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Identification. The Tigray are the largest ethnic group in the Ethiopian province of Tigray and in the Eritrean nation. The Tigray have not been as thoroughly studied as their culturally similar neighbors, the Amhara, with whom they share an "imperial" heritage. The Aksumite Kingdom had its seat in Tigray territory.

Location. In addition to Tigray Province and the southern highland portions of Eritrea, the Tigray occupy parts of Ethiopia's Gonder and Welo provinces. The terrain is high plateau, cut through by deep ravines. Nearly all the land is either under cultivation or in pasturage, although reserved areas that surround churches suggest that the climax growth of much of Tigray is cedar forest. The average annual rainfall hovers around the 50 centimeters required for cereal agriculture. Droughts are frequent. Rainfall concentrates in two periods: the "large rains" fall for three months beginning in mid-June and the "small rains"if they comefall in January or February. Most Tigray live in the highlands, where daytime high temperatures are relatively cool (21° to 27° C); nighttime temperatures occasionally plunge below freezing in December.

Demography. There are approximately 2,000,000 Tigray, primarily divided between Tigray and Eritrea. Drought, civil war, and resettlement make precise estimates impossible. Since the mid-1970s, severe droughts have resulted in extremely high rates of infant mortality. Prior to the droughts and civil war, the population density had reached the carrying capacity of the land, requiring pasturage to be converted to cultivation.

Linguistic Affiliation. Tigreñña is Semitic and more closely related to the liturgical language Ge'ez than is Amhara. All three languages are written using a common script. The language should not be confused with Tigre, a language spoken by a nearby group.

History and Cultural Relations

The Tigray have been in their present location since before the time of Christ and began converting to Christianity in the fourth century. Some of the population may have migrated from the Arabian peninsula. There seems to be a long-term process of migration south, with Tigray imperceptibly "becoming" Amhara as they marry into Amhara communities. The Tigray, with the Amhara, are the coinheritors of the Aksumite Kingdom, which later become the Ethiopian Empire. Tigray as well as Amhara were eligible for the emperorship, the last Tigray emperor being Yohannes (1872-1889).

The Tigray living in Tigray Province experienced a relatively short colonial period (1936-1942) compared to that of their Eritrean neighbors, who were dominated by the Italians from the 1890s until 1942. The heavily Tigray-influenced Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF, now the EPLF) led a separatist revolt through the 1960s until it was joined by the now-stronger Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) after the 1974 overthrow of Haile Selassie. Most Tigray are rural; Asmara in Eritrea and Maqelle in Tigray are the only urban centers. War, drought, and international relief agencies have played a major role in this region since the mid-1970s.


Tigray "parishes" equate with local communities and are the smallest units of administration for both the state and the Ethiopian Orthodox church, having a chief appointed from above. Priests and deacons are responsible to church authorities. Parishes range in population from 500 to 4,000 people. There is regional variation in settlement pattern: climatic conditions favor dispersed settlement of small hamlets across parishes where rainfall is relatively constant from year to year, and nucleated villages, one per parish, where rainfall is less predictable. Villages go through a process of dividing into quarters, which reunite when new, more powerful quarters try to dominate them. Depending on the phase of their life cycle, villages have two or three quarters. Houses range from wattle-and-daub huts to impressive masonry lime-domed or zinc-corrugated roofed edifices, depending on the family's economic success.


Subsistence and Commercial Activity. The Tigray practice plow cultivation of primarily cereal crops: wheat, barley, t'af (Amharic: tyeff; Eragrostis abyssinica ), and sorghum. A second crop per year is risky or impossible in most areas. Legumes, primarily garbanzos, are included in the croprotation cycle. After several years, weeds become too strong for competition, and the field is fallowed until grasses choke out the weeds and the turf can be removed again, bringing the field into cultivation. Flax is grown for linseed oil. In some zones, frankincense figures prominently. For those living near the eastern escarpment, transportation of salt from the Danakil Depression for sale in the highland markets is an important source of income. In addition to the salt trade, individuals earn some cash by purchasing cattle and small animals in the lowlands and selling them further into the highlands. Cattle are important as plow animals. When population density is high and pasturage is in short supply, plow animals are the most critical variable in the agricultural process.

Industrial Arts. Crafts are associated with pariah "castes" of artisans who are believed to be witches. Blacksmithing, pottery making, tanning, weaving, and music making fall under this stigma. A person with a physical disability, however, can engage in weaving without being regarded as a witch.

