Local traditions and culture in Ethiopia

  • Local Customs
    by rosequartzlover1
  • Local Customs
    by DAO
  • Local Customs
    by DAO

Most Viewed Local Customs in Ethiopia

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    BEING INVITED TO SOMEONE'S HOME

    by DAO Updated Aug 4, 2014

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    I will give you a concise explanation of what to do if you are invited to someone’s home. First – you need to take a gift with you. This is traditionally ‘Bhuna’ or raw coffee. You can buy this at a lot of small kiosk shops. If you have some duty free spirits – this highly prized. Just make sure you have a gift for the Hostess – as the Lady of the House will do the next bit.

    You will walk in the house which will have free grass strewn across the floor. This is a traditional greeting and to show you that you are welcome and that things are fresh and clean to honour you coming to their home.

    Next is the Coffee Ceremony. Without all the details here, just remember to waft the smoke towards you and smile when the roasted beans are presented to you. Drink the 3 cups of coffee and thank the hostess. Please do not decline the coffee. They pop popcorn at the same time, so please have a few bites.

    Next is the Hand Washing Ceremony (sen'na bert). The Hostess brings along a towel, a basin, water and soap. She pours warm water over the fingers of each person's right hand, while holding a basin to catch the excess water. Pray you are not left handed here.

    Next you are expected to eat first.

    Eating Injera means tearing off some of the ‘bread’ and scooping up some of the ingredients. Take small amounts to start and you do not put your fingers in your mouth or touch your tongue. Good luck. As it’s a shared dish, you do not have to eat everything. You will be offered rolls of additional injera. Do not eat more than you want. You will be asked if you want something to drink. If they send one of the children out to the store for a beer, offer the child money and they will bring the change.

    After you eat, another hand washing ceremony. That’s it. Afterwards you may be invited to stay. Do not be afraid to get any household of neighbour kids to run to the store for more drinks if it looks like everyone is staying for such matters.

    Thank your host!

    Mabrat (Light) in Addis Ababa Axum
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    TRAVELLERS CHEQUES

    by DAO Updated Jun 16, 2014

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    Yes, banks here accept them! American Dollars are the preferred currency for American Express Travellers Cheques. Some banks in Addis Ababa actually sell them too. British Pounds sometimes get a much worse rate. Standard fees are what the banks describe as 0.5% but actually come out at 1.5%. Banks in the historical towns (Gonder, Axum, etc.) may charge 2.5%. There are no banks in Lalibela, but several hotels will encash them for you.

    PLEASE NOTE: ALMOST ALL FOREX POSITIONS IN BANKS CLOSE BETWEEN 12PM-1PM FOR LUNCH EVERY WEEK DAY.

    CLICK ON THE PHOTO

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    WASHING OF HANDS

    by DAO Updated Jul 30, 2013

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    Ethiopians are very observant of hygiene, especially when eating. The national dish is Injera with different dishes being placed up on it. All Injera is eaten with the right hand and food is traditionally shared. So it makes a lot of sense that you will always be offered for your hands to be washed by your hosts before you eat. Whether it is in a restaurant or in someone’s home, you will be approached with a bowl, soap and water to wash your hands with. The containers can be anything from actual silver to plastic. The bowl that holds the soap drains into the bottom as the water is poured. I would recommend that you use a light amount of soap and wash your fingers well and away from the bowl. That way the water does not come before you have administered the soap. Just remember - it’s the fingers that are important. If you are eating Injera properly, you never take more in your fingers than you can easily put in your mouth and the food should not be in contact with the palm of your hand. There may not be a lot of water if there are a few of you and a soap taste when eating is not nice. Should you need more water though, just ask.

    This is actually a religious tradition called 'Sen'na bert' and it is traditionally the lady of the house who will offer to wash the guests' hands.

    After you have eaten, the soap and water will appear again to clean your fingers. I would still recommend wet wipes for after your meal. The sauces often really get under your fingernails.

    Enjoy!

    WASH YOUR HANDS !
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    THE SUGAR CANE SELLER

    by DAO Updated Jul 3, 2013

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    These guys are fascinating to watch. They start the day – early – by collecting 5-10 very tall stalks of sugar cane. These can reach up to 6 metres in length! Needless to say they are heavy and awkward for these poor guys to carry around. They will sell you a length of sugar cane about as long as your hand for 1 or 2 Birr (11-22 US Cents). After they hack this portion off with their machete, they now have a lighter and shorter load. They then walk around until dark selling. You can easily tell what kind of day they have had.

