post The Harnessed Wind

September 25th, 2009

Filed under: Video Forums — Lissan Magazine @ 21:14

William Kamkwamba: How I harnessed the wind

At age 14, in poverty and famine, a Malawian boy built a windmill to power his family’s home. Now at 22, William Kamkwamba, who speaks at TED, here, for the second time, shares in his own words the moving tale of invention that changed his life.

Why you should listen to him:

William Kamkwamba, from Malawi, is a born inventor. When he was 14, he built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap, working from rough plans he found in a library book called Using Energy and modifying them to fit his needs. The windmill he built powers four lights and two radios in his family home.

After reading about Kamkwamba on Mike McKay’s blog Hactivate (which picked up the story from a local Malawi newspaper), TEDGlobal Conference Director Emeka Okafor spent several weeks tracking him down at his home in Masitala Village, Wimbe, and invited him to attend TEDGlobal on a fellowship. Onstage, Kamkwamba talked about his invention and shared his dreams: to build a larger windmill to help with irrigation for his entire village, and to go back to school.

Following Kamkwamba’s moving talk, there was an outpouring of support for him and his promising work. Members of the TED community got together to help him improve his power system (by incorporating solar energy), and further his education through school and mentorships. Subsequent projects have included clean water, malaria prevention, solar power and lighting for the six homes in his family compound; a deep-water well with a solar-powered pump for clean water; and a drip irrigation system. Kamkwamba himself returned to school, and is now attending the African Leadership Academy, a new pan-African prep school outside Johannesburg, South Africa.

Kamkwamba’s story is documented in his autobiography, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. A short documentary about Kamkwamba, called Moving Windmills, won several awards last year; Kamkwamba and friends are now working on a full-length film. You can read the ongoing details on his blog (which he keeps with help from his mentor), and support his work and other young inventors at


post Teff in Kansas

September 23rd, 2009

Filed under: General Issue — Lissan Magazine @ 23:39

Kansas farmers attempt an Ethiopian staple

By Scott Canon
The Kansas City Star

NICODEMUS, Kan. | A new “it” grain is blooming in the fields of northwest Kansas.

Teff has a ready-made market of Ethiopian expatriates hungering for a taste of home with virtually no supply of the grain for their beloved injera bread. Teff packs more protein per pound than wheat. And because it produces gluten-free flour, it could open a buffet line of breads and pastas to people with celiac disease.


It also can withstand drought and floods and, so far, it hasn’t fallen prey to pests that bedevil other Midwestern crops. Ethiopians have long adored the grain, raising it by hand in their highlands and making it the country’s staple cereal.

“People will definitely buy it,” said 52-year-old Gillan Alexander, a Graham County farmer who is among those experimenting with a crop that is ancient in Africa but new to Kansas.

But can America reap its harvest?

Size, it turns out, matters. A grain of teff is only slightly larger than the period at the end of this sentence. Walk through a field that Gary Alexander — a cousin of Gillan’s — has planted in wheat, and all the challenges of mechanizing teff production begin to show. Start with the ground. Squint closely enough and you see that some of the tiny reddish seeds have fallen to the dirt, lost for any chance of harvest. In fact, the word “teff” translates to “loss” in the Ethiopian language of Amarigna.

The grass has begun to shed its seeds partly because the plants have matured at dramatically different rates. Some are bright green shoots just starting out, while others are browning in retreat. No sooner does it reach maturity than the soft stem bends over. Modern farmers call it lodging, and they don’t like it. They prefer crops with good posture that stand up for vacuum-like harvest machinery. Teff has proved all the more troublesome because even at full growth, it can vary in height by a foot or more. When teff is harvested, far too much chaff ends up with the Lilliputian grain.

“You can tell how the Ethiopians get the seed by whacking at this stuff by hand,” 62-year-old Gary Alexander said. “I don’t think my hands will last that long.”

He has pieced together two-by-fours and window screen to devise a sieve, and it works well enough. So it’s possible, but not yet practical, to harvest teff commercially. Ethiopian farming of teff only supports a national per capita income of $800 a year. To make the payments on Kansas farmland, to cover the cost of 21st-century farm equipment and to leave a little profit at the end will require something more efficient.

“So far, it’s been too labor-intensive,” said Josh Coltrain of Cloud County Community College.

Coltrain has been hired by the Kansas Black Farmers Association to oversee a project paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine whether teff has potential in America’s breadbasket. Just a few hundred acres have been planted so far, scattered among several farmers in an area where one person sometimes tends more than 1,000 acres. Grants issued through the Solomon Valley Resource Conservation Development Area since the test plots were first planted in 2005 add up to less than $200,000.

The grain’s promise, Coltrain said, doesn’t come in its yields. Farmers can get perhaps three times as many bushels per acre from wheat. But the premium paid for teff — at a few health food stores and groceries that cater to African immigrants and to Ethiopian restaurants — could quickly make up for the smaller bounty.

“I get calls all the time from people wanting to buy it from us, mainly for Ethiopian restaurants and bakeries,” he said. “I have to tell them we haven’t got everything figured out yet.”

Coltrain thinks it ultimately will be a good Great Plains crop. It can withstand wild weather springs, and in many ways the dry spells common to western Kansas are similar to those in Ethiopia. The trick, he said, will be cross-breeding varieties that bring more uniformity to the plants and increase the amount of grain a teff plant produces.

Teff’s cultivation dates at least to the 13th century B.C., and the grain today hasn’t changed much. By comparison, wheat, sorghum, corn and the other grains popular in this part of the world are finely tuned, sometimes genetically modified hybrids. In the meantime, farmers and agricultural economists say teff looks worthwhile as a forage crop — cut for hay without bothering to harvest the seed.

“That’s a decent fallback,” said Bruce Anderson, a professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Teff tends to grow quickly enough to cut up to four times in a year and pack into bales. And for Kansas fields planted in fall for winter wheat, plant scientists said it makes a good rotation crop. What’s more, the softer leaves and stems make it ideal for pampered livestock such as alpacas or llamas that sometimes have difficulty digesting hay, or end up with bloody snouts from eating rougher products.

“I call it cotton candy for horses,” Gary Alexander said. “They just love it.”

The push to bring the grain to Kansas began with Edgar Hicks, an official at the Nebraska State Grange who works with minority farmers. He hopes Nicodemus will be to American teff what the Champagne region of France is to sparkling wine.

“There’s a chance to get hold of something and see it take off,” Hicks said.

In pushing for grants to explore the possibilities, he suggested a cultural connection between the Africans of Ethiopia who grow and consume teff and the African-Americans in Kansas who would feed a U.S. market. Nicodemus is the last surviving town founded by Exodusters, former slaves who came to the state in the 1870s and 1880s.

Gillan Alexander, though, said he doesn’t feel any particular connection to the Ethiopian staple.

“I’m just looking to make a living.”



post Inventories the Invisible

September 16th, 2009

Filed under: Video Forums — Lissan Magazine @ 22:07

Inventories the Invisible by John Lloyd

Nature’s mysteries meet tack-sharp wit in this hilarious, 10-minute mix of quips and fun lessons, as comedian, writer and TV man John Lloyd plucks at the substance of several things not seen.

Why you should listen to him:
John Lloyd seems to have known every brilliant and funny person in Britain, and his collaborations are legendary. He’s been a fixture on the BBC for four decades, producing such classic comedies as Blackadder, Spitting Image, the BBC’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and lately QI, hosted by Stephen Fry, and now in its sixth season.He’s also written a dozen funny books — including The Meaning of Liff, a collaboration with his friend Douglas Adams, which has been in print for 26 years.

“If John Cleese is the Pope of comedy, John is the Cardinal. He is the kingmaker because he is this unbelievable source of comic wisdom.”
Griff Rhys Jones, The Independent

source: TED

post Demonization and Exorcism

September 1st, 2009

Filed under: Life Style — Lissan Magazine @ 09:52

Case Study:
Demonization and the Practice of Exorcism in Ethiopian Churches
by Amsalu Tadesse Geleta

Demonization and Exorcism
Demonization is found throughout Ethiopia, among many, if not most, of its peoples. Anthropological studies from the 1960’s and 1970’s indicate its existence among Oromo (in different regions), Amhara (Gondar, Menz), Qemant, Sidamo, Konso, Kafa, Gurage, Somali, and others.

A number of explanations have been suggested to account for these manifestations. Most of them give psychosocial explanations, which hold that socially induced depravity, low status, or feelings of inadequacy or inferiority produces psychological reactions in individuals, which become manifest in the odd, but socially acceptable, behaviors that accompany spirit possession.

Another explanation was that spirit possession point to the situations in which women who are socially disenfranchised, or men of “downtrodden categories,” or men with “frustrated status ambition”.

Group, or individual, deprivation is an explanation of spirit possession given by John Hamer between the Sidamo of Ethiopia. Jan Brøgger (1975:289) disagrees with this explanation for similar possession occurred among well-off men with high prestige. He rather prefers a different explanation. He calls it a social and psychological mechanism of social cohesion and preservation of the group through the release from frustrations and the redirection of hostilities.

Thus the discussion of spirit possession centers on the problem of the cause and of individual participation mainly and the discussion of classification to some extent. Lewis (1984:420) argues that spirit possession rests on an idea and belief that there are incorporeal beings in the universe, which are capable of, and interested in seizing the bodies of human beings and using them for their purposes. He affirms the manifestation and interaction of spirit with humans in various ways.

Exorcism, as means of relief to those suffering under an invading spirit, is practiced in various forms. There are many possible ways of classifying the spirits. I admit also the possibility of organizing them in different ways than that of mine.

