Profile and Book ReviewBANAADIR: The Country of Harbors [Archives:2004/728/Culture]

April 12 2004
The Book BANAADIR: The Country of Harbors
The Book BANAADIR: The Country of Harbors
Marka.  This coastal city is 50 km south of Mogadishu, and was founded by the Arab Banaadiris.
Marka. This coastal city is 50 km south of Mogadishu, and was founded by the Arab Banaadiris.
Notable Banaadiris of Mogadishu in a picture from 1930.
Notable Banaadiris of Mogadishu in a picture from 1930.
By Irena Knehtl
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

The history of East Africa without its association with Islam and Arab influences is like European history without Rome and Greece. East Africa had historical and cultural ties with Arabia and Persia because of geographical proximity and the impact of monsoon winds which blow all the way to Zanzibar for six month and the remaining six month to the Persian Gulf. Unlike the hinterland, the Banaadiri Coast had more cultural contacts with the people plying Indian Ocean trade routes following the Monsoon Winds over the last two thousand years.
The most important source on the Indian Ocean during this period is Periplus Maris Erythraen (Circumnavigation of the Erythraen Sea) written by an unknown Greek commercial agent based in Egypt, written about 156 CE. Since the Periplus of the Erythrean Seas, the Banaadiri Coast was an ancient trading center. From India and Arabia, trading sea vessels anchored at Mogadishu, as the first natural harbor in the Horn of Africa to trade and take supplies on their journey to Zanzibar, Kilwa and Sofala.
Because of natural highways of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, the East African coast had received many visitors. The archeological investigations are still in an embryonic stage but are supporting oral traditions. The excavation during 1910 proved that the ancient Egyptians, Sumarians and Sabeans visited the East Africa coast for international trade. Trade during 3000 BC flourished between Mesopotamia, Southern Arabia and the East African coast. It was also in the Persian Gulf where the first ship building industry started. Other early visitors to the East African coast were the Phoenicians, a navigating people from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
At the very beginning of the first century CE, all the region stretching up to Zanzibar was part of the Kingdom of Saba (115 BC-525 CE), also known as Sheba. The Sabeans were a maritime people, with a large kingdom in Yemen and used the seasonal monsoon winds to travel regularly to as far as Zanzibar. They sailed south from November to February, during the northeast monsoon, carrying beads, Chinese porcelain and clothes. Between March and September they returned to the north on the southwest monsoon, carrying food grains, mangroves poles for timber, spices, gold from Sofala, ivory and ebony. The Arabs knew the East African coast as “Zinjibar” and hence the romantic name Zanzibar is derived. Chronicles now indicate the existence of Perso-Arab civilization in East Africa before the birth of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).
Islam reached East Africa peacefully during the seventh century, and by the tenth century it became a dominant religion in Ethiopia, Somalia and the East African islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, Kilwa, Mafia, Pate, Lamu and Mombasa. During the later Middle Ages, i.e. in those crucial three hundred years that appear to have been the formative period of a number of towns and nations along the Indian Ocean shores, the Arabs and Persians spun a network of Moslem connections across the waters in all directions. Ibn Battuta during his visit in 1331 observes that Arabic was already the common literary and the commercial language spoken all over these coastal islands.
Ibn Battuta was extremely impressed by the splendor of Mogadishu. In 1516, the Portuguese navigator Duate described it as “a very big town of blacks called Magadoxo. It is ruled by a Sultan. It undertakes much commerce of different merchandise and many ships arrive here from the Kingdom of Cambaya, bringing large quantities of clothes of different types and different goods and spices”. And again in the 18th century, Sultan Sayed bin Said of Oman calls it “the most brilliant of all the princesses of Arabia”. Mogadishu, known as Hamar by the native founding Rer Hamar people, emerged through the centuries as the cultural and religious center of the Banaadiri Coast.
This prosperous trade was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the Portuguese who came round from the other side of Africa, suddenly and unpredictably, with bigger and faster ships and better guns. Within thirteen years, by 1511, the Portuguese had made themselves masters of the Indian Ocean. More than ever before, the Indian Ocean became a link, a unifier of cultures.
The Banaadirs (also spelled “Benadir”) are people with their roots in ancient Arabia, Persia and South and Central Asia. Their name is derived from a Persian word “Bandar” which means “harbor” or port, reflecting their origins as seafaring traders who crossed the Indian Ocean to the easternmost part of Africa and established centers of commerce which linked that continent with Asia. The first Banaadir communities were established in what is today southern Somalia about one thousand year ago. Their reputation as settlements of a prosperous and peace loving people was set down in written accounts by foreign travelers to Africa dating back to the 13th century.