    If you do like sugary things, please buy a little bit from them. They are lucky to make $3-4 a day. If you don't you can buy a small amount and give it to some kids on the street.

    THE SUGAR CANE SELLER THE SUGAR CANE SELLER THE SUGAR CANE SELLER THE SUGAR CANE SELLER THE SUGAR CANE SELLER
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    FASTING FOOD

    by DAO Updated Jul 3, 2013

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    Followers of The Ethiopian Orthodox Church observe 7 fasting periods a year, but that does not mean they stop eating. The food and dishes available are actually quite extensive and tastes great. They are simply free of meat and animal products. This essentially means no meat, fat, eggs or milk. Because there are so many periods of fasting and often complex timings, every restaurant in Ethiopia has a fasting menu. Larger restaurants will have these incorporated within their regular menus or you can just ask for more popular dishes. Just to give you an idea of how complex and often, some of the periods are every Wednesday and Friday - except during 50 days after Easter. On top of that, this is following the ever-changing Ethiopian calendar. In all there are about 250 fasting days a year! You will find most restaurants will happily serve you meat dishes every day of the year however. If you are planning on going to a restaurant with someone who is observing the fasting rules, please be aware that they will only eat at 3pm and/or in the evening - except for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. I told you it was complex. It is not offensive to eat a meat dish with someone in a restaurant who is having fasting food.

    Vegetarian fasting meals are made from items like salads, lentils, split peas, grains, fruit, and several varieties of vegetable stew. All (except salads in some more international restaurants) are served with injera. A very popular fasting dish (pictured) is Shiro Wat. This is made from ground slit peas, berberei sauce and onion. You will also even see 'fasting biscuits'. This is the English name for cookies. You can easily have a 3 course fasting meal at any good restaurant.

    Please note: Fish can be a fasting food and pork is very hard to find at any time as
    Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews are forbidden to eat it.

    YES - ICE CREAM ! AND BISCUITS ! Salad served at home Shiro Wat Shiro Wat
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    A NATURAL TOOTHBRUSH

    by DAO Updated May 30, 2013

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    In many places in Africa this is known as ‘Chewy Stick’ and it works as good as a toothbrush – with toothpaste! In Ethiopia it is known as ‘Mafakia’ it has been proven to have antimicrobial qualities. You chew on this very hard piece of wood and scrape your teeth with the top edge. I used it and found it helpful. Expect to pay about 1 Birr (11 US Cents).

    The sellers in Addis Ababa found in the Merkato, Piazza, Meskel Square and Bole Road. In more rural areas, just ask by name for it.

    Give it a try!

    Mafakia Mafakia Mafakia
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    sports hero in a country crazy about running

    by sphynxxs Written Aug 6, 2012

    Ethiopians are famous for long distance running (like Kenyans, or rather Kalenjin) and the most successful marathon runners are national heroes. One of the best known if Haile Gebrselassie, who not only made a great comeback at an (for a runner) advanced age, but also uses his popularity to promote social projects.

    Haile Gebrselassie

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    TALHA ! OR TALLA OR TELLA

    by DAO Updated Mar 6, 2012

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    Pronounce it however you want, its Home Brew! Unlike Tej (local honey wine), this can be brewed in the home in about 4 days. It tastes like a very weak ale but can still pack a punch of up to 6% alcohol! A lot of families have this on hand to serve with a meal when you visit their home. It is brewed (fermented more like) from locally grown grains and flavoured with an indigenous plant called gesho. Supposedly gesho is good for you.

    Isn’t all beer?

    Enjoy. The taste is exceptionally mild.

    ON THE TABLE THE BEFORE PICTURE
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    DO NOT PUT YOUR NAPKIN ON THE PLATE!

    by DAO Updated Nov 4, 2011

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    After you have finished your meal you may, out of habit, place your napkin on your plate. Do not do it here! If there is any food left, the restaurant will give this to poor people after they close. If you put the napkin on it – they won’t. It is a really hard habit to break, but please remember to leave your napkin on the table when you finish.

