The Oromo of Harerghe: On the Evolution of Urban Centers (Part I)
By Afendi Muteki
Most of the urban centers of Harerghe are of short ages. Harar is the oldest one in the whole of East and Southern Ethiopia
(In his book written 160 years ago, Sir Richard Burton also claimed that Harar is the only permanent settlement in East Africa). It was the capital of Adal Sultanate up to 1577 and an independent city state (Amirate) from 1648-1887. Harar was the main market place for the Oromos as well as other peoples of East Ethiopa.
Next comes Funyaan Biiraa (Gursum) which is said to be a remnant of a nearby town. Professor Ulrich Braukemper says that it had been a capital of an old time Amirate. Imam Ahmed ibn Ibrahim Al-Ghazi was born at a place called “Hubat” which was near to Funyan Biiraa (as recorded in Fat’hul Habasha, the chronicle of Imam Ahmed ibn Ibrahim).
With the exception of these two towns (Harar and Funyan Biiraa), no urban center is said to be an extant of the medieval age. However, there is a high speculation that the towns called with a prefix “Biyyoo” (such as ”Biyyoo Kharaaba”) are old aged as the Oromos have been calling the long-lived Harar by a name “Biyyoo Adaree” meaning “the city of Adaree” (“biyyoo” is to mean “town” in Mahdi Hamid Muudee’s English-Oromo Dictionary and information I obtained from elderly people).
There is an oral tradition that the town of Balbalettii (in West Harerghe, 25 kms south of Gelemso) have also a long age. But I doubt this information is true because no old time documents mention about it. Rather than Balbaleettii, we can see the names like Gelemso and Hirna in the books and travel accounts of many writers.
As trading activities increased in the Harerghe region, certain important religious and cultural centers started to show some urban features. The spread of Islamic preachers among the Oromos also intensified the urbanization process because these preachers came with new house building and furnishing skills in addition to their religious knowledge Eventually important cultural places like Gelemso, Qunnii, Hirna, Watar, Babille etc.. changed to true urban centers.
The last quarter of the 19 century brought the most remarkable effect on the urbanization process in Harerghe. This happened in two ways. After the defeat of the Oromos by the army of emperor Minilik, many garrisons was established for the administrative purposes and as a living places for the conquering army which had responsibility of watching over the conquered lands. With construction of living houses, churches, water wells etc, these garrisons were transformed to true urban centers. Gurawa, Dadar, Komona, Anchar etc were founded in this way.
The construction of Ethio-Djibouti Railway Line was the other factor that fastend the urbanization process in Harerghe. Dire Dawa, Erar, Mieso, Bikke, Afdam etc.. were the direct results of this process.
The urbanization process in Harerghe hasn’t stoped. More urban centers are coming, and thd old ones are expanding in all direction.
Afandi Mutaki, a native of Galamso, is an ethnographer based in the historic city of Harar . His works can be accessed at http://www.afendimutekiharar.com/