TRADITIONAL DRESS IN ETHIOPIA

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Traditional Dress in Ethiopia

The people of Ethiopia wear many different types of clothing. The traditional dress of the Christian highland peasantry has traditionally been of white cotton cloth. Since the time of Emperor Tewodros 11 (mid-1800s), men have worn long, jodhpur-like trousers, a tight-fitting shirt and a shamma (loose wrap).

The Muslims of Harar, by contrast, wear very colourful dress, the men in shortish trousers and a coloured wrap and the women in fine dresses of red, purple and black. The lowland Somali and Afar wear long, brightly coloured cotton wraps, and the Oromo and Bale people are to be seen in the bead-decorated leather garments that reflect their economy, which is based on livestock. Costumes to some extent reflect the climates where the different groups live - highlanders, for instance, -use heavy cloth capes and wraparound blankets to combat the night chill. In the heat of the lowland plains, light cotton cloths are all that is required by men and women alike.

Traditional dress, though often now supplanted by Western attire, may still be seen throughout much of the countryside. National dress is usually worn for festivals, when streets and meeting-places are transformed into a sea of white as finely woven cotton dresses, wraps decorated with coloured woven borders, and suits are donned. A distinctive style of dress is found among the Oromo horsemen of the central highlands, who, on ceremonial days such as Maskal, attire themselves in lions' manes or baboon-skin headdresses and, carrying hippo-hide spears and shields, ride down to the main city squares to participate in the parades.

Ethiopians are justifiably proud of the range of their traditional costumes. The most obvious identification of the different groups is in the jewellery, the hair styles and the embroidery of the dresses. The women of Amhara and Tigray wear dozens of plaits (sheruba), tightly braided to the head and billowing out at the shoulders. The women of Harar part their hair in the middle and make a bun behind each ear. Hamer, Geleb, Bume and Karo men form a ridge of plaited hair and clay to hold their feathered headwear in place. Arsi women have fringes and short, bobbed hair. Bale girls have the same, but cover it with a black headcloth, while young children often have their heads shaved.

Jewellery in silver and gold is worn by both Muslims and Christians, often with amber or glass beads incorporated. Heavy brass, copper and ivory bracelets and anklets are also worn.