“The Banaadir Coast” as a name for coastal northeast Africa was used well into the 20th century, and as an informal designation for southern Somalia remains in use today. Being the first to live in this region, nomalid “Samale” (Somali) people from the African interior did not press south and east to the Indian Ocean until centuries later. The Banaadir port city of Hamar eventually became Mogadishu, Somalia's capital. The Banaadir continued to live in the ancient stones homes of their ancestors, built in Mogadisho's old quarter. Although there has been intermarriage and influence from African peoples over the centuries, the Banaadir today remain very much a light skinned minority whose economic livelihood, unlike most of Somali people, is based on commerce and not agriculture.
First group of settlers originally resided in Al-Ahsa on the Persian Gulf, near Bahrain. Furthermore, they were exclusively composed of 39 families, led by seven brothers. These 39 families belong exclusively to four clans in different proportions. There were 12 families from the Muqarri clan, 12 families from Jidati, 6 families from the Aqabi, and 6 families from the Ismaili clan. Successively, other groups emigrated from different regions of the Arabian Peninsula at different times, but mostly from Yemen.
Upon their arrival, these early settlers have established centers of commerce, doing business with traders from as far as India and China. In the tenth century along the Banaadir coast shoe factories and textile plants were established and the entire production of clothes was exported to Arab countries, Persia, India, China and other centres along the East African coast. The construction of buildings and mosques with great artistic value was another feature of that time. So sophisticated was urban culture and the extraordinary literate background, these early settlers along the coast of the Indian Ocean were described by foreign visitors as “people bound together by ties of citizenship and not by tribal relationships”, remarking on their identification with locality and not with tribal affiliations. In 1891 one of the major chiefs was Sayyed Ahmed BaAlawi whose ancestors had come from Tarim seven generations earlier.
Shamsud-Din Abu Abdalla Muhammed, better known as Ibn Battuta, arrived probably in November or early December 1330 in Aden and sailed with the favorable monsoon to Zeila, Mogadishu, Mombasa, and Kilwa. At Mogadishu the learned traveler was received with great honor and ceremony by the Qadi and the local ruler. The Shaykh was conversant in Arabic but his own language was different. We do not learn the name or even one word of this language but it is likely that it was Swahilli. The Qadi was surrounded by his students who were at the same time his assistants doing a practical “stage” at his madrasa, which was no ordinary Quranic school. It was an institute for advanced studies in Islamic law, built near the Shaykh's palace to which aspiring law specialists came for study. Mogadishu then was already a center of Islamic learning and culture. The citizens were rich, and Ibn Battuta comments on their good food and well-to-do appearance.
While many historians still maintain that the Portuguese came to the East African coast as explorers for spices under the patronage of Prince Henry, a few have different opinion. Contemporary Islamic scholars now view it as crusade against Islam normally associated only with the Middle East. The arrival of the Portuguese in East Africa was the first landmark in the strong hostility and competition between Islam and Christianity. As a result Mombasa became the capital of the Portuguese when the whole of East African coast from Lamu to the north to Sofala in the south was virtually under the Portuguese domination. Mombasa was burned to the ground five times, its peoples put to the sword or carried into slavery, yet it rose again and again from its smoking ashes. Kilwa was ravaged with fire and sword, its people were driven from their homes. The Portuguese tried to capture the coasts of Banaadir on many occasions without much success. There is one famous account of the ransacking of the Banaadir city of Barawa by Portuguese in 1499. The invaders spent three days in town ransacking and looting it. The town was then set on fire.
With the independence of Somalia in 1960, Mogadishu became the national capital of Somalia. For thirty years, Somalis fromall over the country and abroad poured in their capital to build houses, make business and be part of the prosperous community it generated. During the last 12 years, however, Mogadishu and other Banaadiri towns
have seen one of the worst nightmares in their history. Decorations, antiques, and sacred patrimonies dating from the 12 century were looted from ancient mosques. Archeological sites, going back to ancient dynasties in Mogadishu, Gondoreshe, Merka, Barawa and Kismayo, were vandalized.
Banaadir and the regions between the two rivers of Somalia are of great strategic and economic value to the major tribes of Somalia, who are contending for access not only to land, resources and port facilities but also to manpower. Mogadishu, Merca, and Barawa are considered to be the major ports of Southern Somalia. This region is still experiencing the most sustained inter-clan fighting. Meanwhile the UNDP has already named the ancient places of Hamar Weyne and Shingani in Mogadishu as historic sites that need to be preserved for their historical value.
Says Mohammed Abati, a Banaadiri scholar and coordinator of Banaadiri community in New Zealand: The Benaadiris suffered much loss and devastation. Yet they rose to the challenge and survived, though not within the boundaries of their country. The buildings of old Mogadishu, Marka, Barawa and Kismaayo which the Banaadiri ancestors founded with their meager resources more than thousand years ago have been destroyed. But our history remains intact. This will continue to stand as long as we are proud of who we are, treasure our past and preserve it for future generation”.

