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Gurage People and Information

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mercedes patterson

on 20 March 2012

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Transcript of Gurage People and Information

LOCATION: The Gurage people are located in the Ethiopian highlands.

RELIGION: The Gurage are mostly Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, but also practice Islam, Roman Catholicism and traditional religious beliefs. Both Christianity and Islam were outside religions imposed on the Gurage by invasion. Today, a Gurage Christian or Muslim could just as easily also observe rituals to honor Waq, the Gurage sky god. Earth shrines to Waq are common outside of villages. The Fuga people, a class of hunters and artisans, are considered to hold the key to traditional rituals. Their reputed powers of magic and sorcery are greatly feared. The Fuga are barred from working the soil because they are believed to destroy its fertility. A traditional Gurage belief holds that the Fuga turn into hyenas at night, eating dead animals and murdering children.
CUSTOMS: The ensete, or so-called “false banana,” is at the heart of Gurage daily life. This fat, fleshy, coarse fruit provides both a staple food and practical uses ranging from roof insulation to a sort of Saran wrap. Ensete is believed to cure all illnesses and several species of plant are usually grown next to Gurage houses. The plant, able to thrive with little cultivation, staves off famine and is a traditional offering to the Gurage god in charge of human welfare. The ensete diet repulses most Amharas and helped keep the Italians away from Gurageland during their wartime occupation of Ethiopia.
LANGUAGE: The Gurage speak a Semitic language called Guragina, a distant relative of Anharia. Guragina is spoken in several different dialects based on tribe and geography. Each dialect is unique to its speakers. Amharic, Sidamo, a language native to Gurage territory, and Arabic have all influenced Gurageina. But compared with Arabic, the language has not been well studied. One obstacle: the absence of a written language. Perhaps mindful of comparisons with Amharic, the Gurage have an informal taboo on using words that are similar to Amharic words, particularly those related to sex.

Traditional Ethiopian music is renowned for its other-worldly feel, shaped by its isolated setting in the craggy peaks of the Ethiopian highlands. The driving rhythm common to other African cultures is replaced by the plaintive sounds of harps, lyres, reed flutes or single voices. The music borrows much from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, including hand-clapping and solo rattles and drums.
One of the first countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion, Ethiopia sees its Christian beliefs as an integral part of the national treasure chest of ancient traditions. This holds particularly true in the highlands, where these beliefs originally took hold and where the Ethiopian empire first got its start. In highland towns such as Aksum or Lalibela, Ethiopia's claim to possess the original Ark of the Covenant is seen not as a piece of folklore, but as an undisputed fact.

Makeda, queen of Sheba, was a beautiful woman who valued wisdom above gold or silver. From traveling merchants she heard of the extraordinary brilliance of King Solomon of Judah and decided to visit him in his capital, Jerusalem. There, King Solomon told her that his wisdom came not from man, but from the God of Israel. Impressed, she swore allegiance to this god and tried to learn every detail about how Solomon ruled his land. Judah had fallen afoul of God and during this time, King Solomon dreamed that the sun of Zion moved to shine over Ethiopia. When the queen finally returned home, she bore King Solomon a son. As a young man, this son, Menelik, traveled to Jerusalem to visit his father. There, all the treasures of Judah were shown to him and he was named King of Ethiopia. When King Menelik left for Ethiopia, he took the Ark of the Covenant with him. The armies of King Solomon gave chase, but God lifted Menelik up. over the Red Sea and set him down in Ethiopia with the Ark. Thus, as it is written in the Book of Psalms, "Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God and He shall receive her with honor . . ."
HISTORY: like the Amharas, the Gurage are the Semitic people who trace their origins to southern Arabia. For centuries, Gurageland’s economy has centered around the hoe cultivation of ensete, a false banana plant. Not surprisingly, the Gurage enjoy a reputation as Ethiopia’s hardest working people. They have lived in their highland villages for over 600 years, when their Semitic ancestors intermarried with Sidamo tribes, the Gurage maintained a tenuous relationship with the Emperors of Ethiopia—sometimes allies, sometimes enemies. Not until 1889 did the Ethiopian emperor conquer the Gurage. They lived little better than serfs, required to send payments of tribute-later, of cash – to Addis Ababa. The region got its first all-weather road only in 1935 during Italy’s occupation Ethiopia. Under Ethiopia’s Dergue dictatorship (1974-1990), the Gurage, as a minority group, were favored with jobs and education and nationalist movements gained steam. Today, Gurageland remains one of the least developed parts of Ethiopia with a high percentage of migrant labors.



