8 Things About Habesha

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The Habesha are people from the Northern part of Ethiopia, specifically the Tigre, the Agew, Beta Israel, and the Amhara. The Habesha, also known as Abyssinians, is the name given to three distinct ethnic groups and some minor ones inhabiting the Horn of Africa.

They are the various related ethnic groups in the Eritrean and Ethiopian Highlands who speak languages that belongs

to the South Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Members’ cultural, linguistic, and in certain cases, ancestral origins trace back to the Kingdom of D’mt and the later Kingdom of Aksum.

Here are 8 things to know about Habesha.

The History

The Habesha history goes back to the Axumite Empire in the first century A.D. It was documented that around the first century A.D., some Hamitic-Semitic peoples (Sabaean traders) from South Arabian came into contact with native people and intermarried.

Their off-springs were referred to as “Habesha”, which means “people of mixed blood”. Their land (Tigray, Begemdir, Gojam, Northern Shewa, and Welo) was later termed Abyssinia.

It was only when the Abyssinia state exhausted its scarce resources that its leaders expended its frontiers South and Westward in order to amass the resources needed to feed their subjects.

With advice from Count Pietro Antonelli, an Italian with geographic Society mission in Abyssinia, the state of Abyssinia became a new nation with the newly added states of the South and the West, that were later referred to as “Ethiopia”

Historically, the entire Ethiopians irrespective of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or historical origins were erroneously referred to as Habesha or Abyssinians.

However, the people who were really Habesha were/are these three major ethnic groups: the Amhara, the Gurage, the Tigray-Tigrinya and other satellite groups like the Agew, and the Beta Israel who are from the North part of Ethiopia.

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Origin of the Name Habesha

Habesha is believed to have given rise to the term “Abyssinia” which refer to Amharic and Tigrinya speaking Christian Ethiopians. The modern term derives from the vocalized Ge’ez: Habaśā, rst written with a script that did not mark vowels as HBŚ or in “pseudo-Sabaic as HBŠTM”.

The earliest known use of the term dates to the 2nd or 3rd century AD South Arabian inscription recounting the defeat of the Aksumite Negus (“king”) GDRT of Aksum and HBŠT.

The Term Habesha

The term “Habesha” was formerly thought by some scholars to be of Arabic descent because the English name Abyssinia comes from the Arabic form. (Arabs used the word habaš, also the name of an Ottoman province comprising parts of modern-day Eritrea and Ethiopia).

South Arabian expert Eduard Glaser claimed that the hieroglyphic hbstjw, used in reference to “a foreign people from the incense-producing regions” (i.e. Punt, located in Eritrea and northeast Ethiopia) used by Queen Hatshepsut c. 1460 BC, was the first usage of the term or somehow connected.

This claim was repeated by others; however, this etymology is not at all certain, given the large time difference in the usage of the terms.


Habesha people speak Ethiopian Semitic languages, including the classical language Ge’ez. Ge’ez literature is considered, to begin with, the adoption of Christianity in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the civilization of  Axum in the 4th century BCE, during the reign of Ezana.

While Ge’ez today is extinct and only used for liturgical purposes in the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, many related Ethiopian Semitic languages continue to be spoken such as Tigre, Tigrinya, Amharic, Harari, Gurage, and Argob- ba. Some of these languages, such as Tigre, are traditionally written in the Arabic script.

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The Habesha kemis (or dress) is the traditional attire of Habesha women. The ankle length dress is usually worn by Ethiopian women at formal events. It is made of chiffon, and typically comes in white, grey or beige shades.

Many women also wrap a shawl called a netela around the formal dress. The netela or netsela is a handmade cloth many Ethiopian women use to cover their heads and shoulders when they wear clothing made out of chiffon, especially when attending church. It is made up of two layers of fabric.

An Ethiopian suit is the traditional formal wear of Habesha men. It consists of a long sleeve, knee-length shirt, and matching pants. Most shirts are made with a Mandarin, band, or Nehru collar.

The suit is made of chiffon, which is a sheer silk or rayon cloth. The netela shawl is wrapped around the suit.


The Habesha centered in Axum and Adowa was part of the world in which Christianity grew. The arrival of Christianity in Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea happened around 4th century.

The Aksumites, in fact, had been converted to Christianity hundreds of years before most of Europe. Many of their churches were cut into cliffs or from single blocks of stone, as they were in Turkey and in parts of Greece, where Christianity had existed from its earliest years.

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The Food

Habesha Food consists of vegetable and often very spicy meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (also w’et or wot), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough bread, made out of fermented Teff flour.

The Culture

The Habesha developed an agricultural society, which most continue, including raising of camels, donkeys, and sheep. They plow using oxen. The Orthodox Church is an integral part of the culture. The church buildings are built on hills. Major celebrations during the year are held around the church, where people gather from villages all around to sing, play games, and observe the unique mass of the church. It includes a procession through the church grounds and environs.

Ethiopian Coffee is a very important ceremonial drink. The “coffee ceremony” is common to the Tigray and the Amhara. Beans are roasted on the spot, ground, and brewed, served thick and rich in tiny ceramic cups with no handles.

The Habesha people have a rich heritage of music and dance, using drums and stringed instruments tuned to a pentatonic scale. Arts and crafts and secular music are performed mostly by artisans, who are regarded with suspicion. Sacred music is performed and icons are painted only by men trained in monasteries.

Finally, The habesha People

The Habesha people are those who live in present-day Ethiopia. These have much-related culture and look with the neighboring countries such as Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

The habesha people are known for their rich culture and vast history. These are proud people and have not been under colonialism.

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