Brief Introduction to Afar people
Afar, Amharic Adal, Arabic Danakil , a people of the Horn of Africa who speak Afar (also known as ’Afar Af), a language of the Eastern Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. They live in northeastern Ethiopia, southeastern Eritrea, and Djibouti, where, with the Issas, they are the dominant people. It is thought that the Afar were the first of the present inhabitants of Ethiopia to elaborate their pastoral life into full-scale nomadism, descending from the highlands of southeast Ethiopia and migrating to the stony desert area of Danakil, the name sometimes used by Arabs to identify them but which is now considered to be offensive.
Main article: Adal Sultanate
Afar society has traditionally been organized into independent kingdoms, each ruled by its own Sultan. Among these were the Sultanate of Aussa, Sultanate of Girrifo, Sultanate of Dawe, Sultanate of Tadjourah, Sultanate of Rahaito, and Sultanate of Goobad.
Territory of the Adal Sultanate and its vassal states (ca. 1500).
The earliest surviving written mention of the Afar is from the 13th-century Andalusian writer Ibn Sa’id, who reported that they inhabited the area around the port of Suakin, as far south as Mandeb, near Zeila. They are mentioned intermittently in Ethiopian records, first as helping Emperor Amda Seyon in a campaign beyond the Awash River, then over a century later when they assisted Emperor Baeda Maryam when he campaigned against their neighbors the Dobe’a.
Along with the closely related Somali and other adjacent Afro-Asiatic-speaking Muslim peoples, the Afar are also associated with the medieval Adal Sultanate that controlled large parts of the northern Horn of Africa. During its existence, Adal had relations and engaged in trade with other polities in Northeast Africa, the Near East, Europe and South Asia. Many of the historic cities in the Horn region, such as Maduna, Abasa, Berbera, Zeila and Harar, flourished with courtyard houses, mosques, shrines, walled enclosures and cisterns during the kingdom’s Golden Age.
State flag of the Aussa Sultanate.
Main articles: Aussa Sultanate and Mudaito Dynasty
The Afar Sultanate (Aussa Sultanate) succeeded the earlier Imamate of Aussa. The latter polity had come into existence in 1577, when Muhammed Jasa moved his capital from Harar to Aussa with the split of the Adal Sultanate into Aussa and the Harari city-state. At some point after 1672, Aussa declined and temporarily came to an end in conjunction with Imam Umar Din bin Adam’s recorded ascension to the throne.
The Sultanate was subsequently re-established by Kedafu around the year 1734, and was thereafter ruled by his Mudaito Dynasty. The primary symbol of the Sultan was a silver baton, which was considered to have magical properties.
Afar Liberation Front
Main articles: Afar Liberation Front and Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front
Official flag of the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front.
Following an unsuccessful rebellion led by the Afar Sultan, Alimirah Hanfare, the Afar Liberation Front was founded in 1975 to promote the interests of the Afar people. Sultan Hanfadhe was shortly afterwards exiled to Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia’s then-ruling communist Derg regime later established the Autonomous Region of Assab (now called Aseb and located in Eritrea), although low level insurrection continued until the early 1990s. In Djibouti, a similar movement simmered throughout the 1980s, eventually culminating in the Afar Insurgency in 1991. After the fall of the Derg that same year, Sultan Hanfadhe returned from exile.
In March 1993, the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Front (ARDUF) was established. It constituted a coalition of three Afar organizations: the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Union (ARDUU), founded in 1991 and led by Mohamooda Gaas (or Gaaz); the Afar Ummatah Demokrasiyyoh Focca (AUDF); and the Afar Revolutionary Forces (ARF). A political party, it aims to protect Afar interests. As of 2012, the ARDUF is part of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) coalition opposition party.
Approximate area inhabited by the Afar ethnic group.
The Afar principally reside in the Danakil Desert in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, as well as in Eritrea and Djibouti. They number 2,276,867 people in Ethiopia (or 2.73% 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.
ISO 639 icon for the Afar language
Afars speak the Afar language as a mother tongue. It is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family.
The Afar language 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 afield.
Together, with the Saho language, Afar constitutes the Saho–Afar dialect cluster.
Afar people are predominantly Muslim. They have a long association with Islam through the various local Muslim polities and practice the Sunni form of Islam. The Afar mainly follow the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam. Sufi orders like the Qadiriyya are also widespread among the Afar. Afar religious life is somewhat syncretic with a blend of Islamic concepts and pre-Islamic ones such as rain sacrifices on sacred locations, divination, and folk healing.
Socially, they are organized into clan families led by elders and two main classes: the asaimara (‘reds’) who are the dominant class politically, and the adoimara (‘whites’) who are a working class and are found in the Mabla Mountains. Clans can be fluid and even include outsiders like Somalis.
In addition, the Afar are reputed for their martial prowess. Men traditionally sport the jile, a famous curved knife. They also have an extensive repertoire of battle songs.
The Afar are mainly livestock holders. They mostly raise camels but also tend to goats, sheep, and cattle. However, shrinking pastures for their livestock and environmental degradation have made some Afar instead turn to cultivation, migrant labor, and trade. The Ethiopian Afar have traditionally engaged in salt trading but recently Tigrayans have taken much of this occupation.