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Tigray History

The majority of Tigrayans trace their origin to early Semitic-speaking peoples whose presence in the region dates back to at least 2000 BC, based on linguistic evidence (and known from the 9th century BC from inscriptions).

The daily life of Tigrayans are highly influenced by religious concepts. For example, the Christian Orthodox fasting periods are strictly observed, especially in Tigray; but also traditional local beliefs such as in spirits, are widespread.

Who are Tigrayans?

Tigrayans are people who live in Tigray in northeast Africa and speak the Tigrayan language a.k.a. Tigrinya, which is a Semitic language. Population projection based on the last census in 2007 indicate that Tigray likely has an estimated population of at least 7 million. While Tigrayans are the largest ethnic group native to Tigray, the Kunama and Irob peoples are also native to Tigray and make up approximately 1% of the population.

Unique in Africa, Tigray’s civilization dates back at least 3,000 years to the time of the D’MT or DEMT (ደዐመተ) kingdom, which from its central Tigray, ruled over present day Tigray and Eritrea. The DEMT kingdom was replaced by what can be described as the greatest civilization in sub-Saharan Africa, which was centered in Axum, Tigray. The ancient Kingdom of Axum (Aksum) ruled over large areas on both sides of the Red Sea and it was considered one of the greatest civilizations in the ancient world. According to UNICEF, the “Kingdom of Aksum was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia.”

The ruins of the great temple at Yeha, which was the capital city of the Tigrayans before Axum, is the oldest standing structure in this part of the world dating back to 700 BC. Not far from Yeha is the ancient town of Axum, which is believed to be the final resting place of the Arc of the Covenant at the St. Mary of Zion monastery. The ancient port of Adulis in today’s Eritrea, was used by the Axumites for their maritime trade. Settled centuries before Christ and showcasing some of the greatest archaeological and religious heritages of Tigray, the town of Axum is today the holiest place for the tens of millions of followers of the Orthodox Church. Negash, in eastern Tigray, is one of the holiest places in the Islamic world having the earliest Muslim settlement in Africa and the Al Nejashi Mosque, which is the oldest in Africa.

As well as the Giiz (Ge’ez) language that is still used for liturgical purposes, the Tigrayan civilization gave us the writing system still in use today known as the Axumite ‘feedel’ or ‘script’ which is unique in Africa. In fact, Tigrayans possess the only civilization in Africa with a writing system that has been in use continuously for millennia.

Today, a total war has been declared against Tigrayans by the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes. Once again, Tigrayans are at the receiving end of a genocide while the world watches silently. War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are being perpetrated against the people of Tigray by the triple alliance of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Eritrean Defense Forces, and the Amhara Special Forces and irregular forces.


In 1984 and 1985, the Derg regime used the draught at that time as a weapon of war by suppressing news of famine and blocking or delaying food aid. Today, Ethiopian and Eritrean regime forces have blockaded Tigray after they deliberately burned crops, destroyed food reserves and medical and other infrastructure in order that millions can perish silently in cold blood.