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Ethiopia: Ethiopia Art / Culture Profile



Ethiopia has the second highest population in Africa (after Nigeria), with 83 million people. This population comprises many different ethnic groups, including the Oromo, Amhara, Tigrai, Sidamo and Somali people.

The culture of Ethiopia is very multi-faceted, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the country; see the articles on the Ethnic groups of Ethiopia for details of each group. Over 70 different languages are spoken across the country. Amharic/Amharigna is used as the language of communication in many parts of the country and also by the government. Oromifa/Oromigna is the second most widely-spoken language. From secondary-school level upwards, English is used as the language of education.

Because of the country’s complex history, its languages fall across four classification types – Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilotic.

Very old Christian and Islamic religions

Christianity came to Ethiopia in the fourth century and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church plays an important part in the country’s culture, festivals and visual arts.

Islam was introduced in the seventh century and is now practised by about one-third of Ethiopians, mostly in eastern regions. To reflect the importance of Islam in some areas of the country, major Islamic festivals (such as Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha) are also observed as holidays.

Ethiopian music

Part a lot of traditional customs, respect (particularly of one's elders) is very significant. In Ethiopian culture it is customary to rise up out of one's seat or give up one's bed for an older friend or family member, even if they may be just a year older. As Donald Levine notes about customs in the southern Amhara Region:

As any minute at this time as the child is capable of considerate he is made aware that all individuals older than he is, and all those in higher social positions, must be shown the majority fastidious deference. Not to do so is a sign of being balage ("rude"), a trait which is corrected by harsh physical punishment.


Traditional clothes in Ethiopia are made from cloth called habesha kemis , which is made of cotton woven together in long strips. These strips are again sewn together. Sometimes shiny threads are woven into the fabric for an elegant result (see upper left photo). It takes about two to three weeks to make enough cloth for one dress. The bottom of the shirt may be ornamented with patterns.

Men wear pants and a knee-long shirt with a white collar, and perhaps a sweater. Men often wear knee high socks, while women may not wear socks at all. Men inclunding women wear shawls, the neTela (see lower left photo). The shawls are worn in a different style for different occasions. At the same time as going to church, women cover their hair with them and pull the upper ends of the shawl about their shoulders reproducing a cross (meskelya), with the shiny threads appearing at the edge. During funerals, the shawl is worn so the shiny threads appear at the bottom (madegdeg). Women's dresses are called habesha qemis.

The dresses are usually white with some color above the lower hem. Bracelets and necklaces from silver and gold are worn on arms and feet to complete the look. A variety of designer dinner dresses combinging traditional fabric with modern style are presently worn by some ladies in the cities. These traditional clothes are still worn on a day-to-day-basis in the countryside. In cities and towns, western clothes are popular, though on appropriate occasions, such as New Time(Enkutatash), Christmas (Genna) or weddings, some wear traditional clothes.

Often, a woman will cover her chief with a shash, a cloth that is tied at the neck. Shama and kuta, gauze-like white fabrics, are often used. This is common part both Muslim and Christian women. Part the latter, elderly women will wear a sash on a day-to-day basis, while other women only wear a sash while attending church.


Ethiopian cuisine consists of various vegetable or meat side dishes and entrees, often prepared as a wat or thick stew. One or additional servings of wat are placed upon a piece of injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is 50 cm (20 inches) in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour. One does not eat with utensils, but instead uses injera (always with the right hand) to scoop up the entrees and side dishes. Traditional Ethiopian food does not use any pork or seafood (aside from fish), as most Ethiopians have historically adhered to Islam, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, or Judaism, all of which prohibit eating pork. Additionally, throughout a given year, Orthodox Christians observe numerous fasts (such as Lent), during which food is prepared without any meat or dairy products. An extra food eaten in Ethiopia is Doro Wat which is chicken stew with hard boiled eggs.


Ethiopia's most popular sport is track and field, in which they have won a lot of medals in the Olympic Games. Soccer, despite lack of success by the national team, is loved by a significant part of the people.


The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic, a Semitic language which is spoken by about 27 million people (2.7 million expatriate). Amharic is written with the Ge'ez script, which derives its name from the ancient Semitic language of the same name. The Ge'ez language is extinct but is still in liturgical use by the Beta Israel Jewish community and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The second major language in Ethiopia is the Oromo language, a Cushitic language spoken by about 30% of the people. The third major language in Ethiopia is (Tigrayna language) mostly spoken in northern Ethiopia the national of Tigray. Tigray is no longer a national of Ethiopia but a whole different country. Additionally, most villagers are accustomed to their ethnical languages over the official Amharic language.