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Traditional History of the Gharri Tribe and Mandera District aka "Gurreh district"February 07, 2014  by Isaac Omar son of the Gharri indigenous :

            According to tradition, the Gharri District was originally inhabited by a Semitic tribe called the “ben Izraeli.” They extended beyond Wajir and dug the wells there. They also dug wells at Wergedud, Eil Illi, Hogerali, Goochi, and other places in this district. The numerous graves along the Dawa River were also theirs, and their last stronghold was Hambali, near Gerba Harre, where the stone walls of their town were found.

            However, they were weakened by pandemics and droughts. Soon they were attacked by 6 tribes consists of the Hirap, Jido, Eroli, Dubbare, Madda Ade, and  Ajuran.  The “ben Izraeli” was soon finished off and the Sultan of the Hirap ruled the land.  Sometime later an Arab, Sheriff Nur, came down from the North with 30 Borana slaves and settled in the Hirap country. It was stated that the Hirap people stole Sheriff Nur’s only cow, then ate it. Shortly afterwards, Sheriff Nur demanded the return of his cow, but his cow had already been consumed by the Hirap. Consequently, a fight broke out and Sheriff Nur and his slaves became victorious. The Hirap were defeated and the rest of them escaped eastward. The Hirap fled to the Shebelle river while the Jido and Dubbare fled to the Rahanwein country or region towards the coast.

            After this Sheriff Nur ruled the country until the Borana headman of the 30 slaves assassinated him, seizing the country and even his wife of Arab descent. The Borana King Gedo is said to have descended from this marriage. This ruling Borana family was thus half Arab and is said to have been much lighter in color than other Borana. It was also said that this Borana mixed race king had special qualifications for priesthood and religious ceremonies. They kept large and semi-sacred snakes for religious and ceremonial purposes as pets.

            At this time the Gharri dwelt around Serar in what is now known as the Arusi region in Ethiopia, having originally come down from near the Red Sea coast through Harrar or Adarre, as the Gharri call it. Serar is located south of Harrar and about a 16 day journey by foot north of Dolo. Under pressure from enemies in the north, they migrated gradually to the southwest until they reached Filtu and Wachile which is in Southern Ethiopia. They stayed in these towns long enough to build houses and mosques, the remains of which are still visible to this day.

Through time, they came in contact with the Borana and lived side by side with Boranas for a while and spread southwards into the northern and western parts of the present day Mandera district aka “Gharri district”, until the Borana tried to control their lives and demanded payments for grazing. The Gharri objected to the Borana’s demands and decided to move again. The Gharri leaders, Sheik Bule Hussein, went out looking for a new country and travelled down the Juba and through Rahanwein to Confur (East) and decided it was a good country.  On his return he told the Gharri to spread rumors among the Borana that he was exposed to a contagious disease during his travels. Then he came up with a superb strategy. He and his slaves prepared a red blood like red drink by boiling the bark of a tree. Then, sheikh Bule Hussein and his slaves drank bowls of it prior to start of the Borana meeting. They went to the Borana meeting and soon as it commenced the slaves started reacting to the home made bloody drink they have had drunk and began vomiting a red blood like substance. Soon the Sheik fabricated signs of illness. Then, the Borana got up in disbelief and fled. Sheik and his slaves then dug two graves and set up tombstones. The Boran returning concluded that the new disease was indeed fatal and fled westward away from the Gharri villages.  Sheik Bule Hussein seized the opportunity and led the Gharri people to the east through the desert country of northern Jubaland. However, the Gabbra and the Rendille sections of the Gharri tribes were left behind. The Gabbra had many camels and could not take them all in their flight across the desert. They saw it was a choice between their camels and the staying with the rest of the Gharri and said “We can live without the Gharri but not without camels” so they stayed behind with the Borana. Also, the Rendille were camel owners who had moved further south and did not get the news of the evacuation in time.  Their name, by tradition, is derived from “Rer Did”

The Rendille and Gabra lost the Muslim religion, but, they retained the same camel brands used by the Gharri. Also, they kept a simple marriage ceremony comparable to that performed by Gharri and  a blessing prayer in the Gharri Confur dialect that has been passed on from generations ago.


            Meanwhile the Gharri fled eastwards through Jubaland and people and livestock were perishing from thirst by the time they reached Afmadu. However, they all got across the Juba safely and reached the Confer country where they settled and prospered. However, a small group from the Kalia, Banna, and Birkaya areas were so weakened that they were left behind at the Juba and switched gears toward the coast and landed between Kismayu and Lamu. They settled with the Bajun away from the Gharri Confur who settled in the city of Shan and Musser located in Owdegli located in lower Shebelle, Somalia.

