Ethiopia is considered by many as the birthplace of modern humanity, and if that isn’t a legacy we don’t know what is! So without further ado, let’s dive into the long history and intriguing culture of this fascinating African nation.
Want to learn more about Ethiopia?
- Capital of Ethiopia (and Largest City): Addis Ababa
- Ethiopia Population (2016): 101,853,000 (13th)
- Total Area: 1,104,300 km² (27th)
- Official Languages: Amharic + Other Regional/Ethnic
- Currency: Ethiopian birr (ብር) (ETB)
History of Ethiopia
Scientific consensus suggests modern humans are believed to have first originated in Ethiopia – likely around 200,000 years ago. While Ethiopia can rightly claim to be the ‘place from which we all come’, ancient civilization didn’t begin to take shape until around the 8th century BCE. Known as D’mt, the kingdom lasted several centuries. In the early CE years the Kingdom of Aksum emerged before it was replaced centuries later by the Makhzumi Sultanate – which presided over one of the world’s first Muslim states.
Dynasties, Sultans, and Isolation
The latter Middle Ages were dominated by different dynasties that controlled Ethiopia – including the Zagwe Dynasty and the Solomonic Dynasty. With leaders now known as Emperors, Ethiopia began to make contact with European powers in the early modern era – even becoming embroiled in proxy wars between Portugal and the Ottomans. While Catholicism also made a push into the region, Ethiopian Orthodoxy was dominant – though Islam remained widely practiced especially after the rise of the Aussa Sultanate.
For a century between 1755 and 1855, Ethiopia was withdrawn from the world. This isolationist period was known as Zemene Mesafint (Age of Princes), and generally featured powerful warlords who exercised control over the Emperor. In 1855, a British mission reconnected Ethiopia to the outside world while the new Emperor jumpstarted a degree of modernization. Power struggles and regional conflicts were disruptive throughout the latter part of the 19th century.
A New Era
The rise of Menelik II in 1889 signaled a new direction for Ethiopia, and began with the country claiming vast swathes of land. Powerful Oromo militias and leaders were central figures in his forces – though he also fought against the Oromo peoples outside his army. His rule saw increased modernization (including education, roads, etc.) and included the defeat of Italian forces. A famine however proved devastating in the late 19th century.
Haile Selassie rose to power in 1916, although he was not named emperor until 1930. Unfortunately for him, his coronation was soon disrupted by a second war against Italy – this time led by the fascist government. He gained much respect internationally for his efforts to appeal to international bodies against the Italian encroachment – though it wasn’t until British forces helped pushed Italy out in 1941 that sovereignty was fully restored. Despite the long struggle, Ethiopia was never formally colonized. After this, Selassie abolished slavery and sought greater ties with other African nations. In the midst of economic hardship, his reign came to an end in 1974 after a communist coup d’état.
The new power in Ethiopia was known as the Derg – a Soviet backed communist regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. There was much hardship under the Derg – including forced deportation, genocide, famine, and refugees. While powerful for a while, Soviet aid began to dry up following glasnost and perestroika. The main opposition (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front or EPRDF) took the capital in 1991 – forcing Mariam to flee to Zimbabwe (where he remains). The former leader was later convicted of war crimes in absentia. He is believed to be responsible for anywhere between 500,000 and 2 million deaths – for which he has been sentenced to death.
Following the end of communist rule, the next few years saw the creation of a constitution and a multiparty election in 1994. However, subsequent elections have seen the ruling EPRDF accused of vote rigging, coercion, and human rights abuses, while protesters have been killed by government forces as recently as this summer. The situation is fragile (especially in some opposition areas) and it remains to be seen if the ruling coalition will keep their grip on power in the face of public backlash.
Ethiopian culture is very diverse thanks to the many different ethnic groups and traditions found throughout the country. Some groups have more in common with North Africa, the Middle East, or even Italy and India. Depending on location and history, others may exhibit cultural traits commonly associated with South Sudan and other nearby Central and Eastern African countries.
The Ethiopian flag was adopted in 1996 and consists of green, yellow, and red horizontal stripes with the national emblem (a yellow pentagram on a blue background with rays of sun, meant to represent peace, unity, diversity, and prosperity) in the centre. Green represents the land; yellow denotes peace and hope; and red symbolizes (as it usually does) strength.
Ethiopian cuisine has become popular around the world and is predominantly known for very spicy dishes consisting of veggies and meat. The most common way of serving these is in a wat (a thick stew), which is placed atop a large sourdough flatbread.
Sports in Ethiopia
The most popular sports in Ethiopia are track and field (specifically long distance running) and soccer. The country has been extremely successful during Olympic competition in distance events (ranging from the 5,000 and 10,000 metre to the marathon). The national soccer team, while popular, is not one of Africa’s stronger squads. Finally, the country has a long basketball tradition dating back to 1949.
Geography of Ethiopia
Ethiopia is found in Eastern Africa, with much of the country located on the Horn of Africa. The country is very diverse geographically with deserts, tropical forests, highlands, mountains, steppes, savanna, and more. The country is home to a wide array of wildlife, though many creatures are considered endangered.
Cities in Ethiopia
The largest city in Ethiopia is, by far, Addis Ababa (the capital). Home to over 3 million people, it holds great significance for both the country and Africa as a whole thanks to its political history.
Facts about Ethiopia
- It was the first country to domesticate camels and donkeys
- Raw meat is a delicacy
- Ethiopia is the world’s 5th largest coffee producer as well as being the birthplace of the drink
- It was the first African country to win an Olympic gold medal – thanks to a barefoot marathon runner
- It is one of the world’s oldest countries
- The new year is celebrated on September 11
- Time is measured so that sunrise is 1 o’clock and sunset is at 12
Since the dawn of modern humans Ethiopia has forged its own path. Though questions remain about the future, there’s no denying the fascinating nature of the country.
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