post E. African Village Outreach

July 31st, 2008

Filed under: Who is Who? — Lissan Magazine @ 13:11

One of the main objectives of Lissan is to present promising project-establishments for the benefit of Ethiopian people. We admire those who are behind such projects and encourage them to keep up their unbreakable dedication to make a change. Seifu Ibssa is one of these determined Ethiopians.

We contacted Seifu recently and he has kindly sent us an article describing about his project and about himself.


East African Village Outreach

I started what I call “community transformation” by accident less than 3 years ago.  In February 2005, Fremont Presbyterian church, located near Sacramento State University, asked me to help seven Americans as they travel to Ethiopia to visit their mission fields to which I agreed.  After helping them with their mission, I invited the team to visit my birth-village, which was on our way to the capital from the trip.  They agreed.  We had a wonderful time staying in my dad’s hut overnight, built at the top of a very cold hilltop, about 10,000 feet above sea level.  The next morning, we started walking and we saw a small boy fetching dirty water in two containers.  The water was so dirty that no one in his right mind would even wash his feet, let alone drink it.  The 8 year old boy didn’t even care what those 7 foreigners and a few Ethiopians were doing near the pond.  He had a job to do – fetch water and go home.  We took his picture and my depression began right there!

Seifu Ibssa tests the faucets on the water storage tank he and his Sacramento friends constructed in the remote Ethiopian village where Ibssa was born.

I was depressed for two months after I arrived in USA to be with my family.  I would hardly eat, drink or joke around with my wife and kids during those two months.  Something was wrong with me.  I couldn’t take the picture of that child off my mind no matter how hard I tried.  So, I decided to do something about it.  I sold my car, sold my African collections at a garage sale, begged at a church, washed cars for donations and sent about $6,000 to get a water tank built and make clean water available for 200 villagers and their cattle.  That was not the end.  I had a new vision.  Education is in high demand.  Women deliver babies on dirt floor at the only clinic in the village. Deforestation is at work at an alarming rate, and soon the next generation will have little or nothing left to eat due to soil erosion.

Before construction of the well, villagers such as this young boy gathered their water from this mud hole, which they shared with livestock and hyenas.

I wanted to build a school, work on reforestation and upgrade the clinic for a population of more than 10,000.  After establishing a board consisting of 3 Americans and 3 Ethiopians that would oversee my activities, I accomplished the following:

·         Built a Kindergarten on a land given to me by the farmers. We now have 105 children attending with 2 teachers and a janitor.  Last year, we had 176, but 70+ had graduated and moved to the nearby government school.

·         We tutor 8th graders in the afternoon in my KG, get them involved in sport activities.  Last year, all 43 students who sat for national exam passed as a result of our efforts!  We are hoping to see the same result this year.

·         We added 2 more class rooms at the government school, and donated 100+ desks.

Provided classroom desks to these schoolchildren, who previously sat on sticks on the ground.

·         We built a four-room living quarters for teachers in the area to live free of charge.

·         We donated a delivery bed and other medical tools and drugs to the clinic.

·         We helped finish a school building in a nearby village (the rooms had no doors or windows)

·         We are currently supporting 85 high school students (23-10th graders and 62-9th graders).  You see, there is no high school in my village.  After 8th grade, the kids would have turned to farming rather than walk 25 miles one-way to get to school.  We rented houses and have them live there.

·         We have planted 500 trees to help curve the soil erosion.

·         We conducted 3 to 6 days clinic each year we traveled to Ethiopia, to treat the sick free of charge (drugs from us too).

·         We paid to have a 15 year old boy’s split lip medically fixed.  He is one of the high school students, and was in tears when we were there 3 weeks ago to visit and give pep talk.

·         We are currently collaborating with Ethiopian Tree Fund Foundation (ETFF) to get apple trees, honeybees and mushrooms introduced in the area to help generate income for the farmers.

Seifu Ibssa
East African Village Outreach



Corporate Employee Brings Water, Hope to Ethiopian Villagers

Ibssa’s native village

In McClatchy’s corporate Finance Department, they call him King Seifu. That’s the good-natured nickname given to Seifu Ibssa, a financial systems analyst for The McClatchy Company whose “kingdom” encompasses the PeopleSoft financial network.

In the remote Ethiopian village where he was born, however, Ibssa is treated as if he were king. Upon his visits, he is welcomed as a returning hero by the thousand or so residents. Lambs are slaughtered and feasted upon in his honor. He is given a white horse to ride during his stays.

“When you are away from the village for a long time – and especially if you are living in the Western world – they think you are just the most precious person, the most educated person,” he said. “They think you are the richest person in the whole world and, comparatively, you are. You are like a king, literally, because you can afford to buy anything in that part of the world.”

Ibssa, 47, is more than the hometown boy made good. He has become his village’s benefactor. He has initiated a number of humanitarian efforts to lift his native village and the surrounding community out of poverty and suffering.
Ibssa was born in Kerebigne, a tiny mountain hamlet within the surrounding village of Acheber. Acheber sits 10,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of southern Ethiopia. Kerebigne is only accessible by donkey, horseback or a 45-minute hike from Acheber.


Since 2005, the area has been the focus of Ibssa’s relief efforts. He has provided medical supplies and purchased a maternity bed for the health clinic. He’s bought classroom desks and benches to relieve schoolchildren from sitting on sticks on the ground. He’s paid for a new building wing at the local high school and has secured land and the government’s OK to start construction of a kindergarten and after-school center. He has recruited Sacramento churches and missionaries to the cause, raising about $15,000.

“My dream is big. I want to transform that village,” he said. “I want to train the children. I want to focus on the next generation. I look forward to my retirement days so that I can go back to my roots and help my villagers.”
No gift was bigger than the supply of safe drinking water Ibssa and his Sacramento friends provided last fall.
Ibssa raised money for the construction of a well and water storage tank to supply the villagers and their livestock with reliable – and separate – sources of clean drinking water. Ibssa spent three weeks of his vacation in Ethiopia last year overseeing the construction.

“People are just very, very grateful for what we’ve done to help them,” he said. “You have to remember that this is just a forgotten village. It’s never been looked after by any government entity or any nongovernmental organization. Nobody ever goes there.”

Ibssa began returning to his birthplace in 1992. That’s when the political situation in Ethiopia stabilized enough to allow him to visit his father and other relatives there. He fled Ethiopia and its brutal Marxist government in 1982, making his home in California ever since. Acheber’s remote mountain setting had largely insulated it from Ethiopia’s chronic problems – devastating cycles of drought and famine, environmental degradation, over population, a history of civil war and oppressive military regimes.