            Then well established and prosperous Gharri penetrated into Rahanwein and sent trading safaris and settlers further and further inland until they reached the Lugh and Dolo districts again. They engaged in trade mostly, but also made settlements and shambas along the way. Finally, they got back to Wachile where Sheik Abdi Hiloli started a settlement and traded with the Boran many centuries ago. His grave is there in Wachile and when these settlers reached the upper Dawa and Wachile, they met the Gabbra camel owners who were left behind during Sheik Bule Hussein’s migration to Somalia. They recognized them by their camel brands and by their Gharri section names Banna, Birkaya which they still retained. Surprisingly, they still preserved some Gharri customs and that their women, unlike the Boran, wore hagogo or head scarfs covering their head as the rest of the married Gharri women do.

Since the Gharri exodus a new tribe had come down from the north, the Wardeh. They are an Oromo speaking tribe of Hamitic origin, but not related to the Boran. This tribe occupied all the central parts of the Gharri disctrict and extended eastwards to Afmadu and southwards to El Wak, Wajir, and the Tana. The Gharri settlers were confined to the river and the Wachile area. They lived on friendly terms with the Boran, acquired livestock, adopted the Boran tongue and those in the north and west forgot the Gharri language, a Somali dialect, entirely.

            During this time, a holy man by the name of Isak a Somali Sheikh settled among the Wardeh in the Afmadu area and took presents from them for his spiritual services. He asked one day for 100 livestock and promised a special prayer for their prosperity. The Wardeh agreed. On the appointed day the Sheik went into his house and prayed. The Wardeh brought 100 dogs instead of live stocks and tied them all around the house, and called the Sheik and said “We keep 3 kinds of beasts - dogs, goats, and cattle. Do you take the first?” The enraged Sheikh then cursed them saying “I pray to God you will be the dogs of this country”. Shortly after, all the Muslim tribes and every section of Somali combined and attacked the Wardeh. The Mohamed Zubeir, Aulihan Marehan, and Telemuggar drove them across Jubaland while the Rahanwein tribes, Gharri, Shermoge,and Gabbawein, attacked them from Lugh and Dolo. The Boran also joined in and raided them from the northwest with the Gharri settlers from Wachile. The Wardeh were attacked from all sides and were practically wiped out. Large numbers were enslaved by the Mohamad Zubeir clan and other Somali tribes, many more were sold as slaves to Zanzibar and Lumi. Only about half a dozen villages of Wardeh escaped across the Tana river. The war was known as the Aji and Galla struggle. They speak of themselves as Oromo, not as Galla or Wardeh.

            According information given by Ahmed Kiti, one of the best known and most intelligent of Gharri elders, to a British official in charge of Gharri district at the time, many Gharri elders of his father’s generation participated in the raids at Wachile against the Wardeh. Also, his father fought once at Gerba Gelo, about the center of this district, and twice in the El Wak area and re-occupied Wachile with Sheik Abdi Hiloli around 1800 and the Wardeh all-out war at around 1850. By then, the Wardeh were finally driven out of this district, but small fights continued to happen years later.

The Boran now occupied the entire interior of the Gharri district and much of the present Marehan inhabited Gedo region including Garba Harre. They did not however live in peace for long in the district. The Gharri were growing stronger because most of the new comers became Gharri by way of “Shegat” aka Gharri Shegat.”  What this means is they promise to do three things before they could be accepted to become adopted to the Gharri people.

1. Promise to fight alongside the Gharri people in case of war.

 2. Promise to pay blood money with the Gharri people when the occasion arises

 3. Promise to support the Gharri for any issue at any gathering.

So, through these processes, the confederacy of the Gharri, Gharri Marro, and newly converted Gharri Shegats like the Gobawein started to continuously force the Boran out of the district. Also, two subsections of the Marehan, the Rer Hassan and Ali Dhere, fought the Boran near Gerba Harre with the help of Rahanwein and Shermoge. Subsequently, the Boran was pushed westward from Garba Harre and Neboi.

            However, the Gharri people were not left alone in the Gharri district for too long.  The first Degodia immigrants arrived in Korume near Neboi in 1902. They became Shegat to the Shaba Alio and Ali Abdi, and the Marehan tribes soon started pressing from the east as the Gerba Harre country filled up. At this point however, the period of recorded history is reached.

