The Amhara Psychology | by BefeQadu Z. Hailu

Filed under: News Feature,Opinion |

by BefeQadu Z. Hailu

To begin with less controversial fact, today’s Amhara is not exactly what it is referred in old historical scripts of the country (Ethiopia). It has mostly been used to refer to the Christians, and also, to mean ‘good people’. It is also used seldom to mean Amharic speaking people. But, all of these are when the Amharic speaking people use it; for example, Oromos used to say ‘Sidama’ to refer to the Amhara. There are many people who still use the phrase ‘Afaan Sidama’ to say ‘Afaan Amhara’. EPRDF’s ethnic federalism definded Amhara as the people who are residing in Northern Shoa, Gojjam, Gondar, Wollo, and also people currently residing in other regions whose parents are originally from these places.

Befeqadu Hailu

To know how Amharic language evolved would help us learn how the people, who are currently considered as ‘Amhara’, have reached here. Even though it is second largest “ethnic group” (population wise), Amharic is most spoken in Ethiopia. Yet, it is not oldest langauge in the country. Legend has it that it was in Shoa, in the 13th Century, that the language was first born. Others say it was first spoken by ‘Amahara Sayint’ people as early as seventh century. Either way, the language is younger than Cushitic languages that include Afaan Oromo and Somali and also than most Omotic and Nilo-Saharan languages.

How does it grow larger and faster? Who are the people who are speaking it now? There are many possible answers for the first question. One of the possible and not controversial answers is that its adoption by the ruling elites has contributed to its quick growth. For the second question, we can certainly speak about the fact that the first people who started to speak Amharic used to have other languages as well. So, we can deduct a conclusion that may not please people who define ethnicity based on only language. This is because the birth and expansion of Amharic language proves the fore fathers of the current Amharic language speakers will happen to have another ethnicity according to language-based definition of ethnicity.

Scholars say Amharic is a child of Ge’ez, currently dying Semitic language; but, also say its syntax has similarity with Cushitic languages such as Afaan Oromo. The likes of Donald Levin suspect, while trying to explain how the Semitic language could have Cushitic syntax, ‘Amharic maybe created when the Oromo try to speak Ge’ez’. It maybe true. Bahru Zewdie has also written that ‘Amharic has more words derived from the Cushitic Afaan Oromo instead of its presumed parent language Ge’ez’.

Amharic language became official language of Ethiopia’s rulers since the 19th century, during the reign of Emperor Theodros II. Before that, Ge’ez used to be the official language of the rulers even to have their stories recorded. The adaptation of Amharic language as an official language of state has advantantaged the language’s expansion. In the Imperial Ethiopia, the central source of legitimacy was Orthodox Christianity. Added to that, to speak Amharic language became a necessity as Amharic was promoted to be the official language.

So, people – whatever their ethnic background is – have to be Christians and speak Amharic to have the maximum chance of taking over leadership. (The exceptions won’t count here. In the Yejju era (also called as ‘Era of the Princes’) Afaan Oromo is said to have become language of the palace; and before that, Gondar royalities had adopted Catholic Christianity. Both lived short. During Emperor Menelik II’s reign, King of Jimma, Abba Jifar, could keep his faith of Islam and submitted to the King of Kings. But, no similar diversity has ever been experienced before and after.)

But, since Orthodox Christianity is the main factor to seek royality (and also maybe because the current Tigray region is where the state was founded), Tigrians have shares in leadership regardless of their language difference. This makes Christianization a factor of eligibility to rule. To communicate effectively with the central ruling elite, it also needs one Amharanize oneself. Thus Amharanization often involved both Orthodox Christianization as well as Amharic language skills. Accordingly, people of any ethnic background Amharanize themselves as they get close to the ruling elites’ inner circle.

Amhara people speak of their birth place (saying I’m Gojjamé, Gondarré, Showayé or Wolloyé) when they are asked about their identity; other ethnic groups such as Oromo and Somali speak of their tribal family roots (AKA gossa) or that they are Oromo or Somali to tell their identity. This is an implication that the Amhara do not have direct familial (tribal) line but mixed background.

Now, there is a society (or, an ethnic group) that is identified as Amhara. And, this Amhara have a common psychological make up that keep them together. This common psychological make up is usually pride. The source of this pride is the long standing narration of heroism and leadership opportunity they had. They do have strong sense of ownership to the state. They make proud of the fact that they had central role in forming the Ethiopian state. And, therefore, they don’t like critics of the way Ethiopia is formed. They hate anyone who hates the Imperial rulers and dislike who doesn’t like the state.

