ALTERNATE NAMES: Abyssinians
POPULATION: 52 million
LANGUAGE: Amharic; English; French; Italian; Arabic; various tribal dialects
RELIGION: Coptic Monophysite Christianity; Islam; indigenous religions
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Afar; Amhara; Fulani; Oromos; Tigray
Evidence of Ethiopia's past reaches back to the dawn of human existence. The 1974 discoveries of paleoanthropologist Dr. Donald Johanson and his team first revealed an ancient female ancestor of humanity that he named Lucy. She was found in the northeast quadrant of Ethiopia in the Awash river valley at a site called Hadar. She was dated at about 3.5 million years old and was a member of a prehuman species called Australopithecus. The casts of her bones now reside in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Her actual bones are locked in a large vault in the National Museum in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Subsequently, many other bones were found of the same age and were called Lucy's family. In 1992–94, paleo-anthropologist Dr. Tim White and his team found even older bones, discovered 45 miles southwest of Hadar, which now has brought our ancestry back to possibly 4.5 million years ago. More recently, paleoanthropologist Dr. Yohannis Haile Sellassie and his team, also working in the Afar region discovered remains that reach back more than 5 million years to the chimpanzee-hominid species boundary. These exciting discoveries teach us much about not only how old our prehuman ancestors are, but also that we all emerged from a common ancestral family. Ethiopia is the homeland of us all.
For millennia primitive peoples hunted and gathered their subsistence in the resourceful valleys and highlands of what we now know as Ethiopia. The word “Etyopya” is from the ancient Greek meaning “The land of people with burnt faces.” It was an area of continuous population movement. Peoples from the Saudi Arabian mainland crossed the narrow straits of the Bab el Mandeb at the southeastern extremity of the Red Sea bringing their culture and technology with them and settled into the northern reaches of Ethiopia. Peoples of the Sudan to the west and the peoples of the desert to the east were also in a state of migration and many found Ethiopia to be hospitable and they settled among and mixed with populations who originally came from other lands. A major factor encouraging these movements and settlement was trade. Food items and spices, salt bars used as currency, gold and precious stones, domestic animals and wild animal skins, and slaves; material goods found in one area and not in other areas became sought after and stimulated the migrations of traders and their families and the growth of market towns. This activity has persisted for 2,000 years and continues into the present.
Peoples of the vast rolling highland plateau, commonly known as Abyssinia, found rich volcanic soils to grow their crops in an abundance that permitted large aggregates of people to live together. With such large groups of people complex political organizations formed. Centralized kingships became a dominant type of institution, which to the observer, looked something like the feudal systems of the European middle ages. Until the 19th century these autonomous fiefdoms were dominant in the highlands. Then in the mid-19th century, Emperor Menelik consolidated these fiefdoms and many other tribal groups into one empire. This consolidated empire was a continuation of a long line of Abyssinian emperorships that lasted until 1974, when Emperor Haile Sellassie I was overthrown in a bloody revolution that persisted until 1991, when two major northern peoples swept down and took power and formed what the new government calls a “democratic” revolution.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Ethiopia is situated on the eastern “horn” of the African continent. It is bound by the Red Sea to the northeast, Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, and Somalia to the east. A great cleavage in the African continental plate runs south from the Red Sea all the way into the Indian Ocean. This major geological formation is known as the Great Rift Valley. In Ethiopia, the Great Rift Escarpment forms what is considered to be one of the more spectacular regions on earth—at 14,000 ft one can look straight down into an abyss of fog and clouds and hear the eagles, hawks, antelope, ibex, monkeys, and hyenas calling in the distance below. Looking out onto the valley's lowlands, when the afternoon winds have blown the fog and clouds away and before the rains come in the late afternoon, one can see the desert lowlands with vast, steep-walled mountains rising from the valley floor some 3,000–6,000 ft. These are called amba and are the remains of extinct volcanoes that accumulated gradually over a period of thousands of years.