Trade. Markets, shops, and mills are associated with towns. Shops are often run by Arab merchants. Products of artisanry (pottery, hides, metal tools), herbs and spices, coffee, salt, and bread are sold. Towns, especially those associated with administrative offices, have mead houses; each quarter of a village has at least one beer house.

Division of Labor. For nonartisans, sex and age account for most of the division of labor. Men are responsible for nearly all agriculture and husbandry. The sole exception is weeding, which is done by women. Once the grain has left the threshing floor, its storage and processing into injera (the crepelike staple) and bread is also the province of women. Boys, after the age of about 12, begin herding and helping with plowing and planting. Girls help with food preparation and child care. At least one herd boy is needed if a household is to be independent. If there are more herd boys than necessary, some may go off to study the Bible to prepare for careers as deacons, with the eventual possibility of joining the priesthood. Priests, like other male heads of households, are farmers. As many as 10 percent of a parish's households may be headed by priests. Most curing, which depends heavily on ecclesiastical training, is done by defrocked priests and deacons; most treatment of spirit possession is done by women. Artisans sometimes form their own villages, where they also practice agriculture; however, in other villages, they are found interspersed in individual households with nonartisans. Elders and powerful men are designated as "recognized men" and "big-men."

Land Tenure. Land tenure is complex and governed on a parish-by-parish basis. Each parish chooses from permutations of two basic forms: ristî (hereditary) and igurafgotet (communal). To make a claim under ristî, a person must trace descent from a parish founder through any combination of males and females. The system has inherent contradictions: all plots of land potentially have multiple claimants, giving rise to a political as well as a genealogical component to land claims. igurafgotet land tenure, unlike ristîwhich can be used to restrict the inflow of new farmersencourages newcomers and becomes salient after a drought depopulates an area. Because the choice of land-tenure systems affects the size of the holdings of many people, parishes switch from one system to the other only under extreme ecological and demographic conditions. The two land-tenure systems are not associated with settlement patterns; nucleated and dispersed forms of settlement are found with both types.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is omnilineal or ambilineal. Descent groups form and disperse depending upon the particular land claim that is being prosecuted. Persons who are allies for one purpose are enemies for another. This does not follow the familiar pattern of "fission and fusion" described by Evans-Pritchard for the Nuer ( 1940), in that groups are not segments of larger groups but are based on a particular individual's genealogical relations in a particular parish. He or she will be brought together with a distinct collection of people in each parish and at each genealogical level. These associations do not achieve the kind of solidarity that would make them useful for purposes other than land claims. Kinship is bilateral and, like descent, is traced through any combination of males and females. The importance to each household of having at least one herd boy leads to boys often being brought up in the household of a father's or mother's brother or sister, as adjustments to household work forces require.

Kinship Terminology. Tigray kin terms reflect their bilateral kinship and omnilineal descent. Generation and linealtty are distinguished. Sex is distinguished only in Ego's generation and for parents. Kin types are grouped as follows: son and daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, father's and mother's brother, father's and mother's sister, and father's and and mother's father and mother. All eight great-grandparents are referred to by a single term.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are monogamous and "contractual." First marriages involve a dowry, usually of animals, given by the bride's family to the couple. Second marriages usually require equal contributions from both parties. Should the potential wife not have capital comparable to her potential husband's, an arrangement is made in which she is "paid" and her accumulated shares are eventually converted into community property. Only older couples and deacons intending to become priests are married before the church. The "life expectancy" of a marriage at the time it is contracted is between seven and twelve years. Marriage contracts incorporate the potential of divorce. At marriage, a guardian is selected to help reconcile difficulties and to aid in division of property in case of divorce. Elders are called in to oversee the process. After the wedding, for a first marriage, there is a period of bride-service during which the couple goes back and forth between the two parental households, spending time in each. Once bride-service has been completed, there is no formal rule of postmarital residence. Practical considerations of joint herding often lead to a period of viripatrilocal residence.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the most common domestic unit. Youngest children may remain with the family homestead to take care of aging parents. A small number of economically successful households retain their own sons and daughters and draw in their mates, thus forming large multifamily households. Partition takes place in stages: separation of hearths, separation of grain bins, and final separation.

Inheritance. Inheritance rules distinguish between land and household property. If the parish is ristî, each child, regardless of gender or marital status, inherits an equal share of the land of his or her dead parent. Domestic equipment tends to remain with the child who took care of the aging parent. Other property (principally livestock), if not consumed in the funeral commemoration a year after death, may be divided.