Villagers still live the way they might have centuries ago, tending to their livestock and farming wheat and barley. The village even had its own water supply provided by two natural springs and a nearby river. Ibssa fondly remembers his childhood there. He worked as a shepherd until he was 10. That’s when his father, a relatively well-to-do farmer and landowner, sent him to Addis Ababa, the capital, to get a formal education. “At the age of 10, I didn’t even know what a car looked like,” Ibssa said. “All I knew were horses and donkeys, cows and goats.” In Addis Ababa, Ibssa worked his way through school, ultimately earning a university accounting degree. He started a career as an accountant until he found an opportunity to leave the country and its military regime in 1982.

“Anybody who had a chance to run away and leave the country would run,” Ibssa said. “It was just a horrible time. There was no freedom. I needed a visa to go from the capital to where I was born 130 kilometers away. That’s not how I wanted to live.”

In California, Ibssa immersed himself in his new country, taking English and U.S. history classes at night and working entry-level accounting jobs during the day. He married, started a family and went back to college to get a business administration degree from San José State University. A job offer in 1994 took him to Sacramento, where he gained computer and PeopleSoft experience. He joined The McClatchy Company in 1999 to help install and oversee the PeopleSoft financial applications.

His job is to make sure those systems work and to help finance employees throughout McClatchy with questions and problems. “That’s what I do best – helping people,” he said. “It goes with my character.”
In February 2005, Ibssa accompanied a Sacramento church group to Ethiopia on a humanitarian mission, serving as a translator and guide. At the end of the trip, Ibssa invited the church members to his village as his guests.
To his shock and dismay, Ibssa discovered that Ethiopia’s widespread suffering had finally caught up to Acheber and Kerebigne. The local elementary school and health clinic were in bad shape, and water was in short supply. The two underground springs had dried up from neglect and overuse. The mud hole that remained was being shared by villagers and livestock during the day and by hyenas at night.

“I was just devastated,” he said. “I came back just depressed. I was depressed for about two months.” That depression eventually turned into action. Ibssa started asking friends and relatives for donations to help improve the situation. He gave Power Point presentations at his church. He formed a relief organization called Ethiopian Village Outreach complete with a board of directors, brochures and a website.
“I am so thankful to my American friends who have joined me on the board and have given so much,” Ibssa said. “They are very, very generous.” Ibssa’s relief work doesn’t surprise his McClatchy coworkers who know him best. “Seifu is a prince of a guy. He’s just one of the real precious people in the world,” said Ted Norris, a fixed asset accountant in McClatchy’s corporate Finance Department. “He’s still really drawn to Ethiopia and feels a need to share his good fortune and blessings with his countrymen as much as he can.”


post Shared Humanity

July 24th, 2008

Filed under: Video Forums — Lissan Magazine @ 11:28

Telling stories of our shared humanity
Chris Abani on

Chris Abani tells stories of people: People standing up to soldiers. People being compassionate. People being human and reclaiming their humanity. It’s “ubuntu,” he says: the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me.

Why you should listen to him:
Chris Abani’s first novel, published when he was 16, was Masters of the Board, a political thriller about a foiled Nigerian coup. The story was convincing enough that the Nigerian government threw him in jail for inciting a coincidentally timed real-life coup. Imprisoned and tortured twice more, he channeled the experience into searing poetry.Abani’s best-selling 2004 novel GraceLand is a searing and funny tale of a young Nigerian boy, an Elvis impersonator who moves through the wide, wild world of Lagos, slipping between pop and traditional cultures, art and crime. It’s a perennial book-club pick, a story that brings the postcolonial African experience to vivid life.

Now based in Los Angeles, Abani published The Virgin of Flames in 2007. He is also a publisher, running the poetry imprint Black Goat Press.


post Bole2Harlem

July 21st, 2008

Filed under: Music Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 22:15

Review by Marco Werman.

Harlem is the destination for immigrants from all around the globe. And they bring with them many different types of music. The World’s Marco Werman tells us about one man who’s pulling together some of what he hears… on and off the street.


Sometimes you can know a lot about a place by the way it sounds. Harlem can be like that. Start at 125th street and walk down Seventh Avenue. Between the merengue, hip-hop and traffic, it’s like a multi-dimensional game of name-that-tune.

Who’s the artist? What’s the song?

But the sounds of Harlem don’t ALWAYS spill out onto the pavement. One sound you DON’T hear out on its streets is Ethiopian rhythm.

Bole2Harlem - “Enseralen Gojo”

That’s in spite of the fact that Ethiopia represents the second largest group of African immigrants in the U.S. after Nigerians. A small group of Ethio-philes though is keeping Addis Ababa’s music alive and very fresh in New York. Dave Schommer who lives on 123rd in Harlem is the brains behind a new CD called “Bole2Harlem.”“I can’t say to you specifically that this record is 100 percent Ethiopian. This is about the experience of being an Ethiopian immigrant, and the experience of living here in Harlem and really reflecting a sound of Harlem.”

Dave Schommer grew up with an academic dad who did research in Ethiopia. When he was a kid, Schommer’s house was filled with stories and art from the horn of Africa. Years later, Schommer worked as a songwriter and producer with the likes of Donna Summer and Carole King. When he wasn’t in the studio, his group of friends included a quickly growing circle of Ethiopians. They all seemed to bond over Ethiopia.

Dave Schommer

“But it was also about this common listening experience of this whole group of friends that live here in Harlem, and then just walking around and hearing merengue and salsa and reggae and Senegalese and hip-hop, and so it was the element of all these things coming together and saying “you must make this record!” So that’s what we ended up doing.”

“Bole2Harlem the title track was based around this whole idea that when you go there, the cabs are these minivans where they’ll pack as many people in as possible, where they sort of tell you where they’re going and you don’t have to pay the full fare, you pay a portion of the fare, and you have these guys, and one guy drives and the other guy works the door and he calls out where he goes and he slams the side of the door and goes, “Bole, Bole, Bole, Bole, Bole,” that’s how you know you’re going to Bole Road. Or “Arat Kilo, Arat Kilo, Arat Kilo,” or like “Sidis Kilo, Sidis Kilo,” you know, they’ll tell you where they’re going to go, and there’s a certain music to it. And it’s like it’s something that when you leave you miss it. And we were talking about that thing and thinking, “aw wouldn’t it be cool if we just showed up in Addis in our own van, going “Harlem, Harlem, Harlem,” you know, taking people to Harlem.”

The Bole part of Bole2Harlem doesn’t just refer to that big street in Addis. Bole is also the name of a neighborhood — and it’s the name of the city’s airport too. That’s key to Schommer’s concept of this music.

“So the idea was like, if Ethiopia is the exit point of culture, people get on a plane and take what they’ve got to New York, to me, I certainly view Harlem as this sort of entry point of African music into America. That was the idea: what if you took those two things and built a bridge between Bole and Harlem.”

So Dave Schommer and Maki Siraj, the Ethiopian singer he works with on Bole2Harlem, built that bridge. And traffic on that bridge goes in both directions. That’s evident on the track “Harlem2Bole,” in which Harlem’s hip-hop and predominant Senegalese immigrant sounds travel back to Ethiopia.

