67 Interesting Facts about Ethiopia

By Tayja Kuligowski, Junior Writer
Published October 12, 2016
  • Founded in 980 B.C., Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in the world.[14]
  • Ethiopians have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. Current figures estimate that women can expect to live for about 50 years, and men for about 48 years.[9]
  • Some of the traditional societies in Ethiopia view having twins as mingi, or a sign of bad luck. They believe that twins may be cursed, or invite evil spirits.[9]
  • The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months and it is 7 or 8 years behind the Western calendar—so as of 2015, it is only 2008 in Ethiopia. The 13th month has only five days, or six in a leap year.[11]
  • The Great Rift Valley cuts through Ethiopia from northeast to south of the country and is the only physical feature of Africa that it visible from space.[2]
  • Donkeys and camels were first domesticated in Ethiopia.[14]
  • The earliest instance of human ancestors using tools has been traced to Ethiopia.[14]
  • Ethiopians celebrated their new year on September 11.[11]
  • Ethiopia is from the Greek word "Αιθιοψ" or "aithiops," which literally means "charred or burnt"
  • The name “Ethiopia” comes from the Greek words aitho and ops, which together mean “burnt face.” This was how the ancient Greeks referred to the dark-skinned people of eastern Africa.[14]
  • Although child marriage is illegal in Ethiopia, 49% of girls marry before 18 and nearly 1 in 5 Ethiopian girls is married before 15. Almost half of 15- to 19- year-old girls in the Amhara region have been or currently are married.[15]
  • Ethiopians on average consume only 1,850 calories per day, making Ethiopia one of the least calorie-consuming countries, and its population ranks as one of the leanest as well with at 21-gram average daily fat consumption.[1]
  • Aksum, in Ethiopia, is famous as a claimant to the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, the chest containing the 10 commandments God gave to Moses, and the standing obelisk, which is 75 feet (23 m) high. With windows and doors, it looks like the world’s first skyscraper.[16]
  • Ethiopian distance runner Abebe Bikila was the first black African to win the gold medal in the Olympic Marathon in 1960, and he ran the race barefooted. He won the race again in Tokyo four years later and became the first person to win the race twice, setting a world record.[9]
  • Coffee was first discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi in the Kaffa region, from which the word “coffee” may derive, when he noticed his goats “dancing” after eating the berries off the coffee plant. Today, it is estimated that four out of five Americans drink coffee at least once a day. Coffee is the top agricultural export for 12 countries, with the livelihood of over 100 million people depending on its production, and it is the world’s second most valuable commodity after petroleum.[3]
  • Ethiopian emperor Menelik II was the first African to drive a car, in 1907.[2]
  • Ethiopia ranks as the 5th poorest country in the world. Almost two-thirds of the Ethiopian populations lives on less than US$1 a day.[11]
  • In Ethiopia, time is counted differently. Six o’clock is said to be 12 o’clock, and 16:00 hours is 10 o’clock. Ethiopians rationalize that the clock should start when the day does.[11]
  • Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country
  • Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never formally colonized; however, it had to defeat the Italians twice to remain independent.[3]
  • The Abyssinian cat breed, which originated in Ethiopia, ranks as the 5th most popular pedigreed cat breed in the United States.[18]
  • Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the founder of soleRebels, a brand of footwear that fuses recycled car tires for the soles with traditional Ethiopian crafts and modern design. She was named one of the 20 youngest power women in Africa in 2011, and soleRebels is the very first African consumer brand to ever open its own standalone retail store in the U.S. (in California in 2014).[10]
  • Tewahedo, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, is one of the oldest forms of Christianity in the world. It came to Ethiopia from Egypt, where Egyptians belonged to the Coptic Church. Around A.D. 330, Frumentius, the Apostle of Ethiopia, converted the Axumite king Ezana, who made Christianity the empire’s official religion. Today, 40% of Ethiopians practice Christianity.[11]
  • Ethiopia was the birthplace of Pan-Africanism (a united Africa). Hailed by Emperor Haile Selassie I, it led to the birth of the African Union.[11]
  • Ethiopia is home to the source of the Blue Nile, which together with the White Nile makes up the Nile River, the longest river in the world.[14]
