10 surprising facts about Ethiopia
10 surprising facts about Ethiopia – Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world, its territorial extent having varied over the millennia of its existence. In ancient times, it remained centered on Aksum, an imperial capital located in the northern part of the modern state, about 160 km from the Red Sea coast. The current territory was consolidated during the 19th and 20th centuries when European powers encroached on Ethiopia’s historical domain. Ethiopia rose to prominence in modern world affairs first in 1896, when it defeated colonial Italy in the Battle of Adwa, and again in 1935-1936, when it was invaded and occupied by fascist Italy.
Liberation during World War II by the Allied Powers set the stage for Ethiopia to play a greater role in world affairs. Ethiopia was among the first independent nations to sign the United Nations Charter, and it provided moral and material support for the decolonization of Africa and the development of pan-African cooperation. Ethiopia, the exciting land of origins, is found in North East Africa and is home to varied landscapes, deserts, volcanoes, highlands and of course the famous rock-hewn churches.
Ethiopia’s unique combination of culture, deep-rooted history and stunning landscapes make it one of the most intriguing places on earth. From legendary beliefs to confusing times and dates, here are some facts about Ethiopia you probably didn’t know. Ethiopia might not be the first place you think of when booking your next vacation, but it should be. The country has been at peace for more than 15 years and its economy is one of the most dynamic in the world.
Add to that a staggering diversity of landscapes, a kaleidoscope of cultures and history dating back to when our species first rose on two legs – and suddenly you have a very surprising travel destination. And just to go deeper, here are 10 facts about Ethiopia that you probably don’t know:
- 1. Thirteen months a year
Of course, many cultures have their own calendars that they prefer to follow over the Western Gregorian, but most still adhere to the unspoken “12 months to a year” rule. Not Ethiopia. Always looking to buck a trend, many thousands of years ago the Ethiopians understood the Spinal Tap belief that one more is always better – and they have counted 13 months as their year ever since. What does it mean? Well, that 2017 is still 2009 there. And that savvy tourist offices can legitimately claim that the country really boasts of “13 months of sunshine”.
- 2. It was the birthplace of coffee
There are many legends about the origins of coffee, but it is believed that its heritage actually dates back to a goat herder on the Ethiopian plateau. Legend has it that the shepherd noticed that his goats had an affinity for the berries of a certain tree, and when they ate them they were so energetic that they couldn’t sleep at night. After trying to turn the berries into a drink at his local monastery, he found it kept him alert during the long hours of evening prayer.
The drink was shared with the monks of the monastery and from these humble beginnings the coffee industry boomed. It is estimated today that 500 billion cups of coffee are drunk each year, and we are eternally grateful to this shepherd!
- 3. Ethiopia is perceived as the diplomatic capital of the African continent.
Ethiopia hosts the headquarters of African and international organizations such as the African Union, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNESCO, and UNDP. Who would have thought that the otherwise dusty and crowded city of Addis Ababa, typical of several other African cities, could be the host city for the headquarters of such distinguished and important global players.
In fact, Ethiopia was also the birthplace of Pan-Africanism – the global movement that aims to encourage and strengthen the bonds of solidarity among all indigenous and diaspora ethnic groups of African descent. It was welcomed by Emperor Haile Selassie I and is seen as the movement that ultimately led to the birth of the current African Union.
- 4. More than 75 languages are spoken in Ethiopia
It’s no secret that many African nations are among the most linguistically diverse places. But Ethiopia is taking it to the next level. There are over 80 languages spoken with English being the language of the education systems in addition to local languages which include Oromo, Amharic, Somali and Tigrinya.
- 5. More than half of Africa’s mountains are in Ethiopia
Besides Ethiopia’s incredible cultural and historical significance, the natural beauty is one of a kind. In addition to a beautiful landscape of low deserts and volcanic plateaus, Ethiopia is incredibly mountainous. In fact, about 70% of Africa’s mountains are in Ethiopia.
- 6. The Rastafarian movement has ties to Ethiopia
The history of Rastafari can be traced back to Africa although the movement was started and developed in Jamaica.
The word Rastafarian is derived from ‘Ras’ which means chief in the official language of Ethiopia, Amharic and ‘Tafari’, the first name of the former Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I. He was also the spiritual leader of the Rastafarians who was considered an incarnation of God.
Ethiopia is the only African country never to have been brought under colonial control – a fact the locals will never tire of telling you about. And fair enough too. The Italians gave colonization a chance in 1935 – and succeeded in militarily occupying the country for six years – but Ethiopian forces waged military opposition the entire time and the entire country was never subdued. As some locals said, “we waited until they built us railroads and nice buildings…then we chased them away.”
- 8. The oldest people in the world
Several archaeological discoveries in the Afar region of Ethiopia suggest that the country could be where we all started. In 1972, Donald Johanson and Tim D. White discovered Lucy, a 3.2 million year old hominid skeleton. For years, Lucy was a hit, embarking on a nine-year world tour and enjoying widespread fame. Then Ardi, also from the Afar region but a million years her senior, shook herself off and blew her out of the water.
- 9. You will find a lot of vegetarian cuisine in Ethiopia
We talked about it in our previous point, but the food in Ethiopia is delicious, and it’s also a great place to visit if you’re a vegetarian. Many Ethiopians follow an Orthodox Christian religion that forbids eating animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays, meaning you’ll almost always find vegetarian dishes on the menu. The base of almost every Ethiopian meal is a delicious pancake-like bread called injera, which you’ll find topped with tasty stews and curries.
- 10. The national animal of Ethiopia is the Abyssinian lion.
Abyssinian lions, or Panthera Leo Abyssinica, are smaller than their East African cousins and the males have a distinct black mane. Experts say fewer than 1,000 Abyssinian lions can still be found in Ethiopia.
The last of their descendants are believed to still be kept at the Addis Ababa Zoo, built in 1949 during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, known as the “Lion of Judah”. The zoo was intended to raise the animals for display as symbols of his reign.