Unlike many cross-cultural musical fusions, “Bole2Harlem” grew naturally. Schommer and Siraj would hear sounds from Addis Ababa and New York that made them go “eureka.” With the tune Hoya Hoye, eureka happened for Schommer after a trip he and Maki Siraj took to Addis a few years back.

Schommer was in his New York apartment and thinking about the Hoya Hoye dance he had seen performed back in Addis. He says Hoya Hoye comes from a percussive dance Ethiopian kids do during their version of Halloween.

“The kids come out with like a walking stick, and they’ll pound in this rhythm (claps), and they’ll start singing “Hoya, hoye, HO, hoya hoye, HO,” and everybody else is going “HO! bum, bum.” It’s a wonderful tradition, and they’ll take all the sticks they’re using and they’ll add them to a bonfire at the end of the night, and sort of burn away the things from the past year. There was something really cool. So we wanted to do that, and then I realized this tempo (claps again), and I walked across the street to get some jerk chicken, and there’s this hip-hop track, “boom, boom, bam, boom, boom, bam,” and I was like “Oh man, that’s hoya hoye, I got to put it together.”

More surprises were in store for Dave Schommer as he returned from the Jamaican jerk chicken place. He heard the sound of a choir in a Harlem church singing a chorus, “Feeling all right!” That refrain entered the tune.

And so did a blues scale that Schommer realized was an abbreviated version of an Ethiopian scale. The song was almost written by the time Schommer walked back in the front door of his apartment.

Ethiopia had a golden age of music in the 1960s. A curfew under the oppressive regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in the 70s all but dried up the nightlife and talent in Ethiopia.

Now, musical life there is slowly starting back up. And as Ethiopians travel to and from New York, new musical ideas are making the transit as well.

Dave Schommer and Maki Siraj’s “Bole2Harlem” project shows how those ideas get turned into very cool songs.



post Armenians of Ethiopia

July 21st, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 14:51

By Garbis Krajian

As a form of introduction, I was born in Ethiopia from Armenian parents. My family’s history in Ethiopia goes back over 150 years. From my father’s side, I am fortunate to trace my genealogy back five generations. From my mother’s side, I am only able to go back as far as my grandfather. Nonetheless!

Armenian Church in Addis (image: Flickr)

I grew up in the Arat Kilo region and still remember many of my childhood friends. I became fluent in Amharic and loved doing everything a child would do in our neighborhood. Ethiopia became my home country and home to almost all Armenians who live in Ethiopia. Right after the fall of the Emperor I left Ethiopia for Canada.

After living abroad for thirty years, I have returned to Ethiopia as an educator. Upon my arrival I learned that the once vibrant and prosperous Armenian community that numbered around 1,500 has dwindled to less than one hundred. The remaining twenty families still run the community school, a club and a church. On April 24th, like it has been done for the last 90 years, I also went to my church to pray for the soul of my ancestors.

It is estimated that over ten million Armenians and friends in one hundred fifty-two countries gathered in churches, community centers, and national assembly halls to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I was one of sixty Armenians who congregated at St. George Armenian Church to pay tribute to my ancestors who were victims of the atrocities committed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Needless to say, I could not think of being anywhere else in the world at this particular moment than this sacred place in Addis which is still situated in the same setting where I regularly prayed as a child until I was 19 years of age. This was the same site, where every year, on April 24th, a thousand or so Armenian-Ethiopians gathered to remember their ancestors, the children, and the elderly who were slaughtered by the Ottoman Army. In fact, what makes my conviction so much stronger is that I am the grandchild of one of the Forty Orphans, the “Arba Lijoch,” who survived the genocide and escaped to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, these forty orphans were given shelter at the Armenian Monastery later to be adopted by Emperor Haile-Selassie. The Emperor brought them to Ethiopia, where they made this lovely country their home. These forty young men, who were a band had impressed the Emperor with their musical skills. Upon their arrival to Ethiopia, they were commissioned, under the directorship of Noubar Nalbandian, uncle of Nerses Nalbandian, to compose the National Anthem of Ethiopia. It remained as the anthem, “Teferi Marsh” or “Ethiopia Hoy,” until the arrival of the Dergue.

Before I move to the topic of my immediate concern, I pay much gratitude to all Ethiopians, present and past, for giving the Armenians a home for the last 100 years.
…Read the whole article.

About the author:
Garbis Kradjian is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a teacher of ethics courses. His current assignment is in Ethiopia and Zambia.

This article was published on Addis Tribune


post Going out in Addis

July 20th, 2008

Filed under: Life Style — Lissan Magazine @ 23:01

Restaurants and social events

List of Restaurants by Cuisine:

Arabic & Mediterranean

Al Baraka
Tel. 002511 1 - 515 59 03, Bole Road, next to Bole Printing Press
Known for: Hannid, Kebabs Al Baraka, open 7 days a week

Al Mendi
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 21 43, On the road between Olympia and Bambis, opposite Greek School
Known for: Al Mendi meat, open 7 days a week

Serenade Restaurant
Tel. 00251 911 - 20 00 72, Near Master Printing Press Amist Kilo
Known for: Fine home cooking, dinner only, Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays, and Sundays

Aladdin Restaurant

Tel. 002511 1 - 661 41 09, Off Bole Road, near the Japanese Embassy’s Residence
Known for: Grilled meat, houmus, taboulleh, open7 days a week

Ararat Club
Tel. 002511 1 - 111 35 72, Piazza, behind Nazareth School
Known for: Sheshkebab and Mante Soup, Closed: Sundays

China Bar and Restaurant

Tel. 002511 1 - 551 37 72, Next to Ghion Hotel
Known for: One of the oldest restaurants in Addis, open 7 days a week

Rainbow Seoul
Tel. 551 23 11, On Bole Road, next to Oromia Bureau
Known for: Korean dishes, open 7 days a week

Tel. 002511 1 - 465 52 90, On Debre Zeit Road, next to Omedad Building
Known for: Exeptional variety of Chinese dishes, open 7 days a week

Continental/ European
Addis Ababa Golf Club

Tel. 002511 1 - 320 18 92, Old Airport in front of Swiss Embassy
Known for: BBQ at weekends, open 7 days a week

Amsterdam Bar & Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 661 34 93, Next to Bole Mini
Known for: Roast Beef, open 7 days a week

Antica Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 663 48 41/ 661 58 15, On Bole Road, next to Harar Mesob Restaurant
Known for: Brick Oven Pizza and Hot Rock BBQ, open 7 days a week

Blue Tops
Tel. 002511 1 - 155 09 34/ 155 99 73, Amist Kilo in front of the National Museum
Known for: Pizza, ice cream, Closed: Mondays

Breezes (Sheraton Addis)
Tel. 002511 1 - 517 17 17 Ext.6998/6103
Known for: BBQ on Sundays, open 7 days a week

Family Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 552 84 13, In front of Ibex Hotel
Known for: Mexican Food and Warm Chocolate Cake with ice cream, open 7 days a week

