The Gurage people are an Habesha Ethiosemitic-speaking ethnic group inhabiting Ethiopia. The Gurage people traditionally inhabit a fertile, semi-mountainous region in southwest Ethiopia, about 125 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa, bordering the Awash River in the north, the Gibe River (a tributary of the Omo River) to the southwest, and Lake Zway in the east. In addition, according to the 2007 Ethiopian national census the Gurage can also be found in large numbers in Addis Ababa, Oromia Region, Dire Dawa, Harari Region, Somali Region, Amhara Region, Gambela Region, Benishangul-Gumuz Region, and Tigray Region.
Gurage people are agriculturalist Afro-Asiatic ethnolinguistic group inhabiting the fertile and semi-mountainous region some 150 miles (240 kilometres) south and west of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bounded by the Awash River on the north, the Gilgel Gibe River (a tributary of the Omo River) on the southwest, and Lake Ziway on the east.
They were originally from the Tigray region of Ethiopia as the descendants of military conquerors during the Aksumite empire. Gurage make up an estimated 1,867,377 people (or 2.53% of the total population of Ethiopia) according to the 2007 national census. This is 2.53% of the total population of Ethiopia, or 7.52% of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR).
Gurage people are divided into several sub-groups, but the three main sub-groups are the Sebat-bet Gurage found in the western part of Gurageland – the two other sub-groups being the Northern Kistane cluster and the Eastern Silte-speaking cluster. The Silte have recently asserted their own non-Gurage identity in a referendum held in the year 2000 and set-up a new politico-administrative unit at equal status with the Gurage Zone in the Southern Region.
The Gurages are generally liked in Ethiopia. People like their food and dancing, as well as the fact that they are clean and hard-working. There are many examples of Gurages who started out with almost nothing, and today are rich. They are also known to for helping each-other, being a bit clannish. It is truly an interesting people, from a country rich in culture and diversity!
The Gurage zone, which is part of the Southern Nation, Nationalities and People Region, Is located in the western part of central Ethiopia; and at the same time it is the northern tip of the region. it is bounded with Hadiya zone and Yem special wore in the south and southwest respectively. The northern, western and eastern portions are sharing boarder with Oromia state.
The mountainous highland represented by the Gurage mountain chain, dividing the zone east to west, having an elevation of 3600 m. The plateau flat lands, the area covered by “amora and Ambusa meda”. The low stretching area, the western fringe of the rift valley and the Wabegive valley having an elevation of 1000 m.
The Gurage people occupy the southernmost areas of the central plateau, about 150 miles southwest of Addis Ababa; mainly semi-mountainous country, with highland forest and green valleys and plains where the Chibieand Gogeb rivers flow. They live in small densely-settled villages.
The climate in the zone is of three divisions. These are dega weinadega and kolla. The dega section is connected with the distribution of the Gurage chain mountains. The give valley mainly represents kolla climate. Most of the zone lines in the winedega division.
The distribution of rainfall and temperature mainly flows this pattern. The highest rainfall record is 1600 mm/year, while the lowest was recorded as 700 mm/year. The highest and lowest temperature record is 32 and 15 degrees Celcius respectively.
Gurage houses are circular structures held together with- out the use of nails with wooden spokes protruding from a center pole to support the thatched roof. Locally-made pottery hangs around the inside wall in neat rows. Near the center is a ! replace used for cooking and heating the house.
Often a small section on one side of the house is equipped for livestock (cows, sheep or goats, and perhaps a horse), which are kept in the house during the night.
Gurage people speak Guraginya or Gurage languages which belongs to the larger Afro-Asiatic, Semitic language phylum. Guraginya is related to Geez (and subsequently Amharic and Tigrinya). Some six different languages are spoken by Gurage people forms Guraginya or Gurage languages. They are Soddo, Inor,
Mesqan, Mesmes, Zay and Sebat Bet. Their languages are not always mutually intelligible. One group, called the Sebat Bet which means seven houses and refer to a group of seven Gurage tribes, which in turn have their specific dialects! Sebat Bet speakers are over one million.
