Beautiful woman from Saho tribe of Eritrea
The term Kushite derives from the ancient peoples of North East Africa, which started to live in this part of Africa since more than 5000 B.C., with their own culture and language. The ancient Kushite peoples are those who spoke languages of the Kushite branch of the Afro-Asiatic (also known as Hamito-Semitic) family. They are the indigenous peoples of the present day Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
The word "Saho" means "nomad," ("saa" means animals and "hoo" means caretaker), which is also an expression of their previous pastoral way of life.
In Eritrea, Saho mainly dwell in the Eastern foothills of Akele-Saho (aka Akele-guzai) and Semhar occupying 60% or more of the landmass. Sahos’ are also found intermingled amongst Tigrinia speaking populace in parts of Eritrea’s highland regions (Akeleguzai, Seraye and Hamasein). They also intermingle with Tigre speaking tribes in Lowland regions such as Barka.
The Saho people speak the Saho language (saahot waani or saahot zirho), which belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family, as a mother tongue. Historians and anthropologists as yet to accurately determine the exact archeological time in which Kushitic languages started to split until they become separate languages as known in modern times. According to Bender and most scholars, the split of the Saho language from the rest of the East Kushitic language took place about four thousand years ago. It is believed that this split happened slowly and gradually over many centuries. Thus, Saho speaking ancestors started to become a separate ‘linguistic and ethnic group’ about four thousand years ago.
Saho language is mainly spoken in territories bounded by the bay of Idhafale in the east of Eritrea, the Laasi Ghedé valleys in the south, the Eritrea highlands to the west (Akele-Guzai, Shimezana) as well as in borders with Tigre on the west of Eritrea. It is also spoken in Ethiopia mainly in Tigray Region.
The Kushitic languages are divided into 3 major subgroups. These include: (a) East Kushitic languages (Saho, Afar, Somali and Sidama), (b) Central Kushitic or Agaw language (such as Bilen ), (c) South Kushitic languages in Kenya and Tanzanya. According to linguistics, the Kushites spoke historically closely related dialects of the same language and they all shared a common cultural heritage.
Saho language has four main dialects: Tarua, Assawurta, Minifre, and Irob. Irob is mainly spoken in Ethiopia
Although there is no reliable accurate statistics so far, it is believed that Saho is spoken by over 320,000 speakers.
Woman from Saho tribe
Relationship between Saho & Afar language:
“The Afar & Saho have over 70% of linguistic relationships and they can communicate easily with each other without any difficulty”. (Abdulkader S. Mohammed, 1977 p8)
“The Afar & Saho share a large number of words with the same meaning, cognates are usually closely related. This is because once people speaking a common language have become socially or geographically separated (…). But some words are more resistant to borrowing than others, that means they hare less subject to change over time. In East-Cushitic languages, such words include those for universal concepts [eat, drink, rain, sky, Sun, moon, Star, Earth, cattle, etc..] and basic parts of human body”. M Nuuh Ali (1985: 21-22).
According to Leo Reinisch, (1886:795) that the Afar & Saho are not two languages but the same language. The structure & grammatical forms are the same one language. And this lies in their geographical location and isolation especially by the Saho in the highlands who kept the language.
Herbert S. Lewis (1966:42) assumes that Afar & Saho have evidently been in their area long enough to have diverged into two closely related but distinctly different languages.
The descendants of ancient Saho speaking people, are descendants of ancient Kushites who ruled Egypt in 25th dynasty and played a central role in Africa’s greatest and oldest civilization at Meroe, the present day northern Sudan and lower Egypt.
Ancient Saho speaking people, as descendants of ancient Kushites, have left strong traceable evidence of their over 5000 years of rich history. The traceable evidence include ancient rock paintings, monuments steles, ruined building, ancient pottery … etc. Some of these are found in Saho land such as in (Qohaito, Kaskase, Adulis (Adola/Ado-Lai ), Balaw Kalaw, ruins of Matara
Historians and anthropologists as yet to accurately determine the exact archeological time in which Kushitic languages started to split until they become as separate languages as know in modern times. According to Bender and most scholars, the split of the Saho language from the rest of the East Kushitic language took place about four thousand years ago. It is believed that this split happened slowly and gradually over many centuries. Thus, Saho speaking ancestors started to become a separate ‘linguistic and ethnic group’ about four thousand years ago.
According to the oral traditions, the Idda, Kabota and Asa-bora are the most ancient Saho ancestors in the current Saho region. The Saho call these three tribes the guardians of the Saho land (Badho Ambadish or Badho Sogos in Saho language). As the oral history narrates "an Idda man married a woman from kabota tribe and later destroyed Kabota in a bitter war, so that Idda became the dominant tribe in the region, and extended its powers up to the highlands. The Asabora, according to legends, are ancestors of the Minifere tribeswho commonly descended from one Asabora woman.
