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The name 'Ethiopia' is from the Greek words ethio, meaning 'burned' and pia, meaning 'face', but in fact, a notable feature of many of the Ethiopians of Addis Ababa or the northern tourist circuit is just how pale-skinned the features of these 'burned-faced' peoples are.

But quite apart from the skin colour of the population, believed to number 84m - the second largest in Africa after Nigeria - Ethiopia is a complex composite of around 80 ethnic groups. The Oromo are about 40% of the population and live primarily in the southern half of the nation. The Amhara and Tigrean groups that constitute 32% of the population, have traditionally lived to the north.

A number of smaller groupings such as the Sidamo of the southern foothills and savanna regions account for just under 10%, while the Shankella that live to the west make up about 6%. In addition, the ethnic Somali peoples (not to be confused with Somali nationals) represent around 6%, and the Afar 4%, mainly in the east and southeast respectively.

Nilotic peoples live in the west and southwest along the Sudan border, principally the Gurage that accounts for 2% of Ethiopia's population while the remaining 1% is made up of other groups. The Falasha, or Beta Israel, also known as Ethiopia's 'black Jews', live in the Simien mountains although the majority have resettled in Israel. Historically there have been strong ties with the Arabian peninsula and one can find a strong contingent of Yemenis who are active in the local economy.

The Beja of the northernmost region, the Agau of the central plateaus, and the Sidamo of the southern foothills and savanna regions are the remnants of the earliest known groups to have occupied Ethiopia, but migration flows have seen many other peoples enter Ethiopia's ethnic mix, such as Yemenis, Greeks, Indians and Turks. In recent years, a number of Af ro-Caribbeans have followed the call of their leader Marcus Garvey's to 'return to Africa'.

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Publication:African Business
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:6ETHI
Date:Feb 1, 2012
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