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Ethiopia’s people and 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. 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. Regarding the country’s nations and nationalities, which is estimated to be around 80 million, the number of ethnic Oromo accounts about 25.5 million (34.5 %) while Amhara is 19.8 million (26.9%), Somali 4.5 million (6.2 %),Tigre 4.4 million (6.1%). The Semitic  languages of Ethiopia are related to both Hebrew and Arabic, and derive from  Ge'ez, the ecclesiastical language.

Traditional Clothes

Traditional dress, though often now supplanted by Western attire, may still be seen throughout much  of the countryside. National dress is usually worn for festivals, when streets  and meeting-places are transformed into a sea of white as finely woven cotton dresses, wraps decorated with coloured 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 Maskal, attire themselves in lions' manes or baboon-skin headdresses and, carrying hippo-hide spears and  shields, ride down to the main city squares to participate in the  parades.

Languages

Ethiopia has many indigenous languages (some 84 according to the Ethnologue, 77 according to the 1994 census), most of them Afro-Asiatic (Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic), as well as some that are Nilo-Saharan.

Charles Ferguson proposed the Ethiopian Language Area, characterized by shared grammatical and phonological features (1976). This language area includes the Afro-Asiatic languages of Ethiopia, not the Nilo-Saharan languages. More recently, Mauro Tosco has questioned the validity of Ferguson's original proposal (2000). There is still no unanimity among scholars on this point, but Tosco has at least weakened Ferguson's original claim.

English is the most widely spoken foreign language and is the medium of instruction in secondary schools and universities. Amharic was the language of primary school instruction, but has been replaced in many areas by local languages such as Oromifa and Tigrinya.

After the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, the new constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia granted all ethnic groups the right to develop their languages and to establish mother tongue primary education systems. This is a marked change to the language policies of previous governments in Ethiopia.

Music & Dance

Traditional musical  instruments 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 negarit (kettledrum), played with sticks, the kebero, played with  the hands, and the atamo, tapped with the fingers or palm.

Other instruments include the begena, a huge, multi-stringed lyre often  referred to as the Harp of David; the tsinatseil, or sistrum, which is used in church music; the meleket, a long trumpet without fingerholes,  and the embilta, a large, simple, one-note flute used on ceremonial occasions.

Though often simply  made, the massinko can, in the hands of an expert musician, produces a  wide variety of melodies. It is often played by wandering minstrels,particularly near eating houses, where the musicians entertain the diners. The rousing  rhythms of the negarit were used in times gone by to accompany important  proclamations, and chiefs on the march would be preceded by as many as 30 men,  each beating a negarit carried on a donkey. The tiny atamo is most  frequently played at weddings and festivals, setting the rhythmic beat of folk  songs and dances.
Modern-style bands have come into existence in recent decades, and there are noted Ethiopian jazz musicians.

Cuisine (traditional food)

The cuisine of Ethiopia is one of the world's best kept secrets. Ethiopian food is a spicy mix of vegetable and lentil stews and slow simmered meats. This country in East Africa has been called the "Land of Bread and Honey."

Ethiopia, once known as Abyssinia, is a place of high plateaus and low-lying plains. The northern high country is populated mainly by Christians, while the plains are home to Muslims and animists. Dietary restrictions in religions have given rise to a wide variety of both meat and vegetarian dishes.

While most Ethiopian cuisine is indigenous, certain ingredients such as red chilies, ginger, and spices have enriched its flavors. Grains like millet, sorghum, wheat and ancient teff form the basic breadstuffs of the diet. Most farming in Ethiopia is subsistence, so the vegetables and animals are often grown and raised at home. The ancient practice of beekeeping produces exquisite honey. It is fermented to make tej, a honey wine.

Essential components of Ethiopian cooking are injera bread, berbere, a spicy red pepper paste, and niter kibbeh, a spice-infused clarified butter. Most foods have a stewy consistency. Alicha indicates a mild stew. Wats are stews with the spicy flavor of berberé.

An essential spice in Ethiopian cooking is fenugreek. This hard seed gives a unique flavor to Ethiopian food. Desserts are not really served in Ethiopia, but iab, like a mixture of cottage cheese and yogurt, is traditionally the final course of a meal.

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