rain. Besides which, it does not rain in the normal seasons. I believe the main reasons are people’s bad words and insults. Some people insult [others] and wish [them] bad luck and things happen according to their words. The other reason for drought is that it is a punishment from God.

Tea has replaced milk

I don’t have either milk or butter. My own scalp is dry now; I have not put butter on it. When you look around, it seems it is raining as in hagaya (short rainy season) but the cows have no milk. We get no more than a cup of milk from one cow. We give the milk with sugar and tea to our babies; there is not enough milk to shake it and make butter…

A long time ago we did not know diseases. I walked naked and barefoot in the rain and washed my body in the cold; but I was not sick. We drank milk every day; we had an excess of butter; at that time we did not know illness. Disease and ill health started after we changed to cereal production and stopped drinking milk and eating butter and began taking tea…

“We support each other”

[In the past] we didn’t drink tea. We did not cook food. We simply drank milk and ate butter. We cooked meat in arearra (churned milk). We never drank water, only milk. We even soaked our clothes in churned milk.

When we needed pure water to wash milk containers, we used the plentiful dew on the grass. We cut grass and fed young calves at home; then we gave them churned milk… But now I feed tea to my calves and cows; that is why they don’t give milk…

Please don’t remind me of those good old days [said with tears in her eyes]… [At least] in Boran culture we support each other. Those who have a better situation help those who have nothing. That is how we balance life.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.


Arima: punishment from God is produced as part of the Desert voices: Ethiopia oral testimony project.


Arima: punishment from God

Chuqulisa: love is lacking

Diramo: tied to our cattle

Duba: solutions to problems

Gurracha: conflict devastated it

Huqa: pleasure from family

Ibrahim: the crazy heat

Iyya: conserving the forest

Loko: farming from necessity

Rufo: goodbye to farmland

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Food security




Social institutions

Government assistance