Maya Haile Samuelsson: My people, the Gurage

Maya Haile Samuelsson: My people, the Gurage

ONE Mom Blogger, philanthropist and model Maya Haile Samuelsson is traveling to Ethiopia with ONE in October. This blog post is part of our coverage in the lead up to the trip.


PHOTO CREDIT: Karen Walrond


I would like start by sincerely thanking all the ONE Moms who are sacrificing their time and energy and lending their voices to echo the need for partnership in bringing real change to many Ethiopians and to celebrate the progress made so far. It is my pleasure to be part of this group and find one more reason to see my beloved country, family and friends.

Before I head off to Ethiopia, the country where my family is from, I want to share the culture and hospitality of Ethiopians. Ethiopia is home to many nations and nationalities. With more than 80 different languages (yes, 80 different languages spoken by more than 80 million people) and identities, it will be a futile exercise to name and describe all of them. So let me talk about the Gurage ethnic group, which I belong to.

The Gurages (pronounced “goo rah gay”) are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Ethiopia, making up only 2.5 percent of the total population. The Gurage people are highly entrepreneurial people with a culture of social mobility that celebrates hard work. As a result, the Gurage are represented in all business sectors in Ethiopia, ranging from shoe shiners to owners of big businesses. One of the most famous Ethiopian musicians, Mohamoud Ahmed, still recalls how he started out in life shining shoes in the city before he got his break and joined the music orchestra that allowed him to capture the imagination of millions of admirers both in Ethiopia and abroad.

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The Gurage are also famous for their delicious food and sportive dancing technique. Kitfo, a well-known Gurage food, is similar to steak tartare and is made from raw minced beef, butter and Ethiopian spices. It can be eaten raw or mildly cooked depending on your preference. It is exceptionally tasty and filling. When made with authentic ingredients from mom’s kitchen with her magic touch, it is to die for.

Kifto. Photo credit: Lindsay Hunt

Kifto on injera bread. Photo credit: Lindsay Hunt


Once the tummy is full, the next precession is the dance. Almost all Gurage music has a high tone. True to Ethiopian original form of music composition, it is a delight for one’s ear to hear Gurage song for the first time. The dance requires stamina to coordinate both the arm and the leg into a forward and backward motion while at the same time alternating each leg to jump up and down. It is magical for the eye, fulfilling for the soul. There are many famous songs but I’ve attached one of my favorites below. I hope you enjoy it and practice if you may for your performance at one of the Gurage restaurants that we would undoubtedly visit while in Ethiopia. Finally, let me conclude by thanking you all again and express my deepest gratitude for including me to this amazing trip. Ethiopia, here we come! Amesegnalehu (thank you)!

Maya Haile Samuelsson is a philanthropist, model and wife of Chef Marcus Samuelsson. She is also a member of ONE’s Girls and Women Advisory Board.


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