To the south in the Great Rift Valley, one finds steaming thermal lakes where underground water broke free with quaking earth and came to the surface, creating a series of lakes extending down through sub-Saharan east Africa. The lush forests of southern Ethiopia, its rich alluvial river and lake soils, and the plentitude of fish and land animals and birds, provided ample food resources for numerous tribal peoples who still inhabit this region and sustain cultural traditions that reach back 10,000 years. Today, within the national boundaries of Ethiopia some 52 million people reside, comprising more than 80 separate cultures and languages.
Since it was the Amhara people who dominated vast regions of Ethiopia for some 2,000 years and maintained a line of kings governing Abyssinia, their language, Amharic, has become the dominant language of the country. It is a Semitic language, having similarities to both Arabic and Hebrew. Because of the significant influence of Great Britain from the 19th century onward, and because of the presence and influence of America in the 20th century, English has become the second dominant language of this country. Generally, both Amharic and English are the languages of business, medicine, and the academic disciplines. But language and culture in Ethiopia are very complex because of the many other linguistic and cultural influences. One finds a family of northern languages in Eritrea. The Cushitic family of languages are spoken by a majority population of Oromo peoples in the central regions of Ethiopia. The desert-dwelling peoples of the southeast speak dialects of Somali. In the south and southwest we find the Omotic family of languages spoken by numerous smaller tribal groups. Many of these languages, especially those spoken by the minority tribal groups, have no written traditions, and the cultures of these peoples are carried on by oral traditions. They are called nonliterate cultures, but there is no devaluing of these peoples because they exist without writing. One language of Ethiopia is not spoken by any cultural population at all. It is called Geez, an ancient Ethiopic language used in Coptic Christian religious contexts by the clergy. Scriptures are written in Geez, and prayers, chants, and songs are uttered in Geez within the Ethiopian Christian Church. Geez functions something like Latin in the Catholic religion.
Languages from the West are also well recognized: French because of French enterprises in the early part of the 20th century, building a railroad and establishing schools, and Italian because of the Italian occupation during World War II. Today most automobile and refrigerator parts have Italian names. Arabic is a dominant language of business among people dealing in commerce with Arabia and the Middle East.
Every culture has its own body of folklore, myths, legends, song, poetry, stories, and parables, all revealing the identity of the culture and the common sense of morality and tradition among the people of that culture. It would take an encyclopedia of folklore to illustrate the examples from the many cultures of Ethiopia. Here, one myth, the Abyssinian story of Solomon and Sheba, may serve as an example of the usefulness and significance of myth and folklore in one particular culture.
Meqedes, Queen of the land of Sheba (in Amharic she is also known as Saba), knew of King Solomon's great wisdom and wished to visit him in the land of Israel. So she summoned a businessman, a trader who traveled far and wide and knew the paths to Israel. She gave him delicate perfumes and scents from a variety of barks and flowers and sent him to offer these to King Solomon, who accepted them with curiosity and anticipation, wondering about this new queen from the land of Ethiopia. The trader returned with the good news that King Solomon would be interested in meeting her. She gathered her retinue of handmaidens, cooks, body guards, and slaves and set off to the land of Israel by boat up the Nile and by camel across the great deserts.
King Solomon personally greeted Saba at his gate and they introduced themselves. Solomon invited Saba and her retinue to a great feast. Then the King invited Saba to sleep with him. The Queen refused politely but with resolution. That night, King Solomon took Saba's maidservant to bed with him and they sleep together. The next evening King Solomon and Saba dined together. The King had instructed his cooks to make the food very spicy and salty. Then that night, the King invited Saba to sleep with him, promising not to touch her so long as she does not take anything belonging to the King—if she did, he could have her. Saba agreed to this and went to bed with King Solomon. That night Saba awoke with a great thirst and drank some of Solomon's water. He caught her and reminded her of their agreement. They slept together and he impregnated her with new life.
