Facts About Ethiopia: The Land of Origins

A group of smiling and laughing children wearing blue, camouflage, green, red and yellow are crowded together. There are more children in the background.

Ethiopia is a stunning nation found on the Horn of Africa. This landlocked country is one of the oldest in the world, and its people are proud of their rich heritage. Home to the source of the Blue Nile River, the rugged Simien Mountains and the fierce Dallol volcano, Ethiopia is an amazing destination. Alongside the breathtaking vistas and fascinating traditions, there is deep need and suffering due to poverty. Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa, and nearly 40% of its children under age 5 experience childhood stunting from malnutrition. While there are clear challenges, there is so much beauty and hope to be found. Here are some fun facts about Ethiopia that will give you a better understanding of the culture and traditions of the beautiful country where over 120,000 Compassion-assisted children live.

Key Facts About Ethiopia

Here are some quick, interesting facts you should know about Ethiopia.

  • Population: 108,113,150
  • Capital: Addis Ababa
  • Official language: Amharic, but under the constitution, all Ethiopian languages enjoy official state recognition
  • Area: 426,372 square miles (1,104,300 square kilometers), slightly less than three times the size of California
  • Economy: Ethiopia is predominantly an agricultural country. Agricultural products include cereals, coffee, oilseed, cotton, sugarcane, vegetables, khat, and cut flowers, as well as hides, cattle, sheep, goats and fish. Industries include food processing, beverages, textiles, leather, garments, chemicals, metals processing and cement.

Culture and Traditions of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a mosaic of ancient languages, ethnic groups and cultures. Additionally, the second-largest refugee population in Africa, totaling 928,600, resides in Ethiopia. Let’s learn a few more cultural facts about this diverse country.

Religion: Religion is an important element of everyday life in Ethiopia. Nearly 44% of the population identifies as Ethiopian Orthodox, and it is common to see priests and deacons in colorful robes. About 31% identify as Muslim and 23% as Protestant. In most parts of Ethiopia, these religions live peaceably with one another. The remaining 2% is divided between Catholicism, traditional religious and other beliefs.

Clothing: The wide array of ethnic groups is reflected in the variety of clothing worn in Ethiopia. The national traditional costume for women is “habesha kemis.” It comprises a long, bright, white dress with beautiful embroidery and a matching shawl known as a “netela.” There are many variations to this outfit depending on the region and occasion. Men traditionally dress in a white knee-length shirt with matching white trousers and a “gabi,” which is a strip of lightweight cloth worn as a scarf.

There are also many tribal costumes. Some tribes wear pieces of leather, beads or colored fabrics, and others use paint to intricately decorate their bodies. The women of the Suri and the Mursi ethnic groups pierce and stretch their lower lips and earlobes to accommodate discs of clay or wood.

General culture: Ethiopians are known for their exceptional hospitality, warm welcomes and kindness to strangers. Unlike much of the world driven by busy schedules and efficiency, Ethiopians always prioritize community and friendship. In this ancient country, traditions are revered, and elders are shown respect.

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Out of 54 African countries, Ethiopia is one of only two countries that were never colonized. Ethiopia is home to over 80 tribes that generally live peacefully together. Ethiopians enjoy soccer, volleyball and basketball and are renowned for their international success in foot races and track and field events. The cities of Aksum and Lalibela are famous for their ancient architecture dating from the fourth century B.C.

Music and Dance of Ethiopia

Dance and music are strongly connected in Ethiopia and deeply engrained in the culture. There are many varieties of dance and song since there are many ethnic groups. Ethiopian music uses a unique modal system that is pentatonic, with characteristically long intervals between some notes. Folk instruments include the “masenqo” (bowed lute), “washint” (bamboo flute), “kebero” (hand drum) and “krar” (lyre).

“Eskista” – loosely translated as “dancing shoulders” – is one of the most famous Ethiopian dances. The dance supposedly mimics the shaking of a snake’s tail and is performed by both men and women. Known for its intense shoulder movements, eskista is performed by rolling the shoulder blades, bouncing the shoulders and tilting the chest.

Food and Drink of Ethiopia

The delicious food of Ethiopia has gained a worldwide reputation and for good reason! Ethiopian culture embraces eating with friends and family with meals that are often served on a single communal platter. Here is just a sample of the amazing cuisine of Ethiopia.

Injera is a soft, spongy flatbread used as a plate and a utensil. It is made from a slightly fermented batter of teff, a type of millet. A communal platter is served with a base of injera topped by meat, beans and vegetable stews.

