The speech form of the Gawwada is similar to other related peoples living near them. The variations of Gawwada are called by the various names of the peoples in the Gawwada cluster. These speech forms are classified by linguists as dialects of one language called by the Gawwada name. The people use the term Ale for themselves.
Dialects of the language, as classified by the Ethnologue, are called by the names of the other peoples who speak the Gawwada language.
The other 6 peoples speaking the Gawwada language are:
The total figure of all these Gawwada-speaking peoples is about 33,971 (1994 census), considerably down from the previous estiamte in 1995 of about 64,000 - 76,000 in the Ethnologue). For about 1300 of these, Gawwada is not their mother tongue. The latest edition of the Ethnologue has no population figures for the sub-groups.
A linguist working onsite with them since about 2010 reports* that there is strong attachment of each sub-group to its own form of speech. They resist standardizaton and use of one particular from across all the groups. The linguist is conducting extensive research on sociological factors to determine self-identity among the various groups and is doing scientific field testing to determine the status and character of the varieties of speech considered as Gawwada.
This linguist reports that "linguistically Gobeze is considered what we will call 'main dialect.'"*
Gawwada leaders use Amharic, Oromo, or Komso as second languages. Literacy is very low among the Gawwada, with reports indicating a range from 1% to 15% literate.
The Omo region continues to be one of the most inaccessible regions of Ethiopia, which has enabled the Gawwada to maintain their social organization and their traditional values with minimal variations during the last century. They live in round houses called tukal, made of acacia branches covered with grass mats. The houses have cone-shaped roofs with a hole allowing smoke to escape.
Their economic activity consists in equal parts of agriculture and herding. The Gawwada raise cattle, goats and sheep. They eat a grain called durra, maize, beans, rice, milk, meat and wild fruits. During the dry season, the Gawwada obtain fish from the lake as a complement for their diet.
The society is organized on a war defense model, with all boys trained to be warriors. Their primary weapon is the spear. In earlier times, each young man was required to kill another man and present some body part to their bride. They now kill an animal.
The father is an autocratic authority in the family. They are usually monogamous. Children are highly valued, and a man gains prestige by the number of children he has. Children are commonly not named for months or even years after birth. The most important ceremony in a man's life occurs when his oldest daughter reaches adolescence. Then he is given the title ma gudoha, "big man."
Group identity and cooperation are high values among the Gawwada. They are known as a sociable people, valuing hospitality and almsgiving.
Much of Ethiopia accepted the Christian faith when it was introduced in the early 300s. In later centuries, Islam became a great influence. Currently about 4% of the population is Muslim. However, the southern and western sections of Ethiopia have remained almost impervious to both religions. Peoples in these areas of Ethiopia still continue practicing their traditional religions. This is the case of the Gawwada people. All the traditional religions of the peoples inhabiting the region where the Gawwada live share innumerable common characteristics. The picture is of one single religion with some small variations in each ethnic group. These are called zar and appear to be similar to the Arab jinn.
In this religion the most important aspect of worship is the worship of the spirits of the ancestors who serve as intermediaries between the living and an ultimate, single God, called by a common name among all these peoples. There exists a level of minor divinities which are spirits associated with rivers and lakes.
A large portion of the Ethiopian population adopted the Christian faith when it was introduced by a Syrian trader in the fourth century. The King at that time accepted Christ, and Ethiopia took on an identity as a Christian nation from that time. At present about 40% of the population of Ethiopia are Christian, the largest group being the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Gawwada and their neighbors, however, are virtually untouched by Christian faith. They are part of about 20% of the Ethiopian population that follow traditional religions. It is thought that about 2% of the Gawwada profess the Christian faith. There are no details on Christian outreach activities to the Gawwada.