Documentation of Baskeet song, verbal art and ceremonial language

Documentation of Baskeet song, verbal art and ceremonial language

Language: Baskeet (ISO639-3:bst)
Depositor: Yvonne Treis
Location: Ethiopia
Deposit Id: 0253
Grant id: IPF0164
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

Baskeet, is an Omotic language spoken in south-western Ethiopia. This collection aims at investigating the variation and continuity in the songs and recitations of Baskeet singers based on a documentation of lyre and flute performances as well as wedding, mourning and work songs. The collection includes videos and audios from a wide range of singers and musicians and a corpus of interviews with musicians about their biographies, learning histories and repertoires as well as the contexts in which music is performed. The collection of music-/song-related recordings is supplemented by a corpus (non-musical) narratives and elicited language material (lexicon, paradigms, example sentences).

The data was collected by the linguist Yvonne Treis. During her documentary work she was supported by her local assistants Ambaye Tsedeke from Awra-Soosta, Seid Ali from Laska, Tamiru Admasu from Mandit, Tiyitu Taddese from Ganshire and Tarikwa Tapise from Laska.

The picture at the top shows the lyre and flute player Takkaale Buro (from Bonaara) watching the video of his interview that was conducted by the project assistants Ambaye Tsedeke (to the left) and Seid Ail (to the right).

A short video documentary of the project in French can be found here: Au bord du silence chants traditionnels du pays baskeet.

Group represented

In the last decades, the remote Baskeet area has undergone significant changes through infrastructure improvements, through the acquisition of a partly autonomous administrative status, through the designation of large resettlement schemes in the Baskeet lowlands for hundreds of people from overpopulated areas elsewhere in Ethiopia, through the accessibility of modern media, the increasing school attendance rates and, most importantly, through the rapid spread of Protestantism. The consequences of these changes do not affect all parts of the Baskeet language equally but they have dramatic effects on songs, verbal art and ceremonial speech. The majority of Baskeet have converted to Protestantism in the last decades and the numbers are rising continuously. Protestantisation has exacerbated the abandonment of elaborate mourning and wedding traditions. Protestantism is seen as incompatible with traditional culture and the performance of music and song. Music that is associated with non-Christian rituals or which does not worship the Christian God is outright forbidden or frowned upon (depending on the evangelical denomination). Therefore, knowledge of the religious and non-religious song traditions is on a steady decline, and Baskeet songs and music is nowadays only performed by a small minority that are resisting Protestantisation. The project worked with speakers (singers, musicians) of the Baskeet community who still performed vocal and/or instrumental music at mourning ceremonies, weddings, communal work or when herding the cattle. The project participants played the five-stringed lyre – the most widespread musical instrument in Baskeet –, the solo bamboo flute, the bamboo flute in a quintette, the bamboo trumpet in a trio, the bamboo pipe in a sextette, the tiny flute made from the neck of a calabash, the clay flute, the drum, or various mourning instruments made of wood or animal horns.

Language information
Baskeet – in the literature also known by the Amharic “Basketo” – is an Omotic language spoken by about 80,000 speakers (acc. to the 2007 census) in the linguistically heterogeneous Southern Region of Ethiopia. Most Baskeet live in the Basketo Special Woreda, some in the neighbouring Melokoza Woreda of the Gamo-Gofa Zone. Baskeet belongs to the Ometo branch of North Omotic and is hitherto little studied. The Baskeet-speaking area borders on Malo (North Omotic: Ometo) in the North, Dime (South Omotic) and the Bodi dialect of Me’en (Nilo-Saharan: Surmic) in the West, Galila Aari (South Omotic) in the South and Gofa (North Omotic: Ometo) in the East. The term Baskeet refer to the language, the ethnic group as well as the land.

Special characteristics

This deposit contains musical performances of male and female musicians from almost all communities of the Basketo Special Woreda and from members of many different clans (see the information on the individual participants), including a number of potter clans. Unfortunately, no recordings could be made with members of the smith clans – which is definitely a desideratum for any future research on Baskeet music.

The vast majority of recordings were staged by the principal investigator. Photos of most participants are accessible in the photo gallery.

Deposit contents

The majority of bundles in this collection are audio recordings that can be broken down into different genres: songs and musical pieces, interviews with musicians, narratives (folktales), and elicitation (lexicon, paradigms, tonal minimal pairs, example sentences) of which the transcriptions and translations are successively added and updated. In addition, the collection contains 70 video recordings of lyre performances, interviews with musicians and demonstrations of lyre rhythms. There are also field notebooks, photos, maps, posters and publications archived in this collection.

