Gumuz people

The Gumuz (also spelled Gumaz and Gumz) are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting the Benishangul-Gumuz Region and the Qwara woreda in western Ethiopia, as well as the Fazogli region in Sudan. They speak the Gumuz language, which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family. The Gumuz number around 200,000 individuals.


The Gumuz have traditionally been grouped with other Nilotic peoples living along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border under the collective name Shanqella (Pankhurst 1977). As "Shanquella", they are already mentioned by Scottish explorer James Bruce in his Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, published in 1790. He notes that they hunted with bows and arrows, a custom that survives today.

Most Gumuz members live in a bush-savanna lowland environment. According to their traditions, in earlier times they inhabited the western parts of the province of Gojjam, but were progressively banished to the inhospitable area of the Blue Nile and its tributaries by their more powerful Afroasiatic-speaking neighbors, the Amhara and Agaw, who also enslaved them (Wolde-Selassie Abbute 2004). Slavery did not disappear in Ethiopia until the 1940s. Descendants of Gumuz people taken as slaves to the area just south of Welkite were found to still be speaking the language in 1984 (Unseth 1985).


The Gumuz speak the Gumuz language, which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family (Bender 1979). It is subdivided in several dialects (Ahland 2004, Unseth 1985).


As of 2007, there were around 159,418 Gumuz in Ethiopia.[1] Around 67,000 Gumuz also lived in Sudan.


A Gumuz granary in the village of Manjari, Metekel zone, western Ethiopia.

The Gumuz practice shifting cultivation and their staple food is sorghum (Wallmark 1981). Cereal crops are kept in granaries decorated with clay lumps imitating female breasts. Sorghum is used for cooking porridge (nga) and brewing beer (kea). All the cooking and brewing is carried out in earthen pots, which are made by women. The Gumuz also hunt wild animals, such as duikers and warthogs, and gather honey, wild fruits, roots and seeds. Those living near the Sudanese borderland converted to Islam and a few are Christians, but most Gumuz still maintain traditional religious practices. Spirits are called mus'a and are thought to dwell in houses, granaries, fields, trees and mountains. They have ritual specialists called gafea. Originally, all Gumuz adorned their bodies with scarifications, but this custom is disappearing through government pressure and education. All Gumuz are organized in clans. Feuds between clans are common and they are usually solved by means of an institution of conflict resolution, called mangema or michu depending on the region. As among the Sudanese Uduk, marriage is through sister exchange (James 1975, 1986; Klausberger 1975).


  1. 1 2 "Census 2007", first draft, Table 5.
  2. "Ethnologue"


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