Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Amhara people of the Ethiopian central highlands are one of the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia. They constitute almost one-third of the country's population and, along with the Tigray, are the main adherents of the Christian Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Amharic language was the official language of Ethiopia until the 1990s. The spread of Islam produced relative isolation in Ethiopia from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries. A feudal land tenure system was in extant officially until 1975, however feudalistic traditions persist to the present. Ethiopia is primarily rural and subsistence farming is the mainstay of the economy.


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Africa --Eastern Africa



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in this eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The file includes fifteen documents, all but one based on research conducted in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Overall, a more traditional, and rural Amhara culture is portrayed, except for Levine (1965, no. 11) who also discusses modern changes in Amhara culture. Messing's work (1985, no. 20) systematically covers a broad range of culture, circa 1950s, and is the basic source to be consulted. Included in Messing's book is an extensive glossary covering such categories as animals, cultigens, herbs, spirits, and charms. The other works compliment Messing by examining more specific aspects of Amhara culture, such as settlement patterns (Buxton 1949, no. 3), political organization (Perham 1949, no. 7), ethnomedicine (Young 1970, no. 12; 1975, no. 17), land tenure (Hoben 1963, no. 14; 1970, no. 19; 1973, no. 13; Crummey 1983, no. 15) and syncretic religious beliefs and practices (Reminick 1974, no. 21; 1975, no. 22). Examples and discussions of Amhara representative arts, oral stories and literature are found in Young (1967, no. 18), Messing (1956, no. 6), and Assefa (1988, no. 16), respectively. It is evident that Amhara culture varies geographically, although no one study covers this variability. The post-Haile Selassie period (1975 to present) is not covered in the file. For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary was based on the article "Amhara," by Simon D. Messing, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 9. 1995. John Middleton and Amal Rassam, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. Population figures and territorial names were updated by Ian Skoggard, 1996.

ALAQENAT--head of family and its affairs--592

BUDA--sorcerers and artisan caste believed by Amhara to possess the evil eye--564, 754

DEBTERA (DÄBTÄRÄ)--magician-healer--791

division by allotment--612, 423, 425

division by father--611, 423, 425

BÉTESEB--household head--592

BET--"house, " ambilineal descent group--612

CHICA SHUM (CÒQA SUM; CHEQA SUM)--reeve, local official--624, 423

FEJ--manager of a descent group--612, 554

FELASHA--Jewish iron smiths--564, 563


GULT (GWILT)-- fief-holding rights and income from landed estates--423, 634, 651


MEHEBER (MEHABBER)--private communion group--794, 571

MINZIR ABBAT--apical ancestor of descent-group segment--612, 423

RIST (RÒST; REST)--land-use rights within a cognatic descent-group estate--423, 612

SHEMMA (SHAMMA)--a long cloth worn over the shoulder--291

SHUMAT--public office inherited within noble families--647


T'ENGWAY (TANQWAY)--sorcerer-diviner--791

WEGESHA (WOGGESHA)--surgeon-herbalist--759

WUQABI--protector spirit--776

YEDENB--undivided ancestral land--423


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