Gazebo (Hilton)
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 84 00 Ext.953, Beside the pool
Known for: Salads and Hamburgers, open 7 days a week

Hamlet Steak House
Tel. 002511 1 - 465 40 24, Meskel Flower Street
Known for: Steak, open 7 days a week

Jacaranda (Hilton)
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 84 00 Ext.986, In the Garden Wing of the hotel
Known for: unique menu that continuously changes, Closed: Sundays

Kaffa House (Hilton)
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 84 00 Ext.962, In the main lobby of the Hilton
Known for: Seafood every Friday, open 7 days a week

Les Arcades (Sheraton Addis)
Tel. 002511 1 - 517 17 17 Ext.6604
Known for: Gourmet menu, Closed: Sundays

Rodeo Bar and Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 02 94, On Bole Road, next to DStv.
Known for: BBQ on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, open 7 days a week

Summerfields (Sheraton Addis)
Tel. 002511 1 - 517 17 17 Ext. 6089
Known for: Hamburgers, Buffet and Ice-Cream, open 7 days a week

The Cottage
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 63 59, Next to 7th Day Adventist Church
Known for: Fondue & Irish Coffee in bar, open 7 days a week

Top View
Tel. 002511 1 - 662 73 40/50, Up the hill from Meganagna Roundabout, Asmara Road
Known for: Pasta, Closed: Monday

Abasha Restaurant

Tel. 002511 1 - 551 83 58, Bole Road, next to Sabit Bld.
Known for: Kwanta Ferfer and Bozena Shiro, open 7 days a week

Agelgil Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 465 32 99/091-122 21 05, Inside Villa Verdi
Known for : Agelgel (combination of different Ethiopian dishes), open 7 days a week

Dashen Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 552 97 46, Behind the main Post Office
Known for: Melasse Tibs and live music on weekend nights, open 7 days a week

Enesra Traditional Bar & Restaurant
Tel. 00251 911 - 65 3611, On Mickey Leland Road, Opposite Nyala Insurance
Known for: Special Tibs, open 7 days a week

Fasika National Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 550 99 12/ 551 41 93, Off Bole Road, in front of Sunshine Building
Known for: Enfele and live music, Closed: Mondays

Gursha Restaurant
Tel. 002511 1 - 663 25 45, Opposite Silver Bullet
Known for: Bozena Shiro & Kitfo, open 7 days a week

Shangri La Restaurant & Bar
Tel. 00251 911 - 22 34 89, Mickey Leyland Road, adjacent to the European Commission
Known for: Ethiopian dishes, including Tej and raw meat, open 7 days a week

Yod Abyssinia Culture
Tel. 002511 1 - 661 21 76, Next to Desalegn Hotel
Known for: Ethiopian dishes, including Tej and raw meat, open 7 days a week

Loti Restaurant

Tel. 00251 911 - 67 52 40, Tebaber Berta Business Centre, 3rd floor
On the Ethio-China Friendship Road (Wollo Sefer)
Known for: Exquisite delicacies of Chef Gerard from France, open 7 days a week 6 pm – 11 pm

Ajanta Restaurant

Tel. 002511 1 - 661 10 49, Near to Rwanda Embassy Opposite Bole Clinic
Known for: South Indian, North Indian cuisine & Indian sweets, open 7 days a week

Jewel of India
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 31 54, Off Bole Road from Olympia, towards Meskel Flower Hotel,
Known for: Tandooris, Tikkas, open 7 days a week

Tel. 002511 1 - 551 89 76/ 551 65 79, Next to City Café
Known for: Tandoori Chicken and fresh Naans, open 7 days a week

Shaheen (Sheraton)
Tel. 002511 1 - 517 17 17 Ext.3633
Known for: Live cooking, delicate flavours and express lunch menu, open 7 days a week


Tel. 002511 1 - 371 32 57, In Mekanisa, in front of Midroc Head Office
Known for: Antipasto, Nile Perch and Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce, open 7 days a week

Tel. 002511 1 - 157 17 57/ 156 35 80, Off Piazza Arada Road, in front of Mohmoud Music Shop
Known for: Pastas, Grilled Fish, Chicken and Salads, Closed: Sundays

Don Vito
Tel. 002511 1 - 465 38 09/ 465 53 89, On Debre Zeit Road, before Concorde Hotel
Known for: Fresh Pasta & Pizza, Closed: Tuesdays

Il Caminetto
Tel. 002511 1 - 662 55 87, Off Bole Road, the street in front of Brass Clinic
Known for: Pastas & Ravioli, Closed: Sundays

Pizzeria (Hilton)
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 84 00 Ext.962, Through the Kaffa House
Known for: Antipasto and Pizzas, open 7 days a week

Pizzeria Italia
Tel 002511 1 - 515 65 53, Off Bole Road
Known for: Pizza, open 7 days a week

Stagioni (Sheraton Addis)
Tel. 002511 1 - 517 17 17 Ext. 6097
Known for: Regional menus, open 7 days a week

Cafes/ Pastry Shops
City Café & Pastry

Tel. 002511 1 - 515 18 07, On Bole Road, next to Mega House
Known for: Millefogli, Black Forest and Ice cream, open 7 days a week

Enrico’s Pastry
Tel. 002511 1 - 157 14 90 , Off Churchill Road, next to the Italien Library across from Mega Book Store
Known for: Millefogli and Cream Puffs, open 7 days a week

Fantasy Café
On Bole Road Medhanialem Road near Atlas Hotel
Known for: Cinamon Danish, open 7 days a week

Il Penguino Gelateria
Tel. 550 52 98, Off Bole Road at Olympia towards Haile Gebre Selassie Avenue
Known for: Sundae Ice cream, Closed: Wednesdays

Kaldi’s Café
Tel. 002511 1 - 663 84 55/ 663 84 56, In front of Bole Medhanialem
Known for: Carmel Macchiato, open 7 days a week

La Parisienne
Tel. 002511 1 - 552 88 20/ 515 61 74, Off Bole Road, at Olympia
Known for: Croissants & Breads, open 7 days a week

London Café
Tel. 002511 1 - 662 01 97, On Bole Road, next to Satellite Restaurant
Known for: Melewah (Yemeni pastry), open 7 days a week

Tel. 002511 1 - 551 88 08, On Bole Road opposite Mega House
Known for: Italian Pastry and Fruit Cake, open 7 days a week

Saay Pastry
Tel. 002511 1 - 618 80 00, On Bole Road, next to Fantu
Known for: Croissants, 7 days a week

Temptations (Sheraton)
Tel. 002511 1 - 517 17 17 Ext.3633
Known for: A wide selection of breads, open 7 days a week

Tel. 002511 1 - 111 24 98, Off Churchill Road, on the same road as Book World
Known for: Many varieties of coffee, open 7 days a week

Village Café
In front of Estifanos Church, corner of Meskel Square
Known for: Mini-pizzas, open 7 days a week