Their language is Semitic, like Hebrew and Amharic (thenational language of Ethiopia), but due to the influence of surrounding Cushitic languages, it has 10 vowels instead of the usual. For this reason, the term Gurage is used in a cultural sense more than in a linguistic.
There seems to be scanty information about the origins of Gurage people. However, according to the historian Paul B. Henze, their origins are explained by traditions of a military expedition to the south during the last years of the Aksumite Empire, which left military colonies that eventually became isolated from both northern Ethiopia and each other. This assertion means the Gurage people originated from the Tigray region of Ethiopia and were the descendants of military conquerors during the Aksumite empire.
The Gurage live a sedentary life based on agriculture, involving a complex system of crop rotation and transplanting. Ensete is their main staple crop, but other cash crops are grown, which include coffee and chat. Animal husbandry is practiced, but mainly for milk supply and dung. Other foods consumed include green cabbage, cheese, butter, and roasted grains, with meat consumption being very limited (also used in rituals or ceremonies).
The Gurage raise Zebu cattle. These cattle give very little milk, which is seldom drunk. Instead, it is churned into butter, and a typical Gurage household has a large quantity of spiced butter aging in clay pots hung from the walls of their huts. Butter is believed to be medicinal, and the Gurage often take it internally or use it a lotion or poultice. A Gurage proverb states that "A sickness that has the upperhand over butter is destined for death." Different species of ensete are also eaten to alleviate illness.
The Gurage regard overeating as coarse and vulgar, and regard it as poor etiquette to eat all of the ensete that a host passes around to guests. It is considered polite to leave at least some ensete bread even after a very small portion is passed around It is typically expected that a Gurage will extend hospitality to their neighbors and kinfolk in dispensing ensete freely to them. However, Gurage often hoard extra food and eat it secretly to avoid having to share it.
The Gurage are known for their extensive cultivation of the ensete, or “fake” banana plant, known as asat, although this is a practice they share with other southern and southwestern Ethiopians.
The plant plays a vital role in the economic and social life of the Gurage. they use it for a variety of domestic and medicinal purposes, but its role in ritual appraisal to be small. It is also used in other aspects of life. For example, they wrap a corpse after death with it, or after birth, the umbilical cord is tied off with an enset fiber.
The tree has a very big stem that grows under the ground. Its intensive cultivation allows the concentration of large communities in compact and permanent villages. well-planned techniques of cultivation (in overlapping two-year cycles) and systematic storage of ensete food make it possible for the Gurage to live well above subsistence level. To this, they have added a variety of cash crops which are grown between ensete plants, without significantly changing the traditional pattern of gardening.
Kocho is made by shaping the Ensete paste to a thick circle and wrapping it in a thin layer of ensete leaves. Its baked in a small pit with coals. Sometimes the paste is just cooked over a griddle. In episode 8 in bizarre foods, Andrew Zimmern tasted the 'Kocho and said it tasted like nothing and it made his mouth dry.
The Gurage, the writer Nega Mezlekia notes, "have earned a reputation as skilled traders". One example of an enterprising Gurage is one Tekke, whom Nathaniel T. Kenney described as "an Ethiopian Horatio Alger, Jr.": He began his career selling old bottles and tin cans; the Emperor [Haile Selassie] recently rewarded his achievement in creating his plantation by calling him to Addis Ababa and decorating him.
Throughout the Gurage cultural region a periodic marketing system operates, with most markets operating only on a unique day of the week. A few of the larger markets like the one in Emdeber operated in a limited fashion every day of the week but expanded greatly on the “market day.” There were few permanent stalls or shelters but each class of goods had its particular area of the market-place.
Items traded included agricultural products, livestock, pottery, cloth, basketwork, cash crops such as coffee and chat, with a few exotic items from the outside world.
