For other uses please see Tigre (disambiguation)
The Tigray-Tigrinya are an ethnic group who live in the southern, central and northern parts of Eritrea and the northern highlands of Ethiopia's Tigray province. A few also live in Ethiopia's former provinces of Begemder and Wollo, which are today mostly part of Amhara Region, though a few regions (e.g. Wolqayt) were incorporated instead into modern Tigray Region. Their language is called Tigrinya. They make up approximately 95% of the 95.5% Ethiopian Orthodox Tigray Region of Ethiopia, and are 6.2% of the population of Ethiopia as a whole, numbering about 4.5 million. Tigrinya speakers are approximately 50% of the population in neighboring Eritrea at about 2.25 million people.
Not to be confused with the Tigre people who speak Tigre, a closely related language, see Tigrinya language. Proto-Tigrayans were the main ethnicity of kingdom of Axum in the first millennium CE. Their language, a form of Ge'ez, remained the language of later Ethiopian imperial court as well as the Ethiopian Church.
The Tigray-Tigrinya people are descendants of early Semitic-speaking peoples whose presence in the region spanning central Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, is postulated to have existed from at least 2000 BC, based on linguistic evidence (and known from the 9th c. BC from inscriptions). According to Ethiopian traditions, the Tigrayan nobility; i.e. that of the Tigray province of Ethiopia, trace their ancestry to the legendary king Menelik I, the child born of the queen of Sheba and King Solomon as do the priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (Ge'ez ካህን kāhin). Menelik I would become the first king of the Solomonic line of rulers of Ethiopia that ended only with the deposing of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.
Tigrayans have long been subject to Amhara rule and the prominence of the Amharic language above theirs in the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia, also called Abyssinia (from Habashat, an ancient group of Ethiopian clans). The Tigray-Tigrinya people share a common ancestry with them from the Ge'ez-speaking peoples of the Aksumite kingdom; as the Tigray-Tigrinya were previously undifferentiated as a specific group from Semitic speakers in the Kingdom of Aksum, their first mention didn't come until relatively late. The first possibly mention of the group dates from around the 8th to 10th centuries, in which period manuscripts preserving the inscriptions of Cosmas Indicopleustes (fl. 6th century) contain notes on his writings include a mention of a tribe called Tigretes.
Tigrinya is closely related to the Tigre language, spoken by the Tigre people, as well as many Beja people. Tigrinya and Tigre although close are not mutually intelligible, and while Tigrinya has traditionally been a written language which uses the same writing system called fidel (Ge'ez script) as Amharic, Tigre has not. Attempts by the Eritrean government to have Tigre written using the Ge'ez script has met with some resistance from the predominantly Muslim Tigre people who associate Ge'ez with the Orthodox Church and would prefer the Arabic or the more neutral Latin alphabet. It has also met with the linguistic difficulty of the Ge'ez script being a syllabic system which does not distinguish long vowels from short ones. While this works well for writing Tigrinya or Amharic, which don't rely on vowel length in words, it does complicate writing Tigre where vowel length sometimes distinguishes one word and its meaning from another. The Ge'ez script evolved from the Epigraphic South Arabian script, whose first inscriptions are from the 8th century BC in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen.
In Ethiopia, Tigrinya is the third most spoken language and the "Tigray" are the third largest ethnic group, after the Oromo and Amhara. In Eritrea, Tigrinya is by far the most spoken language, and they represent about 50% of the population (and the Tigre around 30%).
Coffee is a very important ceremonial drink. The "coffee ceremony" is common to the Tigrinya and the Amhara. Beans are roasted on the spot, ground and served thick and rich in tiny ceramic cups with no handles. When the beans are roasted to smoking, they are passed around the table, where the smoke becomes a blessing on the diners.
The highlands receive most of their rainfall during the summer months, much of which goes into tributaries of the Nile, 85% of whose water comes from Ethiopia. The soil has been depleted by many centuries of cultivation; water is scarce. Using methods that are thousands of years old, farmers plow their fields with oxen, sow seeds and harvest by hand. The harvest is threshed by the feet of animals. In the home, women use wood or the dried dung of farm animals for cooking. Women often work from 12 to 16 hours daily doing domestic duties as well as cultivating the fields.
Each family—some with eight or more children—must provide all of its own food. The women perform all work necessary to prepare the meals from grinding the grain to roasting the coffee beans. Children carry water in clay pots or jerry cans on their backs. Marriages are monogamous and arranged by contract, involving a dowry given by the bride's family to the couple.
