Ethiopia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Ethiopia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

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Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. Contents include: * customs, values, and traditions * historical, religious, and political background * life at home * leisure, social, and cultural life * eating and drinking * do's, don'ts, and taboos * business practices * communication, spoken and unspoken

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781520031132
Publisher: Dreamscape Media
Publication date: 07/26/2016
Series: Culture Smart! Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 6.04(w) x 5.04(h) x 1.13(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sarah Howard is a botanical artist and writer who spent her childhood in Kenya. After graduating in African History and Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in 1977, she became a journalist and researcher for two Anglican mission agencies, and undertook the archiving of the Leakey family papers in Kenya. After her marriage, she began commuting between Scotland and Ethiopia: in Scotland she runs a small business specializing in roasting Ethiopian coffees; in Ethiopia she is currently painting portraits of endemic plants. She helped illustrate the seminal Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and has written articles about the country for Selamta, the in-flight magazine of Ethiopian Airlines.

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By Sarah Howard

Bravo Ltd

Copyright © 2010 Kuperard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85733-620-7




Ethiopia rises from arid lowlands to lofty mountain towers: a landlocked country that sits on a well-watered mountain plateau in the Horn of Africa. Its lowlands border on Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia to the north and east; Kenya to the south; and Sudan to the west. This "island" in the middle of desert largely dictates Ethiopia's natural resources, human settlement, and history.

With its cooler temperatures the highland plateau, rising from 5,000 to 10,000 feet (1,500 to 3,000 meters), carries the bulk of the population, provides the best agricultural land, and can generate as much hydroelectricity as Ethiopia needs. Limits are, however, imposed by its rugged terrain. A complex structure of metamorphic, sedimentary, volcanic, and intrusive rocks is riven by a huge block fault averaging thirty miles wide (fifty kilometers) in the form of the Great Rift Valley. Smaller faults, particularly to the northwest of the Rift Valley, have created vast canyons, of which the Blue Nile gorge is the deepest. In the north the mountains rise to the peculiar, perpendicular-sided, flat-topped peaks of the Simien Mountains of more than 14,000 feet (4,300 meters). The highlands to the southeast of the Rift are gentler in character, but rise almost as high in the Bale Mountains, with the magnificent south-facing Harenna escarpment. The whole area continues to be unstable, with small earthquakes common, and hot springs prevalent.

Aptly described as "the reservoir of Africa," Ethiopia has river systems upon which its near neighbors in Somalia, Sudan, and Egypt are particularly reliant. Draining the northern mountains is the Abay (Blue Nile) River and its tributaries, which supply two-thirds of the Nile's water north of Khartoum. To the south, the Wabe Shebelle and Genale rivers flow to the Indian Ocean through Somalia. The Awash flows into desert near Djibouti, and the Omo flows into landlocked Lake Turkana. Many of these rivers are dammed to generate hydroelectricity.

The Rift Valley itself widens out in the north to the harsh Danakil desert, where the hottest annual mean temperature on earth has been recorded, and drops away in the south to the desert of northern Kenya. In between, the altitude rises to about 5,500 feet (1,700 meters). A series of lakes along the Rift Valley floor provides irrigation where the water is fresh, though many are saline. From the plateau the land gives way to the Ogaden desert bordering Somalia in the east, and, to the west, humid lowlands bordering Sudan.


Ethiopia's generally high altitude offsets the effects of its position in the tropics, just to the north of the Equator. Temperatures are cool at night and the main rains are usually very heavy. In the lowland fringes the climate can be uncertain and is a cause of food insecurity. The main rains (kremt) begin at the end of June in Addis Ababa, slightly later in Tigray, and peter out during September. Many foreigners choose this time to leave the country, but it is vital planting time for Ethiopian farmers. There is often a short rain (belg) about Easter when another planting is also possible. The southern part of the country is influenced by the monsoons blowing in from the Indian Ocean.

Temperatures vary with altitude. Ethiopians themselves refer to three zones: a cool zone (dega) in the highest mountains, where daytime temperatures range from freezing to 60°F (16°C) in the hot months; the temperate weina dega zone has temperatures from 60° to 86°F (16° to 30°C), and where a sweater is needed at night; and the kolla zone, lying below 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) in the deserts and at the bottoms of big river gorges, where daytime temperatures average 80°F (27°C).


Humans have modified greatly the natural landscape in Ethiopia, particularly in the north. Primary forests have been much reduced and the Rift Valley is badly degraded. Yet there is much to observe and to protect. As an "island" ecosystem, Ethiopia has developed both a specialist natural life, particularly in the highest and driest areas, as well as a high degree of biodiversity, notably in economically important food crops such as cereals and coffee. A possible biodiversity hot spot exists between southern Ethiopia through to southern Arabia. The Rift Valley, with its lakes, is an important migration route for birds, and a number of national parks and reserves exist to protect unique fauna.

