Sixty to seventy groups scattered throughout Ethiopia
traditionally were on the periphery of local social systems.
Many authorities refer to them as occupational castes.
Characterized by endogamy and also by specialization in one
or more occupations considered unclean or degrading, they
have been excluded from ordinary interaction with members of
the host community, although one group acted as ritual
functionaries for its host. The members of a caste group
typically speak the local language, but some also have a
language of their own or speak a variation on the local one.
They also tend to be physically distinguishable from members
of the host group. Their most common occupational
specialties are woodworking, beekeeping, and ritual
functions. Another group, consisting primarily of hunters,
at one time provided royal guards for the traditional ruler
of one host society.
Data as of 1991