Tag Archives: Tigray

Nations and Nationalities Day

12 Dec

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Last Sunday was the national celebration of diversity in Ethiopia –Nations and Nationalities Day. There are 87 individual languages and as many cultures in Ethiopia. Most of these are tribal languages that you find on the southern border with Kenya where National Geographic worthy communities like the Hammer Tribe live in the Omo Valley.

But even up north in the more homogenous Amhara region, where I live, there a regional differences and a lot of pride. On the west side, Orthodox Christianity reigns supreme, as well as the typical white cotton dresses. Most cities have their own meskel or “cross,” and the Gondar one looks more like a floral diamond.

Lalibela on left, St. George, and Gondar crosses

Lalibela on left, St. George, and Gondar crosses

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The other common costume is a forest green outfit with white buttons for men. Typical of both the Gondar region and south of us in the Gojam region (which surrounds Bahar Dar) these outfits are traditionally the fancy fare of farmers.

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Amhara has been the seat of power, culture, and ecumenical influence for a significant portion of Ethiopian history. Amhara and Tigray (to the North) are seen as more “traditional” Ethiopia, while the south is more tribal. Tigray boasts Axum, said to hold the Arc of the Covenant, while Amhara has both Gondar and Lalibela for historical and religious clout. Natural beauty also abounds – The Simien Mountains, north of Gondar, and the Blue Nile Falls, south of Bahar Dar are breathtaking and unique.

Amhara Flag

Amhara Flag

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Tigray has the rock hewn churchs of Hauzen, the columns of Axum, and a desert like landscape. Oromia, the largest region in the center and the political rival for the last century, has the lush Awash National park, Wenchi crater, and a lot more beads on their clothing. The South has the Bale Mountains (featured in BBC’s Life), and the most cultural diversity of the regions. Apparently the shakala tibs (charred meat dish) are best down here too.  Afar and Somali regions are majority Muslim, nomadic and have landscape as tough as the lifestyle. Somalia just had a polio outbreak, and I randomly met up the CDC team as they prepared to head out that way… shmerrr. In Afar, the Danakil Depression is the hottest point on earth with lava literally bubbling out of the ground. We can’t visit it as volunteers, but it’s definitely on my list for afterwards!

Muslim student carrying the Ethiopian Flag

Muslim student carrying the Ethiopian Flag

Addis Ababa, Dire Dowa, and  Harar boast their own city principalities, and per my previous post, Harar has an interesting and unique twist to its history.

Other regions in our “no-go zone” include Gambella and BG, on the border of Sudan and South Sudan. I don’t know much about them, besides the refugee camps, but I heard they have giraffes! There is definitely an elephant sanctuary out by Jijiga in the East.

So there’s a quick and dirty run down of the some of the cultural and natural diversity in Ethiopia in honor of Nations and Nationalities Day.

Habesha Libs- Traditional Clothing

22 Feb

Traditional clothing in Ethiopia varies by region, religion, tribe, and socio-economic status. In Gondar there is a mix of traditional clothing and modern clothing, and even some modern-traditional styles running around.

Especially for the holidays, everyone gets dressed in their traditional best, even if sometimes it doesn’t match what a middle class Gonderian would wear. This year at Timket I saw a lot of Gojam outfits from stylish men and women who clearly were not Gojam farmers. Gojam is the region south of here. So traditional or not, or “semi-traditional” or however you want to call it, it’s still cool to see the influence of these cultural clothes on modern fashion. There is a hoodie made from traditional material with embroidery that is super popular in Addis right now, and I might have to pick one up.

For women, the traditional dress is a white linen with embroidery on the cuffs, in the middle, on the bottom, or all three, paired with a white nutella (scarf wrap) of the same fabric. A very Gondar version of this is to have a thick rim of embroidery on the bottom hem, but only on the back. There is also another traditional dress that is made of thicker white fabric that is loose around the arms with symbols of the Orthodox cross.

Girl with the largest forehead ever, wearing the cutest habesha libs

Girl with the largest forehead ever, wearing the cutest habesha libs

stylish leather bag not included

stylish leather bag not included

And of course, the hair makes the outfit. Traditional braiding here can get pretty crazy. Especially in the north (Tigray) there is braiding style that looks like 3 mountain ranges on the top of the head that is let loose about mid way down the head, with skinny braids over the forehead like a crown, supposedly representing Jesus’ crown of thorns.

women with nutellas and Tigray braids

women with nutellas and Tigray braids

Then there is a more Gondarian braiding style that is basically cornrows on crack, and they are beautiful.

braids- with smaller braids, and other braids around those. Cool.

braids- with smaller braids, and other braids around those. Cool.

For the men there are the traditional white clothes, and then there are the Gojam button clothes. Green is the typical colour for Gojam farmers and they wear these short shorts in order to work more efficiently. Then for a little flair, white buttons are sown all over.

Carmen and Wendeson,  my landlord's brother

Carmen and Wendeson, my landlord’s brother

Gojam kids with a sheep horn

Gojam kids with a sheep horn

In addition to the shorts, there is also a type of pantaloon pant with suspenders that they wear sometimes. I saw some stylish girls rocking a fashionable version of these Gojam pumpkin pants, and maybe I’ve been in country too long, but I could totally see wearing that out. The other farmer accessory is a straw hat, almost like a cowboy hat. Gotta protect yourself from the sun. The priests also have a turban like wrap made of the same traditional nutella white fabric as the women wear.

the straw hats

the straw hats

priestly hats

priestly hats

So a mix of traditional, modern, well-off and farming culture has created a new kind of traditional clothing that mixes elements from all of it. Fashion is always one of many lenses into culture, and which elements get picked up from where create a story of cultural dominance, migrant movement, historical patterns, and modern twists.

And how these travel around the world are even more interesting. I heard the other day that the intricate Ethiopian Orthodox cross was becoming a popular pendant in America.

straight from Etsy

straight from Etsy

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