The Oromo of Harerghe: On the Evolution of Urban Centers (Part I)

Assuma bara (Fala'aana gate)

The photo depicts the northern gate of the Walled City of Harar. It was taken by an Austrian Explorer called F. Paulische in 1888.

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


25 comments for “The Oromo of Harerghe: On the Evolution of Urban Centers (Part I)

  1. adamee
    January 30, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    It is true that Ahmad Gran was born at Hubata, but Hubata is not located at Funyan gursum. Hubata is located at about 30km from University of Haromaya, about 35 km from Kombolcha. It next to Finqille, Qeerensa gudaa fi qeerensa guddaa. Gaara hubataa jadhamti. I was there and i was born at Hubata area. Now it is true that Amhmad grany was born in Hubata.

  2. January 30, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Hubata is only about 5 KM from Haramaya University

  3. January 31, 2013 at 8:06 am

    For your information the name “hubata” belongs to raaba-doori weerroo.its historicaly part of oromo defence it radar and communication center in modern defence terminology.trace all the hubatas where ever they are proves only one fact..the great african nation. oromo !

  4. January 31, 2013 at 8:11 am

    For your information the name “hubata” belongs to raaba-doori qeerroo.its historicaly part of oromo defence it radar and communication center in modern defence terminology.trace all the hubatas where ever they are proves only one fact..the great african nation. oromo !

  5. January 31, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Jawar baga jiraatte! ima waan dhalateef beeku tahi! kan biyyaan deemu tahi! jabaadhitta dubbiin oromo jabaatte!galat

  6. wollo
    February 1, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Guys, thank you for the correction about ‘Hubata’. Afaan Oromootiin ‘hubata’, jechuun waa hubachuu jechuu dha. Namni ‘Radar’ jedhee hiike sun sirrii dha. Yaroo kitaabota alagaan barreesse dubbiftan, maqaan lafaa ka alaagaan barreesse maqaa dhugaa irraa jallachuu akka dandayu yaroo mara qaabadhaa (yaadadha). Fakkeenyaaf, Gadaa jechuuf ‘Geda’ ykn ‘Gada’ jechuun isaanii ni mala.

  7. max
    February 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Still Oromos call Harer town Adere. Peougeouts cal Adere Adere Adere for taking you their.

    Also I want to know what the Adal Sultanets people are? Somalis? Aderes? Oromos? Or Afars?


  8. Finfine
    February 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    For me it is more confusing. Who should claim Harar wall, I think that is where urbanization is started per writter. Is Adal sultanete adere or harari as they call themselve, or

  9. Afendi Muteki
    February 1, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Dear freinds
    1. Mohammed Hassen is a welknown authority on the history of the city of Harar and the Oromo of Harerghe. Please search his writings titled
    a. The relationship between the city of Harar and the surrounding Oromos up to 1880s (B.A. Thesis)
    b. Minilik’s conquest of Harar and its effect on the political organization of the surrouning Oromos
    c. The city of Harar and the Islamization of the Oromo in Harerghe
    2. You may hear also jounalist Jafar Ali’s audio series calked “Dubbi Miila Bakhar” (very popular in east Oromia)
    3. There are many “Hubata” in Harerghe. But “Fathul Habasha” say it was in the eastern direction from Harar. And many people say that it was near Gursum (but some people say it was close to Babille than Funyan Birra).
    From these all sources, Ulrich Braukamper confidentially said Imam Ahmad was born in the region of Funyan Biiraa. You can refer to his book titeled ”Islamic History and Culture in southern Ethiopia” pp 127 (read the whole chapter titled ”Notes on the Islamization and the Muslim Shrines of Harar Plateau”)
    4. The article deals with history of Urbanization process in Harerghe. But Finfinne and Max asked another question that needs detail study. I may come to it in the future. But one thing here is that I am not wrting a “Debtera” history. I have a source for all what I write. Many encient sources tell us the existence of Adal Sultanate in east Africa that had Harar as its capital. Shall I deny this plain fact? 5. The writer is not Harari as some people are feeling. He is an Oromo from Galamso. Even if if he is Harari, Arab, Somali, Gambela etc. what matters is the fact he describes.

  10. Finfine
    February 2, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Dear Muteki,
    I greatly appreciate for the information you have given us, especially Dr.Hassen’s reference regarding Harar history. When it comes to distorting Oromo history and identity, not only debtera are responsible, some Arabs historians under the disguise of Islamization tried to oblitrate it. But what still confounding is that the resilence of Oromo to maintain their cultural heritage by passing down from generation to generation orally, even they used Islamic teaching as a medium to isolate themselves from Northern Abyssinian invasion to some extent, thereby preserve who they are.

