Nara people

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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly Islam;
Minority Christianity (Oriental Orthodoxy), Traditional faith
Related ethnic groups
Kunama, Nubians, other Nilotic peoples

The Nara are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting Eritrea. The society is divided into four subtribes, who traditionally were animist but now follow Islam. They are mostly subsistence farmers. The Nara speak the Nara language, which belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family.


According to the Eritrean government, the Nara are descendants of the first Nilo-Saharan settlers in Eritrea, who had migrated from the Upper Nile area and intermarried with local Pygmy populations.[2]

Today, the Nara number around 108,000 individuals.[1] They constitute around 1.5% of the population of Eritrea.[3] They are typically agrarian and have settled primarily along the border with Sudan.[4]

The Nara population is divided into four subtribes: the Higir, Mogareb, Koyta and Santora.[1] They traditionally adhered to animist beliefs.[5] After the Egyptian occupation in the 19th century, most Nara adopted Islam.[3] A minority also follow Christianity.[5]

The Nara ethnonym means "Sky Heaven".[5] They also used to call themselves the Barya.[6]


The Nara people speak the Nara language. It belongs to the Nilo-Saharan family, and is closely related to Kunama.[1]

Through contact with neighboring Afroasiatic-speaking populations, many Nara are also bilingual in Tigre and/or Arabic. They traditionally had no writing system, with the few existing pieces of literature in Nara transcribed using either Tigre or Arabic.[3]

The language is also known as Nara-Bana, meaning "Nara-Talk".[5]

Social organization[edit]

Social organisation of the Nara people is based on the clan and subclan, with people living in villages and hamlets. The lineage system is patrilineal, unlike that of the Kunama people. Land belongs to the clan and shared out among the families in the clan.[3]


According to Trombetta et al. (2015), 60% of Nara are carriers of the E1b1b paternal haplogroup. Of these, around 13% bear the V32 subclade, to which belong 60% of the Tigre Semitic speakers in Eritrea. This points to substantial gene flow from neighbouring Afro-Asiatic-speaking males into the Nara's ancestral Nilotic community.[7] Cruciani et al. (2010) likewise observed that the remaining Nara individuals are primarily carriers of the Afro-Asiatic-associated haplogroup J (20%), as well as the A lineage (20%), which is instead common among Nilotes.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d "Nara". Ethnologue. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  2. ^ "The people of Eritrea". Ministry of Information, Eritrea. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Mussie Tesfagiorgis G. (2010). Eritrea. ABC-CLIO. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-59884-231-9.
  4. ^ Killion, Tom (1998). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. ISBN 0-8108-3437-5.
  5. ^ a b c d "Eritrea: Nara People's History". Retrieved 2010-02-09.
  6. ^ Cavalli-Sforza, L. Luca; Menozzi, Paolo; and Piazza Alberto The History and Geography of Human Genes Princeton, New Jersey: 1994 Princeton University Press "Ethiopians, Some of Their Neighbors, and North Africans" Page 173
  7. ^ Beniamino Trombetta; Eugenia D’Atanasio; Andrea Massaia; Marco Ippoliti; Alfredo Coppa; Francesca Candilio; Valentina Coia; Gianluca Russo; Jean-Michel Dugoujon; Pedro Moral; Nejat Akar; Daniele Sellitto; Guido Valesini; Andrea Novelletto; Rosaria Scozzari; Fulvio Cruciani (2015). "Phylogeographic refinement and large scale genotyping of human Y chromosome haplogroup E provide new insights into the dispersal of early pastoralists in the African continent" (PDF). Genome Biology and Evolution. 7 (7): 1940–1950. doi:10.1093/gbe/evv118. Retrieved 1 September 2016.; Supplementary Table 7 Archived 2016-12-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Cruciani, Fulvio et al. (2010). "Human Y chromosome haplogroup R-V88: a paternal genetic record of early mid Holocene trans-Saharan connections and the spread of Chadic languages". European Journal of Human Genetics. 18: 800–807. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2009.231. PMC 2987365. PMID 20051990. Retrieved 1 September 2016.; Supplementary Table 3