IS ETHIOPIA STILL RELEVANT TODAY?

By Siru (Rose) Zhu
Staff Writer

In July, 2015, I embarked on a 6-month trip to explore and learn about the world. During the trip, I went to the UK, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, UAE, Indonesia, China, etc. Despite the countless similarities in people and the many differences among cultures, there was one question that no matter where I went, I was always asked: Where are you from?

I saw this as a good opportunity to spark conversations and shine light on some historical facts that few people talk about, so I decided to say that I was from Ethiopia, where the oldest fossils of our common human ancestors are found. Not long after I said that, people began to ask me all kinds of questions about Ethiopia because many of them had never met an Ethiopian before. I realized my lack of information about Ethiopia so I then decided to include it in my trip and see the country with my own eyes.

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(Pictures taken at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa)

 

I arrived in the capital city of Ethiopia – Addis Ababa. Staying in the capital city and visiting one of the oldest world-renowned skeleton fossils of human ancestors – “Lucy”- were on the top of my list. Lucy, also called “Dinknesh” in the Amharic language (which means “You are wonderful”), was discovered by the paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson’s team in 1974. Being “the first of its kind of that age with that kind of completeness” with 40% of the complete skeleton, Lucy can be dated back to 3.2 million years ago. Lucy is also well-loved throughout her motherland of Ethiopia. Even the Ethiopian national women’s football team is known as Dinknesh, in honor of her name. With more recent discoveries of other fossils in nearby areas, such as Ardi, “the world’s oldest and most complete skeleton of a potential human ancestor” that dates back to 4.4 million years ago, and the Ledi jaw, a 2.8 million-year-old lower jawbone mixed with “primitive and advanced features” that provides a good transitional link “between Lucy and later humans,” Ethiopia has established its undoubtable international status as “the cradle of humanity,” and presents proof of human beings’ common ancestry.

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(Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Besides the rich history in anthropology, I was surprised to find out that Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world if not the oldest, and it has some of the most ancient churches in the world. Some sources say that the presence of Christianity in Ethiopia can be dated back to the 1st century AD, which was before that in Europe. In the 4th century AD, the country became Christian. Today, “roughly two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians.”

Holy Trinity Cathedral, as shown in the picture above, is “the second-most important place of worship in Ethiopia.” It is also the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw, and is also a commemoration of the war against the Italian occupation. Even though Ethiopia remained independent during the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s, there was a brief Italian presence in Ethiopia from the late 1880s to the mid 1890s, which ended with the defeat of the Italian army in 1896 that led to the independence of Ethiopia.

Being in the crowds and listening to the preaching at the churches in Addis Ababa showed me a face of Christianity that I had never seen elsewhere. There were usually two separate praying and worshipping sections for male and female devotees. Most ladies covered their heads and upper bodies with thin white clothes called “netela” that usually have decorated ends on them. Additionally, many ladies would also use netela or other similar scarves to wrap around their heads and upper bodies when walking on the streets.

Whenever there was preaching or chanting, churches were usually filled with overflowing crowds, and many people would stand outside of the churches praying and chanting due to the lack of space inside the churches. I also noticed that some people would pray to the outside wall of the churches while occasionally kissing the wall to show their respect and devotion. These were scenes I had never seen elsewhere.

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

I went to Merkato in Addis Ababa, which is one of the largest markets in Africa. The word “merkato” is influenced from the Italian word “mercato.” The market is said to be established during the time of the Italian occupation, and was originally called “Merkato Indigino” – market of the indigenous. One can find all kinds of merchandise here, including spices, herbs, cooking wares, vegetables, beans, flour, clothes, shoes, baskets, livestocks, plastic, metals, handcrafts, cleaning supplies, etc.

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

There were about six ladies sitting in a store chatting and laughing. They waved at me and invited me over for a cup of coffee. To my surprise, the coffee is salty. Later on, I learned that the traditional way to drink coffee in Ethiopia is with a pinch of salt, instead of sugar. To the knowledge of a few, the origin of coffee is actually from the Ethiopian Highlands. It was from Ethiopia that coffee spread to Yemen and the Red Sea Coast and later to the Ottoman Empire. Then, when it spread to other areas of Europe, Southern Europeans started to drink coffee. For centuries, people associated coffee specifically with Turkey. But, Turkey did not produce coffee. The biggest port for exporting coffee was called Mocha, which was on the Southern Arabian coast. Therefore, the term “mocha” became associated with coffee, and with a certain kind of coffee. [1]

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Among the many other things that I had never seen before were these stacked starch piles I encountered while walking in Merkato. A local Ethiopian put some of the “starch” on my hand and asked me to taste it. I put a little bit in my mouth and could not believe that people actually ate this. It tasted a little bit bitter mixed with other strange flavors while also leaving an unsmooth feeling in my mouth. It almost tasted like an unripe green banana, but with a more complex flavor. I frowned and spat it out.