List of Night Clubs
Déjà vu

Tel. 00251 911 - 20 85 49, At Wolo Sefir, inside Berta Builing, 2nd floor
Known for: the World of Cocktail Drinks, open 7 days a week

The Mask Pub
Tel. 002511 1 - 663 11 02, Bole Road behind Palestinian Embassy
Known for: Snacks, Décor, open 7 days a week

Memo Club
Tel. 002511 1 - 551 98 87, Off Bole Road, behind Exhibition Centre
Known for: Bozena Shiro and Grill, Dancing, open 7 days a week

Savanna Safari Pub & Grill
Tel. 00251 911 - 21 06 10, Bole Road, close to airport
Known for: Snacks and Dancing, Jazz on Wednesdays, open 7 days a week



If you know more, don’t hesitate to update us. Thank you.  (The Lissan Team)

post Traditional Beverages

July 20th, 2008

Filed under: Life Style — Lissan Magazine @ 21:47

Traditional Alcoholic Beverages from Ethiopia

Talla is an Ethiopian home-brewed beer which differs from the others in some respects. First it is brewed with barley or wheat, hops, or spices. Secondly, it has a smoky flavour due to the addition of bread darkened by baking and use of a fermentation vessel which has been smoked by inversion over smoldering wood. Talla is not processed under government regulations hence the alcohol content varies but is usually around 2% to 4%. Filtered tella has a higher alcohol content ranging from 5% to 6%.


Tej (indigenous honey wine) is a home-processed, but also commercially available honey wine. It is prepared from honey, water and leaves of Gesho. Sometimes, widely for commercial purposes, mixture of honey and sugar could be used for its preparation. In cases where sugar is used as part of the substrate, natural food colouring is added so that the beverage attains a yellow colour similar to that made from honey. Good quality tej is yellow, sweet, effervescent and cloudy due to the content of yeasts. A study found that the mean alcohol content of tej was between 6.98% and 10.9%.8 Another study found that the average alcohol content of tej was 6.07%.

Korefe is the name of the local beer made in Begemder Province among the Koumant ethnic group. Dehusked barley is left in water overnight, and after that toasted and milled. It is mixed with water and dried gesho leaves, and fermented in a clay container for two to three months. When the beverage is needed, a small quantity of the mixture is taken, more water is added and after a day’s fermentation the beverage is ready for consumption. Shamit is the local beer made among the Gurage ethnic group. Tef, kita and germinated barley (bekel) are milled and mixed with water, and the mixture is sieved after three to four days of fermentation. Dehusked barley is toasted on the mitad, milled and added to the mixture, and the beverage is ready to serve the next day, when Ethiopian cardamom, mitmitta, black cummin and bishop’s weed are added.

Araki is a distilled beverage. Ground gesho leaves and water are kept for three to four days and after that a kita made of teff or other cereals and germinated barley or wheat are added. The mixture is allowed to ferment for five to six days and then distilled. In the villages distillation is carried out with primitive equipment made of gourds and wood. The local beer tella can also be distilled to produce araqe. The araki can be redistilled and will then have a higher alcohol content. The average alcohol content of dagim araki is around 45%. The term dagim in Amharic refers to ‘second time’ and indicates that it is distilled a second time. Araki is brewed in rural and semi-urban areas and is used more commonly by farmers and semi-urban dwellers than by people who live in the cities. In cities, those who drink araki are predominantly lower class people or those who have become dependent upon alcohol and cannot afford to buy industrially produced alcohol. Since the government has no control over production of locally brewed alcoholic drinks, it is difficult to estimate the amount of alcohol production and consumption in Ethiopia.

Other alcoholic beverages to be found are borde (local beer) and katikala (a homemade distilled drink from maize or millet).



post New York to Harar

July 17th, 2008

Filed under: Tourists on Ethiopia — Lissan Magazine @ 00:15

Travel journal by Nancy Chuang

Semqua and I were each on a fourth mini bottle of red wine. It was the most enjoyable intercontinental flight I’d ever taken alone.

My drunkenness was heightened by lack of sleep; I’d purposely stayed awake the previous night both to take care of all those niggling last-minute things and to crash hard on the flight. But thanks to Virgin Atlantic’s impressive entertainment system and my inability to both cradle my backpack and sleep soundly through my interminable Heathrow layover, I was still exhausted. I’d dozed a bit on the second leg, but upon waking for dinner, I chatted with Swedish-born Ethiopian and London university student Sem happily the rest of the BMI flight.

He taught me my first Amharic words—tadias (hello) and ameseganalehu (thanks)—then teased me when I tested out my new vocab at the airport bank counter at 4AM. With a hug and a kind offer to lodge me when I returned to Addis, my new friend bade me farewell while I headed off to Dire Dawa.

© Nancy Chuang

Ethiopian Air requires re-confirmation of all flights the day before departure. While many locals prefer face-to-face confirmation in the airline offices, I breezed through check-in at the domestic terminal thanks to the quick email I’d sent to the airline before leaving home.

Despite the second bag check at the gate, no one bothered to tell me my backpack was too large for the small plane’s overhead compartments. The airline seemed pretty casual about the whole thing, flight attendants gently admonishing me with beautiful smiles and then simply tucking my pack into a corner. I noticed another passenger actually stood the entire flight so yeah…they weren’t fussy.

Outside Dire Dawa’s small airport, the taxi drivers fighting over me offered the option of taking a private car all the way to Harar rather than a minibus. Not ready to splurge so early in my trip, I insisted on getting to the minibus station, where I basically met a new man every few feet saying “Harar? Get on bus.” They seemed to think I would lose my way in the 40 feet between the parking lot entrance and the minibuses.

I should have checked for seats on the apparently-full minibus, which took off immediately while mine sat for 30 minutes as I tried to ignore the ancient woman out the window with her pleading eyes and hand outstretched, and children reaching inside to sell tissues (locally referred to as “soft”) and gum. Behind me, a man nonchalantly asked his plump seatmate if he’d purchased two seats because he was so fat. Making light of it, the Dutch tourist dryly said, “Thanks for the compliment!” Grinning, the Ethiopian replied, “It wasn’t a compliment, it’s a fact.” Welcome to Africa!

The sweet young woman wedged in between me and driver smiled constantly but spoke no English. She’d caved and purchased gum from the hopeful children, immediately offering me a piece. Unable to make conversation, I found myself staring in awe at the rolling mountain scenery. I’d heard plenty about Ethiopia’s beauty, but the green valleys were still an unexpected thrill.

The road between Dire Dawa and Harar is on good asphalt, but parts are still under construction. Slowed more by frequent stops to pick up new passengers along the way, a distance that could be covered in an hour took almost two. Shenanigans ensued when the driver informed us we had too many passengers to get through the customs check. What customs check? Where did the regional border begin? The line of minibuses pulled over, re-shuffled passengers until every minibus held no more than 12 passengers, and eventually drove on.


