On Saturday morning we went to the Ethnological Museum (also known as the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Museum) in the grounds of Addis Ababa University.
It was FASCINATING! This museum has a good write up in the Lonely Planet guide, but it was SO good!
The museum itself is housed in the magnificent palace that used to be Haile Selassie’s. When you enter, just past the gift shop (where there are nice souvenirs at reasonable prices) there is a large room with a temporary exhibition of Ethiopian basketweaving. Now, during our travels we have seen various examples of basketweaving here, but until we saw this exhibit, I had not fully appreciated how gorgeous the weaving can be, and how the best weavers are absolute masters of colour and pattern.
Then there is the permanent exhibition, which starts with an exploration of childhood, and moves through the ages and stages of the lifecycle, ending with death (and a small nod at afterlife!). It covered children’s toys, stories to teach children morals, marriage, children being born, adulthood, religion (there are three main religions: Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Judaism), clothing (including weaving and embroidery), coffee, honey, tools, war, death, and burial, amongst other things.
Unlike the National Museum (with Lucy) that we visited a week or two ago, all the exhibits were extremely well labelled, with lots to read and learn. I think this is what made it so particularly interesting – because we learnt more about the different people groups of Ethiopia, which are extremely diverse. It meant that we gained some understanding of what we were seeing, rather than just looking at objects.
Then we moved on to Haile Selassie’s apartments, and saw some beautiful examples of goldwork encrusted gowns. I have never really been all that interested in trying goldwork for myself, but keeping on seeing so many beautiful examples has made me think I just might give it a go when we get back home! (Though I must remind myself that as a beginner, my skills will NOT be able to produce the simply gorgeous work that was on these royal ceremonial robes!)
We saw the empress’s ensuite and bedroom, and the emperor’s ensuite and bathroom. Haile Selassie’s bathroom was bigger than our loungeroom at home. Though that’s not really saying much as our loungeroom is quite small! But his bathroom was expansive, and full of marble. How do you explain what a bidet is to a six-year-old, while out in public? I sufficed for “its part of the toileting process for some people.”
Out the front of the museum there is a most unusual “sculpture”, consisting of a concrete or stone (not sure which, though concrete seems more appropriate) stairs spiralling upwards. Each step represents a year of Italian Fascist rule over Ethiopia. Right on top is a lion, placed there by the Ethiopians once the Italians had been overthrown. “Smug” and “triumphant” would be good words to describe the feeling that must have accompanied its placement!
Afterwards we wandered down the street, to a bookshop that my librarian husband had been wanting to visit. On the way, a young Ethiopian man joined me and my daughter as we walked and asked us what we thought of his country. I said that we loved it. He also asked how we saw it. I replied that I saw it as a country full of lovely people who are extremely friendly and welcoming. And I do see it that way. We have felt very welcome here.
Further down the street an older man proclaimed at us as we passed “Enjoy our country, while you can!”. While he was being friendly, I did think there was an undertone of doom that made me wonder if he knew something that I didn’t. However, I replied happily to him “We ARE enjoying your country!”
The bookshop was a complete disappointment, so on we went home. If ever in Addis, and you get the chance to visit the Ethnological Museum, do, as it is so very interesting.