Socialization. Small children are indulged, particularly boys. Girls begin helping their mothers earlier than boys begin helping their fathers. Girls gradually take on domestic chores. At about age 7, boys must begin to learn to obey, which involves a period of apparent trauma. Children are baptized. A series of vertical scars to the outside of either eye, found on most adults, is regarded as "medicinal" rather than "ritual" and is done on the occasion of eye infections. A cross is often made by tattoo or scarification in the middle of the forehead. Movement from minority to adulthood is not dramatic. Boys move to the adult part of the parish meeting when they become married or when they become deacons. Women tend to act in political contexts only in the absence of their husbands but have the rights of jural majors after marriage.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The most significant unit beyond the household is the h'agareseb (lit., "farm people"), which is the parish or local community. It is at the parish meeting, held on Sunday mornings after church services, that all important community decisions are made, whether they be religious or civil, whether to add a new saint to the local church calendar or to repair a path. Parish meetings are presided over by a secular community leader, or "manager." In nucleated parishes, village wards are significant and have informal leaders. Neighbors participate in one another's life-cycle ceremonies and have the legal duty to respond when a neighbor raises a hue and cry. Descent groups have little relevance outside of land-tenure issues. Most adults belong to "twelve apostle" eating clubs, consisting of men or women or couples who meet once a month for feasting and discussion.

Political Organization. When the Ethiopian state was functioning well, the Tigray of Tigray Province were full participants in politcal life and on several occasions provided emperors. This relationship was interrupted in Eritrea by the long Italian colonization. After the 1974 Revolution, many of the Tigray in both areas rose in rebellion. Nowadays the state organization involves provincial, district, and subdistrict governors. Each parish has an official, appointed from above, who owes loyalty to the subdistrict governor. The official at each level of government owes loyalty to the official immediately above him, not to the central government. Parish priests are responsible to the bishops.

Social Control. In native theory, people are "good" because they fear what their neighbors will think, what the courts will do, and what God will do. Beyond this, the parish chief is an officer of the court and has the responsibility to handle minor cases and to carry more serious ones to higher courts. The institution of awu ha h requires all members of the community to assemble for three days or until someone confesses knowledge of a crime.

Conflict. The Tigray see conflict as a natural consequence of weak authority. Conflicts occasionally transpire, ranging from those at the the intervillage level to rebellions against the state, as happened in the 1940s and again since the Revolution. Outlaws with a large following are sometimes later made part of the state, and state officials sometimes become outlaws.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Christianity is said to have come to Tigray with the shipwrecked Syrian Fromentius, in the third century. Each parish is associated with a church, which in most regions is built of masonry and, in some others, carved into cliffs. It is through Bible study that most young men gain literacy. The Ethiopian Orthodox church was formally affiliated with the Coptic church in Alexandria, to which, until 1954, it was obliged to turn for archbishops. The Tigray recognized three categories of belief as "religion" (haymanot ): Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. A number of the saints are indigenous and not shared by the Roman or Greek churches. Spirit possession, in the form of the zar cult, is prominent, but many Tigray regard it as illegitimate. Zar has special significance in empowering women.

Religious Practitioners. Priests and deacons, many monastery trained, celebrate the Mass. Diviners are defrocked deacons or priests. Spirit mediums are typically women, as are the vast majority of those afflicted with possession. Priests and deacons receive a special allotment of land for their services, plus honoraria from their penitents. Diviners charge for their services, as do spirit mediums.

Ceremonies. The most frequent ceremony is the celebration of Mass, which occurs a number of times per week, depending on the local church calendar and parish patron saints. Other important rituals are baptism and funerals. Ordinary weddings are more ceremonial than ritual. Divination and curing have a ritual character, as do ward or neighborhood dances intended to affect the weather.

Arts. Arts, crafts, and secular music are primarily the domain of the pariah castes of artisans. The exceptions are sacred music, which is led by monastically trained (but not necessarily ordained) men, and icon painting, biblical illumination, and scroll making, which are undertaken by a few deacons.

Medicine. Most affliction (including illness) is treated by diviners rather than by priests or spirit mediums. Affliction is attributed to transgressions against God, sorcery motivated by envy, or witchcraft unconsciously executed by artisans or others possessed by Satan. Diviners both diagnose and treat. Spirit possession by entities other than Satan and his minions primarily affects women and is regarded as outside the realm of Christian belief. Such possession may be brought under control but not cured.

