Explorations in History and Society

Exploring and Collecting the History of the Somali clan of Hawiye.

Archive for April 2009

Overview of the Ajuran empire

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Ajuran traditions amongst the Hawiyya

The Darandoolle, it should be noted, were part of the Gurqaate, a clan section collateral to the Jambelle Hawiyya from whom Ajuran (and Gareen) is said to have been descended. Intermarriage among the descedants of these uterine brothers on the one hand helped reinforce the solidarity of the Hawiyya. On the other hand, competition between collateral lines was very common in Somalia, particularly where the titular leadership of a larger clan-confederation was at stake. Such a struggle for the dominant place within the Hawiyya-dominated Ajuran confederation may also be reflected in the rise of the Silcis and El Amir  in the later years of Ajuran rule. Both are said to have been descedants of Gurqaate Hawiyya, as were the Abgaal Darandoolle. Thus it can be argued that the dominant groups which appeared toward the end of the Ajuran era—the Darandoolle near Muqdisho, the Silcis near Afgooye, and the El Amir in Marka—represent the partition of the Ajuran imamate among collateral Hawiyya sections. Or perhaps one branch of the Hawiyya—namely the Gurqaate—forcibly replaced another (the Jambelle) as leaders of the confederation.

This second hypothesis better explains the apparent “disappearance” of the Ajuran by suggesting that the line of Gareen Jambelle was eclipsed politically by the more numerous and widespread Gurqaate. In the Somali setting, power ultimately comes from the fighting strength of a clan and its allies; and domination most often depends on the relative numerical superiority of the dominant. Thus the decline of Ajuran power in political terms conceivably resulted from shifts in the demographic structure Page: 109 of the original alliance network. Indeed, clans of Gurqaate and Guggundabe affiliation were the dominant representatives of the Hawiyya clan family in the Shabeelle valley area at the beginning of the twentieth century. The bulk of Jambelle Hawiyya (including the Ajuran) are today located west of the Jubba River.

