Aseb, Kunama, Massawa, Eritreans, Saho
Eritrea’s population is diverse, reflecting many languages, cultures, and religions. The most widely used languages are Tigrinya, Tigre, and Arabic. Approximately half the population are Tigrinya-speaking Christians who traditionally inhabited the core plateau. Half the population are Muslims, but these are divided among several ethnic and linguistic groups. Muslim Tigre speakers inhabit the northeastern coastal plains and western lowlands, and the Saho live near Massawa and in the foothills of the coastal plain. The majority of the Bilen -speaking people around Keren are Muslims, as are the Afar or Denakil who speak Afar and inhabit the southeastern portion of the coastal plain and the Dahlak Archipelago. The Hedareb nomads of the northwest and northeast are predominantly Muslim. The Baria and Kunama of the southwest are also Muslim, although they speak Nilotic languages. This distinguishes them sharply from the majority of Eritrean peoples, whose languages fall within the Afro-Asiatic group. Despite ethnic diversity, friction between Eritrean groups has not been a major problem because most groups remained united during the three decades of war against Ethiopian control.
In 2002 Eritrea had an estimated population of 4,465,651, giving it a population density of 37 persons per sq km (95 per sq mi). An estimated 81 percent of Eritrea’s population lives in rural areas, subsisting through agriculture and livestock raising. The major cities of Eritrea include the capital and largest city Asmara, the seaports Massawa and Aseb, Keren, Nak’fa, Ak’ordat, and Teseney.
The war with Ethiopia and the famines that hit the entire region in the 1970s and 1980s caused a great deal of disruption and population movement, especially in the rural areas. At the time of independence approximately 20 percent of the population within Eritrea was displaced, while an estimated 500,000 Eritreans were living as refugees in Sudan. In addition to problems of food shortage, poverty, and illiteracy, the new nation faces a huge task in resettling those people uprooted by war and famine.
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