I'm finished with north Ethiopia, and…

I’m now visiting the tribal south of Ethiopia. I wanted to post more updates, but internet, and electricity, is rather sporadic in these parts.
Lalibela, with its rock-carved churches, was impressive. Some other tourists I’ve met have told me that Lalibela was the highlight of their Ethiopian trip. For me, it was Erta Ale. The Gelata baboons are also high on my list. Here’s a video I shot of them, during the one day I was in the Simien Mountains:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMJEGrPjZ4I&w=560&h=315]
I’ve got more, but uploading to Youtube is difficult. Yesterday, I visited the Dorze tribe in the mountains near Arba Minch. They’re famous for their unusual houses and weaving. In fact, their name means “weavers.” They also have a bread they make out of “fake banana plants.” I thought it was rather tasty. Their traditional schnapps was interesting too, and very potent.
Some friends, in Portland (and even some fellow tourists here), have asked me, “why did you decide to visit Ethiopia?” To me, this is a ridiculous question. I suppose, if one’s idea of a vacation is sipping bear on a beach, then Florida or Hawaii would be a better choice. But I like to see history, experience exotic cultures, view wild animals in their natural habitat, visit geographical oddities and have some adventure. In this respect, Ethiopia is the ultimate. It’s got ancient ruins, volcanoes (I’ve seen, technically, 3 while here if you count hot springs and such), sulfur fields, numerous unique tribes, a distinctive cuisine, hippos, crocodiles, zebra, monkeys, baboons, ibex, a unique species of wolf, interesting birds (later, I’ll upload some nice photos of these) and even elephants and lions in some remote parts. Traditional garb is still worn in some places, and that’s a big plus for me. The music and dance varies from place to place, and some of it is pretty good.
But near the top of my list of reasons for visiting Ethiopia is the languages. Most Ethiopians speak Amharic, which is a Semitic tongue. I’ve always wanted to familiarize myself with it, and now I’ve been doing so. I’ve gotten to the point where I can just about read it. My initial impression is that it’s a hybrid tongue, with a Nilotic/Omotic substrate and a strong Semitic influence, I’m certainly no expert, but that’s just my initial impression. The Semitic part of Amharic definitely has some archaic features. It has some Arabic loan words, but these are easily recognizable.
Amharic isn’t the only Semitic language spoken in Ethiopia. Tigrinya is also widely spoken in the north, and I’d love to learn some of that. It retains more of the features we normally associate with Semitic languages, sounding more like Arabic or Hebrew. It’s considered to be a more direct descendant of Ethiopia’s “ancestral” (liturgical) language: Ge’ez, which I’d also like to study.
Ethiopian culture/religion is extremely rich and unique. Never, in my travels, have I encountered such strong local traditions, and such a well-established national identity, as in Ethiopia. Ethiopians have their own calendar, their own way of keeping time, their own set of holidays, their own handshake, their own script/language, and their own art styles.
Watching Ethiopian Orthodox worshipers, I’m reminded of Orthodox Judaism in some ways. They’ve clearly borrowed much from the Jews. Israeli tourists (of which there are many; they have direct flights from Tel Aviv) notice this too. Ethiopia is full of livestock. Everywhere you go, even in Addis Ababa, there are cows, goats, mules, horses and camels (in the north). Ethiopia has more livestock than any other African country (so I’m told), but I have yet to see a single pig.
Well… I’d better post this now, before the electricity goes out again.

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11 Responses to I'm finished with north Ethiopia, and…

  1. What is your opinion of Graham Hancock’s assertion (“The Sign and the Seal”) that the Lalibela rock-hewn churches were built by the Knights Templar? He must have been very sure of himself to say something so racially controversial and, whats more, his wife is African so he’s no right-wing race realist.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I did see some Templar crosses, and the story I got was that there was some contact from that group. The Ethiopians believe that angels came down and built those churches. To me, it seems like A LOT of hard work. Decades of hard work. For foreigners to come and do that in a distant land seems rather extreme. I’ll look at your link later, thanks!

  2. Robert Marchenoir says:

    For a non-expert in exotic languages, you seem to manage quite well…

    • jewamongyou says:

      Thanks! Figuring out Amharic, and the Ethiopic peoples, is a huge challenge for me. I’m sure professional linguists believe they have most of the answers, but I won’t take their word for it without real evidence. One should be skeptical of the “experts.”

  3. Extropico says:

    When you visited the castles in Gondar, what were you told as to who built them? The Portuguese? Local Ethiopians? The contrast of those castles seems to exhibit an exogenous influence, at a minimum. Thanks.

    • jewamongyou says:

      The story I got was that they were built by Ethiopians, but under heavy influence by Europeans; nobody can deny the European influence. It’s obvious. In any event, I was told that the Italians made their base in these castles, and even replaced the original wooden roof of one hall with concrete. It’s criminal. Then, in order to expel the Italians, the British bombed the place, causing even more destruction.

      • Abe says:

        It’s fascinating how many commenters eagerly really want to know who built those darn churches. It must have been Europeans? Why is this so important to your commenters? It’s really a surprising phenomonal to me. I’ve seen so much art & archetecture in my life and there’s an understanding that everything is interrelated and influenced by each other. That doesn’t diminish from someone creation…
        Also, what is European influence? Aren’t Europeans influenced by other Europeans, Asians and Africans? Is there even anything humans have ever done in silo? Their comments seem to not know that Ethiopia was not an isolated country for most of history and it was Ethiopians who traveled to Europe and Asia, not the opposite. So many European tried to send delegates and messengers to Ethiopia who died on the dangerous route thought the desert. Not to mention the entire army the Portuguese Queen lost on the route, they were sent to support Ethiopian emperor during the Ottoman attacks.
        The Ethiopian emperors used to send representatives to many European countries and not to mention Asia and Middle-east. Luther himself mentions Ethiopian Christianity as an influence to his reform and wrote a letter vouching for a Ethiopian missionary to tour Europe on behalf of the Ethiopian church.
        So what is the big fuzz about Ethiopia finding inspiration from their travels in Europe? And not to mention all the different cultures they encountered in Jerusalem, through the Ethiopian churches longstanding quarter there?
        Why is this any different from anyone else who was inspired by something or even commissioned a builder or architect to build something for them? Not that I’m saying that is what happened here.

  4. Harar Krishna! says:

    “Ethiopian culture/religion is extremely rich and unique. Never, in my travels, have I encountered such strong local traditions, and such a well-established national identity, as in Ethiopia. Ethiopians have their own calendar, their own way of keeping time, their own set of holidays, their own handshake, their own script/language, and their own art styles.”
    You would go crazy with bliss in India. That’s where the real diversity lies in terms of traditions and customs, language, music, the arts, food, everything. Its amazing.

  5. eleni says:

    haha… were you still in ethiopia when you post this…. it reminded me of all the hair loses every time electricity goes out.

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