The new couple spends some time in each family's household, before establishing their own home at a location of their choice. Inheritance follows both family lines. Inheritance is determined following a funeral commemoration a year after the death, which may consume most of the deceased's estate.
The country houses are built mostly from rock, dirt, and a few timber poles. The houses blend in easily with the natural surroundings. Many times the nearest water source is more than a kilometer away from their house. In addition, they must search for fuel for the fire throughout the surrounding area.
The Biher-Tigrinya people of Eritrea (former Hamasien Republic) commonly practiced a form of communal land tenure known as diessa. Under this system the land of the village is reallocated among the villagers on a rotational basis every five to seven years. To qualify for a portion of the land, a male resident of the village would first have to marry and create a household separate from his parents. These members of the village, also known as Deqebats, were the only community members allowed a portion of the village’s arable land. The land of the village can not be sold or inherited, and it reverts back to the village upon death. Often village custom and law would allow single widows with children, orphans, and widowers a one-half share of the community’s land. The diessa land tenure system held all pasture land out for communal use.
The Tigray-Tigrinya 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 by mostly pariah artisan castes. Sacred music and iconic art is performed by monastically trained men.
The Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches trace their roots back to the Axumite Church founded in the fourth century by Syrian monks. Historically, the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches have had strong ties with the Egyptian Coptic church, where the Egyptian Church appointed the Abuna (archbishop) for the Ethiopian Church (which then incorporated Eritrea) until 1959. The Ethiopian Church gained independence from the Coptic church in 1948 and began anointing its own pope. The Eritrean Orthodox church split from the Ethiopian Orthodox in 1993 and reverted back to having it's pope in the Coptic Church of Alexandria, Egypt.
Over 6 million Tigrayans are Oriental Orthodox, with one priest for every 92 members—the highest concentration in Ethiopia. The remainder are Muslims. There are many Muslims in Tigray Province, but they generally belong to other ethnic groups than the Tigrayans. The Tigrayans are reported to have fewer than 500 Evangelicals, but there are more Evangelicals among the Tigrinya in Eritrea.
The faith of the church is very intimately woven into the culture of the Christian members of the Tigrinya people and is central to their way of life. In the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic churches, Mary is considered a saint, and the Ark of the Covenant (tabot) features prominently in the Orthodox Church. Moreover, the Ge'ez bible preserves many texts considered apocryphal by Protestants, such as 1 Enoch, which has only been Preserved in Ge'ez.
Church services are conducted in Ge'ez, the ancient language of Ethiopia and Eritrea, just as Latin once was in the Roman Catholic Church, and continues to be the liturgical language.
The Eastern Catholic Church in Eritrea was established in the 16th century by Portuguese and Spanish missionaries who had come to help the Christian Abyssinians fight off a Turkish invasion. Centered in the former Akele Guzai province (the eastern part of the Eritrean highlands) the churches maintained most of the liturgy of the already existing Orthodox Church, including Ge'ez as the liturgical language, with minor differences thereamong sharing communion with, and submitting to the authority of the Vatican Pope as opposed to the Pope in Axum.
Roman Catholicism arrived in Eritrea with the advent of Italian colonialism and almost coincided with the arrival of Swedish missionaries who brought Lutheran Christianity to Eritrea at the end of the 19th century. The relationship between these two religions was especially tense as the Roman Catholic Italians resisted and discouraged the spread of Protestantism in their colony and even lay prohibitions and numerous constraints on the activities of the Swedish missionaries. The Roman Catholic Church as an instrument of the colonial authority has held mass in Latin and Italian since its inception, incorporating local languages in its missionary work throughout Eritrea. It initially sought to cater to Italian citizens as well as foster an elite of Eritreans into becoming good Italian subjects. Today the church is a distinctly Eritrean church, although masses continue to be held in Italian and Latin along with local languages thereamong Tigrinya and it also caters to the very small Italian and Italo-Eritrean community mainly in Asmara. The Lutheran Church of Eritrea and its Swedish and Eritrean missionaries were the ones who translated the Bible from the dead Ge'ez language only understood by higher clergymen, into the Tigrinya and other local languages and their main goal was to reach and "enlighten" as many people as possible in the world through education. They were instrumental in raising the literacy rate of their community.
Many Tigrayan-Tigrinya churches were cut out of solid cliffs or from single blocks of stone, just as they were in Petra and as well in Turkey and in parts of Greece. More common, churches and monasteries were built high up in the mountains on flat tops known as ambas. Religion is a central feature of the communities and of each family's daily life. Each community has its own church and a designated patron saint.