The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Lecture - Mursi Ox Modification in the Lower Omo Valley
Professor Timothy Insoll
Thursday 28th January 2016
7:00pm, Room G3, Main Building, SOAS, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG - Public lecture (all welcome)
The Mursi of southwest Ethiopia transform favourite oxen in various ways. These include horn alteration, ear cutting, the wearing of secondary ornaments, and through the process of decorative pattern branding. Ox pattern branding also seemingly relates to another dominant domain of Mursi materiality, the human body itself, as evident in certain parallels between elements of male scarification and the patterns branded on oxen. Symbolic references to ox pattern branding have also been transferred to other aspects of Mursi material culture such as the Kalashnikov rifle, and to stylized clay figurines made by Mursi women. These ox modification processes have been the focus of recent research by Timothy Insoll, Timothy Clack, and Olirege Rege and will be discussed in the first part of the lecture, and contextualized with reference to other cattle modification practices in northeastern and eastern Africa.Cattle imagery is also relatively common in Ethiopian rock art. The possibility that cattle modification via horn alteration and, particularly, decorative pattern branding is depicted in some cattle engravings and paintings in the region will then be explored. It will be suggested, based on Mursi pattern-branding practices that in some instances the abstract or non-realistic symbols depicted on cattle coats in Ethiopian rock art could be read more literally as signifying actual processes to modify, alter, or beautify cattle. This idea will also be explored, time permitting, in relation to research completed on cattle depictions in Saharan rock art, and animal figurines from southwest Nigeria.
Timothy Insoll is Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology at the University of Manchester.