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10 surprising facts about Ethiopia

written by Taz Liffman September 14, 2017

UPDATED: This post was originally published on February 27, 2014. 

Ethiopia may not be the first place you think of when booking your next holiday, but it should be. The country has been at peace for more than 15 years and its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world.

Add to this a staggering diversity of landscapes, kaleidoscope of cultures and history that tracks back to when our species first raised itself up onto two legs – and suddenly you’ve got one very surprising travel destination. And just to push the point further, here are 10 facts about Ethiopia you probably don’t know:

 10. Thirteen months to the year

Sure, plenty of cultures have their own calendars that they prefer to follow over the Western Gregorian one, but most still abide by the unspoken ’12 months to a year’ rule. Not Ethiopia. Ever looking to buck a trend, several thousand years ago the Ethiopians cottoned on to Spinal Tap’s belief that one more is always better – and have been counting 13 months to their year ever since. What does this mean? Well, that 2017 is still 2009 there. And that canny tourism boards can legitimately claim that the country really does boast ’13 months of sunshine’.

Three boys from Ethiopias Omo Valley

Image C/O Nina Hamilton

9. Ethiopian time

Ethiopians also measure the hours of a day to a different schedule. In a piece of logic that’s kind of hard to argue against, they believe it’s less confusing if the clock starts when the day does. Thus, sunrise is 1 o’clock and sunset 12. Then the 12-hour night clock sets in. So when buying bus tickets etc., make sure you ask whether departure time is in Ethiopian or Western time.

8. Complete independence

Ethiopia is the only African country never to have been brought under colonial control – a fact that locals will never tire of informing you. And fair enough too. The Italians did give colonisation a crack in 1935 – and succeeded in militarily occupying the country for six years – but Ethiopian forces were waging military opposition the entire time and the whole country was never brought under control. As some of the locals put it, “we waited until they had built us railways and nice buildings… and then kicked them out.”

 7. A nation of festivals

A crowd of musicians at the Timket Festival

Image C/O Rowan Waters

Ethiopia is a country full of vibrant and colourful festivals. The biggest, Timket, is a three-day annual festival that honours the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan. Today the priests remove the ‘Tabots’ (replicas of the Ark of Covenant) from each church and march to the nearest water source, where the communal baptism takes place. The procession is accompanied by thousands of locals dressed in dazzling white traditional dress that contrasts with the colours of the ceremonial robes and sequined velvet umbrellas of the priests.

SOUND GOOD? VISIT TIMKET ON OUR 14-DAY JOURNEY THROUGH ETHIOPIA

6. The birthplace of the Rastafarian movement

Thought it was Jamaica? Nope. While much of the Rastafarian movement did evolve in Jamaica, the spiritual homeland of it is in actual fact Ethiopia. In Amharic, ‘ras’ is a title similar to chief, and ‘tafari’ the first name of Emperor Haile Selassie I – essentially the movement posits Selassie as an incarnation of God. Need further evidence? Just check out the colours on the Ethiopian flag. Familiar no?

5. The first cup of coffee

You know your morning caffeine shot? You’ve got some Ethiopian goats to thank for that. As the story goes, a goat herder way back when noticed his flock’s fondness for a certain bush and decided to give one of the fruits a nibble himself. His day’s herding was notably more efficient for it – and the coffee industry took off from there.

Lalibela choir boys, Ethiopia

Image C/O Adrian Whear

 4. The oldest people in the world

Several archaeological findings in Ethiopia’s Afar region go quite some way in suggesting that the country may be where we all started out from. In 1972, Donald Johanson and Tim D. White discovered Lucy, a 3.2 million year old hominid skeleton. For years, Lucy was all the rage, embarking on a nine-year worldwide tour and enjoying widespread fame. Then Ardi, also from the Afar region but one million years her senior, rocked up and blew her out of the water. So you arguably also have the Ethiopians to thank for, well… you.

VISIT LUCY PERSONALLY ON OUR 21-DAY ADVENTURE THROUGH THE ETHIOPIAN HIGHLANDS

3. Abebe Bikila

In 1960, an Ethiopian by the name of Abebe Bikila became the first black African to win gold in the Olympics. Only making the team selection at the last minute due to another athlete’s broken foot, Bikila opted to run the marathon barefoot, pipping hot favourite Moroccan Rhadi Ben Abdesselam by a full 25 seconds. Four years later, Bikila won the Tokyo Olympics, setting a world record and becoming the first ever person to win the Olympic marathon twice. When asked if he wasn’t tired (he didn’t look it), he answered that he could’ve done with another 10 kilometres!

