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Kingdom of Warsangali (1218-1886AD) : spotlight on Middle Ages African global trade hub

The word “Warsangali,” in the Somali language, means “bringer of good news.” The Warsangali kingdom (Arabic: سلطنة الورسنجلي‎, Somali: Saldanadda Warsangeli) was a mighty kingdom in the North-Eastern and South-Eastern regions of Somalia including Kismayo. The kingdom was founded in northern Somalia, in 1218, by a group of Somalis from the Warsangali branch of the Darod clan. It was established under the leadership of Gerad Dhidhin (Somali: Abdulaahi Kooge Maxamuud Harti, Arabic: عبد الله كوجى محمود هرتى‎), who was the first ruler of the kingdom. It was among a significant kingdom during the medieval age of Somalia.

Starting from 13th century, the kingdom continued to flourish, and at the height of its power, its territory stretched over the Sanaag region and parts of North-Eastern Bari region, an area historically known as Maakhir or the Maakhir Coast. After establishment, the kingdom was ruled by descendants of Gerad Dhihin until the late 19th century, when it was abolished during the reign of influential Sultan Muhammad Ali Shire and was included into the British protectorate of Somaliland in 1884, along with many other northern Somali Kingdoms.

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Sultanate of Warsangali

Somalia as the kingdom of Punt

According to ancient Egyptian literature, there was a kingdom known as the “land of Punt.” Based on the evidence, historians have narrowed down its location to the Horn of Africa. The kingdom of Punt had a close connection with ancient Egyptian kingdoms and was their valuable trading partner, providing them with materials for their temples, as well as gold, and aromatic resins. Moreover, it was also known for its valuable trees which produced the aromatic gum resins, same were used in Egyptian temples. Based on this evidence, many historians suggest that there is a chance that Somalia could be the possible kingdom of the punt, “The Land of the Gods.”

Origin and History

The Kingdom was established in 1218 under the leadership of Abdulahi Kooge Maxamuud Harti, who is known as Gerad Dhihin. From the 13th century to the late 19th century – the period between the foundation and decline of the Warsangali kingdom – 25 descendants of Gerad Dhihin ruled the region. The kingdom experienced its most turbulent period of instability during the 19th century. During this period, the kingdom was led by Mohammad Ali Shire, who was the last ruler of the region. It was included in the British protectorate of Somaliland in 1884. Once stripped of independence and sovereignty, the dynasty continued to wield cultural influence by continuing the succession process of sultans. At present, it is a part of Somalia, a federal republic. 3 further sultans have ruled since the kingdom was abolished.

Rulers

The first ruler of the Warsangali Kingdom 1298-1311, also known as Gerad Abdulahi was the founder of the Warsangali Kingdom in the late 13th Century. He was also called Gerad Dhidhin. The kingdom was founded in the territory of present-day northern Somalia. Since its beginning, a total of 28 rulers have ruled over the region constituting of the Kingdom of Warsangali till date, 25 before it became a British protectorate. The list including their names and the period of their reign is as follows:

 

Sultan Period of Reign
Gerad Dhidhin 1298–1311
Gerad Hamar Gale 1311–1328
Gerad Ibrahim 1328–1340
Gerad Omer 1340–1355
Gerad Mohamud I 1355–1375
Gerad Ciise I 1375–1392
Gerad Siciid 1392–1409
Gerad Ahmed 1409–1430
Gerad Siciid II 1430–1450
Gerad Mohamud II 1450–1479
Gerad Ciise II 1479–1487
Gerad Omar 1487–1495
Gerad Ali Dable 1491–1503
Gerad Liban 1503–1525
Gerad Yuusuf 1525–1555
Gerad Mohamud III 1555–1585
Gerad Abdale 1585–1612
Gerad Ali 1612–1655
Gerad Mohamud IV 1655–1675
Gerad Naleye 1675–1705
Gerad Mohamed 1705–1750
Gerad Ali 1750–1789
Gerad Mohamud Ali 1789–1830
Gerad Aul 1830–1870
Gerad Ali Shire 1870–1897
Sultan Mohamoud Ali Shire 1897–1960
Sultan Abdul Sallan 1960–1997
Sultan Siciid Sultan Abdisalaan 1997–present

