Ethiopia Culture and Lifestyles

As a country with more than 1000 year behind its history and heritage, there is a lot to discover about its people and culture. Ethiopia is home to nearly 80 different ethnic groups that have unique cultural traits, religious beliefs, languages and traditions.

Ethiopian People and tribal groups

The Ethiopian people can be grouped into 83 different tribal groupings mainly Semitic, onotic, Nio-Saharan and the Cushitic-altogether speaking 200 different languages! The Oromo and Amhara make up nearly 50% of the entire Ethiopian population and others being the Somali, Tigraway, Hadiya, Wolayta, Afar and Sidama.

Semitic people: these people are found in north western and central ares of Ethiopia. The language spoken by the Semitic is similar to Hebrew and the Arabic claimed to be rooted in Ge’ez in Ecclesiastes. Most Semitic people however use Amharic which also doubles as the national language besides English. Other languages spoken in Ethiopia include Afan Oromo, Sidaminya, Tigrigna, Gumuz, GuraginyaSomalinya, Afarinya, Berta, Adarinya and Anuak.

The Cushitis Oromo are modern agriculturalist growing millet, barley, sorghum, maize and other just like the Tigrigna and Gurage. The Somali and Afar are pastoralist and semi pastoralist respectively living under the hostile weather of Dankail depression.

Ethiopian Religion and Beliefs

Although Christianity has strong roots in Ethiopia, the country celebrates different festival and cultural events throughout the year for different tribes. Christian celebrations and festival are however very unique under the Ethiopian orthodox church customs. Some of the most celebrated church festivals include Ethiopian Christmas, the Ephiphany, Finding of the cross and the New Year. Many tourists from all over the world come to celebrate the colorful ceremonies with the Ethiopian people.

In the northern region of Gondar are the Ethiopian Jews ‘Falashas’ although many have left the country to live in America, Europe and Israel.

Nevertheless, Islam is also practiced in Ethiopia especially for the south eastern parts of the country. History has it that Ethiopian Muslims were around even during the early days of Prophet Mohammed and this is apparent in the walled city of Harar  which Muslims all over the world consider to be as important and holy as Jerusalem, Medina and Mecca for pilgrimage!

The fasting and festivals in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has amazing food that you all need to try out once you visit the country but get to know this that where there is food there is fasting as per the culture of the Ethiopians. The people of Ethiopia are known to love their spicy food which means that if you are interested in tasting all the Ethiopian food, then you will need to be ready to eat the spicy food. The staple food in Ethiopia is Injera and it looks like a big pancake though with a spongy feeling and when eating food in Ethiopia, you are supposed to use only your right hand as the left hand is believed to have bad omen.
When it comes to the fasting period in the country, only vegetarian food is served mostly fifty five days to Easter and everyone is meant to fast for all those days as they remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. And since most people are Orthodox Christians in the country, Easter is celebrated with a lot of cheer and it is on this very day that all kinds of meat are served on this day.

Food and Dining

Traditional dining and meals is a special time in Ethiopia’s customs and cultures. There are a few rules and ritual followed during the breaking of bread often reflecting the occasions like sharing, family gatherings, friendship, marriage and so much more.

Injera is the traditional Ethiopian dish of fermented pan cake served with a variety of spiced sauce and eaten using fingers. A small piece of Injera is picked and dipped in the sauce bowl before eating. The Gurage people have enset, ‘false banana’, whose roots, stem and leaves are prepared over long periods to make unleavened bread and porridge.Other foods eaten and farmed in Ethiopia include millet, wheat, sorghum, barley and maize

Music and Dance in Ethiopia

With so many tribes and cultures within Ethiopia, expect unique traits when it comes to music, dance and drama for the different festivals. Particular dances and music is played during different festivities with traditional instruments like the single stringed Maseno, the krar-a lyre like stringed instrument and a portable harp called Begenna.

Traditional folk songs are high pitched amid ululations and excitement as seen on weddings and other happy occasions. Spectacular rhythmic dances accompany songs with vigorous shoulder movements and waste shaking!

It is equally important to note that Raggae music is thought to have roots in Ethiopia as proclaimed by the lengendary Bob Marley!

Ethiopian Clothing and Jewelry

The dressing and garments of Ethiopian varies from cultures and tribes but the common white cotton scarf has been worn by Christians since the mod 1800s. Christian men dree in long jodhpur like trousers, fitting shirt and a loose wrapper called shamma.

The moslems of Harar wear colorful garments; women have red, black and purple dresses while the men wear short like trousers and a colored wrap. The Oromo put on beaded leather garments while the Somalis and Afar have brightly colored cotton wrappers to adorn modern outfits. Many of the clothing styles are a reflection of the social status, economic activity, weather conditions and religion!

The traditional dress for Ethiopian is a light cotton dresses, or scarf with brightly colored hems in threads of Gold, blue, green and red. This colorful attire is used on festival and can be seen with the cabin crew on Ethiopian Airlines! This type of clothing is accessorized with gold and silver jewelry. Bracelets, necklaces and ear rings are also made out ivory, copper, heavy brass and glass among other materials.

Something distinct about the Ethiopian women is the hair style and art. Amhara and Tigray women have their long hair woven into 12 Sherubs plaits that flow to the shoulders. May other tribes also have special hair styles and head clothes/gear.

