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Tigrayans (Tigrinya: ተጋሩ) also called Agazian, are an ethnolinguistic group primarily inhabiting the Eritrean highlands and the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. They speak the Tigrinya language, which belongs to the Afroasiatic family. Tigrayans are predominantly followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[6] They make up roughly 6.1% of Ethiopia's population,[7] numbering a little over 6.3 million of which approximately 96.6% are native to the Tigray Region.[8][9]

ተጋሩ (Tigrinya)
Flag of the Tigray Region.svg
The Tigrayan Flag of Tigray[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Ethiopia 6,500,000
 Canada 10,220[2]
 United Kingdom 12,400 [3]
 Australia 2,794 [4]
Predominantly Christianity (Ethiopian Orthodox, Ethiopian Catholic Church)
Related ethnic groups



Tigrayans are usually referred to as simply Tägaru in Tigrinya, and Tɘgre in Amharic. The origins of the name "Tigray" are unknown but it most likely means the land of Tigrinya speakers.

Tigrayans are related to the Tigrinyas of Eritrea by language, both of whom speak Tigrinya, an Ethiopian Semitic language belonging to the Afroasiatic family.[10] They are not to be confused with the Tigre people who speak Tigre, a closely related Afroasiatic language.


Tigrayan girl in Adigrat.

Tigrayans constitute approximately 6.1% of the population of Ethiopia and are largely small holding farmers inhabiting small communal villages. They are also mainly Christian and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (approximately 96%), with a small minority of Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.

The predominantly Tigrayan populated urban centers in Ethiopia are found within the Tigray Region in towns including Mek'ele, Adwa, Axum, Adigrat and Shire. Large populations of Tigrayans are also found in other large Ethiopian cities such as the capital Addis Ababa and Gondar as well as abroad in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and the United States.


Tigrayan leader Ras Mangasha.

The majority of Tigrayans trace their origin to early Semitic-speaking peoples whose presence in the region dates back to at least 2000 BC, based on linguistic evidence (and known from the 9th century BC from inscriptions).[11] According to Ethiopian traditions, the Tigrayan nobility; i.e. that of the former Kingdom of Tigray, 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 dynasty of rulers of Ethiopia that ended only with the deposing of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

The first possible 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 including the mention of a tribe called Tigretes.[12]

The stele to Axum, in the distance the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion

A Portuguese Map in the 1660 shows Medri Bahri consisting of the three highland provinces of Eritrea and distinct from Ethiopia.[13]

James Bruce in his book published in 1805 located Tigré(a region based arbitrarily by James Bruce on the Language of Tigrinya) between Red Sea and the Tekezé River and stated many large governments, such as Enderta and Antalow, and the great part of Baharhagash were part of Tigré region based on the language of Tigrinya.[14][15][16][dubious ]

Abreha and Atsbeha Church

By the beginning of the 19th century Henry Salt (Egyptologist), who travelled in the interior of Abyssinia, divided the "Abyssinia" region, like James Bruce into three distinct and independent states.[17][18] These three great divisions(based arbitrarily on Language) are Tigré, Amhara, and the province of Shoa.[17] Henry considers Tigré as the more powerful state of the three; a circumstance arising from the natural strength of the country, the warlike disposition of its inhabitants, and its vicinity to the sea coast; an advantage that has secured to it the monopoly of all the musquets imported into the country.[19] He divided the Tigré kingdom into several provinces as the centre where it was considered the seat of the state being referred as Tigré proper. Provinces of this kingdom includes Enderta, Agame, Wojjerat, Temben, Shiré and Baharanegash.[19] Hamasien, a district of Baharanegash, is the furthest north and narrowest part of Tigré, and Henry places Bejas or Bojas as the people who live north of Tigré state.[20][21] By the time Henry made his travel to Abyssinia the seat of the empire, Gondar, was ruled by Gugsa of Yejju, a Oromo commander who ruled from 1798 up to 1825 as enderase to the powerless emperors with Solomonic dynasty.[22][23]



Tigrayan politician Meles Zenawi, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

Tigrayans, like the Biher-Tigrinya, speak the Tigrinya language as a mother tongue. It belongs to the Ethiopian Semitic subgroup of the Afroasiatic family.[24]

Tigrayan boy in Adigrat

Tigrinya is closely related to Amharic and Tigre, another Afroasiatic language spoken by the Tigre as well as many Beja. Tigrinya and Tigre although close are not mutually intelligible. Tigrinya has traditionally been written using the same Ge'ez alphabet (fidel) as Amharic, whereas Tigre has been transcribed mainly using the Arabic script. 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 Tewahedo 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 do not 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. The Tigray constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in the country after the Oromo, Amhara and Somali, who also speak Afro-Asiatic languages.[25] In Eritrea, Tigrinya is by far the most spoken language, where it is used by around 55% of the population. Tigre is used by around 30% of residents.

Tigrinya dialects differ phonetically, lexically, and grammatically.[26] No dialect appears to be accepted as a standard.


