Harla people

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The Harla, also known as the Harala, were an ethnic group, now extinct, that inhabited Ethiopia and Somalia. They spoke the now extinct Harla language, a language of either the Semitic or Cushitic branches of the Afroasiatic family.[1]


The Harla are credited by the present-day inhabitants of Hararghe with having constructed various historical sites found in the province. Although now mostly lying in ruins, these structures include stone necropoleis, store pits, mosques and houses. According to the scholars Azais, Chambard and Huntingford, the builders of these monumental edifices were ancestral to the Somalis ("proto-Somali"). Modern traditions similarly link the Harla with Abdirahman bin Isma'il al-Jabarti and the Darod ancestors of the Somali Ogaden clan, in addition to other Somali clans living amongst the western Issa and in areas below Harar.

Field research by Enrico Cerulli identified a modern group called the "Harla" living amongst the Somali in the region between the cities of Harar and Jijiga. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica suggests that this population "may be a remnant group of the old [Harla], that integrated into the Somali genealogical system, but kept a partially separate identity by developing a language of their own." Cerulli published some data on this Harla community's language, called af Harlaad, which resembled the Somali languages spoken by the Yibir and Madhiban low-caste groups.[2]

According to Ethiopian accounts, in the 14th century, the Harla battled against the forces of emperor Amda Seyon I in what is now Somaliland.[3] The Harari people are considered to be the closest remaining link to the Harla people. The Harla tribes disappearance could have been due to the Abyssinian–Adal war in the 16h century, destitution, or assimilation by invading Oromos and Somalis.[4] Strong evidence suggests that during the Great Oromo Migrations, the remaining Harla retreated behind the walls of Harar and were able to survive culturally.[5]


In terms of religious beliefs, the Harla practised a pre-Islamic religion until around the 10th or 11th century. This marks the period during which the early leader Abdirahman bin Isma'il al-Jabarti is believed to have introduced Islam into the community.[6]

See also


  1. Gebissa 2004, p. 145.
  2. Uhlig 2003, p. 1034.
  3. Pankhurst 1997, p. 45.
  4. Braukämper 2002, p. 107.
  5. Gebissa 2004, p. 36.
  6. Zewde 1994, p. 72.

Works cited