The Argobba are one of about 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia, about 10,000 in number with nearly no monolingual Argobba (agj) speakers. A people skilled at trading, they have adopted major neighboring languages, such as Afar (aar, 1.5 million speakers), Amharic (amh, 17.5 million) and Oromo (orm, 25 million).
As Abebe Kifleyesus writes in “Tradition and transformation: the Argobba of Ethiopia,” the key issue here is that the Argobba are abandoning their ties to their language while maintaining their ties to their culture.
The 1995 Constitution guarantees political representation by all “minority Nationalities and Peoples” (see Articles 54 and 61). However, the Arbogga have many customs similar to the Harari—an ethnicity of 25,000 to 30,000 people who speak Harari (har), a language cousin to Argobba—and were therefore not initially provided legislators in the national houses.
At least two years went by before this error was corrected, and the Argoba Nationality Democratic Organization now has one representative in the lower House of Peoples’ Representatives. More importantly, however, they hold control of the Argobba special woreda, an area that is semi-autonomous due to the ethnic federalism of the country. See this map of Ethiopia for the greater regions. Argobba is in Afar, adjacent to Amhara. This map shows the specific location of Argobba.
While the Argobba have gained political power, whether they will use it or some other means to save their language is a question that has yet to be answered.
See the SIL “Sociolinguistic Survey Report of the Argobba Language of Ethiopia” for information about the Argobba language, including the phonology and a 320-word glossary.
This entry was inspired by “The Argobba: visiting a little-known African tribe” on the Gadling site.