Ethiopia has a diverse mix of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. It is a country with more than 80 different ethnic groups each with its own language, culture, custom and tradition. One of the most significant areas of Ethiopian culture is its literature, which is represented predominantly by translations from ancient Greek and Hebrew religious texts into the ancient language Ge’ez, modern Amharic and Tigrigna languages.
Ge’ez is one of the most ancient languages in the world and is still used today by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has its own unique customs and traditions, which have been influenced by Judaism.
The Tigrayans’ history and culture is derived from the Aksumite Kingdom tradition and culture whereas the history and culture of the Amhara people is derived from the post Aksumite imperial reign of Menelik II and Haile Selassie.
In Ethiopia, men and women have clearly defined roles. Traditionally men are responsible for providing for the family and for dealing with family contact outside the home whereas women are responsible for domestic work and looking after the children.
Parents are stricter with their daughters than their sons; often parents give more freedom to males than females. The traditional view was men neither cook nor do shopping because housework tends to be women’s job. This view continues to be held in many areas of the country.
Although many people continue to follow these traditional roles, life is constantly evolving including the role of men and women. This can be seen particularly true in urban areas where women are beginning to take a major role in all areas of employment and men are beginning to take a greater role in domestic life.
The Ethiopian traditional costume is made of woven cotton. Ethiopian men and women wear this traditional costume called gabbi or Netella. Women often wear dresses (Kemis) and netella with borders of coloured embroidered woven crosses, but other designs are also used.
Other ethnic groups and tribes in the south and west of the country wear different costumes that reflect their own traditions. Some tribes partially cover their body with leather but others do not wear any clothes at all, merely decorating their faces and bodies with distinctive images.
The Ethiopian national dish is called wat. It is a hot spicy stew accompanied by injera (traditional large spongy pancake made of teff flour and water). Teff is unique to the country and is grown on the Ethiopian highlands. There are many varieties of wat, e.g. chicken, beef, lamb, vegetables, lentils, and ground split peas stewed with hot spice called berbere.
Berbere is made of dried red hot pepper, herbs, spices, dried onions, dried garlic and salt ingredients. Wat is served by placing it on top of the injera which is served in a mesob (large basket tray). The food is eaten with fingers by tearing off a piece of injera and dipping it in the wat.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products (i.e. egg, butter, milk, and cheese) on Wednesdays and Fridays except the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, the Fast of the Prophets, the fast of Nineveh, Lent, the Fast of the Apostles and the fast of the Holy Virgin Mary. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church belief, the faithful must abstain from eating meat and diary products to attain forgiveness of sins committed during the year, and undergo a rigorous schedule of prayers and atonement.
Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit, varieties of vegetable stew accompanied byinjera and/or bread are only eaten during fasting days. Meat and diary products are only eaten on feasting days i.e. Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and at all other times. Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, Jews and Muslims do not eat pork as it forbidden by their religious beliefs.
The favourite drink of many Ethiopians is bunna (coffee). Bunna is drunk in Ethiopia in a unique and traditional way known as a “coffee ceremony“. First the coffee is roasted, then ground and placed in a Jebena (coffee pot) with boiling water. When ready it is then served to people in little cups, up to three times per ceremony.
Other locally produced beverages are tella and tej, which are served and drunk on major religious festivals, Saints Days and weddings. Tella and tej are also sold by numerous designated commercial houses all over the country.