September 02, 2008

Dula(s): The Staff and Stick Culture of Ethiopia

Ethiopians have to use Dulas due to the terrain of the country. Here many use the dula during the celebration of Timket also known as Epiphany.


In Ethiopia, one can very well ask the question which came first, the stick or the stone as the first tool. The archeo-paleo-anthropological stone-age era could have well been preceded by the stick era. It is obvious that sticks have turned to dust somewhere in the mist of time as compared to stone tools; or has it? Take a closer look into the present day Ethiopian culture and one will aptly find the remnants of the stick culture still in use today. Thus, the stick may have come first many millennia ago in Ethiopia. The stick commonly called “dula” in Ethiopia may have been the first tool after all. Even today, the dula is still widely used to ward off wild animals and ensure that humans can travel from point A to point B without being eaten alive by the clawed and fanged beasts of the fields, forests, and savannas. The dula is also used as a deterrent against strangers, highway robbers and enemies.
The lonely dula, however, did not remain for long as a plain regular stick. Like the staff of Moses, it has branched and flowered into many types of instruments and weapons. Hundreds of stick varieties evolved from the simple and lonely dula. It would be very difficult to include all the various types of sticks, staff, rods, and batons practiced by the eighty ethnic groups of Ethiopia. The majority of the dulas described here are from the main tribes of the Oromo, Amhara, Tigre and other tribes.
The Ethiopian stick is usually made from hardwood or bamboo. It is fired or flamed to further harden it and oiled to preserve the integrity of the wood to prevent cracking. Dulas are also made from cedar wood (tid), acacia (grar), wild olive (weira), sycamore (warka), vines (hareg) and bamboo (shembeko Kerkeha and Reed).
The most common term for sticks is dula. The dula can be a walking stick, a guard's zebegna stick, or any type of long well oiled and flamed stick about four to five feet in length. The term dula will therefore be used as a generic word for stick in describing the dula stick culture of Ethiopia.

Dula(s): The Staffs and Sticks of Ethiopia

Dula is an Amharic word for a stick or staff. It can refer to any stick but in most cases it is the humble walking stick that is used throughout Ethiopia. On rare occasions, it can be the name of a boy born on the high windswept mountains or fierce deserts of Ethiopia. Structurally, the dula consists of a head, neck, body (or spine) and the foot. The head is the part that is handled by the hands. The foot of the dula is the part that touches the ground. The neck of the dula lies immediate to the rear of the head. The main body between the foot and the neck can be described as the body or spine of the dula. These famous Dulas (Sticks) of Ethiopia can been categorized into 5 groups;

1. Walking stick dulas
2. Fighting stick dulas
3. Honorific stick dulas
4. Utility stick dulas
5. Game stick dulas

Walking Stick Dulas
These sticks are typically and commonly called Dula (plural Dulas). It is a generic term and can be applied to many types of sticks used for many types of purpose. However, in Ethiopia, a dula is mostly understood to be a walking stick or a stick used for protection.

Dula: The typical Ethiopian walking stick or stick used for protection from adversaries and wild animals. The dula is used as a generic term to describe any stick that has been oiled, fired and hardened.

Komet: This dula is typically used by youths. The head is round and knobbed and is specifically designed to knock off an adversary or incapacitate wild animals. It is usually made from hardwood.

Kentero: A short dula specifically designed to strike down and incapacitate a person to the ground. It is made from hardwood with a large round head, somewhat knobbed. It is short enough in length to use as a walking stick or to swing and strike at an adversary with an effective and deadly result.

Kolmama: A dula that is manufactured from sorghum stem. The body of the dula is twisted around several times for a long-lasting tensile strength. The head part of the stick is knobby.

Belota: A short dula, a walking stick, similar to the Kentero.

Kerkeha: A dula or walking stick made from a bamboo (or reed) called kerkeha. It sometimes goes by the name kerkaha signifying the material it is made of, i.e., kerkeha bamboo.

