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Culture & People
 
 
 

General

Ethiopian culture is multi-faceted, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the country; refer the articles on the Ethnic groups of Ethiopia for details of each group.

Among many traditional customs, respect (especially of one's elders) is very important. In Ethiopian culture it is customary to rise up out of one's seat or give up one's bed for an older friend or family member, even if they may be just a year older.

Literature

The classical language of Ge'ez, which has evolved into Amharic and Tigrean, is one of the four extinct languages but is the only indigenous writing system in Africa that is still in use. Ge'ez is still spoken in Orthodox Church services. The development of Ge'ez literature began with translations of the Old and New Testaments from Greek and Hebrew. Ge'ez was also the first Semitic language to employ a vowel system.

Many apocryphal texts such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Ascension of Isaiah have been preserved in their entirety only in Ge'ez. Even though these texts were not included in the Biblical canon, among Biblical scholars (and Ethiopian Christians) they are regarded as significant to an understanding of the origin and development of Christianity.

Visual Arts

Religious art, especially Orthodox Christian, has been a significant part of the national culture for hundreds of years. Illuminated Bibles and manuscripts have been dated to the twelfth century, and the 800-year-old churches in Lalibela contain Christian paintings, manuscripts, and stone relief.

Wood carving and sculpture are very common in the southern lowlands, especially among the Konso. A fine arts school has been established in Addis Ababa that teaches painting, sculpture, etching, and lettering.

Music & Performing Arts

Christian music is believed to have been established by Saint Yared in the sixth century and is sung in Ge'ez, the liturgical language. Both Orthodox and Protestant music is popular and is sung in Amharic, Tigrean and Oromo. The traditional dance, eskesta, consists of rhythmic shoulder movements and usually is accompanied by the kabaro , a drum made from wood and animal skin, and the masinqo, a single-stringed violin with an A-shaped bridge that is played with a small bow. Foreign influences exist in the form of Afro-pop, reggae, and hip-hop.

The music of Ethiopia is extremely diverse, with each of Ethiopia's ethnic groups being associated with unique sounds. Some forms of traditional music are strongly influenced by folk music from elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia. However, Ethiopian religious music also has an ancient Christian element, traced to Yared, who lived during the reign of Gabra Masqal. In northeastern Ethiopia, in Wollo, a Muslim musical form called manzuma developed. Sung in Amharic, manzuma has spread to Harar and Jimma, where it is now sung in the Oromo language. In the Ethiopian Highlands, traditional secular music is played by itinerant musicians called azmaris, who are regarded with both suspicion and respect in Ethiopian society.

The music of the highlands uses a unique modal system called qenet, of which there are four main modes: tezeta, bati, ambassel and anchihoy. Three additional modes are variations on the above: tezeta minor, bati major, and bati minor. Some songs take the name of their qenet, such as tezeta, a song of reminiscence. When played on traditional instruments, these modes are generally not tempered (that is, the pitches may deviate slightly from the Western-tempered tuning system), but when played on Western instruments such as pianos and guitars, they are played using the Western-tempered tuning system.

Popular old and young musicians include Teddy Afro (Tewodros Kasahune), Tilahun Gessesse, Aster Aweke, Hamelmal Abate, Tewodros Tadesse, Kemer Yusuf, Ephrem Tamiru, Muluken Melesse, Bizunesh Bekele, Hirut Bekele, Mahmoud Ahmed, Tadesse Alemu, Alemayehu Eshete, Neway Debebe, Asnaketch Worku, Ali Birra, Gigi, Dawit (Messay) Mellesse, Mulatu Astatke and Gossaye Tesfaye.


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