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:
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.