The Amhara Privilege

Because Amharic is official for at least the past 200 years, the Amhara are advantaged by getting the ultimate chance to determine (participate in determining) the fate of the country. Currently, in this ethnically federalized republic, Amharic is spoken in almost every corner of the country. Amharic speaking people are privileged to easily communicate in all towns existed in Ethiopia better than any other language speakers. In fact, many Amharas reject this privilege as non existent only because all Amharic speaking people are not Amharas.

The Amhara Challenge

As privileged as Amharas are in the past historical events and its legacies, they are also victims of its short falls. All Amhara people were not members to the royal members. Many were just ordinary people who tilled the land of the the lords. However, the revolution of 1974 which has thrown away the Imperial system has also came up with a narration that blames the Amhara for almost everything. Amhara became the antagonist of the new narration. Given the history of the people, Amhara people are most dispersed of all. They have communities in every other ethnically categorized new regiones. They are often victims of displacement and are viewed as settlers. The history they make pride made them victims in a contrary interpretation.

Cross Roads…

The Amhara Psychology – the pride in the way the republic was founded and in the role they had to – kept many of Amharas rejecting the Amhara nationalism in an ethnonationalist federation. But, the Amhara challenge made it a necessity to forge a nationalism. In addition, Ethiopian nationalism claims of the Amhara is criticized to be a camouflage to keep the interests of the ethnic group. However, the challenge is the way the ethnic group is created. It has no straight familial (tribal) line which can make members associated with and protective of. So, it needs different approach to convince the Amhara take its part in the federal members competitio and limit affairs in regional issues when necessary.

Amhara people are said to be extremely individualist than collectivist which ethnonationals need to survive. Newly growing Amhara nationalists so far failed to define the social psychology, history and demands of Amhara people. There is no single book so far published with the title ‘History of Amhara’. And no pragmatic Amhara nationalism is formulated so far. This has posed a challenge in identifying the very way Amahara nationalism, without destroying the social tendency of individualism, should be established to keep the benefits of the people while helping it live with others in harmony.

19 Responses to The Amhara Psychology | by BefeQadu Z. Hailu

  1. “Amhara people are said to be extremely individualist than collectivist”
    Well said, and it is 100% true
    To add one point: Those who claim as “Amhara” have another thing in common: They take pride when their friend, neighbour, family member has a lower rank in living. Unlike others like Gurage, Tigre, .. etc, “the Amhara individual” doesn’t have a culture to help grow his/her friend/neighbour, family member. One of the key strength of TPLF is because of the “help-each-other” mentality of the tigrees. But the Amhara mentality is like “eat each-other”. That’s why, the ANDEM dogs eat each other (eat their own people) while TPLF is feeding its own people.
    Disclaimer: am Amharic speaking and “Amhara” according to this definition.

    VeryTrue
    September 30, 2017 at 2:43 am
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  2. You said Amharic is younger than Cushitic languages that include Afaan Oromo and Somali and also than most Omotic and Nilo-Saharan languages. very poor Logic. There is was no a language called Oromo or Afaan Oromo before woyane come to power.

    Malaku
    September 30, 2017 at 4:46 am
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    • This is an extraordinarily repulsive statement. I really wonder why people like this person live just to stray venom. Merz metfat! How dare you say that? Your hate for Oromo people and culture blinded you so much that you arrive at this kind of falasy – there was no Oromo language before Woyane? Man, I recommend that you go and consult with your doctor. Sick!

      Jabessa Bonsa
      October 5, 2017 at 12:36 am
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  3. you couldn’t have been more wrong about the origin and evolution of the Amharic language and the Amhara people as a whole. It is obvious that you are writing about a topic you have very little grasp of.

    First of all, the Amharic language is an old language. This is attested in some of its archaic vocabularies. It is far older than your suggested 13th century date.

    Second, Amharic is decidedly a Semitic language. It’s Cushitic influence is exaggerated by scholars who are out to prove that Amhara and Oromo share a common linguistic heritage. While it is true that Amharic has some loan words from Cushitic languages, just as Cushitic languages have some loan words from Amharic, studies suggest that 75 percent of Amharic’s vocabulary is pure Semitic. However, it should be recalled that contemporary Ethio-Semitic and Ethio-Cushitic languages are believed to have originated in Ethiopia from a single language family. It is, therefore, natural that connections exist between these language groups.

