Religious and Cultural Observances

The people of Harari have their own cultural observances pertinent to their Islamic identity, tradition and norms. Among these, the main ones are “She’wal Eid”, “Ashura”, “Sefer Fetah” and “Mewlid”.

She’wal Eid

“She’wal Eid” is observed, according to Islamic calendar, in the month of “She’wal” on the eighth day after “Eid al-Fatar”, which marks the end of the Ramadan Season. The reason why this observance takes place on the day next to six days of additional fasting immediately after “Eid al-Fatar” is because Islamic teachings dictate that women who might have been in their menstrual period and interrupted fasting are meant to compensate for it in the six days. It is also relevant to men since they obtain additional spiritual gains. This arrangement has created the opportunity for all members of the community to colorfully celebrate “She’wal Eid” in accordance with their tradition and norms.

The observance of “She’wal Eid” comprises of various customary practices. The celebration commences two days before the actual day in every house as well as in two “Awaches” (premises of religious practices) known as “Awu Aqbera” and “Awu Shulum” with canticles (Menzuma) by senior citizens of the society. The elders praise and thank the Creator, the Prophet and the sages of Islam the whole night till dawn. On the actual day, there is a procedure of traditional performance that lasts for an entire twenty four hours.13 The two “Awaches” mentioned are found around “Asum” Gate to the north and near “Erer” Gate and Argo Gate to the east of the city of Harar. Thus, the residents of the area offer the participants of the celebration a cultural food made of “Injera” (the most common staple food in Ethiopia) scrambled in a stew of hot pepper (called Aqlel in Harar) and traditional hot drinks such as “Hasher Qahwa” (hot residue of ground coffee boiled with milk), “Qutee Qahwa” (dried and roasted coffee leaves boiled like tea leaves mixed with milk), Boon Qahwa (coffee proper mixed with milk).

She’wal Eid is accompanied with important social performances. Formerly, youngsters used to organize themselves under a social unit called “Mugad” which was active during the celebration. Though nowadays the spirit is diminishing, youngsters still use the occasion to choose their life partners. For three consecutive days following She’wal Eid, girls are free from any kind of house chores; they raise funds in their groups for house parties and celebrate by going house-to-house feasting and dancing.

Generally, She’wal Eid has a special place in the tradition of the Harari people so much that even the Harari from abroad flock to Harar to participate in the celebration.

Ashura

Different communities celebrate New Year on the basis of their religious, traditional or customary calendar. These celebrations can be international, national or regional. For instance, Ethiopia has its own distinctive calendar and celebrates its New Year nationally on September 11. Like in any other region, this national holiday is celebrated in Harar. However, the Harari people also have their own calendar derived from their religion and tradition.

In Islam, “Ashura” is a New Year holyday of the Hijra calendar celebrated in the evening of the tenth day of the “Muharem” month. Since the originally religious “Ashura” holiday was absorbed by Harari culture through the centuries, it is usually celebrated along with practices dictated by tradition and custom typical of the Harari people. Among the various traditional practices of “Ashura”, the main ones are “Wurshato” (the breaking of gourd containers), “Shur” (eating specially prepared porridge) and the practice of feeding porridge to hyenas.

Wurshato: The practice of breaking gourd containers commences three days earlier to the day of “Ashura”. Young students of Quran “Gey” (school) are the active participants of this practice. They go about houses collecting gourds. Then, they store the collected gourds in their Quran Gey. In the afternoon of the “Ashura” day, these young students break all the gourds chanting, “Wurshato Ish Ye’sebera”, meaning ‘may everyone who does evil be broken.’ When they are done breaking, the students go about houses again and sing and dance at every doorway seeking some more gourd containers. As soon as mothers give them the containers, the students break them, there and then, singing a traditional hymn.

Shur (eating specially prepared porridge): One of the activities that highlight the colorful celebration of “Ashura” among the Harari is the uniquely prepared porridge. The main ingredient of this dish is special flour drawn up from various ground grains and cereals grown in the area. The porridge is served for all present, usually family members and neighbors, to eat together. Since there is a belief that one who does not eat his/her fill on the day of the New Year will starve the whole year, everyone makes sure he/she does so.

 

 

 

 

Feeding porridge to hyenas: Another unique act on “Ashura” is the practice of feeding hyenas the same porridge that is served for people. It takes place in two different places, Awu Abokher and Awu Niguss, in the evening of the holiday. In these places, particularly in Awu Niguss, the porridge intentionally enriched with a lot of butter is left for hyenas on a large stone that serves as a bowl. What follows is the arrival of a pack of hyenas, led by a leader, to eat their meal. That the hyenas eating the porridge fairly well is taken as a good sign in the fate of the community, and hence every effort is exerted to make the whole preparation attractive and the manner of feeding the hyenas successful. If otherwise the hyenas decline to eat the porridge at all, or if they consume the whole porridge served to them, it is taken as a bad omen necessitating a prayer by elders the whole night.15 The custom of feeding hyenas originated from an important legend in the community. The legend relates that in ancient time, hyenas used to attack people and domestic animals, and feeding them is a means of reconciliation to avoid this.

