What sets apart Ethiopia from the rest of the countries in Africa is its high-quality, beautiful handicrafts. Ethiopian products, from jewelry and clothing, leather and wickerwork to delicacies and more - all will remind you of the rich culture and traditions of Africa. Ethiopia is a mysterious, beautiful, and mountainous piece of paradise in the Horn of Africa and the birthplace of Early Christianity. Lake Tana in Northern Ethiopia promises a pilgrimage of a lifetime, as it is famous for its ancient monasteries and churches. Perhaps you dream to visit Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia) and see the astonishing Menbere Selassie Church. Indeed, a tour is not complete without buying some unique and famous local crafts. With all the things to buy, you’ll want to check out our list of what to buy in Ethiopia to save you time and money. Check it out below.
1. Coffee beans
For centuries, the Ethiopian coffee bean has been uniting people from over the world. The high altitude growing conditions of Ethiopian coffee makes it some of the best coffee in the world, so it’s not surprising why visitors are after this high-caliber bean. It was first discovered in the 19th century by a goat herder and, since then, it has been part of Ethiopian culture and traditions.
Drinking a cup of coffee in this country comes with a ceremony. If you are planning to visit Ethiopia, joining a coffee ceremony may allow you to taste three varieties of the bean (Arabica, Robusta, and Arabica-Robusta).
2. Ethiopian jewelry
Copal-beaded necklaces, silver earrings, bronze collars, anklets, and filigree-decorated bracelets, to name a few - Ethiopian jewelry is indeed a big thing throughout Africa when we talk about religion, culture, and traditions. Ethiopians are known as skilled metalsmiths, so expect to see true works of art in jewelry. They use fishbone, wood, silver, and even feathers to make jewelry, which makes Ethiopian jewelry shine amongst the rest. If you want to be fabulous, you know now what to look for.
3. Straw baskets
Baskets are part of Ethiopian society and culture. They are colorful, functional, and sacred items throughout Africa. As we know, Africans are skilled artisans, so expect high-quality handicrafts. Traditional handmade straw baskets are stunning and have spectacular geometric patterns with different colors made of natural straw. If you want something that will remind you of Africa, buying this item is a good choice.
4. Habesha kemis
Stylish and classy in every way, a Habesha kemis is a must buy in Ethiopia. It is the traditional ankle-length dress of Habesha women that is usually worn during formal occasions. The dress is made of high-quality cotton fabric and traditionally comes in beige, grey, or white shades. Today, it comes in many styles and it is best paired with a “netela” (shawl).
5. Berbere (spice)
Ethiopian food is hard to forget. If you want something that will remind you of Ethiopia’s rich gastronomy, grabbing a bag of berbere (a mixture of spices) is a fantastic idea. The mixture includes plenty of ingredients, from garlic and chili peppers to basil, ginger, korarima (Ethiopian cardamom), radhuni (wild celery) and other Ethiopian spices you’ve never heard of. Berbere does a great job of giving a unique taste or flavor to every dish. If you buy this spice, be sure to store it in a cool, dark place, away from moisture and heat.
6. Knit toys
If you are looking for souvenirs for the kiddos, Ethiopian knit toys are a must. Knit toys are artistic and you will truly see the hard work and love that was put into making them. Plenty of toys are available to choose from and a multi-color ball with the Amharic alphabet is a unique item. Or perhaps, you’d like a pink rhino? Ethiopian toys are good to display, too, as they are colorful, quirky, and unique.
7. Clay pottery
The origin of pottery in Ethiopia dates back to between 100 BC and 400 AD (the Aksumite empire). Ethiopian potters are mostly women and their pottery shows vitality, artistry, and beauty. When it comes to traditional Ethiopian pottery, it is made from three types of clay collected from riverbeds. Potters place a piece of this clay on a flat, round plate and then form the shape by hand while rotating the plate. Some potters use modern potting wheels and molds.
The shaped clay is then put outside to dry in the sun. Once it is dried, it is polished and even oiled to enhance its beauty. Should you want to display something unique and beautiful in your home, buying these ceramics is a good choice.
8. Shema (Cloth)
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Made from high-quality cotton and woven on a handloom, shema is a traditional type of cloth and very popular in Ethiopia. If you truly want to immerse yourself in Ethiopian culture, wearing something made of shema is a must, as almost everybody wears it. You can wear it in different ways, as a shawl, dress, or a full-body wrap. Shema is made of lightly woven cotton and has plenty of layers, which traps air and stays warm, despite being lightweight.
9. Krar (musical instrument)
Music, as well as musical instruments, are part of Ethiopian culture and traditions. A krar, a type of smaller lyre similar to the ancient Greek lyra, is a five or six-stringed, bowl-shaped instrument, adjusted to a pentatonic scale. There are also modern krars, which are amplified like an electric violin or guitar. Whatever you choose, all provide a pleasing sound.
10. Wood sculptures
Ethiopian wood sculptures or waga (Ethiopian wooden grave statues) are interesting. In the southern part of Ethiopia, carved wooden anthropomorphic statues, or waga mimick deceased loved ones, enemies, or even animals, and are placed as grave markers. The Konso locals are known for their waga sculptures and they are used to honor the memory of well-known men. Today, there are modern wagas or mini-wagas available, which are specifically carved for visitors.
For those who enjoy wearing scarves and dresses with unique prints, Ethiopian textile is a great find for souvenirs. Market places are filled with stalls selling Ethiopian textiles with scarves locally known as “Netela” being sold everywhere in the country. Many Ethiopian women are fond of textiles as such since it protects them from the hot weather. Apart from the shade, it’s a great fashion find for friends and family who enjoy styling with prints and patterns.
12. Ethiopian Wickerwork
An interesting token from travels to Ethiopia is the colorful and unique Ethiopian wickerwork that usually comes in the form of baskets are best sellers amongst tourists. Traditionally, locals use these wicker baskets as shopping bags when going to weekend markets to collect produce and other local products. This hand-woven wickerwork and baskets, decorative plates among others, and are great for home and kitchen decor, which is made from grass or straw by local weavers.
Buy unique things and discover Ethiopia's rich culture
Beautiful, unique, quirky, and high-end items - that’s what you’ll see when you browse the shops and markets of Ethiopia. If you want to immerse yourself in the Ethiopian way of life, buying local handicrafts is the key.
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