Shiro is a lightly spiced chickpea stew that is normally served on injera. Minced onions, garlic and, depending upon local variation, ground ginger, chopped tomatoes and chili peppers are added to the dish.

Buna – Ethiopian coffee – is much more than a caffeine boost for the morning. It is a way of life and a shared cultural experience. Ethiopians were the first to discover coffee, and they take pride in every step of its creation – from roasting the beans over a bed of coals to serving the dark liquid in small clay cups. Learn to make your own Ethiopian coffee.

Himbasha is a slightly sweet flatbread that is served on special occasions. A distinctive wheel pattern marks the top of this dessert, and it is often flavored with cardamom.

A Story From Ethiopia: The Girl Who Became an Engineer

Bethelhem grew up in a rural area of Ethiopia. She was raised by her grandmother who had a job as a day laborer. Even though her grandmother worked hard, they didn’t have many resources, and Bethelhem started school later than most kids.

“Growing up in the rural area, it’s not clean. We made our homes from dirt, and sometimes we would sleep on the floor,” says Bethelhem.

At age 7, Bethelhem was registered with Compassion and joyfully began school. Through the guidance of the local church where she attended a child development center, Bethelhem came to love Christ and discovered a passion for math and engineering.

Encouraged by her tutors and sponsor, Bethelhem continued to develop her talent and obtained a scholarship to university. She studied faithfully and not only graduated university but is now a civil engineer at a large bottling and manufacturing plant! And now Bethelhem has big dreams to help other children who are growing up in poverty.

“If I hadn’t been sponsored, I probably would be living in the same kind of mud home that my grandmother lives in,” says Bethelhem. “I have a vision to build schools for young poor people, to give them a chance to be what they want to be.”

Young woman, in a yellow and gray safety vest, green shirt, blue jeans and white hard hat, is at the plant. She is standing on concrete in front of a large white building. There are workers in orange vests in the background.

BONUS: Fun Fact About Ethiopia

One of Ethiopia’s nicknames is “Thirteen months of sunshine.” The Ethiopian calendar follows its own pattern in which the months have only 30 days. The 13th month contains the “extra days” and is only five or six days long.

Photos of What Daily Life Is Like in Ethiopia

Do you want to keep learning about the beautiful country of Ethiopia?

Facts About Compassion and Ethiopia ›

Each week on the blog, we’re posting an article of facts about a different country where sponsored children live. Keep an eye out for the countries that interest you the most!

26 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    Shekia October 5, 2020

    Wow, thanks for sharing these details! Culture is beautiful and I’ve learned so much reading through this blog! Thanks again ❤️

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    Diane Aebig October 2, 2020

    Thank you for sharing all of this interesting information on my sponsored child’s homeland. It helps to know how to pray for him and add things in my letters. What a privilege it is to sponsor a child in Ethiopia!

  3. Avatar
    Pam Fikac October 2, 2020

    Thank you for sharing about Ethiopia. I really enjoyed learning about their culture. It made me feel a little closer to our precious sweet child we sponsor. I would love to go visit one day. Praying for our sweet child, her family and the Compassion Team. God bless.

    1. Shayla
      Shayla October 2, 2020

      Hi Pam! I am so glad that we could help you feel more connected to your sweet child. We pray that you are able to visit her one day! 😊💙

  4. Avatar
    Jan E Casady October 2, 2020

    I have so enjoyed reading this article. Although I’ve done some research of my own, it is good to have more information to further my fascination with this country. I hope to meet my child one day, along with his family. Who knows? Perhaps it will happen.

  5. Avatar
    Terri September 30, 2020

    Thank you for the information on my child’s country. It was very interesting and the pictures were wonderful. It gives me a better perspective of where he comes from and opens up an opportunity for knowing him better. I am going to make the Shiro recipe and cook with teff this week. I am so blessed that God has brought us together through your program.
    May God be glorified!

  6. Avatar
    Pat Heath September 30, 2020

    We’ve sponsored children for over 20 years and have three now. One which is from Ethiopia, Eta is the age of our granddaughter-15 now and it is such a blessing to follow her life as she grows and becomes a strong young woman, both in her love of Christ and in knowledge. We pray for her continually and know she is a special child of God. We are blessed by this ministry 🙏💕

  7. Avatar
    Susan Oberdier September 30, 2020

    As I read this very interesting blog about Ethiopia I thought of new questions to ask our sweet sponsored girl. I am going to save the blog and refer to it next time we write to her.

    Compassion is such an amazing ministry. We thank the Lord for all your staff and workers and pray for you daily.

