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Ethiopian Cultural Resources for Adoptive Families

Updated on October 2, 2016

By and for the Ferenge Parent Adopting from Ethiopia

She had me at "Selam." From the moment her little hand wrapped around my finger and grabbed my heart in the bustling hills of Ethiopia's capital, it has been this adoptive "Ferenge" mama's quest to bring as much habesha influence as we possibly can to our rural Midwest outpost.

This is the light stuff; the bits and pieces of culture we can taste, collect and observe. The real human living stuff you'll have to find on your own in your local community. But as for the fluff; I'm going to comb the net for every little thing Ethiopia!

From books to cookbooks to photography, art and music and shopping; everything that tickles the senses and gives a peak into our little "habesha's"Ethiopian culture is welcomed and pursued... join us!

The Sounds of Ethiopian Music

Below I've compiled a list of some sites to sample a range of Ethiopian music styles. I'm always looking for more musical influences. Send me your favorites!

Ethiopian Music Souvenirs from Addis
Ethiopian Music Souvenirs from Addis

Ethiopian Music and the Afro beat

from Teddy Afro to Bole to Harlem

On one of our last days in Ethiopia we had our good friend Wendi take us to a small Addis music store and load us up with a range of Ethiopian music from traditional to pop. It was a good start in introducing us to a new (to us) sound that spans across traditional, pop, jazz, hip hop, Ethio-beat and fusion.

Our Ethiopian starter set included: Teddy Afro, Tewodros Kassahun, Mahmoud Ahmed, Gigi, Aster Aweke, Menyale, Setenge, and a long favorite US fusion project; Bole to Harlem. Since then we've dug deeper and wider looking for Ethiopian children's music and traditional songs. Often You-tube is a good source to find music and videos (interesting cultural nuggets in themselves).

Bole to Harlem - A Soundtrack for our Multicultural Family

We found this album before we traveled and there's such a great positive vibe to it. I just love the cross of cultures - a good representation for our multi-cultural family. I think of it as our family's soundtrack! Look it up.

Below is the only video made by this international group. Beautiful habesha ladies in stunning dresses... must be from Harrar!

Teddy Afro Video - The King of Ethiopian Pop - And social critic...

Although Teddy Afro is the king for Ethiopian pop, his lyrics run deeper into social and political issues that have had him butting heads with the TPLF government, who banned four of his more critical songs from radio and TV. The controversy also played out when he was accused of hit-and-run manslaughter and sentenced to 6 years. Many thought the accusation was politically motivated and a movement to "Free Teddy Afro" developed. He ended up serving 16 months of his sentence and was released August 2009.

He does tour in the US. Keep an eye out!

This is a fun song. Have a listen.

Tastes of the Habesha homeland Ethiopian recipes & cooking tips

Ethiopian Eats

We had two weeks in Ethiopia to taste a range of traditional dishes. At our guesthouse (which was a part of the Toukoul Orphanage) our chef delighted us with a fusion of Ethiopian and French dishes, while we also took several trips to restaurants that specialize in dazzling the tourist with the full range of Ethiopian traditional wats (stews). I'm no expert but I enjoyed everything we tried. We brought back several pounds of berbere, but when it runs out I've scoped out several places online to buy it. I'll put those links below.

Below is my adaptation of a Doro wat recipe for the crock pot. Disclaimer; this has been neither tried nor approved by any Ethiopians who had a palate more advanced than baby formula! But we like it... get out your Berbere!

Doro Wat
Doro Wat

Adapting Doro Wat for the Crock Pot

Below is my adaptation of a Doro wat recipe for the crock pot. Disclaimer; this has been neither tried nor approved by any Ethiopians who had a palate more advanced than baby formula! But we like it... get out your Berbere!

