Recovery and Rehabilitation Project for Eritrea (R.R.P.E.)

Community and Rehabilitation Program (C.R.F.)






Relation on the Mission in the Danakil Region carried

out from 3 to 16 February 1994



Leda Peretti

Socio-Anthropological Expert

Asmara - Eritrea


 [translated from Italian to English by Franco Dell'Oro]






Pag. 2


General Hints

Pag. 3


The road

Pag. 4


The Danakil Region and its peoples

Pag. 6


Economical activities

Pag. 8


Livestock breeding

Pag. 9



Pag. 10



Pag. 12



Pag. 13


The extraction of "Duma"

Pag. 15



Pag. 17


Salt's extraction

Pag. 17


The collective dimension of labour

Pag. 17


Type of houses

Pag. 18


Alimentary diet

Pag. 19


Main problems

Pag. 20


The water supply

Pag. 20


The access to education

Pag. 21


The Health conditions

Pag. 22


Concluding remarks

Pag. 23


Annex 1 : Village Vital Statistics

Annex 2 : The map of the Dankel's Road



Jointly with the technicians of the C.R.F.'s Program, from the 3rd to the 16th of February 1994 a mission has been carried out in the Danakil Region. The end of the mission was to assess eventual difficulties in the implementation of the three projects approved for the first phase of activities of the C.R.F. Program. Preliminary discusses have also taken place with the concerned authorities about future initiatives.

The villages included in the first phase of the C.R.F. Program and hence visited are:


1) Egroli Primary School and water supply

2) Belubui Health Station and water supply

3) Afambo Health Station

Concerning a successive phase of activities of the C.R.F., the following villages have been visited:



1)Thio (361 km. from Assab) Health Station and Primary School

2) Weddi (77 km. from Afambo) Primary school and water supply

3) Beylul (60 km. from Weddi) Health Station

4) Debai Sima (57 km. from Assab) Primary School and Health Station

5) Kiloma (50 km. from Assab) Primary School

6) Rahaita (65 km. from Assab) Health Station


Notwithstanding the short time available and also considering the access difficulties to some zones, the field-team has gathered as many informations as possible concerning the socio-economical condition of the visited areas The data gathered might contribute to the understanding of this particular Region and might lead to the type of management to foresee for the works included in the C.R.F.

So as to secure a greater number of data (also for other future initiatives), brief investigations have been carried out in the centres:

- Gelaalo (149 km. from Massawa)

- Grohara' (65 km. from Mersa Fatma)

- Gaharre (20 km. from Weddi)

- Arsile (12 km. from Assab)



The inquired themes, with the deepening allowed by the time at disposal, concerned the village's ethnic composition, the economic activities carried out, the condition of the water supply points, the eventual availability of health and educational structures. An inquiry has also been carried out concerning the prevailing alimentary diet and the collective dimension of labour.

The above mentioned inquires have been carried out by the writer, supported by five adequately formed interviewers. Methodologically it has been preferred to assign to each interviewer some specific arguments to deal with instead of using a pre-defined questionnaire. Through periodical discussions with the interviewers the gathered informations have been compared and eventual gaps to be covered during successive inquires have been defined.


2. General hints

The territory of the Danakil Region extends itself along a narrow strip of land, which starts on the north from the Buri peninsula to end down-south on the border with Djibouti. At its sides it is delimited respectively by the Ethiopian highlands and by the sea.

Dankel is a territory poor of fauna and flora and presents alternately desert flatlands and isolated mountain groups, sometimes interrupted by valleys spotted by thorny acacias. Generally, real mountainous relieves can be found in the northern part of the Danakil Region closer to the coast. More inland (that is toward the Ethiopian highland) a long depression extends itself reaching a depth of 120 meters below the sea level. This depression, known as the Salt Plain, is long 220 km. In the southern Danakil Region, decisively of volcanic origin, numerous are the lava flows which lay among the numberless cones distinctly truncated at their tops.

In the internal zone, rocky and desert, the hamlets are scarce. The population is scattered, constituted by nomadic family which regulate their own and their cattle' wanderings upon the irregularities of the rains. Livestock breeding, above all of goats, as a matter of fact is the prevailing economical activity, if not the exclusive one.

In the stretch of unpaved road which from Thio abandons the coast toward the inland and reaches Beylul, the existing agglomerates are actually seven and almost all of them of recent construction. Out of these seven, only two centers, namely Belubui and Afambo, can be more properly defined as villages.

Conversely, the coastal zone is inhabited by more stable and populous hamlets, since the coast offers a larger series of economical alternatives to that of transhumant breeding.

According to the data gathered by the Provincial Administrative Department of Assab, the Afar population to the end of April 1993 amounts to a total of 120,484 individuals, distributed as follows:





Northern Danakil Region

7,317 (47.9%)

7,700 (52.1%)

Central Danakil Region

7,487 (45.8%)

9,276 (54.2%)

Southern Danakil Region

13,880 (49.9%)

14,451 (51.0%)


20,100 (50.3%)

19,900 (49.7%)


58,713 (50.3%)

61,771 (49.7%)



These data gathered from the single local administration, or Woreda, must be considered with a given margin of approximation. As a matter of fact, due to the nomadic attitude and to the extreme scattering of the population on a territory at times not accessible to mechanical means, an exact quantification appears rather difficult.

In the interviews carried out in the several crossed zones, special attention's notice have been paid to the recent drought and to the worsening of the living conditions. Overall inland, where livestock raising is the only source of income, loss of livestock is reported, loss due to pasture's withering and to the insurgence of epidemics linked to malnutrition.

During our mission it had not been possible to assess the effective entity of the denounced famine. On the contrary, according to direct observations and to considerations concerning the alimentary diet observed (see later on), it would seem that, relatively to the areas visited and to the living status observed in the missions carried out until the fifties, it is not pertinent to denounce a worsening of the economical tenor of the Danakil population.

The excessive expectation for food aids, explicitly mentioned during the interviews, in reality might ensue from a new attitude of the relation nomads-cereals, more than an effective dramatic state of the actual living status. As a matter of fact the cereals, integrating the alimentary diet of the Afar nomads, but completely extraneous to their productive activities, are traditionally obtained through the yelding of animals. With the introduction of the practice of cereals donations, it might thence result more convenient and rapid to substitute the relationship of exchange animals-cereals, with the completely free acquisition of the latter.



For the social and economical development of the Danakil Region, the prior arrangement of its road network appears to be an essential prerequisite.

That which undoubtedly limits the trade, so much so as the construction of buildings for the primary services (like schools and medical centres) is the absence of a road or unpaved road easy to travel by.

Actually the road which links Massawa to Assab is 631 km long, about 550 of which (that is from Arafile onward) exclusively in Denkel.

Except for some tracts (the way which leads to Abdur, a stretch of 10 km south of Gelaalo, the surrounding of Thio and the 5 km on the route between Beylul and Assab), the roads does not face the sea, although following the coast-line (see the map in annex 1).

At Thio the unpaved road decidedly abandons the old route, which is shortly far from the coast-line, and enters the hinterland for a total of 361 km. The reasons for the new route, longer, more tortuous and at times difficult to travel by, consists in the fact that the coastal road south of Thio has not yet been cleared of the mines laid all along its way.

Of the new roadway climbing up inland, the stretches which display more difficulties for the amount of sand on the way and for the necessity of crossing deep grooves paid by large jetting rocks, are the 30 km south of Thio and the 71 km linking Egroli with Belubui. Some difficulties due to steep ascents on rocky slopes are encountered also in some parts of the more northerly stretch which from Gorai leads to the site of Mersa Fatma. From Afambo to Assab, the road way does not pose particular difficulties, also because of the recent patching works of the road's lining in the stretch Weddi-Assab.

Relatively to the roadway communications, the areas hence more difficult to reach are those where are the sites of Egroli and Belubui, both areas chosen in the first phase of the works of the C.R.F. Program for the construction, respectively, of a school, two water supply sites and of one Health Station.

Preceding or parallel to the commencement of the building works concerning the above mentioned infrastructures, it then seems essential to proceed to the road's repairing, both to make the undertaking of the works by an eventual building contractor firm less discouraging and so as to reduce the works' execution costs.

