Document Type


Publication Date






Publication Title

Comparative Studies in Society and History


In 1960, women in southern Ethiopia's rural Konso district faced a violent campaign by local men to eradicate leather clothing following a ban imposed by the local governor, Tesfaye Hailu. Tesfaye, a man of the northern Amhara ethnic group, banned leather clothes along with bead necklaces and arm bracelets as part of imperial Ethiopia's "modernization," which was influenced by disparate sources, including the United States. Tesfaye saw women's attire as "backward" and "unhygienic" and as obstructing modernization; its elimination was a means to improve Konso culture and help the empire join the community of modern nations. The "culture" of "the Other" has often been cast as impeding "modernity" and requiring elimination or change, particularly the practices of women, from genital cutting in eastern Africa to veiling among Muslim women in the Middle East and Europe (Hodgson 2009; Masquelier 2005; Merry 2009a). So it was with the widespread, politicized transition to cotton clothing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century eastern Africa. The target was clothing worn by all women in Konso and made by women in the low-status category of "Xauta," sometimes referred to as a "caste." Leather skirts signaled important stages in women's lives, and became extensions of individual women's tastes, experiences, and identities. Women today recall the violence and punishments of the campaign, including being chased, beaten, imprisoned, and fined, and even having their skirts forcibly removed at home and in public. They offer contradictory explanations of who initiated the ban and the reasons for it, but they remember clearly the local men involved in eradication efforts.


Published as:

Ellison, James. "The Intimate Violence of Political and Economic Change in Southern Ethiopia." Comparative Studies in Society and History 54, no. 1 (2012): 35-64.

© 2012 by Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved

This published version is made available on Dickinson Scholar with the permission of the publisher. For more information on the published version, visit Cambridge Journals Online.



Included in

Anthropology Commons