The corona pandemic was just beginning when we embarked on a research trip through Ethiopia – a journey of discovery that showed us the diverse handicraft techniques and the traditional use of natural materials in rural Ethiopia.
In a nutshell: Ethiopia is very special and extraordinary! Own time calculation, own calendar, own language with own writing.
For your orientation: The country is about three times the size of Germany and about 100 million inhabitants. Depending on the source, there are between 80 and 120 different ethnic groups with as many different languages in Ethiopia, and it is questionable whether anywhere else there is a similar diversity of ethnic groups so close together.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world. In unusual places, monasteries and churches with archaic architecture can be found, which are not always easy to reach. Many a rock church not only requires long hikes, but also climbs. Numerous rock churches are hidden high up in the many hills and mountains of the Tigray region. In painstaking work they were struck out of the rock, but not in the depth but in the horizontal. Most rock churches are over 1000 years old and were built by Christians.
There are 37 larger and smaller islands on Lake Tana. Twenty of them are built with monasteries, some of which date back to the 14th century. The church of Azuwa Maryam Monastery is a beautiful rotunda made of clay, straw and olive wood.
The dwellings in the rural parts of Ethiopia are made of a variety of different materials and designs depending on the area. The constructions made of stone, wood, clay and straw and everything that is available in the surrounding area fit perfectly into the landscapes and have a very individual aesthetic.
The construction made of eucalyptus wood keeps insects away thanks to the oils it contains, and the walls made of clay and straw create compact acoustics that have an immediate calming effect. Unfortunately, many houses today are covered with corrugated iron and not traditionally with straw.
The eucalyptus species, once imported from Australia, thrives splendidly everywhere. The trunks are also used for scaffolding. Eucalyptus needs a lot of water to grow and the secretion of natural herbicides prevents vegetation under the trees, which can lead to increased erosion. In some areas, native species are therefore being used again.
The Dorze are a small ethnic group that live mainly in the south of the country in mountain villages and manufacture huge bamboo huts that are up to 12 meters high. A family with cows, sheep and goats lives in the round huts and the wickerwork resembles a huge basket inside.
Natural colors and structures
The ZOMA Museum is an environmentally conscious art institution in Addis Ababa and was inspired 25 years ago by the timeless and structurally sound folk architecture of Ethiopia and other parts of the world. The mission is to build a bridge between artists and architects from around the world to create cutting-edge ecological art and architecture. It was realized using traditional building techniques. The building materials include mud, straw, stone, wood and cement. It is named after Zoma Shiferraw, a young artist who died of cancer in 1979.
Ethiopia has a rich weaving tradition. We got in touch with Sabahar, an Ethiopian company that was founded in 2004 by Canadian Kathy Marshall and produces handmade cotton and silk textiles.
The Jano Handicraft Association is a six-member cooperative that produces socially responsible hand-woven textile products from local cotton.