The Bilen—also variously transcribed as Blin or Bilin and also formerly known as the Bogo or North Agaw are an ethnic group on the Horn of Africa. They are primarily concentrated in central Eritrea, in and around the city of Keren and further south toward Asmara, the nation’s capital.


The Bilen practice both Christianity and Islam. Muslim adherents mainly inhabit rural areas and have interbred with the adjacent Tigre, while Christian Bilen tend to reside in urban areas and have intermingled with the Biher-Tigrinya


They number about 96,000 and represent around 2.1% of Eritrea’s population.


The Bilen speak the Bilen language as a mother tongue, which belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Many also speak other Afro-Asiatic languages such as Tigre and Tigrinya. In addition, younger Bilen often employ Arabic words and expressions in their everyday speech


The most common cereal among this ethnic group is millet. This cereal is ground by women on millstones and the flour into kitchen, ga’at (thick porridge eaten with ghee), taita and hanza. Some cereals are eaten boiled. Most of the utensils used in the preparation of this food items are homemade. The Bilen use dairy products as their staple food, specializing in curd. This is because most of the members of this ethnic group are farmers raising livestock. Shiro is also one of the usually prepared dishes. Meat is eaten especially during holidays such as negdet (anniversary of patron saints), Easter, New Year, etc. and in some rare occasions when cattle are about to die for one reason or another they are slaughtered for meat. This is common practice among most of the nine Eritrean ethnic groups. The members of the Bilen ethnic group consume a good amount of fruits and vegetables and use nug and sesame oils for cooking their food. Besides, the Bilen are great users of spices and condiments such as garlic, onion, mustard, pepper, etc. They also consume a large amount of wild fruits. The members of this ethnic group are also experts at preserving food, which are commonly used for long ravels. Some of these are roasted peanuts, tamarind, ground flaxseed, roasted wheat or barely, etc.


Footwear has been used irrespective of age or sex from early times among the members of this ethnic group. Before the coming of the Italians, a leather sandal known as medas was very common. This was crafted by the local people themselves. Women who cannot afford silver or gold use beads instead. Men sometimes use silver leg bands and silver earring, especially during the initiation ceremony. During mourning, a wife is expected to get rid of all her ornament and stays like that for a period of two years. If a wife during mourning gives birth to a child, she puts an imitation ornament made of palm leaves. Children belonging to the Bilen ethnic group shave their heads and leave a small tuff of their hair on the crown of the head until they start to walk. For male children, this stuff of hair remains with them till the age of 10. Afterwards they have their heads shaved and during the initiation ceremony they wear their hair in Afro-style. When women grew old, they are expected to shave of their heads or have their hair plaited without ornament.

 Citation:, en.wkipedia. Org/wiki/Afar people

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