Background

The Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies

Welcome to the first university museum of the country. The history of this museum takes us back to the early days of 1950. The idea evolved at the Arat Kilo campus of the University College of Addis Ababa. The initiator of the idea was the then chief librarian of the college, Stanislaw Chojnaki. The startup collection came through the Old Italian zoological species collection, and the ethnographic pieces donated by the first batch of graduates of the college.

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In 1963, the collection of the museum split into two parts. The zoological species collection remained at Arat Kilo and evolved in to the Natural History Museum. The ethnographic collections were used as the base for the Ethnographic Museum of the newly-founded Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Since then, these museums have been serving the university community in particular in the teaching/learning and research processes. They have also served the public at large in awareness creation of the country’s wealth in natural and cultural resources. Indeed, Ethiopia is one of the world’s biodiversity centers. Equally, it is the museum of diverse local cultures.

The Museum is located in the main campus of Addis Ababa University. This campus used to be the palace of the late Emperor Hailesilassie I for more than three decades. Its name, Genete Leul Palace, literally meant “the Prince’s paradise”.

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From the main entrance to the main palace, you pass the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library which is the main library of the University to your right, and buildings of various sizes and types to your left.

Past these, you would enter an inner gate and see a beautiful circular garden with a fountain in its midst that beautifully sprinkles water only on graduation days and some such occasions. Then you arrive at the old palace building which houses the Museum.

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On either side of the entrance to the palace, there are two gilded statuettes, one male and the other female. At this point our tour guide takes over and leads you to the main section of the Museum. In the walk way there is a set of panel narratives that help you discover and understand how the palace was 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 on your way out.)

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This hall has two sections, i.e. a small temporary exhibition section and a relatively larger section dealing with the life cycle and the rites of passage. The temporary part currently introduces you to containers of various types, sizes and shapes. Here also are head rests from all over the country.

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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 various Ethiopian cultures. It begins with the shrill of a newborn Hadiya baby. That should set you to ponder birth practices of other cultures. At the end of the tour of the section, you are confronted with death and life after death. In between, you pass through the stages of socialization, betrothal and marriage, belief systems, power and power politics, and economic dynamics. Then, you will note the two main Ethiopian staple diets, Teff andEnset; and the two gifts of Ethiopia to the world Coffee and Chat.

After your reflection about life after death, we guide you through to the main royal chamber, the inner corner of the palace. Here you will have a 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 a great significance. You will see a white telephone beside the bed. One can easily write a book about this telephone alone. It was a hot line of the day for promotion and demotion of high ranking officials. It could have also been utilized for various personal vendetta or rewards. In between the bedrooms of the Emperor and the Empress, you will 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.

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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.

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On your way out, we invite you to take a memento 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 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.

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