ETHNIC AND CULTURAL GROUPS
Among the many ethnic groups in Ethiopia, the Amhara are the most populous, representing about one-fourth of the population. Their language, Amharic, is the official language of Ethiopia. From the time when modern Ethiopia was the realm of Abyssinia, the Amhara and the Tigray filled the ranks of the political elite of the country, except when the Italians controlled Ethiopia as a colony from 1936 to 1942. Until 1974, all Ethiopian emperors were either Amhara or Tigray. In the 1990s, Tigray dominate the Ethiopian government. Amhara remain a dominant social force, however.
The language of the Amhara people is Amharic. It is a Semitic language somewhat related to Arabic and Hebrew. Its origins derive from a Sabean language spoken by merchants and traders who migrated into Ethiopia from the Yemen region of South Arabia about 3,000 years ago. This South Arabian population settled in the highlands of Ethiopia as farmers and traders, and they mixed with those inhabitants already present. These earlier residents are known as the Agau people. Borrowing occurred from the Agau language and Amharic emerged as it is spoken today.
Amhara culture has a wealth of folklore in the form of proverbs, legends, myths, and religious parables and anecdotes. This folklore often teaches moral lessons to children and reminds adults of proper conduct. It also provides explanations for phenomena that are otherwise unexplainable to the average Amhara peasant farmer, since scientific explanations are most often outside the realm of Amhara knowledge. One example of story that weaves explanation into a cultural institution and reinforces the institution is the “phenomenon” of menstruation. Since reproductive biology is outside the understanding of many Amhara, a folktale was developed to explain this monthly occurrence.