If it is considered that the execution times of the Arafile (90 km from Massawa) Health Station and the centres of the Ministry of Agriculture, both in Thio and Gelaalo, as a matter of fact cannot be inferior to one year, notwithstanding the quite easy access facility to these villages, for Egroli and Belubui decisively superior terms and costs will have to be scheduled.

As suggested by the C.R.F.'s staff and by Assab's Provincial Administration, a first urgent intervention of the road linkage of the two villages might focus on the stretches Thio-Egroli (65 km) and Belubui-Eddi (45 km). In such a way, the works on the 71 km dividing the two areas would be spared and Belubui would be linked to the close harbour near Eddi. In connection to the C.R.F. Program, the building materials might hence be sent by sea transportation: to the harbour of Thio to reach then Egroli and to the harbour of Eddi to supply Belubui.

However the Province's available mechanical means do not allow a imminent execution of the above mentioned works: in fact there is an urgent necessity of the following heavy machinery: bulldozers, tanks for water and fuel.



Traditionally, the Danakil Region is subdivided into territorial units: four major sultanates (Rahaita, Tajoura, Biru, Awssa) and numerous sheikhdoms. In each of the territorial units, with boundaries which nevertheless have never been properly defined, the authority of a specific tribe, among those composing the Afar ethnic group, is acknowledged. The political-social structure is hence based on a combinations of territorially based elements with other elements based on tribe links.

Chief of each tribe is a sheika balad or Readento (in Afar language), administrator of his people' social affairs, guarantor for peace, judge and arbiter for the disputes within his people and between it and external groups.

To take his decisions, the Readento can avail himself of the aid of counsellors, named Makabon, elders considered authoritative for their wisdom.

Into each territorial unit, generally more tribes tied amongst them by the custom of matrimonial exchanges. The descent is patrilineal.

Of Moslem religion, even if its observance does not seem rigid, the practice of polygamy is frequent among the Afar.

As already mentioned, the leadership of a specific tribe is recognized in each territorial unit, in virtue of its claimed settling in the area preceding that of other people. This fact attributes to the "originally" tribe some rights, first of all the property of wells. As a matter of fact, notwithstanding that each tribe residing in a determined area can supply itself with water in the existing wells, by consuetudinary right only the "originally" tribe can dig wells and hence this tribe is the wells' owner.

Where it is present, the leader tribe also claims rights on the oasis of dum-palm and on those of date palm trees (see further), and accordingly it regulates its exploitment by other people.

The scarcity of the available resources, and therefore the vital importance of their safeguarding, appears to have imposed a system of social rules which on a side protects the rights among the various people to the exploitment of the resources, and on the other side appears to favour a social hierarchy destined to defend and administrate the scanty commodities existing in the territory.

An evident manifestation of the presence of a social hierarchy are those unique permanent traces of the Afars' individual and collective history, that is, their cemeteries.

Anyhow, besides the bonds decreed by way of the matrimonial exchanges, in every territorial unit the groups there resident are represented by a council, named Mablo.

The time available has not allowed us to investigate more deeply the interesting theme of the political-social organization and of the social dynamics activated by various tribal groups. Therefore the existence and the typology of an eventual division of the Afar into the two groups described by the ethnographic literature, that is the Asahimara and the Adoimara, has not been investigated. These two groups, known also by the names of "Red Afar" and "White Afar", in the past generally corresponded to two different classes, tied between them by reciprocal obligations and, more particularly, by the subjecting relations of the Adoimara toward the Asahimara.

Given the theme's complexity, due also to a frequent overlap of the two groups (overlap favoured by the matrimonial exchanges), and to the consequent similarity in their behaviour - phenomena noted in the recent studies - it has been preferred to postpone to a successive mission a more deepened and complete investigation concerning this argument. Here we will limit ourselves to observe that at first sight, relatively to sites visited, the subdivision between the Asahimara and Adoimara, even admitting that it might exist, does not seen to correspond to an evident supremacy of a group over the other. Indeed, if it is considered that the main tribe of the Adoimara is the Dahimela group, while to the aristocratic group of the Asahimara corresponds the Damoita, in the presence of the cohabitation of the two groups in the same territorial unit, a supremacy of the latter over the first should be found. However this case does not appear pertinent at least in the two sites visited, Afambo and Thio (see village's schemes: a appendix 2), where the ownership of such a fundamental commodity as water is entrusted to the Adoimara tribe, although members of the Damoita aristocratic tribe are present in the same village.

Hence, pending a more punctual reflection on the theme of the social organization and of that of the relations among the various tribes, we will limit ourselves to report only what has been assessed in the sultanate of Rahaita, more for a stimulus to future investigations than for completeness of discourse.

The sultanate of Rahaita, homonymous territorial unit at the extreme southern border of the Danakil Region, is the only sultanate in Eritrea, while other three are existing in Ethiopia. Anyhow, according to what reported by Rahaita's inhabitants, territorially and politically this sultanate is the most powerful.

Seven tribes cohabit Rahaita' sultanate, of which the more important are: the Adda-Ali (by whom the sultan is elected), the Sheika and the Badda Itamela.

According to what referred, the sultan's authority extends itself to thirty-five tribes, and therefore presumably to all the Afar people. This authority is acknowledged by the right, for each family, to give to the sultan annually a tribute, corresponding to one bovine.

The sultan's power perhaps more idealistic than concrete, is confirmed also by the origin myth which founds the birth of the Rahaita' Sultanate.

Without going through its narration, synthetically the myth describes the intellective superiority of a singular individual of the Adda -Ali tribe and, because of this, his election to sultan by part of the people convened firstly to test and then to honour his knowledge.

Became sultan, the man decided to assign to each tribe, which subsequently would disperse itself on the vast territory of the Danakil Region, some members of the Sheika group, so as to act as his own representatives.

In another myth indeed it is recounted how the first chief of the Sheika "perhaps coming from Mecca or maybe from Yemen", set ashore on the danakil coasts asked as bride a sultan' sister. "He agreeably conceded her, thus initiating the Adda-Ali-Sheika lineage, whose pacific and indissoluble union is fostered down to our days".

Even presently, thought all the Danakil Region, a particular position of prestige and of respect is effectively paid as a tribute to all the members of the Sheika tribe.

Indeed this tribe is believed to possess therapeutical powers, miraculous powers, perfected by the knowledge of the Koran be not exclusively deriving from it. For all the Afar tribes, the Sheika are the intermediaries between men and the supernatural reality. They are believed to intercede for rains, for men and animals' fertility, for the obtainment of the healing of suffering individuals.

Their interceding power is directed toward the Ueli, ancestors' spirits who are believed, during their lives, to have accomplished extraordinary feats and whose graves, scattered in the Denkel, enclose and emanate an unusual power still active.

In virtue of the believe on their spiritual power, the Sheika are present in all the areas of the Danakil Region, mixed to other people and, among these, having special status.

As an example, in the meetings among the representatives of the various tribes (meetings not periodical, but dictated by the insurgence of particular events), the honour to be served first in the common meal is ascribed to the Sheika. Also, annually, every Afar family offers food and livestock to the Sheika of its own area, thus recognizing their authority.

Thus, according to what has been deposited in the Afar culture, the Adda-Ali-Sheika tribe represents, at least ideally, both the political as well as the spiritual union of all the Afar people.

The Sheika are testimony and concrete symbols of this unity, emissaries of the sultan, present in all his territory.



The subdivision of the danakil territory into two main belts ( the internal and the external one), corresponds to a general division of the economical activities carried out. While on the coast fishing is integrated to livestock breeding and from the district of Beylul toward the south to the gathering and trading of the alcoholic beverage duma and dates, in the hinterland the only economical activity carried out is livestock breeding. Excluding some exceptions (anyhow of recent introduction), agriculture is unexistent and anyhow totally extraneous to the Afar culture.

However, as it will be repeated onward, an interest is expressed by the administrative bodies of the visited villages toward the learning of the working methods connected to agriculture.

At least the village's chiefs, or the Baito's members (administrative organs elected this year) express the will to dedicate themselves to agriculture and ask that the necessary notions to carry out this activity be taught to them.

Given the recent droughts and animals' murrain (events concerning which the relative data are missing) some Afar indeed see in the permanent settling the only possible alternative to their distressing state of indigence. However, this choice, more than being supported by the conviction of the possibility to relish greater opportunities in the exploitment of the territory, is finally based on the ascertainment of the easiness with which they can be reached by the food aids, if gathered in a village. To this consideration of an opportunistic order, it needs to be added also the desire to be enabled to profit of those services which can improve the kind of existence, such as education and medical assistance.

Further on it will be discussed to what extent it is realisable the aspiration to develop the agriculture in the Danakil Region.


5.1 Livestock breeding

It is difficult to quantify the entity of the zoo technical patrimony of the visited areas: a widespread superstitious belief among the Afar indeed restrains from counting the animals.

Generally, in the internal zones, the owned animals are limited to goats and dromedaries, it being too warm for ovine and bovines. The female dromedaries, appreciated for their milk effectively are more numerous that the male ones. The male dromedaries are instead utilised for transportation and for their meat.

As it is related, in the absence of drought, a man could consider himself wealthy when he owned 30 camels (6 males and the remainder females) and a herd superior to 100 units. In those areas where pastures were more abundant, as for example in Beylul's plain, the number of the owned animals is declared superior: in fact it is said that a man could own 250 goats and 70 camels.

Taking due notice of how these estimates are uncertain, both for reticence of a superstitious order and furthermore for the fear of being henceforth adequately taxed, the data on the zoo technical patrimony of Beylul are hereby listed:



Goats 5,000

Dromedaries 300

Ovine 200

Equines 250

Bovines 150

Data reported from the Administrator of Beylul


From the Administrator of Beylul it is also referred that the average of goats per family is roughly around 50 units, while the minimum is of 10 goats. For the dromedaries the animal's average instead is 30 and the minimum is 10.

While in the hinterland the owned animals are almost exclusively goats and dromedaries, in the coastal belt besides them are added bovines and equines. Instead poultry-farming is not practised in all the Danakil Region: indeed neither the meat nor the eggs are appreciated by the Afar. A danakil saying recounts "hens and goats do not go together".

The best pastures are in the proximity of Thio, in the plain of Belubui-Afambo, in the regions of Beylul and of Rahaita.

The transhumance routes, differing in respect to what happens in other regions of the Eritrean lowlands, rarely reach the Ethiopian or Eritrean highlands. Only in the north of Mersa Fatma the transhumance toward the highlands of the Akele Guzai is still practised. As a matter of fact at Gelaalo it is usual to bring the animals on the Hazomo' mounts during the three of four warmer months of the year. South of Mersa Fatma, almost all way down to Beylul, the Danakil Region's territory is closed on the west by the depression of the Salt Plain (valley which constitutes a mighty obstacle to the wanderings of men and animals). During the warmer months, from April until November, the livestock is driven away from the coast and hence brought on the Danakil Alps, mountainous group laying vertically between the Salt Plain and the sea. Differently from the coast, where generally it rains from November to April, the Danakil Alps are subject to two rainy seasons ( that between May and October and that between November and April).

Notwithstanding the uncertainty of the transhumance routes, changing in respect to the zones where there are more abundant rains, the following can be generally evidenced:

a) south of Mersa Fatma wandering are directed toward Thio's plain;

b) between Thio and Eddi, migrations follow an east-west direction;

c) from Assab, the animals are displaced to the south, toward the Rahaita territory.

During the winter months, namely from November to April, the animals return to the coast to enjoy the pasture and the milder climate.

In Afambo and Beylul, zones no more closed on their western side by the Salt Plain, in the past were practised transhumances and trade exchanges with the highland. Actually, due to the recent war with Ethiopia and to the pillaging practised by the Ethiopian soldiers, these exchanges became reduced in number, to the point of becoming almost irrelevant.


5.2 Commerce

At least once yearly, that is on the occasion of the feast celebrated two months before the end of Ramadan (Id Al Adaha), in the coastal zone and in the hinterland is practised the goats' trade with Yemen.

Once the animals are gathered, the number which changes from time to time for a family, 5 Birr for each animal are paid to one or more representatives of the village who, embarked on the sambuq, have the task of selling the goats to Yemenite traders. Depending on the offer, for each animal a minimum of 60 and a maximum of 120 Birr is obtained. The related figures in reality change a lot from village to village: in Afambo, for example, it is said that the minimal cost for a goat is 120 Birr, while the highest is 250 Birr.

Indeed, besides the sale's period, the distance from the harbour where the animals are embarked to the Yemenite harbour where they will be traded ought to be considered. For example, the transportation cost of each animal from Eddi to Hudaydah, in Yemen, is of 40 Birr. The number of the transported animals on each trip changes from 400 to 500 units. With the proceeds from the sale, the village's representatives will purchase supplies such as biscuits, tea, sugar, pasta, soap, cereals' flour and various goods, so as agreed at the departure.

This commerce, depending on the quantity of available animals, more often seems to be carried out twice yearly.

The main harbours from which the livestock is embarked are: Ghederhara' (for the village of Gelaalo and surroundings), Thio's harbour for the zones of Afambo and Belubui, Beylul (for Weddi and its neighbourhood). To these harbours, besides those of Assab and Rahaita, it is possible that others not included in ours mission's route are added.

In the yemenite markets are also sold butter (both caprine and bovine) and honey, for a respective cost of 40 - 45 and 45 - 50 Birr per kilogram.

Besides the caprine's trade, the danakil coast exchanges with Yemen fish of various qualities and dimensions. Generally it is sold fresh, preserved in freezer cells. However, for sharks, the drying process is adopted, severing the drying fins and the caudal extremity which are sold separately.

At least in Thio, where 15 uri (typical danakil boats) and 3 sambuqs are utilized, each boat on the average makes two crossings monthly to the Yemenite harbours of Hudaydah, Cova and Medi. That is, at the end of a two weeks period of high-sea fishing, with support stops among the numerous islands emerged between the two coasts, the Yemenite markets are reached.

With the exception of the shark (see further), the cost of the other fishes is established in accordance with their size: 20 Birr for a fish of medium size, 5 Birr for a smaller one, considering a cost per kg from a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 4 Birr.

Higher is the sharks' price, of which the fins and the caudal fin are much appreciated, the cost of which is around 40 Birr per kg. Special value instead have the same extremities of the Abusef fish, or saw-fish, the cost of which reaches 100 Birr per kg.

In exchange of the sold fish, besides the goods above mentioned, are acquired fishing nets, fuel for the boats' engines, their spare parts and ice to preserve the fish. The latter has such a high value so as to constitute a condition in the exchange dealings: in fact ice is ceded on the agreement that the fished fish be afterward re-sold to the ice factory owner, presumably at forced favour prices.

A similar constrictive precondition is also established by the suppliers of the engine' spare parts.

Commerce in the Danakil Region is generally directed to Yemen. The exchanges with the Eritrean markets are scarce, both because they are not convenient and because of the limited variety of the goods to be found in those markets. However, in broad terms, it can be said that on the north of Thio, Massawa is the general commercial attraction pole alternative to the oversea coasts, while on south of Thio it is Assab.

Sorghum, maize and vegetable greens, so rare scanty in the danakil alimentary diet are purchased mainly in the Eritrean markets. The acquirement of first necessity alimentary items, more easily preservable, and of clothing is preferably carried out in Yemen.

Rare, as already mentioned, are the exchanges with the Ethiopian highland: only in Beylul it is referred that at Bure (Ethiopia) some Afars exchange camels with coffee. The animals sold are generally male, both because female camels are appreciated for their milk as well as to avoid that with the given females they start a reproduction of new animals.


5.3 Fishing

The practice of fishing among the Afar people is widespread. In the villages along the coast, but even within a radius of 15 km in the hinterland, the Afars dedicate themselves to this activity, utilizing large sambuqs or Donig, but more often uri. The latter are boats of different dimensions: they can transport a crew from a minimum of two to a maximum of seven persons.

Generally a uri supplied with two engines, each one of 75 HP, a freezer cell and fishing nets, costs an average of 150 Birr.

