Trace the human origins in the country that serves as a symbol of African independence
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Roberto Nickson
04 April 2019
Home to the second-biggest nation on the African continent, Ethiopia has a unique cultural and human heritage. It served as a symbol of independence for the African nations during the colonial period. Is the oldest independent country in Africa and has never been colonised apart form a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy. The country served as a base for several international organisations and was a founder member of the United Nations. The Ethiopia Orthodox Church was one of the oldest Christian denominations.
Ethiopia has suffered many human and cultural threats from drought to civil conflicts. Yet, the country's 2018 Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, aimed for political liberalisation and launched a campaign that put an end to the war conflict with Ethiopia's bordering country Eritrea.
The population of the African country outnumbers 102 million people. With its largest city and capital Addis Ababa, the country covers more than a million square kilometres (420,000 sq mi) of land. It is believed to be the region that people first left to seek the unknown land of the Middle East and the regions beyond. Evidence for some of the oldest skeletal archaeological findings of an anatomically modern human were from Ethiopia. For the majority of its history the country was a monarchy, dating all the way back to second millennium BC. Linguists conclude that during the Neolithic era the first Afroasiatic-speaking populations settled in the region.
During the first centuries AD, the civilisation in the Ethiopian region was unified under the Kingdom of Aksum, followed by the Ethiopian Empire. The country was among the two, which preserved their sovereignty from the long-lasted European colonial power in the late 19th century. Until 1941 the country was called Italian Ethiopia, as it was occupied by Italy five years earlier. However, in the 20th century Ethiopia was the first independent member, from Africa, to join the UN and the League of Nations.
Ethiopia is considered the land of one of the earliest emerged anatomically modern humans. Evidence for extinct subspecies of Homo sapiens and modern human ancestors were found on the country's territory. The Omo remains, found in the area of Omo Kabish date back to the Middle Paleolithic. Alongside the Homo sapiens idaltu skeletons, found in the Middle Awash valley, having existed approximately 160,000 years ago. Additionally, one of the best preserved hominid fossils and probably best known hominid discovery in the world was found on Ethiopian land in 1974. A man under the name of Donald Johanson uncovered the specimen that was estimated to have lived around 3.2 million years ago. Locally the discovery is known as Dinkinesh, while to the rest of the world it is famous as Lucy, after the Awash Valley of the Ethiopian Afar Region it was found in.
Today the Ethiopian nation is multilingual consisting of close to eighty ethnolinguistic groups including the Oromo, Amhara, Somali and Tigrayans. Ethnic minority groups speak Nilo-Saharan and Omotic languages while the majority of the population uses the Afroasiatic languages, which have Semitic and Cushitic roots. Alongside its neighbouring country Eritrea, Ethiopia uses one of the oldest alphabets in the world known as the ancient Ge'ez script. There have been contradicting suggestions around the settlement of Afroasiatic-speaking populations in the country. Some linguists claim those groups to have arrived there from the Near East or the Nile Valley during the Neolithic era. Other experts distinct the idaltu skull fossil found on Ethiopian land from the modern Afroasiatic-speaking nations, and suggest they settled from Dynastic Egypt and the Horn of Africa.
The Ethiopian nation is quite diverse as it continues to develop. While Ethiopian Jews, known as Bete Israel, inhabited the country prior to the 1980s, today the majority of the population follows Christianity and a third adheres Islam. The oldest Muslim settlement on the African continent is located on the country's premises in Negash. The Hamer people and the Omotic Karo-speaking populations in Ethiopia believed that children and adults with physical abnormalities are ritually impure. The Karo had to officially ban the traditional murdering of those people, known as 'mingi', who were believed to have evil influences upon others. Meanwhile a report was released in 2013 where the Oakland Institute stated that the Ethiopian government forcefully relocated 'over 1.5 million people from their lands' in the region of Gambela so that foreign investors can develop massive agriculture industry. The previous year the Human Rights Watch had brought light to programs for similar resettlement of indigenous people in other areas. Yet, the Ethiopian government spoke against the accusations and gave some positive economy aspects as reasons for further development of the programs.
Ethiopia is rich in some natural resources. It is not only the home to the ghost town of Dallol, located in the Danakil Depression and known as the hottest settlement on Earth. The country also hosts the largest continuous mountain ranges on the continent - the Ethiopian Highlands and the largest cave in the whole of Africa, located at the Sof Omar Caves. The contrasts between the drought lands to the north and fertile rivers and forests found west, in is no wonder that Africa's most World Heritage Sites protected by UNESCO, are to be found in Ethiopia. Currently the country is also among the best coffee producers on the planet.
The human traces in Ethiopia date millions of years back in history. The country has evolved and developed in both humanitarian and economic aspects. It is present on the global map as one of the most intriguing world destinations. Despite its conflicted nation and internal economic issues, the symbol of African independence is the homeland of some of the earliest cultural activity and anatomically modern humans, who have inhabited our planet.