  11. Afendi Muteki
    February 2, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    kkkkkkkkkkkk Are you normal? What are you talking about? Fayyaa qabdaa gurbaa?
    You are saying Arabs have distorted the Oromo history. This is a great lie. After some time, I fear that you may say “Islam has colonized the Oromo people”. Does your version of Oromumma advocate that? If so, I don’t need this kind of Oromumma. This is insanity, not Oromumma.
    I clearly understand that you have never read the sources I listed here. And I don’t need any argument with you. Read first and come to me after that.
    Galamso fi Ciroo jidduu tanaan lafa
    Gandi kee na jibbaa sijalaahin hafa

  12. February 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Yo dhugaa ilma gudeeda gooticha sanii taate kan nama jalaa haftu hinsehu.yo maqummaan wal natti fakkaate, numaan sehee . seenaan oromoo kan dhugaa yom tuqame.mee magaalaa bu,aa daawwitii nuuf bitaa.yo of arguu nu gargaarte:maal akkaan fakkaadhu inuma of arageen beeku.yo sana maal akka fakkaadhu argee irrins koo hubadhee . muteki ati aarri siif hintolu.dalagaa kee balleessaa.hinaariin.hojjaa kee itti fufi. be positive anytime.galata waliin.

  13. Afendi Muteki
    February 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Yaada bilchaataa waan naaf keenniteef galatoomi. Ani hin’aaru. Garuu namni gariin kaayoo barreeffama kiyyaati ala bahee wan biroo natti kaasa. Kanumaafi malee hin arree obboleysoo!
    Fayyaa naaf tahi

  14. Garii
    February 5, 2013 at 12:48 am


    are you saying that Isilam preserve Oromummaa? Neither chirtianity nor Isilam have helped Oromos to keep thier Identity. Oromummaa is culture, language and inward manifestation. Look around including yourself what both religines did and doing! are they teaching Oromo language, encourage oromoo dress, or propagate another language including eating styles? we have to weigh things from reality not mere speculation. Most, if not all, history reflects the interest of writers. From what happening now in Arab land, I do not believe , Arabs have go intention for Oromos. The case in Yemen is good enough to tell the fact( Oromos are not given refugee status).

  15. February 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Hi all,

    I believe we don’t need to reject facts,but there is a doubt in some sources. For instance, tittle of ‘Fat’hul habasha’ says ,assira’a beinal habasha wassomal, which mean ‘confict between habasha and somal. The fact is Somalia never existed before sixties. So, this itself will give an indication as to how some sources are incredible.

  16. Koorraa Bonaya
    February 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Re: Garii
    You bring up a good point about Yemen. This issue is not isolated. Oromo refugees in Yemen tell me that some Yemeni have disallowed Oromo from going to Mosque along with many other injustices. Please here interview during burial of Oromo. Yemeni disallowed Oromo to bury our people because of our darker complexion.

  17. Afendi Muteki
    February 5, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    2. Jm Ali you are not refering to Fat’hul Habasha”. “Fat’hul Habasha” is the only title of the book. What you say “assira’a beinal habasha wassomal” is a title of another book. And it is translated as “A Journey between Habasha and Somal”.
    3. About “Yemen”: I shouldn’t have answered this question because it has nothing to do with the article. But I say that the creulity of Yemeni soldiers follows the direction of the state. When the state was good for Oromos 40 years ago, our fathers founded the first independent Oromo Politcal Organization at the port city of Aden. The state was officially supporting Elemoo Qilxuu and Hussein Sooraa when they did that. The head quarter of the Organization was also at Aden. On the other hand, it was the Arab republic of Syria who helped train the first Oromo Freedom Army fighting unit. The training was held at Palestinian Camps. The weapons were provided by Syrians. The transportation and travel documents were also provided by Syrian Arabs (at that time the Somalis refused to give support for Oromos and they were thinking the Oromos are “Somali Aboo”).
    When Dergue came to power, the Yemenis cut their support. Why? Because USSR enforced Yemenis to do so. It was not only Oromos but also the Eritreans lost the support of Yemenis. (For detail: read Gada Melba’s “Oromia”. It describes the case beautifully).
    To cut the story short, the troubles happening to the Oromo refugees in Yemen didn’t came because Arabs are cruel for Oromos but because the state policy is cruel for the Oromos. (I think you know who is doing this behind the veil….)

  18. Anwar
    February 5, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    It should be noted that was a Sultanate (or Islamic kingdom), but not an ethnic group. It extended from the town of Harar to the port of Zeeyla. The occupants of this land were neither Afars nor Somalis. They were Oromos specifically the Akichuus and the Jarsos. Akichuu is one of Oborraa’s sons, while Jarso is Oborraa’s brother (please correct me if I am wrong here). To date, these two clans with the descendants of Gadaa Buursaa, occupy this area even though Akichuus are mostly found beyond the border. The Afars and the Somalis(which are mentioned several times in Fathul-Habasha) were not organized under their own kingdoms during Imam Ahmed’s war. This tells us that the kingdom belonged to either the Jarsoo or the Akichuu although many legends support the latter.

    I also would like to add that invasions of the Oromo land by the Habasha’s started long before the Imam’s war and Minilik was not the first to enter Harar. The difference is that the previous invaders drove out Oromos, looted and burned down towns and villages, but retreated.