    Third, there was definitely an Amhara ethnic group who used to speak Amharic as its mother tongue. A language cannot evolve without a particular ethnic group speaking it as its mother tongue. This ethnic group was living in a vast stretch of land extending from Hamassien in the North to Shoa in the east. It is interesting to note that some Tigreans in the Hamassien region trace their origin to the Amhara country. Moreover, there is evidence that the ancient Amhara population identified itself as “Amhara”. This is attested in a 14th century Amharic poem dedicated to Emperor Dawit I. In one of those poems, a direct and unmistakable reference is made to “የአምሓራ ዠር”. Find and read the poem collection.

    It is also true that the Amhara language expanded itself to new territories with the help of the warrior Emperors of the 13th and 14th century and the church. It is also important to acknowledge the role that the founders of the Ifat and later the Adal dynasty played in the spread of Amharic to the east and south East of the country, which is often overlooked in the literature. Historical documents indicate that the founders of Ifat dynasty were Amharic speakers, though in its archaic form, before Argobba and Amharic evolved into being mutually unintelligle languages.

    The reason why Amharas identity themselves geographically is more historical and political than ethnic identity. Although Amharas identify themselves territorially, they still share deep layers of linguistic, religious and cultural identity. The fact that they identify themselves territorially does not mean that they don’t have a singular ethnic identity. One of the reasons why territory plays such an exaggerated role in the construction of the Amhara identity is because Amharas are a deeply agrarian society. Amharas entire way of life revolves around land. It is, therefore, little surprising that they tightly wed their identity to land and territory. The Wollea, Gojjamea, Shoea, Gondere identities are broader expressions of Amharas’ strong territorial mindset. Moreover, regional lords expoited these territorial divisions to carve out their own political space, which served to further cement the territorial identities. The examples you sited as a counter point, i.e., Oromos and Somalis, are historically, and even to this today, largely pastoral societies. Because they have a very fluid sense of place identity, they instead identify along their tribal affiliation or ethnic group.

    Generally, this is a poorly thought-out and an even more poorly substantiated article. I strongly recommend you to read Girma Awigchew’s The Origin of Amharic. It provides a detailed description of the history and evolution of the Amharic language. Drawing on strong linguistic and historical evidence, the book demystifies many of the myths about the Amharic language, and by extension the Amhara people, including those charitably featured in your article.

    Wondwesen TE (posted by A)
    September 30, 2017 at 9:08 am
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    • amhara is not name for the place they lived in early time. the amayzing thing here in ethiopia is that non-of our ancesstors were not native. even though the time that happend differes, our ancesstors were invaders. now we are the total sum of diff actions, diff civilizations, movements, wars, and so on we are here. they have done what they have believed and what the time give them the chance. now, they are left dead, so the time gives us chance to make, to build, to be modern, to be better(not to be worst). it is our time. the dead is dead. we are better than them and act, think, behave, and do betterthan them its our choice.

      kassa
      October 12, 2017 at 8:33 pm
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  4. እኩልነትን የማይቀበል ፡የድሮውን ድሪቶ ያላወለቀ ሣይኮሎጂ የትም አያደርስ ፡፡
    ይልቅ ሌላው እራሱን በራሱ እያስተዳደረ እናንተ የቀድሞ ጭቃ ሹምነትን ስትናፍቁ እንዳይመሽ፡፡

    የእምነት ፡የቋንቋ ፡የሀሣብ ፡የባህል ፡የአኗኗር ልዩነትን ካላከበሩ እንደው መጃጃል ነው ነገሩ ፡፡

    ጨቡድ
    October 1, 2017 at 12:17 am
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  5. You yourself are the most confused parrot I’ve seen and heard. your narratives on Amharic language is mishmash. U’ve fabricated that Amharic is not an old language like the so called Cushitic languages. Little wonder You have no knowlege of Ethiopian languages. Then keep ur bad mouth shut.
    In Ethiopian rift vally there was semitic languages 2000 years before pre- history. Thus Amharic is not a newe language but an ancient language. It is also sistery related to Geez. Modern lingustic studies have corroborated that Ethiopia is the origing of Afro- Asiatic language family.
    Persons like you are only echowing whatever they have been told to propagate. In Ethiopia some westerners have intentionaly distorted and also manufactured that Ethiopian Semitic languages orginated from Arabian peninsula, Yemen. This is west European discourse. These bigots propagate that black Africans have no civilization and history. Axumites and ancient Egyptian civilization is considred to be the work of white migrants either from Asia or Europe. Your referece to prove that Amharic is a new language is Bahiru Zewude. Who is this Bahiru ? A miseducated “historian” is not a lingust either. Furtheremore, in your false narratives you have written that Amharic began in 13th century. You’re absolutly wrong. Amharic became the national language- Lisane Nigus since the Zeagwe dynasty in the second half of the ninth century A.D. It is indeed a universal fact that a language can not become national when it starts to develop.
    The reverse is quite true i.e Oromo pastoralists who invaded Ethiopia in the wacke of Ahimed Gragn jihadist war of annihilation in the first half of 16th century, have borrowed many Amharic words whenever they settled in Amhara lands in Ethiopia.