  • Traditionally, Ethiopian parents and children do not share a last name. Most children take their father’s first name as their last name.[11]
  • In some monasteries and holy sites in Ethiopia, ancient law prohibits women from setting foot inside the holy confines. This also extends to all female creatures, including donkeys, hens, and nanny goats.[3]
  • Ethiopia’s national language is Amharic, but there are over 82 languages and 200 dialects, or variations, spoken in the country.[11]
  • Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s capital city. It means “white flower” and, at 2,400 m above sea level, it is the 4th highest capital city in the world.[2]
  • Large amounts of raw meat are eaten at weddings, festivals, and other special occasions
  • Raw meat is considered a delicacy in Ethiopia.[13]
  • Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I is considered the son of God among the followers of the Jamaican Rastafarianism religion. In fact, the name “Rastafari” originates from the emperor’s birthplace, Ras Tafari, which means “Prince Tafari” in Amharic. Bob Marley was one well-known Rastafarian. Although the Rastafari movement did evolve in Jamaica, it began in Ethiopia.[11]
  • Except for the Arabs, the Ethiopians are the only people in Africa with their own indigenous written alphabet.[11]
  • Some African countries, like Ghana, adopted flags with the same colors as Ethiopia’s green/red/yellow because Ethiopia was the first African country to defeat a European power militarily.[11]
  • Ethiopia is the 5th largest producer of coffee today and Africa’s top producer. In Ethiopia, there is even a ritualized and ceremonious way to make and drink coffee.[3]
  • Ethiopia briefly had a Jewish queen, Queen Gudit (Judith), who ruled parts of Ethiopia in the 10th century. She burned down many churches.[17]
  • The first globally recognized female African head of state was Ethiopian Queen Zewditu, who was the empress of Ethiopia from 1916 to 1930.[8]
  • Female Ethiopian captain Aster Tolossa is allegedly the first female pilot to shoot down an enemy fighter jet, near Asmara, in Eritrean airspace, in 2000, in the history of aerial warfare.[2]
  • Ethiopia was the first country to accept Islam as a religion and it sheltered the Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his followers when they were being persecuted and killed by pagan Arabians. Today, 35% of Ethiopia is Muslim.[3]
  • In some parts of Ethiopia, wearing a large disc in the lower lip is considered beautiful.[2]
  • To accommodate a lower lip plate, often the bottom two or four teeth are removed
  • The Garima Gospels, the oldest illustrated Christian book, is in Ethiopia. It was written about A.D. 494 by the Abba Garima, a monk who arrived in Ethiopia from Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). According to legend, he wrote the book in one day.[2]
  • Ethiopian female pilot Asegedech Assefa is the first African female to fly an airplane.[2]
  • Ancient Ethiopian queens were uniformly named Candace, which was pronounced “kan-dah-ke”.[12]
  • Emperors ruled Ethiopia until 1974 and all claim to be descendants of King Solomon of the Bible and Makeda (Ethiopian Queen of Sheba). Haile Selassie I was the last Ethiopian emperor.[4]
  • More than 70% of Africa’s mountains are found in Ethiopia. It is sometimes called “the roof of Africa.”[9]
  • The Danakil Depression in Ethiopia is home to the lowest point on Earth, Dallol, a lava lake that is 380 feet (116 m) below sea level. It is also one of the only lava lakes in the world and it is the hottest place on the planet.[11]
  • Teff, used to make the Ethiopian staple injera, is an ancient grain believed to have originated in Ethiopia between 4000 and 1000 B.C. It is the smallest grain in the world and its name may have come from the Amharic word meaning “lost” because it is so small. It is also popular as a baby food.[11]
  • Ethiopia is home to the Black Jews, known as the Falashas or Beta Israel (House of Israel). Various legends claim they are a lost tribe of Israel or descendants of King Solomon.[11]
  • The ancient skeleton was named "Lucy," after the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles, which was playing in the expedition camp
  • Lucy, a human fossil believed to have existed over 3 million years ago, was found in the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia in 1974. She was named after the Beatles’ song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which was playing on the radio at the time she was found. Even older remains were found in Hadar in 2001. Dated at more than 5 million years old, they are the earliest known ancestors of modern humans.[11]
  • Gebeta is an ancient Ethiopian game of strategy. It is played using seeds or pebbles and a board with rows of cups. It is also called wari et solo, mancala, or congkak in different cultures in the world.[9]