Both sambuqs and uri as well are utilized for fishing and transportation. A uri with a crew of four persons can transport around one hundred individuals. The crossing expense, for example from Thio to Hudayda (in Yemen), is around 300 Birr. If the boat is of bigger dimensions, the cost may even double.

Financially, the most rewarding fishing is that of the sharks, derak, of which the raw meat is consumed, while fins and caudal fin drying, are exported from Yemen even to China. The Afars subdivide the sharks in the following categories:

1) abusef

2) halca

3) sweda

4) abukata

5) mugaran

6) cadra

7) humat

As already mentioned, among these the most precious and financially rewarding is the abusef (saw-fish), fished not more than three or four times yearly. The other known fish varieties are the dentex (sciuhur), the mullets (arabi'), sardines (balan), mackerels, saurels, epinepnelus (kusher), tunas, dolphins, eels, lampreys, octopuses, crabs, cuttlefish and the lobsters, these last abundant and prized in the gulf of Assab. Tortoises are sold captured at the time of egg-laying: their meat is indeed very appreciated.

The most propitious period for fishing is from September to March. For large size fish harpoons are used.

The exploiting by the Afars of the abundant ichthyofaunal offered by the Red Sea is not limited to the fish meat: from the shark's liver (tiro'), dried under the sun and afterward cooked, an oil is extracted which is utilized for illumination and to make the sambuqs impermeable.

From the abusef' s liver instead an oil considered to be lenitive for bronchial ailments. It is sold for 40 Birr per kg.

Utilized mostly by women as perfumed essence, is the oil (liho) obtained from the so called "fish's nails" (dhufr), operculums of various kinds of molluscs. The liho is produced and sold to women at a price of about 70 Birr per kilogram.

The local fish-cooking method avails itself of a cylindrical even, about one metre deep and not larger than 50 centimetres; the fish, deprived of the entrails and with added spices, is laid on its walls. On contact with the strong heat released by the flames fed by the wood laid on its bottom, the fish roasts in a short time.

Its meat, of a pleasant smoked taste, is served with a kind of white bread, thin and lightly cracking chapati cooked contemporaneously in the same oven.


5.4 Agriculture

The cereals used up by the Afars, namely sorghum and, more rarely millet (considered as a bewitching prerogative of the chiefs), maize and Indian corn flour, are imported from the other territories.

Some trials for introducing agriculture in the Danakil Region, however with not excessively brilliant results, where already carried out during the Italian colonial period.

Some projects were a failure right after a short period from their beginning and hence were abandoned, like the Irrigation Scheme of Daraito and Bureita's cotton plantation (both in Thio's hinterland), while others were recently taken up again by the E.L.F. fighters, to be once more abandoned due to the war. These last however were trials of limited proportions, if ever limited to the individual consume.

General studies were carried out during the Italian colonial period in order to identify the areas were it would be possible to develop the agriculture. In the thirties the following experiments were initiated:

- at Diddaho, at Saroita and at Daraito (in the vicinity of Thio), the cultivation of sorghum was initiated;

- in the Agricultural Centre of Badda (in Gelaalo, Mersa Fatma's hinterland) vegetables greens and sorghum were produced;

- along the stream Ghibdu papayas, vegetable greens and citrus were cultivated.

Into "small Assab" it was noticed the cultivation, at family level, of cotton, but it was considered more as a "cultivation curiosity" than an extendible experiment of development and propagation on a larger scale.

The factors blocking the introduction of agriculture in the Danakil Region were the torrid climate, soil aridity, its silt poverty, the remarkable variability and unforeseen rainy periods. As a matter of fact it was noted that the proportion of the precipitations during the two rainy seasons could reverse from year to year: while as a rule the precipitations should be more abundant from July to October and poorer or even naught from December to March, at times the proportions invert themselves.

Hence, given these conditions, the application of the method traditionally employed in the Eritrean lowlands, namely the gerife, or agm, so as it is called in the Afar language, becomes arduous.

This method consists in the creation, by way of obstructions, of basins for gathering the water descending from the highlands and which is conveyed into seasonal streams or vidian during the rainy season. Then through a channelling network the water is distributed to the cultivated zones.

Notwithstanding the above cited negative factors and the scarce enthusiasm in considering realistic an agricultural development in the Danakil Region, in the fifties some zones potentially suitable to agriculture were identified, namely:

- the region of the Marghebla (on the streams Adda Ali' and Mussa Ali');

- the plain of Beylul;

- the plain of Samoti (region of Marcaitoli);

- the plain of Bardoli (Buri peninsula);

- the plain of Alanoli (Buri peninsula).


 However, it is not resulting that to these studies there has been an operative follow up.

Among the centres where agricultural works where effectively initiated in the thirties, the only one actually functioning is the Agricultural Centre of Badda, from where the inhabitants of Gelaalo and neighbouring zones supply themselves so at to cover part of their need of sorghum. Of the others sites only a remembrance remains which nowadays gets a value of support to new expectancies. By the responsibles of the recently composed administrative organizations it is indeed asserted that if agriculture did not develop properly it was because of the exiguity of the funds invested and for the instability connected to the war. Hence, the government's pledge to allot investments and to impart the necessary instruction remaining firm, it is certain that the Afar people is ready to dedicate itself to agriculture.

Hence agriculture and settling appear to be the terms of the new course in view for the Afar people, or at least for part of it. The references to the history of agriculture in the Danakil Region are cited as a support to the new direction which it is held that should begin: at Thio the past experiments of Saroita and Daraito are cited; at Belubui the cultivations of Dames and Balabi are remembered; near Afambo the cultivations actually practised at Mabar, Darab and Aura are shown. The latter are limited to a plot of land, for each area, not larger than 20 metres by 5. Those cultivations generally carried out are limited to hot peppers and water-melons. For irrigation is utilized water from the wells or from springs close to the cultivated plot.

The quotation by the Afars of the sites which in the past were associated to agriculture in reality seems to have assessed a mythical connotation, rather than being the object of an hystorical reading of what the agriculture adventure might be in the Danakil Region.

As a matter of fact the actual construction of three buildings to be centres of the Ministry of Agriculture is an actual confirmation of the renewed interest toward agriculture in the Dankel, interest however limited to few individuals being the rest of the population more sceptical and, as usually happens, more reluctant concerning transformations as to its own system of life. Of these buildings, the first and the second will be finished these year respectively at Gelaalo and at Thio', while the third is already operative at Arsile (in the district of Rahaita).


 5.5 The extraction of the duma

Green oasis of dum-palm trees interrupt the desert landscape in the zones of Beylul, Assab and Rahaita. Generally they stem near by water courses, inundation areas or water springs. Economically and territorially important is the vast oasis of Gahare', 20 km from Weddi on the road to Beylul. It is property of the Kara tribe: each oasis, so as it happens for the wells, by customary law in fact belongs to the tribe which firstly settled itself in the zone.

The other zones where the dum-palm is exploited to produce duma, a whitish alcoholic beverage, are:














In the Gahare' 's oasis the individuals presently incising the dum-palm are about one hundred. They can even belong to tribes different from the Kara, but to obtain from the latter the permission to the exploitment of the oasis, they must demonstrate of correctly mastering the extraction method. In fact if the incision is not properly done or if it is left open for more than twenty days, the plants may not survive the crisis. So if the internal part of the apical is damaged, or if is not properly protected from predatory animals, the plants may die.

For the duma's extraction, the palms are incised on the trunk for a maximum period of 15 or 20 days yearly. On the slit site are tied some conical containers, made of intertwined palm leaves. Every year the trunk is incised at diverse heights that is, starting from the base, progressively wending toward the apical zone.

On the average each plant produces from 1 to 1,5 litres of duma per day. Duma preserves itself for about twelve hours since its extraction: the fermentation process is in fact too rapid to allow it to be drank afterward.

Generally, a person who by hereditary right claims a property on a oasis area annually incises about thirty plants. In reality the number changes in accordance with his own daily consumption and on his trading capacity. Indeed, given the brief period at disposal and the difficulty of transportation to other zones, the duma can not be traded at long distances, even if there would be a demand.

