The IES Ethnographic Museum

The IES Ethnographic Museum is the first university museum in Ethiopia. The history of this museum goes back to the early days of 1950. The idea evolved at the current Arat Kilo Campus which was then the University College of Addis Ababa. The initiator of the idea was the chief librarian of the College, Stanislaw Chojnaki. The startup collection came from the Old Italian zoological species collection and donation of some ethnographic pieces by the first batch of graduates of the College.

In 1963, the collection of the museum split into two parts. The zoological species collection remained at Arat Killo and evolved into the Natural History Museum while the ethnographic collections were used as the base for the Ethnographic Museum of the newly founded Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Since then, the IES Museum has been serving the public at large in awareness creation of the country’s wealth of cultural resources.

The Museum is located in the Main Campus of Addis Ababa University, particularly at Genete Leul Palace. From the Main Gate of the University to the Museum, you pass through beautiful scenery of the campus, some university buildings (John F. Kennedy library to the right and buildings of various sizes for administrative and academic purposes to the left), an inner gate, and a beautiful circular garden with a fountain in its midst. Then you arrive at Gännäta Le’ul Place, which hosts the Museum.

On either side of the entrance to the Museum, there are two gilded statuettes, one male and the other female. At this point the Museum’s tour guides lead guests to the main section of the Museum. In the walk way there is a set of panel narratives that help one discover and understand how the palace transformed from a power center to a knowledge hub. You climb up the stairs, and come to the first hall of the museum. (To your right there is a small museum shop to which you will come back).

Entrance to the Museum; Photo by Hasen Daid (PhD)

The Museum hall has two sections:  a small temporary exhibition section and a relatively larger section dealing with the life cycle and the rites of passage. The temporary part displays various ethnographic objects from the Museum’s collection. The second part deals with the richness of diverse material cultures and ways of life. The exhibit is organized in such a way that the visitor meanders through the stages of life of some Ethiopian cultures. It begins with the bang of a new Hadiya baby.  At the end of the tour of the permanent exhibition section, you are confronted with death and life after it. In between, you pass through the stages of socialization, betrothal and marriage, belief systems, power and power politics, and livelihood activities. Here, you note two main Ethiopian staple diets, Teff and Enset; and the two gifts of Ethiopia to the world, Coffee and Chat.

Partial view of the permanent exhibition section; Photo by Hasen Said (PhD)  

After your reflection on the life after death, we guide you to to the main royal chamber, the inner corner of the palace. Here you are invited to firsthand experience of the luxury of the Imperial bedrooms. We are fortunate to show you the real king size bed of Emperor Hailesilassie. The judgment is yours to determine whether it is a king size or not. In fact, Hailesillasie was a diminutive. While this palace was active with decision making of the country, every piece of item in this corner had also a great significance. In between the bedroom of the Emperor and the Empress, we browse through the philatelic collection. These small stamps share many secrets of the country. Please give them due attention. On the way back to the main hall, we offer you a special treat of our manuscript treasures and the history of currency in Ethiopia.

We climb to the second floor to enjoy the richness of traditional art. Here you are enchanted with colors and shades of layers of centuries. The four walls narrate events and stories of sacred and secular themes. The central hall is a platform to study meticulously the icon paintings and crosses. A section of the hall is also reserved for the final treat to enjoy the musical tradition of the country. On your way out, we invite you to take a moment to remind you that you have been in one of the modern palaces of Ethiopia as you partially and casually discovered and got a glimpse on the hidden treasures of the country. At the museum’s shop, we offer you a variety of choices. Your small contribution will help us to acquire more knowledge about the cradle of humanity, the crossroads of civilization, and the museum of diverse cultures. You are also invited to join the Society of Friends of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. We appreciate support of voluntary service, gift items or financial donation.

Photo by Hsen Said (PhD)

As we bid you farewell, may the roar of our lion bring you a happy day!