Amhara People
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Amhara People
Regions with significant populations
 United States195,260[a][2]
 United Kingdom8,620[a][7]
Christianity (Ethiopian Orthodox) o Islam (Sunni) o Judaism
Related ethnic groups
Tigrayans o Tigrinya o Tigre o Gurage o Harari o Silte o Zay o Agaw o Saho o Beja o Oromo o Argobba o Somali o Afar o other Ethiosemitic and Cushitic peoples[10]

  1. ^ a b c d e Amharic speakers

Amharas (Amharic: , ?mara;[11] Ge'ez: ?, ?Ämära)[12] are a large Semitic-speaking ethnic group indigenous to Ethiopia, traditionally inhabiting parts of the northwest Highlands of Ethiopia, particularly in the Amhara Region. According to the 2007 national census, Amharas numbered 19,867,817 individuals, comprising 26.9% of Ethiopia's population and they are mostly Orthodox Christians members of Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam (Sunni).[1] They are also found within the Ethiopian expatriate community, particularly in North America.[2][13] They speak Amharic, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Semitic branch, a member of the Ethiopian Semitic group, which serves as one of the five official languages of Ethiopia.[14]

Many scholars have classified the Amhara and the Tigrayans as Abyssinians.[15]:18[16][17][18]


Example of Ge'ez taken from a 15th-century Ethiopian Coptic prayer book

The present name for the Amharic language and its speakers comes from the medieval province of Amhara. The latter enclave was located around Lake Tana at the headwaters of the Blue Nile, and included a slightly larger area than Ethiopia's present-day Amhara Region.

The further derivation of the name is debated. Some[who?] trace it to amari ("pleasing; beautiful; gracious") or mehare ("gracious"). The Ethiopian historian Getachew Mekonnen Hasen traces it to an ethnic name related to the Himyarites of ancient Yemen.[19] Still others say that it derives from Ge'ez (?am, "people") and (h.ara, "free" or "soldier") although this has been dismissed by scholar Donald Levine as a folk etymology.[20]


Menelik II, king of Shewa

The Amharas have historically inhabited the north, central and western parts of Ethiopia, and are mainly agriculturalists, perhaps constituting the earliest farming group in Ethiopia (along with other groups such as Agews, Gurages, Gafats, Argobbas, and Hararis) as they mainly produce and use domesticated grains native to their region such as Teff and Nug.[21] Some suggest their origin to be modern-day Yemen (Sheba and Himyar), the Kingdom of Aksum and relocated to (Amhara) Sayint, now known as Wollo (named after an Oromo clan that migrated to the area in the 16-17th century), a place that was known as the Amhara region in the past.[22] The Amhara are currently one of the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia, along with the Oromo.[21][22] They are sometimes referred to as "Abyssinians" by Western sources.[21][23][24]

The province of "Amhara" was historically located in the modern province of Wollo (Bete Amhara), in the modern sense however the region now known as Amhara in the feudal era was composed of several provinces with greater or less autonomy, which included Gondar, Gojjam, Wollo, Lasta, Shewa, Semien, Angot, and Fetegar.[25] The traditional homeland of the Amharas is the central highland plateau of Ethiopia. For over two thousand years they have inhabited this region. Walled by high mountains and cleaved by great gorges, the ancient realm of Abyssinia has been relatively isolated from the influences of the rest of the world.

Christian Axumite (Axum) presence in the Amhara region dates back to at least the 8th century, with the establishment of the Istifanos monastery in Lake Hayq.[26] Several other sites and monuments indicate similar Axumite presences in area such as the Geta Lion statues, located 10 km south of Kombolcha is thought to date as old the 3rd century or even further to pre-Axumite times.[27] In 1998, pieces of pottery were found around tombs in Atatiya in Southern Wollo in Habru to the south-east of Hayq and to the north-east of Ancharo (Chiqa Beret). The decorations and symbols on the pottery are reliable archaeological evidence that Aksumite civilization had extended to Southern Amhara beyond Angot.[28] Many more ancient sites had probably been plentiful but were likely almost all destroyed by the vengeful reign of Gudit and especially the Muslim invasions led by Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, where Amhara and Angot were particularly ravaged. The first specific mention of the Amhara dates to the early 12th century in the middle of the Zagwe Dynasty, when the Amhara were recorded of being in conflict with the Werjih in 1129.[29] The Werjih are located to have inhabited the eastern lowlands of Shewa as pastoralists. This indicates that the Amhara not only were existent as a distinct ethnic group, but had already made a presence as far as the southern plateau since at least the 12th century, disproving a common proposition put forward by scholars like Mesfin Woldemariam and Takele Tadesse who suggested that the Amhara did not exist as an ethnic group.