In spite of the last severe restrictions so as to discourage its consumption, the duma is very appreciated both by men and women. The daily individual consumption may be of an average of 3 or 4 liters, not being rare, however, individuals who can drink up to seventeen litres daily. The price of a litre varies from a minimum of 1,5 to a maximum of 3 Birr, depending on weather the beverage has been extracted during the rainy or in the hotter season.

Due to inebriety's negative effects, which often give rise to quarrels to which, not rarely, some death follows, the village of Weddi (where, due to Gahare's proximity the duma consumption is high), has established a pecuniary penalty of 100 Birr against those found drinking this beverage. In the infringement is committed a second time, the offender is instead banished from the village. Hence, notwithstanding that duma's consumption be theoretically considered illegal in all the Dankel, (officially a region of Moslem religion), it remains a known and appreciated beverage also in other production zones.

In the same dum-palm oasis also groups of date-palms are present, much protected as rarer.


5.6 Handicraft

With the dum-palm leaves women intertwine mats (deboura) utilized in dwellings as a covering or as external fencing and manufacture some round carpets utilized for the daily prayers. Also with the same material the containers for the gathering of duma are made and the ropes (acota') necessary to insure the dwellings' beams and the camels' loads.

Each deboura costs 2 Birr, while the days to manufacture it are three or four. The ropes instead, more rapid to intertwine, are sold at 1,5 Birr each. Also from the dum-palm leaves, women obtain milk containers, or aynie. Manufactured by women are also the harib or sar, a kind of container use to transport water made up from the tanning of goats' skins. Each harib has a capacity of 25 or 30 litres.

Insofar as it concerns men's handicraft, it seems to limit itself to the manufacturing of wooden beds (oloyta), and, at least south of Beylul, to the shaping of metal jewels for women.


5.7 Salt's extraction

Concerning the salt extraction activity, a brief survey has been carried out at Arsile, a village in the Rahaita district. Instead, it has not been possible to collect recent informations concerning the salinas cited in the reports of the thirties, namely the salinas of Asbo' in the Buri peninsula, of Mersa Abeherbad near Thio, of Assale' and of Ghebro', the latter into Ethiopian territory but, for traditional right, property of the Dahimela Afar tribe..

Insofar as Arsile in concerned, actually three private enterprises extract annually 1,320 q. of salt, utilizing motor-pumps. The annual proceeds is of 105,600 Birr. Their individual daily pay is of 10 Birr.

Besides Arsile, in the southern Dankel also Beylul's salinas are exploited, but concerning the latter no informations are available.


6. The collective dimension of labour

The attitude to carry out communitary activities is not developed among the Afar, so as it can be in a sedentary community, like the tigrigna.

However, in those settlements of a more stable character, institutional forms of reciprocal help are known also in the Danakil Region. They record exclusively male individuals. At least in Rahaita, where our investigation majorly focused on such subject, the group of men called to constitute themselves to carry through a collective activity is called Fema.

A Fema may be requested for the construction of buildings, to seek for an animal lost or engulfed in the mud, to clean a well from the introduction of extraneous objects, to organize the preparation of a wedding.

The Abba Fema are responsible for the adherence of those belonging to each tribe to the appeal of constituting a Fema. Hence for each tribe residing in the village an Abba Fema is elected: for example, in Rahaita are present seven Abba Fema, correspondingly to the number of the tribes there present..

Besides the task of gathering and organizing the male individuals to carry out a define activity in conformity with the need, the Abba Fema are responsible of the public order in force among the members of their tribe; thus they have the task to settle eventual quarrels and to survey that what established to compensate for the sustained tort be repaid.

In the sultanate of the Rahaita, above the seven Abba Fema, is elected the Malak, a man who always belongs to the dominant Adda-Ali'-Sheika tribe. His intervention is requested in case that the Abba Fema are not in a position to resolve some controversies. Besides he carries out the task of mediator between the sultan and the population, mobilizing the Abba Fema for the execution of activities of a public domain.

Instead, for women are not known associative forms organized at village level and with a socially recognized statute.

Women can assemble, as it often happens, so as to carry out some activities, but in their case the adhesion is based more on the spontaneous availability than on a right of reciprocal help officially recognized and regulated. Women associate to gather sea shells from which they extract the Liho, to manufacture the mats as a offer to a bride (activity named Simblo), to bring gifts to a woman in child-birth or to help another one refinishing her new dwelling (activities named Miskini and Adi Ari respectively). The women' sphere of solidarity is hence left to the private adhesion, it being not the pivot - like in the case of men - of the formation of a socially significative group.


7. Types of houses

The Afar main types of dwelling are four: the spherical tent covered by intertwined mats or sometimes by branches, the rectangular hut covered by branches, the house made by wooden boards and finally that built of rocks.

During long distance migrations, the complete family nucleus generally moves following its own herd; in this case, as night shelters are preferred the huts covered by mats, easier to set up and as well to disassemble. When the displacements are limited to a short distance within the zone where the family is settled, only men move along with the animals.

Wives and younger sons remain in the agglomerate of huts, now with a more permanent aspect: in fact, over the wooden framework, wooden acacia's branches, or in other cases vegetable fibbers called marca are substituted to the intertwined mats.

In the permanent settlement the compound consists of four huts, the larger of which is about 7 meters by 4: furnished with wooden beds, it is used by the parents and by the younger sons; in an adjacent hut are placed the guests, while the third and the fourth ones are utilized respectively for cooking foods and, in real villages, for the hygienic services. More often, in the agglomerates of small size, a circular fencing used as a shelter for the animals is preferred to the latter.

Both in the circular as well as in the rectangular huts, much diffused for covering is the utilizing of the plastic bags used to store the cereals' flour.

In the coastal centres like Thio, Beylul and Weddi, are common rectangular houses, built with wooden boards coming forth from Yemen. In Thio their boarded partitions are painted with rather lively colors, while in Weddi, to the uniform coloring are added ornamental themes of various colors.

Rock houses, of a rectangular shape and at times with the roofing of galvanized sheets iron are to be found in Afambo and neighbouring, that is in the villages of Ebbe, Aralo and Darrab.


8.1 Alimentary diet

In the visited villages, namely Gelaalo, Thio, Belubui, Afambo, Beylul and Arafile, the alimentary diet appears to be quite homogeneous. Probably differences, even considerable ones, might emerge through a quantitative inquiry carried out in the same centres and above all in the settlements scattered farther away from the coast.

Being our considerations relative to the cited centres, the following can be generalised: common to all the families interviewed is the daily consumption of milk, be it of goat, cow or camel. The latter is never boiled or exposed to the sun, the others are seldom boiled. Also daily is the consumption of cereals' products, such as pasta, rice, injera and gatt, the latter prepared with sorghum and wheat flour, periodically distributed in the form of food aids.

In the villages, both in the hinterland as well as on the coast, quite diffused is also the consumption of tomato sauce and of the leguminous vegetables (kidney - beans and lens). South of Beylul, besides duma, dates are consumed.

Very scarce in the alimentary diet instead are greens and fruit, available only in the main coastal centres: in Beylul and Afambo mention is made of an occasional consumption of fruit juices (mango and pine apples) bought in Yemen.

Insofar as meat is concerned, its consumption varies from a minimum of once monthly to a maximum of twice weekly. Given the unquantitative nature of the gathered data, it becomes difficult to establish the nature and quantity of the foods consumed: however, on the base of the ten interviews carried out concerning this argument, it would seem that the frequency of meat consumption, per family, equals an average of three times monthly. Almost daily is fish consumption in the zones facing the sea, while in the more internal areas, even if not too distant from the coast, it is consumed three times weekly.




9.1 The water supply

Throughout the Danakil Region the principal problem consists in the water supply. In the coastal zone the wells are generally dug into the beds of seasonal rivers of a torrential course.

Buried by the floods, they are dug again every year. Their depth, on the average, is of four metres: when their depth reaches five metres, the water is generally salty and therefore it becomes necessary to dig a new well.

