Meaningful Things That Show the Awesome Ethiopian Culture

ethiopian woman wearing habesha kemis

Ethiopian culture has a long history and colors. A traveler visiting Ethiopia cannot fail to be impressed by the color and individuality of its cultures and traditions. Whether in the bustle of the town or the tranquillity of the countryside, there is a strong sense of identity and pride that is visible in all aspects of life.

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, Ethiopian 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.

Religion plays a guiding role in the life of Ethiopia’s peoples with a myriad of religions being practiced in the country, from Christianity to Islam to animistic beliefs. Accompanying these religions is a wealth of festivals that create high points in otherwise regular and well-ordered lives

Food is also pivotal to the Ethiopian lifestyle, whether it be the focal point of a communal gathering or the daily challenge to obtain enough food to be comfortable. There is a unique menu of food and drink which makes the most of sometimes scarce resources. Likewise, transport is a pragmatic mixture of the mechanical and the animal which often makes for an interesting spectacle on the street!

Music, dance, and imagery are everywhere. The churches are filled with a special brand of picturesque images of color and tradition, while itinerant musicians can be found in every town and village, lightening the mood and providing accompaniment for energetic dances. No matter how urban or rural the community, the people dress with style and pride in their white or embroidered wraps, contrasting with the opulent colors worn by the priests in their long robes holding sparkling umbrellas.

Here are the things that portray Ethiopian culture.

ethiopian woman wearing habesha kemis

Dressing and Ethiopian Culture

Ethiopian culture dress is quite different from the multi-colored traditions of people in West Africa for example. It also varies greatly according to the tribes and areas concerned. It is in fact very much different from the rest of African culture, including the horn of Africa. Ethiopian culture is portrayed in dressing and each ethnic group has its own unique styles

The Amhara people, who form the dominant group on the high central plateau, wear predominantly white.  The men wear tunics or shawls worn over the shoulders while white dresses and wraps are worn by women.

Special occasions see the best-embroidered dresses being paraded by the ladies, accompanied by complex hairstyles and jewelry.

Amid the relative quietness or minimalism of the national costume, the brightly colored robes of the many priests stand out, often accompanied in public ceremonies by large embroidered parasols that sparkle in the sunshine with their gold and silver threads.

In other parts of Ethiopia, particularly the southern tribes in the Rift Valley, the dress is much more primitive and basic. The men of the Surma tribe, for example, still wear nothing apart from a cloth that is knotted over one shoulder and hangs down over the body. Scarification is a common feature of many of the lowland tribes.

While the national dress is displayed at religious festivals and weddings, more day-to-day outfits include simple skirts, shirts, and trousers, some of them hand-outs from international charities.

Indeed, western attire is more commonly being worn, particularly in urban areas where young Ethiopians like to follow the latest fashions.  A premier league football shirt is a highly coveted item!

The Oromos and people in south Ethiopia have their own clothing that is vibrant and colorful.

These days, due to the effect of globalism, Ethiopian culture clothes are worn in cultural days or for special occasions.

  • Dressing and Ethiopian Culture

Painting and Ethiopian culture

Yet, another unique feature of Ethiopian culture is a simple style of painting that is found in every church and other important locations. This style seems to have remained almost unchanged for centuries. Figures are drawn in two dimensions, almost cartoon-like in their direct and simplistic portrayal, with strong colors and clear lines. The almond-shaped eyes are a particularly appealing characteristic.

Church painting in Ethiopia serves a very real purpose, with both biblical and more localized religious stories being portrayed clearly and simply to inform illiterate people of their traditions and heritage. European medieval imagery is a clear comparison here.

One modern name is clearly prominent in the world of Ethiopian painting today. Afework Tekle has an international reputation as an artist of immense standing. His works, though clearly based in an Ethiopian tradition, have a new and creative dynamism that is immediate of universal appeal. His vibrant paintings, many of them on very large canvases, are to be seen throughout Ethiopia in museums and galleries as well as on postage stamps and postcards.

