With over 80 different peoples, the cultures of its communities are prominent in Ethiopia's lifestyle. With traditions
going back to the days of Axum, and a strong religious setting, celebrations and festivals play an important part in
their daily lives. The greatest festival is Timket (Epiphany), where tourists are welcome to celebrate with the locals.
But other festivals such as Enkutatash (the Ethiopian New Year, in September after the rains), Maskal, Gena (Christmas),
Id and Easter are all glorious celebrations. In every region you will discover local festivals and ceremonies where
you will be welcomed as an honored guest. Remember, when checking any dates, that Ethiopia still retains the Julian
calendar, having thirteen months. The traditional calendar remains almost eight years behind the Gregorian Calendar
of the West.
The history of Ethiopia, known to many as Abyssinia, is rich, ancient, and still in part unknown. Anthropologists
believe that East Africa's Great Rift Valley is the site of the origin of humankind. The first recorded account of
the region dates back to almost 5,000 years ago during the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, when the ancient Egyptians
sent expeditions down the Red Sea in quest of gold, ivory, incense, and slaves.
Ethiopia is one of the world's oldest nations and one of the few in Africa that was never colonized. After the 1974
ouster of Haile Selassie, the last emperor of a dynasty claiming descent from the biblical Solomon, Ethiopia had a
Marxist military government headed by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The army took power in 1974 and the emperor was
deposed. The army declared itself in favour of a socialist government, and in 1975 the banks were nationalised. This
was followd by a radical land reform which collectivised all agricultural land. This brutal revolution, coming from
above without the involvement of the masses, threw the country into chaos. Conflicts followed, and Eritrea rebelled
in 1975. The rebellion was crushed with over 2000 summary executions in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
Elections for the Transitional Government were held in June 1992. A new Constitution was adopted in December 1994.
In 1991-95, a transitional government, led by current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi developed a new constitution that
called for democratic elections, which were held in May 1995. A 1993 referendum allowed the secession of Eritrea to
form an independent nation. The new Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia came into being in August 1995, appointing
Dr Negasso Gidada as President. A border dispute flared into war in May 1998 between Ethiopia and Eritrea and as a
result the United Nations adopted an arms embargo on the two countries.
The story of the Queen of Sheba is deeply cherished in Ethiopia, as part of the national heritage. This African Queen
is mentioned in two holy books, the Bible and the Koran.
Makeda: Queen of Sheba:
The Queen Sheba is renowned for her visit to King Solomon in 1000 BC, and for her wealthy dynasty founded in Ethiopia.
In 960 B.C., the nation that is now called Ethiopia, came back upon the center of the stage of history. Ethiopia was
then represented by a queen, who in some books is referred to as "Makeda" or "Belkis." She is better known to the world
as the Queen of Sheba. In his book, "World's Great Men of Color," J.A. Rogers, gives this description: "Out of the mists
of three thousand years, emerges this beautiful story of a Black Queen, who attracted by the fame of a Judean monarch,
made a long journey to see him." The Queen of Sheba is said to have undertaken a long and difficult journey to Jerusalem,
in order to learn of the wisdom of the great King Solomon. Makeda and King Solomon were equally impressed with each other.
Out of their relationship was born a son, Menelik I. This Queen is said to have reigned over Sheba and Arabia as well
as Ethiopia. The queen of Sheba's capital was Debra Makeda, which the Queen built for herself. In Ethiopia's church of
Axum, there is a copy of what is said to be one of the Tables of Law that Solomon gave to Menelik I.
The legacy of the Queen of Sheba lies just below the shifting sands, and churches hewn out of sheer rock attract wide-eyed
tourists. The African nation's historic route begins in the ancient city of Askum, which dates to about 100 B.C. This
capital city was the first place in Ethiopia to adopt a new religion -- Christianity. According to the Old Testament,
The Queen of Sheba was born in Askum, but traveled to Israel to meet King Solomon. They had a son named Menelik, who
later became the first emperor of Ethiopia.
"Menelik brought the original Arc of the Covenant back to Ethiopia from Israel," according to Ethiopian travel guides.
Today, the Arc, which once housed the Ten Commandments, remains well hidden in Askum. Locals say it is guarded by a select
group of monks, whose sole commitment is to protect the sacred vessel. Askum is also known for its massive, towering
sculptures that are more than two thousand years old. Their significance is still under investigation by archeologists.
Today, Ethiopia's religious tradition is reflected in the day-to-day lifestyle of the people, and nowhere does this
spiritual energy echo more than in the monolithic churches of Lalibela. All 11 structures were carved from one rock
in the 13th century, and are still open to the local people for religious ceremonies. Considered the Eighth Wonder
of the World, the churches were built by King Lalibela. Legend has it that Lalibela was poisoned by his brother and
fell into a three-day coma. While he was unconscious, it is said he was transported to heaven where God told him to
return to Earth and build churches unlike any on the planet. Lalibella constructed two types of churches: monolithic
and rock-hewn. Workers dug trenches around solid pieces of rock, and then carved monolithic churches out of the
Rock-hewn churches were carved directly into the mountain face. The Jordan River divides the houses of worship that
Lalibela built. The churches to the left symbolize earthly Jerusalem, while the churches on the right side of the
river symbolize heavenly Jerusalem. The river itself is meant to symbolize the baptism of Christ. A complex maze of
tunnels with crypts, grottoes and galleries connects the churches on either side of the Jordan River.