Gumuz (also spelled Gumaz) is an ethnic group living in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region and the Qwara woreda of Ethiopia, as well as the Fazogli region of Sudan; they number about 200,000. In the past, they have been lumped with other peoples living along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border under the name of 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 hunt with bows and arrows, a custom that survives today.
Their language is called Gumuz, which is classified as a Nilo-Saharan language and is subdivided in several dialects. Most members of this group 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 they were progressively banished to the inhospitable area of the Blue Nile and its tributaries by their more powerful neighbors -the Amhara and Agaw.
The Gumuz practice shifting cultivation and their staple food is sorghum. 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.
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