Customs and traditions
Much of what is perceived as typically Ethiopian originated among the Amharic people. As state representatives, they have historically spread and left cultural imprints in large parts of the country. Not least in the lowlands there are groups of people with other traditions and ways of living.
Many Ethiopians take great pride in the country’s long history and tradition of self-determination. They are happy to point out that it has never been colonized and that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest churches in the world. Ethiopia is often called the cradle of humanity (although southern Africa can compete for the title) and was the site of one of Africa’s first civilizations (Aksum, see Ancient History). In addition, Ethiopia is the home of the coffee bush on earth!
- Countryaah: Overview of the capital city of Ethiopia, including information about its population, economy, geography, history and map.
Ethiopians are sometimes described as relatively abusive and formal, especially against strangers but also against acquaintances. When you meet you often shake hands, sometimes with both hands, but often a little more cautiously than a Westerner is used to. Friends can embrace each other if they are of the same sex, and also exchange multiple kisses on the cheeks.
Traditionally, Ethiopians have only one name. What a Westerner perceives as a last name is the father’s name. Former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was thus called Meles. Zenawi was his father. Sometimes a third name is added: the grandfather’s.
Home visits and meals
Among the Amharas, it is not usual to visit people in the home without an invitation. Anyone visiting someone for the first time should bring a small gift. As a guest you should say yes to the food or drink offered.
Respect for the elderly is important. If an elderly person or guest enters the room, you stand up until it sits down.
The right hand or both hands should be used to hand over or receive objects. Eating is also done with the right hand.
It is important to wash your hands before eating as everyone eats from the same dish. The guest begins. You take the food with your hands, and stick to the area just in front of your own plate. It is considered polite to leave some food on the plate and thus show that the host has given the guest more than enough. Pointing is otherwise considered unfair.
Food, drink and clothing
Basic food is injera, a flat, sour and slightly spongy bread made on the teff (see Agriculture and Fishing). You tear off pieces of bread and use them to scoop up wat, a mess of vegetables, lentils or meat. The chilli-based spice mix berber is included for the most part.
Strict dietary and fasting traditions are followed by many, especially among Muslims but also among Christians. The Orthodox Christians follow Old Testament taboos around food. Pork is virtually absent. Lamb, goat, beef and poultry are common, although many meals are vegetarian. During fasting periods, the Orthodox completely abstain from milk and meat products.
Coffee has a central role in Ethiopia where the plant originates. According to legend, a shepherd discovered over 1,000 years ago that his goats became a pig after eating the red berries from a bush. Today’s Ethiopians are happy to gather for a traditional coffee ceremony, where green coffee beans are roasted over charcoal, ground in mortar, cooked in a black jug, a jebena. The coffee – bun – enjoy with toasted barley, colo.
On festive occasions they drink happy hembrygt beer – Tella – or honey wine, tej.
Traditional clothing in the highlands is a white Togal-like shamma – a white piece of cotton fabric, often with an embroidered border. Both men and women can use the garment, the men with tight white cotton trousers and women with colorful dresses underneath. In the cities, it is not uncommon for people to wear Western clothes during a shamma. There are some ethnic groups where the men wear turban. Foreign visitors should dress quite strictly and not appear too undressed.
Among the official holidays in Ethiopia are Christian, Muslim and national holidays. According to Abbreviationfinder, the Ethiopian calendar has 13 months, of which 12 with 30 days each and a 13th month with five days (six during leap year). The calendar is based on the resurrection of Jesus and the Ethiopian New Year, the Enkutatash, normally falls on September 11.
The different calendar means that the Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 7 January. The thirteenth day, the hour, is celebrated on January 19 in remembrance of Christ’s baptism and is one of the more important celebrations. It is also the meskel, which falls on September 27, when the celebration of the cross’s celebration. Easter dates vary.
According to Countryaah, Muslim holidays occur at different times from year to year, as they are determined by the lunar calendar. Official holidays are Prophet Muhammad’s birthday mawlid, id al-fitr ending the fasting month of Ramadan and the sacrificial holiday id al-adha which lasts for anywhere from two to ten days depending on the region.
On March 2, the Battle of Adwa is celebrated in 1896 and on May 5 the Patriots’ Day in memory of Italy’s defeat in 1941. National Day on May 28 is celebrated in memory of the fall of 1991.
Peace treaty with rebels
The government signs a peace agreement with a breakaway faction of the rebel group ONLF in Ogaden. More than 100 imprisoned rebels are released.
Opposition leaders are released
Opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa is released from prison (see December 2007). She later leaves the country.
Offensive against ONLF rebels
The military is said to have killed over 100 ONLF rebels in Ogaden and seized many more.
Rebel group is said to have taken up army base
The rebel group ONLF in Ogaden claims to have taken up an army base in Malqaqa and killed 94 soldiers. The government refutes the information and says that 59 rebels were killed in connection with the attack.
Government coalition wins big in elections
The EPRDF wins a major victory in federal and regional elections. The opposition alliance Medrek receives a single mandate, and one goes to an independent candidate in the national election. EPRDF secures 499 of the mandate and 46 goes to Allied regional parties: Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP, 24 seats), Benishangul-Gumuz People’s Democratic Party (BGPDP, 9), Afaras National Democratic Party (ANDP, 8) GPUDM, 3), Amharas National Democratic Movement (ANDM, 1), Harari’s National Alliance (HNL, 1). In the regional elections, the EPRDF and its allies take all but one of a total of 1,904 eligible seats.
Hundreds of oppositionists are reportedly arrested
The opposition says more than 200 of their supporters have been arrested by police for the purpose of preventing demonstrations against the government.