Ethiopia is truly a Land of discovery - brilliant and beautiful, secretive, mysterious and extraordinary. Above all things, it is a country of great antiquity, with a culture and traditions dating back more than 3,000 years. The traveler in Ethiopia makes a journey through time, transported by beautiful monuments and the ruins of edifices built long centuries ago.

Ethiopia , like many other African 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 - an astonishing 83, falling into four main language groups: Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan. There are 200 different dialects.


Amhara People

According to their traditions they trace their roots to Menelik I, the child born of the queen of Sheba and King Solomon.  It is thought that the Sabaean (Sheban) people began to settle on the west coast of the Red Sea , from their home in southern Arabia , about 1000 BC.  Menelik I was the first of the Solomonic line of rulers of Ethiopia that ended only with the deposing of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

By about 1500 BC their civilization became the Axum Empire, based on a mixture of the early Sabaean culture and the prior Cushitic culture.  The ruins of the ancient city of Axum can still be seen in Tigray Province .  Except for a few notable exceptions, the Amhara have been the dominant people group in Ethiopia history.  The strength of their culture is shown in this influence though modern Ethiopia .AMHARA PEOPLE

The Amhara features are similar to the southern Arabs, olive to brown skin,with Caucasian features and dark circles around the eyes.  The name comes from the word amari , meaning "pleasing, agreeable, beautiful and gracious."

Amharic, the language of the Amhara, shows its Semitic origin both in its alphabet and words shared with Hebrew and Arabic.  Amharic is descended from Ge'ez , a language extinct since the middle ages.  Ge'ez developed from the original Sabaean language, changing through the influence of the non-Semitic languages of the earlier peoples.  The Bible is still read in Ge'ez in the Coptic Church.  A modern translation is available now in Amharic.

Settlements are typically built on or near hilltops, as protection against flooding.  Farms are terraced on the hillsides to prevent erosion and hold water for crops.  The "hamlet" is usually matrilineal, with sons building their homes in the father's location.

Girls normally marry at age 14, and the groom is three to five years older.  Most marriages are negotiated by the two families, with a civil ceremony sealing the contract.  A priest may be present.  Divorce is allowed and must also be negotiated.  There is also a "temporary marriage," by oral contract before witnesses.  The woman is paid housekeeper's wages, and is not eligible for inheritance, but children of the marriage are legally recognized and qualify for inheritance.  Priests may marry but not eligible for divorce or remarriage. Children are breastfed for about two years.  Children receive little discipline until about age five to seven , but thereafter are socialized with authoritarian discipline.  Boys herd cows and sheep and girls assist their mothers in watching babies and gathering wood.

Though their life is hard, the Amhara are proud people, proud of their ethnicity, their religion, their special place in the world.  Their culture is strong, developed over many centuries, and it has withstood the incursions of outside governments and religions.



The Tigray

TIGRAY WOMENThe women of Tigray wear dozens of plaits (shuruba) tightly braided to the head and fuzzing out at the shoulders. Young children often have their heads shaved, except for a tuft or a small tail of plaits, which are left so that if God calls them 'He will have a handle by which to lift them up to Heaven'.


Fascinating People

The Lower Omo is home to a remarkable mix of small, contrasting ethnic groups not only the Bume and OMOKonso, but also the Gelebe, the Bodi, the Mursi, the Surma, the Arbore, and the Hamer, to name but a few. Lifestyles are as varied as the tribes themselves. Lacking any material, culture and artifacts common to other cultures, these tribes find unique ways in which to express their artistic impulses. Both the Surma and the Karo, for example, are experts at body painting, using clays and locally available vegetable pigments to trace fantastic patterns on each other's faces, chests, arms, and legs. These designs are created purely for fun and aesthetic effect, each artist vying to outdo his fellows.

The South People

The Southern region comprises hundreds of ethnic groups. The region of the south of Konso and Yabello is inhabited by the Konso people. Except for trading with the neighbouring Borena for salt or cowrie shells, outside influence had, until recently, virtually passed by the Konso. The cornerstone of Konso culture, however, is a highly specialized and successful agricultural economy that, through terracing buttressed with stone, enable them to extract a productive living from the none-too-fertile hills and valleys that surround them.

The Anuak

ANUAK WOMENAnuak people are found in the Gambella region. The indigenous Anuak people are mainly fishermen in this region, and the crops they do grow such as: sorghum does not reach their full potential because of the extremely basic methods employed. There are few large villages, as people prefer instead to group together around a mango grove in the extended family compound of no more than five or six huts.

The Oromo

Several groups of people in East Africa are very closely related to the Oromo. For instance, the Somalis are similar in appearance, language, and culture. Other Cushitic-speaking groups living in the same areas that are closely related to the Oromo are Konso, Afar, Sidama, Kambata, Darassa, Agaw, Saho, and Baja. OROMO WOMWN

Language: Besides their own language, Oromo, many also speak the national language of Ethiopia , Amharic, and some speak English. The Oromo nation has a single common mother tongue and basic common culture. The Oromo language, afaan Oromoo or Oromiffa, belongs to the eastern Kushitic group of languages and is the most extensive of the forty or so Kushitic languages. The Oromo language is closely related to Konso (with more than fifty percent of the words in common), closely related to Somali, and distantly related to Afar and Saho.