  • Painting and Ethiopian culture
Ethiopia coffee -

Food and Drink and Ethiopian Culture

Ethiopia is an individual in its food and drink as it is in so many other aspects of daily life. Even though the menu choice is not particularly wide, the Ethiopian people delight in sharing what they have with Habesha and foreigners alike.

While the outside world may think famine is a permanent concern in Ethiopia, the majority of the country is able to secure their daily sustenance, either through growing their own food or exchanging goods at the market.

The staple fare of the Ethiopian home is injera, a pancake usually made from a locally grown cereal called t’ef which is found only in Ethiopia. The t’ef batter is fermented for three days before being cooked over a large open wood fire. A typical meal will consist of large injera, the size of a round coffee table, on which other dishes are placed such as boiled vegetables, spicy sauces, milk curds, and on special days, chicken, beef, lamb or fish.

The most commonly found dish is called shiro wat (‘wat’ means sauce or stew) which is made from chickpeas and is eaten at any meal of the day. The national dish is doro wat which consists of pieces of chicken and hard-boiled eggs served in a hot sauce made with a spice called berbera (the predominant flavoring in Ethiopia). Doro wat is usually reserved for special occasions, particularly Ethiopian New Year. More affluent households will enjoy meat dishes such as ‘tibs’ (fried lamb) while on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the fasting season, only animal-product-free dishes will be consumed by most Orthodox Christians.

A rather unusual Ethiopian delicacy is raw steak, which is eaten at special occasions such as religious ceremonies and weddings.  So much raw meat is eaten by Ethiopians that occasionally tablets have to be taken to kill off worms in their digestive system!

Usually, the women in the house prepare the food. When it’s ready, the master of the house sits down to eat first along with any guests present, followed by any other adults, and then the children last. Bread is a common accompaniment in many areas.

The national drink is coffee, originating in Ethiopia and providing one of the major exports of the country. Every meal will where possible, conclude or commence with the coffee ceremony, when green coffee beans are washed, roasted, ground, and boiled in water; all this taking place on a bed of fresh grass and in front of the family or guests.

Many people say that coffee served in an Ethiopian home is the best they have experienced. Shai (tea) is also popular in Ethiopia, and is usually served in small glasses with no milk and plenty of sugar,. Bottled water, Pepsi and Mirinda (fizzy orange) are found everywhere and are sometimes consumed in the home. T’eller is a ubiquitous and inexpensive local brown beer with a unique flavor found in the many t’eller bets in every village.

T’eller bets are usually someone’s home (they are marked by an upturned tin can on a pole outside the home) and, given most Ethiopian homes have only one or two rooms, you will often find children interspersed with beer-drinking men! T’ej is more often reserved for special occasions and is a potent and cloudy honey-wine.
Ethiopians love to invite visitors into their home for coffee ceremonies, injera and sometimes t’eller

  • Food and Drink and Ethiopian Culture

Music and Dance and Ethiopian Culture

St. Yared is the Ethiopian patron saint of church music and in every church, music serves to give atmosphere to the ritual and to heighten the personal experience. Every church has its drums, covered with decorated material, and its sistra, metal rattles that date back hundreds of years. These accompany the chanting of the priests, along with the beating of the prayer sticks and the clapping of hands.

Out in the community, musical instruments play a social and entertaining role. The single-stringed Masenko is played by minstrels who sing of life around them and invent calypso-like, topical verses on the spot. The Kirar is a lyre-like plucked instrument with 5 or 6 strings while the Begenna is the portable harp.

Up in the hills, boys are shepherds looking after cattle and sheep whilst playing on the Washint, a simple reed flute played with a single hand.

Ethiopian people know and love their folk songs. Singing is high pitched and shrill and frequently accompanied by exciting ululation, especially at weddings and other joyful occasions.

In addition to more traditional styles, Ethiopians also listen to popular music where the country boasts a whole host of contemporary artists, some of whom are internationally recognized such as Gigi.

Mainstream music from the West has also infiltrated Ethiopian culture where you can hear Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber alongside Ethiopia’s man of the moment Teddy Afro on the radio!