There is also, slight deferring version of the traditional history re-Gharri district’s  origiona inhabitants

            There is a different story of the original inhabitants of the old Gharri district that says that the Madanle were the original inhabitants of the country. They were a negroid tribe like the “Wata”.  A few of them are now living in Southern Ethiopia in the Nagelle District and recently broke away from the Boran, declaring themselves as Wayu Oromo.  Then, the “ben Izraeli” came from Egypt and drove out these people who were called the “Buri-burri”. The last remnants of the “ben Izraeli” when they were driven out escaped to the coast and became the ancestors of the Barawa or “Abu Jebel” people now living in Somalia. These people were described as very light in color and of Semitic appearance, but not of Arab blood. However, they do claim to be Arabs.

            The number of graves along the Dawa suggests that the river population was larger than today’s generation. These graves are neither Gharri nor Boran and they usually lay together in quantities of 50 to 100 graves, sometimes placed in regular rows. They have tombstones at the head and feet which lay east and west, and these stones were said to be 9 and 10 feet apart in average. This validates the tradition that says the Mandale were very tall.

In comparison with the Gharri and Somali graves, the tombstones are put at the ends of the hole dug for the grave and are usually about 6 ft apart for average adult male. In most cases nothing is left but the upright stones at the head and the foot.

            According to some Gharri elders or historians, all the circular cairns of stone in the district and many in the river area were Madanle graves; others say the smaller piles are Boran and Wardeh graves. The Wardeh and Boran bury their dead tied up in a sitting position in shallow graves covered up with a pile of stones on the top.

            Gharri and Somali graves face east and west covered with a small mound of soil over the graves, in accordance with Islamic tradition. Sometimes two tombstones of wood were set up at the head and foot. Also, the Gharri graves are usually placed by a road intended for the onlookers to pray for the dead.           

The wells in this district and many other locations including southern Ethiopia, aka Tula Saglaan, were dug by the Mandale or “Ben Izraeli.”

            These artifacts of a vanished race as well as the existing race are of course ample evidence to validate the oral traditional history of the Madanle and beyond.

            In regards to the Gharri tradition, the oral history is generated from the existing facts. The Gharri people have left remnants behind all along the path of their migration.  

            According to Gharri oral tradition given by previous Gharri elders, the Gharri people have left their remnants behind all along the track of their migrations.  It was said that there were known cases, where some Gharri men came from the Bajun Country between Kismayu and Lamu and said to have gotten livestock from relatives in Gharri District. It has been confirmed that there are families of Bana, Birkaya, and Kilia descent living in the Bajun Country. Also, there are quite a large number of Gharri, mostly of the Odkoya and Oordek clans still living up in the Arusi country near Serar, which is next to the Gura tribe in Ethiopia.

Some Gharri elders suggest that the Gharri people went straight from Serar, Arusi region, Ethiopia to the Confur country of Somalia. However, there is no question that there is compelling evidence that the Gharri originated from the north and that they migrated southwest, along with Somali tribes. Therefore, we can make a reasonable assertion that the Gharri came down across the red sea and settled in Arusi region aka “Serar” in Ethiopia, as tradition says, and left a remnant of them behind.

There are great numbers of the Gharri tribe still living in Somalia aka “Gharri Confur” around Owdegil, Welwayein, Farsolayle, Afgoy, and Qoriyole, areas in lower Shebelle, Somalia.

In conclusion: The Gharri settlers of the last century undoubtedly came from Somalia through Lugh and Dolo. So, if we believe and accept the existence of linkage between the Gharri, the Gabra and Rendille clans, this will also confirm that the Gharri tribe originally came down from the Arusi, via Filtu and Wachile. This means that the settlement of 200 years ago was simply a reoccupation of land they once lost to the Borana centuries ago.

The sources used in this article is based on the Eastern African Colonial Era Tribal Study reports made by British army administrators, which can be found in the Kenyan Archive.
The Jubaland and N.F Handbook. It is also based on my own knowledge gained from the stories that have been
by Ghari elders, which has been passed down from generation to generation.
Gurreh District Political record book 22 February 1951 Kenyan National Archive (KNA)
by Captain D. H. Wickham
Ethnological Treatise on the "Gurreh" Tribe by
Mr. J.W.K.Pease based on Gharri Elders of that era's interviews
Mr. Reece's Moyale Handing over Report in 1934  KNA
Mr. Howes' Mandera Handing over Report in 1934  KNA
Annual reports both of Moyale and Madera sub-district KNA
N.F.D monthly and annual intelligence reports KNA





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