The structure of Ajuran rule
The oral sources also provide us with recurrent themes that point to certain structural features of Ajuran rule. The descendants of the Ajuraan (among which are the Gareen imams) can therefore be understood to have inherited the spiritual (Islamic)  and the secular (numerical) power provided by the alliance of the first three Hawiyya “brothers”.  Ajuran power reposed on the twin pillars of spiritual preeminence and Hawiyya kinship solidarity, a potent combination in the Somali cultural context. In historical terms, a theocratic ideology superimposed on an extensive network of Hawiyya-affiliated clans helped uphold Ajuran dominance over a wide region.
(Traditions suggest that in times past many Hawiyya clans were preferentially endogamous: that is, where possible, marriages were contracted between members of different lineages within the same clan. This practice helped maintain political cohesiveness within large, territorially dispersed clans; it also helped to keep livestock within the within the extended kinship group. The assertion that the imams of Ajuraan “violated” the norms of clan endogamy and collected bridewealth from many different clans (see quotation above, p. 93) highlights the dominant position of the Gareen lineage in economic as well as political terms. Interviews with Muddey Haji Geeley, Muqdisho, 16 May and 9 June 1971: Aliow Mahad Emed, 29 July 1971; and Sherif Hassan Sherif Muhammad, 6 Sept. 1971. Cf. Cerulli, Somalia   2:301 ff., and Marlowe, “The Galijaal Barsana,” pp. 31. 88. )
The straightforward interpretation of the foregoing is that the primary cohesive force in the Ajuran polity—as in virutally all pastoral polities—was the network of agnatic and affinal ties that linked the leading lineages of the region. We can effectively view the boundaries of this pastoral “state” as coincident with the outer limits of the alliance system. Such an interpretation makes it easier to comprehend how Ajuran authority could be said to have extended from Mareeg (the territorial center of the Darandoolle, a segment of the Gurqaate Hawiyya) to Qallaafo (the probable homeland of the Jambelle Hawiyya, where their clan ancestor is buried), when in fact it is evident that the polity was not an integral territorial one. In the vast grazing areas between these nodes of Hawiyya control lived sizable numbers of Biimaal, Digil. and Oromo pastoralists who do not appear to have been incorporated fully into the alliance system.
Most accounts refer to the Ajuran leaders as imams, a title rarely used to identify Somali religious figures in more recent times. Oral accounts further allude to emirs and naa’ibs as agents of Ajuraan government, in contrast to the much more commonly used Somali titles of boqor, islao,  and malaakh   to indicate special military and ritual leaders. Furthermore, unusual topynyms which purportedly date from Ajuran times— Awal el-amir   (“tomb of the emir”) and Cusk Naa’ib Samow   (“the seat of Naa’ib Samow”)—further convey the impression of a distinctly theocratic polity. Lest it be thought that such titles are simply glosses added in the process of the traditions’ transmission, we have external corroboration in a Portuguese letter of 1624, which refers to a ruler in the southern Somali interior as an imam.
Like many of the pastoral polities that periodically emerged in the Sahara and central Arabian deserts, the Ajuran state was not a cohesive territorial entity; rather it consisted of several clan territories joined together by the kin, marriage, and patron/client ties of the inhabitants. Wherever a Hawiyya group had settled and could be incorporated into the alliance system, the “state” could be said to exist. On the local level, lineage segments might opt into the larger confederation for military, labor-sharing, or resource-sharing reasons; others might be compelled to pay tribute in order to gain access to watering sites controlled by the Ajuran. The state also incorporated groups of riverine cultivators that were settled at various places along the Shabeelle from Qallaafo in the north to Torre in the southeast, near Baraawe. These cultivators probably formed the bulk of the servile labor force that was conscripted to construct the dikes and canals popularly attributed to the Ajuran period. Although they are remembered in tradition as the “slaves” of the Ajuran, they probably resembled the communities of client-cultivators known from more recent times
In exchange for supplying grain and labor to the dominant pastoral stratum, the cultivators corporately received the latter’s patronage and “protection.” Thus a series of local and regional alliances underpinned and legitimized the apparent concentration of power in the hands of the Gareen imams.
From this perspective, the phenomenon of Ajuran “domination” represented not a break with the typical Somali system of clan alliances and patron/client links but an extension and elaboration of it. What gave the polity its overall cohesiveness and unusual longevity were the rudimentary administrative procedures and the theocratic ideology introduced by the Gareen. The taking of tribute, for example, is one of the most salient features of Ajuran rule recorded by tradition. There is no reason to doubt that this practice actually occurred in the sixteenth century, particularly having noted the presence of literate Muslim record-keepers and “slave soldiers” during that period. The posting of naa’ibs   to the various districts and the conscription of labor for public works are other indications from tradition of an embryonic bureaucracy at work. Alliances contracted at the local level continued to be based on mutual interest; but now techniques of Ajuran administration and the titles and practices of an Islamic hierarchy—a new technology and ideology so to speak—were grafted on to these various local arrangements to produce an overarching political structure.