  • Ethiopia was the first African nation to join the League of Nations.[11]
  • The first Muslim call to prayer was done by an Ethiopian named Bilal Ibn Rabah, and the first mosque to be built outside of Arabia was the Al Nejashi mosque in northern Ethiopia.[5]
  • On August 12, 2012, Ethiopia became the first country in Africa, and the second in the world, to own and operate a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Owned by Ethiopian Airlines, the aircraft was named “Africa One” and assigned the tail number ET-AOQ.[6]
  • In the 1930s, a group of Jamaicans came to believe that Haile Selassie was a messiah of Biblical teachings: a black leader of an independent African nation. Before he chose his imperial name, which means “the power of the trinity,” his name was Tafari Makonnen. He was serving as the Ras, or regional governor, before he became emperor. So Ras Tafari became Haile Selassie in 1930, and he lent his name to a religion, Rastafarianism, which believes that Jesus was black and the emperor was his incarnation.[9]
  • Ethiopia’s gelada baboon is not a baboon but is, in fact, a monkey that is the last surviving species of ancient grazing primates. It gets its nickname “Bleeding Heart” baboon from the patch of skin on the chest of the female that becomes bright red when it is most fertile.[9]
  • Ethiopia is considered the originator of honey wine, or t’ej, which the rest of the world knows as mead.[13]
  • The first Ethiopian restaurant anywhere outside of Ethiopia was launched in 1966 in California with help from Haile Selassie, the emperor himself.[13]
  • King Ezana is thought to be the man behind the first church in Ethiopia. Built in the 4th century, its remains can still be seen next door to the St. Mary of Zion Church in Aksum.[3]
  • Ethiopia is mentioned 40 times in the Bible
  • Ethiopia is mentioned 40 times in the Bible and it is one of the few countries mentioned in the Bible, the Koran, Homer’s Odyssey, and many other ancient books.[9]
  • When Ethiopians greet each other, they shake hands and gently knock their shoulders together, which is known as the “fighters’ salute” and traditionally was used as a greeting between those who fought in the Derg, the warrior group that came to power following the coup of Haile Selassie.[3]
  • Ownership of cattle confers great social status on Oromo men. Traditionally, if a herdsman owns more than 1,000 head, he is entitled to wear a crown.[3]
  • An important rite of passage for Hamer and Banna boys in Ethiopia is the Ukuli Bula, or Jumping of the Bulls, ceremony. After 15 to 30 bulls have been lined up side by side, each naked boy must leap down the line of bulls, jumping on the beasts from back to back. If they fall, they’re whipped and teased by the women; if they succeed, they have to turn around and complete the task three more times.[3]
  • Traditionalists believe that Ethiopia’s Oromo religion, whose God is called Waka, is the oldest, monotheistic religion in the world and that Moses borrowed the Ten Commandments from them.[2]
  • For centuries, Ethiopians have used wild herbs as medicines to treat such ailments as malaria, hepatitis, pneumonia, and even tapeworms. Scientists point out that common Western drugs such as aspirin and morphine were derived from traditional folk medicines.[11]
  • In Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley, scarification serves as a distinction for brave warriors for men and, for women, the raised texture of the scarred skin is considered highly desirable and sensual.[3]
  • Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie set a world record for the marathon in Berlin in 2008, and won Olympic gold medals twice in 1996 and 2000 in the 10,000 meters. Every day, he ran 6 miles (10 km) to school and back as a child.[9]
  • Of the 143 million orphans worldwide, more live in Ethiopia than in any other country in the world
  • Thirteen percent of Ethiopian children are missing one or both parents. Nearly a quarter of these parents have been lost in the AIDS epidemic.[3]
  • Stick fighting is one of the most popular sports among the Surma people of southwest Ethiopia. Not only does it test men’s strength, coordination, and competitive zeal, but it also serves as a forum through which winners can meet potential wives. The stick-fighting season lasts three months and pits men from different villages against each other. The goal is to knock out an opponent without being knocked out yourself.[9]
  • Buhe is the Ethiopian version of Halloween and occurs on August 19 each year. On that night, groups of boys go from house to house singing songs until they are given handfuls of bread to eat. In the cities, the boys are given money when they are done performing.[9]