    Derbi Kelbesa
    October 1, 2017 at 4:49 am
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  6. No wonder woyane put you in jail. First of all, you do not have an iota of knowledge about psychology, let alone writing on the psyche of a group of people.
    Is lack of cooperation indeed the characteristic behavior of Amharic speaking People only? Why are the groups you support-the Oromos-divided into more 10 groups? Listen to Colonel Geresu`s interview on SBS.
    In general, your writing smells woyane and OLF and all those narrow groups, belittling the great Amharic speaking Ethiopians for nothing but saying they are Ethiopians more than anything else.
    After I read your article I said “Egzo min aynet zemen deresn”

    May the Almighty help you to recover from this hatred to more than 30 million Ethiopians!!

    Meseret
    October 2, 2017 at 10:47 am
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  7. Did you even read any Ethiopian history books?

    Tsegaye
    October 3, 2017 at 8:41 am
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  8. I regret to have opposed your incarceration, you’re much worse but not dangerous than your jailers! The more you right, the more you would become necked! You also appear totally devoid of Ethiopian history and it’s languages but aggrandize your ego through empty words. Understanding psych requires, among others, an astute understanding of history. I’m glad that you made your self clear where you stand, certainly not zone nine! Ethiopians deserve much knowledgeable journalists than smaller tongues!

    Bitew
    October 3, 2017 at 9:40 pm
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  9. WHAT A SILLY MAN

    IS IT POSSIBLE TO GENERALIZE ABOUT TWO INDIVIDUALS LET ALONE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ?

    THE PROBLEM WITH ETHIOPIANS IS THAT THEY ANNOINT THEM SELVES AS SUPER GUNIUS BY CATEGORIZING PEOPLE .LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS DANGERIOUS !

    THIS TOPIC REQUIRES HUNDRES OF YEARS OF RESEARCH . BUT, THNAKS TO IGNORANCE AND ARROGANCE , THIS LITTLE BOY IS TRYING TO EXPLAIN THE PSYCHE OF THE ENTIRE PEOPLE .

    GROW UP LITTLE BOY . YOU CAN NOT GENERALIZE ON 30,000,000 PEOPLE .

    TYPICAL ETHIOPIAN MENTALITY . ABEBE GELAW’S SYNDROM .

    NANA
    October 4, 2017 at 1:31 am
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  10. What ever the writer says, my question is how the amharic language and amharisation psychology expanded in Ethiopia?
    The group of people so called Amara and it is Amharaisation psychology expanded by force through ruling groups whom consider themselves ethnically as Amhara. By forcing other different ethnicity particularly people live in Showea, Gonder, Wollo and gojam are faced with ethnic extinct. if we considered ethnics vanished in four provinces are Oromo Agew wetto Felasha.At the end the Felasha are migrated to Israel due to prejudice and discrimination. The mentioned ethncis are the victim of the expansion of Amharisation therfore majority of people pretending themselves as Amhar are not ethnically amhra to avoid from prejudice however Ethnic federation is the best political solution to fix the amhar supremacy in Ethiopia.It is also very important political system to liberate people from fake identity to be themselves!!!!

    hailu
    October 5, 2017 at 1:08 am
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  11. Your writing seems political than academic. You look like a TPLF cadre under disguise. It is full of generalization and denial of history. Such a reductionist article is good for nothing except satisfying your hidden ambition of stoking hate against Amharas.

    Mizan
    October 8, 2017 at 10:14 pm
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    • MIZAN ,

      WHEN WE WERE KIDS DERGUE USED TO TELL US THAT WOYANES ARE LIKE FOUR EYED MONSTERS . BUT , WHEN THEY ACTUALY COME THEY TURN OUT TO BE PEOPLE LOVING YOUNG BOYS AND GIRLS WITH VISION .

      NOW , YOU ARE VICTIM OF DERGUE AND NEFTEGNA NAME CALLING .

      TPLF cadre is the most privileged job on earth . WE ARE ALL TPLF !!!!!!

