Local traditions and culture in Ethiopia

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

Most Viewed Local Customs in Ethiopia

  • sachara's Profile Photo

    Enset or false-banana

    by sachara Updated Jul 4, 2004

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    In the area north of Arba Minch the Dorze people prepare enset as staple for their meal. The enset or false banana (Musa ensete) is a unfertile banana plant. This plant is allready cultivated in this part of Ethiopia for millenia.

    When we visited the Dorze area, we were invited in a compound for an explanation about the laborious process of preparation.

    First they cut a piece from the trunk of the bananatree, which has to be scraped to remove all fibres. Next this will be beaten into a white pulp. This pulp is buried in a pit in the corner of the compound.

    The woman, who showed us the process, gave us some of the pulp, that allready was buried for several weeks. It tasted like unleavened bread with some banana flavour or was that only imagination ? The Dorze people use the enset as staple and porridge.

    For more information about the enset and Dorze people have a look at my Arba Minch page.

    Dorze, preparing enset

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    Mesobs

    by sachara Updated Jul 2, 2004

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    At the market of Aksum we saw these colourful woven mesobs like a basket. Mesobs are the traditional hourglass-shaped tables for serving the traditional injera, the pancake made of tef, the local cereal.

    In many restaurants you will find beside the standard tables some of these traditional tables. So enjoy your communal injera with some friends, eating of the same plate with your hands, sorry, your right hand only.

    colourful mesobs

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    The coffee ceremony

    by SirRichard Written Aug 25, 2006

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    Ethiopian coffee is world famous and is really good. You can get it in bars, usually black and with a lot of sugar. If you want it without sugar, say it first. If you want it with milk, say "machiato", or "capuccino".
    During your stay you will surely have the chance to enjoy a coffee ceremony. The host roasts the coffee, converts it in powder and from that fresh coffee he serves 3 tiny cups to each guest. You must first admire the odour, then taste it and tell the host about the flavour and then take the 3 cups. No milk here usually, sugar included.

    Roasting coffee
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  • sachara's Profile Photo

    Tef and injera

    by sachara Written Jul 2, 2004

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    The injera, the national staple, serving as a base for every meal, is made of tef.
    Tef is an Ethiopian indigenous cereal growing in the highlands.

    There are different qualities of tef, the wither the colour, the better the quality. At the market of Bahir Dar they showed us these sacks with different qualities of tef.

    The best injera can be found in the highlands, a pale, thin and smooth pancake, always made of tef.
    In the lowlands of Ethiopia you can also find darker and thicker injera of lower quality, made of millet of sorghum.

    tef at the market of Bahir Dar

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  • sachara's Profile Photo

    Mursi women, wearing lipplates

    by sachara Updated Jul 10, 2004

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    The Mursi women in te Lower Omo Valley are known, because they are wearing lipplates. The lower lip of the girls at age of 15 or 16 is pierced, so they can wear a plate. The larger the plate the higher the social status and the bride price.

    There are different theories about the lipplates. At one hand it's considered as a sign of beauty. At the other hand it is thought, that this custom started to make the women undesirable for slave trade.

    If there are no men or visitors around or if eating, the women don't wear the plate. Then their lower lip dangles from their mouth.

    For more information and pictures of the Mursi people, have a look at my Jinka page.

    Mursi women, wearing lipplates

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    Tankwa

    by sachara Updated Jul 2, 2004

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    At the Lake Tana, but also at other places in Ethiopia you will see tankwas, boats made of papyrus.

    In Weyto, a village at the southern shore of Lake Tana, 2 KM west of Bahir Dar, the villagers still have the skills to build these traditional tankwas like is they allready do for centuries.

    Allthough these papyrus boats don't look very strong, they can carry huge loads, some passengers and even cows.

    tankwa or papyrus boat

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    Natala or shamma

    by sachara Written Jul 2, 2004

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    The local shamma is a white cloth or toga, which men and women wear, when they go to church, but you will also see men and women in the streets, wrapped in their shamma. White is the colour of purity.

    Women wear also the natala, a shamma with a nicely decorated border or tibeb.
    Everywhere in the streets or at the markets you can find shops or stalls, selling these colourful natalas. At the market of Aksum we had to pay about 40 birr.

    stall with natalas

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    Remarkable hairstyles in the Lower Omo Valley

    by sachara Written Jul 10, 2004

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    At the Dimeka market north of Turmi we saw the local hairstyles. Women rub a mixture of ochre and fat in their hair, making coppery-coloured tresses, known as goscha.