    !!! NO !!!!
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    Time in Ethiopia

    by Elisabcn Updated Jun 12, 2011

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    In Ethiopia everything is different even the calendar! Ethiopians have 13 months instead of 12, that’s why they use as slogan “Ethiopia: 13 months of sun”. Their end of the year corresponds to our 10th of September and, like us, they celebrate it with big parties. The Ethiopian Calendar is 8 years behind the Gregorian Calendar so when I was there in 2010 I celebrated the beginning of 2002 :-)))
    Time is also different in Ethiopia: Ethiopians divide the day in two times 12 hours but the 0 Ethiopian hour means hour 6 for us. For example 2pm for Ethiopians means 8pm for us. We have lunch at 7hours and dinner at 2 hours. Some patience is needed. So if you don’t want to get crazy for any meeting with locals, schedules and so on, ask before if they are talking about Ethiopian time or European time.

    Is it time for a beer? :-)

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    Tejj and Injera

    by Elisabcn Written Jun 12, 2011

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    Tejj is the basis of Ethiopia’s diet. With this cereal (second picture) Ethiopians prepare the Injera, a kind of tort which you will find everywhere accompanying all kind of meat and vegetables (main picture) Maybe there are different ways to prepare it because depending on the area where we were, Injera’s color was darker. Texture is funny but it does not have a special taste so after few days eating the same you get bored and you change it with pleasure for a dish of spaghetti with tomato sauce (which were not bad at all, Ethiopians cook spaghetti better than French!). Although Tejj is a very nutritious and complete cereal, Ethiopia is the only country that eats it.

    Soup + Injera Tejj fields

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    Chat

    by Elisabcn Written Jun 12, 2011

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    The flower of paradise, Allah’s gift . . . that’s how this stimulant is known by the chat consumers. Chewing the leaves of this small plant - Catha Edulis - (second picture) releases people’s mind and it is very appreciated by poets and philosophers who use it as a source of inspiration. Nowadays people, especially in the south of the country, chew chat like an ecstasies which liberates their body and mind. They chew it in small groups, it is already a social activity and a kind of way to escape from the reality. In Harar, when sun goes down, many chat sellers appear to sell their fresh product (main picture).
    Mid term consequences? Chat plantations already occupy almost all the cultivable land having displaced its most ferocious competitor: the worldwide renewed Ethiopian coffee. Chat’s cultivation is easier and produces more benefits. Coffee exports have been considerably reduced while tones and tones of chat leave the country daily to Djibuti and Yemen where it is known as qat.
    Health consequences are insomnia, anorexia and men’s impotence.

    Chat street sellers in Harar Chat fields near Tis Isat Falls

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    Rainy Season

    by Elisabcn Written Jun 10, 2011

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    Going to Ethiopia during the heavy rainy season (from June to September) means to have a shower almost everyday. When it rains, IT REALLY RAINS! In Bahir Dar usually it started raining by 7.00 -8.00 pm so it was never a problem for our day tours. But it was also in Bahir Dar where storm and rain were heavier (see the picture), being the air incredibly humid with regard to other places that we visited. Just to give you an example, simple cotton underclothes took 3 days to dry inside the room. So when you leave the hotel, especially at dinner time, keep a light raincoat always with you, for sure you will need it!

    daily shower

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    Traditional boats

    by Elisabcn Written May 30, 2011

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    On Lake Tana is easy to see some nice Tankwas. This papyrus canoes look like exactly as the ancient papyrus canoes depicted on the Egyptian Temples’ walls and nowadays they are still used as the main means of transport on the lake. The construction of a tankwa needs two people’s work for a whole day and it has a life of only few weeks. If it rains a lot, your tankwa will die in only few days.

    Papyrus boats

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    Colorful Umbrellas

    by Elisabcn Written May 30, 2011

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    These beautiful and colorful umbrellas don’t have a aesthetic use. They are not used to protect people from sun or rain either. We can see these umbrellas only in religious events like Timkat, processions or funerals (picture 2). I was very curious about the meaning and I asked some locals about it but nobody could give me a good answer. Later I have read that they represent the celestial spheres, which I find very poetic!
    Usually umbrellas, incense and white dressed priests with golden crosses appear together in these festivities.

    Colorful umbrellas Umbrellas in a religious ceremony

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