  19. Anwar
    February 5, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    It should be read ” Adal was a Sultanate”

  20. Afendi Muteki
    February 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    1. Thank you for your good observation. You see, the Imam’s war was driven by religious motives. Thus, ethnicity came to the second line as the time. Second, the writer of “Fathul Habasha” was not a historian; he wrote the book as if he were a war correspondent so that there is an information gap on the language,culture and ethnic make up of the people of the Adal Sultanate.
    2. However, the book is still important to investigate the ancient Oromo history. For example, the writer calls many places by their Oromo names. Andhura, Qunbura, Qurqura, Siree, Abonah, Walaqah (Wallaga) etc.. appear by their names. You can even see the writer repeatedly mentioning the clans called “Maya” and “Ammaya”. The writer said Imam Ahmad was warmly welcomed by “Warra Qaal” (Warra Qallu) tribe in Dawaro (Carcar). He calls many commanders and soldiers of the Imam by their Oromo name. This indicates that the Oromos were on their own land prior to 16 century.
    3. We may discuss “Fat’hul Habash” another time.

  21. Anwar
    February 7, 2013 at 2:17 am


    I absolutely agree with you that the Imam Ahmed’s motive was purely religious. I think his army’s make up itself speaks to this truth. But it does not follow that these ethnic groups such as the Somalis and the Afars lived in the kingdom. The writer refers to the Somalis in particular as if they were hired or volunteered as they had their own contingent in the army. The fact that he refers to them as “the Somalis” tells as that they may have occupied the neighboring territories perhaps Ogaden and east of it. What makes the book so authentic is the fact that the writer (apart from total devotion to the Imam) had no other motives to misrepresent historical events unlike some hired-historians who wrote books (I should not call them books), but something similar to “Taarik Innaa Missaale”. Most importantly, he was a very religious individual and I highly doubt that he would falsify historical events.

    He was a Yemeni scholar and I am sure spoke only Arabic while the Imam spoke at least one other local language in addition to fluent Arabic. I am most curious to know the language(s) with which he communicated with his followers. I know that Arabic was the de facto official language in all the Sultanates from the Afar (Asab) to Mombasa to Zanzibar and most people spoke it as the second language. But I don’t believe that all members of the Imam’s army spoke it.

    Also, there is another book that was written about the war at about the same time and I believe it is found in Gujirat, India. Do you have any knowledge of it?


  22. Gursum
    May 10, 2013 at 1:39 am

    Dear Br. Afendi,
    Interesting piece of History reference I’ve been exploring recently when it comes to Harar and surrounding region in particular. I read a few of your references Urich’s Ismamization….Futuhl Habash (The conquest of Abyssinia)In English and Mohammed Hassan. My interest here is about “Hubat”, here I find it a bit confusing when dealing with new geographical nomenclatures and the historic ones.
    I agree with you that “Hubata” & “Hubat” possibly not the same as historians are placing it in different location, the same as well for the former Adal Capital which was ‘Dakar’. Here is what I am referring to, I’ve Futuh Alhabash book, (The conquest of Abyssinia) with Map indicating “Hubat” near Kombolcha , however Futuh Alhabash (Wareeg Zaman) Harari translation indicates that “between Babile & Funyan bira”. The interesting part and confusing is Huntingford and Tirmingham the Islamic Center near Funyan bira that Urich B. Mentioned they called it “DAKAR”. I think if one writer got it wrong those who referencing him will get it wrong as well. How? Most writers wrote about Dakar that it is located “South East of Harar near Funyanbira”, please note here, Funyan bira is located East of Harar and not South East of Harar. My finding on Dakar is very interesting and may be you may inject your research on this since you live in the region. Please read attached article of archeological finding.
    The Fact of the Mater is there are archeological ruins of Medieval Islamic town about 2.5km west of Gursum town. I have been searching this for months and now confirmed. I believe this could be the Historical Islamic Center that was mentioned with Dakar by Richard Pankhrust.
    I would like to discuss this interesting topic with various archeological images I collected that I find amazing treasures of Hararge region. Please get in touch with me via my email. and will take it from there.

  23. Gursum
    May 10, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Br. Afandi
    By the way, the new Nomancleature of the old “Fugnan Hujuba” is Now “Funyan Bira”, the other one is Still the Old one which is also Gursum town and also Funyan bira. To make it worst, the former “Bobas” south of Gursum town now it is call “Gursum”,,,,hmmm confused? How do I know this? because Gursum is my hometown and know the entire geographical region, until new books started confusing me with all this maps that I never new it existed. I left my home almost 35ys a go and now all changed…. I’ve no idea if I would send a mail which Gursum would go to or which Funyanbira…..Well I will Stich with My old ones…make it easier..


  24. burco girl
    December 22, 2013 at 1:10 am

    kkkk hey Oromos people you are really crazy! how come Adal Suldanate is so called oromo and edari? fuck of,,, I am Adal sultanate its my family origin you sick people leave our history behind.

  25. March 10, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    dear brothers and sisters the sultanate of Adal was a muslim sultanate and we all know the first capital city was zeila and the second was Harar. zeila is currently in Somaliland where Harar is also for Adere people and sincerely speaking most of the imams used to be Arabs bt when it comes to troops they were mostly Somalis(particularly), Adere and Afar people. Oromo had no role on the sultanate at all. and be aware that am neither one of the above mentioned tribes

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