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A Visit to the Ethnological Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

Museums are not usually very high on the list of priorities for those that travel to sub-Saharan Africa. Safaris, hiking and beaches are by far the biggest attractions. But if there’s one museum that warrants breaking the usual African travel itinerary mold, it would be the Ethnological Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I have probably visited the Ethnological Museum six or seven times in the past year and a quick tour around the building will show you why.

The Ethnological Museum is housed in the former palace of Haile Selassie, which is now on the grounds of Addis Ababa University. The building is also home to a library and the offices of university administration. Upon entering, visitors are provided a history of the university, which is accompanied by contemporary photographs.

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia - History

After paying the 100 birr entrance fee (steep for Ethiopia but a bargain for a good museum) and passing a stuffed predator, the first exhibition starts. Visitors are taken through the life cycles of various peoples and tribes of Ethiopia, with explanations of childhood games, rites of passage, marriage ceremonies and living arrangements. Below are an example of the informative posters and a tombstone.

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

Following the life cycle portion of the museum, a glass case displays wooden pillows and a variety of drinking vessels for the traditional Ethiopian beverages like tella. The hallways lead past historical examples of Ethiopian currency to the restored bedrooms and bathrooms of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen. Including the furnishings, visitors can see Haile Selassie’s uniform and an array of gifts given to the Emperor by other foreign heads of state. In the anteroom, philatelists will be pleased by the extensive collection of Ethiopian stamps.

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

A walk upstairs yields a different set of culturally important pieces. Several historical paintings line two of the walls. The first one below depicts the monumental victory of the Ethiopians against Italian armed forces at Adwa in 1896. This military feat is commemorated annually in March and Ethiopians are very proud of the fact that they were never colonized in the Scramble for Africa.

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

Musical instruments from the various regions and epochs line a labyrinthine room behind the paintings, with krars, kissars and massenkos featuring heavily. Traditional and centuries-old crosses from northern Ethiopia are also displayed on this floor (lighting too poor to even attempt a photo). My favorite part of the entire museum is a reproduction of photographs that closes out the visit. Two Dutch diplomats traveled to Ethiopia in 1930 to attend the coronation of Haile Selassie. They recorded their voyage, the festivities and their subsequent travels into the Ethiopian wild beautifully through an extensive series of photographs. The pictures are accompanied by descriptions and interesting biographies of the diplomats.

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia - Kraal

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

Upon stepping out of the museum, a strange monument lies directly ahead. A set of more than a dozen steps curls skyward without a surrounding structure. This was constructed during the Italian occupation of 1936-41, with each step representing a year of fascist rule in Italy. Once home rule was restored, the Ethiopians did not bother to tear down the stairs; instead, they topped the stairs with the unquestionably Ethiopian Lion of Judah. A nice touch and fitting end to the Ethnological Museum experience.

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

Ethnological Museum - Addis - Ethiopia

I’m linking up with #SundayTraveler this week – head over to my friend Adelina’s blog to read her post on The Best of Vancouver in 8 Hours.

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 16, 2014, 1:17 pm

    I only go to museums occasionally if something really catches my interest and I must say, this one sounds fascinating! I never realised it was never colonised. Great read!
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  • Sabina @GirlvsGlobe August 16, 2014, 6:53 pm

    This looks like a great museum – never would have guessed it was in Ethiopia though!
    Sabina @GirlvsGlobe recently posted…5 Cities You Must Visit TwiceMy Profile

  • Urska August 17, 2014, 7:44 am

    Looks great! I really wanted to visit it, but I had no time and catching a flight seemed like a better idea. But now I’m sorry even more I couldn’t go!

  • Sandra @ Tripper August 17, 2014, 8:39 am

    Call me a geek, but I love Ethnological museums. Thank you for your detailed tour of this one :)
    Sandra @ Tripper recently posted…Ahmedabad Heritage and HistoryMy Profile

  • Stacey Veikalas August 17, 2014, 8:43 am

    I love museums like this – we always try to find them wherever we are. My sister in law is from Ethiopia and she has always tried to get us there – but we just havent made it – We really need to go. I love the stairs, and the fact that they left them stading and made it their own!
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  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo August 17, 2014, 10:42 am

    You’ve sold this museum to me. It seems to have a good mix of quirky and historical interest (love the blue bathroom fittings!!) The stairs are fascinating. I’d so love to visit Ethiopia but I fear it’s a far off dreal for the foreseeable future. At least I get to visit virtually through your blog, thanks!
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted…Silent Sunday – 17 August 2014My Profile

  • Sumit Surai August 17, 2014, 10:46 am

    Lot of people find museums boring, but I personally love museums. This looks like an interesting one too.
    Sumit Surai recently posted…Maniktalla (Maniktala) Chirstian Cemetery And The Grave Of Poetess Toru DuttMy Profile

  • Michael Huxley August 17, 2014, 11:21 am

    I love museums at the best of times, that must have been an absolutely fascinating one to visit. Good to know even Emperors have fallen to the same bad taste as my grandparents with dodgy turquoise bathroom suites though! Haha!
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  • Marie-Carmen August 17, 2014, 12:36 pm

    Hard to resist a good museum, even more when it gives you a good view inside the local culture!
    Could you use the bath in there too? Included in the ticket price with a nap in that awesome bed? 😀
    Marie-Carmen recently posted…Ah Meow Cat Cafe, a cat’s lover paradise.My Profile

  • Mindi @ 2foodtrippers August 17, 2014, 1:31 pm

    We seek out museums that provide a sense of a country’s history and people. If our travels take us to Addis Ababa, we will definitely check out the Ethnological Museum.
    Mindi @ 2foodtrippers recently posted…Tomato ObsessionMy Profile

  • Alli August 17, 2014, 1:35 pm

    Such a nicely written post, Dave. I love getting the insider views of Addis Ababa from you. :)
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  • Jonathan Ng August 17, 2014, 1:37 pm

    Museums like this are little windows into a country’s self identity and values.