Doro Wat Ingredients

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 TSP salt
  • 2-3 lbs chicken pieces, and pierced to facilitate marinating
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 can Chick peas, if desired (my addition)
  • 4 TBS niter kebbeh (or butter)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh ginger root, chopped (about a teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek (if you can find it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon berbere
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup, (my adaptation) - it flavors and helps thicken the sauce
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup water or dry red wine
  • Several hard-boiled eggs, pierced with a toothpick

Doro Wat Instructions

  1. What you do:
  2. Marinate the chicken in the lemon or lime juice and half the salt for 30-60 minutes.
  3. In a fry pan, dry cook (no oil) the onions over medium heat for a few minutes. Stir constantly to prevent them from browning or burning. Some cooks add the niter kebbeh at the start, but dry-cooking the onions for a few minutes gives the dish a distinctive flavor.
  4. Add the niter kebbeh or butter to the onions, along with the garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg, remaining salt, berbere (or cayenne pepper and paprika), and ketchup. Stir and simmer for a few minutes. The onions should be soft, tender, and translucent, but not browned.
  5. Add the chicken stock, water, or dry red wine. Bring the mixture to a low boil while stirring gently. Cook for a few minutes, then reduce heat.
  6. Place the marinated chicken pieces in the crock pot and pour the sauce and onions over it. Cover and heat it on low 6-8 hours or high 4 hours. Taste the stew and add mor berbere or ketchup as desired.
  7. About 15 minutes before serving, gently add the hard-boiled eggs and ladle sauce over them.
  8. While it's not the way Ethiopians would serve it, doro wat is very good with Couscous, Rice, or Middle-Eastern or Indian style flat bread if you can't find injera.
  9. Enjoy!
Cast your vote for DORO WAT for the CROCK POT:
Ethiopian Dancing at Fasika Restaurant in Addis Ababa
Ethiopian Dancing at Fasika Restaurant in Addis Ababa

How to Shake your Shoulders like a Habesha - Ethiopian Dancing

While in Addis we had the chance to go to the Fasika Restaurant for a traditional dinner and Ethiopian dancing performance. There are a variety of regional dances in Ethiopia which each have their own style of dress. The performers did a sampling of several of the many dances in a charming and cozy atmosphere.

Some may label this venue too touristy, but what a delightful evening and introduction to Ethiopian food and dance. We also got our first taste of "Tej" or Ethiopian honey wine.

Overall I'd highly recommend an evening at Fasika. Our favorite dance was the traditional shoulder dance. My advice to future travelers; get a headstart by practicing the moves beforehand with the guidance of videos available on Youtube.

See the Ethiopian Shoulder Dance

The Queen of Sheba from Ethiopic Historical Records
The Queen of Sheba from Ethiopic Historical Records

Meet Ethiopian Cultural Icons

From Ras to Runners

In my research on Youtube, I've come across some outstanding figures of Ethiopian life, fame and culture. Thought I'd share them with you as I do with my daughter. The image is The Queen of Sheba from Ethiopic Historical Records

The Queen of Sheba - Makeda, the Ethiopian Queen who won over Solomen and bore the son Menelik who ruled to Ethiopia

Haile Selassie- An icon who reigned Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 and is now considered God incarnate, among the Rastafari

Zerai Deres -An Ethiopian & Eritrean national hero who while parading in Mussolini's 1937 Italian Empire Celebration (during the 1936-41 occupation by Italy), saw the iconic statue of the Ethiopian Lion of Judah displayed as war booty and in rage drew his sword and killed five Italian guards before being brought down in a rain of gunfire.

Haile Gebreselassie - Ethiopian Olympic Gold Medalist Runner

Fatuma Roba- The first African woman to ever win an Olympic marathon

- A contemporary Ethiopian painter whose works hang in the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art among many other museums. He is known for incorporating amharic script into his work.

Afewerk Tekle - One of Ethiopia's most celebrated Artists who has done many murals & commissions around Ethiopia in addition to receiving international acclaim.

Liya Kebede- Supermodel, actress, clothing designer and World Health Organisation's Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Also finds time to head the LIya Kedebe Foundation.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis the founder of Ethiopia Readswhich is a philanthropic organization that works to bring literacy to the children of Ethiopia. In 2008, CNN recognized him as one of the "Top 10 Heroes of the Year".

There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Her Country's Children
There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Her Country's Children

This book is and will forever be the book that helps my daughter understand her history. It changed our lives.This incredibly moving book very clearly outlines the issues of the Ethiopian Orphan crisis and the underlying AIDs crisis. When we were starting our adoption journey, I came across this book right as we were struggling to decide whether we wanted to adopt from Ethiopia. The answer was clear as I finished the book. We reread it every year.

