For support of research work in southern Ethiopia on which this article is based I am grateful to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science (KNAW), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research in the Tropics (WOTRO, WR 52–601), and the African Studies Centre (Leiden). I also am much indebted to the former directors of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), Dr Taddesse Beyene and Professor Bahru Zewde, for their support. My sincere thanks to Professor Wim van Binsbergen for his critical comments on an earlier version of this article, presented in March 1997 at the EIDOS conference on Globalisation, Development and the Making of Consumer. That version appeared in the proceedings, published as Modernity on a shoestring (eds. R. Fardon et al.), Goudon-Leiden: CAS-EIDOS-ASC, 1999. Also many thanks to Azeb Amha for her pertinent criticisms and suggestions for improvement.