Determining whether there were any links between the Ajuraan and the wider Islamic world is problematic. There is no evidence to date that the Ajuran state was known to Muslims outside of SomaliaAt the same time, the muskets and luxury goods associated with the governing elite were almost certainly imported from the Ottoman Empire or its neighbors. The Gareen alliance with the Muzaffar dynasty of Muqdisho must have given the former access to engineers and architects from abroad. If the Muslim advisers of the of the imams corresponded with statesmen elsewhere in the Islamic world, no record of their contact has come to light. On the basis of the evidence presently available, we must assume that the Ajuraan state was essentially Somali-oriented, more concerned with domestic developments than with international politics.
Aspects of their tyrannical rule and revolt
The Ajuran collected tribute in the form of durra and bun   (coffee beans roasted in butter) from the cultivators who farmed the alluvial land along the lower Shabeelle River. They also demanded cattle, camels, and goats from the nomads of the region. (Some informants commented that the name Ajuraan came from the Arabic root ajara  —“to tax”—and a few claimed that the Ajuraan were mercenaries paid by the Gareen imams to extort tribute from their subjects.)  The people under Ajuraan rule were forced to dig canals for irrigating the land along the river and storage pits for preserving the grain that was taken in tribute. They dug wells for the imam’s livestock and built fortifications for the imam’s soldiers. They shepherded the camels and sheep and horses of the Ajuraan. Many of the deep, stone-lined wells still in use in parts of southern Somalia are attributed by local tradition to Ajuraan construction; and abandoned fortifications in stone were still in evidence in the early twentieth century. The population was large in Ajuraan times, according to tradition. A popular account says that the birth of an imam’s son at Marka was reported the same day at Mareeg, on the northern confines of the “state.” The imam had wives in every district, and he remained in each part of his dominions for one or two months of every year. The  custom in Ajuran times was for the ruler to spend seven nights with every new bride before she went to the bed of her husband. The imam also collected half [some sources say all] of the bride-wealth normally given by the husband’s kinsmen to the father of the bride. The bride-wealth was in those days 100 camels. Ultimately, the people rose up against the tyranny of Ajuran rule. According to most accounts, the first to rebel were the pastoral Darandoolle whose descendants today live on the outskirts of Muqdisho and in the pasturelands north of it. Sometime between 1590 and 1625—the approximate dates appear to be corroborated by a Portuguese document dated 1624. These nomads ambushed and killed the Muzaffar governor of Muqdisho, who was an ally of the Ajuraan rulers. A few years later, these same Darandoolle challenged the authority of the Ajuraan imam directly.
{After entering Muqdisho, the Darandoolle quarrelled with the Ajuraan. They quarrelled over watering rights. The Ajuraan had decreed: “At the wells in our territory, the people known as Darandoolle and the other Hiraab cannot water their herds by day, but only at night.” … Then all the Darandoolle gathered in one place. The leaders decided to make war on the Ajuraan. They found the imam of the Ajuraan seated on a rock near a well called Ceel Cawl. They killed him with a sword. As they struck him with the sword, they split his body together with the rock on which he was seated. He died immediately and the Ajuraan migrated out of the country. In another variation of the story, a young Darandoolle warrior was born with a gold ring on his finger, a sign of his future preeminence. The Darandoolle then rallied around their young leader, who eventually assumed the title of imam of the Darandoolle and took up residence in Muqdisho).
After the successful rebellion of the Darandoolle, other clans  began to challenge Ajuraan hegemony. Along the middle reaches of the Shabeelle valley, the pastoral Gaaljacal and Baddi Addo waged several unsuccessful campaigns before they eventually united to drive the Ajuraan out of the area.In the region of the Shabeelle bend, the Geledi clan formed an alliance with the Wacdaan to expel a group of tyrants known as the Silcis, who were either allies of the Ajuraan or their immediate successors in that district. Similarly, the Ajuraan lost control of the town of Marka to a people known as the El Amir (perhaps the followers of a rebellious regional governor), who then ruled that town for thirty-four years. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, the El Amir were in turn defeated and driven out by the Biimaal, whose descendants today occupy the hinterland of Marka. Most traditions agree that the Ajuran fought long and hard to preserve their position of dominance, but in the end they were defeated and scattered throughout the country. Some of the survivors went to the upper Shabeelle, where a group of cultivators still claimed, in the early twentieth century, to be descendants of the slaves of the Ajuran. Other Ajuran crossed the Jubba where they today pursue a pastoral existence in the district of Wajir, in modern-day Kenya. According to popular accounts, the Ajuran declined because their tyranny became insupportable, because they abandoned the law of Islam, or because they were excessively arrogant. If pride alone brought success, goes one proverb, the Ajuran would never have left the country. The foregoing narrative contains the major elements of the Ajuran saga, which can be related in greater or lesser detail by informants from any number of clans today resident in southern Somalia. There appear to be no glaring discrepancies among the accounts obtained in different districts, nor have there occurred any notable distortions or deletions in the story since Guillain first recorded it in the 1840s. The most significant variations occur in accounts of Ajuran decline, for which traditions are generally much fuller than those dealing with Ajuran origins and with the nature of their rule. The significance of this last observation will be discussed below. The point here is that oral traditional accounts of the Ajuran period are generally consistent through space as well as time. Such consistency regarding events that purportedly occurred more than three hundred years ago suggests that the Ajuran saga has become part of the folklore of southern Somalia. It clearly contains a number of stock cultural and literary themes which must be recognized before one can assess the historicity of the episode as a whole. 
Finally, it was noted above that traditions that describe the downfall of the Ajuran are generally richer and more varied than those that describe the nature of Ajuran rule. A number of clans preserve accounts of incidents which led to rebellion against Ajuran hegemony. Some incidents are caused by conflict over resources; others appear to have religious or political causes. These will be discussed shortly. What should be noted here is that most accounts of Ajuran decline end in military defeat for the former rulers. The decisive battles are typically described as having occurred in places which today are within the territories of the clans concerned and thus can be seen as helping to legitimize a clan’s occupation of territory by referring that occupation back to an earlier, almost legendary era. Memories of having defeated the Ajuran embellish a clan’s history. In addition, certain long-standing clan alliances—the Gaaljacal and Baddi Addo, the Geledi and Wacdaan (see p. 215)—assume a sense of permanence by having begun in rebellion against a common oppressor. It is worth noting that many southern Somali clans which make no claims of ever having defeated the Ajuraan nevertheless have traditions of expelling other tyrannical leaders from the lands they occupy today.
Further rebellion and eventual overthrow of the dynasty
Clan traditions about Ajuraan decline can be grouped into several categories. Some describe military encounters and include place names and, occasionally, the names of prominent leaders (Darandoolle rebellion, p. 93). Others recount the emergence of rivals to Ajuraan leadership and leave the actual downfall of the Ajuraan unstated (the El Amir takeover of Marka). Still others are elaborate stories detailing despicable acts wrought by Ajuraan officials together with plots of revenge contrived by the wronged parties. Finally, there are traditions (like that about Shaykh Hassan Buraale, discussed below) which attribute Ajuraan decline to the loss of their religious authority and powers. The variety of style and structure in these accounts leads one to suspect that a number of different motives lie behind their formulation and transmission. At the core of each tradition lies the undisputed belief that the Ajuran fell from power; yet each has elaborated the story of the fall to make particular points about the fragility of power. An analysis of the various types of traditions enables us to view the decline of the Ajuraan on different levels. From all indications, the demise of the dynasty was not a sudden event; it was a lengthy process involving both internal and external challenges to Ajuran supremacy. Although these traditions are specific enough to establish a rough chronology—the erosion of Ajuraan power seems to have begun about 1620 and was complete by 1690—I will be less concerned here with particular events than with the various processes that altered the structure of Ajuran domination.
In the first place, Ajuran decline needs to be seen against the background of continuous pastoral migrations out of the arid central Peninsula toward the better-watered regions of the interriver plain, which was the heartland of the Ajuran dominions. Hawiyya clans and sub-clans—Gaaljacal, Baddi Addo, Murursade, Abgaal—continued to filter into the grazing areas opened up by earlier Hawiyya migrations.
By 1600, clans of Hawiyya ancestry controlled most of the pasture land along both banks of the middle Shabeelle River.
At the same time, numerous pastoralists known in more recent times as Rahanwiin began to occupy the lands west of the Hawiyya. While herding units in the vanguard of these two migratory waves could be incorporated into the Ajuraan polity through arrangements of pastoral clientship, their growing numbers—the result of additional migrations and natural reproduction—must have posed a threat to their hosts. Thus, on one level, the challenge to Ajuraan supremacy came from newly arrived nomads seeking to stake a claim to the region’s resources and forming new alliances to do so. The Darandoolle settlement of well sites north and west of Muqdisho; their subsequent rebellion against restrictions imposed by the Ajuraan on the use of the wells; the Gaaljacal desire to extend their grazing areas: all are examples of the continual on-the-ground conflict between the established occupants of the area and the newer arrivals, chiefly over questions of access to natural resources. Accounts of such conflict, exemplified by the Darandoolle episode, may well be a record of actual historical events. On the other hand, they may be generalized descriptions of recurrent pastoral conflict which characterized relations between the dominant Ajuraan and their erstwhile subjects. In either case, traditions of this sort point to a distinctly ecological/economic dimension in the challenge to Ajuraan supremacy.
Along with this competition for grazing resources there apparently occurred a series of struggles for political ascendancy among the various factions of the Ajuran confederacy. This struggle is most clearly signaled in the story of the auspicious birth of the future Darandoolle (Abgaal) imam, who would in time come to challenge the authority of the Gareen imams. In a related tradition published by Enrico Cerulli, the Gareen imam hears a prophecy that the descendants of his son-in-law (Osman Darandoolle) were destined to outnumber the sons of Ajuraan and to expel the latter from the land.
{The mother of Hiraabe was Faaduma Karanle. The mother of Abgaal was Faaduma Sarjelle, who was an Ajuraan. She was married by Osman Darandoolle. They had a son who was called Ali Osman. Sometime later a wise elder went to Sarjelle Gareen, and said: “O noble Sarjelle, I have seen in the books that the descendants of the son born to your daughter Faaduma will drive your descendants from the land. I have seen this in the books.” “You have seen these things?” “Yes, I have seen them,” he replied. “So be it!” responded the noble Sarjelle)
The account goes on to tell of the Gareen imam’s plan to poison the young Ali, only to poison his daughter Faaduma by mistake. The marriage relations cited at the beginning of the tradition are critical to an understanding both of the nature of Ajuraan rule and of its subsequent fragmentation to this day.
Breif overall of the dynasty
To sum up our historical reconstruction: the Ajuran appear to have been a confederation of Hawiyya clans led by the Gareen lineage, which was believed to possess religious power and a political pedigree. This politico-religious leadership drew on the warrior strength of the predominantly pastoral Hawiyya and the ideology of an expanding Islam to establish a series of administrative centers in and around the well sites and irrigated riverbanks of southern Somalia. Marriage alliances reinforced ties of agnatic and religious loyalty among the leading families of the region. Perhaps with the aid of literate Arab scholars and mercenaries, the Gareen evolved a rudimentary administration which oversaw the collection of tribute from cultivators, herdsmen, and traders and which conscripted a servile labor force to undertake an unprecedented program of construction of wells and fortifications. Alliances with the leading families of Muqdisho and Marka bolstered the imam’s power by providing an outlet for surplus grain and livestockand a source of the luxury goods that symbolized the imam’s high status.
Details on the period of Ajuran domination are sparse, and we have been forced to conjecture about many aspects of their political structure and ideology. As has been suggested, surviving oral traditions tend to elaborate the more stereotypic features of Ajuraan rule; as such, they alone cannot be taken as indisputable evidence for the existence of a fully developed autocracy. The primary value of these traditions is to reveal the principles on which the Ajuran polity was constructed, the sources of power and authority believed to have underpinned the system. These principles—clan solidarity, religious baraka, political alliance (chiefly through marriage), control of natural resources—are the major forms of political capital in the Somali pastoral setting. To a greater or lesser degree, these same principles have been employed by virtually every leader or dynasty that has attempted to consolidate his or its authority over any portion of the Somali Peninsula in the past. The Ajuran are unusual because, as traditions suggest, they exploited all four sources of power. It is the extent of Ajuran domination and the range of techniques used to sustain it that probably account for the elaborate traditions associated with this period, to the extent that Ajuraan domination may also account for the widespread traditions concerned with the overthrow of the dynasty.
Legacy of the Ajuran
Some of the more readily apparent stock themes in the preceeding narrative are the auspicious appearance of a stranger whose marriage into a local family holds out the promise of a large and supernaturally gifted progeny; the ius primae noctis   enjoyed by the imam, a practice commonly attributed to tyrants in northeast Africa; the imam’s possession of “wives in every district,” a literary exaggeration of the polygamy customarily practiced by a few prominent Somali sultans in more recent historical times; and the supernatural sign—in this story, a golden ring—attending the birth of a challenger to the existing ruling order. These and other formulaic representations of Ajuran oppression found in some of the variant versions clearly have didactic functions in a society known for its egalitarianism and its suspicion of all forms of centralized authority. One can reasonably argue that the preservation of the Ajuraan legend (whatever its historical foundation) served to remind Somalis of the dangers of autocratic rule. The Somali proverbs cited at the beginning of the chapter, and many others, speak to this same concern.
The Ajuran saga also contains a number of eteological elements designed to explain the origins of stone ruins found scattered through southern Somalia. Many deep wells and large abandoned earthworks are popularly attributed to Ajuraan technology. While there is no reason to assume that the Ajuraan period could not have witnessed considerable construction in stone, the historian must be wary of attributing all such remains to a single historical period. Ruins have been discovered (though, unfortunately, rarely investigated)  in many parts of the Somali Peninsula; the dates of their original construction probably span the past millennium.
But until more systematic archaeological work is carried out, we cannot regard these ruins as definitive evidence of Ajuraan engineering accomplishments.
The ancient town of Gandarshe

Gondershe is a historical Somali stone city build on a oasis in Southern Somalia. The city’s ruins consists of typical Somali Architecture such as Coral stone houses,Fortifications, Tombs and Mosques. It’s said to date from the Ajuuraan Age when it became a center of trade that handled smaller vessels sailing from India, Arabia, Persia and the Far East.  The major medieval Somali power engaging in castle building was the Ajuuraan State and many of the hundreds of ruined fortifications dotting the landscapes of Somalia today are attributed to Ajuuraan engineers.


Enrico Cerulli ”How a Hawiye tribe use to live”
Lee Cassanelli ”A pastoral society”