Discovering Ethiopia through its tradition-rich tribes

Ethiopia is not a bucket-list
destination for most travelers to Africa. But this country in the Horn of
Africa with its archaeological, cultural and natural riches is definitely a
rewarding destination.

The
country is a mosaic of cultures with diverse ethnic groups, each with their own
unique costumes, hairstyles and rituals.
In the South of Ethiopia, in the
Omo Valley, travelers can encounter some of the country’s most extraordinary
tribes. This is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable cultural experiences
any traveler could dream of; the tribe’s traditions, songs and dances are still
as vivid as they have been for hundreds of years. This valley is as close as anyone
can come to “untouched” Africa.

discovering ethiopia

The most famous tribe is the
nomadic, pastoralist Mursi tribe. When a Mursi woman reaches 20 years old, a slit is
made beneath the lower lip and a clay plate inserted. Each year a larger plate
is added, stretching the lower lip until it juts out so far that a six-inch
plate can be worn and the woman can pull her lip right over her head. This is
considered the height of attractiveness: the larger the plate, the more livestock her family will receive
when she marries.

Mursi men
take part in stick fights, which in the past sometimes ended in the death of
one of the participants. Decorated with white clay, they hit each other with 6-foot-long
poles. The winner is carried off by a group of eligible women who then decide
which one of them will marry him.

The friendly Dorze people will gladly welcome travelers
into their homes and teach them all about the construction of the unusual, beehive-like
huts as well as share the secrets of traditional weaving. Travelers can also
opt to stay the night in a traditional Dorze hut.

The Hamer tribe, known for distinctive
hairstyles and highly imaginative bodily decorations, is definitely worth a visit. The tribe is well known for the “bull-jumping”
ceremony, which usually occurs during harvest season. During this ceremony,
teenage boys run over the backs of about a dozen bulls to prove their manhood.

Ethiopia
has much more to offer than just its cultural tribes, though. The oldest
independent nation in Africa, Ethiopia boasts heritage dating back to the first
century. It is also the earliest known home of humankind; a skeleton of an
older human ancestor believed to be more than 3 millions years old,
Australopithecus Afarensis, was discovered in 1974 in the Afar region. The skeleton
is popularly known as Lucy or Dinkinesh.

The most striking of the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela is Bet Giyorgis, or George’s Place — named after St. George, the dragon-slayer and patron of Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Michael Fabey

The country’s
historical route of the North, which can easily be combined with a cultural
tour of the South, takes visitors from
the current capital of Addis Ababa to the former capitals of the Gonderite and
Axumite Empires as well as to the sacred city of Lalibela and the rock churches
of Tigray.

Especially
Lalibela, a medieval settlement in the Lasta area of Wello, is considered the No.
1 sight in Ethiopia and one of the most astonishing man-made sites in
sub-Saharan Africa. Lalibela is home to 11 Ethiopian Orthodox churches that
were built in the 13th century on the orders of King Lalibela, not from the
ground up but chiseled out of the town’s red volcanic rock hills. Popular
legend says that the toil of thousands of laborers on this “new Jerusalem” during
the day was continued by angels at night.

Quick Facts

Currency: The currency used in Ethiopia is the birr; $1
U.S. will buy 20 birr. ATMs are found throughout Addis Ababa and some of the
major cities.

Getting there: Ethiopian
Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance, operates flights from Bole Airport in
Addis Ababa to Toronto and Washington. Other airlines offering services to
Addis Ababa include Lufthansa, Kenya Airways, British Airways, KLM, Turkish
Airlines, Emirates Air Line, Egypt Air and Gulf Air.

Tourist visas: Required
for all visitors to Ethiopia. Visas can be obtained from the visitor’s nearest
Ethiopian embassy or consulate before departure.

Climate: The best time to visit Ethiopia is from
October to May, which is the dry season, although visitors can expect mild
weather year-round.

Language: Although
Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, many younger Ethiopians do speak
English.

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