  • According to legend, the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified, was found by St. Helena—the mother of Constantine the Great, the Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity—in the 4th century. A relic of that cross was later given to Ethiopia’s kings for protecting Coptic Christians in their country. Meskel celebrates the arrival of the True Cross in Ethiopia and has been celebrated there for more than 1,600 years.[9]
  • Important Dates[3][7][9][11]
    DateEvents
    7000 B.C.People speaking Omotic and Cushitic languages live in Ethiopia’s highlands.
    3500–2000Ancient Egyptians trade with the land of Punt, which may have been part of coastal Ethiopia (present-day Eritrea).
    1000People begin migrating from Saba (present-day Yemen) on the Arabian Peninsula. They bring their writing system, which develops into Ethiopia’s Ge’ez script.
    955–587The Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments vanishes from Jerusalem and is said to have been taken to Ethiopia.
    200Axumite kingdom rises in Ethiopia’s northern highlands.
    A.D. 330King Ezana converts to Christianity and makes it Ethiopia’s official religion.
    400–500The famous Nine Saints, a group of Greek-speaking missionaries, arrive in northern Ethiopia.
    615Prophet Muhammad’s daughter and successor flee persecution in Arabia and introduce Islam to Ethiopia.
    700sMuslim traders begin taking over Aksum’s trade along the Red Sea.
    1137–1270sZagwe Dynasty rules Ethiopia.
    1165–1600Rumors about Prester John, a powerful Ethiopian Christian king, spread throughout Europe. He was supposed to help Christian Europe gain control of the Holy Lands.
    Early 1200sKing Lalibela has 11 churches carved out of solid rock.
    1270Amharic prince Yekuno Amlak restores the Solomonid dynasty and the Amharic language, and Orthodox Christianity spreads throughout the Ethiopian highlands.
    1400French aristocrat Duc de Berry sends the first European ambassador to Ethiopia.
    1400–1600The Kebra Negast, Ethiopia’s national epic, is written.
    1490–1529Muslim leader Mahfuz declares jihad on Christian Ethiopians.
    1529Mahfuz’s successor Ahmad Gragn defeats the Ethiopian emperor.
    1550The city walls of Harar are built.
    1582While much of the Christian world adopts the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia stays with the Julian calendar.
    1632Emperor Fasilidas comes to power and establishes his capital at Gondar.
    1889Menelik II becomes emperor. Addis Ababa becomes Ethiopia’s capital city.
    1896Ethiopian army defeats the invading Italians at the Battle of Adwa.
    1930Emperor Haile Selassie I comes to power.
    1936Italians invade Ethiopia and take Addis Ababa. Emperor Selassie flees, and Ethiopia briefly becomes part of Italian East Africa.
    19371,700-year-old Aksum obelisk is dismantled and removed from Ethiopia to Rome.
    1940–1950Ethiopia establishes its first bank, new university, new national currency, and first and only airline.
    1941Emperor Selassie is restored to the throne when British troops defeat the Italians.
    1962Selassie annexes Eritrea, triggering the start of Africa’s longest war.
    1975-199Mengistu Haile Mariam leads a military coup and a committee called the Derg establishes a socialist state. Anthropologists in the Hadar region discover a female skeleton that is more than 3 million years old and name her Lucy.
    1975Haile Selassie, last Ethiopian emperor, dies in custody.
    1977–1978Mengistu launches the “Red Terror” campaign, which results in the deaths of 100,000 Ethiopians.
    1983–1985Drought causes worst famine in Ethiopian history, claiming at least 300,000 lives.
    1984Israel launches “Operation Moses,” a six-week operation to secretly airlift 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
    1991The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) topples the Derg regime.
    1992Haile Selassie’s remains are found buried under a toilet in the royal palace.
    1993Eritrea becomes independent of Ethiopia.
    1994Ethiopia adopts a formal constitution.
    1995Ethiopia holds its first multi-party elections.
    1999–2002War breaks out between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
    2000Border war with Eritrea ends in a peace treaty. Haile Selassie’s remains are finally reburied in the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
    2001Anthropologists in the Hadar region find human remains that date to more than 5 million years old.
    2005Italy finally returns the first section of the Axum Obelisk.
    2006Construction begins on the Gibe III dam, the biggest dam project in Africa.
    2007Ethiopia celebrates the new millennium since it uses a different calendar.
    2008Reassembly of the 1,700-year-old Aksum obelisk in Ethiopia is completed, and celebrations are held.
    2011American military begins flying drone aircraft from a base in Ethiopia as part of its fight against Islamic militants in Somalia.
    2014According to UN, Ethiopia has become the biggest host of refugees in Africa.
References