For the Injera:
(must be prepared 2 to 3 days ahead of use)
1 1/2 lbs. teff (grain found at health food stores)
1 qt. of water

For the Wat:
2-3 lbs. cut-up frying chicken, marinated in juice of one lime
1/2 cup clarified spiced butter*
3 lbs. red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup of dry red wine
1/2 cup of berbere sauce**
9 oz. tomato paste (optional)
1/2 cup or more of water
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
4 hard-boiled eggs
Fresh ground black pepper

Serves 6 to 8

Prepare the Injera:

Mix the teff and water and let stand at room temperature in a covered glass or ceramic bowl for three days. When the mixture bubbles, it should smell a bit sour, and have the consistency of pancake batter. Mix in about 1 tsp. of salt. This should stop the fermentation. You must immediately cook the teff. Oil the bottom of a large, heavy-bottom frying pan (cast-iron is best). Heat the pan at a medium-high temperature, when a few drops of water sizzle away quickly, it is hot enough to begin. Then pour in enough batter to cover the base of the pan. Cook until holes form on the face of the injera and the edges lift from the pan. Do not turn over. Remove and let cool.

Gurage food recipe
Before you begin cooking, marinate the chicken for about an hour in the juice of one lime. Poke the chicken to ensure that the liquid will be absorbed. After the chicken has marinated, place 2 tbsps. of spiced butter in a heavy- bottomed pan at medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onions and cook until tender. (The onions should be translucent, but not brown.) Add the remaining butter, Berbere sauce, wine, garlic, ginger, and cayenne. Blend this mixture well and bring to low simmer. Slowly add the raw marinated chicken pieces and the water. (If you prefer a red tomato-flavored sauce, add the tomato paste now.) Stir and cook uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes. You may need to add additional water to avoid scorching. To ensure chicken has cooked thoroughly, cut into the breast. If it appears pink, cook until it is completely white. Finally, just a few minutes before serving, add the cooked eggs but make sure you allow enough time for them to warm through. Add ground black pepper to taste.

*To make spiced butter you will need to clarify 1 lb. of butter with the following spices: 2 tsps. ginger, 3/4 tsp. tumeric, a pinch of cardamon seed, a pinch of nutmeg 1 clove, 1/2 cinnamon stick, 1 tbsp. dried onion, 2 tsps. Garlic powder.

** Berbere sauce should be available in most gourmet stores. It is a piquant combination of wine, cumin, clove, cardamon, tumeric, allspice, fenigreek, ginger, chili and garlic.

Prepare the Doro Wat:
WALIA IBEX (Capra ibex walie)

This endangered wild goat lives on narrow mountain ledges in the Simien Mountains and sports large curved horns that, in males, can reach more than 3 ft. Hunted widely for its meat - particularly during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during World War II - the walia ibex had an estimated population of 500 by the late 1990s. It has no natural predators.

ETHIOPIAN WOLF (Canis simensis):

Perhaps the best known of Ethiopia's endemic animal species, the Ethiopian wolf is now hovering on the brink of extinction. It has graced two series of Ethiopian postage stamps and is regularly used as a national symbol. The first written mention of Ethiopian wolves dates to the 13th century, when records indicate that they were widespread and friendly to humans. A widespread superstition, however, holds that the wolf brings bad luck to any human whose path it crosses. By the late 1990s, there were believed to be about 400 wolves left in the Bale and Simien mountains. Ethiopian wolves tend to travel in packs of six members and feed mostly on rodents, particularly the giant molerat, and another native of the Bale Mountains.
Coffee (Coffea arabica):

A highlands native, coffee is Ethiopia's main export. It is widely agreed that Ethiopians were the first people to cultivate coffee plants for use as a beverage. Ethiopian legend attributes the discovery of coffee's caffeine kick to a 9th century goatherd whose animals began acting strangely after eating coffee berries. He, in turn, sampled some, and a beverage was born. As of 1999, Ethiopia was the third largest coffee exporter in Africa, after Côte d'Ivoire and Kenya.
GELADA BABOON (Theropithecus gelada):

Also known as the lion baboon, the gelada is the most common of Ethiopia's large native mammals. It can be found throughout the Simien mountains, but also outside of Addis Ababa in the Muga Valley Gorge. Geladas live in harem-like organizations made up of 400 members. They feed on roots, leaves and tubers. Males can weigh up to 44 lbs and stand just over two-feet tall. The color of the heart-shaped patch on their chests indicates degree of virility in males, and fertility in females. Compared with other baboons, they are far less aggressive toward humans.
MOUNTAIN NYALA (Tragelaphus buxtoni):

The last mammal species in the world to be scientifically classified (in 1919), the mountain nyala, an endemic antelope, is confined to the forests of the Bale National Park, primarily around Lake Zwai. Until 1908, its existence was unknown. The park's estimated population of 4,000 is now considered endangered. Mountain nyalas congregate in herds of five to ten animals. They can stand over 3 1/2 ft. tall at the shoulder and sport shaggy, brownish-grey coats with sporadic white stripes.


Hailed as the "cradle of humanity," Ethiopia boasts a human history that dates back millions of years. At its heart lie the Ethiopian Highlands.

Home to 80 percent of Africa's tallest mountains, the highlands have helped shelter Ethiopia from foreign conquest and preserve one of the world's most distinct cultures. Ethiopia is the only African country never to have been colonized. It is also the second country after Armenia to have adopted Christianity as its official religion. The setting for this pivotal event was the northeastern highland city of Aksum, a leading civilization of the ancient world and, reportedly, the resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. To the east, Lalibela, a former capital, contains one of Christianity's most important sites -- a series of 13th century churches carved out of rock with the help of angels, according to legend.