Later on, I found out that this substance that forms the starch piles is called “kocho,” which is a fermented starch derived from a plant called “enset.” Kocho is often used to make flatbread. Before using it, people, usually women, take the amount needed out of the pit and then chop it up until there isn’t any unbroken fiber left in there. The “dough” is then often mixed with spices and butter, and later on formed into flatbread. The flatbread dough can be wrapped in enset leaves and baked with various cooking wares.

What interested me more was actually the information I came across about the enset plant, which some people call “the miracle crop.” It is deemed miraculous because every part of the plant can be used with different functions. For example: enset leaves can be used for making kocho and wrapping; the enset plant itself traps rainwater, which helps coffee to grow better; “enset groves accumulate plant matter and nutrients” while leaving the soil more fertile; enset leaves and fibers can be used for cooking, packaging, making ropes, baskets and roofing materials, some people even use the leaves as carpets, etc. Furthermore, enset is “typically more productive and sustainable than the cereals” that are brought in to replace it by the international agronomists. It is truly a “miracle crop.”

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(Merkato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

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(A restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)

Another “miracle” that I encountered was the national food of Ethiopia – injera. Injera is this thin spongy pancake-like food that tastes a little bit like sourdough. The picture above shows a common way of local people eating injera – by putting a small amount of different sides on the injera, ripping some injera off starting from the edge, using it to grab the sides, and then putting the whole small wrap in the mouth. Injera is a “miracle” because it is made by fermented teff flour. Teff has been produced and consumed in Ethiopia “for millennia,” and it may become the new “super grain” of Europe and North America, “overtaking the likes of quinoa and spelt.” This grain is high in protein and calcium, gluten-free and high in resistant starch which is “a newly discovered type of dietary fiber that can benefit blood sugar management,” and is also extremely prolific compared to planting many other popular grains such as wheat. “One pound of teff can produce up to one ton of grain in only 12 weeks,” and this minimal harvest time and seed requirements have protected Ethiopia from hunger when food resources were under attack from various invaders in the past.

I was fortunate to have come across some of the many “miracles” that took place in Ethiopia, and I am eager to find out more what this beautiful “cradle of humanity” has to offer mankind as a whole.

Citations

  1. HIAF 111 Winter 2016 Professor Jeremy Prestholdt, Modern Africa since 1880, Lecture 1/28/2016

Images by Siru (Rose) Zhu

CRISIS IN THE HORN: WHY ERITREA’S POPULATION IS FLEEING

By Aisha Ali
Staff Writer

When a boat carrying over 700 refugees capsized off the coast of Italy last April, it sent the Western world into shock. Only three days earlier, another ship from Libya with 400 refugee passengers sunk as well. By the end of 2015, nearly 3,000 refugees had died en route to Italy. This Central Mediterranean route (from Libya to Italy) has been a popular departure point for African refugees and migrants escaping the continent. It was also a destination for Syrians refugees before the Eastern Mediterranean (from Turkey to the European Union) became a more accessible and safer alternative. Of the 150,000 people crossing the Central Mediterranean in 2015, approximately 40,000 were from Eritrea alone. But unlike other nationalities on the same route, mainly Somalis and Sudanese, Eritreans aren’t leaving a warzone. So why are they braving dangerous waters to get to Europe? Why is Eritrea’s population fleeing?

To answer that question, a little background in Eritrean politics is needed. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a referendum unanimously passed in the formally annexed region, ending over 30 years of conflict between local separatists and the Ethiopian government. Although Ethiopia’s new government, formed from the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), initially supported the independence movement, the two countries soon began to argue over their border. This ultimately led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War of 1998, which claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and hundreds of millions of dollars before a ceasefire in 2000. As a result, Eritrean economic development plummeted and a country with a once impressive 13 percent annual GDP growth rate began experiencing volatile economic changes. The war also left thousands of Eritreans internally displaced and trapped in a continuous border war with Ethiopia, where troops from both countries can still be found posted on either side. Since 2000, tensions between the two neighboring countries have only increased. In the last decade, Eritrea has found itself in the unfortunate spot of being oppositional to the only American ally in the region, Ethiopia, and thus subject to the wrong-end of U.S. influence. Leaked U.S. embassy cables from 2009 show that Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia at the time, was instrumental in the U.N. Security Council imposing economic sanctions on Eritrea, further diminishing its economic health.

