20 Tribes in Ethiopia, surprising facts and travel tips

Tribes in Ethiopia have various cultures, languages, and lifestyles. These tribes of Ethiopia live in harmony with nature and with each other. A few tensions raised recently due to differences. Tribes in Ethiopia speak more than 80 languages and are too many in numbers.

The main tribes in Ethiopia are the Oromo, the Amhara, the Tigray, and the Gurage. These have a large population. The minorities such as Mursi and people in Benishangul Gumuz also have their own cultures and traditions.

The Omo valley is another unique place that holds diverse ethnic tribes of Ethiopia, that have a similar culture but different settlements. These tribes in Ethiopia intrinsically have a very unique culture and way of life that makes them different from neighboring clans and ethnic groups in some way. These people were a destination of many tourists due to their unique and ancestral lifestyles.

The Amhara and Tigray also have an association with ancient civilizations that Axum and Lalibela emanated from. These were powerful people in the northern part of the country.

The Gurage and the Sidama inhabit the southern part of the land. And have their own cultural attributes to the overall country. The Somali and Harari also have a historic and cultural place in the development of Ethiopia.

Here, I will answer your main questions about tribes in Ethiopia.

1.     Ethnic Groups in Ethiopia

More than 8o officially recognized ethnic groups are found in Ethiopia. The four ethnic groups that are the Oromo, the Somali, the Amhara, and Tigray make three-quarters of the whole population. The Oromo and the Somali are from the afro Asiatic language, mainly from the Cushitic branches. The Amhara and the Tigray are from the Semitic branches.

The rest of the Rhinic groups, tribes in Ethiopia, are the Omotic ethnic minorities, from the Omotic branches. Welayta is in this tribe.

The Nilotic speaking minorities live in the southwest regions of Ethiopia, in the Gambela region. These people speak Afro-Saharan language and share a culture with South Sudan.

  • Geez, Tigrigna, Gurage, Amharic, Harari- Sematic group
  • Somali, Afar, Oromo- Cushitic
  • Walita- Omotic
  • Kunama- Nilotic

2.   How Many Tribes in Ethiopia ?

Ethiopians are diverse in ethnicity, and there are more than 80 languages being spoken in the country. These tribes of Ethiopia speak languages that belong to the Cushitic, Sematic or Omotic and Nilotic groups.

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3.    List of Tribes in Ethiopia

  1. Oromo– Oromo is one of the largest tribes of Ethiopia. This ethnic group of Ethiopia belongs in the Cushitic group and has a history of a millennium.
  2. Amhara– Amhara is the second-largest tribe of Ethiopia. The Amhara people live in the northern part of Ethiopia. Wollo, Bahir Dar, Lalibela belong in these tribes of Ethiopia.
  3. Somali– The Somali people live in the eastern part of the country. The Harari and Dire Dawa people have a closer culture with these tribes in Ethiopia.
  4. Gurage people– The Gurage people live in the southern part of the country and are known with their work ethic. Their foods are also unique and are loved by tourists.
  5. Wolayta– These tribes in Ethiopia also live in the southern part of Ethiopia.

The Amhara, the Oromo and the Tigray tribes in Ethiopia make 75% of the whole population. The smallest number of tribes go as low as 10,000.

ethiopian cloth cultural

4.   Ethiopian Tribes Amhara

The Amhara are tribes in Ethiopia living in the northwest highlands of Ethiopia. In 2007, the Amhara were 27 percent of the whole Ethiopian population. The Amhara are known with their Amharic language and contribution in history. The biggest tourist attractions such as Lalibela exist in this region.

The Amhara tribe of Ethiopia has historically lived in the north, central and western parts of Ethiopia. They depended on agriculture.

Some historians traced the origin of these tribes of Ethiopia to the modern-day Yemen who migrated to Wollo, in the Amhara region.

The church arts, the dances, the unique food, and clothing, the religious stories, the political stories all make these tribes in Ethiopia a truly beautiful people.

5.   Ethiopian Tribes Oromo

The Oromo people take a third of the Ethiopian population. The Oromo language or Oromiffa is the language these people use. The Oromo people have a traditional religion called Waqeffanna, and they use a unique hierarchical governance system called Gadaa. The Gadaa system has a power hierarchy where leaders stay on power for 8 years.

The Oromo people’s history was first documents by Ethiopian monk Abba Bahrey, in his writing called Zenahu Le Galla, in 1593. The term Galla is considered derogatory and it is not used in the country.

6.   What are the Southern Ethiopian Tribes?

These tribes in Ethiopia are formed merging five regions and Awassa is the capital. The southern Ethiopian tribes, border Kenya in the south, and South Sudan in the southwest. Gambela is in the northwest of the southern Ethiopian tribes’ region. Arba Minch, Hosaena, Welkite, Bonga and Dilla are some of the towns and cities in the southern Ethiopian tribes.  

Almost 90 percent of the southern Ethiopian tribes live in a rural area. In 1994, the southern Ethiopia tribes of Ethiopia were a bit more than 10 million. It was estimated that the number of populations in the region would be almost 20 million.

Related post: Who Are the Habesha People? What Are They Known For?

7.    How Many Tribes Are in Omo Valley?

There are 10 much known Omo tribes in Ethiopia. The Tsemai live in a Wito village, and on the road that takes from Konso to Jinka. This minority Omo tribes of Ethiopia are small in number and are not more than 5000 in number.

These tribes in Ethiopia have a much-shared culture with the nearby Ari People and the Erbore people. They share clothing with the Ari people and social and spiritual way of life with the Erbore. They survive on subsistence farming.