The Queen of Sheba returns to her land and in time bears a child, whom she names Menelik. As Menelik grows through childhood, Saba, also known as Meqdes, teaches him about his father, King Solomon, and he draws a picture of his father to keep near as a remembrance. As a young man, Menelik travels back to the land of Israel to meet and know his father. Menelik, who will succeed his mother to the throne of Sheba in the land of Abyssinia, remembers the great ark and the tablets that were handed down by God to Moses on Sinai. He arranges with his retinue to have the Ark of the Covenant taken from its place and brought back to the land of Sheba without the knowledge or consent of the Israelites. Back in his native land, Menelik installs the Great Ark in the Church of St. Mary at Axum, thereby sanctifying the land of Sheba and legitimating the origin and royal line of the Solomonic dynasty.
This myth exists to this day. It is a very important myth because it gives the Abyssinian peoples a sense of historical identity. It also legitimated or justified the emperor's right to rule by linking the Abyssinian people with God, Moses, and the Holy Ark of the Covenant—the critical link being Menelik, sired by King Solomon, who was of the royal line of kings sanctioned and blessed by God. And, if you read closely, you can get a bit of the flavor of Abyssinian culture: the sending of sentient gifts to beg an invitation, Solomon's craftiness at having conjugal relations with Meqdes, the Queen of Sheba, and Menelik's absconding with the Ark from Israel and installing it at Axum, thereby transferring that great power to his own land. And, as with any culture one studies, folklore is an expression of a people about themselves and how they see and feel about the world in which they live.
Religious belief and ritual vary with each culture existing within the boundaries of Ethiopia. With over 80 languages spoken, one can find over 80 cultures and over 80 religions. Yet one finds commonalities and overlaps in religious belief and ritual. In general, there are three major religions practiced by Ethiopian populations: Coptic Monophysite Christianity, Islam, and indigenous (or what some people used to call pagan) religion. Ethiopian Coptic Christianity was adopted by the Abyssinian peoples (north central highland populations) in the 4th century. This religion has not changed very much in the almost 2,000 years it has been practiced by Ethiopians of the highlands. This form of Christianity still contains many of the Hebraic and pagan elements that one would expect to find during the time when Christ's disciples were preaching to the villagers of Galilee. If you traveled into the highland countryside today and mingled with the peasantry and came to know their way of life, you would feel as though you were walking into the times of the Old Testament. Ethiopian Christianity is a museum of early Christian life, and for that reason is a very important area of study.
Whereas Ethiopian Christianity is practiced by a minority of the total Ethiopian population, Islam is practiced by the great majority of the Ethiopian population. It must be stressed that each culture practices their religion in their own way and makes many distinctive interpretations that other cultures do not share. So one finds many different cultures of Ethiopia practicing Islam, each interpreting the Koran a bit differently, and each with a slightly different nuance of practice from the other. One notable ritual practice is the chewing of qat, or tchat. This is a plant that grows in proliferation and is a multi-million dollar industry in Ethiopia with exports to several Middle Eastern countries. The leaves are most often bitter to the taste and provide a mild stimulant that can keep one awake through the night. Often these people will work very hard at their jobs of trading or farming through the morning, and then at noon they will cease their work and chew for the rest of the day, socializing, praying, and attending to nonessential business.
The third major category of Ethiopian religion is indigenous religion. This is a generic term for the ancient religions practiced often by tribal peoples who live by 10,000 year old traditions. Sometimes one finds the overlay of a Protestant religion taught by missionaries living amongst a particular people, or a thin appearance of Islam which came as an outside influence. But, these ancient religions have served the people well, adapting them to the world and allowing them to survive with vitality and spirit to this day.