Exploring the City with Child Guides

Considered to be the fourth holiest city in Islam, Harar’s walled old city contains perhaps the world’s greatest concentration of mosques, devout women in headscarves, and while I was there, a joyful population preparing to celebrate Eid Al-Adha. Outside its graceful white walls and atmospheric alleyways, the hectic, densely-inhabited modern city feels like a giant open-air market.

Upon retrieving my backpack off the bus’ roof, I gaped at the seething crowd until my kind seatmate grabbed my arm. As we walked through the station, the baggage handler yelled in Amharic until she pushed a tip into his waiting hand.

© Nancy Chuang

She pulled me into her friend Efraim’s mototaxi. Tewodros Hotel was only a short walk away, but I had heavy bags and hundreds of eyes on me; in the brief period since touching down in Ethiopia, I’d already sensed the infamous “ferengi-hysteria” building.

The eager young receptionist at Tewodros spoke only halting English. Immediately after showing me my room, he gently recommended the resident guide’s services. Disoriented, I told him I wasn’t sure yet; uncomprehendingly, he asked me several more times.

The Harar Gate, the Haile Selassie-era addition to the five traditional gates into the old city, was close to the hotel. Within minutes of entering the wall, Efraim drove up on the wide main road with a big smile.

“Remember! I am here if you need anything! Do you still have my number? Write it down again!”

I wish I’d had the nerve to call and taken the opportunity to hang out with locals. But it’s difficult enough for a woman to trust strange men without being the one initiating a meeting—what impression does that give?—and there was no guarantee he’d invite the girl from the bus.

We made small talk as a couple kids sidled up to the mototaxi. They acted like they knew Efraim, but soon it was apparent it was just my first case of “ferenjo, ferenjo, let me be your guide…

Unable to shake them, I allowed the small boys—who claimed to be 16—to show me their city. Ambling vaguely along the cobbled dusty alleys, the kids served as nothing more than company; yet I depended on them to get me out. While my guidebook claimed it was impossible to really get lost as long as one followed the wall, I couldn’t see the wall.”

The boys led me to a traditional Harari home, now a guesthouse requiring a few birr to visit. A woman showed me around while a young man—perhaps her son—impassively watched TV in the main room, its high walls covered in the famous Harari pottery and baskets.

While I hadn’t expressed interest in shopping, the boys took me to a small store with beautiful baskets on display. As I examined the work, the lead boy noted, “white people sure love baskets!” I’d been previously informed that Africans consider all non-blacks to be white, but was still startled. Me? White?

We strolled past the street tailors of Mekena Girgir into the odoriferous meat market, surrounded by optimistic birds of prey. A man struggling with a camel’s bloody head insisted I take his photo for one birr. I didn’t even want the picture but as the crowd grew around me, I didn’t know what else to do but agree.

A merchant woman in a makeshift tent called out, “American? American!” Cackling, she called herself a Jamaican, revealing her mass of dreadlocks as proof. A refugee from Shashemene lost in Harar? I refused the plain injera she offered to share but took a few photos of her adorable child, after which she screamed out for money but didn’t chase me down.

A car pulled up and the men inside asked where I was from. “New York,” I said. Mysteriously, they then screamed “GROUND ZERO!” with huge grins, pumping their fists joyfully.

We left the market and exited through Showa Gate, surrounded by another market. The boys had repeatedly asked me to see the hyena man with them, but still exhausted from the journey, I repeatedly deflected. One tried to convince me the hyena man was his father, and their persistence won me over in the end. They ran off before we reached the hotel, begging me to say nothing to the live-in guide at Tewodros.

The hotel guide Guma approached immediately and informed me that it was illegal to see the hyenas with my unofficial child guides; whether or not that was true, I decided it was easier to go with him instead of some random kids. Almost an hour early, he knocked on my door and awoke me from a long-delayed deep slumber. We rescheduled for the following day.


Harar and its Hyenas

I don’t think Guma owned a watch because the previous night he’d tried to pick me up for the hyenas almost an hour early. I’d been too exhausted from the long travel day to go then, but tonight when he showed up 30 minutes early I was ready.

Harar has a weird relationship with hyenas. The tradition of feeding raw meat daily to hyenas, which by most sources dates back only to the 1950s, may have transformed into its present version from a yearly ceremony begun centuries ago during a famine. Hararis fed the starving hyenas porridge to prevent them from attacking humans, and continued to set out a bowl of porridge yearly to symbolize this pact. The amount of porridge left in the bowl later came to represent the success or failure of the year’s crops. Sort of an Ethiopian Groundhog Day.

© Nancy Chuang

We strolled across the football field behind Tewodros Hotel, taking in the pleasant Harar evening. Guma was the first person I’d met in Ethiopia who spoke English fluently, although there were still misunderstandings. He agreed that directions to Babile’s camel market were not clear in guidebooks, but also insisted that it was simple to follow the stream of animals from the main road, yet the stream hadn’t existed.

As relieved as I was to find an English-speaker, I wasn’t comfortable with the way he looked at me, or his insistence that we should have spent the day together to avoid some vague peril. Was he trying to assert his indispensability, or was it something more salacious? He said I should never have planned to hike in the Valley of Marvels alone because it was dangerous. He said the bus driver dropped me off in the construction camp instead of Dakata because Dakata was also dangerous. It seemed odd that none of this was mentioned in my guidebook. Walking along the dark path outside the old city’s walls, I grew uncomfortable with his staring. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the feeding site and I gladly ended the conversation for a while.

The site was at Fallana Gate, with a younger hyena man rather than long-established Yusef Pepe. This hyena man almost seemed bored, and did not attempt to create any mysterious atmosphere in his relationship with the hyenas. They seemed like docile dogs being fed by their owner.

Even so, there was something intriguing about the feeding. The furry hyenas were surprisingly cute as they nosed curiously at the man’s basket of food. But when a car pulled up with a tour group, their fangs glinted in the headlights, snapping at strips of raw meat. The hyena man alternately fed them from his fingers and off the end of a metal stick. The tour guides, familiar with the procedure, also took a turn feeding the hyenas and invited their guests to join in; I was too chicken.

The feeding lasted perhaps no more than 20 minutes, during which the flashes from various cameras never ceased. I paid Guma the agreed-upon 50 birr and he gave a portion to the hyena man. Until seeing the small crowd at the feeding, I would have sworn I was the only tourist in Harar. Afterwards, I still wasn’t sure where the others I’d seen were hiding.

We walked back through the brightly-lit old city. At night, Harar was full of activity, with stores still open and street stands selling food. I wished I had a travel partner to visit with. Guma wasn’t an acceptable substitute, as his overly-familiar behavior turned me off. He wasn’t even that helpful in his capacity as an officially-licensed guide because of a collision with another pedestrian. He was so distracted soliciting sympathy for the small cut on his forehead that he couldn’t help me negotiate for photos.



post Tiya

July 15th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 18:10

Paul Tanner (UK):

Tiya in southern Ethiopia is an archeological site, which is distinguished by 36 standing stones or stelae. They are marking a large, prehistoric burial complex of an ancient Ethiopian culture.

