Ethiopian Ethos

Dr. Elizabeth Chacko argues in “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area” that, by the 1990’s, Ethiopian immigrants formed the largest subset from Africa in the region, accounting for nearly 24% of all immigrants from the continent.[1] Once settled into new neighborhoods, Ethiopians have gone to great lengths carving out places for themselves, creating a density of businesses, stores, and restaurants. Such pursuits ensure jobs while serving as cultural and communal gathering places.[2] Food is central to the Ethiopian ethos in terms of hospitality, celebration of holidays, and preservation of culture. It is a complex culinary art that is centuries old, handed down like family heirlooms.[3] Principles concerning treatment of guests dictate that anyone who enters the home is invited to sit and eat.[4] When conducting my research for this class, I experienced this hospitality first hand by being invited into an Ethiopian home to enjoy delicious injera and doro wat.

Photo courtesy of Flicker C. Ellie https://www.flickr.com/

Photo courtesy of Flicker C. Ellie
https://www.flickr.com/

Photo courtesy of Flickr - Sylvie https://www.flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Flickr – Sylvie
https://www.flickr.com

 

Injera is a thin and spongy pancake like bread, which is made from teff flour, water, and a starter called ersho, which is a portion taken from previously fermented bread. [5] Josh Weil, writing for the New York Times says that, “to Ethiopians in America, bread is a taste of home.”  Ethiopian immigrant and New York grocer, Frehiwot Reta says that she grew up with the bread, and it is undoubtedly central to the culture.[6] At some point, the grain became expensive to import from Africa, making it difficult for restaurants and families to cook the bread. Now Ethiopian Americans are increasingly able to buy teff from American farmers who recognize the niche market. [7]

Another food important to the Ethiopian ethos is doro wat, which is a rich stew made of chicken and boiled eggs, prepared traditionally for Christmas and Easter. It is a dish that takes almost 8 hours when prepared correctly, which involves cutting up a full chicken into 12 pieces, caramelizing onions, and adding the berbere spice. Berbere spice is a mixture of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain (like celery seed), nigella (called black cumin), and fenugreek (similar to clover). It is the key ingredient in the cuisines of Ethiopia.[8]

Photo courtesy of Flickr Pearl Pirie https://www.flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Flickr
Pearl Pirie
https://www.flickr.com

 

Rhoda Worku discusses doro wat in her interview conducted by the Office of Historic Alexandria in Virginia. Worku explains that the dish is very traditional and tied to important holidays, such as Christmas and Easter.[9] Quite endearingly, she mentions how labor intensive the dish is and therefore you will want everyone to show up.[10] Worku, who was born in Ethiopia, was the first in her family to migrate to the U.S. on a tourist visa and then sought asylum.[11] She quite beautifully discusses that the “American Dream” for her is defined as starting with nothing and working hard to achieve home ownership and owning a small business.[12] Most importantly, however, is being able to eventually bring her family over with her. [13]

 

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Ethiopian Festival, Courtesy of Flickr, Northern Gateway Portrait. https://www.flickr.com

 

Ethiopians bring strong networks of kinship with them to the United States, which is integral to the vitality of the immigrant family.[14] It is more than a social unit; it is one of production, whereby the contributions of its members raise the standard of living for all. Group goals and collective needs are emphasized over individual expectations. This model is often used to help one another invest in starting of businesses, buying homes, and with educational needs. It is therefore with little doubt that Ethiopians remain each other’s greatest source of survival and success within the U.S.

We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”   ~ Haile Selassie. [15]

 

[1] Elizabeth Chacko, “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area,” Journal of Cultural Geography 20, no. 2 (2003): 27.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mohammed, Jemal et al., “Revisit to Ethiopian traditional barley-based food,” Journal of Ethnic Foods, 3, no. 2 (June 2016): 135-141.

[4] Laura Hammond, This Place Will Become Home: Refugee Repatriation to Ethiopia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 109.

[5] Mohammed, Jemal et al., “Revisit to Ethiopian traditional barley-based food,” Journal of Ethnic Foods, 3, no. 2 (June 2016): 135-141.

[6] Josh Weil, “To Ethiopians in America, Bread is a Taste of Home,” New York Times, Aug 01, 2007.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Harry Kloman, “Exploring Doro Wot,” Ethiopian Food Mesob Across America, August 27, 2015; accessed November 01, 2016, https://ethiopianfood.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/exploring-doro-wot/.

[9] City of Alexandria Archaeological Standards (Alexandria, VA: Alexandria Archaeology, Office of Historic Alexandria, 2015), Interview 2, pg. 7 (http://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/info/default.aspx?id=29562#RhodaWorku).

[10] Ibid, page 8.

[11] City of Alexandria Archaeological Standards (Alexandria, VA: Alexandria Archaeology, Office of Historic Alexandria, 2015), Interview 1, pg. 5.

[12] Ibid, page 7.

[13] Ibid.

[14] John A. Arthur, Invisible Sojourners: African Immigrant Diaspora in the United States (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000), 96.

[15] “Address to the United Nations,” Address to the United Nations, accessed October 27, 2016, http://www.ethiopiancrown.org/address.

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