Photographer: Álvaro Minguito
Title: The extermination of the voices from the forest
Location: Ethiopia
Period: 08/2021 - 08/2021
Category: Environment

The Chabu people call their language Chawi kaw, "the mouth of the forest." Originally from the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan, they are considered its first occupants.

The myths about its origin collect that, when Juk (god) created the world, he summoned its inhabitants at dawn. They were the last to arrive, due to the rains and the impossibility of leaving the forest in those conditions, until it had dried up at noon. So Juk granted them the right to it and to its animals and plants so that they could survive, since the rest of the earth's goods had been distributed. Since then, it provides them with the necessary resources for their survival.

Until the 90s, its economy was based on hunting, fishing and gathering, being one of the few hunter-gatherer societies that have culturally survived to this day. The chabu culture promotes equality and life together, even in the care of children. For them, sharing and cooperating with others is the most appropriate strategy to survive. Ethiopia is a country with a high population density, which pushes settlers to establish themselves as farmers in the fertile lands of the south. Coaches full of them arrive in this area every day, in search of a new life. The image is reminiscent of what the conquest of the American West must have really been like: brutal and lawless.

Seven years ago, in September 2014, at least 24 Chabus were killed in Yeri, a town where a significant number of them lived, due to a land conflict. The violence did not stop in the following years. Currently, many continue to be searched and captured by the state as a result of this episode, or sentenced to prison in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian government and multinational agribusiness companies have been accused of having done nothing more than contributing to this climate of violence and murder, which some call "emerging genocide.



The voices from the forest

Road under construction that connects the city of Gambela in southern Ethiopia with the forests where the large coffee plantations and the chabu territory are located Native to the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia near the border with Sudan and between the states of Oromia Gambela and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region SNNPR they are considered the first occupants of the territory which includes the Reserve of the Shekka Forest Biosphere The climate in the area is tropical and its seasons are reduced to two the dry and the rainy Two large rivers run through the territory rich in a multitude of animal and plant species

The voices from the forest

A young chabu Their society which until a few years ago was based on hunting and gathering is organized in a cooperative and egalitarian way Men and women participate in decision-making collectively The proliferation of large coffee plantations is expelling the chabu from their forests and makes them live in marginalized and uprooted conditions And this also entails the loss of an autonomous and unique culture on the planet with a practically unknown language myths traditions and a material culture that will disappear in a few years

The voices from the forest

Men from the village of Yeri transport materials for the construction of a house The settlers seek to establish themselves as farmers in the fertile lands of the south so buses full of them arrive in this area every day In 2014 a conflict over land led to a massacre of the town s Chabu neighbors and the survivors fleeing to the nearby forests In 1988 with the establishment of coffee plantations in their territory and the consequent deforestation the Chabu faced bulldozers and found papers that forced them to sign things they did not understand They lost their land to farmers and the Gemadro Coffee Plantation established in 1997 and with an estimated 2 300 hectares The multinational Starbucks has been one of its main clients advertising the sale of Ethiopian coffee as a project that is careful with the environment and its workers The reality on the ground seems quite different

The voices from the forest

Teri a village of settlers in which it is observed how land is eating away from the forest in the area

The voices from the forest

The Ethiopian state is territorially organized according to ethnicity To date the chabu are not officially recognized by the government which makes it difficult for them to access services such as health or education This together with the deforestation caused by the implantation of large coffee plantations and the arrival of settlers from other parts of the country places them in a position of exclusion and at risk of disappearance as a culture and even as a people

The voices from the forest

A child waits at the table of a settlement establishment for settlers owned by a multinational coffee company

The voices from the forest

Adolescent men and women have their own doku house from a very young age from the age of 9 or 10 They live separately and are used only for sleeping They are minimal constructions that they have until they form a family

The voices from the forest

A group of Chabu men set up a newly manufactured beehive near their village The production of honey is very important for the economy of the chabu since in addition to their daily food they use it for trade in local markets

The voices from the forest

A moment of a ritual dance carried out by women in which elements of their culture are mixed with other Christians The evangelical missions are another of the risks that the Chabu people face since they promote the eradication of culture especially their religious practices and other customs such as co-breeding or their traditional dances

The voices from the forest

A group of women walk down the road to the area s Christian church

The voices from the forest

Two girls from the same family prepare the typical Ethiopian food the enjera at the door of their hut in the forest among corn plantations

The voices from the forest

Two men prepare an animal trap in the forest near the village Until the 1970s anthropologists and linguists knew practically everything about this population which lived independently of other cultural groups in the region such as the Shekka or the Majanj Until the 90s its economy was based on hunting fishing and gathering being one of the few hunter-gatherer societies that have culturally survived to this day Today multiple factors threaten their survival The main threat is the loss of their lands by highland settlers who take away their lands and force them to live in a more sedentary way