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Published August 12, 2022 Updated August 12, 2022

KITAB Playing Cards

KITAB playing cards with artwork by Abayneh Abebe, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia Ethiopian Tourist Trading Enterprise Abayneh Abebe Folklore Add to Collection
KITAB playing cards with artwork by Abayneh Abebe, Ethiopia

This undated boxed double pack of 55 cards includes two Jokers and an explanatory card. It was published by the Ethiopian Tourist Trading Enterprise (ETTE). Although a non-standard pack the indices and court card rank designations are standard French / international. The artwork is by a young commercial artist Abayneh Abebe. The Kings wear a crown with the word “Kitab” clearly visible, while the Queens wear a crown showing the word “Mudai”. The Jacks’ crowns display the word “talisman”.

The extra card explains that a Kitab is an “Ethiopian traditional abstract parchment painting believed to have the power to exorcize evil [Buda[1]]. It is painted by un-ordained but highly trained clergymen. It is mostly worn around the neck”. The Mudai is a “small hand-woven grass basket commonly used by women in the countryside to keep money, jewellery and even the Kitab safely”  more

KITAB playing cards with artwork by Abayneh Abebe, Ethiopia KITAB playing cards with artwork by Abayneh Abebe, Ethiopia

Above: KITAB playing cards with artwork by Abayneh Abebe, Ethiopia. 52 cards + 2 jokers + extra card, undated. The backs are certainly colourful and, I would say, Ethiopian in design!


[1] NOTE: Buda in Ethiopian and Eritrean folk religion is the power of the evil eye and the ability to change into a hyena. The power of the evil eye allows its bearer to change into a hyena, allowing him or her to attack another person while concealing his or her human identity. Belief in the evil eye, or Buda, is still widespread in Ethiopia. Hence some Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians carry an amulet or talisman, known as a Kitab, or invoke God's name, to ward off the ill effects of Buda.

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By Peter Burnett

Member since July 27, 2022

I graduated in Russian and East European Studies from Birmingham University in 1969. It was as an undergraduate in Moscow in 1968 that I stumbled upon my first 3 packs of “unusual” playing cards which fired my curiosity and thence my life-long interest. I began researching and collecting cards in the early 1970s, since when I’ve acquired over 3,330 packs of non-standard cards, mainly from North America, UK and Western Europe, and of course from Russia and the former communist countries.

Russian Playing Cards

Following my retirement from the Bodleian Library in Dec. 2007 I took up a new role as Head of Library Development at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to support library development in low-income countries. This work necessitated regular training visits to many sub-Saharan African countries and also further afield, to Vietnam, Nepal and Bangladesh – all of which provided rich opportunities to further expand my playing card collection.

Since 2019 I’ve been working part-time in the Bodleian Library where I’ve been cataloguing the bequest of the late Donald Welsh, founder of the English Playing Card Society.

1 comments

Roddy Somerville's Avatar'

I believe this pack was produced c.2000 and may have been printed by Games & Print Services.


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