A word commonly used regarding Tiya (including in the UNESCO documentation itself) is “Enigmatic”. Despite its inscription as long ago as 1980 remarkably little is known about the c35 strangely carved standing stones situated in a 200 metre square site 85 kms outside Addis Ababa. Which group of people created them? What is the meaning of the carvings? When were they erected? All is vague.

Tiya Stones (source Flickr)

We were told that a number of bodies had been found which had been carbon dated at between the 12th and 14th centuries. All appeared to have been warriors killed in battle. The layout of the stones certainly gives the impression of a row of head stones and graves beyond them. Many are carved with what are clearly swords but other motifs are less clear – a suggestion for a commonly occurring “fountain-like” shape is that it is a “false banana” tree – a significant plant in the drier areas of Ethiopia, providing all year round flour and leaves for houses etc. One flat stone is carved with a figure but there are no others, no script and no recognisable religious symbols from either Christianity or Islam (the 2 main religions of the region across the relevant period).

If you have a spare day in Addis and transport (you might just about make it return in a day on public transport on the road to Butajira but I wouldn’t bank on it) it is worth taking in this WHS (there is also a nice early hominid site and excellent new museum a few kms earlier at Melka Kunture). But the “fame” of inscription appears to have had little effect in the small village of Tiya nor on the site itself which just has a hut with a couple of guards also no doubt guarding each other for the entrance fees (30 birr for foreigners)! The prospects all around are totally rural and the site itself is covered by long grass. There are no signs and no literature. And almost no visitors!


post Aksum Obelisk Re-erection

July 14th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 11:11

Project launching June 2007
First phase June 2008

June 19, 2007
UNESCO launches the re-erection project of the Aksum Obelisk

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre today signed the contract with Lattanzi SRL construction company to begin the re-erection of the Aksum obelisk. Also known as Stela 2, it is the second largest stela on the Aksum World Heritage site in Ethiopia. Transported to Rome by the troops of Mussolini in 1937, it was returned by the Italian Government in April 2005. Weighing 150 tons and 24 meters high, the obelisk was cut into three pieces and transported by Antonov airplanes to Aksum. The obelisk was deposited in the stelae field, near its original location.

© UNESCO / Paola Viesi

The obelisk is around 1,700 years old and has become a symbol of the Ethiopian people’s identity. The significance of its return after 68 years, and the technical feat of transporting the obelisk and re-erecting it on site are on a par with other historic UNESCO projects, such as Abu Simbel, where entire Egyptian temples were removed from their original location to protect them from rising water due to the construction of the Aswan dam.

The total budget for the project is USD$2,833,985, funded by the Italian Government who also financed the transportation of the obelisk and the related studies undertaken by UNESCO in collaboration with the Ethiopian authorities and experts. Lattanzi has begun mobilizing its staff and equipment, and shall start the works as of mid July. The works will take place in two segments throughout a period of 18 months. During the first segment, a foundation for the obelisk will be built as well as a temporary steel tower for lifting the separate parts of the obelisk. In the second phase, the steel structure will be put in place and the obelisk lifted and placed in position. Finally, the surface of the obelisk will be cleaned and restored, and the steel support structure dismantled and removed.

The ruins of the ancient city of Aksum in the North East of Ethiopia mark the location of the Kingdom of Aksum, the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The massive ruins of Aksum date from between the 1st and the 13th century A.D. The monolithic stelae were erected during the third and fourth centuries A.D. as funerary markers for deceased members of its elite. Aksum was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1980.

The Ethiopian authorities plan to mark the end of their Ethiopian calendar year 2000 celebrations, held on 11 September 2008, by inaugurating the standing obelisk.

For more detailed information on the technical aspects and planning of the works, click on the link below.

Download detailed information (word document)


June 23, 2008
First phase of Aksum Obelisk re-installation successfully completed

The first phase of the re-installation works of the Aksum Obelisk, also known as Stele 2, in its original location at the World Heritage site in Aksum, Ethiopia was completed on 12 June 2008. The first of three blocks of the stele, which stands 24.3 metres high and weighs 152 tons, was successfully and smoothly mounted.

© UNESCO / Michel Ravassard

The Aksum Obelisk re-installation project, funded by the Italian Government and conducted by UNESCO contractor Croci Associati, is using an innovative high-technology approach, and its implementation represents a technical feat of colossal scale. The project has been prepared to ensure a zero-risk approach for the monument and the surrounding site. The successful mounting of the first block is an extremely important step confirming the soundness of the project’s complex design as well as the skills of the UNESCO contractors, the construction company Lattanzi and the supervision team (Croci Associati, SPC Engineering, and MH Engineering).
The remaining two blocks will be reinstalled from 16 to 31 July 2008, one year after the start of this exceptional project.

The inauguration ceremony will take place on September 4th. Photos and a press kit are available for more detailed information.


Properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List

* Cultural site Aksum (1980)
* Cultural site Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region (1979)
* Cultural site Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town (2006)
* Cultural site Lower Valley of the Awash (1980)
* Cultural site Lower Valley of the Omo (1980)
* Cultural site Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (1978)
* Cultural site Tiya (1980)

* Natural site inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger Simien National Park (1978)

Properties submitted on the Tentative List
* Konso-Gardula (paleo-anthropological site) (1997)
* Harar Walled Town (2001)
* Bale Mountains National Park (2008)



post Omo Kibish

July 11th, 2008

Filed under: General Issue — Lissan Magazine @ 18:39

The oldest Homo sapien
(This document is from 2006)

Fossils push human emergence back to 195,000 years ago
Geologist Frank Brown, dean of mines and Earth sciences at the University of Utah, crouches on Ethiopia’s Kibish rock formation, where Brown and colleagues determined that fossilized bones of Homo sapiens were 195,000 years old — the oldest fossils of the our species ever found. Credit: Ian McDougall, Australian National University

When the bones of two early humans were found in 1967 near Kibish, Ethiopia, they were thought to be 130,000 years old. A few years ago, researchers found 154,000- to 160,000-year-old human bones at Herto, Ethiopia. Now, a new study of the 1967 fossil site indicates the earliest known members of our species, Homo sapiens, roamed Africa about 195,000 years ago.

“It pushes back the beginning of anatomically modern humans,” says geologist Frank Brown, a co-author of the study and dean of the University of Utah’s College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

The journal Nature has published the study in its Thursday Feb. 17, 2005, issue. Brown conducted the research with geologist and geochronologist Ian McDougall of Australian National University in Canberra, and anthropologist John Fleagle of New York state’s Stony Brook University.

The researchers dated mineral crystals in volcanic ash layers above and below layers of river sediments that contain the early human bones. They conclude the fossils are much older than a 104,000-year-old volcanic layer and very close in age to a 196,000-year-old layer, says Brown.

