The name "Ethiopia" derives from the Greek ethio , meaning "burned" and pia , meaning "face": the land of burned-faced peoples. Aeschylus described Ethiopia as a "land far off, a nation of black men."
In the year 2000, the population was approximately 61 million, with over eighty different ethnic groups. The Oromo, Amhara, and Tigreans account for more than 75 percent of the population, or 35 percent, 30 percent, and 10 percent respectively. Smaller ethnic groups include the Somali, Gurage, Afar, Awi, Welamo, Sidamo, and Beja.
The urban population is estimated to be 11 percent of the total population. The rural lowland population is composed of many nomadic and seminomadic peoples. The nomadic peoples seasonally graze livestock, while the seminomadic peoples are subsistence farmers. The rural highlands economy is based on agriculture and livestock raising.
Amharic has been the dominant and official language for the last 150 years as a result of the political power of the Amhara ethnic group. The spread of Amharic has been strongly linked to Ethiopian nationalism. Today, many Oromo write their language, Oromoic, using the Roman alphabet as a political protest against their history of domination by the Amhara, who account for significantly less of the population.
English is the most widely spoken foreign language and the language in which secondary school and university classes are taught. French is heard occasionally in parts of the country near Djibouti, formerly French Somaliland. Italian can be heard on occasion, particularly among the elderly in the Tigre region. Remnants of the Italian occupation during World War II exist in the capital, such as the use of ciao to say "good-bye."
The economy is based on agriculture, in which 85 percent of the population participates. Ecological problems such as periodic drought, soil degradation, deforestation, and a high population density negatively affect the agricultural industry. Most agricultural producers are subsistence farmers living in the highlands, while the population in the lowland peripheries is nomadic and engages in livestock raising. Gold, marble, limestone, and small amounts of tantalum are mined.
Ethiopia is safer than the neighboring countries, particularly in urban areas. Ethnic issues play a role in political life, but this does not usually result in violence. Christians and Muslims live together peacefully.
Theft occurs infrequently in Addis Ababa and almost never involves weapons. Robbers tend to work in groups, and pickpocketing is the usual form of theft. Homelessness in the capital is a serious social problem, especially among the youth. Many street children resort to theft to feed themselves. Police officers usually apprehend thieves but rarely prosecute and often work with them, splitting the bounty.
Traditional associations are the major sources of social welfare. There are many different types of social welfare programs in different parts of the country; these programs have religious, political, familial, or other bases for their formation. Two of the most prevalent are the iddir and debo systems.
An iddir is an association that provides financial assistance and other forms of aid for people in the same neighborhood or occupation and between friends or kin. This institution became prevalent with the formation of urban society. The main objective of an iddir is to assist families financially during times of stress, such as illness, death, and property losses from fire or theft. Recently, iddirs have been involved in community development, including the construction of schools and roads. The head of a family who belongs to an iddir contributes a certain amount of money every month to benefit individuals in times of emergency.
The most widespread social welfare association in rural areas is the debo. If a farmer is having difficulty tending his fields, he may invite his neighbors to help on a specific date. In return, the farmer must provide food and drink for the day and contribute his labor when others in the same debo require help. The debo is not restricted to agriculture but is also prevalent in housing construction.
Traditional marriage customs vary by ethnic group, although many customs are transethnic. Arranged marriages are the norm, although this practice is becoming much less common, especially in urban areas. The presentation of a dowry from the male's family to the female's family is common. The amount is not fixed and varies with the wealth of the families. The dowry may include livestock, money, or other socially valued items.
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.