Kezera: This dula is similar to the Kerkeha but is made from wood. It has a seven-shaped head. It is somewhat similar to the Beter and Merkuz and sometimes even goes by these names.

Deguasa: A very large Beter walking stick dula.

Qumit: walking stick (?).

Meqa Dula: A dula stick made from Meqa, a type of reed.

Shenboqo Dula: A dula stick made from shenboqo, a small Ethiopian bamboo.

Zeng: Zeng is a type of Beter used by those who walk long distances in the wilderness and wilds of Ethiopia. It is a formidable weapon and as such held very dearly and closely by the owner.

Beter: A slender wood somewhat long, well-oiled and treated. It is often used as a corporal punishment tool on misbehaving children.

Utility Stick Dulas
Utility sticks are sticks used for some other chores other than walking sticks, dulas

This is a torch made from brushes and sticks. It can be embedded with other combustible material to ensure a long term effect. It is used on holidays such as Buhay (Harvest Festival) and Meskel (Festival of the Cross or Finding of the True Cross). This type of torch is usually hand-held.

Thin pieces of low-quality sticks used for various purposes. As a single stick with small branchesof no more than a yard in length, it can be used as a temporary dula. But the name signifies as thin, so it cannot be used in the classical sense as a dula (see Walking Stick). One usually swings it around aimlessly as he or she walks. It can also be used for making a cheibo or to start a fire and keep the fire going on or as a temporary outdoor broom. “Thin as a tsheraro” is a common expression.

A Demera is a bonfire of special significance. Piles of sticks are burned during New Year, called Enqutatash, or during the celebration of Meskel, the finding of the True Cross. Personal Demera maybe be a foot high and National Demera used at Meskel Square in Addis Abeba can be twenty feet high and twenty feet across.

This long dula is used inside a tent to prop up and support it. If the pole that is used is positioned in a horizontal manner, it is referred to as Agdem Terada.

A long stick with 3 pronged or forked end used in the field during harvest time.

A long wood used to till the earth. It is smaller than the Geso and used extensively in agriculture.

A long stick used to upturn the earth.

The Yelo are sticks derived from the Atena (A small tree) of below good grade value. The Yelo is of a girth that is too large to use as a dula and thus often used for walls of the “mud and wattle” type of houses (Gojo Bet or Tukul). Technically, the girth or diameter is about 4 inches or as the Amharic description goes “Behulet Ej Yemitchebet”.

A strong pole about 4 feet long used to jam a door from the inside to prevent access into a house. This is a typical device used in huts in the countryside or small villages where padlock keys may not be available or suitable to use.

This is a similar device as a Tewaga but can be used as a jamming device anywhere applicable.

A dula stick used by shepherds. It is effective in protecting the herds as well as the shepherd (in Amharic Eregna) from wild animals and cattle hustlers.

Attara Dula:
A dula stick used by shepherds. This may be similar to the Kulkuye mentioned above or a variation of the dula itself.

A long pole used as an oar for boats (Jelba) or a papyrus reed boat called a Tankwa. The Tankwa is similar in appearance and build to the reed boats used by the ancient Egyptians and the Indians of Lake Titicaca in South America. Basically, the user or oarsman firmly plants the Terkeza pole into the water and pushes the boat forward.

An oar used for a boat (Jelba) or a papyrus reed boat (Tankwa).

A very long flute-like musical instrument made from the kerkeha bamboo trunk. It is strapped to the chest or held by both hands in a vertical position and played by blowing into a hole on the side of the bamboo. Each Embilta has its own unique sound and therefore several instruments are played in unison to achieve a somber music with unusual resonance.
The Dula can have many applications other than a walking stick.

Zabia is the wooden handle of a spear. The term also applies to the handle of an ax, pick, shovel and other tools. Another name for Zabia is Somia.

The wooden handle of a spear is called Somia. Another name for Somia is Zabia.

