Today, we know the countries of the Horn of Africa as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. However, humans have inhabited the Horn of Africa for thousands of years - some evidence dates back as far as 125,000 years ago. People is an overview of the unique features of this region.
In ancient history, the area around modern-day Djibouti and northern Somalia was likely referred to as Punt by Egyptians. The people and communities of Punt held a good relationship with the Pharaoh. As long ago as the 8th and 7th centuries BC, civilizations in the Horn of Africa were practicing agriculture and had developed irrigation systems and iron tools. By the 1st century AD, the Aksumite Kingdom (or Empire) came into power, developing its own currency and maintaining trade relations with the Roman Empire and India. It was considered one of the 4 great global powers, along with China, Persia, and Rome. Although the Aksumite Kingdom was the first Christian kingdom, trade with nearby Muslim nations brought Islam to the region shortly after its creation.
The Aksumite Kingdom declined in the 7th century AD and the region gave way to several smaller kingdoms during the Middle Ages. The majority of these kingdoms were Muslim empires that left behind mosques, enclosed cities, castles, shrines, fortresses, necropolises, and courtyards. The empires of this period defended themselves against Portuguese and Oromo invasions and strengthened their trade relations with other countries.
By 1270, the Ethiopian Empire was formed and in the 15th century it attempted to establish a relationship with European kingdoms. A relationship was established with Portugal in 1508. This relationship was later beneficial to Ethiopia when Portugal sent aid against a military invasion. In the 1600’s, Christianity was once again the principal religion, resulting in civil unrest.
These various empires continued to rule throughout the Horn of Africa until 1869 when the Suez Canal was opened and European governments attempted to gain control of the region. Italy became a major colonizer in this area and France established an administration at the end of the 19th century. By the 20th century, the countries as they are known today began to gain independence from European powers. Civil war was felt throughout much of the region, occurring from 1974 to 1991 in Ethiopia, from 1991 to 1994 in Djibouti, in Eritrea from 1972 to 1974 and 1980 to 1981, and in Somalia from the 1980s to present.
The Horn of Africa is sometimes also called the Somali Peninsula. It located in the easternmost part of Africa, sticking out into the Arabian Sea and forming the south side of the Gulf of Aden. Off the coast of Somalia sits the Indian Ocean. The region is home to the rugged landscape of the Ethiopian Highlands. This region is also home to the Great Rift Valley. Closer to the equator, the land is generally flat with some plateaus rising above the lowlands as well. The Horn of Africa receives very little rainfall and can reach extremely hot temperatures in some areas.
This region is home to a number of animal species such as the Speke's gazelle and the Somali wild ass. Notably, it also has the greatest number of endemic reptiles of any other area on the African continent.
Although the Horn of Africa consists of 4 independent countries, it shares similar ethnic heritages throughout the region. The vast majority of people here share an Afro-Asiatic ethnicity.
The largest ethnic group in the Horn of Africa is the Oromo. The Oromo population is around 30 million individuals, the majority of whom (25.448 million) live in Ethiopia. Research suggests that the Oromo people, a Cushitic culture, have lived in Northeastern and East Africa since at least the 1st century AD.
The second most common ethnic group is the Amhara. Globally, the Amhara population is around 25 million. Of these individuals, nearly 20 million live in the northern and central highlands areas of Ethiopia. The Amhara peoples have lived here for over 2,000 years, ruling over several periods of time. One of the most well-known Amhara leaders is Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until 1974.
The Somali ethnic group is the third largest ethnicity throughout the Horn of Africa. This group numbers between 16 and 20 million individuals. The majority of the Somali live in Somalia (around 9 million). Another 4.6 million live in Ethiopia and 524,000 in Djibouti. This ethnicity is believed to be responsible for 5,000-year old rock paintings. Researchers have discovered Somali cemeteries that trace back to the 4th century BC as well.
Other significant ethnic groups living in the Horn of Africa include: the Tigrinya, the Tigrayans, and the Afar. Some of the principal languages spoken in these countries and among these ethnicities include Oromo, Amharic, Somali, and Tigrinya.
Culture And Religion
As previously mentioned, the cultures found in the Horn of Africa have existed over thousands of years and have contributed to a number of advancements. Cultures from the Horn of Africa have helped influence the development of agriculture, literature, art, music, architecture, technology, and education. Several ancient written scripts were developed here as well as ancient wall paintings. The Horn of Africa is the birthplace for both coffee and teff, an ancient seed grass, and is noted for having the largest quarried rock ever recorded (the Great Stele of Axum).
One of the major influential factors over the history of the Horn of Africa has been religion. The three principal religions practiced here today include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Christianity has existed here since at least the 4th century AD. During the 7th century, followers of Muhammad fled the Arabian peninsula into the Horn of Africa. Here, they were accepted and protected, leading to the growth of Islam. Judaism has also been practiced here since ancient times. One story relates that Menelik I was the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. He is believed to have lived in Jerusalem before bringing the Ark of the Covenant to present-day Ethiopia.
Additionally, some inhabitants continue to practice traditional religions.