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AMHARA AND TIGRIŇA

The highland Ethiopian peoples known to the Western world through classical historical literature as “Abyssinians” are properly speaking the Amhara and Tigrina. In the strictest sense, the name “Abyssinia,” which seems to have made its first appearance in a European source in the thirteenth century (Ullendorff, 1955: 4, n. 6), is only applicable to the old Aksumite Empire, the present populations of Amhara and Tigrina tribes being descendants of the Habasat founders of the ancient kingdom. “Abyssinian” is derived from the Arabic habana, “ to collect” or “to gather,” said to signify the mixture of peoples in Abyssinia (ibid. 7, n. 25). The name “Ethiopia,” is presumably derived from Greek meaning the people with the “burnt face.” But the name is ambiguous for it does not define distinct tribal units, and the term is now more accurately used for defining the political boundaries of the modern state of Ethiopia. The Amhara refer to their language as Amharic (Amamnya), after the northern province of Amhara, where it had its origin. The home of the Tigriña (correctly Tegrenna, but also Tigriña, Tigrinya, Tigrigna, Tigrai, Tigray, Tigre), whose language is known to other Ethiopians and Europeans by the same name, is the province of Tigre. Tigriña-speakers themselves call their language “habasa. ”