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Plastic for Sale, Lalibela, Ethiopia

There was a time, probably not all that long ago, when the Ethiopian people crafted containers from locally-produced, renewable and biodegradable materials such as pottery, gourds and tightly-woven basketry sealed with pitch.

 

Based on what I saw out the bus window as we traveled in Ethiopia, the practice of making containers from traditional materials following traditional methods has not entirely died out.

 

But, with globalization and Ethiopia's burgeoning population, plastic containers, probably from China, are displacing traditional wares.

 

On the plus side, a display of plastic containers in rainbow hues makes for a great photograph, particularly when contrasted with the old house in the background.

 

But what is the long-term effect of importing non-biodegradable containers made of non-renewable petrochemical products? What about the traditional craftspeople who have lost their livelihoods as a result? What consideration is being paid for the imported goods? Is it hard currency? Debt?

 

Well, that's all grist for the mill for someone's Master's thesis in anthropology or economics.

 

I have a feeling plastics are here to stay. I suppose it's unrealistic and egregiously ethnocentric to expect Ethiopia to be a living ethnographic museum while the rest of the world moves on.

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Taken on November 2, 2007