Ethiopia is one of the world’s most ancient independent nations and one of the earliest places ever inhabited by humans. Its ancient cities and monuments are well-preserved relics of a 3,000-year-old culture, while famous archeological sites continue to reveal traces of the beginnings of human existence. Unique among African countries, Ethiopia maintained its freedom from colonial rule. In 1974 in Ethiopia, Donald Johansson made an important discovery. He and his team of anthropologists and archaeologists found the bones of an ancient female ancestor of the human race. Johansson named her "Lucy." She was found in the northeast quadrant of Ethiopia in the Awash River valley, at a site called Hadar. Lucy was dated at about 3.2 million years old and was a member of a prehuman genus called Australopithecus. Her actual bones are locked in a large vault in the National Museum in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Many other bones of the same age were later found and are believed to be those of Lucy's family. It is becoming clear that humans all emerged from a common ancestral family; all share the same original African homeland in Ethiopia.
For thousands of years, early peoples hunted and gathered food in the rich valleys and highlands of what we now know as Ethiopia. The name is from ancient Greek words meaning "the land of people with burnt faces." It was an area of constant population movement. Peoples from Saudi Arabia crossed the narrow straits of Bab-el-Mandeb at the southern end of the Red Sea. They brought their culture and technology with them and settled in the northern part of Ethiopia. Negroid (black) peoples of sub-Saharan Africa (south of the Sahara Desert) moved up into the higher, cooler reaches of Ethiopia and mixed with and married among the Caucasoid (white) inhabitants already there. Peoples of the Sudan (to the west) and peoples of the desert (to the east) were also migrating. Many found Ethiopia comfortable, and they too settled among and mixed with the peoples from other lands. A major factor in this movement and settlement was trade. Traders bought and sold foods and spices, salt bars (used as money), gold and precious stones, domestic animals, wild animal skins—and slaves. Goods found in one area were wanted in other areas. This promoted the migration of traders and their families and the growth of market towns. This activity has gone on for 2,000 years and continues today.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ethiopia covers an area of 1.14 million square kilometers (944,000 square miles).
Ethiopia is landlocked country located in Eastern Africa. It borders Kenya, South Sudan, Somali, Djibouti and Sudan.
There are two major seasons: the dry season prevails from October through May; the wet season runs from June to September.
Ethiopia has an elevated central plateau varying in height between 2,000 and 3,000 meters. In the north and centre of the country there are some 25 mountains whose peaks rise over 4,000 meters. The most famous Ethiopian river is the Blue Nile (or Abay), which runs a distance of 1,450 kilometers from the source in Lake Tana, to join the White Nile at Khartoum.
About 85 per cent of the population earns living from the land, mainly as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy and the principal exports from this sector are coffee, oil seeds, pulses, flowers, vegetables, sugar and foodstuffs for animals. There is also a thriving livestock sector, exporting cattle on the hoof, hides and skins.
Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state with a great variety of languages spoken in the country, of which there are 83 with 200 dialects. Amharic is the working language of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia while Oromigna, Tigrigna and Guragina are widely spoken. Moreover, English, French and Arabic are widely spoken in the spheres of commerce and education.
Orthodox Christians make up about 46% of the country's population. The rest are Muslims, Jews, other Christians and African traditionalists.
International dialing code: +251
Ethiopia is in the GMT + 3 hours time zone. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar.
The population is estimated at 95 million. There are more than 80 ethnic groups, each with their own language and culture.
In general between seasons clothes are appropriate. At higher altitudes, woolen clothes or a coat are needed in the evenings. Travelers should take rain coat or other rainwear, particularly when visiting the country during the period from February to October.
Banking hours are usually from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm from Monday to Friday and from 8:00 am – 11:00 am on Saturdays. Closing times may be an hour longer in some private banks. Most banks work through lunchtime; however foreign exchange services are closed during lunch hours (12:00 noon – 1:00 pm).
Shops are open Monday to Friday 8:00am-12:00pm and 1:00pm-very flexible, often longer opening hours; some shops are also open on Saturday. These days a few supermarkets and beauty salons in the capital are working 24 hours.
The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB), made up of 100 cents. Birr notes are available in denominations of 5, 10, 50 and 100. Visitors may import an unlimited amount of foreign currency but this must be declared on arrival to the customs authorities on the appropriate blue-colored form. Foreign currency may only be exchanged at authorized banks and hotels, and a receipt must be obtained. The currency declaration form must be retained as this will be required by customs on departure. Visitors may change back any surplus Ethiopian Birr to cash at the airport before departure. In addition to any Ethiopian Birr, along with the currency exchange form you must bring with you all receipts for exchange transactions.
Sunday is the weekly day of rest. Public holidays are celebrated according to the Ethiopian (Julian) Calendar which consists of twelve months of thirty days each and a thirteenth month of five days (six days in leap year). The calendar is seven years behind the Western or Gregorian calendar, with New Year falling in the month of September. September 11 Ethiopian New Year, September 26 The finding of the True Cross (Meskal), January 8 Ethiopian Christmas, January 20 Ethiopian Epiphany, April 25 Ethiopian Good Friday, April 27 Ethiopian Easter
Visas for Ethiopia are required by all nationals except nationals of Kenya and Djibouti.
As of November 2018, nationals and permanent residents of all African Union countries can get visas on arrival, making it easy for Africans to visit Ethiopia which is also home to the African Union headquarters. Not all countries in Africa are part of the African Union; Morocco is not a member and the membership of the Central African Republic is also temporarily suspended.
In addition, nationals and permanent residents of 36 other countries are also allowed to receive their tourist visas on arrival at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. These countries include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China (including passports issued in Hong Kong and Macao), Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greek, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom and United States.