  8. Avatar
    Lily September 29, 2020

    I had the opportunity to visit my sponsor child in Ethiopia last year; I could almost taste the injera as I was reading about it in this blog post (I gotta find an Ethiopian restaurant near me…)! But seriously, my trip to Ethiopia is the most memorable trip in my life, and the highlight was talking with my sponsor child and his family and praying with the Compassion project he’s part of. It really makes the letters we share between us that much more personal.
    I enjoyed reading this and learning some new things about the country and its rich culture. Bethelhem’s story is exciting and encouraging. Thank you so much.

  9. Avatar
    Caralee Howlett September 29, 2020

    Thank you so much for the beautiful article about Ethiopia. As the grandmother of 2 adopted Ethiopian children, I love learning anything about their country; the people and its history.

  10. Avatar
    Donna September 29, 2020

    Thanks for some great knowledge of my Sponsored child Country beautiful pictures great recipes thanks again

  11. Avatar
    Hoyt Cranford September 29, 2020

    Thank you for the wonderful information about my child’s homeland and the pictures were amazing too.

  12. Avatar
    Karen Crowell September 29, 2020

    Aloha Lisa,
    Mahalo for the insight and facts about Ethiopia. It sounds like a beautiful land. It is great to know these to better connect with my Compassion child. She is such a beautiful young lady who is in love with Jesus. It is wonderful that we share bible scripture and she has been a blessing to my life.

    1. Shayla
      Shayla September 29, 2020

      Hi Karen! I am so glad that we were able to help you feel more connected to your sweet girl. 😊💙

  13. Avatar
    Jonathan September 29, 2020

    This was a delightful reprieve from my busy day. I so enjoyed reading about my Compassion child’s home country especially it’s culture, music, dance, and foods. The pictures are a terrific added bonus. Simply reading this helps me be more connected to the realities my sponsored child faces. Thank you.

    1. Shayla
      Shayla September 29, 2020

      Hi Johnathan! I am so glad that we were able to bring you joy with this blog post about Ethiopia. 💙😊

  14. Avatar
    Tracy Hurlburt September 29, 2020

    Thank you for this insight into our child’s life.

    1. Shayla
      Shayla September 29, 2020

      Hi Tracy! We are so glad we could help you see into your child’s life. 😊

  15. Avatar
    Amy C. September 29, 2020

    Thank you for this amazing information!

    1. Shayla
      Shayla September 29, 2020

      Hi Amy! I am so glad that you enjoyed learning about Ethiopia. 😊

  16. Avatar
    Timothy Engle September 29, 2020

    I am glad that I can do my part and help children that I dont know

    1. Shayla
      Shayla September 29, 2020

      Hi Timothy! We are thankful for your partnership. 😊💙

  17. Avatar
    Patton Carter September 29, 2020

    So thankful for this information. Please keep sending.

    1. Shayla
      Shayla September 29, 2020

      Hi Patton! I am so glad you enjoyed learning about Ethiopia. 😊

  18. Avatar
    Lisa Koltes September 22, 2020

    Thank you for the wonderful information about Ethiopia. This week I received a letter from one of our children in Ethiopia. He shared that he received Teff and oil for the new year. I researched Teff and discovered that it is an amazing ancient grain which is very healthy. I was able to purchase it (in Idaho) and I am happy to report that I made a porridge today with Teff, water, dates, walnuts, and maple syrup. It was wonderful. I am grateful to our child for sharing this food with me. I truly feel blessed to experience the joy which comes from our expanded family, our Compassion kids. Our family has been blessed by their letters, drawings, prayers for us, and their gratitude. Receiving a letter from a child who we are told was able to purchase a blanket (with some birthday money we sent) so he will no longer be cold at night brought us to tears. Having our child in Burkina Faso at age 15 ask us to “pray that God makes me a man who pleases him!” also brought us to tears. We have been able to share the Gospel, Scriptures, and God’s amazing love with our children. They have certainly ministered to us. I have been grateful for the Bible verses they have shared with me. Compassion has truly blessed so many lives and has demonstrated the heart and love of God to those living in poverty. Compassion is also a ministry by which those of us who do not live in poverty are humbled while also standing in awe of God’s endless compassion, faithfulness, and love to His people. To God be the glory!

    1. Anna
      Anna September 23, 2020

      I cannot tell you how much your experience with your precious kiddos blesses us, Lisa! We love that you were able to create a dish with Teff, and share that experience with your child in Ethiopia. We are beyond grateful for all that God is doing in the lives of these children. Thank you for your partnership and all you do for these sweet children. 💙

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