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The Culture of Ethiopia

“The Culture of Ethiopia”

Africa is known for the culture with much cultural diversity. Many different cultures can be found within the country of Africa. Ethiopia is very well known around the world and I decided that I would love to learn more about it. When you think of Ethiopia (well Africa in general), you only seem to think about the bad things that you hear and see on TV, such as the starving children without parent’s trying to make it on their own, adults shooting and killing for food and a place to live, and people walking around without clothes on and no shoes to walk in. There are parts in Africa that are like that, but there also places here in America that are also like that as well. Africa has many beautiful cultures that people take pride in, unlike us. We tend to forget the things that have brought us to where we are today. Because Africa isn’t looked at “as the way of living life”, it gets overlooked. I did a little research and decided that I would base my paper on Ethiopia, because it’s what caught my eye.

Ethiopia has a beautiful culture filled with richness in art, language, religion, and ethnicity. Most people don’t know because it’s overlooked is that Ethiopia is just about the only country in Africa that has never been colonized and their people take pride in their struggle to keep their independence (Childs). Things that are important to the African culture are the languages, religion, festivals and events, food, music, and art.

There are three main types of people in Ethiopia, they are the Amhara’s, the Galla’s (Oromo), and the Shankella’s.  The Amhara people are mostly farmers who live in the north central highlands of Ethiopia, who take up about one third of the population of Ethiopia, culturally and politically (O. Jenkins). The Galla’s dictate most of the population in Ethiopia taking up about nearly forty percent all together. These people are pastoral and agricultural, living mainly in central and southwestern Ethiopia (Childs). The Shankella’s are the people in the western part of the country from the boarder of Eritrea to Lake Turkana, which is about six percent of the population (africaguide). Other types of people in Ethiopia that takes up the rest of the population are the Tigrean, Sidamo, Solmali, Afrar, and Gurage.

The Amhara people display a mixed physiological heritage.  They speak a Semitic language, and historical and linguistic factors, compared with their primary myths of origin, seem to indicate that their Semitic ancestors came from what is modern-day Yemen.  Addis Abeba, the capital of Ethiopia and of the previous Amhara Abyssinian Empire, is home for many Amhara but actually an enclave within the land of the Oromo peoples. The Amharic is the language of the Amhara people and it’s also spoken by millions of other Ethiopian people as a second language (O. Jenkins).

The Amharic language was used generally for school but now it has spread throughout different areas in Ethiopia since the year of 1991. English is also spoken in Ethiopia. It is the most common foreign language and is taught in secondary schools. It is also very common to speak more than one language fluently.

“Ethiopia’s major languages belong to what linguist call the Afro-Asiatic family of languages. Afro-Asiatic languages spoken in Ethiopia are categorized into the Semitic, Cushitic, and Omotic groups. Approximately 12 Semitic languages are found in the country, including Amharic, Tigrinya, and Ge’ez (also called Ethiopic). Cushitic languages, of which there are approximately 22 in Ethiopia, include Oromo, Sidama, and Somali. Among 18 or so Omotic languages spoken are Welayta and Kefa. The other major language family found in Ethiopia is Nilo-Saharan. This language family is spoken by only 2 percent of Ethiopia’s people (Gish, 87).” f[1]

The religions that are throughout this country are Christianity, Islamic, and Ethiopian Orthodox. The people of Ethiopia accept their religion into their everyday life. Somehow or someway whatever it is that they do is based on their religion. I don’t find the way people in Ethiopia accept their religion into their lives any different as we do here or anywhere else in the world. Christianity is the dominant religion in Ethiopia and it has been told that, that came about in during the fourth century. The Orthodox Church connects with ancient Judaism in many ways for instance fasting, food restrictions, slaughtering animals, circumcision, and the layout of churches. Islam is also a very strong religion in parts of Ethiopia (Childs). 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 (africaguide).

Food is another part of Ethiopia culture that is very important. I believe that again this all ties into religion. I believe that based upon their religion is what they eat, and not only what they eat but also how it’s prepared. Food that is mostly known in this culture is fish, chicken, beef, vegetables, and beans. There is also what they call staple grain which is known as Teff. Ethiopians use lots of spices because they usually like their foods very hot. Something that we’d consider as very spicy probably wouldn’t be spicy to them. 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 (africaguide). Other meals eaten by this culture include Doro Alicha, a mild Ethiopian chicken dish, Doro Wat, a spicy chicken dish, Tibs Wet a very spicy and fatty meat dish, Injera spongy pancake bread eating with Ethiopian food, Yekik Alich’a a split pea dish with mild sauce, Spiced Butter an herbed butter, Berbere a red-pepper based spice mixture used in Ethiopian dishes and Ethiopian lentils (Childs).

It has been said that Ethiopians love to celebrate and have a good time. Ethiopians are known for celebrating all holidays and special days such as birthdays. They also have simple family days, which I think is just they may just set specials days to do certain things. Some families set days where they have movies days, and I think that something like their simple family days. There are special marked holidays such as those that are important to African culture. Some of these festivals are Meskal and Timkat. Meskal is a two day festival that is held at the end of the month of September celebrating the finding of the True Cross. Timkat is held twelve days after Christmas according to the Julian calendar. There is singing and dancing and it just a time for the people of Ethiopia to come together to have a good time and to celebrate what they believe in.

Art is also known to be very vital to the Ethiopian culture. In Ethiopia art can be found just about everywhere because it means so much to the people. The art is a naïve style of painting that can be found in every church, which makes me believe that it’s also, has a lot to do with their religion. “Figures are drawn in two dimensions, almost cartoon-like in their direct and simplistic portrayal, with strong colors’ 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 localized 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 (africaguide).”[2]

I hope that reading this paper gave you a better insight on the country of Ethiopia, because reading and researching all that I did definitely gave me one. I would have never known these exciting things about Ethiopia if I hadn’t done my research. The thing that stood out the most to me is that fact that the Ethiopian like to have a good time. Celebrating is what they do and I believe that what keep the culture together. If we were to come together and celebrate the things that brought us to where we are today, I believe our world would be much better off than it is right now. I respect the people of Ethiopia because despite all of what they go through and how bad they are publicized as people they are still a strong country. The children are brought up in the world of today but they also know of their past. It’s something that done in this household. Here we learn all that we can in school and whatever isn’t there is just forgotten about. Ethiopia seems to be a beautiful country and I wouldn’t mind visiting and getting a hands on experience of all of what I researched.


Africaguide. The Africa Guide.

Childs, Celin. The Beauty of Ethiopian Culture.


Gish, Steve, Thay, Winne, and Latif, Zawiah. Ethiopia. Benchmark Books, NY.: 2 edition, April

            15, 2007.

Jenkins, Orville. The Amhara People of Ethiopia.


[1] Gish, Steve, Thay, Winne, and Latif, Zawiah. Ethiopia. Benchmark Books, NY.: 2 edition, April

                15, 2007.

[2] Africaguide. The Africa Guide.


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