Societal Structure

In the Kingdom of Warsangali, the Gerad was the only official ruler of the Kingdom. The dynasty of rulers in this region is most often called “the Garaad” or sometimes, “the House of North East Somaliland Sultanate”. The ruler enjoyed many other titles along with the main title Sultan/Gerad. They include “Sovereign of the House of North East of Somaliland Kingdom” and “Sultan of Sultans of Somaliland”. The pioneer rulers of Kingdom never called themselves as Sultans, instead, they were called by the title Gerad. The title of “Sultan” was established by Sultan Mohamud Ali Shire in 1897.

Many titles were historically used by officials in various kingdoms of Somalia. There were also different titles for male and female royals, religious and traditional leaders as well as officials of Somaliland.

Male Titles

Kings/Rulers

Male titles for kings or rulers included Suldaan, Ughaz, Boqor, Gerad/Garaad, Imam or Emir. The Warsangali rulers were known by the title “Gerad” initially and later, by “Suldaan”.

❖    Gerad/Garad

The title was employed interchangeably with “Suldaan” to denote a Sultan of the region. Etymologically (the study of the origin of words) signifies the role with “wisdom”, or “understanding”. According to Basset (1952), the title corresponds with the honorific title “Al-Jaraad”, which was used by Muslim governors during the middle ages. Gerad was historically employed throughout northern Somalia.

❖    Suldaan:

The title is derived from the Arabic for “Sultan” or English “Chief”. It was the very common title for rulers in the pre-colonial and colonial periods. It was used throughout the Somali territories. One of the famous Sultans of Warsangali was Mohamoud Ali Shire, the 26th Sultan of the kingdom.

❖    Boqor:

The title is derived from the Somali for “belt” and relates to the title of “Paqar” used by Meriotic rulers. Words based on this root include Boqortooyo for kingdom, empire or monarchy, Boqortinnimo for kingship and Boqornimo for “royalty”, “dignitaries” or “nobles”. The role of a king was to unify a variety of clans (or tribes), transcend it and form a state, and therefore the Somali root of Boqor means “belt”.

Royal Family

The hereditary son of the king or prince was called by the title of “Amir” or “Ina Boqor”.

Court officials

The minister or tax collector of the kingdom was called “Wazir.” The court officials governing territory on behalf of their Kingdom (Viceroy) were called as “Boqortiishe”, an alternative of this was “Wakiil-Boqor”. The deputy or representative of the Sultan was called as “Na’ib”. Chief Judges of Kingdom were known by the name of “Qadi” (Pronounced “Qazi”).

Female Titles

The queen consort of the king was known as “Boqorad” while a princess was known as “Amirad” or “Ina Boqor.”

Religious Leaders

The Islamic leaders within the Somali society were drawn from or elevated to the noble rank. They were known by different titles including Sheikh, Sayyid, Sharif or Haji.

Traditional officials

The chief of the clan was known as “Islan.” The war leader was known by the title of “Malakh”; while the male elders, who were traditional clan chiefs were called by the title of “Akil.” The other officials included advisors to clan head (Oday), legal experts (Heer begti), detectives (Gurtiyal), lawyers (Garhajiyal), and police officers (Waranle).

Ismaili Branch of Islam

Ismaili branch of Islam is one of many sects in the religion Islam including Shia, Sunni and other sub-sects. The Ismaili sect is a branch of Shia-Islam whose followers believe in the seven Imams and therefore is also called as “The Seveners.” Ismaili followed the descendants of Imam Ismail and still follow them up to the present day. The present Imam of Ismaili sect is called Prince Kareem Agha Khan who is the forty-ninth descendant from the fourth caliph, Ali.

Difference between Shia sect and Sunni sect of Islam

Shia Muslims believe that the spiritual authority of the Prophet Muhammad and all of his spiritual rights and duties except for revelation continue through the institution of hereditary spiritual leadership called the Imamat, with Imam “Ali ibn Abi Talib” as the first Imam.
Sunni Muslims believe that the Prophet appointed no direct successor and recognize the religious scholars (“ulama”) as the holders of religious authority. Subsequently, all Sufi Tariqahs came to recognize “Ali ibn Abi Talib” as the Prophet’s spiritual successor.