1 Akinyoade, Akinyinka et al. Digging Deeper: Inside Africa’s Agricultural, Food and Nutrition Dynamics. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

2 Briggs, Philip. Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guide), 6th ed. Chalfont St. Peter, UK: Bradt Travel Guides, 2012.

3 Carillet, Jean-Bernard, Tim Brewer, and Stuart Butler. Ethiopia and Eritrea (Lonely Planet). Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2013.

4 Englar, Mary. Ethiopia: A Question and Answer Book. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2006.

5 Erlich, Haggai. The Cross and the River: Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Nile. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc, 2002.

6Ethiopian Dares to Dream.” The Economist. September 3, 2012. Accessed May 29, 2015.

7Ethiopia Profile—Timeline.” BBC News. May 4, 2015. Accessed May 29, 2015.

8 Gamble, Frank. A Blue-Ribbon Ethiopia Guide: 305 Success Secrets. Emereo Publishing. Brisbane, Australia: Emereo Publishing, 2015.

9 Gish, Steven, Winnie Thay, and Zawiah Abdul Latif. Ethiopia (Cultures of the World), 2nd ed. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2007.

10 Gundan, Farai. “Fastest Growing African Shoe-Brand ‘SoleRebels’ Launches Flagship Store in Silicon Valley.” Forbes. October 16, 2014. Accessed May 29, 2015.

11 Heinrichs, Ann. Ethiopia (Enchantment of the World), 2nd ed. New York, NY: Children’s Press, 2005.

12 Houston, Drusilla Dunjee. Wonderful Ethiopians of the Cushite Empire. Sioux Falls, SD: NuVision Publications, LLC, 2007.

13 Kloman, Harry. Mesob across America: Ethiopian Food in the U.S.A. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2010.

14 Milkias, Paulos. Ethiopia (Africa in Focus). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011.

15Out of the Shadows: Facts and Figures.” International Center for Research on Women. 2015. Accessed May 29, 2015.

16 Parker, Ben and Abraham Woldegiorgis. Ethiopia: Breaking New Ground (Oxfam Country Profile Series). Oxford, UK: Oxfam GB, 2003.

17 Preston, Steve. Strange, Powerful & Dangerous Women. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2014.

18The Cat Fanciers’ Association Announces Most Popular Cats for 2014.” Cat Fanciers’ Association. February 16, 2015. Accessed May 29, 2015.

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