A look into Africa: Ethiopia

by Zinam Klaas and Amahle Shib

Ethiopia is known as the place of origin for coffee-beans. It is a very beautiful country with many beautiful different ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has a unique way of dressing and their cultures and beliefs differ from one another. The three ethnic groups we decided to focus on are; the Mursi tribe, Somali tribe and Habesha tribe.

Mursi People, are known for their lip-plates. The lip-plates are worn by women who have been deemed marriageable. The lip-plates are an indication of fertility and are also worn at traditional dances. Married women wear lip-plates when serving their husbands to show their gracefulness and poised movement. The women smear their faces with clay and they decorate their hair with baskets and cattle, pairing it with a baby skirt. Both boys and girls pierce their ears and over time their earlobes get bigger and bigger. A bracelet called Siggi, a brass shaped ‘m’, is only worn by the females. Scarification is performed when boys and girls reach their puberty. 

Ethiopian people. Source: startribune.com
Mursi woman. Source: epicureandculture.com

The Somali people are people that fled from Somalia and went to their neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia. Somali men wear Macawis which is a type of sarong that is worn around the waist. They wrap their heads with a colourful turban or a koofiyad, an embroidered Fez. They also wear a long white garment called a Jellabiya. Somali women wear a guntiino, a long stretch of cloth that is tied around the shoulder and drapes around the waist. This dress cloth is made out of a lot of fabric. However, for formal wear, women wear a Dirac; a long, light, diaphanous dress made of silk, chiffon, taffeta or saree fabric. This dress is worn over a full-length half-slip and brassiere. The underskirt serves as a key component of the overall outfit and it is called gorgorad.

A gutiino worn by a Somali women. Source: flickr.com

The Habesha are people from the north part of Ethiopia. The clothes worn by Habesha people are made from a cloth called shemma and it takes about 2-3 weeks to make just one dress. The bottom garments or the shirt are decorated with patterns. Habesha men wear pants and a knee-length shirt that has a white-collar. Some men wear knee-high socks. Both men and women wear shawls called a netela but the styling is dependent on the occasion. Women wear a dress called Kemis, it is white and has some colours above the lower hem. They wear their shawls to cover their hair and pull the upper ends to the shoulders when going to church. However, when going to funerals shawls are worn so shiny threads appear.

Netela shawl. Source: pinterest.com

Ethiopia is very familiar with the fashion industry. It is filled with designers who have taken over global stages with their garments and continue to make pieces that break societal views on the African fashion scene. 

Just like the fashion designer Mahlet Afework “Mafi” who is an Ethiopian fashion designer based in Addis Ababa and works with handwoven fabrics made by authentic Ethiopian women. Mafi explores the Ethiopian culture and history by creating contemporary pieces with prehistoric fabrics and techniques that represent the depth of the Ethiopian culture. “Every season I try to tell these stories with my collections. I try to learn more about Ethiopia and its beautiful culture,’’ she said. 

Fashion designer Mahlet Afrework (Mafi). Source: instagram.com

Her unique yet wearable clothes and accessories support female weavers in the male-dominated Ethiopian weaving industry. She pays homage to her ancestors but is also able to create employment opportunities that aid growth in Ethiopia’s struggling economy,

“I like to bring our history and tradition into my modern design so that we all celebrate where we come from and what we had in the past,” says Mafi. Her heavily Ethiopian influenced designs are a reflection of her modern aesthetic. This results in the creation of a range of streetwear pieces with an African twist. 

Mafi’s stylish hand-woven jackets. Source: instagram.com

Amongst the game-changing Ethiopian fashion designers is Abai Schulze, the owner of ZAAF. It is a company specialising in handcrafted luxury leather handbags made by Ethiopian artisans. Through ZAAF, she has been able to give many local artisans opportunities to share their talents and promote Ethiopia as a brand.

Abai Schulze, founder of ZAAF. Source: lionessesofafrica.com
Freedom! Collection ss2020. Source: instagram.com

The meaning of ZAAF is “tree” in the ancient and noble language of Amharic. Their broad range of genuine leather bags, jackets, scarves and more carry the strong roots of Ethiopian culture. Schulze’s inspiration for starting up this brand was to be able to use her education in both Economics and Fine Arts and experiences to nurture an opportunity she found in her birthplace.

ZAAF women’s collection. Source: zaafcollection.com

She offers customers the chance to experience the process of creating these hand-woven, hand-cut, hand-stitched designs. She allows people to witness and appreciate the interaction between employees as they use advanced traditional artisanal mechanisms to create their cultural pieces. 

ZAAF women’s collection. Source: zaafcollection.com

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Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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