Africa > East Africa > Eritrea > Eritrea People Profile

Eritrea: Eritrea People Profile

2013/08/19

Portrait of a young woman,20-25 years old,Eritrea,Africa

People

The population of Eritrea has grown from just 5.29 million in 2008 to an estimated 6.5 million in 2014, and its population is continuing its rapid increase. The population is currently right in line with the nation's size. The population ranks 107th in the world, while Eritrea is the 101st largest country. Its population density is just 51.8 people per square kilometer.

There are only two cities with a population of more than 100,000: Asmara (2010 estimate: 650,000) and Keren (2010 estimate: 146,000).

Eritrea Demographics

Eritrea is an ethnically heterogeneous country with nine recognized ethnic groups. The Tigrinya people make up 55% of the population, followed by the Tigre people at 30%. Most of the remaining population belongs to an Afro-Asiatic-speaking people, such as the Saho, Hedareb, Afar, Bilen, and Rashaida, who represent 2% of the population and live in the northern coastal region. Hadrami migrants have also settled in Eritrea in recent years. The Kunama and Nara are small ethnic minorities in the country.

There is also a small population of Italian Eritrean and Ethiopian Tigrayan people in the country, although neither is granted citizenship except through marriage.

About 50% of the population is Christian while 48% adheres to Islam.

Eritrea Population Growth

Eritrea is a rapidly growing country with a population growth rate of 3.3% and a fertility rate of 4.37 births per woman. Since 1960, the life expectancy has increased from 39 to 60 while child mortality rates have dropped significantly. This is helping Eritrea grow, although the country does face serious health problems and low living standards for many of its population.

Ethnic groups and languages

Eritrea’s people consists of several ethnic groups, each with its own language and cultural tradition. In addition to the languages spoken by the various ethnic groups, Arabic and English are widely understood. Italian is occasionally used as well.

The bulk of the people in the Eritrean highlands are Tigray. The Tigray make up about half the country’s total people; they as well occupy the adjacent Ethiopian region of Tigray. The Tigrayan language, called Tigrinya, is one of two major indigenous languages in Eritrea.

Inhabiting the northernmost part of the Eritrean plateau, inclunding lowlands to the east and west, are the Tigre people. The Tigre, who constitute nearly one-third of Eritrea’s people, speak the other major Eritrean language—Tigré. Tigré and Tigrinya are written in the same script and are both related to the ancient Semitic Geʿez language, but they are mutually unintelligible.

As well occupying the northern plateau are Bilin speakers, whose language belongs to the Cushitic family. The Rashaida are a group of Arabic-speaking nomads who traverse the northern hills. On the southern part of the coastal region live Afar nomads. The Afars—who as well live across the borders in Djibouti and Ethiopia—are known to surrounding peoples as the Danakil, next the region that they inhabit. The coastal strip south of Massawa, inclunding the eastern flanks of the plateau, are occupied by Saho pastoralists. In the western plain the dominant people are Beja pastoralists; Beja as well live across the border in The Sudan. Two small groups speaking Nilotic languages, the Kunama and the Nara, as well live in the west.

Religion

Historically, religion has been a prominent symbol of ethnic identity in the Horn of Africa. Christianity was established in the 4th century ce on the coast and appeared any minute at this time afterward in the plateau, where it was embraced by the Ethiopian highlanders. The monophysite creed of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church remains the faith of about half the people of Eritrea, inclunding nearly all the Tigray. Following the rise of Islam in Arabia, Muslim power flowed over the Red Sea coast, forcing the Ethiopians to retreat deep into their mountain fastness. Islam displaced other creeds in the lowlands of the Horn, and it remains the faith of nearly all the people inhabiting the eastern coast and the western plain of Eritrea, inclunding the northernmost part of the plateau. Thus, while Islam claims nearly all the pastoralists, Christianity is dominant part the cultivators. Muslims are as well significantly represented in all towns of Eritrea, where they are prominent in trade. In the perennial competition between cultivators and pastoralists over land, water, control of trade, and access to ports, religion has played an ideological role, and it remains a potent political force.
During the time of Italian colonial policy (1889–1941), Roman Catholic and Protestant European missionaries introduced their own version of Christianity into Eritrea. They had considerable success part the small Kunama group, and they as well attracted a few townspeople with the offer of modern education.


Settlement patterns

The environment is a determining factor in the distribution of Eritrea’s people. Although the plateau represents only one-fourth of the total land area, it is home to approximately one-half of the people, most of them sedentary agriculturalists. The lowlands on the east and west support a people mainly of pastoralists, although most of them as well cultivate crops at the same time as and where weather conditions permit. As a policy, pastoralists follow various patterns of movement set by the seasons. Only the Rashaida group in the northern hills is truly nomadic.

During the colonial period, Eritrea’s urban sector flourished with the establishment of Asmara as the capital city, Asseb (as well spelled Assab or Aseb) as a new port on the Red Sea, and a host of smaller towns on the plateau. In addition, Massawa, an old and cosmopolitan port with strong links to Arabia, was expanded considerably. By the end of the colonial period, Eritrea had by far the major proportion of urban residents in the Horn of Africa—approximately 15 % of the people—although a large % of urban dwellers were Italian nationals who from presently on left the country. Subsequently, a people drift from the countryside to the towns was largely offset by emigration of Eritreans abroad. By the early 21st century about one-fifth of the people was considered urban.