Death and Afterlife. After death, people are judged, in what is popularly thought of as a setting much like a secular court, and proceed to heaven or hell.


Bauer, Dan F. (1978). Household and Society in Ethiopia. 2nd ed. East Lansing: Michigan State University, African Studies Center.

Bauer, Dan F. (1990). "The Sacred and the Secret: Order and Chaos in Tigray Medical Practice and Politics." In Creativity of Power, edited by William Arens and Ivan Karp. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Bruce, John (1975). "Land Reform Planning and Indigenous Communal Tenures: A Case Study of the Chigurafgwoses in Tigray, Ethiopia." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1940). The Nuer. London: Oxford University Press.

Hoben, Allan (1973). Land Tenure among the Amhara of Ethiopia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Levine, Donald (1965). Wax and Gold. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nadel, S. E (1946). "Land Tenure on the Eritrean Plateau." Africa 16(1): 1-21.


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ALTERNATE NAMES: Tigre; Tigrai; Tigrinya

LOCATION: Tigray state (Ethiopia), Eritrea

POPULATION: 3.2 million in Ethiopia; 1.7 million in Eritrea

LANGUAGE: Tigrinya; Amharic

RELIGION: Christianity


The Tigray (Tigre, Tigrai, or Tigrinya) have a history that goes back thousands of years. According to Tigrean history, the Axumite empire, which later became the Ethiopian empire, was founded by Menelik (18891913), the son of King Solomon of Israel, and Queen Sheba (or Saba). According to this history, it was Menilik's men who captured the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites and brought it to Axum (also spelled Aksum ) in what is now Tigray state in Ethiopia, where it remains to this day.

During the colonial era, Italy briefly ruled Tigrayan lands. With the expulsion of Italy in 1941, Eritrea was officially made a province of Ethiopia. A struggle for Eritrean independence from Ethiopia began in the 1960s and finally succeeded in 1991. Today roughly half the Tigrayans live in Ethiopia and the other half in Eritrea.


Today, Tigrayans number about 4.9 million and are concentrated in Tigray state (Ethiopia) and in Eritrea. The regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea where most Tigrayans live are high plateau, separated from the Red Sea by an escarpment (cliff-like ridge) and a desert. In good years, rainfall on the plateau is adequate for the plow agriculture engaged in by the majority of Tigray. However, when rainfall is low, the region is subject to disastrous droughts.


Tigrinya, the language spoken by the Tigray, is from the Semitic family of languages, and is related to Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. To the north of the Tigrinya speakers live people who speak the closely related language known as Tigre. Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, is so closely related to Tigrinya that most Tigray have little difficulty communicating in Amharic. Tigrinya, Amharic, and the ancient religious language Geez are written with the same alphabet. Many of the letters used in writing these languages are derived from ancient Greek.

Most Tigray names have specific meanings. Generally, people refer to one another by their first names. If one wished to distinguish between several people with that name, one would add the person's father's name. Abraha, for example, becomes Abraha Gebre Giyorgis, meaning, Abraha is the child of Gebre Giyorgis. If a further distinction must be made, the grandfather's name could be added, for example, Abraha-Gebre Giyorgis-Welede Mariyam. Men's and women's names follow the same rules, with the exception that new wives are often given new names by their mothers-in-law when they first go to live with the husband's family. This applies only to the first name; distinguishing names (father's, grandfather's, etc.) remain the same.

Some examples of Tigrinya names include:

Abraha the dawn
Atsbaha the sunset
Biserat trash
Gebre Giyorgis granted by Saint George
Gebre Yesus granted by Jesus
Gebre Selassie granted by the Holy Trinity
Gidey my share
Mitslal Muz shadow as sweet as the banana
Haile Mariyam the power of Mary
Welede Mariyam child of Mary
Zenabu spring rains


Most Tigray place a high value on verbal skills. Poetry, folktales, riddles, and puns are central to entertainment. A person who has returned from studying and can display skill at qene, the art of "poetic combat," is much sought after for public gatherings. One indicator of the value placed on verbal skills is that the heroic figures of folklore are often known for the cleverness of the poetic couplets they composed. This is also true of royal figures and saints. The Ethiopian saint Tekle Haymanot ("sower of the faith") is famous for having verbally outwitted the devil.

