Sidama people

"Sidama" redirects here. For related topics, see Sidamo.
Total population
(12 Million (2007 census)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Sidamo language, Amharic
predominately Protestant Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Oromo, Gurage, Welayta, Amhara, Somali

The Sidama (Ethiopic: ሲዳማ) people of southern Ethiopia are an ethnic group whose homeland is in the Sidama Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia.

The Sidama preserved their cultural heritage, including their traditional religion and language until the late 1880s during the conquest by Emperor Menelik II.[2] Before this, the Sidama had their own well-established administrative systems that dated at least to the 9th century, though it was made up of a loose coalition of Sidama kingdoms. These kingdoms extended into the Gibe region. As a result of marginalization and since the language does not have its own alphabet, very little has been written on Sidama issues. Many were not able to attend school until after the Derg came to power in 1975.


They number 12 million (4.01% of the population) of whom 149,480 are urban inhabitants, the third most populous ethnic group in Ethiopia.[3] Their language is called Sidaamu-afoo, which according to the 1994 national census was the mother language of 99.5% of this ethnic group.[4] According to one authority, the majority of the Sidama practice their traditional beliefs, and only in the 1960s that European missionaries came to their region did any leave that faith.[2] However, according to the 1994 national census, only 14.9% practice traditional beliefs while the majority (66.8%) are Protestant, 7.7% Muslim, 4.6% Catholic, and 2.3% practice Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity.[5]

Government and politics

Today, the Sidama area has only a small number of schools, and inadequate health services, though primary education has increased recently.[6] The people have repeatedly complained that Sidama does not have regional autonomy in the country and asked for the government to give the Sidama people their own region. There are several justifications for this argument. First, Sidama constitutes about 20% of the total population in the Southern region [7] with a significant economic contribution to the central government. Second, the 40 smaller ethnic groups in the region belong to the three main socio-cultural and linguistic groups namely, Kushitic groups: Sidama, Alaba, Tambaro, Qewenna, Danta (Dubamo), Maraqo, Konso, Hadiya, Kambata; Omotic groups: Wolayta, Gamo, Gofa, Dawuro, Konta, etc., and Semitic group: Gurage. After the downfall of the Military regime in 1991, the Transitional Government endorsed five separate regions within the current SNNPR region. These regions were established based on socio-cultural, linguistic and economic similarities. They followed similar administrative arrangement made by the previous regime shortly before its downfall. Sidama, Gedeo and Burji belonged to one of the five independent regions within the current SNNPR. However, those five regions were dissolved without consultation with the peoples of the region. Third, proper administrative arrangement is essential for administrative efficacy, effective delivery of social and economic services and broader economic development.

Those against autonomy argue that with the SNNPR being a condensed region with the most ethnic groups concentrated in a small territory, carving out boundaries that historically never existed and are often violently disputed between ethnicities in order to give autonomy to the more than 40 ethnic groups is virtually impossible.


Nearly 95% of the Sidama live a life centered on agriculture. An important staple food is the wesse plant, or Ensete. Other crops are also grown and they breed cattle. Perhaps the most important source of income is coffee, and the area is a major contributor to coffee production, producing a high percentage of export coffee for the central government, second only to the Oromia region. The Sidama farmers have been affected by hunger caused by declining world market prices for coffee, despite supplying the popular coffee chain Starbucks with the majority of their coffee products from the region.

Religion and beliefs

Spirit possession occurs among the Sidama. The anthropologists Irene and John Hamer postulated that spirit possession is a form of compensation for being deprived within Sidama society. The majority of the possessed are women whose spirits demand luxury goods to alleviate their condition, but men can be possessed as well. Possessed individuals of both sexes can become healers due to their condition. Hamer and Hamer suggest that this is a form of compensation among deprived men in the deeply competitive society of the Sidama, for if a man cannot gain prestige as an orator, warrior, or farmer, he may still gain prestige as a spirit healer. Women are sometimes accused of faking possession, but men never are.[8]

See also


  1. "Census 2007", first draft, Table 5.
  2. 1 2 S. Y. Hameso, Trevor Trueman, Temesgen M. Erena 1997
  3. "Census 2010", first draft, Table 5
  4. 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia: Results for Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, Vol. 2, Table 2.16 (accessed 30 December 2008)
  5. 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia: Results for Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, Vol. 2, Table 2.20
  6. "Primary education in Ethiopia", Jimma Times
  7. "Census 2007", first draft, Table 5
  8. Hamer, John and Irene Hamer 1966 Spirit Possession and Its Socio-Psychological Implications among the Sidama Of Southwest Ethiopia. Ethnology 5 (4): 392-408.

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