People & Language

Ethiopia People & Language

Like many other African societies Ethiopia presents a mosaic of nationalities speaking multiplicities of languages. The three language groups of the proto Afro – Asiatic family spoken in Ethiopia are known as Cushitic, Omotic and Semitic. A fourth group of Languages belong to an independent family known as Nilo – Saharan.

The Semites.

Amhara and Tigraian:These are Semitic people living mainly in the north and center of the country are sedentary agriculturalists. The oldest of the Semitic languages, Geez, now confined to ecclesiastical use has served as the lingua franca of the Semitic speaking people. The Tigre people speak Tigrigna and mainly found in Tigray region. The Amhara is the second largest national group mainly living in the north and central highlands. Amharic which is the official language of the country is the native tongue of the Amhara people. In the past they proved to be as great warriors, administrators and governors. The Amhara alone make up the second largest national group followed by the Tigreans in the country.

Gurage people: speak Guragegna Semitic-Cushitic in origin is believed to be the descendants of the military colonists to the north. Most of them make their living by herding or farming. Enset is their staple food. They are known in the country as the great workers. Most of them are Christian, Muslim and animist in religion.

Ethiopia People & Language

Harari people: are Semitic in origin and also known as Adare mainly living in Harar town in the eastern part of the country. They are specifically known for their two storey houses called gegar and for their very colorful traditional customs still worn by many Harari women to this day. In the past the Harari were known as great craft people, weavers, basket makers, and book binders.

The Cushitic speaking people of Ethiopia includes the Oromo, Somali, Agaw, Beja, Afar, Hadiya, Kambata, Gedeo and Konso.

The Oromo speaking oromiffa is believed to have migrated from the south and from present day Kenya. They were once nomadic pastoralists and skilled warrior horsemen. Today most are leading agrarian life and most of them are Muslims, Christians and animists in religion. They are also known for their egalitarian society which is based on the famous Gada system (age group system).

The Oromo now make up the largest single nationality in Ethiopia.

The Somali: live mainly in the arid lowlands in the east and south eastern parts of the country and hence lead nomadic and semi nomadic existence. They are Muslims and strongly hierarchical and based on the clan system which requires intense loyalty from their members. In their harsh environment mainly due to fierce competition for resource lead to frequent clashes over grazing lands or water. The Somali mainly pastoralist people now found scattered in the country, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya

Ethiopia People & Language

Afar people: the Cushitic Afar mainly in habit in the (Danakil Region Rift Valley) sharing a stretch of land from Ethiopia and Eritrea. This is one of the most inhospitable environments in the world. They proved themselves as warriors and proud.

Sidama people: are Cushitic people originating from the south west and can be divided in to five different groups: the Sidama proper, the Derasa, Hadya, Kembata and Alaba. Most of them are agriculturalist growing cereals, tobacco, enset and coffee. Many of them are animists and some are Christians. Like the Oromo they have egalitarian social organization based on age group system.

The Nilo Saharan are mainly situated along the western fringes of the country. To this group belongs the Gumuz in Matakal, Berta and the koma, Anuak and Nuer in Gambella

The Omotic speakers. Derive their name from their location on both sides of the Omo River. The peoples of the lower Omo valley are considered among the most fascinating on the African continent. They are exclusively found in southern Ethiopia mainly around Omo River, Omo and Mago national parks. To this group belong Dorze, Janjaro, Kaffa and Wolyta and are known for their large scale cultivation of Enset. The Gimira and Maji found in the extreme south west are also belongs to these group. There are other localized groups of languages spoken by the Hammer, Karo, Tsemai, Arri. Arbore, Mursi, Benna, Surma, Male, Dizi, Muguji, Boddi, Bumme, etc around the Omo River.

Dorze village: An interesting detour from Nechi sar, well worth the effort, is the old Dorze village of Chencha. Glimpses of ancient Ethiopia are seen in the picturesque houses of the village, accompanied by the magnificent backdrop of the lakes in the Rift far below. Dorze huts are beehive-shaped, made from bamboo, but they are usually much taller than others of this style.

Ethiopia People & Language

Another distinctive feature of the Dorze who stretch from the Omo River banks to the highlands over Lake Abaya, are their unique weaving. Once much feared warriors, Dorze men folk have settled down to farming or weaving.

