The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Black History: Religions in Ethiopia

Pilgrims in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Many visitors to Lalibela, Ethiopia, have felt–in some mysterious way–that they are on holy ground, a place where devotion and faith have soaked into the rocks that somehow were shaped into amazing ancient churches as people started at the top of cliffs and crafted their way down.

But Ethiopian history is a story of devotion in more than one religious tradition. Trade and communication across the Red Sea, going back as far as humans recorded stories and accounts of their doings, led to deep roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Ethiopia–along with traditional religious practices specific to various cultures.

Islam first comes to Ethiopia

I spent much of my childhood in the southwest of Ethiopia where, as my sister wrote in this book, God was in the forests.

I didn’t know much of the story of Ethiopian Jews, who lived in northern Ethiopia, until I got fascinated by the airlifts to Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, dramatic events with names like Operation Moses and Operation Joshua. Fortunately for me, many true stories of escape and survival were recorded that gave me firsthand material for my first published middle grade novel.

Christianity became the state religion of Ethiopia in the 4th century, when coins from the kingdom of Axum were the first in the ancient world to have a cross on them. Later, King Lalibela set out to create a new Jerusalem in Ethiopia. Traditions say that angels helped carve what are now World Heritage churches out of cliffs of red rock.


One of the churches, created in the shape of a cross, is still an important part of Orthodox Christian life. It’s also just one piece of the historical art that can still be seen everywhere in Ethiopia today.


History! So much to learn and read and be fascinated by.


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