    At the market we also saw some men with remarkable hairstyles. If a man has killed an enemy or dangerous animal, he is permitted to rub coloured clay in his hair, sometimes also decorated with feathers. This hairstyle can last for almost 6 months. That's why the man needs a headrest for sleeping.

    For more information and pictures have a look at my Turmi page.

    man wearing colourful clay

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  • sachara's Profile Photo

    Dula and gabi, worn by men

    by sachara Updated Jul 2, 2004

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    Along the road in the northern countryside we met a lot of men, wearing a dula. The dula is a wooden staff and travel companion of almost every Amhara man. This hardwood staff of about 1 M serves purposes like carrying loads to and from the market, leaning on during long churchservices or defending oneself against unfriendly dogs.

    In the northern highlands the men wrapped themselves in their gabis, the coloured thicker version of the shamma The white-coloured traditonal shamma is worn by women at the picture.

    In the past the men used these gabis, spun around the left arm, also as a quick shield, using the dula with their right arm to offend or to defend.

    along the roadside, south of Bahir Dar

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    THE HANDSHAKE OF RESPECT

    by DAO Updated Apr 4, 2009

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    In Ethiopia, holding your right elbow with your left hand as you shake some else’s hand is a great form of respect. Over time the left hand has made its way forward and some times you will see the left hand as far forward as the right wrist. You will also sometimes see this as you are offered the bill in a restaurant if you have been very pleasant with the servers or they expect a good tip. If you are not seeing this, especially outside of Addis Ababa, you may want to review your manners. If you go to someone’s home for a meal, please do this. It really shows respect to your host(s). And take some Bunha! That’s coffee. It is THE gift to take!

    MY GUIDE, HIS NAME IS TWA
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    WHAT TIME IS IT ?

    by DAO Updated Jan 11, 2008

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    ETHIOPIA HAS ITS OWN TIME! If you are just visiting for a short period of time, you need to specify that you mean FARANJI (foreigner) TIME or you may get some real confusion. Ethiopian time is 6 hours different from Faranji Time. So midnight or noon is 6 o’clock to local folks. It’s easy once you think about it. Just add (or subtract) 6 hours. First though, know the local time. Ethiopia has a single time zone: UTC/GMT +3 hours. UTC is Coordinated Universal Time, GMT is Greenwich (England) Mean Time. The UK is one hour ahead of UTC during summer. There is no daylight saving time in Ethiopia in 2007.

    10:42 AM !!!!!
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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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    REMOVE YOUR SHOES BEFORE ENTERING CHURCHES

    by DAO Updated Jan 11, 2008

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    Before you can enter an Orthodox Christian Church anywhere in Ethiopia you have to remove your shoes. And any hats as well. I would suggest that you wear socks, especially in older churches and the rock hewn churches of Lalibela. Your feet are going to get dirty, even if they do have carpets down! Unfortunately in Lalibela you are expected to pay the ‘Shoe Minder’ to watch your shoes so they won’t be stolen. They won’t anyway and thankfully this ridiculous way of fleecing the tourists is not repeated anywhere else in Ethiopia. Just say you don’t have any money when asked. You already have your shoes back on when they try it!

    Why do you have to remove your shoes? According to Exodus 3:5 in the Bible, God instructed Moses to remove his shoes while he stood on Mt. Sinai because it was Holy Ground.

    “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest [is] holy ground.”

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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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    THE FLAG

    by DAO Updated Jul 9, 2008

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    The Ethiopian flag was first adopted in 1897, a year after Ethiopia had bravely defended itself from advances by Italy at the Battle of Adwa. It has always had the same 3 colours that have been adopted by other African countries upon independence that the tricolours have become known as the ‘pan-African colours’. It is a true testament to the only African country that was never colonised by a European country.

    The current flag consists of 3 equal horizontal bands of green (top), yellow, and red with a yellow pentagram and single yellow rays radiating upon light blue disk

    There is a healthy debate as to what the colours represent, but they are generally regarded as:

    GREEN The land and it’s bounty
    YELLOW Peace and harmony between the many tribes of Ethiopia
    RED Blood shed by patriots defending the country
    THE STAR The bright future of Ethiopia and echoes of King Solomon
    YELLOW RAYS They are the same length and represent equality no matter your race, religion or tribe

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