2. Addis Ababa

Sunset silhouette of Addis Ababa buildings, Ethiopia

Image C/O Shutterstock

Ok, there’s no getting away from the fact that Addis fits the bill of being a big, dusty, overcrowded city. But it’s also home of the African Union, headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and, at an altitude of 2,450 metres, the worlds fourth-highest capital city. Its name translates to ‘New Flower’ in Amharic.

1. Ethiopia for vegetarians

Ethiopian cooking is some of the tastiest, healthiest and most diverse cuisine on the continent. And, unlike many African countries, it’s a haven for vegetarians. The simple reason for this is that most Ethiopians follow a particular strand of Orthodox Christianity that prohibits the eating of any animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays. And the happy by-product of this for herbivores is that restaurants tend to always have a few deliciously spicy vegan stews on the menu (it also means that when you say that you don’t eat meat they’ll actually understand the idea, instead of replacing the beef you requested be left off your pizza with, say, chicken).

Find out more about how Ethiopia will surprise you with its monolithic churches, stunning national parks, ornate palaces and welcoming tribespeople on an Intrepid tour of Ethiopia.

Feature image C/O Shutterstock.

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53 comments

Miracle June 15, 2021 - 7:32 am

I would love to be there someday

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mlem girl May 21, 2021 - 1:40 am

umm… weell it looks like an amazing place have a great day

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Ethiopian Queen May 13, 2021 - 8:41 am

I am so proud to be Ethiopian. The religion is beautiful. Even though I was born here the rest of my family is from Ethiopia so I am technically Ethiopian but thats not the point a lot of people dont know a lot about Ethiopia and this artical helps the people who dont know anything about Ethiopia. Also a lot of people believe that Ethiopia is the first country in Africa and maybe even the world search it up yourself if you need to. May God bless you all

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Olatundun March 14, 2021 - 4:10 am

I read about It and I would really love to come see with my eyes…. what a lovely place to be

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dalana October 29, 2020 - 1:01 am

Ethiopia is a cool place i would love to go there, and help the people there.

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random boy December 28, 2020 - 11:37 pm

who said we need help

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Anonymous February 1, 2021 - 6:17 am

Thank you Random Boy
Hey dalana, you have to know about us first. Almost all you guys are bran washed and don’t know nothing about Ethiopia, also Africa

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Girl May 18, 2021 - 12:48 pm

Exactly thank you for stating that for them

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Adiana June 4, 2021 - 12:08 pm

I knew all of this

mlem girl May 21, 2021 - 1:39 am

im learning about it in school

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Me February 1, 2021 - 6:27 am

Hey dalana, before you think and say something, you’ve to make sure you know it well about it. We appreciate your thinking. But not only you, almost all western and Europeans are brainwashed and you guys are think all Africans are poor and always looking your help. Just come and see how we’re living. We have a better lifestyle from you. If you like to come, you’re always welcome anytime. But just keep your money for your homeless people in your country. Thank you and we don’t need your help

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Anony February 27, 2021 - 12:12 am

I hope to visit myself one day! looks like a beautiful country! Have a wonderful day 🙂

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TRUTH July 20, 2021 - 4:47 am

Hey ME:
You speak for only less than 20% of the entire African population. If you are fortunate enough to be among the 20%, please do not speak for we the 80%.
While the public perception that Africa has been painted as a ‘bush’ with no advanced civilization isn’t true, It isn’t actually false either. It is just a dishonest exaggeration.
I find your statement about refusing aid from abroad to be entirely ignorant in the sense that millions of Africans have, are and will depend on foreign aid. (the ‘will’ is judging from current statistics of Africa’s economy). Our Leaders selfish decisions, failure on diplomacy and high tendency to be easily manipulated is leading most of Africa to ruins.
As an African rooting for change, i refuse under any circumstance to sugarcoat any information about my country & continent out of respect to victims of carnage, wars, failure on basic amenities, Poverty and terrorism & insecurity.
If you are upset whenever Africa is ‘ill-spoken’, then advocate for positive change so results will prove them wrong, rather than defend the idea of a fallacy.

Hey DALANA:
Thank you so much for offering to help. Please do so if your heart demands. I can assure you it is needed.
Thank You!

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Ethiopian September 2, 2020 - 9:03 pm

I’m super proud to be Ethiopian, I hope more ppl find out how amazing Ethiopia is. Thanks for the wonderful facts.