The basic family structure is much larger than the typical Western nuclear unit. The oldest male is usually the head of the household and is in charge of decision making.
Men, usually having the primary income, control the family economically and distribute money. Women are in charge of domestic life and have significantly more contact with the children. The father is seen as an authority figure.
Children are socially required to care for their parents, and so there are often three to four generations in a household. With the advent of urban living, however, this pattern is changing, and children often live far from their families and have a much harder time supporting them.
Urbanites have a responsibility to send money to their families in rural areas and often try their best to relocate their families to the cities.
The traditional institutions take organisational forms based mainly on councils of elders set up at different levels from neighbourhood/village to clan/tribal levels. Their role is to set and enforce norms and rules governing aspects of life ranging from simple socio-economic relations between individuals to wider community, local and regional.
Furthermore, they are responsible for Settlement of disputes and management of conflict aimed at obtaining justice and social.
Children are raised by the extended family and community. It is the primary duty of the mother to care for the children as part of her domestic duties. If the mother is not available, the responsibility falls to the older female children as well as the grandmothers.
During early childhood, children have the greatest exposure to their mothers and female relatives. At around the age of five, especially in urban areas, children start attending school if their families can afford the fees. In rural areas, schools are few and children do farm work. This means a very low percentage of rural youth attend school. The government is trying to alleviate this problem by building accessible schools in rural areas.
The patriarchal structure of society is reflected in the stress on education for boys over girls. Women face discrimination problems as well as physical abuse in school.
Also, the belief still exists that females are less competent then males and that education is wasted on them.
The Gurage have belief in Supreme being and a Creator god called "Waq" (Sky God). They participate in traditional religious practices such as offerings to Waq,their supreme deity. They hang effigies of ancestral gods in their houses to ward off evil spirit.
Earth shrines to Waq are common outside of villages. The Fuga people, a class of hunters and artisans, are considered to hold the key to traditional rituals. Their reputed power of magic and sorcery are greatly feared. The Fuga are barred from working the soil because they are believed.
The Gurage sometimes experience spirit possession. William A. Shack postulated that spirit possession is caused by Gurange cultural attitudes about food and hunger, because while they have a plentiful food supply, cultural pressures that force the Gurange to either share it to meet social obligations, or hoard it and eat it secretly cause them anxiety. Distinctions are drawn between spirits that only possess men, spirits that only possess women, and spirits that possess victims of either sex. A ritual illness that only affects men believed to because by a spirit called awre. This affliction presents itself by loss of appetite, nausea, and attacks from severe stomach pains. If it persists the victim may enter a trancelike stupor, in which he sometimes regains consciousness long enough to take food and water. Breathing is often labored. Seizures and trembling overcome the patient, and in extreme cases, even partial paralysis of the extremities.
If the victim does not recover naturally, a traditional healer, or sagwara, is summoned. Once the sagwara has determined the spirit's name through the use of divinitation, he prescribes a routine formula to exorcise the spirit. This is not a permanent cure, however, it is believed to allow the victim to form a relationship with the spirit. Nevertheless, the victim is subject to chronic repossession, which is treated by repeating the formula. This formula involves the preparation and consumption of a dish of ensente, butter, and red pepper. During this ritual, the victim's head is covered with a drape, and he eats the ensente ravenously while other ritual participants chant. The ritual ends when the possessing spirit announces that it is satisfied. Shack notes that the victims are overwhelmingly poor men, and that women are not as food-deprived as men are due to ritual activities that involve food redistribution and consumption. Shack postulates that the awre serves to bring the possessed man to the center of social attention, and to relieve his anxieties over his inability to gain prestige from redistributing food, which is the primary way in which Gurange men gain status in their society.
In recent times, the Gurage are mostly Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, but also practice Islam, Roman Catholicism and traditional religious beliefs. Both Christianity and Islam were outside religions imposed on the Gurage by Invasion. Over 50% claim allegiance to Christianity and another 40% to Islam.