(Click on the images below to enlarge them.)

THE DESIRE TO CONQUER and colonize Ethiopia had been on Benito Mussolini’s bucket list for a long time, and in 1936, Italy invaded the country and then occupied it for five years. Italy had already colonized Eritrea, off and on a part of Ethiopia, in 1890, and when the Italian army of the time tried to take Ethiopia as well, Italy suffered a humiliating defeat in 1896 at the Ethiopian city of Adwa.

Saba Birz

Forty years later, as World War II approached, Italy tried again to take Ethiopia – and won. During the occupation, Emperor Haile Selassie fled to England, returning in 1941 after Mussolini fell and Ethiopia regained its freedom.

Two things came of this: An Italian influence in the culture of Eritrea, including the addition of some dishes to the Eritrean table; and a desire in the emperor to modernize Ethiopia and forge greater cultural and economic ties with the west.

Why the history lesson? Because in this post, I’ll share some interesting food-related ads from two Ethiopian publications of the 1960s.

Etiopia Illustrato, published in 1964, in a 9 x 13 glossy magazine packed with photos – of the emperor, traditional life, modern commerce and wildlife – and with advertisements promoting a wide range of goods and services: hotels, insurance agencies, manufacturing companies, trading companies, tourism, banks, hairdressers, Volkswagens (cars and vans), dentistry, imported beer and liquor, Ethiopian Airlines, communications – and food products manufactured in Ethiopia. Most of the ads are in Italian, a few are in English, and many of them have Amharic text mixed in.

The articles in this very promotional magazine, which is written almost entirely in Italian, explore various aspects of Ethiopian life and commerce, all a part of the emperor’s attempt to present Ethiopia to the world and to make his country a world economic power. Some ads also were placed by Italian companies selling goods to Ethiopia – buses, dump trucks, kitchen equipment, Vespas. A lot of the Ethiopian businesses that advertised were either located in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, or had headquarters in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, which is the 1960s was a federated state of Ethiopia. Some were Ethiopian subsidiaries of their European parent companies.

Then, there’s Ethiopia: The Official Handbook, a wonderful and informative 328-page hardcover guidebook to the country, published by the government in 1969. Written in English, it has both color and black-and-white photos, and lots of ads promoting Ethiopian good and services. Some of the ads are for food products.

The Official Handbook documents the emergence of modern Ethiopian urban life, while the rest of the country back then – and in many places, even today – continued to face rounds of drought and starvation. What would some of the most isolated and primitive tribes have thought of a place like The Super Market “A” (as it’s called in the ad), offering “a complete selection of household goods, groceries, beverages, vegetables at the most competitive prices.” The book also has ads for imported Drambuie and Highland Queen Scotch Whisky, the K. Alexandrakis Wines factory in Addis Ababa, and the Italian beer Melotti, brewed at a facility in Asmara. Life in the big city was good – for Ethiopians who could afford it.

Both of these publications feature full-page ads for The South British Insurance Company Limited and the company’s chief agent for Ethiopia, “A. Stordiau.” Flash forward three decades to Frankfurt, Germany, where Alfred Stordiau’s daughter, Wilhelmine (Wilma) Stordiau, makes Begena Tedj, a premium honey wine distributed throughout Europe. Wilma was born and raised in Ethiopia.

The photos in this post are from these two bygone publications. Here are a few notes on the images in this post. You can see larger version of the images by clicking on them.

St. George Beer. This is one of the oldest and most well-known brands of Ethiopian-made beer. You’ll see two ads here: one in English, one in Italian with some Amharic on it. Of the six or seven beers made in Ethiopia, St. George’s label has undergone many interesting and colorful changes over the year. St. George is the patron saint of Ethiopia.

Coca-Cola. Long popular in Ethiopia, the company has manufacturing plants there. Today the bottles come with the name “Coca-Cola” in English on one side and in Amharic on the other. Numerous other carbonated American beverages have a market in Ethiopia: Sprite, Fanta and Pepsi among them. Sinalco was a German soft drink bottled in Addis Ababa for domestic consumption.

S.A.V.A. Corp. This company manufactured glass bottles for a wide range of products. Look closely at the larger version of the photo and you’ll the names of the products in both English and Amharic on many of the bottles.

Saba beverages. This company made a brand of bottled t’ej, the Ethiopian honey wine. It also made a sparking variety, and for the youngsters, the company made birz, which is honey and water that hasn’t been allowed to ferment. Notice the very Western-looking revelers enjoying the t’ej, and the smiling all-American-looking lad (with dog) drinking the birz. The ads for all three of these products are pictured at the top of this post.

And finally, there’s the ad for Addis Ababa’s Hong Kong Bar Restaurant, boasting fine Chinese food, a novelty back then in Ethiopia. Look at the larger version of the ad (right) and you’ll see “Honk Kong” written in Amharic above the entrance to the restaurant.

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh

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