Thursday, June 26, 2014


Prehistorically, rock art was the most common form of art, and it was similar in fashion to other specimens from other regions in this part of the world.  After Christianity was adopted, much of the artwork was religious-themed.  Iconography was common, characterizing the figures with their bright colors and almond-shaped eyes.  Diptychs (panel paintings with two panels) and triptychs (panel paintings with three panels) were also common.  The churches and cathedrals themselves were fully painted in the European tradition.  There were some minor differences; for example, angels were often depicted as being heads with wings. 

Crosses were very important as well.  Many of these are highly elaborate and ornate.  These crosses were mostly constructed from brass and plated with either gold or silver.  Crosses used in processions could be quite large in size and quite heavy.  Smaller crosses used as jewelry were also made and worn.  Other metalwork, such as crowns, was made for both royalty and high clergy members. 

Textile art was also commonly produced in Ethiopia.  A type of lightweight, opaque pattern-less cloth similar to chiffon was used to drape onto religious icons.  Generally, traditional cloth designs have geometric patterns to them (although many are plain) and tend to be quite colorful. 

Basket making is quite common, especially in the rural areas of Ethiopia.  Depending on its use, whether for storing food, doubling as tables, or being used as bowls, baskets can range from small to quite large. Designs are woven into the baskets as well.   

Early Ethiopian literature was written in the Ge’ez language. The Bible and other religious writings dominated the early literature canon. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church still uses the Ge’ez language as the language of religious literature.  The Ethiopian Jewish community (also known as Beta Israel) still uses the Ge’ez language today as well. The Garima Gospels are the oldest Ge’ez scripts, found in Eritrea and thought to date somewhere between 390-660.

By the time the 14th century came, the language of literature was starting to shift towards using Amharic, Tigrinya, and Tigre, depending on the location. Histories, hagiographies, and letters have been found that have been dated during these early years through the 16th century. Works such as “Book of Axum” and “Book of Enoch” are two famous works written in Ge’ez.

Book of Enoch
Literature written in Amharic covers more works in the most recent centuries. Although it also includes religious materials, it also includes educational materials, government records, novels, poetry, and basically anything that is read today.  Because of their multi-lingual society, the government declared the Amharic as the official working language of the federal government.  It’s also the language of primary education.  Other regional languages may be used locally and for unofficial business.

Dinaw Mengestu

A few notable authors from Ethiopia include Afevork Ghevre Jesus (wrote the first novel in Amharic), Dinaw Mengestu (novelist, journalist, has written for many magazines and newspapers about current events in Africa), Haddis Alemayehu (Foreign Minister, novelist, his works are considered classics), Haile Gerima (filmmaker, member of LA Rebellion film movement [also called Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers]) Hama Tuma (writer, poet), Mammo Wudneh (playwright, journalist, peacemaker between Ethiopia and Eritrea), Nega Mezlekia (writer currently living in Canada, works are written in English), and Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin (art director, playwright, essayist, poet, Poet Laureate of Ethiopia).

Up next: music and dance

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