Tigray - Orientation

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 come—fall 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.

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