Banaadiri: The Renewal of a Millenary Identity
by Nuredin Hagi Scikei

For the past three decades we have witnessed radical interest in the history of the Indian Ocean and East Africa in particular. Now a new generation of local researchers are utilizing innovative research material at their disposal. They are utilizing oral tradition, linguistic evidence and the archeological data. They have now produced excellent studies which have put the East African Coast into the center of her historical development. One should view the author Nuredin Hagi Scikei as being in this category.
Nuredin was born in Mogadishu as a descendant of Al Faqi, known also as the Reer Faqi or Qahtaan religious dynasty, appointed by the Banaadiris as administrators of justice in the territory from the Middle Ages until the first years of the Italian occupation. He graduated in civil engineering at Bologna where he now lives. Since 1990 has been active in the defence of the rights of the Banaadiri people and has published several articles in Italian periodicals on the subject.
Banaadiri: The Renewal of a Millenary Identity is a remarkable book and a valuable contribution to the history of Banaadirs. The first of its kind it is written simultaneously in Italian and English, the book examines the existing studies on the subject. It shows how rich and developed Banaadir society was well before Italian colonization. The extraordinary pictures in the book help to visualize the Banaadiri historical profile that started probably in Mesopotamia, crossed Yemen and reached the east coast of Africa where the Banaadiri civilization grew and flourished.

We have arrived in the modern period with rather big strides. Our time of air traffic and jumbo jets has left the ocean below as a battle ground for aircraft-carriers and submarines. The once numerous, elegant dhows which connected all the colorful ports of the East African coast have been superseded by the giant tankers, while the business of carrying cargo in bulk is mostly in the hands of the Japanese Maru ships which bring Japanese printed cotton cloth to East Africa, replacing Indian cotton which once dominated the market.

Banaadir, the Country of Harbors, will be republished in the Asian Studies Journal, published by University of Singapore
'Banaadiri, The renewal of a millenary identity' is published by Clueb, Bologna, Italy, My thanks go to the author for kindly forwarding his book for review.
I am much indebted to Mohamed Haji Mohamed Abati, a Banaadiri scholar, and coordinator of Banaadiri commuity in New Zealand for drawing attention to the subject, and for supplying references.
Reference: The Banaadirs People, report by Mohammed Ahmed H. Mohammed Abati