The Manjo/Menja : Ethiopia

By T, Staffer of De Birhan Media

29 October 2012
Prejudice, stereotype and discrimination, however rich, educated and self actualized one might be, disillusion the person, if victimized. Aside with skin color, ethnic, religious and other types of discrimination experienced in most parts of the world in this day and age, one form of discrimination is still widely abound in most developing countries particularly in Ethiopia, occupational. This short piece solely based on secondary sources, reviews the embedded occupational, social, cultural and ethnic discrimination and regime oppression against an isolated and little known society in the southern part of Ethiopia, the Manjo or also spelled as Menja or Manja.
The Manjo/Menja
The predominantly mountainous territory of Kaffa, located some 450km from the Addis Abeba is divided into ten wordeas, one of them being Menjjeo/Menja. The Menja communities live 765 kilometers away from Ethiopia’s capital in Sheka zone of Southern region. A 2007 Census put the total population of Kaffa Zone around 900,000. Kochito’s 1979 and Donald Levine’s 1974 research outputs attest the existence of an Indian type caste system within the Kaffa (Kafecho) society. The Kafecho were at the top of the caste system, followed by the Kemmo (blacksmiths) and the Manjo (hunters) placed at the bottom. Yoshida (2009) estimates the population of the Manjo to be about 10,000 to 12,000 and speak the Kafi-noono (Kafa language) language. Historically, the Manjo had also lived under the Kingdom of Kaffa (c.1390–1897) and the main sources of the discrimination on the Manjo people we are about to read had reportedly began during the era of the Kaffa Kingdom within that period.
The Manjo have been the most discriminated, marginalized and oppressed people up until today with little or no publicity from all stakeholders to address the issue enough. The Manjo have been treated as sub human by the dominant ethnic group in their area; the Kaffa and successive regimes that accepted the traditional case system as official.  Tekle (2005) and Yoshida (2009) list various reasons why the Manjo have been treated as sub human within their own country. Some of the reasons were: eating habits, custom and behavior.
Eating:  As a society of hunter gatherers the Manjo eat porcupine, colobous monkey and wild pig, and also meat of un-slaughtered animals and in terms of behavior; the Manjo are believed to dislike education, like polygamy, and hate hygiene. These were eating and behaviors that were unacceptable within the dominant society of Kaffa who were Christianized much earlier than the Manjo. Added with the historical power stratification since the Kaffa Kingdom, the social, occupational and culture of the Manjo put them at a disadvantage of being discriminated by their own lookalikes who have similar language, skin color, geography and ‘blood’. Manjos are not invited to parties, gatherings by their neighboring ethnic communities such as the Kefecho. They live excluded in the low lands, and their children are also excluded from sitting in same schoolroom desks and taking part in school activities by other ethnics.  In one interview with an ethnographer, a Manjo father said “why can dogs enter keffecho’s houses and we (menjos) are not allowed in?”
The discrimination and stereotypical racism against the Manjo by the dominant ethnic group of the Kaffa has been extreme. Yoshida (2009) speaking to individuals from both groups recorded this,

Some Kafa people say, ‘The Manjo have nails divided into two. Men have tails at the back of their heads, and women have tails on their foreheads’. The Manjo regard the Kafa as liars, ready to deceive the Manjo. And the Manjo also consider the Kafa as cowards and extremely suspicious, whereas the Manjo are brave and honest.

The Manjo don’t touch the coffins of the kefficho and vice versa. Sex and marriage with the Manjo is seen as polluting, thus prohibited.
Similar to the occupational and social discrimination observed in other parts of Ethiopia such as on “the Fuga, the Wayto and the Waata”, there is a noticeable discrimination against the Manjo in social life (Yoshida, 2009).
Yoshida says the domination and oppression of the Manjo community exceeds norm and culture and is even exhibited in manners of clothing and greetings, “When a Manjo happened to wear the same clothes and shoes that a Kafa wore, the Manjo was, more often than not, beaten and forced to take them off. Moreover, when a Manjo encountered a Kafa on a road side, the Manjo was expected to humiliate himself, stepping aside, bowing and greeting the Kafa with the phrase ‘showocchi qebona’ literally meaning, ‘let me die for you’.”
Yoshida puts the oxymoron contrasts of the Kaffa towards the Manjo when it comes to food production. The Kafa people eat honey which is collected by the Manjo but disgust to drink the Tejj they brew.
The Kafa majorities are Orthodox Christians and the rest are either Muslim or pagan. Most Manjo have believed in alamo, or diviner until they were converted to Christianity in the early 20th C. The intensification of Christianity in the 20th century; Orthodox and Protestantism in the Manjo community thus led the population to gradually stop feeding on dead/wild animals, resulting also in the gradual ceasing of overt discrimination against them.
Halteren wrote in 1996 that the Manjo were for the first time able to own land when the Derg military Junta came to power in 1974 via the land reform of the 1975. And Petros wrote in 2003 in his Master’s Degree thesis that peasant associations created by the Derg military junta were given the duty of fighting the old prejudices against the Manjo and monitoring that they were given equal rights and opportunities. They then began to elect and be elected including joining the national army.
When the Derg was overthrown by the current regime in 1991, the Manjo that enjoyed the former’s protection were left exposed to the angry Kefecho who associated them with the regime (Yoshida, 2009).
The coming of the current regime, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to power had  brought the emerging changes started by the former Junta backwards. According to a PhD thesis on the Manjo society written by Frederica De Sisto in 2011, the current regime’s ethnic federalism that defines ethnicity along “linguistic lines” got the minority ethnic group of the Manjo even more “marginalized”.
As the Manjo speak the language of the majority ethnic group, the Kaffa, the current regime didn’t legitimize them to be independent ethnic groups that would enjoy their own ethnic, religious, economic, political and rights and independence. Most Manjos today argue that the current regime’s ethnic polices have forcefully assimilated them. Tekle (2005) asserts the Manjo today suffer again from the regime’s “non recognition and exclusion from political and administrative powers”.
According to Yoshida’s 2008 article, two educated Manjo elites after studying the habits, customs, discrimination, injustice and local government oppression, distinctness of their language; petitioned the government (local) to be recognized as a people, establish their own special Woreda (District Administration), form their own political party and for self determination. However, the Federal regime and the local authority subjectively disqualified their requests saying their population was too small, have few educated members, and they have the same language and culture as the Kaffa. The Manjo petitioned again in 2007 but were again refused.
This occupationally induced, bottled up ethnic discrimination and oppression of the Manjo passed its limit and level of patience. It sparked an ethnic attack against the Kafecho in 2002 which left hundreds dead, over 2000 houses brunt and around 6000 displaced. The discrimination and marginalization of the Manjo ethnic minority by the Kaffa majority and the stifling of their rights by the Federal regime has caused one of the major ethnic conflicts in present day Ethiopia. Although calm seems to have pop round, a wind of revenge, fear, mistrust and hostility still underlies in the region.
This writer recalls the bold statements of one of the founders and considered by some as the “Father” of the EPRDF, Sebhat Nega with the Voice of America (VoA) Amharic Service regarding ethnic rights in Ethiopia since the current regime took power. In his interview a couple of years ago, the veteran politician said that most Ethiopian ethnic groups did not previously even know  amongst one another before the coming to power of the current regime and the implementation of its ethnic federalism which he believed was an achievement in all forms.
A PhD thesis on the Manjo people by Frederica De Sisto completed in 2011 conversely reveals the deterioration of the status of socially discriminated minorities under the current EPRDF regime.