Sefer Fetah

According to Hijra Calendar, “Sefer” is the second month. In this time of the year, the Harari engage themselves in a prayer and contemplation. The reason behind this is the occurrence of a tribal conflict in the past in the month of Sefer following two consecutive months – namely, Zulhija and Muharem- in which peace is compulsory. Appropriately, “Sefer Fetah” is celebrated in this month. Praying for peace, spiritual recitals and hymns as well as exchanging of gifts are the rituals of the holiday. Participants of “Sefer Fetah” normally go to “Enayatch Ziara’ –i.e. mothers distinguished for their wisdom and social services- carrying with them gifts of perfume and incense that will be used for “Ziker” (prayer) held in “Awach” (spiritual premise). There are five “Enayatches” in Harar; among these the one in Aye Abida is where “Sefer Fetah” is celebrated most colorfully.

Mawlid

The other holyday widely celebrated among the Harari people is the birthday of Prophet Mohammed, “Mawlid”, which is also an important holyday for Muslim communities around the world. “Mawlid” lies on the 12th day of the month of “Rabii al-Awol”. Some of the features of the celebration include reading text of biography of the Prophet and chanting “Zikri” (spiritual songs of praise) accompanied by small drums and clapping of “Kebel”, i.e. wooden tools prepared for this purpose.

The Harari people celebrate “Mawlid” both at home and in various spiritually sacred places, particularly in “Awaches” as Harar is the seat of many saints of Islam. “Mawlid” is also celebrated in the four months that come after Rabii al-Awol assuming the name 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th “Mawlid”.

Religious Rites

Religious rites are prayers and practices performed on the basis of Islam as well as Harari tradition during grand occasions such as religious programs and functions, holyday celebrations and major social events. In addition to the cultural observances mentioned in relation to religious holydays, the Harari people, as Muslims, also have additional religious rites, namely, “Mawlud”, “Zikri” and “Ziara”.

Mawlud

“Mawlud” is a spiritual act of reading the account of what has been written in Haddis (the Quran equivalent of the Bible’s New Testament) about Prophet Mohammed. This rite is accorded with great value in the religious and social life of the Harari people. It is performed on daily prayer schedules, holyday prayers, in “Awaches” and during major social events such as wedding. The ritual of “Mawlud” comprises of reading selected texts from the Holy Quran as the main part and singing hymns of praise (i.e. Zikri) in between. The selected texts include 1st Sura al-Fatihah, Sura 36 Yasin and Sura 67 Tebarak (or Al-Muluk). “Mawlud” comes to an end by serving a blessed meal and eating it in unison.

On the occasion of a wedding, “Mawlud” is carried out on a Sunday morning after reading of the Quran (usually between 8 and 9 p.m.). A wedding “Mawlud” is accompanied with many “Zikris” as well as rhythmical dances that follow. This continues until noon, and ends with lunch and wishing the groom well.

Zikri

“Zikri” is basically a rite of prayer that is full of hymns of praise for Allah, Prophet Mohammed and saints, but the word “Zikri” is also used to refer to the hymns of praise. The actual performance of “Zikri” is led by a Sheik who chants the lyrics with melody and a chorus follows him. “Zikri” is augmented by “Dibae” (i.e. small drum) and “Kebel” (i.e. wooden tools used for clapping). Eventually, some from the general participants get up, make circles and dance rhythmically, enriching the whole performance of “Zikri”.

Although “Zikris” have various permanent melodies and lyrics of praise directly taken from the Quran, they occasionally incorporate additional ideas that have relevance in the life of the community. This religious rite is mainly rendered in Arabic language with frequent inclusion of “Zikris” composed in Harari, Amharic, Affan Oromo and other local languages. The rite of “Zikri” normally takes hours, and participants are served with “khat” (a mild stimulant chewed for hours), tea, coffee and other traditional hot drinks.

In addition to being performed along with “Mawlud”, there are times when “Zikri” is carried out separately on holydays and during major social events. There are also “Zikris” performed distinctively under certain circumstances. For instance, a type of “Zkiri” called “Amuta Kerebu” carried out in funerals is worth mentioning. This type of “Zikri” is recited in the house of the deceased by a Sheik in the presence of women mourners, relatives and members of female “Afocha”. This “Zikri” mainly focuses on death and life after death.

Ziara

Literally, “Ziara” means a visit and it includes visiting relatives and companions, especially on holydays. This being the case, however, among the Harari, the word “Ziara” is widely used to refer to a journey or a form of pilgrim conducted to visit “Awaches” (spiritual premises) for the purpose of prayer, on holydays and other occasions. “Awaches” being sacred grounds, “Ziaras” to the places are mainly conducted on holydays. Yet, people occasionally do their “Ziara” on any given day for communal or personal problems. When carrying out the “Ziara”, people carry with them various items of offerings such as “khat”, sugar, incense, incense-stick, money, sheep, goat, ox and even camel. These offerings are presented to the head of “Awach” (known as Murid) as contributions to help the regular prayers and teachings. In relation to this, if the head of a given “Awach” does not have a means of income (e.g. a piece of farmland) and his entire life is devoted to serving the “Awach”, then his livelihood depends on the offerings of “Ziara”. Most of the time people conduct their “Ziara” by going to the particular “Awach” where their fathers and grandfathers went to.

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City of Hareri

In the last two and half decades of self-administration, Harari People’s Regional State has exerted every effort to maintain, develop and promote the culture, language and heritage of its people.

H.E. Ato Murad Abdulhadi  

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