Deposit history

Data for this collection was collected during two postdoctoral contracts of Yvonne Treis. In the first post-doctoral project at La Trobe University in Australia (2008-2011), she mainly collected folktales and other narratives, elicited grammatical and lexical data and recorded some musical performances. The core of the data for this collection of Baskeet song, verbal art and ceremonial language originates from the ELDP-sponsored postdoctoral research project (2011-2013) of Yvonne Treis at the research centre LLACAN (UMR 8135 du CNRS) in France. Between 2008 and 2013, Yvonne Treis spent altogether 15 months in the field.

For her recordings of Baskeet songs in December 2011 and January 2012 she visited almost all communities in the Basketo Special Woreda to find as many people as possible that still played the lyre or the flute and who still sang the wedding, mourning and work songs. In August 2012 she verified transcriptions with Baskeet speakers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. She returned to Baskeet in June 2013 to investigate tonological questions and to supplement her recordings of musical performances.

Other information

None of the data in this collection may be used as a legal argument or as evidence in court.

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Yvonne Treis as the principal investigator. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers and musicians whose words or music are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has assisted in the collection, transcription and/or translation of the data should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way:

Treis, Yvonne. 2018. Documentation of Baskeet song, verbal art and ceremonial language. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: Accessed on [insert date here].


Collection online
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Yvonne Treis
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Affiliation: CNRS

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Data from 2020 September 28 to 2020 September 28
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Showing 1 - 10 of 193 Items

Godaano Askamo, Maaddane Kabbaba, Berhanu Bilaato, Taagay Godaano and Nuro Shifaw perform a flute song, which was recorded twice; file 002 is a corrected version of file 001. The song can be played during farm work and be combined with a song called zubaake zuggaa balasha. The set of 5 flutes is called puttinput. The flutes are made from a thin bamboo species (shombak'a) and are of decreasing length. The longest flute is about 12cm long. The photos taken on the day of the recording (IMG_0340, IMG_0342) show the flutes and the group. The song starts with the two longest/deepest flutes (pittinpit) and the third (tiitii), fourth (tii'illin) and the shortest flute (tiitititti) join in. The names of the flutes refer to the rhythm that they play. The group photo shows Godaano, Maaddane, Berhanu, Taagay and Nuro from left to right. On the far right we see the flute player Addafiro Wotto (see session AW2013-06-15).

Recorded on: 2013-06-15

The bamboo trumpet trio of the musicians Biittso Its'into, Worada Gebiro and Shawayye Tebejje play three "wedding trumpets" and three "mourning trumpets" (see photo linked to this session). The bamboo trumpet is called zayá in Baskeet. The longest trumpet, zoohá, is played by Biittso (on the right), the leading trumpet, késá, by Worada (in the middle), and the shortest trumpet, ádá, by Shawayye (on the left). This particular trio was formed by the Culture Office of the Basketo Special Woreda to represent Baskeet at national cultural events. Usually a trumpet trio has only members from the potter clans, Shawayye is, however, a member of a non-potter clan. At weddings and mourning ceremonies in Baskeet Biittso and Woreda usually play together with another musician. File 001 is a piece played at the bride's home before she leaves (label: Issi zaya I). File 002 is a piece played on the way when taking the bride to her husband (label: Issi zaya II). File 003 is a piece played at the husband's house upon arrival (Issi zaya III). File 004 is a piece played in the morning of the first day of mourning (zháara galass), it was characterised as Baskeet woysa ('Baskeet bamboo flute') and dooyibaaso by the musicians (label: Yeepi zaya I). File 005 is a piece played on the second day of mourning (késí galass) when groups of people walk in processions (kórz) to the deceased person's home, assemble in the front yard of the deceased, when men step forward to kick their shields and vibrate their spears (label: Yeepi zaya II). File 006 is a piece played on the second day of mourning when the participants in the mourning ceremony drink their mourning beer (shóc) (Label: Yeepi zaya III). Traditionally, the trumpet trio plays from time when the corpse is transferred to the mortuary (gaapí keetts) up to the end of the second morning day. The contexts at which the bamboo trumpet is played are elaborated on in the interview with Biittso Its'into and Worada Gebiro in session BI2012-01-21_002.

