The human population adjacent to Guassa is predominantly Amhara, which is one of the largest groups in Ethiopia. Their language is Amharic, which is the official language of the country. This is a Semitic language descended from Ge’ez, the ancient and liturgical language of Ethiopia, which at present only used in the Orthodox Church. The religion of the population is Monophysite Coptic Orthodox Christianity. The Menz area is the heartland of highland Christian Ethiopia, as it is in the geographical center of the highlands. It was also an area in which the capital cities of the kingdom were located for several centuries and provided a large proportion of the governing elite, from the beginning of what is called the restored Solomonic Dynasty (1270 AD), until the overthrowof Emperor Haile Selassie I in the 1974 revolution.
More than 80% of Menz is highland, and the high mountain ranges with their steep, eroded slopes support the expanding population. The rural population is dependent on subsistence production in smallholdings. The household is a central concept in the area, in common with the rest of Amhara society. The area is perceived as having a homogeneous population compared to the diversity of coexisting cultures elsewhere in Ethiopia.
The dominant economic activity in Menz is farming. There are two farming seasons in the area corresponding to the short and long rainy seasons. The highland population relies heavily on these two cropping seasons in a given year, unlike lower parts of the country where farming is a single-season activity. The importance of the Belg (short rainy season) is strongly emphasised in Menz and all is good as long as the Belg crop is successful.
Land is ploughed in January and February for the Belg crop and in June or July for the main rainy season (Meher) crop. The main draught animals are oxen, although horses and donkeys are sometimes used due to impoverishment and the consequent shortage of oxen. All farming activities, such as plowing and harvesting, are men’s work. In contrast, domestic activity is almost exclusively the work of women.
Livestock has been a key element of the economy in the mixed farming systems of northern Ethiopia. In Menz, the role of livestock in subsistence farming has increased because of the unreliability of cultivation. It is nevertheless important to stress the close relationship between crops and livestock in the production system. Livestock needs to be fed from the land and its products, while land needs to be cultivated with livestock. Livestock dung fertilizes the land and the yield from the land is threshed using livestock.Unlike most parts of Ethiopia, spinning wool in Menz is an important household economy. Tradition holds that wool has long been spun in Menz. Until a decade ago, the main clothing was bana or zietett, blankets made out of wool as protection against severe cold. Woolen banas or zietett are worn by men and women in Menz as warmer alternatives to the more common cotton gabi or shemma, and other locally made cotton shawls worn in many parts of Ethiopia. Wool also contributes to the household economy as a readily marketable product.