Another Ethiopian saint represents a different heroic quality. Gebre Memfis Qudus ("granted by the holy spirit") gained sainthood by showing extraordinary compassion. The future saint was a monk who wandered among the wild animals. During one of Ethiopia's droughts he came upon a bird that was dying of thirst. The monk was so moved by the bird's plight that a tear formed under his eye. He allowed the bird to drink the tear. This bird was actually the Holy Spirit. These two heroic figures express two virtuescleverness and compassionhighly prized by the Tigray.


Many people think of Christianity in Africa as a European import that arrived with colonialism, but this is not the case with the Tigray (or with the Amhara). The empire centered in Axum and Adowa was part of the Mediterranean world in which Christianity grew. The arrival of Christianity in Tigrayan lands happened about the same time that it arrived in Ireland. The Tigrayans, in fact, had been converted to Christianity hundreds of years before most of Europe. Many Tigrayan churches were cut into cliffs or from single blocks of stone, as they were in Turkey and in parts of Greece, where Christianity had existed from its earliest years. The church is a central feature of communities and of each family's daily life. Each community has a church with a patron saint.


Most Tigray holidays are associated with the church calendar (Easter, Epiphany, etc.). The secular holidays include Ethiopian or Eritrean national holidays.


An infant is recognized as a member of the community in a naming ceremony held forty days after birth for boys, and eighty days after birth for girls. Should a baby die after the naming ceremony, a funeral is required; death in early infancy prior to the naming is not marked with a funeral.

About the age of twelve, children reach the "age of reason" and take on more responsibility, such as helping care for younger brothers and sisters and for herding farm animals. Also at about this age, children are baptized and enter the community of religion.

With adulthood comes new responsibilities. One of the signs of adulthood is citizenship; that is, attendance at village meetings after church on Sunday mornings. Other signs are marriage and becoming a deacon.

Death of a person requires a funeral. Funerals, with ceremonies in both the village and the church, normally take place before the sun sets on the day following death.


Tigrinya uses an elaborate system of greetings to indicate honor, the closeness of the relationship, and gender. There are ten personal pronouns people use to address one another. The choice of greeting is important in establishing and maintaining good relations. When meeting a stranger whom one judges may deserve some special respect, one might decide to address him with khamihaduru (How are you, my honored equal?). After learning that a stranger is due a great deal of respect, one might address him with khamihadirom (How are you, my honored superior?).

For rural Tigray, there is no dating in the Western sense. Expressions of romantic interest between two people are not indicated by the couple going out together. Instead, parents of both create an agreement for a union between the two households, and a marriage takes place. Parents generally take the interests of their child into account. If a person becomes divorced, he or she may date prior to entering into a second marriage.


There are still few Western-trained physicians and life expectancy is low in Tigrayan areas. Chronic, parasitic diseases, such as malaria and schistosomiasis, are a problem in some regions. Many children die from communicable diseases such as measles and chicken pox. However, heart disease and lung cancer are rare, and people in their fifties are at the peak of their careers. By age seventy most people have retired from active farming.

A Tigray house provides shelter and contibutes to the occupant's reputation in the community. A young couple's first house is usually a gujji, a practical, unimpressive house that they build for themselves. A gujji is a hut with a thatched roof. If the couple is successful, their next house will more elaborate, with masonry walls and domed roofs supported by heavy wooden beams. A very powerful family may later add stone walls around the yard. Guests often bring stones with them as gifts of respect, to be added to the walls. One may view the walls as a concrete demonstration of one's friends' esteem.


Tigray women and men both bring property into a marriage. If there is a divorce, each takes out what she or he brought in. Both men and women may call for the divorce.

Women are responsible for food preparation and the care of small children. The husband is responsible for plowing, planting, and the care of animals. Older girls work beside their mothers, older boys beside their fathers.

Men may help around the house, and women may help in farming, especially in weeding and at the harvest. In the case of divorce or death of a spouse, the surviving spouse will hire the help he or she needs to keep the farm and household in operation.


Traditional Tigray clothing is white, which is regarded as Christian, with little adornment. For dressy occasions and church, women wear ankle-length dresses with long sleeves made of fine material. Men wear ankle-length pants that are tight from the knee to the ankle and baggy in the upper legs and hips. A fitted, long-sleeved shirt covers the upper body. The shirt extends to just above the knee for laymen and to just below the knee for priests and deacons. Both men and women wear a gabbi (shawl or toga) draped around the shoulders.

For many Tigrays, used clothing imported from Europe has replaced traditional clothing for day-to-day wear.


Probably the most important fact about food in Tigray is that there is not enough of it. Households must make up for food deficits with government subsidies.

In Tigray, bread is one of the main foods. Two of the more common varieties are a thin, pancake-like bread preferred by most people, and a dense, disk-shaped loaf of baked whole wheat bread. Pancakes are 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) in diameter, and are made from many kinds of cereal grains (wheat, barley, etc.). A variety of tsebhi (spicy stews ) are eaten with the bread.

Families and guests normally eat from a messob (shared food basket), with each person breaking off pieces of bread from the side nearest them and dipping it into stew in the center of the basket.


Traditionally, boys learn to read Tigrinya, Ge'ez, and Amharic as Bible students. Today, some rural boys, and a few girls, attend public schools, with a percentage of them completing high school. Children living in town are much more likely to go to school than are their rural counterparts. In larger towns, such as Aduwa, Aksum, or Maqelli, public education is available through high school. There are universities in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and in Asmara in Eritrea.


There are two main categories of music: church music and praise songs. Deacons sing and accompany the song with drums and a sistrum (a rattle-like instrument) as part of the mass.

Praise singers form a kind of clan. Families of praise singers intermarry with other families of praise singers. Singers accompany themselves with a one-stringed instrument that is a little like a violin. Hosts often hire singers to entertain at parties, such as weddings. Guests give tips to the performers to sing, often humorously, about their friends.

Passages from the Book of Psalms are frequently brought into discussions of people's behavior. Many priests and deacons carry the psalms dawit (for King David) in a leather pouch.

Qene is an admired form of poetry known for its use of double meanings, beautiful language, and cleverness. A pair of lines should have a surface meaning and a deeper one. Qene is called "wax and gold," an analogy that refers to the process of casting gold objects in wax molds pressed into sand. In qene, the listener "hears the wax" and must use thought to find the gold inside. Tigray kings and princes are often remembered for their qene compositions.


Until recently, most rural Tigray considered farming to be the most honorable work. Today's food shortages have made many rethink this idea. Trade and government employment are seen as providing better opportunities. Those who make their living as blacksmiths, weavers, potters, or musicians are looked upon with some disfavor and suspicion.


A sport that seems to be unique to the Tigray and Amhara is a kind of cross-country field hockey. Those who are serious about the game grow their own hockey sticks, by training saplings to grow with the proper curve. When the sapling reaches the right stage of growth, they cut the tree and shape it into a hockey stick. The game is played running across the countryside, over cattle-yard fences, and through creeks. Hockey is associated with Easter.

The game played most by the Tigray is Timkhats. Although some Tigray call the game "chess," it is very different from the Western game of chess. In the center of neighborhoods, men play Timkhats all year round, and boys play it while watching the herds. Timkhats is played on a grid usually scratched in the ground. Two players take turns placing markers on intersections of the grid in what might be thought of as a complicated tic-tac-toe game.

Soccer is very popular and people follow their teams passionately.


While film, television, and to a large extent, radio are more a part of life in town than in rural areas, storytelling and riddles are part of the popular culture in both.


Some of the most spectacular Tigray art is associated with the church. Tigray churches are famous for their architecture, with many cut into solid stone. The larger churches use design features of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.

Icon paintingthe creation of images of sacred peopleis another art form associated with the church. Some deacons who have studied at debri (monasteries) return as icon painters. Icons are purchased by individuals to reinforce a relationship with a particular saint.


Probably the most important social problems in Tigrayan areas today are associated with Tigray's food deficit and un- and underemployment. The government's attempt to solve these problems has taken two forms, relief efforts and public works.

Alcoholism is not widespread among rural Tigray. The sewwa (beer) brewed by each household is very low in alcohol content. Mies (honey wine) is somewhat higher in alcohol content, but is reserved for special occasions, such as weddings or entertaining political figures.


Bauer, Dan. Household and Society in Ethiopia: An Economic and Social Analysis of Tigray Social Principles and Household Organization. East Lansing, Mich.: African Studies Center, Michigan State University, 1985.

McCann, James. From Poverty to Famine in Northeast Ethiopia: a Rural History 19001935. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.


World Travel Guide. Eritrea. [Online] Available

World Travel Guide, Ethiopia. [Online] Available, 1998.

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