Recorded on: 2011-12-30

The bamboo trumpet trio consisting of Worada Gebiro, Biittso Its'into and Malkato Gebiro perform two issi zaya (lit. wedding trumpets) and four yeepi zaya (lit. mourning trumpets). The recordings in this session complement the recordings made in session ST2011-12-30_001-006. The bamboo trumpet pieces do not all have names, and are, therefore, are numbered in the following list. File 001: piece played at the wedding when the mother of the bridegroom receives a cross that is tied around her neck, characterised as Dim woysa (lit. 'bamboo flute of the Dime country') (label: Issi zaya IV). File 002: piece played the wedding in the front yard of the bridegroom's house when the young people who brought the bride dance; the piece is characterised as Maali woysa (lit. 'bamboo flute of the Maale country') (label: Issi zaya V). File 003: piece played on the first day of mourning when the trumpet trio is sent home, characterised as Oydi woysa (lit. 'bamboo flute of the Oyda country') (label: Yeepi zaya IV). File 004: piece played at the second day of mourning in the morning (label: Yeepi zaya V). File 005: piece played at at the second day of mourning in the evening, when, at the end of the day, the trumpet trio is sent home; the piece is said to reflect the lyrics /yizi nu lukkanda, yizi nun hanganda/ = 'so we go (home), so we go (home)' (label: Yeepi zaya VI). File 006: piece called aattsa ('unground pieces, dregs in the beer'), played on the second day of mourning when the trumpet trio asks for their share of the shóc, the morning beer (label: Yeepi zaya VII). Altogether, the Baskeet bamboo trumpet trios have a repertoire of five "wedding trumpets" and seven "mourning trumpets". In this recording Biittso plays the zoohá-trumpet with the lowest pitch (on the left on the photo that is linked to this session); Worada plays the lead trumpet, késá (on the right); and Malkato plays the ádá-trumpet wit the highest pitch (in the middle). Details about the contexts in which these songs are played are discussed in the interview in session BI2012-01-21_002.

Recorded on: 2012-01-09

Belzhige Pik'ire performs a shepherd song on the biilim, a small flute made from the "neck" of a gourd (see the photos associated to this session). File 002 and 003 are shulshula songs of an undetermined rhyhtm. The introductory words to file 003 are not Baskeet, the language is still to be determined.

Recorded on: 2011-12-16

Maridi Zhuguddo plays a shephard song on a biilim-flute, a flute that is either produced from a short piece of bamboo or the neck of a gourd. (It is not clear whether Maridi plays one song only or whether he combines different melodies in this performance.)

Recorded on: 2011-12-26

Wondu Soddo, a lyre musician from Bayo Boraza performs 18 different rhythms on the lyre with no accompanying lyrics in order to teach viewers of the recording to identify these rhythms in other song performances. The recording also serves to compare the realisation of these rhythms across individual lyre players. The 18 rhythms demonstrated by Wondu are: 1. Kaa'ooda (type 1), 2. Kaldi Baaba, 3. Aakkwase, 4. C'aaggo C'alti, 5. Zari Baac'i ('lowland sickle'), 6. Gezi Baac'i ('highland sickle'), 7. Bambane (= personal name), 8. Angiza k'ooshe, 9. Dogad ('hyena'), 10. Gaya ('baboon'), 11. Alti Libani (see performance of Gitim Ol), 12. Kaa'oda (type 2), 13. Hallo, 14. Boola, 15. Asshamo, 16. Maakkira, 17. Kaldi Baaba (= plucked version), 18. Gel'o. Most of the rhythm names seem to be shared by the lyre players all over Baskeet. Note, however, that the lyre player Messele Lipaato called rhythm 1 Alammi rather than Kaa'ooda and rhythm 16 Shooda rather than Maakkira. Note the first and second video file (which are identical): Split up the recording V-2012-01-18_001 and save the first part (up to 0:30 min) as V-2012-01-18_001 and the second part as V-2012-01-18_002 (in the original recording two rhythms were recorded in one file)

Recorded on: 2012-01-18

Ts'aypano Aamintso, a lyre musician from Bayo Boraza, performs three plucked rhythms on the lyre with no accompanying lyrics in order to teach viewers of the recording to identify these rhythms in other song performances: 1. Kaa'ooda (plucked version), 2. Hazaaza ('wattled ibis'), 3. Shepherd song (no indigenous name has written down at the time of the recording).

Recorded on: 2012-01-18

K'oyaaso Maammo, a musician from Gazda, performs five rhythms on the lyre with only minimal accompanying lyrics in order to teach viewers of the recording to identify these rhythms in other song performances. The five rhythms demonstrated are: 1. Kaa'ooda, 2. Kaldi Baaba, 3. Aakkwase, 4. Baac'a, 5. Woysa

Recorded on: 2012-01-05

Mahane Dohanbaabo, a musician living in Gazda, performs the gel'o rhythm on the lyre with only minimal accompanying lyrics in order to teach viewers of the recording to identify this rhythm in other song performances.

Recorded on: 2012-01-05

In this session, vocabulary items and example sentences from the semantic field of domestic animals were recorded from Ambaye Tsedeke. The recordings cover the following semantic sub-fields: cows, goats, sheep, chicken, mules, donkeys, horses, cats and dogs, the waste of domestic animals, the voices of animals, specific body parts of domestic animals, types of misbehaviour of domestic animals. In addition, a recording of ordinal numbers was made in this session.

Recorded on: 2012-01-20