In those centres where there is a strong concentration of population, the water supply situation becomes particularly grave: as an example, in Thio, the water available in the village is not sufficient to cover the needs of its inhabitants; therefore they are supplied by two tank-trucks which travel from Thio to Adailo, a locality 30 km away, where the water is of a better quality and more abundant. However, given the problems connected with the road, the tank-trucks are often subject to breakdown and therefore they remain out of order even for considerable periods. The water problem in Thio is so heavy, at least according to what has been told us, so as to have induced some people to abandon the village.

Constantly supplied by tank-trucks coming forth from Assab are also the inhabitants of Debai Sima, a small village 57 km from Assab, where, for the second phase of the C.R.F., the construction of an Primary School and that of an Health Station have been requested. Therefore, before proceeding to the execution of such works, it would seem more opportune to provide to the water's more urgent need.

Difficulties in the water supply are registered also in Beylul where the population is forced to travel a distance of 40 km so as to have access to wells of unsalty water.

In the internal zone of the Danakil Region the wells have a more permanent character. Their walls and orifices are sustained by acacias' trunks or by the stems of the dum-palm; besides two transversal branches on the opening impede that the animals might fall in.

Given the population' scattering on the territory, to this permanent water points refer also individuals who might reside at a distance of even eight hours of walking.

In the village of a more ancient settlement, as for example in Belubui and Afambo (formerly an Italian military post), the wells date to the end of the eight century or even preceedingly.

Generally, if due to the water salinity it becomes necessary to dig more wells, those where the salty taste is more marked are utilized for livestock's drinking otherwise, men and animals supply themselves from the same well.

The water problem, by new dire, will become dramatic if not properly faced, overall in view of the actual will to concentrate the population in villages of a permanent character.


9.2 The access to education

The situation of the access to the education is not quite better than the health condition: in fact few are the schools and scarce is generally the affluence of the students to the lessons. For example, in all of Thio's sub-province, actually only two schools are functioning, among which that of Merder, started this year. Summarizing, in all the Danakil Region 17 primary schools have been built, 1 junior secondary school and 2 senior secondary schools.

The schooling situation in the visited areas instead is the following:





4th class

137 (105 M and 32 F)


courses started in 1993

40 (19 M and 21 F)


- " " -



- " " -



2nd grade



5th grade



closed in 1994









Particular interest, although for opposed reasons, assume the cases of Merder and Eddi. At Merder, as indicated in the table, the affluence to the school is superior by part of the students of female sex. According to what explained by Thio's administrator, this is due to the fact that the population of Merder is not of Moslem religion (or at least it is not strictly observant) and to its open mind derived by the frequent contacts with the Yemenite coast and with Saudi Arabia. Confirming the singularity of this village is the recent decision to open an evening school for "adult women", that is over 15 years of age.

Opposite is the case of Eddi: here the school has been closed this year because the students frequency had become naught. According to what referred by Thio's administrator, it has been sufficient that a village's influential man has opposed himself to the type of imparted education and above all to the school's frequency by part of the girls, to get the courses completely unattended.

 In other cases the access to education is slowed by other factors of a more practical than cultural character: for example, at Afambo, at the start of the year, the enlisted boys were about one hundred, however, along the months' course their number reduced itself to around thirty students in February. This tendency, registered also in Beylul, is due to the lack, in the villages, of structures fit to host the boys coming from the neighbourhood. In Afambo, a monetary contribute to provide to the students' feeding and housing has been asked to the parents, but there have been no positive responses.

Considered this reality and Eddi's interesting case, which reveals also from a singular perspective how much in the Afar culture the traditional leadership might be influential, much cautionness seems to be opportune as to initiate the building of new schools. The more deepened observation concerning the functioning and the management of those already existing may be interesting. Furthermore, in considering the building of new structures in settlements of new constitution, the attitude to nomadism of the Afar people, (especially in coincidence with the rainy season) must not be underestimated.


9.3 The Health's condition

Excluding Assab, in all the visited sites not even an official medical doctor is present. In Beylul, Gelaalo and Afambo, the Igregna makina, that is to say the fighters who have learned the medical art during the period spent at the front, carry out the functions of Health official. Their number in the three centres cited above is respectively of one, six, and one.

At Egroli and Belubui there exists not a single medical place. At Thio, the clinic has been provisionally set into an edifice inadequate for size and operativeness.

Lamented too are the insufficiency of medicines and the capacity to withstand urgencies: among these are included the deliveries, due to which the maternal mortality percentage seems to be high. In the two villages of Belubui and Afambo at least eight cases are cited of women died during the year for delivery.

Generally, those residing north of Thio, for serious cases recur to the hospital of Massawa, those which instead reside in the south apply to Assab. In the coastal centres, mention is made of seriously sick persons transported even to Yemenite hospitals.

In the Danakil Region, the recurrence to the traditional medicine, which avails itself of herbs and roots, seems wanting. Mostly of a magical value seem to be the incisions of the eye brows and on the body even presently performed in cases of localised pains.

In the perspective of the building of Health Stations, above all if of large dimensions, it would therefore appear fit to provide anticipatedly to the specialised personnel to assigned there.




On the basis that the more urgent interventions for a development in the Danakil Region concern, in the first place, the increase of the water supply points and, secondly, the road's rehabilitation, as related to the interventions provides by the C.R.F., the following is deemed to be fit:

1) to concentrate the efforts for the execution of the works starting from one project and, based on the ex post evaluations of the executive procedures, of the functioning and management of the works, to eventually start new works.

2) To choose the first project on the basis of the following criteria:

a) the presence of an already constituted agglomerate, having the characteristics of a sedentary settling. It is then counselled to exclude Egroli from

the first phase of the C.R.F. works since presently it does not show the characteristics

of a permanent settlement (see further);

b) thoroughfare conditions of the road sufficient to warrant frequent communications between the Center chosen for the works and that dispatched the materials' construction;

c) the presence of a sufficient cultural homogeneity apt to warrant an adequate interest and participation to the project's building and management.

- Concerning the theme of the community's participation to the works, participation quantified in the contribute of 10% of the work's total cost (to be yielded as manpower or by the gathering of materials), it is suggested to request to the beneficiary population a contribute in animals, or, eventually, through money. Indeed, due to the scarce attitude of the nomads for the manual works and the proved absence of specialised manpower in the visited villages, it seems culturally and practically more suited to quantify the contribute in livestock.

- It also seems indispensable to provide at soonest to a revision of the prices for each project, considering the general increasing of the costs, both of materials as well as of transportation, an the difficulties of access to the more internal zones.

- Given the economical necessity and the cultural attitude to a nomadic life style, it also seems opportune to limit the dimensions of the works of construction to the minimum indispensable, so as to avoid both an excessive disproportion among the already existing buildings and those to be introduced as well, and to try to limit as much as possible the building and management costs of the edifices of which there is no complete certainty of the future degree of utilisation. Where possible, it also seems fit to consider the possibility to utilise materials and a building style more similar to those traditionally adopted. The sense of an innovation introduced from the external is indeed more easily activated if substantial and formal characteristics are attributed to it, conforming to those already existing on site. Building, for example, an Health Station in Belubui, a village aesthetically attractive for the homogeneity of its dwellings of acacia wood, may constitute a laceration, both in aesthetic as well as in cultural terms.

These considerations, however marginal, are suggested as an invitation to a general reflection more than to place in a second place the efficiency criteria, undoubtedly considered as having priority.

- For the Danakil Region, moreover it is suggested to formulate some specific projects, which keep into due consideration the particular territory and the cultural peculiarities of the Afar. For example, it would seem interesting to evaluate the sustenaibility of accompanying the veterinary service to the Health service, so as to valorise to the maximum the relation costs-benefits. Considering also the scarcity of medical and paramedical personnel, the construction of an Health Station, in accordance with the standard measurements, would seem to have to be reconsidered.

In fact, if it is considered that an Health Station covers a surface of 157.99 sqm and it is composed of the following premises: a Recovery room, a Delivery room, an Examination room, a Vaccination room, a Pharmacy, a Waiting room, a Registration office, a Laboratory room and two W.C..

If moreover it is considered that, according to the standard drawing, the Health Station is sided by the building for the residence for the medical personnel covering a surface of 77 sqm, composed of a covered area so subdivided: 4 Bedrooms and 4 Kitchens.

