Attractions
Activities
Travel Information
Multimedia
Maps
Tourism > English > People and culture > NationalCostumes

 National Costumes

The costumes of the Ethiopian people are as varied and inter­esting as the population itself, reflecting ancient and modern trends in decoration, the fanciful as well as the practical.

Broadly speaking, the basic garment of the highland Ethiopian is the shamma, a length of cotton that doubles as a body and headcovering and is often worn in addition to items of modern dress such as a skirt or trousers.

Related Links

In the streets of Addis Ababa the traveler will see the shamma in all its permutations. Other common items of apparel include the netela, a light cotton showl; the kutta, a heavier version of the netela; a the gabi, a coarse, blanket-like cloth worn for warmth; and the barnos or cape. The kemis is a dress of varying length worn by women and decorated with embroidery and a coloured woven border. Children, depending on the family's income, sometimes wear hand-me-downs from the parents or short dresses, trousers, and shirts. The very young often make do with a single gar­ment, sometimes of animal skin. 

The costumes of the Ethiopian people are as varied and inter­esting as the population itself, reflecting ancient and modern trends in decoration, the fanciful as well as the practical.

Broadly speaking, the basic garment of the highland Ethiopian is the shamma, a length of cotton that doubles as a body and headcovering and is often worn in addition to items of modern dress such as a skirt or trousers. In the streets of Addis Ababa the traveler will see the shamma in all its permutations. Other common items of apparel include the netela, a light cotton showl; the kutta, a heavier version of the netela; a the gabi, a coarse, blanket-like cloth worn for warmth; and the barnos or cape. The kemis is a dress of varying length worn by women and decorated with embroidery and a coloured woven border. Children, depending on the family's income, sometimes wear hand-me-downs from the parents or short dresses, trousers, and shirts. The very young often make do with a single gar­ment, sometimes of animal skin.

A love of ornamentation ruled by a natural affinity for beauty leads the Ethiopians to adorn themselves in memorably dra­matic fashion. Timeless symbols such as the cross and the lion's mane have long been used in decoration. Tattooing of the face, neck, and hands, and elaborate traditional coiffures, though no longer the rule with sophisticated city dwellers, are still seen every where among country folk. A profusion of jewelry, whether crafted by skilful smiths of gold and silver or made in the villages of cowrie shells and leather, base metals and colorful beads, is an integral part of the national dress. And rain or shine, umbrellas richly covered with embroidery and brilliants are held above the heads of priests and deacons.

Briefly, in dress as in political, cultural, and religious traditions, the Ethiopians follow a heritage that is vital, colorful, and unique. One of the great treats awaiting the visitor is the ever changing pageant of costume that will pass before him as he walks through the cities or drives about the countryside, witnesses a religious ceremony or takes part in a public celebration. To know something of the history and significance of the garments that will catch his eye should add immeasurably to the tourist's enjoyment and understanding of Ethiopian society.



 

HISTORICAL BACKCROUND

Cotton is said to have been imported to Ethiopia in earliest times. At the Red sea port of Adulis in the first century, during the heyday of the Axumite Empire, cotton was the chief im­port. We do not know, however, just when local cultivation of cotton began, or when the practices of weaving and spinning became widespread. It has been suggested by various writers that only gradually did cotton replace animal skins and vegeta­ble fibres as the basis for clothing, and that the use of cotton garments was for. Centuries restricted to members of the aris­tocracy. Today in southern Ethiopia women still wear garments made of skins, as do shepherds and workers in many rural areas of the country; and now that the National leather Process­ing Industry is producing a large variety of skins suitable for high-fashion wear, leather garments in the modern mode are seen widely among city dwellers. Nevertheless, cotton remains the fabric of choice among the bulk of the population, which clings to traditional costumes.

In the past Ethiopian weavers, potters, tanners, and other arti­sans have gathered in communities under the protection of Royal or ecclesiastical rule, where they were assured of a ready market for their wares at church or court. Thus centres of arts and crafts devel­oped in widely separated areas Gonder, Hauar, Ankober, Adwa, and Jimma for example. The fine cloth produced at Harar and at Gonder has long been renewed, and according to a nineteenth century explorer, the coarse cotton fabric for which Adwa was noted was uunrivalled in any other part of the country"

Today Ethiopian Spinners and weavers practise their ancient occupa­tions in much the same manner as their forebears. In the capital city, Addis Ababa, many male weavers of the Dorze nationality from the southern regions of Garno Gofa and Sidamo are employed in large work­shops, where they produce not only materials for the traditional cos­tume but also up-to-date suiting and decorative fabrics. In addition to these enterprises, some of which are cooperatively owned, there is the Rehabilitation Agency, where disabled persons are tallght the arts of loom and needle as well as a variety of other ways to earn their liveli­hood. And in homes throughout the country lone weavers and family groups continue to spin and weave, cut and sew, using the same meth­ods employed by their ancestors.

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Disclaimer | Download Ge'ez Font
© Copyright © Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism