Monday, October 26, 2020
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Somali History from Ancient Times

By Adan Makina

Editor’s Note: With much of the historical content in this article taken from the attached video “This is Somalia: A Rich Heritage and a Bright Future”, the writer captured at his best to deliver an article whose historical contents deserves worth revisiting by researchers having the desire to learn more about the Somali people and the Horn of Africa at large. As one Somali oral historian put it, “Western writers gave little attention to the mighty history of Somalis and the rest of the African Continent because they were engrossed in the study of the Arabs who were closer to them in terms of color and the succession of the former Axum kingdoms they admired for their inclination to Orthodox Christianity.” As the studies of anthropology, archeology, and paleontology proliferate now and in the future, every new unearthed discovery will have a lot to be desired.

Somalia is a country on the East Coast of Africa and has a horn-like appearance. To Ancient Egyptians, it was known as the Land of the Gods; the ancient Persians called it the Land of the Tall Men; the ancient Greeks called it the Land of Cinnamon; the Romans called it the Land of Fragrance, while the ancient Chinese called it the Land of the Unicorn.  It is the world’s largest producer of spices, and to this day, the Catholic Church gets spices from Somalia.

The first place camels, especially the single humped species were raised was in the Somali region that corresponds to  2,500 years before Jesus, Peace Be Upon Him, even though some historians add 1,000 years to get to a total of 3,500 (CE).  Before being exported to previous ancient regions such as Egypt and some Arab territories, it is evident that the Somalis were the first to raise camels, and today, half of the world’s camels live on Somali soil. While the dromedary camel is 99% in terms of population, the remaining 1% is reserved for the two-humped Bactrian camels that is predominantly native to a few Central Asian countries especially those that straddled the ancient Silk Trade that diminished after the Age of Discovery (1453-1660 CE). 

The number of poems that have been recited by famous Somali poets in praise of their horses are many.  Like the most cherished camels, during droughts or scarcity of water, Somali horse breeders fed those select ones with camel milk to overcome dehydration and weight loss. A recent study found that caves were discovered in Somalia using Carbon Dating, estimated to be 5,000 years old for various anthropomorphs in Laas Geel Caves between Hargeisa and the coastal town of Berbera. Successions of rulers in Somalia during the Medieval Age (500-1,500) such as Harlaa, Ifat, Adal, Warsangali, Ajuuraan and the Dervishes era exclusively used these horses that are now wild in the Nugaal Valley. 

The Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was assassinated by the sultan of Adal. Somalis also pioneered the use of canon rifles that were brought to Africa by the Ottoman Empire to strangle the powerful Ethiopian Christian kingdoms that held sway over the Horn of Africa. The coins used by the Somali rulers of medieval times have been found in Iraq, Dubai and Turkey.  In the 13th century, a Somali explorer traveled to Arab countries, India and China.  In the 14th century, the Maldives Island was ruled by the Somali Sultan Abdiaziz.

Despite originating in Ethiopia, it was Somali traders who spread Arabica coffee around the world. The Somalis’ use of the Beden or Badhan ship, which was never known in other countries as it was hand-stitched like mats, made it easier for them to prevail over anyone who opposed their commitments. The seventh leading producer in the world and the top in the African Continent, Ethiopian coffee is reputedly the best in the world.

The Ajuuraan dynasty, one of the greatest empires in Africa, founded in the 13th century, finally collapsed in the 17th century. It was succeeded by the smaller Hiraab and Geledi Imamates. The Sultanate of Ajuran, as it is sometimes called, specialized in modern methods of hydrology, extracting and using water to appease hostile nomadic Somali tribes.

Britain was not the first to navigate East and South Africa.  During the reign of the vast Monomotapa or Mwenemutapa kingdom that was headed by the Shona tribe of Zimbabwe, it controlled the whole of South Africa.  However, Somalis were the first to use the Sofala Port and transport gold from the area.  The name Sofala in Somali means “go dig gold.”  Qubilaay Qaan (Kublai Khan), the leader of the Tatars or Mongols, twice sent spies to Somalia and was unsuccessful as his men were captured and imprisoned in Mogadishu.

Somalis are reputedly the oldest nation to embrace Islam. The Muslim emigrants who migrated from Makkah fleeing from the ignorant Quraysh, and the first to settle in the Horn of Africa landed on the shores of the Aksum Kingdom. The geographer, philosopher and Greek historian Strabo acknowledges that Somalis were the first to distribute spices to the rest of the world using the Monsoon Winds.

The double Qibla Mosque in Zeila in present day Somaliland, was built 1,400 years ago, making Somalis the first people in Africa to convert to Islam. In 1580, the Ajuuraan Sultans in collaboration with the Ottoman Empire liberated the Swahili people from the brutal, domineering Portuguese rule. In the same century, the Ajuuraan rulers invaded Zanzibar, killing the Omani sultan and freeing thousands of blacks from slavery.

 To exaggerate the history of Europe and to believe it without reference to the real history, is unfortunate and outright ignorance.  The first maritime movement was made by Portugal in all of Europe, finally finding its way to India.  Spain crossed over to the Americas in North and South America or all over the vast masses of the Western Hemisphere.  The Netherlands moved to Southeast Asia and had more than 4,000 ships.  The late British had 2,000 ships and a small number of others.  The European movement began at a time called the Age of Discovery (1418-1957).

 Before the 15th century, all Europeans were obsessed with sea travel, ocean mercantilism and slavery.  The Warsangali dynasty was established in 1298, and collapsed in 1886. The Adal Sultanate was founded in 1415, and collapsed in 1577. The previous Ifat Sultanate was established at the end of the 13th century (1285–1415) and lasted for 130 years.  It was preceded by the Makhsumi Kingdom based in the city of Harla (896–1286).  As far as we know, Harla are people of Somali origin who currently live in the Somali region of Ethiopia. In Somali they are known as Xarla and the use of references like proto-Somali by modern researchers doesn’t make any sense at all to the Somalis who know their complete past and present history.

 The kingdom of Harla was founded in Eastern Ethiopia and originated in the year 501, and its collapse is unknown, but according to ancient oral Somali historians, they were a blessed people who disbelieved in God. That is what caused them to be punished and buried underground. Before converting to Islam, the Harla people were polytheists, however, the remnants of Harla converted to Islam in the 7th century. Archaeologists have unearthed fossils in 2017.[i] It is believed that Harla collapsed 500 years after its emergence.

Figure 1. The ruins of a 12-century mosque in Harlaa, eastern Ethiopia. Credit: Timothy Insoll, University of Exeter

The experts who made the Harla excavations, presented the Harla artifacts from Madagascar, the Maldives, China and Yemen, Egypt and India.  A mosque similar to the one found in Tanzania dating back to the 12th century has also been excavated in Harla.  If the living Harla of today speak a language other than Somali, it may be due to their small numbers that forced them to merge with larger populations.  Today, Harla, near Harar, has 82 mosques and 102 visited cemeteries, according to UNESCO.

The city of Harlaa was nicknamed by the locals the “City of the Giants” because the stones they used to build the houses or walls they left behind, were so big and heavy that people of today cannot lift them. However, excavations and research are still underway and what is to come from the new discoveries, could be heart wrenching.  The Harlaa people specialized in the art of gold, such as beads for girls, etc.  The Coptic school of thought, which originated in Egypt arrived in the Kingdom of Axum in 333. Islam came to be 367 years later.

In the 15th century, Somali sailors discovered a port in Yemen that became more valuable later.  The first Sri Lankan settlement, known as Beruwala, was started by a Somali explorer.  Ethiopian coffee was exported through the port of Berbera, and was led by Somali businessmen.  So, let the world know that the best coffee sipped in the Western Hemisphere was first delivered by Somalis to the world.

 The closest language to Somali is that of the Rendille, a tribe known to Somalis as “ReerDiid”, meaning those who rejected them and took a different path during the great migration from Egypt after an encompassing political crisis around 2,600 BC forced uncountable majority of the human race to navigate the Nile River southwards to the Horn of Africa and other destinations. While Somalis say Qorrax to refer to the sun, to the ReerDiid, it is ‘Qoor Raac’. Because the ancient Egyptians as well as the ancient Greeks found it difficult to pronounce the consonant ‘C’ or ‘Cayn’ as in Somali and Arabic, the sun they worshiped was known as Amon Ra in Hieroglyphics which is, in fact, a Somali name. Thus, it would have been a portmanteau of ‘Hamuun’ and ‘Raac’ that translates to ‘the one who is observant of us’. The word Gowrac, in the ReerDiid or Rendille language, is ‘Goy Raac’ which means ‘we slaughter for the one who follows the neck with us’. The place where the disbelieving Rendille buried or burned their dead was Korondile, which in fact, is Qur’an Dile (Qur’an killer). Unknown to a few Somalis, the Rendille have two religious holidays, pray five times a day in a Mosque, and still believe they are part and parcel of Somalis. 

The stick called Hangool, is Han (ambition) and Gool (lioness) and it is finely Somali as well. The ancient Pharaohs used to carry Hangool as they had Han or ambition like the lioness that was protective of its cubs. A male lion in the language of Hieroglyphics was known as ‘Aar’, just like in the Somali language. On the same length, like in ancient Egyptians Hieroglyphics, ‘hees’ means a song while male organs is ‘Qoora’. The historic maritime navigation of Queen Hatshepsut to the ‘Land of Punt’ or the ‘Land of Gods’ has a deeper meaning. It is not Punt; it could have been ‘Buun’, meaning the sea shell Somalis use as a trumpet during celebrations or to create awareness in the cases of dangers or something else. If it would have been a single syllabic Bun instead of Buun, it would imply coffee which had not been discovered during that era. The goatee beards worn by the ancient Egyptian pharaohs could have been copied from the Land of Gods.[ii] The logic behind the goatee is that the male goat is responsible for leading the rest of the herd and that he is the Commander-in-Chief. Those who deny that Somalis preceded European civilization deserve to dig into the true history of Somalis.

Adan Makina
Email:[email protected]

[i] Sci-News, Staff (2019). Archaeologists Unearth Ancient, Forgotten City in Eastern Ethiopia. Retrieved from
[ii] Montet, P. (19640. Eternal Egypt, P. 23.

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