Ethiopian Tribes, Languages & Ethnic Groups

While the exact number is unknown, there are around 80 tribes or ethnic groups living in Ethiopia.

Most of the population belongs to the Amhara or Oromo tribes. The Amhara people live in the Addis Ababa area and are very involved in governing the country and in fostering the economy. They are mostly Christian, members of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The Oromo is the largest tribe in the country.

It is very hard to determine the exact number of Ethiopian ethnic groups. Some are very small, with only a few hundred people, while others have populations in the millions. Many groups are nomadic and some do not have much if any contact with the rest of the world. They live their traditional lifestyle and seem to be content to stay away from the world at large.

Some of the most interesting Ethiopian tribes live in the southern part of the country. The Mursi tribe is one example. With a population reportedly around 7,500, they live a very tribal lifestyle. They have their own language and practise a religion that falls into the category of animism. The Mursi women still wear lip plates and the Mursi engage in body painting for a variety of reasons, including healing.

The Bodi tribe lives in the same area as the Mursi and is renowned for a ceremony in which they choose the fat man of the year. The ceremony takes place in June and Bodi men spend several months eating high-calorie foods to put on as much weight as possible before the judging takes place.

Another southern Ethiopia tribe is the Hamar. Hamar men do a bull jumping ceremony as a coming-of-age rite. Part of this ceremony includes whipping the backs of women and the women are proud of the scars left by the whip. Both men and women engage in body modification by using thorns to scar the skin.

The Surma tribe and Karo tribe also live in this region. All of these ethnic groups live very traditional lifestyles, raising cattle and goats and practising agriculture. They are very far removed from western living and very different from Ethiopians who live urban lifestyles.

TEA does its work in the northeastern part of the country, in Danakil Dessert of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Eritrea, where the Afar tribe lives. With a population of around 1,500,000, the Afar people are traditionally nomadic, moving here and there to find food and water for their herds of desert-adapted sheep, cattle, and goats.

An ari, the term used to refer to their shelter, is constructed using flexible sticks with mat as cover. The structure looks half-round once built. Once the shelter is built, it is the woman’s responsibility to keep it clean, arrange the beds, watch the animals, and take care of the children.

According to Wikipedia, the people of Ethiopia


Christian 62.8% (Ethiopian Orthodox 43.5%, Protestant 19.3% (e.g. P'ent'ay), Catholic 0.9%), Muslim 33.9%, Traditional 2.6%. Jewish 1%,)

Related ethnic groups
Oromo 34.5%
Amhara 26.9%
Somali 6.2%
Tigraway 6.1%
Sidama 4%
Gurage 2.5%
Wolayta 2.3%
Hadiya 1.7%
Afar 1.7 %

Major Ethnic Groups in Ethiopia


This ethnic group has a population of around 17 million. They comprise around 15% of the entire population of Ethiopia. The Amhara have lived in Ethiopia for more than 2,000 years and are part of the huge ethnic category composed of Cushite people. Amharas, who live in the highlands, can often grow adequate food for their daily sustenance. Among the grains grown by the farmers of this ethnic group are wheat, millet, corn, and barley. They also cultivate vegetables such as peppers and beans.

Just as in other farming societies, the men take care of large animals and till the soil. Women, on the other hand, are in charge of household affairs, and of cooking, baking, and grinding flour. Girls and boys are also taught these adult tasks, even at a very young age.


The Oromo is a huge ethnic group that currently dominates Southeastern Ethiopia and some parts of North Kenya. There are reportedly around 25 million Oromo at present. This figure comprises around 30% of the whole Ethiopian population. Before this ethnic group was restricted by the government, its members ruled themselves using a uniquely, interesting system. The lives of all men were actually divided into 11 stages, based on their age. Known as age-grades, these stages are noticeable in various forms in several societies worldwide. Men who have reached the 6th through 8th grades can rule the members if they choose to. In terms of religion, the Oromo membership is composed of both Muslims and Christians.

Other surviving ethnic groups in Ethiopia are the Anuak, Issa, Konso, Sidamo, Suri, and Somali, among many others. All of these ethnic groups follow their own traditions and cultures, making each one different and unique.

Some of the photos representatives of the two major ethnic groups Amhara and Oromo.


According to the 2007 Ethiopian census, the largest first languages are: Oromo 24,929,567 speakers or 33.8% of the total population; Amharic 21,631,370 or 29.1% (official language); Somali 4,609,274 or 6.2%; Tigrinya 4,324,476 or 5.86%; Sidamo 4,981,471 or4%; Wolaytta 1,627,784 or 2.2%; Gurage 1,481,783 or 2.01%; and Afar 1,281,278 or 1.74%.[8] Widely spoken foreign languages include Arabic (official), English (official; major foreign language taught in schools), and Italian (spoken by European minorities).