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Jau January 3, 2021 - 12:15 pm

Can you tell me about it? I’m doing a research paper and I need to know some facts about Ethiopia, and I cant find anything

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Anonymous May 2, 2021 - 3:23 am

Check UNESCO’s website

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Anonymous July 24, 2020 - 3:20 pm

ethiopian is amazing place in horn of african

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lydia September 2, 2020 - 1:42 pm

TRUWWEE

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Simegn Wolde May 25, 2020 - 11:27 pm

don’t forget Lalibella rock church to visit on christmas or timket. this place is recognizad by unesco.

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yohannes March 3, 2020 - 3:01 am

this a great explanation but there is a lot of more than this things come and see a lot

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Analise February 27, 2020 - 10:45 am

I used this article for a school project about Ethiopia. This is very informative and great! I love it! Thank You.

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Analise February 27, 2020 - 10:44 am

I used this article for a school project about Ethiopia. This is very informative and great!

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Anonymous January 28, 2020 - 11:40 am

My mom is from Ethiopia. Great Country

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Anonymous January 1, 2020 - 3:58 am

good job bro God bless u

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Michael B October 13, 2019 - 5:17 pm

Ethiopia is the home of my wife. We met in America and I have been to Ethiopia a few times so far. Each trip has been amazing and the history and culture I have seen and experienced brings a smile to this farenge. Axum, Lalibela, Gondor are truly historic and the sites take your breath away. In the Great Rift Valley, I visited an ancient warrior’s graveyard, peacefully Sabana Resort, Awassa and Wendo Genet. The people are amazing and I can’t wait for my next trip.

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One LOve October 21, 2018 - 4:42 am

Rastafari*

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Dagmawit H.michael September 12, 2018 - 10:13 am

Look, my country #Ethiopia may not developed one bt it has bunches of cool stuff that no one can be able to somewhere else. N u will get the chance to witness the birth place of humankind n able to see #lucy, an ancient n historical place,fine work of arts, an oldest churches , nd monuments u can also
See the diversity of ppl n cultures, festivals, an amazing weather nd most of all the delicious #cultural_food . I’m so sorry for my poor writing skills and also English language. I’m not very good at it. Bt pls come n check out yourselves plus get a real life time experience nd one last thing #I’m_a_proud_Ethiopian❤❤❤

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lij eboy November 29, 2017 - 8:31 pm

oh such a great job keep it up but there are 100 of facts about Ethiopians, tnx for mention this one’s

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Angus McDonald October 23, 2017 - 8:59 pm

Spent six weeks in Ethiopia, stunning country and stunning people, a complete and pleasant suprise.

Not the most comfortable country in Africa, but certainly the most interesting where the people win you heart!

Angus from Scotland

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Eyosiyas November 13, 2018 - 4:02 pm

Don’t worry

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Rahel January 2, 2020 - 5:38 pm

Aww! Thank you so much on behalf of Ethiopian People.

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Medicine June 25, 2017 - 6:11 pm

You did a great job! We(Ethiopian) should have done it however, It was nice of you to take your time to do that I am glade you were able to wrote … Be blessed.

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Clicking Here May 18, 2017 - 5:28 pm

Thanks for another excellent post. The place else could anybody get that kind of info in such an ideal means
of writing? I have a presentation next week, and
I’m on the look for such info.

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Kidist March 31, 2017 - 7:54 am

Why didn’t you mention the “Adwa victory” when you wrote about the unconquered Ethiopia on #8. It’s the surprising part of the story

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Yonas April 22, 2020 - 3:33 am

Good point

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me February 11, 2017 - 9:57 am

The movement did start in Jamaica. After all Emperor Haile Selassie II was the emperor of Ethiopia so is the flag that was used at the time, but that doesn’t prove anything about the Rastafarianism. They started the whole belief he was the messiah and other things. so it is based on the Ethiopian Emperor , it didn’t came from Ethiopian. There isn’t any Ethiopian who believes what the Jamaicans say about him. I wanted to say this b/c your words made it sound like Ethiopians believed at first then others.

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BRUK TEKLU December 4, 2018 - 2:55 am

that is our flag and ETHIOPIA is birth place of Rastafarian

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Tesfahun Abyu February 2, 2017 - 6:46 am

Everything is so, nice in Ethiopia

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Fanuala November 6, 2018 - 10:17 am

dude YES i agree

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Anonymous March 10, 2016 - 1:32 am

Taz Liffman, very nice how you have made the list. But, I think you missed atleast one, among the amazing values of the Oromo people of Ethiopia. It is the Gada System! An incredible political and cultural system created by these people thousands of years ago, by which leaders are selected, rules and laws are devised, etc. with a national assembly (caffee/gumii). It is the first DEMOCRACY known to have been created by nations. Btw, A leader can only serve one term which is 8yrs. Is it a coincidence that it is the same with other democracies like the US? May be. Please read more about this and I am sure you will add a list…..Ethiopia, the birth place of Democracy!