The Hammer: are subsistence agro-pastoralists, they cultivate Sorghum, vegetables, millet, tobacco and cotton, as well as rearing cattle and goats, wild honey is an important part of their diet. They are known both for their fine pottery and their remarkable hairstyling, the women mix animal fat with ochre and rub the mixture into their hair to create coppery –colored strands. If they have recently killed an enemy or a dangerous animal, the man are permitted to don clay hair buns that often support magnificent ostrich feathers. The buns-with the help of a special head rest for sleeping- last from three to six months, and can be redone for up to one year. The Hammer is also considered the masters of body decoration. Every adornment has an important symbolic significance, e.g. Earrings denote the number of wives a man possesses.

Bull jumping and evangadi dancing is the most important event in the hammer. This initiation Rite is usually held between February and April. The initiate (Young boy) has to leap onto the back of the first bull then from one bull to the next until he reaches the end of the row and has to prove his worth by repeating in the opposite direction. If he succeeds then he may take a wife but if he fails he will have to wait a year and try again. Young women show their devotion, love and respect for the initiate by being beaten by the young boys and performing their evangadi dancing.

The karo people are thought to be one of the most endangered groups of the Omo, with a population of about 1000 people. They inhabit the eastern bank of the Omo. They were formerly pastoralists, but many of their cattle have been wiped out by disease, and many have turned to agriculture.

The karo are considered the masters of body painting, in which they engage when preparing for a dance, feast or celebration. Most famously, chalk is used to imitate the spotted plumage of the guinea fowl.

Ethiopia People & Language

The karo are also great improvisers: bic biros, nails, sweets wrappers and cartridges are all incorporated into jewelry and decoration. Yellow mineral rock, black charcoal and pulverized red iron ore are traditionally used.

The Ari inhabits the northern border of Mago national park and has a population of around 100,000 people. They keep large numbers of livestock and produce large amounts of honey, often used for trade. The women wear skirts made from the inset tree.

The Banna is believed to number around 35000; they inhabit the higher ground to the east of Mago national park. Most practice agriculture, though their diet is supplemented by hunting, if they mange to kill a buffalo, they decorate themselves with clay and put on a special celebration and feast for the whole village.

The Bodi numbering around 2500 is agro-pastoralists and their language is Nilo-Saharan in origin. They inhabit the north-east edge of Omo national park

The Bumi numbering around 6000 inhabits the land south of the Omo national park, but some times invade the southern plains when grazing or water is Scarce.

Ethiopia People & Language

Like the Bodi, the Bumi are agro-pastoralists, growing sorghum by the Omo and kibish rivers as well as fishing and rearing cattle. They also hunt in the park and smoke bees out of their hives. They are known as great warmongers, at war with almost everyone, particularly the karo, the Hammer and the Surma.

The Kougu (also known as the Muguji) inhabit the junction of the Omo and Mago rivers. They commonly grow sorghum, and collect wild fruit, berries and honey. The koygu are known for fishing and for hunting the hippo, which they eat. They use both guns and traps for hunting.

The Mursi The most renowned of the Omotic speakers are the Mursi famed for their practice of inserting large clay plates behind the lower lips of their women.. The Mursi, thought to number around 5000, are mainly pastoralists who move according to the seasons between the lower tama steppe and the Mursi hills in Mago National Park. Some Mursi practice flood retreat cultivation, particularly in the areas where the tsetse fly prohibits cattle rearing. Honey is collected form beehives made with bark and dung. The Mursi language is Nilo-Saharan in origin. The most famous Mursi traditions include the lip plate worn by the women, and the fierce stick fighting between the men (Donga).

Ethiopia People & Language

The Surma and Kibish. Kibish is situated in the semi arid southwestern lowlands about 180kms south of Mizan Tafari. The village of Kibish is a convenient place for excursions into the western half of south Omo separated from its eastern counter parts by Omo River. Omo runs south ward from Sodo Jimma road to Lake Turkana. Southwest Omo is home to the Surma people a group of some 25000 Nilotic-speakers divided in to three main sub groups: the Mursi, Chai and Tirma all of which still adhere to a traditional pastoralist lifestyle.

It is believed that the Surma once dominated the area, but their territory has been reduced to an area stretching along the western edges of the Omo national park, in the hills around Maji and along the kibish River. Like the Mursi, the Surma men are famous for their stick fighting, the Surma women for their lip plates. The various Surma subgroups all participate in a rigid but egalitarian political system based around age-sets similar to those of the related Masai of the Kenyan- Tanzanian border area.

The Dizi inhabiting the North West edge of Omo national park the Dizi is sedentary agriculturists, cultivating sorghum, root crops and coffee. They also practice terracing on the mountain slops.