A stretcher made from two large dulas to carry a sick person or a casualty of war to a hospital or treatment center or home.

Meberberia: A long wood with a 3-pronged head. It is also called a Mensh and is used for agricultural purposes such as willowing.

A very large dula, the girth of which is about 4 inches in diameter used to pound grain in a muketcha.

Mesbekia: A wooden stick used for churning milk.

Fighting Stick Dulas

Fighting sticks are generally used in sports and for protection from wild animals and enemies. Fighting sticks can range in size anywhere from 3 feet to nine feet in length. It is a stick that is held very closely, treated with respect and strengthened by initially firing it and oiling it to prevent cracking and splintering. Some dulas, like the Donga and the Eba are specifically made for fighting and/or competition sport while others, like the Kentero, are actually a walking stick.

This is a very strong fighting stick that is used by the Surma and Mursi of Southwestern Ethiopia. It exceeds in length greater than the height of the owner and a ten foot weapon is not unusual. Hundreds gather during sports events and fighting competition continues until a winner is declared as the hero of the tribe. The prevention of serious injuries is accomplished by wrapping the head, arms, legs and torso several times with cotton shawls. In a ferocious fight, one can hardly make out the figure of a person as the blur of the stick and shawl envelops the fighter into a ghostly figure!

The game of Iba is played by the Oromo people of Metcha in the province of Showa, Ethiopia. The formidable weapon used is essentially a large Dula of no particular description. Two opposing groups vie for the best spot to invade each other’s territory. Commonly, a stream divides the opposing resident’s fighters. Swinging their large Dulas, the fighters prepare to invade each other’s territory by stomping the earth and chanting war songs. Eventually, one group courageously invades, and a fierce battle begins until dusk. The clubbing stops when one territory surrenders in humiliation and defeat.
Emperor Haile Selassie, upon hearing about the Iba game, condemned the bloody sport and had it banned. Nevertheless, this sport continues to this day.

Honorific Stick Dulas

These dulas are typically used for ceremonial purposes. They are handled with great honor and respect and are sometimes elaborately designed. The honorific dulas are often repetitive of a people, nation and chiefs.

The Sendek is a dula known commonly as a flag pole. It is used to fly the National Tri-color of Ethiopia’s Green Gold and Red Flag. In the ancient times, before the flag was adapted as the National Flag, bunches of leaves and Adey Abeba flowers adored the end of the pole to signify the new birth of the new year called Awdamet or other festivities. This ceremony is still carried on today during the Meskel and New Year festivities. The Sendek with the flag was commonly raised at the tent of the emperor so that the exact location of the Ethiopian leaders was visible to all who encamped. This imperial mobile city of tent camps was actually the Capital City of the Nation.

This is a prayer stick used by the elderly and the church clergy. The Mequamia is used in the standing position during the long church ceremonies. The head of the staff has a T-shaped brass or iron handle that can be used as a chin rest. In church festivities, such as in “dances” at Epiphany called Timket in Amharic, the Mequamia is held and waved according to certain rules and rhythms of the church chants of praise. Thus the Mequamia is somewhat akin to a conductor’s baton in an orchestra. In addition it is used respectfully as a walking stick by the very elderly when traveling to and from church.

This was an honorific spear used in the old days. It was respectfully carried by a special spear and shield carrier of a feudal chieftain. This type of spear was unusually large and long with ornamented wood and a sharp tipped spear head.

Betre Mengist:
This is a golden baton that is held by the right hand when the emperors were crowned King of Kings. It represented authority and ability of the emperors to rule Ethiopia.

Miniature Dulla Sticks:

This sticks are too small to be considered as dulas but the technique to develop them and craft them are nevertheless the same!

Meka Berei (Reed Pen)
As the name implies, this is a pen (Berei) made from Meka, a type of bamboo reed that is stronger than Shenboko. This type of miniature dulla stick has been used for many centuries by Ethiopian scribes.