Ethiopia Public Holidays, Time and Calendar

The time and calendar that are used when it comes to Ethiopia and that is why most of their holidays are extremely different from the rest of the world. Ethiopians still use the old calendar which is extremely different from the Gregorian calendar that is used by most countries. This makes most of their holidays to come in different months and they are somehow behind the rest of the world.
The way time is counted in Ethiopia is also different from how other countries that is a day in Ethiopia begins at mid-day and yet in other countries, most people begin their day at 6:00am which means that the clock in Ethiopia is six hours behind the normal time and therefore before you travel to Ethiopia you will need an adjustment of your watch in order to match theirs. This might not sound like a cultural thing but getting to know more about the time and calendar change, will give you a chance to not miss out on some of the cultural activities that are carried out in the country.
The culture in Ethiopia might come as shocking to some tourists and since we have not looked at all the cultures that are practiced in the country, you will need to visit the country and experience all this. We can easily arrange a cultural trip to Ethiopia so that you get a chance to see the different cultures that are practiced by the different tribes that are found in the country and you will need a tour guide to take you on the various trips since most of the people in the areas that you will visit do not speak or understand English and these areas are safe to visit.

Ethiopia has a different calendar called the Julian calendar (also called Ge’ez calendar) what has twelve months of 30 days each and an extra month of 5 days or 6 days during the leap year.  This Julian calendar is 7 years behind the Gregorian calendar used in many countries across the world.

  • The Ethiopian New Year or Enkutatash is celebrated on the 11th September or September 12th for the leap year. Other public holidays in Ethiopia include
  • The Finding of the cross Meskal on September 26
    Ethiopian Christmas on January 8
  • The feast of Epiphany Timkat on January 20
  • Victory of Adawa March 2
  • Birth of Prophet Mohammed Mauwlid March 20
  • Eid el fitr (at the end of Ramadhan fasting period-date according to Islamic calender)
  • Eid al alhuda (dates according to Islamic calendar)
  • Good Friday (dates change with Christian calendar)
  • Ethiopian Easter (date according to Christian calendar)
  • International Labor day May 1st
  • Patriots Victory Day May 5th
  • Downfall of Dergue Regime May 28

An Ethiopian cultural trip

If you ever want to travel back in time and experience both the mediaeval and modern times in one lace, the perfect destination for you to be is Ethiopia. The country has a variety of cultures that are worth experiencing and this is because it was nit colonized like the rest of the African countries and therefore there is little influence from the European countries which means that you will have to experience the African culture without filters.

Explore the tribes of the Omo Valley

The tribes in the Omo Valley are one of the few that have maintained their traditional way of life although at the moment they are being threatened by tourists who visit and introduce new ideas and the construction of the new dam that is being constructed because most of them are going to be misplaced. There are over twelve tribes that are found in the Omo valley and the most unique thing about them is that inter marriages are not always allowed which has maintained the unique character that each tribe has.

The Omo valley is said to be one of the few places in the world and in Africa where various fossils were discovered and many people also visit the valley to look at the place where humans are said to have originated from over 20,000 years ago. Some of the tribes that live in the Omo valley include:

  • The Konso tribe

The Konso people live in the Konso region which was declared a UNESCO heritage site due to the uniqueness of the constructions that are found in the region. The Konso people construct their houses using stone and their walls that separate them from the rest of the crowd are also constructed using stone. These locals live the same way that they used to centuries ago and a visit to the Konso community will have you enjoy more of their calm way of life. It is sometimes crowded especially during the peak season but you still get to enjoy the beautiful culture that is portrayed by the locals.

  • The Harmer tribe

The Hamar people are also locals in the Omo valley and they also have a unique culture that has been exhibited for very many years and this normally affects the women. The women of the Hamar tribe in order to look beautiful to their men dye their hair red with the red clay and after that they get to braid the hair after it has dried out.

The Harmer men also get to participate in the bull jumping ceremony where before being declared as full grown men, they have to jump all the bulls in a line and whoever manages to jump then without falling becomes a man according to their tradition. You can join the rest of the crowd as they watch the bull jumping ceremony and the ladies can also join in the dying of their hair red.

  • The Karo tribe

The Karo people live on the Eastern side of the Omo River and they are mostly famous for their body painting activity that is done by both women and men. They normally paint their bodies with natural paint that is not harmful to the body and many designs are drawn by an expert. Tourist are free to join in the painting and spend the evening around the fire enjoying the stories that are told by the old people.

  • The Daasanach tribe

The Daasanach tribe can be found living on the banks of the Omo River and they are the smallest group of people who live in the Omo valley. They have their own cultural practices that you will experience once you visit the settlement. The most unique thing about the Daasanach is the way they build their houses that is the houses that they live in can be folded and then rebuilt after sometime.

  • The Dorze tribe

The Dorze tribe is known for their good knitting cotton techniques in the valley. They mostly knit their cotton using hands and that is what makes it so special and they also have homes that are constructed like bee hives. Visit the Dorze and learn some cotton techniques as you taste their good food.

  • The Mursi tribe

The Mursi people have the same characteristics like the Masai people who live in Kenya and here the women adorn themselves with lip plates on their mouths and these are placed when the girls are still young and the plates are not removed because the women believe it adds on their beauty. They also elongate their ear lobes and even though it might look barbaric, it is their way of culture and the bigger the size of plate, the greater a beauty one is considered.

  • The Bana tribe

The Banna tribe is also a small group of people and compared to the rest of the tribes, they have nothing unique to offer besides the fact that they control the economy of the Omo valley. They are known to be good entrepreneurs and this has earned them a place to be running all the markets that are found in the valley and they also offer entrepreneur skills for all those that need them.

All the above tribes have a lot to offer to tourists who visit the valley and they also have different cultural practices of the different tribes that are found in the Omo valley include:

  • They have value for cattle that is the more cattle that you have the more prestigious you are in the community.
  • They eat almost everything on cattle that is the meat, milk and the blood that is cooked and dried to eat during the times when the food is scarce.
  • They have the bull jumping ceremony where boys are supposed to jump over the bulls without falling in order to be considered men.
  • The women in these tribes are respected according to the dowry that is paid for them. The more the cows, the more respect they get and the reverse is true.

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