The Australian eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus globulus) dominates the eye around Addis Ababa, and every other town and village, and is an essential source of fuel. It is, though, only one among over 7,000 higher plant species existing in Ethiopia, of which about 12 percent are endemic. Vegetation zones broadly follow Ethiopia's complex topography. These range from semidesert scrub, through acacia woodland, to moist montane forest — in which coffee still grows wild — or dry montane forest containing magnificent trees, such as the Podocarpus and the medicinally important Hagenia abyssinica. Vivid red Acanthus sennii grow along the roadsides in this zone, a striking plant endemic to Ethiopia. High in the alpine regions, where nightly frosts are a feature, there are plants well adapted to their environment, such as prickly clumps of the shrub Helichrysum, and the giant treelike Lobelia, whose old leaves protect its stem from freezing.

The Rift Valley lakes provide an important migration corridor between Eastern Europe and Southern Africa and, as a result, Ethiopia, together with Eritrea, is one of Africa's hot spots for bird-watching. There are over 860 known species of birds, including 16 species endemic to Ethiopia, many of which are locally common and easy to spot. These include the Black-winged Lovebird (Agapornis taranta), found near water in cities, and the Thick-billed Raven (Corvus crassirostris) on the hills surrounding Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia is also home to 263 mammal species, of which there are 30 endemics. A number of national parks and conservation areas exist to protect these animals, but the pressures of a growing population and livestock make some of them difficult to sustain. The Abyssinian wolf (Canis simensis), easily seen in the Bale Mountains, with about four hundred in existence is the world's rarest canine.

Land degradation is one of the major conservation issues facing the government of Ethiopia, together with the protection of forests to preserve rainfall.


The Ethiopians are a mixture of African and Middle Eastern peoples forming several distinctive nations and tribes. In the west, tall Nilotic tribes straddle the border with Sudan. In the south and east are various Cushitic-speaking peoples, such as the clannish cattle-rearing Oromo who have migrated northward into the area, and nomadic camel-keeping Somalis who straddle the southeast border. In the north are Semitic-speaking and sedentary Amharas and Tigrayans who define the Christian heartland.

Eighty different languages are spoken in the country with a great many more dialects. Amharic is the working language in Addis Ababa and is understood in most other parts of the country, since it was the language of education during the Marxist government of the Derg (1974–91). It has its own script that, like Arabic, uses a system of phonetic consonants with extra markings for the vowels but, unlike Arabic, is written from left to right. Its transliteration into English gives rise to various spellings that can and do confuse the outsider.

In more recent centuries, families from various European nationalities have made their way to Ethiopia and many of them have intermarried with Ethiopians. These include Greeks, Armenians, and Italians. A reverse migration has also occurred from the time of the Derg, when Ethiopians created their own diaspora — an estimated one million are living in the United States, and probably the same number again in Europe.

About two million people are added to the population each year, representing a 2.5 percent growth rate. Half the estimated population of 77 million is under twenty years old. With so many new mouths to feed each year, the government is presented with a formidable challenge to its development policy.



This northernmost region covers the highlands in the northeast of Ethiopia. It encompasses the ancient Kingdom of Axum, and was divided in the nineteenth century into part of what is now highland Eritrea and that which remained part of Ethiopia. The Christian faith and the language, Tigrinya, are common bonds both within Tigray and with the Eritreans across the border. On the whole, its agricultural land has become badly degraded, but there are rich tourist opportunities in historical centers such as Axum and the many clusters of rock-hewn churches around Tigray. Mekele, founded by Yohannes IV in the late nineteenth century, is the capital.


This region covers the Amharic-speaking provinces of Gondar, Gojjam, Wollo, and North Shoa in the central highlands of Ethiopia, north of the Rift Valley. Its people are mostly Christian, but there are many Muslims — especially in Wollo, which borders the Rift Valley where Muslim camel traders mix with highlanders at the big markets at the foot of the escarpment. Small-scale farming is generally practiced. The leafy, lakeside city of Bahr Dar by Lake Tana is capital of Amhara. Other main towns are Dessie, in Wollo, Gondar in the north, and various ancient sites such as Ankober and Debre Markos.


The Afar language, Islam, and camels bind the Afar Region, which covers the hot, arid lowlands to the east of the highland plateau. The Awash River flows through it providing the Afar region's only crop-producing potential, although the water never reaches the sea and peters out in a series of saline lakes near the Djibouti border. It is bound to its neighboring regions by trade and by nomads who bring their camels to grasslands in the higher areas during the dry season. The present capital, Asaita, is the center of a relatively well-irrigated area on the Awash River. The capital will move to the new town of Semera.


