Beautiful and smiling Afar girl from Ethiopia
The Afar people also known as Adal, Adali, Oda’ali, Teltal and Dankali are Cushitic-nomadic people located in the East African countries of Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. The Afar (Danakil) claim to be descendants of Ham (Noah's son). They prefer to be known as the Afar, since the Arabic word "danakil" is an offensive term to them. They are a proud people, emphasizing a man's strength and bravery. Prestige comes, as it always has, from killing one's enemies.
The Afar people are warrior tribe and are very good at using knives and daggers in a warfare. They love their culture and respects their laws. There is a proverb in Afar that says: (koo liih anii macinay kamol ayyo mogolla) which means "I accept you in my home as a brother but I do not accept that you put my authority questioned" and therefore the Afar have still not agreed to be humble, being crushed, therefore they are in conflict with the rest of ethnic groups.
One of the Afar's claims to fame is due to an anthropological find in the Afar Depression. In 1974, anthropologists discovered a new species' of man at Hadar in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia. This new species was termed Australopithecus afarensis ("afar ape-man"), and is believed to have walked around Eastern Africa between 2.9 to 3.8 million years ago. The body was found to be female and named Lucy. Lucy was able to walk upright on a human-like body but still retained a small ape-like head and primitive teeth.
The Afar principally reside in the Danakil Desert in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, as well as in Eritrea and Djibouti. They number 1,276,867 people in Ethiopia (or 1.73% of the total population), of whom 105,551 are urban inhabitants, according to the most recent census (2007). The Afar make up over a third of the population of Djibouti, and are one of the nine recognized ethnic divisions (kililoch) of Ethiopia.
The Afar consist of two subgroups: the Asaemara ("red ones"), who are the more prestigious and powerful nobles living primarily in the area of Assayita; and the Adaemara ("white ones"), who are the commoners living in the desert areas. Those who live in the desert inhabit one of the most rugged regions in the world, known as the Afar Plain or the Danakil Desert.
One area, called the Danakil Depression, consists of a vast plain of salt pans and active volcanoes. Much of it lies 200 feet below sea level and has daily temperatures as high as 125 degrees F. The average yearly rainfall is less than seven inches.
Afars speak the Afar language as a mother tongue. It is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and is spoken by ethnic Afars in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, as well as in southern Eritrea and northern Djibouti. However, since the Afar are traditionally nomadic herders, Afar speakers may be found further
Adal, Adali, Oda’ali, Teltal and Dankali are names traditionally given to the Afar by neighbouring people. The Amhara, Oromo and Somali respectively borrowed the names Adal, Adali and Oda’ali, which sounds the same as the ancestor of the dynasty and the son of Hadal Mahis, Ado’ali (Afar: white Ali).
Afar society has traditionally been organized into independent kingdoms, each ruled by its own Sultan.The earliest surviving written mention of the Afar is from the 13th century Arab writer Ibn Sa'id, who reported that they lived in the area around the port of Suakin, as far south as Mandeb, near Zeila. Similarly, due to historic commercial contacts between Arabian sailors and the Dankali clan located around Baylul, who ruled the Kingdom of Dankali (15th–17th century), Arabs gave the name Danakil to all the Afar across the Red Sea Coast. Teltal however is a derogatory name used by Tigrigna highlanders that derived from the Tigrigna word ‘Menteltal’, meaning hanging-down (of breast) in order to describe women of the lowland Afar as uncivilized because they did not cover their bodies from the waist up.
Despite all the names, the Afar invariably call themselves ‘Afar’, which has no meaning in the Afar language. Rainmondo Franchetti relates the word ‘Afar’ to the mythical Ophir the 11th, in the order of son of Joktan, son of Shem, son of Noah. Whereas the Afar rather believe themselves to be in the line of the generation of Kush, son of Ham, son of Noah, who were among ‘the first Kushites to move from their original home and settle in the Danakil Depression’ (Murdock 1959: 319).
Moreover many argued that the biblical land of Ophir, the land rich in Gold is located in India or South Arabia rather than being that of the Afarland in the African Horn. Didier Morin designates the name Afar as having a possible but forgotten link with the Omani group called Afar or lfar. AL-Shami argued that the name Afar might be drawn from the South Yemenis Ma’fara sub-clan of the Hameda tribe who were the traditional rulers of Ardel Huria territory in the east of Bab-el-Mandeb across the Afar coasts on the Red Sea.
Despite having different meanings for their name, the Afar people have a distinct cultural and linguistic identity of their own and inhabit a welldefined territory in the African Horn; an area commonly referred to as the Afar Triangle which is divided between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
The land inhabited by the Afar in the Horn region is well known as the cradle for early human origin and for its abundance of natural resources as well.