Arts: The Oromo people also are rich in oral folklore, tradition, music and art. Decorations of stone bowls from Zimbabwe include pictures of cattle with long "lyre-shaped" horns such as raised by Oromo. Although much of Oromo culture and traditions have survived harsh suppression, much has also been forgotten and lost, artifacts have been destroyed. The Oromo are discouraged from developing their culture and art.

Literacy: Printed material in Oromiffa include the Bible, religious and non-religious songs, dictionaries, short stories, proverbs, poems, school books, grammar, etc. The Bible itself was translated into Oromiffa in Sabean script about a century ago by a freed Oromo slave called Onesimos Nasib, alias Hiikaa, (Gustave, 1978).

The Oromo have an extraordinarily rich heritage of proverbs, stories, songs, and riddles. They have very comprehensive plant and animal names. The various customs pertaining to marriage, paternity, and dress have elaborate descriptions.

Marriage: Marriage among the Oromo occurs only between different clans. Clans are determined by seven levels of common ancestors. For this reason an Oromo typically can trace at least seven of her/his forefathers. Some can trace more than seventeen.

In Ethiopia 's Oromo culture,  Irrecha, which means prayer and thanksgiving to God is an Oromo pilgrimage. It is an event that is celebrated by almost all the Oromo people annually in October at a lake called Arsadi in the town of Debre Zeit in Oromia region.

A popular saying among Oromos is “Waqa nu uumetti amanna”, which means we believe in the God that created us.  The Irrecha celebration takes place at the end of the rainy season, as a form of thanksgiving to God for his mercy and generosity and to ask for similar blessings in the coming rainy season.

In Oromo tradition, God created the universe (Bishan walaabu). Thereafter, he divided the universe into two; earth (Lafa) and the sky (Sami). Then God divided the earth into two: land (Dachee) and water (Bishan). Then he divided the sky into three; the sun (Aduu), the stars (Urjii) and the moon  (Ji'a). Oromos call these five big creations as the five big division of nature (Yayyaba  shanan).  Accordingly Oromos base their activities on this number. For instance, Oromo Geda (the administration system) is divided into five units, with arbitration conducted in five stages. Equally, a house is partitioned into five rooms.


The Gurage

Like the Amharas, the gurage are a Semitic people who trace their origins to southern Arabia . For centuries, Gurageland's economy has centered on the hoe civilization of Enset, a false banana plant. Not surprisingly, the gurage enjoy a reputation as Ethiopian's hardest working people. They have lived in their highland villages for over 600 years, when their Semitic ancestors intermarried with Sidamo tribes. The Gurage maintained a tenuous relationship with the Emperors of Ethiopia – sometimes allies, sometimes enemies. Not till 1889 did the Ethiopian Emperor conquer the Gurage. They lived little better than serfs, required to.

The Gurage are mostly Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, but also practice Islam, Roman Catholicism and traditional religious beliefs. Both Christianity and Islam were outside religions imposed on the Gurage by Invasion. Today a Gurage Christian or Muslim could just as easily, also observe rituals to honor Waq, the Gurage sky God. Earth shrines to Waq are common outside of villages. The Fuga people, a class of hunters and artisans, are considered to hold the key to traditional rituals. Their reputed power of magic and sorcery are greatly feared. The Fuga are barred from working the soil because they are believed.

The ensete or so called “false Banana” is at the heart of Gurage daily life. This fact fleshy, coarse fruit provides both a staple food and practical uses ranging from roof insulation to a sort of Saran warp. Ensete is believed to cure all illnesses and several species of the plant are usually grown next to Gurage houses, the plant able to thrive with little cultivation, staves off famine and is a traditional offering to the Gurage god in charge of human welfare. The ensete diet repulses most Amharas and helped keep the Italians away from Gurageland during their war time occupation of Ethiopia .

The Gurage speak a Semitic Language called Guragina, a distant relative of Amharic, Guragina spoken in several different dialects based on tribe and geography. Each dialect is unique to its speakers. Amharic, Sidamo, a language native to GUrage territory, and Arabic have all influenced Guragina. But compared with Amharic, the language has not been well studied. One obstacle: the absence of a written language. Perhaps mindful of comparisons with Amahric, the Gurage have an informal taboo on using words that are similar to Amharic words particularly those related to sex.


The Afar

The Afar, most of whom occupy one of the most inhospitable desert or semi-desert areas in the world, AFAR MANhave long been regarded as a fierce and warlike people. They are certainly proud and individualistic, and somehow manage to eke a living out of the challenging wilderness in which many of them live. The majority of the Afar are semi-nomadic pastoralists, but a minority have settled, notably those in the Aussa oasis. Almost all are Muslims, and are organized into confederacies, tribes, and clans. The nomads live in small, isolated groups with the camel as their beast of burden, and keep sheep, goats, and cattle.