Solomonic Dynasty

Yekuno Amlak, a prince from Bete Amhara (lit: House of Amhara) claimed descent from Solomon,[30] and established the Solomonic Dynasty in 1270 AD.[31] Yekuno's rule was legitimatized by the Ethiopian Church, after he defeated the last ruler of the Zagwe dynasty at the Battle of Ansata.[32] The Solomonic dynasty governed the Ethiopian Empire for many centuries from the 1270 AD onwards up until the deposing of Haile Selassie in 1974, (with the exception of Yohannes IV) the Amhara continuously ruled and formed the political core of the Ethiopian Empire, greatly expanding its borders, wealth and international prestige as well as establishing several medieval royal sites and capitals such as Tegulet, Debre Berhan, Barara (located in Entoto, in modern-day Addis Ababa),[33] Gonder, and Magdala, the former three of which were located in Shewa

Lebna Dengel, n?gusä nägäst (Emperor) of Ethiopia and a member of the Solomonic dynasty

In the early 15th century, the Emperors sought to make diplomatic contact with European kingdoms for the first time since Aksumite times. A letter from King Henry IV of England to the Emperor of Abyssinia survives.[34] In 1428, the Emperor Yeshaq sent two emissaries to Alfonso V of Aragon, who sent return emissaries who failed to complete the return trip.[35] The first continuous relations with a European country began in 1508 with Portugal under Emperor Lebna Dengel, who had just inherited the throne from his father.[36] This proved to be an important development, for when the Empire was subjected to the attacks of the Adal Sultanate General and Imam, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (called "Grañ", or "the Left-handed"), Portugal assisted the Ethiopian emperor by sending weapons and four hundred men, who helped his son Gelawdewos defeat Ahmad and re-establish his rule.[37] This Ethiopian-Adal War was also one of the first proxy wars in the region as the Ottoman Empire and Portugal took sides in the conflict.[]

The Amhara have contributed many rulers over the centuries, including Haile Selassie.[38] Haile Selassie's mother was paternally of Oromo descent and maternally of Gurage heritage, while his father is both paternally and maternally Amhara of solomonic descent. Through his paternal grandmother's royal lineage, a daughter of Sahle Selassie, he was able to ascend to the Imperial throne.[39]

Social stratification

Within traditional Amharic society and that of other local Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations, there were four basic strata. According to the Ethiopianist Donald Levine, these consisted of high-ranking clans, low-ranking clans, caste groups (artisans), and slaves.[40][41] Slaves were at the bottom of the hierarchy, and were primarily drawn from the pagan Nilotic Shanqella groups. Also known as the barya (meaning "slave" in Amharic), they were captured during slave raids in Ethiopia's southern hinterland. War captives were another source of slaves, but the perception, treatment and duties of these prisoners was markedly different.[42] According to Levine, the widespread slavery in Greater Ethiopia formally ended in the 1930s, but former slaves, their offspring, and de facto slaves continued to hold similar positions in the social hierarchy.[43]

The separate, Amhara caste system, ranked higher than slaves, consisted of: (1) endogamy, (2) hierarchical status, (3) restraints on commensality, (4) pollution concepts, (5) each caste has had a traditional occupation, and (6) inherited caste membership.[40][44] Scholars accept that there has been a rigid, endogamous and occupationally closed social stratification among Amhara and other Afro-Asiatic-speaking Ethiopian ethnic groups. However, some label it as an economically closed, endogamous class system or as occupational minorities,[45][46] whereas others such as the historian David Todd assert that this system can be unequivocally labelled as caste-based.[47][48][49]