One cannot leave issues of religion without mention of the Falasha, or Bete Yisroel, the Hebraic people of Ethiopia who practice an ancient, pre-Talmudic form of Judaism. From the 11th through the 13th centuries these people formed a powerful political entity in the very high reaches of the Semien Mountains and for a period of time controlled the Abyssinian population. Because they were vanquished by the Abyssinians at the end of the 13th century, they became landless and made their living working in metal, clay, cloth, and tanning hides. They existed as a despised caste group that other peoples were, nevertheless, dependent upon because of their fine crafting skills. Because of the upheavals of famine and civil war—at one point they were caught in the crossfire of that war—and because of high-level political manipulations, two massive Israeli airlifts brought the majority of these people to Israel, their promised land.
Although the majority of holidays are of a religious nature—and they are numerous—there are some secular holidays recognized by all Ethiopians alike. The Ethiopian New Year is celebrated in September because they use the Julian calendar, which contains 12 months of 30 days, plus a 6-day “month” which ends their year. New Year's Day is a time of celebration, during which the people slaughter chickens, goats, and sheep, and sometimes a steer. They welcome the New Year with singing and dancing. The other major holiday today can be translated as “Freedom Day” or “Independence Day,” and celebrates the northern fighters sweeping down into Addis Ababa and ousting the former dictatorship after a 30-year civil war. During both holidays there are parades, feasts, and dancing to the traditional Ethiopian music.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Birth is not a very significant time for rites of passage in Ethiopia, because the family is anxious about the survival of the newborn and does not know whether their god will take the infant or let it gain strength through childhood. Infant mortality may vary between 20% and 40% depending on the particular people and where they live. For the Christian and Islamic groups, genital cutting marks a rite of passage into the religious world and provides cultural identity for the boys and girls involved. For the boys it is a simple circumcision ceremony. For the girls, depending on the cultural group, her operation may vary from an excision of the labia minor or clitoral hood, to a more radical clitoridectomy. For many groups in Ethiopia, marriage is a significant event in which the couple assumes the full responsibilities which include work roles and the rearing of children who will carry on the family name and maintain the family estate.
Among the highland Ethiopians, the virginity of a bride is considered extremely important, and her virginal blood must be in evidence upon the marital bed sheets before this first marriage is legitimated. The funeral ritual is the other major rite of passage in which the community grieves and celebrates the passing of the spiritual body into the realm of God.
Throughout Ethiopia one finds both formal and informal ways of relating to others. The formal method of communication and relation lubricates the busy comings and goings and business of everyday living, prevents potential conflicts from coming to the surface, and provides a threshold through which people may enter into more informal conversation if they wish. Among the Amharic speakers in Ethiopia (most people speak Amharic even if it isn't their mother tongue, because it is the national language), when greeting an acquaintance, one will say tenayistilign (“may God give you health for me”), and the other will answer in kind. Then the first speaker will say dehna neh? (“you are fine?”) if he or she is speaking to someone familiar. The other will answer, awon, dehna negn (“Yes I am fine”). They will question each other about their wives, children, and other close relatives. This can be repeated over and over again several times before they lapse into conversation. Then, if they are close and wish more of each others' company, there will be an invitation to one's home. It is an honor to be invited because it means you will feast with them and drink beer and liquor, spending hours in warm conversation telling all the news one can remember. Normally, if one is invited to another's home, one should bring a gift. The traditional visiting gifts in Ethiopia include coffee or sugar, a bottle of liquor or honey wine, or fruit or eggs. The giving of food and drink is practically a sacred act.
Many Americans and Europeans have learned of the drought and famine in Ethiopia which has left parts of that country devastated. However, this is just one part of Ethiopia—the north central region—that has been affected, aggravated by a civil war that persisted until 1991. There are really four major ecological zones that determine particular living conditions for Ethiopians. To the east are the desert nomads, whom National Geographic considers to be one of the toughest and most ferocious peoples on earth. They live with their camel and cattle herds in one of the most hostile places on earth, the Afar Desert and Danakil Depression, where temperatures can climb to 140°F. Salt bars are still mined here and sold as currency. In contrast, the great highland plateau rises from 9,000 to 14,000 ft, with fertile soils allowing rich harvests for large populations of Abyssinians living in a fairly complex political system.