The Erbore people are much linked to the Tsemai tribes and are thought to have come from the Konso tribes of Ethiopia to their present location. These tribes in Ethiopia have intermarried to the neighboring settlements like the Borena Oromo and the Guji, and the Hamar people.

The Karo are about 1000 in number and live on the east side of the Omo River. They are known with the chalk paint facemask and paintings, and the women’s scarifying of the chest.

The Dasenech or the Geleba live near the Kenya and Sudan border, about 25,000 in number. The tribe is divided into 8 clans and live near each other. The clans have their own borders and live a semi-nomadic life.

Bume tribes in Ethiopia live in the west of people called Dasenech, south of the Surma people. They live on the Kenyan border.  These are a bit more than 5000 in number. They are semi-nomadic and survive herding cattle and hunting and small-scale farming.

Konso is people south of Arba Minch, and they are known with their hill land cultivation systems an irrigation system.

The Dasenech are much known for their rituals called Dimme, which is slaughtering cattle for a wedding ceremony. The days will be celebrated with well-dressed clan members, clothed with feathers, leopard skin and more.

The Dorze are known with their cotton products and staple food from Enset or false banana and their unique house construction system.

The Benna is about 35,000 and lives in the highlands in the east of the Mago national park. They are hunters as well.

tribes in ethiopia Hamar ethiopia black and white

8.   Hamar Tribe

The Hamar of the minority tribes in Ethiopia, with an ancestral settlement, in the south of Ethiopia, near the border of Kenya. The tribe lives in the east of the Omo river and has a cultural connection and even has a dispute with the farmers on the Kenyan border.

If you have seen pictures of nude women with permanent skin decorations, muddy hair and braids. They wear necklaces made out of beads, seashells and other plastics.

The men also are distinguished with their skinny, tall and black nude features. They wear beads and feathers on their hair and decorated their faces with colorful muddy substances.

The life of the Hamar tribe is dependent on small scale agriculture and pastoralism. The products are sold in a weekly market. A market is a place of exchange for products that they would not get otherwise. These are tobacco or coffee and other fruits and vegetables and daily tools.

mursi people

9.   Mursi Tribe

The Mursi Tribe is thought to be one of the most aggressive and warrior tribes in the Omo region. They are known with their culture of getting a wife and respect thought intense stick fight.

The women are known with their round clay plates on their lips. Like the Hamar, they have their own jewelry on their ears and neck.

They scarify their full body as a symbol of strength.

10.  Somali Tribes in Ethiopia

The present-day Somali is located The Somali tribes in Ethiopia are known throughout the horn of Africa. These tribes in Ethiopia were first appeared in the area in 1200 and later expanded to west and south. The Somali tribes are known with the faith of Islam, that is thought they were first converted in 1550 due to Arab traders. It was in 1650 the Somali people entered into Ethiopia.

The Somali tribes are sheep and cattle herders and the camel is a wealth for the owner. Camel milk is much known in this region. The Somali tribes live in a very divided clan, and clashes often appear in this area.

They also live in temporary huts and survive as nomads, and this is usually due to the harsh climate. They travel from place to place looking for water.

They are known with their music, and fancy women dress.

11. What Is the Biggest Tribe in Ethiopia?

The biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia is the Oromo. In 2007, according to the central statistics agency of Ethiopia, the population of the Oromo people was almost 34 %.  Amhara is the second-largest tribe in Ethiopia and the Somali was the third largest tribe in Ethiopia.

-Oromo 34.4%, Amhara 27% Somali 6.2%,

-Tigray (Tigrinya) 6.1%, Sidama 4%

-Gurage 2.5%, Welaita 2.3%

-Hadiya 1.7%, Afar 1.7%

-Gamo 1.5%, Gedeo 1.3%

-Silte 1.3% (Based on the 2007 population projection)

Find the Central Statistics Agency(CSA) data here.

12. Ethiopian Tribes Map

 Final Words and Necessary Tips

  • The Tribes in Ethiopia are truly diverse and have their own colors. Visiting each tribe is difficult but you can always taste the good offerings of each culture. Most restaurants serve the foods of tribes of Ethiopia. The Gurage and Amhara and Oromo foods are much known in these traditional restaurants. You can still taste the culture and the food from the comfort of a restaurant.
  • Minority tribes of Ethiopia and other bigger tribes exist at a border of Ethiopia. It is always the best option to avoid such extreme locations, that are at a border to neighboring countries. Clashes could arise at any moment and government and US embassy advise to ignore such places.
  • There are more than 80 languages in the country and these are categorized under 4 language branches: the sematic, Omotic, Kushite and Nilotic.
  • You probably don’t have to enter remote tribal settlements; you may need a guide.
  • Ask before taking pictures, or you may end up paying too much.
  • The best time to see the Omo valley is between October and March, where the rainy season pass and the dry season returns. Most of the internal roads are not paved and it would be hard to visit around the area.
  • Each tribal group or ethnic group has its own culture, a hair braiding style, clothing and even food that is uniques to its place. Many urban populations do not cloth in a traditional way. Instead, these cultural attributions are usually seen in the times of celebration and holidays. If you plan to witness these cultural attributes, then you should know the times of celebrations.
  • Irreecha is celebrated in October, probably a good time to see the Oromo culture.
  • Timket is celebrated in Lalibela on January 19 or 20, then it is the best time to see a northern Christian culture in Lalibela, Gondar and Addis Ababa.
  • Meskel, on September 27 is the best time to see culture in the Gurage area and the southern area and even in the Oromo people areas.
  • The Islamic holidays are the best times to be in the Somali and Harari regions.

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