Archive for the 'Ethiopia' Category

Object: Lion’s Mane Headdress

Object: Lion’s Mane Headdress


Lion’s Mane Headdress




Lion skin and mane, red cotton fabric


E/1975/5/001 Lion Mane Headdress in the Sam Noble Ethnology Collection


This striking artifact comes from Ethiopia. On first glance you might think you are looking at a glamorously highlighted wig. However, looks can be deceiving. This headdress is actually created by using the scalp and mane of a lion. Due to the declining lion population in Ethiopia, headdresses made from lion manes are rarely, if ever, created in modern times. Today, fur from other animals are used, such as horse hair. Headdresses made from animal furs or plant fibers are worn by many Ethiopian ethnic groups. It is possible that this style of ornamentation was inspired by or traded between varying tribes in the region. However, this headdress is likely attributed to the Omoro people, specifically the Shoa Oromo.oromodia

The Omoro is the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, making up a population of roughly 30 million. This area is largely supported by an agricultural economy with coffee and spices being the largest exported goods. In this regard, many aspects of labor in the region are unchanged from earlier centuries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the cultural integrity of the Oromo people. Between 1870 and 1900, a colonization of the region subjected the Oromo people to cruelty and genocide. These cultural clashes continue in some areas today, where even celebratory gatherings can turn to violence.


Still, despite these struggles the Oromo people have continued to work to protect and preserve cultural traditions. As the tourism industry grows in the area, many Oromo people have found both an economic and cultural outlet by entertaining tourist groups with traditional song, art, and dance. Traditional Ethiopian dance or “eskista” is performed by both men and women. Eskista dancers generally form rows or line up in groups and actively engage everyone in the room with their shoulders shakes and shimmies. Eskista dances can consist of a single dancer or a large group of both men and women together. Traditionally, different kinds of eskistas tell different stories or teach a myriad of life lessons. Each tribal or ethnic group has their own variation of movement and regalia.


A children’s illustration highlights the traditional dance attire worn during the Shoa Omoro dance.

Eskista translates roughly to mean “dancing shoulders” in Amharic. This perfectly describes the traditional dance style of the Shoa Oromo which includes rapid shoulder , head bouncing, and the flipping of hair. Traditionally, the male performers don a lion headdress. Male performers usually wear light colored fabric and carry a stick.  Traditionally, the female performers wear a brown two-piece dress with fringe or shell decoration. While dancing, they use their full-bodied hair to enhance their dance movements.

Check out this Shoa Oromo dance below with a traditionally styled headdress on the male performer. This dance makes me smile!





Sources and Additional Reading


((Christina J. Naruszewicz))

Object: Cattle Horn Container

Ethiopia: Cattle Horn Container
Ca. 1960
Materials: Cattle Horn, Leather

This object is a cattle horn container with a stopper and strap from Ethiopia. The horn container has a carved horn stopper. Both ends of the horn are covered with leather which has been dyed red and stamped with designs. These designs consist of rows of leaves, rows of concentric circles, straight-lined bands and six-sag bands with the double circle designs within the triangular sections. A leather strap is threaded through slits in the red leather and its ends are tied to the strap using fiber thread. The red leather is sewn in place using fiber thread. The stopper is carved from horn with a tapered groove section which is used to actually plug the container. The remainder of the stopper is knob-shaped with grooves at the top and bottom.

The horn used for this object is a kind of hard, permanent structure projecting from the head of certain mammals, such as cattle, goats, or antelopes. The horns consist of a bony core covered with a sheath of keratinous material. Animals have a variety of uses for horns, including defending themselves, or to root in the soil or strip bark from trees. Since cow horns are hollow, they make good containers for dry goods such as salt or gunpowder. They are also useful for holding liquids like drinking water.

Livestock production plays an important role in Ethiopia’s economy. Hides and skins constituted the second largest export item for Ethiopia. Almost the entire rural population is involved in some way with animal husbandry. Ethiopia is in east-central Africa, bordered on the west by the Sudan, the east by Somalia and Djibouti, the south by Kenya. Originally called Abyssinia, Ethiopia is sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest state. Judeo-Christian legend assigns the Biblical Queen of Sheba to Ethiopia. The country claims Solomonic dynasty descent from King Menelik I, traditionally believed to have been the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.

Archeologists have found the oldest known human ancestor in Ethiopia, Australopithecus afarensis, commonly known as “Lucy.” She is estimated to be about 4.2 million years old.

[Debra Taylor]

Object: Basket


Harari, Harar, Ethiopia, East Africa
ca. 1964
Materials: grasses, dyes

This coiled grass basket was purchased about 1964 in the old market of Harar (a.k.a. Harrar, Harer), an ancient city at the eastern edge of the Ethiopian highlands. Harer has long been a major commercial city connected by trade routes to the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the wider world. The city is venerated by many Muslims as the fourth holiest city of the Islamic world. It is home to more than 80 mosques, including three that date to the 10th century. In addition to Muslims, the city is also home to Christians. These two faiths are practiced by a variety of ethnic groups, including peoples with roots in diverse locales. The city’s distinctive architecture, for instance, draws on influences from Africa, the Middle East and India. The historic importance of Harar’s fortified old city was recognized in 2006 with a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

For centuries, the city has been recognized for excellence in scholarship and the arts of basketry, bookbinding, and weaving. It is also famous for its distinctive coffee. Like many Harari baskets bought by tourists from around the world, this example was purchased from a leading 20th century weaver known as “Basket Mary.” It is made from a kind of grass known locally as akirma (Eleusine jaegeri Pilg. or Eleusine floccifolia (Forssk.) Spreng. Basket making with these grasses is a useful adjunct to cattle raising, as cattle avoid the grasses used by basket weavers, thus their use helps, in some measure, to control what would otherwise be a nuisance weeds (source).

The basket was donated to the museum in 2004 and was identified by the donors as a wedding basket, based on its shape and materials. The Division of Ethnology at SNOMNH hopes to learn more about the construction and use of such baskets and welcomes informational comments upon this example, as well as bibliographic suggestions.

To learn more about the city of Harar and its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visit its UNESCO information page here. This site includes a set of photographs, including an image of one of the city’s basketry shops. Find Harar on Google Maps here.

This basket came to the SNOMNH collection as part of a larger set of gifts made by members of the Oklahoma-Ethiopia Society. This organization has its roots in a long term partnership between Oklahoma State University and educational and agricultural organizations in Ethiopia. This history was the subject of a recent story in the Daily Oklahoman. [Jason Baird Jackson]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,695 other followers

%d bloggers like this: