Ethiopia is a mosaic of diverse people who live peacefully, side-by-side speaking a multitude of different tongues, practicing different religions and customs, and celebrating a rich and eclectic history.
76.5 million (July 2007 est.)
0-14 years: 43.4% (male 16,657,155/female 16,553,812)
15-64 years: 53.8% (male 20,558,026/female 20,639,076)
65 years and over: 2.7% (male 953,832/female 1,149,986) (2007 est.)
Population growth rate:
2.272% (2007 est.)
37.39 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
14.67 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Amharic (official), Oromiffa, Tigrigna, Somaligna, Sidamgna, Wolaitigna, Afarigna, Hadiyigna (among 80 other languages spoken). Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, while English, French and Italian are widely spoken, especially in business and academic circles. In fact, there are over 80 different languages with 200 dialects spoken around the country. The many languages can be broken down into four main groups: Semitic, Hametic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan.
The Semitic languages are related to both Hebrew and Arabic. They are mostly spoke in the Northern and Central parts of the country. The principal Semitic language is Amharic. The Hametic languages are found mainly in the East, West, and South. Of this group, Oromiffa is the predominant language. The Omotic group of languages are spoken in the Southwest and have been given that name in recent years because they are spoken in the general area of the Omo River. Finally, the Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken in a wide area along the Sudan frontier.
Some of the written languages use the Ge’ez alphabet, the language of the ancient Axumite kingdom. As a matter of fact, Ge’ez is the only indigenous written language in all of Africa. Today some of the written languages in Ethiopia are using the Latin alphabet.
There are more than 78 ethnic groups in Ethiopia, with 69% of them found in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ State.
Highest population percentages (1994 census): Oromo, 32%; Amhara, 30%; Tigray, 6%; Somali, 6%; Guragie, 4%; Sidama, 3%; Wolaita, 2%; Afar, 2%; Hadiya, 2%; and Gamo, 1%.
The religions in Ethiopia are predominantly Ethiopian Orthodox (or Monophysite Christianity) and Islam. Other religions that are also practiced include Judaism and Animism. The Animist faith is found mainly in southern regions of Ethiopia. Further south in Somali and surrounding areas, Islam is practiced. Christianity is more common in the northern and central parts of Ethiopia, where Judaism and Islam can be found as well.
People usually greet each other by bowing heads. A greeting in Ethiopia can be a long and lively process- the longer the greeting, the closer the friends. Another custom is to kiss the cheek of your friend three times when you greet them.
The coffee ceremony is a sacred tradition in Ethiopia, where the beverage originated and is an integral part of the Ethiopian lifestyle. Performing the ceremony is almost a requirement when you have a visitor at any time of the day. The special coffee ceremony can take up to a few hours. The beans are roasted by hand and then ground in a special way. The coffee is prepared in a special pot and poured into a special cup. Of course, food is prepared with the coffee, practically making a full meal of the affair. In most parts of Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony takes place three times per day– in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.
The Ethiopian Year is full of colorful festivals and both religious and secular holidays.
September 11: New Year
September 27: Maskal Day (Finding of the True Cross)
January 7: Christmas
January 19: Timkat (Epiphany)
February 8: (date varies) Ramadan
March 2: Battle of Adwa
April 17: Id Al Adha (Arefa)
April 25: (date varies) Ethiopian Good Friday
April 27: (date varies) Ethiopian Easter
May 1: Labor Day
May 5: Ethiopian Patriots Victory Day
May 28: National Holiday
July 17: (date varies) Birth of the Prophet Mohammed
As diverse as their own backgrounds are the traditional costumes of each region. While European dress is worn in the major urban centers, the traditional shemma is seen frequently on both men and women in the highlands. The shemma is a white cotton dress with a border of bright colors. The pastoral peoples of the lowlands wear mainly leather clothing with bead or shell ornamentation or brightly colored garments. Fine-featured Hararies wear colorful, tight trousers and gauzy veils. Among the Oromos the young girls wear their hair in two buns behind their ears. In addition, their foreheads are encircled with wreaths of silver, leaves or flowers.
Injera, a flat, sourdough pancake made of the indigenous grain called t’ef, is the country staple. The injera is typically served with either meat or vegetable sauces. To eat it, you tear off a bit of injera and use it to pick up pieces of meat or to mop up the sauce.
T’ef is a nutritional miracle food. It contains 2-3 times the iron of wheat or barley. The calcium, potassium and other essential minerals are also many times what would be found in an equal amount of other grains. T’ef has 14% protein, 3% fat and 81% complex carbohydrates.
T’ef is the only grain to have symbiotic yeast. Like grapes, the yeast is on the grain, so no yeast is added in the preparation of injera.
T’ef is milled into flour and made into a batter. The batter is allowed to sit so the yeast can become active. When the batter is ready, it is poured on a large, flat oven and allowed to cook. This process is much harder than it sounds. It has taken years (literally centuries) of practice for Ethiopians to perfect this injera.
Berbere, the blend of spices that gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste, can be quite hot. A popular food called wot is a hot spicy pepper sauce, which is eaten with basic ingredients like vegetables, meat and chicken. Kotcho, another popular food, is a pancake made of “ensete” stem and root.
The meat that Ethiopians eat is beef (either cooked, dry or raw). Mutton is eaten in the high altitudes, while camel and goat are eaten in the lower altitudes. They eat cooked and dried fish in the coastal regions.
A traditional Ethiopian meal involves a gathering of people, who eat together from one large circular plate. The guests will have the choice morsels of meat placed in front of them, which they wait to eat last after filling up on injera and sauce.
You eat with your right hand, and you should wash your hands ahead of time. Typically, a jug of water and a bar of soap are brought to you for that purpose.
Along with the traditional Ethiopian meal, one would normally drink either t’ej, a type of honey wine, or a local beer called t’ella. Ethiopia produces its own wines: Dukam and Gouder are dry reds; Crystal is a dry white; and Axumite is a sweet red.
Ethiopia uses the Julian Solar calendar, which is made up of 12 equal months of 30 days each and a thirteenth month consisting of 5 or 6 days, depending on the year.