Blood, Land and Sex: Legal and Political Pluralism in Eritrea.

Author:Shah, Bijal
Position:Book Review

Blood, Land and Sex: Legal and Political Pluralism in Eritrea, by Lyda Favali and Roy Pateman Publisher: Indiana University Press (2003) Price: $54.95

In their ethnography Blood, Land and Sex: Legal and Political Pluralism in Eritrea, Lyda Favali and Roy Pateman attempt to fashion an analysis of legal pluralism and its feasibility in practice. They endeavor, through a discussion of Eritrea, to craft solutions integrating domestic and indigenous policy.

The highlight of their work, however, is their Tigrinya- and Sari'a (1)-flavored foray into the customary Eritrean codes of blood feud and vengeance, land dispute, and gender relations. Favali and Pateman may not offer many clearly workable ideas for the peaceful political collaboration of international actors, transnational and state governments, tradition, and religion; but they have succeeded in producing a vivid, enjoyable text that details a complex variation of traditional rules within the "ethnies" (nationalities) of Eritrea.

Published following the fresh inking of the 2002 Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission agreement, the ethnography turns towards the almost welcome post-war problems of a liberated Eritrea. It revitalizes the topic by succeeding as one of few works in the genre that focuses not on current intercontinental Eastern African conflict, but on Eritrea exclusively. However, this supportive account of the new codes, the idealized constitution of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), and the structural and organizational concerns of the nation's fledgling judiciary and legal academic community, provides no concrete conclusions about the facilitation of potential change inside or beyond Eritrean borders.

The book's main focus, however, falls on the history and current application of the indigenous law of the highland and lowland peoples of Eritrea. These ethnic groups include the sedentary Tigrinya and the nomadic Saho, whose tenuous relations with pastoral lands and each other formed a foundation for land tenure and dispute resolution; the Kunama and the Nara, whose granting of immense sexual freedoms to married women ran counter to not only the rest of Eritrea and Africa, but much of the "westernized" world; and the Akele Guzai, whose oldest codes elegantly specified a sum of money for the conciliation of conflicts arising from murder.

The book begins by identifying the diverse Eritrean ethnies, and progresses into an exploration of the various powers and nations that have invaded and annexed them. The book outlines the ebb and surge of colonial and post-colonial manipulations of "traditional" law, including those of the Italian territorialists between 1886 and 1941 (whose influence on the nationalization of Eritrean land endures) and the vilified Ethiopians. Further, it seeks to disentangle the numerous...

To continue reading