Addis, early morning in the rainy season
Addis, early morning in the rainy season
Rural Ethiopia in its verdant glory. Photo by me.
Rural Ethiopia in its verdant glory. Photo by me.

The Incense of Ethiopia

Frankincense to fresh ground coffee

The smells were such a profound part of our experience in Ethiopia; the burning eucalyptus, the burning trash piles, the burning incense, the roasting coffee, the berbere. I brought back some incense and some berbere. It was a good start but I wish I'd thought it through a bit more.

Now, I hunt these things down online. For Frankincense (the gift of one of the Magi who was (bonus point) Ethiopian!) I found there were lots of places to buy it; many of which cater to stoners and witches... I was looking for something a bit more authentic... so it came down between the Absynian Market which didn't look like it had been updated recently and the Greek Orthodox Holycross Hermitage of West Virginia.The father responded very promptly to my web inquiry so... the monks win.

As for coffee; all fans of ethiopia know that in 850 AD an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee when his flock began to dance around sleeplessly in the night. The flock had been eating the cherries of coffee trees, and the rest is history. One of my favorite scents from one of my favorite sources is on the rainforest site. Good vibes come from buying Fair Trade coffee when roughly 25% of the Ethiopian population is dependent on the coffee industry. Go there, buy some and then give some as gifts.

Original Ethiopian Doll
Original Ethiopian Doll

Beautiful Black Barbie; Trichelle

Ethiopian Dolls

for our little mimi's

Its not easy finding a black doll, much less an Ethiopian doll. But things have been changing and more and more options are available. I got the pictured Ethiopian doll at the Toukoul gift shop ( our daughter's orphanage). There, they had an assortment of woven scarfs, handmade quilts, table cloths, cloth animals and the famous Ethiopian doll- the only one made in Ethiopia - and the proceeds go back to the orphanage to help fund their Werku program to teach job skills to single moms so they can keep their families intact.

The Makeda doll(the name of the Queen of Sheba) is a collectible doll made for a limited time by the American Girl Doll company (read: too expensive to let a toddler enjoy) category. Beautiful though!

More recently, to make my admiration even greater, Target came out with Rahel, an Ethiopian doll. If you're lucky you might find one on Ebay.

Barbies: I'm crafty. I like small projects. Especially ones that benefit my daughter and her cultural pride. I've taken to finding black Barbies and making them Habesha with new outfits and hairstyles. My favorite Barbie source right now is the S.I.S line; Trichelle especially. I love her curly hair and purple eyeshadow. She makes a stunning Habesha babe. If you go for a straight hair Barbie, you can do your own perm with instructions found online. I haven't tried it yet because Trichelle is so fine, but I'm tempted.

Update me if you find any other items!

Ethiopian gabi and netella on my Mimi
Ethiopian gabi and netella on my Mimi

Ethiopian Style and Clothing

Flair for the Ferenge

Going to an Ethiopian event, cultural fair or culture camp?

Need something to proclaim your International family's Ethiopian connection for family photos or holiday cards?

Finding a gabi or netella can be a little challenging stateside. I've often resorted to collaring someone who knows someone who's going to Ethiopia to bring back something that might fit... when that fails here's some additional links.

Please send your own sources; share the style!

Ethiopian Adoption Souvenirs

Ethiopian Adoption Announcements, tshirts, ornaments & decor made by an Adoptive Mom.
Ethiopian Adoption Announcements, tshirts, ornaments & decor made by an Adoptive Mom.

Adoption Announcements with Ethiopian Flair

While squirming through "the wait" to adopt our daughter from Ethiopia, I put my nervous energy into researching & designing a line of Ethiopian Adoption themed souvenirs & announcements.

Some have the words for "Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Grandpa etc" in Amharic, some are based on Ethiopian icons like "Coptic crosses,the angels from Gondar, Ethiopian Special Delivery Mail & Postage, and the Ethiopian Lion (Ras) of Judah.

I've used them for gifts to share with our supporters who've helped us through the process, gifts for friend's baby showers, and as mementos on our daughter's "adoption day" celebration. Special requests are always welcome.

Click here to see the whole line of Ethiopian Adoption items I've designed.