Ters Mefakia (Chewing Stick or tooth brush)

Ethiopian tooth brush or Ters Mefakia (

Ters Mefakia literally means teeth scrapper in Amharic. Chewing sticks are made from the roots, twigs and stems of plants that contain high levels of fibers. The Zana tooth brush is used more often but other types of twigs such as acacia is used in Ethiopia. Sometimes these tooth brushes are a two or three foot long twigs with leaves still attached such that the person can also use it as a miniature dula stick to ward of flies or even animals such as dogs. Continued use of this twig, particularly by shepherds, shortens the Ters Mefakia to a 6 inch or less stub that can be pocketed after use. Alternatively a village merchant manufactures these tooth sticks using the best fibrous twigs and makes a living. His customers are mainly city folks who have less access to the tree.
A smart Ethiopian student in Germany (1960's) used to sell Ters Mefakia and was able to finish school and return back to his homeland. He peddled the tooth brushes as anti-cancer sticks which many Germans enthusiastically purchased. This story was obtained from Ato Kebede of the Ethiopian Embassy. It is a fact though that the Ters Mefakia twigs usually have an antimicrobial effect as well as scrapping plaques off, thus leaving a clean and fresh mouth at all times.

Ye Astay Entshet or Sebeka Entshet(flint Wood)
When Ethiopians did not have access to matches to light a fire, they had their own system of using twigs or wood to create fire by friction. Remote areas may still use this stone age method.

Enzert (Spindle)

Ethiopian Enzert Spindle

This miniature wood is made from the Kerkeha wood, a type of bamboo. It is used to spin cotton and is commonly used by women in the household as an extra source of income.

Sports Game Dulla Sticks:

These dulla sticks are typically made for sports and fun games. However, they can be weaponized when the need arises as protective weapons.

Kolafa (Hockey Stick)

Gena Game and Kolafa dula

This dula is used for playing the game of Gena. Gena, which means Christmas, is played during Christmas Day on January the seventh. The main feature of the stick is the bent front end or head of the club used to hit the Gena ball.

The Kolafa (Negarit Drum Stick)
Kolafa is also the name applied for the drum stick of the huge Negarit drum of Ethiopia. The booming sound that is produced is used to summon the people for mobilization in times of war.

Seged Dula:(Lance)
A long stick or lance used in the game called Gittay. The size may vary from 5 to 7 feet in length but no specific length is recommended as long as it can be tossed great distances. However the wood is as strong as olive wood and it is made from a type of hard wood found in the lowlands. The game of Gittay is to aim and throw the Seged dula and strike a cactus tree from several feet away.

Eba Dula:(War Club)
Eba is a war game that is played by the Metta Oromos of Ethiopia near Ambo, about 50 miles from Addis Abeba. Groups of youths from either side of a river face each other, chanting war songs, sizing each other and swinging the dula in a strike pose, threateningly. This intimidation is followed by a charge, actual and bluffs, until one opposing group overwhelms the other and declares victory. (Check Eba as Fighting Stick).

Shkerkerit: (Hoop Wheel)
A hoop made from a flexible twig or a strong vine. The hoop is rolled and controlled with a hooked wire attached to the end of a wooden stick.

Yeferas Guks or Feres Guks: (Polo)
A horse game akin to Polo of the West. Only Ethiopian men play yeferas guks. Two opposing groups ride on horseback and throw bamboo or wooden lances at each other. It is often held during the afternoon of Timqat. Young warriors in capes and head-dresses made from lions' manes battle one another by throwing the bamboo lances. They protect themselves with shields or just glance back and avoid the incoming lance. Centuries ago, survival in this type of game depended on the rider's skill, because there was no armor for protection and the javelins used were sharp and deadly.


Anonymous said...

the lady wuth Enzert(Spindle) what is she doing what do yiu call the process to make the string in Amharic it shoild have explantion


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Wow, this is really interesting. I never thought these sticks had so much history behind. Thank you, you just enlightened me!

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