South Ethiopia – Mati-Gudji. Unmarried girl.

The phrase ሰምና ወርቅ (sam-enna warq), or wax and gold, is a fundamental concept in Amharic. Taken literally, it refers to the goldsmith’s technique of casting pieces by making a clay mould around a wax model, draining the wax and then pouring the molten gold into the mould. However, in Amharic poetry, the phrase has come to signify the hidden, often spiritual, meaning (the gold) beneath the apparent meaning (the wax) of the language. Once the ሰም (sam) is removed, the ወርቅ (warq) can be appreciated.

Hair, more easily changed and shaped than other bodily features, has always been used for its aesthetic appeal and imbued with symbolic meaning. It is both wax and gold. As a natural biological signifier, hair is the wax or ሰም (sam), while its braiding or styling, with its cultural representation in the community and its artistic expression, make it the gold or ወርቅ (warq).


Gudji girl with milk jar.



Spiral braided hairstyle of young men from Alabdu-Gudji.

Alabdu-Gudji. Girl in dance jewellery for big dance festival.


Community leaders

Dizi. Adikyaz – ritual devices. Adikyaz with the phallic forehead ornament.

South Ethiopia – Banna man

south omo