Hedareb people of Eritrea performing their traditional dancing rituals
The Hedareb people have sub-tribes such as Hashish, Labat, and Halenqua. Hedareb people (Beni-Amer and Beja) constitute about 3% of the total Eritrean population.Hederab people speak Tigre and Beja language. Most Hedareb people are pastoralists who moves from place to place on a seasonal basis. They predominantly keep large herds of camel, goats and sheep. The Beni-Amer who are organized into hierarchical social structure, are known for their pastoral skills, especially in raising camels (Tesfagiorgis G, 2007:142)
Hedareb woman from Eritrea
The Hedareb territories are arid and semi-arid. These highly organized pastoral communities practice animal husbandry as their main activity in the fragile ecosystem of the northwestern parts of Eritrea and as far as areas bordering Sudan.
Beni-Amer Boy: the most iconic Eritrean image - Photo credit: James P. Blair/National Geographic, 1965
The Hedareb are mostly devout Muslims. Their social structures are based on clans and sub-clan organizations. Their lands are own by clans.
Hedareb woman from Eritrea at Asmara festuval
THE ORIGIN OF HADAREB PEOPLE
A Study in Arab-Beja Relationships
by A. PAUL, Pages 75-78
It is, I believe, one of the most firmly held tenets of anthropologists that where Hamite and Semite have intermingled it is the latter strain which predominates in language, custom, and racial characteristics in general.
There are, however, exceptions to this as to nearly every rule, and one of them is to be found among the medieval Beja of the Sudan. Although for hundreds of years the descendants of Arab immigrants from the Hadramaut and Egypt were the dominant force in the Atbai, yet in nearly every respect they are indistinguishable from the indigenous Beja among whom they settled.
At a date never precisely determined, but certainly in the Days of Ignorance prior to the Moslem era, and most probably about the end of the sixth century A.D. sections of a Himyarite tribe from Shihr in Southern Arabia found its way across the Red Sea and settled in the Atbai and possibly also further south in the vicinity of Sinkat and Erkowit.
It is probable that their arrival found the nomadic Beja tribes of that area in a more than ordinary state of flux and confusion because, not so many years before, their domination of the southern Thebaid between Ibrim and Assuan had terminated with their decisive defeat by Silko, King of the Nuba, who had ejected them from their riverain settlements and thrown them back into the inhospitable deserts from which they had come.
Crippled temporarily as a fighting power the Beja relapsed into an anarchic period of petty inter-tribal wars and disputes in which they had ability to harm none but themselves. The newcomers were not, therefore, annihilated or driven into the sea as they might have been, but were able to survive and further to improve their position by marriage with the daughters of local chiefs.
Then by reason of the matrilineal system of succession still practised among the Beja their sons succeeded to tribal leadership, and by virtue of this and a superior culture were able to establish themselves as a dominant aristocracy, partly Arab in blood, ruling over a very much larger number of indigenous Beja. serfs.
The newcomers were described as Hadareb, a local corruption of Hadarma (inhabitants of the Hadramaut) and it is quite probable that they were also one and the same people as the Bellou (derived from the Tu-Bedawie belawiet=to speak a foreign tongue).
They are so referred to by the anonymous historian of the Amarar and by Idrisi, though the name does not appear to have come into general use until about the end of the fourteenth century, when the Bellou are found struggling unsuccessfully for survival against the newly emerged and aggressive tribe of Hadendowa.
Further study of admittedly obscure and conflicting evidence leads me firmly to the conclusion, and in this I am supported strongly by local tradition, that the Bellou were in fact the Hadareb at a later stage in their history. But while they established a political and social autocracy in the Atbai the Hadareb at the same time lost almost completely their racial individually in adoption of Beja language, habits and religion, which at that time was a very nominal sort of Christianity.
Late in the sixth century they had been converted by the mission sent to Nubia by the Empress Theodora, but it is to be believed that their observance of the new religion was neither very thorough nor very strict, and they did in fact at this time worship a great variety of gods: Isis, whose statue they had once been allowed to remove from Philae for adoration in their desert fastnesses; Mandulis, for whom the Romans had built a temple at Talmis; and Min, possibly Apollo, the god of thunder.
A very considerable number also were still pagans, worshipping devils, and very much under the awe-inspiring demoniac influence of their shamans. Writing very much later, at the end of the ninth century, the Arab historian and geographer, Ya'qubi, gives a description of a Beja kingdom which he calls Tankish, lying between Assuan and Khor Baraka, containing gold and emerald mines, and inhabited by Hadareb and their very much larger serf community, the Zenafig.
The capital of the kingdom was Hadjr or Dherbe, lying in the gold country between Kus and Aidhab on the coast, and it does not seem too fanciful to identify this with Derheib in the Wadi Allagi where the remains of medieval strongholds may still be seen.
About A.D. 850 after an interval of nearly three hundred years, the Beja went raiding again into Egypt with the result that the Tulinid sultans sent against them a series of expeditions in which they were defeated and compelled to acknowledge the Sultan's suzerainty. A further result of thus calling down upon themselves the attentions of the rulers of Egypt was the renewed exploitation of the ancient gold workings in their hills.
The Wadi Allagi mines were re-opened in 878, and there followed for some years a steady influx of free-booting Arab tribes, mainly of the Rabi'a, the Beni Tamim, and the Mudr, who fought ferociously among themselves for the mastery of the mines. Final victory went to the Rabi'a who had allied themselves to the Beja by marriage with Hadareb wives, and were successful in persuading them to abandon Christianity for Islam, but who were otherwise racially assimilated as easily and as completely as their Himyarite predecessors had been before them.|
From the various accounts of Arab travellers and historians such as lbn Selim, Masoudi, lbn Jubayr, Ibn Batuta, and others, it is possible to piece together a very general picture of conditions in the Atbai in this the
heyday of Hadareb rule.