Strong arguments by academics depict the fact that there is vivid evidence that the position of the socially discriminated minorities has worsened since EPRDF’s seizure of power (Vaughan, 2003; Pausewang and Zewde, 2002).

In recent years, there have been attempts by the regime and some international charities to fight the discrimination against the Manjo and effort towards greater equality. One of the forerunning nongovernmental organizations in this regard has been ActionAid Ethiopia. Frederica found out in her thesis that although the discourse of equality has spread in Kaffa Zone and Manjo communities through the efforts of the NGO and government, the existing societal values “have barely changed”. “The overwhelming majority of Kefecho continued to deny the social, economic, political rights of the Manjo and discrimination is perpetuated in more insidious forms”, she concludes.
Occupational discrimination is the discrimination of people based on the types of occupation that they are involved such as against blacksmiths, weavers, potters, hunters and etc. An attempt by this writer to find legal interventions, policies and proclamation to deal with the protection of occupationally discriminated groups in the laws and proclamations of present day Ethiopia did not materialize. It is difficult to find a single clause or stipulation that on how the rights of occupational groups are safeguarded in Ethiopia.  The ethnic discrimination and racism perpetuated by the regime has also brought the nation to an increased level of tension. In previous articles this writer had argued that Ethiopia needed immediate societal, cultural and/or ethnic revolutions along with the political. It can be viewed Here.   Even if political revolutions may be achieved in the nearest future, embedding democracy and democratic values could remain wistful unless and otherwise socio-cultural changes are brought along.
Kochito, W.M. (1976). The Historical Survey of Kaffa, 1897-1935. Unpublished Essay in History. Addis Abeba University, Ethiopia.
Levine, D. N. (1974). Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Petros, G. (2003) Differentiation and Integration: Craft Workers and Manjo in social stratification of Kaffa Minorities of Craft Workers and Hunters in Southern Ethiopia. Unpublished Master’s thesis. University of Berger, Norway.
Tekle, S. M. (2005) ActionAid Ethiopia Social Integration Project: Root causes, factors, and effects of Discrimination on Manjo Community in Kafa Zone: The Case of the Decha and Bitta Woredas. Unpublished Report.
Yoshida, S.(2008) Searching for a way out of social discrimination: A case study of the Manjo through the 2002 incident in Kaffa. Nile-Ethiopian Studies, 12
Yoshida, S.(2009) Why did the Manjo convert to Protestant?  Social Discrimination and Coexistence in Kafa, Southwest Ethiopia, In: Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, ed. by Svein Ege, Harald Aspen, Birhanu Teferra and Shiferaw Bekele, Trondheim 2009.
Posted By : Kumilachew Gebremeskel

3 comments on “The Manjo/Menja : Ethiopia

  1. It’s strong message but somewhat problems of organization English. However, I’m happy to read it.


  2. This is Good ; i acnot agree with you anymore .But there are some issues that remain to be addressed .I did both my masters and Phd thesis on the Manjo of southwestern Ethiopia. There is more unity than distinctiveness between the Manjo and “Gomeros”. and please stop quoting foreign writers who try to romanticize the issue and see it in European perspectives.I have lived with the Manjos .They are very kind , honest and hardworking. True that the Manjos are the most marginalized groups in the region. But they are not the only ones . The Mana , Fuga and Wayto are suffer from similar situation .The issue needs more scrutiny than patronizing essays. Many have tried to champion the cause of the Manjo and so far little progress is made . Pklease leet us keep in touch and see what we cando.


  3. this is true! but not now this is the ancient history .it is manjo communities are marginalized. but at this time all peoples are equall.kaffa fore ever…………….thank you!


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