T'ihlo dish

Tigrayan food characteristically consists of vegetable and often very spicy meat dishes, usually in the form of tsebhi (Tigrinya: ፀብሒ), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread.[12] As the vast majority of Tigrayans belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (and the minority Muslims), pork is not consumed because of religious beliefs. Meat and dairy products are not consumed on Wednesdays and Fridays, and also during the 7 compulsory fasts. Because of this reason, many vegan meals are present.

T'ihlo (Tigrinya: ጥሕሎ, ṭïḥlo) is a dish originating from the historical Agame province of Tigray (now the Eastern Zone) and the historical Akele Guzai province of Eritrea (now the Southern Region).[citation needed] The dish is unique to these parts of both countries, but is now slowly spreading throughout the entire region.[citation needed] T'ihlo is made using moistened roasted barley flour that is kneaded to a certain consistency. The dough is then broken into small ball shapes and is laid out around a bowl of spicy meat stew. A two-pronged wooden fork is used to spear the ball and dip it into the stew. The dish is usually served with mes, a type of honey wine.[27][unreliable source?]

Eating around a shared food basket, mäsob (Tigrinya: መሶብ) is a custom in the Tigray region and is usually done so with families and guests. The food is eaten using no cutlery, using only the fingers (of the right hand) and sourdough flatbread to grab the contents on the bread.[28][29]

Notable TigrayansEdit


  1. ^ [1], Ethiopian Government Portal; Tigray Regional State.
  2. ^ Canada, Government of Canada, Statistics. "2011 Census of Canada: Topic-based tabulations – Detailed Mother Tongue (232), Knowledge of Official Languages (5), Age Groups (17A) and Sex (3) for the Population Excluding Institutional Residents of Canada and Forward Sortation Areas, 2011 Census". Retrieved 26 August 2017. 
  3. ^ "United Kingdom". Retrieved 26 August 2017. 
  4. ^ "The People of Australia Statistics from the 2011 Census, Cat. no. 2901.0, ABS" (PDF). Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2014. Retrieved 2017-08-26. 
  5. ^ Joireman, Sandra F. (1997). Institutional Change in the Horn of Africa: The Allocation of Property Rights and Implications for Development. Universal-Publishers. p. 1. ISBN 1581120001. 
  6. ^ Tesfagiorgis G., Mussie (2011). Eritrea. Greenwood Publisihing Group. p. 337. ISBN 978-1-59884-231-9. 
  7. ^ "The World Factbook". Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  8. ^ Central Statistical Agency (2008). "TABEL [sic] 5: POPULATION SIZE OF REGIONS BY NATIONS/NATIONALITIES (ETHNIC GROUP) AND PLACE OF RESIDENCE: 2007". Census 2007 (PDF). Addis Ababa: Central Statistical Agency. p. 66. 
  9. ^ "Ethiopia: A Model Nation of Minorities" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2006. 
  10. ^ Irene Thompson (February 7, 2016). "Tigrigna". Retrieved 7 June 2016. 
  11. ^ Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum: A Civilization of Late Antiquity (Edinburgh: University Press, 1991), pp. 57
  12. ^ a b Munro-Hay, Aksum, pp. 187
  13. ^ Pateman, Roy (26 August 1998). "Eritrea: Even the Stones are Burning". The Red Sea Press. Retrieved 26 August 2017 – via Google Books. 
  14. ^ James Bruce Travels through part of Africa, Syria, Egypt .... Published in 1805 pp. 229 & 230 Google Books
  15. ^ James Bruce Travels through part of Africa, Syria, Egypt .... Published in 1805 pp. 171 Google Books
  16. ^ James Bruce Travels through part of Africa, Syria, Egypt .... Published in 1805 pp. 128 Google Books
  17. ^ a b Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Charles Knight. 1833. p. 53. 
  18. ^ Henry Salt A Voyage to Abyssinia. M. Carey (1816)
  19. ^ a b Henry Salt A Voyage to Abyssinia. Published in 1816 pp. 378–382 Google Books
  20. ^ Henry Salt A Voyage to Abyssinia. Published in 1816 pp. 381 Google Books
  21. ^ Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge: Bassantin – Bloemaart, Volume 4. Published in 1835 pp. 170 Google Books
  22. ^ Pearce, The Life and Adventures of Nathaniel Pearce, edited by J.J. Halls (London, 1831), vol. 1 p. 70
  23. ^ Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855–1994, second edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), p. 12; Henze, Layers of Time (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 122.
  24. ^ "Tigrinya". Ethnologue. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  25. ^ "Country Level". 2007 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia. CSA. 13 July 2010. Retrieved 18 January 2013. 
  26. ^ Leslau, Wolf (1941) Documents Tigrigna (Éthiopien Septentrional): Grammaire et Textes. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck.
  27. ^ "Tihlo". Nutrition for the world. 
  28. ^ "Countries and their Cultures- Tigray". Countries and their Cultures. 
  29. ^ "Ethiopian Treasures- Culture". Ethiopian Treasures. 
  30. ^ "Together for a healthier world", Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's General Director [2]
  31. ^ Herbert Weld Blundell, The Royal chronicle of Abyssinia, 1769–1840, (Cambridge: University Press, 1922), pp. 384–390
  32. ^ Gebru Tareke, The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa (New Haven: Yale University, 2009), p. 105 ISBN 978-0-300-14163-4