It is a picture not very different from that of the present day. There were a great number of petty tribal sections each under its own chief, leading a pastoral nomad existence each within the limited orbit of its own well-fields and grazing grounds, and only vaguely admitting the paramountcy of the Hidirbi, the chief of the Hadareb.
They were expert camel masters, but seem also to have owned considerable numbers of cattle, much admired for their colour and yield of milk, and in time of war the Hidirbi could assemble a small force of Hadareb cavalry, and a much larger one of camel-mounted spearmen recruited from the Zenafig.
From twentieth century survivals among the Beni Amer it is possible also to have some idea of the relationships of the Hadareb and their serfs. The latter were camel or cattle herdsmen, paying tribute and otherwise ministering to the needs and comforts of their masters, supplying whatever animals or produce they might from time to time require, and enabling them to live a life of indolent case.
Serfs might be transferred like chattels from master to master, but they might not be bought and sold, and in the rare event of a serf killing a Hadarbi compensation took the form of the transfer of the offender and five of his kinsfolk to the family of the deceased. Serfs might own property, but their social inferiority was emphasised by certain outward signs-they might not ride a horse, use riding saddles on their camels, or carry swords, though it does not appear that inter-marriage of Hadareb with serf women was so strictly forbidden as later on among the Nabtab aristocracy of the Beni Amer.
Serf obligations to their masters were thus considerable, but in return they benefited by patronage and protection, which in those days of constant tribal warfare and ferocious blood feuds were benefits of no little value.
Judging by the great wealth which the Sultans of Egypt were able to extract from the gold and emerald mines of the eastern deserts a very considerable amount of treasure must also have found its way into Hadareb hands, yet despite it all they seem never at any time to have risen much above the level of desert nomads, and have left behind them no discernible traces of their existence, a most remarkable fact when it is remembered that for nearly eight hundred years they were masters of the Atbai with its wealth of gold and emeralds, and that for much of that time also they had control of one of the richest ports of medieval times.
This was Aidhab, whose ruins are still to be seen on the coast not far north of Halaib, an unlovely spot, where water was scarce, and food and fuel not much more plentiful, yet nevertheless in its day one of the most important ports of the known world, being the terminus of the Far East trade with Egypt and the west, as well as being the main pilgrim port for north Africa, much as Suakin is today.
Its trade was sufficiently lucrative for the Sultan to maintain an agent there for the collection of port dues of which, however, he was able to secure only a third, the remainder being collected by the Hidirbi. Ibn Jubayr, who spent several months there in the hottest part of 1283, describes it as lacking in all forms of amenity, such water as was available being less agreeable than thirst, and the inhabitants an unpleasant breed of no regard. Even so he is much less critical of them than Maqrizi who states tersely that they were brute beasts rather than men, and that no human characteristics were therefore to be expected of them.
What between its climate and the unscrupulous greed of its inhabitants, who fleeced the pilgrims by every known device, Aidhab must have been as near an approach to hell on earth as makes no difference, and it is no wonder perhaps that the graveyards on the landward side of the dunes are as extensive as they are, and that legend marks it as the spot where Solomon was wont to imprison refractory demons.
About the middle of the fourteenth century the fortunes of the Hadareb in the Atbai began to decline as the mines became exhausted, and trade and the pilgrim traffic began to move to other more convenient ports.
They no longer had ability to exercise such strict control over their subject peoples, and the end of the century saw the emergence of the Beja tribes which we know today, the Beshariin, the Hadendowa, and the Amarar whose first struggles were for freedom from Hadareb authority.
The end came finally carly in the fifteenth century. The Beshariin claim to have driven them from the northern Atbai about this time, and in 1426 Aidhab was destroyed by Bars Bey, the Mamluke Sultan of Egypt, as punishment for the plunder of a caravan on its way to Mecca.
The Hadareb fled south and, if Leo Africanus is to be believed, suffered final annihilation at the hands of their trade rivals, the Arteiga of Suakin. This may be so, but it seems nevertheless that a section of them managed to maintain themselves in the glens and hills round Sinkat and Erkowit until once more driven south beyond Khor Baraka by the Hadendowa, who refer always to their opponents in these early tribal wars as the Bellou.
Beyond Khor Baraka they were able to survive and retain their feudal system intact until late in the sixteenth century when they suffered a crushing defeat at Asaramaderheib at the hands of a Fung, or more probably an Abdullab, army.
The broken remnants fled to the Samhar (the coastal plain behind Massawa) where their descendants still remain; and their position as overlords of a large serf population was usurped by a contingent of Sha'adinab/Ja'aliin who had fought in the Abdullab army, and who remained on as masters of the country, and gave to themselves and their newly conquered dependants the generic name of Beni Amer.
The name Hadareb still survives, firstly as applied to the Tu-Bedawie-speaking sections of the Beni Amer, possibly because they were remnants of former Hederib serfs, and secondly, in slight amended form, Hadarba, to all traders of Arabian origin, the Sheikh of the Arteiga in Suakin for long being known as the
Emir el Hadarba.
There seems little doubt that the three great tribal confederations mentioned above have for their ancestors the one-time serf peoples of the Atbai who were under Hadareb rule. So anxious have they been, however, to claim Arab ancestry, the Beshariin and Amarar from the Aulad Kahil, and the Hadendowa from the Ashraf, that their true tribal antecedents have been forgotten, and their knowledge of their pre-Islamic history is more than usually vague and incorrect.
And yet despite the infusion from Arabia of not a little of the blood both of Joktan and of Ishmael they remain in nearly everything essentially and unmistakably a Hamitic people.
Source: Carolina Rediviva University Library
Uppsala - Sweden