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Falashas

Falashas, an Abyssinian people, who form a compact body in the province of Semen, about the head-waters of the Takazze, but who are also found in scattered groups in all the surrounding districts as far south as the Abai (upper course of the Blue Nile). They are commonly known as the "Jews of Abyssinia," and there can be no doubt that they have practised Jewish rites from time immemorial, certainly long before the Christian era. But although they claim to be of the "House of Israel," and call themselves "Israel," they are not Jews or Israelites, but Hamitic aborigines of Abyssinia, closely allied in speech and physical appearance to the Agao of Lasta, and other indigenous populations. At least, if the Falashas, that is "Exiles," really represent the lost tribes, as some suppose, then it must be allowed that in the course of ages these Semites have become transformed to Hamites, both in their language and physical appearance; in these respects they are not distinguishable from the Hamitic element that forms the substratum of the inhabitants of Abyssinia. M. d'Abbadie, while admitting the assimilation, still holds that they may have sprung from a Jewish colony that reached Abyssinia at the time of the Babylonian captivity, and in any case it is evident, from the widespread diffusion of the Hebrew religion, that a considerable number of Jews must have penetrated to the plateau in remote times. Their gradual absorption amongst the surrounding population would present no difficulty, for similar results have been witnessed under similar conditions in many other regions. In their upland homes the Falashas are chiefly occupied with agriculture; but large numbers yearly emigrate to Gondar and other places, where they find employment as masons, woodcutters, water-carriers, workers in iron, and such-like pursuits. None of their teachers have any knowledge of Hebrew, and their Bible is written in the Gheez, or ancient Himyaritic, which is also the liturgical language of the Abyssinian Christians. (Ant. d'Abbadie in Nouvelles Annales des Voyages, iii.; Stern, Wanderings among the Falashas, 1862; Beke, On the Languages of Abyssinia; Halevy, Bull. de la Soc. de Geographie, 1869.)

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