The Block

An embroidered Agadez Cross fills the centre of the Ethiopian block. The cross, originally worn exclusively by men, was passed down from father to son in a ceremony that ended with the words, “My son, I give you the four corners of the world, for no one can know where he may die.” Today, crosses are proudly worn by both genders as adornment and good luck amulets, and the motif, a truly Ethiopian pattern, is stylized in clothing and architecture. Blockmaker Ainalem Tebeje’s choice of colours reflects Ethiopians’ love of bold, vibrant hues in their attire. Pieces of fine, hand-woven cotton taken from a shawl, provide the inner and outer frame for the block. Traditionally, cotton is woven into a loose mesh fabric and used to make women’s skirts and shawls.


Arbore woman
Hamer women
Harrari girls in Addis
Hariri traditional clothes
Handicarafts, Ethiopia 2008. Photo- Lucy Horodny, AusAID (10699973473)
Fabrics On The Road To The Blue Nile Falls, Ethiopia (2210046535)Making baskets
Detail, Ethiopian Embroidery (2132372998)
Intérieur Debre Berhan Selassie1
Granaries Ethiopian Granaries (5065878610)
Interior of Debré Berhan Sélassié Church
View of Lalibela
The Collection - Treasury Of The Chapel Of The Tablet (2855985209)
Ethiopian Crowns

Cultural Profile

Ethiopia is located in the area of northeastern Africa known as the ‘Horn of Africa’. Once known as Abyssinia, Ethiopia received its name from a Greek word meaning ‘sunburned faces.’ Coffee originated here, taking its name from the province Kefa in southern Ethiopia. The country is the only African nation to have avoided colonialism, after defeating Italy in a military battle in the 19th century. Ethiopia is known as the country with ‘13 months of sunshine.’ Its year, based on the Julian calendar, has 12 months of 30 days each, and Pagume, a 13th month that has five days (six in a leap year). The population is ethnically diverse with broad differences in cultural backgrounds. The main ethnic groups are the Oromo, the Amhara, the Somali and the Tigray. Ahmaric is the official language, however at least 70 different languages are spoken and there are over 200 local dialects. The Ethiopian alphabet, the Ge’ez script, is the oldest alphabet still in use in the world, dating back to the 5th century BC.

Considered one of the cradles of humanity, Ethiopia is home to numerous significant historical sites. The bones of Lucy, the oldest known hominin, as well as the Omo remains, the earliest Homo sapiens found, were unearthed in this ancient land. The source of the Blue Nile is found in Ethiopia. The country is also home to various ancient religious sites of the Christian and Islam faiths, such as the ancient Muslim city of Harar, closed to non-Muslims until the middle of the 19th century, or the Christian Lalibela churches, fascinating buildings literally carved out of the bedrock.

As Ethiopia is an important cotton producer, this fiber plays a prominent role in traditional dress, including the netela, a chiffon shawl similar to the fabric used in the block worn by many Ethiopian girls and women, and the male counterpart, called the kuta. These gauzy fabrics are handwoven on pedal wooden looms by the shemane, the weavers. Each region has its own weaving traditions.

Traditionally, Ethiopians receive given names at birth and do not have last names. They value eloquence and expect others to speak clearly and slowly, using metaphors, allusions and witty innuendos. Courtesy is highly regarded and children are taught at a young age to let their actions speak for them.

Each region in Ethiopia has its own crafts, musical and artistic traditions. Baskets, carpets, leatherwork, wood carvings and jewellery are made in various areas of the country with each region having its own distinctive designs. Dance is important in Ethiopia, the most common of which is known as eskista, a dance where dancers move only their shoulders while keeping their lower bodies still. Strong oral traditions in the country include thousands of proverbs and stories teaching morality, history and culture.

Ethiopians have been coming to Canada since 1974, often because of poverty and underdevelopment in their homeland. They have tended to settle in the larger cities of Ontario where there are more job opportunities. Many have established their own businesses or make their living in auto repair, furniture manufacturing, printing services and restaurants. There are currently more than 30,000 Ethiopians now living in Canada.


Sponsor: Elizabeth and Chris Nurse | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons