Profile Source: Orville Boyd Jenkins
Introduction / History
It is believed that the Me'en may have originated in southern Sudan and gradually moved into southwestern Ethiopia. The Me'en, however, claim that they originated near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, where they believe that their ancestors emerged from a hole in the ground. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Me'en were known by the highland Ethiopians as one of the populations from which large numbers of slaves were taken. They had a reputation of fierceness in battle, demonstrated in the tough resistance they put up against Amhara feudal troops.
Where are they Located?
The Me'en are an ethnic group of about 55,000 people located in the highlands and lowlands of southwestern Ethiopia. About 1500 of them live across the border in Sudan.
What are Their Lives Like?
The Me'en are subsistence-level farmers and herders. They use hoes for loosening the earth and wooden digging sticks for planting. They produce no surplus of significance. There are few details available on the Me'en
The Me'en live in fear of the spirits which inhabit their people as well as the spirits of their dead ancestors. Addiction to a locally-made beer, called "sholu," has resulted in the frequent outbreak of fights which has led to killings. The Me'en are also called Mekan or Tishena. Most of them live in Ethiopia. The word Me'en means "people," "humans."
The Me'en language is called by their name. The Me'en language is also spoken by a neighboring people called Bodi. Me'en is an Eastern Sudanic language, related to Didinga and Murle spoken in southeastern Sudan.
The Tishena group within the Me'en community have hostile relations with the neighboring Tirma and Chai people. Their clashes frequently result in fights over territorial rights and some deaths. The Dime people border them on the east and have fairly peaceful relations.
The Me'en virtually all live in small scattered hamlets and compounds in the rural areas. Their huts are made of stick walls and grass roofs. Traditional Me'en clothing was made from cow, goat, or antelope skins. Barkcloth clothing came into existence later. The Me'en once produced their own bark cloth clothing and bags, yet this practice has declined with the availability of imported cloth. Women wear bracelets consisting of beads and giraffe or warthog hair.
The staple food of the Me'en are corn and sorghum. In addition, they grow barley, t'eff (a small Ethiopian grain), cabbage, a variety of beans, peas, peppers, sugarcane, and some tobacco. The Me'en have no access to modern transport or agricultural services. The chief means of transportation for the Me'en are horse and mule. They also hunt and gather, trading in antelope, buffalo, and leopard skins.
The main source of fuel for the Me'en is firewood. Its abundance, however, is rapidly decreasing due to an ever-increasing population. The average Me'en birthrate is 8 children per married wife. It is estimated that four out of every ten children die before their sixth year.
The Me'en do not boil their water for drinking nor for the preparation of food. Water is generally accessed in the highlands from the numerous springs which flow out of the mountainsides. Lowland Me'en are dependent on the streams which flow from the highlands. Latrines are non-existent.
A Me'en man can, depending upon his wealth, marry more than ten women. Most men, however, have one to three wives. The women plant seeds, weed fields, grind grain, prepare food, draw water, fetch wood, take care of small children, and clean the compound and house. The also make their own cooking plates, pots, and jugs; baskets; sieves; containers of straw and wood; and fashion gourds into drinking and beer containers.
The Me'en have special music and dance styles known as the gulay. The gulay are songs of joy about love, good harvest, prosperity of the family, cattle, and male vigor. For entertainment, the Me'en enjoy drinking the beer which they make themselves.
When a Me'en dies, an elaborate funeral lasting several days is held. At the burial, the Me'en will kill cattle or goats and read the intestines in order to discern signs from the spirit realm. The corpse is then wrapped in cow skin and buried, a procedure meant to appease the spirits of the dead.
What are Their Beliefs?
The Me'en people believe that their ancestors emerged from a hole in the ground somewhere in southwestern Ethiopia. The Me'en live in fear of the many spirits which they suppose fill their rivers and woods. The Me'en believe that communication with the spirit world is indispensable in order to avert misfortune from the spirits of the dead.
The Me'en also believe in a sky god called Tuma. They believe this god has created them and that he is the god of rain and fertility. They expect a holy dog to somehow intercede with Tuma on their behalf. K'alichas, or traditional spirit mediums, practice divination and will place curses on others at the request of their enemies.
What are Their Needs?
The Me'en have had little opportunity to hear and accept the gospel. They are classified as Unreached, though the 1500 living in Sudan have been even more isolated from access to the gospel and are classified as World A.
Pray for pastors, evangelists and teachers from the group itself to be prepared to adequately teach them the Scriptures.