CULTURE RICH DESTINATIONS - ETHIOPIA

Heritage & Culture Travel Themes

Heritage and culture plays an important role in Africa. Each country have a unique culture that is rich and diverse and varies not only from one country to another, but within each country itself. The culture of each ethnic group centers on family and can be found in each group’s art, music and oral literature. From storytelling through oral literature to traditions, dialects, arts and music, indigenous culture persist. And we couldn't agree more when Victoria falls guide describe the unification of communities. "In African culture, the “self” is not separate from the world, it is united and intermingled with the natural and social environment. It is through relations with one’s community and surroundings that an individual becomes a person of volition, whose actions and decisions affect the entire group rather than just oneself. There is a Xhosa proverb that is common to all African cultures and languages, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” (“A person is a person through persons”)." Or as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. We hope to take you on this journey to understand and appreciate African culture by highlighting cultural nuances, heritage and traditions of  each country that seem to have tremendous influence in the world.

HUMAN ORIGINS - Lower Valley of the Omo (Ethiopia)

The Lower Valley of the Omo is in the remote southwest corner of Ethiopia, close to the border with Kenya, in the Great Rift Valley.  The site is of immense importance for its hominid fossils, which have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of human origins. These fossils include the remains of Homo gracilis and Australopithicines, as well as the earliest known bone fragments of Homo sapiens, dating from 195,000 years ago.  In addition there are rich beds of other mammal fossils.

HUMAN ORIGINS - Lower Valley of the Awash (Ethiopia)

The Lower Valley of the Awash is located at the extreme north-eastern end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, near Ethiopia’s border with Djibouti.  It includes one of the most important groups of palaeontological sites on the African continent, where excavations since 1973 have revealed a wealth of hominid (and other animal) fossils dating back 4 million years, which have changed our view of human evolution.  The most spectacular discovery was made in 1974 when 52 fragments of a small hominid enabled the reconstruction of the famous Lucy, an adult female of the species Australopithecus afarensis.  At 3.2 million years old, Lucy provided the earliest record of one of our hominid ancestors walking on two feet.  Although the dig sites are not open to the public, fundraising for a new interpretive centre was completed in early 2011, and this will be built in the town of Eloaha, 30 km from the main Hadar excavation.

ANCIENT ETHIOPIA - AKSUM (ETHIOPIA)

Aksum is located on a plateau in the far north of Ethiopia near the Eritrean border. It lies about 150 km south of Asmara and a similar distance from the Red Sea coast.  It was once the centre of a great civilisation, the Aksumite Kingdom, which stretched from southern Egypt to the Gulf of Aden (including territory in southern Arabia), south to the Omo River, and west to the Kushite Kingdom of Meroë. Its wealth was based on trade with places as far afield as ancient Greece, Egypt and Asia, with Aksumite ships sailing as far as Sri Lanka.  Although the city was established several centuries before Christ, its prosperity and influence was at its greatest between the 1st and 10th centuries AD, and it is during this period that most of the city’s remarkable monuments were built.

The dusty sprawling town of today belies its historical importance and interest to visitors.  The most famous landmarks are the enormous obelisk-like stone stelae, up to 33m high, that stand – or lie broken where they fell – above a collection of unexcavated tombs.  Elsewhere are the monumental 6th century tombs of Kings Kaleb, Gebre Meskel and Bazen, and the remains of a 6th to 7th century Palace.  Two other notable sights are the Churches of Saint Mary of Zion where – in common Ethiopian belief – the Ark of the Covenant is kept; and a 4th century pillar, known as King Ezana’s Inscription, which is the Ethiopian equivalent of the Rosetta Stone, inscribed in Sabaean, Greek and Ge’ez (the predecessor of Amharic).

ANCIENT ETHIOPIA - HARAR JUGOL, THE FORTIFIED HISTORIC TOWN (ETHIOPIA)

The fortified historic town of Harar is situated on a low plateau on the eastern flank of the Great Rift Valley, about 50 km south-east of Dire Dawe.  It is a walled Muslim city, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, with 82 mosques and 102 shrines dating back as far as the 10th century.  The city walls were completed in the 16th century, and it served as capital of the Harari Kingdom from 1520 to 1568, becoming an independent emirate in the 17th century. 

