The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Film - Shadow Caravans - The Ethos of the Afar Salt Trade and Dancing Grass: Harvesting Teff in the Tigrean Highlands

Directors Till Trojer and Mitiku Gabrehiwot

Wednesday 16th January 2019

Free film screening (all welcome).

13:00 - 15:00 in the Khalili Lecture Theatre, Main Building, SOAS, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG.


Till Trojer introduces his film Shadow Caravans of North-East Ethiopia; and Dancing Grass: Harvesting Teff in the Tigrean Highlands, a film by Mitiku Gabrehiwot, as part of this term's Ethnographic Film Series run by the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS. Both films were shown at the 20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20), Mekelle University, in October 2018.

Shadow Caravans of North-East Ethiopia

Director - Till Trojer, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London

In 1968, the American Anthropologist and Ethnographic Filmmaker Robert Gardner (1925-2011) undertook an attempt to document the salt trade in the Dallol Depression of the Northern Afar Region in Ethiopia. Gardner was specifically interested in the "wondrous environment of unbearable heat and intense color" (Gardner n.d.) of the region. His unfinished footage was edited and released as three-minute short film in 2011 under the title Salt (1968/2011; 3min). This ethnographic documentary builds on Robert Gardner's first attempt to document the marvelous and fascinating journey of the salt caravans by focusing on a particular group of Afar "caravanists" (called makama). Till employed the latest, modern camera equipment (Feiyu-Tech a2000 Gimbal Stabilizer) that allowed him to conduct walk and talk interviews ensuring that the natural flow of events and daily-routine was not disrupted. The whole project was a collaborative work, i.e. the people involved in the film were consulted throughout and included in all decision-making processes regarding editing, sound and scene selection.


Dancing Grass: Harvesting Teff in the Tigrean Highlands

Director - Mitiku Gabrehiwot, Mekelle University, Ethiopia.

Dancing Grass captures a communal harvesting of teff among the Tigreans of Northern Ethiopia. Teff is a cereal core to Ethiopian national food identity and at the center of the livelihood of the smallholder farmers. The film follows the sequence of events as they unfold in the homestead, fields and neighborhood of the author's oldest brother and his family. First comes the cutting of the 'dancing grass'; then its drying and stacking; then the threshing and winnowing; then the sale of teff on the local market; then off with a donkey to the mill; then Injera is prepared for the family and guests; then coffee drinking and blessing; and finally the biblical Mesqel fire, celebrated at the end of the rainy season by the Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia. One may generalize that in the face of globalization, Dancing Grass portraits a dignified and caring life of smallholder farmers in one of the oldest traditions of agrarian society. Dancing Grass is the second film in a series entitled "Guardians of productive landscapes" currently produced under the auspices of the Department of Integration and Conflict at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale, Germany.




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