Work roles are distinctive among men and women. Women start the day at dawn, get the water, make the coffee, prepare the grains for the day's meals, and care for the children. Men get up a bit later and, depending on the season, will till the soil with plowshare and oxen, allow the animals to fertilize it with dung, harvest the grain crops, and defend the homestead in times of strife. Men usually have much more leisure time than the women. But through the day there is always time for coffee parties and much gossip and lively conversation. Adults and children tell stories by the hearth fires at night and retire between 10:00 pm and midnight. To the south, one finds tribal peoples living in a horticultural ecology, cultivating food-giving plants around the homestead, and whose daily rounds are not too different from the peasant farmers in the highland. The fourth way of life is the urban life, mostly in small towns. Even Addis Ababa, the capital city, is more a conglomeration of villages or neighborhoods with straight-sided, mud-walled houses topped by corrugated iron roofs. The city is teaming with automobiles and large Italian trucks. The presence of pre-formed concrete buildings marks the establishment of government and big business and a few palaces mark the royalty of an earlier era.
Health is the major problem in the cities, where many diseases flourish in a dense population with very little access to modern medicine because of the poverty and shortage of cash to purchase antibiotics. By World Bank standards, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet one finds traces of a growing middle class. What is striking to the observer is the contrast between the majority of very poor, many living on the street under plastic, and a noticeable chosen few living sumptuous lives in palatial homes with satellite dishes on their roof tops.
Among the Christian population monogamy is the rule, allowing one spouse. Among the Muslim population a man may have up to four wives if he can afford them, but normally one finds men with one wife. Ethiopians love to have large families because children are considered wealth: they are a source of labor; they are social and emotional support; and they are an old couple's social security. Peasant farmer families often live in large extended families in homesteads where each house serves as a room with a special function, such as the kitchen house, the bedroom house, the party house, the toilet house (although most rural people go in the trees), and the guest house; all are surrounded by walls of stone and thornbush to keep out the wild animals, such as leopard, hyena, and wild dog. One will normally find three generations of family living together, sharing the work and the pleasures of family life. Most families have one or more dogs that they keep tied on a short rope (to make them vicious) in order to intimidate intruders who might consider stealing a goat or a chicken or two.
Grandparents are highly valued because they are the teachers of the young. They tell their grandchildren stories of their history, their religion, and the best way to gain power and influence in the community. Women are considered inferior to men, as both men and women will attest. Women are reminded of their inferiority by the physical superiority of their husbands and by God, who has cursed them by shedding their blood every month—shedding their blood the way a warrior vanquishes his enemy.
A great variety of clothing can be found in Ethiopia, from the elaborate and colorfully embroidered white dresses of women and the tailored white shirts and jodhpur trousers of men, to the naked tribal peoples of the southwest whose only clothing in the past was iron bracelets, beads, gypsum and ocher paints, and elaborate designs of scars. Today more and more of these peoples have donned clothing, but only as a decoration.
The traditional Abyssinian cuisine is a complex of a variety of foods. The berebere is a hot sauce primarily of cayenne pepper but which also includes 12 other spices. It is heavy and rich, cooked with a good deal of butter. The meat that goes with this sauce includes chicken, sheep meat, goat meat, and beef. Pigs are not eaten anywhere in Ethiopia except by the Europeans and Americans. Pork is considered disgusting and is taboo, according to the ancient Hebraic custom. No meal is complete without a variety of fresh vegetables, both cooked and raw. Cheese, like a dry cottage cheese, is eaten, but not to a great extent. Fish is also eaten, though it is not a popular dish among the native Ethiopians. People sit around a tall circular basket (mesob) with a flat top, where the large round sourdough bread is laid and the various foods put down upon it. Food is eaten with the fingers—no finger-licking please! At the beginning and at the end of the meal, the hostess will come around with hot steaming towelettes to clean one's fingers. The meal is finished with coffee brewed from locally grown beans. Some of the richest coffee beans found anywhere in the world are produced in Ethiopia and, while some are exported, much are grown for one's own personal consumption and enjoyment.
