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Ethiopians… a diverse culture

cultureETHIOPIA, like many other Africa 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, galling into four main language groups: Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan. There are 200 different dialects. The Semitic languages of Ethiopia are related to both Hebrew and Arabic, and derived from Ge’ez the ecclesiastical language. The principle Semitic language spoken in the north-west and central part of the country is Amharic, which is also the official language of the modern state. Other main languages are Tigrigna, Gumuz, Berta and Anuak.  The Tigrigna and Amharic- speaking people of the north of the country are mainly agriculturalists, tilling the soil with ox-drawn ploughs and growing teff (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 mainly engaged in agriculture and, in the more arid areas, cattle- breeding. The Somali, also pastoral nomads, gorge are living in hot and arid bush country, while the Afar, semi-nomads, and 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 clay discs that the women wear inserted in a slit in their lower lips.

The people of Ethiopia wear many different types of clothing. The traditional dress of the Christian highland people has traditionally been of white cotton cloth. Since the time of emperor Tewodros II (mid-1800s) men have worn long, jodhpur-like trousers, a tight-fitting shirt and a shamma (loose warp). The Muslims of Harar, by contrasts, wear very colorful dress, the men in shortish trousers and a colored wrap and the women in fine dresses of red, purple and black.

The lowland Somali and afar wear long, brightly colored cotton wraps, and 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 group live - highlanders, for instance use heavy cloth capes and wrap-around 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 much of the countryside. National dress is usually worn for festivals when street and meeting places are transformed into a sea of white as finely woven cotton dresses, wraps decorated with colored 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 Meskal, attire themselves in lions’ manes of baboon - skin head - dresses, carrying spears and hippo-hide shields and ride down to the main city squares to participate in the parades. Ethiopia are justifiable proud of their range of the traditional costumes. The most obvious identification of the different groups is in the jewelry, the hair styles and the embroidery of their clothes. The women of Amahra and Tigray wear dozens of plaits (sheruba), tightly bridled 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 headgear in place. Arsi women have fringes and short, bobbed hair. Bale girls have the same, but cover their heads shaved jewelry in silver and gold with amber or glass beads is worn by both Muslims and Christians.

Heavy brass, copper and ivory bracelets and anklets are also worn, Ethiopia also has a rich tradition of both secular and religious music, singing, and dancing, as well as religious festivals and ceremonies surrounding life’s milestones-birth, marriage and death.

Traditional musical instrument 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 negrait (kettledrum), played with sticks, the kebero, played with the hands and the atamo, tapped with the fingers or palm. Other instruments includes the begena, a huge, multi- stringed lute often referred to as the Harp of David; the tsinatseil, or sistrum, which is used in church music; the meleket; a long trumpet without finger holes, and the embilta, a large, simple, one-note flute used on ceremonial occasions.


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