How the Awra Amba community in Ethiopia has come to serve as a model for the rights of women, children and the elderly.

By Zac Crellin (Atlas Obscura) |

Tucked away between the rugged gorges and valleys of the Ethiopian highlands is an egalitarian commune that defies the norms of traditional society. Awra Amba, founded in the utopian mold 44 years ago, has managed to thrive where so many other attempts have failed.

Awra Amba could be described as communist, puritanical, pantheistic, feminist, or even cult-like, but its 450 residents are wary of such descriptors. They believe their philosophy, as dictated by the community’s soft-spoken founder Zumra Nuru, is too easily distorted by cultural and linguistic differences to be labeled accurately by outsiders.

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Nevertheless, four tenets do underpin the community’s way of life: respecting women’s rights, respecting children’s rights, caring for the elderly and vulnerable, and avoiding antisocial behavior. Today Awra Amba is governed by 13 democratically-elected committees, which cover everything from education to conflict resolution, taking care of orphans to village security.

Much of the philosophy’s credibility stems from Nuru’s life story. It is said that at the age of two he began asking questions about inequality that were beyond the capacity of his family. Although he never received a formal education, by the age of four, the precocious child had formulated the four main principles of his belief system through observing the world around him.

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