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The Tigrayans Of Ethiopia And Eritrea.

By Abdi Crypto Osman

The Tigray are descendants of a semitic people who intermixed with the cushitic inhabitants of the region and founded the christian kingdom of Aksum, which had its capital in the historic region of Tigray. The Tigray are a sedentary agricultural people.

Landscape of Tigray region | Photo Courtesy

The majority of Tigrayans trace their origin to early semitic-speaking peoples whose presence in the Eritrea and present-day Ethiopia dates back to at least 2000 BC, based on some linguistic evidence. According to Ethiopian traditions, the Tigrayan nobility; i.e. that of the former Kingdom of Tigray, trace their ancestry to the legendary King Menelik I, the child born of the queen of Sheba and King Solomon as do the priests of the Menelik I would become the first king of the solomonic dynasty of rulers of Ethiopia that ended only with the deposing of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

They adhere to quintessential communitarianism. Communitarianism is a philosophy that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. Its overriding philosophy is based upon the belief that a person’s social identity and personality are largely molded by community relationships, with a smaller degree of development being placed on individualism.

For long they have also practiced gerontocracy: a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population. The ancient Greeks were among the first to believe in this idea of gerontocracies; as famously stated by Plato “it is for the elder man to rule and for the younger to submit”


Tigrayans are mostly Christians, with Oriental Orthodox majority and a Catholic minority. Tigrayan Muslims are virtually all Sunni, though a minority of Ahbash followers also exists. There are also Tigrayan communities consisting of Jews, known as the Beta Israel. Majority of these peoples have now migrated to Israel.

The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, which claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant is located in Axum. Christianity has been the predominant religion of Tigrayans since antiquity, when the Aksumite King Ezana converted to Christianity in the late 3rd century and declared it the state religion. They have played a fundamental role in the development of the faith. Today, Orthodox Tewahedo dominates in most areas, overwhelmingly so in rural areas.


This is the place that gave refuge to earliest Muslims. The Christian King (Negus) of Aksum (King Armah also known as Al-Najashi) declined the request of a pagan Meccan delegation, to forfeit the first Muslims who took refuge in the city of Axum following the First Hijra as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told them to take refuge in Axum.

While some of Muslims later returned to the Arabian peninsula, some stayed back as refugees and converted a number of people to Islam. These new converts were called Jeberti meaning “the elect of God”. Today, the Muslim community, is concentrated mainly in urban areas. Many Jeberti in Eritrea claim that they are a separate ethnic group from other Tigrayans in the area and consider their native languages to be both Arabic and Tigrinya, and are thus treated as a separate ethno-religious community.

Notable People

Negus of Aksum declining the request of a pagan Meccan delegation to forfeit the Muslims who received refuge in Axum following the First Hijra
Ras Alula (Abba Nega) of Tigray, commander of the Battle of Adwa Meles Zenawi, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first ever African Director-General of the World Health Organization ( Donald Trump hates him…Lol!)

Tigray Region of Ethiopia

An ancient kingdom, Tigray was annexed as a province of Ethiopia in 1855. It engaged in a bitter guerrilla war against the government of Ethiopia 1975–91, during which time the region suffered badly from drought and famine.

This comprises 53,638 Square Kilometres and has about 5 Million inhabitants. The region calls itself “the birthplace of Ethiopian civilization. The anthem is: “There are no mountains we would not climb”

According to the Book of Aksum, Aksum’s first capital, Mazaber, was built by Itiyopis, son of cush. The capital was later moved to Aksum in northern Ethiopia. The Kingdom used the name “Ethiopia” as early as the 4th century.

During the Middle Ages, the position of Tigray Mekonnen (“Governor of Tigray”) was established to rule over the area. Other districts included Akele Guzay (now part of Eritrea), and the kingdom of the Bahr Negus, who ruled much of what is now Eritrea and Shire district and town in Western Tigray. At the time when Tigray Mekonnen existed simultaneously with that of Bahr Negus, their frontier seems to have been the Mareb River, which is currently constitutes the border between the Ethiopian province of Tigray and Eritrea.

After the loss of power of the Bahr Negus in the aftermath of Bahr Negus Yeshaq’s rebellions, the title of Tigray Mekonnen gained power in relation to the Bahr Negus and at times included ruling over parts of what is now Eritrea, especially in the 19th century. One of its members, Dejazmach Kahsay Mercha, ascended the imperial throne in 1871 under the name Yohannes IV (1871–89). Following his death in the Battle of Metemma, the Ethiopian throne came under the control of the king of Shewa, and the center of power shifted south and away from Tigray.

Woyane rebellion of 1943

In 1943, open resistance broke out all over southern and eastern Tigray under the slogan, “there is no government; The formed system of governance and established a military command system. It demonstrated considerable popular participation and reflected widely shared grievances. The uprising was unequivocally and specifically directed against the central Shoan Amhara regime of Haile Selassie I, rather than the Tigrayan imperial elite.

Then there was the civil war against the Derg that ended in 1991. This was followed by 27 years of Tigrayan Rule. One of the most autocratic rule in Ethiopia.

The area is famous for a single rock sculptured 23 meter long obelisk in Axum as well as for other fallen obelisks. The Axum treasure site of ancient Tigrayan history is a major landmark. Yeha is another important local landmark that is little-known outside the region.

Tigray is home to Ethiopia’s most extensive church libraries that are found in the eastern and central zones of the region. There are several ongoing digitization projects to preserve previous
historical texts

These are some of the finest Africans tribes. Let us celebrate them.

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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