The Amhara speak Amharic (also known as Amarigna or Amarinya) as a mother tongue. It is spoken by 29.3% of the Ethiopian population.[50] It belongs to the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.[51]

According to Donald Levine, the Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic) language family likely arose in either the eastern Sahara or southwestern Ethiopia. Early Afro-Asiatic populations speaking proto-Semitic, proto-Cushitic and proto-Omotic languages would have diverged by the fourth or fifth millennium BC. Shortly afterwards, the proto-Cushitic and proto-Omotic groups would have settled in the Ethiopian highlands, with the proto-Semitic speakers crossing the Sinai Peninsula into Asia Minor. A later return movement of peoples from South Arabia would have introduced the Semitic languages to Ethiopia.[52] Based on archaeological evidence, the presence of Semitic speakers in the territory date to sometime before 500 BC.[22] Linguistic analysis suggests the presence of Semitic languages in Ethiopia as early as 2000 BC. Levine indicates that by the end of that millennium, the core inhabitants of Greater Ethiopia would have consisted of swarthy Caucasoid ("Afro-Mediterranean") agropastoralists speaking Afro-Asiatic languages of the Semitic, Cushitic and Omotic branches.[52]

According to Robert Fay, the ancient Semitic speakers from Yemen were Himyarites and they settled in the Aksum area in northern Ethiopia.[] There, they intermarried with native speakers of Agaw and other Cushitic languages, and gradually spread southwards into the modern Amhara homeland[]. Their descendants, the early predecessors of the Amhara, spoke Ge'ez, the official language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[53] On the other hand, Ethiopian scholars specializing in Ethiopian Studies such as Messay Kebede and Daniel E. Alemu generally disagree with this theory arguing that the migration was one of reciprocal exchange, if it even occurred at all, and that the Amharas and other Ethiosemitic-speaking ethnic groups should not be characterized as foreign invaders.

Kebede states the following;[54][55]

"This is not to say that events associated with conquest, conflict and resistance did not occur. No doubt, they must have been frequent. But the crucial difference lies in the propensity to present them, not as the process by which an alien majority imposed its rule but as part of an ongoing struggle of native forces competing for supremacy in the region. The elimination of the alien ruler indigenize Ethiopian history in terms of local actors."

Amharic is the working language of the federal authorities of Ethiopia government. It was for some time also the language of primary school instruction, but has been replaced in many areas by regional languages such as Oromifa and Tigrinya. Nevertheless, Amharic is still widely used as the working language of Amhara Region, Benishangul-Gumuz Region, Gambela Region and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region.[56] The Amharic language is transcribed using the Ethiopic or Ge'ez script (Fidäl), an abugida. The Amharic language is the official language of Ethiopia.

Most of the Ethiopian Jewish communities in Ethiopia and Israel speak Amharic.[3] Many in the popular Rastafari movement learn Amharic as a second language, as they consider it to be a sacred language.[57]


Crowds gather at the Fasilides' Bath in Gondar to celebrate Timkat - the Epiphany for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

The predominant religion of the Amhara for centuries has been Christianity, with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church playing a central role in the culture of the country. According to the 2007 census, 82.5% of the population of the Amhara Region were Ethiopian Orthodox; 17.2% were Muslim, and 0.2% were Protestant and 0.5 beta Israel .[58] The Ethiopian Orthodox Church maintains close links with the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Easter and Epiphany are the most important celebrations, marked with services, feasting and dancing. There are also many feast days throughout the year, when only vegetables or fish may be eaten.

Marriages are often arranged, with men marrying in their late teens or early twenties.[59] Traditionally, girls were married as young as 14, but in the 20th century, the minimum age was raised to 18, and this was enforced by the Imperial government. After a church wedding, divorce is frowned upon.[59] Each family hosts a separate wedding feast after the wedding.

Upon childbirth, a priest will visit the family to bless the infant. The mother and child remain in the house for 40 days after birth for physical and emotional strength. The infant will be taken to the church for baptism at 40 days (for boys) or 80 days (for girls).[60]



Mural depicting Saint George in the church of Debre Berhan Selassie in Gondar.

