Friday, 17 December 2010

Photo Friday: An Ethiopian lembd

I have a deadline on Monday for my book on the Battle of Adowa, the historic 1896 victory of the Ethiopians over the Italians. Since I'm currently incapable of wrapping my head around any other subject, this week's photo is of a lembd, a traditional cape worn by chiefs and other important leaders. They're either of velvet like this one or animal skin, often lion skin. The headdress is a lion's mane. Its owner must have been brave because the only people allowed to wear lion's skin or hair had to kill it themselves! Note the Stars of David embroidered on the lembd.

I took this at my favorite museum, the Pitt-Rivers in Oxford, this summer. They're having an exhibition on a personal hero of mine, Wilfred Thesiger. This explorer traveled all over the world and spent quite a long time studying Ethiopia. He collected this cape.

What's interesting about this cape is not just what it shows about Ethiopian culture, but what it hides. When the Italians and other Europeans saw people dressed in things like this, they dismissed them as primitive "natives". But the Ethiopians were busy modernizing their army and building things like telegraph and telephone lines. So when the Italians marched into Ethiopia they discovered these "natives" had just as modern an army as they did.

Just goes to show you should never make assumptions based on appearances!

1 comment:

Sioux Roslawski said...

Members of the white race have often made assumptions about other cultures (immediately before they pillage and plunder and infect and attempt to decimate), based on skin color or dress or lack of technology. What a wonderful custom, only allowing the killer of a lion to wear the skin or hair of a lion. Perhaps we wouldn't have the poaching problem, and perhaps tigers would not be on the brink of extinction, if we ALL thought like these "primitive" people? Thanks for the photo and the information.

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