Oral traditions maintain that some Saho clans came from diverse geographical origins and all adopted Saho, as their common language and all shared a common cultural heritage. Some Saho clans affiliate their origins to Islamic dignitaries during Khilafa period including to one of the four Khalifas themselves. This should not be surprising, as well known in this region; peoples of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have a long history of human migration across the red sea, intermarriage, intensive linguistic, social and cultural exchange.
The people of Saho were known for their fierce opposition to any foreign invaders and colonial aggressors. Their oral history and poems tell many amazing stories of bravery and sacrifices they had offered over the last two centuries. They uncompromisingly and heroically defended their beloved land from repeated attempts of highland Abyssinian rulers to invade their land and had defeated Raas Araia and Raas Alula until the Italians invaded Eritrea in 1889.
The Saho, before the Italians’ occupation, were organised as clans, which have become federated into several major tribes. They had chiefs, their affairs being managed by councils of elders. This did not suit the Italians’ need for close control and accordingly they appointed chiefs in charge of each tribe: a measure, which made for administrative efficiency if not for popularity. These chiefs have been dismissed outright by the current government without introducing an alternative system.
Today, the risk of losing oral Saho history and heritage is greater than ever. It is like watching strong winds spreading great fire with little resistance hoping that we would be left with some of our possessions. Therefore there is an urgent call for spreading awareness and a massive responsibility upon every concerned individual and every organised Saho group of the current generation, wherever they are, to collate and document their ancestors’ history, however they can.
The Saho people as it has already been narrated is composed of several tribes (kisho, meela or qabila). This includes:
1- ASA BORA and it consists of; Asa Asa Bora, Da’ Asa Bora
2- ASAWURTA and it clans comprise;
A) Asa Lesan and it consists of: Hassan Dik, Hussain Dik, Malasa Dik, Hummad Durwa, Ahmaddin Dik, Gaddali Dik.
B), Lelish Are and it consists of: Abdalla Dik, Omar Dik, Eishe Dik, Diot Abusa.
C)Fokroti Are*, Asa Kare*, Faqih Dik*, Sarma Are*, Uruske Dabbasit Abusa*.
D) Beit Tawakkal, Beit Khalifa, Adefer & Beit Danya, Beit Suleiman, Logo Chewa & Inda Asmail of 4te Asmera, Zingar of Dorfo.
4-DABRI MELA and it consists of; Alades Are, Labhalet Are.
8-HADO(aka HAZO) and it comprises the following clans:
A) Asa Alila and consist of: Asa Ali Gaisha, Hammadi Gaisha, Asa Alila, Musabaggo, Bokite, Mahammad Kayya, Higoga, Omarto, Konsubifire, Amo-buri Gaisha, Danderi Hazoita.
B) LAASA and it consists of :Ona Dawud Gaisha, Ona Abdalla Gaisha, Ona Ismaeel Gaisha, Ona Omar Gaisha, Ona Ahmaddin Gaisha, Ona Ali Gaisha, Sheikha Abusso, Ab Dawuud Gaisha, Shum Omarto, Asa Lak Hena, Toujoumona, Shum Ahmaddo, Shum Hasanto, Ona Mahammad Dik, Bokite shum Bukoh dik, Maar dik, Asa Ibrahim Dik, Asa Abdalla dik, Semaye and Surrugso.
C) Shum Hummad Dik and it consist of : Sheikh Adamto, Dawud gafo dik, Talak, Maadar dik, Asa Alila (Barah).
9-HASABAT ARE, and it consists of;Hamad Are; Aleit Are; Mieenqut Are and Sandaqa Are.
11-IROB and it consists of; Algadi Are, Buknaitee Are , Hasaballa
12-KABOTA and it consists of; Gorbey, Tabita, Hataba, Shekhait, Zakarit, Alirga
13-MINIFRE and it consists of the following tribes;
A) GAASO and it is made up of the following clans: Shum Abdallah Gaisha, Yofish Gaisha, Shum Ahmad Gaisha, Hassan Gaisha, Silyan Gaisha, Asa Ushmaal, Oni Maal.
B) DAASAMO is made up of the following clans: Abdallah Harak, Naefie Harak, Mosat Harak, Subakum Are, Daili Are, Kundes, Illas.
C) SILAITA and it comprises: Hakatti Are, Qum Mee Are, Zeila Are, Hilato, Abbarior, Abdiaa
D)FAKAD HARAK (aka FAKIH HARAK) and it comprises: Faqih Abubakar, Faqih Omar, Faqih Ahmad
15-SHEIKHA (These are families and tribes that crossed the Red Sea to spread Islam in Eritrea at different times. Hence, do not trace their linage to a common ancestor).
