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TRIBES & PEOPLE GROUPS
The Amhara are the politically and culturally
dominant ethnic group of Ethiopia. They are located primarily in the central
highland plateau of Ethiopia and comprise the major population element in the
provinces of Begemder and Gojjam and in parts of Shoa and Wallo. In terms of
the total Ethiopian population, however, the Amhara are a numerical minority.
The national population has usually been placed at between 14 and 22 million.
It is generally estimated that the Amhara, together with the closely
related Tigre, constitute about one-third of this total population. One of the
most recent estimates gives the number of native speakers of Amharic, the
language of the Amhara, as approximately 7,800,000. (cf. Bender 1971:217)
Their national clothes are basically white, whether the shawls and
light blankets worn over the shoulders by the men or the white dresses and
wraps worn by the ladies
Life in the Amhara farming society is hard.
Many Amhara live in the harsh and stark mountains, easy to defend, but making
it difficult to travel and gain provisions. The men in the fields, the women
around the house and the children at home and watching the sheep--all work very
hard. The fields are plowed with oxen, seeds are sown and harvested by hand,
and the harvest is threshed by the feet of animals. In the home, the primary
cooking fuel is the dried dung of the farm animals. Nothing is wasted.
The staple food of the Amhara is injera bo wot. Injera is made from a
tiny indigenous grain called teff (tyeff in Amharic), which is endemic to
Ethiopia. Wot is a peppersauce that can be made from beans or meat. The whole
process of making these foods is difficult and time-consuming. Impure drinking
water and deforestation are significant issues in Amhara life. These, plus
other factors, cause most Amhara to live in yearly risk of famine. These
famines ravaged the country in 1974 and 1984.
The children from the age
of five or six spend their days watching the family animals, mainly sheep.
Increasingly, children are able to attend public schools, though this is mainly
for only half a day since the schools are very crowded. Only a little over 10
per cent of the population has access to an all-weather road.
their life is hard, the Amhara are proud people, proud of their ethnicity,
their religion, their special place in the world. Their culture is strong,
developed over many centuries, and it has withstood the incursions of outside
governments and religions.
Settlements are typically built on or near
hilltops, as protection against flooding. Farms are terraced on the hillsides
to prevent erosion and hold water for crops. The "hamlet" is usually
patrilineal, with sons building their homes in the father's location. Girls
normally marry at age 14, and the groom is three to five years older.
Most marriages are negotiated by the two families, with a civil
ceremony sealing the contract. A priest may be present. Divorce is allowed and
must also be negotiated. There is also a "temporary marriage," by oral contract
before witnesses. The woman is paid housekeeper's wages, and is not eligible
for inheritance, but children of the marriage are legally recognized and
qualify for inheritance. Priests may marry but not eligible for divorce or
Children are breastfed for about two years. Children
receive little discipline until about age five to seven, but thereafter are
socialized with authoritarian discipline. Boys herd cows and sheep and girls
assist their mothers in watching babies and gathering wood.
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Amhara People - People Profile