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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:On the Origins of the Amhara
Author:Chernetsov, Sevir B.
Periodical:St. Petersburg Journal of African Studies
Geographic term:Ethiopia
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Abstract:Practically every work on Ethiopia stresses the political dominance of the Amhara people in the history of the Ethiopian Christian empire. However, in both Christian and Muslim written traditions up to the 19th century, and in the Ethiopian chronicles of the 14th to 18th centuries, the term 'Amhara' is a toponym, not an ethnonym. One wonders how the population of a rather small province could dominate a vast empire, and why there are no traces of this ethnic group in Ethiopian chronicles. The modern Amhara assert that the traditional meaning of their ethnonym is 'noble nation'. However in Amharic the translation of 'noble nation' is pronounced 'cewa lijotch', i.e. the 'cewa' children. Contrary to the term 'Amhara', 'cewa' is often mentioned in Ethiopian historiography. It means royal regiments. The royal regiments were the dominant group in the empire. This was a social, rather than an ethnic group, characterized by a Christian, feudal and essentially military culture, and by the adoption of Amharic, the language of the king, which from a lingua imperii became the lingua franca. When the emperor became an absolute monarch, the practice of granting land in return for military service disappeared and today the 'cewa' children have become common peasants. The article is a revised version of an article first published in Russian in 1977. Bibliogr.