Explorations in History and Society

Merca; the ancient capital of the Hawiyya country.

First Mentions of Hawiye

The first clear written reference to any Galla or Somali group is found in

the writings of the thirteenth-century Arab geographer, Ibn Sa’id. Ibn
Sa’id says that Merca, a town on the southern Somali coast near the Shebeli
River, was the ‘capital of the Hawiye country’, which consisted of more
than fifty villages (or districts or tribes).3 This area is today the home of the
Hawiye Somali clan-family, so there is good reason to assume that the Merca
region has been occupied continuously by the same Somali group for the
past 700 years. In fact, we can probably extend this to 800 years, for the
geographer al-Idrisi remarks that Merca was the region of the ‘Hadiye’
in the twelfth century. It is quite likely that the extant texts contain an
error, and that it should be ‘Hawiye’, as Guillain, Schleicher, and Cerulli

1 This view is presented most fully by Cerulli (I957), I, and I. M. Lewis (I959a, 1960).

2 H. S. Lewis (I962); Fleming (1964); Haberland (1963), 3-6. Murdock (I959),
319-20, 323-4, suggested that the Galla and Somali originated in the highlands of
south-eastern Ethiopia but in most other respects followed the traditional reconstruction.
3 Guillain (1856), I, 238-9; Abu al-Fida (I848), II, 232; Cerulli (1957), I, 94; Schleicher
(1892), ix.


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