Traditionally, in the rural regions, which is most of Ethiopia, education was primarily for boys and young men and was accomplished within the domain of the church. Today, government schools dot the countryside and teachers from the capital city and the larger towns go out and take up their professional roles in these schools. In the city and larger towns, schools have always played an important role in the secular education of the children. Today in the city, girls and young women are fighting to be educated. More and more opportunities are opening up for women with the help of international enterprises which are boosting the faltering economy.
Traditional Ethiopia boasts distinctive genres of music, dance, and among the Abyssinians, a literature predominantly religious in nature. Its millennia of relative isolation has allowed a unique tradition of music, similar to Indian or Arabic styles, as well as painting which is largely religious and akin to the Byzantine, where we find highly stylized features of people with very large eyes. But today, a growing number of artists are creating powerful images of their times with oil and watercolor and in sculptural forms.
In the rural countryside the traditional work of boys and girls and men and women has continued relatively unchanged for 1,000 years. It is the work of farming in the highlands. In the deserts it is nomadic herding of camels, goats, and cattle, traveling from water place to water place in an annual circuit. In the Rift Valley and the surrounding regions of the south and southwest, it is the gardening of horticulturalists, cultivating the ensete plant that looks like a banana tree, but whose trunk pulp is prepared and eaten. It is only in the towns and the city that industry and business have proliferated. Most work involves independent shops selling fabric goods, hardware, food, drinks, and numerous coffee and pastry shops, mostly run by women.
Many Ethiopians are crazy about soccer, normally called “football” as the American version of football is unknown. Ethiopians of the towns and cities are also very conscious of the great talents of Ethiopian athletes in the Olympic sports. The marathon is the forte of Ethiopians. Long-distance running is a very popular sport even at the local level, and Ethiopians, both men and women, are very health-and sport-conscious. But, of course, there are numerous traditional sports that persist: the wrestlers and stick fighters in the tribal south, the whipping battles of the northern would-be warriors, and a variety of children's' ball and stick games found among most peoples of Ethiopia. But, the women are the dancers. They rarely compete in sports. Sport is the arena of young men. Women cheer the men and encourage them to be fierce so they can be proud of them and consider them worthy partners in marriage.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
In the rural countryside children play spontaneously, making animals, dolls, balls, toy weapons, automobiles, and such out of the available resources at their disposal—mud, clay, rags, sticks, tin can scraps, and the like. Male youth engage in competitive sports. Adults drink and talk and dance, especially during holiday celebrations which occur almost weekly in Abyssinian culture.
There are also traveling minstrels—men and women who travel from village to village, town to town, singing bawdy songs and the gossip of the day or week. With their music they invite spectators to sing with them and dance and joke. And in return they “beg” for money, which they receive unbegrudgingly, especially from their slightly inebriated audience. In the city of Addis Ababa and a few northern towns one can find movie houses showing B-grade films from America, Italy, and India. Bars and night clubs proliferate, complete with music and dance. Although there is only one television station, video tape rental and VCRs are a booming business.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Throughout Ethiopia, artisans ply their trades, serving both the aesthetic and practical interests of their customers. Workers in clay make biblical figurines, coffee and cooking pots, water jugs, and plates to set food on (but not to eat off ). Blacksmiths forge plowshares, iron rings for bracelets, neck ornaments, and items to attach leather thongs to—bullets, cartridge casings, spear heads and knives. Woodcarvers craft chairs, tables, goblets, and statuary. Painters paint oil on canvas, traditionally religious images for which Ethiopians are widely known. Modern painters incorporate the traditional art of their culture with their own interpretations of their world today, sometimes with spectacular results. Weavers hand-spin their own cotton thread and weave it into intricately designed cloth and embellish it with highly detailed and colorful embroidery. This is then used in clothing, including scarves, shirts, dresses, and capes.
