More on Gasha

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"Land measurement had been initiated at Gondar in the late seventeenth century, but was not operative outside Begamder province until instituted by Menilek in Shoa in 1879-80. The work was entrusted to the Sahafe Tazas, or Minister of the Pen, Gabra Sellase, who likens it in his chronicle to the land registration effected by Augustus Caesar as recorded in the Scriptures. The unit employed in this measurement was the gasha, which in practice varied considerably, but may be taken as the equivalent of 1,200 metres by 800 metres, or about 80 to 100 acres. Measurement was carried out with the aid of a special cord, 133 cubits in length, which in many areas was referred to by the Galla word Qalad and gave its name to land measured in this way. The length of the cubit, Mahtama Sellase records, was fixed by the arm of a very tall man called Baymot which was taken as the standard, the measurement being therefore called "cubit Baymot" and approximating to about 66 1/2 centimetres. "Measurements," Mahtama Sellase explains, "were not very exact, whether by reason of variation in the length of the cord, level of the land, or of the fact that the sides of the plot were not always right-angles. Irregularities in the shape of the plot often rendered difficult the exact calculation of its area. Moreover, the work of the surveyors was not always conscientious. In the hope of obtaining better results the cord was replaced by a chain, but this expedient effected little change, principally because the ground was not level and it was not known how to calculate exactly the area of irregularly shaped land. Subsequent examination revealed numerous errors. The actual surfaces were always larger than the official figures indicated."

The size of the gasha measrued by qalad varied with the type of land, according to Mahtama Sellase, in the following manner:

1) A gasha of rich land in the dega, or high plateau, measured 15 qualads square.
2) A gash of poor land in the plateau measured by 20 qualads by 9.
3) A gasha of land in the wayna dega, or lower plateau, measured 12 qualads by 8.
4) A gasha of pasture land too steep or too much exposed to wind or heat to allow of cultivation, measured 15 qualads by 9."


Pankhurst, Richard, Economic History of Ethiopia, 1800-1935,
pp. 152-153, under the heading ``Land Measurement in Shoa''