A)Intile Sheikh Are B) Sheikh Salim Are including Bet Sheikh Mahmoud and Ad Dirke in Sahel C) Danagulta D) Hajji Abkur E) Iror Naba F) Sheikh Dimbagog G) Sheikh Lahlaha H) Akhadar Abusa I)Muallim Dik J) Hajji Hedor
16-TARU3A and it consists of; Sara7 Are, Mosat Are.
18- SALMUNTA and it consists of; A’sa Salmunta and Dat Salmunta
19-SANAFE (SAN3FE) and it consists of; Sheikh Umori and Uwaal Dik, Hassan Silah Dik,Umar Gorx Dik,Sancaffe Mahmoud Dik.
20-Samhar is home to a number of Saho clans and families that branched out from the main tribes that are listed above. Some of those we can trace are;
Qadida, Chewai Dik, Barole Dik, Sabbe Dik, Harak Dik, Haggi Wad Hamid Are, Shenghebai Dik, Sangor Dik, Khalifa Are, Adulai Are, Minni Are, Shehabi Are, Habona Are, Amir Dik, Zakaria Dik, Shemo Are, Tsewai Are, Hasino Are, Talke Are, Shikan Are, Sadiko Are, Edim Bagi Are, Sheik Humad Arkale Are, Sheikh Yassin Are, Ansara Are, Debrom Are, Falul Are, Dini Are, Gubbala Are, Yusuf Are, Unda Ali Are, Haggi Abdu Are, Khalifa Ahmad Are, Nabara Dik, Ali Babu Dik, Gadam Dik.
For detailed info on Saho tribes kindly read Abdulkader Saleh Mohammad`s book "The Saho of Eritrea: Ethnic Identity and National Consciousness.
They are agro-pastoralists and their subsistence economy relies livestock breeding and rain-fed agriculture, based on communal land ownership system. Prior to the Italian colonization, they secured caravan trade routes between the coasts and the highlands, which provided the clans with additional income.
As most parts of the pre-colonial Africa, land is owned commonly by the clan. It was because of this common ownership of land it was easy for colonialists and indigenous state to take away the land from pastoral nomads. Italians declared land owned by pastoralists as belonging to the State. Surprisingly, The 1994 Land Reform proclamation by the Eritrean government, did not rise up to the expectations of pastoralist communities, since did not accord them any legal rights to their land.
The three types of land ownership, which are prevalent among Saho are:
1. Regional land, people of one geographical area owned the land commonly regardless of their tribal distribution.
2. Tribal land, land owned on tribal basis. Here family has no specific rights to the land.
3. Family or sub-clan land, this was a land protected by specific family for their grazing or shifting cultivation. (Abdulkader S. Mohammed 1997: 11)
Traditional Saho society was strongly patriarchal and the roles of the grandfather and father was highly respected. The extended family had the power to control the behavior and conduct of its members, and elders were cherished as the cultural transmitters of the society. Marriage followed patterns related to the degree of family relations, and matrilateral cross-cousin marriage was strongly preferred. In the absence of formal government-supported security system, the extended family system and kinship affiliations played and continue to play an important role to support the aged, widows, the handicapped and young people. Those who live in urban areas support their family members and kins in the countryside.
The organizing principle of Saho society was a decentralized egalitarian (acephalous) system, in which leaders of sub-tribes and clans were democratically elected for specific period of time in general meetings (rakhbe) of elders and wise men. The main responsibility of the elected leaders were securing the basic requirement of their sub-tribes and mediating and settling problems according to the customary laws.
A family who wish to secure a spouse for their children will call a meeting and discuss the issue to ensure that the spouse whom they want to choose for their family member is not introduced, pledged or promised to another family.
They try to find detailed information about the girl`s family life and gather information on her character through gossips and visits. this is done before the official negotiation takes place in order to choose a woman who will adjust to the family`s codes of behavior and to facilitate her integration into the household to avoid future tensions. The mediation is handled by the elders (shemagelle), one of whom should be the uncle of the spouse. If the two parties comes into an agreement, they introduce themselves into the family of the young women.
The mediators brings with them gifts such as coffee, sugar, money or wheat and give them to the family who in turn prepares food (porridge) for the guests.
After eating the meal, honey and milk are served as a sign of hospitality, then they prepare coffee and start to discuss. The Saho call this process of starting discussion "afti-fakkot", which means "opening the mouth" to talk or discuss. All the gifts go to the moth
er of the fiancee (liisho), and the male family members of the couple fixed the date of the marriage and discuss what contribution shall be made as dowry by the groom or the gift to be given to the bride.
Usually the marriage ceremony takes place one year after the engagement. In the rural areas, it is celebrated during the harvest seasons, whilst in the urban centres the preferred time is the summer vacation and the period before the celebration of the Ramadan.
The Saho are predominantly Muslim. A few Christians, who are also known as the Irob, live in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the Debub Region of Eritrea
Saho cultural group - Festival Eritrea 2006 - Asmara Eritrea.