Geo-political features of the Afarland further magnify its strategic importance. For instance, about 75% of all vital roads that link Addis Ababa to the harbours of Assab and Djibouti run via the Afarland. Likewise the most utilised river in Ethiopia, Awash (Afar: We’ayot) that regularly floods over 1200 km runs through the Afar region of Ethiopia. The Afar coastline in Eritrea and Djibouti, which is a bridge between Africa and the Middle East as well as a gateway to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf further magnifies the global importance of the Afarland. The Arabs desire to exert a dominant influence in the area. Westerners have a fundamental interest in the security of the petroleum tanker routes that pass via Bab-el-Mandeb. The Israelis have a monitorial centre and for accumulating nuclear wastes especially on Dahlak and Fatma islands. There is also the recent US interest in the Horn due to the global campaign against terrorism attracting global attention to the Afarlands in the Horn of Africa.
It is in these general situations that, at different points in time, the Afarland in the African Horn has been severely affected by the geopolitical perceptions of both regional and international powers. The ancient Axumite kingdom and the South Arabian adventurers and sailors influenced coastal areas and islands in the Red Sea repeatedly. In the medieval period, Ottoman Turkish power extended its loose influence on the Afar coasts from Massawa to Zeila. Thereafter, at the end of the 19th century, the French and Italians occupied strategic territories along the Red Sea coast in accordance with treaties signed with local African chieftains.
The colonial geo-political architecture that partitioned homogenous people elsewhere in Africa, divided the Afar people among the Abyssinian empire, as well as the French colony of Djibouti and even (consigned some) to another part of the Italian Colonia Eritrea, in which Afar have remained as marginalized but strategic minorities in the Horn Region. Indeed, the Afar have been resisting any kind of invasion of their land for a long time. Their anti-colonial resistance can be traced back to the era of the Ottoman Turks’ feeble influence over the islands in the Red Sea. The narrative of a scenario in the mid 19th century by one of prominent Dahimela tribe chiefs, Sheikh Gumhed Deneba markedly demonstrates the strong anticolonial resistance at the time:
About 200-300 Turkish garrisons set out from Mi’ider and reached to ’Aläti.
They looted livestock from Ali’adawka sub-clan and we were waiting them
(to join battle) in Ak’ali but we were later informed that they returned in a
different direction … we tried to follow them but to no avail. This was their
typical character. They never dared to meet us [locals] let alone having any
influence over us (cited in al-Shami/al-Shami 1997: 259)
Egyptians, who assumed power over the Red Sea islands after the Turkish withdrawal, had also faced resistance from the Afar. The 1875 ’Odumi war between a Swiss adventurer, Governor of Massawa and the Awsa Sultan Mohammed Hanfare (’Illelta), was fought out in a place called ’Odumi or Lake Gemeri where there was armed resistance from several Afar against abortive ambitions of Egyptian khedive to control the Afarland, the gateway to highland Ethiopia.
Similar Afar resistances were carried out against the expansion of colonial power beyond those areas granted to them by the local chieftains. Colonial rulers’ interference with the internal Afar affairs further aggravated their restlessness and led to frequent confrontations. In 1859, Henri Lambert, the French consul at Aden, who was sent to Tadjoura to assess the condition for the establishment of colonial territory, was assassinated at the Gulf of Tadjoura (Adou 1993:45-46). Furthermore, French colonialists faced strong resistance from the Sultanate of Awsa under Sultan Yayyo Mohammed and that of Goba’ad under Sultan
Hummad Lo‘o’ita who was later forced into exile and fled to Madagascar in 1931.
The peak of anti-colonial resistance culminated in the death of Sultan Yasin Haysema, the Sultan of Bidu in the war with Italy that lasted for six years (1925-1931) and the death of Hasenayti bera of the Gali’a tribe in the furious battles of Morhito with the French (Redo 1998: 36). The Afar carried on their struggles with the regional powers as well in order to restore their unity.
The Amhara’s assumption that the Afar quest of regional autonomy was a claim for independence on one hand, and the separatist fronts’ interpretation of the Afar pro-unity sentiment as a threat for their struggle on the other, together with the national identity struggle against the Issa-Somali, left the Afar subject to domination and marginalization in all the three Horn states they resided in.
Afar v Ethiopia
Afar–Abyssinian relations can be traced back to the era of ancient Aksumite dominance over the port of Adulis, a home for the ’Adolla tribe of coastal Afar, and a sea outlet for trade contacts with South Arabia, India, as well as the Byzantine and Roman empires.
BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah