Ethiopia has a diverse mix of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. It is a country with more than 80 different ethnic groups each with its own language, culture, custom and tradition. One of the most significant areas of Ethiopian culture is its literature, which is represented predominantly by translations from ancient Greek and Hebrew religious texts into the ancient language Ge'ez, modern Amharic and Tigrigna languages. Ge'ez is one of the most ancient languages in the world and is still used today by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has its own unique customs and traditions, which have been influenced by Judaism. The Tigrayans' history and culture is derived from the Aksumite Kingdom tradition and culture whereas the history and culture of the Amhara people is derived from the post Aksumite imperial reign of Menelik II and Haile Selassie.
are the politically and culturally dominant ethnic group of Ethiopia. They are located primarily in the central highland plateau of Ethiopia and comprise the major population element in the provinces of Begemder and Gojjam and in parts of Shoa and Wallo. In terms of the total Ethiopian population, however, the Amhara are a numerical minority. The national population has usually been placed at between 14 and 22 million.
It is generally estimated that the Amhara, together with the closely related Tigre , constitute about one-third of this total population. One of the most recent estimates gives the number of native speakers of Amharic, the language of the Amhara, as approximately 7,800,000. (cf. Bender 1971:217)
their national clothes are basically white, whether the shawls and light blankets worn over the shoulders by the men or the white dresses and wraps worn by the ladies
In comparison, there seems to be general agreement that the Galla (Oromo) peoples form the largest ethnic component in the country, comprising around 40 percent of the population. They are a pastoral and agricultural people who live mainly in central and southwestern Ethiopia , constitute about 40 percent of the population.
The Shankella, a people in the western part of the country from the border of Eritrea to Lake Turkana , constitute about 6 percent of the population.
Ethiopia , like many other African countries, is a multi-ethnic state. Many distinctions have been blurred by intermarriage over the years but many also remain. The differences may be observed in the number of languages spoken - an astonishing 83, falling into four main language groups: Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan. There are 200 different dialects.
The Semitic languages of Ethiopia are related to both Hebrew and Arabic, and derive from Ge'ez, the ecclesiastical language.
The principle Semitic language spoken in the north-western and central part of the country is Amharic, which is also the official language of the modern state. Other main languages are Tigrigna, Guraginya, Adarinya, Afan Oromo, Somalinya, Sidaminya, Afarinya, Gumuz, Berta and Anuak, English (major foreign language taught in schools)
Here are a few words in Arabic
Hello - Ahalan
Goodbye - Ma'a ElSalama
Thank you - shokran
You're welcome - Ala ElRahib Wa ElSaa
Zero - Sifer
One - Wahid
Two - Ithinin
Three - Thalatha
Four - Arba'a
Five - Kamisa
Six - Sita
Seven - Saba'a
Eight - Thamania
Nine - Tisa'a
Ten - Ashara
Religion is a secure and accepted element of everyday life in Ethiopia and the language is full of references to God. Yet there is not the ever-present feel that one can experience in a totally Muslim country for example.
On the central plateau, the Ethiopian Orthodox church holds sway, again an individual and fascinating feature of this unusual country. Priests and deacons abound in their often colourful robes, carrying their staffs and ornate crosses that people frequently kiss as they pass.
Christianity came to Ethiopia in ancient times and became the official Ethiopian religion in the 4th century. The Orthodox church has many connections with ancient Judaism. Fasting and detailed food restrictions, the specific ways of slaughtering animals, circumcision and the layout of the churches, all these things make for a very particular religious culture.
Islam is also very strong in many parts of Ethiopia , frequently existing peaceably alongside Christianity. The city of Harar , in the east of the country, is officially the fourth most holy Muslim site in the world.
Ethiopia has communities of 'falashas', Ethiopian Jews, especially in the Gondar region in the north. Many of these however have now departed to live in Israel , having been airlifted out of the country with Operation Solomon and Operation Moses in the latter part of the 20th century.
In the lowland areas, animistic and pagan religions are still commonly found among tribal peoples who live in simple and primitive communities
The Ethiopians love to celebrate, whether important events in their history, major landmarks in the religious calendar or simply special family days. Best clothes are worn, food and drink are plentiful, musicians play and people dance and sing.
National holidays are held to celebrate the victory over the Italians at Adwa in 1896, the Liberation from the Italian occupation in 1941 and the downfall of the Derg in 1991.
But it is the major Ethiopian Orthodox festivals that represent the people at their most colourful and festive.
is a two-day festival at the end of September celebrating the Finding of the True Cross. Bonfires are lit and singing and dancing take place around them, while the priests don their full ceremonial regalia.
Timkat usually falls on the January 19, 12 days after Christmas according to the Julian calendar. Festivities take place the day before as well as the day after. This date varies by a day during leap years. The festival is celebrated throughout the Ethiopian highlands in Orthodox Christian strongholds, but nowhere is it quite as spectacular as in Lalibela, an isolated mountain town in the arid north of the country.
It is a colourful three-day festival celebrating Epiphany and it is marked by the procession of the tabots (the replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, the original of which is said to be in the chapel at Axum ) around the towns, draped in heavy embroidered materials. People bathe in the lakes and splash water over onlookers.
After the ceremony, the tabots are taken back to the churches in procession, accompanied by singing, drumming, the ringing of bells and blowing of trumpets. Festivities continue throughout the day and into the night. More religious ceremony takes place the following day, dedicated to the Archangel Mikael, after which the priests are fed by their parishioners and young people continue to celebrate into the night.
Other religious festivals are at Fasika (Easter), Inketatash (the New Year in mid-September) and Genna (Christmas in early January). All the Islamic holidays are also celebrated according to the lunar cycle of shifting dates as in other countries
Out in the community, musical instruments play a social and entertaining role. The single-stringed masenko is played by minstrels who sing of life around them and invent, calypso-like, topical verses on the spot. The krar is a lyre-like plucked instrument with 5 or 6 strings while the begenna is the portable harp.
