Some 40 million years ago, Ethiopia began ripping apart as a result of the Earth’s tectonic forces. The land was split into two diagonal halves and the continental crack, named the Great Rift Valley, is visible even from space.
Often misunderstood as dry and barren, the Ethiopian landscape is in fact dramatic and ever-changing. The steep cliffs and rock faces at this exhibit recall the majestic mountains, rugged terrain and cascading waterfalls of the Rift Valley.
The Konso live in the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia, in large villages each governed by a council of elders. They’re noted for their waga - wooden statues carved in memory of departed heroes. The waga are arranged in groups representing the dead with their families, as well as their vanquished enemies. You’ll see them standing guard near the Great Rift Valley exhibit entrance and keeping watch over the maize fields within, in a recreated Konso village.
Besides the mud-walled Konso dwelling huts, you’ll also notice some stone-walled huts. These replicate the homes of the Amhara, who hail from the Ethiopian central highlands. The villages are also dotted with grain storage huts raised on stilts, with chicken coops or goat kraals beneath. Grain is stored above to protect it from dampness and termites. Goat kraals can be found within the Amharic huts as well, where they are protected from predators like hyenas and jackals.
Both the Konso and Amhara engage in the agriculture of crops like corn and sorghum. Coffee is also farmed by the Konso.
Coffea arabica originates from Ethiopia’s Kaffa region. Today, coffee earns Ethiopia over 60% of her value of export. Coffee ceremony huts that host the sacred hour-long Ethiopian coffee ceremonies can be found in the cities of Harar and Addis Ababa. Visit the one at our exhibit to find out how the Ethiopians discovered coffee and how the name coffea arabica came about.
But coffee is just one of the 7000 plant species native to Ethiopia. The country’s diverse habitats are also host to a myriad other life forms, including some 103 mammals and 800 birds.
The Great Rift Valley exhibit is inspired by the Ethiopia’s dry savannah bioclimatic zone and showcases the biodiversity seen there. Besides troops of Hamadryas baboons and a herd of Nubian ibexes, you’ll also meet the meerkats, black-backed jackals and rock hyraxes.
At the northern end of the Great Rift Valley is the Danakil Depression, where the 3.2 million-year-old fossil Lucy was unearthed. One of the oldest hominids ever found, she was named after the Beatles’ hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, which was playing on loop at the expedition camp the night of her discovery. She was also given an Amharic name, Dinkenesh, meaning “You are wonderful”.