1. Zar Spirit
The Zar cult refers to a group of spirits, and to a set of assumptions and practices relating to these spirits and their function. It is one of the spirit possession cults. Zar is the invisible supernatural power, absolutely capable of reading the future, capable of solving even international problems, a courageous hero in war and battle, an efficient doctor in time of illness (except for venereal disease), and most capable of causing destruction, plague and death if people do not pay respect to him. I begin with the presentation of the zar spirit as described by anthropologists and then look at it critically.

1.1 Atete
Atete is a fertility cult in honor of the spirit of motherhood in Oromo tradition. The cult is known as conversion zar among the Amharas of Ethiopia. There is a similarity of practices between Atete and Conversion Zar. The preparation is the same. The main difference is that the conversion zar is practiced among the Amharas whereas Atete is practiced among the Oromos. Atete is a non-violent female goddess mainly connected with fertility. Women who seek supernatural help to become pregnant and bear healthy children are the main adherents.

The clients of this cult are women. A girl will take over or be possessed by her mother’s ayana (spirit). Her ayana normally possesses or visits her once or twice a year. She spends her day preparing things that are needed for the ceremony. She has to prepare herself wearing special clothes (often of the opposite sex), putting on beads and ornaments, perfumes and carrying a whip, steel bar or an empty gun. Green grass (reed from river side) is spread on the floor as a sign of ceremony or anniversary. Different types of foods like porridge, butter, lemons, dadhi (honey wine, yellow in color), farso (home made beer), and coffee is prepared before the ceremony starts. There might be some more sacrifice prescribed by ayana on its previous possession. So chicken, sheep or goat of certain color is offered as a sacrifice and perfumes or different spices are presented as an offer. If the spirit is pleased by the offerings and the preparation it occupies her. People know that she is possessed when she starts yawning, stretching the whole body here and there, salivating, and becoming drowsy. Her body wavers, and she also cries, speaks as if she is in dream alone. She often falls down and covers her face with her dress.

She may jump and run away and climb trees, not coming down until people beg her. Others stand on glowing wood or eat embers. She may cut herself with a knife, or crush pieces of glass and eat them. She speaks in a strange voice, often using a language understood only by the zar themselves. She may sing a song reserved for the occasion, or dance a peculiar dance associated with a particular ceremony. She acts very differently from normal strength, voice, activity, etc. which signify that the spirit has possessed her.

This possession may last from a few hours to two or three days. The main function of the gathered spectators throughout the ceremony is to appease the ayana, sing songs, clap, dance and beat a drum, and beg the spirit not to hurt her.

1.2 Seer Zar
In contrast to Atete which is dominated by women, seer zar is man’s zar. The ritual expert is dressed in special clothes for the occasion. The seer summons his zar whom he has learned to control. As the zar takes possession of him, people begin to clap and sing the zar’s song. The zar doctor, or Qalicha, usually starts dancing and does extraordinary things. In case of some plea from his clients, he can respond to the thing they have lost or something that has been stolen. He is believed to know the right sacrifice to make things right in case of calamities, disease and death in the family or in the society in which the help is needed.

A common belief connected to seer zar is the ability of the seer to read the future or the expected answer to the given problem from the moora of the stomach of the lamb or sheep. From the pattern of the layer of moora the seer reads something about the person.

The possessed seer is not touching a corpse or entering a house where there is a dead body. He does not eat certain food that his zar is not interested in. He can not cross the fields where certain crops are sown.

…Click here to read the full version of the case study.

Aren, Gustav. Evangelical Pioneers in Ethiopia. Studia Missionalia XXXII, Stockholm: EFS forlaget, 1978.

Bartles, L. Oromo Religion. Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia. Berlin: Reimer,

Brøgger, Jan. Belief and Experience among the Sidamo. A Case Study towards Anthropology of Knowledge. Oslo: Universtetsforlaget As., 1986.

Engelsviken, Tormod. “Exorcism and Healing in the Evangelical Churches of Ethiopia.”, In Journal of Mission Theology. Vol. 1-Fasc.I (1991):80-92.

Johnstone, patrick. Operation World: a day-to-day guide to praying for the world. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.

Lewis, Herbert S. “Spirit Possession in Ethiopia: An Essay in Interpretation.” In Proceedings of the Seven International Conference of Ethiopian Studies. University of Lund, 26-29 April 1982. ed. Sven Rubenson. Uppsala: SIAS, 1984

Moreau, A. Scott. The World of Spirit: A Biblical Study in the African Context. Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House, 1990.

Sæverås, Olav. On Church-Mission Relations in Ethiopia 1944-1969. With special reference to the Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus and the Lutheran Missions. Studia Missionalia Upsaliensia XXVII, Drammen: Tangen-Trykk, 1974.

Torrey, E. Fuller. “The Zar Cult in Ethiopia.” Proceeding of the third International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa 1966. Addis Ababa: Haile Sillassie University.

Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Christian Church and Mission in Ethiopia. London: Founder’s Lodge, 1950.


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