Of social problems there are many, so numerous it can be daunting and discouraging for those European national agencies who wish to help. Many Westerners know of the thirty years of civil war in the north, unrelenting drought, widespread famine, and massive loss of life. Add to this the inaccessibility of modern medicine, except for the urban upper class, rampaging diseases like tuberculosis, intestinal bacterial infections, and HIV in an overcrowded capital city, unrelieving and ubiquitous urban poverty, widespread prostitution, and homelessness. Crack cocaine has found its way into the capital city. Corruption is present in the commercial bank and other major national institutions. There are uncontrolled violations of human rights in the countryside and in the capital city including politically motivated arbitrary imprisonment without trial, detention and torture, and summary executions.
The Derg regime, which overthrew Emperor Haile Sellassie I in 1974, was itself overthrown in 1991 after a 17 year reign ending a 30 year war waged by the northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigray. In 1993 the new ruling government of Ethiopia recognized the sovereignty of Eritrea, sanctioned by the United Nations. Henceforth, a series of military confrontations occurred setting off the Ethiopian-Eritrean War whose precipitating circumstances were disputes over the Ethiopian-Eritrean boundaries in an area of barren, noncultivable land around a few remote towns. Skirmishes continued into 2008 and this continuous warfare is compounded by the Ethiopian Army's incursions into Somalia attempting to bolster the existing government against Islamic rebel fighters. The fighting over national boundaries in the eastern desert Ogaden has strained the Ethiopian Army's forces on all fronts.
As military campaigns continue other agencies are beginning to address these massive social problems. A small group of American Peace Corps volunteers have been installed, small private clinics, funded by Ethiopians, staffed often by doctors from Europe and America, are springing up like mushrooms in the capital city and in larger towns. Faint incursions of foreign businesses are being established and developed in the capital city, which could help pump the Ethiopian economy to some degree. Several reservoirs are planned, some are now being built, and many small dam projects are under construction, especially in the drought-ravaged north. There are several tree-planting projects under way to begin addressing the problem of a thousand years of wanton tree cutting. There are only faint glimmerings of hope in a country which has been all but forgotten by the wealthiest nations in the world. But the Ethiopian spirit is strong and the children of Ethiopia are vibrant and enthusiastic, nurtured by loving relatives who do what they can to engender promise for the next generation.
Since the establishment and stabilization of the new government in 1994 and the subsequent writing of a new constitution, women's rights has been a target issue of government and nongovernmental agencies at all levels. At present there are no less than 15 government agencies dedicated to addressing women's rights issues. There are eight United Nations agencies focused on gender issues and women's affairs. There are 37 international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) whose projects include the rights of women and the securing of economic stability in women's affairs. Furthermore, there are 47 local NGOs around the country addressing a variety of gender issues involved with economic development, political participation, and health problems which include female genital excision customs.
A group of locally organized agencies under the umbrella title HUNDEE is dedicated to a variety of local concerns including female empowerment, women's rights, food shortage vulnerability, and the integration of a number of agencies for a greater efficiency of operation. A notable influence in Ethiopian affairs is the Women's Affairs Association, or Setoch Guday in Amharic. These women are dedicated to actualizing the newly established Articles of the Constitution declaring equality and empowerment of women in modern Ethiopian society. Their general objectives are to raise the consciousness of women regarding their rights, to inform a variety of agencies as to women's rights, conduct research into the status of women, conduct training groups teaching strategies for asserting the rights of women, build economic cooperatives to provide economic independence in the hopes of diminishing the incidence of prostitution, and to extend the reach of women's associations in order to implement women's constitutional rights.
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—by R. A. Reminick