Today, the town is particularly noted for the architecture of its townhouses, packed within the city walls with 368 narrow alleyways providing access.  Its urban fabric combines traditional African and Islamic elements in a unique way, with the infusion of Indian immigrants at the end of the 19th century adding a further dimension to the architectural character of the town.

ANCIENT ETHIOPIA - FASIL GHEBBI, GONDAR REGION - ETHIOPIA

The Fasil Ghebbi is situated in the town of Gondar on the high plateau of northern Ethiopia near Lake Tana.  It is a fortified royal enclosure, resembling a European medieval castle, built by the Ethiopian Emperor Fasilidas soon after he moved his capital there in 1636.  Gondar remained the capital under successive Emperors until 1864, each one adding to the structures within the enclosure, and building elsewhere around the developing city.  The world heritage property covers the royal enclosure, with its 900m-long wall, and the numerous public and private buildings within.

ANCIENT ETHIOPIA - ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES, LALIBELA (ETHIOPIA)

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are located in a remote and mountainous area of northern Ethiopia, about 150 km east of Lake Tana.  There are 11 churches, each one carved out of solid rock and (in many cases) standing free in its own cavernous hole created through the excavation and removal of surrounding rock.  To reach the entrance of each church, people have to descend through a steep channel cut into the rock, or pass through a tunnel from a neighbouring church. The space inside each church is the result of excavating all the rock within, except a few sturdy pillars necessary to support the roof. 

The rock-hewn churches at Lalibela exemplify a building tradition that has been used in Ethiopia since the 6th and 7thcenturies, but these churches are attributed to the 13th-century King Lalibela.  They demonstrate an extraordinary level of architectural detail in their construction, for example in the windows and doors which include ‘structural’ features that serve no function, and in the symbolism of the design and decoration.  Today, the churches are still very much alive, and a place of pilgrimage for many Ethiopians. 

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MOUNTAINS - SIMIEN MOUNTAINS (ETHIOPIA)

The Simien Mountains National Park includes one of the most dramatic mountain landscapes in Africa, and is home to some of the continent's rarest fauna and flora, including the endemic Walia ibex, Simien fox and Gelada baboon. The park covers the northern escarpment of an ancient mountain massif of igneous basalts, deeply cut by forested gorges and sheer cliffs, some 1,500m high. The Park was one of the first four sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978, but has been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1996 because of a decline in the population of the Walia ibex due to human settlement, grazing, agriculture and road construction. The ibex population is now on the increase but the Ethiopian wolf remains extremely rare.  The Ethiopian authorities are currently working on a plan to extend the site to include more of the critical habitat for these highly endangered species.

MOUNTAINS - BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK (ETHIOPIA)

The Bale Mountains National Park protects Ethiopia’s second highest peak and the largest expanse of Afroalpine vegetation in Africa. It covers an exceptional range of altitude, supporting a wide range of habitats and many rare and threatened species found only in the isolated highlands of Ethiopia.  These include iconic large mammals such as the mountain nyala, and the world’s rarest member of the dog family, the Ethiopian wolf.

SOF OMAR - BALE (ETHIOPIA)

Sof Omar, a tiny Muslim village in Bale, is the site of an amazing complex of natural caves, cut  by the Wab River as it found its way from the nearby mountains. The settlement, which is a religious site, is named after a local Sheikh.

Armed with torches and official map, visitors to Sof Omar make their way underground, far into the  bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream, and there can see an  extraordinary number of arched portals, high eroded ceilings and deep echoing chambers.

LALIBELA

Lalibela is a  medieval settlement in the Lasta area of Wallo, lies at the centre of an extensive complex of rock churches. Some can be reached by one or two hours'  drive, others are a full day's journey. Lalibela has 11 remarkable rock-hewn  monolithic churches, believed to have been built by King Lalibela in the late 12th or early 13th Century. These notable structures are carved, inside and out,  into the solid rock, and are considered to be among the wonders of the world.  Each building is architecturally unique but each reflects beautifully executed  craftsmanship, and several are decorated with fascinating paintings. These  astonishing edifices remain places of living worship to this day.

ADDID ABABA

With a population  of more than two million people, Addis Ababa is not only the political capital  but also the economic and social nerve-centre of Ethiopia. Founded by Emperor Menelik in 1887, this big, sprawling, hospitable city still bears the stamp of  his exuberant personality. More than 21,000 hectares in area, Addis Ababa is situated in the foothills of the 3,000-metre Entoto Mountains and rambles  pleasantly across many wooded hillsides and gullies cut with fast-flowing  streams.

Wide, tree-lined streets, fine architecture, glorious weather and the incongruity of donkey  trains along the boulevards make Addis Ababa a city of surprises and a  delightful place to explore. The clear mountain air gives the city the bracing  atmosphere of a summer highland resort. It enjoys a mild climate, with an  average temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit.

Addis Ababa stands at the very heart of Ethiopia and there is much to do and to see. The city has a  flourishing cultural life, with regular exhibitions and lectures. There are many opportunities to experience Ethiopian music, song and dance, to visit museums and to see the city sights.

The Horticultural  Society and Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society both organize visits to local gardens and trips out into the countryside. And after all that,  what better than to sample some of Ethiopia's culinary delights? Injera, a  large, soft, pancake-like crepe, forms the basis of most Ethiopian meals, served with a communal tray on which are a tempting array of spicy sauces. Also distinctive is the Ethiopian traditional drink, tej, a honey  wine, or mead.

 

Traditional restaurants abound in Addis Ababa, and offer entertainment in the form of the ubiquitous massinko minstrels and  traditional dance troupes. There are also many other specialist restaurants in  the city, including Chinese, Italian, French, Indian, Armenian, Arabic and Greek.

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Ethiopian Arts and Culture

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.

Art

 Ethiopian painting has made a smooth transition, stylistically and aesthetically, from the religious to the secular. The canvasses are rich in color and alive with movement and life. Many artists have moved away from traditional formats, embracing broader and more inclusive combinations of subjects and mediums. Relying initially on predominantly Byzantine models, they decisively departed from these prototypes to develop their own distinctive idiom favoring bold colors and two-dimensional abstract design.

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The artistic expressions of faith they produced have endured through countless conflicts and threats to their survival. 

Food - INJERA

Ingera is made from a cereal grain that is unique known as Tef. Though t'efs is unique to Ethiopia it is diverse in color and habitat. Tef is a member of the grass genus Eragrostis or lovegrass. T'ef will grow in many areas it is not an easy crop to farm. One problem in particular is that the weight of the grain bends the stem to the ground.

Fortunately for the Ethiopian Jews ( and all Ethiopians) depends on Tef Ingera, as a staple of their diet. Tef is nutritional miracle food. It contains two to three times the iron of wheat or barley. The calcium, potassium and other essential minerals are also many times what would be found in an equal amount of other grains. Tef has 14% protein, 3% fat and 81% complex carbohydrate.

Tef is the only grain to have symbiotic yeast. Like grapes, the yeast is on the grain so no yeast is added in the preparation of ingera.

 

Tef is milled to flour and made into batter. the batter is allowed to sit so the yeast can become active. When the batter is ready it is poured on a large flat oven and allowed to cook. This process is much harder than it sounds and it is recommended buying from an Ethiopian Market or Restaurant in your area. Make sure it is Tef Ingera not a substitute Western grains.

Dance/Music

Ethiopia also has a  rich tradition of both secular and religious music, singing and dancing, and  these together constitute an important part of Ethiopian cultural life. Singing accompanies many agricultural activities, as well as religious festivals and  ceremonies surrounding life's milestones - birth, marriage and death.

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.

Modern-style bands have come into existence in recent decades, and there are noted Ethiopian jazz musicians.