Amhara art is typified by religious paintings. One of the notable features of these is the large eyes of the subjects, who are usually biblical figures. It is usually oil on canvas or hide, some surviving from the Middle Ages. The Amhara art includes weaved products embellished with embroidery. Works in gold and silver exist in the form of filigree jewelry and religious emblems.


About 90% of the Amhara are rural and make their living through farming, mostly in the Ethiopian highlands. Barley, corn, millet, wheat, sorghum, and teff, along with beans, peppers, chickpeas, and other vegetables, are the most important crops. In the highlands one crop per year is normal, while in the lowlands two are possible. Cattle, sheep, and goats are also raised.

Kinship and marriage

The Amhara culture recognizes kinship, but unlike other ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa region, it has a relatively lesser role. Household relationships are primary, and the major economic, political and cultural functions are not based on kin relationships among the Amharas. Rather abilities of the individual matter. For example, states Donald Levine, the influence of clergy among the Amhara has been based on "ritual purity, doctrinal knowledge, ability to perform miracles and capacity to provide moral guidance".[15]:120 The social relationships in the Amhara culture are predominantly based on hierarchical patterns and individualistic associations.[15]:123

Family and kin relatives are often involved in arranging semanya (eighty bond marriage, also called kal kidan), which has been most common and allows divorce.[61] Other forms of marriage include qurban, which is solemnized in church, where divorce is forbidden, and usually observed among the orthodox priests.[62][63] Patrilineal descent is the norm.[62] While the wife had no inheritance rights, in case a child was conceived during the temporary damoz marriage, the child could make a claim a part of the father's property.[63][64]

Typical Amhara cuisine: Injera (pancake-like bread) and several kinds of wat (stew).


The Amharas' cuisine consists of various vegetable or meat side dishes and entrées, usually a wat, or thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread made of teff flour. Kitfo being originated from Gurage is one of the widely accepted and favorite food in Amhara. They do not eat pork or shellfish of any kind for religious reasons. It is also a common cultural practice of Amhara to eat from the same dish in the center of the table with a group of people.

Nature of Amhara ethnicity

Journalist Mackonen Michael noted in 2008 that there is a view that the Amhara identity is composed of multiple ethnicities. Others, meanwhile, "reject this concept and argue that Amhara exists as a distinctive ethnic group with a specific located boundary".[65] According to Gideon P. E. Cohen, writing in 2000, there is some debate about "whether the Amhara can legitimately be regarded as an ethnic group, [...] given their distribution throughout Ethiopia, and the incorporative capacity of the group that has led to the inclusion of individuals from a wide range of ethnic or linguistic backgrounds".[66] Solomon Gashaw asserts that "there is no intra-Amhara ethnic consciousness, except among northern settlers in southern Ethiopia". He notes that most Amharic-speaking people identify by their place of birth. He asks, "what is Amhara domination?", answering: "It is a linguistic and cultural domination by a multi-ethnic group who speak Amharic".[67] Siegfried Pausewang concluded in 2005 that "the term Amhara relates in contemporary Ethiopia to two different and distinct social groups. The ethnic group of the Amhara, mostly a peasant population, is different from a mixed group of urban people coming from different ethnic background, who have adopted Amharic as a common language and identify themselves as Ethiopians".[68]According to ethnographer Donald Levine, writing in 2003, "Amharic-speaking Shewans consider themselves closer to non-Amharic-speaking Shewans than to Amharic-speakers from distant regions like Gondar."[69] Amharic-speakers tend to be a "supra-ethnic group" composed of "fused stock".[70] Takkele Taddese describes the Amhara as follows:

The Amhara can thus be said to exist in the sense of being a fused stock, a supra-ethnically conscious ethnic Ethiopian serving as the pot in which all the other ethnic groups are supposed to melt. The language, Amharic, serves as the center of this melting process although it is difficult to conceive of a language without the existence of a corresponding distinct ethnic group speaking it as a mother tongue. The Amhara does not exist, however, in the sense of being a distinct ethnic group promoting its own interests and advancing the Herrenvolk philosophy and ideology as has been presented by the elite politicians. The basic principle of those who affirm the existence of the Amhara as a distinct ethnic group, therefore, is that the Amhara should be dislodged from the position of supremacy and each ethnic group should be freed from Amhara domination to have equal status with everybody else. This sense of Amhara existence can be viewed as a myth.[70]

