Traditional Costume & Food
Traditional dress, though often now supplanted by Western attire, may still be seen throughout much of the countryside. National dress is usually worn for festivals, when streets and meeting-places are transformed into a sea of white as finely woven cotton dresses, wraps decorated with coloured woven borders, and suits are donned. A distinctive style of dress is found among the Oromo horsemen of the central highlands, who, on ceremonial days such as Maskal, attire themselves in lions’ manes or baboon-skin headdresses and, carrying hippo-hide spears and shields, ride down to the main city squares to participate in the parades.
Ethiopians are justifiably proud of the range of their traditional costumes. The most obvious identification of the different groups is in the jewellery, the hair styles and the embroidery of the dresses. The women of Amhara and Tigray wear dozens of plaits (sheruba),
tightly braided to the head and billowing out at the shoulders. The women of Harar part their hair in the middle and make a bun behind each ear. Hamer, Geleb, Bume and Karo men form a ridge of plaited hair and clay to hold their feathered headwear in place. Arsi women have fringes and short, bobbed hair. Bale girls have the same, but cover it with a black head cloth, while young children often have their heads shaved.
Jewellery in silver and gold is worn by both Muslims and Christians, often with amber or glass beads incorporated. Heavy brass, copper and ivory bracelets and anklets are also worn. Ethiopia also has a rich tradition of both secular and religious music, singing and dancing, and these together constitute an important part of Ethiopian cultural life. Singing accompanies many agricultural activities, as well as religious festivals and ceremonies surrounding life’s milestones – birth, marriage and death.