Difference between the Sunni sect and Ismaili sect of Islam

Sunni is the largest domination of Muslims in the world. The difference between Sunni and Ismaili sect is that; Sunni Muslims believe in following the ways and verbal sayings of the last Prophet whereas Ismaili Muslims is a sect of Shia which follows descendants of Imam Ismail ibn Jafar. Sunnis believe strictly in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and strongly reject any introductions, exclusion, and interpretations of Sunnah. Also, Sunni Muslims believe in a secular political leadership whereas the Ismailis believe in a religious ruler.

Difference between Shia sect and Ismaili sect of Islam

Shias are the second largest denomination of Muslims in the world. Ismaili is only a part of the Shia community. Shias believe that Ah al-Bayt, which is Prophet Muhammad’s family, and some of his descendants known as imams, possess special spiritual as well as political authority over the community. The Shia sect considers Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as the first Imam. They believe Ali to be the rightful successor of Muhammad. The Shias also reject the authority of the first three caliphs. The Ismaili considers Ismail ibn Jafar as a divinely appointed spiritual leader and successor. The Ismaili follow the descendants of Imam. One can come across several Ismaili subgroups. However, they are generally referred to as the Nizari community. The Nizari community is composed of the followers of Aga Khan, which is the largest group in the Ismailis.

Somali engineering and architecture achievements

Somali architecture includes engineering and designing of multiple types of construction such as stone cities, castles, fortresses, mosques, ports, temples, aqueducts, towers, lighthouses, and tombs during the ancient, medieval and early modern periods in Somalia.

Temples

A temple is a structure reserved for spiritual or religious rituals and related activities such as prayer and sacrifice. Example of temples in Somalia include the old temples situated in the northwestern town of Sheekh.

Aqueducts

An aqueduct is a watercourse constructed to carry water from a source to a distribution point far away. Example of aqueducts in Somalia include the aqueducts of the Ajuran kingdom.

Ports

A port is a town or city with a harbour or access to navigable water where ships load or unload. Example of the port in Somalia include the port of Las Khorey in Warsangali.

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Old Port of Warsangali

Lighthouses

A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other types of the structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and to serve as a navigational aid for naval pilots at sea or on internal rivers. Example of a lighthouse in Somalia includes Isola Dei Serpenti lighthouse in Kismayo of Somalia.

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Lighthouse Architecture

Fortresses

A fortification is a military construction or building designed for the defence of territories in warfare and is also used to strengthen rule in a region during peacetime. Example include Abdullah Hassan’s main fort in Taleh, Somalia.

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Ruins in the land of Punt, Somalia

Citadels

A citadel is the core fortified area of a town or city. It may be a castle, fortress, or fortified centre. Example include The Citadel of Gondershe in Somalia.

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Citadel of Gondershe

Stone Cities

The lucrative commercial systems of consecutive medieval Somali kingdoms and kingdoms such as the Mogadishu kingdom, the Ajuuraan State, the Empire of Adal, the Geledi kingdom and the Warsangali kingdom had several dozen stone cities established in the interior of Somalia as well as along the shore.

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Warsangali Ruins along the shore

Castles

Throughout the medieval era, castles and fortresses known as “Qalcads” were built by Somali Sultans for protection against both foreign and domestic pressures. The major medieval Somali power engaging in castle building was the Ajuran Kingdom.

Bibliography

  • Lewis, I. M. (1999). A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. James Currey Publishers. ISBN 9780852552803.
  • Lewis. I. M. (1960). A Modern History of Somalia: Nation and State in the Horn of Africa. Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780821414958.
  • Hess. Robert L. “The ‘Mad Mullah’ and Northern Somalia.” The Journal of African History, Vol 5, No.3 P.415-433. Cambridge: Ohio Cambridge University Press, 1964.
  • Pankhurst, Richard (1982). History of Ethiopian towns from the Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century. Steiner. ISBN 3515032045.
  • R.David Paul Zorc, Abdullahi A.Issa (1990).Somali Textbook.Dunwoody Press. ISBN 0931745489.

 

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