Perhaps most detrimental to Eritrea’s potential growth, aside from Ethiopian interference, is the fact that the country has been ruled by the same leader since independence. Referred to as an “unhinged dictator” by the former U.S. Ambassador to Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki has routinely come under fire by human rights groups for creating a repressive regime. Mandatory conscription was introduced following independence, which on its own would not be cause for concern considering many other countries, like Israel and South Korea, have similar laws. But while national service in Eritrea is only supposed to span 18 months, most citizens between 18 and 55 years of age have found themselves indefinitely trapped. Eritrean rights activists refer to the country as an “open prison” because military personnel are often used for manual labor, such as mining for gold in the desert for less than $2 a day. Citizens also risk imprisonment and extra-judicial executions for simply voicing their opinions on the government, with over 10,000 political “dissidents” held in 300 prisons across the country. Journalists, in particular, face serious consequences for their reporting, as Eritrea is routinely cited as one of the most censored countries in the world. It is believed that less than 5.6 percent of the population has access to mobile phone and only 1 percent has an internet connection.

Considering the current conditions of life in Eritrea, it is completely understandable why Eritrea’s population has tried its best to escape. But the journey is dangerous and, at a price of $5000 per passenger to cross the border to Sudan, also incredibly expensive. Sudan is beginning to feel the burden of Eritrean refugees who cannot afford to pay for passage onward to Europe, as the number of new arrivals per month rose to 1,000 in 2015. The few who manage to successfully leave the African continent face another obstacle: deportation. Eritrean refugees arriving in Israel are subject to imprisonment or forced on a one-way flight back to the continent, typically to Rwanda or Uganda. At some point over the last few years, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Norway have all attempted to deny entry to Eritrean asylum seekers on the basis that the Eritrean government plans to end indefinite service, a claim that has yet to be confirmed. In an effort to stem a further influx of refugees, the European Union has offered aid to Eritrea; though there is no guarantee it will ever reach the general population.

Image by Karen Zack

PHOTOJOURNAL: THE DAILY LIVES OF THE MAASAI PEOPLE IN MOSHI, TANZANIA

By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

While living in Tanzania over the summer and working at a grassroots organization to prevent HIV/AIDS, I was given the opportunity to go to a Maasai village and learn about their culture and lifestyle. The Maasai are semi-nomadic peoples in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. They are inhabitants of some of the national parks that are common stops on Safari tours, and are well-known for their distinctive culture, dress and language. Although there are some aspects of their culture that have been Westernized, partially with the encouragement of the Tanzanian government, they still retain a large part of their culture and their population continues to grow as an indigenous group.

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As part of the opening ceremony and dance, the Maasai men slowly walked into a cordoned area that was once a corral for their cows. They typically wear very traditional clothing during the ceremony, which is still significant in Maasai tribes. However, many of the younger Maasai dress in Western clothing when they go into town.

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This is their dancing ceremony. While the women sing, the men take turns stomping rhythmically and jumping in the middle of the circle (at seemingly shocking heights). Afterwards, all the children are given a chance to get involved and try jumping while the women continue to sing and stomp to the rhythm.

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They also showed us a traditional fire-making ceremony. Although this is not used as often anymore, especially as items such as matches become more prevalent, it is a ritual still used in ceremonies. By grinding a stick into a plate of wood, a spark is lighted, which they turn into a full flame with dry grasses. Because the ceremony took quite a while, the men in this photo would take turns grinding the stick.

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The woman in this photo, although she might’ve been the mother of the baby she’s holding, probably wasn’t. The Maasai women tend to take a more collaborative approach to childcare, meaning that the women all helped with the children, and the children didn’t seem to prefer their “real mother” over the other women. The older children also were very active in helping to take care of younger children and babies.

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This woman exhibits two of the cultural practices common among the Maasai. First is the piercing and stretching of the earlobes, which I saw among all of the women. They stretch the ears with wood, among other materials, and hang jewelry through the holes. The second is the circular mark on her cheek. This is made with wooden branding when the Maasai are still children; women receive a circle, whereas men receive two lines on their lower forehead. Although it objectively seems painful, she said the pain passes quickly and she doesn’t remember it; however, the practice is quickly falling out of use.

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The medicine man of the tribe took us around their land to show us the various trees and plants used for a wide variety of medicines. They were used for everything from remedies for malaria to paste made from a specific plant to give men more “energy”.

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This is one of several mud huts in which all of the families live. Inside the house are three rooms, with an additional room that can be completely sealed off where they keep and take care of baby goats. The beds are also made of the same mud as the walls, with blankets lying on top.

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The Maasai children were very involved in the rituals showed to us by their elders. They wore more Western clothing, as opposed to the more traditional robes, although this may be a transition that comes with age. They were very interactive and enjoyed holding our hands, singing and dancing with us. Between our limited Swahili and their limited Swahili (their first language is Kimaasai), they were very excited to hear our names and tell us all they knew about “Obamaland”.

All images by Rebecca Benest, Prospect Staff Writer.