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Guide to Africa

Ethiopia People and Culture

Amhara

The Amhara 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 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.

Shankella

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.

Recommended trips

Ethiopia Cultural Tour to the Omo Valley
Ethiopia Cultural Tour to the Omo Valley
The Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia is the best place to explore the colorful culture of Ethiopia tribes. Book Omo Valley cultural tour to visit Bena, Hamer, Mursi, Karo, Geleb,Arbore & Borena people
9 Days - USD $2,160
Ethiopia-  Surma and Gambela People
Ethiopia- Surma and Gambela People
Western Ethiopia is a truly extraordinary place to visit with superb scenery and colourful culture. The Nuer people in Gambela are known by body scarification; Surma men are known by the stick fighting, called Donga.
11 Days - USD $2,970
Cultural Tour: Harar and Omo Valley of Ethiopia
Cultural Tour: Harar and Omo Valley of Ethiopia
Africa cultural tour to explore the people and culture of Ethiopia in east and tribes in south Ethiopian Omo Valley including Dorze, Hamer, Benna, Geleb, Mursi etc
14 Days - USD $3,320

Languages spoken include Amharic, Tigrinya, Orominga, Guaraginga, Somali, Arabic, other local languages, English (major foreign language taught in schools)

A few words in Amharic

Hello - Selam
Goodbye - Dehna hun (for masculine), Dehna hugni (feminine), Dehna hunu (plural)
Thank you - amesegnalehu
Zero - Zero
One - Ande
Two - Hulet
Three - Sost
Four - Arat
Five - Amist
Six - Sidist
Seven - Sebat
Eight - Timint
Nine - Zetegne
Ten - Asir

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

More

Languages of Ethiopia

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

Information kindly donated by Link Ethiopia

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.

Meskal

Meskal 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.

Recommended trip

Historic Route Rift Valley Lakes & Meskel Festival
Historic Route Rift Valley Lakes & Meskel Festival
Ethiopia Tour to explore Monasteries on Lake Tana Castle of Gondar Rock churches in Lalibela, Stles of Axum, Simien Mountain National Park, Harer and attend Meskel Festival celebration in Addis Ababa.
13 Days - USD $3,430

Timkat

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

Information kindly donated by Link Ethiopia

Recommended trips

Ethiopia Timket Festival: Celebrating in Lalibela
Ethiopia Timket Festival: Celebrating in Lalibela
Ethiopian religious festival celebrations are colorful and vibrant. Book this special tour and visit the people when they celebrate Timket- Epiphany festival in Lalibela. The tour also includes a visit of the major historical sites.
13 Days - USD $3,360
Ethiopia Two major Festivals: Christmas and Timket
Ethiopia Two major Festivals: Christmas and Timket
The best time to make a holiday to Ethiopia is on the date of its festivals. Book our special tour to attend the celebration of the two major festivals- Christmas in Lalibela and Timket in Addis Ababa.
17 Days - USD $3,680

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

Injera Bread
A very simple recipe for injera, the pancake-spongy bread that accompanies Ethiopian food.

Spiced butter (Niter Kebbeh)
A recipe for clarified, herbed butter, a basic ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine

Ethiopian lentils

Ethiopian Recipes
A number of recipes at this website

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

Information kindly donated by Link Ethiopia

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.

Musical Instruments

Stringed instruments like the begena or the krar are harps while another more fiddle-like instrument is known as masenko.

Kebaro or kebero drums are very common in popular and religious music. When the women and men dance in their beautiful white robes they dance to the rhythm of the drums.

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

Information kindly donated by Link Ethiopia

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