Ethnic/Dialects

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.

Regarding the country nations and nationalities, which is estimated to be over 90 million, the number of ethnic Oromo accounts about 34.5 % while Amhara (Amara) is 26.9%, Somali (Somalie) 6.2 %, Tigray (Tigrigna) 6.1%, Sidama 4%, Gurage 2.5%, Welaita 2.3%, Hadiya 1.7%, Afar (Affar) 1.7%, Gamo 1.5%, Gedeo 1.3%, other 11.3% (2007 Census).

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.

 

The Tigrigna- and  Amharic-speaking people of the north and centre of the country are mainly  agriculturalists, tilling the soil with ox-drawn ploughs and growing teff (a local millet), wheat, barley, maize and sorghum. The most southerly of the Semitic speakers, the Gurage, are also farmers and herders, but many are also craftsmen. The Gurage grow enset, 'false banana', whose root, stem and leaf stalks provide a carbohydrate which, after lengthy preparation, can be made into porridge or unleavened bread.

 

The Cushitic Oromo,  formerly nomadic pastoralists, are now mainly engaged in agriculture and, in the more arid areas, cattle-breeding. The Somali, also pastoral nomads, forge a  living in hot and arid bush country, while the Afar, semi-nomadic pastoralists  and fishermen, are the only people who can survive in the hostile environment of the Danakil Depression. Living near the Omo River are the Mursi, well-known for  the large clay discs that the women wear inserted in a slit in their lower lips.

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Cultural Traditions, Custom &Significance 

Cultural Influence on Daily Life

Language/Communication

Not many Ethiopians speak fluent international languages, mainly because Ethiopia has a unique history, they’ve never been colonized. This often leads to misunderstandings as, for example, an Ethiopian might pronounce thirteen and thirty in the same way. One way of avoiding such communication barriers is for travelers to get familiar with a list of basic Ethiopian words and phrases. Three of the main languages spoken in Ethiopia are. Amharic - spoken in the capital Addis Ababa, GondarBahirdar, and the amhara region as a whole. You may find amharic speakers in all parts of the country. Oromiffah- Spoken in tourist destinations like Langanobishoftu and all parts of the Oromo region. Tigrigna- Spoken in tourist destinations like AxumYeha and the semien.

Communal Eating

Traditionally, Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands. This is done by tearing off some injera and using it to scoop up some food and then eat all of it. For newcomers, this may feel slightly awkward at first. 

Communal plates are usually used for traditional meals, but reaching across the whole plate to get food is impolite, stick to eating what is close to you.

The left hand is considered unclean in Ethiopian culture, so try to remember to eat with your right hand.

Greeting Etiquette

Greeting takes the form of multiple kisses on both cheeks and a plethora of exchanged pleasantries. Any hint of superiority is treated with contempt. Age is a factor in social behavior, and the elderly are treated with the utmost respect. When an elderly person or guest enters a room, it is customary to stand until that person is seated. Dining etiquette is also important. One must always wash the hands before a meal, since all food is eaten with the hands from a communal dish. It is customary for the guest to initiate eating. During a meal, it is proper form to pull injera only from the space directly in front of oneself. Depleted portions are replaced quickly. During meals, participation in conversation is considered polite; complete attention to the meal is thought to be impolite.

Political Opinion

It is advisable to avoid discussion on religion, sex or sexuality and local politics because it is hard to tell where people stand on these topics. Most Ethiopians seem to be indifferent, at least in public, about politics. However, it is possible your comments might be taken as criticism. Most Ethiopians show self pride and do not accept easily being seen as less worthy.  the World Cup is in progress, you can chat with anyone about it, men and women, young and old. Most Ethiopians are soccer fans.

Popular  Festivals

Enkutatash - Ethiopian New Year (September 11th)

Ethiopia still retains the Julian calendar, in which the year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of 5 days and 6 days in leap year. The Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7 years behind between September 11 and January 8.

Enkutatash means the "gift of jewels". When the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her bolts by replenishing her treasury with inku or jewels. The spring festival has been celebrated since this early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside.

But Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday. Today's Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal new year greetings and cards among the urban sophisticated - in lieu or the traditional bouquet of flowers.

Accomodations

 InterContinental Addis Hotel

Intercontinentaladdis is a luxurious Hotel which is perfectly located in a strategic position at the heart of Kazanchis area Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

  • It’s a 10 minute drive from Bole international airport and a walking distance from UNECA/UNCC compound,

  • comprising of 152 luxurious rooms, 42 luxurious furnished apartments and

  • 14 conference halls which can accommodate more than 2,000 guests at a time, and all conference halls have modern  centralized AC and Sound systems.

  • Each of the rooms has

  • flat screen TV sets with DSTV satellite, Air conditioned, fire proof doors, carpets, safety deposit box, mini bar and balcony.

  • Roof top Swimming pool, Full Spa, Gym, Night Club, Open air lobby, Bars, Bistro, Italian Restaurant, 360° Revolving Brazilian Restaurant which is the first in East Africa, VIP Lounge, Restaurant serving delicious international and traditional cuisines, Health Center, Tour and Travel, Bank, Cultural Outfits & Sovereign shops, and our double ground ample parking area can accommodate more than 300 cars at a time. 

WHAT IS THE VISA REQUIREMENT TO TRAVEL TO ETHIOPIA?

YES. Tourist Visa is required to travel to Ethiopia. PASSPORT VALIDITY for 6 months and a yellow fever vaccination. Please see  Department of State Travel Advisory for Ethiopia

IS IT SAFE TO DRINK THE WATER IN ETHIOPIA?

In general, the water is not safe to drink in Ethiopia. All local water should be considered contaminated. Bring all tap water to a good rolling boil if you want to drink, brush your teeth or make ice cubes. Otherwise, buy capped bottled water from reputable brands.​

City tap water safety info for Ethiopia

CAN I GET INTERNET ACCESS IN ETHIOPIA?

The state-owned EthioTelecom (previously known as Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC)) is the sole Internet service provider (ISP) in the country. However, three-quarters of the country's Internet cafés are in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and even there access is often slow and unreliable. Hence, Ethiopia is a bit behind internet service for a fairly developed country.

ARE CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED IN ETHIOPIA?

Ethiopia is a cash economy. Credit cards are very rarely accepted. The most reliable place to withdraw birr is from the ATMs in a hotel lobby — there are usually several which means you’ll have options when one inevitably doesn’t work. You can only withdraw 4,000 birr (about $200 USD) per transaction and can withdraw up to 10,000 birr from each ATM machine, if you have the patience to do three transactions, and if they have enough money. If you bring USD to exchange make sure all bills are newer than 2006. Most hotels exchange dollars for birr at competitive rates.

ARE THERE ANY ATMS IN ETHIOPIA AND I USE THEM?

ATMs are mostly available in a hotel lobby — there are usually several which means you’ll have options when one inevitably doesn’t work. You can only withdraw 4,000 birr (about $200 USD) per transaction and can withdraw up to 10,000 birr from each ATM machine, if you have the patience to do three transactions, and if they have enough money. If you bring USD to exchange make sure all bills are newer than 2006. Most hotels exchange dollars for birr at competitive rates.

WHAT IS THE CURRENCY OF ETHIOPIA AND TIPS FOR FOREIGN EXCHANGE?

Ethiopian Money and Foreign Exchange. Ethiopian currency is the “birr” and comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 100 birr notes. You can easily change your foreign currency for birr at any of Ethiopia's banks.

DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE BEFORE TRAVELING TO ETHIOPIA?

All passengers traveling with Trailblazer Travelz are highly recommended to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

IS TIPPING CUSTOMARY IN ETHIOPIA?

Tipping is, as ever, an area of ambiguity. Genuine guides should be tipped if they provided a good service, with 200 birr per party per day being a fair benchmark. Tipping waiters is not customary in local eateries, but it has become so in restaurants used to tourists – 10 percent of the bill would be fair to generous.

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