It seems unfit to start buildings of such dimensions in all the visited sites, excluding Assab and possibly Thio. Unfitness is related to the dimensions, to the realisation costs and to the internal subdivision of the premises for the intervention sectors. To an edifice structured as the one described above, it would seem more idoneous to substitute a smaller one, deprived of those rooms not directly essential and whose functionality presupposes a corresponding personnel and the related equipment (see, for example, the opportunity to eliminate the waiting and the registration rooms).

The reduction of the premises, and hence the realisation and management costs, might allow the intervention, ( at cost parity), on another sector - presumably considered by the Afar as important as that of health - that is, the veterinary one. Starting simultaneously a health service addressed to men as well as to animals it might win a larger consent, than limiting it to the former.

Prior to the commencement of the execution of the chosen works, it also seems indispensable to correctly know the mechanisms of management of the resources present on the territory, (mechanisms referred to in the paragraphs dedicated to the water supply and to the dum-palm oasis). In a culture of a strong tribal character, like the Afar's is, to facilitate the introduction of any innovation whatsoever it does appear indispensable to individuate, to make responsible and to elect to official interlocutor the traditional leadership. Indeed only the knowledge of the traditional power-managing mechanisms allows to interact with them. Hence the individuation of the individuals recognized as occupying a position of authority in respect to the specific social sectors appears to be the preliminary procedure to determine a correct setting for granting the management of what proposed. As a successive step, (but not or secondary importance), it also seems indispensable to delineate the modalities and the management costs of the constructed works. In a nomadic society, like the Afar, scarcely used to the concept of a stable life and to the burdens which this brings about, such as the regular maintenance of the material works and the collective responsibility toward the common commodities, (responsibility which implies a continued effort in decision making and in effective labour), it seems decisive not to neglect the frame of the future management of the building works still before starting them.

- It must be absolutely kept into consideration, besides, a keen evaluation of that which will be the possible consequences of a push toward a sedentary life. The excessive expectancy in the food aids and the unrealistic awaiting of a development of the agriculture induce to reflect on the great responsibility associated to the proposal of a choice of life which does not offers real possibilities of economical activities, alternatively to transhumant livestock rising. The drive to a sedentary life of a population can be stimulated, more than on the basis of the offer of services, on the satisfaction of the primary economical need.

- Besides, in order to attempt to contain at least partly the effects of the periodical droughts and to bar certain scarcely generous environmental conditions, it seems rather urgent to consider the opportunity to begin the second phase of the C.R.F. program, phase which foresees the development of income generating activities. At least on the coast, a rapid and appropriate intervention can be directed to the increasing of fishing, activity which responds to the attitudes and to the vocation of the Afar.

- Finally, a last invitation to consider a complex theme, so complex and difficult and to have constituted a sub-base to centuries of history: that is, the choice, ambivalent and often conflictual, of the transition from a nomadic life style to the sedentary one. Acting so that this choice is realised with that urgency which often distinguishes the periods undergoing a rapid change may mean the loss to history of a cultural universe, like the nomadic one, extremely interesting and vital. However, besides this worry, of intellectual origin and perhaps of a more limited consent, it seems legitimate to query if it might not be erroneous thinking to transform, in the single view of the sedentary culture, that which centuries of danakil history have moulded, that is the Afar people, a nomadic culture, an original interwining between man and a particular territory.






CRF Project: construction of a Primary School

Village: Arafile

Awraja: Akele Guzai

District: Arafile

Population: about 150 families

Ethnical composition: Saho, Tigre', Assaorta

Religious influences: moslem

The village has assumed the actual aspect about twenty years ago. Before then the population was scattered over the territory.

Hydric resources:

4 wells of a depth about m 5, one of which for animals.

Economical activities:

- Agriculture, practised with the "gerife" method, that is, water damming and diversion of the seasonal streams' water; maize, millet and sorghum are cultivated. The "resti" system was in effect before 1984; since that date the EPLF introduced the "dessa" system.

- Livestock breeding: due to the recent droughts, actually each family possess an average of three cows and a herd of 30-40 units. During the dry season, the livestock is brought on the Akele Guzai highlands.

Health services:

The construction works of a clinic, financed with government's funds, have been completed in October 1993. The works, which lasted one year, have been carried out by an enterprise of Massawa. As a matter of fact in the village there is no specialised workmanship.

The medical personnel actually on duty is composed by 1 nurse and 6 assistants.


Actually two huts with wooden structure and covered by vegetable material are used as schools. The attending students are 60, and 18 of them are female. The teachers are 4, three of which ex fighters and one civilian. The given education reaches the 3rd grade.


There is one private pick up which pretends from 15 to 20 Birr for transportation to Massawa.

Alimentary aids:

They are not regular. The last distribution dates back to December 1993.


Scarcity of alimentary commodities.


Suggested proposals:

To increase the agriculture, also so as to "settle the population", starting with the construction of new gerife.




CRF Project: building Primary School and a Water Supply Well

Village: Egroli

Awrajas: Danakil Region

District: Egroli

Population: 3 families

Ethnical composition: Afar ethnicity. Main tribes: Damoita, Daimela, Adormo' and Sheika.

Religious influences: moslem

The Egroli site cannot be properly defined in terms of "village" as the families effectively residing in it during February 1994 were limited to three. It is however referred that at the end of Ramadan (that is, at the end of March), 80 families (totalling 1576 individuals) should install themselves in the village. More numerous than dwellings are the huts used as shops (seven). The sold goods are mainly: sugar, coffee, biscuits, tea, rice, and clothing items.

Hydric resources:

A mineral spring, with perennial water, used both for men and animals.

Economical activities:

- Agriculture: non practised

- Livestock breeding: caprine and of camels. Due to the recent droughts, the number of animals owned per family has notably diminished.

Health services:

The closest medical center is in Thio'.


No building used as school are existing.


Neither private nor public vehicles make transport service.

Alimentary aids:

Due to the scattering of the population in the surrounding territory, the aids' distribution results difficult.



Hydric availability insufficient.

Presence of tombs in the site on which Egroli should expand, (a presence which for some local herdsmen is held un-compatible with human settlement therewith).


Advanced proposals:

Building of a school.

Increasing the number of the wells.




CRF Projects: building an Health Station and a Water Supply

Village: Belubui

Awraja: Danakil Region

District: Eddi

Population: about 30 families

Ethnical composition: Afar ethnicity. Main tribes: Damoita, Daimela, Adormo', Sheika, Edebba, Ghidimto.

Religious influence: moslem

According to what referred by the village's leadership, until not too long ago most of the herdsmen would not accept the idea to gather in a village, being forced to migrate in a constant search of pastures. Now, due to the drought and to the sicknesses which struck the livestock, the choice toward stable settling starts to gain a larger consent, evaluating also the opportunity to be enable to relish on the alimentary aids and upon the primary social services, such as health and education.

Hydric resources:

In the village a well is present with perennial water. For traditional right it belongs to the Damoita tribe. Springs of boiling mineral water are present in the nearby Airori.

Economical activities:

- Agriculture: some years ago, sorghum, bamia and green vegetables were sown by missionaries which installed themselves in two zones close to the village, namely Adames and Barabi. This cultivation, anyhow limited to small lots, have fallen in complete disuse.

- Livestock breeding: principal activity. Caprine are annually traded in the main Yemenite harbours.

- Fishing: practised by some individuals on the coast facing Eddi.

Health services:

The closest clinic is situated in Eddi.


No buildings used as school are present.


A private car is present in the village; the transit of military trucks is not regular. For the transportation to Assab generally 25 Birr are requested, while for Massawa 50 Birr.

Since the beginning of the Derg period, the Red Cross utilised a landing strip for the distribution of alimentary aid. Actually it is disused.


Alimentary aids:

The last ones date back to October 1993.


Insufficiency of alimentary commodities.

Lack of a school.

Lack of a clinic.

Suggested proposal:

Besides the construction of the above mentioned buildings, aid is requested in order to develop agriculture.




CRF Projects: construction of a Health Station and of a Water Supply Well

Village: Afambo

Awraja: Danakil Region

District: Eddi

Population: considering also the areas in the immediate neighbourhood, the families amount to about 300.