Ethiopian Holidays - Celebrate with your International Family

Ethiopia uses a different calendar than the west which has 13 months and is closely related to the Egyptian Coptic calendar. Their year starts on September 11th and some of the holidays we share, don't occur on the same days. Here's a list of some the Ethiopian National Holidays so you can celebrate with your International family.

Ethiopian Holidays to Remember

  • Genna: January 7th is Ethiopian Christmas
  • Timkat: January 19th - Epiphany - Timket celebrates the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. This festival is best known for its ritual reenactment of baptism and its colorful processions & festivities.
  • Adwa Victory Day: March 2 - In honor of the victory over the Italian army in 1896.
  • Siklet: Date Varies in Spring - Good Friday
  • Fasika: Date Varies in Spring - Easter
  • Labor Day: May 1
  • Patriots Victory Day: May 5 - To celebrate liberation from Italian occupation by the Allies in 1941.
  • Derg Downfall Day: May 28 - In honor of the end of the Derg in 1991.
  • Enkutatash: September 11 (12th on Leap Year) - New Years Day
  • Meskel: September 27 - Finding of the True Cross; A procession & bonfire "Demera"in honor of the belief that a part of the true Cross has been brought to Ethiopia from Egypt and is kept at Amba Geshen. Afterwards, the celebrants use the charcoal to mark a cross on their foreheads like Ash Wednesday.

Come along for an Ethiopian Jewish Passover Seder - Shalom Sesame

Ethiopia is home to Christians, Muslims and Jews. The Ethiopian Jews are called the Beta Israel tribe and live mainly in the Northern & Northwest of Ethiopia in the Amhara and Tigray regions. Many, like this family shown participated in an "aliyah" repatriation to Israel.

There are a three competing claims of how the lineage came to Ethiopia. One is through Menelik I, who, according to the 14th century Ethiopian book of "Kebra Nagast" (The Glory of Kings), is the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Makeda). Another theory is that they descend from the tribe of Dan (Danites) who fled the civil ware in Israell between Solomon's sons. And the other claim is that the Danite connection reaches back to the time of Moses after the Exodus.

Gebeta to Foosball

While we were in Ethiopia we saw kids out playing a number of games; some of which we recognized, so we didn't. The two most recognizable were foosball tables which we prominant on sidewalks all around the city and even in the rural towns we passed through. Their bright colors stood out against the dull dust of the unpaved streets. The games looked pretty fierce!

The other game we saw a lot was soccer (football to the rest of the world). Played with a ball made of the recognizable materials or created by avid sports with whatever resources were available (usually plastic bags tied together). This is a real national pastime.

Another popular game is a board game called Gebeta. The wooden board games are beautifully carved from a dark colored wood with indents for the playing pieces (seeds or stones) and are often given to newly married couples by their father and then passed down through families. They are highly valued heirlooms to Ethiopians and are somewhat rare to own. We did see indents for playing Gobeta carved into sidewalk curbs, so those that don't own one can still enjoy the game. I saw some of sets when at the Post Office Square market and coveted them. If only I had a bigger carry-on bag! Luckily, you can find these items on Ebay from time to time (using a variety of search words like Gabata, Gebeta, Gobeta, Mancala) ... I will put some links below. The object is to get your opponents playing pieces. Click here for rules of the game "Gobeta."

We saw kids, usually girls, playing Ethiopian singing & clapping games. I've found several of these online and they're delightful. Of course there was plenty of "House playing" among the girls using very creative materials to imitate cooking wares and household items. Its amazing what a good imagination can achieve!

Sponsor a Child in Ethiopia - Create a Lifetime Bond through SOS Children's Villages

Most of the links below are the fluff of making birth-country connections for your family; clothes, music, food - a tourist's sampling of culture. The one real connection I can suggest is this: sponsor a child in Ethiopia.

For our daughter's "Homecoming Day" we wanted to honor her birth country and find a way to give back; one that she could be involved with as she grows up.

There are several charities out there that will help you forge a real relationship to a child in Ethiopia; we chose SOS Children's Villages.