“These are the oldest well-dated fossils of modern humans (Homo sapiens) currently known anywhere in the world,” the scientists say in a summary of the study.

Significance of an Earlier Emergence of Homo sapiens
Brown says that pushing the emergence of Homo sapiens from about 160,000 years ago back to about 195,000 years ago “is significant because the cultural aspects of humanity in most cases appear much later in the record – only 50,000 years ago – which would mean 150,000 years of Homo sapiens without cultural stuff, such as evidence of eating fish, of harpoons, anything to do with music (flutes and that sort of thing), needles, even tools. This stuff all comes in very late, except for stone knife blades, which appeared between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago, depending on whom you believe.”

Fleagle adds: “There is a huge debate in the archeological literature regarding the first appearance of modern aspects of behavior such as bone carving for religious reasons, or tools (harpoons and things), ornamentation (bead jewelry and such), drawn images, arrowheads. They only appear as a coherent package about 50,000 years ago, and the first modern humans that left Africa between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago seem to have had the full set. As modern human anatomy is documented at earlier and earlier sites, it becomes evident that there was a great time gap between the appearance of the modern skeleton and ‘modern behavior.’”

The study moves the date of human skulls found in Ethiopia’s Kibish rock formation in 1967 back from 130,000 years to a newly determined date of 195,000 years ago, give or take 5,000 years. Fossils from an individual known as Omo I look like bones of modern humans, but other bones are from a more primitive cousin named Omo II.

In addition to the cultural question, the earlier date for humanity’s emergence is important for other reasons.

“First, it makes the dates in the fossil record almost exactly concordant with the dates suggested by genetic studies for the origin of our species,” Fleagle says. “Second, it places the first appearance of modern Homo sapiens in Africa many more thousands of years before our species appears on any other continent. It lengthens that gap. … Finally, the similar dating of the two skulls indicates that when modern humans first appeared there were other contemporary populations [Omo II] that were less modern.”

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Australian National University.

Modern Homo in the Valley of the Omo
Richard Leakey and his team of paleontologists traveled in 1967 to the Kibish Formation along the Omo River in southernmost Ethiopia, near the town of Kibish. They found the skull (minus the face) and partial skeleton (parts of arms, legs, feet and the pelvis) of Omo I, and the top and back of the skull of Omo II. Brown was not part of the 1967 expedition, but was working nearby and got to look at the site and the fossils.

“Anthropologists said they looked very different in their evolutionary status,” Brown recalls. “Omo I appeared to be essentially modern Homo sapiens, and Omo II appeared to be more primitive.”

In 1967, the fossils were dated as being 130,000 years old, although the scientists doubted the accuracy of their dating technique, which was based on the decay of uranium-238 to thorium-238 in oyster shells from a rock layer near the skulls.

Fleagle says no scientist has been bold enough to suggest Omo II is anything other than Homo sapiens, and that “quite often at the time of major events in evolution, one finds an increase in morphological [anatomical] diversity.” Now that the new study confirms Omo I and Omo II are the same age – living within a few hundred years of each other about 195,000 years ago – some anthropologist suggest “maybe it [Omo II] isn’t so primitive after all,” Brown says.

McDougall, Brown and Fleagle and researchers from other universities returned to Kibish in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003. They identified sites where Omo I and Omo II were found in 1967, and obtained more of Omo I, including part of the femur (upper leg bone) that fit a piece found in 1967. They also found animal fossils and stone tools, and studied local geology. The Nature study includes initial results from those expeditions.

The fossil record of human ancestors may go back 6 million years or more, and the genus Homo arose at least 1.8 million years ago when australopithecines evolved into human ancestors known as Homo habilis. Brown says the fossil record of humans is poor from 100,000 to 500,000 years ago, so Omo I is significant because it now is well dated.

Dating the Dawn of Humanity
Both Omo I and Omo II were buried in the lowermost portion or “member” of the Kibish Formation, a series of annual flood sediments laid down rapidly by the ancient Omo River on the delta where it once entered Lake Turkana. Lake levels now are much lower, and the river enters the lake about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Kibish.


The 330-foot-thick (100-meter-thick) formation is divided into at least four members, with each of the four sets of layers separated from the other by an “unconformity,” which represents a period of time when rock eroded away instead of being deposited. For example, the lowermost Kibish I member was deposited in layers as the Omo River flooded each year. After thousands of years, rainfall diminished, lake levels dropped, and the upper part of Kibish I eroded away. Later, the lake rose and deposition resumed to create layers of Kibish member II.

Interspersed among the river sediments are occasional layers of volcanic ash from ancient eruptions of nearby volcanoes. Some ash layers contain chunks of pumice, which in turn contain feldspar mineral crystals. Feldspar has small amounts of radioactive potassium-40, which decays into argon-40 gas at a known rate. The gas, trapped inside feldspar crystals, allows scientists to date the feldspar and the pumice and ash encasing it.

Brown says potassium-argon dating shows that a layer of ash no more than 10 feet (3 meters) below Omo I’s and Omo II’s burial place is 196,000 years old, give or take 2,000 years. Another layer is 104,000 years old. It is almost 160 feet (50 meters) above the layer that yielded the Omo humans. The unconformities represent periods of time when rock was eroded, so the fossils must be much older than the 104,000-year-old layer and close in age to the 196,000-year-old layer, Brown says.

The clinching evidence, he says, comes from sapropels, which are dark rock layers on the Mediterranean seafloor that were deposited when floods of fresh water poured out of the Nile River during rainy times. The Blue Nile and White Nile tributaries share a drainage divide with the Omo River. During ancient wet periods, monsoons on the Ethiopian highlands sent annual floods surging down the Nile system, causing sapropels to form on the seafloor, and sent floods down the Omo, making Lake Turkana rise and depositing Kibish Formation sediments on the river’s ancient delta. (During dry periods, Lake Turkana was smaller, flood sediments were deposited farther south and rocks at Kibish were eroded.)

No other sediments on land have been found to record wet and dry periods that correlate so well with the same climate pattern in ocean sediments, Brown says. The new study found that the “members” – or groups of rock layers – of the Kibish formation were laid down at the same time as the Mediterranean sapropels. In particular, the volcanic layer right beneath Omo I and II dates to 196,000 years ago by potassium-argon dating, and it corresponds almost perfectly to a sapropel layer previously dated as 195,000 years old, Brown says.

“It is pretty conclusive,” says Brown, who disputes any contention that the fossils might be closer to 104,000 years old.



Contact: Frank Brown, professor of geology and geophysics,
dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, University of Utah
University of Utah

Lee Siegel, science news specialist
office 801-581-8993
cellular 801-244-5399
University of Utah Public Relations

University of Utah Public Relations
201 S Presidents Circle, Room 308
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-9017
801-581-6773 fax: 801-585-3350

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