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The Afar Tribe

The Afar Tribe

The Afar also known as the Danakil, are an ethnic group in the Horn of Africa. They primarily live in the Afar Region of Ethiopia and in northern Djibouti, although some also inhabit the southern point of Eritrea. Afars speak the Afar language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic.

The region where the Afar live is often referred to as the Afar Triangle. This is one of the earth’s hottest and driest spots, but also with some of the lowest temperatures on earth. Some sources say the temperatures there are the hottest on earth. Much of their territory is desert and salt flats, cut by great cracks from the sun’s heat.

Little is known of the actual specific history of the Afar people. The Afar claim a descent from Arabs, through a mythic Yemeni ancestor, though they differ racially, linguistically and culturally. A correspondent from Afar reports that the Yemeni association derives from some clans/tribes of the Afar with Yemeni origins who have been incorporated in to the Afar over the centuries, such as the Able and Adal.

Popular history gives some insight into the history in the two traditional divisions of the Afar. Tradition indicates that the Asayahamara (The Red Ones) are descended from a group originally invading from the Ethiopian Highlands at one time, who imposed their rule on the Adoyahmara (The White Ones).

It is thought the color designations came from the reddish soil deserts inland, toward the direction the newcomers came from, and the white saline coastal areas, where the Adoyahamara are still more numerous. The Reds remain socially dominant, and claim ownership of the lands, while the Whites tend to be the herders. Both classes are, however, distributed among all the clans of the tribe.

The Afar are a dark brown or black people with usually fine facial features, similar to the darker Somali and Oromo. They are likewise distantly related culturally and linguistically to the ancient Beja group of peoples, who are Southern Cushites, and related in turn to the ancient Egyptian race.

The Afar were active in the Arab slave trade, serving as guides to Arab slave traders. A major slave route to Arabia crossed Afar country, with Afar reportedly still actively trading in slaves as recently as 1928.

They are nomadic or transhumanic (moving from highland to lowlands with the seasons and rise and fall of the flood waters of the rivers). They carry their houses with them and reassemble them when they make temporary settlement.

Women run the home and settlement and set up the houses, which they carry on camels when they move. Women milk the goats and make butter or ghee. They are also the musicians in the tribe.

Marriage preference is first cousin, as is also common among Semitic peoples. Descent and marriage, however, follow the father’s clan (“patrilocal”) rather than the mother’s (“matrilocal”). Divorce rates are high.