We were thrilled when we discovered that SOS Children's villages program works in Ethiopia. This group, which started in 1942 to address the orphan crisis in Europe after WWII & has been nominated for a Nobel Peace prize 14 times. They match you with a child in your chosen country and send photos and updates on her development.

They describe their mission this way:

"We build families for children in need. We help them shape their own futures. We share in the development of their communities."

In Ethiopia they have villages in Addis, Awassa, Dire Dawa, Harrar, Bahir Dar & Gode. What is really rewarding about their program is that you can sponsor an individual child in Ethiopia who will grow up in the care of their Village program. You can write, receive photos and letters and, if you're able to travel to Ethiopia, you can even arrange to meet them. What's more amazing is that when you sign up to sponsor a child, you can ask for a certain age or gender too; our little Habesha penpal is exactly 2 months younger than our own little "mimi" - to the day!

I hope that their friendship as they grow will help span the distance from our daughter's home culture and shared orphan background. Already she talks about "her friend" and brings the photo to show her friends at daycare.

So, if you're looking for a way to stay engaged in Ethiopia and give your children a real live connection to their culture and background, look into sponsoring a child through SOS! Add your request for Ethiopia/gender & age to the "special requests" field in the "Additional Information" part of the form.

Want to Sponsor a Child in Ethiopia? Here's the link:

Sponsor a Child | SOS Children's Villages

Help build this resource.

Please join me on the quest to make this the most helpful starting point for getting to know the culture; send me your links and suggestions of what else I can feature here. Every additional link makes this a better resource.

Insights into Ethiopian Life

Ethiopia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture
Ethiopia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

This book would be a great resource for adoptive parents to learn about the customs, history and lifestyle that makes Ethiopian culture so unique.


Guestbook - Send me your links!

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Love your lens. Have you seen the ethidolls dot com ? They have some beautiful "dolls" there. It sounds like you really want to honor the heritage of your daughter and I commend you for that. I will be back to visit your lens. I find the Ethiopian culture fascinating and beautiful.

    • Ram Ramakrishnan profile image

      Ram Ramakrishnan 

      6 years ago

      Know this, O worthy and diligent lensmaster;

      With accomplishment youâve earned a tryster.

      As a token of immense appreciation expressed,

      A squid angel leaves this lens heartily blessed.

      On a rendering that is sparkling in its own right,

      Propagating an appealing thought well and quite;

      If you were to notice a slender shimmering crust;

      From the angelâs wand, it is a spill of stardust.

    • ForestBear LM profile image

      ForestBear LM 

      7 years ago

      wonderful lens, thank you so much for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Immerse yourself in an evening of Ethiopian culture and food. Learn about the staples of traditional Ethiopian cuisine while you are guided through a tasting tour of some favorite Ethiopian.

      Family Law Chicago

    • pixiecopley profile image

      Pixie Copley 

      7 years ago from UK

      fantastic lens, so much information that i never knew before, thanks for putting this together :)

    • delia-delia profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! I saw a documentary about Ethiopia many years ago, since then I have always been fascinated with Ethiopia, the culture and the beautiful people.

      I think it's important that an adoptive child's culture is kept familiar.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      Great lens with an incredible amount of information. Angel blessed.

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 

      7 years ago from Scotland

      You had me hooked! what a beautiful page Blessed by a passing Squid Angel!

    • fionajean profile image


      7 years ago from South Africa

      Congrats on your purple star - I can see that you are very passionate about your little girl - she looks fantastic and will definately understand her home culture well . (It's very important.)

    • LizRobertson profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @BunnyFabulous: Thanks! What a great surprise! How's your adoption process coming along? Long eh?

    • BunnyFabulous profile image


      7 years ago from Central Florida

      Congrats on your purple star!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Your lens is one of my favourite. I love it.

    • LizRobertson profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @BunnyFabulous: Thank you, I'd love to add that type of thing... I'll need some larger Gabis & Netellas too;

      they just keep growing and growing!

    • BunnyFabulous profile image


      7 years ago from Central Florida

      This is an awesome resource! We're starting the process of adopting a son from Ethiopia, so if you run across any traditional boys' or men's outfits, I'd love to know about those. If I see some, I'll let you know too.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is such a wealth of information for people thinking of adoption from Ethiopia. Best of luck to you and your daughter.


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