Goat skin: A note on a (possibly) unusual lexicalisation

Skin and fat of a freshly slaughtered goat

Skin and fat of a freshly slaughtered goat

The lexicon

In the Baskeet language, a lexical distinction is made between gamma ‘cow skin’ and shaacc ‘goat/sheep skin’, but there is no general term for ‘skin’. [Addition 15/10/2012: The terms are not related to the lexemes for ‘cow’ or ‘goat/sheep‘.] Skins of other animals (e.g. leopards) are usually also referred to as shaacc. No difference is made between ‘skin’ and ‘leather’ (i.e. processed skin), once the skin is removed from an animal it is gamma or shaacc. When the skin is still on the (living) animal, one usually speaks of the animal’s gall ‘body’. Also people’s skin is referred to as gall ‘body’, e.g. when the skin is irritated one says ‘My body is itchy’.

I don’t know how common it is for languages of the area to make a lexical distinction between ‘cow skin’ and ‘goat/sheep skin’ but not to have a general term for ‘skin’. I’d appreciate any comments on this.

The use of  skins

Cow skins (gamma) are used as bed sheets, for sheaths of knives and spears, as protective covers on instruments (e.g. on the nookka-trumpet, the moyza-trumpet, and the lyre) and as drumheads:

Irdaato Shannapo with her drum (Dookka-C'ari-Subba, Basketo Special Woreda)

Irdaato Shannapo with her drum (Dookka-C’ari-Subba, Basketo Special Woreda)

Cow skins are also cut into stripes for straps (e.g. on calabashes that are carried in the hand, for cow bells or for connecting the bells of a rattle) and, if twisted, for ropes:

Ropes from cow skin sold at the Laska market (Basketo Special Woreda, Ethiopia)

Ropes from cow skin sold at the Laska market (Basketo Special Woreda, Ethiopia)

Goat and sheep skins (shaacc) are mainly used to sit on. The few Muslims living in Baskeet may use goat/sheep skins as prayer rugs.

A special type of goat skin, called shaala, has a symbolic function. The unprocessed skins of goats that have been slaughtered by the family of a deceased for the guards of a corpse are divided into two halves so that each half has a front leg, a hind leg and half of the animal’s head. These skins are then hung up at the gate of the mortuary. The picture below was taken at a mourning ceremony in Mandit (Basketo Special Woreda):

Untanned goat skin hung up at the gate to a mortuary (Basketo Special Woreda, Ethiopia)

Untanned divided goat skins hung up at the gate to a mortuary (Basketo Special Woreda, Ethiopia)

Townspeople usually sell their skins to local traders when they have slaughtered an animal. Men carrying bundles of sheep and goat skins through the streets are a common sight on holidays:

Man collecting skins on Christmas day in Laska (Basketo Special Woreda, Ethiopia)

Man collecting skins on Christmas day in Laska (Basketo Special Woreda, Ethiopia)

I am not sure whether there are any groups in Baskeet who are experts in tanning skins or whether this task can be carried out by anybody, irrespective of his clan membership. I will have to check this during my next field trip.

© 2011-2 Baskettoethiopia All Rights Reserved
Advertisements
This entry was posted in Animals, Documentation, Material Culture and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s