Ethiopia: Occupational Castes

Posted: February 24, 2008 in History
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Occupational Castes

Sixty to seventy groups scattered throughout Ethiopia traditionally were on the periphery of local social systems. Many authorities refer to them as occupational castes. Characterized by endogamy and also by specialization in one or more occupations considered unclean or degrading, they have been excluded from ordinary interaction with members of the host community, although one group acted as ritual functionaries for its host. The members of a caste group typically speak the local language, but some also have a language of their own or speak a variation on the local one. They also tend to be physically distinguishable from members of the host group. Their most common occupational specialties are woodworking, beekeeping, and ritual functions. Another group, consisting primarily of hunters, at one time provided royal guards for the traditional ruler of one host society.

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