Ethnical composition: Afar ethnicity. Main tribes: Adormo', Sheika, Damoita, Ghidimto e Dahimela.

Religious influences: moslem

Afambo was born as an Italian military post during the war with the Ethiopians. In 1975 on the summit of the hill next to the area where Afambo is developing, a settlement was constituted. After 1991's independence, due to droughts, the option of stable dwelling is enlarging.

The village is actually expanding.

Hydric resources:

A well of spring water is present, however held to be salty and contaminated: the customary wooden beams generally used to protect the opening are indeed missing.

In Aura, 5 km from Afambo, around 40 wells have been dug as the water is better and more abundant. The ownership of the well, for consuetudinary right, is of the Adormo' tribe.

Economical activities:

- Agriculture: toward the end of the Seventies, the E.L.F. started cultivation of berbere', water melons and tomatoes in the following sites: Mabra, Darab, Aura. With the exclusion of a small lot at Darab, these cultivation are completely disused.

- Livestock breeding: main economical activity.

- Trade: small exchanges with the Tigray highlands, but mostly with markets of the opposite bank of the Red Sea.

Health services:

A medical post is active where a nurse is on duty. Besides Afambo, other 7 neighbouring villages use it.



Courses of primary education have been stared in 1993. However the number of the attending has progressively reduced due to the absence of building to receive the students coming from the neighbourhood. From about 100 enlisted, after two months the attending decreased to 30.


No private vehicles are present. The transit of military trucks is irregular. The cost for the transportation to Assab varies from a minimum of 15 to a maximum of 25 Birr.

Alimentary aids:

Irregular, the last distribution dates to middle-February 1994.


Inadequacy of the capacity of the actual medical post, in respect to the population size.

Insufficiency of the actual hydric availability.

Lack of means of transportation.

Suggested proposals:

An increased frequency in the distribution of the alimentary aids.

Construction of a school.

Spreading of the methods to develop the agriculture




CRF Projects: identified for the second phase: Health Station and Primary School.

Village: Thio'

Awraja: Danakil Region

District: Thio'

Population: about 450 families

Ethnical composition: Afar ethnicity. Main tribes: Daimela, Damoita, Lala, Adormo', Sheika, Negherto.

Religious influences: moslem

Hydric resources:

Unaccountable is the number of the wells as their number changes from month to month; as a matter of fact when they reach a depth of four metres they have to be abandoned for the excessive salinity.

Digging new wells hence is continual; for traditional right they belong to the Daimela tribe. A better quality water is to be found at Adailo (30 Km away), from where it is transported to Thio by way of tanker trucks. A study is in progress for the construction of an aqueduct between Adailo and Thio'.

Economical activities:

-Agriculture: abandoned the cultivated lots in the areas of Saroita and Daraito (see the paragraph dedicated to this argument), the Ministry of Agriculture is actually studying the possibility of an agricultural intervention in an area close to Thio".

- Livestock breeding: principal economical activity.

- Trade: remarkable is the commerce, mostly of animals and fish, toward the Yemenite harbours.

- Handicraft: mostly limited to the private sphere is the female handicraft of objects obtained from palm leaves. Also worked are goats' leather for the manufacture of water containers.

- Fishing: sufficiently developed is the trading of fish with Yemen.

Health services:

A medical post is functioning: however it is retained insufficient in term of both the medical personnel and the available drugs. Four ex-fighters and four civilians are working as paramedical personnel.


The school actually functioning reaches the fourth grade. The attending students are 137, of which 105 males and 32 females.


No private vehicles are available. The transit of military trucks is irregular. The cost of the transportation to Assab is 25 Birr.

Alimentary aids:

Not regular, the last ones date back to December 1993.


Very serious is the insufficiency of the water's availability.

Lack of alimentary commodities: if the Yemenite coast is excluded, there is no market close to Thio' which might regularly supply it of commodities.

Lack of transportation.

Isolation due to lack of communication means and of a road easy to travel by.

Inadequacy of the actual sanitary service, of the educational didactic material and of the existing building for school.

Suggested proposals:

Developing fishing, also through the supply of equipment such as: ice-boxes, freezers, nets, materials for building boats. Give impulse to the agriculture, through the construction of damming systems to convey the rain waters descending from the highlands.




CRF Projects: an Health Station for the second phase is scheduled.

Village: Beylul

Awraja: Danakil Region

District: Beylul

Population: about 1.050 families

Ethnical composition: Afar ethnicity. Main tribes: Afar, Damoita, Bereito, Ana, Am-munda, Nesser, Areca, Matan, Hadermo', Ghiran.

Religious influences: moslem.

Hydric resources:

There is a total of 8 wells, 4 of which with sensibly salty water. The first two were dug respectively in 1922 and 1932 by the Italian Government; the 3rd and the 4th, by the Ethiopian Government in 1968 and in 1973. The other four wells have been dug by the population and they are utilised for the animals.

However to cover the hydric needs, some individuals betake to 40 km away from the village


Economical activities:

- Agriculture: no cultivation is practised. At Sisa (5 km away) a pool for the gathering of rainy waters descending from the highlands is present. For the time being this pool is used to watering the animals.

- Livestock breeding: main economical activity. During the summer, transhumancy of the animals to Arota is practised, or more rarely toward the Ethiopian or the Danakil highlands (Teru).

- Trade: quite frequent is the exchange of animals and mild products with the yemenite markets and the acquiring, in the latter, of alimentary commodities and clothing.

- Contraband diffused until the independence's year.

- Salt extraction: some individuals, provided with a licence, extract and sell the salt in Ethiopia. For this trade cars or camels are used.

- Fishing: even if diminished with respect to the past, due to the sinking of boats from air raids, it is quite diffused.

Health services:

There is a medical post of one room, built in 1992; it is judged insufficient to cover all the population's needs.

One nurse is on duty drugs are insufficient.


Built in 1979, the actual school is made up of three rooms. The given education reaches the fifth grade. The students are 60.


Two private cars are present. The cost of transport to Assab is of 30 Birr.

Alimentary aids:

Data not available.


Insufficiency of the hydric resources.

Insufficiency of medical personnel and medicines.

Lack of transportation means.

Suggested proposals:

Developing the agriculture.

Improvement of the health service.



CRF Projects: Construction of an Health Station identified for the second phase

Village: Rahaita

Awraja: Danakil Region

District: Rahaita

Population: about 750 families

Ethnical composition: Afar ethnicity. Main tribes: Adda-Ali, Sheika, Badda-Itamela

Religious influences: moslem

For administrative reasons the Rahita's sultanate has been reduced to six zones.

Toward the end of January 1993, the last sultan died. At the end of one year of mourning, a new one will be elected. The succession to the appointment of sultan is alternately between the two clans (Dinite and Buruanto) into which the Adda-Ali tribe is subdivided.

The new sultan, actually in office as Vizir, will therefore come from the Dinite clan, having the precedent appointment to sultan been given to the Buruanto clan.

Hydric resources:

Besides the wells dug in the river beds, around the village a water supply well, which feeds a catchment fool through pipes has been built by the Ethiopian Government. However, at the moment, the well' engine is broken down.

Economical activities:

- Agriculture: it is not practised.

- Livestock breeding: main economical activity. Very large is the pasture plain which extends up to Djibouti.

- Trade: frequent the exchanges with Yemen and Djibouti

- Fishing: due to air bombings, the sambuqs' fleet is sensibly reduced: actually only 6 sambuqs carry out fishing activity, while in the past they were eighteen.

Health services:

One building with two rooms is used as clinic: only one nurse is on duty.


The school, composed of four rooms, was built twelve years ago. It reaches the fifth grade. The students are 55, twelve of which females.

The teachers are five.


No public transport are existing. Some private vehicles give out transportation service, asking 15 Birr to reach Assab.

Alimentary aids:

Data not available.


Insufficiency of alimentary commodities.

Lack of assistance for repairing the well's engine.

Inadequacy of the medical post.

Suggested proposals:

Develop fishing, increasing the boats' fleet and providing for the equipment necessary to the practising of this activity.

Improving the health service, so that it may face urgencies.