According to political analyst Teshome M. Borago, "[i]n the past, Amhara nationalism failed, as scholars couldn't even agree on whether an Amhara ethnicity ever existed," and that the idea of various groupings of native Amharic-speaking communities as constituting a single ethnicity was a novel phenomenon mostly pushed onto the group of inter-related peoples by outside political forces.[71]

Amhara ethnic consciousness in the past

In the 17th century, Abyssinian traveler Gregorius states the following in a letter to his German friend Hiob Ludolf:

As to my origins, do not imagine, my friend, that they are humble, for I am of the House of Amhara which is a respected tribe; from it come the heads of the Ethiopian people, the governors, the military commanders, the judges and the advisers of the King of Ethiopia who appoint and dismiss, command and rule in the name of the King, his governors, and grandees. "[72]

The rise of Amhara ethnic consciousness and nationalism in the 21st century

Flag of the Amhara Region

Zola Moges notes the emergence of Amhara nationalism and ethnic consciousness with origins in the early 1990s but taking clearer shape with the establishment of the National Movement of Amhara in 2018. Moges writes that a "younger generation has adopted its 'Amharaness'; but most ordinary people are yet to fully embrace it, not least because of the lack of any effectively articulated ideological foundation or priorities and the absence of any 'tailor-made' solutions to the challenges facing them".[73]

In 2019, there was an attempted coup d'etat in the regional capital Bahir Dar - this coup happened as a consequence of the formation of ethnic Amhara militias,[74] a manifestation of rising Amhara nationalism.

Notable Amharas

See also



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  11. ^ Following the BGN/PCGN romanization employed for Amharic geographic names in British and American English.
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  42. ^ Abir, Mordechai (1968). Ethiopia: the era of the princes: the challenge of Islam and re-unification of the Christian Empire, 1769-1855. Praeger. pp. 57-60. There was a clear distinction between 'red' and 'black' slaves, Hamitic and negroid respectively; the Shanqalla (negroids) were far cheaper as they were destined mostly for hard work around the house and in the field... While in the houses of the brokers, the [red] slaves were on the whole well treated.
  43. ^ Donald N. Levine (2014). Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society. University of Chicago Press. pp. 56, 175. ISBN 978-0-226-22967-6. Slavery was widespread in Greater Ethiopia until the 1930s, and today ex-slaves, children of former slaves, and de facto slaves in some regions occupy social positions much like their predecessors... members of any ethnic group were liable to be consigned to slavery by more powerful members of other tribes, if not their own tribe. ... Afar made slaves of Amhara ... Amhara and Tigreans, while not supposed to enslave fellow Christians, had slaves from many non-Christian groups.
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    Amnon Orent (1979), "From the Hoe to the Plow", in Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Ethiopian Studies, Editor: Robert Hess, University of Illinois Press, OCLC 7277897, p. 188, Quote: "the Mano, who are potters and leather craftsmen and considered 'unclean' in the usual northern or Amhara understanding of caste distinction; and the Manjo, the traditional hunters and eaters of 'unclean' foods - hippopotamus, monkey and crocodile."
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    Dave Todd (1978), "The origins of outcastes in Ethiopia: reflections on an evolutionary theory", Abbay, Volume 9, pp. 145-158
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    Lewis, Herbert S. (2006). "Historical problems in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Wiley-Blackwell. 96 (2): 504-511. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1962.tb50145.x. S2CID 83677517., Quote (p. 509): "In virtually every Cushitic group there are endogamous castes based on occupational specialization (such caste groups are also found, to some extent, among the Ethiopian Semites).".
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Further reading

  • Wolf Leslau and Thomas L. Kane (collected and edited), Amharic Cultural Reader. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2001. ISBN 3-447-04496-9.
  • Donald N. Levine, Wax & Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture (Chicago: University Press, 1972) ISBN 0-226-45763-X

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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