chapter  1
15 Pages

Strangers in the Midst

Ethiopia is a state composed of many peoples, many languages and several religions. Accurate statistics are hard to come by but it is estimated that of the present population of about 32 million, Christians of the Orthodox Coptic Church represent 60 per cent, Sunni Muslims 25 per cent, and others, including Jews, 15 per cent. There is a homogeneity in the appearance of most of the population. With the exception of small numbers of people of negroid stock along the southern and south-western borders and of Arabs on the Red Sea littoral the majority are a brown-skinned people of'Caucasian' stock with a slight admixture of negro blood which has darkened their colour. Their features tend to be regular, many of them are tall and well built and both men and women are often strikingly handsome. The main languages of the country can be roughly divided between those of the older Hamitic or Cushitic

family and those of the relatively more recent Semitic group. The latter are today the dominant tongues and are divided between Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia; Tigrinya, prevalent in Tigrai Province and the central highlands of Eritrea; and Tigre, spoken in northern Eritrea. The principal l.mguages of the Cushitic group are Galla (or Oromo) , Somali, Afar and Agau. Numerically, the two language groups are approximately equal and their members display a common range of physical characteristics. The country is overwhelmingly agricultural and exports considerable quantities of coffee, hides and skins, pulses and oilseeds. The rate ofliteracy in 1970 was only 8·1 per cent and the G.N.P. in 1972 stood as low as US $80 per capita.