Up in the hills can be found boys looking after cattle and sheep and playing on the washint, a simple reed flute played with one hand.
Ethiopian people know and love their folk songs. Singing is high pitched and shrill Sand frequently accompanied by excited ululation, especially at weddings and other joyful occasions.
No joyous occasion ever passes without the Ethiopians indulging in their unique form of dancing. There are many styles according to the part of the country, but they frequently focus on the shoulders which seductively gyrate and undulate in a frenzied display of almost competitive energy. As one dancer runs out of steam, so another enters the fray with renewed vigour
Many reggae musicians declare their importance to having some connection to Ethiopian musical origins although the Ethiopian musicians will tell you their music has more in common with Jazz.
Traditional musical instruments in widespread use include the massinko, a one-stringed violin played with a bow; the krar, a six-stringed lyre, played with the fingers or a plectrum; the washint, a simple flute; and three types of drum - the negarit (kettledrum), played with sticks, the kebero, played with the hands, and the atamo, tapped with the fingers or palm. Other instruments include the begena, a huge, multi-stringed lyre often referred to as the Harp of David; the tsinatseil, or sistrum, which is used in church music; the meleket, a long trumpet without fingerholes, and the embilta, a large, simple, one-note flute used on ceremonial occasions.
Though often simply made, the massinko can, in the hands of an expert musician, produces a wide variety of melodies. It is often played by wandering minstrels,particularly near eating houses, where the musicians entertain the diners. The rousing rhythms of the negarit were used in times gone by to accompany important proclamations, and chiefs on the march would be preceded by as many as 30 men, each beating a negarit carried on a donkey. The tiny atamo is most frequently played at weddings and festivals, setting the rhythmic beat of folk songs and dances.
Kebaro Very common in popular and religious music is the kabaro or kebero. When the women and men dance in their beautiful white robes they dance on the rhythm of the drums
Art & Craft
A unique feature of Ethiopian culture is its naïve style of painting that is to be found in every church and in many other locations. This style seems to have remained almost unchanged for centuries.
Figures are drawn in two dimensions, almost cartoon-like in their direct and simplistic portrayal, with strong colours and clear lines. The almond-shaped eyes are a particularly appealing characteristic.
Church painting in Ethiopia serves a very real purpose, with all the biblical and more localised religious stories being portrayed clearly and simply to inform uneducated people of their traditions and their heritage. European medieval imagery is a clear comparison here.
One modern name is clearly prominent in the world of Ethiopian painting today. Afework Tekle has an international reputation as an artist of immense standing. His works, though clearly based in an Ethiopian tradition, have a new and creative dynamism that is immediately of universal appeal. His vibrant paintings, many of them on very large canvases, are to be seen throughout Ethiopia in museums and galleries as well as on postage stamps and postcards
The people of Ethiopia wear many different types of clothing. The traditional dress of the Christian highland peasantry has traditionally been of white cotton cloth. Since the time of Emperor Tewodros 11 (mid-1800s), men have worn long, jodhpur-like trousers, a tight-fitting shirt and a shamma (loose wrap).
The Muslims of Harar, by contrast, wear very colourful dress, the men in shortish trousers and a coloured wrap and the women in fine dresses of red, purple and black. The lowland Somali and Afar wear long, brightly coloured cotton wraps, and the Oromo and Bale people are to be seen in the bead-decorated leather garments that reflect their economy, which is based on livestock. Costumes to some extent reflect the climates where the different groups live - highlanders, for instance, -use heavy cloth capes and wraparound blankets to combat the night chill. In the heat of the lowland plains, light cotton cloths are all that is required by men and women alike.
Traditional dress, though often now supplanted by Western attire, may still be seen throughout much of the countryside. National dress is usually worn for festivals, when streets and meeting-places are transformed into a sea of white as finely woven cotton dresses, wraps decorated with coloured woven borders, and suits are donned. A distinctive style of dress is found among the Oromo horsemen of the central highlands, who, on ceremonial days such as Maskal, attire themselves in lions' manes or baboon-skin headdresses and, carrying hippo-hide spears and shields, ride down to the main city squares to participate in the parades.
Ethiopians are justifiably proud of the range of their traditional costumes. The most obvious identification of the different groups is in the jewellery, the hair styles and the embroidery of the dresses. The women of Amhara and Tigray wear dozens of plaits (sheruba), tightly braided to the head and billowing out at the shoulders. The women of Harar part their hair in the middle and make a bun behind each ear. Hamer, Geleb, Bume and Karo men form a ridge of plaited hair and clay to hold their feathered headwear in place. Arsi women have fringes and short, bobbed hair. Bale girls have the same, but cover it with a black headcloth, while young children often have their heads shaved.
Jewellery in silver and gold is worn by both Muslims and Christians, often with amber or glass beads incorporated. Heavy brass, copper and ivory bracelets and anklets are also worn.
Ethiopia's staple grain is called teff, and from its flour the Ethiopians fashion a large pancake-like bread called injera that they place directly on the dining table. Other dishes that make up the meal are portioned onto the injera and diners eat by scooping these portions into rolled-up pieces of the injera that they have torn off.
Thick stews called wats are the most popular dishes and can be made from meat, vegetables, or beans. Stews is enlivened with the spicy mitin shiro, a flavorful combination of ground beans, spices, and chilies used to season many foods.
The last course of a meal is often kitfo, freshly ground raw beef.
Ethiopians brew a barley beer called tella and a honey wine called ej. Small fried cookies known as dabo kolo are a favorite snack