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Abdulkidus October 6, 2014 - 8:46 am

http://www.diretube.com/sintayehu-getachew/gay-community-in-ethiopia-documentary-video_8a51b3c2d.html
If you ask me, the problems and the solutions of Addis begin and end when we deal with the hypocrisy of our contemporary elites. There is no need to waste time and resources on other things before we confront the roots of the problems.
.
In a world of hypocrisy noting can be done but recycle hypocrisy until nature takes its own course. Thus, there is noting that reviles the problem of society than the hypocrisy of its elites. The poorer a nation and her people the more split tongue hypocrite her elites.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7uqyXQp35Y
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gay-ethiopians/127855747269688
http://www.diretube.com/sintayehu-getachew/gay-community-in-ethiopia-documentary-video_8a51b3c2d.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pHyeKd-IwU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzDlrkZZnxw

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Kyle March 19, 2014 - 8:31 am

Hi Taz. Good article. But you are missing get number 2 🙂

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Taz Liffman March 27, 2014 - 2:08 pm

Thanks Kyle, amended!

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eden gibbel June 6, 2018 - 3:00 am

great job!

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10 surprising facts about Ethiopia | Adventure Press | Our Everyday Adventure March 15, 2014 - 2:47 pm

[…] 10 surprising facts about Ethiopia | Adventure Press. […]

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will March 7, 2014 - 6:54 am

When is the best time to go? Are there any festivals that would make a trip to Ethiopia special?

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Sue Elliot March 7, 2014 - 9:19 am

Hi Will,
Ethiopia’s most colourful festival is Timkat in January. It’s celebrated around the country to commemorate Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. For best time to visit, it’s more likely to rain from July to September, but the rest of year is great. You can find out more on our website at http://www.intrepidtravel.com/ethiopia/snapshot.
Happy adventures,
Sue, Intrepid Express Editor

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fikir May 19, 2021 - 6:24 pm

not only timket but also meskel or the finding of the true cross is a festival as large and as colorful as timket

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Anonymous March 14, 2014 - 9:26 am

July to September is rainy season, other than that it is beautiful!
Timkit is the largest religious festival in Ethiopia. Beautiful processions, dancing, etc.

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sara April 30, 2014 - 7:53 am

A nice gentle one is around Whitsunday, when the arc of the covenant (a copy there of) is processed (as in Procession) around various towns in northern Ethiopia. Make sure you buy the appropriate clothing in the market, before you go (impolite not to).

But try anywhere up North, starting with Lalibela, then Axum …

You don’t really need to ‘do’ special occasions in Ethiopia, because is it all special!

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Henok March 31, 2017 - 7:49 pm

Hats off Sara!

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Abraham July 8, 2015 - 7:00 pm

Sure there are so many festivals are celebrating in Ethiopia. the most one are the Festival of the finding of the True Cross which is celebrated on Meskerem 16 (Eth C.) or September 16/17 and also it is registered by UNESCO as World In Tangible Heritage and Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany) which falls Tir 10/11 (January 17/18) this also on process to register on UNESCO World In Tangible Heritage. Come to Ethiopia and live younger by 7/8 years.
God Bless Ethiopia

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FANOS Ethiopia Tours March 3, 2014 - 11:54 pm

Dear Taz Liffman:

A very nice looking to the facts of Ethiopia. However it would be full if you include something about the scenic landscape of the country.
Some think of Ethiopia as the country of famine, drought & starvation. This is not true & this is not the Ethiopia experience! It is home to many other scenes sure to amaze the most demanding ecological tourists. With mountains, fields, rivers, and waterfalls, Ethiopia offers something for all.If you are interested in fauna and flora Ethiopia has colorful and diversified natural generosity which can be explored on walks, horse rides, trekking, hiking, boat trips or a simple nature watch.
A unique country and with no other African country comparison. The scenery is varied and surprisingly green, with many wonderful geological features such as Dallol Depression (one of the lowest depressions in the world), the Erta ale Active Volcano, Sof Omar Cave, the Great East Africa Rift Valley, Blue Nile Gorge and others.

Regards, Keb

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