To get a visa on arrival, you need two passport photographs and US$52 for a single-entry visa with validity up to 30 days, or US$72 for a single-entry visa with validity up to 90 days. Permanent residents of the above-mentioned countries must also provide a valid residence permit.
Citizens from countries not listed above should apply for an Ethiopian e-VISA at www.evisa.gov.et before travelling. Alternatively, you can also apply at a consulate near you.
Apart from tourist visa, Ethiopia also offers business visa for the following purposes: conference, foreign business employment, government, journalist, private firm, international organisation work and government institutions short task visa. To find out more, visit www.evisa.gov.et or at a consulate near you.
Duty-free imports are permitted for up to:
1. 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 1/2 lb of tobacco
2. 2 liters of alcoholic beverages
3. Half-liter or two bottles of perfume.
Visitors may export souvenirs, although some articles (such as animal skin and antiques) require an export permit.
Prior to entry, visitors should be in possession of a valid health certificate for yellow fever. Vaccination against cholera is also required for any person who has visited or transited a cholera-infected area within six days prior to arrival in Ethiopia.
The Bole International Airport is situated 8 kilometers from the centre of the city (a 15 minute drive under normal conditions). Paid parking, luggage carts and uniformed porters are available at the airport terminal. Taxis are readily available. The rates for these taxis are fixed and receipts will be given if requested. Privately-owned blue cabs and yellow cabs are also in abundance, but do not have fixed rates; establishing their fare is advisable before getting into the vehicle. Foreign exchange service is available at the arrivals lounge. Security at the airport is tight and travelers need to produce their air ticket and passport to enter the terminal building.
Illegal drug use (no matter what the drug) carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms.
The Western and Julian calendars are used in Ethiopia. The year 2016 in the Western calendar is 2008-2009 in the Julian calendar. Christmas is celebrated on 7 January and New Year on 11 September. Similarly, two systems of time are used. Ethiopian time is measured as a 12-hour day starting at 6am. Western 7am is referred to by many as one o’clock. Many Ethiopians are aware of this difference and will often convert times when speaking to foreigners.
Homosexual activity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment under the law. The subject is taboo for the majority of Ethiopians.
You must get a permit to export antiques from Ethiopia. To avoid confusion on departure, you should keep receipts for any souvenirs you’ve bought, including crosses, which could be mistaken for valuable cultural artifacts. In Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, you can fill in the customs declaration form in the baggage hall.
Ethiopian law strictly prohibits the photographing of military installations, police/military personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, airfields, etc.). Such sites are rarely marked clearly. Travel guides, police, and Ethiopian officials can advise if a particular site may be photographed. Photographing prohibited sites may result in the confiscation of film and camera and arrest.
There are some ATM machines at the major hotels and commercial centers that accept major international credit and debit cards, although connectivity problems sometimes limit their availability. While credit cards are gaining acceptance with some hotels, travel agencies, and merchants (Visa is much more widely accepted than MasterCard). It is best to check ahead and ensure you have sufficient cash reserves. Bear in mind that travelers’ cheques are not generally accepted outside Addis Ababa. There are strict rules about taking foreign currency and Ethiopian birr out of Ethiopia. You can’t take more than USD$3,000 (or equivalent in foreign currency) out of Ethiopia, unless you declared the amount when you arrived in the country or you have Ethiopian bank advice certifying the purchase of the foreign currency. And you can’t take more than 200 Ethiopian birr in to or out of the country. Amounts over 200 Ethiopian birr, or undeclared amounts over USD$3,000 may be confiscated by the Ethiopian authorities. In case of emergency, Western Union has offices in Ethiopia, which can facilitate money transfers.
» Ethiopia is among the oldest countries on the planet, having been established in 980 B.C.
» Ethiopia is the only country in the world with 13 months. It is also eight years behind the Western calendar. The 13th month has only five days, or six in a leap year.
» 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.
» Donkeys and camels were first domesticated in Ethiopia.
» Ethiopians celebrated their new year on September 11.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» Ethiopian emperor Menelik II was the first African to drive a car, in 1907.
» Ethiopians measure time from when the sun rises and count time on the opposite side of the clock. When the sun rises at 6 o’clock it is said to be 12 o’clock – the start of the day in Ethiopia. Ethiopians rationalize that the clock should start when the day does. Confused? Don’t worry, you get used to it after a few days!
» Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never formally colonized; however, it had to defeat the Italians twice to remain independent.
» 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, 46% of Ethiopians practice Christianity.
» 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.
» 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.
» Ethiopia’s national language is Amharic, but there are over 82 languages and 200 dialects, or variations, spoken in the country.
» 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 birth name, 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.
» The Ethiopians are the only people in Africa, except for the Arabs, with their own indigenous written alphabet. Actually it uses an abugida, also known as an alpha-syllabary, which consists of 209 symbols and 25 letter variants.
» 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.
» The first globally recognized female African head of state was Ethiopian Queen Zewditu, who was the empress of Ethiopia from 1916 to 1930
» 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.
» In some parts of Ethiopia, wearing a large disc in the lower lip is considered beautiful. 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.
» More than 70% of Africa’s mountains are found in Ethiopia. It is sometimes called “the roof of Africa.”
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» Ethiopia was the first African nation to join the League of Nations.
» 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.
» Ethiopia is considered the originator of honey wine, or t’ej, which the rest of the world knows as mead.
» 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.
» 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.
» For centuries, Ethiopians have used wild herbs as medicines to treat such ailments as malaria, hepatitis, pneumonia, and even tapeworms. Scientists point out those common Western drugs such as aspirin and morphine were derived from traditional folk medicines.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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. The oldest fossil skeleton of a human was discovered in Ethiopia. So too was coffee, making Ethiopia the home of mankind and mankind’s favorite wake-up drink.