The Karamara is a popular but smoky night club in the Bole area of Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. About 30 minutes drive from the Sheraton Hotel, its mud walls and thatched roof gives it an exquisite traditional appearance, which makes the club a favourite of tourists.
It was to this delightful “watering hole” that Fekadu, our amiable taxi driver and guide took our group of parliamentarians and civil rights activists one cold December evening.
Having been stuck at the “Sheraton Addis” for the past few days over deliberations on human rights and good governance, we wanted to air ourselves for a change. So when Fikadu suggested going to Karamara to listen to traditional Ethiopian music, we all jumped at the idea.
As we entered the dimly-lit club, a strong and sweet aroma of burning incense hit my nostrils, while the pulsating beat of Ethiopian music floated in the air around us.
Sitting cross-legged in a meditative position amidst a cloud of burning incense inside an alcove within the club was an Ethiopian lady dressed in white.
All around her on the floor were empty teacups while an aluminium cistern on a stove sat beside her.
It was amidst this wafting cloud of incense that she poured a steady stream of a rich dark liquid from the cistern into the tea cups on the floor.
“She’s making Ethiopian coffee”, Fekadu explained.
“But, why the ceremony”? I asked. According to Fekadu, apart from being the most important agricultural product in Ethiopia, coffee is also valued for its spiritual, social and religious significance which explained the ceremonial nature of its brewing.
On the band stand was an Ethiopian musician dressed in a white tunic with an electronic keyboard as his main accompaniment.
As our group settled down on the club’s low stools and tables, I observed that the club was patronised mostly by tourists.
Above the din of the noise, Fekadu tried to interprete the various paintings that depicted traditional Ethiopian houses, crafts as well as various modes of dressings to me.
Suddenly, I felt a movement near me and looked up to see a young lady barely out of her teens sidling up to my side.
“Hello, my name is Jane. You want a friend”? She asked in halting English. I was about to shoo her off when Fekadu came to my rescue. He spoke to the girl in Amharic and she moved away to another corner of the club. That was when I looked up and discovered that there were several other “Janes” in the club, some who were already paired up with some patrons.
According to Fekadu, the girls were mostly from war-torn Eritrea and they had come to Ethiopia in search of education and training, but ended up working as prostitutes due to the poor economy of their host country.
Our conversation was suddenly interrupted by heavy drum beats as the tempo of the music changed and two dancers, a male and a female, came onstage. Moving in tune to the music, the couple started an energetic dance, which involved a rapid movement of the waist, the torso and the neck in that order.
“They are doing the Guraga”, Fekadu explained as the dancers continued the vigorous shaking of the different parts of the body.
And as we all applauded, the tempo of the music changed to a slow one and the couple made their exit.
In their stead, a young lady singer came on stage and started her act in a soft, sonorous voice whichj was accompanied by a slow, gentle dance. “That is the Onamo”, Fekadu explained. “It is a song about love, hope and everlasting joy”, he added.
Much later, as we drove back to our hotel, through the well-lit and well-paved streets of Addis, I was greatly impressed by the simplicity and orderliness of the Ethiopian capital city.
With a population of about three million people, the city was said to have been founded by Emperor Menilek in 1887.
Addis Ababa is situated in the foothills of the Entoto Mountains and rambles pleasantly across many wooded hillsides and gullies. This enchanting view of Addis was very different from the picture painted by the International Media of Ethiopia as a land of war, famine and International food aid recipient. Although this severe food shortage has significantly abated, it still continues to this very day in some parts of the country.
Old beyond imagination, Ethiopia dates back to the Biblical times with a culture and tradition going back to 3,000 years.
Originally called Abbyssynia, the country is said to be one of the very few African countries that was never colonised in the true sense of it. This way, it has retained its original tradition and culture which are still well seen in the way of life of Ethiopians.
And like many other African countries, Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic State. The principal spoken language which is also the official language is Amharic with about 80 other languages and 200 different dialects.
Legend has it that Emperor Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum in Ethiopia where he settled and established one of the world’s largest known, uninterrupted monarchial dynasties.
With a population of about 70 million people, Ethiopia covers an area more than the size of France and Spain combined and nearly twice the size of Texas. About 65 percent of the land is arable with 15 percent greatly cultivated.
Ethiopia is so steeped in tradition that the country has its own calendar which is seven years behind the rest of the world. Also, by the country’s traditional timepiece, Ethiopian is six hours behind the rest of the world. More interestingly, while the rest of the world celebrated Xmas on December 25, Xmas in Ethiopia is normally celebrated in January.