      UNSHAKABLE STAND LIKE AMORAW

      NANA
      October 10, 2017 at 3:09 am
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      • what is the job title?¿ I think it is “aleklaki”.

        kassa
        October 12, 2017 at 8:44 pm
        Reply

  12. Nana,

    You being TPLF is fine. Let others be themselves. Leave us alone. Clear and loud: we do not want your organization.

    Mekonnen Tesfaye
    October 10, 2017 at 10:04 am
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    • Mekonnen Tesfaye ,

      THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING MY FREEDOM OF LIKING AND DISLIKING .

      ABOUT YOUR OPINION ABOUT TPLF , U HAVE THE RIGHT TO DISLIKE IT TOO .
      BUT , TPLF IS ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE OF TIGRAI .PERIOD.
      YOUR LIKING OR DISLIKING DOES NOT CHANGE A THING .

      FOR INSTANCE , I HATE AUSTARALIAN PM . BUT , I KNOW THAT I CAN NOT CHANGE ANY THING SINCE I AM NOT AUSTRALIAN .

      IT IS THE PEOPLE OF TIGRAI WHO CAN DECIDE ON TPLF .
      SIMILARLY , NO ONE CAN DECIDE ABOUT YOUR REGION AND ITS RULING PARTY .

      THE OLD CENTRAL GOVERNMENT JUNK IS GONE FOR GOOD .DO NOPT FORGET THE FEDERAL GOVT IS A POWER SHARED BY ALL .

      SO IF YOU SHOUT DOWN DOWN TPLF WHILE YOUR BROTHER IS IN POWER IN YOUR REGION , YOU ARE SHOWING LOW IQ AND SUPERIOR STUPIDITY .

      TPLF GOVERNS TIGRAI .THE OPINION OF OTHERS DOES NOT MATTER .

      FIANALLY , I HATE THE WORD “Leave us alone” BECAUSE THIS IS A MASS MENTALITY OF OLD FEUDALS . YOU CAN ONLY TALK FOR YOUR SELF

      US is plural . SIMPLY SAY LEAVE ME ALONE .DO NOT PRETEND AS IF U REPRESENT THE WHOLE NATION .

      NANA
      October 11, 2017 at 7:08 am
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  13. My friend Mizan.
    I can tell u the truth that about how the amharaization psychology and language of Amahra were imposed on the people of Ethiopia. Amharaisation psychology and languge of Amhara were got special privilege to be preferred language and psychology in Ethiopia since a long time. By people who calling themselves Solomonic dynasty that ruled Ethiopia for a long time. These ruling group were dnies other ethnic language and identity and they were working hard to propagate One ethnic language and identity at the expense of majority of citizens .If you belive my point of view is incorrect you can ask the people of Oromo and Agew how they were sffering during teh regim of Solomonic dynasty. Bydoing so you can identify the fact about the expansion of Amharaisation Psychology and its language in Ethiopia. The most important thing to resolve this unfair political practice that led us to accept other ethnic supremacy is, by establishing political system that brings in equality and social justice.

    hailu
    October 11, 2017 at 8:27 pm
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  14. The new Walelign of 2017.

    “little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.

    I saw this poorly written article a week ago, I ignored it until I heard his interview.

    I am 100% sure in five years or in ten years he will be matured and change his mind.

    He thinks identity is based on cross checking reference books, or by listening to hatred speech made by pro-ethiopiawinnet camp, even if he is right or wrong, why the same principle does not apply to Oromo? Tigre? or to any other ethnic? though Meles was crook but sometimes he is credible, listen to the debate Meles vs Prof Mesfin in early 1990’s, Meles destroyed gufaya professor.

    I do not blame Walelign for writing a piece of essay which has been hijacked by ethnic hardliners. In those days Ethiopia was backward in terms of education level, information medias, availability of books, scholars, etc. there were few Marxist books circulating in the campus of the only university in the country, if Walelign was alive today he would have changed his mind 180 degrees. Ex Ihapa leaders all changed their minds, it is a normal thing to expand your knowledge and change your mind, only idiots don’t change their minds.

    If you live in Addis you may not feel what feels like being an Amhara, people have been killed for being Amharas for decades, I personally know during Ethio-Somalia war in 1977/8, Amhara people were separated, little girls were raped, adult men and priests were executed, I am sad this little boy called Beffikadu writes nonsense sitting in Addis. Forget tracing back the history of the language or the word Amhara, as we speak there are people discriminated day to day life for being Amharas, I can call your name Beffikadu or Taddesse, but you are the same person paying the price, please be responsible.

    Zenebe
    October 12, 2017 at 10:04 am
    Reply

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