No joyous occasion passes without the Ethiopians indulging in their unique form of dancing. Each ethnic group has its own individual style of dancing (and costume that accompanies it) to match their own particular form of music.

In the north of Ethiopia, people dance mainly with their upper body, moving their head, neck, shoulder, and chest to the rhythm.  As you move further down the country, however, gradually more of the lower body is incorporated into the dance, for example, the waist and legs.

  • Music and Dance and Ethiopian Culture
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Social Network and Ethiopian Culture

In Ethiopia, Iddirs are relatively recent indigenous voluntary mutual help associations that can be found through almost all the country, both in rural and urban settings. These organizations have been originally created to take care of the activities linked to the burial ceremonies and to support their members during the time of the funeral. Some of them have progressively expanded their spectrum of activities and can now get involved to help members facing different shocks, acting as a “multifunctional institution of self-help and solidarity.

There are several types of Iddirs. The number of members, the composition, the functions, and the organization can differ from an Iddir to another. All these associations are however based on a voluntary mutual agreement between community members in order to collaborate when one of them or one of their direct relatives faces a serious shock. They request therefore a high-level of participation from their members

Social Network and Ethiopian Culture

Every day and Ethiopian Culture

Ethiopian greetings are courteous and somewhat formal the most common form of greeting is a handshake with direct eye contact the handshake is generally much lighter than in Western cultures.

After a close personal relationship has been established people of the same sex may kiss three times on the cheeks across genders, men should wait to see if a woman extends her hand greetings should never be rushed. Take time to inquire about the person’s family, health, job, etc. People are addressed with their honorific title and their first name.

“Ato”, “Woizero”, and “Woizrity” are used to address a man, married woman, and unmarried woman respectively. Elders should be greeted first. It is customary to bow when introduced to someone who is obviously older or has more senior position children will often be seen doing so.

Every day and Ethiopian Culture

Gift Giving Etiquette and Ethiopian Culture

Gifts are very much known in Ethiopian society. Gifts may be given to celebrate events of significance or religious occasions since Ethiopia is an extremely poor country, expensive gifts are not the norm in fact, and giving a gift that is too expensive may be viewed negatively it may be seen as an attempt to garner influence or it may embarrass the recipient as they will not be able to match it in kind. If you are invited to an Ethiopian home, bring pastries, fruit, or flowers to the host. That is much used here. A small gift for the children is always appreciated.

Do not bring alcohol unless you know that your host drinks.

Gift Giving Etiquette and Ethiopian Culture

Communication Style and Ethiopian Culture

Ethiopians can be very sensitive when it comes to communication. Since they have only recently begun working with foreigners in business situations, they are still getting used to new ways of doing business and communicating. As a general rule, they are humble and respect that quality in others. They generally speak in soft tones. Loud voices are seen as too aggressive. Ethiopians pride themselves on their eloquent speaking style and expect others to speak clearly and use a metaphor, allusion, and witty innuendos. They often use exaggerated phrases to emphasize a point.

As a rule, Ethiopians tend to be non-confrontational and offer what they believe is the expected response rather than say something that might embarrass another. Honour and dignity are crucial to Ethiopians and they will go out of their way to keep from doing something that could bring shame to another person. Therefore, it is important to treat your Ethiopian business colleagues with the utmost professionalism and never do anything that would make them lose dignity and respect.

Communication Style and Ethiopian Culture


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. Like any other ancient land, Ethiopian has its own complex social structure and everyday Ethiopian culture.

These days the traditional clothing culture seems to have been washed away and only its effects are left. You will usually experience Ethiopian culture on special occasions and yearly celebrations.

Everyday culture is still strong in the country. You will find Ethiopians being very affectionate Ethiopian culture encourages eating together, having fun together, and celebrating together. Even the Ider system is about sharing money and banking together.

If you have no experience in Ethiopia, Ethiopia is one of the friendliest countries, especially for visitors. If you plan to experience the Ethiopian culture, plan to visit cultural restaurants, cultural places, or join a coffee ceremony.

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