Few spiritual heritages can lay claim to a more awe-inspiring setting. The Blue Nile courses through this region, the Great Rift Valley sprawls in its center, and the Simien and Bale Mountains enclose it on either side.

But the Ethiopian Highlands are a place of problems, as well as mystery. After 7,000 years of agriculture, the land is tiring out. Plagued by recurring drought, the area saw the worst of Ethiopia's 1985 famine. Soil erosion from clearing lands for the cultivation of coffee, Ethiopia's main export, and teff, an endemic grain, remains unchecked. Famine, long the scourge of Ethiopia, is an ever-present threat.

Still, the optimism of highlanders shines through. One Ethiopian proverb declares that when a spider's web forms, it can trap a lion. The people of the Ethiopian Highlands have managed to trap one of the world's richest cultural treasure chests.
WATTLED IBIS (Bostrychia carunculata) (illus):

An Ethiopian native, the wattled ibis is a sociable bird (usually travelling in flocks of 50 to 100 members) and its resounding "haa-haa-haa-haa" call can be heard from miles away. The wattled ibis can be found at elevations above 5,000 ft., primarily along rivers with overhanging cliffs, but also in open savannas and among clumps of juniper, hagenia and giant heath. They are very common throughout the Bale National Park and have appeared on Ethiopian stamps. In March, April, July and December, the birds build their nests of sticks, bark and moss in groups on cliffs. They use their long pointy beaks to dine on ground-level insects. It has a 12" to 14”wingspan.
BLUE-WINGED GOOSE (Cyanochen cyanoptera) (illus):

Another bird with its own postage stamp, the blue-winged goose favors the wet, marshy areas at an elevation of at least 6,000 ft. No matter what it is doing, the blue-winged goose likes to rest its neck on its back the birds congregate in flocks of 50 to 100 birds and build their nests in the highland moorlands in March, April, June and September. The blue-winged goose has a 12" to 15" wingspan.
This is agriculture country. Both teff, a durable grain, and coffee - Ethiopia's trademark crops -- are grown in the highlands. In the south and east, grassy savannas with three to six- acre- farm plots give way to east Africa's most extensive forests.

Teff (Erogrostis tef):

This hardy grain provides Ethiopians with the majority of their food needs. An endemic plant, it was first cultivated in the highlands between 4,000 and 1,000 BC. It is most frequently served as injera, the large pancake with which Ethiopians eat their food. Since teff can be cultivated under both drought-like and rainy conditions, it is frequently used to combat starvation. It grows relatively quickly and can be eaten by humans or cattle. Today, teff is a popular health food in Europe and the U.S.
Ensete (Ensete edulis):

A close relative of the banana, ensete is grown primarily in Ethiopia's Gurage country. This tall, thick, rubbery plant is a highland native and is used by the Gurage for everything from roofs to bread. Ensete's leaf stems and inner bark can be ground into an edible paste. Although this plant has a reputation for staving off famine, few Ethiopians beside the Gurage will eat it willingly.
Ethiopian Rose (Rosa abyssinica):

Africa's only rose, the cream-colored Ethiopian rose can be found throughout the highlands. Its edible fruits, high in vitamins, are regularly eaten in times of food shortages. The berries also are used to fight tapeworm in humans.
Red-Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria):

A native of South Africa, the red-hot poker grows throughout the Bale Mountains. This perennial requires full sun to light shade to bloom; its orange, spear-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds that can munch away at the flowers.
Hagenia (Hagenia abyssinica):

Also known as kousso. Reaching heights of 20 ft., this Ethiopian native produces a fragrant greenish or purplish flower that, taken in powdered form and diluted with water, can be used to kill tapeworms. A French pharmacist who first studied the tree in the 1840s noted that its use was so effective that Ethiopians would not travel without some of the powdered kousso with them.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus):

After deforestation stripped Addis Ababa nearly clean of trees, the Australian eucalyptus was the substitute. The tree is also found throughout highland villages. Eucalyptus trees can grow to as high as 300 ft. Their leaves are leathery and hang vertically; their fruit sits in a wooden base. They are excellent for providing shade, but they are also used for fuel and for buildings and fences. Their bark can be used in papermaking and tanning.
Gurage People of the
Ethiopian Highlands
By: Mercedes Patterson
TOPAGRAPHY: Plain highlands from northwest to southeast. The Bale and Simien Mountains dominate the land on either side of the Rift Valley. The Simien Mountains’ Ras Dashen Terara is the fourth highest peak in Africa at 15,157 ft. To the northwest lies the Blue Nile Valley, which rivals the Grand Canyon in size and depth.

Gurage houses were very complex in there structures, much like a complex skyscraper. In their towns these houses were the biggest there was. Most of the weapons they used were either spears made from sticks, or arrows with bows they made also with sticks.
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