This is the smallest region and surrounds the ancient walled city of Harar. Coffee and chat are the mainstays of the economy. Most people are Muslim, though there is one important Christian pilgrimage center, Kulubi Mariam, near Harar. Harar is an ancient Muslim site where a unique language called Adare is spoken.

Dire Dawa

One of two chartered cities (along with Addis Ababa), Dire Dawa lies northwest of Harar on the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway. It is Ethiopia's second-largest city and a major industrial and trading center. It has an airport and its inhabitants are cosmopolitan, in contrast to the surrounding mainly Somali people.

Somali Region

Peopled by ethnic Somalis and covering the Ogaden desert, the Somali Region is probably the least accessible to outsiders. All Muslim, mostly camel keeping, watered only by the Genale (Juba) and Wabe Shebelle rivers that rise in the Bale Mountains, the region borders on both the orderly semiautonomous Somaliland (formerly British Somaliland) and the disturbed area of Somalia (formerly Italian Somaliland), which gives Ethiopia its greatest security problem. Jijiga, to the east of Harar, is the main town.


This is the largest of Ethiopia's regions and covers all the various Oromo-speaking peoples, from Shoa in the north, to the Kenyan border in the south, and most of western Ethiopia, including Wellega. Addis Ababa is the capital, and it includes large towns such as Debre Zeit, Jimma, Adama (also known by its former name, Nazareth), and Asella. It includes the Bale Mountains and most of the eastern side of the Rift Valley. The Oromo language has diverse dialects and the people are largely Muslim or Christian, particularly of the Protestant kind. All types of agriculture are practiced, including nomadic cattle keeping in the Rift Valley, and sedentary agriculture in the highlands. There, the potential is high with rich volcanic and well-watered soils.

Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) Region

The sheer diversity of small linguistic groups, cultures, and religions makes this area difficult to generalize. It covers the highland area on the western side of the southern Rift Valley in the southwest of Ethiopia, and includes important nations, such as: Gurage, centered on Butajira, in the Gurage Highlands; Welayta, centered on Sodo; Sidama, centered on Dila; as well as small tribes favoured by tourists, such as the Mursi, Hamer, and Konso. It also includes the coffee-bearing forests around the town of Bonga, which is reached via Jimma. Awassa, on Lake Awassa, is its capital and is gateway to the important coffee-growing Sidamo area to the south. This area, too, is agriculturally rich in coffee and cattle, with important forests on the higher slopes of the Rift Valley scarps. Its peoples practice a mixture of religions, including mainly Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Islam, and paganism. Amharic is the working language.


Centered on the town of Gambela on the Baro River, Gambela Region is low-lying, humid, and hot. Its people are mainly a mixture of nomadic cattle-keeping Nuer and Anuak, a Nilo-Saharan language group, who straddle the border with southern Sudan. They are traditionally pagan, but recently there has been a surge of Protestant Christianity among them. The Baro River flows through Gambela, before becoming the Sobat in Sudan, and flowing into the White Nile. Gambela town was an important port trading with British Sudan.


This region to the northwest of Ethiopia, which straddles the Abay (Nile), was carved out of western Gojjam and northern Wellega. It is mostly highland, but dips down toward the Sudanese border. There are diverse peoples, ranging from the Berta, Gumuz, and Shinasha, who have more in common with the Sudanese, to large numbers of Amhara and Tigrayans, who were resettled during the Derg era, and Oromos. More than 60 percent of the land is forested, including bamboo, eucalyptus, and rubber and resin trees, which are important to the local economy. Asosa is the capital.

Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is one of two chartered cities in Ethiopia with its own elected mayor and its own administrative structure. It is also the capital of the country, and by far the largest city, with more than three million people. It was founded in 1887 around hot springs, known as Finfinne, by Emperor Menelik II. His wife, the Empress Taitu, who enjoyed the hot springs, gave the name Addis Ababa ("new flower" in Amharic) to the emergent town. When local supplies of wood began to be exhausted, it was the introduction of the eucalyptus tree in the 1890s that saved the capital from moving elsewhere.

Addis Ababa sprawls over several hills and ravines at a heady altitude ranging from 7,000 to 9,000 feet (2,100 to 2,700 meters) with little noticeable difference between affluent and shanty-type housing. Five major road arteries radiate from the city to the regions, with Meskel Square the heart of the city, where big national events take place. The city is completely surrounded by Oromia Region so care has to be taken by motorists going out of town to remember any differences in law when crossing the boundary. Since 2000, a frenzy of road building — divided highways, overpasses, and ring roads — has both eased movement as well as caused dire congestion, with traffic pouring around work zones, vying with pedestrians and, sometimes, their livestock.


Excerpted from Ethiopia by Sarah Howard. Copyright © 2010 Kuperard. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
About the Author,
Map of Ethiopia,
Key Facts,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Further Reading,
Useful Web Sites,

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