    When visiting a museum I often try to pay attention to the subtle ways it tries to influence the visitors perception of the country.

  • Axelle August 17, 2014, 1:38 pm

    Museums are so interesting and even more when you don’t expect them like here :)
    Axelle recently posted…Sunday column: Life after traveling?My Profile

  • Elaine August 17, 2014, 2:15 pm

    Great post Dave! I was a reluctant museum goer until a few years ago but now I love checking them out on my travels!
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  • Amy Lynne Hayes August 17, 2014, 4:19 pm

    Fascinating place!! I’ve never been to Ethiopia, or Africa for that matter, but this looks incredibly interesting. So often we get caught up in the beautiful landscapes and postcard destinations that we forget to look deeper at the culture. Love the monument too – very clever design!
    Amy Lynne Hayes recently posted…When Flying Really SucksMy Profile

  • Claudia August 17, 2014, 4:33 pm

    I am not big on museums but this makes me want to be all nosey and curious about the life style of Selassie. Cool!

  • Annika - Live Laugh Explore August 17, 2014, 4:37 pm

    Hahah, yes museums would definitely not be in my mind when thinking about Ethiopia but that one looks pretty cool. Ehiopia looks like an interesting country, I never really thought of that way before!
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  • Lauren August 17, 2014, 4:52 pm

    I actually really love museums and I would love to visit this one! I love learning about the history of a place and this would be such a great place to visit for that. I really like the sculpture at the end of the stairway, very cool!
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  • SJ @ Chasing the Donkey August 17, 2014, 9:14 pm

    Thanks for the great trip into a fascinating museum & thanks for linking this up to #SundayTraveler.
    SJ @ Chasing the Donkey recently posted…Boutique Hotel Marco Polo Gradac {Family-run}My Profile

  • Sand In My Suitcase August 18, 2014, 7:01 am

    What an interesting museum! We know little about Ethiopia – so thank you for the brief history on Haile Selassie…
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Hot Art: Orozco’s fiery murals in GuadalajaraMy Profile

  • Linda August 18, 2014, 10:07 am

    I never had the chance to visit Africa. This post made me realize again how much I would love to go :) I really love museums and this one sounds really interesting!

  • Adelina // Pack Me To August 18, 2014, 6:17 pm

    What an interesting statue right outside the museum. I go to museums, but I’m never too sure why I do sometimes. This definitely sounds like an interesting visit to find out more about Ethiopia’s diverse history.
    Adelina // Pack Me To recently posted…The Best of Vancouver in 8 HoursMy Profile

  • Pedro August 18, 2014, 11:54 pm

    Don’t know much Ethiopia, but this seems a very interesting museum. I wouldn’t expect such an organized museum. Thanks for sharing it!
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  • Brianna August 19, 2014, 1:54 am

    Dave I love finding interesting little museums and this one seems like a gem.
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  • Chanel | Cultural Xplorer August 19, 2014, 8:38 am

    The museum looks like it houses a lot of important cultural artifacts and seems worth checking out!
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  • Ryan O'Rourke August 19, 2014, 12:58 pm

    Gotta agree with most of the other commenters: this museum looks fascinating! After reading about modern Ethiopian history, you can’t help but be intrigued by this country. I’m generally not much of a museum-goer (mostly because I find that most museums are so overpriced), but this one would be a must for me :) Thanks for sharing, Dave.
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  • Els August 20, 2014, 9:22 am

    Really interesting and nice to see indeed that the African continent is more than safari’s!
    Els recently posted…Studying Spanish in AndalusiaMy Profile

  • Jessica August 20, 2014, 7:23 pm

    From the pictures it seems this museum is full of character! I’m a big fan of museums in general – it’s a great way to quickly (depending on how long you linger!) gain some cultural and historical context to wherever your travels take you. Thanks for sharing!
    Jessica recently posted…Weekly Wishes – Número DosMy Profile

  • Christa Thompson August 20, 2014, 8:38 pm

    Hello, on behalf of Christa, host of The Sunday Traveler, I was stopping by to check out your article. One of my best childhood friends has recently been to Africa. Her and her husband have adopted a daughter from Ethiopia and are very attentive to keeping the things of her culture and history alive. If they have not been to the Ethnological Museum already, I’m sure they would definitely love to go upon their return.
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  • Hector Cortez August 22, 2014, 10:58 am

    Great post, Dave. I felt as if I was in the museum with a guide.
    I love history but unfortunately I don’t know much about Africa, thus it’s great to read posts like this.
    Loved the monument in the end.

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