Kunama people

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Not to be confused with Kunapa people.
Kunama Eritrea.JPG
Total population
Regions with significant populations

225,000 (est.)

Sunni Islam, Traditional African religion, Orthodox.[1]
Shimelba Refugee Camp.

The Kunama are a Nilotic people living in Eritrea and Ethiopia. 80% of Kunamas live in Eritrea yet make up only 2% of the population of Eritrea, where they are one of the smallest ethnic groups. Most of the estimated 100,000 Kunama live in the remote and isolated area between the Gash and Setit rivers near the border with Ethiopia. The Ethiopian-Eritrean War (1998–2000) forced some 4,000 Kunama to flee their homes to Ethiopia. As refugees they reside in the tense area just over the border with Eritrea and in proximity to the contested border village of Badme.[2] In the 2007 Ethiopian census, however, the number of Kunama in Tigray has dropped to 2,976 as the remaining 2,000 or so members of this ethnic group have migrated into the other Regions of Ethiopia.[3]

The People and the Land[edit]

The Kunama speak a Nilo-Saharan language unrelated to the dominant languages in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Although some Kunama still practice traditional beliefs, most have adopted Christianity and Islam [2]. The fertile plains of the Gash-Setit, also known as the Gash-Barka, region where the Kunama live are sometimes referred to as the "breadbasket of Eritrea". Formerly nomadic, today they are farmers and pastoralists. Historically, the Kunama have been dominated by other ethnic groups and they are often forced from their traditional lands. The official policy of the Government of Eritrea is that all land is state property and the Government encourages large commercial farms.


  1. ^ Central Statistical Agency (2008), "TABEL [sic] 5: POPULATION SIZE OF REGIONS BY NATIONS/NATIONALITIES (ETHNIC GROUP) AND PLACE OF RESIDENCE: 2007", Census 2007 (PDF), Addis Ababa: Central Statistical Agency, p. 66 
  2. ^ "Forgotten People: The Kunama of Eritrea and Ethiopia" (Refugees International; Webpage mirrored at archive.org)
  3. ^ Census 2007, Table 5


Award-winning documentary film HOME ACROSS LANDS chronicles the journey of newly arrived Kunama refugees as they strive to become self-reliant, invested participants in their new home. Guiding their transition is the resettlement agency, International Institute of Rhode Island, that connects them to the resources they need as they work to establish a new community and better life for their families.

External links[edit]