"The Ethiopian Courage" Collection by Bruno Pagliano

Heart and Spirit of Self-Expression

How women embody courage, independence & determination in modern, conservative Ethiopian society. We don't all need to conform.

By Pomy Hailu

Updated 12:20 am EST, December 12, 2023

Published 01:59 pm EST, December 13, 2023

Ask any Ethiopian about bravery and courage, and they will tell you it’s in our blood. As an African country with an uncolonized history, courage seems entwined into the very fabric of Ethiopian identity. But does that legacy of gutsy determination live on for the new generation? It’s a question that lingers, though perhaps a discussion for another day. Right now, let’s focus on a different kind of courage. The courage to be yourself, to stand out from the crowd in a tightly-knit community where societal norms shape identity.

“The Ethiopian Courage” Collection by Bruno Pagliano

Ethiopia’s societal fabric comprises a connected complexity where multiple diverse perspectives come together, forming societal norms. Understanding this complexity is not just about saying, “Hey, we’re all different.” It’s more about understanding and appreciating how people manage to mix tradition with what makes them unique. It’s taking off layers of rules and expectations to see this exciting new world where everyone’s ideas matter and new things are happening.

Courage | ድፍረት

In a society where traditions strongly influence, and social norms can be confined like massive walls, being true to oneself demands raw, unshakeable courage. In such a tight-knit society, people not only follow the beat. They also march in the parade of collective thinking, presenting a significant challenge. Like most African countries, Ethiopia’s vibe often emphasizes conformity. Being different means paying a toll — a price only paid by the courageous at heart.

“The Ethiopian Courage” Collection by Bruno Pagliano

The word “courage” itself, when dissected to its roots, reveals a compelling connection to the heart. Originating from the Old French term “corage,” which signifies “heart and spirit,” and rooted even deeper in Latin with “cor” meaning “heart,” courage takes on a deeper, more profound meaning. It’s a reminder that courage extends far beyond mere physical bravery; it resides in the inner strength and steadfast resolve found within one’s heart.

Courage & Society

What does it mean to be courageous in a conservative society? It doesn’t necessarily mean breaking down generations-old traditions or engaging in physical or verbal wars. I believe that being courageous involves forming one’s perspectives and understanding, even when they differ from prevailing norms. One example is when personal beliefs don’t align with existing religious norms. In a land where religion leads the way, being a non-believer — whether an atheist or agnostic — can sometimes feel like being under the spotlight at a solo concert.

“The Ethiopian Courage” Collection by Bruno Pagliano

But the courage to stay true to your beliefs or the lack thereof, hold onto your secular thoughts, and openly discuss them, even when raising eyebrows? That’s your defining journey right there. And then there is fashion, which carries a weight beyond mere clothing choices. 

How you dress often becomes a way for people to make assumptions about who you are. But these assumptions don’t always paint the whole picture. Sometimes, they extend to character judgments, beliefs, or social status, all tied to your outfit. The choice of clothing often serves as an avenue for self-expression. 

But it’s essential to remember that the outfit does not define the entirety of an individual’s identity or beliefs. Choosing clothing that celebrates your individuality and reflects your personal style: now that’s a bold and courageous act. It’s breaking through societal walls that dictate how one should dress.

One's Beliefs

Marriage, deeply ingrained in the Ethiopian societal fabric, presents yet another significant cultural norm to navigate. The audacity to remain unapologetically single while countering the traditional perception that one’s worth is tied to marital status is akin to defying the voice that insists, ‘Your worth is solely in a wedding ring.’ Particularly as a woman, advocating for women’s independence and empowerment redefines gender roles and embodies its own form of courage.

“The Ethiopian Courage” Collection by Bruno Pagliano

In a conservative society like Ethiopia, feminism — championing equality and challenging gender stereotypes — faces its own set of challenges. In a society where traditional values often define gender roles, the path toward gender equality faces its unique hurdles. Speaking out against gender inequality demands not only courage. But also a deep understanding of the cultural nuances embedded within Ethiopian society.

This understanding is crucial because having unique perspectives is one thing, but articulating and sharing them is another challenge. In a society where “silence is gold” is a go-to motto, speaking up, whether to defend your beliefs or shout for justice, is like cracking through the silence of conformity. It’s a blast of courage in a world where individual voices often find themselves on mute. 

Journey to Authenticity

For some (some is myself included), the courage to embrace authenticity includes the decision to abstain from social gatherings. Solitude can be empowering. Yet, in a culture that values social interaction, finding strength in moments of self-reflection and self-discovery is like finding solace in a silent oasis. But the journey to be authentic in a conservative society is not one that can be found in isolation. 

It is a shared experience for many who defy societal expectations and courageously express their true selves. In a nation where conformity is celebrated, I think we are embodying the courage it takes to be different, inspiring change and acceptance in a country that often demands uniformity.

Stand out from the Crowd

Nevertheless, it’s important to highlight that society is gradually becoming more accepting of individuality. A shift is happening—a change in how people view differences. More and more, society is slowly becoming open to the idea that not everyone has to conform. These shifts in attitudes, though gradual, show a positive trend that acknowledges the unique courage within every individual who dares to say, ‘This is me!’. As one of those people, my journey is a high-five to individuality, a sign reminding us that in a world that demands uniformity, being yourself is the boldest brushstroke of all. It’s a path that might at times feel isolating, yet it’s a path I wouldn’t alter just to fit into the crowd.

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